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.