Monday, May 30, 2011

Twins send Liriano to the DL

Following what has become a common sight – the Twins bullpen blowing a 5-run lead against the Angels on Friday night - the Twins issued a statement saying that Francisco Liriano would be skipped in what would have been his normally scheduled start on Saturday due to a sore shoulder.

Before Monday’s game Joe Christensen relayed some grim information regarding Liriano’s progress saying:
“Liriano said his left shoulder did not feel well when he played catch before [Monday]'s game against the Tigers, so he will likely miss one more start, at least…Toward the end of batting practice today, Liriano was shagging balls in center field and having teammates throw the balls back toward the infield for him.”
So, after showing some improvement in his more recent starts against Seattle and Arizona, Liriano exits May on the 15-day disabled list. The underlying tone of this move is that it should not signify anything more than a need to give Liriano the required rest and provide Gardenhire with another option out in the ‘pen. Rather than move forward with an already depleted bullpen since Anthony Swarzak has been tapped to fill Liriano’s void for the time being, the Twins summoned reliever Anthony Slama from Rochester to take Swarzak’s place. The Liriano transaction is retroactive to May 23 so he could be ready to start again on June 6, essentially bypassing his second consecutive start. He needed another start skipped and the Twins needed an arm. Simple as that.

Of course, while I say it shouldn’t signify much of anything, there is plenty of evidence to make people wonder if there is something more substantial happening with Liriano’s arm.

Liriano entered the season not in condition to withstand the rigors of spring training. He matched that by being unable to neither work ahead of hitters nor locate the strike zone on a regular basis with his fastball when the regular season started.  As I outlined at the end of April, there were some indications that he was releasing the ball differently than his previous season which may have had some big influential factors on his overall command. On top of that, he showed some decay in his velocity as well. Given those factors, it wasn’t too hard to fathom some eventual visit to the disabled list for Liriano.

Back in February, when the Twins made it clear they were not going to pursue a long-term contract with Liriano, I was one of a handful of Twins bloggers that sided with the club on their decision. To be sure, the stance went against the grain of all that I had upheld as a statistically-oriented and data-driven individual, especially given the fact that the team would have been able to get a team-friendly deal at that point, but my research and video scouting led me to the same conclusion that the Twins reached.

One of the biggest aspects of my findings that stood out to me in terms of Liriano was this section:
“There is an on-going debate on whether or not throwing sliders takes a bigger toll on a pitcher’s arm versus the other assortment of pitches. One study conducted by Dr. James Andrews and Dr Glenn Fleisig (among others) found that there was no conclusive evidence that showed that a slider was any more or less damaging to a pitcher’s arm than a fastball, but they conceded that the small sample size gave no real insight to whether or not this is true. What they did find is that slider tends to have greater “shoulder proximal force than curveballs”. This is noteworthy because if a pitcher demonstrates improper timing in their mechanics and increases their shoulder proximal force, according to Andrews’s book “The Athlete’s Shoulder”, additional pressure is put on the bicep tendon-complex which increasingly leads to a SLAP lesion.
So here we are two months into the season and Liriano who, time and again, has been accused of funky mechanics is now sidelined with a sore shoulder. Fortunately, the Twins did perform an MRI which did not reveal any SLAP lesions. Their analysis came back showing just slight inflammation with signs of tendinitis. Now it is completely possible that this is a blip on the radar - which he has general soreness and developed some tendinitis and the rest will heal him – but even tendinitis, which is common, has a funny way of lingering and disrupting performances. For instance, Glen Perkins had been diagnosed with tendinitis in July of 2009 and – despite coming back in 2010 - he never really recovered his stuff until the 2011 season.

With their position in the division, the Twins may have wanted Liriano to string together a few more starts like the ones in Seattle or Arizona in order to increase his trade value by the deadline. This injury combined with his lackluster performance could dampers those plans.  Certainly the hope is that with the rest and some anti-inflammatory treatment he’ll be ready in a week’s time, however, given the red flags throughout this season, there is a part of me that wouldn’t be surprised if Liriano’s injury does not wind up more extensive time on the DL before the year's end.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Adjustment in approach may have sunk Capps

As Kelly Johnson’s grand slam sank deep into the right field bleachers and into the outstretched arms of the ecstatic Diamondback fans on Saturday night, you could see Matt Capps’s shoulders slump just a bit.
It was his second blown save in the past four attempts. It was his fourth home run of the season – three more than he allowed in a Twins uniform all last year.  
I’m one of those sick individuals that likes to rewind those cataclysmic events and re-watch them in slow-motion several times. While reviewing the Johnson grand slam, Capps’s location on the rubber before the pitch jumped out at me: Capps was set-up on the far left side.
 (Courtesy of MLBAM)
It struck me as odd because I had thought Capps was a straight-up type of pitcher, one who uses the middle of the rubber and chucks strikes. After all, that was what the Twins said they loved about him, that he rears back and throws strikes. Yet, after checking the available footage, I found that Capps was indeed working on the extreme left-side of the rubber when facing lefties so far this year.
Comparing that to the previous season, this was definitely a newly developed approach. As an example, here is a shot of him shortly after the Twins acquired him from Washington facing the left-handed hitting Jordan Brown of the Indians:

As you can see Capps is straight-up, almost dead-center of the pitching rubber.
Capps’s shift at Chase Field was not just a one batter or one ballpark change, either. Pitch F/X charts found at shows that Capps has made some wholesale adjustments to the way he approaches hitters. In general, for most of his career, Capps was indeed a straightforward pitcher, beginning near the center of the rubber against both lefties and righties alike. This slowly began to change in September of last year.
For those unfamiliar with pitch f/x charts, look at this chart as if you are the catcher and Capps is throwing at you. Those dots represent approximately four feet away from where the ball left his hand. In 2010 we see one consistent release point area:
For the vast majority of the season Capps maintains a similar release point but then, for whatever reason (coaching, comfort, experimenting, etc), he began to set-up on the first base side of the rubber when facing lefties.
Meanwhile this season his release split is much more pronounced and, in addition to going to the far ends of the rubber against lefties, he is also shifting more towards third when a right-hander is at the plate:

It is strange that Capps implemented this. Although I noted above it could have been coaching related, just last month pitching coach Rick Anderson told La Velle E Neal that the team was trying to convince Francisco Liriano to quit his movement:
Twins pitching coach Rick Anderson feels staying at one spot on the mound - which most pitchers do - will help Liriano settle down. Andy feels Liriano gets so wound up over strikeouts [then] throws too many sliders and doesn’t execute like he can.
``Pitching is consistency,'' Anderson said. ``Let's go to being consistent, where you are on the rubber and see if we can be consistent where you are at throughout the game.''
It makes little sense to me that Anderson would wean Liriano off of it while encouraging Capps to adopt it.  
While this lateral movement may have helped him against his same-sided foes (574 OPS in ’11 versus a 719 OPS in ’10) it seems to have hurt his performance against left-handed hitters. After limiting lefties to a 645 OPS with two home runs in 146 plate appearances, southpaws have a 784 OPS with three home runs in just 44 plate appearances.  
The overall small-sample universe that a closer works in can have a lot to do with the fluctuation of their numbers but Capps’s rough patch against lefties may have to do with this very mound modification. Below is a pitch f/x graph showing the movement of his two-seam fastball to lefties. In the top one from 2010, Capps was painting more of the outer-half of the strike zone. This season, from his new release point, Capps is cutting the plate in half on average.

In the instance of Kelly Johnson, seen below, not to mention Luke Scott and Johnny Damon, all of Capps’s long balls came in the form of two-seam fastballs that caught too much of the plate.

Last year Capps had a terrific season after coming to Minnesota. In his short stint with the Twins, he racked up 16 saves in 18 opportunities and posted a very good 2.00 ERA in 27 innings of work. In that time, he allowed just one home run while getting hitters to swing at a large swath of pitches out of the strike zone (38.4%) and coaxed a high percentage of groundballs off of his opponents’ bats (53% GB%). This year hitters have laid off most of his out-of-zone offerings (28%) while elevating far more of his pitches (29% GB%). I would surmise that this tremendous decline in worm-burners has to do with leaving too many pitches out over the plate rather than on the edges where hitters would turn them over.
With a bullpen in disrepair as it is, the Twins need Capps to shutdown teams in situations just like he was asked to on Saturday night. Unquestionably, Capps is a strike-throwing closer without the swing-and-miss stuff of vintage Joe Nathan. At the same time, he’s also very adept at retiring hitters for long stretches of time, as he showed last year. The trick for Capps is avoiding the meaty part of the plate.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Twins have nowhere to go but up

It is a downright shame that the Rapture has to take place within the midst of the Twins’ best stretch of baseball thus far in the 2011 season.  It is particularly more disappointing considering the recent strides some key players have made over the past couple of weeks.
For starters, suddenly the rotation doesn’t look like such a boondoggle.
Francisco Liriano discontinued his usage of the two-seam fastball and went back to what worked for him in 2010 – the four-seamer, change-up and slider trinity. Equally important to his improvement was his ability to pepper the strike zone early in the count and work ahead of his opponents. The results in his most recent start -- albeit against the woeful Mariners lineup -- suggest that this is the approach would put him back on track as the dominating pitcher from a year ago.  
Coming off now four straight quality starts, Nick Blackburn, as he demonstrated in yesterday’s game, has diversified his pitches more. This has been keeping opponents off-balanced and getting them to beat the ball in to the ground. A year ago, Blackburn fell into the pattern of using his two-seamer far too frequently and hitters jumped all over that. Over the winter, Russell Branyan, who faced Blackburn while in an Indians uniform, told him that hitters picked up on that fact quickly. This year, with his elbow repaired, Blackburn has started off hitters with a fastball far less often than he did last year (46% in ’11 versus 55% in ’10) which has helped him to a team-best in ERA (3.40) and xFIP (4.08).
In the bullpen, Joe Nathan has also looks like he has turned a corner in his recovery. At the beginning of the season, Nathan was a facsimile of his former self – unable to neither generate velocity nor dispatch his deadly slider. As such, few opponents chased after anything not thrown in the zone and punished anything that dared fly into their wheelhouse. He finished the season’s initial month with a 10.00 ERA, allowing 11 runs in nine innings of work while posting a 7-to-7 strikeout-to-walk ratio. This month, with a heavier reliance on his curve and improvement in the velocity department, Nathan has gotten hitters to chase more pitches out of the zone and missed more bats. The end result in May has been significantly better: a 1.80 ERA with just one run allowed in his last five outings.
Meanwhile, on the offensive side of the baseball, the Twins have seen some players begin to emerge from their early season doldrums as well.
Having been discussed repetitively during each one of his at-bats during the FSN broadcasts for the past few weeks, Justin Morneau’s mechanical problems did not hamper him in Oakland.  With his second home run of the season and adding a double for good measure, Morneau appeared to be keeping his weight back more with his front side locked in rather than pulling away from the plate.  Admittedly, the A’s did not follow suit as previous teams did by pitching Morneau away, instead leaving some offerings over the plate. To his credit, the first baseman capitalized on those mistakes and that is perhaps a sign that the slugger is poised to contribute more regularly.
After a brutal month of April, Michael Cuddyer has accumulated base hits by the bushel in May. Following a 3-for-4 day at the plate yesterday, he’s now hitting .333 this month and has resurrected his overall average back up to .267 after entering May hitting .226. Admittedly, he still lacks the power that he had shown two seasons ago, but getting on-base and avoiding outs is a big step forward.
Likewise, Trevor Plouffe has been a refreshing oasis in the desert of disappointing offensive shortstops, giving the Twins someone with a stick to hit in the second spot in the order. Although defensively Plouffe needs some work – often taking ill-advised routes to groundballs, bobbling others and throwing away every third chance – he has come through with some very clutch hits as of late. Though the defense may need work, management will grit their teeth and suffer through it in order to have someone who can wield some lumber.
If these and other players around them continue to make progress and sustain production, though it would take a near miracle, the opportunity exists to chip away at the deficit the team created in April and potentially re-enter the division race. Considering the Twins have played the fewest amount of games at home in the American League (15) and have a large portion of contests remaining within the division, there is a chance for the team to climb the standings. And it could happen sooner rather than later. In addition to returning to Target Field on Monday for the week, the Twins have 10 consecutive games against AL Central opponents following that.
Could a big run now be enough to give the team with baseball’s worst record a shot at drawing closer to contention prior to the trade deadline?
It is unfortunate that the world has to end so soon without fans being able to receive an answer. Then again, maybe it is for the best that the apocalypse happens now rather than after the team heats up. After all, somewhere in the Bible it says the last shall be first and, at this point, the Twins have nowhere to go but up.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

OtB Twins Notes: Liriano in the zone, Cuddyer's heating up and Mijares is down

The no-hitter in Chicago notwithstanding, Francisco Liriano turned in perhaps his best performance of the season on Tuesday night in Seattle.  In seven innings of work, Liriano limited the Mariners to one run on three hits while striking out nine and walking one.
Prior to the game, I tweeted that the key to success for Liriano would be to get ahead of hitters, something that he has not done well all season. In fact, even during his no-hitter, Liriano managed to get ahead of just 37% of the total batters faced that night. Meanwhile, last night he was able to jump ahead in 65% of his opponent match-ups, setting him up to use his slider and changeup more frequently resulting in the season-high nine strikeouts. Once again, Liriano was not particularly efficient, burning through 110 pitches in seven innings, but because he was working ahead of hitters – not to mention facing a fairly cushy lineup – Liriano showed flashes of his 2010 self. That’s a good sign by any measure.
The month of May has been kind to Michael Cuddyer: In 55 plate appearances since the end of April, the much-maligned right fielder is hitting .327/.400/.408 (16-for-49) with five runs driven in.
Last Friday, I analyzed Cuddyer’s approach and reached the conclusion that his power decline – much like that of Joe Mauer – is a product of various ailments in his lower-half. A day later Cuddyer hooked his fourth home run of the year into the left field bleachers and my Twins-watching, blog-reading, facebook-commenting Grandmother invited me to “eat my words”.

As delicious as those words would taste, I did mention that Cuddyer was given an opportunity to build on his numbers as the Blue Jays’ would trot out back-to-back left-handed pitchers. In a small number of plate appearances, Cuddyer has continued his ownership over southpaws, hitting .325/.400/.575 with three home runs when facing the sinister. On the other hand, he’s been downright pitiful against same-sided pitchers, hitting a middle infielder-like .235/.297/.294, thereby diluting his overall numbers.

Again, Cuddyer is a strong player, capable of muscling pitches into the stands as he did over the weekend but his timing is often off as demonstrated by regularly having his weight on his front foot well before some pitches arrive. Perhaps with missing a significant portion of spring training, it would take Cuddyer a month or so to get back into his rhythm. Still, he is certainly replaceable against right-handed pitchers – something the Twins should consider doing when Jim Thome returns from his rehab assignment.
The Twins placed Jose Mijares on the 15-day disabled list with reported elbow pain. After spending most of his career with decent command with occasional lapses, Mijares struggled mightily with his control in 2011:

First-Pitch Strike%
Swinging Strike%
As a rule of thumb, loss of control/command is an indicator of elbow problems while velocity decline is a sign of shoulder issues. Clearly, based on his inability to stalk the strike zone, the surfacing of an elbow injury isn’t a surprise. Fortunately, according to the MRI performed on Tuesday, there were no signs of structural damage.
When the Twins were piecing together their bullpen this past offseason, Mijares figured to play the key left-handed set-up role, even lauded for his development of a two-seam fastball that would help keep right-handed opponents at bay.  Mijares, however, must not have had confidence in this new pitch as pitch f/x has not registered him as throwing one yet this season and has walked an atrocious nine of 30 right-handed hitters faced. As the team asks themselves how they got to the point where they have one of the worst functioning bullpens in baseball (5.11 ERA, -0.9 WAR) after being consistently solid, Mijares’s ineffectiveness can be considered a prime reason for the regression. 


Friday, May 13, 2011

Cuddyer's power decline

As a Twins fan, it is easy to get frustrated with Michael Cuddyer.
As Howard Sinker pointed out earlier this week, Cuddyer is practically oh-for-the-year with runners in scoring position. In fact, Sinker went so far as to calling Cuddyer’s early season production “the worst of the worst”. Given that his numbers with men in scoring position this season is 4-for-32, tied for sixth worst in baseball, it’s hard not feel the same way. After all, with a team that is dilapidated and desperate for heroes, the Twins need one making nearly $12 million this season to step up.
Heading into 2009, Cuddyer made some wholesale changes to his approach at the plate. In his set up, he lowered the position of his hands, something he told 1500ESPN that he had done in two-strike situations and Tony Oliva convinced him to hit that way all the time. Additionally, Cuddyer incorporated a much more aggressive leg kick. Both adjustments appeared to amplify his power stroke, leading to a career-high in both home runs (32) and slugging (.520).
Since then, however, his production has begun to slide.
For starters, using Inside Edge’s data, it doesn’t take a hardened scout to tell the ball isn’t jumping off Cuddy’s bat in the same manner in which it did the past two seasons. Likewise, the small sample measurement of his home runs agree, as the actual speed off of his bat appears to be down as well compared to the previous two seasons:
Cuddyer’s power decline
Well-Hit Average
Speed Off Bat (HR only)
MLB Average
(Via and
In his 2009 swing, we see what was then his ne w approach at the plate. Although he added a more aggressive leg kick – something that can mess with a hitters’ timing – Cuddyer demonstrates a smooth motion and good weight transference, staying back, and then bringing his bat quickly through the hitting zone.
This season, using a clip from Cuddyer’s first home run of the year in Baltimore, we see the same mechanics except that slightly before he hits the apex of his leg kick, he begins moving his weight forward. Yes, it is minor but it appears to prematurely set his swing in motion which would lead to being caught out-front on some pitches. Along with the decline in hard hit balls the past two seasons, Cuddyer also witnessed a spike in groundballs which could be a byproduct of his increased amount of contact with out-of-zone pitches (also up as well).
While a vocal amount of the population seems to want to assign his early season ineptitude on him simply, you know, sucking, I am a bit more skeptical that this is his true talent given his 2009 display of power but rather remnants of an off-season full of physical tribulations.
After the 2010 season, it was revealed that Cuddyer was playing the season’s entirety with pain in his right knee, which would explain why he would be transferring his weight off of his back leg sooner in his swing. In what was supposed to be a routine arthroscopic procedure to repair the knee, it actually was the first of three afflictions this off-season.
Shortly after going through his knee surgery at the end of October, doctors discovered that Cuddyer needed an emergency appendectomy. Interestingly enough, sluggers like the White Sox’s Adam Dunn and St Louis’s Matt Holliday both needed the same procedure this year. Sports Illustrated’s Will Carroll, a sport injury expert, said in reference to Dunn’s recovery that the procedure is “minimally invasive that it is almost nothing.” Carroll speculated that it should take a player out of pocket for seven to ten days. While Dunn has struggled offensively nonetheless, the younger Holliday has mashed for the Cardinals so far this year post-operation.
To make matters worse, Cuddyer battled a nasty wart problem on the bottle of his left foot which eventually led to it being removed just as spring training was firing up. (If you think that the wart was a minor event that shouldn’t affect someone’s playing time, I suggest you look again at the size and location of the scar once again.) Needless to say, it’s no small wonder that one of the longest tenured Twin (one who played in all but four games last year) was ever able to get himself into playing condition.
From reports from those that have spent time within the Twins clubhouse, Cuddyer is not the type of player to complain or make excuses about various ailments. Of course, he’s not in much of a position to do so either. Unlike say, Joe Mauer, who had surgery in December on his knee, Cuddyer is playing for a contract while Mauer is settling into his first year of his extension like a warm bath. The Twins realize that because of the significant long-term investment with Mauer, it is best to allow him to fully recover rather than push him to play through any sort of ailments. Cuddyer on the other hand, does not have the luxury of taking off a month or two in hopes of getting back to 100%, rather he has to labor through the aches and pains in hopes of performing well enough earn his next payday.
Is there value in being consistently able to be counted on to play day-in and day-out despite substandard numbers? It’s hard to say. Sabrists would say no. Managers would say absolutely. What can be agreed upon by both camps is that the Twins need him to not only play every day but to also convert in scoring opportunities.
Is it possible that we will see the 2009 Cuddyer ever again? Given the laundry list of reasons why his power may be gone, I believe it is unlikely that we will. Still, so far in May, we have see good signs of a rebound, going 9-for-31 (.290) the past eight games. Some of those hits will eventually come with runners in scoring position. Also, with the Blue Jays in town and sending back-to-back left-handers to the mound tonight and tomorrow, we could see upwardly mobile progression of his numbers this weekend.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Twins need remaining M&M boy to breakout of slump

Since his quick burst of offense against the Cleveland Indians after his bout with the flu almost two weeks ago, Justin Morneau has been stuck in a punch-less morass the past three series, going 3-for-26 (.115) with just the lone extra base hit.
Sure, he’s coming off a concussion that kept him from baseball activities from July to February and he has dropped a rapid dozen pounds from the virus, but Morneau isn’t blaming his performance on either of those two items. Truthfully, he’s probably right. Though they certainly play an influential factor, his overall timing is slightly off keeping him from being the same hitter as last year.
In general Morneau is doing well with his plate discipline. His contact rate is about the same and he has even whittled down his strike outs. He is a tad more reluctant to work for a walk but the bigger problem is that he simply isn’t making the same hard contact as he did in 2010. His overall line drive rate has dropped significantly (from 22% to 16%) while Inside Edge’s data agrees with the assessment as their stats say his well-hit average down over 100 points (from .345 to .230).
Last year, Morneau thrived by using the entire field. The left-hander masher put up very impressive numbers while driving the ball to the big part of the field, hitting .446 with a .689 slugging percentage to center field. This season however his results, outside of pulling the ball, have been disappointing. In fact, he has hit safely just twice on 22 balls (.182) to center. What we see is a massive tail-off from his hearty line drive rate to center in 2010 (24%) to a new career low in 2011 (13%).
Despite hitting his first home run of the year off of Luke Hochevar this weekend, the Royals effectively silenced Morneau’s bat, holding him to two hits. Those that tuned into the Royals broadcast on Friday night caught ex-Royal and commentator Frank White revealing Kansas City’s plan of attack against the left-hander – something that may swiftly become a blueprint for retiring him unless he adjusts. White noted that the Royals wanted to work Morneau away due to his increased tendency to open up on the ball. True to form, Bruce Chen and the relief staff peppered Morneau with pitches away and he essentially got himself out.
Interestingly enough,’s beat writer for the Royals, Dick Kaegel, had written on Monday that the franchise was finally evolving in terms of their attempts to study opponents. Instead of sending advance scouts out to on the road to study the upcoming opponents, the team was relying more on video footage. Let’s take a look at what the Royals’ revamped scouting department may have seen:
A year ago, during his torrent display of offense, he demonstrated excellent timing. In this specific match-up, you will see that Morneau does not get overzealous and attempt to yank the pitch. He stays back and his hips remain closed which allows him to hit the ball with authority to the left side of the field. Needless to say, this was a fairly regular occurrence for him. However, if you compare that to this year’s version, you see a slightly different Morneau that leaves him exposed:
Focusing on his hip in the 2011 clip, you can see it opening up and committing to pulling the ball despite being pitched away. Because of this, when Cleveland’s pitcher throws the ball to the outer-half of the zone Morneau is left with using only his upper body in his swing and limiting his ability to hit the ball anywhere besides the right side of the field. Therefore, even if he would have tried to go with the pitch, he would have been left with having to muscle the ball rather than driving it as he did in the 2010 clip. Instead of being laced to the left-center field region, he turns the ball over to the second base Orlando Cabrera for an easy out.
So even though he was able to generate a few hits in the series against the Indians – including driving the ball to the wall twice in the series – the Royals likely picked up on this and directed their pitching staff to hit the outer-half of the plate on him.
It was unreasonable to expect Morneau to return from his long layoff with just a handful of spring training at-bats without any glitches. Unfortunately, similar to his mechanics, the timing could not be any worse as seemingly ever other key player is struggling or hurt. Although progress is being made with each plate appearance, with the team dead-last in home runs and slugging, the Twins need him to find his 2010 swing again sooner rather than later.
To commemorate the recent no-hitter, DiamondCentric now offers the "Francisco LiriaNo-No" shirts:
Francisco LiriaNo-No

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

The Legend of LiriaNoNo

For just the fifth time in Minnesota history (sixth if you want to include Dean Chance’s rain-shortened outing in 1967), a Twins pitcher has completed a ball game without allowing a hit.

Not only was this Liriano first ever complete game at the major league level, but the no-hitter was also his first complete game at any level. My research showed that dating back to 1960 no pitcher had ever thrown a no-hitter in their first ever professional complete game. Considering the amount of complete games pitchers threw pre-1990, I’d wager that this may actually be the first instance in history of this happening. It was a Steve Nebraska-esque performance.

Alas, savory and memorable as this no-hitter is, it was far from perfect. Liriano managed to be “effectively” wild as Sox hitters missed on pitches out over the plate or swung while they were ahead in the count. After all, Liriano put six men on with walks therefore a bit more patience by the White Sox offense and the story of the game could have been focused on the Twins inability to score runs once again.

Looking back at the data, Liriano struggled to get ahead of hitters last night:

Key Stat
Selected Outing(s)
MLB Avg.
Working Ahead
in Count
1st pitch strike %
1 of first 2 pitches for strike %
2 of first 3 pitches for strikes %
% of 0-1 counts that become 0-2 counts
% of 1-1 counts that become 1-2 counts

More critically, he threw his fastball for a strike just 52% of the time, well-below the league norm of 64%. In theory, a more patient team may have made the lefty pay for that lack of command. When it came down to it, the Chicago lineup came to Liriano’s rescue by swinging at whatever strikes came into the zone instead of making him prove that he could repeat it.

I would imagine that the instruction from the Sox bench was to “wait for your pitch” or “let him earn it” but far too frequently Chicago’s hitters instead took a hack and put it in play at fielders, much to Liriano’s delight. Several were indeed well-struck but plays by his outstanding defense, like Denard Span’s catch in the left-center gap or Danny Valencia’s grab behind the base in the seventh inning, extinguished any hopes of the Sox starting a rally.

Reviewing the footage as well as the pitch f/x data found at and comparing it to his previous start against Tampa Bay, to me, there is little indication of any visual adjustments – release point or otherwise – that may suggest a wholesale improvement based upon the coaching staff’s between-start tutorial. Admittedly, later in the ball game there is some evidence of him bending a bit more and finishing lower, helping drive the ball down in the zone, but through the first several innings Liriano was finishing higher resulting in pitches up. Thankfully, he had plenty of help from his aforementioned defense including three double-plays turned behind him.

In addition to facing an overzealous lineup, Liriano also did well pitching backwards towards the latter half of the ballgame. After mainly using his fastball to start hitters off in the first three innings of the game, Liriano turned to his slider and changeup to start the count from the sixth inning onwards. In fact, 9 of the final 13 hitters started off with non-fastballs.

While we analysts are all trying to figure out what this means in terms of his mechanics and his future, right now is a time to relish the historical moment and recognize the significance of a night that will live forever in Twins’ lore.

Monday, May 02, 2011

OtB Twins Notes: Pavano's problems, Liriano's release point, baserunning and more

Following being pulled from the game on Sunday with a 6-2 deficient and in line for his third loss of the season, starter Carl Pavano went all Red Ross in the dugout with an unfortunate baseball bat.
While it may be interpreted by some as a childish act of frustration, Pavano demonstrated that there is some passion left on the team as it finishes April in a nasty tailspin.

Part of Pavano’s personal problems extend for a noticeable decline in ground balls (dropped from 52% to 43%) and a hike in walks allowed (up from 1.5 BB/9 to 2.8). Also, after leading baseball the past two seasons with inciting the most out-of-zone swings, he has regressed in this area too, now down to 27%, below the league average. (It should also be noted that his overall zone rate has fallen as well.) For Pavano, who is not to be mistaken as a strikeout pitcher, this represents somewhat of an issue. What this means is opponents aren’t fishing for those off the plate pitches, bouncing into grounders and are much more likely to take a walk.

It might be that opposing teams have figured out his approach. Considering Pavano has been one of the premier pitchers at getting strike one, it is not surprising to see that hitters this season have teed off on his first pitch. Heading into yesterday’s game, opponents have gone 8-for-16 (.500) with a double and a home runs (.875 slugging) but have little success in other counts.

Following Friday’s game, Ron Gardenhire lamented the team’s overall baserunning, particularly Danny Valencia’s inability to second from second on Rene Tosoni’s single and Tosoni not moving up to second on the Royals misplay. This eventually led to a refresher course on base running on Saturday.
According to’s accounting system for team base running, the Twins are -6 run below average on the base paths. While that number is far from the worst team (that honor goes to the Los Angeles Angels at -22), the Twins’ redemption is there impeccable stolen base rate (100%) given them a better number than they likely deserve.

Consider this: In the situations described by Gardenhire in the article – failing to score from second – the Twins have failed miserably this season. Dating back to 2002, when the Twins had a runner on second and an opportunity to score, they did so 60% of the time. This season however, they have had 31 opportunities to score from second but successfully converted just 9 times (15%). Without much in the way of power, the offense needs to become more aggressive on the bases in those situations in order to score runs.

In efforts to straight out Francisco Liriano, the Twins coaching staff apparently showed him “diagrams” to show that his release point is off.
As someone who is fond of using data, I’m genuinely curious to know what these “diagrams” showed.

My first thought was ‘have the Twins decided to use Pitch F/X?’ If they did, I’m not certain that there is enough evidence to support that his release point is any more or less inconsistent from last year. He moves all over the rubber and has a release point that drifts in a wide array. Furthermore, Pitch F/X doesn’t necessarily show where the ball was “released” but rather it picks it up a few feet from where the ball leaves the pitcher’s hand (it can provide some insight but this needs to be considered when analyzing the data). So I doubt that they wound up using Pitch F/X info.   
From researching last Friday’s TwinsCentric post on Liriano’s inability to keep his fastball down, I mentioned that he is finishing higher in his mechanics and thus the ball has a higher likelihood of remaining up in the zone. It seems to have plenty of overlap in what the Twins were attempting to show Liriano and – while the team may be miserable to watch right now – I’ll be looking for any changes in this area following Tuesday’s start in Chicago.

Speaking of mechanics, Justin Morneau’s swing has been off this season. He has been opening up far too much and pulling out with his upper body resulting in turning over a pitches middle-away rather than drive those offerings to center like he did a year ago.
On Friday, the Royals were able to pick this flaw apart. In fact, Kansas City was so confident in their ability to retire Morneau, that they left right-handed reliever Blake Wood in to face him while the tying runs were on second and third in a 3-1 game. Wood struck him out and stranded the two runners. In general, Morneau’s swing looked awful as he pulled off on every pitch. According to Ron Gardenhire, Morneau has been working hard in BP to correct this and his homer on Sunday may be early signs that the hard work is paying off.
Are we seeing a much better Denard Span in center? According to John Dewan’s Plus/Minus fielding system, Span is currently the top rated defensive centerfielder at +11.
Take it with a grain considering defensive metric need a large sample size to read accurately, however Span has seemingly played with a bit more confidence in his second season in center. At, Span is the only starting center fielder who has successfully converted all of the balls in his zone into outs leading to a baseball-best 1.000 revised zone rating. Additionally, he has tracked down 16 more balls out of the zone for the fourth-best mark in MLB.

Last year, there were numerous incidents of Span deferring to his neighboring outfielder instead of tracking the ball himself. This season, he has seemingly taken charge as the captain of the outfield and has aggressively pursued flies.

Filed under former Twins members: Now with the Padres, Orlando Hudson is nine-for-nine in stolen base opportunities and is tied for second in the National League in that category.

While there were plenty of undertones regarding his clubhouse presence in addition to his soaring earning potential that possibly led to Orlando Hudson not returning to the Twins after the 2010 season, the message sent by the front office was that the team need more speed in the lineup. According to Twins general manager Bill Smith back in March:
"Hardy and Hudson did very well for us. They helped us win another division. When we went with them, we lost team speed. That was one thing we were looking to add. If we can get Casilla and Span and Nishioka creating havoc on the bases, then have the bombers coming up behind them, we're going to score a lot of runs." 
Offensively, Hudson is struggling some at the plate but getting on base at a decent enough clip and is managing to provide that “havoc” for San Diego. While at an age where long-term contracts would be ill-advised, perhaps the team’s assessment of his speed potential was slightly misguided.

This attempted throw back to Alex Burnett from defensive wiz Drew Butera during Sunday’s game epitomizes the Twins season thus far.