Good News: The Pitching Doesn’t Completely Suck

Thumbnail image for kev_slowey.jpgOh sure, just as I was going to post something reassuring about the performances of our young staff, they done blowed up real good against an anemic Cleveland lineup. At home, no less. Well, I’m going to put it up anyway, because it’s the truth and I wasted an entire evening on this goddam thing.  Both the starters and the bullpen haven’t been as bad as their overall records would indicate.  The starting pitching in particular is about as good as it was last year, even though it kind of seems worse because of the disappointing performances by Scott Baker and Francisco Liriano to date.  But even Scotty and Frankie haven’t been quite as bad as their respective 6.32 and 6.60 ERAs make them look.  The Twins’ defense is ranked tenth in the league, and both Baker (4.74 xFIP) and Liriano (4.94 xFIP) appear to be getting burned the most by shoddy defense behind them.  It’s been particularly bad for Baker, who also tends to give up a lot of home runs (he’s surrendered a career-high 14 going into today’s game against Cleveland).  His last start against Tampa Bay was a good example of the problem he’s faced all year:  the defense behind him failed to make a routine play, which put two runners on for the dangerous Evan Longoria.  Baker naturally gave up a home run and was charged with three earned runs since the misplay behind him was ruled an infield hit rather than an error (never mind, it was ruled an error, but what was a tie game was quickly a three-run deficit due to poor defense).  Same thing for Frankie, whose last two starts (especially the one against Boston) probably would’ve been quality starts were it not for the defensive miscues behind him.

Defense doesn’t account for all of Frankie’s misfortunes, however.  His 1.619 WHIP and poorFrankie_fail.jpg 1.79 K/BB ratio show that he’s not exactly pitching like the ace he was expected to be going into the season.  The Twins have been reluctant to pull Liriano from the rotation, and for good reason. His 4.3 BB/9 rate is horrendous, but his 50 strikeouts lead the team and he often pitches well through the first four innings or so.  His stuff still looks pretty nasty when he’s on, which makes his struggles just that much more frustrating.  And he was really good after being called up from Rochester last year, posting a 2.74 ERA, 1.188 WHIP and a very good 3.16 K/BB ratio.  Part of the problem is that he’s throwing his changeup a lot less, 14.2% compared to about 20% in 2008.  Whenever he gets into trouble, he relies heavily on his slider as an out pitch.  And this worked well when he was still throwing around 95-mph before his surgery, but now that his velocity is somewhere in the low-90s he really needs his changeup to compliment his fastball and slider (although even then he was still throwing his changeup about 16-18% of the time). On top of all that, Frankie appears to be suffering from a lack of confidence in himself and his stuff, which is often much more difficult to fix than mechanical issues (although he seems to have those, too).  The mediocre defense behind him is just making matters worse.

The other reason the Twins have been reluctant to move Frankie to the bullpen is that they don’t really have a suitable replacement.  With a 2.08 ERA, Anthony Swarzak had looked pretty good coming into last night’s game against the Indians and was threatening to take Frankie’s spot in the rotation.  But his 1.50 K/BB ratio and unsustainable 98.5 LOB% indicated that he’d probably just been more lucky than good, so it wasn’t really all that surprising when he got beat up by the Indians.  He’ll probably move to the bullpen once Glen Perkins comes off the DL (which isn’t a bad thing, the ‘pen still needs help).

As for the much-maligned bullpen, they got off to a rough start but have been pitching better as of late.  Joe Nathan hasn’t surrendered a run since blowing a save against the Yankees on May 15th (Although he probably will now that I just jinxed him. Sorry, Joe).  Matt Guerrier and Jose Mijares have been reliable, but not quite as good as their 3.55 and 2.60 ERAs would indicate (Guerrier has an xFIP of 4.12 and Mijares 4.56).  Unfortunately, the rest of the ‘pen can’t be counted on for anything other than long relief, with R.A. Dickey posting a 1.42 WHIP and 4.88 xFIP despite his relatively low 3.06 ERA and Luis Ayala posting a 4.07 ERA, 1.60 WHIP, and 5.02 xFIP.  Dickey has some value as a spot-starter, but Ayala’s been useless for anything other than mop-up duty.  Jesse Crain looked a lot like his pre-surgery self early in the year, but he hasn’t been anything but terrible no matter how you look at it since coming off the DL (eep: 7.88 ERA, 5.44 xFIP, 1.63 WHIP, 1.22 K/BB). 

  • Carlos Gomez, sabermatician

Thumbnail image for mlb_g_gomez_300.jpgGomez may not be the best hitter in the league, but he clearly understands the value of defense and on-base %.  He told the Star Tribune after Tuesday’s game:  “Denard, me and Casilla — all we need to do is try to get on base and
try to play good defense,” Gomez said. “I know I do nothing with the
bat today, but I make a good catch. If I don’t do well with the bat, I
can do better with the glove and this helps my team. When you’ve got
Mauer and Morneau in the lineup, it makes a big difference. I know
they’re going to make some runs if I don’t get on base.”

Of course, with a mere .276 OBP Go-Go still needs to work on, you know, actually getting on base, but at least he grasps the concept.  Which is more than can be said for Jeff Francoeur.

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9 comments

  1. tgrssuk

    Wondering where you heard the Twins were tenth in defense? http://mlb.mlb.com/stats/sortable_team_stats.jsp?c_id=mlb&baseballScope=AL&statType=3&sitSplit=&timeSubFrame=2009&groupByTeam=true&Submit=Submit&timeFrame=1

    The Twins are #1 in the American league in fielding percentage, still 3 less errors than Detroit and New York who needless to say have the pleasure of playing on real grass. It really is the pitching, and not the fielding. Scott Baker is on a pace to allow 40-50 home runs, and Liriano has been simply attrocius, as well as Jesse Crain. The Twins team ERA is ranked 24th in MLB, and its only that high because of their better performances in the Dome.

    Couple that with the fact that the middle infielders(outfielder) are just outs waiting to happen, and even the heroics of Mauer, Morneau, Span, and Kubel are only enough to nip at the heals of a .500 team.

    The good side of all this is that nobody else in the central is really much better. Detroit shows some signs of brilliance, but without Maggs hitting, they teeter on slumpsville as well.
    If only we could play 1/2 or games against NL teams…

  2. redstatebluestate

    Yes, Gomez seems to have his head in the right place regarding the 2009 version; however, that style of just getting on base and good defense won’t cut it once the team is dismantled due to high salaries (Mauer anyone?). I know I’ve said it a million times, but still, I can’t get over how sad it is that they won’t be in the dome next year. I think they’re going to be hurting bigtime.
    –Jeff
    http://redstatebluestate.mlblogs.com/

  3. Jane Heller

    I sure hope you didn’t jinx Joe Nathan, Erin! Seriously, I think a lot of teams (the Yankees included) have watched their bullpens struggle. In our case, it’s the walks that are killing us. Just dreadful.

    http://janeheller.mlblogs.com

  4. Erin Kathleen

    Dillon,True, Slowey has been one of the bright spots in the rotation. He doesn’t have the greatest stuff, but he’s deceptive and I just really enjoy watching him work.Julia,Well, thanks to the Red Sox for taking care of the Tigers. That helps out a lot. Now the Twins really need to help out their own case by winning on the road.tgrssk,I put up the link to the Baseball Prospectus page that has the Twins ranked tenth in defense. The problem with fielding percentage and errors is that they don’t accurately measure how efficiently a team converts balls in play into outs. The Twins haven’t been very good at that, and with all of the contact pitchers in the rotation, they really need to be. It’s the same reason ERA isn’t really an effective stat for measuring pitching performances, at least not on its own (which is why I used xFIP, K/BB, BB/9 along with ERA to illustrate my point). I will get into it more in my next post, since there really isn’t enough room here to explain defensive metrics. And I wasn’t implying that Baker and Liriano are pitching like aces, they’re mediocre even when you take the defense into account. I was just saying that they’re not as bad as people think and there’s good reason to think they will improve. Jeff,But getting on base is how you score runs in the first place 🙂 Justin Morneau can hit all the homers he wants, but it won’t do any good if the bases are empty. Since Go-Go isn’t a power hitter, the best thing he can do is get on base so the M&M boys can drive him in. And I’m actually excited for the new ballpark, now people won’t be able to use the Dome as a lame excuse for their team losing a World Series :)Jane,Yeah, it does seem as though almost every team in the league is having problems with their bullpen. Which is just going to make relief help that much harder to find, I fear. It’s just kind of frustrating because the Twins had a chance to go after some hard-throwing FAs and could’ve signed them on the cheap, but failed to do so.

  5. tgrssuk

    Im not looking to start a debate, we will have to agree to disagree. In the same way you can analyze ERA and FPC, you can analyze pitch location and spray tendencies. The Twins do prefer to pitch to contact, but if the location is off or the timing/velocity is too consistent, it is a whole lot easier to make good contact. Liriano’s 32 walks tie him for second place and are the complete opposite direction of the Twins pitching philosophy. Whats worse is he’s in the #1 slot which means he often draws the other team’s ace as an opponent. Baker has allowed only 63 total hits in 60 innings work, which means that nearly 25% of the hits he’s given up are leaving the stadium. Ill accept the argument that in some cases, the D is making the pitching look bad, but I have to maintain that most the Twins woes come from poor execution at the top of the rotation, and poor performance at the plate by anyone past the #6 spot in the lineup.

    • Erin Kathleen

      TgrsskI agree that Baker and Liriano should be moved to the back of the rotation; they’re still pitching more like #4 and #5 starters even when you account for defense. Slowey and Blackburn have pitched more like #1 and #2 starters and should probably be at the top of the rotation. I think it would help Frankie a lot since he’d be under a lot less pressure to pitch like an ace (and might get more run support). Baker seems to have fixed the mechanical issues that were making his pitches so hittable, so maybe he’ll start to justify his spot at the top of the rotation. He’s an extreme fly ball pitcher, though, so he’s always going to give up a lot of home runs (his career HR/9 rate is 1.4). I do think that at least the starting pitching is going to come around. But I think we can both agree that it won’t matter much if the Twins don’t get more production from the 7-8-9 hitters, or help for the bullpen.

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