Tagged: Francisco Liriano

Mired in Mediocrity

20081001_blackburn_33

At 43-43 44-43, this team is exactly average.  I’m certainly not the first person to notice this, nor am I the first to point out
that it’s mostly because all of the great talent on this team is
balanced by players who have no business on a major-league roster.  The
awesomeness of Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau is balanced by the
suckitude of well, the entire second half of the lineup.  Nick
Blackburn is putting up the best numbers of his career, while Scott
Baker and Francisco Liriano are putting up the worst.  The comparison
between the best and worst players on the team is stark:

Hitters:

Joe Mauer:          .389/.461/.651/1.112 OPS  4.3 WAR
Justin Morneau:   .313/.390/.582/.971 OPS  2.8 WAR
Jason Kubel:    .306/.364/.540/.904 OPS  1.3 WAR
Denard Span:  .288/.375/.377/.752 OPS  1.7 WAR

Matt Tolbert:  .178/.272/.225/.497 OPS  -0.9 WAR
Nick Punto:   .211/.322/.234/.556 OPS  -0.2 WAR
Carlos Gomez:  .218/.277/.318/.595 OPS  -0.3 WAR
Delmon Young:  .270/.296/.349/.646 OPS  -1.2 WAR

The pitching is a slightly different story:

Pitchers:

Nick Blackburn:  2.94 ERA   4.94 xFIP  1.272 WHIP  1.82 K/BB  2.0 WAR
Kevin Slowey:  4.86 ERA   4.38 xFIP  1.412 WHIP  5.00 K/BB  1.4 WAR
Joe Nathan:  1.35 ERA   2.42 xFIP   0.750 WHIP  6.14 K/BB  1.4 WAR

Scott Baker:  5.31 ERA  4.24 xFIP  1.221 WHIP  3.90 K/BB  1.3 WAR
Francisco Liriano:  5.47 ERA  4.53 xFIP  1.490 WHIP  2.02 K/BB  1.3 WAR

Obviously
guys like Luis Ayala (0.1 WAR), Sean Henn (-0.2 WAR), and Jesse Crain
(-0.2 WAR) haven’t been helping much, either.  The good news is that
none of these guys are in the bullpen right now.  The bad news is that
they were here long enough to cost the team wins.

There
are a couple of things worth noting here.  First of which is that, as
much as both Scott Baker and Francisco Liriano have struggled this
season, both are still above replacement-level (that is, both are more
valuable than some scrub picked up off the waiver wire), and both
obviously have tremendous upside.  So, unless the Twins are absolutely
blown away with an offer for either one, it would be wise to hang onto
them for now (and no, Jon Garland and his 5.28 xFIP is not that guy). 
Secondly, despite his .270 batting average, Delmon Young is still one
of the worst hitters in the lineup.  His .349 slugging percentage is
anemic, his 58/6 K/BB ratio is the worst on the team, besides providing
crappy defense in left (-9.1 UZR).  No wonder the Rays were so eager to
get rid of him.

Of course, this is
pretty much the way the Twins have operated for the past decade, so
none of this comes as a surprise.  The likes of Ramon Ortiz, Sidney Ponson, and Rick Reed have rounded out a rotation fronted by Johan Santana and Brad RadkeDustan Mohr, Michael Restovich, and Michael Ryan have all patrolled the outfield alongside Torii Hunter.  After Corey Koskie left, guys like Tony Batista and Mike Lamb were manning third base until Joe Crede came along.  Jason Tyner, he of the one major league home run, was the DH for 31 games in three seasons with the Twins (when Rondell White and Ruben Sierra weren’t available, of course).  Tyner, by the way, was featured on the “Best Persons in the World” awhile back when his current (former?) team traded him away for nothing.  And then there was the Luis RodriguezJuan CastroLuis Rivas infield, with Terry Tiffee on the bench.  And these weren’t even the worst Twins teams.

Obviously
there was a lot of talk about the Yankees’ payroll during the series at
the Dome, and it’s true that having a larger payroll gives a team more
flexibility. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a “Woe is us, how can we
ever keep up
with the Yankees and Red Sox?” post.  Simply spending a lot of money
doesn’t necessarily guarantee that a team will even make the playoffs
let alone win a championship, and there is much more parity baseball
(especially the AL) than pretty much any other major professional sport
in this country.  It’s just that a smaller payroll
gives a franchise a much smaller margin-for-error when making trades,
signing free agents, and even in the draft, since a bad move can
hamstring such an organization for decades. 

The Nick Swisher trade is a very good
example.  Now, the Yankees
acquired him from the White Sox for next to nothing, but even if he
doesn’t work out, the team isn’t completely sunk.  The Yankees
technically have six outfielders since acquiring Eric Hinske from the
Pirates, so they don’t really need Swisher and could easily trade him if
he starts to decline. 
Compare that to the Delmon Young trade (I know, I know, they’re not
really the same since the Young deal had a much higher risk, but bear
with me).  The Twins gave up a lot to
acquire Young and he has yet to live up to his potential.  To be fair,
Young isn’t the only terrible hitter on this team (and he hasn’t even
entered the prime of his career yet), but he needs to put up better
power numbers to make the trade worthwhile (and to justify giving him
so much playing time).  At this point, though, it’s hard to argue that
the Twins wouldn’t be a better team
with Matt Garza and Jason Bartlett.  Worse yet, his poor performance
and perceived attitude problems mean the Twins would have a tough time
getting anything of value for him should they consider themselves
buyers the trade deadline.  Like it or not, they’re pretty much stuck
and simply have to hope that Young will eventually start to develop
some power.

By the way, I tend to consider the
Young trade karmic retribution for the A.J. Pierzynski trade. 
Although, when you think about it, the Young trade is even worse. 
Pierzynski was at least competent both at the plate and in the field,
and Giants fans only had to put up with him for one season.  Delmon, on
the other hand, is the gift that keeps on giving.
 

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I Guess Miracles Do Happen

  • Nick Punto (!) drives in winning run against Tigers

twins_win.jpgOk, first a bit of a rant.  Today’s game was nationally regionally broadcast on Fox.  Probably only 0.001% of the country actually saw it, since most of the rest of America got the Dodgers/Whoever game.  Fine.  Whatever.  I don’t care if the entire nation gets to see the Twins game, or what channel it’s on, as long as I get to see it on my tv (and I did).  What really drove me nuts, however, is when Fox cut from the Twins game to the Dodgers game just as Miguel Cabrera was stepping into the batter’s box because they felt it was so goddam important to show us Manny Ramirez’s first home run since coming back from his suspension.  News flash Fox:  I am a Twins fan, I don’t give a sh!t about Manny Ramirez.  I haven’t given a sh!t about Manny since he left the Indians, and now that he’s no longer in the American League, I care even less.  I want to watch Francisco Liriano pitch!  I haven’t been able to say that very often this year!  And I’m sure the Tigers fans watching the game really wanted to see Miguel Cabrera hit, not Manny.  Worse yet, Cabrera was on base when the mouth-breathers at Fox finally switched back to the Twins-Tiggers game, and we were left wondering how in the hell that happened.  Yes, the broadcasters later replayed Cabrera’s single to right, and yes, nothing really important happened in the game while they cut away, but that isn’t the point.  I am tired of the mainstream media acting like the only things that matter in baseball happen to the three largest markets in baseball.  I realize that a Twins-Tigers game probably isn’t that exciting to 99% of the country, but it is pretty f*cking important to Twins and Tigers fans.  It’s more important to us than whatever the hell Man-Ram or A-Rod or whatever other superstar-we’re-supposed-to-care-about-because-he-plays-in-a-large-market is doing.  Besides, ESPN will show the same Manny highlights every five minutes, so it’s not like we would never get to see it or anything.  Let us watch the battle for the AL Central in peace!

Whew, I feel much better now.  Frankie was great in this game, although a late-inning near-meltdown prevented him from getting the win.  He shut out teh Kittehs through six innings, striking out seven and only walking one.  Unfortunately, F-bomb ran into trouble in the seventh when he surrendered a three-run homer to Twin-killer Magglio Ordonez, allowing the Tiggers to briefly take the lead.  He did settle down after that though, and managed to finsh the inning without any further damage.  This is obviously a huge step forward for a guy who would completely melt down whenever he got himself in trouble, and while Frankie might not be the same pitcher he was before TJ surgery, he should be better than his 5.49 ERA.

Justin Morneau and Michael Cuddyer both homered in this game, giving the Twins an early 2-0 lead.  The 2006 MVP had a very good afternoon at the plate, going 4-for-4 and driving in the tying run, besides hitting his 20th homer of the year.  But even the Mountie was overshadowed by Nick Punto (of all people), who provided the game-winning hit: a bloop single that drove in Matt Tolbert and put the Twins ahead 4-3 in the eighth.  You know, Punto’s been hitting .286/.545/.286 so far this month, so I’m going to stop making fun of him for now.  He still isn’t exactly earning his $4 million this season, but at least he isn’t as much of a liability in the bottom of the order.

  • Twins drop first game of series in sixteen innings

slowey-fail.jpgToday’s win was particularly sweet because Friday night’s game was no fun for Twins fans.  Kevin Slowey was awful, and as it turns out, is injured.  Slowey has looked like he might be hurt in his past few starts so this
news isn’t surprising, though the cause of the injury is somewhat
suspect (a line drive from a year ago, really?).  The Slow Man has been uncharacteristically wild, walking five batters in his past three starts and, most tellingly, hitting two (he had four hit batsmen all season last year).  Anthony Swarzak has been recalled from Rochester in the meantime.  Swarzak is hardly an ace, but he’s pitched well enough to be a solid middle-of-the-rotation starter and should at least serve as a competent fill-in while Slowey is on the DL.

By the way, this is what it looks like whenever Slowey issues a walk.

The Twins managed to tie the game in the sixth (and later in the fourteenth), but it was all in vain.  Teh Kittehs scored three runs off of R. A. Dickey in the sixteenth inning, and it would be enough to hold off the Twins.  For the Twinkies, this game was lost in the eleventh, when the game was still tied at 7 apiece and Michael Cuddyer came to the plate with the bases loaded and two outs.  The Tigers intentionally walked Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau to pitch to Cuddy, a move that would prove to be brilliant on Jim Leyland’s part.  Cuddy struck out on three pitches, chasing a pitch well outside the zone for strike three.  I actually gave up on the Twinks after that, something I pretty much never do.  I hate to do it, it makes me feel like a bad fan.  This is baseball, after all, and there’s always a chance for a miracle.  But when Cuddy essentially screwed up their best chance to win the game, it was pretty obvious that the Twins just didn’t want to win it.  They simply managed to torment their fans delay the inevitable for five more innings.

As of tonight, Baseball Prospectus has the Twins finishing the season
with 83.9 wins and the Tigers with 84.3.  In other words, the division
is there for the taking so FOR CHRISSAKES JUST GO AHEAD AND TAKE IT
ALREADY!!! 

Is There Such a Thing as a Bad Win?

  • Francisco Liriano has his worst outing of the year and still gets the win

Thumbnail image for p1franciscolirianosi.jpgEven though he only surrendered three runs, this really was Frankie’s worst performance of the season.  It took him a career-high 117 pitches to make it through five innings, and he faced no less than five batters in almost every single inning.  He gave up seven hits and walked more batters than he struck out (six Ks vs. five BBs).  That he only gave up three runs speaks volumes about the Brewers’ offense, and not so much about his ability to pitch out of a jam.  Unlike his previous start against the Pirates, in which he was only a couple of meatballs away from pitching a gem, Frankie was only a couple of bad pitches away from a complete meltdown.  It’s been so frustrating to watch him this season because he shows so much talent, and just when it starts to look like he’s starting to turn the corner, he has a performance as awful as this.  The Twins have been patient with Frankie thus far, but obviously they can’t continue to do so and hope to catch the Tigers and win the division title.  Moving him to the bullpen probably isn’t going to help either Frankie or the Twins much, since he struggles to pitch from the stretch and would likely fail in high-leverage situations.  If he fails to show any progress in his next couple of starts, perhaps the Twins should consider sending him to Rochester.  Working with pitching coach Bobby Cuellar seemed to do wonders for him last year, and he could be sent down with the promise that he would be called back up no matter what happens.  Whether he would be called up as a starter or reliever would depend upon how well he does with the Red Wings.

This game was so difficult to watch I had to keep reminding myself that the Twins were actually winning.  As awful as Frankie was, Milwaukee starter Jeff Suppan was even worse, giving up seven runs (four earned) on nine hits while walking three.  The Twins jumped out to an early lead in the first, when Michael Cuddyer struck out but reached first on a wild pitch, loading up the bases for Joe Crede.  Crede then lashed a double over the head of Mike Cameron, plating three runs.  Carlos Gomez (who had a pretty good night, going 3-for-5 with a pair of runs and RBI) later singled and then hustled to second when Cameron took his sweet time getting the ball back to the infield.  He then scored on a single by Brendan Harris, putting the Twins up 4-2.  A fielding error by J.J. Hardy opened up a three-run third inning, giving the Twins a 7-3 lead they would never relinquish.  Good thing the Brew Crew decided to play more like a beer-league softball team, allowing the Twins to reach the .500 mark for the umpteenth time this season and keep pace with the Tigers.

  • Jinx!

Mauer_on_SI.jpgJoe Mauer is SI‘s cover model this week, for only the second time in his career.  The issue dealt with his pursuit of .400, so naturally he’s gone 0-for-8 in his past two games and dropped his average to a mere .395.  The SI curse probably has little to do with it though, since hitting .400 is really hard to do in the first place and Mauer was starting to show signs of slowing down even before the issue hit the stands.  Still, you’d better start sleeping with one eye open, Tom Verducci.

Keep Frankie in the Rotation (For Now)

Thumbnail image for p1franciscolirianosi.jpgFirst off, I have a new blog.  Well, it’s basically the same as this one, just on a different site.  I’m not sure yet if I’m going to permanently move or not, so I guess this is just sort of a trial run. I’ll probably simply paste the same entry over here for the most part, just to make my life a little easier.  Except the other site will provide an uncensored version of whatever I post over here, so that might be interesting.  Plus the other site will be strictly devoted to baseball, so if you don’t wish to read about hockey or basketball or whatever other crap I sometimes post here, please feel free to visit my other site instead.  And, in light of recent events, there will be some basketball crap at the end of this post.

I did a recap of Wednesday’s loss to Pittsburgh here, but I want to discuss Francisco Liriano and whether he should be moved to the bullpen in greater detail.  Frankie did surrender a pair of two-run homers, but for the most part he pitched a pretty good game against the Pirates.  He struck out six and, most importantly, only walked one through seven innings.  It’s just that he got burned badly by the few mistakes he made and didn’t get any run support. Twins fans have been understandably frustrated with Frankie’s struggles this season, and some have been calling for him to be bumped from the rotation in favor of Anthony Swarzak.  The organization itself has been patient and maintained their faith in him as a starter, with good reason I might add.  Liriano has actually been showing steady improvement over his last four starts, though he doesn’t have much to show for it in terms of his 2-8 record.  His K/BB ratio has improved from an awful 1.76 in May to 2.57 through his past three starts.  His walk rate has decreased from a season-high 5.04 BB/9 in May to 3.32 in June, and he’s holding opponents to a .229/.308/.414 line.  Subsequently, his ERA has dropped from 7.12 through the end of May, to a season-low 3.79 and his WHIP has improved from 1.85 to 1.21.  Obviously, this is an extremely small sample size and he’ll need to prove himself against tougher lineups than Seattle and Oakland, but as long as his K/BB ratio continues to improve, there’s reason to be optimistic about Frankie as a starter.

Oh, and Nick Blackburn pitched a complete game against the Pirates this afternoon, so Bert Blyleven can shut up about that now.

  • Wolves finally get around to doing what should have been done 10 years ago

McHale.jpgNew president of basketball operations David Kahn has officially fired Kevin McHale.  That’s right, the worst GM in the history of Minnesota sports won’t be back with the team in any capacity next season.  Not in the front office, not as a coach, not even as a janitor.  Oh, don’t get me wrong, McHale did some good things for the Timberwolves as GM.  He drafted Kevin Garnett.  And when he traded him to Boston, he did get Al Jefferson in return (plus eight benchwarmers, but that’s beside the point).  The Wolves did make eight straight playoff appearances under McHale, but only got past the first round once: when they lost to the Lakers in the Western Conference Finals in the ’03-’04 season.  They haven’t made the playoffs since, and haven’t even posted a winning record in four seasons.  Worse yet, attendance has been flagging, and season ticket holders would probably have started rioting if McHale were kept on.  So Kahn was left with little choice but to fire McHale, even though he was actually a pretty decent coach.  I have no idea who the next coach of the Timberwolves will be, but the list of potential candidates looks pretty good.  I’m not sure it matters much who they get, since the roster is so bereft of talent (besides Big Al, of course) that it will be years before the Wolves are serious contenders in the Western Conference.  Still, as much as the move was justified (and long overdue), I do find it really sad that Kevin McHale will probably be more widely remembered as a failed GM than as the basketball legend he truly was.

Twinkie Defense

Thumbnail image for casilla_groundball.JPGIn my previous post, I mentioned that the Twins’ had the tenth-ranked defense in the league (or a .700 Defensive Efficiency rating, the definition and formula for which can be found here) according to Baseball Prospectus and I guess I should elaborate on that.  The Twins have committed the fewest errors in the AL, and have an AL-best .990 fielding percentage, but neither one of those stats really measures defensive efficiency.  That is, they don’t measure how effectively a team converts balls in play into outs, at least not accurately. As I discussed in the Mauer post, in general I like to use Ultimate Zone Rating to evaluate player defense.  However, because it essentially measures how many runs a particular player saves per game, the values sometimes fluctuate wildly from season to season, so it’s not the best metric for evaluating defense over the short-term.  At least not on its own.  To evaluate team defense during the season, I also like to use Defensive Efficiency and Park-Adjusted Defensive Efficiency
(which, like the name implies, adjusts for ballpark factors that might
effect the Defensive Efficiency Rating) to get a full picture of how well the Twins are converting balls in play into outs.  And, at least this season, they haven’t been very good at it.  The team UZR is a 19th-ranked -6.5, on top of the .700 Deff Eff and 12th-ranked 0.4 PADE, so it’s clear that Twins’ defense has been mediocre at best. Which wouldn’t matter so much if they had more strikeout pitchers on the staff, but with a rotation full of contact pitchers, the defense needs to be better than just average. 

I guess there isn’t a better player than Delmon Young to illustrate my point.  Young has only made two errors this season, and his fielding percentage is .967, so one would think that Young is a pretty good left-fielder.  However, Young has a poor -6.7 UZR this season, and his career -23.1 UZR is about as bad as it gets.  So while he might not make a lot of errors, he doesn’t have much range and isn’t very good at converting balls in play into outs.  But you really don’t need any fancy metrics to come to that conclusion.  Anyone who’s actually watched Delmon lumbering around in the outfield can tell that he isn’t very good. The numbers simply support that assessment. 

  • Frankie finally has another quality start

Thumbnail image for p1franciscolirianosi.jpg 
Well, technically last night’s game against the Mariners was a quality start:  one earned run on three hits over six innings but Frankie didn’t exactly pitch as well as that looks.  He struck out six batters, but walked four and had to pitch himself out of a self-imposed jam nearly every every inning.  He’s still struggling with his command, but at least he managed to not melt down when he got himself in trouble.  He still needs to throw his changeup a little more, and needs to work on command of his fastball, but it’s certainly a step in the right direction.  Of course, he had a similar performance at Yankee Stadium and then failed to make it past the fourth inning in his next three starts, so he’s going to need to string a few quality starts together to keep his spot in the rotation.

  • Etc….

Fangraphs’ Dave Cameron has an interesting solution to the Delmon Young problem.  Young wasn’t off to a great start before his mom died, but he’s been awful since returning to the team and just seems lost at the plate.  The Twins can’t just send him down, since he’s out of options and almost certainly wouldn’t clear waivers even as bad as he’s been.  It might be best for both sides to go the D-Train route:  Young would have a chance to get himself together without the pressure of fighting for a playoff spot and the Twins would get to compete for the division title with their best outfielders.

What’s wrong with the South Side?  Paul Konerko does his best to explain why nobody seems to want to come play for the Fightin’ Ozzies.

Justin Morneau finally made good on his bet with Strib beat writer LaVelle E. Neal, III.  I guess he didn’t do too badly on his first-ever blog post, even if it is a little short (not everyone needs to write 25,000 word essays like I do).  But don’t quit your day job, Justin.

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.

Frankie’s Odd Outing

  • Francisco Liriano was awful despite striking out seven hitters in four innings

060807_liriano_vmed_8p.widec.jpgAs Fangraphs notes, Francisco Liriano had statistically one of the strangest outings of the year against the Red Sox Monday afternoon.  He struck out seven batters in four innings, didn’t walk anyone, and still surrendered five runs on eleven hits.  While some of these balls were hit hard, and Frankie was struggling a bit with command of his fastball, he did get extremely unlucky in that pretty much everything that could have fallen for a hit actually did (Boston’s BABIP was .733, which is very unusual in combination with such a high strikeout rate).  He was also unlucky that Brian Buscher, who has the range of a telephone pole, started at third in place of Joe Crede (who is day-to-day after being hit on the hand with a pitch on Sunday).  Almost everything hit to third ended up in the outfield, and unfortunately it led to a short start for Liriano. 

Of course, Frankie certainly deserves his share of the blame for Monday’s meltdown, too.  His struggles with his command and his tendency to overthrow when he gets himself in trouble have been well-documented.  His numbers certainly suggest that he’s having trouble finding the strike zone, with a mediocre 1.88 K/BB ratio and an ugly 4.1 BB/9 rate.  The Twins have been patient with Frankie (and really all of the struggling starters) so far, but they can’t afford to do so much longer and expect to contend for a division title.  Anthony Swarzak pitched effectively enough against Milwaukee on Saturday, only striking out three and walking two but shutting out the Brewers for seven innings.  Obviously Swarzak will need more than one start to prove he can pitch effectively in the major leagues (his next start against Boston will be most telling), and Glen Perkins probably has the most vulnerable spot in the rotation.  Still, it isn’t unreasonable to think that a demotion to the bullpen is in Frankie’s future if he fails to show any significant improvement.

  • Nick Blackburn, on the other hand, has been remarkably consistent

Nick Blackburn and Kevin Slowey have proven to be the most consistently effective startersThumbnail image for medium_blackburn.jpg thus far.  Blackburn had one of his best starts of the season against the Red Sox last night, surrendering only one earned run on eight hits and recording a career-high seven strikeouts.  His 3.55 ERA leads the team, and although he’s given up a lot of hits this year, most of them have been relatively harmless singles.  Blackburn has also been stingy about issuing free passes (only 19 in 63.1 IP) and home runs (only 4), which is obviously very important for a contact pitcher.  His 4.12 FIP is very good for a sinkerballer (the league average is 4.50), especially since his .298 BABIP is only a little better than league-average.

And after I posted this, I discovered that Twinkie Town has a much better assessment of our default ace.

Kevin Slowey got off to a bit of a rough start, surrendering twenty-two hits and posting a 7.94 ERA in his first two starts, but he’s settled down as well and has become one of the best starters in the rotation.  Both his command and control have been impeccable, posting a league-best 9.75 K/BB ratio and 0.65 BB/9 rate.  While he tends to be an extreme fly ball pitcher, Slowey has been pretty good at keeping the ball in the park, giving up the gopher ball at a rate of about 1.3 per nine innings.  Better yet, most of these home runs have come with the bases empty and thus keeping the damage to a minimum. 
 

  • Etc.

Is the Joe Crede signing the best thing Bill Smith has done so far as GM?  Well, considering that his other moves include the Santana trade, the Delmon Young trade (which is looking worse by the day), signing the likes of R.A. Dickey and Luis Ayala to upgrade the bullpen, and passing on Orlando Hudson in favor of Nick Punto, then it probably is.

Speaking of decisions that may come back to haunt them, the Twins have likely blown their chance to re-sign Mauer at a more reasonable rate.  Which means they probably won’t re-sign him at all.  I guess that’s good news for Red Sox fans.