Lets talk about love / the bullpen

The Twins’ bullpen has been long lamented by me and many others that write on the interwebs. Most of them are better at statistics than me, which is why I generally shy away from using advanced statistics to make predictions or to analyze the past performance of a pitcher. If you want someone to use stats, try here or here or here.

My place in the storied (yeah, right) history of the Twins blogosphere is to point out what should be obvious, and thus waste everyone’s time. Hence today’s observation:

The bullpen kinda, sorta stinks.

Yeah, yeah. I know, don’t let all your jaws hit the floor in unison. This is the kind of observation that I get (not) paid for. No compliments, it’s what I do.

However, it’s true. The Twins have now lost 12 games with their bullpen, which is fifth worst in the league (there are three teams tied at 13).Their ERA is 4.19, which isn’t bad, except when you think about how many extra runs the starters have absorbed because of the bullpen’s ability to strand. They have been, in short, really bad.

However, the bullpen has only had to throw 197.1 innings, which is fourth-fewest, and in my opinion, fourth best, in the AL. (just as an fyi, I use the AL as a measuring stick because NL rules lead to a very different role for the bullpen from time to time). The starters have done a good job of eating innings, which is pretty impressive, given the poor records of Scott Baker, and, especially, Francisco Liriano. As  a matter of fact, the Twins starters have thrown the most innings in the AL (and are only 1/3 inning behind St. Louis for the overall lead) at 429.1 innings.

The bullpen’s ERA is better than the starters, mostly thanks to disastrous outings by Francisco Liriano, Glen Perkins, and Scott Baker in April (4.19 to 4.55). However, the bullpen ERA is helped by incredibly low numbers put up by Joe Nathan, Jose Mijares, R.A. Dickey (as a reliever), and Matt Guerrier (at 1.69, 2.57, 2.14, and 2.84, respectively). The numbers then jump up by more than a full run to 4.18 (Luis Ayala, may he rest in peace), 6.00 (Brian Duensing, in AAA), 6.28 (Craig Breslow, may he enjoy the yellow and green in Oakland), 7.36 (Sean Henn, who for some reason is still with the team), 8.15 (Jesse Crain, in AAA), 12.46 (Phil Humber, may he rest in peace), and 22.50 (Juan Morillo, in AAA). (Note: I know ERA is bad as a measure, but I don’t do advanced stats, so there we go).

Ouch. So, pretty much what we can conclude from this is that the four anchors of the bullpen have been great most (or all) of the season, and especially lately. However, the rest have been wretched. Ironically, yesterday the Twins got rid of the best of the worst when they dfa’d Ayala, for doing basically what the Twins should have expected him to do from the time they signed him, as Aaron Gleeman pointed out this morning. They basically switched him for Bobby Keppel, who should take up the mantle as yet another mediocre righty in the ‘Pen.

Despite the obvious problems with the bullpen, though, there is no reason the bullpen can’t be a reason the Twins will succeed, rather than  something they have to overcome to succeed. The four studs are more than capable of mixing and matching to take the eighth and ninth innings and the seventh if necessary. However, the Twins have no semi-effective mop-up guy, or a guy that could throw multiple innings other than Dickey, who should really be placed in higher-leverage situations.

However, the starters might be in line to need more time off. Nick Blackburn is on track to throw 212 innings, and he, Baker, Kevin Slowey, and Liriano are all on track to throw career highs in total innings (Perkins would be too if he hadn’t been on the DL). The starting staff will tire and will likely start to break down a bit, which means that we need middle relief that actually works. Unfortunately, no one but Dickey has been adequate in that role, and he will likely be placed in higher leverage situations because he has been so good to this point. Henn needs to stay out of situations where there is less than a four run lead or a six-run deficit, but that isn’t going to be an option if middle relief is needed. Keppel hardly inspires confidence, as he seems like a cheaper and probably less effective Ayala.

So, what about Glen Perkins? He has been rather ineffective as a whole as a starter this year, though he has had flashes of brilliance. What if he was sent to the ‘Pen to be the long-reliever? I don’t doubt he would be really good in that role. Lacking that, maybe Swarzak could come back to fill that role; he did quite well in two of four outings as a starter, but maybe he’d do better only seeing each hitter once.

So, note to Bill Smith: we don’t need Huston Street, and we really don’t need LaTroy Hawkins. We need a Brad Penny. Or, barring that, we need fewer mediocre minor league free agents.

Keppel Headed for Minny, who is leaving? UPDATED: It’s Ayala.

According to Matt Weinstein of the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, Bobby Keppel is headed for the Twins, which means someone will have to go. There are three questions that I think this move raises:

1. Why Bobby Keppel? Why not Rob Delaney or some other hotshot?

The answer to this one is pretty simple. Bobby Keppel was signed last winter as a minor league free agent, after he was released from the Albequerque Isotopes. As such, his contract includes an opt-out clause similar to the one Mike Gosling exercised a few weeks ago. Keppel has been very good this season, posting a 2.43 ERA in 55.2 innings, 21 as a starter. Interestingly, Keppel was slated to start tonight in Rochester, so when he was called up after yesterday night’s Red Wings game, it left Rochester in a bit of a bind. The fact of the matter is that if Keppel didn’t get called up soon, he likely would have exercised his opt-out and went to a team that has immediate need at the major-league level (God knows there’s a bunch of them). It is a bit surprising, since he is not on the 40-man roster. I imagine giving Keppel his shot at the bigs will keep him with the club for the time being, and if, in a month or less, he has not produced, it won’t hurt too badly to release him. Delaney or Armando Gabino (as suggested by LEN3)were less likely because they don’t have the contractual options that Keppel does.

2. Do we lose a reliever or a position player?

Right now the Twins have six arms in the bullpen: Joe Nathan, Sean Henn, Luis Ayala, R.A. Dickey, Jose Mijares, and Matt Guerrier. Since we are in the middle of interleague, I am not surprised to see a smaller bullpen in order to have the depth on the bench for double switches and the like. By the numbers, it wouldn’t be a bad guess that we might see a position player headed for Rochester. Brian Buscher or Matt Tolbert come to mind. Both have options left, and neither has been effective at the major-league level this season (although Buscher did have one of the two hits the other night). However, two members of the bullpen have been really, really bad. Both Sean Henn and Luis Ayala have definitely shown that they don’t deserve their spot in the ‘Pen. However, neither has options, as Ayala was a major league free agent and Henn was a minor-league free agent, so either would have to be dfa’d (although I’m not sure on this point, maybe Henn just has to be offered to all other clubs on irrevocable offers, and then can be reassigned to Rochester, hopefully someone out there can tell me). Both Henn and Ayala have shown flashes of brilliance, but neither of them have shown enough to be considered worthy to stay over the added flexibility of the extra bench player for this interleague road trip.

3. Who goes, since we’ve established that it will likely be a bullpen guy?

Keppel is not currently on the 40-man roster, which is currently full, so someone will have to be removed to make space for him. So, the qualifications for the character that will be dfa’d are likely the following: Bullpen guy, ineffective, no options. That description fits both Henn and Ayala. However, Ayala signed a $1.25 mil deal in the off-season, which gives him the cost advantage (although he has performance-based enhancements that will kick in soon). Henn, on the other hand, is cheap, making a prorated share of $.5 million for his time in the majors. For that reason, I expect Henn to go; the Twins have shown a great deal of reluctance to let go of players they owe coin to.

So, in the end, I see a 65% chance of Henn going away, a 20% chance of Ayala going, a 10% chance of Buscher, Tolbert, or (doubtfully) Pridie being demoted, and a 5% chance of being totally surprised.

(EDIT: Forget that last paragraph, as I forgot that Neshek was on the 60-day DL, freeing up a spot on the 40-man roster. It’s a crapshoot as to what happens next, though I still see the most likely thing as Henn going buh-bye)

UPDATE: AYALA was indeed dfa’d. We’ll see if he accepts his assignment, but I am extremely skeptical that he will.

Last week in spring training and Fantasy Draft

So… the Twins haven’t been playing so well the last week or so. In all honesty, I have no idea why. I think it has something to do with the starters generally pitching rather poorly, a select few relievers pitching even more poorly, and a generally stymied offense. For a great breakdown of all the numbers from all the players so far, check out this post over at the Tenth Inning Stretch.

Of course, yesterday was the exception, where the Twins eked out an 11-6 win against a mostly no-name Blue Jays team. Baker was again rough, but didn’t give up a home run.

Position battles:

  • I know the front office and Gardy were telling the media that Jose Mijares didn’t have a roster spot locked up in spring training, but he effectively did. All he had to do was to show up for ST and not do… exactly what he has done. With an ERA of Twelve-point-something ugly, Mijares has never not given up runs during a spring training outing. His stuff is up in the zone and doesn’t have any real bite to it. Yesterday, he pitched .2 innings before getting spiked on a weird play at first. He is expected to be fine, but he really needs to pick it up. I would be shocked if he begins the season in Minnesota.
  • I will continue to advocate for RA Dickey. Quick, who do these numbers belong to: (1) ERA 5.63, WHIP 1.13, 0 BB, 2 K, or (2) ERA 5.42, WHIP 1.20, 1 BB, 4 K? If you guessed Phil Humber and Brian Bass, in that order, you’d be right. I just have no attraction to Humber whatsoever. If he does break in big with the Twins, I’ll be happy to eat crow, but he seems like a much worse option than Dickey. Humber is just not that great. He’ll make the club, because he is out of options. If it were me, I’d put him on waivers and if he were claimed, I’d be just fine with it. Humber is very close to being a road block on some of the Twins’ good young starters, like Mulvey, Duensing, and Swarzak. It is his time to put up or shut up.
  • For the last bullpen slot, I would love to see Dickey, but I doubt the Twins would carry two long relievers, so what they will likely be looking for is a situational LOOGY. The top candidate for this right now is Brian Duensing, but I think that is a terrible idea. It wouldn’t help his development as a mid-quality starter/long reliever to throw a half-dozen pitches three times a week. Not only that, I just don’t think his stuff is good enough against lefties in order for him to be counted on to get the lefty outs. We’ll see what happens on this front.
  • I am a total agnostic on the Buscher v. Tolbert v. Harris battle. Someone will win, and the other will be tossed down to AAA for a month until the inevitable thumb injury occurs. Well, hopefully not, but I’m trying to be a realist. If I had to choose, I’d take Buscher and Harris.

I also wanted to briefly throw out a link to Travis Talks, where Travis Aune is kicking out a ridiculous amount of content. Very impressive indeed, and it is all more than worth reading.

Finally, there will actually be some changes to the blog over the next couple weeks, despite the warning to the right that has been there for weeks with no change. If you look above, I added a separate page for “on my list” players and personalities. There is only one member of that prestigious list at the moment. It will be updated throughout the season with the names of others that deserve mention; I’ll mention updates in posts like this one.

In other news, I am part of a fantasy baseball league this season, located here. Last night was our draft, and I had the first overall pick. Here’s the breakdown:

  1. Hanley Ramirez – SS – Marlins
  2. Chase Utley – 2b – Phillies
  3. Evan Longoria – 3b – Rays
  4. Mike Napoli – C – Angels
  5. Jason Bay – OF – Red Sox
  6. Brad Lidge – RP – Phillies
  7. Adrian Gonzalez – 1b – Padres
  8. Daisuke Matsuzaka – SP – Red Sox
  9. Scott Baker – SP – Twins
  10. Scott Kazmir – SP – Rays
  11. Shane Victorino – OF – Phillies
  12. Rich Harden – SP – Cubs
  13. Ryan Ludwick – OF – Cardinals
  14. Huston Street – RP – Rockies
  15. Chad Qualls – RP – D-Backs
  16. John Danks – SP – White Sox
  17. Gil Meche – SP – Royals
  18. Denard Span – OF – Twins
  19. Mike Aviles – IF – Royals
  20. Carlos Guillen – IF – Tigers
  21. Shin-Soo Choo – OF – Indians
  22. David DeJesus – UTIL – Royals
  23. Bengie Molina – C – Giants
  24. Kyle Lohse – SP – Cardinals
  25. Casey Blake – 3b/1b – Dodgers

I think this went alright. The one big mistake I have was drafting Napoli so high, I had forgotten that he is injured with little timeline. I also think that I got one of the steals of the draft, with Shin-Soo Choo in the 21st round (the other big steal (not by me) involved Chris Carpenter in the 22nd round). I found it a little bit strange (to say the least) to have to draft twice in a row (i.e. I had the first overall pick, then the 20th, then the 21st, then the 40th, and so on), but Andrew Kneeland had to do the same, and pulled it off just fine.

Let me take a moment at the end to promote the other bloggers’ sites that are participating in this league. They are, in no particular order:

Thrylos98 of The Tenth Inning Stretch

Seth Stohs of Sethspeaks.net

John Bonnes of Twins Geek

John Hageman of Over the Baggy

Josh Johnson of Josh’s Thoughts

Andrew Kneeland of Twins Fix

Nick Nelson of Nick and Nick’s Twins Blog

John Meyer of Twins MVB

John Marthaler of TNABACG

Missed Week Edition

Man, what a busy two weeks, no?! Spring training games started (well, a little more than a week ago), we saw Joe Crede in the field (I use “we” in a figurative sense, since none of the games he as played in have been on TV), we lost Boooof indefinitely, we didn’t sign Juan Cruz, someone else did, and much, much more. Let’s go through some of the action.

  • Juan Cruz ended up falling through the cracks, as the Twins apparently offered him something (typically) ridiculous. What do I mean by ridiculous? I mean they offered him a 1-year, 2 million dollar deal (sorry, can’t find the link for that, but I clearly remember reading it). In all honesty, that’s just rubbing his nose in the fact that he, a Type A free agent, had yet to be signed. That said, I guess the Twins might have been hedging their bets, since it likely would have cost them a bit to trade for him in the “trade” portion of the “sign-and-trade” portion of the deal.
  • The NEXT day, the Royals signed Juan Cruz. This wasn’t a sign and trade, just a sign. However, the Royals had their first round pick protected because it was #12, and the top 15 are protected. They lose their second round pick to the D-Backs. Ummm… sorry, but I don’t know where the Royals get off thinking they are planning to compete this year. They are just the cellar-dwe– Oh, they might be better this year? Oh. My bad. In all honesty, the rather intense back end of the bullpen that the Royals have (Farnsworth, Cruz, and Soria) is the best in the division, possibly the best in baseball. Now all they have to do is get a lead occasionally to get to those guys.
  • This brings the D-Backs to SEVEN (!!) picks in the first two rounds and the sandwich supplemental round this year. Had they offered arbitration to Adam Dunn, it would have been NINE. Note to D-Backs: he didn’t want to sign. He thought he was going to get rich. Poor planning on your part.
  • Manny signed… really don’t care.
  • A-Rod is out for the first month (at least) of the season. Longer, if he has the torn labrum repaired. Didn’t Mike Lowell have a torn hib labrum last year? Maybe someone reading this will know. (Or was it J.D. Drew? I thought he had a back issue, but…). Due to his general ickiness, I don’t really feel sorry for him, despite the fact that I don’t care about any potential steroid usage. This likely doesn’t affect the Twins in the slightest, as they don’t play the Yanks until May 15, and A-Rod should be over the shoulder by then.
  • Speaking of A-Rod, I lived in Oregon, which is Mariners country, when he debuted with the M’s. The announcers gushed about how awesome he was and how great his future career would be. Nice that people are right occasionally. A-Rod will be in the Hall someday, and I can think back to that debut.
  • So… how ’bout Perk? I have to say, the best story coming out of ST for me so far is the dominance of Perkins, who everyone seemed to think was the weak link in the rotation (minus a couple people that thought Blackburn would be the weakest). So far, Perk has thrown nine innings, and has not allowed a run, for a 2-0 record, with 5 Ks and a 0.88 WHIP. Since he has generally pitched the beginning of games, he has been facing the starters of the other teams, and has been nothing short of impressive. Today, he threw his first three innings in 31 pitches. It was beautiful. Or, it sounded beautiful on the radio.
  • Baker and Liriano both started out badly, but rebounded in their last start. Slowey has not yet given up a hit or a walk in five innings with 3 Ks. Blackburn also looked good in his first start, but then was skipped due to soreness in his surgically-repaired knee.
  • I think the only thing I can say about Nathan pulling out of the WBC is that is sore shoulder seems to have been a convenient excuse. While every blogger and fan threw up a little in their mouth upon hearing he had shoulder soreness, but it turned out he was laughing up his sleeve the whole time; as a bullpen session the next day yielded a non-sore shoulder.
  • Ditto Johan.
  • Corey Koskie got picked up by the Cubs on a minor league contract. They hope he can back up Third, First, and the outfield if necessary. I read that there were Cubs scouts at Hammond Stadium, and got excited for a trade, but then this happened, and I was pleased for Koskie, but sad for us. But then again, is there anything the Cubs have that we would be willing to go get?
  • Humber has been wretched. Jason Jones has been hit-or-miss. These are the two guys that needed to prove themselves the most, and they haven’t stepped up. If Humber doesn’t make the team out of spring break, he will be claimed off waivers. I don’t think there is room for him on the Twins, especially if he keeps Mijares or Dickey of the Major League club, but I hope he can stick with another team. I imagine Jones will be a starter at Rochester, after the Twins offer him back to the Yankees and the Yankees take some kind of marginal prospect in exchange for allowing us to keep Jones.
  • Where does this leave the opening day ‘pen, at least to me? I see something like this: Nathan (closer), Crain (set-up), Ayala, Guerrier (middle/mop-up), Breslow (LOOGY), Mijares (LOOGY/set-up). That is for an 11-man staff, something I view as a dim possibility, though I would like to see it. When the Twins abandon that good idea, they will add either Humber or Dickey to be the long-reliever; I am pushing for Dickey, myself. I love the idea of going from a power pitcher (well, sort of) like Liriano for six innings, then to Dickey for two innings, and then to Nathan for the ninth. Call it a pipe dream. I also just really like Knuckleballers.

I am planning on starting a new project over the weekend: a review of the most important games of 2008. Here’s the plan: I’ll watch a game every few days, and then I’ll recap it and give it’s importance in the Twins’ overall season. I am starting with what I view as the tenth most important game (as I see it): Sunday June 8. That was the second to last game of that devastating 4-game series against the White Sox. Final Score – 12-2.

I also hope to have thoughts on the WBC up soon. I’ll do my best on that one.

Also, I wanted to thank everybody for their good wishes during my paper weeks the last 2-3 weeks. I finished the paper; 32 pages on the theories of social obligation that underlie the law. It almost killed me, but now I’m pretty darn proud of it. Thanks again.

edo

Dear Lord.

Seriously? After all the conniving, and stress, and, well, doing nothing all off-season, the office of MLB is considering making it possible for a team to re-sign their own free agent and then immediately trade them.

LEN3 was all over this one.

But seriously. Juan Cruz?

JUAN CRUZ!?

Sure he’d be nice, but I think I am going to have stroke now, after this whole offseason of, well, NOTHING happening.

Seriously!

…ugh.

Getting to Third Base (and a poke in the eye)

No, not the sexual third base. What are we, middle schoolers?

Today, LENIII of the Star Tribune said, for the first time, that he thought that the Twins had a good shot at getting Crede. He made a more methodical run-down of the teams that might be interested in Crede, which is worth reading, of course. Several other bloggers have expressed similar opinions (and if I find links, I’ll post them, I promise).

However, advocating for a Crede signing ignores so many other issues.

The thrid base spot hs been a problem for the Twins for years. Last year, the spot was filled by Mike Lamb (followed eventually by the platoon of Brendan Harris and Brian Buscher). Buscher and Harris did an admirable job, considering everything that was against them, including losing their jobs to an off-season acquisition, like (potentially) Crede). However, there are several other areas that deserve attention before third base.

First, the bullpen. Signing Luis Ayala was the equivalent to promising a sixteen-year-old a Lexus and then getting her a Ford. Not only will the warranty mean nothing (soon), it is just a crappy idea (I am not endorsing Lexus over Ford, I actually prefer NEITHER of these two brands. They might even be made by the same company, for all I know.). The front office promised us action, and then poked us in the eye instead. They said, “You want another Neshek? You do? Hah! Here’s Ayala!” (POKE!). You want an active front office? ” Here’s nothing!” (POKE!!!).

Let’s be honest: 2009 is the last year of the ‘Dome Field Advantage. Once the Twins move outdoors, they will no longer have the thunderous crowd noise, the favorable ceiling, or even the strange dimensions that were provided by the Metrodome. Many other bloggers have been talking about 2010 as the year to “go for it.” However, that should be 2009; In 2010, the Twins lose the meager advantage that they have going for them. Suddenly, it will be like playing in every other park in baseball (sure, a park with lots of fans, but still…).

The first thing the Twins should address is the outfield situation. See here for my thoughts on how to resolve that issue.

The second thing that needs to be resolved is the bullpen. The Twins are entering spring training with the following group: Joe Nathan (duh), Matt Guerrier, Jesse Crain, Boof Bonser/Phil Humber, Craig Breslow (a.k.a. Superman), Jose Mijares, and Luis Ayala. Where is the closer? Oh, there you are, Joe. Where’s the setup guy? Oh, crap. Crain? Breslow? BONSER? Where do we go from here? I suppose we wait to see what Spring Training brings in. Still, the Twins have bullpen problems. No one can deny that.

Have both of these been solved? Really? Good job, Twins front office, if this is the case. However, that still leaves one thing…

Really? We have reached Third Base? I suppose I should be happy, since it is number three of the three things that the Twins needed to address this off-season. What has this come to? Essentially, last year’s platoon is assumed to be the starter. However, the Twins seem not to have given up on Crede, which is, well, stupid. Buscher and Harris could hold down third at least as well as Crede, likely better. The only advantage of Crede is that the Front Office will have done something.

But just to have done some thinking about the spot is likely more than most fans will participate in. Most fans think, oh, wait, they did something. They’ll be better this year. SWEET!

Unfortunately, this has been proven false many times. Whee. Every. Year, as far as the Twins are concerned. Batista? Really. Punto? Alright, until he wasn’t. Lamb? Give me a break. Koskie? Here’s a real claim to fame; what about managing?

Ugh. Just. Ugh. Why are we worrying about third base when there are a ton of other unpursued options?

Finding the Silver Lining in the Neshek Injury

Pat Neshek first appeared in the majors in 2006, when he appeared essentially out of nowhere to provide some of the late-inning lift the Twins were missing. Here, just for a look, are his stats for his three years in the majors:*

ERA

K/9

K-BB

IP

WHIP

HR

ERA+

#higLev

2006

2.19

12.89

53-6

37

.784

6

204

15

2007

2.84

9.48

74-27

70.1

1.009

7

147

20

2008

4.73

10.20

15-4

13.1

1.200

2

86

10 (!)

*Note: These are some of what I consider to be relevant stats for relievers. I can debate with anyone for days as to how valuable ERA, or K/9, or any other stat is, but this is my judgment call, as I just plain don’t know enough about stats to make anything more than a quick and dirty determination as to what is a good stat for a given player.

**ERA+ is the pitcher’s ERA, adjusted for factors including home ball park and the average ERA of the pitcher’s league. Average is set at 100.

***#higlev is the number of high leverage games the pitcher was called upon to pitch in. I have no idea how this is figured, but what I gather is that a high leverage situation is about 20% of plays, and tends to be in late and close situations, where the player has a significant impact.

So, with some stats on the board, lets pause and look at Neshek’s 2006 season with awe and wonder. Go ahead, say it. Ooooooooooh. It was absolutely amazing what Neshek was able to do in a short time in the majors. In 37 games, Neshek had one of the year’s highest ERA+ adjusted factors of all pitchers (for a contrast, the league leader that had enough innings to qualify was Johan Santana, with an ERA+ of 161). Johan Santana had a K/9 average of 9.44. He was phenominal, but he wasn’t used in all that many high-leverage situations (at least for a set-up guy). His WHIP was well below 1, and his strike-out to walk ration was almost 8.3-1.

But then, no one had really seen a delivery like Pat Neshek’s before 2006.

In 2007, it wasn’t apparent that many players had figured him out until July or so. His numbers were great until then. For most of the season, he flirted with an ERA of 1 or lower. However, that began to change around the All-Star Break (for a game he was almost selected for). At that point, he had been overused to such an extent that his velocity was letting up, which allowed players to see his pitches much better. Several hitters are on the record as saying that they “figured out” his motion much more than they had been able to. The overuse finally reached a head, and Neshek was shelved for the rest of the season to save his shoulder and elbow. However, no one ever talked about him getting hurt. (Perspective check: Neshek was still phenominal. I would have taken one of his worst days over Brian Bass’ best. However, it is a decline from a pheonominal and surprising first partial season.)

Last year, Neshek did his best to carry the Twins through the late innings at the beginning of the season, but sharp-eyed viewers noticed that hitters weren’t taking such completely wild swings at pitches anymore; when they missed, they missed by just a little bit. I personally noticed that Neshek was hardly using his slider, and when he did, it didn’t have much break. Not only that, it seemed Neshek was really trying to change from being a power pitcher to a control pitcher, as he spent a lot more time nibbling the edges than in prior years (possibly to attempt to avoid getting hurt). Unfortunately, it didn’t work, and he went on the 60-day disabled list on May 8.

What would have happened had Neshek not been injured so early in the season? Would he have held up through the stretch run to provide the arm the Twins so desperately needed in the ‘pen through August and September as they limped to the finish? In all honesty, probably not. Neshek was used for 70.1 innings in 2007, and he faced a noticeable decline after about inning number 45 or 50. When Neshek was injured, he had pitched 13.1 innings. In 2007, the Twins cut Neshek off on game 149, which projects that he would have pitched 76 1/3 innings in the season. Using the same metric, he would have thrown 65 innings or so in 2008. However, I suspect he would have been used significantly more, given the depth of the bullpen collapse. Could Neshek have gotten through the season without an injury or a decline as in ’07? Possibly, but I would say it would have been unlikely.

This brings me to the point of this whole article: trying to make some good come out of this eminently crappy situation. I think the most important thing that will come out of this injury and year off for Pat (well, essentially two years off) is that hitters won’t have seen him for years. Do I expect the Neshek of ’06 to appear in ’10 to open the new ballpark? No, not even close. However, his motion is weird enough (and cool enough to watch) that he should have a bit of a grace period to get the control back, particularly if the Twins use him sparingly. Two years of not hitting off of Pat Neshek might be a good thing for the rest of the Central, but watch out in ’10.

…and Pat? If you’re reading this, get better soon. Godspeed and all, because we miss you!

There’s a fire in the kitchen; or, more offensive futility.

Have you ever had one of those moments? You know, the kind that happens when you are almost done with something (like cleaning the kitchen), but then you take a step back and take a looooong look at what is left. It really doesn’t seem like much. Nobody will see the dust under the shelves. Nobody will actually look to see if the gunk under the burners is wiped up. I might not have finished, but it’s just… good enough.

You know that feeling? It’s usually right. No one usually notices the cleaning deficiencies. However, every once and a while your mother-in-law comes over, and you better believe she’ll find ALL the dust! Then you go to heat up some water for her tea, and the gunk under the burner bursts into flame. Then suddenly your mother-in-law is screaming at you from the other room about how this wouldn’t have happened had you just cleaned the stove, and by the way, you’ll get mice and roaches because of the dust under the shelves. Meanwhile, you are fumbling for the fire extinguisher from under the sink and the neighbors are pounding on the wall and the smoke detector is going off and you finally figure out how to work the fire extinguisher and put out the fire.

After all the drama, you have one hot mess in the kitchen and one angry mother-in-law. See? Not doing the cleaning does come back to bite you.

***

Enter the Twins offense. Yesterday, the Twins scored five runs in the period of two innings. At that point, it was as if the hitters took a step back and examined their work, and it was good. They thought, “You know, that’s good enough. Our pitchers pretty much rock, and usually when we score five runs, we win. We rock. Come over here and pat me on the back. Oh, you? Sure, I’ll pat you on  the back too. Anyone want a Mai Tai? We’re done here.”

…And then the Twins’ collective mother-in-law came over when Perkins gave up back-to-back home-runs. At that point, the offense could have hastily brushed up some of the dust (possibly using the metaphorical cat) and wiped under the burners quick like a fox. Instead, they thought, “Nah, it’s good. We’ll be just fine. We still have a run. It’s not like the, erm, home runs (okay, so the metaphor is falling apart) will want some tea.”

…And then came Boof Bonser, who is really much more of a crumpets guy. When the, er, home runs inquired about tea and maybe inviting over some company, he was more than happy to oblige. Another home run followed, and suddenly the offense was dealing with a burning, screaming, pounding, hot mess. They looked at the scene and yelled, “Ahhhhh!!! Where’s the fire extinguisher?! Where’s the fire blanket?! Oh, where, oh where is Pat Neshek (it turns out he was busy prepping for a podcast with Seth Stohs, which should be very much worth the listen tomorrow at 8pm central)??!!!”

So, the Twins got out the backup fire extinguisher (Matt Guerrier), and it turns out, in an ironic twist worthy of Family Guy, that Guerrier was a joke fire extinguisher, and by the time he stopped laughing, another run had crossed the plate.

At this point, the offense panicked and ran, leaving all their friends to either burn to death or spit out the fire, neither of which turned out to be terribly feasible.

***

Yeah, making up metaphors that fall apart almost immediately is fun. However, the idea was to draw attention to a very real problem the Twins are facing: Their mothers-in-law are attending every game, causing untold amounts of stress (I kid because I love). Actually, name the last time the Twins made a habit of scoring runs in the late innings in a non-blowout situation? You have to look back to mid-June. Remember when, even though the Twins would be behind three or five runs, we just knew they would come back and win it? Remember when a three or five run lead was destined to stand up, just because that is what happens in a just world? It seems those days are past us. So, until then, I am praying for daily blowouts.

You know there is a problem when Matt Macri pinch hits and you heave a sigh of relief. Then, he strikes out on four pitches and you think, “You know, that could have been worse.” Yeah, we’re there. And state farm won’t help us this time.

New on my list:

  • The ‘Pen. And the Offense. And, well, everything to do with this team right now.

September Call-ups; Say it ain’t so, Jesse and Joe!

Over the weekend, the Twins announced their call-ups for the stretch run. If you have been living under a rock, then you haven’t heard. THey were Ryan Jorgenson (catcher), Matt Macri (utility IF, 3B), Matt Tolbert (UT INF), Jason Pridie (OF), Jose Mijares (LHP), Phil Humber (RHP, SP), and Bobby Korecky (RHP, CL).Really, only one of them was a surprise: Jose Mijares. Overall, about what I expected, though I would have liked to see a couple more dark horses. However, this is still a playoff race, though I am getting less encouraged at this point, and I can see the Twins wanting slightly more proven things.

  • Mijares was quite good last year in AA New Britain, then was in a potentially devastating car accident over his offseason; the lefty broke his pitching elbow and injured the shoulder. I heard reports that he wouldn’t be back for at least a year. Those reports turned out to be exaggerated, as he is back, posting a pretty decent line in both Fort Myers (2.61 ERA and .097 WHIP) and New Britain (2.63 ERA and 1.39 WHIP). To be honest, I have no idea where these numbers came from. Last season, he was sketchy at best, putting up mediocre (bordering on bad) lines in both New Britain (3.54 and 1.44) and Rochester (6.23 and 1.62). He throws in the mid-nineties, but shouldn’t be too much of a factor in the stretch run.
  • Korecky is also back, finally, after continuing his good year at Rochester. He finished the season with 26 saves and a 2.91 ERA (1.18 WHIP), as well as the only hit by a Twins pitcher in the DH era at the Metrodome. Korecky can provide a much needed arm in the back end of the bullpen, especially with the troubles that Crain has been having (making a good righty even more important).
  • I am interested to see what the Twins do with Phil Humber, after the way his Rochester season went. He started the year, well, badly would be an understatement. He did so badly that he pulled a Boof and ended up in the Rochester bullpen. Pitchers are given a spot in the bullpen to get confidence back and get control of their pitches; Humber did neither. However, when he was given another shot at the starting rotation, he grabbed it and performed very well. For my two cents, I would put him into the rotation when the time comes for one of the young starters to move to the ‘pen for the playoffs, if such a thing is in the cards; once the playoffs arrive, teams need a max of four pitchers anyway, what with the extra days off and all.

The rest of the players recalled were position players.

  • Jason Pridie (pronounced PRIDE-ey, not pretty) had an abysmal start to his season, but turned it around. In a way, he is Gomez, but backwards. Gomez started out great, then fell apart. Both strike out at an absurd level (Gomez: 122; Pridie: 150), both are good in the outfield. I look for Pridie to get an occasional spot start for Delmon Young or when either of Span or Gomez need a day off; he would also be a good pinch hitter/runner.
  • Matt Tolbert is back, having a healthy thumb again. I just about cried when he hurt his thumb; that’s the ONLY time that has happened to me. Tolbert brings an exuberance and love of the game that is just infectious; even when he couldn’t use the hand, he was at the games, shagging balls and signing autographs (with the other hand). I haven’t ever seen the kind of enthusiasm he brings; the kind of joy for the game. It’s as if he knows that his time in the majors is a gift, and he certainly took advantage; he was playing well before he hurt himself sliding into first (grumble). Oh, yeah, and he plays good defense. Tolbert would have been the long-term solution at second had Casilla not stepped up; he should be the utility infielder next year, after the Twins forget to re-sign Nick Punto. We’ll mostly see him as a pinch-runner and a late-inning defensive replacement at third, methinks.
  • Ryan Jorgenson: Not a big deal. We knew the Twins had to call up a catcher and we knew it wasn’t going to be Jose Morales (after he re-aggravated his horribly strained ankle last year). I was rather hoping to see some of Jeff Christy, but I’ll take Jorgensen. He really isn’t a big deal, though he calls a decent game from what I’ve heard.
  • Finally, Matt Macri is back! For everyone who thought Bass should have gone instead of him when Baker came back from the DL, be happy. Macri will probably be a non-factor, as it seems Harris has come into his own, and has generally (excepting Sat.) shown a better glove than Macri did. However, I do see Macri coming in as a pinch-hitter and as a late-inning replacement for Buscher against left-handed pitching.

Finally, a word to our two right-handed relievers whose names start with J.

Jesse Crain. What the H-E-double-hockey-sticks happened to you? You were throwing, at one point, over 97 mph and locating like crazy. Apparently, being good stuck in your craw, and you have become Brian Bass/Juan Rincon almost overnight. Keep it up, and I’ll have to come up with an incendiary nickname for you, which won’t be easy, since Gas Can Man (Rincon) and Kerosene Boy (Bass) have both come and gone. However, just so you don’t think I’m not up to the task, I’ll come up with something. And I’ll use it, unless you don’t start using your pitches better.

All yelling and frustration aside, Crain has given up the winning runs in three of his last five outings, and was charged with ERs in two of those innings. In addition, he has failed to keep inherited runners, well, on the bases. He is flirting with a 50/50 Ball/strike ratio over the same time period; he would be below 50% on strikes if he didn’t give up so many hits. Frankly, I want Crain either shut down for a week (at least) and then we can talk about his future with the club. I hesitate to want him to go away permanently, as Leslie Monteiro of Twins Killings does, but his future should be in question at this point. The only reason I hesitate, however, is that he really stepped up when Guerrier fell apart, and might be suffering from a bit of a dead arm at this point. Korecky should help give him a break.

As Leslie pointed out earlier, though, I would not be doing my job as a blogger if I didn’t call out Joe Nathan for his recent failures.

Let me be clear about something. I have never been a Joe Nathan devotee. He really reminds me of Todd Jones, who seems to relish in letting a few baserunners on before getting out of the inning. I remember what the Detroit announcers said about Jones when we played there in July: Jones may not get a lot of 1-2-3 innings, but he closes out wins and ends games. That is what Joe Nathan has done for the Twins; he makes my blood pressure rise about 30 points every time he comes in, but whatever it takes to win, i suppose.

However, I am not willing to let what he has been doing recently slide without saying something. He has done a great job of losing games for the Twins. He has five blown saves on the year; two have come on this road trip, including the unforgettable bad throw he made on Saturday to lose the game. Delmon Young gave it his lumbering best, but by the time he got to the ball in the bullpen, the second run had nearly scored. That kind of play doesn’t fly, especially when he had allowed the two runners before to reach base. Seriously, Joe. You need to stop letting people on without any effort, and then, magically, you will start to be, well, good again.

State of the ‘Pen (2nd ed.)

So, I’m back. Sorry about essentially missing the last three weeks. I had a week of vacation, followed by a week of moving, followed by a week of EIW (early interview week, for those not law-school inclined). But, classes start again on Tuesday, and a more regular schedule will be far more conducive to more regular blogging.

So. Given the name of the blog and what I have been focusing on personally this season, I think I will have a weekly issue on the state of the ‘Pen.

The ‘Pen has not been a happy place to be for the last week for some of its members. Brian Bass went away and ended up in Rochester. Jesse Crain has given up the winning run in the last three games in which he has pitched. Guardado, the newest (and the oldest) face in the Twins’ ‘pen got shelled and nearly lost Wednesday’s game. So, lets go through it, reliever by reliever.

Brian Bass (-) RIP. Bass accepted his assignment to Rochester, so we might see him again on Tuesday after the call-ups. However, this could be the end of “Kerosene Boy.”

Boof Bonser (-) Boof had a very good week, after disappointing for most of the season. In four innings, Boof gave up only one earned run on two hits. If Boof’s coversion to a long reliever continues in this vein, he will have a future with this team, though I still think he should be trade bait for some bullpen depth (or depth anywhere else). That said, his stuff was nearly filthy on Thursday night.

Craig Breslow (-) Breslow has continued a stellar season. One thing that Breslow has been suffering from are high expectations upon his claiming off waivers from the Indians. We all just sort of expected him to be the Reyes of ’06. In the last week, he gave up one earned run on one hit in 4.1 innings. Not great, but when you consider that he absorbed the loss when Jesse Crain allowed an inherited runner to score on Thursday (accounting for the one ER), he really was fantastic. Breslow appears to be earning Gardy’s trust, and I think he deserves a look as a seventh/eighth inning guy on nights when Guerrier and/or Guardado aren’t available. On Friday night, Breslow turned in one of the best performances of the year by a Twins relief pitcher, throwing three perfect innings with three Ks, earning a meaningless save in the 12-2 blowout.

Eddie Guardado (-) So, the Twins made a move that surprised everyone (and no one) when they moved A-ball closer Mark Hamburger to the Rangers for Everyday Eddie. I (personally) was not a fan of the move. Mark Hamburger looked to be the heir apparent to Anthony Slama in Ft. Myers, and his high-nineties fastball was fast for his frame (which could have stood for a bit of added weight). Maybe it’s just me, but getting Eddie for a couple months (I think that’s all we get) for someone with a ton of potential value is just rough. But, then again, there is a huge logjam of relievers in teh lower levels of teh Twins organization, since the Twins are stuck with the likes of Julio DePaula, Carmen Cali, and Danny Graves in AAA, which has kept people down lower than their level should be. Anyway, goodbye, Burgerman. Have fun in the Texas system. Anyway, Eddie immediately reminded us all of why he both made us happy and made us cry when he was acquired. He threw a perfect eighth on Monday, then gave up a run in 2/3 innings on Thursday. Don’t expect anything else from Eddie. He’s a great guy, but he is old and wanted to finish his career in a Twins uniform. I’m happy he got his wish.

Matt Guerrier (-) Matty is slowly redeeming himself as he tries to come back from overuse. He was given seven of ten days of from August 12 – 21,and immediately responded, appearing in every game of the seattle series without giving up a hit. Guerrier will be fine, though his ERA will be horrible for this year.

Joe Nathan (-) I’ll come back when there is something to tell. He had a bad night the other night, but that’s that.

Dennys Reyes (-) Eh. He’s been passable, but still not great. Reyes, as all year, has been wildly inconsistent. In three appearances totaling 2.2 innings, he gave up two hits and one earned run; he once had to be rescued by Breslow.

I am not going to talk about Jesse Crain right now. I am still mad at him from last night, and so talking about him wouldn’t be terribly helpful. Just to suffice it to say that he has become the Guerrier of two weeks ago, and needs to be shut down for at least a week or two.

Any thoughts on the bullpen at this point in the season?

Oh, and by the way, going to sethspeaks.com instead of sethspeaks.net was an, ahem, experience. Check it out if you want to wonder what the world is coming to.

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