Archive for April, 2009
So here I am, at the time the game normally starts … and there’s no game on. I hate off days. I’ve decided that I’m going to start an ongoing feature called Useless Offday Thoughts, which … well, which is exactly what it sounds like. You’ve already been treated to one, regarding managers and their uniforms. Here’s number two.
This is the last day before Joe Mauer’s triumphant return to the team. There will certainly be some mistakes made in his use, like batting him third and keeping Casilla at #2 and pushing Kubel out of his natural #4 spot, but at the moment all that nonsense is overridden by the fact that he’s returning to the lineup and all is right with the world.
But perhaps the biggest difference will be his work behind the plate — especially given that Morales has done a great job in the batter’s box. I believe the two-headed Redmond/Morales monster has combined to throw out one base stealer, while opposing teams run at will against us. I know Neyer says it doesn’t matter, but shutting that down will probably help.
What will help more is that Mauer calls a great game. Everyone says Morales has made big strides in his game-calling abilities, but Mauer is one of (if not the) best. And Baker especially has shown an uncharacteristic inability to make adjustments during the game — I have a feeling Mauer puts an end to that. We have a team ERA of 5.26 thus far, for an ERA+ of just 84. If that continues, it’d be by far the worst mark in the Gardenhire Era, and I don’t think this is a bad pitching staff. (We may have more talent in the rotation from top to bottom than we’ve had this decade.) If that ERA has dropped significantly a month from now, there will be two culprits:
- Mauer is great
- Most of the pitchers aren’t actually as bad as they’ve been throwing, and they’re bound to regress (in the good way)
[Juan] Morillo, 25, has thrown a pregame bullpen session under pitching coach Rick Anderson’s watchful eye almost every day.I’ve been harping on the Twins to get Morillo into more games, especially in blowout situations since he can’t be trusted yet, so we can evaluate how he looks. Unsurprisingly, Rick Anderson is doing what he can to evaluate Morillo while he teaches him, maybe, how to be a better pitcher.
“We are working on my consistency,” Morillo said. “I worked on that [before coming to the Twins] but I can see [Anderson] is good at what he does.”
I don’t know if it will work (how often does Anderson actually work any magic on a bad pitcher?), but given Morillo’s statement it’s possible that Anderson is trying something nobody’s tried before. And if whatever previous pitching coaches had tried didn’t work, I’m glad something different is happening.
Hopefully Morillo manages to harness his tremendous arm, because I’d much rather have a reliable and accurate Juan Morillo than a Luis Ayala.
My final useless thought for today* is about Andruw Jones. Over the winter, the Dodgers released him and restructured his contract, basically paying him to go away. Any team in baseball could have had him for 2009 at league minimum.
* At least the final one for this post. I’m sure I’ll have plenty more useless thoughts before I fall asleep tonight. You won’t be subjected to them though.
I never seriously considered the possibility of Jones in a Twins uniform for two reasons.
- We had enough outfielders
- Jones had really sucked in 2008, and wasn’t much of a player in 2007 either
I don’t know who would have had to go down to make room for Andruw Jones, and obviously hindsight is 20/20 … and it’s just a small sample size. But he’s really hitting. Look at these numbers:
Carlos Gomez: .195/.250/.293 0 HR, 1 RBI, 46 OPS+ Delmon Young: .241/.276/.315 1 HR, 9 RBI, 59 OPS+ Michael Cuddyer: .224/.318/.316 1 HR, 7 RBI, 72 OPS+ Andruw Jones: .345/.513/.724 3 HR, 5 RBI, 220 OPS+
Tell me Jones’ numbers wouldn’t look pretty great between Morneau and Kubel. And given that he spent 10 years as arguably the best defensive CF in the game, I’d say his defense in the corner outfield would be pretty good. No doubt better than Delmon Young’s.
Obviously we can’t go back and time and make this happen. And if we could, he wouldn’t have hit like this for the Twins — people hit like that for the Rangers, not for the Twins.* But it’s fun.
* I’ve talked in the past about how we gave up more to get Delmon Young than the Rangers gave up to get Josh Hamilton or the White Sox gave up to get Carlos Quentin. While it seems like we should be disappointed in our take, my guess is that if we’d got Hamilton or Quentin they wouldn’t be hitting for us, and Delmon would be clobbering the ball for either the Rangers or White Sox. That’s how our hitting coaches work.
Just something to think about when Bill Smith isn’t making crazy moves. You know, in case he does something crazy again after getting wiped out by the first two big moves he made.7 comments
The Twins have reached our goal (and by extension their) of finishin April at 500. This was challenging for three main reasons:
1) No Joe Mauer
2) We were one of two AL teams who faced all four of the 2008 playoff teams (White Sox, Rays, Red Sox, Angels)
3) We played against some teams who were really hot in April, but will fade back this summer (Toronto, Seattle)
So doing these things without Mauer is pretty impressive. Baker and Liriano have both gotten off to terrible starts,Baker in particular, so you can probably add that to the above list. If Mauer comes out swining, and Baker and Liriano revert to the pitchers we know they can be, we might be OK for this season. The key to this amazing 11-11 start has been the performance of Perkins, Span, Morneau and Kubel. Those four have really carried us. Note: They are all lefties, I am a lefty, thus I am awesome.
We face Sidney Ponson tonight, I’m assuming Mauer will be catching, and we get to miss Zach Grienke. All of these are good things. Hopefully Mauer can catch two of the games, but I’m not sure how that will look. It appears as if Kubel is entrenched in the DH spot, which is another good thing. This means that when Mauer rests, he will really be resting, not DHing.
A few thoughts on the last nights game. Blackburn looked excellent. He walked just one guy, got a lot of first pitch strikes (24 of 30 I believe), and induced many ground outs.
Who else thinks that Casilla has to be on a pretty short leash at this point? The way Harris is hitting the ball makes it tough to keep him out of the lineup more often than not. While Casilla is a better defender, and its nice to have the versatile Harris on the bench, we should have our nine best hitters in the lineup. At this point that includes Harris. If Casilla must start, he should not be batting second. Can you imagine if we had Span-Mauer-Morneau-Kubel. Our four best hitters in a row. I don’t care if the are all lefties. Casilla is going to be batting left handed most of the time anyway, but having our 4 best hitters in a row is better than any stupid R-L-R lineup construction anyday.
I’ve also been reading that the Twins might place Redmond on the DL retro-active to Sunday, thus delaying any roster decision for about 10 days. This is probably a good move, as Redmond probably has nagging injuries. If Gardy plans on easing Mauer into things, the backup catcher will be playing a lot more than normal for the next few weeks, and it might be best if Morales is getting those at bats over Redmond.
Here’s to a winning May. I will be in attendance tomorrow and I hope Mauer gets at least 3 hits off Ponson.16 comments
Alright guys, this one has nothing to do with the Twins, but bear with me. I’ve got a crazy question here, and I want everyone’s thoughs.
First, to the MLB rulebook, for Rule 10.17(b):
(b) If the pitcher whose team assumes a lead while such pitcher is in the game, or during the inning on offense in which such pitcher is removed from the game, and does not relinquish such lead, is a starting pitcher who has not completedNext, note that the judgment call part of the rule was actually exercised this week.
(1) five innings of a game that lasts six or more innings on defense, or
(2) four innings of a game that lasts five innings on defense, then the official scorer shall credit as the winning pitcher the relief pitcher, if there is only one relief pitcher, or the relief pitcher who, in the official scorer’s judgment was the most effective, if there is more than one relief pitcher.
Now, the scorer has to use his best judgment to determine which relief pitcher was the most effective, not just which one came in first.
Imagine the following scenario:
Pitcher gets knocked out of the game before finishing the 5th inning, and has a 5-0 lead when he leaves (say it’s an injury).
The team rolls out one relief pitcher per inning, who each give up a single run in the 5th, 6th, 7th, and 8th innings. The team now has a 5-4 lead coming into the 9th, and they bring in their closer. He strikes out the side. (He clearly was the most effective relief pitcher in this obviously contrived scenario.)
Here’s my question: Is the closer rewarded with both a win and a save?8 comments
Last season the Twins hot a major league best 305 with runners in scoring position. We discussed this many times in this space. Was it sustainable? Was it luck? Some argued that it could be repeated, while many argued that it could not. You always regress to the mean, so there was a lot of room to fall from that 305 mark. The Twins are proving that this year. Through 20 games they are hitting 265 with runners in scoring position. In the Twins last two loses (Sunday and Monday) the team was 1-18 w/RISP. That is unbelievably bad. When I saw the 265 number, I though that was too high. It seems as if we are hitting much worse than that. As an entire team we aren’t doing so hot at the plate. Our right handed batters in particular. While I think we will eventually bring that average w/RISP up, I don’t think we will hit nearly as well as we did in 2008. Can you imagine if Morneau and Kubel didn’t start the year so hot? We would probably be sitting at 5-16 instead 10-11. Yes, the math is right.
Now, you can say “but we are doing all of this without Joe Mauer, we just need to tread water”. Do you really think inserting Mauer into the lineup will make Cuddyer not be terrible? I for one do not. I think it will help, but when Mauer is sitting on the bench (after doing something awesome, no doubt), Cuddyer will probably still be prone to strike out. This brings me to my next point: Cuddyer isn’t good enough to be an everyday player. He simply doesn’t have the track record that people claim he does. That throw he made to the plate yesterday had a better chance of hitting me in the face, than getting the runner out (no seriously, I was sitting first row behind the plate, no big deal). I think it is better for the team to get our young outfielders (Young, Gomez) at bats than it is to stroke Cuddyer’s ego by letting him play everyday.
Next point: Who goes down when Mauer comes back? Conventional wisdom says Morales. But with the way Gardy has been using Gomez, I say send him down. I mean he has been nothing more than a defensive replacement for the past week or so. He should have been in the minors most of last year. The arguments for sending Gomez down are a lot stronger than sending Morales down. While I don’t advocate carrying three catchers, Morales has been hitting lately, and if Mauer needs to be eased back into the lineup it will be nice to have him for those first few weeks.
When Crain comes back I think the best idea is to try to get Morillo through waivers. He would be a nice project, but isn’t worth a major league roster spot at this point. Yes, 97 MPH fastballs are cool, but not when they have your recently back from the DL catcher running all over the place trying to keep runners from advancing.
Does anyone else think that the shift Maddon used last night turned out to be a bad idea? I’ve never like those shifts, because I think having five infielders creates a “too many cooks in the kitchen” problem. Especially when you put a backup right fielder in charge of helping turn a DP. I guess hindsight is always 20-20.
Also, if we win tonight (knock on wood) we will be 11-11 without Mauer. I believe that was the collective firegardy.com goal. Even 10-12 isn’t terrible without our best player.
So feel free to leave your hopeless defense-of-Cuddyer arguments in the comments section. Or suggestions as to how Gardy and co. should handle the roster in the next few weeks.22 comments
The only thing I have to say about last night’s game is this:
If your catcher records a passed ball on a pitchout that allows a runner who wasn’t going to steal to advance a base, you know your team’s going bad.
Anyhow, with that catching mishap and the imminent return of Mauer, Rob Neyer has decided to start pointing out that he’s really not all that important to the Twins.
First, he looks into the effects of a noodle arm behind the plate, pointing out that it doesn’t matter at all if the catcher throws out every runner who attempts to steal, or throws out none of them. Quoting famed Twins-hater Dave Cameron:
Last season, the Philadelphia Phillies only caught 24% of basestealers on their way to celebrating their first World Series title in 28 years. In 2008, 11 teams were able to throw out at least 30% of base stealers, but only one of those teams made the playoffs, and that team, the Milwaukee Brewers, lost in the first round.Neyer then says:
One, few teams run enough to make a big dent in the all-important runs columns. As Cameron notes, what matters most is the number of baserunners, not what they do (under their own power) once they’re on.But obviously if the catcher simply can’t throw runners out, then teams will run more against you. While it’s certainly better to just keep runners off base entirely, a catcher who allows a lot of steals just exacerbates the problem.
What does that have to do with Mauer and the Twins, you ask? Well, Mauer controls the running game better than any catcher in baseball, and Morales/Redmond can’t throw anybody out. Neyer’s just setting himself up for his “It won’t matter when Mauer comes back, the Twins still suck” argument.
Which, of course, he makes in his very next post:
Once again we’re reminded of how little difference the loss of one player, however great, can make. Mauer’s replacements could have been awful or they could have been just OK, but instead they were actually pretty good. No, a .759 OPS isn’t anything special, but it’s pretty darned good for catchers. I’ll bet that Mauer’s had months that weren’t as good. Shoot, I’ll go ahead and check …Sure, players have up and down months. So Morales is a reasonably good hitting catcher and is having a good month, and it’s possible to cherry-pick some months from Mauer’s sterling record that look worse, based solely on OPS? Clearly that means the Twins shouldn’t be that excited to get Mauer back, and he’s not going to make any difference. One player doesn’t make any difference, and replacing an annual-MVP-candidate/two-time-batting-champion/gold-glove-catcher with a minor leaguer will result in the same overall results. If you’re the Twins. If the Red Sox or Yankees did that, the sky would fall so fast you wouldn’t know what hit you.
Yep. Mauer wasn’t as good last April as his replacements this April. He wasn’t as good in June or August of ‘08, either.
But the real reason for the Twins’ good position isn’t Mauer’s replacements or Mauer’s return; it’s the abject weakness of the Twins’ division. With the exception of the Tigers — who are not exactly worry-free — no team in the American League Central looks like even a decent bet to finish above .500.So yes, it does all come down to this. Some more AL Central bashing, from someone who thinks that only the Tigers have a reasonable chance to finish above .500 … I don’t know exactly why he thinks that,* but I’ve got the Tigers as the worst team in the division, and the one most likely to finish below .500. And that’s just looking at the talent they have on the field, not taking into account the inevitable injuries they’ll suffer with their elderly team, and the fact that their minor league system is so devoid of talent that they’ll be unable to replace anyone who goes down.
* But I assume it’s because they have the highest payroll.
Once again, my message is to not listen to Neyer, who takes his hate-the-Twins-without-thinking-about-it straight from Cameron.
Of course, that’s a tough sell after yet another piss-poor performance. But in baseball, each individual game means nothing; put them all together and they mean everything. We just have to come out tonight and play well, and we’ll soon forget about this bad game. And we still get to look forward to getting Mauer back.
And my guess is that his presence will make a difference.5 comments
Last night Slowey through an absolute gem: 8+ IP, 7K, 0BB, 1 ER.
He was basically dominant the entire time, and only had one AB in the first 8 innings where he was in trouble, when he got to a 2-0 count on Shin Soo Choo with Travis Hafner on second base. It was his only 2-0 count of the night. He worked it to a 3-1 count, against a power hitting lefty who’s been swinging well; he threw a change up and got Choo to fly out.
[Joe C] asked Slowey how common it is for him to throw 3-1 change-ups. He said it was the right pitch for “a power-hitting lefty who swings very well. It’s something I need to continue to work on, to throw a pitch like that in a count like that.”Kevin Slowey is a smart guy.
But I have one thing to complain about in that pitching performance. With a 7-0 lead going into the ninth inning, and your starter has already thrown over 100 pitches, and is just 25 years old, and the entire bullpen is rested after two off days and a rainout in the last week, along with a dominant start the previous night … there’s no reason to have the starter go for the complete game.
So what did Gardy have to say for himself?
“After an easy eighth, you have to let him take a shot at it,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said of the shutout. “We said we are going to stretch these guys out. I think it had been seven days since his last start, and he’s got six days before his next one. It’s an opportune time to let these guys stretch out if they can do that. … It didn’t work out, they rolled some balls through and got some hits. But you want these guys to understand that we are not afraid to do that.”Don’t get me wrong. I want to see our pitchers start getting more complete game shutouts. But I don’t want them starting any innings once they’re over 100 pitches. And when the bullpen is rested, they can be used.
Especially since we have one Juan Morillo, who has the arm to be a setup man, but can’t be trusted. In his two outings for us, he’s looked fantastic in one and truly awful in another. We’re working on the guy, trying to rebuild him … and we need to figure out who he is soon, because he might be the guy to go once Crain returns. I don’t want us making that decision based on too little information.
That the move didn’t work out as planned isn’t my issue. My issue is that it was the wrong decision from a baseball standpoint. It was made in an effort to generate a meaningless statistic for Slowey (CG SHO) that at best shows how macho he (and his manager) is. The problem is that it prevented the possibility of generating meaningful statistics for Morillo, who needs more outings and can’t be trusted in a close game at the moment.
Oh, and while Ayala looked good in only allowing one run with the bases loaded and nobody out … what does it say about how much Gardy trusts him that Nathan was warming up before that inning ending double play?
I think it says a lot.No comments
Yesterday, Baseball Prospectus came out with their latest Hit List, which comes out every week and supposedly ranks all 30 teams in order of their current talent/performance, rather than simply by record.
I say “supposedly,” because over the years I’ve been looking at this Hit List there has seemed to be an AL Central Penalty, and an even larger Minnesota Twins Penalty. They’ve apparently decided to pull out all the stops in their anti-Twins effort, as here are the Hit List rankings for the five AL Central teams:
13: White Sox
I’d quibble with putting the Tigers in the top 10 at all, and certainly not ahead of the Royals right now. But for a division that was expected by everyone to be “completely and utterly terrible” (despite the fact that based on actually winning games it’s been the 2nd or 3rd best division in baseball for years), these rankings are pretty good. Nobody will notice, of course.
Oh, you’re wondering why I only listed four teams? Because of this:
#29: Minnesota TwinsThat’s right, they’ve got the Twins ranked at 29th best in the league, just ahead of the hapless Natinals. Now, I understand that they haven’t been playing well, and the top of the rotation is struggling, and the offense hasn’t clicked yet, and there’s no replacing Joe Mauer, and BP just saw them lose two games to The Only Baseball Team That Matters … but second-worst-in-the-league seems pretty unreasonable.
Oh, and it is amusing that “the top of their rotation is a mess but the back end isn’t” is used as a positive for Detroit and a negative for Minnesota.
I’d say that “winning games is the only way to change their minds,” but given their history it’s pretty clear that that won’t work. The only fix for this is to ignore it.
And I don’t think I can do that.No comments
We all know that Gardy’s a smart guy, and gives some brilliant quotes when asked nicely. I think he just topped himself, though.
“He’s got to unstink because it’s not mechanical. OK? There you have it. That’s managing 101.”That’s managing 101? I mean, I never took that class, but I imagine that “he’s got to unstink” isn’t part of it.
He was talking about Baker and his early struggles. He’s given up 7 homers in his first two starts, which ties him for the most given up in the first start of the season, ever.
At some point those balls are going to stop leaving the park,* but Baker’s going to have to make the necessary adjustments: keep the ball down, and stop leaving fat ones middle up.
* Also, at some point, Blyleven is going to have to admit that Baker is a homer-prone pitcher. No other pitcher has given up more home runs in his first two starts of the season, in the history of baseball. He gave up 20 HR in 28 games last year. This is simply a lot of home runs.
But at least we have Gardy there to not do anything about it.2 comments
I’ve often joked that the best cure for a struggling team is to face the Twins. Team-wide slump? When you’re done with us you’ll all be on fire. Bullpen wrecked up and overused? We’ll give your starters a couple of complete games and you’ll be good to go. Obviously, though, this “fix the opponent’s problems” thing is not some sort of deliberate strategy. And maybe it’s random, and this happens to all teams.* So I’m wondering why it happens.
* But since this is the bloggingest blog of blogs, we’re just going to go ahead and assume that a general feeling I have is true and go from there. I don’t see any problem with it.
I want to focus, right now, on team defense. I know our pitchers have been getting lit up and every offense we face looks like the ‘27 Yankees, but what’s more interesting than more “What’s wrong with Baker and Liriano?” / “Well it’s early, let’s not panic” discussions is why teams seem to fare better in the field against us than they do normally.
We opened the season against the Mariners, and in a four game split their outfield defense shined even brighter than everyone had expected. Their entire defense was +10 runs in just 4 games, or something absurd like that, and if they kept up that pace for the whole season they’d set the record for the best defense of all time; naturally, they have since come crashing back down to earth and their defense is doing about as well as expected.
** Hey, pictures! I figured I’d look for pictures of the guys who made good plays against the Twins in these series. ESPN had five full pages of pictures of the Red Sox / Twins game, but less than one page of the Mariners / Twins matchup. And they didn’t have anything of Franklin Gutierrez or Endy Chavez, who were the guys who won those games! Sad.
This week in Boston, we got clobbered in a doubleheader. But in the second game, we were touching up the pitcher and smacking the ball all over the field; it just so happened that their defense caught fire when we did it. Six lineouts on rocket shots, two of which turned into double plays. Ellsbury tracked down long fly balls in center. Teams don’t usually play defense like that,* so what got into the Red Sox that day?
* There’s a reason 70+% of line drives end up as hits, and it’s because teams don’t usually play defense like that.
I’m going to go ahead and throw out the idea that teams somehow “try harder” against the Twins. It doesn’t make sense, and can’t be verified either way.
So what’s going on?
When I was a kid, and trying unsuccessfully to be a pitcher, my dad always told me that the most important thing was to throw strikes, to pitch to contact, to get the ball in play — the reason for this was that at that level, lots of walks and strikeouts lead to boring games and that’s not good for anyone. In order to keep the kids on my team involved, plenty of balls in play were in order. My ability to throw a ball slowly, accurately, and without movement meant I was a master of getting kids to hit the ball. It gave my fielders a lot of work to do, but ultimately wasn’t that good for my performance as a pitcher.*
* Although I did get to “good hit” to everyone on the other team as we were shaking hands after the game. For what that’s worth.
Since baseball players are famously trapped in an adolescent mental and emotional state, and they all apparently also have ADD, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to think that similar effects may be in play. Especially given that major league teams don’t even take fielding practice any more.
This, then, comes back to the Twins’ organizational hitting philosophy. As a team, the Twins put the ball into play early in the count, and rarely walk or strike out. That keeps the game moving quickly, and it increases the team’s batting average at the expense of OBP and slugging. But it also keeps the opposing starter’s pitch count low, and it keeps opposing fielders in the game such that they’re more primed to make plays.*
* One of the things I often accuse the Red Sox of is dragging the games out so long that by the 7th inning, the other team is bored and just wants to go home, allowing the Red Sox to pull out wins at the end of the game when the other team is mentally out of it. It’s like that kid who was a dick head on the field, and when you were fed up with him and left, he danced around in “victory.” I am positive that Kevin Youkilis was that kid.
I like the fact that the Twins play fast games, and I think putting the ball in play is a more exciting way to play baseball. However, I was already apprehensive about the tradeoff, given the decrease in walks and extra base hits that come along with this strategy. If another tradeoff is that the opposing defense actually performs better because of it, it seems to me that it’s about time to consider changing the ball-in-play philosophy.
What are your thoughts? Am I off base here? Or might there be something to the concept that hitting the ball early in the count and limiting walks and strike outs can keep the defense on its toes?No comments
It was a rough day in Boston, and that really leads to it being a rough week, given how the games fell out. Off day, rainout, double header, off day. When the double header consists of a pair of demoralizing blowout losses, it's just not a fun week.