Friday, July 11, 2008

A Crucial Victory

Kevin Slowey was the victim of another big inning yesterday, as the Tigers tagged him for five runs in the fourth inning to put the Twins in a 6-2 hole. Slowey's day was done after 3 2/3 innings, and Ron Gardenhire was forced to hand a four-run deficit against a powerful offense to his recently shaky bullpen. It certainly appeared that the Twins were on their way to a fourth straight loss, but instead, the offense resiliently battled back and the bullpen came through with some huge performances, and the Twins were able to score a 7-6 victory thanks to Justin Morneau's go-ahead solo homer in the top of the 11th.

This was a big, big win for the Twins. The team needed to regain some confidence after a 13-run loss in the series finale against the Red Sox, and the Tigers had been rapidly gaining ground in the AL Central. Here are some notes on the game, as well as some other Twins-related stuff:

* After coughing up 17 runs on 20 hits over six innings in the Boston series, the Twins bullpen rebounded in a major way yesterday as five relievers combined for 7 1/3 scoreless innings. This allowed the Twins offense to get back into the game after Slowey had put the team in a significant hole by letting in six runs over 3 2/3 innings of work.

I saw a lot of overreaction to the struggles of the Twins relief corps over the past few days. A bullpen lacking dominant power arms is bound to have bad stretches from time to time, and I think that's something that a lot of fans lost sight of with the performances provided by Pat Neshek, Dennys Reyes, Juan Rincon and others over the past several years. This isn't a bad bullpen, but it's surely not a great one, which isn't something we're used to around these parts.

* My favorite blog these days is the one maintained by Kansas City columnist Joe Posnanski. One running feature that Joe has on his blog is the "Banny Log," in which he chronicles the season of young right-hander Brian Bannister by breaking down his every start. Posnanski finds Bannister to be an interesting specimen in that he is a soft tosser with relatively unimpressive stuff who has to find creative ways to get major-league batters out. In a recent Banny Log installment after Bannister had gotten shelled by the Cardinals, Posnanski started off with the following:
The less said about this outing, the better … Brian Bannister just never did get the feel. Banny has this theory that for every 10 starts — he has two games where everything is working, two games where nothing at all is working, and the way for him to be successful pitcher is to make the most of those other six starts. Well, this was clearly one of the two bad games.
I found that interesting, and I think there are some distinct similarities between Bannister and Slowey. While Slowey has better stuff than Bannister does, neither is going to blow big-league hitters away and both must rely on locating exquisitely well and outwitting batters in order to have success. I have a lot of optimism about Slowey's future, but I do think he's the type of pitcher who will -- from time to time -- get off track and be susceptible to big innings like the ones he suffered yesterday and the start before that.

* I've made no secret of my affinity for Carlos Gomez, but even I'm going to start losing it if he stays in the leadoff spot for much longer. After going 0-for-4 in yesterday's game, Gomez has now gone hitless in his past 14 at-bats, and has reached base at a terrible .268 clip since the beginning of June. Meanwhile, Denard Span is on a mission to prove that his hot start to the season is no fluke. After reaching base in all five of his plate appearances yesterday by going 4-for-4 with a walk, Span now sports an absurd .590 on-base percentage in 10 games since rejoining the Twins roster at the end of June. He's shown very good plate discipline and unexpected proficiency against left-handers since being recalled, and has also looked much more comfortable in right field than he did during his first stint with the big-league club.

It's rare that a player completely overhauls his game at the age of 24 with five minor-league seasons under his belt, but it's certainly not unprecedented, and Span appears to be doing just that. He possesses little power, and throughout most of his entire professional career up to this point, he's been unable to excel in the other key areas of the game in order to make up for that. He'd shown mediocre on-base skills, posted poor base-stealing rates despite his speed, and during the past two seasons struck out about twice as often as he walked. Yet, over the past calendar year or so, he has made key adjustments and shown a much better approach at the plate.

Span has still only made 62 plate appearances with the Twins this season, so we're dealing with a small sample size, but combined with his strong second half in Rochester last year and his torrid start there this year, I'm loving what I'm seeing from this young man. There's no question that he should be batting first in this lineup right now.

* After going 5-for-5 with a homer and two doubles yesterday, Morneau is now batting .324/.387/.515 with 13 home runs and 68 RBI. This season is shaping up an awful lot like his MVP campaign in 2006...

* And on a final exciting note, Francisco Liriano tossed seven scoreless innings in Rochester last night, striking out eight while allowing just three hits and a walk. Over his past three starts, Liriano has pitched 20 innings without allowing a run, and has given up 10 hits and three walks while striking out 24. After working on some changes to his mechanics, the Twins have let Liriano go back to his old three-quarter arm slot, and as a result he's starting to look a whole lot more like his old dominating self. Of course, this raises concerns over him reinjuring that elbow, but for now let's just bask in his awesomeness and hope that the Twins are seriously considering subbing him in to the rotation in place of Livan Hernandez as soon as we get past the All-Star break.

Boy, I am feeling a lot better about this team than I was 24 hours ago...

21 comments:

Twins Fix said...

Liriano has pitched very well of late. It's almost to the point where I want to call him up before the Break. But that would have to be, like, tomorrow.

I guess I'm just excited, like you. :)

I also love Posnanski.

Dwade said...

Boy, I am feeling a lot better about this team than I was 24 hours ago...


I'm feeling the same way, which seems to be an interesting quirk of a lot of Twins fans.

It shouldn't be all that much of a surprise that a team which has won 19 of their last 24 games or something like that can get a comeback win, but it was. A lot of people threw in the towel on this game in the fourth, even though the Twins are a very good team playing from behind.

Could it be that the Twins haven't sold their fans on the skill of this team, or are Twins fans just a more suspicious bunch than other teams' fans?

Nick N. said...

Could it be that the Twins haven't sold their fans on the skill of this team, or are Twins fans just a more suspicious bunch than other teams' fans?

I think it's just easy to get caught up in the idea of momentum. It really seems like a team would have all the momentum sucked out of them after that brutal series in Boston. But as Gleeman mused the other day... momentum tends to be overrated.

dan said...

this may not be very popular, but i wonder with how span is playing now if he could be the center of a deal for beltre at 3rd and try and sell high.

i like span, but i don't see much value with him in the future with young, kubel, gomez and cuddyer being mainstays unless monroe leaves.

TT said...

hope that the Twins are seriously considering subbing him in to the rotation in place of Livan Hernandez as soon as we get past the All-Star break.

Right. Teams who are in contention always get rid of the only pitcher in their rotation who has pitched a full season in the major leagues.

It's rare that a player completely overhauls his game at the age of 24 with five minor-league seasons under his belt, but it's certainly not unprecedented, and Span appears to be doing just that.

Span hasn't completely overhauled his game. He has followed a fairly typical process of development. Its only unexpected in the minds of people who think first round choices will all be in the major leagues as fast as Joe Mauer.

Span has always been improving as he moved up. He played better as the year went along last year at AAA and was doing very well by the end of the year. He has continued that improvement. Of course, he is also almost certainly playing over his head right now. But he is showing off the tools that got him drafted.

Nick N. said...

Right. Teams who are in contention always get rid of the only pitcher in their rotation who has pitched a full season in the major leagues.

You know, I'm sick of hearing Hernandez's "experience" used as an excuse for him sticking around. He knows how to pitch? Why is every younger, more inexperienced pitcher putting up better numbers? He plays the game the right way? Why is it that the younger, more inexperienced pitchers back up throws and he doesn't? He's a big-game pitcher he performs under pressure? Why did he come out and throw a complete dud in the Boston finale at Fenway -- a game the Twins needed pretty bad -- right after a couple of those younger, more inexperienced pitchers both had delivered outstanding starts in the first two games in the same environment against the same powerful offense?

The idea that a contending team needs an experienced veteran in the rotation is an old baseball cliche that does not actually apply to winning games. I'll take Liriano over Hernandez eight days a week, experience be damned.

Span has always been improving as he moved up. He played better as the year went along last year at AAA and was doing very well by the end of the year. He has continued that improvement. Of course, he is also almost certainly playing over his head right now. But he is showing off the tools that got him drafted.

Span may just be showing development in the tools he has always had, but there's little question that he has taken a massive leap within the past year. He was pretty much always young for his level in the minor leagues, so I suppose that shouldn't be totally surprising, but it's somewhat rare to see a guy flip a switch like this. Never before did he show the type of discipline at the plate that he now possesses. He has also been flashing a little bit of power this season, which is encouraging.

TT said...

Why is every younger, more inexperienced pitcher putting up better numbers?

Bad luck? And how are Boof Bonser's numbers better? Yeh, I know Bonser isn't in the rotation any more. That's the problem with inexperienced pitchers. They can look bad one day and worse the next.


You know, I'm sick of hearing Hernandez's "experience" used as an excuse for him sticking around.

And I am sick of the argument that a guy who leads the teams in outs and wins should somehow be on the chopping block because his FIP isn't very good.

Despite his bad outing the other day, Hernandez has a 4.30 era and has averaged more than 6 innings per start during the last 28 days.

There's little question that he has taken a massive leap within the past year.

Sure, its a big jump from AAA to the major leagues. But what's really going on here is that you were one of the bloggers who was wrong about Span being a "failed" prospect. Now its a "surprise", when its really just the way prospects develop. If Moses or Plouffe are eventually successful there will be the same "surprise" in some quarters.

Nick N. said...

Bad luck? And how are Boof Bonser's numbers better? Yeh, I know Bonser isn't in the rotation any more. That's the problem with inexperienced pitchers. They can look bad one day and worse the next.

It's not bad luck. Hernandez doesn't strike anyone out. He pitches to contact with slow, hittable stuff and gives up tons of line drives. Pretty much a recipe for disaster.

I said this in a post last month: "No amount of veteran moxie or guile can magically cause batters to hit line drives directly at fielders." You'd have a very hard time convincing me otherwise.

And I am sick of the argument that a guy who leads the teams in outs and wins should somehow be on the chopping block because his FIP isn't very good.

It has nothing to do with his FIP. The guy has a 5.44 ERA. Opponents are hitting .342/.368/.506 against him. That's MVP caliber!! Telling me he leads the team in outs means nothing; he's pitched the most. He also leads the team in hits allowed, runs allowed, homers allowed...

He is on the chopping block because he's not good by any measure, except maybe wins which pitchers have limited personal control over. He's given up a lot of runs, and an unspeakably high number of hits. You can dissect all you want, but he has not been a good pitcher and won't be one going forward. There's just no reason to believe this guy can be successful with any type of consistency.

TT said...

Here is what you said a month ago:

"Nevertheless, my remarks regarding Hernandez have proven prescient. He began a precipitous decline almost immediately after I made that post, ... Calls for Hernandez to be booted from the rotation have begun to surface, and indeed, that moment may not be too far off."

The day after you posted that, Hernandez started a string of four starts where he pitched 27 innings and gave up 7 earned runs. He finally had one bad outing - so now you think you are prescient again.

"It's not bad luck. Hernandez doesn't strike anyone out. He pitches to contact ... It has nothing to do with his FIP."

I thought K's were part of FIP. You keep looking at every measure except the one that matters, are the Twins winning with Hernandez on the mound.

Telling me he leads the team in outs means nothing; he's pitched the most.

He has the most starts, but only Blackburn has more outs per start among the starters and just barely.

except maybe wins which pitchers have limited personal control over.

Starting pitchers have little to do with whether a teams win or loses? I don't think anyone really believes that.

Most fans don't want players who worry about their personal stats. They want guys whose priority is winning baseball games. So far the Twins have been winning with Hernandez on the mound.

The other issue here is that, while its possible the league will never catch up with any of the Twins young pitchers, its not really likely. One of those guys is likely going to put together a stretch like Hernandez had when you declared yourself "prescient" and it won't be something they can correct. At least not this season. Hopefully, Liriano will be ready by then.

Nick N. said...

Most fans don't want players who worry about their personal stats. They want guys whose priority is winning baseball games. So far the Twins have been winning with Hernandez on the mound.

By scoring 5.67 runs per game behind him. That has NOTHING to do with his pitching ability. I'm sure that Slowey and Baker and Blackburn are just trying to rack up good stats, which is why they have put up far superior numbers to him. They have no interest in winning games whatsoever. Those young hooligans are just trying to let in fewer runs for egotistiscal purposes

You are ridiculous.

One of those guys is likely going to put together a stretch like Hernandez had when you declared yourself "prescient" and it won't be something they can correct.

If any other Twins starter (excluding Perkins, who I feel is due for some regression, but including Liriano, who I feel is ready to go) has a six-game stretch where they go 0-3 with a 9.38 ERA and with 64 hits allowed in 31 2/3 innings (which was exactly what happened with Livan before I called myself "prescient"), by all means please approach me and I will happily crown you the must ingenious human on the face of the earth. It's NOT going to happen because no Twins starter is anywhere near as bad as Livan Hernandez. Period.

Daymonster said...

TT,

With the 5.67 avg run support that Livan has recieved here is how some of the current starters would be fairing at this point of the season.

Baker 7-0 (currently 5-2)
Slowy 9-3 (currently 6-6)
Blackburn 10-1 (currently 7-4)

TT said...

"With the 5.67 avg run support that Livan has recieved here is how some of the current starters would be fairing at this point of the season."

That is one a common misuse of averages. We don't know that. You are assuming that they would have got 5.67 runs in each game (an impossibility), but if they got most of that run support in a couple of games they won anyway it would have made no difference in their record.

For instance Hernandez won his first two starts in May 11-1 and 10-1. He had a 12-3 win in Cleveland on July 4th. There you have 33 runs where he only needed an "average" of 2 runs per game to win.

What happens to his "average" run support when you take out those three games? It drops to 4.6 runs, which is about the average number of runs the Twins have scored overall. The idea Hernandez is feasting off Twins hitters is preposterous unless you are blinded by your spreadsheet.

If any other Twins starter

Slowey made a good start of it in his last outing. And Boof Bonser already had a worse stretch where he gave up 27 earned runs - plus some unearned runs in 25 innings. He's no longer in the rotation as a result. Same with Liriano.

excluding Perkins

Which, excluding Bonser and Liriano, leaves three young starters with a shot.

which was exactly what happened with Livan before I called myself "prescient"

And that demonstrates what other than that you aren't very good at analyzing results? You looked at five games and decided Hernandez was toast.

m sure that Slowey and Baker and Blackburn are just trying to rack up good stats, which is why they have put up far superior numbers to him.

I suspect you are wrong about that. That they, like Hernandez and unlike you, judge their performance by whether they give their team a chance to win.

Nick N. said...

Slowey made a good start of it in his last outing. And Boof Bonser already had a worse stretch where he gave up 27 earned runs - plus some unearned runs in 25 innings. He's no longer in the rotation as a result. Same with Liriano.

Hernandez's stretch: 33 ER (plus some unearned runs) and 64 hits over 31.2 IP in 6 starts.
Bonser's stretch: 27 ER (plus some unearned runs) on 33 hits over 25.1 IP in 5 starts.

Maybe about equal levels of poor play, except Hernandez's was over a longer stretch and he gave up way way WAY more hits. Here's the thing though: Bonser got sent to the bullpen after this stretch. And Liriano got demoted to the minors after three bad starts. These facts don't exactly support your claim for precedence that Hernandez should stay in the rotation with the way he's pitched. Slowey has had two bad starts; if that continues for four more outings then we can start comparing his ineptitude to Livan's.

I made a very specific claim (no current Twins starter will have a stretch as bad as that six-start stretch from Hernandez) and you gave me stretches from two pitchers who have been booted from the rotation and a two-start slump from a pitcher who's been very good all year. That's beyond weak and you know it.

I suspect you are wrong about that. That they, like Hernandez and unlike you, judge their performance by whether they give their team a chance to win.

A pitcher's main objective in giving his team a chance to win is to let in as few runs as possible. In order to do this, one must keep runners of the bases by limiting hits and walks. Hernandez has a fine walk rate, but he has been one of the worst in the league at limiting runs, and he's been THE worst in the league at limiting hits. You can break it down however you want, but this is the simple truth.

Your constant mantra that giving your team a chance to win and putting up good stats are mutually exclusive acts is getting tiresome.

And that demonstrates what other than that you aren't very good at analyzing results? You looked at five games and decided Hernandez was toast.

Actually, I decided he was toast when he still had a 3.90 ERA, because I don't see how any pitcher can get by throwing that kind of crap at major-league hitters. The fact that he was absolutely decimated over the next six games only confirmed what I already suspected to be true from having watched and analyzed baseball for many years. And I'm not trying to be arrogant or smug for having predicting his downfall, it was plenty clear to plenty of people that this guy is a poor pitcher.

TT said...

Your constant mantra that giving your team a chance to win and putting up good stats are mutually exclusive acts is getting tiresome.


I haven't said that. You are the one that seems to be arguing it doesn't matter whether the Twins win if his stats are bad. I don't care about Hernandez stats one way or another.

These facts don't exactly support your claim for precedence that Hernandez should stay in the rotation with the way he's pitched.

No, his performance the next four games does. I don't think that would have happened with either Bonser or Liriano. Which is why Hernandez, as a veteran, is valuable. And why those statistics did't have nearly the significance you attached to them.

In order to do this, one must keep runners of the bases by limiting hits and walks

Actually the only requirement for preventing runs is that you keep runners from crossing the plate. And you win games by allowing one fewer run than the opposing team.

And I'm not trying to be arrogant or smug for having predicting his downfall,

I would hope not, since it turned out you were wrong by any real measure. Most of us won't complain about one bad outing in five over the rest of the season. Of course we can count on a complaint after each bad outing from those who have been convinced from the start he is terrible.

Nick N. said...

I haven't said that. You are the one that seems to be arguing it doesn't matter whether the Twins win if his stats are bad. I don't care about Hernandez stats one way or another.

Statistics are widely considered to be important for a reason. They judge a player's contributions in helping his team win. You can break it down on a game-by-game basis all you want and say that Hernandez has pitched well enough to win games on many occasions this year, but I'm just not buying your assertions that Hernandez's horrible statistics do not paint a very glum outlook in spite of that glossy win total.

You seem to assume that anyone who uses statistics extensively is a big nerd who obsesses over individual performance and doesn't give a wit about team success, but that's just very wrong. We scrutinize these numbers because we realize their correlation with how a team performs.

Actually the only requirement for preventing runs is that you keep runners from crossing the plate.

Which he doesn't do very well, clearly.

I would hope not, since it turned out you were wrong by any real measure. Most of us won't complain about one bad outing in five over the rest of the season.

I don't know what measures you're using to disprove me. Since I made those statements, the Twins have lost six of Hernandez's 11 starts. Of the five games they've won, three have been on the merits of a legitimately good pitching performance. The other two were because the Twins scored a lot of runs to cover up for poor outings.

I highly doubt that we'll be dealing with "one bad outing in five over the rest of the season." Seven of his past ten starts have been what most would call bad outings. If he only throws a dud once every five outings over the rest of the season with the way he throws, I'd be astonished to say the least.

TT said...

They judge a player's contributions in helping his team win.

Statistics don't judge anything. They are just compilations of results whose meaning is often misjudged by human beings, just as you did here with run support.

We scrutinize these numbers because we realize their correlation with how a team performs.

I realize you believe that correlation and causation are the same thing. But they aren't. And I also realize that you will deny that you confuse the two, while making argument after argument that does exactly that.

Which he doesn't do very well, clearly.

Like most pitchers, he does sometimes and doesn't others. And a pitcher who does it well four times more than makes up for one bad outing, no matter how terrible.

even of his past ten starts have been what most would call bad outings.

Obviously we don't agree on what is a bad outing. Hernandez has gone 6 or more innings in all but five of his starts. Four of those happen to be in the 10 game stretch you are choosing for comparison.

Nick N. said...

I realize you believe that correlation and causation are the same thing. But they aren't. And I also realize that you will deny that you confuse the two, while making argument after argument that does exactly that.

Uh, could you expound upon this a bit? I don't see where I've confused the two in any way. Where does causation come into play here?

Like most pitchers, he does sometimes and doesn't others. And a pitcher who does it well four times more than makes up for one bad outing, no matter how terrible.

Yeah, unfortunately he doesn't do it well four times more. And his bad outings tend to be excruciatingly bad. Which is why his numbers are markedly worse than anyone else in the rotation (and almost anyone else in the league).

Obviously we don't agree on what is a bad outing. Hernandez has gone 6 or more innings in all but five of his starts. Four of those happen to be in the 10 game stretch you are choosing for comparison.

Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't realize the sole criterion for a good outing was completing six innings. I'm guessing you'll tell me that his outings against Kansas City and New York were good outings since -- despite the fact that Livan let in eight and five runs (13 hits in each game) -- the Twins won both. He was just pitching to the score, right?

Also, the 10 game stretch I am "choosing for comparison" is his most recent 10 games, which happens to be the most pertinent stretch. I could care less what he did in April while the league was still adjusting to his mid-80s soft stuff.

TT said...

his bad outings tend to be excruciatingly bad.

So what? The pitching staff gave up 18 runs against Boston, its still only one loss. And Herandez actually got better results than the other four pitchers in that game.

Which is why his numbers are markedly worse

Which, in turn, is why the numbers you are obsessed about are irrelevant. Baseball is played one game at a time. The Twins got outscored by almost 2-1 on this last road trip, they still won 3 games and lost 4.

I didn't realize the sole criterion for a good outing was completing six innings.

Its not. Its just a lot more important than how many strikeouts a pitcher gets or the rest of his FIP.

Kansas City and New York

You really are obsessed with those tow games. They are the only Hernandez starts where you can legitimately argue the Twins above average offensive production was the reason the Twins won.

Also, the 10 game stretch I am "choosing for comparison" is his most recent 10 games, which happens to be the most pertinent stretch.

The first five games are conveniently Hernandez worst stretch of the year and he has pitched well in four of the last five games. I think the last five, and the first 10 probably tell us more than that one bad stretch.

Daymonster said...

That is one a common misuse of averages. We don't know that. You are assuming that they would have got 5.67 runs in each game (an impossibility), but if they got most of that run support in a couple of games they won anyway it would have made no difference in their record.

Wow, you're right, I totally misused the average. Thank you for straightening me out. Thank you again, for explaining that 5.67 runs per game is an impossibility. Good thing the average wasn't a whole number right? Whew! That would have been interesting, I bet I then would have thought that it was a possibility. Or wait?! Was it maybe that I was using it just to give you an idea of how a pitcher can have such a terrible ERA, terrible hits per game and still have 9 wins at the all star break.

Your argument hear is a little better For instance Hernandez won his first two starts in May 11-1 and 10-1. He had a 12-3 win in Cleveland on July 4th. There you have 33 runs where he only needed an "average" of 2 runs per game to win.

Ahhh, That is a common misuse of quotes. You don't need to quote "average" there, you could have just said "average", unless you were trying to add emphasis, then maybe you should have used italics.

Either way, your argument boils down to a couple things. A) you can't use statistics to compare or rate players, performances or team as everything is decided on an individual basis and B) Pitchers are the sole determinant if a team wins or not.

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