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.
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:
- Giants’ Jonathan Sanchez throws no-hitter
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.
- Man Muscles is going to participate in the Home Run Derby
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
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
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
- 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
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 every…single…time. But jeezus, at least this way you have something to look forward to.
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.
- Nick Blackburn pitches his third complete game of the season in Twins’ 6-2 win
However, even though Blackburn is putting up some of the best numbers of his career, it’s still way too early to declare him the team ace (or talk about extending his contract). He wasn’t much better than average last season, and his poor peripherals suggest that a good deal of his success this season is probably due to luck. Coming in to yesterday’s game, Blackie had a very good 3.10 ERA, but his 1.67 K/BB ratio and 2.3 BB/9 rate are at career lows. I wrote elsewhere that if those numbers don’t improve, he will likely finish the season with an ERA much closer to his 4.98 xFIP. The good news, though, is that some of his peripherals have indeed been improving. While his 1.80 K/BB ratio is still rather low, and he still gives up a lot of hits, his BB/9 rate has been steadily declining the past few months (from 3.08 in May to its current 1.00). A lot of it has to do with the fact that his fastball is nasty. The velocity tops out at around 91 mph but the movement on it has been absolutely filthy, and as long as he can sustain that kind of break on his fastball, his strikeout rate should start to improve. Blackburn will likely keep rolling through the second half of the season (and hopefully the playoffs).
- Twins once again send three representatives to the All-Star Game
Mauer, Justin Morneau, and Joe Nathan are all set to represent the
Twins in the ASG. Kevin Slowey probably had a good chance of joining
his teammates in St. Louis, if he hadn’t gone down with a wrist injury
(he is supposed to have an MRI on it today. UPDATE: it is just a strain. He was treated with a cortisone shot and should resume throwing in a few days). You could probably make
the case for Nick Blackburn too (Joe Nathan did), since he is sporting
a 2.94 ERA and 1.27 WHIP, but I have no problem with the likes of
Justin Verlander and Mark Buerhle getting the nod instead. I’m not
going to get into a huge debate over who got snubbed and who didn’t
deserve a starting spot, there’s already plenty of that on the
internets. I don’t think there are many glaring oversights on either
team, other than maybe Ian Kinsler and Torii Hunter (who should be
starting), and the ASG isn’t something I get all worked up about
Justin Morneau has indicated
that he will probably decline an invitation to the Home Run Derby, if
asked. It’s probably just as well. His tendency to fade down the
stretch probably doesn’t have anything to do with participating in the
HR Derby, but why take that chance? Anyway, this way people won’t get
mad at him for beating a much-flashier superstar. Again.
Mauer is making his second consecutive start in the ASG, and his third
career appearance. Even after missing the first month of the
season, he’s still far and away the best catcher in the AL. Although,
5 of the 31 “greatest minds in baseball” think that Victor Martinez
should have been the starting catcher. That’s right, a guy batting
.303/.382/.506/.888 while making half of his starts at first base
deserves to be the starting catcher, while the guy batting .389/.465/.648/1.113
should be on the bench. Yes, let’s give all of the voting power to
these people, clearly the fans are too stupid to get it right.
Nathan is also quietly having one of the best years of his career. His
last blown save came against the Yankees on May 15th, and he hasn’t
surrendered a run since. Not an unearned run, not an inherited runner scoring,
nothing. His 2.40 xFIP, 6.14 K/BB ratio, 11.6 K/9 rate, and 1.9 BB/9
rate as well as 1.35 ERA and 0.750 WHIP are all at or near
career-bests. He’s been getting hitters to chase pitches outside the
strike zone a little more, which has made him extremely effective even
when he doesn’t have his best stuff.
- Francisco Liriano has his worst outing of the year and still gets the win
Even 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.
Joe 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.
- Twins hit four homers and lose anyway
ZOMG, this is the most unclutchiest lineup ever!!!11!! I mean, for the most part, clutch hitting has a lot more to do with luck than skill. In general, even the greatest hitters will fail more often than not with runners in scoring position, that’s just how the game works. It sucks, it’s frustrating, but that’s just the way it is. Which is why I find this article in the Star Tribune so irritating. To suggest that the problem is that the Twins are relying too much on the long ball and not speed or sacrifice hits (i.e., Twins baseball) is ridiculous. The power hitters in the lineup have been remarkably productive, with Joe Mauer batting .421/.490/.738, Justin Morneau .324/.398/.524 (which is pretty good, considering that he’s been in a slump recently), Jason Kubel .315/.377/.546, and even Michael Cuddyer is starting to pick things up, hitting .281/.360/.518 with 10 homers. Joe Crede has been kind of an exception since he has a paltry .228 BA and .303 OPB, but he also has a .451 slugging percentage and is on pace to hit 20+ homers this year, so he isn’t really part of the problem, either. The real problem has been the lack of production from the bottom of the order, and it has been all season. The Twins certainly aren’t lacking speed in the lineup, with Carlos Gomez, Matt Tolbert, and even Nick Punto all threats to steal, but the three have struggled to get on base consistently. Delmon Young hasn’t been living up to his potential, either, batting .258/.286/.302 while looking horribly uncomfortable at the plate. The good news is that Gomez, Punto, and Young have all taken huge steps forward this month (Yes, even Gomez. He’s drawing more walks and isn’t swinging at so many pitches outside the strike zone, he just hasn’t had much to show for it in the way of results). The bad news however, is that all three are still barely replacement-level position players.
After tonight’s loss to Houston, the Twins have fallen back to the .500 mark and are three games behind the Tigers. This time, the offense wasn’t the problem, since they hit four homers and scored five runs. No, this time it was the pitching staff, specifically the bullpen that fell down. The Twins had a 3-2 lead in the seventh, until Sean Henn came in to relieve Scott Baker. Henn surrendered three runs in the seventh (one was charged to Baker), including a two-run homer to pinch-hitter Jason Michaels, and was yanked in favor of Luis Ayala after recording only one out. I had written before that the pitching isn’t as bad as fans tend to think, and that’s true. But it hasn’t been that great, either. The starting rotation has started to settle down and pitch effectively, but the bullpen is still an issue. While Matt Guerrier and Joe Nathan have been as reliable as ever, and R.A. Dickey is settling into the long relief role, the rest of the ‘pen is simply a disaster waiting to happen. Ayala has been much more effective recently, but he pitches to contact and can’t really be used in close games with runners on base. Jose Mijares hasn’t been too bad, posting a 2.57 ERA in twenty-four appearances, but he’s also been suffering from control issues (his 1.70 K/BB ratio isn’t good) and is bound to get hit hard eventually. The Twins clearly need bullpen help, but so does pretty much everybody else in the league, which will obviously complicate matters at the trade deadline. Still, I guess we should be glad that our bullpen isn’t as bad as the Indians’. Yikes.
- Speaking of homers
Mauer hit his 14th of the season, setting a new career record, and it isn’t even officially summer yet. It was an opposite-field blast (of course) that had given the Twins a 3-1 lead at the time. Someday, opposing pitchers will figure out that it isn’t a good idea to throw him fastballs on the outside corner. Hopefully he’ll hit 20 homers before they do. Obviously, Mauer isn’t going to put up such Pujolsian numbers all season long, since the physical demands of being a catcher will catch up to him eventually. As of right now, though, Mauer is the most valuable player in the league, and it isn’t even close.
- Twins ground into five double plays, still beat Pirates 8-2
Well, 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
Denard 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.
Milton Bradley had a very tough day at work today. He lost Jason Kubel’s routine fly ball in the sun, which put two on with nobody out and set up a two-run inning for the Twins. Later in the same inning, he couldn’t field Michael Cuddyer’s line drive to right, playing a single into a run-scoring double. But, most hilariously, he also had a major brain fart on a Joe Mauer pop fly. Bradley forgot how many outs there were in the inning and threw the ball into the stands (hint: there was only one, Milton). Nick Punto scored easily and Brendan Harris was awarded third base. Personally, I think the play should’ve been ruled a home run. That ball went right into the stands! So what if Bradley was the one who threw it there? Bradley kind of redeemed himself by hitting a big two-run double in the sixth, cutting the Twins’ lead in half at that point. Unfortunately, he couldn’t redeem himself completely, allowing Delmon Young to rob him of the potentially game-winning hit in the eighth.
For Twins fans and Cubs haters alike, this was a great game. Joe Mauer hit his 13th home run of the season, a two-run blast that gave the Twins an early lead (and tied his career high set in 2006). Jason Kubel hit a solo shot in the ninth that extended the lead to 7-4, his tenth of the season. And Brendan Harris went 3-for-5 with an RBI and a run scored, which should help his case to be the starting shortstop (at least until Gardy realizes he isn’t a utility role player anymore). Nick Punto even hit the ball out of the infield a couple of times. I can’t remember the last time I wrote that.
Kevin Slowey was cruising along through the first five innings, allowing one hit and striking out nine Baby Bears. I guess he decided not to rely on the worst defensive outfield ever behind him. Slowey did start to fall apart in the sixth, when he surrendered three runs and cut the lead to only one run. None of that can be blamed on the defense though, all of those runs came on some very hard hit line drives (the outfield didn’t walk Mike Fontenot, either). The bullpen wasn’t great, but they managed to (barely) hang onto the lead for a change. Joe Nathan retired the Cubs in order to pick up his fourteenth save of the season in a very non-heart-attack inducing manner.
Ron Gardenhire gets a lot of criticism from fans for his management of the bullpen, especially his reluctance to use Joe Nathan in anything other than a save situation. And since the front office has consistently failed to put together a decent bullpen, the few reliable relievers on the staff get overworked (sometimes to the point of injury, see Pat Neshek and Jesse Crain). Case in point: Matt Guerrier. Matty G. had logged 28.1 innings coming in to today’s game (where he was asked to record the final out in the eighth) and had made three straight relief appearances, while Joe Nathan had only logged 23.1 and hadn’t worked since Wednesday. I realize that this is a national league ballpark, and the thought that Joe Nathan might come up to bat isn’t particularly appealing, but it was a save situation anyway and it makes sense to use Nathan since he’s had more rest. Guerrier was awful in the second half of last season, posting a. 8.88 ERA and 2.092 WHIP after the All-Star break, and a lot of it has to do with the fact that he was overworked. And with all of the innings he’s logged the past six seasons, it’s probably only a matter of time before he too ends up on the surgery list.
By the way, the best part of the game is that Wrigley was half full of Twins fans. Seriously, if Wrigley Field weren’t so distinctive, one would think the Cubs were the visiting team. Chants of “M-V-P!” and “Where’s Mark Prior?” whenever Joe Mauer came up to bat warmed even my icy cold heart. There was plenty of cheering whenever the Twins would score, or when Kevin Slowey struck out yet another Cub. There was also a lusty booing of Cub players, although I don’t think all of that was coming from Twins fans.
On a completely unrelated note, but because I find the idea so delightfully disgusting, here is former Toronto pitching coach Bob Miller discussing the fine art of spitting tobacco juice on umpires: