Over the past couple of days, Gardy has tried to revamp the Twins’ offensive philosophy by encouraging the players to work the count and wait for their pitch to hit, and he’s revamped the lineup by moving hitters down the lineup “because it stretches our lineup down there pretty good.”
I really liked the former move, and have been calling for it for a while. The latter, however, makes little sense to me; usually, when you construct a lineup, you want balance and you want the best hitters close to the top of the order. That’s why I don’t know why you’d want to move Tolbert and Harris up at the expense of Cuddyer, Kubel, and Young.
It’s only one game, but could Saturday’s 12-6 win over the Rangers showcase some early results of both decisions? Obviously, it’s only one game, and anything can happen. But you have to start somewhere, and I think it’s amusing that such an “example game” could happen so quickly. We’ll probably come back to this issue again later in the season and see how things have gone over a longer period.
Anyhow, how’d Gardy do? Read on!
Well, we scored 12 runs, so something must have worked! A big reason for the runs was the collapse of the Rangers’ defense, which committed three errors that led to 5 unearned runs. But there was more to it than that.
The Twins chased the starter — Sidney Ponson — from the game after 5.1 innings, having thrown 93 pitches. In all, the Twins saw 176 pitches in the game, from 5 different pitchers. This is despite the fact that the umpire seemed to be favoring the pitchers for much of the game, being generous with the corners (for both sides — consistency makes that 100% okay). The newfound focus on making opposing pitchers work showed immediate dividends; we get to see all their pitches and get deep into their bullpen, where inferior pitchers tend to live. I’d venture to say that it seems pretty obvious that this would result in increased offensive production, and I’m surprised any manager would be against it.
Interestingly, despite working deeper into counts and showing more patience at the plate, we only drew 3 walks (compared to 5 strike outs). That’s a good demonstration that the benefit of patience at the plate is not just walks, but the increased ability to hit (16 hits). Walks would help, but they’re not required.
So what about the decision to push the lineup down? The 6-9 spots in the order (Kubel-Young-Lamb-Monroe) combined to go 9-18 with 6 RBI. The 5 spot (Cuddyer) drove in 3 with a home run in the 8th. The 1 spot (Tolbert) went 0-6, but got on base via an error and stole a base (late in the game, mitigating the usefulness of “leading off”). He was the only Twins player not to collect a hit in the game.
I think it’s inappropriate to complain much when the offense is clicking like this. If this is the lineup that can score like this, then it works and we’d do well to stick with it. However, in the interest of constant improvement, might it not work better to try to push the productive hitters up in the order and move the plucky “gamer” to the bottom of the order where he can still be a sparkplug late in games? (By the way, the Rangers’ commentators described Tolbert as “David Eckstein, only taller!”)
I’m not complaining; instead, I’m offering what I consider to be constructive criticism. And when everyone in the lineup is hitting, it doesn’t matter that much what order they go in. So maybe I was wrong that this was a great game to judge the lineup choice — I was trying to highlight the fact that most of the offensive production came from the bottom of the order (which is true), but everyone was producing.
Finally, the offensive outburst gave us a chance to give Bobby Korecky a very low percentage inning for his major league debut. He struggled, requiring 25 pitches to get through the inning (only 11 strikes), while walking 2 batters and striking out 0. With the bases loaded and nobody out, Rick Anderson went to the mound and Korecky immediately got a double play ball (which scored the run from third) and then forced an easy grounder to Morneau to end the game. It would have been better to see him dominate and show better command, but I think this outing is acceptable for four reasons. One, it very well could have been first-time jitters, and those may now be gone. Two, he demonstrated the ability not to shut down in the face of pressure. Three, when he finally started commanding his pitches, he was getting guys to put the ball on the ground. Four, he was a closer in the minors, and it’s very possible that he’s not used to pitching in “non-save” situations. (Pitching is very mental, and it’s possible that this makes a difference for some guys — this is the one reason managers may legitimately have for saving The Closer for save situations, but I think it depends entirely on the mental makeup of the individual pitchers, making it the manager’s call. Just like some guys can’t be closers, it’s certainly possible that some guys have to be.) So the jury’s obviously still out on Korecky, but if we can start to trust him in high leverage situations in the 7th and 8th innings it’ll take a lot of the load off of Guerrier and Neshek. That would be fantastic.