Friday, April 18, 2008

First Split: 7-9

The baseball season is often compared to a marathon. Both are long events, requiring a steady effort over an extended period of time. To keep themselves from getting out too fast or too slow, runners pay attention to their split times. For example, if you can run each mile of a marathon in about 7 minutes, you'll be on pace for about a 3-hour race.

I like to divide the baseball season into tenths: 8 16-game splits and 2 17-gamers. Not only is it convenient to think in terms of decimals (rather than the more evenly divisible 9ths), but it's an amount of games over which 1 game makes a meaninful difference. If your team wins 8 of every 16 games, they'll finish .500 - better luck next year. But if they win 9 of every 16, that puts a team on pace to win 91 games. Lately, that's been good enough to get an NL team into the playoffs. In the AL, it will at least keep the fans interested into the last week of the season.

The Twins came up 2 games short of that benchmark, but there's no reason for concern at this point. There were 4 games (the 1-0 loss to the Angels and the 3 bullpen losses on the road trip) that were within the Twins' power to win, or at least not lose. I'd pay particular attention to the Angels loss, when the only run of the game scored on a wild pitch, and the Monday night meltdown vs. the Tigers, when the fatal inning was extended by Everett's hurting throwing arm. It doesn't take much to turn games like those around in the future.

16 games is probably too small a number of games to tell you anything about how individual players are doing. Every starting pitcher should only get about 3 starts. Every regular position player should get about 60 plate appearances. Each member of the bullpen should get about 4 appearances. All of those amounts fall well within a "hot" or "cold" period that a particular player might be going through, so I don't pretend to make any meaningful projections for the remainder of the season based on such small numbers. Collectively, though, there have been some interesting trends during the first tenth of the season:

Justin Morneau and Jason Kubel are the only players who have hit home runs so far. The Twins have been out-homered 19-7.

Twins starters are averaging just under 6 IP (OK), 1.8 BB/9 (good), 4.7 K/9 (not good). If the walk rate goes up, the K rate will have to go with it, or there's going to be trouble.

The Twins 2 most effective relievers so far, Joe Nathan and Dennys Reyes (combined 0.00 ERA, 0.83 WHIP, 0 BB, 9 K) have pitched just 9.2 innings together. Matt Guerrier (5.79 ERA, 1.82 WHIP, 4 BB, 6 K) has pitched 9.1 innings.

Carlos Gomez is leading the league in SB. He's just 2 off the league lead in K with 17. Everyone else in the top 20 in the AL in K either has an OBP well over .300 or an ISO power over .130, with the exception of the A's' Jack Hannahan, who has an OBP nearly identical to Gomez' despite hitting just .167. Shorten up and put it in play, Go-Go!

Hopefully Cuddyer will come off the DL shortly into the next batch of 16 games, giving a boost to the top of the order. Liriano figures to make 4 starts during that stretch, so it will be interesting to see how he progresses. Bold prediction: more than two Twins will have hit homers by the end of the 32nd game!

In business news, Forbes posted its valuations of the MLB franchises this week. The Twins ranked 25th, but increased their value by 14%, the 10th straight season their value has increased, and the 3rd straight in which it has increased by 14% or more. The Twins' franchise value has more than doubled over the past 5 seasons.

Total revenue has been increasing at a similar rate in recent years. Applying the Twins' stated formula of 51% of revenue going to player payroll, the team should be paying $76 million in salaries in 2008. Even if the revenue growth slows to about 10% annually, the Twins should have no trouble fielding a $100 million payroll by 2011.

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