Thursday, March 25, 2010

The blogger talks back

A commenter on the Mahay post asks: Any thoughts on why the Twins seem unwilling to give Anthony Slama much of an opportunity to duplicate his AAA success?

I see three "issues" with putting Slama (photo left) on the 25-man roster.

First, his "AAA success" is limited — less than 16 innings. More important, his walk rates in the upper minors (Double A and Triple A) are higher than the Twins will accept (more than 4 walks per nine innings). (See his stats here.)

Second, Slama's stuff isn't overwhelming. Baseball America's 2010 Prospect Handbook grades his fastball and slider as average pitches.

A two-pitch pitcher with average stuff, uncertain control and limited experience in Triple A isn't knocking down the door.

Third, he's more of what the Twins have: A right-handed short reliever — and moreover, one whose success appears to be based in part on an odd delivery, comparable to Pat Neshek. Like Neshek, he's vulnerable to left-handed hitters. So he's redundant.

That said, he gets ground balls and strikeouts. (See the next item for more on those virtues.) He is, unlike most minor league relief pitchers, a bona fide prospect. I doubt he'll make the roster in April, unless there are more injuries in the 'pen, but he's got a real chance to come up later in the year, and especially in 2011.

A commenter on the Guerrier-Guardado comparison post asks: How much do strikeouts really matter to a closer, particularly one who will always enter at the beginning of the ninth inning?

Answer: A lot, because it matters to all pitchers.

Keeping it simple: The three true outcomes for a pitcher are walks (bad), home runs (bad) and strikeouts (good). Over time, for almost any pitcher, the batting average on balls in play is going to be around .320. The more strikeouts, the fewer balls in play, hence the fewer hits.

This is why power pitchers are a better bet than finesse pitchers, and why ground ball pitchers are better bets than fly ball pitchers. Power pitchers get strikeouts; finesse pitchers don't. Fly ball pitchers give up more home runs than ground ball pitchers. A ground ball pitcher who gets lots of strikeouts — Pedro Martinez in his prime — is ideal.

The two things I want to know about any pitcher are his K/9 rate and his BB/K ratio. I call those the leading indicator stats; they tell us how his stuff plays against hitters and how well he commands it.

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