Wednesday, July 1, 2009

June Review

Twins Record: 15-12
Overall Record: 40-39, 2nd in AL Central by 4 games

The Twins finally put together a winning month in June. If they could have achieved these results every month, they'd be on their way to 90 wins and a likely playoff spot. In other words, months like this are what you hope for.

And yet, it feels like it should have been better. According to Bill James' Pythagorean Expectation, the Twins' 112-93 run differential this month should have led to a 16-11 record. How did that extra win get away? We need only look to Nick Blackburn's 5 starts. They were all quality, to say the least - he averaged 2 ER over 7.2 IP - but the team came out on top just once. Two of those games were lost in the bottom of the 8th inning, with Blackburn just an out or two from handing the game to Joe Nathan. Of course, it didn't help that the offense provided just 9 R of support in those 4 losses.

From the rarefied heights of May, the offense inevitably came crashing back to earth in June. They scored 26% fewer runs, hit about 1/3 fewer HR, and saw their team OPS drop from .821 to .737. Some of that had to do with the pitchers going 0 for 27 in the 9 interleague road games. Some of it was the result of Denard Span spending about half of the month on the DL, inviting extra ABs from Delmon Young and Carlos Gomez. But mostly, it was a simple regression from the otherworldly numbers that Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau and Michael Cuddyer were able to produce in May.

Luckily, the pitching staff picked up the slack. They were 3rd in the league in ERA and R allowed this month, and first in fewest walks, as usual. Perhaps most importantly, they cut their HR allowed rate by 40%. I would attribute part of that to a relatively easy schedule - 18 of the 27 games the Twins played this month were against teams with below average OPS. But the starters definitely stepped up, too, pitching deeper into games more consistently, enabling Gardy to more or less avoid the weaker pieces of the bullpen.

Though the Twins didn't quite win as many as they should have, it's important to give them credit for what they did accomplish. Considering that they were a disaster on the road through 2 months, it's a great achievement for them to have gone 10-8 on the road this month. From here on in, the Twins play more at home than away, and against easier competition than they faced in the first half (other than 3 home games with the Yankees, the Twins are done with the Titans of the East). Three more months like they just had should be enough to keep them in contention right to the end.

Only hitters with 20+ AB and pitchers with at least 6.1 IP qualify for grades this month.

Getting It Done

Joe Mauer - How awesome was he in May? His OPS dropped by .441 month-to-month, and he still finished June at .897. That number, along with 3 HR, is probably what we can expect from Joe going forward.

Jason Kubel - Led the team with 8 HR and 17 RBI in about 15 fewer PA than Morneau had, and showed he could be competent in the field. In order to keep his bat in the lineup, Gardy should routinely send Kubel out there on the days Mauer is the DH.

Nick Punto - He only got to play in 11 games, which is a shame, because .323/.371./355 is about as much as we can reasonably hope to get from him at the plate.

Joe Nathan - 12 appearances, 11 SV in 11 chances, 0 ER on 4 H and 1 BB in 11.2 IP with 18 K. It's hard to imagine a closer having a better month.

RA Dickey - Signed to be a long reliever (if not AAA starter), Dickey has pitched his way into a setup role. This month he allowed just 1 ER in 13.2 IP with a 0.80 WHIP and 7.9 K/9.

Matt Guerrier - Perhaps the biggest beneficiary of the improved starting rotation, Guerrier made 14 appearances this month, but only totaled 10.1 IP. Hopefully that will keep him fresher for the 2nd half this time around.

Nick Blackburn - The Twins' most valuable pitcher of the first half. The innings he's been able to rack up every fifth turn have done incalculable good for what was at times a beleaguered bullpen. I don't know if he can keep it up much longer, but I'm enjoying it while it lasts.

Glen Perkins - Whatever was troubling him in May seemed to get fixed, as Perkins averaged 6.2 IP in his first 3 starts back from the DL, with a terrific 1.10 WHIP.

Scott Baker - Just 3 HR allowed in 39.1 IP over 6 strong starts. This is the guy we thought would be the ace when the season began.

Bobby Keppel - 6.1 scoreless IP to begin his tenure with the Twins. Maybe he can match Anthony Swarzak's debut...

So Far, So Good

Brendan Harris - Taking over as the regular SS, Harris has provided steady defense and pretty good production at the plate, although the strikeout rate was a little higher than I'd like to see this month.

Michael Cuddyer - .278/.333/.481 is pretty close to what I would expect from a healthy Cuddyer over any reasonably lengthy stretch of games.

Joe Crede - Not nearly the power he displayed in May, but I'll still take a .323 OBP from him along with his stellar defensive contributions.

Francisco Liriano - Excellent progress in the BB and HR department, leading to a good 3.77 ERA and an average of 6 IP/start.

Jose Mijares - He keeps getting away with it, but his shaky control (5 BB in 6.1 IP) is going to get the better of him if he doesn't clean it up soon.

Luis Ayala - He was actually more or less doing what he was expected to do when his attitude got on Gardy's bad side. No big loss, I guess.

Need To Pick It Up

Denard Span - Even when nothing's falling in for him, Span still does a great job of working counts, as evidenced by his 8/8 K/BB ratio. But yeah, he needs to hit better than .208/.311/.302.

Justin Morneau - An .801 OPS with a 14/14 K/BB ratio and 5 HR would be a great month for a lot of guys, but for Morneau, it's not his best.

Delmon Young - While I appreciate the 5 XBH (however many came courtesy of the Metrodome roof) and the .284 BA, 18 K in 67 AB is a problem, especially when it's accompanied by 0 BB.

Carlos Gomez - I think I'm seeing growth from Gomez. He seems to be having good ABs more consistently. But he still manages to throw enough of them away to keep his numbers way down.

Brian Buscher - With his superlative plate discipline (.142 IsoD), Buscher would be a tremendous hitter if he could get anything to fall in.

Matt Tolbert - At least he's drawing walks, because he can't do anything when he swings.

Mike Redmond - His age is really catching up to him. I would advise mixing Jose Morales in more on Mauer's off days.

Kevin Slowey - Albert Pujols was the difference between Slowey landing down here or in the previous category. The 10 BB in 26.1 IP is unheard of, and I expect that to be cleaned up in July.

Anthony Swarzak - 2 of his 3 starts this month were clunkers, but the last one was a gem. He's been dealing again since he returned to Rochester.

Sean Henn - We threw away Craig Breslow for this?

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