Monday, January 02, 2012

Farewell 2011

Yet another year has passed us by and I am headed into my fifth full season of operating this blog.

Strange how things happen over five years. It is amazing to me how this went from being a place where I posted my personal thoughts and findings -- doing so shrouded in anonymity because I was partially ashamed to admit that I was “blogging” (the word just sounds awful, right?) -- to an audience of, well, me to a place that has evolved  to the point where it has as many visitors as it does. Blows my mind when I think about it.

I would like to thank all of my regular readers for dropping in to digest my analysis. I hope that you draw as much entertainment out of the posts as I do from researching and writing them. Below, I have posted some of my personal favorite entries from the past calendar year so check them out if you missed any.

I will promise to try to try to make this site a better experience in 2012. I suppose that is also contingent on the Twins being a good team but I will try to make the most of it and provide informative pieces nonetheless. One of my biggest shortcomings is my inability to foster relationships with readers like fellow TwinsCentric writers like Seth Stohs and Nick Nelson do. I would like to improve in that area this year. Feel free to follow me on Twitter (@OverTheBaggy) if you have any questions or comments that are 140 characters or less. To sweeten the deal, if you follow me and tweet “I WANT A FREE SHIRT FROM DIAMONDCENTRIC” I’ll send one person a free DiamondCentric shirt.

Also, I should probably update my site’s description that was provided by considering Michael Cuddyer is no longer with the Twins. If anyone wants to attempt to provide me with some flattery, I’ll send a shirt if I use it.

That’s it for my ramblings. More analysis and video scouting to come. Happy 2012 all.

  • To start the year in 2011, I made four predictions for the upcoming season.  The first was that Denard Span would have a rebound season. The second was that Danny Valencia would be mired in a sophomore slump. The third was that Jim Hoey would be this year’s version of Grant Balfour. The last was that Scott Baker would be the second best pitcher in the starting rotation.
Looking back, I clearly missed hard on the Hoey forecast. As I mentioned in the piece, I was not basing that prediction off of any founded data aside from the fact that the two were very comparable in the minors. Not having much movement/control of his fastball coupled with the lack of a secondary pitch proved that he was incapable of retiring major league hitters at this juncture. Toronto, who claimed Hoey on waivers, will attempt to see if he can learn a second pitch. While Hoey was a bust, the predictions of Span, Valencia and Baker were almost all spot on. Somewhat. Depending how literal you are, I suppose. 
My first prediction was that Span would be on base more in 2011. This technically did not come to fruition as Span posted an on-base percentage of .328 at the season’s conclusion. However, if he never was concussed, he may have had one of his better seasons of his career. He had a terrific start to the season, hitting .295/.365/.378 heading into the game in Kansas City in which he would receive a whiplash-induced concussion. Unfortunately, he struggled mightily after his attempted return, going 9-for-62 (.145) with just 3 walks in 65 plate appearances and dragging down his overall numbers. 
Valencia encountered the sophomore slump hardcore, which I detailed in June of this year, sourced to the Twins third baseman getting too pull-happy and a bit of regression in the amount of line drives that became base hits (just 63% in 2011 versus 77% in 2010). This one was not too hard to foresee. 
Lastly, Scott Baker emerged as perhaps the best starting pitcher (not second best as my prediction stated) in the season’s first-half. After having bone chips removed in 2010, Baker’s regained his fastball’s dominance and was able to locate significantly better in 2011. In the middle of a career-best season and holding a 3.01 ERA, Baker was in consideration for the All Star game when his elbow started barking again (a right forearm strain).  After resting and making a few more starts and a pair of relief appearances, Baker entered the 2011 offseason the same way he entered the 2010 – waiting to show everyone that he can withstand the rigors of an entire season.
  •  In February, I took the stance that it was a wise decision for the Twins to not sign Francisco Liriano to a long-term contract despite coming off a very successful 2010 campaign (14-10, 3.62 ERA, 201/58 K/BB ratio and a 2.95 xFIP). My take was that Liriano’s mechanics and injury history left too much volatility to incite the need for the organization to pounce and lock him up while having two years of club control remaining. For whatever reason – poor conditioning, injury, mentally unprepared or all of the above – Liriano regressed hard in 2011 and leaving the Twins in position to say they made the right decision.   
  • Throughout the winter, Kyle Gibson was heralded as the next man in line to enter the starting rotation. His midseason injury in Rochester, necessitating Tommy John surgery, delayed his arrival until at least 2013. The unfortunate career-derailing injury aside, this past spring training Gibson provided fans with glimpses of what makes him a strong pitcher. Based on footage captured by 1500ESPN, I documented his strengths in Why You Should Take Notice of Kyle Gibson. When he returns eventually, Gibson will be a groundball-inducing pitcher with the potential to add strikeouts along the way. 
  • One of the bigger talkers entering spring training was what would the Twins starting rotation be? Following a strong performance in 2010 after being shifted to the rotation in the last half of the season, lefty Brian Duensing was a highly touted candidate to land one of those available spots. Judging from some of his indicators (tough splits against right-handed batters, abnormally low BABIP and abnormally high left-on-base rate) combined with his ability to overwhelm left-handed hitters with a very good slider I found that Duensing was best suited for a relief position.  Duensing would go on to have one of the worst statistical years among any starter, mostly based on right-handed opponents obliterating him (which I covered in August). Now the Twins are moving him back into the bullpen where he should have been all along. 
  • Denard Span had come off a fairly disappointing offensive season in 2010. He had gone from hitting .305/.390/.422 in 2008 and 2009 to hitting .264/.331/.348. Hitting coach Joe Vavra mentioned that Span had some mechanical flaws that were causing him to not hit the ball square. In March, I took a look at Span’s progression in his mechanics over those three seasons and reached the conclusion that, yes, Span was moving a lot as Vavra said, but had also changed other things that may have affected his ability to drive the ball. I have not done so yet but reviewing this piece reminds me that I should study his 2011 film and see what – if any – changes he made in the season’s first-half when he owned a .295/.365/.378 batting line. 
  • In May, new arrival Tsuyoshi Nishioka landed on the DL with a fractured leg courtesy of a Nick Swisher slide at second. This play showed the wide cultural gap between how Japanese and Americans (or rather Western Hemispherians) play the game. Nishioka learned a painful lesson the hard way.
  • Justin Morneau struggled through April, hitting a utility-infielder-like .224/.289/.303, and the Kansas City Royals broadcast team announced that their home team had found a way to get the Twins first baseman out regularly: Pitch him away. Morneau had been pulling his hip open, committing to yanking the ball regardless of where it was pitched. A video review showed that this was indeed occurring. Morneau never got his mojo back and finished the year on the sidelines once again after another concussion (this time in the field). 
  • Matt Capps had an extremely rough 2011 season, a lot of which had to do with a forearm injury. Perhaps to compensate for this injury, early in the season, Capps demonstrated a peculiar tendency of shifting on the rubber depending if the hitter was left-handed or right-handed – something that he did not do prior to the 2011 season. In conferring with Texas Leaguers’s pitch f/x database, it showed that Capps had been landing his two-seamed fastball (his pitch of choice against lefties) over the plate more than previous years.
  • After the first month of the season, the Twins opening day shortstop, Alexi Casilla, was hitting a paltry .167/.227/.200. Then he went on a tear in May hitting .317/.394/.439. Casilla made some mechanical adjustments that helped add pop to his bat and bring his numbers back towards respectability. For whatever reason, his swing reverted back to his pre-May days by the end of June and a hamstring injury cut his season short. 
  • Like Casilla (and well, all of the Twins really), Delmon Young’s season started slow. As late as June 8, he was hitting .219/.250/.271 with just a solitary home run in 164 plate appearances. Young made some changes to his swing – most notably elevating his hands – which helped bring it all back into sync and restored his power. From June 11 onward, Young hit a much improved .287/.323/.442 with 10 home runs (and another five home runs in the playoffs with Detroit). 
  • Mijares: “Joe never called for a slider.” Mauer: “I called for a fastball but not over the plate.” Evidence.
  • Plenty of frustrated Twins fans were upset at the decision to unload JJ Hardy in the winter of 2010. That was amplified tenfold when Hardy went off for 30 home runs with the Baltimore Orioles. Would that have happened if Hardy was in a Twins uniform in 2011? Hard to say. The Orioles had Hardy make some changes in his approach and swing which helped him pull pitches with power and turn on pitches thrown inside.