Thursday, April 30, 2009

April Review

Twins Record: 11-11
4th in AL Central, 1 game out of 1st

First, the bad news: The Twins finished April 11th in the AL in scoring and OBP, 12th in SLG% and HR, and only 9th in SB. They are 10th in the league in BAA, ERA, OPS against and runs allowed, 11th in K and HR allowed, and 13th in SB allowed. Twins catchers threw out only 1 base stealer all month. In all of MLB, only the Nationals and Orioles have a worse run differential.

Only 5 Twins hitters have BA higher than .241. Only 6 have SLG% higher than .333. There has been precious little hitting with RISP. Only 6 pitchers have ERAs lower than 5.40, and 3 of them have combined for 16.1 IP. The starters are averaging fewer than 6 IP/GS.

But hey, look on the bright side: They still issue the fewest walks in the league. Their 8 errors are tied for fewest in the league, resulting in a league-low 3 unearned runs. As disappointing as their team hitting line of .262/.328/.386 with 0.73 HR/game and 4.23 R/game is, it's actually an improvement over last April's .258/.302/.361 with 0.54 HR/game and 3.81 R/game. And you will recall that the offense put it together quite well as the season went on.

Best of all, the Twins have managed to stay at .500 despite their shoddy play, within 1 good series of taking over 1st place in the division, all without the help of their most important player, Joe Mauer. He'll be back on Friday, and his .400+ OBP is going to look real nice after Denard Span and in front of Justin Morneau. The starting pitching is on an upswing, and the cold members of the offense are almost certain to get it going before too long.

It's sort of miraculous that the Twins are as well-positioned as they are. We can thank the 2 improbable Metrodome comebacks: 5 straight batters reached after 2 were out in the bottom of the 9th against Seattle closer Brandon Morrow, and 7 scored in the bottom of the 8th against the Angels, culminating in Jason Kubel's cycle-clinching grand slam that turned a 9-4 deficit into an 11-9 victory. The Twins had no business winning either of those games, and if they hadn't, their record would be 9-13, only 1 game ahead of Cleveland.

So cheer up, Twins fans. It only gets better from here.

It was a short month, so my cutoffs for qualifying for grades will be 20 PA for hitters and 5.0 IP for pitchers.

Getting It Done
Denard Span - I had my doubts after his icy cold spring training, but when the bell went off on opening day he picked up right where his terrific rookie campaign left off, reaching base about 39% of the time, picking up 5 SB to lead the team, and playing good defense at all three OF positions.

Justin Morneau - Does his .318/.365/.557 line remind you of anything? How about the .321/.375/.559 line he put up in his MVP year of 2006. Easily on pace for 30+ HR after his disappointing 23 last year. Needs to take more walks and/or strike out less, but otherwise doing his thing.

Jason Kubel - At last, a good start for Kubel. He's nearly matched Morneau offensively, and has earned the opportunity to face more LHP. He's not hitting them particularly well (.250/.294/.313 in 16 AB), but neither is anyone else on the team right now. This could be the start of the breakout season that makes the contract he signed over the offseason look like a steal.

Jose Morales - The defense hasn't been good, as Morales has made 2 of the team's 8 errors, allowed a couple of PB, and thrown out only 1 attempted base stealer. But you could hardly have asked for more from him offensively - his .349/.391/.419 isn't a very big step down from what Mauer would have done, and he's had to assume more playing time as Mike Redmond deals with nagging injuries.

Brendan Harris - I'll be the first one to admit that Harris isn't the same fielder as Nick Punto or Alexi Casilla. But he's just about the only guy we have hitting lefties right now, and he's hit RHP even better. As Casilla struggles, Gardy needs to find ways to get Harris more AB.

Glen Perkins - Raise your hand if you thought Perkins would be the Twins' best starter this month. Extra credit if you guessed he would have 1.56 points of ERA and 0.37 points of WHIP on the next best starter. Lack of run support has cost him in the win column, but those 8 IP starts have been the salvation of a shaky bullpen. The pitching MVP of April.

So Far, So Good
Nick Punto - Like most of the Twins' switch-hitters, Punto's poor splits vs. LHP have dragged his overall line way down. The .228 BA isn't too far away from the disaster of 2007. But his 11/9 K/BB rate has enabled him to get his OBP up to .343. That's productive enough for a #9 hitting SS, especially if he only makes 1 error in 19 games.

Joe Nathan - The line is pretty good: 2.57 ERA, 1.00 WHIP in 7 IP with 7 K. The problem is, 2 of the 5 H he allowed have been HR, one of which cost him a save earlier this week. When he gets more use, I expect his HR/9 numbers to head back toward his career averages.

Nick Blackburn - This is Nick Blackburn: his ERA and WHIP are almost identical to his totals from last year. His K/9 is down, but he's only allowed 1 HR in 31.1 IP. Best of all, his IP/start is up over 6, thanks to Gardy's increased confidence in his starters (or decreased confidence in the bullpen).

Kevin Slowey - I hold Slowey to a pretty high standard, so I almost didn't stick him in this category. Ultimately, I decided that his last 2 starts (1.00 WHIP, 1 HR, 12 K in 15 IP) cancel out his first 2 starts (2.00 WHIP, 4 HR, 7 K in 11.1 IP). The tipping point was the fact that he got the team into the 6th inning even when he was struggling.

Jesse Crain - Overall, it's not a good line for Crain, but almost all of the ugliness (3 BB and 4 ER) came in that final, grueling outing vs. the Angels. His remaining appearances were very effective, and I expect him to resume his role as the primary RH middle reliever once he comes off the DL.

Matt Guerrier - Like Crain, almost all of the damage (4 ER, 4 H, HR) came in one lousy appearance against the Blue Jays. In his other 8 appearances, he's allowed only 2 ER on 5 H and 2 BB with 7 K in 9.1 IP. That'll work.

Need To Pick It Up
Alexi Casilla - Even if you take away his 1 for 23 vs. LHP, Casilla is only hitting .239/.300/.304. On the bright side, he's made every play but one in the field, he's 2/2 in SB, and he was hitting just about this badly for Rochester last spring before he was called up. He should lose some playing time to Harris, particularly vs. LHP, but it would be tough not to improve on his start.

Michael Cuddyer - It seems like a lot of his early AB went like this: take a strike, swing through an offspeed pitch, then do what you can behind in the count. He's basically corrected his K/BB rate with 7 BB over his last 4 games, so maybe that's a sign that he's starting to see the ball better.

Joe Crede - The defense and the IsoP are as advertised, but he's supposed to hit a little better than .212, isn't he?

Delmon Young - Incredibly, he's hitting even worse than he did last April. At least he's not playing every day.

Carlos Gomez - What I said about Young applies here as well.

Brian Buscher - Not doing much hitting, though he's drawn some big walks and HBP.

Mike Redmond - He's having a hard time physically. Tough to be an old catcher.

Scott Baker - I'm going to assume that he's on his way to figuring himself out. The first 2 starts were appalling.

Francisco Liriano - Not pitching nearly as poorly as Baker, but still well below his ability. He's showing some signs of straightening things out as well.

Luis Ayala - Seems to be giving up a run or two every other time he takes the mound.

R.A. Dickey - Home runs, walks, and the score gets worse and worse. Almost certainly heading to Rochester when Crain comes off the DL.

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