Friday, July 16, 2010

Friday Notes

* 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.


the frenchman said...

I'm trying to be optimistic here, but maybe there's a silver lining with Morneau's injury. A lot of his second-half struggles seem to have been because he's broken down and played almost every game. Maybe this extended mid-season break with have him recharged for the rest of the season....that assumes that he fully recovers from this concussion of course.

Matt said...

Well written, Nick, enjoyable to read as usual.
It seems the whole team is in a mental slump and not performing to maximum ability. Like any team would, fielding took a hit when losing both middle infielders at the same time, but guys have to pick each other up and battle through injuries, and the Twins have failed to do that.
Football commentators often call teams that are playing like the Twins as "flat." I have to agree here, especially the pitchers. Slowey looked like a deer in the headlights last night and dug a huge hole for his team. Inexcusable for a guy with his potential.
I hope Morneau's injury won't effect him down the road a la Cory Koskie. Get well soon, Justin!

thanatoschristou said...

There's always next year Twins fans. Gardy has already proven he isn't willing to make the drastic changes necessary to turn this thing around. Look at his comments after the game last night, paraphrasing "there is nothing I can do when you when you don't have anybody in the minors." Really? Then quit if you don't have the imagination to start AAA (Manship) guys over AA (Slowey and Blackburn).

thanatoschristou said...

Point taken that it could be mental Nick but I think the best way to send a message is to demote a guy or throw him into the bullpen. Looks like normal "help" is not fixing these guys. Let's "help" them by sending a message that cannot be ignored.

AK47 said...

thanatoschristou, i could not agree more. A "slump" or "funk" is one or two weeks. What the Twins are in (specifically Blackburn and Slowey) have been terrible for more than a month. It's time to change it up, send a message and tell the guys, "hey, get it together."

Watching this team, even last night, they appear mostly uninspired.

Ed Bast said...

"Mostly uninspired" is being generous, AK. My Class D beer league softball team shows more passion than the Twins. I'm not kidding, either. We aren't very good but we flat out hate to lose. The Twins should be very good but don't seem like they really care.

This is, I think, a lot on Gardy. He clearly isn't getting his team to respond. 3 days off to rejuvenate, put things in perspective, and that's what the club comes out with? Awful pitching, errors, overall lethargy? I get the "marathon not a sprint" stuff, but much more of this and we're going to be out of the race by August.

Anonymous said...

maybe it's a mutiny.

Nick N. said...

Apologies for the wacky formatting guys. It's been fixed. Also, I should note that Slowey's home stats in the first note don't include last night's game.

Good comments so far.

PinkiePinkerton said...

I took a minute to look over those numbers of pitcher a, b and c before moving on with the article. I thought maybe they were free agents from last year like Pedro Martinez or guys coming back from injury and short on innings for the year. As I looked at them I thought "I'll pass on pitcher C, those peripherals are just crying for regression." Then of course a couple seconds later I find out they are Blackie's at home. Those numbers are still not very good and drives the point home even harder that he needs to be escorted from the rotation.

Anonymous said...

AAA jeff manship has a 5.09 ERA and a 1.6 whip. AA kevin slowey 4.95 era and a 1.4 whip (at the mlb level). The twins best hope is that baker, slowey and liriano era start to catch up with their peripherals and they get a few more balls in play turned into outs. The twins dont have any minor league pitcher that i believe would be better than slowey right now.

Andrew said...

I do think this one is on the coaching staff. I am not calling for anyone's head but it is time to send a message. The twins have sold out 41 games so far and this is the kinda play we are rewarded with? Span not getting a bunt down? Walks hurting the Twins? This is unacceptable and something needs done.

Anonymous said...

Ever notice that no matter who is the twins 1st baseman they're always joking and laughing with the runner on 1st base? They seem too nice. They need some attitude or somebody to be a prick and plug a batter or talk some smack to give a little competitive fire. Remember when hunter laid out that catcher from the sox a few years back? He didn't need to but what a statement that was. It's obvious the twins dont have good leadership.

admiral george birkley

Andrew said...

That's right Admirable! I was thinking the same thing when Span steped in for his last at pat. He was chatting away at the hated white sox catcher. C'mon-we are in a race and it is the 8th with 2 on and you are the one that missed the bunt. Why are you chatting and joking with the enemy?

Jim H said...

I don't think I agree with your comments about Liriano. He pitched great early in the year. He has also had some very good games since. But he is a 500 pitcher because that is how he has pitched. He not a victim of substandard defense or bad luck. He still gets strikeouts because he has good stuff. But sometimes he just doesn't pitch very well and gives up runs in bunches.

Sometimes I wonder if you bloggers watch the games. He gets himself in trouble when he can't locate his fastball. Since he throws 95 he can get away with it to some degree, but if you can't locate your fastball to good major league hitters, you sometimes get lit up.

thanatoschristou said...

Manship might not be better than Slowey but he is probably better than Blackburn. Manship seems to pitch and in the majors better than the minors as well. And....I think the same logic you (anonymous) offer is the same garbage Gardy thinks that keeps him from making any kind of change.

Snark David Chapman said...

I think the Twins players should carry shivs on their person at all times. If one of the opposing team's players tries to initiate small talk, stick him one in between his ribs.