Monday, September 1, 2008

August Review

Twins Record: 17-12
Overall Record: 77-60, 2nd in AL Central by 0.5 games

Any time a team goes +5, they've had a good month. Do that every time and you finish up with 96 wins and a postseason spot. The Twins were 4th in the AL in runs scored for August, and led the league in ERA (amazing what can happen when you quit giving the ball to Livan Hernandez and Brian Bass every few days). They head into September just 2 wins shy of their total for all of 2007. Barring a major collapse, they figure to wind up with their 5th 90+ win season out of the last 7, and they remain in the thick of the division race.

So why do I feel that 17-12 was a disappointment? For starters, the Twins' +52 run differential for the month should have translated into a lot more than +5 wins. The last 10 losses the Twins suffered in August came by 2 or fewer runs or in extra innings. That suggests that it wouldn't have taken much more to turn some of those losses into wins. That is particular true when you look more closely: 8 games lost by the bullpen, 5 when the Twins were leading after 7 innings, 3 leads lost with Joe Nathan on the mound. Then look at who they lost to: only an 11-8 (.579) record against Seattle, Oakland and KC - the rest of the league went 45-21 (.682) against those teams. With just a bit steadier bullpen work (and one routine throw to first from Adam Everett back on the 10th), the Twins could easily have won 3 more games than they did this month.

While the team's overall statistical performances were impressive, it is important to bear in mind that 22 of the games this month were against opponents ranking in the bottom 6 in the league for ERA for the August (no wonder they scored a ton of runs), and 23 were against teams ranking in the bottom 5 in OPS (no wonder they out-homered their opponents). In September the Twins face a much more potent schedule, though still not as tough as what the White Sox have in front of them. Another +5 month is certainly within the Twins' ability. If they accomplish that and reach 92 wins, will it be enough to propel them into October?

For purposes of evaluations, I'll only be looking at pitchers with more than 10 IP (lucky you, Eddie!) and hitters with more than 25 ABs (sorry, Mike Lamb!).

Getting It Done

Francisco Liriano - You can tell me all about how Liriano's stuff isn't as good as 2006, or that he only faced teams with mediocre offenses. That may be true, but a lot of Twins pitchers faced those teams, and Liriano's the one who went 4-0 with a 1.23 ERA and 1.01 WHIP in 6 starts this month. How big a lift has he been to the rotation? He allowed fewer earned runs in 36.2 August innings (5) than Livan allowed in 2.2 IP in his first start with the Rockies (9).

Kevin Slowey - Slowey's first start of the month vs. Cleveland kept him from matching Liriano's August dominance. But in each of his 5 starts since, he allowed 2 or fewer ER in 5.2 or more IP. Overall, he averaged a strikeout per inning and allowed a 2.92 ERA and 1.00 WHIP thanks to a sick 37/2 K/BB ratio.

Dennys Reyes - This month saw Reyes return to his 2006 form: in 11 IP, he had a 0.82 ERA, 0.91 WHIP, and 11.45 K/9. When he wasn't striking people out, he got 21 grounders to only 2 fly balls, and even got a few righties out. Awesome.

Joe Mauer - He started the month with a BA of .320 and an OBP of .413. He ended the month with a BA of .320 and an OBP of .413. Consistently excellent, while starting 24 of 29 games. I guess it'd be nice if he'd get more XBH, but whatever.

Craig Breslow - Speaking of how much better Liriano is than Livan, how much better is Breslow than Juan Rincon? In August, Breslow gave up 4 ER in 12.1 IP with a 0.97 WHIP and 16/10 GB/FB ratio and 8 K, and his ERA went up. What a great pickup - probably Bill Smith's best addition of the season.

Boof Bonser - Yes! Boof Bonser! He finally adjusted to the bullpen, striking out 14 in 15 IP, while sporting a 2.40 ERA, 1.07 WHIP and 23/13 GB/FB ratio. Is he the next Latroy Hawkins?

Glen Perkins - What a month this might have been for Glen Perkins had he not faced the Mariners 3 times. 11 of the 13 R he allowed came on the only 6 HR he allowed - all to the Mariners, most in the 6th inning or later. In each of his 2 non-Mariners starts, he allowed 0 R and 7 baserunners in 8 IP. Luckily, he won't be facing the Mariners in September!

Jason Kubel - .326/.379/.523 with 3 HR and 13 RBI in less than 100 ABs. If he can finish up with a September like he had in 2007 (.325/.404/.584, 3 HR, 14 RBI) he'll be the third leg of a deadly heart of the order.

Denard Span - In his first complete month in the leadoff spot, Span reached base 37% of the time, hit 12 XBH including 3 HR, drove in 23 runs, scored 20, and went 8/10 stealing bases. Why, oh why, did it take the Twins so long to figure out that he belongs there?

So Far, So Good

Joe Nathan - Though his line for the month was as sick as ever (12.1 IP, 13 K, 0.73 ERA, 0.89 WHIP), I can't put Nathan in the ass-kicking category because he blew 3 of his 10 save opportunities. I agree that saves are an overblown stat, but the bottom line is, when Nathan takes the mound and the Twins have the lead, I expect a win, and that didn't happen 30% of the time he was in that situation. I bet he would agree that he didn't get it done this time.

Scott Baker - As with Perkins, Baker got lit up by the Mariners (6.75 ERA, 1.96 WHIP in 17.1 IP) and was lights out against everyone else (1.71 ERA, 1.00 WHIP in 21 IP). What was it about the Mariners?

Nick Blackburn - Is Blackburn beginning to wear down? This was the first month in which he failed to produce 3 starts with 2 or fewer runs allowed. His walk total (11) was almost double the previous high he had established back in April (6). Still a perfectly good #5 starter, though.

Randy Ruiz - Congratulations to Randy Ruiz on a very promising and long overdue start to his Major League career. The average (.320) and OBP (.370) are great. Now he needs to get some more XBH and cut down the Ks. Something to build on.

Brian Buscher - Like Ruiz, I love the BA (.312) and the RBIs (14) are terrific for a platoon player. I just want to see more XBH, fewer Ks, and, oh yeah, not so many errors at 3B.

Nick Punto - The first 10 games of August were most unkind to Punto - he collected just 5 H in 39 AB while striking out 11 times. He picked it up the rest of the month, batting .362 with 7 doubles and a triple. He is very close to the level he was at in 2006.

Justin Morneau - Morneau also struggled in the first half of the month, going just 6 for his first 44 with 2 doubles. But over the last 16 games he's hit .379/.423/.667 with 10 doubles, 3 HR and 15 RBI. He had an OPS over .800 and drove in at least 20 runs for the 5th straight month.

Mike Redmond - It's amazing to me how few games Redmond is getting into this year. He's holding his own when he does play, and hit .276 with 2 doubles in just 29 ABs this month.

Brendan Harris - Now established in a platoon roll, Harris hit .266/.319/.469 in 64 August ABs. Terrific isolated power, decent eye, decent range at 3rd. I just wish he put the ball in play more (16 K, or 25% of his ABs).

Adam Everett - The Twins got a .704 OPS out of Everett this month, along with a HR and 10 RBI in just 38 ABs. He might actually be playing more if he hadn't made a couple of crucial errors.

Need To Pick It Up

Alexi Casilla - I was thrilled to see Casilla back in the lineup, for his glove if nothing else. It doesn't look like his rehab assignment was long enough to get him back to form hitting-wise - he went just 6 for his first 34 when he came off the DL. He had a nice weekend in Oakland (5 for 13 with a HR), so hopefully he can carry that forward into September.

Delmon Young - The power finally arrived for Young in August, as he clobbered 4 rather spectacular HRs (including the tying shot off Mariano Rivera). He had more walks (8) this month than in June and July combined (5). Other than that, he was mostly a singles hitter, and there were far too few of them.

Carlos Gomez - With Kubel and Span both hitting their butts off, Gomez finally played himself out of the everyday lineup with his 3rd straight month of sub-.600 OPS. He also had a couple of costly misjudged fly balls out in CF. On the bright side, he got back to stealing bases again, going 7/8 - his best production on the base paths since April. Good thing, since he'll be doing a lot of pinch-running from here on out.

Jesse Crain - And now we come to the guys who probably did the most to make August a disappointing month. Crain either allowed runs or failed to record an out in half of his 14 appearances. He has allowed the winning runs to score against him in each of his last 3 appearances.

Matt Guerrier - But Guerrier wins the prize for Least Valuable Pitcher in August. He was touched for runs in 6 of his first 8 appearances, allowing the winning or tying runs to reach base in 3 of the Twins' losses. Obviously overworked, he was used just once between the 12th and the 21st. He's allowed 0 R on 1 H and 2 BB with 4 K in 5.1 IP on the current road trip, so hopefully he's got things turned around.

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