Results tagged ‘ Kevin Slowey ’

F*ck!

  • Slowey suffers setback in rehab

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Well, there goes the season 
Ugh, I hope it’s just a slight one.  The Slow Man was supposed to throw
a bullpen session today, but his wrist injury flared up again and was unable to do so
He’s supposed to try throwing again on Wednesday, and the Twins are
holding off on any further decisions regarding treatment until then. 
So I’m going to hold off on any further panicking until then.  What is
certain, however, is that he won’t be making his next scheduled
start on July 21 at Oakland.  Anthony Swarzak will get the nod instead. 

  • Casilla up, Tolbert down, Harris back to the bench?

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As LEN3 reported,
Alexi Casilla has been recalled from Rochester, while Matt Tolbert has
been sent back down.  It’s essentially Casilla’s last chance to prove
he can stick in the major leagues, or the Twins will probably be moving
him in the off-season.  Casilla struggled mightily at the plate earlier
this season, batting a mere .180/.242/.225, and all of the defensive
miscues certainly didn’t help his case.  But he’s been on fire since
his demotion to Rochester, batting .340/.379/.449/.827 OPS for the Red Wings.  Still, as Jason
Bartlett can attest, it’s very difficult to get out of Gardy’s doghouse
once you have been banished there.  Casilla will probably have to magically
turn into Chase Utley overnight to keep his job, and even that wouldn’t
be enough.

With Casilla getting the start at second, this begs
the question as to who will be the everyday shortstop.  Gardy says he
will try to find playing time for both Punto and Harris, but this is
highly unlikely.  Punto will most certainly be the starting SS, and
Harris will almost certainly be back to the bench. The Twins are paying
Punto $4 million this year, so he and his .201/.319/.223 line won’t be
playing the utility role.  Gardy has already said as much
And really, when you look at the numbers, neither one is exactly running away
with the starting job.  Punto is terrible at the plate, but he’s a
career 21.0 UZR at the position, so his defense is good enough to make
him at least replacement-level.  Harris isn’t very good on defense (he’s a
career -11.9 UZR) but his .275/.318/.392 line makes him just a little
better than replacement-level, but not enough to just hand him the job,
either.  Now, if only there was a way to combine Harris’ bat with Punto’s glove

  • Gomez goes 3-for-4 with a home run and 5 RBI in series finale against White Sox

That goofball is bound and determined to make me love him. 

Carlos-gomez-kisses-bat

Actually, I pretty much already decided that the first time I saw him sniff his bat.

Mired in Mediocrity

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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.
 

Giving the Bullpen a Couple of Days Off

  • Nick Blackburn pitches his third complete game of the season in Twins’ 6-2 win

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Blackie (yes, that’s really his nickname) absolutely dominated the Tigers in Sunday’s rubber match, keeping them off the scoreboard through eight innings.  He struck out six and only walked one, and although teh Kittehs recorded seven hits, they weren’t really able mount much of a threat until the eighth.  Unfortunately, Blackie lost his bid for a shut out when Brandon Inge clobbered a two-run homer in the ninth, but he quickly recovered to finish the inning and (most importantly) give the bullpen some much-needed rest.  After pitching 13 innings in Friday night’s marathon exercise in futility, the relief corps will get two full days of rest (some relievers even have three, as Francisco Liriano pitched seven innings on Saturday) before the Yankees come to town on Tuesday night.  When his sinker is working, as it was yesterday, Blackie is a bullpen savior (indeed, he needed only 109 pitches to get through nine innings).  His 116.1 innings pitched are fifth most in the league, and only Zack Greinke has thrown more complete games. 

However, even though Blackburn is putting up some of the best numbers of his career, it’s still way too early to declare him the team ace (or talk about extending his contract).  He wasn’t much better than average last season, and his poor peripherals suggest that a good deal of his success this season is probably due to luck.  Coming in to yesterday’s game, Blackie had a very good 3.10 ERA, but his 1.67 K/BB ratio and 2.3 BB/9 rate are at career lows.  I wrote elsewhere that if those numbers don’t improve, he will likely finish the season with an ERA much closer to his 4.98 xFIP.  The good news, though, is that some of his peripherals have indeed been improving.  While his 1.80 K/BB ratio is still rather low, and he still gives up a lot of hits, his BB/9 rate has been steadily declining the past few months (from 3.08 in May to its current 1.00).  A lot of it has to do with the fact that his fastball is nasty.  The velocity tops out at around 91 mph but the movement on it has been absolutely filthy, and as long as he can sustain that kind of break on his fastball, his strikeout rate should start to improve.  Blackburn will likely keep rolling through the second half of the season (and hopefully the playoffs).

  • Twins once again send three representatives to the All-Star Game

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Joe
Mauer, Justin Morneau, and Joe Nathan are all set to represent the
Twins in the ASG.  Kevin Slowey probably had a good chance of joining
his teammates in St. Louis, if he hadn’t gone down with a wrist injury
(he is supposed to have an MRI on it today.  UPDATE:  it is just a strain.  He was treated with a cortisone shot and should resume throwing in a few days).  You could probably make
the case for Nick Blackburn too (Joe Nathan did), since he is sporting
a 2.94 ERA and 1.27 WHIP, but I have no problem with the likes of
Justin Verlander and Mark Buerhle getting the nod instead.  I’m not
going to get into a huge debate over who got snubbed and who didn’t
deserve a starting spot, there’s already plenty of that on the
internets.  I don’t think there are many glaring oversights on either
team, other than maybe Ian Kinsler and Torii Hunter (who should be
starting), and the ASG isn’t something I get all worked up about
anyway.

Justin Morneau has indicated
that he will probably decline an invitation to the Home Run Derby, if
asked.  It’s probably just as well.  His tendency to fade down the
stretch probably doesn’t have anything to do with participating in the
HR Derby, but why take that chance?  Anyway, this way people won’t get
mad at him for beating a much-flashier superstarAgain

Joe
Mauer is making his second consecutive start in the ASG, and his third
career appearance.  Even after missing the first month of the
season, he’s still far and away the best catcher in the AL.  Although,
5 of the 31 “greatest minds in baseball” think that Victor Martinez
should have been the starting catcher.  That’s right, a guy batting
.303/.382/.506/.888 while making half of his starts at first base
deserves to be the starting catcher, while the guy batting .389/.465/.648/1.113
should be on the bench.  Yes, let’s give all of the voting power to
these people, clearly the fans are too stupid to get it right.

Joe
Nathan is also quietly having one of the best years of his career.  His
last blown save came against the Yankees on May 15th, and he hasn’t
surrendered a run since.  Not an unearned run, not an inherited runner scoring,
nothing.  His 2.40 xFIP, 6.14 K/BB ratio, 11.6 K/9 rate, and 1.9 BB/9
rate as well as 1.35 ERA and 0.750 WHIP are all at or near
career-bests.  He’s been getting hitters to chase pitches outside the
strike zone a little more, which has made him extremely effective even
when he doesn’t have his best stuff.  

Milton Bradley = Greatest Outfielder Ever

122142_Cubs_Astros_Baseball.jpgMilton Bradley had a very tough day at work today.  He lost Jason Kubel’s routine fly ball in the sun, which put two on with nobody out and set up a two-run inning for the Twins.  Later in the same inning, he couldn’t field Michael Cuddyer’s line drive to right, playing a single into a run-scoring double.  But, most hilariously, he also had a major brain fart on a Joe Mauer pop fly.  Bradley forgot how many outs there were in the inning and threw the ball into the stands (hint:  there was only one, Milton).  Nick Punto scored easily and Brendan Harris was awarded third base.  Personally, I think the play should’ve been ruled a home run.  That ball went right into the stands!  So what if Bradley was the one who threw it there?  Bradley kind of redeemed himself by hitting a big two-run double in the sixth, cutting the Twins’ lead in half at that point.  Unfortunately, he couldn’t redeem himself completely, allowing Delmon Young to rob him of the potentially game-winning hit in the eighth.

For Twins fans and Cubs haters alike, this was a great game.  Joe Mauer hit his 13th home run of the season, a two-run blast that gave the Twins an early lead (and tied his career high set in 2006).  Jason Kubel hit a solo shot in the ninth that extended the lead to 7-4, his tenth of the season.  And Brendan Harris went 3-for-5 with an RBI and a run scored, which should help his case to be the starting shortstop (at least until Gardy realizes he isn’t a utility role player anymore).  Nick Punto even hit the ball out of the infield a couple of times.  I can’t remember the last time I wrote that.

Kevin Slowey was cruising along through the first five innings, allowing one hit and striking out nine Baby Bears.  I guess he decided not to rely on the worst defensive outfield ever behind him.  Slowey did start to fall apart in the sixth, when he surrendered three runs and cut the lead to only one run.  None of that can be blamed on the defense though, all of those runs came on some very hard hit line drives (the outfield didn’t walk Mike Fontenot, either).  The bullpen wasn’t great, but they managed to (barely) hang onto the lead for a change.  Joe Nathan retired the Cubs in order to pick up his fourteenth save of the season in a very non-heart-attack inducing manner.

Ron Gardenhire gets a lot of criticism from fans for his management of the bullpen, especially his reluctance to use Joe Nathan in anything other than a save situation.  And since the front office has consistently failed to put together a decent bullpen, the few reliable relievers on the staff get overworked (sometimes to the point of injury, see Pat Neshek and Jesse Crain).  Case in point:  Matt Guerrier.  Matty G. had logged 28.1 innings coming in to today’s game (where he was asked to record the final out in the eighth) and had made three straight relief appearances, while Joe Nathan had only logged 23.1 and hadn’t worked since Wednesday.  I realize that this is a national league ballpark, and the thought that Joe Nathan might come up to bat isn’t particularly appealing, but it was a save situation anyway and it makes sense to use Nathan since he’s had more rest.  Guerrier was awful in the second half of last season, posting a. 8.88 ERA and 2.092 WHIP after the All-Star break, and a lot of it has to do with the fact that he was overworked.  And with all of the innings he’s logged the past six seasons, it’s probably only a matter of time before he too ends up on the surgery list.

By the way, the best part of the game is that Wrigley was half full of Twins fans.  Seriously, if Wrigley Field weren’t so distinctive, one would think the Cubs were the visiting team.  Chants of “M-V-P!” and “Where’s Mark Prior?” whenever Joe Mauer came up to bat warmed even my icy cold heart.  There was plenty of cheering whenever the Twins would score, or when Kevin Slowey struck out yet another Cub.  There was also a lusty booing of Cub players, although I don’t think all of that was coming from Twins fans.

On a completely unrelated note, but because I find the idea so delightfully disgusting, here is former Toronto pitching coach Bob Miller discussing the fine art of spitting tobacco juice on umpires:

Serenity Now

meditationpt.jpgOh, I could harp on our guys for their inability to win games on the road.  I could rake them over the coals for going 2-for-18 with runners in scoring position and stranding 31 runners in the past three games.  I could worry that the Twins seem unable to get themselves above the .500 mark, that they can’t seem to gain any ground on the division-leading Tigers, and that their 7-18 road record is second only to the Orioles (8-20) for the worst in the AL.  But I’ve been doing those things a lot lately, and it doesn’t really seem to be helping.  So, maybe it’s time to take an entirely different approach:  from now on, no matter what happens, I’m only going to focus on the good things that the Twinkies do.  Maybe a little encouragement is exactly what our boys need, maybe they’ll start to believe in themselves.  Maybe they’ll actually start to win some games in places other than the Metrodome.  So, instead of focusing on the fact that the Twins only scored five runs in three games against the Mariners, I’m only going to talk about the things that went well:

  • Joe Mauer

mauer1.jpgThe AL-Player-of-the-Month went practically hitless in the series, got caught in a rundown in a key spot, and only threw out one potential base stealer.  But it’s actually a good thing that the golden boy had a relatively quiet series.  The less productive Mauer is at the plate, the lower his price tag, and the likelier he will remain in Minnesota for the rest of his career.  Besides, he’s already got a couple of batting titles; he should stop being so selfish and let someone else win one for a change. 

  • Justin Morneau

morny.jpgJohnny Canuck was doing his horribly unfunny Carlos Gomez impression at the plate pretty much the entire series, waving at pitches well outside the strike zone with runners in scoring position.  He went 1-for-11 with a couple of strikeouts and stranded seven of his teammates on base.  But, hey, at least he drove in a pair of runs on a couple of sac flies.  Way to be a productive out, Morny. That’s kind of helpful.  And he did score the winning run in Friday’s game on Matt Tolbert’s double/Wladimir Balentien’s fielding error, so there’s that.  Now that selfish jerk Mauer won’t be able to hog all the glory for himself anymore.

  • Kevin Slowey

slowey.jpgWell, four runs on ten hits in 4.2 innings certainly doesn’t sound very good, but give me a minute and I’ll find something nice to say.  Umm…well…at least the three home runs Slowey surrendered were solo shots.  That’s good, right?  So one entire thing did not go really bad for Kevin Slowey.  For the most part, though, the pitching was actually pretty good.  Frankie technically had a quality start, Nick Blackburn pitched pretty well, and even the ne’er-do-wells in the bullpen only surrendered a single run the entire series.  Luis Ayala (of all people) recorded a very important out in the eighth inning of the series finale.  It would’ve been more important, though, if the Twins actually scored against Sean White in the ninth.  But I guess they just wanted to make sure the kid got his first major-league save.  That was awfully nice of them.

Frankie’s Odd Outing

  • Francisco Liriano was awful despite striking out seven hitters in four innings

060807_liriano_vmed_8p.widec.jpgAs Fangraphs notes, Francisco Liriano had statistically one of the strangest outings of the year against the Red Sox Monday afternoon.  He struck out seven batters in four innings, didn’t walk anyone, and still surrendered five runs on eleven hits.  While some of these balls were hit hard, and Frankie was struggling a bit with command of his fastball, he did get extremely unlucky in that pretty much everything that could have fallen for a hit actually did (Boston’s BABIP was .733, which is very unusual in combination with such a high strikeout rate).  He was also unlucky that Brian Buscher, who has the range of a telephone pole, started at third in place of Joe Crede (who is day-to-day after being hit on the hand with a pitch on Sunday).  Almost everything hit to third ended up in the outfield, and unfortunately it led to a short start for Liriano. 

Of course, Frankie certainly deserves his share of the blame for Monday’s meltdown, too.  His struggles with his command and his tendency to overthrow when he gets himself in trouble have been well-documented.  His numbers certainly suggest that he’s having trouble finding the strike zone, with a mediocre 1.88 K/BB ratio and an ugly 4.1 BB/9 rate.  The Twins have been patient with Frankie (and really all of the struggling starters) so far, but they can’t afford to do so much longer and expect to contend for a division title.  Anthony Swarzak pitched effectively enough against Milwaukee on Saturday, only striking out three and walking two but shutting out the Brewers for seven innings.  Obviously Swarzak will need more than one start to prove he can pitch effectively in the major leagues (his next start against Boston will be most telling), and Glen Perkins probably has the most vulnerable spot in the rotation.  Still, it isn’t unreasonable to think that a demotion to the bullpen is in Frankie’s future if he fails to show any significant improvement.

  • Nick Blackburn, on the other hand, has been remarkably consistent

Nick Blackburn and Kevin Slowey have proven to be the most consistently effective startersThumbnail image for medium_blackburn.jpg thus far.  Blackburn had one of his best starts of the season against the Red Sox last night, surrendering only one earned run on eight hits and recording a career-high seven strikeouts.  His 3.55 ERA leads the team, and although he’s given up a lot of hits this year, most of them have been relatively harmless singles.  Blackburn has also been stingy about issuing free passes (only 19 in 63.1 IP) and home runs (only 4), which is obviously very important for a contact pitcher.  His 4.12 FIP is very good for a sinkerballer (the league average is 4.50), especially since his .298 BABIP is only a little better than league-average.

And after I posted this, I discovered that Twinkie Town has a much better assessment of our default ace.

Kevin Slowey got off to a bit of a rough start, surrendering twenty-two hits and posting a 7.94 ERA in his first two starts, but he’s settled down as well and has become one of the best starters in the rotation.  Both his command and control have been impeccable, posting a league-best 9.75 K/BB ratio and 0.65 BB/9 rate.  While he tends to be an extreme fly ball pitcher, Slowey has been pretty good at keeping the ball in the park, giving up the gopher ball at a rate of about 1.3 per nine innings.  Better yet, most of these home runs have come with the bases empty and thus keeping the damage to a minimum. 
 

  • Etc.

Is the Joe Crede signing the best thing Bill Smith has done so far as GM?  Well, considering that his other moves include the Santana trade, the Delmon Young trade (which is looking worse by the day), signing the likes of R.A. Dickey and Luis Ayala to upgrade the bullpen, and passing on Orlando Hudson in favor of Nick Punto, then it probably is.

Speaking of decisions that may come back to haunt them, the Twins have likely blown their chance to re-sign Mauer at a more reasonable rate.  Which means they probably won’t re-sign him at all.  I guess that’s good news for Red Sox fans.

More EPIC FAIL at Yankee Stadium

Well, I certainly can’t blame any of these losses on the starting pitchers.  Unless, of course, you want to blame them for not pitching complete-game shutouts, which is essentially what they’ve needed to do to beat the Yankees.  All three pitched well enough to earn the win in every single game of this series, but the bullpen and the offense haven’t exactly held up their part of the bargain.  Francisco Liriano gave up one earned run in six innings, and although he wasn’t particularly sharp, consistently managed to pitch himself out of trouble.  Which pretty good for a guy whose emotions often get the better of him when things don’t go his way and would subsequently let the game get out of hand (like in this game against the White Sox).  Nick Blackburn was also pretty effective, giving up a three-run homer to Mark Teixeira, but settled down nicely after that and surrendered only four runs through 7.2 innings.  Kevin Slowey pitched an absolute gem through 7.2 innings, striking out eight batters and outlasting A.J. Burnett.  Unfortunately, the two earned runs he surrendered in the bottom of the seventh kept him from actually out-dueling his Yankee counterpart and earning a much-deserved win.

While it’s tempting to blame the bullpen for everything, the truth is that the Twins left a lot of runners on base.  Yes, Joe Nathan deserves the blame for blowing the save on Friday night.  Yes, Craig Breslow surrendered a two-run homer to A-Rod in the bottom of the thirteenth in game two.  And yes, today Jesse Crain gave up the game-winning homer to Johnny Damon in the tenth.  But it doesn’t really help that Twinkies have stranded 34 runners on base in the first three games of the series.  Twice they loaded up the bases in today’s game, and twice they failed to drive in any runs.  It’s somewhat understandable that they couldn’t do much against A.J. Burnett, but the failure to do anything against a journeyman like Brett Tomko is simply inexcusable.  All of the games in this series have been decided by two runs or less, and the Twins have led going into the later innings in every single one.  But the failure to capitalize on scoring chances, and the failure of the pitching staff, particularly the bullpen, to hold the lead has been frustrating.  It is costing the team wins, plural.  And even if they manage to win the division anyway, which they could, so what?  They are likely to meet one of the AL East teams, such as the Red Sox or Yankees, in the first round.  And will likely get swept in the first round if they don’t do something to shore up some of the glaring weaknesses in the bottom of the lineup and in the bullpen.

By the way, how amazing is Joe Mauer?  This has to be the play of the decade.  I don’t care what it costs, Joe has to stay in a Twins uniform until he dies.

Yay, Joe’s Back!

Thumbnail image for joe_mauer.jpgIn his very first at-bat of the season, Joe Mauer drilled a 2-0 pitch from Sidney Ponson into the left-field seats.  In his next at-bat, he spanked a double and then scored on a Justin Morneau single.  In his third at-bat, he drew a walk and then scored on a Justin Morneau home run (which ended up being the winning runs, I might add).  In his fourth at bat, well, he grounded into a double play.  Still, that’s not bad for a guy who hasn’t played in any major league games since the heartbreaker tiebreaker against the White Sox last year, and hadn’t really even swung a bat until, like three weeks ago.  The Twins chased Sir Sidney out after five innings, tagging him for seven runs on nine hits.  Considering that the Twins were one of the few teams that His Royal Highness the Prince of Slobenia has consistently been successful against (he is 11-4 with an ERA of 3.13 lifetime against Minnesota), it was a very good night indeed.

It’s tough to complain about the lineup too much, since the Twins did manage to score seven runs. However, one has to wonder why the struggling Alexi Casilla is still batting second.  I realize that Ron Gardenhire probably doesn’t want four lefties in a row (although, it isn’t a bad idea when those lefties are Denard Span, Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau and Jason Kubel), but why he keeps batting Casilla second is a mystery.  Casilla is batting a miserable .167, but even worse he’s been getting on base at an underwhelming .231 clip.  This simply isn’t good enough, and while Casilla is much better defensively at second than Brendan Harris, Harris has been riding a hot streak lately and probably should be in the lineup everyday.  I don’t mind Gardy being patient with Casilla and hoping he’ll turn things around (he did hit the ball really hard three times last night, unfortunately it happened to be right to a Royal each time), but he should be moved down in the lineup until he actually does so.

Of course, it’s a good thing the offense managed to provide him with all of that run support, since starter Kevin Slowey needed every single one of them.  He gave up five runs on eight hits in five innings and surrendered the lead twice, although he didn’t run into trouble until the third.  Still, it was good enough to earn his fourth victory of the season and he improved(?) to 4-0.  Joe Nathan, after blowing a save against Tampa Bay in his last relief appearance, gave up a single to Mike Aviles but pitched an otherwise-perfect ninth to record his fourth save of the season.

Oh, and Joe Crede was out of the lineup last night because his wife was having their third childHe is expected to miss the rest of the series against the Royals but should rejoin the team in Detroit.  Never mind, he’s back in the lineup tonight.  But Kubel’s sick, so he’s out. And the flame-throwing Juan Morillo was demoted to AAA Rochester to make room for Mauer on the roster.  It isn’t really that surprising that he managed to clear waivers, as his 22.50 ERA and poor 0.33 K/BB rate probably scared off any prospective suitors.  It will be interesting to see if pitching coach Bobby Cuellar can tame some of his wildness.  The minor-league coaching staff has had a lot of success in teaching the young prospects to throw strikes, so Morillo has definitely come to the right place.  At any rate, it’s tough to imagine that Morillo won’t get another shot with the big club.  A guy whose fastball averages 96.5 mph would be a very good thing to have in the bullpen indeed.

More Kubel!

  • Jason Kubel homers twice in Twins’ 7-1 victory over Cleveland

Jason-Kubel_2.jpgJason Kubel apparently wants to remain in the cleanup spot once Mauer returns to the lineup (which might be as early as Tuesday), blasting a pair of home runs in today’s game against the Indians.  Kubel’s been on a tear recently, batting .316/.350/.789 in his past five games, with an OPS of 1.139 and, of course, a pair of home runs. And then there was this performance against the Angels.  Kubel has certainly been batting like a cleanup-hitter, but leaving him in that spot means that the Twins would have four left-handed hitters in a row.  Which actually might not be much of a problem.  The M&M boys certainly hit lefties pretty well (though not as well as righties), and lead off hitter Denard Span has had a lot of success against left-handed pitching, too.  Still, I can’t imagine Ron Gardenhire going with such a lefty-centric lineup for any extended period of time, so most likely Mauer will bat third and everyone else will move down in the lineup.

  • Oh, yeah, Kevin Slowey pitched ok, too

Thumbnail image for kev_slowey.jpgActually, he was masterful.  Painting the corners. Changing speeds. Throwing his breaking pitches whenever he felt like it (even on a 3-2 count), and just doing all of the little things necessary to keep hitters off balance.  Slowey shut out the Indians for eight innings, giving up just eight hits and striking out seven.  The lone Cleveland run came in the ninth, when Slowey was lifted after giving up three straight hits to load the bases.  Luis Ayala came in and surrendered an RBI single to Kelly Shoppach before getting Tony Graffanino to ground into a game-ending double play.

It appears as though the pitching staff has finally figured out the secret to winning games:  keeping the ball in the ballpark.  Oh, and not walking anybody, either.  That always helps.  Nick Blackburn pitched a gem of his own against Cleveland on Friday, allowing one run on six hits in seven innings, without walking anybody or giving up a home run.  Although, Blackburn kind of owns the Indians, so I guess his performance wasn’t all that surprising.  Still, after watching the starters give up what seems like a gazillion home runs the past few weeks (and the most walks in the league so far this season), it was fun to watch a couple of well-pitched ballgames for a change.   

For Unto Us a Batting Champ Is Born

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for mauer.jpgHe has two batting titles.  He has a Gold Glove. He has his own theme song.  And since today is his 26th birthday, I’m going to make the case that Joe Mauer might be, if not the best, certainly one of the most irreplaceable players in any position in the league.

Mauer has consistently ranked near the top of the league in two of the best measurements of a player’s value to his organization:  VORP and Runs Above Average.  Last season, Mauer was fourth in the league in VORP, and his 43.0 RAA was the best for a catcher in either league.  He’s also ranked in the top five pretty consistently throughout his career, with his worst year coming in 2007, when he was limited to 109 games due to injury.  However, the problem with both VORP and RAA as statistical measures is that they both weigh each plate appearance exactly the same.  For example, a solo homer when the team is up (or down) by ten runs is equal to a walk-off home run, when one clearly affects the outcome of a game more than the other.  Thankfully, we also have Win Probability Added, which takes such things into account.  Last season, Mauer’s 4.88 raw WPA led the entire league, and once again, he ranks near the top pretty consistently. 

Of course, one of the biggest problems with all of those metrics is that they only measure offense and fail to account for a player’s defensive contributions. While there are some pretty good metrics for evaluating defense, each have their own limitations and there is little consensus as to which metric is really the most accurate.  Basically, all of these defensive metrics attempt to measure a position player’s defensive contributions by determining how many runs per game he saves, and despite their limitations, they are pretty good at evaluating defense for most position players.  Except for catcher, that is.  Since so much of a catcher’s defense depends upon the pitcher, it’s really difficult to determine just how many runs per game a catcher actually saves.  But it’s interesting to note that, whichever metric you use, Mauer once again consistently comes out near the top for catchers, and a good case could be made that he is one of the best defensive players at any position in baseball.  He is also very good at throwing out baserunners (about 36% of them), though he isn’t the best in the league.  I sometimes wonder if his reputation sort of precedes him and guys are simply less likely to run on him in the first place, which in and of itself might be more valuable than his actual ability to throw runners out.

It is often argued that Mauer isn’t that great of a hitter since doesn’t have much power, and since he only has 44 career home runs, one might be inclined to agree.  However, when you dig a bit deeper into his career numbers, it appears that he does have more power than a lot of people tend to think.  While his .457 career slugging percentage isn’t exactly a Pujolsian .624, he’s hardly the crappy singles hitter his critics make him out to be.  Mauer has a career OPS+ of 128, and has had an OPS+ of 130 or better three times in his career (137 in 2004 and 2008, and 144 in 2006, the year he won his first batting title).  In comparison, Justin Morneau (who is often considered the most dangerous hitter on the team), has a higher career slugging percentage of .499, but a lower OPS+ of 122 and has actually never had an OPS+ as high as Mauer in any of his seven major league seasons.

One has to wonder why Joe Mauer is so consistently overlooked as an MVP candidate, even though he puts up better numbers than anyone else on the team (and most of the league, especially when adjusted for position) and is arguably one of the best defensive catchers in baseball.  Justin Morneau is often considered the most dangerous hitter in the lineup, but other than his power numbers, Morny isn’t significantly better than Mauer in most offensive categories (he’s actually a bit worse in some of them). And while Morny is certainly a very good hitter, his career numbers are actually pretty average for a first baseman.  This is an issue that has been explored in depth by other, smarter Twins bloggers (and Joe Posnanski), so I’m not going to go into much detail on the subject.  I tend to think that voters (and opposing teams) are dazzled by Morneau’s raw power and all of the RBI he racks up and tend to undervalue Mauer’s ability to simply put the ball in play with runners in scoring position.

The Twins have Joe Mauer locked up until after the 2010 season, and there is a lot of debate among fans as to whether or not it would be worth the estimated $150 million to keep him.  Although Mauer is much more durable than people give him credit for, he plays a physically  demanding position and doesn’t have the greatest health history.  He missed much of his rookie season with knee surgery, missed most of 2007 with leg problems, and so far has missed the first few weeks of this season with back problems.  Having said all that, I do think the Twins would be wise to extend Mauer’s contract.  Yes, it’s a lot of money for a small-budget team to risk on a player with his health history, but his bat has been so invaluable in the lineup that I think it is a risk worth taking.  Even if the Twins end up moving him to a position where he would be less injury-prone, like third base, Mauer is athletic enough that he should make the transition successfully.  And though a 3B who hits .317/.399/.457 certainly isn’t as valuable as a catcher who does, it’s possible that Mauer’s power numbers might improve if he were in a less physically demanding position.  But there’s also the distinct possibility that, with the move into the outdoor stadium, his health will no longer be such an issue.  Either way, signing Mauer to a long-term contract would be in the best interest of the organization.

  • There’s the Kevin Slowey we know and love: Twins defeat Angels 9-2

kev_slowey.jpgKevin Slowey rebounded from his awful first couple of starts, in which he gave up ten earned runs on twenty-three hits in 11.1 innings.  Slowey was coming off of his worst start of the season on Monday night, when the Blue Jays smacked him around for five earned runs on thirteen hits in 5.1 innings.  Other than one mistake to Torii Hunter in the second, Slowey managed to shut down the Angels for seven innings, giving up just two earned runs on six hits and striking out five.  Of course, it helps that the offense managed to provide some much-needed run support, b
eating up the Angels’ bullpen for nine runs in two innings.

And um, I guess until the pitching staff has a game like this one, maybe I should stop complaining about them so much.  Yikes.

Jason Kubel had another good night at the plate, going 4-for-5 with a double and 2 RBI.  This is his second consecutive four-hit game, and the first time a Twin has had back-to-back four hit games since Mauer did it against the Dodgers in 2006.     

Lefty reliever Craig Breslow continued to struggle with his command, walking the first batter he faced, but settled down and pitched effectively enough to keep the Angels of the scoreboard in the eighth.  Juan Morillo made his debut with the Twins in the ninth, and his 94 mph was as good as advertised.  Morillo has been working with pitching coach Rick Anderson on his command, and whether or not he’s put his control issues behind him is still a huge question, but he certainly wasn’t having any problems finding the strike zone last night.  He retired the first two batters he faced before giving up a harmless single to Juan Rivera. 

Oh, and as much as I love both baseball and hockey, even I think that this is an abomination.

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