* With three members of the Twins' rotation struggling to consistently deliver quality performances, the team would undoubtedly like to add any of these three starters to the mix:
Pitcher A: 57.2 IP, 6-2, 3.28 ERA, 51/9 K/BB, .247 BAA
Pitcher B: 53.1 IP, 5-3, 3.54 ERA, 43/11 K/BB, .257 BAA
Pitcher C: 55.2 IP, 5-1, 3.72 ERA, 21/11 K/BB, .278 BAA
The thing is, all three of those pitchers are already in the Twins rotation. Those are the home splits for Scott Baker, Kevin Slowey and Nick Blackburn. The problem is that all three hurlers have been absolutely terrible on the road. See for yourself:
Baker: 51.1 IP, 1-6, 6.66 ERA, 44/10 K/BB, .321 BAA
Slowey: 43.2 IP, 3-2, 5.98 ERA, 25/8 K/BB, .333 BAA
Blackburn: 41.1 IP, 2-6, 10.02 ERA, 13/16 K/BB, .398 BAA
Those numbers for Blackburn are especially egregious. Opponents have tagged him for a 1.164 OPS while hitting notching as many home runs (13) as strikeouts in nine starts.
The fact that all three of these pitchers are performing about as well as anyone could possibly expect when throwing at home suggests that whatever problems they're facing this season are largely mental. Sure, Target Field is a spacious and pitcher-friendly park, but that doesn't come close to explaining the enormous disparity in performance for all three of these guys. And if injuries were contributing to their struggles, why would those problems seemingly disappear when they're pitching at home?
The impetus is on Baker, Slowey, Blacbkurn and the Twins' coaching staff to figure out what is causing these issues on the road. These guys are now experienced major-league pitchers; for them to be unraveling in opposing ballparks again and again like this is beyond unacceptable.
* One pitcher you don't need to worry about is Francisco Liriano. Sure, he got roughed up in his last start before the break and neither his 6-7 record nor his 3.86 ERA scream "elite ace," but Liriano's performance this season has been much better than those numbers indicate.
In 107 1/3 innings, Liriano has struck out 117 batters while issuing 30 walks. He has allowed only two home runs. He has induced grounders on over 50 percent of balls in play; only 10 American League pitchers have a higher rate.
In other words, Liriano has been flat-out fantastic when it comes to factors that are under his direct control. That's why his FIP (a fielding independent metric) registers at 2.18, the best mark in the majors. The problem is that when batters are making contact, an inordinate number of balls are falling in for hits, especially over the past couple weeks. Despite the outstanding strikeout rate, Liriano has allowed about a hit per inning thanks to an inflated .361 batting average on balls in play. Compare that figure to the big-league average (.300), Liriano's career average (.318) or even Liriano's mark from last year (.324) and you can see that this is clearly a far higher BABIP than anyone should reasonably expect from the hard-throwing lefty. It's the result of bad luck and substandard fielding behind him.
With J.J. Hardy back in the mix and bad luck likely to even out, I fully expect Liriano to be one of the American League's best pitchers during the second half. In spite of what his record and ERA suggest, he already has been up to this point.
* Speaking of bad luck, lingering effects from Justin Morneau's concussion a couple weeks ago have landed the first baseman on the disabled list, forcing him to miss this weekend's key series against the division-leading White Sox and potentially setting the stage for yet another disappointing second half. I'm hopeful that Morneau can shake off his ailment and return to the outstanding level of production he provided throughout the first half, but we've been through this song and dance before and it's seemingly never ended well.
* Remember back in spring training when a faction of Twins fans was claiming that Wilson Ramos absolutely needed to be on the roster, drawing regular playing time while splitting his workload at catcher and DH? How silly that looks now. Ramos currently possesses a .252 on-base percentage in Triple-A and has hit only four home runs all year. His .562 OPS in Rochester barely edges Drew Butera's .560 mark there last year.
Ramos remains a very strong prospect and by no means am I saying that these struggles will prevent him from eventually turning into a very nice hitter. But maybe people will think twice before calling the Twins' front office morons for sending a 22-year-old with only 54 games of experience above Single-A back to the minors despite his strong performances in winter ball and spring training. Ramos clearly was not ready to be playing in the majors in April, nor is he now.
* Finally, if you haven't picked up a copy of the TwinsCentric 2010 Trade Deadline Primer yet, to me a favor and at least check out the free quarterbook sample here to see all it has to offer. A lot of work from a lot of talented people went into this sucker and we're pretty proud of it. I'm quite sure you'll find it to be an indispensable reference over the next couple weeks.