Happy ‘elmon Young Day!

Happy ‘elmon Young day! Today is brought to you by the letters D and O, the numbers -17.9 (his career UZR) and .23 (his career BB/K), and the creator of both Nick Punto Day and ‘elmon Young Day, Andrew Kneeland. A little background:

On February 12, Twins bloggers across the country (well, mostly in the midwest, but a few ex-pats, such as myself, made it a national event) held “Nick Punto Day,” in which we celebrated (and denigrated) the player that most of us love to hate. Or hate to love. Or, if you’re Karlee of OMGMnTwins, love to love and love even more to destroy anyone who hates. Now, three months later, Andrew has decided (and many agree) that given the mixed feelings most of us hold about ‘elmon (apostrophe to be explained in a minute), a similar day to feel out the strengths (not fielding) and weaknesses (fielding) of our dear left fielder. This is an entry in that series. So, dear reader, bear with me, this’ll be a long one. I’ve got a lot to say about ‘elmon. But even I doubt that the feelings of the fans can be adequately expressed in mere words.

‘elmon was acquired from the Tampa Bay Rays on November 28, 2007 for one-time starting pitching phenom Matt Garza, starting shortstop Jason Bartlett, and minor league reliever Eduardo Morlan. The Twins also received Brendan Harris and Jason Pridie in the trade. On first blush, it seems like an even trade. Two uber-prospects – Garza and Young (who had been runner-up to Dustin Pedroia in 2007, his 21-year-old season) – two decent non-star shortstops (Bartlett and Harris), and two (would prove to be minor league-only) other players (Pridie and Morlan) all changed hands. This blog didn’t exist back then, so unlike other blogs, I cannot link to an old post raving about how great the trade was for the Twins. Thank God for that. That would be embarrassing.

I’ll be honest, though, even though it pains me. At the time I was thrilled. I was a fan who had never bought into Matt Garza, despite his impressive stats in the minors and during his solid-but-not-spectacular short 2006 stint in the Show. The main thing I can remember from back then was Garza refusing to throw his breaking pitches in the minor leagues, while the coaches insisted he not throw his (very good) fastball every pitch. That refusal led to Scott Baker and Kevin Slowey getting a 2007 call-up before him. This made Garza bitter, and he struggled through the 2007 season, even though he ended with a good 3.47 ERA (which outperformed his 4.18 FIP – likely due to good infield defense). There were games where he would literally stalk out to the mound, and he ended the year with a 5-7 record.

Count me among those that wondered, once Bill Smith was promoted to replace Terry Ryan as the Twins manager, whether Garza, who had been one of Ryan’s “babies,” was on his way out. And so he was, just a few months later. Let me talk for just a second about those other involved players. Jason Bartlett went on to have a couple very good years in Tampa Bay (including being undeservedly voted team MVP in their World Series appearance in 2008). Bartlett is a good defensive shortstop who hits for a decent-to-good average with little power. In a pre-Hardy world, doesn’t that look good? He was exchanged (in effect) for Brendan Harris, a bad defensive shortstop who had hit 12 homers for Tampa Bay in 2007. He became a part-time player with little upside the very next season, when he was supplanted at shortstop by first Adam Everett and then later Nick Punto, and was placed at second base, where he was eventually replaced by Alexi Casilla. Sigh. Today, he’s a role player, who gets more playing time than he deserves. The Twins also received Jason Pridie, who has only played a couple of games in the majors, giving up Eduardo Morlan, who was substituted at the last minute for Juan Rincon. Morlan was my major reason for disliking the trade when it happened, because he was one of our top relievers in the minors. However, he hurt his shoulder (I think) and has not risen above AA, which is the level he was at when the trade came down.

So, what was my first reaction to the trade? “Ugh, shouldn’t Bill Smith be working on trading Santana, rather than trading for an outfielder?” Yep, that was it. Sure, I was sad to see Morlan go, and rather pleased to see an outfielder who could hit for power coming over. Especially one that was heralded as an “excellent defensive outfielder with an extremely strong arm.” I’ll refrain from linking to who said that one, because I don’t believe in cruel and unusual punishment.

Prior to the Twins trading for him, the only time I had really heard of Young, other than having a casual awareness of his rookie-of-the year runner-up season, was due to his longstanding behavioral problems. In AA he once was suspended for three games for bumping an umpire.  The icing on the suspension cake (mmmmm, cake) occurred when he was playing in AAA Durham. ‘elmon was struck out on a called third strike, and hung around to argue it. So the umpire ejected him. On his way to the dugout, Young turned around and threw his bat at the umpire; it hit him on the chest. The next day, ‘elmon said, through his agent, that he didn’t actually mean to hit the umpire with the bat. Somehow, that didn’t satisfy the International League authorities, and he was suspended indefinitely, which was later reduced to 50 games. The whole affair was caught on video, which, if I did the embed thing right, is located below.

The incident was enough to prompt the famous (and retired) BatGirl to create a Lego story about his arrival in Minnesota (by the way, running a google search for “bat girl” returns several extremely frightening results). Young continued his behavioral problems with the Rays in 2006 and 2007, and managed to wear out his welcome in just over one season in the bigs: he made nearly all his teammates in Tampa Bay hate him both on and off the field. However, he hit a bunch of homers, and projected to hit more in the future, which was enough to make the Twins want/need him. However, the behavioral problems did not go away once he arrived in the Twins organization. Multiple sources reported that he was refusing to take any guidance from the Twins’ coaching staff and would only listen to his father’s hitting advice. He apparently was aggravating the other outfielders due to his reluctance to chase down balls hit into the gaps and balls that were foul but in play. Of course, that turns out to be caused mostly by the fact that he was unable to run at any decent clip.

So, how good on defense was this “excellent defensive outfielder with an extremely strong arm?” Well, terrible. His UZR for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays (they hadn’t yet changed their name) was -7.5, which is bad, but not epically bad. His next seasons were epically bad, though, as he turned in a -19.5 UZR in 2008 (in 152 games) and a -14.4 UZR in 108 games in 2008, which works out to a UZR/150 of -22.9. True, his arm was strong, but he never got to the ball, so what did we, the fans, care if he actually threw it? He made a total of 15 outfield assists in those two years. He couldn’t range forward or backward, and God help us all if he had to dive for it. He somehow managed to give Prince Fielder his first inside-the-park home run after diving for and missing the ball, badly (sorry for no video, MLB took down all the copies I could find). This lack of “D” (defense) is why, when I write out his name, I write it ‘elmon. See? No D. (This is borrowed from the fine fellows over at The WGOM).

His bat has somehow been very bad, while being good. He hit .290 and .284 his first two seasons with the Twins, and looks to be doing something similar this season. He has not been fast, as he stole 14 bases in 2008, and only two last season. His on-base percentage has been lacking, as he has struck out five times for every walk. So, let’s look at some graphs, shall we? This is all from the fine folks at Fangraphs. The first graph is of Delmon’s batting average over time.

It’s clearly trending downwards, though it is still above average (barely). Hopefully it rebounds. Graph 2: on-base percentage (just for kicks, compared to Mauer, Mr. OBP, and Cuddyer).

Below average, which is a trick, given that his batting average has been above average. It comes from all those strikeouts and so few walks. Graph 3: BB%.

Not so great, except for this season, which we can (probably) expect to revert to the mean.

So, what’s the takeaway from this overly long look at ‘elmon? Well, it’s tough to say, at least for someone as statistically inept as I am. However it’s worth noting that Delmon is still very young. He has had a lot of attitude and behavioral problems, but those seem to be working themselves out as he’s grown up. Last year, he was forced to deal with an event no one should have to deal with: the death of his mother from cancer. Then, at the end of the season, he turned it on and started performing much better. He lost 30 lbs over the off-season, which I think has sent a message to a lot of people, myself included: he does care. It’s an acknowledgment of the problems he’s had, and there has been a real change this season. He’s running out ground balls (and beating some out, now that he’s lighter and faster). He’s getting to more balls in the outfield (and still looking ugly while he’s doing it).

But I think I have more hope for ‘elmon than I did last year. When he lost the weight, it seems he also lost the attitude, which seemed to have been weighing him down more than the weight itself was. He has, I think for the first time, a real shot to NOT go the same direction that his brother, Dimitri, famously took, or that Milton Bradley seems dead set on taking now. I think he just might make it. And if he does, he still might just make that trade look pretty damn skippy.

(Follow me on Twitter at @calltothepen, and while you’re there, check out the tag for Delmon Young day: #DelmonYoungDay to see what else has been written).

Into the Off Day…

So, it’s been a while. I’m under a fair amount of stress right now, so let’s use some soothing bullet points to put me at ease…

  • Let me tell you, finishing off a law school career is pretty hard work. I only have about 40 more pages to write before next Monday (May 3rd) so that I can graduate, so I can almost guarantee that this will be the final post of a decent length until then. I’m working on three papers: one is a really simple and easy reflection memo on my internship in DC Superior Court; the second involves suggestions on how to implement the Omnibus DC Voting Bill for the 2010 elections; and the third is the beast, a 20-page paper on standing requirements, which are what must be met before one can sue. Overall, not too bad (considering I ended up writing a somewhat controversial 68-pager on the teaching of evolution over creationism in schools last year), but the time frame will make it very difficult. Wish me luck! If I succeed, I’ll graduate. If not, well, I’ll hope for an extension!
  • Friday’s game was an interesting one for me. I had missed the two prior days’ games due to work and going to the Nationals games. Both, by the way were terrible to watch. Livan Hernandez was pretty impressive Thursday, but still pulled off the loss against Cy Jimenez. He was exactly the guy he was in 2008, which still makes me cringe, but I’m happy he’s still finding success. However, Friday’s game got nasty on Twitter. When David DeJesus (I think) hit a home run that just barely went over the fence (as was apparent on replay but not on first viewing), Michael Cuddyer did not seem to hustle at all to return the ball to the infield. The problem? The ump called the ball in play, which led to DeJesus getting an inside-the-park home run as Cuddyer meandered back to the ball, which was resting at the base of the fence. Now, I know Cuddyer likely saw the ball go over his head, and the ump’s call would have been overturned on instant replay, but the slow walk Cuddyer took incensed many of those on Twitter that day. Our reward for being critical of Cuddyer for (apparently) not hustling (as is the Minnesota Twins way, of course)? This Tweet, by a respected and widely-followed Twins blogger (name removed because I have not spoken with him directly):

    This Tweet was quickly followed up by:

    Really?

    Now, as everyone who reads my writing or tweets knows, I am all about the snark and the sarcasm, but there is a line that stops short of accusing someone of “not being a fan” or “not being a true fan.” The first tweet crossed that line, and the second Tweet was just a reminder. As of now, I find myself an “alleged” Twins fan in the eyes of at least one (for those not familiar with the legal term of art “alleged,” it means roughly “something that has been declared true, but that certainly hasn’t been proven.”) influential blogger. Frankly, it pissed me off, and I sure hope it pissed off others. I really have one sports rule, and that rule is to NEVER accuse someone of not being a fan. Here’s where I shout out to my fellow blogger Fanatic Jack, who tends to have a negative outlook on the team, and frequently gets accused of all sorts of nasty things because of it. Jack, we rarely agree, but I know you are a true fan, and I urge everyone else to read his work at Fanatic Jack Talks Twins, as he does have a lot of good analysis to go along with is (often merited) pessimism.

  • So, that dour note behind us, it appears that Joe Mauer hasn’t shaved in a while, which is leading to a resurgent case of Joe Mauer’s Beard! I unfortunately don’t have a very good capture of it, but here is what I got. It is still a long way from the luscious specimen that we had at the beginning of ST, but it’s a start. Now if only Denard Span would follow Joe’s lead and grow back HIS Man-Beard. I promise he’ll stop it with the suckage as soon as he does.
  • The Twins have now won six straight series without managing to sweep a single one. Color me unconcerned. So long as the Twins are winning 2/3+ of their games, I won’t start to fret. Eventually, the Twins will discover their missing clutchiness and they’ll start scoring about three more runs per game than they are now.
  • I want to marry the Twins offense, but A) my wife would not approve, and B) it’s not legal to marry groups of sports players in Virginia (or Minnesota). So, I guess I’ll just have to deal with pining from a distance.
  • Topper Anton was nice enough to offer me a place in his “Twins Bloggers: Get to Know ‘Em” series, and commences to say nice things about me that I really don’t deserve, as I recently discovered that I have a horrible pottymouth while watching baseball: at the Thursday Nats game, there was a whole family, including little kids sitting right in front of me. The Nats are a horrible team, and I really don’t love them that much, but I found myself biting my lip far too much. Sorry, Mom! :S Anyway, go check out my Get-to-Know-’Em if you want to know more about me (or if you are looking for good blackmail fodder).
  • Because of the back-up of games, I’ll give a Stud/Dud for today’s game only.
  • The Stud: Justin Morneau. Justin absolutely destroyed a pitch in the second inning for a two-run homer, and he has really been flashing the leather recently at second base. Mark Texeira he is not, but he’s still impressive.
  • The Dud: clearly, today’s dud was Kevin Slowey. This is not to say that he pitched poorly (which he did: he couldn’t locate around the corners of the plate, and when that goes, so goes Slowey’s whole game), but the main reason is that he couldn’t make it far into the Sixth Inning on the day after every pitcher but Alex Burnett was used. It turned out not to matter, as Ron Mahay and Burny (starting to like that kid a lot) easily cleaned up the final 2 2/3 innings, but it was something the Twins really needed that Slowey failed to provide.
  • Courtesy Wikipedia (click to visit page). The Hip Flexors.

    Nick Punto‘s groin is apparently just fine (which is more info than I needed to know today), but because he is still experiencing pain in that oh-so-sensitive area, the docs are looking into a possible hip flexor injury. If you didn’t know, and I didn’t, the hip flexors are any of about ten moving parts that make your hip joint work properly. I put the Wikipedia diagram on the right (credit goes to Wiki user Beth Ohara). Click on the image to go to the Wikipedia page for more info. If, as LaVelle seemed to fear in his tweet, hip flexor surgery is required, Punto could be done for the year, as Royals utility player Josh “Booger” Fields (nickname bestowed by WhiteSoxBlog) decided to do today. Ironically, as I tweeted earlier, if Punto has surgery and misses the rest of the season, the odds of him being with the Twins next year go up significantly: the hip injury will reduce his defensive value, which means all his value. The Twins were going to decline his $5 million option for next year (or so I certainly hope), and this makes it much more likely he’d accept a cheap “make-g00d” deal back with the Twins as a utility infielder. Luke Hughes got his roster spot, and I would really like to see him get a couple starts.

  • In other injury news, Clay Condrey had a setback, and there is no timetable for when he resumes throwing.
  • Tomorrow is an off day. Hallelujah.
  • Tuesday, the Twins will pitch the rearmed F-Bomb against Justin Verlander. In terms of my hopes for the Twins, I certainly hope Francisco Liriano is as good as he’s been. In the interest of my fantasy team, however, I want Verlander to strike out 10 Twins through five innings and leave a game tied 0-0, so the Twins can come back and destroy the Tiger bullpen. Life is much more complicated when my fantasy players face the Twins.

I feel better after all those bullets. Cheers!

Important Game #4: Joe Mauer Returns with a Bang

Here’s a little refresher on the series, before I begin:

Basically, the premise of the series is that certain games have an effect that is far greater than their mere impact on the win-loss column. These games are mentally and physically definitive of a season, and before the new season begins, by looking back and remembering and feeling the emotions of last season one more time, we can understand what happened, what went wrong, and most importantly, what went right. So, climb aboard the side-burn express, and keep your hands, arms, feet, heads, and all other extremities inside the vehicles at all times as we embark on one final excursion through the highs and lows of last season.

May 1: Joe Mauer returns from a back injury to power the Twins to victory.

He's ba-ack. Courtesy MLB.com.

When the Twins broke camp in 2009, they did so without their best player. Joe Mauer, who had been hurting for most of the off-season, had only just found an anti-inflammatory that solved the pain he felt most of the time. The Twins instead broke with Mike Redmond and Jose Morales, and for some unfathomable reason started Redmond over Morales most of the month, as Redmond wore down. However, it did lead to the (probably temporary) rise of Jose Morales. If we didn’t have Wilson Ramos in the high minors, we’d be talking a lot more about how good Jose Morales is. He’s no world-beater, but he hits for average when he gets to start. I wonder what he could net in a trade? Maybe a B prospect? Hmmm…

Okay, digression over.

So, everyone knows the story of this game. Joe, having recovered from inflammation in his sacroiliac joint, came up and blasted a massive home run. If you were at all like me, you were watching the game and stood up and cheered like he had just launched a home run in Game Seven of the world series. After my neighbors below pounded on the ceiling, my wife looked at me like I was crazy, and my dog ran barking out of the room, I realized that I may have overreacted. In hindsight, though, I think that was exactly the correct way to respond. Joe’s return to the lineup not only won that specific game, as he did go 2-3 with a walk, while scoring three runs, but it also galvanized the Twins, and began the slow, yet steady, march to the post-season.

It was also the beginning of one of the most amazing seasons any of us will have the opportunity to see play out before us. Joe was truly amazing last season – he ended with the highest batting average by a catcher in the American League, ever. He also is the first Triple-Slash Crown winner (batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage). He was elected to his first MVP, almost unanimously, which he would have been if not for one idiotic writer who should lose his right to vote on all future awards.

It's the Joe-point we'll be sadly missing this year. Courtesy MLB.com.

I mean, there was a lot of good to this game in addition to Joe’s return. First, the Twins destroyed Sidney Ponson, who I still hold a grudge against from the disastrous ’07 season. Kevin Slowey was nothing special, but the relief corps stepped up in a big way. Jose Mijares and Joe Nathan both pitched perfect innings, and Matt Guerrier threw two perfect innings. This, to me, is the biggest argument that he should not be the designated closer this year, but that’s neither here nor there.

The real takeaway from Important Game #4 was Joe Mauer’s return. You can talk about or analyze everything else about the game and probably get something more meaningful than a 5-7 victory for the Twins, but the only really important thing was Joe’s return. It was perhaps the most important day of the season for that reason, although the game itself wasn’t all that important.

Important Game #6: Slowey Out for the Year

(Note: I’ll be posting several articles that I had partially written since Friday but didn’t have time to finish. Please check back often for the rest! As, always, I’ll be tweeting @calltothepen. Follow me there or subscribe to my posts using the button on the sidebar!)

Here’s a quick refresher about the series:

Basically, the premise of the series is that certain games have an effect that is far greater than their mere impact on the win-loss column. These games are mentally and physically definitive of a season, and before the new season begins, by looking back and remembering and feeling the emotions of last season one more time, we can understand what happened, what went wrong, and most importantly, what went right. So, climb aboard the side-burn express, and keep your hands, arms, feet, heads, and all other extremities inside the vehicles at all times as we embark on one final excursion through the highs and lows of last season.

Courtesy MLB.com

July 3rd: Twins lose in extras 11-9, then suffer a far worse loss the next day.

This is the only one of the games in on the list that are important, not only for what happened in the game itself, but from news that blossomed based on a seed planted during the game. This was, as the title implies the final game of 2009 that was pitched by our erstwhile and potential ace, Kevin Slowey. But more about that in a little while. First, a discussion of the Important game itself.

The 2009 Twins were perhaps the most hot-and-cold team I can remember following. They would seemingly go for weeks at a time without a quality start from their pitchers (quality = good, not the meaningless counting stat), then turn it on and win a bunch in a row. Overall, the offense was somehow acceptable, despite the fact that their obscenely high batting average w/ runners in scoring position in 2008 came back down to earth, and they did it with barely a warm body in the second position in the batting order. The batting average, OBP, and SLG% was the worst of all the second hitters in the majors. However, as good as the offense was on the season, the pitching staff was shaky from the start, in large part stemming from some extremely poor personnel management.

For whatever odd reason, the Twins broke camp with Luis Ayala. Ayala is a topic for another day and possibly his own post, but suffice to say I can’t fathom why the Twins signed a sinkerballer whose fastballs have never really sunk to be middle-relief/low-leverage setup guy when he thought he was signing a contract for high-lev setup or closing if Joe Nathan went down. So, Ayala wasted a roster spot for three months. The Twins also brought Phil Humber north, perhaps hoping beyond hope that he would be able to contribute better at the MLB level than he had in Rochester. He didn’t, and was released April 17 to make space for Juan Morillo, who spent all of a week or so in the majors before being sent to the minors and eventually going to Japan. R.A. Dickey also came to Minny, and proved to be valuable, if uber-hittable. He also was released eventually. The trend continued all year: rather than trading or doing anything to get a serviceable relief pitcher (up until the Jon Rauch trade and the Ron Mahay signing), the Twins acted incredibly stupid. The Twins lost Craig Breslow, perhaps the greatest unheralded hero of the 2008 squad, to waivers because they were impatient with his good-but-not-as-steller-as-last-year numbers, only to bring up Sean Henn. Face it. Stupid moves abounded. More on this in another post later this week.

But the biggest problem was the starters, three of the five of which regressed significantly. Kevin Slowey was on pace to win 20 games before he was lost for the season (see below), but his peripherals were not-so-sparkling. Scott “Timmy” Baker started the season hurt, then lost six straight. Francisco Liriano lost the ability to handle the strike zone. Glen Perkins started brilliant, then came down with a phantom-like, mysterious shoulder injury that no one but him could locate. Only Nick Blackburn was rock-steady, with a nearly identical season to 2008. This forced the Twins to rely on a hodge-podge of Dickey, Armando Gabino, Anthony Swarzak, Brian Duensing, and Jeff Manship to start fourth-and-fifth games. Duensing even had the honor of being murdered by the Yankees in the first game of the playoffs. Anyway, the whole idea I’m trying to put out here is how bad a shape the starting staff was last year.

Inge hit by a pitch to the jersey. Deja Vu much? Image Courtesy MLB.com

The game on July 3rd started out disastrously. Kevin Slowey gave up six runs in the first three innings, before he was removed due to soreness in his wrist. Brian Duensing came in and made a valiant effort to hold the line, going 3.2 innings, giving up just one run. The Twins offense did their best to back up the Twins starter, and managed to tie the game at 7 based on a run each in the third and fourth innings before exploding for five in the sixth. The Twins brought in Bobby Keppel to keep it tied when Duensing indicated that his arm was about to fall off, and, somewhat surprisingly, he continued his scoreless streak with 1 1/3 inning. He was followed by perfect outings from Joe Nathan, Matt Guerrier, and Jose Mijares, all of whom pitched scoreless innings (or two). The Tigers and Twins matched runs in the 14th. At this point, the game felt just slightly epic. I wondered if the game would ever be over.

Brendan Harris hits a triple, his only hit. Image Courtesy MLB.com

Offensively, the heroes included Denard Span, who was 5 for 8 with a triple, a run scored, and an RBI, Joe Mauer, who was 2 for 6 with a walk and an RBI, Delmon Young, who was 3 for 6 with his third home run of the season, Michael Cuddyer, who was 3 for 8 w/ 2 RBI, and Justin Morneau went 3 for 7 with a walk and an RBI. Somewhat unsurprisingly, Carlos Gomez, Matt Tolbert, Brian Buscher, and Nick Punto went a combined 0 for 9, with 2 walks (both by Punto).

Pitching a game that lasts 16 innings can be tough, but it becomes excruciating when the starter leaves after 3 innings. Dickey was the last available pitcher of the night, and I think he was literally in the game until his arm fell off or Michael Cuddyer was able to convince Gardy that his sinker was good enough to get outs. Unfortunately, the Twins offense wasn’t able to win the game in any of the preceding 6 extra innings, and the Tigers mauled Dickey for three runs in the top of the 16th. The Twins’ comeback fell short, and they fell back to 2.5 games behind the Tigers in the Central.

As hard as the loss was to bear, the next day the Twins got even worse news: that Kevin Slowey would be heading to the disabled list. Though Slowey had had some rough times, when he was on, he had been arguably the best pitcher on the Twins the past two seasons. He was originally put on the DL for a “strained wrist”; the hope was that he’d be back in a few weeks. Unfortunately, the wrist never felt better, and it was eventually discovered that he had a broken wrist, and probably had since being struck by a line drive off the bat of Juan Uribe in his final start of 2008. He had surgery and ended with two pins in his wrist, which even at the beginning of this season were still causing him grief. For it’s ability to impact the Twins even this year, July 3rd joins the countdown as Important Game #6.

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.

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

Well… that was painful. A look at the ‘Pen.

The bullpen needs help. There, I said it. We have seen, over the past few weeks, the decline of a few of the former studs of our bullpen, ending in the release of Juan Rincon, who was considered by some to be the best setup guy in baseball a few years ago. Now we are seeing Jesse Crain, Craig Breslow, and Matt Guerrier start to have some real struggles. This comes from overuse more than anything else.

Why has this season been so hard on the good pitchers in our bullpen? Because the long relief and mop-up roles have been handled so poorly. A lot of this comes down to poor bullpen management by Gardy. Last night, in the seventh, he brought in Bass after Perkins had scuttled a five-run lead; the Twins led by only one. When he failed, like everyone knew he would, Gardy had to use two other relievers to end the inning, neither of which did well. “Where is CRAIN?!” I was shouting (he pitched Sunday, but I thought that he had the fastball that would be able to shut the M’s down). I would have said to put Slowey in for an inning if necessary (it was his day for a bullpen session, I’m pretty sure). By the way, I think my neighbors hate me for screaming at the game at about 1am (EST). It’s okay, screw them, I’m moving later this month anyway. At least I didn’t wake up the wife. That would have been less than good.

Now, I like Brian Bass. He seems like a nice enough guy, and he had that whole “Good at Baseball” thing going his way at the beginning of the season. But then again, at the beginning of the season, the Twins were a rebuilding team with no hope of getting to the postseason. A long reliever with mediocre (at best) stuff is right at home on a rebuilding team. However, once the Twins started contending, it was like flipping a switch… Bass became “Kerosene Boy,” sidekick to “Gas Can Rincon.” Bass would be brought into an inappropriately high-leverage situation and would promptly give up two or three runs. Wait. Didn’t he do that last night, too?

By David Joles, Star Tribune

By David Joles, Star Tribune (what this picture doesn't show is the ball flying over the fence immediately afterward)

It’s time to cut bait on Bass as a major league reliever, at least for this season. If the Twins put him on waivers, he will clear easily; he has done a fine job of lowering his value so far that no other team will likely take him. Then, he can go back to Rochester for a couple months, then mayble play in the Arizona Fall League or something like that to try to get some of his stuff back.

But who takes over for Bass? There are a few options in AAA: Humber, Mulvey, and Korecky (at least at this point). Korecky was up earlier this season and performed admirably, including being the first pitcher to get a hit at the Dome since the DH came to be. His stuff likely isn’t major league quality, unfortunately. He likely will not have a long or storied career in the majors. However, he would be an improvement over Bass, whose sinker doesn’t sink anymore and whose change-up has essentially become batting practice, if only in that most teams haven’t seen him. I would like to see Mulvey or Humber up here, but they need to stay stretched out in case of an injury to one of our young starters. We’ll see them in September when the rosters expand (for sure Humber, maybe on Mulvey, since he isn’t on the 40-man right now).

So that’s Bass. What about the rest of the Bullpen? “Twitch” Nathan’s ninth-inning role is, for some reason, sacrosanct and can’t pitch more than the one inning. Irritating.

Dennys Reyes has put up some good numbers this year, while allowing over 50% of inherited runners to score, which isn’t really what a lefty specialist should do. For some reason, he has generally been unable to pitch a whole inning without giving up a run or two, so he needs to stay the loogy specialist. Big Sweat was sick last night, and was not available to pitch. He is day-to-day for tonight’s game. He likely won’t be re-signed at the end of this season, when he becomes a free agent. It is possible that the Twins will pick up a supplementary draft pick for him, but no one will know until Elias ranks the pitchers. Don’t hold your breath.

Craig Breslow has been stellar for the greatest part of the summer, but he has been battling back stiffness, and wouldn’t have pitched at all yesterday had Reyes not been sent back to the hotel with food poisoning. But he has a relatively deceptive, yet minimalistic, and JD Drew said, back in spring training, that “I don’t want to face Breslow. He doesn’t look like he has much, but you don’t even see his pitches coming.” For a look at his mechanics (a few years ago at the futures game, Fenway Park):

Jesse Crain has simply been overused his first year after coming back from injury. Once I mentioned Crain’s injuries (torn labrum and rotator cuff) to my physical therapist without mentioning his name, and he looked at me with a knowing stare and asked how long he had been retired. When I told him that Crain was back for spring training only 9 months after surgery, he didn’t believe me until I showed him some websites. A torn labrum is the hardest injury to come back from. A torn ulnar ligament is succesfully replaced 80% of the time with Tommy John surgery (ulnar collateral ligament replacement surgery), but a torn labrum still ends careers almost 40% of the time. The fact that he goes up there and throws 96-97 is incredible, but Gardy has been overusing him, and he needs to work less in order to preserve his shoulder. Next year he will probably be able to take on a full workload, but this year he needs a break. Once (and if) Crain gets his control back, he will be the most prototypical 7th-inning/setup guy the Twins will have.

Matt Guerrier has also just been overworked. His stuff is not overpowering; he has a good curveball, but the way he is able to be effective is to locate and mix his pitches, which he usually does very well. However, he isn’t a setup guy. If I had my way (and an injury-less Pat Neshek), Guerrier would take over Bass’ job; it is much more what he is suited for.

Boof Bonser is only a member of the bullpen at this point because he would be claimed if placed on waivers, and the Twins want to get something for him; they could not get a deal done before the trade deadline last week. It seems that the Twins might have asked too much. However, if the Twins make the postseason, I am willing to bet he won’t be on the roster. Boof pulled a Rincon before the trade deadline: he did his damnedest to try to lower his trade value so much that no one would take him. The Twins should put him in games when the Twins trail by seven runs or more and tell him to give up five or so runs. If he could do that a few times, they could get him down to Rochester through waivers.

Now that I’ve looked at the current bullpen, who is missing? Oh, yeah. “Sideshow” Pat Neshek. Neshek has been the team’s high-leverage situational guy for the last year and a half, excepting when he was shut down at the end of last season with shoulder weakness. Neshek had a rough start this year, but had righted the ship when he went down with a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament. The hope is that it will heal if he doesn’t use it for a few months, and he should be getting another MRI this month to check on its progress. There is a slight chance we could see him this year (or so the Twins brass says), but it is next to nothing. Had Neshek been in the ‘Pen last night, he would have been brought in after Perkins screwed up and asked to slam the door on the Mariners, something he likely would have been able to do.

*Tear.* I miss Sideshow Pat.

In all fairness, it wasn’t the Twins’ fault that they sucked the big one tonight. It is ESPN’s fault. Has anyone else noticed that whenever Baseball Tonight does a five-to-ten minute segment on a particular team that is even mildly complimentary, the team goes out there and gets absolutely clobbered? Well, last night, BBTN had a nice seven-minute section on the Twins, in which they raved about the Twins doing everything right and then they all confidently predicted that the Twins would win the division. Well, it wouldn’t do to try to prove them right, since the Twins are actually pretty bashful. Hence, Ka-BOOM!! The explosion in the seventh followed. By the way, the second time they showed BBTN was just before the sixth inning, when the Mariners scored their first run.

Boo on them.

New on my List:

  • The Mariners announcers. Not for anything they did, but because the play-by-play guy’s voice is like nails on a chalkboard to my sensitive psyche. It was a painful night even before the seventh inning.
  • Mike Lamb’s beard. Whenever I see it, a little evil voice inside my head goes “SHAVE IT OFF SHAVE IT OFF SHAVE IT OFF.” However, it might be jealousy, because he sort of makes it look good, whereas my beard… not so much.
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