Thursday, May 1, 2008

April Review

Twins Record: 13-14
(2nd in AL Central by 1.5 games)

With the first of six months of the season in the books, the Twins find themselves on pace to finish the season about where they were last year: 78-84. This is certainly within the range that most folks were projecting prior to the season. What's been surprising is how well the Twins' young pitching staff has performed. With the exception of Francisco Liriano (who was simply not ready to return to the big leagues following Tommy John surgery) and the quickly injured Kevin Slowey, the Twins' young pitchers have combined for quality starts in 11 of 17 outings, with an average of just over 6 IP, a 3.88 ERA, and 1.27 WHIP. They are reassuring the team that their presence in the rotation will not be overly taxing to the bullpen, and Slowey's return next week should only enhance the success of the group.

The bullpen did not fare well early on, costing the Twins a couple of games they were leading after 7 innings. Most of the veterans in that group seem to be settling in, so I expect that situation to go better for the rest of the season.

Offensively, the Twins are last in the league in OBP, and near the bottom in OPS and HR. Only Mauer and Morneau have drawn more than 6 walks. Only Morneau and Kubel have hit more than one home run. On the plus side, the Twins are leading the league in SB (thanks mainly to Gomez and Young). There are signs that some of the hitters are beginning to warm up - they'll have to if the team is to improve in May.

And now, evaluations for players who have had at least 12 ABs or 8 IP:

Getting It Done

Justin Morneau
I'd like to see the average a little higher than .268, but he's earning his money by leading the team with 6 HR, 22 RBI, 11 BB, 48 TB, .495 SLG% and .840 OPS. He has yet to make an error at first base. We'll see if Cuddyer and Kubel can keep him protected.

Brendan Harris
He's settled into the #2 spot. He's struck out too many times (22), but his other numbers are about where I was hoping to see them (.287/.337/.389).

Matt Tolbert
He started out the season scorching hot, and has settled into a .700 OPS through 50 ABs. He's also stolen 3 bases in 4 attempts, and has made just 1 error in 59 total chances at three IF positions. The last man to make the team has earned his spot so far.

Nick Blackburn
And how about the last pitcher to make the team? We thought he'd maybe just keep Liriano's spot warm for a couple of starts, but he's ended up leading the starters with 38.1 IP and a 3.52 ERA through 6 starts. Maybe Baseball America knew what they were talking about after all...

Boof Bonser
Boof is right behind Blackburn with 36 IP and a 3.75 ERA. His 5 quality starts should give everyone confidence that he has the stamina to pitch deep into games now. He's managed to win 2 games despite receiving just 10 runs of support in his 6 April starts - show Boof some love, Offense!

Joe Nathan
Another guy earning his big contract extension, Nathan is 9/9 in save opportunities with a 0.82 ERA, 1.00 WHIP and 9.00 K/9. Can't ask for much more than that.

Dennys Reyes
It was crucial that several of the Twins' bullpen members revert to their 2006 form this season, and Reyes has delivered. He has yet to allow an earned run in 12 appearances.

So Far, So Good

Joe Mauer
Mauer is leading the team in average and OBP - no surprise there. But he has yet to hit a homer, and hasn't shown as much gap power as I expected from his spring training ABs. 3 of his 7 XBH have come in the last week, as well as 4 of his 9 BB, so he's heading in the right direction.

Michael Cuddyer
Obviously, Cuddyer hasn't had much of a chance to make an impact this year thanks to a 3 week DL stint. He's done pretty well in the 10 games he's played, batting .297/.350/.405, but with just 1 HR, 1 double, and 2 BB. I hope we'll see more of those in the coming weeks.

Nick Punto
Punto has been doing about as well as I'd hoped so far: his average of .256 is a nice middle-ground between his excellent 2006 and atrocious 2007. He's put up a decent .326 OBP with 3 SB from the #9 spot with only 1 E in 55 TC from 4 positions. He'll likely return to the very spare use he was receiving early on now that Everett is coming off the DL.

Craig Monroe
Monroe has delivered as advertised so far this year with a .255/.300/.426 line almost identical to his career numbers (.256/.303/.446). Surpisingly, he's hit far better vs. RHP - I don't expect that to continue - and has generally had very good ABs (4.2 pitches/PA). He hasn't taken ABs from Kubel, and filled in competently when Gomez was out for a couple games last weekend.

Denard Span
Span delivered about league-average BA (.258) and OBP (.324) in limited time, mostly playing out of position in RF. He was 3/3 in SB attempts. Not bad for his first taste of the big leagues.

Pat Neshek
Neshek had two ghastly appearances on the first road trip in which he allowed 5 ER on 6 H in 1.2 IP and cost the Twins 2 games. In his 11 other appearances, he's gone 10.1 IP, 0 ER, 3 H, 3BB, 11 K. He'll be OK.

Scott Baker
Plagued by poor health througout the spring, Baker has been effective when he's been able to take the hill. 6 HR in 30 IP is a lot, but they all came with the bases empty vs. the Tigers and White Sox - they're going to hit their homers, so it's great that he was able to keep the damage minimal.

Jesse Crain
Like Neshek, Crain had a bad time in Detroit, giving up 3 ER on 2 H and 1 BB and costing the Twins a win. Other than that, he's allowed just 2 ER on 5 H and 2 BB with 7 K in 7.1 IP. His velocity and the sharpness of his breaking stuff is remarkable considering the shoulder injuries from which he's recovering. Hopefully he can contribute even more as the season goes along.

Brian Bass
Bass has gotten a lot of work in long relief this month (17.1 IP), and has been competent for the most part. He got beat up on the last road trip (5 ER on 11 H and 3 BB in 6 IP), but has otherwise been solid in situations where the Twins needed somebody to eat up some innings - particularly for a rookie.

Livan Hernandez
I can hardly believe I'm putting Livan in this category, but his nearly 6 IP/start, 5.05 ERA and 1.46 WHIP are about the best that could be expected of him. However luckily, he's managed to keep the Twins in 5 of the 6 games he's started.

Need to Pick It Up

Delmon Young
Because he was brought in to replace Torii Hunter's pop in the middle of the order, Young's 0 HR and .314 SLG% have to be rated a disappointment. However, he's been very good in the field, throwing out 4 baserunners and routinely holding opponents to singles on balls hit into the corner. His 6 SB in 7 tries are second on the team, so he's got 3 of the 5 tools working. And in his last 8 games, he's 10 for 30 with 3 BB for a .394 OBP. Hopefully the power is coming soon.

Carlos Gomez
Ah, Gomez. Though he's on pace to set a team record for SB, he has walked just twice for a .279 OBP. He is often a spark, but his erratic play is just as often a liability. Physically ready for the Majors; mentally barely out of high school.

Jason Kubel
Kubel is getting every chance to prove himself an everyday player, but hasn't quite made the most of it. His 4 HR, 16 RBI and .144 IsoP are second only to Morneau, but his BA and OBP are far lower than I would have expected. Too many strikeouts (20), not enough walks (3), too many useless 1-pitch ABs (2 for 16 when he puts the first pitch in play). He needs to chill out.

Mike Lamb
Another of the many new Twins who got off to a terrible start this season, Lamb was hitting just .145 through his first 16 games. Over his last 7, though, he's hit .333, so he may be loosening up. Still waiting for his first HR.

Adam Everett
Nobody expected Everett to hit well, but .185/.214/.222 is beyond awful. On top of that, his defense hasn't been as good as advertised (3 E in 9 games). Hopefully it can all be attributed to his bad shoulder, and now that it's healed, the real Adam Everett will appear (such as he is).

Mike Redmond
With all the off-days this month, Redmond barely averaged a start per week, so his 2 for 13 start is no real reason for concern. With only 2 off-days between now and mid-June, he'll get much more regular time, and plenty of opportunities to show that he's the same steady backup he's been for the past 3 seasons.

Matt Guerrier
Guerrier didn't have a great spring, and it carried into the first couple weeks of the season. He got away with some wildness against the Angels and Royals, but the White Sox and Tigers made him pay, tagging him for 6 ER on 6 H and 2 BB in 2.2 IP. Since then, he's settled down, allowing 1 ER on 7 H and 2 BB in 8.2 IP. Keep that going.

Juan Rincon
Like most of the bullpen, Rincon got knicked early on, but since his first appearance vs. the Angels, he's allowed 3 ER on 7 H and 2 BB (1 intentional) with 9 K in 9.1 IP. He's allowed 2 solo HR in that span, which is a bit of a concern (when he was lights-out from 2003-2006 he kept the ball in the yard), but otherwise he's on the right track.

Francisco Liriano
Simply not ready to return to the Majors.

Considering that most of the team has underperformed to some extent, the Twins are very fortunate to still be in the mix of the division race. Hopefully their play will improve along with their rivals' in May.

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