Monday, April 04, 2011

Baker's Base Runners

The Twins lost 4-3 in New York tonight, with all four of the Yankees' runs coming on homers against Scott Baker. I know a lot of fans are upset about the bombs, which came on grooved pitches to Alex Rodriguez and Jorge Posada, but those weren't the real issue for the Twins' starter. Heck, two is about where we should set the over/under for homers allowed by an opposing starter at Yankee Stadium.

No, the mistakes I would point to would be the runners Baker put on base beforehand. He preceded Rodriguez's home run by plunking Mark Teixeira with an 0-2 pitch, and preceded Posada's shot by issuing a lead-off walk to Nick Swisher in the next inning. It's those sorts of lapses -- and not the home runs -- that will determine Baker's fate this season.

By now, we've come to accept Baker for what he is: a fly ball pitcher through-and-through who gives up home runs. It's always been the case, and while it would be nice if he could reinvent himself as someone who isn't so susceptible to the long ball that's not very likely.

Baker can succeed in spite of this flaw. The key is limiting base runners so the damage from those homers is minimized. In 2008, the righty posted a 3.48 ERA despite allowing 20 home runs over 172 innings. We can largely attribute the positive results to his outstanding 1.18 WHIP. Last year, Baker posted a 1.34 WHIP -- the worst full-season mark of his career. It only follows that he also posted his worst full-season ERA (while allowing homers at the exact same rate he's allowed them throughout his career).

The home runs weren't what sunk the Twins tonight. If Baker doesn't give first base to Teixeira and Swisher, he leaves the game with a 3-2 lead.


Dean said...

What's so disheartening, though, is the utter predictability of those home runs after the hbp and BB. I was listening on the radio, yet I knew what was coming. In my minds eye, Baker's deer-in-headlights look and attitude was so obvious, and I predicted (to my wife, as we ate dinner), that the HRs would follow. Your analysis is absolutely right, but it's Baker's mental makeup - the fact that you just know he's scared to death out there and is going to give up the bombs in those very situations - that makes him so exasperating as a fan. I really don't enjoy watching him on the mound anymore. I don't feel like he really wants to be there.

Matt Groff said...

Couldn't agree more Nick. We've always known Baker to give up some homers, it's those extra guys on base that kills him.

For someone said to have such great command, he looked shaky, leave a lot of pitches up and putting too many guys on base without getting a hit. When he walk Tex, I was like 'Great now A-Rod gets to him with a man on base." Sure enough the homer comes. Plunking Tex was crazy, 0-2 why are you even coming inside with a slider? why not place something off speed down and away and get him to chase?

As for the walk to swish, I was saying the same thing. Jorge has always killed the Twins.

If just one of those guys is held off base, and it gets to 3-3, it's an entirely different ball game. Mo might have to pitch 2 innings, or he doesn't come out at all. And the rest of the bullpen (other than Mo an Rafael) doesn't scare me.

I get the feeling the twins pitchers and bats didn't get enough reps in spring training, they all look like they aren't quite ready yet, did gardy baby them? Were there too many injuries? I can only hope they make it through early April without getting too far behind so that they can make another run, as of right now it doesn't look good.

pmcenroe said...

I mostly agree, but I think the most frustrating AB last night was Posada’s in the 2nd inning. It seemed pretty clear Baker didn’t want to show the Yankees his off-speed/breaking ball the first time through. Although I couldn’t find the pitch f/x data to back this up, but it sure seemed like he threw Posada 6-7 straight fastballs in that AB and he paid for it.

J.D said...

everyone is blaming this loss on Baker. I think Span shares a large portion of the blame as well. A leadoff hitter goes 0-4 with 3K's LOOKING and the one time he put the ball in play was a GIDP.

Polish Sausage said...

But Nick haven't you seen Baker's K/9 numbers? The guy's a stud.

Josh said...

Span's been about the only hitter who has shown so far this season, so blaming him for a loss with his first bad game of the season seems harsh.

Baker's a solid pitcher with good peripherals, but he's going to struggle a bit in the HR parks unless he keeps guys off the basepaths. Walks and HBPs really hurt him.