Saturday, May 1, 2010

April Review

Twins Record: 15-8
1st in AL Central by 1.5 games

What a start. Thanks to a strong series of offseason pickups, most serious Twins fans were pretty excited about the potential of this team. So far, it's been justified. The Twins found a way to win their first 6 series of the season, jumping out to the 3rd best record in the AL.

They're among the league leaders in scoring, though the offense has struggled with RISP and several starters have poor BAs. They've made up for it by hitting 22 HR in 23 games and drawing a million walks. Well, 112 - 10% more than the next most patient team. Put that many guys on base, and you're bound to score your share of runs, even without the big hit. Those hits will come, and if the Twins can maintain their fantastic plate discipline, they're bound to score even more in future months.

They're among the league leaders in pitching. As usual, they are issuing by far the fewest walks. This contributes to the league's 3rd best WHIP. They're doing a good job of stranding the baserunners they allow. And, for once, they're keeping the ball in the yard, allowing fewer HR/9 than 9 other AL teams. Francisco Liriano hasn't allowed a HR in 29 IP, and 6 relievers have also avoided the long ball.

They're among the league leaders in defense. They've committed only 4 errors (one of which was a missed call by the umpires), resulting in just 3 unearned runs. They are enjoying favorable ratings from RZR and UZR. New acquisitions JJ Hardy and Orlando Hudson have improved the up-the-middle defense, while the slimmed down Delmon Young is covering a lot more ground in LF.

As the struggling members of the Twins' lineup and pitching staff regress toward their normal production, things should get even better. The Twins will get a chance to measure themselves against the Yankees in the coming weeks. It looks like this team should give them a better fight than last year's team did.

This month was relatively short, so I'll look at hitters with at least 25 PA and pitchers who threw 10 or more IP and/or made at least 5 appearances.

Getting It Done

Justin Morneau - Once again on pace for about 35 HR and 120 RBI. What really sets Morneau apart this month is his fantastic 14/21 K/BB ratio, pushing his OBP to nearly .500.

Joe Mauer - Just the 1 HR so far, making last year's total look a bit fluky. However, 8 2B and 1 3B, plus his typical 8/10 K/BB ratio bring him in at .345/.406/.500, which is still plenty awesome.

Jim Thome - I wondered how much he'd be used this year, but he's clearly got plenty left in the tank. He's got a .989 OPS with 4 HR in just over 50 PA. It's going to be hard to keep him on the bench if he keeps hitting like that.

Orlando Hudson - What a great addition to the the top of the lineup. He's followed Denard Span in each game, reaching base nearly 39% of the time and scoring 16 R.

Michael Cuddyer - .309/.346/.479 with 3 HR and a team leading 18 RBI, and he'd have had a couple more HR earlier this week if he'd hit his dead-CF bombs in any other park than Comerica.

Francisco Liriano - He was wild in his first start in Chicago - but even that was a QS. Since then he's thrown 23 straight scoreless innings with a 24/5 K/BB ratio and 0 HR allowed. What we saw in the DWL and Spring Training was legit.

Matt Guerrier - With a pedestrian 4/4 K/BB ratio in 12.1 IP, you wouldn't expect a reliever to be this effective. But Guerrier allowed just 1 ER in April, and it was not a HR. Even better, he's usually pretty efficient.

Jon Rauch - 7/8 in save opportunities, and the one save he blew didn't cost the Twins a win. Joe Nathan would probably have a better WHIP and K/9, but the bottom line couldn't be much better.

Carl Pavano - I thought he'd prove to be the Twins' 4th best starter, but this month he was #2. His outstanding 22/3 K/BB ratio in 31.1 IP is one of the reasons he's consistently pitched deeper into games than Scott Baker or Kevin Slowey.

Brian Duensing - Back in a bullpen role, Duensing has picked up right where he left off last year. In 10 IP, he's allowed just 2 ER on 8 H and 3 BB with 6 K, and he hasn't given up a HR.

Alex Burnett - I figured he'd just get a couple of mop-up opportunities before taking his rightful place in AAA, but an early injury to Jose Mijares opened the door for him to stick around. So far he's made the most of it, posting a 3.12 ERA and 11/3 K/BB ratio in 8.2 IP.

Ron Mahay - Signed too late to break camp with the Twins, Mahay has still made a big impact in just a couple of weeks. He hasn't allowed an ER in 6.2 IP with a superb 8/1 K/BB ratio.

So Far, So Good

Denard Span - The first of a quartet of hitters who don't appear, at first glance, to be performing well. Span is hitting just .211, but his career best K and BB rates give him an outstanding .128 IsoD and a still decent .339 OBP. His .244 BABIP so far is well below his career norm and is bound to turn around. 6/7 SB, and the one time he was caught he wasn't actually tagged out.

Jason Kubel - He's hitting just .219, but he's nearly doubled his BB rate from the past few seasons for a .352 OBP. His line drive rate is as good as ever. Too many strikeouts, but otherwise there doesn't seem to be anything wrong here.

Delmon Young - 7 BB are more than half the number he drew in all of 2009. He's also radically cut his K, while posting the best IsoP since his September call-up in 2006. His .208 BABIP is .120 lower than his well-established average of the past 3 seasons. And compare:
April 2008: .255/.298/.306, 0 HR
April 2009: .241/.276/.315, 1 HR
April 2010: .222/.292/.381, 2 HR
That's progress, even with the poor BABIP.

JJ Hardy - He's hitting just .220/.281/.366, but his K% and Iso are both heading in the direction of his All-Star caliber years of 2007 and 2008. His BABIP of .231 is .045 lower than his career mark, despite a healthy 20.6% line drive rate. He's batting 8th, he's playing flawless SS - I'm content.

Nick Punto - He only got to play 9 games before going on the DL, but his .709 OPS so far suggests we might be getting the "good" Nick Punto this year. Only one BB in 26 AB, though.

Kevin Slowey - A 3.77 ERA is nice, but the WHIP is at 1.50, he's walked way more guys than we're used to from him, and he's averaging fewer than 6 IP/GS. I'll take it, but he can do better.

Pat Neshek - He's been used very sparingly, but largely appears to have recovered his old effectiveness. His last appearance against the Tigers, in which he allowed a BB and HBP to the 2 batters he faced, was his only lousy game.

Need To Pick It Up

Brendan Harris - Like Span, Kubel, et al., Harris is proving useful enough despite a .200 BA thanks to an 8/7 K/BB ratio, good for a .327 OBP. Unlike those other guys, he's not established enough to get away with a .638 OPS - if he wants to stay in the lineup, he's going to have to hit more than that.

Nick Blackburn - His 1st start was effective even though he walked a career-high 4. His 2nd start was OK - he allowed 3 HR but kept the team in it into the 8th inning. The last 2 starts he's been smacked all over the park, leaving before the 6th inning.

Jesse Crain - The 1.27 WHIP is OK. The 9/2 K/BB ratio in 11 IP is nice. He hasn't left too many guys on base, though, because 7 of the 12 H he's allowed have gone for extra bases.

Scott Baker - He was jittery on opening night, allowing 4 ER on 5 H and 3 BB in 4.2 IP. Then we got 2 very good starts. He was pretty unlucky against the Indians on the 22nd. But he stunk on the 28th, letting a 5-run lead slip away. Also averaging fewer than 6 IP/GS.

Jose Mijares - A couple of solo HR on opening night, and way too many baserunners after that. I guess he wasn't healthy - perhaps related to his poor conditioning?

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