Friday, May 29, 2009

Big Ball

Those who follow the Twins are undoubtedly aware that this is a team that has long prided itself on playing "small ball." You'll often hear the manager and members of the front office talk about "manufacturing runs"; moving players around the bases with things like sacrifice bunts, hit-and-runs and situational hits.

Last year, the Twins managed to rank third in the American League in runs scored despite ranking dead last in homers with 111 and fifth-to-last in team slugging percentage. While members of the Twins brain-trust might try and convince you that this is an example of successful small ball in action, the fact is that the Twins' high run total was buoyed by a ridiculous .305 batting average with runners in scoring position that would be nearly impossible to replicate. It seemed clear to most observers that the Twins would be in for a serious regression in runs scored unless they could start hitting for more power.

Sure enough, the performance of Twins hitters with runners in scoring position has come back to Earth in a major way, dropping by over 20 points over the first two months of the 2009 season. Yet, the Twins have still managed to rank in the top half of the AL in runs per game, with 5.28 (a substantial increase over their 5.09 average last year). The reason is pretty clear: the long ball.

Entering play yesterday, only three teams in the American League had hit more home runs than the Twins. This bears repeating, because it is almost hard to believe for longtime followers of this team. We're through nearly two months of the season, and the Minnesota Twins rank fourth in the AL in home runs. They have hit a total of 55 home runs. Twenty-one of those have come with runners on base, and four have come with the bases loaded.

Members of the Twins front office can drone on all they want about the value of small ball and manufacturing runs, but there's no question that multi-run homers are the quickest way to put runs on the board in a hurry. Down by multiple runs late in a game, it used to be that the Twins would have to rely on stringing together a prolonged rally with several consecutive hits. Now that over half the lineup represents a credible home run threat, they're able to make up late deficits with a swing of the bat.

Tuesday night's game presents a great example of the value of the long ball. The Twins were going against a tough pitcher in Jon Lester who they weren't likely to get a ton of hits against. After falling behind 1-0 in the top of the fifth, the Twins managed to scrape a couple runs across in the bottom half to gain a slim lead. When Justin Morneau followed with a laser beam down the right field line that cleared the baggy for a three-run homer, the Twins suddenly had a comfortable four-run cushion, which they protected rather easily en route to a victory. The night before, Joe Mauer turned a seemingly insurmountable three-run deficit against Jonathan Papelbon to a one-run deficit with a homer to right field; under past circumstances, the Twins would have likely needed a lengthy rally against the elite reliever to get even the two runs across and make a game out of it.

Here in its last year as their home stadium, the Twins are turning the Metrodome back into the "Homerdome," a moniker which has seemed misplaced over the past several years. When it comes to scoring runs, that's no small thing.


On a final note, I received an email from someone named Paul Paquette last night with the following message: "Hey check out my song about Kirby Puckett and a turkey bucket." Naturally, this piqued my interest. After listening to it, I feel it's my duty to share with you the link to this wonderful work of musical genius. Here's the link. Have a good weekend.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Growing Leery

Coming into this season, expectations were high for Francisco Liriano. Last year, in his first season back from Tommy John surgery, his early struggles were perfectly excusable given that he'd missed a full season and was learning to pitch with a reconstructed ligament in his elbow. After a brief (and brutal) early-season stint with the Twins, Liriano went back to Triple-A, where he eventually went on an impressive tear, earning a recall and subsequently becoming one of the American League's best pitchers in the second half. While he wasn't quite the dominator we came to love in 2006, Liriano appeared to have everything figured out in the second half last year, when he went 6-1 with a 2.74 ERA and 60-to-19 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 65 2/3 innings. We had every reason to believe he'd be an anchor in the Twins' 2009 rotation.

Yet, that hasn't happened. Through 10 starts, Liriano is 2-6 with a 6.42 ERA and 1.55 WHIP. And it's awfully tough to pinpoint the source of his struggles.

Liriano's projected partner at the top of the Twins' rotation, Scott Baker, got his season off to a rather horrid start as well. Yet, Baker missed much of spring training with a shoulder injury, so his early struggles at least excusable, particularly considering that he now seems to pulling things together. For Liriano, we're running out of explanations. As much as one would like to pass off his poor performance as a slow start, we're now almost two months of the season and he's shown no real signs of getting things turned around as his last two starts have been among his worst. Liriano's slider has looked good and he's still missing bats at a reasonable rate, but he's giving up too many hits, issuing too many walks and coughing up way too many homers. Perhaps the most concerning aspect of his performance is that he's shown no signs of returning to the ground ball machine he once was; quite the contrary. His 36.1 percent GB rate this year ranks him among the most fly ball heavy pitchers in the league.

Liriano's problems don't seem to stem from a lack of "stuff," his pitch speed averages are all actually up a tick from last year and anyone who's watched him pitch will likely agree that his slider has looked nasty at times. He's struggled with his command a bit, but even that does not fully explain his ineffectiveness; in his last start, he surrendered five runs on 11 hits over four innings without issuing a walk.

Being that we're this deep into the season and Liriano is essentially the biggest concern in the rotation, it's natural for fans to wonder whether he should be demoted -- either to the bullpen or Triple-A. One might note that a trip down Rochester got Liriano on track last year and led to his outstanding second half. My personal opinion is that the best course of action at present is for Liriano to stay in the rotation and keep working with Rick Anderson. Hopefully they can work together and solve the problems that are dragging down his performance. There's no denying, though, that if these issues persist for much longer, the Twins will have to make a move.

It may already be too late for Liriano to achieve the types of numbers we'd hoped to see from him this season. Yet, if he can find a groove and get going on a hot streak -- as he's done many times in the past -- he can still be a driving force in this team's success. Let's hope he can get things figured out.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Bottoming Out

Circumstances put the Twins in a tough position yesterday. With Joe Mauer needing a day to rest, Denard Span dealing with illness and Joe Crede nursing a swollen hand, Ron Gardenhire had little choice but to put out one of the weakest Twins lineups you'll see all year in the team's series opener against the Red Sox. This lineup included Carlos Gomez and Matt Tolbert in the No. 1 and 2 spots, and a bottom third of the lineup featuring Mike Redmond, Delmon Young and Nick Punto. 

In spite of the brutal lineup and another poor outing from starter Francisco Liriano, the Twins still managed to play a competitive game with the AL East-leading Red Sox, ultimately falling 6-5. R.A. Dickey deserves credit for delivering four innings of one-run ball in relief of Liriano to keep the game within reach, and Gomez chipped in a pair of terrific defensive plays to help out the pitching staff. 

Meanwhile, Michael Cuddyer, Jason Kubel, Justin Morneau and Mauer all came through with big run-scoring hits as the Twins worked to make up the big deficit stuck to them by Liriano. Of course, it's hardly surprising that those four would come up with key hits; the problem was that the rest of the lineup could do very little to pitch in. Delmon Young went 0-for-4 and has gone 0-for-8 with six strikeouts since returning to the team. He's now hitting a miserable .253/.296/.297 with a 28-to-4 strikeout-to-walk ratio and two extra-base hits in 98 plate appearances, making it nearly impossible to justify his presence in the lineup on anything close to a regular basis. Nick Punto and Matt Tolbert have both been absolutely dreadful with the bat and are showing no real signs of improvement, leading one to believe that the team simply must make a move to get some sort of production out of the middle-infield spots. Whether that means finding someone in the minors who can help -- be it Alexi Casilla, Steve Tolleson, Luke Hughes or someone else -- or scavenging the trade market for a piece that could be acquired, there's no way Gardenhire can continue to trot out both Tolbert and Punto while they're hitting like this, regardless of how scrappy they are. It's not exactly worthwhile to continue to expounding on the team's failure to acquire an Orlando Hudson or Mark DeRosa on the cheap during the offseason, but the lack of foresight displayed by Bill Smith and Co. is becoming an increasingly large black mark.

I wrote yesterday about the premium quality of the top half of the Twins lineup, and it's unfair to expect the bottom half to mirror that type of production, but these guys have been gigantic liabilities and are showing no discernible signs of improvement. Those who read this blog back in 2007 may recall that I had a "Bottom of the Barrel" feature on the sidebar that summer that tracked the dreadful performance of the bottom third of the Twins' lineup (which, at that point, generally consisted of Rondell White, Nick Punto and Jason Tyner), and this current group seems to beckon a revival of that feature. Hopefully some of these guys can get their bats going or the Twins can make a move to improve this portion of the lineup so that won't be necessary.

Monday, May 25, 2009


The Twins were lucky to finish the month of April with a .500 record after posting one of the worst run differentials in baseball thanks to numerous blowout losses. Even as of May 20, they'd been outscored by opponents 220-195, indicating that there was nothing particularly unlucky about their 18-23 record.

After outscoring the White Sox and Brewers 40-9 in their past four victories, the Twins are now actually under-performing their Pythagorean W/L record of 24-21. And while I certainly don't expect the Twins to continue averaging over 10 runs per game as they have over the past four, this offense is looking legitimate and giving plenty of reason for optimism.

Few lineups in baseball can boast a 1-5 as strong as the Twins. Denard Span has been a prototypical leadoff guy, hitting for a great average and a terrific OBP while chipping in some occasional power and stealing bases. Joe Mauer has been otherworldly. Justin Morneau is having an absolutely monstrous season. Michael Cuddyer looks locked in. Jason Kubel's breakout campaign is going somewhat unnoticed only because of what these other guys are doing.

Many of these players have inflated batting averages and will probably see their numbers come down in time. Morneau and Kubel are unlikely to maintain averages around .340, and Cuddyer is probably not a .290 hitter. Still, the power is real and these guys can hit. The Twins currently rank among the top half of AL teams in home runs, which is almost unheard of. The increase in power has allowed them to maintain a solid run-scoring rate despite a huge drop-off in production with runners in scoring position, which negates the arguments from those who claimed that this offense would drown once its lucky situational hitting came back to Earth (Keith Law, I'm looking in your direction). The fact of the matter is that the top half of this lineup features a bunch of great hitters that can hold up against any group in the league.

While there's certainly a drop-off in the bottom half of the lineup, the 6-9 hitters seem capable of at least holding their own. Joe Crede has been an OBP sinkhole, as expected, but he's shown enough pop to justify his spot in the lineup when his outstanding defense is taken into account. Carlos Gomez is still struggling but is taking better at-bats and has a .340 on-base percentage since the beginning of May. Brendan Harris is capable of providing solid offense for a middle-infield spot.

The lineup is in very good shape, so oddly the Twins find themselves in a position of worrying more about their pitching than their offense (how often have we said that over the past decade?). The starting pitching has been good over the past several days, and the two weakest links in the rotation thus far -- Scott Baker and Francisco Liriano -- are the guys who were viewed as the top two starters entering the season. Given their track records and talent levels, there's really not any reason to believe both of those pitchers won't drastically improve their performance going forward. Baker seemed to take the first step last night.

With a productive young offense and a rotation that seems likely to improve going forward, the Twins appear to be in awfully good shape going forward, even if their record still sits a game below .500 at present.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Notes and Links

I've been a bit light on posting this week, but it's awfully hard to motivate myself to write up posts in the wake of all these depressing losses. Today, I'll just share a variety of Twins-related notes and links...

* Yesterday, the Twins announced that they have called up 23-year-old pitching prospect Anthony Swarzak. With Glen Perkins on the disabled list, Swarzak will get the nod on Saturday night when the Twins square off against the Brewers.

Swarzak is an interesting case; he was awful in Class-AA New Britain last year, posting a 5.67 ERA and 1.60 WHIP while allowing opposing batters to hit .304 against him over 20 starts. Oddly enough, he was promoted to Class-AAA Rochester late in the season and he was lights out there, going 5-0 with a 1.80 ERA, 1.22 WHIP and .243 BAA in seven starts. The late hot streak seemed flukish to me, so I left Swarzak out of my preseason Top Ten Twins Prospects list.

As it turns out, that may have been a mistake. This season, Swarzak has essentially picked up right where he left off in Rochester, posting a 2.25 ERA, 1.16 WHIP and 32-to-11 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 44 innings while surrendering only one homer and holding opponents to a .248 batting average. He has earned this call-up and I'm excited to see what he can do against Milwaukee on Saturday.

* In order to make room for Swarzak, the Twins waived lefty reliever Craig Breslow, who was quickly claimed by the Athletics. This move was both surprising and unsurprising. Surprising because I figured the Twins would give Breslow more time to get his control in check after performing so well last year, and because he looked pretty good in his appearance on Tuesday night. Unsurprising because the Twins have little patience with pitchers who can't throw strikes, and because the team seems confident in Sean Henn's ability to emerge as a solid lefty specialist in this bullpen.

Breslow was the first victim the team's attempts to upgrade its inadequate bullpen, but it's highly unlikely that he'll be the last.

* I was thinking about writing up an article discussing the improved plate approach Carlos Gomez has displayed over the past couple weeks, but our friend Parker at Over The Baggy has already got it covered with an excellent statistical breakdown of Gomez's and Delmon Young's performances at the plate so far this season.

* On a serious note, I would like to send my deep and sincere condolences to the Young family, who lost a mother this week. I know all too well the pain associated with losing close family members to cancer, and I wish Delmon the best as he tries to cope with this difficult situation.

* Torii Hunter: always a class act.

* A new blog that's definitely worth checking out is Minnesota Twins Examiner. Lots of well-written game recaps coupled with quality analysis.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Tough Pill to Swallow

That series against the Yankees was a tough one. Not just because the Twins went into New York and lost, as usual, but more so because I can't even really complain about it.

As a fan, I find it difficult to be enraged by the events that transpired during this series. The Twins were beaten in all four games against the Yankees, but you'd be hard-pressed to claim that they were completely outplayed or out-managed throughout the series. On Friday night, the Twins handed a ninth-inning lead to their usually reliable closer, only to see Joe Nathan lose the game. On Saturday and Sunday, the Twins battled into extra innings before ultimately succumbing to the Yankee power bats. Last night, the Twins fought back from a big early deficit but came up just short.

The fact of the matter is that the Twins battled hard all weekend and simply came up a little short four times. This wasn't a big-money East Coast team dominating the poor, cash-strapped midwest club; no, the Twins played neck-and-neck with the Yankees throughout the series. That the Twins came out on the wrong end of four excellent baseball games is bound to dim the excitement of fans up here in Minnesota, but these Twins do deserve credit for going into Yankee Stadium and playing some good, competitive baseball. They got great starting pitching, made some astounding defensive plays and hit the ball well, but unfortunately some bullpen lapses and a dreadful inability to capitalize on scoring opportunities sends them away from The Big Apple without a win. Them's the breaks.

I'm just satisfied that the Twins at least provided the fans with a bunch of very entertaining and closely fought losses over the past four days. Although these games may ultimately be more heartbreaking than blowout losses where the outcome is essentially decided early on (a type of game the Twins were on the wrong side of far too often over the first several weeks of the season), these games are far more compelling and entertaining.

A few notes on the bullpen and that bum the Twins keep trotting out at catcher...

* The Twins appear to be on the verge of making a move to upgrade their pitiful bullpen. Unfortunately, it doesn't appear that either Anthony Slama or Rob Delaney -- the Twins' duo of outstanding right-handed relievers currently with Class-AA New Britain -- will be making the jump to the majors any time soon. Slama has made 17 appearances for the Rock Cats, posting a 1.69 ERA and 33-to-14 strikeout-to-walk ratio while allowing just 13 hits in 21 1/3 innings of work. He's rattled off five straight scoreless outings. Delaney, in his 20 appearances, has posted a 2.22 ERA and 31-to-4 strikeout-to-walk ratio while allowing 25 hits in 28 1/3 innings. He has also gone five straight outings without allowing a run. The two have combined to allow just two home runs in 49 2/3 innings, which sounds appealing after watching Twins relievers cough up walk-off homers in back-to-back games over the weekend.

In spite of the gaudy stats posted by these two relievers, the Twins (specifically Terry Ryan) don't seem to believe that they are "quite ready." It's tough to blame a scout for questioning whether either reliever is ready for a clean transition to the major leagues given that both are still in Double-A; of course, both should have started this season in Triple-A to begin with. The organization's astoundingly conservative handling of these prospects (neither of whom are particularly young) dating back to last year is really starting to haunt.

* Instead of Slama and Delaney, the Twins are apparently eyeing Sean Henn and Bobby Keppel, a pair of veteran relievers currently pitching for Class-AAA Rochester, as options for the big-league bullpen. While I think it's sad if the Twins actually view Keppel -- who the previously linked Star Tribune article refers to as a "hard-throwing righthander" in spite of the sub-90s fastball velocity he's shown during his time in the majors and his horrible minor-league strikeout rates -- as a guy who can legitimately help this bullpen, Henn is a bit more intriguing. While Keppel's 2.61 ERA in 13 appearances isn't buoyed by any remotely impressive peripheral numbers (he's walked more batters than he's struck out and he's allowed about a hit per inning), Henn has posted a 1.13 ERA and 32-to-10 strikeout-to-walk ratio while allowing only 17 hits in 24 innings.

Fans might be a little skeptical of Henn's ability to actually contribute given that he's already 28 and has posted a 7.56 ERA, 2.04 WHIP and 47/52 K/BB ratio in 66 2/3 innings of major-league work over the course of his career. It's worth noting, though, that when the Twins brought in Dennys Reyes, he was a 28-year-old with a 4.80 ERA, 1.63 WHIP and 474/305 K/BB ratio over 519 2/3 major-league innings. Henn's big-league stats are obviously worse than Reyes' were, but it's over a much smaller sample size, and the two had similar minor-league track records. That the Twins were able to squeeze three productive years out of Reyes should at least motivate people to give the team the benefit of the doubt when it comes to Henn.

Unfortunately, even if things go well, Henn doesn't appear capable of becoming anything more than a solid lefty specialist, in the same mold as Reyes. This bullpen needs more of a boost than he's likely to provide.

[UPDATE: Just after posting this I learned that the Twins have called up Henn to take the roster spot of Glen Perkins, who is headed to the disabled list with elbow inflammation.]

* The Twins have wasted little time in moving Joe Mauer back into regular duty. Since returning from the disabled list on May 1, Mauer has started all but two of the Twins' 17 games and appeared in all but one of them. That may not be ideal, given that he's working back from a troublesome injury, but his impact has been so significant that it's awfully hard for Ron Gardenhire to keep his name out of the lineup. Since returning, Mauer has gone 25-for-60 (.417) with six homers, three doubles, 17 RBI and a 7-to-13 strikeout-to-walk ratio. That's a pretty amazing hot streak, particularly from a guy who's shown so little power in the past. That the Twins have averaged 5.6 runs since Mauer's return after averaging just 4.4 runs during the month of April is hardly surprising.

Friday, May 15, 2009

The Defense Rests

Since yesterday's game wasn't televised and took place during the workday, my guess is that most fans didn't get a chance to see the action and ended up piecing together information about the 6-5 victory through the box score. A cursory look at the stat sheet indicates that Scott Baker once again hit a wall after pitching several strong innings; this time, Baker held the Tigers scoreless while facing the minimum over the first five innings before getting tagged for five runs in the sixth. Yet, a deeper glance at what actually took place gives us another lesson in the importance of defense.

With two outs in the sixth inning, Baker was facing Ramon Santiago with two runners on. Santiago hit a seemingly catchable line drive toward left field; Jason Kubel gave chase but watched the ball bounce over the wall for an RBI ground-rule double. The Tigers proceeded to rally for four more runs in the inning, and Baker's once-promising outing ended after six innings. The Twins' ostensible No. 1 starter failed to put a dent in his inflated ERA.

Had Carlos Gomez been starting in center, Denard Span would have been in left and would have almost certainly caught Santiago's line drive. The inning would have been over, the game still would have been tied 0-0, and Baker would have still been pitching in the seventh, keeping pressure off a beleaguered bullpen.

While Baker certainly deserves his fair share of blame for surrendering a deep ball to the gap off the bat of Santiago, the fact of the matter is that he -- like many other members of this pitching staff -- is a fly ball pitcher. Pitchers like Baker, Kevin Slowey and Glen Perkins are routinely going to give up a number of fly balls and line drives into the outfield gaps, even when they're going good. Having a pair of fantastic defensive outfielders like Gomez and Span to play behind pitchers like these is a blessing, but one that the Twins continually waste by benching Gomez and playing Span in center field, where he is not nearly as valuable.

That the Twins were able to come back and win yesterday thanks to a second straight impressive effort from what is proving to be an extremely resurgent offense does not change the fact that substandard fielding cost the Twins five runs and nearly a ballgame. When Aaron Gleeman suggested earlier this week that the outfield alignment of Span and Gomez would save as many as 80 runs over the Young/Span duo according to Ultimate Zone Rating, many scoffed at the sheer ridiculousness of the figure. And maybe it is an exaggeration. Yet, seeing an extra five runs score in one game because of an avoidable misplay in the outfield makes the number seem a little less absurd. Take into account the extra strain that the non-catch put on Baker, the bullpen and the team at large, and you'll have some idea as to why I feel so adamant about the importance of fielding a strong defensive alignment in the outfield.

I realize I'm probably beating a dead horse here, but to me, Gardenhire's handling of the outfield situation is the preeminent issue with this club right now. Between that (assuming it Gardy's decision, and not Bill Smith's), his unwillingness to play Brendan Harris on a regular basis and his stringent adherence to using Joe Nathan only in the ninth inning, Gardenhire is doing an awful lot to hurt this team right now. The Twins finally lifted themselves above the .500 mark with yesterday's win, but they can't count on miracle comebacks forever. Unless Gardenhire starts making some smarter choices, this team will have an extremely tough time maintaining their spot atop the AL Central.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Saving Guerrier's Arm

In 2007, Matt Guerrier posted a 2.88 ERA and 0.87 WHIP in the first half. After the All Star break, those numbers inflated to 3.88 and 1.27. The second-half decline may have had something to do with the fact that Guerrier set a career high with 73 appearances, a figure that ranked him seventh in the American League.

In 2008, Matt Guerrier posted a 3.35 ERA and 1.33 WHIP in the first half. After the All Star break, those numbers inflated to 8.88 and 2.09. The ugly second-half numbers included a September and October in which Guerrier went 0-5 with a 10.07 ERA as the Twins chased the White Sox for the AL Central lead. The late collapse may have had something to do with the fact that Guerrier set a new career high with 76 appearances, a figure that tied him for the league lead.

This year, Guerrier has looked sharp for the most part. He pitched an excellent inning to protect a relatively small lead against the Tigers on Tuesday night, and entered last night's game having allowed just 12 hits and three walks over 18 innings. Ron Gardenhire called on Guerrier for the third time in four days last night, and the results were brutal. The reliever coughed up a pair of home runs while recording just one out, and turned a lead into a deficit for the Twins. The appearance in last night's game puts Guerrier on pace to set a new career high with 81.

The evidence seems to pretty clearly indicate that Guerrier's struggles over the past couple years have been the result of overuse. And as much as I'd like to point an accusatory finger at Gardenhire, it's difficult to blame him in this instance. The unfortunate fact is that the ineffectiveness of the rest of the bullpen often leaves Gardenhire with no choice but to trot his top relievers out far more often than he'd like.

Tuesday night's game presents a great example of what I'm talking about. In that game, Gardenhire never should have needed to use Guerrier. Jesse Crain started the seventh and the plan was for him to complete one inning and hand the ball to Jose Mijares and Joe Nathan, who would take care of the eighth and ninth. Unfortunately, Crain couldn't get the job done, as he cut the Twins' lead down to three by surrendering a leadoff homer and then issued a walk before being pulled in favor of Mijares. That Gardenhire was forced to go to Mijares early left the eighth inning open and, with the game still relatively close, Gardy had little choice but to go to Guerrier. It was this type of situation that caused several relievers to get overworked last year. Crain, and others (LUIS AYALA), must step up and get outs.

Of course, if Gardenhire is looking for another right-handed reliever to take pressure off Guerrier and Crain, there's that Joe Nathan guy who has only accumulated 13 innings of work through the team's first 34 games...

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Patience Paving the Way

One of the many topics that John Bonnes and Seth Stohs broached on Sunday night's edition of the always-entertaining MN Gamenight podcast was the increased patience that the Twins lineup has shown this season. The discussion came in the wake of a weekend series against the Mariners in which Twins hitters drew 21 walks in three games. Hearing this talked about piqued my interest, as I too have noticed an increase in quality at-bats from Twins hitters in this young season. Let's dig into the topic...

Coming out of the weekend, the Twins rank seventh out of 14 American League teams with 109 walks -- about exactly average*. That might not seem like everything special, but given that the Twins perennially rank anywhere between below-average and terrible in walks taken, it's noteworthy. That ranking also understates the team's patience to some degree since Joe Mauer has only been playing for about a week.

* Posnanski-style side note: the team directly in front of the Twins in walks? The Royals, with 116. Who would've thought??

It is a well-known fact that the Twins organization has not generally been known for preaching a patient approach to its hitters; one of the most annoying contradictions in the Twins' philosophy has been the way they emphasize avoiding walks to their pitchers while seemingly dismissing the value of hitters taking walks. Yet, one gets the sense that we might be seeing some changes in this deep-seeded philosophy.

The Twins current lineup features a number of patient hitters. Mauer is of course one of the league's best in this regard; he's got a 4-to-5 strikeout-to-walk ratio in this young season. Denard Span (14/13 K/BB) has also quickly developed a reputation as being an extremely disciplined hitter, while Justin Morneau (19/13) and Michael Cuddyer (22/15) are power guys who will draw walks at a pretty steady pace as well. Nick Punto and Matt Tolbert haven't hit much thus far, but both bring a professional approach to the plate, work the count, and keep their strikeout-to-walk ratios pretty close to even. Brian Buscher and Mike Redmond have both walked almost as much as they've struck out, and guys like Brendan Harris and Jason Kubel -- who don't walk a ton -- have shown a propensity to take some pitches and work deep into counts. Aside from Carlos Gomez and Delmon Young, who remain the very definitions of free swingers (and who also both came over from other organizations in the recent past), this lineup generally features a good deal of plate discipline. Are we seeing a shift?

Back in the late 90s and early 2000s, the Twins brought up a group of talented, home-raised young players who mostly lacked patience at the plate. Players such as Torii Hunter, Jacque Jones, Luis Rivas, A.J. Pierzynski and Cristian Guzman (not homegrown) enjoyed varying levels of offensive success in the majors, but none of them would be mistaken for a particularly patient hitter. The new generation of homegrown talent seems much different in this regard, and a quick glance at the organization's current farm system suggests that we're seeing a trend rather than a mirage.

Running down my Top Ten Twins Prospects list, we find a number of players whose offensive strengths include plate discipline. Ben Revere, who hit for a huge average but didn't walk much last year, has drawn 12 walks while striking out only seven times through his first 29 games, leading to a .377 on-base percentage. Danny Valencia, who struck out more than three times for every walk after moving up to New Britain for the second half of last season, has shown tremendously improved discipline with the Rock Cats this year, having drawn 14 walks while striking out 17 times in 21 games. Aaron Hicks is in extended spring training right now, but last year he broke onto the scene in rookie ball with an impressive 32-to-28 K/BB ratio and .409 OBP in 45 games. Chris Parmelee, a 2006 first-round pick who didn't break into my Top Ten but is perhaps the organization's best pure power-hitting prospect, has been a walk machine over the course of his career. Sure, you've still got the raw, undisciplined hackers like Wilson Ramos and Angel Morales dotting the organization's list of upper-echelon prospects, but in general one gets the sense that the Twins are seeking more disciplined hitters and putting more of an organizational emphasis on teaching patience. That's a very good sign.

One could argue that some members of the sabermetric community overrate the value of the walk, and I might be inclined to agree. But there's no denying that having hitters in your lineup who can work counts, fluster pitchers and put themselves on base even when their line drives aren't falling in has wide-ranging benefits. The Twins, as you'll see below, have been getting better in this department every year since 2005:

Twins Team Walks
2005: 485
2006: 490
2007: 512
2008: 529

And this year, they're currently on pace to walk 551 times (a conservative projection given that the effect of Mauer -- who walked 83 times last season -- is understated in the current sample). No Twins team has walked more than 550 times since 2000. This is progress, and I think there's plenty of evidence to suggest it's no coincidence, and not going away any time soon.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Word From Up Top?

Having watched Ron Gardenhire manage this team for the past seven years, we've grown pretty familiar with his tendencies and preferences. We know his tactics, we know how he likes to fill out a lineup, we know how he likes to utilize his bullpen. We also definitely know that there is a particular type of player that Gardenhire especially likes, and that he is generally much more likely to have a longer leash with players who fall into this mold.

Gardenhire, much like the Twins as an organization, values good defensive players. He likes guys that play hard and hustle. If he likes a player, you'll frequently hear him refer to that player as "scrappy," or you'll see him talk about how the player "battles his tail off." Gardenhire also likes players who have a positive influence in the clubhouse. Offensive production often takes a back seat to these factors in the mind of the Twins' manager, which is why Nick Punto remained a regular player for the entirety of his disastrous 2007 season. It's also why Matt Tolbert has immediately seized the starting second base job and second spot in the lineup while Brendan Harris still must fight for playing time. I've always figured that Gardy's affinity for this type of player is based on the fact that he himself was a light-hitting hustle guy when he played in the big leagues.

Given Gardenhire's historical tendencies, I'm having a very difficult time understanding why he has seemingly elected to make Delmon Young his starting left fielder while relegating Carlos Gomez to a bench role as a fourth outfielder and late-game defensive replacement. Obviously I think Gomez should be the team's starting center fielder, and I don't suspect that Gardenhire would agree for the same reasons. I doubt he's aware that Wins Above Replacement (a statistic which incorporates both offense and defense) shows Gomez as an above-average player up to this point, with his advantage over Young being roughly equivalent to Justin Morneau's advantage over Michael Cuddyer. I also doubt that Gardenhire knows -- or cares -- that there are articles out there concluding that Denard Span is worth 37 runs over Young in left field. But being that Gomez plays fantastic defense, hustles all over the field, maintains an enthusiastic clubhouse demeanor and is built to do all the little things (bunting, stealing, etc.), it baffles me that Gardenhire is choosing to bench Gomez in favor of Young, who doesn't seem to embody any of those qualities. There's one theory I keep coming back to: he's not.

During the offseason, it was widely reported that the Twins were aggressively shopping Young. Several reporters who covered the winter meetings got the sense that the chances of Young being on the Twins' Opening Day roster this season were outweighed by the chances he wouldn't be. Of course, he didn't end up being moved, and the reason for that could very well be that no other general managers were offering much for the former top prospect, who was coming off his second straight disappointing major-league season.

So, perhaps the Twins are still interested in moving Young. And perhaps the knowledge that Young has no chance of ramping up his trade value while sitting on the bench has motivated Bill Smith and the front office to influence Gardenhire's decision-making process. If regular playing time could put Young on some sort of hot streak, it might pique the interest of teams searching for a right-handed bat.

There are plenty of smart people who disagree with my opinion that Gomez should be ahead of Young on the outfield depth chart, and there have been a number of reasonable points used in support of that particular view. But none of these reasons seem like the type that would be used by the Gardenhire that I've come to know. I've got to believe there's more going on here than meets the eye.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Demote Gomez?

Now that Alexi Casilla has been sent to the minors, there have been many calls amongst Twins fans for a follow-up move: a demotion for Carlos Gomez. Howard Sinker went on the record for this cause back in mid-April, and now it seems that everywhere I look -- be it Twins Geek, Seth Speaks, Bleacher Bums, or any number of message boards and comments sections -- fans are clamoring for Gomez to be shipped to Rochester.

I disagreed with Howard a few weeks ago and I still disagree with this sentiment now -- perhaps even more so.

Gomez could probably benefit from some time in Triple-A, I get that. But given that the Twins haven't exactly been playing stellar baseball lately, their main concern at this point ought to be putting the best possible team on the field. Since sending Gomez down would mean regular playing time for Delmon Young, the question becomes which player makes the team better. I think it's almost impossible to argue that point in Young's favor right now.

Clearly, Gomez is a far more valuable defensive player. I've discussed that fact ad nauseum and I don't think there's much debate about it. Certainly, opinions differ as to how much more valuable he is in the field, but there's no denying that the Twins' defense is better with Gomez in center and Denard Span in left than with Span in center and Young in left. Personally, I think that the latter configuration is significantly worse and far more straining on the pitching staff. Others don't believe the gap is that large, or that important.

So, with Gomez clearly bringing more value defensively and on the basepaths, Young needs to be outhitting him in order to justify his spot in the lineup. Is he? Not really -- not by a substantial margin anyway.

Prior to last night's game, Young's OPS was a whopping 10 points higher than that of Gomez. That margin increased a bit with Young's three-hit game last night, but of course all three hits were singles. Young has only two extra-base hits this season (Gomez has five); combine that with a lack of patience and his batting average is about as empty as they get. In spite of his solid .288 average, Young's OPS stands at 671 after last night's game -- bad for anyone, but terrible for a poor-fielding corner outfielder.

One might point to recent trends as the reason Young deserves playing time over Gomez. After all, they might note, Young has eight hits in his last 20 at-bats. But that angle doesn't work, because Gomez has nine hits in his last 20 at-bats. And while all of Young's eight hits were singles, Gomez has mixed three doubles in. AND while Young has posted a 7-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio during that span, Gomez struck out only four times while walking twice.

I don't doubt that some time in Rochester might do Gomez a bit of good, but the Twins have now lost five of their past six games and they need to be focused on putting the players on the field who will help them win. I'm not seeing anything to convince me that Young is helping the team more than Gomez right now. Apparently Ron Gardenhire is, because Gomez has started only three of the Twins' last 13 games. While he was away from the team for a couple days to be with his wife, who was giving birth to their first child, that remains a ridiculous rate of play for the still-developing 23-year-old.

If Gardy is going to relegate Gomez to the bench, then he should be sent down to the minors so he can play regularly. But the plain and simple fact is that Gomez should be starting, and Young should be the fourth outfielder.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Down Goes Casilla

I've gotten the sense that people have grown tired of me writing so much about Alexi Casilla's struggles lately. Good news: you won't have to anymore, at least not for a while. That's because the Twins yesterday demoted Casilla to Triple-A Rochester and recalled Matt Tolbert to take his place on the roster. Thus, one of my preseason predictions comes true far earlier than even I expected.

It's the right move. Casilla has been absolutely disastrous at the plate this year, and recently his play in the field has taken a turn for the worse. He has been taking terrible at-bats, failing to run out ground balls and making inexcusable mental mistakes while on defense. And while keeping him in the second spot in the batting order regularly was ostensibly supposed to boost his confidence and get him back on track, his play has only deteriorated and his confidence seemed to be sloping downward. Quite simply, there is no way to justify keeping him as a regular in the lineup at this point, especially in the two-hole.

This might come as a shock to some, but I actually like Casilla. I don't think he's a very good ballplayer at this point, but he strikes me as a friendly, happy and easy-going guy. When I followed the team to Kansas City for a road trip back in 2007, I saw Casilla along with a couple other players strolling through the downtown strip at night after completing a day game. While the rest of the players in the group, which included Carlos Silva and Luis Castillo, seemed grumpy and unapproachable, Casilla had a big smile on his face and stepped with a giddy stride as he made his way through the crowded storefront. I truly want him to succeed and hope he can straighten things out in Rochester, but that doesn't change the fact that he was doing nothing to help the Twins at this point.

The logical choice to replace Casilla as regular second baseman is Brendan Harris, who has swung the bat very well this season and would give the lineup a much-needed jolt against left-handed pitching. However, Ron Gardenhire seems to have some sort of vendetta against Harris. In spite of Harris' outstanding showing in spring training, the manager reportedly didn't want to bring the infielder north, and Harris has received only meager playing time up to this point even though he's batted .308 while Casilla has struggled. I realize that there are questions about Harris' defense and his ability to turn a double play at second base, but I believe these are overstated. The most reliable defensive metrics show that Harris' range at second has been only slightly below average over the past couple seasons, and the fact that he's a bit slow on turning the twin killing is not nearly the big deal that some make it out to be.

Nevertheless, I wouldn't be surprised to see Tolbert get a solid chunk of playing time at second base in Casilla's absence. Tolbert has hit just .260/.324/.375 in Triple-A thus far, but his bat has heated up lately (.356 average over his last 10 games), which likely earned him the call-up. In the long run, he's likely to be a replacement level bat at the major-league level, but given his solid defensive capabilities he'd probably be serviceable as a short-term option at second base. Still, I think the Twins would be better served using him as a utility man -- moving him around the infield and getting him into the lineup two or three times per week. If Gardenhire's distaste for Harris wins out and Tolbert does take over as the regular second baseman, he certainly shouldn't be hitting second in the lineup, as he did in last night's rain-shortened game. It will be interesting to see how Gardy handles that situation.

The Twins came into this season counting on Casilla to be a key part of their lineup. Now, just one month into the season, he's out of the lineup and off the major-league roster. I think it was a mistake not to have any sort of real backup plan in place considering Casilla's erratic history as a player, but alas, the Twins will have to fall back on Harris and Tolbert and hope that one of the two can step up and provide a meaningful improvement at second base.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Tuesday Notes

Lately it seems I've been spending all my time breaking down prospect performances, marveling at Joe Mauer's greatness and complaining about Alexi Casilla, so today I'll get caught up on a wide range of Twins-related topics with a bunch of notes...

* For those who wonder why I put so much value into Carlos Gomez's center field defense, Sunday's game provides a good example.

In the seventh inning, with the Twins leading 5-3, Luis Ayala came in to relieve Scott Baker with two on and nobody out. Ayala promptly surrendered a line drive to deep left center field, and the ball sailed past the outstretched glove of a diving Denard Span. Two runs scored, tying the game. In the next inning, Jose Guillen hit a liner to deep center; Span again chased the ball but had it bounce of his glove and off the wall for an RBI double. Now, this is just my opinion, but I believe that both of these balls would have been caught were Gomez in center field. That's not a dig against Span, who made a hell of an effort on both plays, but Gomez's range is unparalleled among players on this team and I've seen him run down balls hit to those areas on numerous occasions.

So, that's three runs that may have been prevented from scoring if Gomez were in the game, and perhaps the difference between a win and a loss. Now, given that neither of these plays occurred with two outs in the inning, it's entirely possible that all those runs would have scored anyway. All of these hypotheticals and probabilities are part of what makes defense so difficult to measure and value.

* Of course, we wouldn't be talking about who could hypothetically catch these monstrous 400-foot line drives if Ayala and R.A. Dickey weren't allowing them in the first place. The Twins bullpen has been rather disastrous so far, and these two are clearly looking like the weakest links. It's early yet, but Ayala has thus far proven to be a horrible signing and there's not much reason to hope he'll improve a whole lot. In spite of his misguided "sinkerballer" label, Ayala has induced ground balls at a mediocre 41.9 percent rate while opponents have slugged .556 against him.

Dickey, meanwhile, has remarkably allowed 10 of 12 inherited runners to score while posting a 2.19 WHIP and 10-to-10 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 13 2/3 innings. His vaunted rubber arm hasn't even been particularly useful, as he's appeared just four times in the Twins past 14 games and totaled just five innings during that span. It's awfully tough to see what value Dickey has for this team, which is why I was somewhat frustrated when the Twins demoted and risked losing Philip Humber to waivers a couple weeks ago in order to preserve Dickey's spot on the big-league roster.

* Gomez was held out of the Twins' starting lineup for the sixth time in the past seven games last night, while Alexi Casilla once again started and batted second. Baffling.

Gomez has gotten off to a rough start offensively this year, but Casilla's been considerably worse. It's inexplicable that Ron Gardenhire is showing so much confidence in one while burying the other. It can't be that Casilla is doing "the little things," as he cost the Twins a game on Saturday night with a careless error in the field, and last night hit into an infuriurating double play because he failed to run to first base on a popped-up bunt attempt.

Casilla was only moderately more productive at the plate than Gomez last season, and Gomez brings much more defensive value when he's in the lineup. There's no reason Casilla should getting such preferential treatment.

* While Baker worked through six innings of hitless ball to start Sunday afternoon's game, I observed multiple fans complaining about Dick Bremer repeatedly making mention of the no-hit bid on the television broadcast. I find it somewhat amusing that rational, adult baseball fans -- even the statistically oriented ones who I'd hardly describe as traditionalists -- can get so worked up over a silly superstition.

I can buy into the idea that some superstitions may yield actual benefits. If a player wears the same "lucky socks" for every night game, perhaps on some deep mental level it gives them an extra measure of comfort or confidence while they're playing. But the notion that a pitcher's bid for a no-hitter can be sabotaged by a random announcer in the press box or a random fan in the stands mentioning the fact that he hasn't allowed a hit yet is downright ridiculous. Bremer is a commentator and his job is to talk about what's happening in the game, not ignore the biggest storyline in observance of an arbitrary superstition.

* Seth Stohs has been on a roll lately when it comes to recruiting podcast guests. Last Thursday, he had Glen Perkins sit in as co-host for the MN Gamenight show. Last night, for his own weekly podcast, Seth was able to recruit Pat Neshek, Democrat and Chronicle scribe Jim Mandelaro (an authority on the Twins' Triple-A affiliate), and -- most impressively -- me.

OK, obviously I'm the least impressive name on that outstanding list of guests, but both shows are definitely worth listening to for Seth and the other guys. Check them out.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Prospect Rundown: April

With one month in the books, let's take a look at how each member of my preseason Twins' Top Ten Prospects list has fared thus far...

10. Steve Tolleson (AA): .164/.243/.224, 0 HR, 2 RBI, 2 R, 2/3 SB
It was a little surprising to see Tolleson start at New Britain again after hitting .300/.382/.466 in 93 games there last year, but it seems the organization wanted to see if his performance was a fluke and thus far he's provided little reason to think it wasn't. Tolleson has shown essentially no power thus far and has struggled to make solid contact. A disappointing start.

9. Angel Morales (A): .169/.200/.338, 2 HR, 9 RBI, 8 R, 1/2 SB
Morales continues to be extremely strikeout-prone, fanning 24 times in 71 at-bats, and he managed to work only two walks over the first month of the season. That's a K/BB ratio that would make Carlos Gomez blush. Morales struck out a lot last year, too, but made up for it by hitting for average and big power. So far, he's been unable to do that this season.

8. Shooter Hunt (A): 14.2 IP, 0-1, 10.43 ERA, 14/29 K/BB, 2.66 WHIP
Well, so far we're 3-for-3 on slow starts from this list. Hunt's control took a turn for the worse when he moved from rookie ball to Beloit near the end of last season, and this year it's been disastrous. He just cannot find the strike zone, and until he does he won't be a factor.

7. Anthony Slama (AA): 11.2 IP, 3 SV, 2.31 ERA, 20/8 K/BB, 1.46 WHIP
I don't really like talking about Slama because it gets me all riled up. He should have been in New Britain for the second half of last season and should be in Rochester right now, ready to help a beleaguered big-league bullpen.

6. Kevin Mulvey (AAA): 19.1 IP, 0-1, 3.26 ERA, 20/8 K/BB, 1.38 WHIP
Mulvey's strong strikeout rate is encouraging, particularly considering that he's missed more bats as he's moved up through the minors, and he's getting lots of ground balls. Should anyone in the Twins' rotation go down, Mulvey is making a great case to be the top replacement option.

5. Danny Valencia (AA): .275/.389/.500, 3 HR, 9 RBI, 16 R, 0/1 SB
There was some thought that Valencia might start the season in Rochester after he finished well in New Britain last year, but the Twins opted to start the third baseman at Double-A again. That's fine, considering that Valencia had struggled with his plate discipline despite solid overall numbers during his time in New Britain, but I think his 18-to-14 strikeout-to-walk ratio thus far proves that he's gotten a handle on the strike zone at this level. He should be moved up Rochester sooner rather than later.

4. Jose Mijares (MLB): 4.2 IP, 0.00 ERA, 8/1 K/BB, 0.64 WHIP
After a rough spring, Mijares opened the year in Rochester but it wasn't long before he was back up with the big-league club. He's pitched well thus far and is already establishing himself as the team's top eighth-inning option. Of course, a sample of 4 2/3 innings isn't much to go by.

3. Ben Revere (A+): .283/.371/.337, 1 HR, 14 RBI, 15 R, 12/17 SB
My greatest concern with Revere was that he'd be unable to sustain his high level of production when his batting average inevitably dropped from the high .300s; thus far he has quelled those fears to a degree. Revere has displayed tremendous plate discipline, drawing 12 walks while striking out only seven times, and he's got an excellent on-base percentage after one month. It'd be nice if he were producing more extra-base hits, but he offsets that to some degree by moving himself around the bases on steals. All in all, a strong start for Revere, who turned 21 yesterday.

2. Wilson Ramos (AA): .275/.298/.363, 1 HR, 8 RBI, 10 R, 0/0 SB
Ramos had a very impressive spring with the big-league club, so he's a player who many will be following closely this season. Unfortunately, he hasn't gotten his season off to a real good start. There have been reports that Ramos is unable to hit breaking balls, and it could be that this issue is starting to weigh on him now that he's reached the higher levels. Still, he hasn't struck out at a particularly high rate (just 13 times in 80 AB), so hopefully with time he'll start connecting better. He's young enough that there's no real reason to worry even if the hitting drought continues for a while.

1. Aaron Hicks (Extended Spring Training)
Rather than assign Hicks to one of their minor-league teams, the Twins opted to start Hicks in extended spring training to work on his game and receive intensive instruction. It's tough to argue with this strategy, since it's what the Twins did with Revere last year prior to his monster season in Beloit, but it is nevertheless frustrating from a fan standpoint because it gives us no competitive statistics to digest.

There are some worrisome early starts to be found here, but for the most part the most highly rated prospects are all getting the job done. It's very encouraging to see Revere drawing walks, Mijares finding the strike zone and Valencia cutting down on his strikeouts. We'll check in on all these guys once again at the end of May.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Mauer Day

Baby Jesus.

Chairman Mauer.

Joey Da Gun.

Whatever you want to call him, it's going to be great to see Joe Mauer back in the Twins lineup tonight. The 2008 All-Star missed all of spring training and the first several weeks of the season due to an inflamed joint in his lower back, but after going 6-for-15 in a rehab stint at Ft. Myers, he's ready to return to action and will be the starting catcher when the Twins open their series against the Royals at the Metrodome this evening.

Since Mauer made the jump to the majors in 2004, the Twins have been a significantly better team when he's been in the lineup. In games where Mauer has started during that span, the Twins have gone 293-241 -- 53 more wins than losses and good for a .549 winning percentage. In games Mauer has not started, the Twins have gone 156-143 -- 13 more wins than losses and good for a .522 winning percentage. With that being the case, perhaps we can be a little less concerned about the team's 11-11 record over the first month with Mauer out of the lineup, and a little more optimistic about what they'll be able to do now that he's back (particularly considering that a number of slumping players are due for an upswing in production).

So, just how does Mauer's return figure to positively impact the Twins? Let us count the ways...

Offensive Production
The Twins have gotten a solid .301/.363/.356 hitting line from the catcher position over the first month of the season thanks to the surprising productivity of Jose Morales, but once Morales' .405 batting average on balls in play takes an inevitable dip, the average from the catching position will drop and the OPS will come crashing down with it due to a lack of patience or power from either Morales or Mike Redmond.

Even if the current catching duo were somehow able to maintain their current rate of production, it would still pale in comparison to Mauer's .317/.399/.457 career hitting line and to his .328/.413/.451 line from a year ago.

Building on the last point, Mauer brings a discerning eye to a lineup sorely lacks them. The Twins currently rank 11th in the American League in walks with 68. Mauer, of course, is one of baseball's most disciplined hitters, having ranked seventh in the American League in walks last year while finishing with an incredible 50-to-84 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

In 135 games at catcher last year, Mauer committed three errors and was charged with four passed balls. In 22 games so far this year, Morales and Redmond have combined for two errors and five passed balls. Of course, the mishandled balls behind the plate haven't been nearly as frustrating as the current duo's deficiency in the next department...

Controlling the Running Game
Mauer has one of the best throwing arms among major-league catchers, having thwarted steal attempts 41 percent of the time over the course of his career (36 percent last year and 53 percent in 2007). This year, Redmond has gone 1-for-10 throwing out baserunners while Morales has gone 6-for-19, and so the two have combined for a CS% of 24.1. That's not very good, but it's a lot worse when you consider that plays in which the pitcher picks off a runner count toward these totals. I could be wrong, but to my knowledge the Redmond/Morales duo has only actually been responsible for throwing out a stealing baserunner on one occasion this season (Mark DeRosa last weekend in Cleveland).

In 22 games, opposing teams have successfully moved a runner up one base on a steal 22 times. That generally means a player moves from first base into scoring position without any negative consequence, and it puts a lot of strain on the pitching staff. Opposing teams have shown no restraint when it comes to running on the current regime, as their 29 attempted steals in 22 games would put them on pace for 214 attempts over a 162 game season, with a very high success rate. Last year, opposing teams attempted 80 steals in 135 games against Mauer, which would equate to 96 steal attempts in a full season (with anywhere between one-third to one-half of those being unsuccessful).

Game Calling
The Twins pitching staff finished the 2008 season with a 4.18 ERA with Mauer working as the regular catcher. This year, the staff has finished the month of April with a 5.26 ERA while being caught by Redmond and Morales. Now, clearly it would be silly to attribute all of the team's pitching troubles to the catchers -- the struggles of guys like Scott Baker and Francisco Liriano have been their own doing for the most part -- but almost every single pitcher on this team has a lengthy history of working with Mauer. They're comfortable with him and he knows their individual styles. Mauer has a reputation around the league as being a quality game-caller, which is part of the reason he was awarded with his first Gold Glove last year.


The first of May is widely known as May Day, but Twins fans will refer to this high holiday by another name: Mauer Day. Time to celebrate.