Results tagged ‘ Delmon Young ’

Mired in Mediocrity

20081001_blackburn_33

At 43-43 44-43, this team is exactly average.  I’m certainly not the first person to notice this, nor am I the first to point out
that it’s mostly because all of the great talent on this team is
balanced by players who have no business on a major-league roster.  The
awesomeness of Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau is balanced by the
suckitude of well, the entire second half of the lineup.  Nick
Blackburn is putting up the best numbers of his career, while Scott
Baker and Francisco Liriano are putting up the worst.  The comparison
between the best and worst players on the team is stark:

Hitters:

Joe Mauer:          .389/.461/.651/1.112 OPS  4.3 WAR
Justin Morneau:   .313/.390/.582/.971 OPS  2.8 WAR
Jason Kubel:    .306/.364/.540/.904 OPS  1.3 WAR
Denard Span:  .288/.375/.377/.752 OPS  1.7 WAR

Matt Tolbert:  .178/.272/.225/.497 OPS  -0.9 WAR
Nick Punto:   .211/.322/.234/.556 OPS  -0.2 WAR
Carlos Gomez:  .218/.277/.318/.595 OPS  -0.3 WAR
Delmon Young:  .270/.296/.349/.646 OPS  -1.2 WAR

The pitching is a slightly different story:

Pitchers:

Nick Blackburn:  2.94 ERA   4.94 xFIP  1.272 WHIP  1.82 K/BB  2.0 WAR
Kevin Slowey:  4.86 ERA   4.38 xFIP  1.412 WHIP  5.00 K/BB  1.4 WAR
Joe Nathan:  1.35 ERA   2.42 xFIP   0.750 WHIP  6.14 K/BB  1.4 WAR

Scott Baker:  5.31 ERA  4.24 xFIP  1.221 WHIP  3.90 K/BB  1.3 WAR
Francisco Liriano:  5.47 ERA  4.53 xFIP  1.490 WHIP  2.02 K/BB  1.3 WAR

Obviously
guys like Luis Ayala (0.1 WAR), Sean Henn (-0.2 WAR), and Jesse Crain
(-0.2 WAR) haven’t been helping much, either.  The good news is that
none of these guys are in the bullpen right now.  The bad news is that
they were here long enough to cost the team wins.

There
are a couple of things worth noting here.  First of which is that, as
much as both Scott Baker and Francisco Liriano have struggled this
season, both are still above replacement-level (that is, both are more
valuable than some scrub picked up off the waiver wire), and both
obviously have tremendous upside.  So, unless the Twins are absolutely
blown away with an offer for either one, it would be wise to hang onto
them for now (and no, Jon Garland and his 5.28 xFIP is not that guy). 
Secondly, despite his .270 batting average, Delmon Young is still one
of the worst hitters in the lineup.  His .349 slugging percentage is
anemic, his 58/6 K/BB ratio is the worst on the team, besides providing
crappy defense in left (-9.1 UZR).  No wonder the Rays were so eager to
get rid of him.

Of course, this is
pretty much the way the Twins have operated for the past decade, so
none of this comes as a surprise.  The likes of Ramon Ortiz, Sidney Ponson, and Rick Reed have rounded out a rotation fronted by Johan Santana and Brad RadkeDustan Mohr, Michael Restovich, and Michael Ryan have all patrolled the outfield alongside Torii Hunter.  After Corey Koskie left, guys like Tony Batista and Mike Lamb were manning third base until Joe Crede came along.  Jason Tyner, he of the one major league home run, was the DH for 31 games in three seasons with the Twins (when Rondell White and Ruben Sierra weren’t available, of course).  Tyner, by the way, was featured on the “Best Persons in the World” awhile back when his current (former?) team traded him away for nothing.  And then there was the Luis Rodriguez-Juan Castro-Luis Rivas infield, with Terry Tiffee on the bench.  And these weren’t even the worst Twins teams.

Obviously
there was a lot of talk about the Yankees’ payroll during the series at
the Dome, and it’s true that having a larger payroll gives a team more
flexibility. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a “Woe is us, how can we
ever keep up
with the Yankees and Red Sox?” post.  Simply spending a lot of money
doesn’t necessarily guarantee that a team will even make the playoffs
let alone win a championship, and there is much more parity baseball
(especially the AL) than pretty much any other major professional sport
in this country.  It’s just that a smaller payroll
gives a franchise a much smaller margin-for-error when making trades,
signing free agents, and even in the draft, since a bad move can
hamstring such an organization for decades. 

The Nick Swisher trade is a very good
example.  Now, the Yankees
acquired him from the White Sox for next to nothing, but even if he
doesn’t work out, the team isn’t completely sunk.  The Yankees
technically have six outfielders since acquiring Eric Hinske from the
Pirates, so they don’t really need Swisher and could easily trade him if
he starts to decline. 
Compare that to the Delmon Young trade (I know, I know, they’re not
really the same since the Young deal had a much higher risk, but bear
with me).  The Twins gave up a lot to
acquire Young and he has yet to live up to his potential.  To be fair,
Young isn’t the only terrible hitter on this team (and he hasn’t even
entered the prime of his career yet), but he needs to put up better
power numbers to make the trade worthwhile (and to justify giving him
so much playing time).  At this point, though, it’s hard to argue that
the Twins wouldn’t be a better team
with Matt Garza and Jason Bartlett.  Worse yet, his poor performance
and perceived attitude problems mean the Twins would have a tough time
getting anything of value for him should they consider themselves
buyers the trade deadline.  Like it or not, they’re pretty much stuck
and simply have to hope that Young will eventually start to develop
some power.

By the way, I tend to consider the
Young trade karmic retribution for the A.J. Pierzynski trade. 
Although, when you think about it, the Young trade is even worse. 
Pierzynski was at least competent both at the plate and in the field,
and Giants fans only had to put up with him for one season.  Delmon, on
the other hand, is the gift that keeps on giving.
 

Losing in Style

  • Twins hit four homers and lose anyway

Thumbnail image for kubel_homer.jpgZOMG, this is the most unclutchiest lineup ever!!!11!!  I mean, for the most part, clutch hitting has a lot more to do with luck than skill.  In general, even the greatest hitters will fail more often than not with runners in scoring position, that’s just how the game works.  It sucks, it’s frustrating, but that’s just the way it is.  Which is why I find this article in the Star Tribune so irritating. To suggest that the problem is that the Twins are relying too much on the long ball and not speed or sacrifice hits (i.e., Twins baseball) is ridiculous.  The power hitters in the lineup have been remarkably productive, with Joe Mauer batting .421/.490/.738, Justin Morneau .324/.398/.524 (which is pretty good, considering that he’s been in a slump recently), Jason Kubel .315/.377/.546, and even Michael Cuddyer is starting to pick things up, hitting .281/.360/.518 with 10 homers.  Joe Crede has been kind of an exception since he has a paltry .228 BA and .303 OPB, but he also has a .451 slugging percentage and is on pace to hit 20+ homers this year, so he isn’t really part of the problem, either.  The real problem has been the lack of production from the bottom of the order, and it has been all season.  The Twins certainly aren’t lacking speed in the lineup, with Carlos Gomez, Matt Tolbert, and even Nick Punto all threats to steal, but the three have struggled to get on base consistently.  Delmon Young hasn’t been living up to his potential, either, batting .258/.286/.302 while looking horribly uncomfortable at the plate.  The good news is that Gomez, Punto, and Young have all taken huge steps forward this month (Yes, even Gomez.  He’s drawing more walks and isn’t swinging at so many pitches outside the strike zone, he just hasn’t had much to show for it in the way of results).  The bad news however, is that all three are still barely replacement-level position players.

After tonight’s loss to Houston, the Twins have fallen back to the .500 mark and are threehenn.jpg games behind the Tigers.  This time, the offense wasn’t the problem, since they hit four homers and scored five runs.  No, this time it was the pitching staff, specifically the bullpen that fell down.  The Twins had a 3-2 lead in the seventh, until Sean Henn came in to relieve Scott Baker.  Henn surrendered three runs in the seventh (one was charged to Baker), including a two-run homer to pinch-hitter Jason Michaels, and was yanked in favor of Luis Ayala after recording only one out.  I had written before that the pitching isn’t as bad as fans tend to think, and that’s true.  But it hasn’t been that great, either.  The starting rotation has started to settle down and pitch effectively, but the bullpen is still an issue.  While Matt Guerrier and Joe Nathan have been as reliable as ever, and R.A. Dickey is settling into the long relief role, the rest of the ‘pen is simply a disaster waiting to happen.  Ayala has been much more effective recently, but he pitches to contact and can’t really be used in close games with runners on base.  Jose Mijares hasn’t been too bad, posting a 2.57 ERA in twenty-four appearances, but he’s also been suffering from control issues (his 1.70 K/BB ratio isn’t good) and is bound to get hit hard eventually.  The Twins clearly need bullpen help, but so does pretty much everybody else in the league, which will obviously complicate matters at the trade deadline.  Still, I guess we should be glad that our bullpen isn’t as bad as the Indians’.  Yikes.

  • Speaking of homers

Thumbnail image for joe_mauer.jpgMauer hit his 14th of the season, setting a new career record, and it isn’t even officially summer yet.  It was an opposite-field blast (of course) that had given the Twins a 3-1 lead at the time.  Someday, opposing pitchers will figure out that it isn’t a good idea to throw him fastballs on the outside corner.  Hopefully he’ll hit 20 homers before they do.  Obviously, Mauer isn’t going to put up such Pujolsian numbers all season long, since the physical demands of being a catcher will catch up to him eventually.  As of right now, though, Mauer is the most valuable player in the league, and it isn’t even close.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Twinkie Defense

Thumbnail image for casilla_groundball.JPGIn my previous post, I mentioned that the Twins’ had the tenth-ranked defense in the league (or a .700 Defensive Efficiency rating, the definition and formula for which can be found here) according to Baseball Prospectus and I guess I should elaborate on that.  The Twins have committed the fewest errors in the AL, and have an AL-best .990 fielding percentage, but neither one of those stats really measures defensive efficiency.  That is, they don’t measure how effectively a team converts balls in play into outs, at least not accurately. As I discussed in the Mauer post, in general I like to use Ultimate Zone Rating to evaluate player defense.  However, because it essentially measures how many runs a particular player saves per game, the values sometimes fluctuate wildly from season to season, so it’s not the best metric for evaluating defense over the short-term.  At least not on its own.  To evaluate team defense during the season, I also like to use Defensive Efficiency and Park-Adjusted Defensive Efficiency
(which, like the name implies, adjusts for ballpark factors that might
effect the Defensive Efficiency Rating) to get a full picture of how well the Twins are converting balls in play into outs.  And, at least this season, they haven’t been very good at it.  The team UZR is a 19th-ranked -6.5, on top of the .700 Deff Eff and 12th-ranked 0.4 PADE, so it’s clear that Twins’ defense has been mediocre at best. Which wouldn’t matter so much if they had more strikeout pitchers on the staff, but with a rotation full of contact pitchers, the defense needs to be better than just average. 

I guess there isn’t a better player than Delmon Young to illustrate my point.  Young has only made two errors this season, and his fielding percentage is .967, so one would think that Young is a pretty good left-fielder.  However, Young has a poor -6.7 UZR this season, and his career -23.1 UZR is about as bad as it gets.  So while he might not make a lot of errors, he doesn’t have much range and isn’t very good at converting balls in play into outs.  But you really don’t need any fancy metrics to come to that conclusion.  Anyone who’s actually watched Delmon lumbering around in the outfield can tell that he isn’t very good. The numbers simply support that assessment. 

  • Frankie finally has another quality start

Thumbnail image for p1franciscolirianosi.jpg 
Well, technically last night’s game against the Mariners was a quality start:  one earned run on three hits over six innings but Frankie didn’t exactly pitch as well as that looks.  He struck out six batters, but walked four and had to pitch himself out of a self-imposed jam nearly every every inning.  He’s still struggling with his command, but at least he managed to not melt down when he got himself in trouble.  He still needs to throw his changeup a little more, and needs to work on command of his fastball, but it’s certainly a step in the right direction.  Of course, he had a similar performance at Yankee Stadium and then failed to make it past the fourth inning in his next three starts, so he’s going to need to string a few quality starts together to keep his spot in the rotation.

  • Etc….

Fangraphs’ Dave Cameron has an interesting solution to the Delmon Young problem.  Young wasn’t off to a great start before his mom died, but he’s been awful since returning to the team and just seems lost at the plate.  The Twins can’t just send him down, since he’s out of options and almost certainly wouldn’t clear waivers even as bad as he’s been.  It might be best for both sides to go the D-Train route:  Young would have a chance to get himself together without the pressure of fighting for a playoff spot and the Twins would get to compete for the division title with their best outfielders.

What’s wrong with the South Side?  Paul Konerko does his best to explain why nobody seems to want to come play for the Fightin’ Ozzies.

Justin Morneau finally made good on his bet with Strib beat writer LaVelle E. Neal, III.  I guess he didn’t do too badly on his first-ever blog post, even if it is a little short (not everyone needs to write 25,000 word essays like I do).  But don’t quit your day job, Justin.

Road Woes

126676_Royals_Twins_Baseball.jpg
Before I get into how awful the Twins have been away from the Dome, I just want to say:  OMG THE BULLPEN MANAGED TO NOT BLOW A ONE-RUN LEAD FOR ONCE.  ON THE ROAD TOO.  TRULY THE END IS NIGH.  Anyway, at 25-27, the Twins are currently two games under .500 and 4.5 games out of first in the AL Central.  And it’s really no mystery why our boys are struggling to stay above the .500 mark:  their 6-16 road record is abysmal.  While there aren’t many teams in the league with winning records away from home, few have such a record of futility as the Twinks.  There are only two teams in the league with worse road records than Minnesota:  Washington (6-20) and San Diego (8-19), and obviously neither one is likely to make the playoffs this year.  While the Twins had lost 11 of their past 12 road games before beating Tampa on Sunday, four of those losses had been by one run and six of their last nine losses have been by two runs or less.  

The Twins, like most teams in the league, have always played better at home than on the road.  Most people like to blame it on the obvious home field advantage the Twins enjoy at the Dome, but the disparity between their home and road records hasn’t been as vast as people tend to think (they usually have a league-best home record and a road record somewhere around the .500 mark).  In the seven seasons under manager Ron Gardenhire, the Twins have posted a worse road record through the end of May only once:  in 2006, when they were 8-20.  The Twins had gotten off to a slow start that year and were 24-29 on June 1st, 11.5 games behind the division-leading Tigers, before riding an incredible hot streak and finishing 96-66 to capture the division title (they finished with a 42-39 road record, btw). 

Pitching has obviously been part of the problem, though the pitching staff as a whole hasn’t been that much worse on the road.  As a team, the Twins have a road ERA of 5.16 compared to 4.53 at home. In road games, opponents are batting .272/.345/.485 against the Twins and the pitching staff in general is posting a 1.45 WHIP, 1.70 K/BB, and 6.15 K/9, compared to .273/.322/.427 with a 1.33 WHIP, 2.50 K/BB, 6.06 K/9 inside the teflon confines.  Obviously these numbers aren’t great, but they’re not bad for a team whose one and two starters have been pitching more like back-of-the-rotation starters through the first few months of the season.  For the most part, the pitching has been good enough to keep the team in ballgames as long as the offense has been productive.  Unfortunately, this hasn’t usually been the case.

The lack of offense has really been the heart of the Twins’ struggles away from the Dome.  There’s a very good assessment of the offense to this point here, and while it’s hardly surprising that the bottom of the lineup has been ice cold, these problems have been exacerbated on the road.  At home, the Twins are batting a decent-enough .278/.356/.447 with an OPS of .803.  On the road, however, the Twins are a mediocre .263/.335/.406 with an OPS of .741.  The best hitters in the lineup, Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau, have put up some very good numbers on the road, but with the likes of Nick Punto, Delmon Young, Matt Tolbert, Alexi Casilla, and Carlos Gomez at the bottom of the order it’s not surprising that the Twins have averaged only 4.2 runs per game away from the Dome (which is actually skewed from the 20-1 thumping of the Pale Hose).  And that’s an improvement over the 3.6 runs per game the team was averaging with Casilla and Tolbert batting second in the lineup.  While Young, Casilla, and Gomez are all young enough that they should improve, it remains to be seen how much longer the organization will be patient with their development.

That’s Better (Sort of), Scotty

  • Scott Baker manages to not give any home runs, Twins lose anyway

PH2007083102132.jpgScott Baker, who has had a lot of trouble keeping the ball in the park in his first two starts, had what was his most successful start of the season against the Rays last night (though he still surrendered four runs on six hits).  Things got off to a rough start when he gave up two runs in the first (after he had retired the first two batters he faced).  But then he settled down and retired ten straight batters before running into trouble again in the fifth.  All in all, it wasn’t a terrible outing, as Baker struck out seven and walked only one, and his pitches had a lot more movement than in his previous starts, but in the end it just wasn’t good enough.  Baker’s recent struggles, coupled with the fact that his mechanics were so awful, led to some speculation that he might be hiding an injury (he didn’t want to go on the DL in the first place).  However, it seems as though his mechanics have been causing problems before his issues with shoulder stiffness (he gave up a league-leading nine homers during ST), and that perhaps these mechanical issues were what led to his shoulder issues in the first place. 

Although the young pitching staff has had its share of struggles early on, it isn’t the starting pitching that concerns me.  While all five of them might not exactly be Cy Young winners, they are a lot better than their overall records would indicate.  However, the offense, or lack of it, is something to be concerned about. The Twins struggled to do much of anything against Jeff Niemann, who for his part, wasn’t all that impressive.  They had runners on base with less than two outs in each of the first three innings, and yet each time failed to drive in a single run.  Which wouldn’t be so bad, but this has really been a problem for the lineup (well, at least for the hitters not named Justin Morneau and Jason Kubel, anyway). 

Even though Morneau and Kubel both struck out swinging against Niemann with RISP, it’scuddyer.jpg difficult to get too frustrated with them since both have been essentially carrying the offense.  Actually, all of the left-handed hitters in the lineup (and switch-hitter Jose Morales) have been hitting pretty well.  The righy bats, however, are a much different story.  Outfielders Michael Cuddyer and Carlos Gomez are struggling, with Cuddy batting a miserable .208/.275/.306 and Go-Go an anemic .195/.250/.293.  Delmon Young has been a bit more successful, batting .255/.296/.333, but his focus on trying to pull the ball more has led to a lot more double-plays.  The crowded outfield situation might be part of the problem, since only Cuddyer has seen much regular playing time (though he hasn’t exactly benefited from it).  All of this depth in the outfield was supposed to be one of the team’s major strengths this season, but except for Denard Span, none of them have been very productive at the plate, and two of them are mediocre defensively at best.

While Joe Crede has only twelve hits in 66 plate appearances, half of those have been for extra bases and three have been home runs.  Crede was always more of a power hitter with the White Sox and never really hit for average, so it will be interesting to see if his career numbers hold up outside of U.S. Cellular field.  Right now, the Twins are 9-11 and in fourth place in the AL Central.  While it is still very early in the season, the Twins should be concerned about the lack of production from all of the right-handed hitters in the lineup.  They may be blessed with four very good left-handed hitters (Mauer, Morneau, Kubel, and Span), but these four can’t carry the offense by themselves.  For now, with such huge holes in the lineup and no major moves in the works, a fourth-place finish looks to be about right.

  • You can’t spell V-E-Z-I-N-A without B-A-C-K-S-, dang it

Thumbnail image for backs_sho_oil.jpgOn a non-baseball related note Niklas Backstrom, Boston’s Tim Thomas, and Columbus’ Steve Mason are all finalists for the Vezina trophy.  While none are certainly terrible choices, they are a bit controversial since they do play for teams that implement a defense-oriented system (allegedly, more on that in a minute).  Oh, I know there are some people who would disagree with me on this, but when you look into the numbers and examine the season in general, Backs is really the most deserving of the three.

While it’s true that Mason and Thomas have both had very good years, and that both have led their teams to the Stanley Cup playoffs, Backs is the only goaltender who has ranked consistently in the top five in GAA, save percentage, wins, and shutouts all season.  And while he plays for a team that supposedly plays stifling defense, that certainly wasn’t the case this season.  Niklas Backstrom faced 2,059 shots this year, second only to Calgary’s Miikka Kiprussoff (who saw 2,155), and yet he still put up a stellar 2.33 GAA and .923 save percentage.  Considering all of the horrible defensive plays made in front of him on a regular basis, and the overall lack of offensive support (the Wild finished near the bottom of the league in goals scored), Backs had to perform a miracle almost every single night.  And considering that his mediocre team wasn’t officially eliminated from playoff contention until after the second-to-last game of the season, it’s clear that Backs has been more valuable to his team than any other goaltender in the league.

And he did all that while playing with an injured left hip. But I guess if that isn’t convincing enough, maybe this is:

Twins 12, White Sox 5

morneau_crede.jpgActually, this game was pretty close through six innings, until the Sox bullpen forgot how to record outs in the seventh. The Twins jumped out to an early 2-0 lead, but then Chicago came right back, tying the game and then taking the lead on a solo homer by Paul Konerko in the third.  That lead would vanish in the very next inning, however.  Denard Span laced an RBI double to right-center, and then Alexi Casilla tripled and scored on a Justin Morneau single to put the Twins ahead for good.  Morneau started the offensive explosion in the seventh with a solo homer to left field, and then things kind of fell apart for the Sox from there.  The Twins would bat around on three different relievers in the inning without recording a single out. 

Joe Crede picked a very good time to hit his first home run of the season, during is very first at-bat against his former team.  As a joke, the Sox played Air Supply’s “All Out of Love” when he came up to bat in the second.  The joke was his former teammates, though, as Crede promptly deposited a 2-0 pitch from starter Jose Contreras into the seats.  The crowd, which had previously given him a standing ovation, quickly started to boo as he rounded the bases.

Catcher Jose Morales also had a very good night at the plate, going 2-for-3 with a pair of walks.  Morales was 3-for-3 in his previous appearance against Contreras at the Cell, his first major league game (and the one in which he injured his ankle).  More importantly, he handled Dickey’s knuckleball very well, making several blocks with runners on. 

Starter R.A. Dickey was a bit wild with the knuckleball, walking four batters in five innings.  He gave up three runs on four hits, but was effective enough to get his first win of the season (and perhaps well enough to earn a spot in the bullpen when Scott Baker returns to the rotation).   Brian Duensing pitched three innings of relief, giving up a two-run homer to Carlos Quentin in the seventh, but pitched two relatively uneventful innings before and after that.  Philip Humber pitched a scoreless ninth. 

Delmon Young was back in the lineup and had his first hit of the season, an RBI single with the bases loaded in the seventh.  Unfortunately, he also misplayed a very catchable fly ball in the first, allowing Chris Getz to advance to second.  Dickey managed to pitch out of the inning, but it does highlight one of Young’s biggest weaknesses: his defense. The outfielder has been criticized for his terrible play in the field (and not just by me).  This is the second time in as many starts that Young has mishandled the ball on a very routine play.  With the outfield situation being as crowded as it is, he is going to have to improve or he’ll just see more time on the bench.

In other news, Scott Baker is close to returning to the team.  He pitched very well in his rehab start for the Ft. Myers Miracle, and should be back with the team by Wednesday.   Kevin Slowey was devastated by the loss of Nick Adenhart, who he considered ‘a little brother‘.  The two were teammates on the 2006 Olympic team, and were planning to catch up during the upcoming series in Anaheim.  The driver who caused the fatal crash, Andrew Gallo, is apparently going to be facing murder charges.

Oh, yeah, and the Wild defeated the Predators in a blowout of their own, 8-4, at the X.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t matter as St. Louis and Anaheim both picked up vital points and have thus eliminated Minnesota from playoff contention.  Too little, too late, boys.

Call an exterminator: the injury bug has bitten

Irritated Man With Pest Flies Using A Flyswatter Cyprus Pest Control.jpg

  • Scott Baker will start the season on the DL

First it was Joe Mauer and his aching back.  Then Brian Buscher had a health scare. Delmon Young, Joe Crede, and Michael Cuddyer have all been struck with various hand injuries. Justin Morneau is battling stiffness in his back.  And if all of that weren’t enough, now starter Scott Baker is going to start the season on the DL with stiffness in his right shoulder.   It isn’t clear at this point how long he will be out, and he will be re-evaluated on Saturday, but things certainly aren’t getting off to a very good start for the Twinkies.  Baker doesn’t think the stiffness is anything serious and would have preferred to pitch anyway, but the Twins have decided not to take any risks with their $15.25 million-dollar arm.  In the meantime, Francisco Liriano has now been given the Opening Night nod opposite Seattle’s Felix Hernandez, and R. A. Dickey will take Baker’s spot in the rotation.  With Baker going down, there is now an extra spot in the bullpen, so it looks like both Philip Humber and Brian Duensing will be coming north with the team.

The only real position battle left now for the Twins is the final bench spot.  Brendan Harris, Matt Tolbert, and Brian Buscher have all been competing for the utility role, with Harris having somewhat of an edge because he’s out of options.  The Tenth Inning Stretch has raised the intriguing possibility of Buscher being traded to the Cardinals, as Troy Glaus’ recovery from shoulder surgery isn’t going as well as expected.  While I would be sad to see Buscher go, he isn’t the greatest defensive infielder and he isn’t the most versatile, either.  Still, I would be kind of surprised if the Twins did move him.  Joe Crede is hardly a sure thing at third, and the organization might be more apt to keep Buscher around simply to provide more depth.        

Speaking of Liriano, he was effective in his brief start against the Red Sox.  He was only allowed to pitch three innings, as he will be starting right away on Monday, and gave up two hits and a run while walking one and striking out three.  He wasn’t struggling with his command like he was in his previous appearances, which is very good news.  Well, it’s good news for the Twins and bad news for opposing hitters.  Unfortunately, Brian Duensing wasn’t as effective in relief, giving up a two-run homer to Jason Bay.  Luckily the offense was able to bail him out to the tune of seven runs on twelve hits, with Michael Cuddyer doing most of the heavy lifting

By the way, The Answer Man has an interesting interview with Joe Nathan.

  • Wait, Sidney Ponson has a job?

Remember all those nice things I said about the Royals?  Yeah, never mind.  They’ve decided that Sidney Ponson and Horacio Ramirez are going to be the fourth and fifth starters this season.  Apparently Dayton Moore was so impressed with Ponson’s performance in the WBC that he thought the pudgy righty could be an effective major league starter, despite all of the evidence to the contrary.  Horacio Ramirez is remembered very fondly on the South Side for being the worst reliever in Sox history.  What either one of these two is doing in the starting rotation for a major league ballclub is beyond me, especially over the likes of Brian Bannister and Luke Hochevar.  Perhaps it’s all part of of some elaborate, Major League-esque scheme to build the worst team in baseball and get out of their lease at Kauffman stadium.

Offensive Explosion

  • Twins hit four homers against O’s

morny_homer.jpgThe Twins teed off on Baltimore yesterday, bashing four home runs.  Justin Morneau hit his second dinger in as many games, a two-run shot off of Jeremy Guthrie in the first.  Brendan Harris, Matt Tolbert(!) and Delmon Young all homered off of Adam Eaton in the sixth, though the wind did help out a little bit (except for Brendan Harris’ rocket off of the Walgreen’s sign in left field, and Morny’s laser to center).  And while nobody homered in today’s contest against the Marlins, the offense managed to produce eight runs on twelve hits.  Starter Kevin Slowey had two hits and three RBI of his own, while shutting down the Fish for five innings (his lone run was a Dan Uggla solo shot).   

The Twins have now scored 29 runs in their past four games.  While some readers thought that I was just being negative when I complained about the lack of offense, it turns out that a little tough love is what the guys really needed.  You’re welcome.

  • Chicago pounds Oakland, 20-5

Kyle Orton threw two touchdown passes, and Chicago added a couple of field goals on their way to a rout of Oakland.  The Raiders couldn’t solve the Bears’ stifling D, and only managed to score a field goal and a safety.

Seriously, though, this has to be the ugliest boxscore ever.   Paul Bako had four hits and three RBI even though he didn’t come in until the sixth inning.  Oakland reliever Edgar Gonzalez barfed up seven earned runs in 2/3 of an inning, giving him a 94.50 ERA for the day.  Andrew Bailey was the only Oakland pitcher who managed to toss a scoreless inning.   

  • Japan defeats Korea, 5-3 to repeat as WBC champs

japan_wbc_champs.jpgI’m not going to lie, I fell asleep on the couch in the bottom of the eighth and didn’t get to see how the game ended.  I can’t help it, I was tired!  And it looked like Japan pretty much had this one in the bag, anyway.  Luckily the good people at Ghostrunner on First were paying attention, so I didn’t have to.  While I think that the tournament has its flaws (the timing is wrong, the formatting should be better, etc.) these games have to be some of the most exciting I’ve seen in a long time.  After being deprived of baseball for four long months, it just felt really good to have that had all of the excitement and intensity of playoff matches.  In March!  Four years just seems way too long to wait for more.

  • But what if you don’t really want either one?

The geniuses in the St. Paul Saints‘ public relations department have dreamed up another brilliant promotional scheme.  These are, after all, the same people who came up with the Larry Craig bobble foot doll (in honor of National Tap Dance Day, of course):

bobble_foot_doll_2.jpgIn honor of Minnesota’s never-ending Senate recount, the Saints created the “Re” Count bobble head doll:

recount.jpgHe’s modeled after Count von Count of Sesame Street fame:

The “Re” Count doll will be distributed to the first 2,500 fans on May 23, prior to a game against the Sioux Falls Canaries.  Hopefully this whole thing will be over with by then.  But I wouldn’t count on it.

Things That Will Go Right This Year

sloweymauer.jpgOkay, okay, so I might have come across as sounding a tad negative in my previous post (it’s called being realistic about your team’s chances, people).  I do think the Twins have a good team.  Not a great team, and maybe not even good enough to win the division, but a competitive one nonetheless.  And while there are certainly some things to be worried about, there are also a lot of good things that will happen:

  1. Kevin Slowey is the new Brad Radke: The soft-tossing righty is having a great spring so far, posting a 1.93 ERA and 0.75 WHIP in 9.1 innings pitched. Better yet, he’s been striking out batters at a rate of about once per inning.  His command has been absolutely spot on, with a perfect 10.00 K/BB ratio.  There are some who think that Slowey might turn in a Cy-Young-worthy performance this year, and at this point I would have to agree.

    The only real cause for concern with Slowey is that, like fellow fly-ball pitcher Scott Baker, he tends to give up the gopher ball.  However, he hasn’t given up any so far this spring and has limited opposing hitters to a tidy .303 slugging percentage.  I am a little concerned that the outfield defense might have a negative effect on his ERA, but at the rate he’s been striking out hitters it doesn’t look like that will be much of a problem.

  2. Francisco Liriano will emerge as the staff ace:  Frankie is still a little wild, but has been striking out hitters at decent clip of 7.71 K/9.  Even though he’s given up six walks in 16.1 innings, he’s held opposing batters to a paltry .172/.254/.259 and hasn’t given up very many extra base hits.  When he’s been on top of his game, he’s been absolutely dominant.  However, even at his worst (as he was in his first appearance against the Yankees and in his last start against the Pirates) Frankie gave up a mere three earned runs on six hits in six innings.  He’s been working on a changeup since his Tommy-John-surgically-repaired arm can’t withstand throwing so many sliders, and it’s been absolutely filthy.     
  3. Jason Kubel and Delmon Young are poised to have breakout seasons:  Last year, Jason Kubel started to show flashes of the hitter the Twins thought they were getting when they drafted him in 2000.  It looks as though he’s finally managed to put his knee problems behind him and has settled in as the everyday DH.  Kubel’s been putting up some good numbers so far this year, batting .367/.424/.500 in 30 ABs (though he’s only hit one home run).  Kubel is going to have to improve on last seasons’ 118 OPS+ to be worth keeping in the DH spot, but I think that with an increase in playing time the numbers will come.   

    Delmon Young will probably never be the power right-handed bat the Twins are looking for, but he looks as though he’s going to rebound from his disappointing 2008 season.  He’s been having a pretty good spring so far, posting a .351/.385/.595 line with 2 homers and 6 RBI in 37 plate appearances (although he did ground into four double plays against the Pirates on Wednesday, which would have been a record if it were a regular season game).  Delmon, like Carlos Gomez, has a tendency to swing at the first pitch a lot, so I would really like to see him show more patience at the plate.     

  4. Jesse Crain will be dominant:  Jesse Crain hasn’t allowed a run in his six appearances this spring, or even in his brief stint with Team Canada in the WBC (he struck out all four batters he faced).  His stuff has been electric, and he’s recorded four strikeouts while giving up one hit.  The velocity on his fastball has been back up to 94-95 mph and has had good movement on it, too.  This is fantastic news for a bullpen that has been lacking a dominant set-up man since Pat Neshek went down with an elbow injury in June of last year.
  5. Glen Perkins might not be that bad, either:  Perkins is arguably the weakest link in the rotation.  But he’s been pretty good so far, allowing a mere 5 earned runs in twenty innings.  However, I doubt this success will carry over into the regular season.  Perk has been very hittable in his spring training starts, having given up 20 hits so far, while only striking out seven.  Which means he’s had a lot of runners on base, something that isn’t good for a guy who (like Baker and Slowey) tends to give up the long ball.

    Lest you think I’m being negative again, I will say that Perk could make a decent back-of-the-rotation starter (and I’m pretty much the only person who thinks he even belongs on a major-league roster, so that’s saying a lot).  However, I also think that if he puts up decent numbers this year, the front office would be smart to consider trading him.  He doesn’t throw all that hard and lacks pinpoint command, but could be valuable trade bait for teams that are desperate for left-handed starting pitching.  The Twins have another lefty in Brian Duensing, who has better stuff and should be ready to start next season.  The Twins generally like to hang onto their pitching talent, though, so I would be surprised if they actually move Perk.  Most likely a demotion to the bullpen is in his future.

I know I lit into the front office for being such skinflints in my previous post, and I stand by that assessment.  However, there are some indications that the Pohlad family will be willing to increase payroll once the new ballpark opens next year.  They have given Bill Smith the greenlight to lock up some of their key players into long-term contracts (most notably Justin Morneau and Joe Nathan), and have expressed a desire to sign their All-Star catcher to a long-term deal even though it will cost them somewhere in the $140 million range to do so.  I am still a little skeptical on the spending front, though, since Jim Pohlad has handled most of the day-to-day baseball activities since 2003 and hasn’t increased payroll much in that time.  And I am also a bit skeptical that Bill Smith knows how to put a championship-caliber team together.  

  • Okay, now they’re dead

wild_lose.jpgPerhaps they are officially still in the Western Conference playoff race, but after last night’s awful effort against the Devils, the Wild Mild look like they’re done.  Just when I think they couldn’t possibly play any worse, they go out and prove me horribly, horribly wrong.  This time Marek Zidlicky was the goat of the game, with two crucial mistakes that led to New Jersey goals.  One was a no-look clearing pass intended for Martin Skoula that ended up right on the tape of Patrik Elias’s stick. 
Ugh, I don’t need to tell you where that one ended up.  The other was a failed attempt to strip Zach Parise of the puck at the blue line, setting up an odd-man rush with Brian Gionta, who buried his 18th goal of the season.  Meanwhile, Martin Broduer showed why he is the best goaltender in the league (and maybe of his generation), stopping all 35 shots and earning his 101st career shutout.

The money quote came from coach Jacques Lemaire.  When asked how his team could put forth such a lackadaisical effort when so much is on the line, he responded:  “I like that question. Hold onto it and take it in [to the locker room].  Ask them, and if you get an answer, tell me.”  Of course, the simple answer is that this team just isn’t very good.  And the simplest explanation is usually the correct one.

Worse yet, the Star Tribune had an interview with former Wild Captain, and current Devils center Brian Rolston, who admitted that he probably would’ve stayed in Minnesota had the front office approached him about a contract extension prior to the 2007-2008 season.  The Wild could really use his 96 goals and 202 points in three seasons right now.   But thanks for pointing out that one of the Wild’s top scorers and most beloved players would’ve re-signed with the team if the front office hadn’t screwed it up.  I feel so much better now.

  • Corey Koskie has decided to retire

According to this article on the Twins’ website, former Twins third baseman Corey Koskie has announced his retirement from baseball.  It’s not really a surprise, and while I was pulling for him to make a comeback, I also knew his chances of doing so were pretty remote.  Koskie was concerned about suffering another concussion, especially after diving for a ball during an exhibition game on Thursday.  In the end, he decided it was best to retire than spend the rest of the season wondering if every strange sensation he felt was a recurrence of his symptoms.  Considering all he’s been through in the past 2 1/2 years, the fact that he could even participate in any baseball-related activities is a miracle in and of itself.  I wish him the best in whatever it is he decides to do from now on.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.