Friday, September 30, 2011

Who I like

The headline carries a double meaning — it can be who I'm rooting for, or it can be who I predict will win.

For this year's Twins-free baseball postseason, the two meanings are mutually exclusive.

I expect the World Series to match the New York Yankees and Philadelphia Phillies. Those are the two highest payrolls (not only in the tournament but in MLB total); they have the best records; they probably offer the highest ratings potential for the TV boys.

On that latter point alone, I rather hope to see the Milwaukee Brewers and Tampa Bay Rays advance.

Who I root for is another matter. As general rules, I prefer fly-over land to either coast, I prefer north to south, I prefer small market to large market, I prefer American League to National League, and I want to see historically great teams triumph (not an issue this year). And personalities matter -- indeed, they may trump other concerns. I abhor Tony LaRussa, and despise all things Steinbrenner. ABY -- Anybody But Yankees.

CC Sabathia may not be the best pitcher in baseball,
but he's not far behind.
Taking the actual matchups:

Detroit Tigers-New York Yankees
Rooting for: Tigers, of course
Picking: Yankees

I won't be shocked if the Tigers win this one. But I suspect Doug Fister's remarkable record since coming to Detroit is largely a function of a weak Central Division. Detroit needs to win anytime Justin Verlander takes the mound; CC Sabathia makes that difficult.

Texas Rangers-Tampa Bay Rays
Rooting for: Rays
Picking: Rangers

The Rays's struggle to get in leaves them with rookie Matt Moore -- a September callup -- to pitch the opener. Moore is extremely talented, but that's a tall order. The Rangers have their rotation neatly arranged.

This is likely the final month that Ryan Braun and
Prince Fielder will hit back-to-back for Milwaukee.
Arizona Diamondbacks-Milwaukee Brewers
Rooting for: Brewers
Picking: Brewers

A remarkable worst-to-first season for the Snakes, but the Brew Crew has the better stars in Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder; the deeper rotation in Zach Greinke, Yovani Gallardo and Shaun Marcum; and the knowledge that this is this crew's last chance. Fielder's a free agent, he's a Scott Boras client and he ain't staying.

Philadelphia Phillies-St. Louis Cardinals
Rooting for: Neither
Picking: Phillies

Don't really care for either team. Phillies fans -- based on the commenters on the Hardball Talk blog and on a handful encountered at spring training -- come off to me as insufferably smug and entitled. St. Louis is tainted by the bully LaRussa. I will root vigorously for the winner of this series to lose the next one.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Joy, sorrow and endurance

Joy for the Rays; despair
for the Braves.
The best day of the year is Opening Day. Summer lies ahead, and hundreds of baseball games, and anything is possible.

And the worst day is the final day of the season — with winter ahead, and all the games behind.

I spent much of this September wishing the Twins ordeal would end. And now that it has, I wish it weren't — that there would be more at-bats for Rene Tosoni and Chris Parmelee, more warm nights at the ball yard.

It's best that it does end, of course; it has been a miserable season for the Twins, and getting out of it without hitting triple-digits in the loss column is as close as they can come to leaving with a good taste in their mouths.

It's best that the season end, too, because without a finish line there can be no drama such as that of Wednesday night, when the Rays and Red Sox and Braves played excruciatingly tight games with their seasons at stake. Two of those games went extra innings, the third was decided in the bottom of the ninth.

Tampa Bay overcame a 7-0 deficit with six runs in the eighth and a two-out, two-strike homer in the bottom of the ninth — from a guy hitting .108 — to tie the score. They won in the 12th inning — concluding a stretch drive that saw them overtake the Red Sox, who had led the wild-card hunt by nine games earlier in the month.

Boston's payroll exceeded $160 million; Tampa Bay's was under $42 million. While I'd rather see the Yankees miss out on the playoffs than Boston, I'll pretty much always pull for the $40 million team over the $160 million team.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Contemplating Chris Parmelee

Chris Parmelee has drawn 10 walks
with just 13 strikeouts with the
Twins, a solid walk/strikeout ratio
that is better than any he has had
in six minor league seasons.
Joe Benson has generally been reckoned the superior prospect, but it's Chris Parmelee who has impressed this September.

Parmelee's major league numbers have been spectacular — and nothing like his minor league stats.  Now, the Twins affiliates generally play in fairly low run-scoring environments, but there's nothing there at all to suggest a slash line of .351/.429/.581. You could take a hundred points off each of those — .251/.329/.481 — and he'd still stand out in this offense.

Really. In the lineup Ron Gardenhire deployed Tuesday night, .251 would have been the third highest batting average, .329 the highest on-base percentage, .481 the highest slugging percentage.

Now, it's September, and it's not even 75 official at-bats,so we should take his performance with a grain of salt. But he has displayed a good sense of the strike zone, and — more important — a good sense of his strike zone, by which I mean he appears to know what pitch he wants to hit and which pitches he wants to let go by. There are a lot of hitters who struggle with that.

The Twins need a healthy Justin Morneau in 2012, but after the past three seasons, they also need to have a Plan B. As of now, I'm comfortable with Parmelee as Plan B.

I suspect the Twins would prefer to have him spend some time in Triple A next season — he hasn't seen Rochester yet — but if both Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel leave as free agents I can see him as a regular DH/first baseman, splitting time with Morneau at both spots, and occasionally playing right field. The more veterans the Twins retain (and who stay healthy), the less opportunity to play Parmelee figures to have.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The end of the Ozzie era in Chicago

Ozzie Guillen, looking for his way out.
Ozzie Guillen is, finally and fer sure, out as manager of the Chicago White Sox. He had a good run there -- third most wins as a White Sox manager (behind Al Lopez and Jimmy Dykes), managed the only Chicago World Series winner in the past 94 years — but eight years is a long time for a high-pressure manager.

What comes next? For Guillen, it's fairly obvious:  He'll land in Miami as the manager of the Marlins. So will most of his coaching staff — but not pitching coach Don Cooper, who the White Sox are retaining. It will be interesting to see how Guillen fares without Cooper. The Sox have, during Guillen's run, had remarkable success at keeping their starting rotation healthy. Nobody knows how much credit to give anybody for such an accomplishment, but my guess is that Cooper and trainer Herm Schneider deserve more than Guillen.

Before hiring a new manager, the Sox should first decide: Stick with the current approach or blow the roster up and start over? I will be surprised if they take the rebuilding route, for two reasons:

  • General manager Kenny Williams doesn't appear to be wired that way and
  • The large financial commitments to Alex Rios and Adam Dunn (among others) aren't easy to dispose of.

Just as the Twins are committed to Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau as the core of their team, the Sox are anchored to Rios, Dunn and Paul Konerko.

Tony LaRussa has been linked to the Sox job for years, but the decision to keep Cooper probably rules LaRussa out; LaRussa isn't going anywhere without Dave Duncan as his pitching coach.

Dick-n-Bert, on the Twins telecast Monday night, touted Joey Cora, Guillen's bench coach, as a candidate; while I think Cora's a reasonable candidate elsewhere, Williams will probably prefer to sweep all of Ozzie's guys out the door.

Contemplating Kevin Slowey

Kevin Slowey in September: Five starts,
27.1 innings, 22 runs (all earned),
17 strikeouts and no walks. 
Kevin Slowey made his eighth (and final) start of the season Monday. He lost. Again. He was the losing pitcher in all eight of his starts.

Won-loss records are far from the ideal yardstick by which to measure pitchers, but that seems a significant number. Oh-and-eight in eight starts.

He also relieved six times. The Twins lost all six of those games as well.

Slowey's opposite-of-triumphant return to the rotation has illustrated why the Twins wanted to move him to the bullpen. As was the case last season, he frequently provided three, four, five good innings, then melted down. Such was the case Monday: He came into the sixth inning with a 3-1 lead and got just two outs that inning, surrendering four runs and the lead.

His strong suit — his control — remains strong. He walked just five men in 59.1 innings; while his strikeout rate is lower than in previous seasons, his K/BB ratio is better than ever. It's difficult to believe a pitcher who fans almost seven men for each walk can be this ineffective.

Slowey and team management are widely believed to be on the outs. So, a couple of years ago, were Glen Perkins and the organization, and that appears to have been patched up. But Perkins accepted a bullpen shift and thrived in that role; a similar shift didn't take with Slowey.

My hope back in August, when Slowey slid back into the major league rotation to take the place of the injured Scott Baker, was that Slowey would at least rebuild his value as a trade chip — so that even if the Twins don't want him back in 2012, maybe someone else would give up something for him.

That, it seems safe to say, didn't happen.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Thome third base theater

Something that hasn't been seen since
1996 — Jim Thome playing third base.
Jim Thome began his illustrious career playing third base for the Cleveland Indians. On Sunday —the last home game of his second coming with the Tribe — he played third base once more.

For one pitch. For sentimental reasons.

Sentiment is basically why Thome's spending this month with the Indians, who were sliding out of contention when the Twins sold him to Cleveland. He takes a few swings, accepts a few cheers, rebuilds the affection Indians fans once felt for the franchise's all-time home run king.

Thome sounds as if he's inclined to play again next season. If he does want to return, it won't be with Cleveland. The Indians have a $13 million commitment to Travis Haefner, and it makes no sense to devote two roster spots to injury-prone left-handed DHs, neither of whom can play in the field. If Cleveland could find a taker for Haefner, they probably would have done so ere now.

With one out and one on in the seventh inning of a tied game Sunday, Cleveland manager Manny Acta had Thome pinch hit. It was a curious choice: The Twins had lefty Glen Perkins on the hill, and the man Thome was hitting for, Shelley Duncan, is a power-hitting righty. Perkins walked Thome on four pitches, then got a double play to end the inning.

And then Thome borrowed a glove from teammate Jack Hannahan — Thome hasn't played third since 1996, and hasn't played defense at any position since 2007, when he played first base in one game — and went out to play third base.

Acta said later that he had instructed reliever Joe Smith to throw his first pitch well out of the strike zone, to make sure Thome wasn't actually called upon to make a play. But Smith threw a strike to Trevor Plouffe. Then Acta replaced Thome with a legitimate player

Ron Gardenhire, who had been tipped off to the plan by Acta, said: "I just wanted Trevor to drop a bunt down first pitch, just to entertain ourselves."

I don't know if Gardenhire was serious in saying that. I'm guessing he was joshing. I do know that, listening to the radio broadcast on the way to work, that's want I wanted. Bunt on him.

Would that be disrespectful to Thome, to try to take advantage of a sentimental gesture in his behalf? If so, it is also disrespectful to the game, to the spirit of competition, to have a frivolous player in the field, even for a single pitch in a game that won't change the standings one iota.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Pic of the Week

Give Oakland center fielder Coco Crisp an "A" for effort,
a "F"  for execution: Texas' Adrian Beltre
got a double on this ball.
No story behind the play, no issue it illuminates. I just like the way Coco Crisp's body momentarily mimics the "A" it obscures.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

"Moneyball," the movie

Brad Pitt as Billy Beane: The real Beane is said to be
far more profane and less patient with fools than his
Hollywood depiction, but the movie got
his refusal to watch his team in action right. 
The Twins have won more postseason games this century than I've made trips to movie theaters, but there I was Friday night at the late showing of "Moneyball."

(I therefore missed the walk-off homer off Matt Capps that beat the Twins yet again; on the other hand, I'd rather have seen that than the 20 minutes of trailers for films I will never see unless somebody wants to pay me Brad Pitt money to do so.)

Moneyball, the book, is both the most influential and the most misunderstood piece of baseball writing of the past decade. That a watchable movie could be made of it speaks highly of the skills of the people involved; this is, at its core, a movie about sabermetrics, a movie about an idea. Michael Lewis, the author of Moneyball (and of The Blind Side) freely admits he never thought a a movie could be made from Moneyball.

As a baseball nut, and as a multiple-times reader of the source material, I can easily pick out what Hollywood changed for the movie, some of which bugged me a bit and was immaterial — for example, the wrong Twins player catches the popup that ended the 2002 Oakland A's season.  And some of it was necessary to simplify and narrow the story — specifically the Peter Brand character. An accurate depiction of the A's front office — and the conflicts therein — would be too sprawling. Art isn't just what's put in; it's also what's left out.

This is the fictionalization of a non-fiction book. Many traditionalists — including Dan Gladden — have either never read the book or didn't comprehend it. Far more people are likely to watch this movie than tackle the book. I don't know if that is good or bad for sabermetrics, but at least the movie got the basic notion right, and the people who won't/can't accept the analytical approach have already failed with the complex truth. Maybe simplified truth will get through.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Most disappointing Twins

Joe Mauer's lost season was, at least in the eyes of USA Today,
not as disappointing as the seasons of Pedro Alvarez,
Jason Hayward or Brian Matusz. Really.
USA Today on Thursday printed a list of the 10 most disappointing players of the 2011 season. (The link is to a slideshow.) Incredibly, none of the paper's 10 are Twins, and I therefore regard the list as fatally flawed. None of the 10 had good seasons, none lived up to expectations, but ... I'm much closer to being a Joe Mauer apologist than critic, but he has to be one of the top two or three disappointments in all of MLB.

The Twins 2011 season -- only seven games to go -- has been so dismal that one can make a Top 10 disappointments list for the team that would stack up pretty well to the USA Today list.

10) Danny Valencia: Lower in every percentage from last season, and a brutal season in the field by the defensive metrics. He leads the team in RBIs, but WAR (Wins Above Replacement) says he's easily replaceable.

9) Denard Span: Was the team's best player until his concussion. Since then, he's either been out of action or completely ineffective -- so ineffective that he now has the lowest batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage of his career.

8) Brian Duensing: 5-1, 2.73 as a starter in 2009; 7-2, 3.05 as a starter in 2010; 9-13, 5.29 this year.

As difficult a season as Matt Capps
has had, he's not nearly the most
disappointing Twin of 2011.
7) Matt Capps: Didn't thrive in the closers role, and his strikeout rate dropped sharply this year.

6) Justin Morneau: He's not ranked higher because nobody was really sure what to expect from him in his return from 2010's concussion. As we wind up 2011, nobody can be sure what to expect from him in his return from 2011's concussiion.

5) Kevin Slowey: As a starter, he was always flawed by a lack of durability, but he was still generally effective. Shifting him to the bullpen this spring didn't work, and the failure brought on an avalanche of other problems. He's been in the rotation in September, and that isn't going well either.

4) Delmon Young: The Tigers apparently are delighted with Young, but he followed last season's 21 homers, 112 RBIs and .294 batting average with 4, 32 and .266 before the Twins dumped him -- and a lower slugging percentage than Alexi Casilla.

3) Tsuyoshi Nishioka: Even discounting his stellar 2010 season in Japan, it seemed reasonable to expect him to provide league-average play at second base. He broke a leg in the first week of the season, played shaky defense at both second and short, and didn't hit at all.

Far too many walks for Francisco
Liriano this season to maintain
2010's success.
2) Francisco Liriano: Yes, he had a no-hitter. He also went from 14-9, 3.63 to 9-9, 4.77 -- which understates how poorly he pitched.

1) Joe Mauer: Career lows in virtually every category, excluding his 2003 rookie season -- and even then he had better slash stats. His absence behind the plate, I believe, played some unmeasurable part in the decay of the pitching staff.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The return of Denard Span

Denard Span was
hitting .294 when he
went on the disabled
list in June. He's
2-for-38 since.
The spring-training quality of the Twins lineup took on a new dimension Wednesday with Denard Span making a Fort Myers-like three at-bat start.

It wasn't pure Grapefruit League — Span did stick around for the rest of the game. But there was never any intent that he would play nine innings.

That he's playing at all is a curious thing. There is no claim that he's completely symptom free. It's even likely, inasmuch as he cleared his baseline tests back in July and hasn't suffered a new concussion, that he didn't have to be cleared by MLB to play.

He wants to play, if only to get his return to the field out of the way before 2012.  I understand that. Perhaps the injury risk is outweighed by the psychological advantage of going into the offseason having taken the field.

I don't know, though; after Span left the game Wednesday, Ben Revere returned to center field and took on the outfield wall to make a catch. It was not a play I would want a sometimes-woozy Span trying to make. It's also a play a center fielder has to be able to go for.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

A windy night at Target Field

The view from our seats, much reduced.
My wife and I made what I expect will be our final pilgrimage of the season to Target Field for Tuesday night's game. Yes, the home team is going out with a whimper, and too much of the lineup these days is made up of players with little future in the majors, but ... it's baseball, and it's Target Field, and I can always find something to enjoy.

It sure didn't hurt that it was a competitive game.

Some observations:

*For this one I procured seats (through StubHub) in what the Twins call the "Pavilion", a four-row set of seats in right-center field. I'd noticed them on previous trips and made a mental note to try them at some point. For proximity's sake, and also to try something new, I skipped my customary Kramarczuk foray (those stands are behind home plate) and went to the "State Fair" booth a few feet away. We split a pork chop on a stick, the Michelbob's ribs and fries.

Michelbob's, if you don't know, is from Naples, Fla., and is apparently a favorite of spring training regulars. I was a little skeptical of the practicality of ribs as a ballpark food, but it worked; the five-rib rack separated easily with a plastic fork and fingers. And Linda was quite pleased with the tenderness of the pork chop. (We both preferred the Michelbob's sauce to the sauce that came with the chop.)

* I learned my lesson from last September and dressed a bit more warmly than my reading of the forecast dictated. Good idea.

* It was easily the windiest game I've attended there, with the players' uniforms flapping like flags around their legs and torsos. I remain baffled by Target Field's wind patterns. The flags above left field were pointed out; a TV shot during the game showed the big flags in right field pointed in; the wind was consistently coming into our faces from left field; and the uniforms and food wrappers on the field were going pretty much straight across left to right.

The point being: If you hear an announcer say something about the wind going in a particular direction there, don't believe it.

The wind had at least a mild impact on the game, with a Joe Benson infield popup falling uncaught; he was thrown out trying to take second on the play. I don't think it was a stupid play on his part; with two out and weak hitters coming up, he needed to be in scoring position.

* Liam Hendriks had a mixed bag start again. No walks and five strikeouts in 5.1 innings, good; ten hits, seven for extra bases, bad. I was, frankly, surprised the he got to start the sixth inning, since both Francisco Liriano and Brian Duensing were warming up in the fifth and Hendriks had been in trouble pretty much all game.

* I really thought, after the Twins had loaded the bases with nobody out in the bottom of the ninth, that they were going to win that game. But Michael Cuddyer, Chris Parmelee and Danny Valencia couldn't get the ball out of the infield.

Not to harsh too much on Cuddyer, who probably feels some pressure as the one established middle-of-the-order guy left in the lineup, but once he had two strikes I knew what the next pitch was going to be — slider, down and away. He probably knew too, and still couldn't lay off it.

*Ten losses in a row, and still just two wins in the month of September. It appears all but certain that the Twins will lose 100 games. Amazing.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Contemplating Brian Dinkelman

Brian Dinkleman's major league average after Monday's
game was more than 140 points higher than his Triple A
average for the season.

Brian Dinkleman has nine hits in the Twins' last three games — 9-for-13, which is a fairly decent batting average. In his exceedingly brief time in the majors, he's hitting .386.

Even Ty Cobb wouldn't sneer at that batting average. Of course, it's only 44 at-bats. And .386 is also Dinkleman's slugging percentage. And he has just two walks to his credit, and they were both intentional.

We need not wonder if the 27-year-old is a legit .380 hitter. Nobody is. The real question is: Is he good enough to help a major league team?

I doubt it. His slash line in Triple A —pretty much two full seasons — is .255/.327/.353. Even maintaining those numbers in the major leagues would only work with high-caliber defense at a middle infield spot. Dinkleman does play second base — it was his initial position in the minors, and he's been seeing time there in the past week with the Twins — but if he were really a plus defender there the Twins wouldn't have made him primarily an outfielder at the higher levels.

He doesn't field well enough to play second in the majors. He doesn't hit enough to play a corner outfield in the majors. He's no shortstop, which detracts from his value as a utility infielder.

He's one of those guys — left-handed stick, makes contact — who'd have a better chance if teams still carried just 10 pitchers and there was no DH rule. I could see him carving out a career as a pinch-hitter/sixth infielder under those circumstances, especially if he finishes this season with a 353 average or something like that.

But those aren't the circumstances. Right or wrong, 21st Century managers prefer to have an extra arm to mop up waste innings than a pinch-hit option.

That's bad for a Brian Dinkelman, good for a Phil Dumatrait.

Monday, September 19, 2011

A new voice heard from

Josh Whetzel
As you probably know, John Gordon is hanging up the microphone after this season.

Fine by me; I won't be writing any glowing farewells. It's no secret that I have for years regarded the Twins radio broadcasts as borderline incompetent, and I've generally blamed Gordon as the lead figure on those broadcasts. That may be an unfair assessment — it's quite possible that with the amount of promo material foisted on the broadcasters Vin Scully would be hard pressed to pay attention to the game — but that's my opinion. I like knowing where the baserunners are, just where that drive to "left-right-center field" went and even if it was caught.  Gordon and Gladden don't always bother with such details.

Today a fellow named Josh Whetzel was doing the game from New York with Gordon. Whetzel has been doing the broadcasts for the Rochester Red Wings for nine years, and he has a pretty good reputation.

Having Whetzel fill in for Gladden for this one-game trip to Yankee Stadium probably saved somebody a bit of travel money, and gave Whetzel a real-life tryout for the major league job.

He was easy to listen to, spoke in complete sentences, told us listeners what happened and didn't impose some goofy schick. Me like. I hope he gets the full-time gig next year.

Misplaced blame

Another Twins game, another Twins loss, another Twins
injury: Jason Repko left Sunday's game after being hit
in the head by a Justin Masterson pitch.
The Twins found a fresh way Sunday to extend their losing streak (now at eight games). Instead of having their starting pitcher get shelled early, they took a 3-0 lead into the seventh and then imploded.

I got some sour amusement out of listening to Dick Bremer try to put the six-run seventh off to bad luck. On the assumption that most of you were watching the Vikings, here's how it went down:

Shelley Duncan homered. 3-1 Twins.
Lonnie Chisenhall reached on an error by first baseman Chris Parmalee.
Jason Donald flied to right.
Ezequiel Carerra grounded into a force play (Twins unable to get two on a grounder back to the mound).
Lou Marson singled; first and third,
Kosuke Fukodome walked. Bases loaded.
Jose Mijares relieved Carl Pavano.
Jason Kipnis walked; Carrera scored; 3-2 Twins.
Alex Burnett relieved Mijares.
Carlos Santana walks; Marson scored; tied at 3.
Glen Perkins relieved Burnett.
Jim Thome broke his bat, beat out an infield single, Fukodome scored. 4-3, Cleveland.
Duncan doubled to left;  Kipnis and Santana scored, 6-3 Cleveland.
Chisenhall grounded to second.

You go through that mess, and what at-bats jump out at you? Parmalee's error; the failed DP ball; the bases loaded walks by Mijares and Burnett, the bullpen's one-out specialists.

What jumped out at Bremer? Thome's broken-bat infield hit.

Look, that was just bad luck. Perkins did his job; the infielders were playing Thome where they're supposed to play him. The error, the uncompleted DP, the bases loaded walks — those were bad plays. By the time Thome came up the lead was gone. Had the Twins made the plays in the field, Pavano finishes the seventh with a 3-1 lead. Had Mijares or Burnett performed their speciality jobs, the inning ends before Thome's at-bat with the Twins in the lead.

To call Thome's fluke hit the key at-bat of the inning, as Bremer did repeatedly, is to twist the actual event beyond recognition.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Pic of the Week

Nick Punto — still scrappy after all these years.
This one first caught my eye for the reaction of Pittsburgh baserunner Josh Harrison, doing the limbo after being ruled out on a force out.

Then I noticed the identity of the third baseman on the play — our old pal Nick Punto.

Punto has spent a lot of time on the disabled list for St. Louis this season, but he's played well when available. He entered the weekend with career highs in on-base percentage and slugging percentage, although it also must be noted that he had just 141 plate appearances.

Given all his injuries, he probably wouldn't have been much use for the Twins this year, but his absence has certainly been noticeable. For all the disdain many fans held for him, he was always a highly reliable Plan B in the middle infield. The Twins needed that this year, and didn't have it.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Contemplating Joe Benson

Joe Benson's nine major league hits (entering
Saturday's play) include five doubles and a triple,
giving him a slugging percentage of .552.
Joe Benson has started every game since getting his September callup. He started by going 0-for-11 in his first three games with the Twins. He entered Friday's game 5-for-25 (having, obviously, gone 5-for-14); on Friday he went 4-for-4 with a triple and a pair of doubles.

And suddenly he's hitting .310. Ah, the wonders of small sample sizes.

Athletically, he's prime meat: A right fielder's throwing arm with center field speed (Dan Gladden said during spring training that he thought Benson is faster than Ben Revere), he also has power.

Benson had trouble in the lower rungs of the farm system with pitch selection — few walks and lots of strikeouts. But this year he increased his walks, cut down on the strikeouts and raised his batting average. (Benson's minor league stats here).

But he was repeating Double A this year. Benson has a pattern of struggling initially with each step up the ladder. He opened 2010 at Double A, struggled, was returned to High A, then moved back up to New Britain.

It's that pattern that makes it unlikely that the Twins would plan on Benson for 2012. Skipping Triple A completely is plausible if the player is truly dominating Double A, but Benson's walk-to-strikeout rate isn't that good. It's passable, but not dominating.

And if Benson isn't ready for a regular outfield job in 2012, it becomes a lot trickier for the Twins to let both Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel leave as free agents this winter.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Coming up short

Baseball Info Systems's
advanced metrics suggest
Trevor Plouffe is the worst
defensive middle infielder
in the American League.
I have this season periodically dug into the advanced fielding metrics designed by Baseball Info Systems, and after seeing Ron Gardenhire promise "a lot of research and a lot of digging on what's going to make us better in the infield," I returned to my iPad app this morning to see what it tells me.

And the top take-away: The best way to "make us better in the infield" might be to stop playing Trevor Plouffe.

By BIS's "plus-minus" and "runs saved" measurements, no team in the American League is getting worse shortstop play than the Twins.

Derek Jeter has the worst individual totals; the Yankee captain is at -22 in plus-minus, -18 in runs saved. (I write in present tense, but the app appears to be about four games behind on the Twins, so the numbers here are not up-to-date.) But Jeter complied those numbers over 969 innings.

Tsuyoshi Nishioka is -10 and -11 in 508 innings; Plouffe is -13 and -9 in 247 innings (and, since that certainly doesn't include his performance in Kansas City this week, that understates how poorly he's played). That makes the Twins duo -23 and -20, worse than Jeter in almost 200 fewer innings.

And Plouffe isn't merely a dismal shortstop. He's even worse, on a per-inning basis, at second base (-9 and -8 in just 127 innings there.) In fact, he has the worst totals at second base in the AL, in about one-tenth the playing time of a regular second baseman. The Twins' second base play, by these metrics, have been about average if you take Plouffe's innings out.

Now the disclaimer: Even Baseball Info Systems is wary of putting a lot of weight on one year's numbers, much less one year of part-time play. But these figures jibe with what we think we see. If Trevor Plouffe isn't the worst defensive middle infielder in the AL, he's in the running.

And Nishioka isn't much better. The more we see of this defensive duo, the better Brian Dozier looks — and we haven't seen him yet.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Evaluating rotation candidates: Liam Hendriks

Anybody got a good idea there?
The Twins at this point have a lot of rotation candidates for 2012, all of whom come with question marks and some of whom will be elsewhere before spring training. One who won't be leaving the organization is Liam Hendriks, who got his second major league start Wednesday.

Hendriks' question marks are his inexperience and his unimpressive raw stuff. His positives: He's inexpensive and he appears to have what the scouts call "pitchability" -- the knack for using what he has intelligently. He's a strike-thrower.

On the face of it, Wednesday's start was a bumpy one for the 22-year-old Aussie. I didn't get to pay as much attention to the broadcast as I would have liked, but we can sum it up this way: He had three good innings and two crooked number innings, and the defense wasn't very helpful in one of the latter.

No walks in five innings is good. No homers is good. Just two strikeouts is hardly a positive. A wild pitch is a negative, but I though Joe Mauer merely tried to backhand the pitch rather than slide and block it. (Two possibilities there: Either he was lazy and used poor technique, or his legs simply won't let him move the way he needs to behind the plate.) Eighty-three pitches, 53 strikes, only 10 first pitch strikes.

What I really missed by not being able to focus on the game was hearing Tom Kelly (who was filling in for Bert Blyleven again) talk about Hendriks. TK's thoughts are of more interest to me than Blyleven's because

  • He has an actual formal role with the Twins as a talent evaluator and
  • Blyleven's "analysis" is simply white noise at this point.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

200 for Wakefield (finally)

Tim Wakefield: 200-178.
Tim Wakefield collected career win 200 on Tuesday. It took him eight starts and a long relief appearance to get from 199 to 200, a protracted delay caused by some poor pitching on his part and some poor work on the part of his teammates. He was 0-3 in those nine games; the Red Sox won two of them.

So we now have an active 200-game winner, whether or not Jamie Moyer makes it back to the majors. Of course, there no guarantee either Moyer or Wakefield will ptich in the majors in 2012, so the same historical rarity I wrote of earlier may still apply.

Roy Halladay is the next up; he has 186 wins, so -- assuming good health -- he'll likely get to the milestone next season.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

A knee to know basis

Joe Mauer has caught just 51 games this season.
The Star Tribune's Joe Christensen today has a piece that probably comes as close as we're going to get to peeling back the mystery of Joe Mauer's health problems this year.

It doesn't answer all questions. One of my pet theories as a newspaper copy editor myself is that when the reporter is vague, (s)he's probably trying to hide a knowledge gap. This passage, on the timing of Mauer's offseason knee surgery, is a good example:

Mauer had arthroscopic surgery on the same knee in 2004, and this time, after numerous medical consultations, he didn't have surgery until mid-December.

"Do I wish I would have had it earlier? Of course," Mauer said. "But at the time, myself, the organization -- we felt that was the best route."

Left unknown: Was the medical advice unanimous to wait? Was Mauer himself reluctant to have the 2010 surgery? I don't expect we outsiders are ever going to know who recommended what and why.

Then there's this unresponsive comment from general manager Bill Smith about the April description of Mauer's problem as "bilateral leg weakness," a diagnosis that sent many of us scurrying to the Internet and led to myriad rumors of dire ailments:

Asked if the team regrets that diagnosis, Smith said, "No, that's in the past."

I think he means: There's nothing I can do about that statement now, and I'm not going to criticize my staff in public, so I'm not talking about it.  Saying "That's in the past," however, implies that the incident will not be revisited, and I doubt that. I suspect it will play a prominent role in somebody's job review. If it doesn't, it ought to.

One other point:

Twins insiders don't question Mauer's work ethic. He's often the first player in the clubhouse and last to leave. He goes through an extensive training program each day, but some have wondered if Mauer should focus more on weightlifting and less on flexibility.

From my perspective — as one who has avoided back surgery for more than a decade though a daily flexibility routine — I couldn't disagree more with that last clause. Mauer's a catcher. A 6-foot-5-inch catcher. What wrecks catchers' careers is back problems, and that's particularly true of tall catchers. 

I've watched Mauer's on-field stretching closely a few times. His routine is similar to what I go through — but more intense, which makes sense, because he's about to put his body through a more rigorous set of challenges than I ever will. I can't see that it's possible for him to overdo flexibility, and see nothing but increased medical trauma for him if he underdoes it. 

Monday, September 12, 2011

Evaluating rotation candidates: Scott Diamond

Scott Diamond lowered his ERA to 3.94
in Sunday's 2-1 loss in Detroit. 
Nick Blackburn, on the 60-day disabled list, won't pitch again this season. Scott Baker and Francisco Liriano, if they do pitch again, will do so only out of the bullpen. Brian Duensing might start again, but my guess is not.

Which makes September an audition month for Kevin Slowey, Anthony Swarzak, Scott Diamond and Liam Hendriks.

One should generally be wary of putting too much weight on September trials, since both teams are often using cup-of-coffee players. The lineup Diamond faced on Sunday in Detroit, however, was pretty much legit; the Tigers, many of whom remember their 2009 fade all too well, are eager to wrap this division up.

Diamond's performance fit neatly in with his previous four starts (the sum and total of his major league experience) — a mixed bag.

On the plus side: He allowed just two runs in six innings, and one of the runs was unearned. He didn't give up an extra base hit, he struck out four men, he threw ground balls (including three double plays).

On the bad side: He walked four men and allowed seven hits. Eleven baserunners in six innings is a lot.

This has been a pattern for Diamond — about six innings with lots of baserunners and few runs allowed (in the context of all those baserunners).

In his first two starts, he fared well for six innings, but when Ron Gardenhire tried to get a seventh inning out of him, things fell apart. He's had a shorter leash in the next three starts. He threw 95 pitches Sunday, and that's the most he's thrown for the Twins.

Diamond interests me perhaps more than he should. Of the four September trial candidates, he's the one I think is most likely to get a shot at the rotation next year – he's left-handed; he hasn't (unlike Duensing) been hammered by righties; he's avoided the long ball both in the majors and the minors; he has, in the minors, a good control record (which hasn't shown in the majors).

He's also topped 150 innings, majors and minors, already, with three more starts to come — then a scheduled stint in the Arizona Fall League.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Pic of the Week

Royals catcher Branyan Pena, a baseball and
a praying mantis during a game at Detroit.
This photo isn't from the past week. It's from the previous week. But

  • I really didn't like anything from this week nearly as much;
  • I like this one more than probably half the POWs I've used this year; and
  • It's my blog and I make the rules.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

The first moves

Tom Nieto's 1987 card shows
him with Montreal, his team in
1986 — but he opened the '87
season with the Twins. He
ultimately lost the backup
catcher's job to Sal Butera —
the father of current Twins
backup Drew Butera.
The Twins began what may well be a wide-ranging shakeup of their player development operations Friday with news that Tom Nieto and Floyd Rayford, the manager and hitting coach respectively at Triple A Rochester, will not be back in 2012. (Bobby Cuellar, the pitching coach there, is apparently safe.)

Nieto had two seasons at the helm of the Red Wings, and they weren't good ones on the won-loss ledger; Rochester lost more than 90 games in both seasons. That certainly didn't help his cause.

But his fate (and that of Rayford) was probably sealed when Justin Morneau returned to the Twins from a rehab assignment in Rochester talking about the lack of extra work there. Nor did it help their cause that so many of the players called up from Rochester this season — and there was a virtual conveyor belt at times — appeared ill-trained in such things as cut-off plays and rundowns.

Managing a Triple A team may be the most difficult job in a system. So many players on the roster are fringe players, whose major league destiny, if any, will be as a bench guy. The real prospects, the guys destined to be major league regulars, will spend a full season at Double A and probably just a few weeks at Triple A — but the core of the Triple A team will be minor league veterans who've been cut too many times to be optimistic about their futures.

It's easy for attitudes to turn sour on a Triple A team. In fact, that's one reason some organizations prefer to have their top prospects come to the majors direct from Double A, to keep them from being infected by the disgruntled Triple A lifers.

Pat Reusse apparently believes the Twins will assign one of their current major league coaches, either Scott Ullger or Steve Liddle, to straighten out their top minor league affiliate. If so, that would open a slot on the major league coaching staff, which perhaps would benefit from a bit of turnover.

I'd be surprised if such a shift happened, but I don't rule it out — especially if the organization thinks a Triple A manager known to be close to the big league manager will carry more credibility with the players.

Friday, September 9, 2011

On Target: What happened to the Twins at home?

Target Field has not seen as many
Twins victories this season.
This was supposed to have happened last year.

The Twins had a long history of a "Dome field advantage." The Metrodome was one of the few turf fields in the American League; it had a unique roof; it had a unique right field "wall" -- there was no place quite like it, and the Twins habitually won games there on weird plays. Billy Martin wanted to blow it up in the early '80s, Ozzie Guillen cursed about it in the late '00s, and the Twins collected their wins and smiled.

Now: Most teams do better at home than on the road. The home team has last at-bats, so an advantage is built into the rules. The Twins usually had a bigger home field edge than normal because their arena was so odd. The Dome warped the game, and the Twins were more accustomed to those warps and, at times, even constructed to take advantage of them.

So when they moved to Target Field, a lot of people, included the aforementioned Mr. Guillen, expected them to struggle. No more high-hopping grounders. Actual caroms off the right-field wall. Weather to contend with.

And the 2010 Twins merely led the American League in home wins (53, one more than the Yankees). They were a pedestrian 41-40 on the road.

This year: The Twins are last in home wins, with 30. They enter Friday's play 30-42 at home, 29-42 on the road -- as even as they can get. No advantage to being at home for this team.

They've been lousy at the plate both home and road, with essentially the same OPS: .663 home, .662 road. They have a bit more power on the road, slightly higher batting averages and on-base percentages at home -- yet they're scored 4.17 runs per game on the road, 3.51 at home, more than half a run difference.

Part of that is having nine innings at the plate every road game, while some home games only require eight. Let's put it this way: The Twins on the road have scored 0.1098 runs per plate appearance. At home, 0.0972. That's a difference of 0.0126. Is that significant? The Twins average 37 plate appearances a game this year, and if we multiply 0.0126 by 37 we get .4662 -- or a bit less than a half run a game.That's less than the .66 runs differential dividing the runs by games played, but still significant.

How about the other half of the equation, run prevention? The Twins have allowed 355 runs in 72 home games, 4.93 runs per game; 348 runs in 71 road games, or 4.90 runs per game. Much more even -- this despite faring far worse on the road in all three slash stats (batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage). But again, the Twins have pitched almost 50 more innings at home.

Back to the plate appearance metric. The Twins at home have allowed 0.1255 runs per PA; on the road, 0.1311 -- a difference of .0056, less than half the difference on offense.

OK. So what? The 2011 Twins have a lousy home record for the same reason they have a lousy road record: They haven't played well in any facet of the game.

But it appears that the sharp decline in their home record is to be blamed more on their lack of runs in Target Field than on the pitching and defense.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Contemplating the future: Glen Perkins

Glen Perkins has struck out 61 batters in
55.2 innings —and allowed just one
home run.
Given the totality of the Twins collapse — and the expectations that they had opening the season — nobody on the team should be completely satisfied with the 2011 season.

One of the few who can be pleased with their individual season is Glen Perkins, who entered spring training a marginal bullpen candidate and emerged by May as the team's top set-up man.

But the lefty is showing signs of wearing down in these final weeks.

His ERA has risen by more than a run over the past month (1.45 after his appearance on Aug. 5, 2.59 after Wednesday's game). He hasn't had a clean (no baserunners allowed) outing since Aug. 22.

He spent almost a month on the disabled list in late May-early June, and he just sat for a week (no DL stint, if only because the roster limits are lifted in September) with forearm stiffness.

There has been some talk of the Twins letting both Matt Capps and Joe Nathan go and elevating the much cheaper Perkins to the closer role. My belief is that

  • Perkins is more valuable wiping out hitters in jams than he would be if limited to the ninth inning and
  • Nathan's going to stick around.

But it would certainly help Perkins' value if he snaps back into his midsummer form this month.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Hendriks and elimination

Liam Hendriks was one of three
players in the Twins starting lineup
Tuesday making his major league
debut. The other were Joe Benson
and Chris Parmalee.
Liam Hendriks had a reasonably good start on Thursday in his major league debut — three runs allowed in seven innings.

He looked like the pitcher he's been touted as: a strike-thrower without impressive velocity. He did walk three men, which is more than desired, but his strike-to-ball ratio was roughly 2-to-1 (65 strikes, 34 balls), and, while he did give up a home run, he induced plenty of grounders.

The stereotypical Twins pitcher, in other words.

That hasn't worked well this season, because nothing has worked well this season. Pitchers who don't strike out a lot of hitters need their defense to play cleanly, and the misplay by Hendriks' fellow debutante, Joe Benson, created one of the White Sox runs. All pitchers need run support, and Hendriks got none.

The Twins have now been mathematically eliminated from playoff contention, which merely makes official what's been obvious for weeks. The Tigers are pulling away from the division. Detroit in the last week has done unto Chicago and Cleveland what the Twins did last year at this time — bury them. For those of us who doubted the Indian's staying power, Detroit emerged in the first half as the class of the division, and so it has proved.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

57 sauce

Johan Santana has spent
this season rehabbing after
a serious shoulder surgery.
I saw in the Target Field stands Monday night a couple of "Santana 57" Twins jerseys.

There was also, for the first time since Santana was traded after the 2007 season, a Twins 57 jersey on the field. Kyle Waldrop is wearing the number.

The Twins had had a prime opportunity a couple of years ago to reissue 57. That had been Jon Rauch's number with Arizona, and supposedly he asked about it when the Twins acquired him — and opted for 60 when told 57 was last used by Santana.

But it's now almost four seasons since Cytana pitched here. And the chances that the Twins will ultimately retire his number, I think, dropped considerably this year.

The Twins' retired numbers fit in three categories:

  1. Hall of Famers portrayed in Cooperstown as Twins;
  2. Outstanding non-Hall of Famers who spent their entire careers with the Twins; and
  3. Jackie Robinson

Santana doesn't fit categories 2 and 3, and his chances of eventual enshrinement took a hit with this missed season. There aren't a lot of HoF pitchers who miss a season-plus in the heart of their careers.

It was probably time for the Twins to put No. 57 back in circulation — but it still seems odd to see someone other than Santana using it

Nearly perfect

Zach Stewart had something to
smile about Monday night.
On the spur of the moment Monday morning I decided to hit Target Field for the evening tilt of the White Sox-Twins make-up doubleheader. One attraction for me was to take an in-person look at Scott Diamond.

Diamond was ... OK. He struck out four men in five innings and allowed just two runs,  but ... 10 baserunners is a lot. He had to pitch out of jams in four of the five innings.

Diamond figures to continue to start this month, but at this point it seems safe to say that if he's going to have a major-league career he needs to

  • establish better command of his pitches, especially his fastball; and
  • widen the velocity separation between his pitches.

The radar gun readings at Target Field generally showed his fastest pitches to be 88 or 89 mph. The slower pitches were more like 83 mph, and that's probably not sufficient differential.

Another newbie pitcher I watched with interest was Kyle Waldrop, making his major league debut. True to his reputation, he kept the ball on the ground. Not only did the first six batters hit grounders (five outs and an error by shortstop Trevor Plouffe), I don't think any of them even hit a foul ball in the air.

But once he got into the mid-30s in his pitch count, the White Sox started getting the ball off the ground. Two line-drive singles interspersed with a ground ball single and a walk added up to two earned runs and an unimpressive line score. He looked better than that to me.

But neither, of course, was the pitcher of the day. That was Zach Stewart, a rookie righty for Chicago who came oh-so-close to a perfect game.

I started thinking about the possibility of a perfecto after he got the first nine hitters. I told the guy standing next to me (I had a standing room only ticket) after the fifth that if Stewart got through the seventh inning and Joe Mauer's third plate appearance, he'd get it.

And when Mauer lined to short to end the seventh, I was quite certain.

Danny Valencia proved otherwise with an opposite-field double to open the eighth. Stewart had to settle for a one-hitter in which he allowed just the one baserunner.

That was the lineup to have such a game against. What with injuries, the second game of a doubleheader the day after a flight from California, and the expanded September roster, the Twins sported a lineup that would have raised eyebrows in spring training. (Teams are supposed to have at least three regulars in their exhibition lineups; this lineup had two, Mauer and Valencia.)

I don't say this to belittle what Stewart did— he pitched a whale of a game. There were few truly hard-hit balls by the Twins, and those that were hard hit weren't going to be hits because they were hit at infielders.

But there's been altogether too many games with too little offense and too many weak at-bats.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Seven years in the making

Kyle Waldrop is
likely to make his
major-league debut
in today's doubleheader.
Take this as a fresh lesson in how long it takes to judge a baseball amateur draft:

It wasn't that long ago that it appeared the Twins had utterly wasted their 2004 windfall of high-round draft picks. Today, it is possible that the 2012 team will have a regular middle infielder and about half of its bullpen as a result of that draft. Or maybe not.

The Twins had three first round selections that year. Trevor Plouffe — who, Sunday's brain fart notwithstanding, has been quite good in this third 2011 callup — was the first man the Twins selected that year, 20th overall. Glen Perkins came two picks later (22nd). Kyle Waldrop, who is being added to the major league roster today, was the 25th pick. (One of those picks came from the Cubs, who surrendered it for signing LaTroy Hawkins; another came from the Mariners, who had signed Eddie Guardado.)

Then their two "sandwich round" picks, again compensation for losing the Hawk and Everyday Eddie: Matt Fox and Jay Rainville. Fox pitched in one memorable game for the Twins and pitched this year in the Red Sox chain. Rainville is out of baseball.

The Twins picked up Anthony Swarzak in the second round.

It certainly could have had a more productive draft; Dustin Pedroia, for example, was drafted in the second round a few picks after Swarzak. It also could have been a lot worse; only 14 of the 30 players taken in the second round have even appeared in the majors to this point.

That draft hasn't helped the Twins a lot. I doubt they drafted Perkins, Waldrop, Fox, Rainville and Swarzak with the idea that they would wind up with a handful of middle relievers, but that appears their destiny.  They certainly drafted Plouffe with the idea that he'd become the starting shortstop, but he hasn't grabbed the job yet.

Perkins could inherit the closer's role. Perhaps Swarzak will emerge with a rotation berth. Maybe Plouffe will seize the shortstop's job after all. Waldrop has a chance to claim a bullpen spot.

Seven years out, and the Twins still have hope from that draft. Hope, but not a lot of accomplishment.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Pic of the Week

Joe Mauer plays catch before Monday's game in Chicago.
This is a striking enough image — a player silhouetted against the late-season afternoon sky/stadium. That the player in the shadow is Joe Mauer is particularly apt in 2011.

This has been the most difficult season for Mauer since he lost most of his rookie season (2004) to a knee injury and surgery. He won't appear in even 100 games this year, and his slugging percentageis barely above his on-base percentage — which is itself a career worst. He's not playing, and when he does, he's not playing to his accustomed level.

That this discouraging season comes in the first year of his megacontract (eight years, $184 million) just ups the ante. That he is reluctant to talk specifically about whatever physical ailments are affecting his play fuels the recurrent chatter — particularly among a segment of Twin Cities columnists whose beat reporting days were chiefly spent marinating in the dehumanizing, sado-masochistic culture of the NFL — that Mauer is "soft."

I don't buy that label. Nobody reaches the athletic levels that Mauer has reached without a tremendous drive to go with the talent. These guys want to play. It's a core part of their identity.

Do you know the story of J.R. Richard? He was a big overpowering pitcher in the 1970s with the Houston Astros — a huge 6-foot-8 black guy with a big fastball, wicked slider, uncertain control and a reputation as an unpleasant personality. He led the league three times in walks, three times in wild pitches — and by the late 70s he was striking out 300 batters a year. He won 20 games in 1976, 18 in each of the next three, led the NL in ERA in 1979.

He was having his best season yet in 1980, and suddenly started coming out of games early complaining of arm problems. He was still dominating hitters, but instead of going eight or nine innings, it was 5 innings, 3.1, 6, 3.1 again. The Astros' medicos couldn't identify a problem. Columnists were ragging on him for being soft — most notably, and prominently, Dick Young in his Sporting News soapbox.

Then Richard had a stroke. A blood clot in his shoulder had broken loose and gone to his brain. He would never pitch again in the majors. And as memory serves, Young went after him again the next week in his TSN column: He wasn't hurt when he was coming out of games early, because if he was he wouldn't have been so effective.

Richard serves for me as a cautionary tale on the limits of our knowledge of the player. I figure it this way: If a player says he can't play, he can't play. I'm not in his body. I don't know how it feels.

I don't know what ails Mauer; I don't even know that he knows specifically what the problem is. Sports medicine today is far ahead of where it was when Richard was stricken, but there remain limits to our knowledge there too.

Mauer's critics, be they in print, on the airwaves or in casual conversation, have yet to convince me that they know better than he does what he's capable of doing. Mauer says he can't play. That's sufficient for me.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Late night: Twins 13, Angels 5

Danny Valencia receives congratulations in the dugout
after scoring a run in the fourth inning.
Box score here

Game story here

In last Monday's print column, I made reference to how many triples the Twins had allowed this year, citing that as evidence of the flawed outfield defense.

The Twins won Friday night in Anaheim despite allowing three more three-baggers. Three triples allowed in a game is a lot. We can divvy up the responsibility three ways:

  • Michael Cuddyer misplayed the first off the right field wall (falling down in the process).
  • The second, to right-center, became a triple in part because Ben Revere doesn't have a quality arm in center field.
  • The third went to left-center, and Rene Tosoni was the outfielder who couldn't hold Erik Aybar to two bases.

The first, I think, should have been limited to two bases. The other two might have been ... if Revere could throw, or if Tosoni had cut the ball off.

This is a sort of hidden effect of outfield range, the ability (or inability) of outfielders to limit base hits to singles or doubles. Revere has great range, but we've seen several examples of teams taking bases they wouldn't consider taking on other outfielders.

Obviously, those triples didn't stop the Twins from winning. They did make life a bit rougher on Carl Pavano, but it also has to be noted that the Angels outfield defense -- which boasts a pair of multi-Gold Glove winners in Torii Hunter and Vernon Wells -- did their pitchers no favors either.

Hunter was charged with an error  in the fourth inning, and Wells should have been on the following at-bat (Luke Hughes was credited with a double instead). And center fielder Peter Bourjos failed to hang on to a Trevor Plouffe drive to the wall in the sixth inning; that was also scored as a hit.


Tragic number: Eight.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Kyle Gibson to have Tommy John surgery

The annus horribilis that has been the Twins' 2011 gets a bit worse.

Kyle Gibson is to
have the ulnar collateral
ligament in his right
elbow replaced.
Thursday's announcement was expected; I doubt many put much stock in the notion that the Twins' top pitching prospect would be able to avoid the ligament replacement surgery through rehab. The timing of it — it rather closely follows a second opinion that backed the rehab plan — might not have been anticipated.

But the window to make the decision to operate was closing. Surgery now (it's scheduled for Wednesday) gives him, probably, two winters and a full season in which to rehab before pitching again. The worst possible outcome would have been what happened to Pat Neshek, who rehabbed all season and winter only to come to spring training and find that his elbow still needed to be rebuilt. And having the surgery in the spring, as opposed to the fall, means taking the mound in 12 months rather than 18.

In a 2011 that went according to plan, Gibson would already be in the major league rotation. Had everybody in the rotation been effective and healthy, he would at the very least  be a September call-up and expected to take a rotation spot in 2012, making one of the incumbents trade bait.

Almost nothing in 2011 went according to plan.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Contemplating Scott Diamond

Scott Diamond's delivery.
Cliff Lee's delivery.

As I watched Scott Diamond pitch Wednesday afternoon, I was suddenly struck by the sense that his delivery is very much like that of Cliff Lee.

Both are left-handers who use a fairly high (by today's standards, at least) and deliberate leg kick, throw straight overhand, and have a pronounced lift of the left (trailing) leg after releasing the pitch.

Neither is noted for velocity, although I'm confident that Lee does throw harder than Diamond. But speed isn't what makes Lee one of the game's best pitchers. It's his uncanny location of both the fast ball and curve.

Diamond can't match that. Few can. It's entirely possible that Wednesday was about as well as Diamond can pitch: Six innings, three hits, three walks, five strikeouts. And such an outing from Lee would be a bit of a disappointment.

I'm not, clearly, claiming that Diamond is equivalent to Lee, or even suggesting that he has a chance to be that good. Pitching with a similar delivery hardly means similar results. I don't even know if Diamond has consciously modeled his motion on Lee's.

I will say, however, that Lee is a darn good role model for a left-hander with an OK fastball and good curve. Can you name a better one?

I was slightly surprised that Ron Gardenhire took Diamond out after the sixth inning. He had a four run lead, and had thrown just 87 pitches. On the other hand, Diamond had given him six good innings in his two previous major league starts only to flounder in the seventh.