Tagged: Jesse Crain

Oddest Game Ever

  • Twins ground into five double plays, still beat Pirates 8-2

beardo_perk.jpgWell, not really.  But this was a statistically strange game for the Twins.  I mean, how in the hell do you ground into five double plays and still manage to score eight runs?  Obviously a good number of those came with a runner on third and nobody out.  I guess if you’re going to ground into a lot of double-plays, it should always be with less than one out.  And a runner on third.  While it’s certainly an unusual occurrence, it isn’t unheard of and isn’t any kind of record or anything.  The Tigers also grounded into 5 double plays on the way to a 13-8 victory over the Blue Jays on April 16, 1996.

Joe Mauer went 4-for-4 with an RBI double, but no home runs.  Slacker.  Although, he was robbed of his last chance to hit one when Brendan Harris grounded into an inning-ending double play in the eighth.  Right now, Mauer is batting .429/.497/.756 with 13 home runs.  While it’s unlikely that Mauer will finish the season batting over .400 (he is a catcher, after all), he will most certainly be in contention for his third batting title as long as he remains healthy.  Which is important because the Twins are probably going to try to sign him to a long-term deal, and obviously his numbers are going to have a significant effect on his value.  The front office is obviously aware of the PR nightmare that would ensue if they failed to re-sign their native son, not to mention that they can’t seriously expect to contend for a World Series title if they keep letting their top talent go. 

Glen Perkins was pretty effective, if not exactly dominant, in his first start since coming off the DL with elbow inflammation.  He surrendered seven hits, but only two runs, and struck out four through six innings.  His one mistake was to Nyjer Morgan, who blasted a two-run homer that cut the Twins’ lead in half.  Paul Maholm wasn’t exactly sharp, but he also got a lot of tough breaks.  Delwyn Young lost a Joe Crede fly ball in the lights for a Dome double that scored a run.  And then there was that bizarre stikezone.

One of the things I hate the most about the Twins’ broadcast team (both radio and tv) is their obsession with pitch counts.  Well, that and their inability to pronounce Muhollam Mahalo Maholm’s name correctly.  Obviously they had to bring it up last night, since Perk was on a relatively short leash.  This has been the subject of heated debate for years, and Rob Neyer wrote an interesting piece that sort of defends the concept behind the pitch count.  I actually agree that pitch counts are unnecessary, but not for the same reasons as Bert Blyleven.  Yes, they’re arbitrary and probably don’t really help prevent injury (it’s a lot more important to avoid a dramatic increase in workload, but that’s for another post), but they’re also, well, arbitrary.  That is, unless they’re dealing with a rookie, most managers don’t really adhere to them too strictly and tend to let the starter pitch as long as he feels comfortable.  If it’s the eighth inning and a starter is near 100 pitches, he’ll probably be allowed to go over that limit as long as he doesn’t feel fatigued.  If it’s the fifth inning and a starter is near 100 pitches, then he’s probably laboring and should be taken out anyway.  So the furor over pitch counts is a little overblown.

  • Speaking of injures

Thumbnail image for pridie.jpgDenard Span was placed on the 15-day DL.  He has vestibular neuritis, which if I understand correctly, is essentially inflammation of a nerve in the middle ear caused by some sort of infection.  Apparently it isn’t serious and he is expected to make a full recovery, but he’ll need to be out at least the next few games.  In the meantime, Jason Pridie has been recalled from AAA and there’s a pretty good scouting report on him here.  Most Twins fans probably remember Pridie as the guy who blew the save for Joe Nathan against Toronto last year, when he misplayed a single into a triple.  Pridie came over as part of the Delmon Young trade, and doesn’t project to be anything more than a fourth outfielder at best.  It isn’t likely that he’ll see much playing time, and will probably just be used as a defensive substitute in later innings.

As I mentioned in my previous post, Jesse Crain has been optioned to AAA Rochester.  He hasn’t pitched in the minor leagues in nearly five years, and was obviously stunned by the news.  Crain hasn’t even been marginally effective since May and the Twins really couldn’t afford to wait and hope he would work through his issues any longer.  It was either that or release him, and obviously the organization isn’t ready to give up on him just yet.  The Twins will go with only eleven pitchers for now, since they need to carry extra bench players at least as long as Denard Span is on the DL.  The starters have been averaging about six innings per start this season, so it might not be necessary to carry more than six relievers.  The only real issue is that Matt Guerrier, who’s already overworked, might have to carry an even heavier workload with fewer relievers in the ‘pen.  However, it isn’t as though Crain was taking a lot of work away from Matty G. in the first place and the Twins may decide to call up another pitcher once Span is activated. 

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Because it’s Monday, There’s No Twins Baseball, and I Don’t Feel Like Doing Any Work: Link Dump

Is Jesse Crain hurt?  It’s a distinct possibility.  He’s been pretty awful since coming off the DL with shoulder stiffness on May 15th, surrendering 11 earned runs in 11.2 innings while only striking out 7.  He gave up the winning run on three straight hits in yesterday’s game against the Cubs.  Of course, it’s also possible that Crain is just the new Juan Rincon.  Update:  Crain has been demoted to AAA Rochester.  I think the only thing that surprised me about this move is that Crain actually had options left (I’m assuming he had options, the article said nothing about clearing waivers).  

If the Red Sox are going to drool over Joe Mauer, then I’m going to drool over the best bullpen in baseball.  Mmmmm….Daniel Bard.

Stick and Ball Guy has an interesting assessment of Delmon Young and his approach at the plate.  Not surprisingly, Young struggles against power pitchers, but hits finesse pitchers fairly well.  Unless he improves his plate discipline and pitch recognition, he will always struggle against power pitchers and won’t develop any power.  The question is whether or not the Twins will be patient and wait for him to develop an eye and patience at the plate.  Since his trade value is almost non-existent at this point, they really don’t have much of a choice.

Current SI chosen one Bryce Harper has decided he’d rather skip his last two years of high school, get his GED, and enroll in community college until he’s eligible for the draft.  Actually, I have no problem with this whatsoever.  This kid doesn’t exactly sound like Fulbright material, so an education is probably wasted on him anyway.  Since Harper does indeed have the talent and physical attributes to become a good baseball player, why not?  And if the whole baseball thing doesn’t really work out, at least he’ll get a $20 million signing bonus out of it.  I guess the only real problem is that the greedy parents of less-talented children are going to try the same thing, but fail miserably because their kid sucks.

I was watching the Cubs’ feed during the series in Chicago (sometimes I need a vacation from Dick and Bert), and I thought it was cute that their broadcasters couldn’t figure out why the Twins are under .500.  Um, it’s probably because they play in the American League.  Although, it isn’t as though there are a lot of powerhouse teams in the AL Central.

Speak
ing of which, during tonight’s Brewers-Indians tickle fight home run derby on ESPN, Steve Phillips said that some thought the AL Central would be the best division in baseball this season.  Wait, what?  Who said that?  Certainly not PECOTA.
 
The Minneapolis Los Angeles Lakers won their bazillionth championship last night.  Meh.  I just find it really hard to care about basketball because, well, it isn’t really a team sport.  I mean, nobody really cares about the supporting cast, it’s all about the marketable superstar.  And by nobody, of course, I mean the mainstream media.  Seriously, this series might as well have been between the LA Kobe Bryants and the Orlando Dwight Howards.

The Wild hired San Jose assistant coach (and Minnesota native) Todd Richards to replace longtime head coach Jacques Lemaire, who resigned right after the season was over.  It’s like Christmas for the hockey fans in this town.  We have an owner (Craig Leipold) who wants to win a championship, decided the front office wasn’t going to get the job done, and cleaned house.  And after an extensive and exhaustive search, Leipold hired the best available candidates for the job.  Obviously, this doesn’t mean the Wild will actually win a championship, and given the lack of talent both on the roster and in the system, it’s going to take a few years to build a Cup-contending team.  Still, it makes wish the Pohlad family were more interested in winning a World Series than saving a few bucks.

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.

Oh, Jesse

Thumbnail image for crain.jpgRemember when the Twins used to have the best bullpen in the league?  Yeah, that was a long time ago.  But Jesse Crain was an important part of that ‘pen.  And even though he’d shown a lot of promise as a reliever the past couple of years, that 2006 season was really the best of his career.  He posted an ERA+ of 127, a WHIP of 1.265 and a sparkling 3.33 K/BB ratio.  Opponents were batting .262/.303/.377 with a .683 OPS against him, and he surrendered only 6 homers in 76.2 IP.  Crain had become one of the most reliable relievers in the ‘pen and was certainly a viable candidate to replace the declining Juan Rincon in the set-up role. 

But all of those innings caught up to Jesse in 2007, when he had surgery on a torn rotator cup. and he hasn’t been the same pitcher since.  His numbers after returning from surgery in 2008 weren’t terribly impressive: an ERA+ of 113, a 1.372 WHIP, and a mediocre 2.08 K/BB ratio.  And while he showed some dominance during ST and before going on the DL with shoulder stiffness earlier this season, he’s been struggling ever since.  Before going on the DL, Crain limited opposing hitters to a mere .150/.308/.150 and an OPS of .458.  Since returning on May 3 though, Crain has been awful.  He’s had two consecutive appearances where he’s failed to record any outs and his ERA is a bloated 13.50.  Worse yet, he’s allowed 50% of inherited runners to score, and has consistently struggled to strand runners on base (his LOB% is an abysmal 36.4).  He faced only one batter last night, shortstop Ramon Santiago (who isn’t exactly known for his power), and was yanked after surrendering a home run.  Still, there is reason to hope that the hard-throwing right-hander will turn things around.  That homer is the only one he’s surrendered so far this season, and opponents are batting only .233/.351/.367 against him.  His 3.32 FIP is also very encouraging.  Crain has struggled with his command a bit though, as his K/BB ratio is an uninspiring 1.17, but he’s still striking out batters at a decent clip of 7.9 per 9 IP.  In the meantime, however, it is probably best to split the set-up duties between Matt Guerrier and Jose Mijares.   

Ron Gardenhire has taken a lot of criticism for his management of the bullpen over the years, and some of it is certainly valid.  He does have a tendency to overuse his best relievers, while severely restricting Joe Nathan to ninth-inning duty.  Jesse Crain, Pat Neshek, and Matt Guerrier have logged a lot of innings in the past three years, and all three have either needed surgery or, as in Guerrier’s case, have suffered from being overworked.  But the FO also deserves part of the blame, since they’ve consistently failed to put together a ‘pen full of reliable relievers and have essentially forced Gardy to rely on a select group.  I don’t think that many fans would want Luis Ayala or R. A. Dickey pitching in close games, for example, and these were Bill Smith’s key off-season acquisitions.  And while it isn’t a bad idea to use Joe Nathan in other situations besides closing games, he too has pitched a lot of innings (362 since joining the Twins) and I would hate to see him end up on the surgery list with Crain and Neshek.

UPDATE:  Speaking of Rincon, the Tigers have DFA’d our old buddy to make room on the roster for the D-Train.  So, you know, he’s available now.  Just sayin’.  Oh, and I almost forgot:  there’s been an Eric Milton sighting.
 

Monday Musings

crain.jpgWell, there’s some good news and some bad news on the injury front.  The good news is that the best hitter in the lineup will probably be back by May 1, just in time for the series against Kansas City.  Unfortunately, one of the best relievers in the ‘pen is on the 15 day DL with shoulder inflammation.  This is terrible news.  Except for his last appearance against the Angels, Jesse Crain has been lights-out this season, and other than last year, when he was still recovering from shoulder surgery, has been dominant most of his career.  Pudgy lefty Jose Mijares has been called up to take his place.  Mijares was lights-out during his September call-up, then was horrible in spring training, but has been back to lights-out for the Red Wings.  Which Jose Mijares we will get remains to be seen.

Although, if he can work on his command, the new guy might not be so bad, either.

Of course, if all of the starters could pitch like Glen Perkins, then the bullpen wouldn’t be an issue.

Jason Kubel’s helmet and gloves are going into Cooperstown, after he became just the seventh player in major league history to hit for the cycle with a grand slam

Torii Hunter would like to finish his career in a Twins uniform.  I agree with Howard Sinker: no thanks.

This is precisely why the Royals aren’t going to win the Central this year.  I guess maybe I should stop complaining about the Twins’ bullpen so much.

I thought that the Royker frankenjersey was the ugliest thing I have ever seen.  I stand corrected.

As much as I hate the Vancouver Canucks, even I think that this is pretty funny.

And if you’ve ever wondered what the saddest music in the world must sound like, well, now you know (language is NSFW or living things in general):

200!

mp_main_wide_JoeNathan452.jpg
Well, it wasn’t pretty, but the Twins beat the Mariners again, 6-5, at the Dome.  Joe Nathan notched his first save of the season, and his 200th save as a Twin (it’s his 201st career save), putting him within 73 of the mark set by franchise saves leader Rick Aguilera.  Starter Kevin Slowey coughed up the lead twice, but the offense came through and scored six runs on eight hits off of former Twin Carlos Silva.

Justin Morneau ended his hitless streak right away in the first inning, launching a two-run homer into the upper decks in right field.  The Twins have stopped measuring home runs at the Dome this year, but it’s probably safe to say that it traveled a good 425 ft.  He also successfully stretched a single into an RBI double that tied the game after Kevin Slowey was roughed up in the fourth (Jason Kubel would later drive him in on a double and retake the lead).  Denard Span also had a pretty good night, adding his own two-run blast in the third and drawing a walk.  Joe Crede still doesn’t look very comfortable at the plate, going 0-for-4 with three strikeouts.  It’s still early in the season, but I am a little concerned about his offensive struggles since he had such an awful spring.

Unfortunately, starter Kevin Slowey got hit pretty hard.  He gave up five runs on nine hits in five innings, including a couple of two-run home runs to Russell Branyan and Jose Lopez.  Slowey didn’t walk any batters and did record five strikeouts, but he was having some trouble locating his pitches.  Most of the damage came in two big innings, the two-run blast he surrendered in the second and a three-run fourth (one of those runs scored on an uncharacteristicly wild pitch).  After giving up the second home run to Lopez, Slowey settled down and retired the next seven Mariners and eventually got the win. 

More importantly, though, the bullpen was given the slimmest of leads and, for once, didn’t blow it.  Craig Breslow was a bit wild at first, and gave up a leadoff single, but he recovered and retired the next three batters he faced (and struck out Griffey, who he had walked in his brief appearance on Monday night).  Jesse Crain was an effective bridge to Joe Nathan, retiring all but one batter he faced (he did walk Russell Branyan).  His curve/slurve whatever you want to call it looked really filthy, and the hitters who saw it seemed to agree (lots of shaking heads and looks of absolute disbelief). 

Apparently Joe Mauer’s rehab is progressing well, though he has yet to start running (on land, he has been running in a pool as part of his rehab).  Even though he claims he’s only weeks away from returning to the lineup, I wouldn’t expect to see him back until May. It’s going to take him awhile to get back into game shape, though he’s been catching bullpen sessions and hitting off a tee.  Meanwhile, Scott Baker might return to the rotation by next week.  He is supposed to make a rehab start for the Ft. Myers Miracle on Friday, and how soon he rejoins the team depends on the results.  Apparently he hasn’t been experiencing any stiffness in his throwing shoulder, which is obviously very good news.  I’m not thrilled about having R.A. Dickey in the rotation for more than a couple of starts.

Oh, and Mike Redmond will apparently be the starting catcher today.  Hopefully he’ll make it through the entire game without aggravating his groin injury or injuring something else.

It Was a Good Day for Minnesota

Something very rare happened yesterday:  every Minnesota team that played a game actually won.  This pretty much never happens.  There isn’t a great deal of overlap between the schedules for all of our major sports franchises anyway, and the results are rarely so favorable when they do.  Usually one team wins while the rest of them lose.  Or, most likely, all of them end up losing.

  • Twins beat Cardinals, 5-3

Thumbnail image for xIWBYjDe.jpgKevin Slowey continued his bid to be a dark horse candidate for the 2009 AL Cy Young, giving up two runs on eight hits in six innings.  He also recorded five strikeouts, including a big one against Albert Pujols with the bases loaded.  The only runs he gave up came off of a two-run homer by Rick Ankiel, and as I’ve mentioned before, he does have a tendency to give up the long ball.  Jesse Crain also bounced back from his awful appearance against the Reds, in which he gave up four runs on six hits in one inning, by pitching a scoreless eighth.  Jose Mijares was the only Minnesota pitcher who really struggled on the mound, nearly giving the game away in the ninth.  He gave up one run on three hits, and had runners on second and third with one out before getting the next two batters to ground out.

The good news for Cardinals fans is that Chris Carpenter looked really good for the most part.  He did give up four runs on seven hits in 4 2/3 innings, which isn’t as bad as it sounds when you consider that he also struck out seven batters.  Trever Miller and Chris Perez also pitched well, which is very good news for a team whose bullpen had its own share of struggles last year.

By the way, Twins’ infield prospect Chris Cates made his Spring Training debut in the later innings, too.  This is only kind of interesting because, at 5′ 3″, Cates is the shortest player at any level of major league baseball (he’s actually just slightly taller than I am).  He looks like a little kid:

cates_beloit.jpgI think even the bat boys are taller than he is!

The Twins also have the tallest prospect in their system too, the 7′ 1″ right-handed pitcher Loek van Mil.  And yes, the two were teammates last year for the Beloit Snappers.

  • Wild beat Oilers, 3-2

Thumbnail image for backs_sho_oil.jpgAnother game that is essentially meaningless, as the Wild are not going to make the playoffs.  By beating Edmonton at Rexall Place last night though, they at least helped to ensure that the Oilers won’t make it, either.  It was also really good to see Mikko Koivu back on the ice after sustaining a serious knee injury the last time they beat the Oil.

Actually, Niklas Backstrom is the only reason the Wild even won this game.  They still turn over the puck way too much, and if Backs hadn’t been so sharp the Oil would’ve made them pay for all of their careless mistakes (much like the Flames did on Saturday).  The Wild could still theoretically make the playoffs if they win every single one of their next six games.  This is simply too much to ask for a team that hasn’t won two in a row in over a month, and hasn’t won three in a row since Thanksgiving.  Considering that the Wild also have the Flames and the Stars on the schedule (two teams they have struggled to do much against the entire year) I think it’s pretty safe to say that the season is almost over with now.

But hey, at least Bemidji State is having a pretty good run in the NCAA tournament.  The Beavers upset heavily-favored Notre Dame on Saturday, and stunned Cornell last night on their way to their first Frozen Four appearance in school history.  I’ve written before that I started following college hockey when the North Stars were shipped out of town.  And while my beloved Golden Gophers failed to even make the tournament this year, it is good to see at least one of our hockey teams in the playoffs.

  • Timberwolves finally win a game!

Yeah, they beat the Nets.  But a victory is a victory for a team that has only had twenty-one of them this year.  I thought the Wolves were at least going to surpass last year’s grand total of 22 wins, but with only eight games left on the schedule, I’m not so sure.  Sadly, if the Wolves were in the Eastern Conference, they would probably have a decent chance at making the playoffs this year.

By the way, I have now updated my blogroll.  I added three new MLBlogs that I like a lot, as well as a couple of Twins pro blogs.   If you haven’t yet, please check out Plouffe!, written by Twins infield prospect (and guitar player) Trevor Plouffe.  He’s got some great stuff on there about his former roommate Delmon Young, and some cute pictures too!