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:
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:
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
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.
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 Radke. Dustan 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 Rodriguez–Juan Castro–Luis Rivas infield, with Terry Tiffee on the bench. And these weren’t even the worst Twins teams.
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
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
- Twins survive ninth-inning nightmare to beat Oakland 10-5
This game was much, much closer than the final score would indicate. The Twins had a 10-0 lead going into the ninth. Scott Baker had pitched brilliantly, holding the A’s two just two hits in eight innings, and since he’d thrown only 96 pitches, was going for a complete game. And that’s when things got a lot more interesting than they really needed to be. Baker was obviously gassed, and loaded up the bases without recording an out (although he didn’t get any help from Alexi Casilla, more on that in a minute). Jesse Crain was brought in to relieve Scotty, but ran into trouble of his own. After Alexi Casilla again failed to field a routine ground ball that allowed a pair of runs to score, Crain had trouble finding the strike zone. He walked Jack Cust with the bases loaded, and was yanked in favor of Jose Mijares. Mijares struck out Jason Giambi, but then suffered some control issues of his own. He walked the next two batters and forced in a pair of runs. With the score now 10-5, and the bases loaded with only one out, Joe Nathan was brought in to complete what had suddenly become a save situation. He struck out Jack Hannahan and Rajai Davis to end the threat and pick up his 12th save of the year.
I’ll admit that I was nervous before Nathan came in. If there’s any team that can screw up a 10-0 lead in the ninth inning, it is the Twins. They’ve had such awful luck on the road this season and it really wouldn’t have surprised me if they ended up losing 11-10. Besides, it’s not like this kind of thing has never happened before.
The horrorshow that unfolded in the ninth overshadowed what had been a rare quality road win. Not only did Baker pitch a gem, but the bats sprang to life and gave him some much-needed run support. Delmon Young, who’s really been having a rough season both on and off the field, went 2-for-4 with a double (his first extra-base hit since April 22) and three RBI. Justin Morneau made me look silly for suggesting he might be in a slump, going 4-for-5 with a solo home run. Jason Kubel hit a three-run homer. Brendan Harris, who saw his career-high 12 game hitting streak come to an end on Monday night, went 3-for-4 with a walk and a run scored. Even Carlos Gomez, who was put in the leadoff spot when Denard Span was forced to leave the game, came up with a big two-run double (though he also struck out twice). It’s a good thing too, because the Twins needed every single one of those runs to hold off the A’s and get the win.
- Bert Blyleven is an a**
OK, here comes a mini-rant. I’m not really a fan of the Twins’ broadcast team, but I don’t usually complain about them here because it’s a waste of time. The Twins aren’t going to fire Bert and Dick simply because I don’t like them, and rehashing ad nauseum all the dumb things they say is enough to give me a headache. And since most of my readers don’t have to listen to Dick and Bert, they’d probably have no idea what I’m talking about, anyway. But when Blyleven called out Scott Baker during the broadcast for failing to pitch a complete game, I felt I needed to make an exception. It wouldn’t have been so bad, but he made it sound like the ninth-inning collapse was all Scotty’s fault, and it wasn’t (Alexi Casilla had a lot to do with it, but I’ll get to that). Baker was on his game all night: he struck out eight batters, didn’t walk anyone, and allowed only one extra-base hit. He retired fourteen straight batters coming into the ninth inning, and considering how much Baker has struggled this season, his performance had already exceeded expectations. The complete game would simply have been icing on the cake. But Bert ripped into Scotty when he loaded the bases without recording an out (again, not really his fault), accusing him of lacking the mettle to pitch a complete game. Ridiculous. If Baker truly wasn’t interested in trying to finish the game, then what the hell was he doing out there in the first place? It was obvious that he was exhausted, and one would think that if Baker didn’t care about finishing the game himself, he would’ve simply told Gardy that he was done for the night. Scotty didn’t deserve the public tongue-lashing Bert doled out from the safety of the broadcast booth, not after pitching eight innings of two-hit ball. And it will never happen, but Bert owes Scotty an on-air apology. Maybe I should change the title of this blog to “Fire Bert Blyleven”.
Worse yet, there was little rage directed at the true goat of the game: Alexi Casilla. The second baseman booted a couple of routine ground balls, one of which might have been a double-play. If Alexi even made one of those plays, Baker likely would’ve escaped the ninth having pitched a three-hit, maybe one-run complete game. But because of Casilla’s incompetence, Baker had to settle for eight innings and three unearned earned runs. And the Twins had to use their closer to save what should have been a complete blowout (of course, Jesse Crain and Jose Mijares could’ve pitched better, too). Ugh, I never thought I’d be so happy to hear that Nick Punto is coming back soon. I will take a sub-.200 middle-infielder who can make routine plays over a sub-.200 middle-infielder who can’t any day.
Oh 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 poor 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
Gomez 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.
Normally I would be upset when the Twins lose five games in a row, especially when they blow about a million chances to win. But not this time. No, I think getting swept in Yankee Stadium, and now getting blown out by the White Sox, is actually a good thing. Yes I do. Because now the front office has been forced to confront the fact that this team just isn’t going to contend the way it is currently constructed. And um, I was going to post a rant about the failure of the front office to upgrade both the bullpen and the middle infield during the off-season, and how they like to wait until it’s too late to try to make any improvements, but they’ve just made a
big move that changes everything ok, that’s a bit hyperbolic, but it is a change that makes me rewrite what I was going to write in the first place.
While the Twins might not actually have the worst bullpen in the league, this group of relievers is still pretty bad. In particular, the relief corpse has been terrible at allowing inherited runners to score. And apparently the FO has gotten sick of it too, because lefty Craig Breslow has been claimed off waivers by Oakland to clear space on the roster for Anthony Swarzak (more on Swarzak in a minute). While it’s no secret that Breslow has been struggling this year, the move is still a bit surprising. I thought the Twins would give him more time to turn things around, especially considering how well he pitched last year, but Breslow evidently became expendable once Sean Henn was called up right after Perkins was placed on the 15-day DL. Henn was once a promising prospect for the Yankees who’s never managed to stick in the major leagues, and he probably won’t serve as anything more than a LOOGY at this point. Still, the Twins haven’t even had an effective LOOGY since losing Dennys Reyes to free agency. At any rate, pitchers like Breslow are always available on the waiver wire, so it isn’t a huge loss even if Henn doesn’t exactly work out either (and after giving up a couple of runs to the Pale Hosers last night, this is entirely possible).
Swapping Henn for Breslow doesn’t exactly solve the problem, though, as the Twins are essentially trading one soft-tossing lefty with control issues for another. But more help might be on the way, perhaps in the form of Anthony Swarzak. Swarzak has been called up from Rochester to replace Glen Perkins in the rotation, and he’s been one of the most intriguing pitching prospects in the organization (there’s are a couple of good articles about Swarzak here and here). Through his first seven starts for the Red Wings this season, he’s posted a 2.25 ERA with a 32/11 K/BB ratio and 1.159 WHIP. If he impresses during his stint with the major league club, it’s possible he might be kept in the bullpen once Perkins returns from the DL.
By the way, Perkins’ elbow has apparently been bothering him for sometime and is likely the cause of his struggles after his first three starts. He had been hiding the injury in hopes that he could simply pitch through the pain. Obviously this is never a good idea (just ask Francisco Liriano). At the very least his stubbornness and pride has cost the team wins, and he’s lucky to have avoided the worst-case scenario so far. Gosh, with three of his teammates (Liriano, Bonser, Neshek) having faced surgery and serious questions about ever pitching again, you would think Perk would be smarter than that.
Well, I certainly can’t blame any of these losses on the starting pitchers. Unless, of course, you want to blame them for not pitching complete-game shutouts, which is essentially what they’ve needed to do to beat the Yankees. All three pitched well enough to earn the win in every single game of this series, but the bullpen and the offense haven’t exactly held up their part of the bargain. Francisco Liriano gave up one earned run in six innings, and although he wasn’t particularly sharp, consistently managed to pitch himself out of trouble. Which pretty good for a guy whose emotions often get the better of him when things don’t go his way and would subsequently let the game get out of hand (like in this game against the White Sox). Nick Blackburn was also pretty effective, giving up a three-run homer to Mark Teixeira, but settled down nicely after that and surrendered only four runs through 7.2 innings. Kevin Slowey pitched an absolute gem through 7.2 innings, striking out eight batters and outlasting A.J. Burnett. Unfortunately, the two earned runs he surrendered in the bottom of the seventh kept him from actually out-dueling his Yankee counterpart and earning a much-deserved win.
While it’s tempting to blame the bullpen for everything, the truth is that the Twins left a lot of runners on base. Yes, Joe Nathan deserves the blame for blowing the save on Friday night. Yes, Craig Breslow surrendered a two-run homer to A-Rod in the bottom of the thirteenth in game two. And yes, today Jesse Crain gave up the game-winning homer to Johnny Damon in the tenth. But it doesn’t really help that Twinkies have stranded 34 runners on base in the first three games of the series. Twice they loaded up the bases in today’s game, and twice they failed to drive in any runs. It’s somewhat understandable that they couldn’t do much against A.J. Burnett, but the failure to do anything against a journeyman like Brett Tomko is simply inexcusable. All of the games in this series have been decided by two runs or less, and the Twins have led going into the later innings in every single one. But the failure to capitalize on scoring chances, and the failure of the pitching staff, particularly the bullpen, to hold the lead has been frustrating. It is costing the team wins, plural. And even if they manage to win the division anyway, which they could, so what? They are likely to meet one of the AL East teams, such as the Red Sox or Yankees, in the first round. And will likely get swept in the first round if they don’t do something to shore up some of the glaring weaknesses in the bottom of the lineup and in the bullpen.
By the way, how amazing is Joe Mauer? This has to be the play of the decade. I don’t care what it costs, Joe has to stay in a Twins uniform until he dies.
Oh, I could talk about last night’s EPIC FAIL at Yankee Stadium, but there’s already a pretty good postmortem here. And I really don’t feel like it. I will say this though: there is no team in the league as adept at snatching defeat from the jaws of victory quite like the Twins. The Yankees did everything in their power to ensure the Twinkies would win, including surrendering three homers to our M&M boys and stranding ten runners on base, and yet our boys still found a way to lose. I predict a four-game sweep by the Yanks. The Twins will lead in all of the next three games, and then something really weird will happen in the later innings. Like that bizarre inside-the-parker on a ball Denard Span would normally catch. This is the kind of thing that always happens whenever the Twins visit the Bronx, new stadium or not. Oh well, at least Justin Morneau likes the short porch in right.
No, I would rather talk about drinking games instead. I haven’t really found a good one for Twins games. During Wild games, we usually just do shots whenever they score. Which is usually only two or three times per game (Well, except during the last two games of the season, in which they scored a combined fourteen goals. I have never been so sick in my life). That doesn’t work so well during Twins games, though. I mean, that 11-0 victory over Seattle probably would’ve killed me. And it’s tough to do shots on things like two-run singles or a grand slam. I suppose you could simply take a shot whenever someone hits a home run, but then you’d go through long stretches of consecutive games without drinking at all. And Twins games are tough to watch without getting drunk. Some people like to make a drinking game out of the dumb things Dick and Bert say, but then you end up getting hammered before the damn game even starts. Maybe it would be easier to give up on the whole game thing and just focus on the drinking.