Sunday, April 23, 2017

Pic of the Week

A foul ball bounces back to hit
Albert Pujols in the head

An interesting set of numbers so far for the great Pujols, who is, at age 37, clearly not the monster he was in St. Louis.

In his first 17 games, Pujols had a slash line of .203/.247/.319. He also had 14 RBIs.

Ah, you say, he's coming through with men on base. Not really; he's slashing .208/.269/.375 with men in scoring position. That's better than his overall numbers, but not a lot.

Pujol's RBIs are more because he's hitting behind Mike Trout than anything he's doing.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Walk this way

The Twins won Friday night. They won because they scored six runs in the sixth inning, and they scored six runs in part because the first three hitters that inning drew walks.

The Twins lead the majors in walks drawn so far. They aren't doing much else particularly well at the plate, but they are drawing walks.

In 2016 the Twins drew 513 walks, just a bit above the major league average (503). In 2015 they drew 439, well below the MLB average (469). In 2014, they were second in the majors in walks drawn, which was a big part of why they were a potent offense. (They were lousy at run prevention in 2014, but they could score runs.)

The 2017 Twins so far seem fairly good at preventing runs. If they keep drawing walks, they'll eventually score more runs. Lots of baserunners = lots of runs.





Friday, April 21, 2017

Feeling a draft

Baseball America on Thursday released Mock Draft 2.0. This time they have the Twins bypassing Hunter Greene with the first overall pick for Brendan McKay, LHP-1B at the University of Louisville.

John Manuel:

Rumors of the Twins floating deals with several players are circulating, with players as disparate as Southern California prep Royce Lewis to Virginia first baseman Pavin Smith. But the least controversial player on the board is Louisville’s two-way star Brendan McKay, whom the Twins would pick as a pitcher. 
....
Hunter Greene, the top prep player on the board and owner of a 100 mph fastball, has had an up-and-down spring, and the rumors of he and his family attempting to maneuver his way to the No. 3 pick with the Padres are a poorly kept secret. The Padres’ throwing program is more in line with Greene’s program, and it’s on the West Coast, among other advantages. Greene isn’t pitching this week in the Boras Classic and is widely believed to be shutting down as a pitcher in another attempt to move down to the third pick.
My at-a-distance sense on the choice between Greene and McKay is that Greene should be the pick on the basis that he has the higher ceiling. I have seen reports on McKay describing him as a No. 3 starter -- which is not to be sneered at, but doesn't evoke daydreams of a dominant, Hall of Fame caliber starter.

But McKay is also described as sufficiently polished that he could pitch almost immediately in the majors. Low ceiling, perhaps, than Greene, but also a higher floor.




About seven weeks until the draft.


Thursday, April 20, 2017

Still an efficient defense

The Twins had a rainout Wednesday and their first truly poor game of the season on Tuesday. Their record has subsided from a 100-win pace to .500. And Robbie Grossman has gone from zero innings in the field to a pair of starts in right.

So I figured it was a good time to check the updated defensive efficiency stats for the Twins. This was the major topic of the Monday print column, for which I used the number listed on Baseball Reference through last Saturday's games. The Twins led the majors at that point, having turned 78.6 percent of balls in play into outs.

As of this morning, B-R had the Twins still leading the majors in defensive efficiency at .763. That's more than 100 percentage points higher than Cleveland, which sits last of the 30 teams, and 17 percentage points ahead of second-place Miami.

It's also, to be sure, a drop-off of 23 percentage points in three games. As noted in the Wednesday post, it's early in the season, and the stats haven't had time to stabilize. I do think this defense has a chance to be quite good, but the continued deployment of Grossman and Danny Santana in the outfield won't help.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Notes, quotes and comment

Here's an indication of how fragile the statistics are this early in the season: The Twins gave up nine earned runs Tuesday nignt (and two unearned ones), and their team ERA rose almost a half run,.

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Joe Posnanski wrote the other day about what he calls "Teddies" -- batted balls that, according to Statcast have at least a 40 percent chance if being hits that are instead caught. (It;s near the end of the longer linked piece, but it's there).

Joe Mauer, with seven, is one of the leaders in Teddies, according to Pos. His luck hasn't been as bad as Nicolas Castellanos', but it hasn't been good either.

If three of the seven drop in, Mauer's batting average would be 47 points higher. Again, an indication of how little weight the stats should carry this early in the year.

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The news Tuesday that Pirates star Starling Marte had tested positive for a PED was a bit of a stunner. And since the specific substance (nandrolone) is said to be injected, I find it difficult to buy the implied claim in Marte's statement that it was a mistake.

So he's gone for 80 games. Infielder Jung Ho Kang, another of Pittsburgh's better players, is in South Korea, unable to secure a work visa after his latest DWI conviction. It's not looking good for the Pirates this year.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

An all-middle-reliever pitching staff

About the time Kyle Gibson was getting pulled from yet another of his "is that all there is" starts Monday -- 5.2 innings, eight hits, three runs -- somebody in my Twitter feed opined that he'd make a fine middle reliever.

A few innings later, Tyler Duffey wrapped up his day's work: 2.2 scoreless innings. Duffey, of course, was a starter last year for the Twins and now is in their bullpen. He has now worked 8.2 innings this season without allowing a run.

Would Gibson be better out of the bullpen than as a starter? Probably, if only because almost everybody's stuff is better in short bursts.

All of which led me once again to one of my favorite outside-the-box ideas: A pitching staff without traditional starters.

Imagine a nine-man staff, divided into three groups of three pitchers. Each pitcher in each group works three innings at time, and the groups form a three-day rotation. In theory, you'd have nine pitchers making 54 appearances and throwing 162 innings apiece.

In theory. This outline assumes no extra-inning games, no scheduling headaches such as doubleheaders, and -- perhaps most unlikely -- that every one of those 486 appearances are successful enough that nobody needs to get pulled before completing his three-inning assignment. And history suggests that 160-plus innings is a career-sapping workload for a reliever.

So nine pitchers probably aren't enough to make this work. Maybe 11 or 12 is. (Even 12 would be fewer pitchers than the Twins are carrying now.) But there are other problems.

Pretend that the Twins decided to do this. Are veteran starters like Ervin Santana going to be happy working three innings at a time? Do you want to pay Santana and Phil Hughes $26 million combined for 162 innings?

And if you trade your established starters so you can commit to this radical idea, what happens if it fails? Answer: You get fired. And your organization is probably set back for years.

Back in his final years in Oakland, Tony LaRussa experimented with something like this idea, and he abandoned it about two weeks in. It probably takes a manager of LaRussa's stature to try it and not be immediately crucified by the media or abandoned by his players.

Or an expansion team, if we ever see one of them again. The roster compiled by an expansion team should be filled with pitchers willing to take any role to be in the majors, even that of a three-inning starter (who can get a loss but not a win).

Monday, April 17, 2017

Springtime, and the pitching is easy (or easier)

A tangent untaken, or at least not explored, in the Monday print column:

So far in the still-young season, it's tempting to say scoring is down. Entering Sunday's play, major league teams were averaging 4.25 runs per game. (The Twins were scoring 4.73 and allowing 2.45.) In 2016, for the full season, teams averaged 4.48.

But ... these averages are not directly comparable. The 2017 numbers are, obviously, based on early April, probably the unkindest weather of the season for hitters. In games of March/April last year, teams averaged 4.23 runs a game -- almost exactly what they were averaging this year.

The Twins have played a lot of day games so far and have not had a game further south than Chicago. While I wouldn't call conditions so far brutal -- they've certainly had harsher springs than this one -- run scoring will almost certainly pick up as the weather warms.