Tuesday, June 29, 2010
Monday, June 28, 2010
In the 10 days since I wrote that post, the Twins have gone 3-6 while allowing the Tigers to close within a half-game of first place, with the surging White Sox just a game behind them.
The Twins' offense has disappeared on certain days as the team continues to receive less production than expected from key players like Denard Span, Joe Mauer and Michael Cuddyer. J.J. Hardy's return still is not in sight. Orlando Hudson is back but has hit just .147/.216/.176 with 11 strikeouts and only three walks in 37 plate appearances since returning from the disabled list (entering play yesterday), suggesting that his wrist is continuing to cause problems.
More alarming than the offense's slump, however, is the complete deterioration of the rotation outside of Francisco Liriano and Carl Pavano. While those two continue to perform well, the team's other three starters have combined to produce a 5.24 ERA while allowing 321 hits and 42 home runs over 259 1/3 innings. Scott Baker has failed to get on track after getting his season off to a characteristically slow start, Kevin Slowey looks like a lesser pitcher in the wake of major offseason wrist surgery, and Nick Blackburn's inability to miss bats -- or even induce weak contact with regularity -- has turned him into one of the league's worst starters.
The lineup's current lull is likely to turn around at some point and shouldn't be an ongoing concern but the struggles of 60 percent of the starting rotation show no signs of going away. To his credit, Ron Gardenhire has sought to address the team's run-scoring issues by using Cuddyer at third base, and soon he will need to start taking measures to stem the rotation's bleeding. That might start with adding Brian Duensing to the rotation and it might ultimately lead to a heated trade deadline pursuit of Cliff Lee.
The Twins are amidst an ugly slump. That's nothing to panic about -- it happens to nearly every team over the course of a season -- but the problems facing this club are real and shouldn't be downplayed just because the Twins are maintaining a slim lead in the standings.
Make no mistake: if they continue to play the way they are now during their upcoming homestand against the Rays and Tigers, Gardy's Twins won't be in first place when the All-Star break comes around.
Wednesday, June 23, 2010
During his time with the Nats in '08, Rauch posted a 44-to-7 K/BB ratio over 48 1/3 innings; this year, he has posted a 21-to-3 K/BB ratio in 28 innings. For a pitcher who has displayed mediocre (at best) control throughout his career, those low walk totals are extremely impressive and they suggest that when Rauch is handed closing responsibilities, he can go out and throw strikes.
For all his positives, though, Rauch is not dominant. His .705 opponents' OPS is hardly stellar for a closer, nor is his pedestrian 6.8 K/9IP rate. There's no telling whether he'll be able to continue at this rate throughout the remainder of the season. Many would like to see the team pursue someone like Heath Bell to improve the Twins' chances of finishing off tough lineups in the playoffs. Yet, a dominant closer hardly guarantees postseason success, as Nathan (and several other top-tier closers) proved last autumn, and given Rauch's high-end performance in high-leverage situations this season, there's little reason to believe he'd cower against the Yankees or Red Sox in October.
If the Twins want to make a big splash at the deadline, they'd benefit more from adding a starting pitcher or an infield bat. Pawning off top prospects for an elite bullpen arm who could serve as closer just doesn't make sense considering how well Rauch has done. Meanwhile, trading for a lesser reliever who could simply help boost the bullpen in the middle innings should not be a consideration, given that the organization possesses plenty of usable relief arms in Triple-A (most notably Kyle Waldrop, Pat Neshek and Anthony Slama).
They might not be flashy, but the Twins' bullpen has been far from a liability this season. In fact, they've been one of the most reliable in the game. Barring an injury, the Twins would be foolish to focus on adding external relief help at the trade deadline. Bill Smith has bigger fish to fry this time around.
Tuesday, June 22, 2010
Both pitchers made brief big-league debuts in 2007 before becoming full-time starters for their respective clubs in 2008. Both proved to be workhorses in their first two big-league seasons, making 30-plus starts and averaging about 200 innings between the 2008 and 2009 campaigns. Most importantly for the purposes of this article, both were able to rise above rather unimpressive strikeout rates to post very respectable overall numbers during those first two seasons.
In 2008, Lannan went 9-15 with a 3.91 ERA over 182 innings despite a 5.8 K/9IP rate that fell well below the league average. That same year, Blackburn went 11-11 with a 4.05 ERA over 193 1/3 innings despite a 4.5 K/9IP rate that was even further below average.
In 2009, Lannan went 9-13 with a 3.88 ERA over 206 1/3 innings despite a 3.9 K/9IP rate. In Minnesota, Blackburn went 11-11 once again with a 4.03 ERA despite a 4.3 K/9IP rate.
Both pitchers were impressively managing to rack up quality innings despite their elevated contact rates. This year, however, they both have seen their already sub par strikeout rates drop through the floor, and it's no coincidence that both pitchers are seeing their overall performance plummet.
Blackburn and Lannan have been almost identical in their inability to throw the ball past hitters this year. Their K/9IP rates are 2.84 and 2.88, making them the only qualifying pitchers in all of the majors with rates below 3. They've both struck out about 7 percent of the total batters they've faced after striking out 11 percent in their first two seasons.
The results speak for themselves, and boy are they similar:
Blackburn, 2010: 76 IP, 5.80 ERA, 1.63 ERA, .337 BAA
Lannan, 2010: 75 IP, 5.76 ERA, 1.85 WHIP, .327 BAA
Blackburn possesses better control, but Lannan offsets that with a higher ground ball rate. Overall, these two have basically been the same pitcher all year long.
Yesterday, the last-place Nationals demoted Lannan to Double-A.
Monday, June 21, 2010
Because their financial resources have been limited in the past, they've often been reduced to the bottom-of-the-barrel members of this category. The idea of paying Livan Hernandez or Ramon Ortiz a few million dollars to reliably pile up innings on an otherwise young staff is great in theory, but when those pitchers (predictably) perform so poorly that they become major liabilities the experiment has to be cut short.
That the Twins were willing to pay Carl Pavano $7 million to return this season despite his posting a 5.10 ERA last year speaks not only to their valuing him as that veteran innings-eater, but also to their seeing past his inflated ERA and realizing that he's a notch above the type of veteran starter they usually end up with. Not only does Pavano possess a durable arm capable of rattling off more than 200 innings, he's also effective enough to be an asset while pitching those frames. That sets him apart from the likes of Hernandez or Ortiz (or Sidney Ponson, or R.A. Dickey for that matter).
Whether or not you buy into the mythical importance having of a seasoned veteran providing leadership and consistency in a youthful rotation, Pavano delivered yesterday in exactly the way the Twins envisioned when they decided to offer arbitration during the offseason. After two young and relatively inexperienced starters were forced out very early over the first two games of a series in a tough opposing ballpark, Pavano faced off against one of the game's most dominant pitchers and delivered a masterful complete-game victory, relieving a beleaguered bullpen and salvaging a series that at one point looked completely lost.
Pavano has completed seven or more innings in 11 of his 14 starts this season and has accumulated more innings than all but four starters in the AL. It's no coincidence that he has factored into the decision each time he's pitched this season; he's routinely lasted deep into games and he has heavily impacted their outcomes. Talk about earning your paycheck. (That last sentence can be read with a not-so-slight tinge of irony by my friends who follow the Yankees.)
I don't know how valuable Pavano's performance has been as far as setting an example for the younger pitchers (considering that hideous mustache, I think I'd prefer the team's other starters not seek to emulate him), but it's been plenty valuable on its own as the 34-year-old righty has given the Twins a good chance to win nearly every time he's taken the mound. His outstanding production, alongside the steadily excellent Francisco Liriano, has helped to keep the Twins' rotation respectable in spite of up-to-this-point disappointing performances from its three other members.
Friday, June 18, 2010
After a five-minute pregame session with reporters, during which Gardenhire fielded questions about Hudson's wrist, Joe Mauer's swing, an increase in team errors, how he believes Trevor Plouffe and Danny Valencia are handling big-league at-bats and whether he senses the fan base is more fanatical this season, the annoyed manager stood up to leave and hollered, "Minnesota Twins! We're in first place, guys!"Gardenhire was right. The team is in first place. But they're hardly in the clear and there is legitimate reason for concern about their current status.
They're past Ubaldo Jimenez, but Twins actually just wrapped up a relatively light portion of their schedule. Eighteen of their past 24 games have been at home, and their only road series during that span came against a pair of sub-.500 teams: the Mariners and Athletics. While the Twins did have a few tough series mixed into their recent homestands -- including match-ups against the Yankees and Braves, who may be the best teams in their respective leagues -- they also had weaker opponents like the Brewers and Royals mixed in and they should be expecting to win at home against all comers.
Despite the soft patch in the schedule, the Twins emerge from this latest stretch of games with just a 1.5-game lead on the Tigers in the AL Central, and now they will have to run through a veritable gauntlet leading up to the All-Star break.
First, the Twins will open a National League road trip tonight in Philadelphia. After the weekend series with the Phillies, they'll head to Milwaukee for a three-game set before wrapping up with another weekend series on the East Coast against the Mets. After that nine-game tour of the NL is complete, the Twins will come home to face the Tigers, who are nipping at their tails in the division, and the Rays, who are tied with the Yankees atop the AL East. Then it's back on the road for three games against the powerful Blue Jays and three more against the Tigers.
And then it's the All-Star break, which will probably be welcomed because that is a tough stretch of 22 games with only two days off. Not one series among those mentioned is a "gimme," so the Twins are going to need to step their game up and start scoring some runs if Gardenhire still wants to be touting his first place Minnesota Twins when the All-Star Game comes around.
Thursday, June 17, 2010
The Twins have scored significantly fewer runs than one would expect based on the number of runners they put on base. They rank third in the American League in team OBP, trailing only the Yankees and Red Sox, yet they rank seventh in runs scored -- barely above the AL average. They are wasting too many baserunners.
At one point, this could have been pinned on their ineptitude with the bases loaded, as they hit .160 in such situations over their first 34 games. Yet, the Twins have predictably reversed that unlucky trend by going 10-for-30 with the bases juiced in their past 32 contests. Now, a dizzying double play rate has become the chief source for the club's offensive headaches, and it's not showing any signs of going away. They tapped into nine twin killings during their three-game series with the Rockies this week.
The Twins' current pace would have them grounding into 191 double plays by season's end. That would shatter the single-season major-league record of 174, set by the 1990 Boston Red Sox. This is an epidemic. But, as frustrating as it is, the Twins' jaw-dropping DP tendency is hardly surprising.
As mentioned above, the Twins rank third in the AL with a .348 on-base percentage, largely because they rank third in the league in walks. Yet, they don't hit for much power (seventh in the AL in SLG) and they don't steal many bases (10th in SB). That means they're putting an awful lot of runners on first base. When you factor in a team ground ball rate of 46.2 percent that ranks second in the AL, it's not difficult to see why the Twins have been getting doubled off with such frequency.
While the underlying reasons for the Twins high GIDP total aren't difficult to see, the hitters still can't be let off the hook completely. They are grounding into double plays at a higher rate -- per opportunity -- than the league average. (Twins: 15 percent; league: 12 percent.) Given that they've had more opportunities to hit into DP's than any other team, that increased rate is especially damaging.
It's time for the hitters in this lineup to take it upon themselves to elevate the ball with a runner on first rather than succumbing to the pitcher's will and firing a hard grounder right at an infielder. Similarly, Ron Gardenhire needs to start putting runners in motion more often; we actually saw the Twins avert a possible fourth GIDP today when Jason Kubel took off from first on a full count to Michael Cuddyer and reached second safely despite the ball being grounded directly to the second baseman.
It's great that the Twins are getting on base at such a strong rate this year, truly it is. But there's nothing more frustrating than wasting baserunners and between their early struggles with the bases loaded and their continual GIDP issues, the Twins are wasting an exorbitant number of them this season.
Wednesday, June 16, 2010
Tuesday, June 15, 2010
This morning, the sports website The Big Lead took aim at Neyer, mocking him for holding high expectations for the quality of content in his network and then launching into a random diatribe about how all the "stat-heads" are going to unjustly get Bert Blyleven into the Hall of Fame.
As for the analytical skills, let’s begin with Bert Blyleven, a pitcher who has failed to get voted into the Hall of Fame 13 years in a row. Blyleven spent 48 seasons in the majors, never finished 1st or 2nd in Cy Young award voting, and his career highlight is a toss-up between this t-shirt and this F-bomb on air. Yet the stat-heads are certain he should voted in (sadly, he probably will next year; then, it becomes the Hall of Very Good). Using your analytical skills, sell Neyer one way or another on Blyleven.This post struck a nerve with me for a couple of reasons. For one, obviously my blog is a part of Neyer's SweetSpot Network and frankly I'm proud to be a person whose analytical skills and writing chops were deemed worthy of that honor. But moreso, as a Twins fan, I'm annoyed to see another misguided soul hammering away at Blyleven's Hall of Fame case, particularly in a situation like this where it seemingly came completely out of nowhere.
The irony surrounding TBL's post is almost too rich to take. His presented case against Blyleven, who last year was not voted into the Hall of Fame by a subjective voting group, is that for thirteen years that same subjective voting group has not voted him in and that during his career that same subjective voting group did not place him first or second in the Cy Young balloting. Basically, the argument boils down to: "If some people thought this at some point, then it must be true!"
It amuses me that in a post where they seek to ridicule the folks who write about baseball while using statistics and facts to back up their positions, TBL shows exactly why those people are necessary. There's got to be someone to filter out condescending, snide and completely empty analysis like this. Do some of those stat-head bloggers write in that same arrogant tone? Sure, but generalizing that to the entire population of analytical baseball bloggers is as stupid as claiming that every single one of them believes that Blyleven belongs in the Hall (or that no traditional baseball analysts who rely less on stats believe he belongs).
Whether The Big Lead is just trying to ruffle feathers or still holds a grudge against ESPN for flooding their servers a few years ago, I don't know, but Neyer's comments are hardly worthy of such vitriol. Methinks The Big Lead should go back to doing what they do best: reporting all day on sports gossip. Then we can have a talk about journalism standards.
And they can tell some story about how intimidating Jim Rice was.
To which, I pose an honest question: Is there any reason Hudson has to bat from the left side against a righty? If he's feeling more comfortable swinging from the right, wouldn't we all prefer a righty-hitting Hudson -- even against a right-handed pitcher -- to Trevor Plouffe or Nick Punto in the No. 2 spot? Or is he so accustomed to hitting against opposite-handers that he'd struggle to adjust?
Monday, June 14, 2010
After scoring 118 runs in April and 133 in May, the Twins are on pace to score just 99 in June. They briefly emerged from their recent offensive slump by beating up on the Royals throughout a three-game series last week, but outside of that series the Twins simply have not been putting many runs on the board over the past few weeks.
It's not difficult to find the culprit for the team's recent drop-off in run production. Their thin infield depth has been exposed by injuries to both Orlando Hudson and J.J. Hardy. Trevor Plouffe and Matt Tolbert, called up to help fill the big-league club's middle-infield void, have both struggled immensely on offense, and lamentably Ron Gardenhire's misguided lineup decisions have enabled those poor performances to cause increased negative impact at the top of the batting order. Brendan Harris, forced into duty by the various injuries around the infield, has stunningly continued to show no offensive pulse whatsoever. He has just five hits -- all singles -- in his last 53 at-bats.
Hudson is expected to return to the lineup on Tuesday, and the Twins need to hope he's healthy enough to pick up where he left off because they could sorely use a jolt at the top of the lineup. We'll still probably be looking at a regular left-side combination of Plouffe and Nick Punto, which will likely continue to be an offensive liability. Hudson will be most welcome, though, because he will keep Plouffe and Tolbert out of the second spot in the lineup.
Wednesday, June 09, 2010
Of course, there are plenty of other examples from years past, including Slowey, Baker, Span, Matt Garza, Torii Hunter and so forth.
Monday, June 07, 2010
These factors made it all the more frustrating that Nick Blackburn put the Twins in such a huge hole to begin with. Despite pitching in one of baseball's most pitcher-friendly parks and against one of the worst offenses in the American League, Blackburn lasted just 2 2/3 innings and surrendered five runs on 10 hits.
After a terrible month of April, Blackburn seemed to be coming around in May when he went 5-0 with a 2.65 ERA and made a bid for Pitcher of the Month honors. Now, he's strung together his two worst starts of the year. Last week in Seattle he failed to complete four innings and yesterday he failed to complete even three.
In both cases, the opposing offense was terrible. In both cases, he allowed five runs on 10 hits, putting his team in a huge early hole on the road. In both cases, he failed to strike out a single batter.
That last sentence provides us with a pretty good explanation for Blackburn's struggles. He has now failed to record even one strikeout in five of his 11 starts this season. No other Twins starter has done it once.
Blackburn has never been a strikeout specialist, but his inability to miss bats this year has reached ridiculous levels. Of the 294 batters he's faced, he has struck out 17 of them. His rate of 2.27 strikeouts per nine innings ranks as the worst in all of baseball by a wide margin; next worst is John Lannan at 2.90. The next worst mark in the AL is Mitch Talbot at 3.91.
Blackburn's ability to put "sink" on the ball is a talking point for Dick Bremer and Bert Blyleven every time he pitches, but no amount of sink is going to make up for such an exorbitant contact rate and Blackburn doesn't even induce ground balls at an elite rate. His 48.3 ground ball percentage ranks 35th out of 108 qualifying pitchers.
Hitters are making contact with 96 percent of Blackburn's offerings and they're elevating plenty of those pitches, so it should come as no surprise that the league is hitting .338 against the right-hander. This isn't the result of bad luck, as Blackburn's batting average on balls in play isn't too far above the league average and is basically in line with his career norms. It's not that a ridiculous number of balls in play are turning into hits behind Blackburn, it's that he's allowing a ridiculous number of balls in play to begin with.
Whether something is wrong with Blackburn physically or the league has just completely figured him out, something needs to be changed because there's almost no way he'll succeed when allowing this much contact. He's had a tough enough time posting solid numbers with a K/9 rate in the 4 range in years past, doing so with a rate that is close to 2 is basically impossible, especially with a middling grounder rate.
With Blackburn, Brendan Harris and Denard Span all struggling to varying to degrees, Bill Smith's decision to tender them all unnecessary multi-year contracts during the offseason is looking iffy. At least we can look at the numbers and see that Harris and Span have been somewhat unlucky; Blackburn is due for more of the same unless he can get back to striking out a remotely acceptable number of hitters.
Friday, June 04, 2010
Now, one wonders what the plan is for Valencia. Ron Gardenhire said recently that the team called on the young third baseman to fill in against a lineup of tough left-handed starters the Twins are set to face over the weekend. It would seem that when Michael Cuddyer returns from bereavement leave on Tuesday, Valencia will return to the minors (unless Orlando Hudson lands on the disabled list).
So what's the deal? The Twins have seemingly been of the mindset that Valencia should stay down in Rochester, playing regularly, until he's ready to come up for good. Now he's being called upon to make his major-league debut during a tough road trip with the caveat that he'll probably only be with the Twins for a handful of days before packing up and heading back to the minors, regardless of his performance.
It could be that the Twins want to take this opportunity to give Valencia a brief audition. Or it could be that they want to ride out his latest hot streak.
Valencia is a notoriously streaky player. When he's locked in, he can tear up opposing pitchers, putting up multiple hits night after night. When he's in a funk, the 0-fer's can pile up in a hurry. This season has been a fine case in point; the third baseman got off to a slow start in April, batting just .256 with a disappointing .306 on-base percentage. In May, he turned it on, kicking those figures up to .330 and .384.
The trend is not unique to this year. Check out Valencia's AVG/OPS figures for each month in 2009 where he had significant playing time:
April: .269 / .858
May: .373 / 1.110
June: .262 / .706
July: .287 / .770
August: .283 / .703
It's worth noting that the numbers from the first two and a half months or so are from Doble-A while the second half of the season was spent in Triple-A, which helps explain the drop-off, but Valencia was red-hot even after being promoted to the Red Wings last year. He didn't start slumping until he'd already been there for several weeks.
Valencia's performance tends to fluctuate quite a bit throughout the season. Over his past 10 games in Rochester, he'd been hitting .324 with a .439 OBP. Perhaps the Twins called on him to ride out this hot streak before he inevitably falls into another funk. Let's hope his bat can keep rolling this weekend in Oakland, because right now the Twins need all the offense they can get.
Wednesday, June 02, 2010
A quick rundown of how each of my Top Ten Prospects performed during the month of May...
10. Joe Benson, OF | Class-A Ft. Myers
May Stats: .263/.364/.561, 4 HR, 11 RBI, 10 R, 4/4 SB
Season Stats: .235/.352/.469, 9 HR, 20 RBI, 30 R, 8/10 SB
After a dreadful April in New Britain, Benson seemed to be picking up the pace in May. Over his first 46 at-bats of the new month, he was hitting .283/.411/.609, going deep four times after homering just once in April. Then, mysteriously, the Twins sent Benson back down to Single-A, where he spent his entire '09 campaign. The demotion couldn't have been performance-based, as Benson was on a tear and ranked second among New Britain hitters in OPS. Whatever the reason, the young outfielder has reacted well, putting up a .925 OPS while launching four more homers over his first 13 games at Ft. Myers. Despite his low overall batting average this season (.235 between the two levels), Benson is showing a lot more power while getting on base at a strong clip. He ought to be back up at Double-A very soon.
9. Carlos Gutierrez, SP | Class-AA New Britain
May Stats: 37.2 IP, 2-2, 2.15 ERA, 24/13 K/BB, 1.14 WHIP
Season Stats: 56.2 IP, 2-3, 3.65 ERA, 40/19 K/BB, 1.32 WHIP
Last month in this space I broke down a disappointing April for Gutierrez, but pointed out his strong peripheral numbers and stated that we can "look for him to improve rapidly as the season progresses." Sure enough, Gutierrez rebounded in a big way during the month of May, cutting down immensely on his number of base runners allowed and subsequently allowing far fewer runs. He continues to induce a huge number of ground balls while missing bats at a reasonable rate, but his walk totals will be worth keeping an eye on as we move forward. As hit-prone as he tends to be, limiting the free passes will be a key ingredient in Gutierrez's future success.
8. David Bromberg, SP | Class-AA New Britain
May Stats: 26.1 IP, 1-3, 6.15 ERA, 17/19 K/BB, 2.13 WHIP
Season Stats: 50.1 IP, 2-3, 3.75 ERA, 36/25 K/BB, 1.59 WHIP
Taking the opposite path of Gutierrez, Bromberg followed up an excellent April with an absolutely disastrous May. Of all the poor numbers the righty turned in during the season's second month, none are more alarming than the gigantic walk total. His erratic tendencies have always been one of the big potential drawbacks for Bromberg, and now they seem to be manifesting. On the plus side, his overall numbers for the season still look OK thanks to his strong April and he's still only allowed one home run on the year.
7. Danny Valencia, 3B | Class-AAA Rochester
May Stats: .330/.384/.408, 0 HR, 16 RBI, 14 R, 1/1 SB
Season Stats: .298/.350/.381, 0 HR, 24 RBI, 22 R, 2/2 SB
Valencia has always been a pretty streaky hitter, so it figured that he'd follow up his disappointing month of April with a red-hot May. The third baseman did just that, batting .330 while doubling his RBI total. The power still has not emerged this year for Valencia though, as he's gone homerless over the first two months of the season and possesses a meager .381 slugging percentage. Fans have grown frustrated by the fact that Valencia is getting passed over for promotions by lesser prospects like Matt Tolbert and Luke Hughes, but don't expect to see Valencia in a Twins uniform until he begins hitting the ball with more authority and cutting down on his still-high strikeout rates.
6. Angel Morales, OF | Class-A Beloit
May Stats: .235/.328/.343, 0 HR, 12 RBI, 14 R, 6/9 SB
Season Stats: .253/.339/.404, 3 HR, 23 RBI, 23 R, 14/19 SB
The speedy center fielder saw his batting average drop off in May and the OPS came tumbling down with it. It didn't help that Morales failed to go deep after launching three homers in April, although he did continue to display his speed with six steals and four triples on the month. Morales has struck out 52 times in 166 at-bats this year, so the low batting average should come as no surprise. Much like Carlos Gomez, Morales needs to start making better contact to better utilize his athleticism.
5. Miguel Angel Sano, SS | Dominican Summer League (rookie)
May Stats: .500/.500/1.750, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 2 R, 0/0 SB
Season Stats: .500/.500/1.750, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 2 R, 0/0 SB
It certainly bears noting that the numbers above all come from one game and four at-bats; Sano joined the rookie-level DSL Twins at the end of the month and went 2-for-4 with a home run and a triple in his very first game. The homer came on the first professional pitch he saw. A great start for the hugely promising teenager.
4. Ben Revere, OF | Class-AA New Britain
May Stats: .336/.412/.429, 1 HR, 15 RBI, 15 R, 12/16 SB
Season Stats: .315/.394/.387, 1 HR, 16 RBI, 21 R, 18/23 SB
Revere did a solid job of setting the table during the season's first month, putting up a .361 on-base percentage while going 6-for-7 on stolen bases, but in May he took his game to the next level across the board. Not only did he bump his batting averge up by about 60 points, Revere also added significant power, ripping a homer, a triple and six doubles after managing just a pair of extra-base hits (both doubles) in April. He also doubled his stolen base total while getting on base at a .412 clip. With 21 walks and just 19 strikeouts on the season, Revere seems locked in and he's already positioned himself as the top call-up option in the event that the Twins suffer a major injury in the outfield.
3. Kyle Gibson, SP | Class-AA New Britain
May Stats: 26.1 IP, 3-0, 1.37 ERA, 23/5 K/BB, 0.95 WHIP
Season Stats: 69.2 IP, 7-1, 1.68 ERA, 63/17 K/BB, 1.00 WHIP
I concluded my writeup on Gibson last month by stating that the right-hander "doesn’t seem destined to spend much time with the Miracle." Just a few days later, he found himself promoted to New Britain, and his early returns at the Double-A level have been truly marvelous. Through four starts for the Rock Cats, Gibson has allowed only four earned runs over 26 1/3 innings while maintaining his outstanding strikeout and walk rates. More importantly, he's continued to induce an insane number of ground balls, limiting opponents to a .208 batting average while surrendering no home runs. He's sure to spend some more time in Double-A for now, but Gibson is pitching like he wants to see major-league action before the end of his first pro season.
2. Wilson Ramos, C | Class-AAA Rochester
May Stats: .170/.200/.264, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 2 R, 0/1 SB
Season Stats: .175/.208/.300, 4 HR, 10 RBI, 7 R, 0/1 SB
It's been an interesting season for Ramos thus far. He raised plenty of eyebrows while collecting seven hits over his first two big-league games after being called up to briefly fill in for Joe Mauer back in early May, but that performance has helped cover up a lousy performance at Triple-A this season. He was hitting just .179 with the Red Wings before being called up and has now just .170 since returning. While he's kept his strikeout rate in check, Ramos isn't walking at all (just five times in 125 plate appearances in Rochester) and his power has gone missing. A big debut at the big-league level is nice and all, but Ramos needs to turn around his season at Triple-A in order to be an enticing trade deadline chit for the Twins to dangle.
1. Aaron Hicks, OF | Class-A Beloit
May Stats: .214/.321/.313, 1 HR, 6 RBI, 14 R, 1/3 SB
Season Stats: .246/.362/.369, 4 HR, 13 RBI, 30 R, 6/12 SB
Hicks recovered from a wretched start to finish his month of April with quality numbers, but he was back in the tank in May, hitting just .214 with one home run. Hicks continues to keep his on-base percentage afloat thanks to a very good walk rate, which is encouraging, but the other aspects of his offensive game simply aren't developing. He's striking out at an alarming rate (36 times in 112 May at-bats) and isn't hitting for power. Discouraging signs for the first-round pick, considering he's spending a second year in Beloit.
Tuesday, June 01, 2010
Mauer's home run propensity declined a bit over the final four months of the season, but he still finished with 28 jacks, more than doubling his previous career high. The rapid power development rounded out the one aspect of Mauer's offensive game, transforming him from a great hitter to the American League's most threatening hitter. He easily captured league MVP honors at season's end. At 26, it seemed that Mauer had finally discovered his power stroke.
Now, we're two months in to the 2010 season and Mauer has hit just two home runs. He's been healthy and his game is holding up in other aspects -- still hitting .321 with a .396 on-base percentage, still walking more than striking out, still driving in runs -- but Mauer's ability to put the ball over the fence has all but evaporated. After homering once per every 19 at-bats last year, Mauer has gone deep just twice in 159 at-bats in 2010.
The drop-off was hardly impossible to foresee. Here's what I said about Mauer in my preseason writeup of the catcher position:
As pitchers continue to adjust to Mauer, who hit nearly all his home runs to the opposite field last year, I suspect we'll see some reduction in the home run proclivity, particularly considering that many of his round-trippers barely cleared the wall last season. One might argue that a drop-off in homer frequency might be offset by not missing a month of the season, but it probably isn't realistic to expect a whole lot more than 600 plate appearances from Mauer this year given that his previous career high in that category was 633 (again, this only helps reinforce how amazingly durable Mauer was after coming off the disabled list last year). I'd guess that Mauer's home run total this year will drop closer to 20 while his doubles total moves closer to 40.
True to form, Mauer's home run output has taken a dive early in this new season while he's on pace to set a career high with 41 doubles. Of course, the homer decline is more drastic than even I could have expected, as he'd have a very tough time reaching even double-digits at his current rate, but I suspect Mauer will bump up his long-ball tendencies over the next several months to finish with a respectable figure. Any thoughts that he might eclipse or surpass his homer total from a year ago are pretty much out the window at this point, though.