Tagged: Home Run Derby

The Home Run Derby Does Not, in Fact, Screw Up a Guy’s Swing

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It’s inevitable.  One of the participants in this year’s contest will
go into a slump.  And the first thing people will blame is the Home Run
Derby, thinking that somehow his mechanics have been thrown off by what
amounts to taking extra batting practice.  Fangraphs’ R.J. Anderson recently did
a pretty thorough debunking
of this popular myth.  He selected the five participants in recent
history who have seen the most significant decline in power numbers in
the second half, and concluded that most of them were simply playing
above their heads and were bound to come back down to earth
eventually.  And that makes sense.  The event organizers for the Home
Run Derby invite players who, naturally, are hitting a lot of home
runs.  These players are often having a really great first half of the
season and are putting up numbers that just aren’t sustainable.  Bobby
Abreu is probably a perfect example.  He was having a pretty good first
half of the season, hitting .307/.428/.556/.955 with 18 home runs and
putting up career numbers in nearly every offensive category.  Then he
started to cool off after the All-Star break, hitting only six more
homers through August and September.  Obviously, people (including
Abreu himself I believe, but I’ll get to that in a minute) blamed the
Home Run Derby for his perceived slump.  However, Abreu finished the
season batting .286/.404/.474/.879, which is essentially right in line
with his career numbers.  What we were seeing wasn’t really a slump so
much as regression: that is, his production starting was to fall right
back in line with his career averages (or, if you prefer, he was who we
thought he was).  I think it’s also worth noting that Abreu was 34
years old at the time, and those numbers are about what you would
expect from a player his age.

If you’re not into fancy statistical analysis, then perhaps Joe Morgan (of all people) says it best:

“All players get tired in the second half. That is why very few players hit more HRs in the second half.”

Which leads me to Joe Mauer.  Mauer was red-hot in his first month
since coming off the DL, batting .414/.500/.838/1.338.  He’s hit 15
homers already this season, two more than his career mark set in 2006. 
These numbers aren’t sustainable for anyone, especially not a catcher,
and he’s just bound to cool off eventually.  In fact, he already has,
batting *only* .325/.404/.425/.829 in the month of July.  He’ll
probably finish the season batting .326/.414/.487/.901, which is much
closer to his career average and might still be enough to earn him his
third batting title.  SO I DON’T WANT TO HEAR ONE GODDAM THING ABOUT
THE HOME RUN DERBY MESSING UP HIS SWING.

And yet, the idea that participating in the Home Run Derby causes
hitters to slump persists.  Players are always quick to use it as an
excuse, probably because it sounds a lot better than: “Sorry guys, I’m
just tired.”, or “I guess my power numbers are simply regressing to the
mean.”  Both of those are probably much closer to the truth, but nobody
really wants to hear it.

Happy Thoughts

This is going to be one craptacular season for Twins fans, but I’m
done whining (for now). I prefer to focus on the good things that
happened this week:

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Moments like this are what makes it so much fun to be a baseball
fan.  When Sanchez struck out Everth Cabrera looking to complete the
no-hitter, his teammates reacted as though they’d just won the World
Series.  Randy Johnson, who’s thrown a few of those in his career and
whose spot Sanchez replaced in the rotation, came up and hugged the
kid.  And his dad was moved to tears by his son’s performance. 

And if Juan Uribe hadn’t screwed it all up, Sanchez would have thrown a perfect game.  At least Aaron Rowand made a great running catch to preserve the no-no.

Of course, now I’m going to completely rain on his parade by pointing out that he no-hit the weakest offense
in all of baseball.  Granted, the Padres play in an extreme pitcher’s
park and their numbers will always reflect that, but even when you
account for ballpark factors, this offense is pretty bad (this game was
in San Francisco, anyway).  That said, Sanchez’s performance was still
masterful:  11 strikeouts, no walks, only the sixth no-hitter in
history with at least 10 Ks and no walks. 

On a semi-related note, Chris Jaffe of the Hardball Times posted a list of the worst (and best)
lineups to ever be no-hit.  The Angels team that Eric Milton no-hit was
number five on the list, which isn’t surprising since Milton is the one
of the most unlikely pitchers to ever spin a no-no.  The Twins team
that David Wells threw a perfect game against wasn’t terrible enough to make the list, but they were probably about as good as this year’s Padres team.

Joe_mauer

Oh, come on, you know he’s going to win it.  There isn’t anything he can’t do
I do think it would be hilarious if Albert Pujols hit 60 bombs in the
first round, only to lose to Mauer because he wore himself out.

  • Joe Crede has already earned his $7 million contract

Crede

It seems strange to write that, since he’s got a weak .226 batting
average, but it’s true.  When researching how awful the worst hitters
in the lineup are (and I was going to consider Crede one of them), I
came across some interesting numbers:

Joe Crede: .226/.293/.428/.721 OPS  11.4 UZR  1.8 WAR 

So
even though he doesn’t hit for a high average, his bat has some pop
and his defense makes him one of the elite third basemen in the
league.  Furthermore, by providing some power and bailing out the
pitching staff on a consistent basis, his overall worth is already estimated at $8.2 million.  Now, you might not agree with the way Fangraphs calculates dollar values
for players (they think Roy Halladay will be worth $35 million this
year), but as long as he remains healthy there is little doubt that
Crede will be worth every penny the Twins are paying him.  Just ask the
pitching staff.

  • The Royals trade for Yuniesky Betancourt

I am not trying to pick on Kansas City (I’ve already done that). I’m just glad he’s off the market now so the Twins won’t be tempted to trade for him (as others have suggested).  Joe Posnanski and Rany Jazayerli,
probably the only fans the Royals have left (and Rany is threatening to
hang it up) have already summarized this deal in two very excellent
posts. 

Seriously, a lot of Royals fans are fed up with the
front office and disappointed in their team, and I don’t really blame
them.  I remember when the Twins were horribly, mind-numbingly bad in
the mid-90s, and how hard it was to cheer for a team that didn’t really
give its fans much to cheer for.  It was like this for nearly a decade,
and we all wondered if it was ever going to end, if we were ever going
to even have a decent team again.  That’s right, we were dreaming of the kind of mediocrity
this team gives us now.  It kind of got me to thinking about false hope
vs. no hope, and which of the two I prefer.  And I guess that false
hope is better than none at all.  Yes, it can be frustrating to watch
your team hang around in the playoff picture all season long, only to fall short at the very last minute.  Or to have your hopes of winning a championship dashed in the first round of the playoffs everysingletime.  But jeezus, at least this way you have something to look forward to.

Besides,
Seligula is more than happy to relocate a small-market team that
consistently loses 90 games to a more lucrative market.  Believe me, I know.

Maybe This is the Team We Have

  • Twinkies get their a**es handed to them by the Yankees in 10-2 loss

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The Wild had just dropped
a must-win game against Colorado and had put forth one of their most
lackluster performances to date.  The team had just lost seven of its
past ten games, and were just barely clinging to the slimmest of
playoff hopes, and had only managed to score one lousy goal against the
worst team in the Western Conference in a snoozefest of a game.  When
asked why his team put forth such a piss-poor effort with so much on
the line, then-coach Jacques Lemaire replied:

“Maybe this is the team we have.”

And
this, ladies and gentlemen, is your 2009 Minnesota Twins. OK, maybe
they’re not as bad as last year’s Wild team, but they are pretty much
in the same boat.  They haven’t won more than two games in a row since
May 24th, and their longest winning-streak of the season is only four
games.  They are currently looking up at the Tigers and the White Sox,
even if it is only by 2.5 games.  They will likely get swept at home by
the Yankees, and then have to deal with a red-hot White Sox team before
the All-Star break.  The team could certainly use help in the bullpen,
and they could really use a middle infielder who can hit, but aren’t
likely to get anything done at the trade deadline.  The Twins have
always preferred to sit on their hands and hope for the best, while
waiting to make their biggest moves during the offseason (if then). 
And to be honest, I don’t have a great deal of faith in Bill Smith’s
ability to make trades.  His track record so far has been pretty disappointing.

Twinkie Town did a good job breaking down Scott Baker’s horrible performance last night,
and it appears as though he’s still having problems with his
mechanics.  His breaking pitches were flat, his fastballs weren’t as
fast, in short, it’s a miracle that he only gave up five runs against one of the most potent lineups in the American League.  It had been suggested by some of the commenters
on the Star Tribune site that Baker was awestruck by the Yankee lineup,
that he felt intimidated by them, but I don’t think that was the case
at all.  Scotty had actually been quite successful against the Yanks in
his career, going 2-0 with a 1.54 ERA (small sample size, I know). 
Besides, Baker had the same issues in his last start in Kansas City, in
which he needed 117 pitches to get through five innings, and I doubt he
was awestruck by the Royals’ All-Star lineup.  That the Royals only
scored one run against him says a lot about their offense (namely that
they can’t even buy runs at this point).

  • In meaningless award news…

Justin Morneau has indeed declined an invitation
to defend his title in this year’s Home Run Derby, citing a need to
rest up for the second half of the season as his reason for choosing
not to participate.  Joe Mauer hasn’t been asked, but Gardy thinks he would win it if he were.

Joe Nathan has been named the DHL Delivery Man of the Month.  I mentioned in my previous entry
that Nathan is having one of the best seasons of his career, but I also
want to mention that he’s only walked one batter in his past 11.2
innings, while striking out 18.  He’s given up only four hits
in that period.  That’s about as good as it gets.  No wonder
he’s the only reliever in the bullpen (and one of the few on the staff,
actually) who doesn’t give me heartburn.

I’m a little sad to see Steph go since he’s been with the team for so long, even though he was basically just a fourth-liner.  He loved playing in Minnesota and being part of the Wild organization, even after they put him on waivers simply to prove that he wasn’t as valuable as he thought.  Still, when rookie sensation Cal Clutterbuck pretty much took over his duties on the checking line, it was pretty clear that this would be Steph’s final season with the team.  At least we will always have this:

Number 33, baby!!!

20061121_morneau_3.jpgIt turns out I’m number 33 on the MLBlogs leader board (thanks for pointing that out, Julia)!  Wow, this blog is getting off to a fast start!  So, like fellow MLBloggers Julia and Jimmy, I have decided to dedicate my ranking to a noteworthy Twin who shares the same number.  In this case, number 33 belongs to our big Canadian slugger, first baseman Justin Morneau. 

morneau-06b.jpgJustin, or Johnny Canuck, if you will, has been an invaluable part of the Twins organization since he was called up in 2005.  He’s a career .281/.348/.498 hitter, and has never hit fewer than 20 homers in a season.  He’s the first Twin since Gary Gaetti to finish with 30+ homers in back-to-back seasons, and the first since Harmon Killebrew to have three straight seasons of 100+ RBI and 20+ homers. Last year, he had one of the best seasons of his career, even though his power numbers were down a bit (most likely because he had no legitimate power threat hitting behind him).  He hit .300/.374/.499 with only 23 homers, but finished second in the AL with 129 RBI.  Even more incredible is that he put up these numbers with guys trying to pitch around him (he was second in AL in intentional walks, with 16).  Had he not suffered such a terrible slump during the final few weeks of the season, he probably would’ve led the team to a playoff berth (and his second MVP award).

Oh, and his defense isn’t too shabby, either.

Justin is most famous for stealing awards from other people.  Most notably, he stole the 2006allstar40.jpg MVP from Derek Jeter (I’ll admit, I think Jeter probably deserved it more, too.  Actually, Joe Mauer probably deserves the MVP more than Morneau, but that’s for another post).  This year, he stole the Home Run Derby from Josh Hamilton.  Hamilton hit an amazing 28 dingers in the first round, but Johnny Canuck proved that stamina wins over showmanship, outhitting him 5-3 in the final round. And the funniest part?  Morneau wasn’t even initially invited!  He was asked at the last minute after Vladimir Guerrero, A-Rod, and pretty much everybody else declined to participate.

At least he managed to win the Tip O’Neill award without any controversy (although there are probably some unhappy hockey fans).

As one of the three Twins representatives in the 2008 All-Star Game, he saved us all from a 20+ inning nightmare by scoring the game-winning run.  On a shallow sac fly.  Not bad for a guy who runs like Ruben Sierra.

Other fun facts about Justin:  he was born in New Westminster, British Columbia.  He used to play hockey as well as baseball, and won the 1998 Memorial Cup as the third goaltender for the Portland Winterhawks.  He wears #33 in honor of boyhood hero, goaltender Patrick Roy.  He was drafted by the Twins as a catcher in the third round of the 1999 amateur draft, but was quickly shifted to first.  And sorry ladies, as of January 10th he is a married man, having tied the knot with longtime girlfriend (and Minnesota native) Krista Martin at a church in Edina.

Thank you, dear readers, for making this post possible.  Apparently there are a lot more of you out there than I thought!