Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Sky is Not Falling

Writer's block.  It's very real.  I was feeling it on Monday night.  The baby was sleeping, my wife wasn't feeling well so she was watching TV, and the dog was just sleeping like the lazy dog he is.  I was all by myself.  When I'm by myself, I often want to write.  I wanted to write something about the Twins season so far, but nothing excited me.  I couldn't think of a thing.    

As I often do when I can't think of anything to write, I read.  I read Papa Shango's Wikipedia page, but that didn't really help.  I read the back of the Lucky Charms box, but that maze just frustrated me.  Finally, I read Jonah Keri's "The 30," his form of MLB Power Rankings.  He featured the Twins this week, so there was plenty of content for a Twins-head like myself. 

Note - I want to coin the term "Twins-head." 

I found myself annoyed by his analysis.  I know, it's childish.  I agree.  I love Jonah Keri.  I just recommended his book to my 15 readers on Monday.  Even so, I just can't agree with his ranking or his analysis.  He ranked the Twins 29th, ahead of only the Astros and behind such powerhouses like the Cubs, Marlins, Mets, and Diamondbacks.  Each of these teams suck and each has a record worse than the Twins.  Yet, the Twins don't really deserve a higher ranking because, well...because...

I don't know.  They're the Twins?  He referred to the 2014 Twins as "already lousy."  Did he have that description queued up and ready to go?  Was he worried he wouldn't be able to use it later?  It doesn't seem to fit, at least not at this moment.   Besides, it sucks enough to be a fan in Minnesota, why kick us when we aren't actually fully down? 

The Twins are 6-7 now.  They have scored a lot of runs.  They do have a revamped rotation.  Isn't it possible that they could out-perform their pre-season expectations for the rest of the month...through the All-Star break...until the end of the season?  Why can't Minnesota be the surprise team of 2014?

Then again, they're 0-1 since Keri wrote this column.  Maybe he's on to something.

To validate his ranking, Keri cites the offense, showing the career slash lines of each of the starting nine.  He compliments Joe Mauer, as a smart person would.  After Mauer, it's just dismissal after dismissal.  Jason Kubel has a good line, but he was bad last year.  There's simply no way he could bounce back.  Josmil Pinto's line is impressive, but he's only had 113 plate appearances.  Chris Colabello is 30 so he couldn't possibly be this good. 

I'll just go ahead and translate:  If you've never been good, you can never be good.  That's the only explanation for just completely brushing aside Pinto and Colabello.  These guys have never accomplished a thing, so how could they possibly have good seasons?  Also, your career means nothing if your most recent accomplishment is a participant ribbon.  Jason Kubel and your career 113 OPS+ prior to a bad 2013 season?  I hope you enjoy your retirement.  Your good days are behind you, that's the only possible explanation.

Focusing on those three players also ignores three young players who could conceivably improve on the paltry numbers that are cited in "the 30."  Sure, Trevor Plouffe, Brian Dozier and Aaron Hicks look like complete stiffs when you look at their career numbers and of course, there's no way they could get better as they gain experience.  Only Plouffe has been productive so far this season.  Couldn't the other two youngsters bounce back?

He also mentions that with Oswaldo Arcia and Josh Willingham out of the lineup, the offense is "lamentable."  Did those guys lose limbs?  Are they out for the season?  It seems that Arcia could be back fairly soon and Willingham can't be too far behind.  Besides, Willingham was awful last year, so by The Jason Kubel Corollary, he won't help this year anyway.  Even so, if they return, will the lineup be fine?  I guess I don't get that part.      

The topic shifts to pitching after a quick dismissal of this two-week blip on the run-scoring radar.  Clearly the Twins can't maintain, so let's just move on, right?  The Twins wasted $84 million on Ricky Nolasco, Phil Hughes and Mike Pelfrey.  Of course they did!  Ignore that Ricky Nolasco has been at least league-average and throws nearly 200 innings each season (not exactly high praise, but hardly a waste of money).  Ignore Phil Hughes' potential upside due to age and a more pitcher-friendly ballpark.  Mike Pelfrey...well...he was good in 2010!  Those guys were a complete waste and in no way an upgrade over the dregs who started for the Twins from 2011-2013. 

Oh, and Kyle Gibson's been good, but don't get excited!  He's got bad command and his strikeout to walk ratio is below one.  There's simply no way that he could improve his command, perhaps to the level  that made him a good prospect.  He can't overcome his good, but lucky start.  He's never been good, so he can't be good.  Remember?

At the very end, Keri piledrives the proverbial dead horse, lamenting that the Twins better not be relying upon Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano to reverse their fortunes.  Those two aren't enough.  Don't mention the other young prospects in the system or any of the young players already on the roster.  That would ruin a good closing paragraph. 

To summarize, all the Twins' good is fools' gold and all the bad is 100% real and sadly spectacular.  The wheels will fall off.  The train will go off the tracks.  No soup for you. 

There seems to be a national narrative, and it's mostly coming from the statistically-inclined, that the Twins are miles behind organizations like the Cubs and Astros.  The Twins are a joke and those teams are on the right track.  I guess I don't see it.  Sure, the Twins don't go for broke with stats, but does that make their farm system less impressive?  Does that change the budget that has ample room for spending?  Does that change the fact that this regime has built a perennial winner once before?

The Astros are the darlings of the baseball world and they haven't done anything.  They blew it all up, but they haven't rebuilt a single thing yet.  The Cubs were getting Wild Card buzz.  There's no way.  That team is awful.  The White Sox finished behind the Twins in 2013 and good luck finding a single expert who thinks the same will happen in 2014.  This is despite the fact that they did almost nothing to improve their team and their farm system-cupboard is almost completely bare. 

But then, who really cares?  Who cares what the experts think?  Who cares what the national perception is?  Why does that matter to me?  To you?  To anyone?  And yet, it does.  It got me upset for a brief while.  It made me write a 1300-word rebuttal of sorts.  If the entire expert community thinks the Twins are terrible, there's still a chance that they could be anything but terrible.  None of this matters; it's just fun and games. 

In a week, the Twins could be 6-12 and deservedly in the 29th spot of Keri's MLB Power Rankings.  Right now, the Twins aren't the second-worst team in baseball because they've won more games than quite a few teams.  Maybe they shouldn't have won those games, but they did.  

I guess I don't see things the exact same way as everyone else.  Or exactly as the experts see things.  That's ok.  I do wish for once that my favorite team could make everyone look like fools instead of simply looking like fools themselves.  For now, I'll just enjoy the Twins' terrible, yet productive offense and hope that they can keep winning at least as many games as they lose.    

Monday, April 14, 2014

Monday Morning Madness - April 14, 2014

Weekend Recap

The Twins bounced back from a bad sweep to execute a good sweep!  They got three good starts and won three games.  What a concept!  In addition, the AL's second-best offense scored 21 runs and the bullpen threw 4.2 scoreless innings.  The Twins dismantled the Royals.  They made them look like little babies.  They stole their marbles.  Too much?

Kyle Gibson has been the Twins' best starting pitcher through the first 12 games.  He's 2-0, he has an ERA of 1.59 and if he keeps pitching as he has, he'll be in Rochester by July.  SWERVE!  It's true though.  Gibson has pitched well, but he's doing some things could lead to future heartbreak.  His ground ball rate is very encouraging, sitting at an elite 58.8%.  By way of keeping the ball on the ground, he has yet to give up a home run.  These are good things, of course. 

He's been fortunate though.  His BABIP currently sits at .235, which is not only low but unsustainably low for a ground ball-pitcher.  His strand rate is 87.5%, which is a combination of holding runners well, limiting big innings and luck.  Off paper, Gibson's command has not looked solid so far, and his 16.7% walk rate backs up that observation.  He cannot carry a .75 strikeout-to-walk ratio much longer and expect to keep his ERA under five, much less two. 

You'd rather have a fortunate start than an unfortunate start, so we should be happy with Gibson to this point.  Hopefully, he will start to tighten up his command while keeping the elite ground ball rate.  If that happens, he will have a very nice season. 

I have been very impressed with Plouffe this season.  His numbers are great, no doubt, but watching him hit, he looks to have put some conscious effort into changing his approach.  It's really paying off so far.  Through Saturday, Plouffe is seeing 4.17 pitches per plate appearance, nearly .5 pitches per plate appearance better than his career figure.  His new approach specifically jumped out to me in the 8th inning of the Sunday game.

The Twins started the inning down 3-2 and Pedro Florimon and Brian Dozier walked to give the Twins first and second with no outs.  Joe Mauer struck out (sad) and up came Plouffe.  Rather than swing out of his shoes at questionable pitches, Plouffe worked the count, worked a walk and extended the inning.  In the Twins' next at-bat, Wade Davis gave the Twins an early birthday present and the Twins went on to a 4-3 win and a sweep.

Plouffe currently sits at .326/.446/.413.  Against right-handed pitching (as of Saturday), he's batting .344/.462/.406.  His line drive rate is about 11 points higher than his career-average.  His walk rate is nearly double his career-average.  If he has reversed these three bug-a-boos from his past, he could easily maintain this performance all year.  

I don't have analysis here, just an apology.  Jason Kubel, I was wrong about you.  I wanted the Twins to cut you after spring training.  I preferred Chris Colabello as the Twins' DH.  I forgot about the times you made my life special in the past.  I'm glad the Twins saw past a slow start in spring training and remembered the ability that you have.  Jason Kubel, I am sorry. 

Kubel has been the Twins' best hitter so far and a big reason why the offense has been much better than expected.  There are plenty of reasons to be wary of his hot start, but I already used stats to ruin one life today and I have a strict one ruined life limit per post.  Let's just enjoy his renaissance. 


Former Twin Update - Frank Viola
This is glorious news.  Back in March, a physical revealed that Viola had a heart issue that required surgery.  Surgery is always a big deal and heart surgery magnifies the seriousness significantly.  The fact that Viola is out of the hospital and ready for rehab is truly great news.  I hope he makes a full recovery and gets back to baseball.  Now, what do we need to do to get him back in the Twins' organization?

Random Link/Mini-Rant - Patrick Reusse's Mauer article

Patrick Reusse of the Star Tribune and ESPN 1500 wrote a piece about Joe Mauer this week.  It was kind of your typical "here's what Joe Mauer doesn't do and here's what he should do" piece that honestly, bores the daylights out of me.  I like Reusse, don't get me wrong, but his clear anti-Mauer stance does not jive with my own beliefs. 

Nick Nelson at Twins Daily wrote all about Mauer as a lightning rod and it generated a ton of discussion.  You can read his article here and you should because it's really well-written and poses an interesting question. 

Going back to Reusse's article, he compares Mauer in 2014 to Roy Smalley in 1979.  He wants Mauer to "put the rebuilding 2014 Twins on his back" and lead them like Smalley did back in '79 when the Twins were in a similar position.  He cites Smalley's ridiculous first half (.372/.452/.595 prior to July 5) as evidence and certainly, Smalley deserves a lot of credit for that performance. 

I think this article ignores three major things.  First, baseball is the ultimate team sport.  One player cannot carry a team regardless of how strong your narrative is.  Mike Trout put together two transcendent seasons in 2012 and 2013 and the Angels played in zero playoff games.  Second, Roy Smalley wishes he was Joe Mauer.  Smalley finshed his 1979 season with a 110 OPS+ a figure that Mauer has eclipsed in seven of his nine full seasons. 

Finally, it ignores the fact that regardless of what we all want Joe Mauer to be, Joe Mauer is who Joe Mauer is.  He's fantastic at avoiding outs (one of the best in this generation), he's quiet and he's not going to change his approach to satisfy our desires.  We (as fans and observers) can either pine for Mauer to become a completely different player after ten seasons as "Joe Mauer - Nice OBP Guy" or we can accept his greatness even if it doesn't look like the greatness of other great players. 

I've flipped on Mauer over the years.  I used to call him a "glorified singles hitter" with impunity.  I've found my own solace with Mauer's greatness in recent years and I've enjoyed his work a lot more as a result.  Articles like Reusse's are great for the "rah-rah" element of sports that we do love, but challenging a great player to be an even greater player to fit someone else's mold of greatness?  What's the point?

AIM chat with 16-year-old Brad

    BSwanson0928:  Hey Brad.
    KPuckFan34123456:  What?  I'm watching Power Rangers.
    BSwanson0928:  You tell everyone that you hate Power
    Rangers.  Stop doing that, just be you.  Guess who got
    the save for the Rockies on Saturday night?
    KPuckFan34123456:  Um, I have no idea.  
    BSwanson0928:  You'll never guess.  He's on the Twins in 
    1999 and you really don't like him.
    KPuckFan34123456:  Denny Hocking?
    BSwanson0928:  Yep, great guess.  I can see why you're 
    getting straight Cs right now.  He's a pitcher.
    KPuckFan34123456:  Um, probably a young guy...Dan
    BSwanson0928:  Who?  No, LaTroy Hawkins.
    KPuckFan34123456:  WHAT?!?!?
    BSwanson0928:  IKR?
    KPuckFan34123456:  What?
    BSwanson0928:  Oh, in the future we don't have time to type
    words.  We're all busy playing The Simpsons: Tapped Out.
    KPuckFan34123456:  Wait, what's that?
    BSwanson0928:  It's a video game on the iPad. 
    KPuckFan34123456:  What's an iPad?
    BSwanson0928:  It's like a computer with no keyboard and
    a touch screen.  
    KPuckFan34123456:  Hmm, that sounds productive.
    BSwanson0928:  That's why we shorten "i know, right" to
    IKR.  We're very busy screwing around.
    KPuckFan34123456:  That sounds really cool.  Hawkins 
    is a starter, he has a career ERA over six.
    BSwanson0928:  Yeah, I know, it's shocking.  In 2000, the
    Twins make him a reliever and he's pretty good at it.  He's 
    inconsistent at first, but he's still pitching at 41 in 2014.  
    KPuckFan34123456:  Wow, is there like really good
    medicine in 2014? 
    BSwanson0928:  Well, yes, in Washington and Colorado,
    but that's a totally different story.  He's just in great shape
    and he's always thrown hard.
    KPuckFan34123456:  Huh, strange.  I guess I can tape his
    rookie cards back together then.
    BSwanson0928:  I wouldn't bother, baseball cards are on
    holograms and stuff now.  The paper stuff isn't popular.  
    KPuckFan34123456:  Ah, bummer.  Ok, I'm going to get 
    back to Livin' la Vida Loca.  The lifestyle, not the song.  Bye.
    BSwanson0928:  Ah, now I remember why we had so many
    friends.  Take care.  Bye.

If you aren't sure how I can communicate with my past selves with AOL instant messenger, here's the explanation.

Pie Charts?

I wrote a little ditty about 3-0 take signs last Wednesday.  In the post, I feigned anger about the automatic 3-0 take but then learned a valuable lesson.  If you missed the post, here's a link.  If you prefer a summary, here are some dope pie charts that I made with my gangster math/Excel skills:

Batter outcomes on a 3-0 count

Batter outcomes on a 3-1 count

Batter outcomes on a 3-2 count

You're actually more likely to make an out than get a hit with a 3-0 count, if you swing.  If you just stand there, you'll walk or get hit by a pitch over 92% of the time.  What conclusions can you draw?  Please respond in 3-5 complete sentences and use at least one of our vocab words.    

Random Plug - Jonah Keri's book

I just finished Jonah Keri's Up, Up & Away:  The Kid, The Hawk, Rock, Vladi, Pedro, Le Grand Orange, Youppi!, The Crazy Business of Baseball, & the Ill-Fated but Unforgettable Montreal Expos and it was fantastic.  The title is impressively long and the book is impressively detailed.  He talks with former players, coaches, executives and fans to give a comprehensive look at a team with a surprisingly complex and elaborate story.  I highly recommend this book to baseball fans and I challenge a Twins fan/writer to write a similar book for me to read.  It's all about what I want. 

Baseball Card of the Week

Yes!  Look at how young these two look!  Trevor Plouffe absolutely knows how handsome he is.  It's the only explanation for that pose.  Here's a look at your two best offensive players on the 2014 Twins so far.  When this photo was taken 11 years ago, the Twins would have been extremely pleased to know that these two would make up 2/9ths of their 2014 starting lineup.  Their journeys to where they are today were completely different, but in the end, I believe that these are two prospect success stories. 

Song of the Week

I'm branching out, but only slightly.  I'm going to include a song of week because I think it's fun.  If you hate my musical tastes, just leave a really nasty comment like a civilized adult. 

The Afghan Whigs will release their first new album in 16 years on Tuesday, April15.  I will be up at midnight when my pre-order becomes available.  I plan to listen to it once, sleep for an hour, listen again, sleep for an hour, etc.  My wife will divorce me around 4am.  Here's a classic song by this extremely underrated band:

Parting Thought

Sitting at 6-6, the Twins are exceeding their paltry expectations.  I believe we were in this position last year, as the Twins weren't terrible in April of 2013 either.  That said, I think this 2014 team has a better chance to maintain this level of success.  Their starting pitching is improved and starting to show it.  The offense is clearly better than we expected and the bullpen should be reliable.  I predicted 75 wins before the season and I've seen nothing yet to make me back off on that prediction.

Have a great week, everyone!

Friday, April 11, 2014

Retro Slowey: April 11, 2001

Although you may not be aware, Kevin Slowey was Framed! has been around as long as the Twins have, since 1961.  The pre-2011 archives were lost to the "Great Melted Cheetos Bag Fire of 2011," (the bag shrinks!) but a few records remain from the first 50 years of Slow.  Here's an archived post from early April of 2001.  Enjoy.

You'll have to excuse me if I don't get too excited about a 6-2 start and a three-game sweep of a Tigers team using a decrepit Dean Palmer as their DH.  Much like I am not sold on the staying power of this Eminem character (a rapper from Detroit?  C'mon!), I don't think the Twins can stick around atop the AL Central all season. 

Even so, it's fun to watch the Twins play well.  It's been nearly a decade since we've had anything to get excited about and I'm not sure what the future holds for this franchise.  The Twins finished their three-game sweep of a pretty ratty-looking Tigers team with a 12-1 shellacking.  The Twins drew 8 walks against starter Dave Mlicki who is not only clearly missing a vowel in his name but also complete command of the strike zone.  Of course, who cares about walks, right?

Sitting on top of the AL Central, the Twins have had far more positives than negatives in this young season.  Let's look at the good performances, the bad performances and the outlook for the rest of the season.

The Good

Ortiz drove in nine runs in the Tigers series!  What a start he is off to, hitting .393 after these first eight games.  With 11 RBI so far, we're seeing Ortiz forming into a run-producer in the middle of the order.  Ortiz appears to be on the upswing.  Now 24, this could be his breakout season.  His size and smile are just begging for a clever nickname.  If he continues to develop, I could honestly see him winning three World Series Championships in his career.  The Twins should seriously consider locking him up. 

The Twins have found their double play combo!  These two have such promise, I could see both as fixtures on the Twins until roughly 2014 (if we're still playing baseball in 13 years, what with hover bats and hover balls likely around the corner).  After today's bloodbath, Rivas is hitting .303.  He collected 7 hits in the series and seems to be cementing himself in the two-hole.  Guzman has been even better, as he's hitting .353 and has already collected 4 triples! 

Hitting, speed, defense.  These guys are both under 24.  Wowzers, what a future! 

All of the Twins' young starters are flying, but Mays stands out above the rest.  He's made just two starts this year, but I think it's about time to start thinking about a four-year extension that eats up all of Mays' arbitration years.  He's unstoppable!  Mays went eight innings against the Tigers on Wednesday, giving up just four hits and one earned run.  He collected four strikeouts but mostly let his defense do the work, as a smart pitcher does.  He's like a young Kevin Slowey except I don't know who that is or why I wrote that.  Extend this man! 

The Bad

Can we be done with this guy?  Guardado pitched fine in the Detroit series (2/3rds of an inning, oh boy!) but he was pathetic against the Royals on the 8th.  He gave up five runs on five hits with the deathblow being a three-run home run by the immortal Mark Quinn.  He was able to get Dave McCarty to end the inning.  One former Twin retired by a future former Twin! 

Guardado isn't good enough to pitch regularly, or every day if you will. 

I just don't think he's got what it takes.  He's only pitched in two games so far this season, but he's walked a guy in each inning.  Walks will haunt.  He's also struck out a batter in each inning and that is very worrisome.  If the Twins don't get to Santana quickly, he could develop into one of those wild strikeout-throwers who doesn't keep his defense busy and makes them rusty.  Hey Santana, don't forget about your defense or they won't be back there when you need them!

He had a 6.49 ERA last season, so I'm not even sure why he's allowed to be back on the team.  Plus, he's short. 

The Outlook

While I don't think the Twins are for real, their prospects for the future clearly are.  The young talent I discussed above will soon have a blue-chip prospect to join them.  The Twins have the first-overall selection in the upcoming June draft.  There are two consensus top prospects and the Twins will have their pick of the two.  They'll choose between gangly, awkward, hometown catcher Joe Mauer and studly, durable, sexy pitcher Mark Prior

Prior is the correct choice.  He's going to be an Ace and likely will lead a team to the 2003 League Championship Series.  Mauer is nice, but he's also too nice.  Plus, he might go play football at Florida State, although I'm not sure if the State of Florida will be able to handle his charisma.  Mauer is the safe pick as he's the hometown kid and he'll be polite and drink his milk.  Prior is the home run pick.  All he'll need to do is stay healthy and I have an inkling that he'll do just that. 

If the Twins do choose Mauer, they'll open themselves up for diatribes of what pathetic cowards they are.  Pitching wins titles and I want titles.  Plus, the Twins already have young catcher A.J. Pierzynski and I don't trust the front office to make a good trade for such a valuable chip.  A.J. is just so personable, you know?  One thing I do know, Tom Kelly should finally be rewarded with a slew of winning seasons.  He's earned it!
I'll be back on Monday with a new post.  I clipped some magazine pictures of some animals and I'm going to paste some Twins' player heads on top of them to create funny pictures.  I'll describe each of them in detail for you, as I don't have a scanner.  Doug Mink-kiewicz.  That one's for free!  See you next week!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Should we ban the 3-0 take sign?

I listened to Sunday's Twins game on the radio because I was doing some cleaning.  I tucked my phone into my apron and listened away.  The Twins were off to a great start, leading 5-2 in the top of the 3rd inning.  They had the bases loaded with Aaron Hicks coming to the plate.  Justin Masterson wasn't pitching well and he was wild in this particular at-bat.  Hicks "worked" the count to 3-0.  The radio crew started talking about how you have to take on 3-0 and that's exactly what Hicks did. 

I flipped my lid.

I hate the automatic 3-0 take.  It's one of those silly traditions that baseball loves and really only makes sense if you play a passive, scared version of baseball.  At least, that's how I feel.  I played ball.  I played in high school.  My plate discipline was awful.  I never worked a 3-0 count.  If I had, I'd have swung out of my shoes when given that 3-0 pitch.  Are you really going to get a better pitch in that AB?  Are you going to get a better pitch in that game?  Why not be aggressive and jump on a fat meatball? 

I'm not saying swing no matter what, although, that was kind of my approach when I played.  However, if that fat meatball is heading right down the middle, why not take a hack?  To finish the Hicks at-bat, he swung aggressively at a 3-1 pitch that was down and in (possibly ball four) and then looked at a nasty pitch that cut the bottom of the strike zone.  At-bat over, Hicks strikeout, 2 outs, Florimon up, 3 outs inevitable. 

I was livid.  My lid had already been flipped, but if it hadn't, I would have flipped it right then.  I could have flipped it again, but that's really painful.  Mostly, I hate absolutes.  You absolutely take on 3-0.  You absolutely help an elderly woman cross the street.  What if she just knocked off a liquor store?  Now you're aiding an abetting a fugitive.  You could go to prison.

Ok, this particular 3-0 take didn't matter in the grand scheme.  The Twins won 10-7.  The right baseball play is to take on 3-0 because you might draw a walk.  Blah, blah, blah.  I think the situation called for a swing.  The bases were loaded.  Hicks hasn't proved to be a great hitter.  There's no reason for Masterson to not throw a strike in that situation.  Odds are, if Hicks swings, he'd pop out or something and then Ron Gardenhire would eat his face in the dugout.  That's exactly why a swing makes so much sense in that case.  No one would have expected it. 

Of course, I went back later that night and looked at the 3-0 pitch.  Here's a gif:

Ok, that's a pretty tough pitch.  It was just an 85 mph fastball, but the location was good, considering it sunk into the upper corner of the strike zone.  In my most aggressive dreams, I would probably lay off that pitch too.  At best, Hicks can take it the other way and maybe drive a double into the gap.  At worst, he tries to pull it and pops out or worse, rolls over and grounds into a double play.  That's not his pitch.  Fine.  Don't swing at that one. 

What if it had been a fat meatball though?  Should he just stand there like a goon and watch it go by?  What do the stats say about these counts? 

First, a little calibration.  Since 1988 (the first year this split data is available), the league has hit .263/.331/.413 in any count.  That's basically what the average batter has done in the past 26 years.  When someone came up to the plate over the last 26 years, there was a 26.3% chance we'd see a hit and a 33.1% chance that we'd see that batter on-base after the at-bat.  Over that same span, the Twins hit .270/.334/.407.   Keep those figures under your hat for now.

Since 1988, when batters work a 3-0 count, they hit .371/.951/.729.  The Twins have hit .369/.932/.695.  Basically, when you get to the point of a 3-0 count, you're going to get on-base over 95% of the time, mostly through walks.  Ok, that doesn't really support my side of this argument.  Of course, these stats only account for the at-bats that end on the 4th pitch, that very 3-0 pitch that we all just can't wait to take.  This is evidenced by the fact that batters hit .295/.761/.505 after seeing a 3-0 count, still outstanding, but not quite as lofty as the numbers when the batter has that exact 3-0 count. 

So, a 3-0 count is as good as a walk, in most cases.  So, why swing?  It makes sense to take.  At the same time, if a more hitting-challenged hitter like Aaron Hicks gets to a 3-0 count, maybe he should swing the bat.  It's possible that he's going to get the best pitch of the at-bat right there.  Here's a picture of the at-bat from Sunday, with the pitches tracked:

Like I said earlier, the 3-0 pitch (4) wasn't right down the middle, but it was easily the most hittable pitch he got in that at-bat.  Pitch 6 was in the strike zone, but it completely fooled Hicks, resulting in a strikeout.  Pitch 5 was actually closer than the radio broadcast indicated, so I like Hicks' aggressiveness on that pitch.  

Back to pitch 4, if that pitch had been the 0-0 pitch and he just watched it float by, he'd be open for criticism.  In a 3-0 count?  He's lauded.  I don't get it.  If Hicks decides to watch a 3-0 pitch go by on his own, that works for me.  It's his at-bat.  If he was instructed to watch that pitch go by or he did so out of some tradition within baseball?  That doesn't make sense to me. 

Nobody embodies the 3-0 philosophy of patience more than Joey Joe Joe Mauer.  Mauer has worked the count to 3-0 456 times in his career.  The at-bat has actually ended on the fourth pitch just 239 times.  Of those 239, Mauer has walked 231 times and was hit by pitch twice.  He has swung just six times with the count 3-0, totaling a single, a double, and an RBI on a sacrifice fly.  That's good for a .400/.983/.600 line. 
Where's the power, Joseph?

Oh, it's in the 3-1 count.  He hits .458/.731/.754 in a 3-1 count.  Well then.  I guess if a guy is just going to watch a 3-0 meatball head down the middle, it's okay if he can hit like that when the 3-1 pitch arrives.  In fact, lots of great Twins hitters are great in a 3-1 count:  Torii Hunter, Justin Morneau, Denard Span, Jason Kubel, Matt Lawton, Shane Mack, and even...Aaron Hicks.  In 19 plate appearances with a 3-1 count, Hicks has hit .500/.789/.625, just obliterating my argument from earlier. 

Let's go back to the overall MLB numbers since 1988.  With a 3-1 count, the batting numbers dip to .348/.685/.610, a huge drop in OBP (obviously) but just a subtle drop in batting average and slugging percentage.  Therefore, it is quite evident that a 3-1 count still provides a massive advantage to the hitter.  Perhaps taking that extra strike isn't such a bad thing. 

On a 3-2 count, the numbers shift more into the favor of the pitchers - .227/.465/.371.  The OBP is still quite high, but batting average and slugging percentage dip well below the overall average from the last 26 years.  The overall OPS is still better than a pitch in the average count.  Basically, batters have their greatest advantage at 3-0, but if they take, they better not miss the 3-1 pitch because the pitchers regain most of the advantage when they bring the count full.    

For the record, here are the stats for the Twins and MLB during that time:
  • 3-0 count - Twins - .369/.932/.695; MLB - . 371/.951/.729
  • 3-1 count - Twins - .343/.669/.559: MLB - .348/.685/.610
  • 3-2 count - Twins - .231/.465./.357; MLB - .227/.465/.371
  • Overall - Twins - .270/.334/.407; MLB - .263/.331/.413
I guess in the end, the 3-0 take wasn't the problem.  It was the fact that Hicks missed the 3-1 pitch or perhaps wasn't patient enough to take the 3-1 pitch (debatable, it looked like a strike to me).  Should we ban the 3-0 take?  It doesn't look like that would be wise.  The fact is that over 95% of the time, a 3-0 take results in a walk.  The other 5% of the at-bats move to a similarly advantageous hitters' count at 3-1.  If you trust your batter, that 3-1 count can be just as fruitful as a wild hack at 3-0. 

My emotions are back in check.  Thank you once again to numbers for putting me in line.  

Monday, April 7, 2014

Monday Morning Madness: April 7, 2014

OHHHHH man, the Madness has returned.  Normally, a return of my madness would be concerning, but in this case, it's a good thing.  Every Monday I'll recap the Twins' weekend series and throw in some silly stuff at the end for the kids.  Come for the analysis, stay for some muted chuckles.  Let's go!

Weekend Recap

Hey cool, the Twins looked pretty good this weekend.  After dropping two of three to a ratty White Sox team, they won two of three against a decent Cleveland team.  How did it happen?  Let's discuss.

Starting Pitching

Twins starters managed just 14.1 innings against the Indians over the weekend.  Mike Pelfrey pitched well through five innings but got rocked by two home runs in the sixth.  Kyle Gibson pitched well, earning the win, but he only made it through 5 innings.  He walked four batters and needed 97 pitches to get through those five innings.  Ricky Nolasco was the worst of the three, getting staked to a 6-2 lead heading into the fourth.  He gave up three in the bottom of the fourth and didn't return for the fifth.  He needed 91 pitches to get through his four bad innings and he walked four batters as well.  Twins starters walked 11 batters in those 14.1 innings against Cleveland, while striking out just 7.  Not good.

I fully expect the starting pitching to improve, but it's borderline shocking that the Twins are 3-3 when they've only received one good start (Kevin Correia in game 2 of the season) and they lost that game. 


The short starts from the Twins' rotation lead to a lot of work from the Twins' bullpen.  As a whole, they didn't perform well.  Brian Duensing was great on Saturday, Jared Burton allowed runners but no runs and Glen Perkins shut down Cleveland 1-2-3 in Sunday's game.  However, Casey Fien got rocked on Friday and Caleb Thielbar wasn't much better.  Perkins had a sloppy inning on Saturday in a non-save situation.  Anthony Swarzak gave up 5 hits in 1.1 innings on Sunday.  His ERA sits at 20.25 after 2.2 innings this season.  He did get the win on Sunday, so he must have done something right. 

I also expect the bullpen to be better.  It makes you wonder if this team could actually be even better than they have looked so far.  The pitching wasn't supposed to be their weakness. 

Of course, I have little to say about the offense because they played well.  The Twins scored 19 runs in the Cleveland series after scoring 19 the White Sox series.  In fact, the Twins lead the AL in runs scored.  Of course, they also lead the AL in runs allowed.  Their 0 run differential confirms their .500 record, right?  Pythag!

The Gardy 1000

Congratulations to Ron Gardenhire on his 1000th (and 1001st) career victory!  Whether you think Gardenhire should be managing the Twins in 2014 or not, it's hard to not be happy for the Twins' long-time manager.  He led our favorite team to six playoff appearances and who knows, maybe he's got a few more planned for the future.  1000 wins is no small feat, so way to go, Gardy!  Here's to 1000 more.


Random Top 5 List - AL RBI Leaders

That looks pretty great, doesn't it?  RBI is a passé stat, but it's still cool to see a Twins player at the top of the list.  The choice to bring Colabello North was obviously the right choice.  With injuries to Oswaldo Arcia and Josh Willingham, I can't imagine that Colabello gets a day off anytime soon.  He earned his roster spot in Spring and now he's earning his spot in the lineup on an everyday basis.  If he continues to hit, he'll stay in the lineup even longer.  Could he top 100 RBI on the season?  I think it's possible. 

KWL - Jason Bartlett from the Twins fan perspective

Question from a reader - Glen Perkins had a shaky Spring, and hasn't been terribly sharp thus far in the young season.   How concerned are you about this? - @whitebear1883 on Twitter

I'm not very worried.  This question was sent to me prior to the Sunday game and Perkins' performance in that game certainly put any worries I may have had to ease.  All great relievers go through rough patches and Perkins will be no different.  It would be great if he got the bad stuff out of the way and could just dominate from now until the end of the year.  He's talented enough to do it.  From what I've watched so far, his stuff still looks great and his velocity seems to be intact.  I'll guess that he's sporting a sick 2.00ish ERA by June. 

Former Twin Update - Kevin Slowey

Hearken back to 2011; I'm going to tell you a tale...

Are you in '11 mode yet?

Ok, Kevin Slowey will still be an effective MLB pitcher and Scott Baker and Nick Blackburn will both essentially be jobless.  Yep, the same Kevin Slowey who apparently bit the heads off of parakeets while pitching for the Twins.  He's on the Marlins.  Yes, they're still a team.  I promise they are.  Why would I lie?  Yes, there is a giant colorful statue in the bleachers. 

Slowey made the team as a starter in 2013 but will work as the swingman in 2014.  He's off to a good start too.  Ok, he's only pitched in one game, but he did go four innings, giving up just three hits and no runs, while striking out five and walking two.  For a guy who couldn't get loose in the Twins' bullpen, he's been pretty good in relief with the Marlins over the past two seasons.  Maybe he just didn't like the trees at Target Field. 

New Poll

I get a little repetitive at times.  I harp on things.  I have my pet causes.  I put up a new poll to try to get out in front of my own repetition.  Please vote in the poll that sits below Kevin Slowey's face as a baseball.  It's important to democracy.

Link to Something I wrote - Mailbag

I'm shameless when it comes to promoting things I've written in the past.  Why, just recently I've promoted my newest screenplay, an analysis of the 1991 Twins dancing video and some player profiles I wrote throughout the Winter.  Now, I'm not here to promote those items, I'm here to promote the fake mailbag I wrote last Friday.  I answered some truly insightful questions and I think you just might enjoy it.  Here you go. 

Parting Haiku

Twins are .500
But it is a long season
Still a happy fan

Have a great week, everyone!