Thursday, September 01, 2005
IckThirteen hits. Two walks. One hit by pitch. Zero runs.
For a while now, I've simply been disappointed with the Twins' hitters. Yesterday afternoon's game, in which they reached base safely 16 times in nine innings and failed to score a single run against the worst team in baseball, may have taken that disappointment to a new level. In fact, what I'm feeling for this team now has very little to do with disappointment.
I get excited when Joe Mauer comes to the plate, root like hell for Justin Morneau to snap out of his funk, and hold some optimism that Jason Bartlett can hit well enough down the stretch to keep Ron Gardenhire from yanking him around again next season. Aside from those three players, the emotion I feel most often now while watching the Twins at the plate is contempt.
At some point the offense was just struggling, but that is no longer the case. They still can't hit a lick, of course, but now they are compounding the problem by playing sloppy, uninspired, fundamentally lacking baseball. They don't hit for any power, yet they don't execute simple plays to move runners over or drive them in from third base.
Yesterday afternoon, for instance, Mike Redmond reached on an infield single with one out in the eighth inning and Bartlett followed with a double. Brent Abernathy pinch-ran for Redmond and the Twins had runners on second and third with one out, Michael Ryan at the plate, and the game tied at 0-0. I'm sure you can take a wild guess as to what happened with this prime scoring opportunity.
Royals reliever Mike MacDougal bounced a pitch to the backstop, at which point Abernathy broke from third base and found himself in no man's land when catcher Paul Phillips fielded the ball cleanly. Phillips threw back to third, Abernathy was out by several feet diving back to the base, and suddenly Ryan had two strikes on him with two outs and a runner on second base. He proceeded to strike out and yet another seemingly easy scoring opportunity was wasted.
In some ways, that was the straw that broke the camel's back. Or at least this camel's back. I can no longer handle being emotionally invested in this team doing well, because I can no longer stand to watch them fail miserably in situations that call for little more than proper execution of fundamentals. Too often the hitters in this lineup can't bunt a runner over, can't hit a fly ball to the outfield with a runner on third base, and can't even make contact at the plate when just about anything besides a strikeout will get the job done.
That's all fine if you're the Red Sox or Yankees, but this is a team that now ranks 12th or worse among the 14 American League teams in homers, total bases, extra-base hits, slugging percentage, and Isolated Power. If you're going to hit like it's the 1960s, you need to play the rest of your game that way too. Instead, the Twins neither hit for power or "do the little things," and the end result is really ugly to watch.
Remember all that stuff we used to hear about the Twins "playing the game the right way"?
(And I'm not even going to talk about the errors -- both mental and physical -- committed, other runners thrown out at various places, double plays hit into, and the fact that the best reliever on the entire team didn't make an appearance in a 1-0 game while a 42-year-old with a 4.94 ERA was on the mound when Denny Hocking -- Denny Hocking?! -- scored the winning run.)
Today at The Hardball Times:
- Ten Things I Didn't Know Last Week (by Dave Studeman)
- Wacky Wild Card: NL (by Ben Jacobs)
Today's Picks (93-84, +$685):
Minnesota -16 (-110) over Tulsa
Oakland (Haren) -110 over New York (Leiter)
San Francisco (Lowry) -115 over Arizona (Vargas)
Wednesday, August 31, 2005
Counting MauerI was talking about the Twins with my grandpa the other day and he opined that Joe Mauer should be more aggressive at the plate, particularly early in the count. I responded that a large part of Mauer's considerable value as a hitter comes from the fact that he works long counts, draw walks, and controls the strike zone. Sure, he misses out on some opportunities for hits early in the count, but that's the price you pay for the other benefits.
Mauer is just about everything I would want in a hitter, let alone in a 22-year-old hitter. It's tough to argue with a catcher who is hitting .302/.379/.443 with a 58-to-51 strikeout-to-walk ratio, 36 extra-base hits in 397 at-bats, and 11 stolen bases in 12 attempts in what is essentially his rookie season. Of course, none of that means he shouldn't be more aggressive at the plate, it just means his current hitting style is working pretty damn well.
In an effort to learn a little bit more about Mauer's approach at the plate and the results he is getting, let's take a deeper look at some of his numbers offensively. Rather than look at the typical stuff, like lefty/righty splits or his performance with runners in scoring position, let's examine how he does as his plate appearances progress.
Hitting With a 0-0 Count: .350/.350/.350 (14-for-40)
This is where my grandpa would like to see Mauer hacking more. A .350 batting average in this situation looks a lot better than it actually is, because a) it only counts balls put in play (so no missed swings), and b) the entire league hits very well on the first pitch. In fact, the American League as a whole is hitting .329 (with a .522 slugging percentage) when putting the first pitch in play.
What's interesting here is that Mauer has only put the ball in play on the first pitch 40 times in 568 career plate appearances, and has yet do anything but single. You'd think at some point a pitcher would have grooved a first-pitch fastball over the heart of the plate and Mauer would have driven it into the gap somewhere. Instead, he has 14 singles in 40 at-bats, which is certainly the type of performance that would have some people wishing he'd be more aggressive on the first pitch.
Just to put Mauer's numbers with a 0-0 count in some context, let's compare them to the performances of the Twins' three most veteran hitters in the same situation. Jacque Jones is a career .383/.395/.603 hitter when putting the first pitch in play, Shannon Stewart has hit .350/.372/.542 in those situations throughout his career, and Torii Hunter is at .309/.319/.530 hacking at the first pitch he sees.
Hitting After a 0-1 Count: .273/.299/.412 (71-for-260)
Since 40 of Mauer's 568 career plate appearances have ended with one pitch, that leaves 528 trips to the plate that lasted beyond the pitcher's first offering. In those 528 trips, Mauer has fallen behind in the count 0-1 271 times, or 51.3% of the time. In other words, 51.3% of the time Mauer either watches a first-pitch strike go by or fouls the first pitch off. Add that total to the 40 first pitches that he has put in play and you get an overall first-pitch strike percentage of 54.7%.
Fifty-five percent first-pitch strikes is a low number, although probably not so low that it eliminates the possibility of the cause being simply a small sample of plate appearances. One other explanation I thought of is that Mauer is so patient on the first pitch that he never turns a first-pitch ball into a first-pitch strike by swinging at it.
Interestingly, my grandpa's perception that Mauer is very passive early in the count is on the money, because 45.3% of the time he's staring at a first-pitch ball. That's a high number, and if you're watching just about every game like my grandpa is, it's probably enough to notice a general trend. Of course, if 45.3% of the first pitches Mauer is getting to look at are truly balls, then he's smart to be passive early in the count.
Hitting After a 1-0 Count: .327/.464/.553 (65-for-199)
Like most hitters, this is where Mauer has done his most damage. In plate appearances where he has taken the first pitch for a ball, Mauer has hit .327/.464/.553, which is excellent. The league as a whole hits .282/.388/.457 after getting ahead 1-0, so Mauer is well above average in those situations.
So if he's seeing an inordinate number of first pitches out of the strike zone and he becomes a .327/.464/.553 hitter the moment he gets ahead in the count 1-0, it's probably pretty smart to begin each plate appearance passively.
Hitting After a 1-1 Count: .303/.350/.477 (66-for-218)
Hitting After a 2-0 Count: .345/.616/.655 (20-for-58)
Once the hitter gets ahead 1-0, the second pitch is the big crossroad of the at-bat. Either the pitcher evens up the count at 1-1 to level the playing field or the pitcher falls way behind at two balls and no strikes.
Mauer has been excellent even when the pitcher has come back with a second-pitch strike after falling behind, hitting .303/.350/.477. And when he sees two balls in a row to open a plate appearance, he turns into a monster, hitting .345/.616/.655. That works out to a huge .310 Isolated Power (Derrek Lee leads all of baseball at .335), thanks to four homers and six doubles in 58 at-bats.
Hitting After a 0-2 Count: .260/.286/.423 (27-for-104)
This is where you can see just how mature a hitter Mauer is. Even when he falls behind 0-2, which is typically death for hitters, he still manages to hit .260 with decent power. His on-base percentage is low because it is extremely tough to draw a walk after falling behind 0-2, but he has managed to strike out just 28.8% of the time when one more strike will get him out.
Also, notice that the difference between Mauer's numbers after 0-1 (.273/.299/.412) and after 0-2 (.260/.286/.423) are almost identical. Not only is that probably extremely rare, I would guess it's due mostly to a statistical fluke. What it basically says is that once Mauer is behind in the count, it doesn't really matter how far behind he gets. If it's not a fluke, it's pretty amazing.
Here are all the numbers I talked about above, presented in a neat little table:
SITUATION FREQUENCY GPAThrough this point of his career, Mauer's success can be attributed to getting ahead in the count a high percentage of the time and doing extremely well after doing so. The question becomes whether or not attempting to put the ball in play more often on the first pitch -- a situation where hitters as a whole do extremely well -- is worth the tradeoff of getting ahead in the count less often.
I tend to say no. First, I'm generally not for fixing what isn't broken. Beyond that, it seems from the admittedly early numbers that Mauer does a pretty good job differentiating between strikes and balls on the first pitch. There is no doubt that he has a lot of room for improvement when it comes to hitting first-pitch strikes for extra bases, but the fact that he doesn't put the ball in play on the first pitch, in and of itself, is not a bad thing.
If he were falling behind in the count a lot by taking the first pitch or he failed to take advantage of getting ahead in the count, I'd say he should start swinging away. But as it stands right now, Mauer is getting himself in favorable counts more often than the average hitter and he's doing extremely well once he gets there. That's a nice combination to have in a 22-year-old hitter, and if he can start taking advantage of a few more get-me-over fastballs on 0-0 counts I think he can take his hitting to the next level.
Today at The Hardball Times:
- Splitsville (by Aaron Gleeman)
- Business of Baseball Report (by Brian Borawski)
Today's Picks (93-83, +$785):
Arizona (Vazquez) +110 over San Diego (Park)
Tuesday, August 30, 2005
Open Chat: My Day OffSorry for the lack of a real entry today. I'm a little overwhelmed with some other writing stuff (the kind that pays money), so I'm going to take a day off. If you're still jonesing to read something I've written, check out my "Daily Dose" column at FoxSports.com or Rotoworld.com. Click here for Monday's or click here for today's.
Oh, and check out Will Young's Twins Blog, because he's been doing some great stuff over there this month. I'm jealous, because it's the sort of stuff I'd like to be doing here, if only I had more time (or fewer other obligations).
See ya tomorrow and feel free to chat away in the comments.
Today at The Hardball Times:
- Sociology of the MLB Player: 1952 (by Steve Treder)
- Batted Balls and DIPS (by David Gassko)
Today's Picks (93-82, +$885):
Cincinnati (Ortiz) +105 over Houston (Rodriguez)
Monday, August 29, 2005
Dr. GleemanA guy is riding his bike when a truck veers off the road and hits him. A passer-by calls 911, the biker is rushed to the emergency room, and after a few minutes a doctor pronounces him dead. Wanting to give it one last shot, another doctor takes out the defibrillator paddles and shocks him. Suddenly his heart starts beating again and everyone in the room yells at the original doctor, telling him how silly he was to have overreacted and how wrong he was about the biker being dead. Then, after 10 seconds the biker flat lines again, this time for good.
I feel like that original doctor today. I've been saying for the past month or so that the Twins were "done" and right now, at 68-62 and 5.5 games behind the Wild Card-leading Yankees, they are. They have too much ground to make up on too many teams, not enough time to do it, and their offense is simply not good enough to support the playoff-caliber pitching staff.
Yet for a very brief moment their heart started beating again. Just long enough to get hopes up, and just long enough for me to catch some flak for writing off the team. The funny thing is, if someone had taken a vacation to a deserted island the day Torii Hunter broke his ankle and returned to the civilized world this morning, they would have looked at the Twins' playoff chances upon their return and said, "Well, it looks like they were done after all."
We can still argue about whether or not they were "done" weeks ago (or whether or not I was "right"), and I'm sure we will. After all, maybe it'll take our minds off of just how disappointing this season has been and just how frustrating it is to watch the offense come up empty time after time. This pitching staff, from Johan Santana and Carlos Silva to Brad Radke and Kyle Lohse, deserves better, and it's been painful to watch the lineup be held in check by guys like Chris Young far too often this season.
Here are the Twins' current ranks among the 14 American League teams:
Runs Per Game 13thOnly the lowly Royals have less power than the Twins, and no team in the AL hits a higher percentage of their balls on the ground or a lower percentage of line drives. They also don't hit for average or get on base, and when they do get a runner on they've hit into the third-most double plays in the league.
And on that depressing note, here's an excerpt from my "News, Notes and Quotes" column over at The Hardball Times today:
It's a shame the Minnesota Twins can't score any runs this season, because Johan Santana is making a second-half run that looks an awful lot like the amazing stretch he put together on his way to winning the American League Cy Young last season. After shutting down the Rangers yesterday afternoon, in Texas—where they average a league-leading 6.0 runs per game at home—Santana now has a 1.54 ERA and 52-to-10 strikeout-to-walk ratio in nine second-half starts. Dating back to 2003, Santana has the following extraordinary numbers after the All-Star break:
GS IP ERA W L SO BBThat includes second-half records of 8-1 in 2003 and 13-0 last season, plus this year's 6-1 mark since the break. He may not be Mr. October, but Santana is definitely Mr. July, August, and September. Unfortunately, while he was holding the Rangers to one run over seven innings, the Twins' lineup was held scoreless. They finally scratched out a run in the eighth—single, sacrifice bunt, ground out, single—to tie the game at 1-1, which at least gave Santana a no-decision instead of a loss when the Rangers eventually won the game 2-1 with a run off reliever Jesse Crain in the bottom of the ninth.
Had Santana been given a few runs to work with, he would have improved to 7-1 since the All-Star break and 14-6 on the season. Instead, he's stuck on 13 wins while guys like Bartolo Colon make a charge toward the magic 20-win mark. Regardless of whether or not Santana ends up as the most valuable pitcher in the AL this season, he's going to have a very difficult time getting the votes necessary from the win-obsessed Baseball Writers Association of America to repeat as the league's Cy Young winner.
Santana has started 14 games this season in which he's either gotten a loss or a no-decision, and he is 0-6 with a 4.67 ERA in those 14 starts. To put that in some context, Rodrigo Lopez of the Orioles has a 4.61 ERA on the season ... and he's 13-7. In fact, a total of 14 big-league pitchers—Lopez, Jeremy Bonderman, Tim Wakefield, Jeff Weaver, Jeff Francis, Chan Ho Park, Jason Schmidt, Matt Clement, C.C. Sabathia, David Wells, Jamie Moyer, Gil Meche, Bronson Arroyo, Horacio Ramirez—have at least 10 wins and a winning record with an ERA of 4.25 or higher.
Now, Santana has certainly had a few clunkers this season—either three or four in 27 starts, depending on your definition of "clunker"—but the point is that he has had to be nearly flawless just to squeeze out a win. Twice he's lost despite giving up just two runs (once in eight innings, once in seven innings) because the Twins' lineup was held to one run each time. In his eight no-decisions, Santana has averaged seven innings a start with a 3.60 ERA and he has nothing to show for it.
Today at The Hardball Times:
- News, Notes and Quotes (August 29, 2005) (by Aaron Gleeman)
Today's Picks (93-81, +$1,020):
Chicago (Buehrle) -135 over Texas (Dominguez)