Thursday, July 10, 2008

Not All Stormy

Before getting into yesterday's travesty of a game, I should note that I, Nick Mosvick, have finally returned to some more regular blogging duty. I recently finally purchased MLB.TV and have found time after my summer associate job during the day to watch the games. (And, even I must admit, at work sometimes.) Hopefully, I can compete with Mr. Nelson's ever-increasing fan club for the same consistent and intelligent analysis.

As for the game, things could appear from an outside analysis to be much worse than they are. After all, the Twins were swept at Fenway after a lengthy run of wins. However, while the Twins did get swept, fans shouldn't quickly forget how close the first two games were to Twins victories. And, despite getting crushed by the Boston offense yesterday, at least the Twins offense showed up for the last two games and even displayed some power.

What do the 18 runs allowed and 23 hits allowed really mean? Well, there isn't any surprise that Livan Hernandez was part of that equation, given that at different points in the season he has been on pace to give up 300 hits, which would be a first since Phil Niekro gave up 311 in 1979. (And a first since 1975 in the AL, when Twins great Jim Kaat gave up 321 for the White Sox.) Livan's starts have been an adventure for fans, to say the least, throughout the year.

No, the surprise remains the unreliability of the bullpen outside of stalwart Joe Nathan. Now, my fellow blogger has already covered this subject, as well as Aaron Gleeman yesterday, so there is no need to push anymore the failures of Gardy to use the best bullpen piece. Even in years past, as the Twins fans have gotten used to have a reliable bullpen, Gardy's tendency to under-use Nathan was not always hurtful when he had the human "panic button" Pat Neshek available to mop up eighth inning problems. (Or 2004-version Juan Rincon.)

This year, however, the bullpen quickly lost its iron horse eighth-inning man when Neshek went down early for the year. After this series, it's hard to trust any reliever outside of Jesse Crain. The first two games of the series seemed to point to the fact that Brian Bass is clearly the worst reliever in the 'pen. Yesterday only added to that proposition, as Bass came in in the seventh to allow six hits and give up five runs in just 1 1/3 innings. You can decide for yourself what is an uglier number: the 5.27 ERA, the 1.60 WHIP, the .323 OBA, or the 18/25 B/KK ratio in 56 1/3 innings.

That last number is probably the most disturbing; despite being clearly the worst pitcher in the bullpen, Bass is on the pace to end up with the most innings by far and that reflects him being used as more than just a mop-up man (though he was yesterday) as well as it does the fact that he is on pace for 99 innings and Nathan for only 64. Those numbers should be a little closer, don't you think?

Of course, Bass is an easy target. Boof Bonser, Craig Breslow, and Dennys Reyes all gave up runs out of the 'pen yesterday as well. All told, the bullpen pitched six innings while giving up a whopping 20 hits and 17 runs in the series. Crain is the only pitcher out of the bullpen not to give up a run during the series, though he did allow an inherited runner to score in Monday's loss.

All told, the Twins and Gardy need to start to consider changing their bullpen if they can no longer rely on their bullpen the way they once could. Granted, one bad series doesn't say it all, but Matt Guerrier, Reyes, Bonser, Breslow, and of course Bass have all looked shaky and tentative. At this point, Gardy only has more evidence before him that he needs to be more aggressive in his use of Nathan, and Crain should likely be used more often in the set-up role or at least be given opportunities equal to that of Guerrier.

Once again, it's not all bad for fans. As mentioned, the team did score five runs each of the last two games and key hitters like Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, and Jason Kubel all had a good series. However, the team cannot suffer anymore losses from bullpen failure in the key road series before the break in Detroit this weekend. The team and Gardy need to have learn some lessons from what was not a total loss of a sweep.

20 comments:

Ted said...

With regard to games 1 and 2 you would think that Gardenhire didn't want to face Papelbon in the 9th with the Sox having the lead. Given that, why not bring Nathan in in the 8th inning in an attempt to 1) keep the lead/tie and therefore 2) face someone other than Papelborn and have a better chance of getting another run or two in the 9th? Presumably Francona doesn't want to use Papelborn unless the Sox are in the lead or are tied. At worst, you'd be facing Papelborn with a tie score.

I'd rather be trying to keep a lead in the bottom of the 9th even with someone other than Nathan than being forced to score in the top of the 9th against someone like Papelbon.

MTCW

TT said...

Those numbers should be a little closer, don't you think?

No, they shouldn't be closer. If they were, Nathan would not be nearly as effective.

And Bass is not clearly the worst reliever. In fact, he had been very effective for three or four weeks up until two days ago. Which is probably why he was in there.

And yesterday's performance by the bullpen is largely irrelevant. With the Twins behind by 5+ runs late in game, the bullpen's job was to throw pitches over the plate and let the defense catch the results. Which is why the entire bullpen got poor results. They didn't want to win any 12 pitch battles with hitters. They wanted them to hit the ball.

There are 162 games in the year. The results from a single game or series tells you almost nothing about how the bullpen should be managed.

Gardy doesn't really have a setup guy he can completely trust. Right now, the ranking in terms of reliability would probably be Crain, Guerrier, Reyes, Bass, Bonser. Breslow is a wild card since he hasn't really pitched enough for anyone to know what they have. My guess is that order will change several times before the end of the season. I think Bonser could end up the best of the bunch once he gets used to relieving.

Nick N. said...

And Bass is not clearly the worst reliever. In fact, he had been very effective for three or four weeks up until two days ago. Which is probably why he was in there.

I'm not buying this. The only way you can make an argument that Bass has not been the worst reliever in the bullpen all season (outside of maybe Rincon) is by looking strictly at ERA, which is not a particularly good measure of a reliever's effectiveness. All year long, Bass has been hittable, homer-prone, and not particularly good at throwing strikes. He put up decent numbers over a few weeks? Fine, bad relievers are bound to have stretches of decent play. Rincon posted a 2.76 ERA over 16 appearances from April 3 through May 19 -- a few weeks later he was off the team. Bass almost always pitches in extremely low-leverage situations, so I'm not buying that a stretch of like 10 good outings is meaningful in any way.

And just using your eyes as a baseball fan, come on. Bass clearly has the worst stuff of any member of the bullpen, and his unimpressive track record doesn't instill hope that he'll improve.

I think Bonser could end up the best of the bunch once he gets used to relieving.

Or when he stops being incredibly unlucky. Bonser's BABIP since becoming a reliever is an astonishing .510. .510!!! Literally over half the balls being put in play against him are falling in for hits. That is absurd.

Nick M. said...

I think I should clarify what I mean by being closer in numbers. Nathan is on pace for only 64 innings this year. For comparison's sake, other great closers are on pace for around 10 more innings than that. Rivera is on pace for 72, Kerry Wood for 77, and Francisco Rodriguez for 69. Really, I don't think its absurd to suggest that Nathan should be used a little more often and bring that estimated number to around 70 innings. He did that his first year with the team and if I recall, he seemed to perform just fine. The point is, when in a situation like the one on Monday, it makes me sense to give that one inning to Nathan and reduce some of those given to Bass. He should never been in any high-leverage situations, as he has proven that he gets smacked around no matter what the leverage is.

Anonymous said...

Welcome back Nick!

You were actually ma' fav' Nick anyway ( so is the other one)

Mick

Nick N. said...

You were actually ma' fav' Nick anyway ( so is the other one)

Well played, sir.

Twins Fix said...

Glad to have you back, Nick! I think Nelson was overly stressed, he appreciates your return, too.

Kidding!

Nick M. said...

Nelson was clearly breaking down in the dog days of summer. A free agent signing or a pickup off the waiver wire was necessary.

TT said...

He put up decent numbers over a few weeks? Fine, bad relievers are bound to have stretches of decent play.

And good relievers are likely to have bad stretches. What is your point? Bass has pitched in the major leagues less than three months and you want to dismiss the most current month based on the earlier two?

Bass clearly has the worst stuff of any member of the bullpen,

Pitching is mostly about location, not stuff.

Or when he stops being incredibly unlucky.

That wasn't bad luck. It was bad pitching which would have put him back in the minor leagues if he had any options left.

I don't think its absurd to suggest that Nathan should be used a little more often and bring that estimated number to around 70 innings.

If the Twins had more save situations he would have pitched more and if they create more save situations over the second half, he will reach that number. It has nothing to do with how he should be used. You can't predict exactly how many save opportunities there are going to be.

The point is, when in a situation like the one on Monday, it makes me sense to give that one inning to Nathan and reduce some of those given to Bass.

Apparently a point that is lost on virtually every major league manager. Regardless of whether Bass was the best choice, Gardy would have had no business sticking Nathan into a tie game for two innings with no guarantee he wouldn't have to turn to other pitchers after that.

e did that his first year with the team and if I recall, he seemed to perform just fine.

You really have blocked out that World Series game in New York haven't you? Just one more inning ...

Nick M. said...

World Series game? I think you mean divisional series. No, I didn't forget. But, if I recall, he pitched two innings and then was kept in.

http://www.retrosheet.org/boxesetc/2004/B10060NYA2004.htm

Yep. He was successful for 2 1/3 innings before he started having troubles. So, that really doesn't add to your point about an extra inning here and there.

Obviously, I'm not referring to just save situations to get him more work. No, to high leverage situations in general. Occassionally, because we don't have a great eight inning guy, Nathan can act as his own set-up man. Most major league managers wouldn't do this if they didn't need to because they might have an set-up guy they can rely on. (A Carlos Mamol type)

As to your other points, its highly dubious to make a claim like pitching is mostly about location and not stuff. Clearly, context matters and often stuff does matter. If you can throw 98, you can get away with high fastballs and even be successful, but not if you throw 91-93 with no movement. (A la Bass) The ability to locate and have great stuff is what almost by definition makes a great pitcher. Having location with little stuff means you are always on the edge. Bass does not have very much for stuff and if you watched any of the last few games, he doesn't have much location either. So, from any angle, Bass is the worst pitcher on the staff and the argument is mute.

As for luck, Bonser has clearly been unlucky, but Mr. Nelson has already given stats to show those besides his FIP numbers. So, if the stats don't convince you, I'll leave you with your observations.

Nick N. said...

And good relievers are likely to have bad stretches. What is your point? Bass has pitched in the major leagues less than three months and you want to dismiss the most current month based on the earlier two?

Bass ain't a good pitcher. I think that's painfully clear and arguing otherwise is pretty silly.

Pitching is mostly about location, not stuff.

A shame then, that Bass excels in neither category.

That wasn't bad luck. It was bad pitching which would have put him back in the minor leagues if he had any options left.

Pitcher's don't have a whole lot control over whether balls put into play turn into outs. This has been researched and written about extensively. Obviously, ground ball pitchers will get more outs on balls in play than fly ball pitchers, but mostly the results are due to defensive proficiency and luck. Which is why I find fielding independent pitching statistics to be useful (though obviously you disagree).

Gardy would have had no business sticking Nathan into a tie game for two innings with no guarantee he wouldn't have to turn to other pitchers after that.

When a game is tied, the objective is to keep it tied so that your offense can do what is needed to win. The smart choice is to do whatever you can to keep it tied, worry about later innings once they arrive. Maybe Nathan gets through that eighth inning on 10 pitches and can throw the ninth as well. Maybe he needs 30 and you have to go to Crain. Maybe he gives up a run. At least you can say you went down with your best pitcher on the hill. Plus, if Nathan keeps the game tied, you probably keep Papelbon out of the game for longer.

You really have blocked out that World Series game in New York haven't you? Just one more inning ...

The Twins played a World Series game in New York? Must have missed that.

There's a big difference between asking a first-year closer to pitch three innings in a playoff game and asking an experienced closer to pitch outside of the ninth inning in a regular season game.

TT said...

No, to high leverage situations in general.

If you consistently stick him into tie games in the 8th inning, he is going to get a lot more than 70 innings over the course of the year.

If you can throw 98, you can get away with high fastballs and even be successful

There are plenty of guys who throw 98 mph who never even reach the big leagues and plenty that can reach 98 but can't locate their fastball at that speed. Yeh - stuff helps. But it doesn't determine who is a good pitcher.

if the stats don't convince you

That stats convince me that he has been unsuccessful. That has nothing to do with "bad luck". Its not that Bonser is giving up a lot of hits on weak ground balls. Observation says the ball is getting laced all over the field.

f you watched any of the last few games

Its amazing how much can be determined from two recent games, but nothing can be learned from a full month of June when Bass had a WHIP near 9.

There's a big difference between asking a first-year closer to pitch three innings in a playoff game and asking an experienced closer to pitch outside of the ninth inning in a regular season game.

You are right. The first makes sense, the other doesn't.

This has been researched and written about extensively.

And completely debunked, are people STILL repeating that garbage? The fact is pitchers who don't limit hits on balls in play have very short major league careers.

mostly the results are due to defensive proficiency

Which should mean pitchers on the same team will all get the same results on batted balls. They don't. Not even close. Of course, that's just bad luck ...

When a game is tied, the objective is to keep it tied so that your offense can do what is needed to win. The smart choice is to do whatever you can to keep it tied

Bad managers manage the bullpen around winning a single game. But then most fans would make terrible managers.

if Nathan keeps the game tied, you probably keep Papelbon out of the game for longer.

Only if the manager decides not to use him at all. A lot of managers will use their closer in a tie game in the top of the ninth. He sure isn't going to get used to protect a lead at that point.

Bass ain't a good pitcher. I think that's painfully clear and arguing otherwise is pretty silly.

Painfully clear to you, but not to those "silly" Twins apparently. Bass is certainly not the most talented or exciting Twins pitcher. But he has done a pretty good job which is why he is still pitching in the major leagues.

Anonymous said...

Simple solution is to bring up Liriano and let him pitch out of the bullpen--do the Marmol thing this year--let him start next year. Good-bye Bass

Nick N. said...

You are right. The first makes sense, the other doesn't.

Using your best reliever outside of the ninth inning doesn't make sense. OK. That's not the least bit closed-minded.

And really, you're defending Gardy's decision to send Nathan out for a third inning when he was visibly gassed in spite of the fact that he had Jesse Crain -- who'd been very good after a late-season call-up and J.C. Romero fresh in the bullpen?

And completely debunked, are people STILL repeating that garbage? The fact is pitchers who don't limit hits on balls in play have very short major league careers.

Where has this been effectively debunked? I don't buy the notion that pitcher's have NO control over whether or not balls put in play against them turn into hits, but I certainly don't believe Bonser can be fully blamed for 50 percent of balls put in play dropping in for hits against him. Or when Jacoby Ellsbury gets credited for a double because Jason Kubel blatantly dropped a routine fly ball in right field. Those have been the breaks for Boof this season.

Which should mean pitchers on the same team will all get the same results on batted balls. They don't. Not even close. Of course, that's just bad luck ...

No, it's called variance.

Bad managers manage the bullpen around winning a single game. But then most fans would make terrible managers.

The objective of any good manager is do everything within reason to win every game. Having Nathan pitch the eighth inning of a tie game rather than saving him for a save opportunity that never materializes, then offset the usage by having another pitcher grab a cushy save with a three-run lead at some other point, is not going to have any long-term ill effect on Nathan. Use your best run preventer when you most need to prevent a single run. Simple.

Painfully clear to you, but not to those "silly" Twins apparently. Bass is certainly not the most talented or exciting Twins pitcher. But he has done a pretty good job which is why he is still pitching in the major leagues.

Yes, because the Twins would never keep a pitcher on their roster who is not major-league caliber. Livan Hernandez has "done a pretty good job" as well, I must say...

Twins Fix said...

Nelson was clearly breaking down in the dog days of summer. A free agent signing or a pickup off the waiver wire was necessary.

Would you mind transferring to the Twins? I'm sure Nelson would understand.

TT said...

Using your best reliever outside of the ninth inning doesn't make sense. OK. That's not the least bit closed-minded.

Actually that isn't what we are discussing. The question is whether to bring your closer into a game before the ninth inning when you don't have a lead. And that doesn't ususally make sense. There is nothing "closed minded" about having a rational plan for how you use your bullpen and sticking to it.

And really, you're defending Gardy's decision to send Nathan out for a third inning ...

Yes.

Where has this been effectively debunked?

A dozen different places. That article still being there is a good reason to ignore Baseball Prospectus.

Or when Jacoby Ellsbury gets credited for a double because Jason Kubel blatantly dropped a routine fly ball in right field.

Or when Span chases down a ball hard hit ball that should have gone for a hit, but didn't. Yeh, fielders matter. That still doesn't say that a guy who is giving up lots of hits doesn't have any control over it or that it is just bad luck.

Which is not to say that there isn't luck in baseball. There clearly is and it doesn't always even out over the course of a season, much less half a season. But Bonser's problem has been that hitters are hammering him, not that they are getting lucky.

I don't buy the notion that pitcher's have NO control over whether or not balls put in play against them turn into hits

Then why are you siting an article by someone who makes exactly that claim? He is only a little full of BS, not completely full of it?


No, it's called variance.


Yep, variance in the performance of the pitchers involved. There is no evidence that it is just random chance.


The objective of any good manager is do everything within reason to win every game.


No, its not. The objective of the manager is to win as many games as possible over the course of the season. That's why Joe Mauer sits out some games. That's why bullpen's have to be managed for the long haul, not one game at a time.

Livan Hernandez has "done a pretty good job" as well, I must say...

He certainly has. He leads the team getting outs for instance and the Twins are 13-7 in games he has started. He has certainly scuffled in some games. He has four losses where he has given up 27 of his 73 total earned runs. But he has also given the team a chance to win the rest of the time. He's not an ace, but the Twins don't have one.

Nick N. said...

But Bonser's problem has been that hitters are hammering him, not that they are getting lucky.

If that's the case, why isn't he giving up home runs at the staggering rate of your buddy Bass? Why are opponents only slugging .437 against him? (As opposed to .519 for Bass, .506 for Hernandez -- heck, .479 for Perkins.)

Then why are you siting an article by someone who makes exactly that claim? He is only a little full of BS, not completely full of it?

I think he exaggerated his point in order to make waves, but his the core concept of his claim is very valid.

He certainly has. He leads the team getting outs for instance and the Twins are 13-7 in games he has started. He has certainly scuffled in some games. He has four losses where he has given up 27 of his 73 total earned runs. But he has also given the team a chance to win the rest of the time. He's not an ace, but the Twins don't have one.

The Twins have averaged 5.67 runs behind him. I'm sure that's just his veteran-ness propelling the offense to succeed. He's given up a ton of runs and a TON of hits this season, but the Twins have been fortunate enough to have the runs distributed in a manner that has allowed them to win 13 of his starts. That's extremely unlikely to continue. In fact it's already starting to go south... he's got a 7.36 ERA over his past 10 starts and has allowed 5+ runs in six of those. Opposing hitters are batting .380 against him during that span. How that can be judged as "certainly" doing a "pretty good job" is beyond me.

TT said...

hy are opponents only slugging .437 against him? (As opposed to .519 for Bass, .506 for Hernandez -- heck, .479 for Perkins.)

That's pretty funny Nick. The answer is because Bonser only had a .290 BABIP as a starter. Its as a reliever where he has been getting pounded and his BABIP is .510. And as a reliever his SLG is .514.

the core concept of his claim is very valid.

If you look at the actual numbers its total BS. There is a huge difference between pitchers' career BABIP. You might as well argue ERA's are entirely random.

the Twins have been fortunate enough to have the runs distributed in a manner that has allowed them to win 13 of his starts.

A believer in the random distribution of runs too huh? You probably think it was a random accident the other night when both starters had shutouts going.

The Twins have only scored 19 runs in the seven games they have lost with him on the mound. The Twins aren't losing many games because of Hernandez.

I'm sure that's just his veteran-ness propelling the offense to succeed.

Then you really are idiotic. But there is no doubt that Hernandez, like most successful athletes, turns it up a notch when the game is on the line. Is there some reason to think he might not be more successful at it than his opponents?

ow that can be judged as "certainly" doing a "pretty good job" is beyond me.

I would agree except you are counting only half the games he has pitched. You managed to include the bad stretch of five games in that ten. If you look at the last five games, he's only given up 15 earned runs in 41 innings and that includes the recent 4 inning 6 earned run debacle. In other words he gave up 9 runs over 36 innings in the four games before that and won three of them.

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