Thursday, December 1, 2011

November Notes

Twins sign IF Jamey Carroll for 2-years, $6.75M

I felt the Twins ought to add the best available FA defender to bolster their middle infield. That would have been Clint Barmes. However, there are a lot of things Carroll does better than Barmes:
  1. Get on base (.356 career OBP vs. .302)
  2. Steal bases (26/32 over the last 3 seasons vs. 18/31)
  3. Hit RHP (.695 career OPS vs. .671)
  4. Catch the ball (.987 career fielding % at SS and .991 at 2B vs. .971 and .982)
  5. Sign for 7 figures ($6.75M over 2 years vs. $10.5M)
Barmes has a big edge in range, though, and that would have been very valuable to the Twins' ground ball pitchers. And, though he's aged gracefully the last couple of years, Carroll is getting a bit long in the tooth. If he degrades physically, this is a big overpay. And if Tsuyoshi Nishioka gets his act together and Alexi Casilla puts together a full, productive season, this is a lot to pay for a utility guy. But Carroll is just about an ideal #2 hitter to place between (the hopefully healthy) Denard Span and Joe Mauer. His lack of power won't be a problem if the big boys hit behind him. Considering that several of the other MIs on the FA market are getting even more money, it doesn't look too bad. It's certainly a move that improves the team.

Twins sign C/RF/1B Ryan Doumit for 1-year, $3M.

I was hoping that a bat-first backup C would be better at, you know, catching. Doumit is more of an insurance policy against prolonged absences from Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau. But such a thing was absolutely necessary, and Doumit's positional flexibility makes him a good fit. In good times, he'll DH or play RF while hitting about as well as Jason Kubel, all for only $3M. Pretty good signing.

Texas Rangers sign CL Joe Nathan for 2-years, $14.75M

This bummed me out. Texas gave Nathan just about exactly the deal I wanted the Twins to offer him. It sounds as though Nathan's decision wasn't so much a matter of money as preferring to play for the Rangers, a team that is at the peak of its competitiveness right now. Basically, in what could potentially be the last contract of his career, he figured he had a better chance at a ring with them. It's an endorsement of their organization, but it's also a vote of no confidence in the Twins. This is part of why I thought it was important for the front office to make one or two impact moves (probably trades) very early in the offseason: it would have showed the free agents around the league that this team is serious about competing in 2012. Carroll and Doumit, though nice pieces, don't send that message clearly enough. Based on the present state of the Twins' and Rangers' rosters, Nathan made the right decision.

Oh well. We'll show him.

The new Collective Bargaining Agreement

There were big changes with free agency and the draft, most of which will benefit the Twins, especially this year. The Elias ranking system was abolished, replaced by a more limited system in which only a handful of superstars will cost a signing team a 1st-round pick (with only the bottom 10 finishers from the previous season exempted). Effectively, this means that Michael Cuddyer will not cost a new team a draft pick, while still providing the Twins the same compensation. It also means that Matt Capps will provide the Twins a supplemental pick even if they don't offer him arbitration. Letting Cuddyer, Capps and Kubel walk, added to the #2 draft position the Twins "earned" with their abominable 2011 season, should net the Twins something like 6 of the top 50-60 picks in next summer's draft, including 2 of the top 30. If I'm Terry Ryan, I'm not even talking to those guys right now.

The draftees have been utterly stripped of leverage by a draft tax so severe I can't imagine many teams will dare to go over slot. And the signing deadline was moved up to mid-July. So now the Twins can confidently select the best talent available with each pick, offer them slot, and send them to the minors for at least 6 weeks. An influx of so much top young talent should make it a little easier for the Twins to part with some bankable prospects while attempting to bolster the major league roster through trades.

The Arizona Fall League

Apart from the ascendant Brian Dozier, the Twins didn't appear to be sending much help to the Mesa Solar Sox. Aaron Hicks was the big name in the contingent, but he has yet to have an impressive full season in A-ball. Brett Jacobsen, Bruce Pugh and Dakota Watts lived up to my low expectations, but the remainder of the group used the opportunity to raise their stock. Keep in mind that the AFL is an extreme offensive environment - the average hitter slashed .286/.362/.454, and pitchers had a 5.53 ERA, 1.58 WHIP and 2/1 K/BB.
  • Dozier completed his breakout campaign with a .296/.358/.454 performance - essentially league average. However, if you add his 1 for 2 with a HR from the Rising Stars game, his line puffs up to .300/.361/.482. Looks like he'll be a better hitter than Casilla and Nishioka, and possibly Carroll. He remains firmly in my plans for 2013.
  • Chris Hermann appeared in just 15 games but made a huge impact when he was out there. He hit .380/.456/.620 with a 6/7 K/BB ratio. A catcher at the upper levels who can hit! I hope the Twins will start him in Rochester next year.
  • Stalled as a starter, the Twins sent MN native Cole DeVries to the bullpen in 2010. It took him a year to get comfortable, I guess. After a pretty good regular season, he turned in one of the best pitching performances in the AFL, with a 3.12 ERA, 0.92 WHIP and 19/3 K/BB in 26 IP. Could he be the next Matt Guerrier?
  • Best of all, Hicks finally took a step forward. His .294/.400/.559 line was good for the 13th best OPS in the entire league. In fewer than 1/4 the ABs he had in Fort Myers, he maintained his 2B pace, quadrupled his 3B rate and nearly tripled his HR rate. Prior to the fall, it was probably a bit iffy whether he would be promoted to AA next April, but the display of in-game power he put on should be enough to ensure that he progresses. That keeps him potentially on pace to join the Twins by 2014.

Here's how Joe Christensen breaks down the 2012 roster with the guys on the 40-man at this point. It includes a bench of Nishioka, Trevor Plouffe or Rene Tosoni, Luke Hughes and Drew Butera, and a bullpen of Glen Perkins, Brian Duensing, Alex Burnett, Lester Oliveros, Jose Mijares, Esmerling Vasquez and Jeff Gray.

Plenty of work still to do, Mr. Ryan.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Hope Is Kindled

I'm a glass-half-full guy. If there's any reasonable chance of some upside in a situation, I'll look for it to come about. I stay positive, and it helps keep my outlook on life sunny.

That applies to my status as a Twins fan, as well. Right to the end, I expected good things from Delmon Young. I thought Francisco Liriano was going to be great in 2011. I even keep rooting for Shooter Hunt to find the strike zone again. Whatever the prevailing wisdom regarding expectations for the Twins, I'm usually inclined to take the over.

This offseason, for the first time in a long while, that was not the case. The weight of Bill Smith's poor moves had so far overwhelmed his good ones that it became clear that the man simply didn't have the ability to accurately evaluate talent. He didn't understand that JJ Hardy was a valuable asset that one doesn't just throw away. Or that Matt Capps is a good but not great pitcher. Or that Jose Morales is a much better player than Drew Butera. The Twins' roster needs a lot of fixing, and there was no reason to think that Smith was going to go about it in a way that would actually improve matters.

But, most of all, it was his apparent unwillingness to shake things up that troubled me. I wanted to see the entire training and conditioning staff fired at 9:00AM on September 29th. Not only didn't that happen, but Smith later indicated that the very same people would be in place again next season. As I noted in my Offseason Blueprint, no amount of tinkering with the roster is going to make the 2012 Twins back into winners if Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau and Denard Span can't play 130+ games each. It is imperative that at least 2 of the 3 return to full health and productivity. Entrusting that crucial task to the same group of bumblers who failed over and over to keep the players on the field was the last straw for me. I was resigned that the Twins would be losers again next year.

Then, yesterday, like a beacon on a mountaintop, came the unexpected news that Smith had been fired, to be immediately replaced by Terry Ryan, the architect of the Twins' success for most of the past decade. Instantly, my outlook changed.

Ryan hasn't been afraid to let treasured familiar faces walk when their free agent price tags get higher than their expected performance. Eddie Guardado, Jacque Jones, Corey Coskie... the only time he really blew that sort of evaluation was with David Ortiz. That sober gaze is required this offseason as the Twins decide how far to go to retain Michael Cuddyer, Joe Nathan and Jason Kubel.

While Ryan didn't nail every trade, he had a knack for knowing when to pull the trigger on a deal that would return the most value. The AJ Pierzynski for Nathan, Liriano and Boof Bonser trade alone blows away everything Smith did. But there were also effective trades of Chuck Knoblauch, Eric Milton, Bobby Kielty, and smaller deals that brought in eventual contributors like Jason Bartlett, Luis Castillo, and Alexi Casilla. It will take some trades to restore the organization to health in 2012 and beyond, especially with the payroll likely to come down a bit. I would expect Smith to get cheated in those deals. But I expect Ryan to have the upper hand.

Should Cuddyer and Kubel sign with other teams, the Twins may find themselves with 5 of the top 60 or so draft picks next summer. In his 1st tenure, Ryan drafted 22 players in the 1st and supplemental rounds. 17 made the majors, with 8 delivering at least 3 WAR to this point in their careers (and Ben Revere, Chris Parmelee and Kyle Waldrop are just getting started). He had 3 clunkers in a row from 1998-2000 (Ryan Mills, BJ Garbe and Adam Johnson), but otherwise his 1st round drafting record is pretty solid. In the 2nd round, he hit on Jones, Jesse Crain, Scott Baker, Kevin Slowey and Joe Benson. Though it's still early to evaluate what will become of Smith's picks, it's disconcerting that so many of them already appear to have stalled for one reason or another. I certainly feel comfortable turning the responsibility for making those selections over to Ryan.

But, most warming to my soul, were the comments Ryan made demanding accountability from the training staff. I may yet get my wish for big changes in that department, and if I do, the Twins' chances of bouncing back next season will be that much better.

I don't know if there is any other single transaction the front office could have made that would do as much to change the franchise's fortunes for the better. I hope Ryan resigns Nathan and lets the other free agents walk. I hope he finds the right pieces to upgrade the defense and the lineup. I hope all the walking wounded can return to full strength in 2012. I hope.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

2011-12 Offseason Blueprint

This is my answer to the question of how to compose the 2012 Twins roster as inspired by the Twinscentric bloggers in their Offseason Handbook. All estimated salaries are derived from there.

I begin with first principles:
  1. If you haven't got your health, you haven't got anything. Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau and Denard Span together account for $40M of the Twins' payroll. They comprise 3 of the first 4 spots in a productive offensive lineup, and each plays average to outstanding defense in the field. Coming off of injury-ravaged 2011 seasons, they are huge question marks looking ahead to next year. Any stable roster for 2012 must include viable backup options for each of them. But, realistically, if at least 2 of the 3 can't provide a full season of playing time at their respective positions, we're screwed.
  2. If you're going to pitch to contact, you've got to catch the ball. And the Twins are going to pitch to contact. Full seasons of Scott Baker and good Francisco Liriano would help, but with Carl Pavano, Nick Blackburn and Kevin Slowey under contract or team control for 2012, there are going to be a lot of balls in play. Whoever I bring in to try to bolster the lineup had better be at least an average defender.
  3. No free passes. The Twins' pitchers had their worst K/BB ratio in over a decade, and I didn't like it. Whoever I bring in to bolster their pitching staff must have a proven track record of avoiding walks.
  4. Don't block the kids. Some good prospects are finally reaching AAA next year. Joe Benson, Chris Parmelee and Brian Dozier are in my plans for 2013, with Kyle Gibson, Alex Wimmers, Tom Stuifbergen, Aaron Hicks and Chris Hermann on the radar for sometime between then and 2014. As I bring in free agents, I don't want to give out contracts that would force me to overpay aging veterans for the same production I could be getting out of home-grown talent for the league minimum.
  5. How could they be so shallow? The lack of quality depth on the 40-man roster was an absolute killer for the Twins in 2011. I'll be looking for every opportunity to upgrade from the replacement-level dreck that has been residing there. I'll scour the waiver wire and the minor-league free agent pool for castoffs who may yet have some upside.
With that established, here's what I would do with the current roster and a budget of about $115M:

Free agent decisions

I let Matt Capps walk with no offer of arbitration - there's no question he'd make more there than on the open market. I let Jason Kubel and Michael Cuddyer walk as well, though I offer each of them arbitration. I think they're in line for multi-year deals, which would violate #4 above. Kubel doesn't offer enough versatility - he basically whacks RHP but is a liability in the field, on the bases, and vs. LHP. Cuddyer won't be as good in 2014 as Joe Benson will be, but he'll be making 20-25 times as much. No thanks. If, however, either one of them for some reason accepted arbitration, I'd happily take them back on a one-year deal.

I would bring Joe Nathan back for a 2-year, $14M contract with a $7M option for 2014. A lot of people have noticed that he was much better after his DL stint in June. But, really, it was only his April that was awful. That month he allowed 10 ER in 9 IP on 9 H (2 HR) and 7 BB with only 7 K. From then on: 35.2 IP, 29 H, 14 ER, 5 HR, 7 BB, 36 K. He came to the mound with the lead 20 times and only gave it up once. It's a bit of a premium to pay, but it's worth it to keep around a real Twins star who has already established himself as one of the franchise's all-time greats. A lot of the truly elite relievers have held up well through their 30s, and Nathan is in that league.

Arbitration Eligibles

I'll offer contracts to Francisco Liriano, Glen Perkins, Kevin Slowey, Alexi Casilla and Jose Mijares. Phil Dumatrait and Matt Tolbert will not get contracts. Jason Repko has his uses as a speedster who can play solid D at all three OF positions. I'd still be interested in keeping him in the system, but on a minor league deal.

40-Man Roster

I am going to cut everybody who no longer has a semblance of upside. I wouldn't have dropped Anthony Slama, but the other real-world cuts so far (Tolbert, Repko, Dumatrait, Rene Rivera and Brian Dinkelman) are a good start. I'd also jettison Jeff Manship and Luke Hughes. I'd add Angel Morales, Tyler Robertson, Yangervis Solarte and Tom Stuifbergen. Pending the second half of the Arizona Fall League season, Cole DeVries looks like somebody worth protecting, while Bruce Pugh does not. I'm not the slightest bit worried that the organization will permanently lose anybody in the Rule 5 Draft who hasn't yet reached AA.


I want to act as quickly as possible on these, because they'll determine what I'll need to pick up in free agency and how desperate I need to be to get it.

Acquire SP James Shields and C Kelly Shoppach from the Rays for SP Liam Hendriks, OF Ben Revere, RP Carlos Gutierrez and OF Oswaldo Arcia.

I really need to be aggressive on this one. The Rays have until Monday night to make a decision on Shields' $7M and Shoppach's $3.2M options, and they'll almost certainly decline Shoppach's. It may be possible to sign him (or a similar player) for less in free agency, but I don't mind the price tag of the option. He's a buy-low throw-in for the Rays, and the $300K they'll save on his option would no doubt be put to good use elsewhere. And he helps me save face a little, because giving up 4 good prospects looks better when you get 2 veterans in return instead of just 1. Over the past 3 seasons, Shoppach has been a roughly average defender. Against RHP he's Drew Butera, but vs. LHP he's had an OPS well north of .800.

Shields is the prize, and here we're buying high. The Rays surely would love to keep him, with his 3 reasonable option years, but with their under-attended stadium, they can ill-afford to devote 15% of their payroll to one player. Even without Shields, they'll have an elite rotation, and they already have 2 more quality starters stashed in AAA Durham. Plus, the Rays are run by former Wall Street guys, and they must understand that Shields' value will never be higher than it is right now. That's why it'll take a huge package to bring him to MN. But he's the 2nd coming of Brad Radke, a relentless strike-thrower with a plus changeup and a propensity to serve up the long ball. I'll make sure that when I part with him in a couple years, he's a Type A who's sure to decline arbitration, thus recouping picks to replace half of this trade package.

Revere has been expendable for me for a couple of years now. No power, no arm - I just don't want him in the same lineup as Span. He's a useful backup, but I'll look to cover that another way until the wave of OF prospects reaches the upper minors. Revere will be an upgrade for the Rays over Sam Fuld, who didn't outperform Revere by much as a 29-year old, and doesn't project to get any better. Revere will fit right into the Rays' super defense and crazy base-stealing.

Hendriks is tough to part with, but he's the only man standing with any value at the upper levels. The Rays won't let go of Shields unless they can maintain the depth of their SP. Hendriks can go right into line and be ready to contribute for them by the 2nd half of 2012 if injuries should decimate their rotation.

Gutierrez has a great sinking fastball, but he doesn't control it well enough for me to think that he'll be a great contributor to the bullpen. Kyle Waldrop and Guerra get plenty of grounders, too, but they throw a lot more strikes. I'll count on them to step up instead. For me, Arcia is the least appealing of the Twins' OF prospects. At 20, he's already filled out to the point where there's not much chance of him becoming useful in the field. All the other kids can run. By shipping these two, I don't have to protect them in the Rule 5 draft, and save a couple of roster spots.

Acquire C Chris Iannetta, OF Seth Smith and RP Rafael Betancourt from the Rockies for SP Carl Pavano and 3B Danny Valencia.

This is why I really need Shields. The Rockies are looking for an innings-eater and someone to platoon with (or possibly replace) Ian Stewart. They have catching depth at the upper levels and have never really loved Iannetta. Smith becomes expendable if they sign a free agent OF (Cuddyer, perhaps?). They're rumored to have some interest in Pavano. I think Valencia is likely to be at least a league-average 3B for the next couple of seasons, but he's especially good against LHP, and Troy Tulowitzki's spectacular range could make up for some of his defensive shortcomings.

Iannetta is an average catcher with outstanding patience and plus power. He loses a lot of slugging while facing RHP, but his OBP remains high against them. And he looks like Albert Pujols when you compare him to Drew Butera.

Smith is basically another Jason Kubel, but with a better glove, some baserunning ability, and 3 years of team control. He's scorched RHP in his career (.881 OPS) but has struggled against southpaws.

Any reliever who can thrive in the rarefied air of Denver is worth a look. Betancourt absolutely refuses to walk anybody (1.2 BB/9 over the last 2 seasons) and has averaged 9.6 K/9 for his career. He adds a RH option to compliment Glen Perkins in the setup role.

Free Agents

I'm going to assume that the M&M boys and Shoppach are going to get the lion's share of the time at DH, so I'm not going to hire a regular there. Between Iannetta and Shoppach, I've got Mauer covered. Mauer will be Morneau's backup at 1B until Parmelee is ready to stick. I'll move Plouffe over to 3B - the .262/.317/.401 line he posted from August 15th on is pretty close to the league average for the position, he's got plenty of arm for the hot corner, and his not-quite-enough for SS range might be OK there. But I still need some Span insurance, a good-fielding SS, a backup IF who can excel at 3B, and a corner OF to platoon with Smith.

Sign OF Coco Crisp (3-years, $24M), SS Clint Barmes (2-years, $8M), IF Nick Punto (1-year, $1M) and OF Andruw Jones (1-year, $2M).

Crisp is a switch-hitter with range enough to excel in any OF position. He's an elite base-stealer. And he's got just a little more pop than Span. I like him a lot more than Revere. I'm skeptical that he'd command a 3-year deal this offseason (I'd shoot for 2 + an option), but I'll do what I have to do in order to get him. 3 years buys Aaron Hicks some extra development time at the upper levels, and if Hicks progresses, Crisp always seems to be a coveted trade piece.

Barmes is the best defender at SS who doesn't suck with the bat. He doesn't offer anything as a base stealer, but hopefully between Span, Casilla and Crisp I've got that covered. With him on board I'll have the luxury of sending Tsuyoshi Nishioka to the minors if he doesn't show improvement this spring.

We all know what Punto can do. He'll give a good PA as a PH, he's an asset as a PR, and he'd be a defensive upgrade in the late innings. Hopefully the projected starters play well enough to keep him in a bench role.

There are a number of guys available to fill the RH corner OF slot. Jones would be the best combination of bat, defense and baserunning. If I can't get him, Reed Johnson, Cody Ross, Johnny Gomes or Juan Rivera would be fine substitutes. This is potentially an area in which I can wait to see what the market brings in December or later.

The Result

Catchers: Mauer ($23M), Iannetta ($3.55M), Shoppach ($3.2M)
Infielders: Morneau ($14M), Casilla ($2.5M), Barmes ($4M), Nishioka ($3M), Punto ($1M), Plouffe ($420K)
Outfielders: Crisp ($8M), Span ($3M), Smith ($2.6M), Jones ($2M)
Rotation: Shields ($7M), Baker ($6.5M), Liriano ($6M), Blackburn ($4.75M), Slowey ($3.3M)
Bullpen: Nathan ($7M), Betancourt ($4M), Perkins ($1.8M), Mijares ($700K), Duensing ($500K), Swarzak ($450K), Waldrop (or Hoey, Oliveros, Vasquez, etc.) ($420K)

Including Nathan's buyout, that comes to just under $115M. A typical lineup:

vs. RHP: Span, Crisp, Mauer, Morneau, Iannetta, Smith, Plouffe, Casilla, Barmes
vs. LHP: Span, Crisp, Mauer, Jones, Iannetta, Shoppach, Plouffe, Barmes, Casilla

I'm counting on bounce-back years from the holdovers and typical production from the new faces. If that happens, we're in business. If the injuries and ineffectiveness persist, hopefully there are few pieces I can cash in before the trade deadline next summer.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Scapegoat

Who's to blame for this fiasco? There has been an abundance of failure this season, and there will undoubtedly be changes for 2012. It would be great to find an individual whose removal would assure an upturn in the Twins' fortunes for next year. But, when a team loses 30+ wins year-over-year, can any one person account for the fall?

If I had to single out a player, it would be Matt Capps. From the beginning of the season until he was taken out of the Closer role in mid-July, Capps went 15/22 in save opportunities with a 4.76 ERA and 7 HR allowed in 39.2 IP. The Twins lost 6 of those 7 games that they were leading late. Had he converted at least 3 more of those opportunities, the Twins would have been trailing the Tigers by just 3 games in the last week of July, putting them in a clear position to deal for reinforcements and potentially head off the free-fall they've been in since the trade deadline. Capps has been better lately, but still has blown 2 leads while holding just 3, and has lost 2 games that were tied when he entered. Basically, he single-handedly cost the Twins at least 5 wins, which is a ton for a guy who's only pitched about 5% of the team's total IP. But even if he'd been great, it probably wouldn't have been enough to turn things around.

It's typical to lay blame for a disappointing season upon a head coach or manager, but I don't think Gardy deserves much. He's coming off a tremendous, Manager of the Year season. His staff is the same group of coaches who have consistently led the Twins to competitive finishes. Prior to this year, the only 2 seasons he didn't have his team in contention were 2005 & 2007, when the offense failed to support the pitching staff thanks to flukishly low BABIPs. There are certainly a couple of managerial decisions that contributed to the mess. He should have reinstalled Joe Nathan as the Closer 2-3 weeks earlier than he did. And his misguided displeasure with JJ Hardy's 2010 performance seems to have been a factor in prompting that trade and, consequently, a significant downgrade to the SS position. But more often than not, I've felt bad for Gardy. He only got to play his opening day lineup a couple of times. He frequently had to work with a short bench. Basically, he had no choice but to pencil in a bunch of guys who weren't ready to contribute at the Major League level.

Part of that was the result of poor scouting. Somebody recommended to the front office that Tsuyoshi Nishioka was capable of being an every day middle infielder in The Show. Somebody thought that Eric Hacker, Scott Diamond, Jim Hoey and Dusty Hughes were worthy of 40-man roster spots. Those scouts might find that their jobs are on the line now, or at least that they've lost some of the credibility they once enjoyed.

Part of it was the result of poor player development. With the exceptions of Anthony Swarzak and Chris Parmelee, the common thread running through all the guys the Twins brought up from the minors was that they were bad at their jobs. Position players that couldn't hit. Pitchers who couldn't throw strikes, or miss bats, or keep the ball in the yard. Baserunning blunders. Inability to execute with RISP and less than 2 outs. The reinforcements couldn't do the big things, but they couldn't do the little things either. The Rochester coaching staff already got the axe after producing back-to-back 90-loss seasons, and the organizational shakeup may not stop there.

But part of the reason that Rochester struggled so much was that the players who began the season there didn't have much upside to begin with. A few who did have some favorable projection - Alex Burnett, Swarzak, Rene Tosoni, Luke Hughes, Ben Revere, Trevor Plouffe - were called up to the Majors multiple times, some before they were ready, some into part-time roles that kept them from establishing much of a rhythm. A few others were lost to injuries - Kyle Gibson, Anthony Slama and David Bromberg, for example. But guys who had been discarded by other teams - guys like Steve Holm and Rene Rivera, Phil Dumatrait, Chuck James, Hacker - were never expected to contribute much to the Twins. When the tattered depth chart forced them into service, the dreadful results should have come as a surprise to no one.

It was clear going into the season that the depth on this team was paper-thin at several positions. Bill Smith has to be accountable for that. Several rival GMs did a much better job of building depth. Tampa Bay, for example, had even more desertions to its playoff-caliber bullpen than the Twins did. But they rebuilt on the cheap, and their unit owns a solid ERA and the second-fewest blown saves in the league. Still, I don't think it would have been reasonable for Smith to expect that so many of the journeymen he signed to flesh out the AAA team should have found their way onto the Major League roster.

The biggest problem with the 2011 Twins is that the 1st-string guys weren't able to play together. They had to use the DL 27 times this season. And that didn't even account for all the games lost to injuries. Regularly, 1 or more players were held out of the lineup for several days with "day-to-day" injuries, shortening the bench for Gardy. Too frequently, those guys wound up on the DL eventually, anyway. Whatever the initial estimates for recovery times, it always seemed to take longer for people to heal. On more than one occasion, a player came back, played poorly for a short period, then went right back on the shelf.

I'll try to quantify how much injuries hurt the Twins this year. Joe Mauer appeared in 82 games this year, including just 52 at Catcher. His 333 PA were about 55% of what he would accumulate in a healthy season. Justin Morneau played 69 games (we'll call that 45% of a healthy season). Denard Span played 70 games (45%). Jason Kubel and Alexi Casilla were at 70%. Nishioka was at 45%. Nick Blackburn made 80% of the 33 GS we would have liked to see. Francisco Liriano made 75%, Scott Baker 64%. Joe Nathan's 44.2 IP were only 64% of the roughly 70 IP he worked in typical seasons.

Apply those percentages to the salaries those guys earned this season, and you wind up losing nearly $30M. Throw in the DL stints for Delmon Young and Jim Thome prior to their trades and you're easily over that. The Twins' opening day payroll was in the top 10 in baseball, but injuries effectively reduced it to the bottom 12. A likely contender was turned into nothing special.

It is the job of the training staff to keep the players on the field. They should put the players on a workout regimen that will give them the strength and flexibility to play at their peak level of performance without breaking down over the course of the long season. When injuries occur, they need to diagnose them quickly and accurately, and realistically assess what the recovery time will be. They need to put hurting guys on a rehab program that will get them back to 100% within their projected timetable.

The Twins' training staff conclusively failed to do this. The injuries began in the offseason and lingered through September. The team the Pohlads paid for never came together. Head Trainer Rick McWane, Assistant Trainer Dave Pruemer and Strength and Conditioning Coordinator Perry Castellano do not have the same track record of success that the coaching staff has earned. In fact, they have drawn criticism from a number of players over the past couple of seasons for the mishandling of various injuries. I don't know the degree to which they did or not, but it's pretty clear to me that there must be somebody out there who could fill their roles better. If I were running the show, I'd make it my 1st order of business on Thursday morning to fire all three of them. That would be a solid 1st step toward making things go better in 2012.

Monday, September 12, 2011


Twins 4, Tigers 8
Twins 2, Tigers 3
Twins 1, Tigers 2

It's the Tigers' year. There have been hints of that throughout the season, most notably that their actual record has far outpaced their Pythagorean Record for most of the summer. Their key players have been healthy and productive. Their opportunistic offense has frequently been able to bail out their largely unimpressive pitching staff. They have won 9 straight. Everything is going their way.

It's not the Twins' year. Their key players have all been injured, and most have been unproductive when in the lineup. Their anemic offense has been unable to step up and provide enough runs for the pitchers to win on the rare days when the hurlers haven't also stunk. They have lost 17 of 21 and 31 of 40. Nothing is going their way.

With that as the backdrop, was there really any doubt that the Tigers would find a way to prevail in the tight games on Saturday and Sunday? Did it matter that Glen Perkins, the Twins' best reliever this season, was facing Brandon Inge, the Tigers' worst hitter? That Perkins had allowed 1 HR all year going into their matchup, and that Inge had hit just 2? When the 1st 2 batters reached against Jose Valverde in the 9th inning on Sunday, was there really any hope that they would both score and cost him his 1st BS of 2011?

Of course not.


  • Did you notice the way Perkins took responsibility for serving up the dinger to Inge and blamed it on Drew Butera at the same time? To paraphrase: "It's my fault for agreeing to throw the stupid pitch that Drew called." Was he being cunning or tactless? I can't decide. But I do know that with every passing week I grow more secure in my conviction that Butera doesn't actually call a good game.

  • The Rays just DFA'd Rob Delaney. Maybe the Twins should scoop him back up. He's been pathetic in 6 total IP for the Rays and Twins so far, but what do you really learn about a guy in 6 jittery innings? In 195.1 IP at AAA he's got a 1.18 WHIP, 8.6 K/9 and just 2.5 BB/9. It's worth a look. What have they got to lose?

  • The Twins are now just 1/2 game ahead of the Orioles in the MLB standings. Oh, so close to the #2 overall draft pick! Keep it up, fellas!

  • The Rockies trail Cleveland by 4 games and Toronto by 4.5 games. If they can pass them both, there's a good chance that they'll move into the top half of the MLB standings, where their aspirations to sign Michael Cuddyer could really do the Twins some good. Go Rox!

Friday, September 2, 2011

Making Lemonade

There are just under 4 weeks to go until the end of the 2011 season, when the Twins and their fans can finally be put out of their misery. Though the division was lost early last month, there are still some things to hope for in September:

Just Lose, Baby

If the season ended today, the Twins would have the 4th overall pick in next summer's draft. They haven't even had a top 10 pick since they got Joe Mauer with the 1st overall pick in 2001. There's a chance that hard slotting will be a feature of the new CBA to be negotiated this offseason. If that's the case, the Twins could get a consensus stud with their top pick and sign him for a set, reasonable bonus, even if he were represented by Scott Boras. Recent #4 picks who have made good include Brian Matusz, Jeff Niemann, Gavin Floyd and Ryan Zimmerman.

A top 5 pick would also ensure a high 2nd round selection. There are typically between 15-30 supplemental round picks, meaning that the Twins' 4th pick in the 2nd round would still be a pick in the 50s overall. For comparison, thanks to an unusually high number of ranked free agents switching teams, their 2 supplemental round picks this year were #50 and #55 overall - technically 1st rounders.

But why settle for #4? Houston has a commanding lead for the 1st overall pick next year. But right now, the Twins are only 2.5 games behind Baltimore for the #2 pick. Recent #2 picks include Dustin Ackley, Pedro Alvarez, Mike Moustakis, BJ Upton, Rickie Weeks and Justin Verlander. The closer you get to the top of the board, the better your odds of picking up a guy who can become a productive major leaguer in short order. To that end...

Call Up Everybody

Gardy's into it, and why not? They've been fielding a lineup full of fringe major leaguers for most of the season anyway. They might as well go whole hog in September. Jim Hoey and Chuck James both got lit up in their earlier stints in the Twins' bullpen, but Alex Burnett is getting lit up now, so what's the difference?

Denard Span, Alexi Casilla, Scott Baker, Nick Blackburn and Francisco Liriano will all try to return before the end of the season. It would be great to see those guys push some of the scrubs out of the lineup and end the year on a positive note. Then again, what's the point? So what if Baker, Blackburn and Liriano each have 2 more decent starts on a pitch count? Or if Span and Casilla each get through 2 weeks of action without headaches or hamstring soreness? What does anybody prove in so little playing time? I'd just as soon have all of them shut down, conclusively heal their injuries and get to work strengthening themselves for next year.

Are Scott Diamond or Anthony Swarzak any good? I doubt it, but let's see what they can do. AA studs Joe Benson, Chris Parmelee and Deolis Guerra (the Reliever) are on the roster but not ready for The Show. Still, let them get their 1st game jitters out of the way in a low-stakes environment. Give them a taste of what they've been working for, so they can keep that image in their minds when they get after it at AAA next spring. They should be the more confident for it when they're called up under what we hope will be more meaningful circumstances during the 2012 season.

Filling the dugout with the few members of the 40-man roster who weren't deemed good enough to merit a call-up at some point during this injury-riddled season should make for a nice September. Gardy will finally have the long bench he's been struggling to keep all year. But the pups won't necessarily be able to produce the way veterans would when they get thrown out there. A 4th sub-.400 month would give the Twins a great chance of moving up in the draft order. Play the kids! However...

Type A Personalities

Impending free agents Jason Kubel and Michael Cuddyer are both likely to decline arbitration and test the market this offseason. It appears as though both are on the cusp of attaining Type A status. The Twins need to give them every opportunity to do so.

Assuming they want to bring at least one of them back, a Type A ranking would probably put Kubel into the same territory as Carl Pavano last year. Would anybody really want to outbid the open market and give up a 1st-round draft pick for a guy who doesn't hit lefties well, is a minus on the basepaths and in the OF, and has a history of failing to stay healthy? His list of suitors might become quite short, and he might even fall back to the Twins for a relatively modest commitment, as Pavano did. Or, if he is signed by, say, the White Sox, the Twins would pick up another top 20 pick plus a supplemental, giving them 4 of the top 50-60 picks. Fair compensation!

Cuddyer seems to have a deeper market for his services, so I can easily see the Twins being outbid for him. If they have to lose him, I'd rather it be for 2 picks than one. It may be that his status is in doubt because of his mix of time between 1B and RF. If ensuring that he has more OF time is all the Twins need to do to get him firmly into Type A territory, they should make sure he spends all of September away from the IF. Joe Mauer and Luke Hughes can fill in at 1B when Justin Morneau isn't up to it, and Parmelee will be an option there shortly, too.

If anybody's going to play every day from here it out, it should be Kubel and Cuddyer. Though it would perhaps be even better if each sat out 2-3 games against same-sided SP - their rate stats would probably be the better for it. Speaking of Cuddyer...


The Colorado Rockies look like they'll be an aggressive suitor for Cuddyer in the offseason. Currently, they rank #19 in the MLB standings, meaning that they'd only have to give up their 2nd round pick in order to sign him. That wouldn't be so great. They're 5 games behind Toronto for the #15 overall spot, and 5.5 behind Cleveland and the Chisox. They've got a bunch of teams to pass up, but they've played much better than their record shows, and their September schedule is fairly soft. Only 8 of their 25 games are against teams with positive run differentials, and of those, only 2 games vs. Brewers are with contenders. They would need to go 17-8 to finish .500, but they certainly have the talent to do it.

I think there's a good chance at least one of Chicago/Cleveland/Toronto finishes the year with a losing record. The Blue Jays' remaining schedule, in particular, looks rough. If the Rox can slip into the upper half of the standings, they're welcome to sign Cuddyer. The Twins would get back the 16th overall pick, plus another supplemental. Losing both Kubel and Cuddyer under those circumstances could net the Twins 3 of the top 20 picks. To put that in perspective, the Twins have only had 4 top 20 picks in the last 10 years, and 3 of those were exactly #20. The odds of them nabbing at least one impact talent out of that draft would be pretty good. Best of luck to Kubel & Cuddyer's offseason suitors down the stretch!

Final Adjustments

Most of the young guys seeing their 1st Major League action this year have struggled desperately - a lot of OBPs below .300. But that's often the case with newcomers to the league. It takes some guys a little while to get accustomed to the next level. Remember that Alexi Casilla hit just .223/.263/.259 through his 1st 210 PAs, and now he's... well... he's not that bad.

Tsuyoshi Nishioka has been deer-in-headlights helpless out there for most of the season. His 1st 210 PAs were even worse than Casilla's: .214/.256/.240. But since then, he's 4 for 12 with a couple of BB and just 1 K. No one should be getting excited about 4 good starts, but if he can loosen up and have a decent September, it might be an indication that he won't be totally hopeless in 2012.

Luke Hughes was hitting .233/.296/.317 through the end of July, but in August he hit .256/.341/.641. His weak glove and high strikeout rate will likely keep him from becoming a regular, but if he can repeat his August numbers in September, it would go a long way toward proving that he can be a credible bench/platoon bat.

Through his 1st 171 MLB PA, Trevor Plouffe was hitting just .187/.228/.348 with very questionable defense. But since rejoining the everyday lineup on August 15th, he's hit .300/.338/.443 in 75 PA with much steadier glove work. If he can back that up with a strong final month, the Twins might feel comfortable penciling him into one of the MI spots next spring.

I don't have any encouraging recent numbers to point to with respect to Ben Revere. But he has spent almost no time at AAA - just 32 games, where he hit his typical .300+ BA - so it shouldn't surprise anyone that he's struggled this year. A good September from him would show that he might be ready to be the .300/.350/.350 hitter with 50 SB speed that could be a solid contributor to the lineup. If not, it might be best for everyone if the Twins plan to give him some time at Rochester next spring, and sign a short-term corner OF to bridge the gap.

Those are the things I'll be watching for in September. After that, when the Twins don't play for 5 months... As tough as this season has been, those days will be less fun for me.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Stars Align

When I'm not blogging (i.e. most of this summer) or taking care of my two small children, I'm producing music and sound for film, theater, whatever. I'm trying to break into the video game business now that I'm up in Seattle. My quest for work in a new city has pretty much squelched my Twins habit since the move. But, this week, my two passions collided.

As I hope you already know, Aaron Gleeman and the Twins Geek have teamed up for a new podcast called, appropriately, Gleeman and the Geek. They put out a call for submissions for theme music and logos. The music I submitted appeared in podcast #3 this week. It's sort of ESPN Radio meets South Park. After the music fades, the hour they spend talking about the Twins is pretty great, too. Check it out!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Turning the Page

My entries have been sparse for the last few weeks, for several reasons. First, it's always an uphill battle to find time to blog around taking care of 2 pre-Preschool children. Then, right about the time I saw reasons for optimism in mid-May, I got busy packing the house to move our family up to Seattle. Since I arrived here I've been overwhelmed with unpacking, networking, finding my local ______, etc. But during all of that upheaval, I kept checking in on the Twins, and was amazed to find that, night after night, they had managed to lose another game.

I had believed that scoring 4 or more runs a game was the key to winning for this team. But from May 20th-June 1st, they went 1-7 in games in which they scored 4+ runs. Those losses, mostly the result of bullpen meltdowns from replacement level pitchers like Dusty Hughes, Jim Hoey and Alex Burnett, took the possibility of a Twins turnaround this year from unlikely to nearly impossible. They were so soul-crushingly shocking, yet happened with such regularity, that I simply became numb. Tough to squeeze in time to write while feeling like that.

However, since the calendar turned to June, the fundamentals of this team (and its division rivals) have clarified themselves in such a way that I can't help but dive back into more active fanhood. I'm referring in part to the recent collapse of the Indians, who had jumped out far in front of the pack thanks to a nearly flawless month of April. Their only wins in the last 11 games have come by 1-0 scores; their offense has ground to a halt. This morning's standings show the following run differentials for the AL Central (Team: Differential, Pythagorean W%, Projected Record):

Tigers: +12, .521, 84-78
Indians: +7, .512, 83-79
White Sox: -7, .488, 79-83
Royals: -34, .446, 72-90
Twins: -64, .386, 63-99

I'm not aware of any reasons why we shouldn't expect those projections to more or less hold for the top 4 teams in the division. Somebody might wind up with more than 85 wins, but I'd be very surprised if more than 1 team does. In order to be that team, the Twins need to go at least 59-38 the rest of the way. That's a 98-99 win pace over a full season. Their total stats so far make that kind of record look pretty far-fetched. But they've only had their full team on the field for about 2 weeks this season, and the way they played for those 2 weeks wasn't representative of their true ability. Things have gone much better since then. Compare the average AL lineup with the Twins regulars:

AL CF: .264/.321/.416; Denard Span: .294/.361/.385
Plus he's 4/5 SB (why isn't he running more?) and playing some of the best D in the league. Please, please, please don't have a serious concussion.
AL SS: .265/.322/.382; Alexi Casilla: .263/.325/.343
Not a slugger, but the OBP is right there.
AL C: .235/.304/.378
I think Mauer can top that from here on out.
AL 1B: .270/.345/.449; Michael Cuddyer: .273/.339/.432
Justin Morneau is headed to the DL, so I'll drop Cuddy in here. He's almost average overall, and he's hit .296/.359/.477 since April 12th, on pace to hit 25-30 HR.
AL LF: .239/.302/.366; Delmon Young: .246/.272/.316
As poorly as he's hit so far this year, it's amazing that he isn't further from the pack. His 1st 4 games after coming off the DL were like the rehab assignment he didn't get; in 25 games since then he's hit .286/.300/.378.
AL RF: .260/.339/.422; Jason Kubel: .310/.355/.465
Gotta get his ankle healed, but he shouldn't be much more than a week away.
AL DH: .263/.343/.412; Jim Thome: .237/.372/.447
Also should be off the DL in a week or so.
AL 3B: .236/.307/.371; Danny Valencia: .218/.282/.329
He continues to suffer from an unsustainably low BABIP (as evidenced by the sick catch the CF made on his drive to end the Twins' big 7th inning on Sunday). If only his liners were falling in at the league average rate he'd be hitting more like .253/.312/.392.
AL 2B: .249/.310/.370; Tsuyoshi Nishioka: ?
Nobody really knows what he can do in this league yet, but .680 OPS doesn't seem like too much to ask.

Even without Morneau, this is a lineup that should continue to score more runs than the average team. And don't forget that 58% of the Twins' remaining schedule will take place at home, and 53% of it will be against their unimpressive division rivals.

But even more important is the turnaround from the pitching staff. They've allowed only 24 ER so far this month for a sterling 2.02 ERA. The starters, with the exception of Brian Duensing, are all making it deep into games, enabling Gardy to keep the ball away from some of the more combustible relievers. Check out these trends:

In 4 starts working with Rene Rivera behind the plate, Francisco Liriano has turned his season around: 26 IP, 14 H, 5 R, 4 ER, HR, 8 BB, 29 K, 1.38 ERA, 0.85 WHIP. That's our Ace.

In 8 starts working with Rivera, Nick Blackburn has had one of the best stretches of his career: 56.1 IP, 55 H, 18 R, 15 ER, 6 HR, 11 BB, 32 K, 2.40 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, and a low but not alarming 5.1 K/9.

In his last 5 GS, Scott Baker has gone 34 IP, 31 H, 12 R, 11 ER, 3 HR, 6 BB, 30 K, 2.91 ERA, 1.09 WHIP.

In his last 7 GS, Carl Pavano has gone 52.1 IP, 54 H, 16 R, 13 ER, 2 HR, 10 BB, 21 K, 2.24 ERA, 1.22 WHIP.

4 guys consistently giving the team about 7 IP. The K/9 are up. The BB/9 and HR/9 are down. They're having some nice luck on balls in play right now, but this is basically the pitching staff we wanted to see coming into the season. It is one that could give an above average offense an opportunity to win all summer long.

Still, there are pieces of this team that aren't working, and June is the time to start making adjustments. The general return to health will accomplish a lot of that, but here are some other things I'd do:
  • Dump Drew Butera. Rivera is also a liability at the plate, and he's got .100 points of OPS on Butera. But that's not even the real reason. I've cited the improvements in Liriano's and Blackburn's performance since they began throwing to Rivera. That effect can be seen across the staff - the team ERA is about 2 R lower with him back there. He just calls a better game than Butera. The Twins would still be wise to look for a backup C who can actually hit, but Rivera is clearly the best option they have on the roster right now.
  • Go with 11 pitchers. This seems almost radical in today's game, but it makes a ton of sense for the Twins. With the starters eating so many innings, the time between outings for the less-impressive relievers is starting to get pretty long. And they're not that impressive, so why have them taking up a roster spot? A 6-man bullpen would enable the Twins to send somebody like Burnett back to AAA for more refinement, while keeping an extra bat like Luke Hughes around once Morneau is healthy.
  • Send Duensing to the bullpen. He's been exposed as a starter this year, thanks to a radical platoon split that has RH batters posting an .868 OPS against him. He's holding lefties to an excellent .553 OPS against, but he doesn't see as many of them when the opposing manager can stack his starting lineup with righties. Back in the bullpen, where he's enjoyed considerable success in the past, he could be a huge asset, deployed mainly in the situations in which he thrives. Matt Capps, Jose Mijares, Duensing, healthy Glen Perkins and Joe Nathan... throw a ROOGY in there and that's a pretty solid relief corps.
  • Call up Kyle Gibson. In 16 career GS at AAA, he's put up this line: 87 IP, 83 H, 33 ER, 8 HR, 22 BB, 83 K, 3.41 ERA, 1.21 WHIP. Maybe the HR/9 are a tiny bit high, but his peripherals are basically right where you'd want them to be. He's getting 7 grounders for every 4 flies, which should keep him from getting into too much trouble as a rookie in the AL. I think he could probably do at least as well as Duensing has, and his platoon splits aren't nearly as severe.
  • Call up a RHP with some stuff. Anthony Slama has gotten only a passing glance from the Twins at the Major League level, but he's held the International League to a .208 BAA with improved control numbers this year. Against RH batters, it's a .143 BAA with a 22/6 K/BB ratio in 18.2 IP. He could be the ROOGY. Or, if you prefer, there's former 1st-round pick Carlos Gutierrez. He still walks too many guys, but his K/BB ratio has improved in each month of the season so far, as has the G/F ratio produced by his heavy, heavy sinker. He hasn't allowed a HR all year. Either one of those guys would be a better option than Hoey or Anthony Swarzak.
That should keep things rolling for the next 5 or 6 weeks. At that point, if they've made up enough ground in the standings, the Twins can decide whether they want to make a move for someone outside the organization.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

4th Split: 9-7

Overall Record: 25-39
5th in AL Central by 10 games

Other splits: 6-10, 6-10, 4-12

Things finally started going right for the Twins in this split. They outscored their opponents 76-57, and finished it on an 8-2 run. And yet, I can't help but be disappointed. According to their Pythagorean Record, that run differential should have resulted in 10 wins. Which loss should have been a win instead? Take your pick; 5 of these 7 recent losses were by 1 run. For me, it's the 1-0 loss to Cleveland. It's not just that it would have brought them a game closer to the top of the standings. It was the Indians' only win in their last 9 games. And it came against what was probably the weakest lineup Gardy has thrown out there all season, with only 3 regular MLB players penciled in (or 4, depending on how you feel about Alexi Casilla these days). Every win is crucial when trying to dig out of a hole this deep.

4.8 RPG is right around where I expected the offense to be this season. They scored 5 or more runs - a figure that was hopelessly unreachable in the early part of the season - 11 times. This was especially remarkable given the fact that injuries took away Denard Span, Jason Kubel and Jim Thome - the 3 best hitters on the team this year - for most of the last week and a half. And the offense rolled anyway. It just goes to show that anybody good enough to play at the Major League level can get hot for awhile. Even AAA scrubs like Rene Rivera and Matt Tolbert.

The Twins went just 7-4 in those games where they score 5+ runs, though, because the bullpen had a few more horror shows left in them at the end of May. 5 runs allowed in the 8th inning on the 27th, in addition to late inning runs allowed on the 29th, 30th and 31st. All of those losses were by just 1 run. Since then, the starters and the bullpen have buckled down, and still managed to get through the split with a very nice 3.04 ERA. They served up just 11 HR in the 16 games and have their BBs back under control at 2.2/9. The starters (other than Brian Duensing) have been working deep into the games, allowing Gardy to leave the shakiest members of the 'pen on the bench when crunch time comes.

The fielding continues to be a liability, unfortunately. 11 more E resulted in another 9 UER, raising their season totals to 44 E and 33 UER. Those rank them 12th and 13th in the AL, respectively. Some of those UER were the difference in 1-run losses, such as the kick in the corner from Delmon Young in the 1-0 loss at Cleveland I cited above. I can only hope that the defensive aspect of the game will tighten up soon as the hitting and pitching have.

On paper, things should continue to be favorable for the Twins as they head to the season's midpoint. They have finally lived out their exile, and are now in the midst of playing 31 of 41 games at home. Not that they've done particularly well at home so far this year. Also, by the end of the week, they should begin to see an avalanche of players coming off the DL. Though the replacement players have begun the turnaround, they can't be expected to keep it up for long. Besides, if the Twins keep winning 9 of 16 the rest of the season, they'll just make it to .500 by the end of the year. If they want to do better than that, they're going to have to keep the pedal down.

Bold prediction: Delmon Young catches fire.

Friday, May 27, 2011

3rd Split: 4-12

Overall Record: 16-32
5th in AL Central by 14.5 games

Other splits: 6-10, 6-10

Incredibly, things got worse. The lopsided scores disappeared as the strength of opponent tapered off. But the Twins still managed to have their worst split in years. They scored 4 or more runs 7 times. They went just 3-4 in those games. They allowed 3 or fewer runs 7 times. They went just 3-4 in those games. Basically, when they pitched well, they didn't hit. When they hit well, they didn't pitch. Whatever it took to lose, they did it.

The hitting definitely improved. The Twins averaged nearly 4 RPG and hit 15 HR - double their total to date. Their overall line of .240/.297/.362 is still beneath what you'd expect from a league average SS, but it looks pretty strong compared to what came before. This is largely due to vastly improved numbers from the bottom of the order. Alexi Casilla has caught fire since moving back to 2B, and Rene Rivera, while still hitting poorly even for a backup C, looks like Mike Piazza next to Drew Butera.

The pitching stayed about the same. Which is to say, it was pretty bad. The starters eventually kept the team in the game, but when they did, the bullpen routinely coughed up the lead. The overall team ERA was essentially flat. The K/9 improved a lot, but the BB/9 and HR/9 regressed a bit. Joe Nathan, Kevin Slowey and Glen Perkins landed on the DL, forcing more marginal pitchers into high-leverage situations. Phil Dumatrait has done well, but everybody else has been killed.

The defense was dreadful. 13 E committed, though they resulted in just 4 UER. Too many extra outs, too many extra bases. Too much pressure added to a lineup and pitching staff that are struggling as it is. And that doesn't even include some of the plays that weren't made because of indecisiveness or lack of range. Some of it is the scrubs, but just about everybody the Twins run out there is capable of doing better, at least on balls hit into their zone.

Even terrible baseball teams generally win 6 out of every 16 games. It's hard to lose more than that. Everybody has their bad days, but they have their good days, too. The Twins have managed to make just enough mistakes to lose even on their good days. I don't know where the bottom of this pit is, but I still can't believe they won't reach it soon. They've played poorly, but they've also been unlucky. It isn't probable that both of those things will continue at this rate.

Bold prediction: They bottom out.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011


Twins 2, Mariners 5

We're 1/4 of the way through the season. This 13-27 stretch is the worst since the 2001 Twins came out of the All-Star break 11-30. But don't write them off just yet. There was some very encouraging news coming out of Tuesday night's recap. First, feast your eyes on this beauty:

7 IP, 3 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 9 K

For the 1st time all season, Francisco Liriano pitched like he's supposed to. I know the Mariners aren't much better at hitting than the Twins are. But opposing lineups haven't been hitting Liriano too much lately. They've been walking. In this game, Liriano showed both improved control (17/26 batters faced started with strike 1) and a killer instinct once he got them to 2 strikes. Where has that been all season? Well... look at his stats by catcher:

Mauer - 7.71 ERA, 7.7 BB/9, 7.7 K/9
Rivera - 1.29 ERA, 1.3 BB/9, 11.6 K/9
Butera - 6.84 ERA, 6.5 BB/9, 4.4 K/9

Small sample sizes all. Liriano has been horribly erratic, and he'll have to limit the walks if he's going to succeed going forward. But it appears that Butera isn't calling the game in such a way that would elicit swinging strikes. Looking at the staff as a whole:

Mauer - 4.04 ERA, 5.9 K/9, 3.7 BB/9
Rivera - 3.45 ERA, 9.3 K/9, 4.1 BB/9
Holm - 5.44 ERA, 6.1 K/9, 3.3 BB/9
Butera - 5.58 ERA, 5.2 K/9, 4.1 BB/9

When Butera is behind the plate, all Twins pitchers have a terrible K/BB ratio. I actually find that very encouraging. As terrificly as Liriano and Nick Blackburn have done with Rivera behind the plate, I would think Gardy would want to keep that chemistry going. Since Butera and Rivera are both hitting horribly, why not go with the guy who's getting good pitching performances? And Joe Mauer will return some day. When he does, the K/BB ratio will improve, making the pitching better even as the catching spot is transformed from an automatic out into a .400+ OBP. Maybe seeing Butera outplayed by a replacement-level journeyman will help Bill Smith realize how badly the Twins need a proper backup C, and he'll do what it takes to get one.

Jason Repko started his rehab assignment yesterday, and went 2 for 5 with a HR. He will soon take the place of Ben Revere and his .167 OBP. Jim Thome is swinging the bat in Florida and should return within a week. Soon he'll be the one pinch-hitting for Rivera and Butera and Casilla. Delmon Young was rushed back too soon (evidently, a dozen or so PA against Rookie-ball pitching doesn't prepare you to face the likes of Ricky Romero, Brandon Morrow and Michael Pineda), but he'll find his stroke soon enough. Tsuyoshi Nishioka is running in Florida and within a couple of weeks will be sending Matt Tolbert's and Casilla's sub-.250 OBPs out of the starting lineup. Danny Valencia is playing very well, just having unsustainably bad luck. Michael Cuddyer doesn't seem like he's doing much, but look at this:

Cuddyer 2008-2010: .269/.337/.451
Cuddyer since 4/12/11: .298/.360/.439

Once he made up the 30 or so PA he missed in spring training, he's played as well as we had any right to expect. Though his power has been lacking, and he hasn't done much with RISP, he's far from a liability.

This lineup is destined to score more runs, which brings me to the best news of all:

The Twins have been held to 3 or fewer runs in 28 of 40 games, and are 4-24 in those games.

Isn't that fantastic? That means the Twins are 9-3 in games in which they score at least 4 runs. (And 2 of the 3 losses were blown saves!) A .750 winning percentage can turn this season around very quickly, especially with the schedule lightening up a bit. They just have to score one more R/G. And they will.

Every team goes the rough spells. Look at the way the Rays and Red Sox started the season. Look at the way the Yankees are playing now. But every team has periods of prolonged success, as well. The 2001 team that was bad enough to go 11-30 was also good enough to start the season 29-12. A surge like that would get the Twins back over .500 by the mid-point of the season. And the '01 Twins weren't the only ones to have hot streaks:

2002: Beginning on June 30th, the Twins went 24-7.
2003: Coming out of the break, the Twins went 45-20 to take the division title.
2004: From August 15th to September 16th, the Twins went 23-7 to take the division title.
2005: They began the season 35-22 before fading to just over .500 when it was all over.
2006: Beginning June 8th, the Twins finished the season 71-33 to steal the division on the last day.
2007: From May 22nd through July 15th, the Twins had a 29-19 run.
2008: From June 16th to the end of August, they went 45-25.
2009: The Twins went 17-4 over the final 3 weeks to steal the division in game 163.
2010: Starting one game after the ASB, they went 46-17 to wrap up the division with 10 games yet to play.

Every Twins team for a decade has had a period of sustained winning. Any of those periods, applied to the 2011 team, would turn the season around.

The good times are coming. Will it be too late when they arrive?

Monday, May 16, 2011

Hell Week

Twins 2, Tigers 10

Oh my sweet Lord, when is this horror show going to be over?

Seriously, why don't they just kick me in the balls?

I'll make Saturday's loss the 4th of the season squarely on the shoulders of the depth. Not just because the Twins only needed one more run over 10 innings of batting in order to win this one. Because James Hoey got absolutely torched in the 11th, and I don't think he'd be up here right now if several other guys hadn't already failed.

For the week, the Twins pitched well enough to win on Friday and Saturday and hit well enough to win on Wednesday. But whatever needs to happen in order for them to lose, happens. They're on a 110-loss pace right now. Almost nobody loses that much. To lose that much, an avalanche of things has to go wrong. And it has.

One could have predicted that a few of the Twins' moves wouldn't pan out, and that there would be some injuries. But to lose Mauer, and Nishioka, and have Casilla suck worse than he ever has, forcing Gardy to overuse Tolbert and Butera and (who are sucking worse than they ever have), let alone Butera's even worse backups? To have Nathan and Morneau each struggle mightily to recover from their 2010 injuries? To have Capps blow more than his share of saves? To have Liriano and Pavano each see significant spikes in HR/9 and BB/9 with corresponding plummets in their K/9, becoming, in effect, completely different pitchers than they were last year? To have every young player called up from AAA sputter and fail to make a positive impact?

A few of those things were bound to happen. But all of them at once? Inconceivable. And yet, here we are.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011


Twins 9, Red Sox 2
I don't think the Twins hit the ball a heckuva lot better in this game. They just got a bunch of bleeders to squeak through. A team should get its share of those, though, so it was nice to see. It was also nice to see the other team commit a litany of blunders, for once. And Trevor Plouffe enjoyed an auspicious 2011 debut, 2-4 with a BB and a HR in his 1st AB. Of course, Jim Hoey also enjoyed an auspicious 2011 debut, and look how that's turning out. Still, the SS bar hasn't been set particularly high, so he doesn't have to do too much to be a an improvement.

Unless Francisco Liriano gets his act together, Scott Baker has assumed the mantle of Twins' Ace. He allowed 2 HR, but they were solo HR, and those won't kill you, right Bert? The overall line of 8 IP, 7 H, 2 ER, 1 BB, 8 K was excellent, especially against a stacked offense in a hitter's park. Another quiet IP from Joe Nathan to end the game.

I was thrilled when the rains came after the 2nd inning. The Twins were only down 1-0, but Clay Buchholz looked like he had good stuff, so the longer the delay, the better. The Twins had just activated Kevin Slowey, and so were in perfect position drop him in for the 3rd and have him take the game into the late innings (which he did). The Sox, meanwhile, had endured this very situation just 3 days earlier, had that game go into extra innings, got a short start the following afternoon, then put 2 relievers on the DL. The fresh reliever they called up on Friday was burned in the 1st game of this series. They had perhaps 6 relievers available, but they would have to cover 7 IP, leaving many of them unavailable for the remainder of the series.

Unfortunately, Terry Francona did something that almost never happens these days: he put his starter back in after a 2+ hour rain delay. Buchholz gave the Sox 3 more IP, and was perhaps even better than he had been at the start. 4 Sox relievers finished the game with an inning apiece, none throwing more than 18 pitches. Only Michael Cuddyer had a good day at the plate.

The Twins put up a crooked number in the 1st inning for, what, the 2nd time all season? And you just knew they were going to have to keep tacking on. But 5 R represents a herculean effort for this lineup, so I suppose we shouldn't complain too much about the offense.

Carl Pavano got knocked around - eventually. Though he gave up a big inning in the 3rd, most of the balls in play were unfielded grounders, including the 2-R single he allowed to Adrian Gonzalez that slipped under his own glove. There were DPs unturned. 3 errors in this game leading to 2 unearned runs. With better defense, it's closer. However, Pavano and Jose Mijares were legitimately cuffed all over the field in the later innings - liners right and left. No Ks for Pavano in 5 IP. He's got some adjustments to make. Another good IP from Nathan, though.

This game, had the Twins won, could have salvaged the series and the road trip. Nick Blackburn pitched as well as he can, allowing 0 HR and striking out 5 in 6.1 IP. Glen Perkins and Jose Mijares followed with 3.2 IP of scoreless relief. But the Twins' limp bench did them in again, as Matt Tolbert, Ben Revere and Rene Rivera combined to go 0-15 with 2 GIDP and 5 K, including 0-5 with 2 K with RISP. If they go 1-5 instead, we're probably talking about a win, here. This is the 3rd loss of the season that I'll pin on the non-depth.

Friday night's victory was the Twins' 1st at Fenway park since the final weekend of 2007, so there's some consolation there. Even good Twins teams haven't fared well in Boston. But there's still no sign of them snapping out of the team-wide funk that has them once again at the bottom of the standings. I wish had something more hopeful to say, but...

Sunday, May 8, 2011

2nd Split: 6-10

Overall Record: 12-20
4th in AL Central by 9.5 games

Other splits: 6-10

Now 1/5 of the way through the season, the Twins are maintaining their 100 loss pace. There were a couple of promising 3-game winning streaks during this split, but it was framed by consecutive losses that featured shutouts and blowouts. However, the last 16 games are defined for me by what came in the middle: a humiliating 6-game skid. 3 losses at home in which the Twins looked like they neither belonged nor wanted to be on the field. 3 tight, mistake-filled losses in Kansas City, where the Twins hadn't been swept in over a decade. I would have expected at least one win in each series, which would have been enough for the Twins to tread water and remain within striking distance of .500.

Incredibly, the injury situation got worse. Delmon Young missed the entire split with a strained oblique. Jim Thome followed him a few days later. Jason Repko eventually went down with a sore quad. That left Gardy no choice but to fill out nearly every lineup with 3-4 players who didn't make the squad out of spring training. It's tough to win with a AAAA lineup, especially when 11 of the 16 games take place on the road. Only 1 week into May, the Twins have already had to call up 10 players from Rochester.

There was some progress on the hitting front. They doubled their HR output from the 1st split to a whopping 10 long balls. The walk rate improved. Michael Cuddyer and Danny Valencia have been getting better results, joining Denard Span and Jason Kubel as credible regulars. But the backups have done exceedingly poorly, particularly at catcher, where Joe Mauer's absence is felt every single game. It doesn't look as though Alexi Casilla is going to put it together, and Justin Morneau is producing the way we're used to seeing him hit in September (when he's healthy enough to be on the field in September, that is). It all came out in the wash - the offense remained basically flat when compared to the 1st 16 games. Which is to say, it still sucks.

No such ambiguity about the pitching - it definitely got worse. Scott Baker and Brian Duensing have been excellent, and Matt Capps and Glen Perkins continue to do solid work in the 'pen. Joe Nathan is showing signs of finding himself again. But, no-hitter or not, Francisco Liriano's control still looks frighteningly shaky, and Nick Blackburn and Carl Pavano are getting tagged all over the field. Dusty Hughes earned a demotion back to Rochester, and Jim Hoey looks headed in that direction. Jose Mijares is the bullpen's answer to Liriano. Altogether, they averaged over 5 earned runs a game in this split.

And they didn't get much help from the defense, which committed another 11 E which resulted in 16 UER. Think about that: 1 extra run per game on average from shoddy defense. Part of it is people trying to do too much, but a lot of it comes from guys who are exposed by playing everyday play. Bench players or minor leaguers who aren't mentally consistent enough to thrive at the highest level. But who else are the Twins going to run out there?

Health is everything now. Young should be ready to return this weekend. Thome and Nishioka shouldn't be too far behind. But Mauer still isn't doing any catching, and there's no timetable yet for his return. I don't see how the Twins can go too far without him. But with 50% of the next split taking place at home, and 13 of the 16 games taking place against opponents with losing records, this is certainly an opportunity for them to start to turn things around, particularly as the uninjured regulars continue to warm up.

Bold prediction: The Twins will be closer to .500 16 games from now.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

The Most Unimpressive

Twins 1, White Sox 0
Like every other Fantasy Baseball owner (who didn't drop him), I had Francisco Liriano on the bench for this game. So, naturally, the SOB pulls out the 1st CG shutout of his career. On the way to that, he managed to hand out another 6 BB while striking out only 2. My league scores those, so in that sense I'm glad I had him on the bench. But Liriano managed to get 27 outs from 24 balls in play, pitching the 1st no-hitter for the Twins since Eric Milton's in September of 1999. (I was working nights in those days, and that game started at 11:00 AM on a Saturday in order to accommodate a Gopher football game that night, so I slept through it. Yet another reason to be glad the Twins are out of the Metrodome.)

According to Game Scores, this was about the most unimpressive no-hitter in the last 30 years. Of course, that's like me saying that the 2006 Cardinals are the worst team ever to win a World Series. I'm sure that really bugs them every time they put their rings on. Things had been so bad for Liriano - his spot in the rotation was apparently in jeopardy - and for the Twins as a whole. They needed something good to happen, anything to spark them out of their slump. And while DIPS people will discount this accomplishment as a quirk of luck, I would remind them that the balls the Sox put in play were generally pretty poorly hit. How much of that is a credit to Liriano and how much a result of facing a Sox lineup that is every bit as cold as the Twins' I don't know. But anytime a pitcher can hold a team of Major League batters hitless for a full 9 innings, the guy probably deserves some props.

The control problems Liriano continued to show certainly don't make me any more confident about what he'll be able to give in his next start. I'm very much hoping that the Twins will use Thursday's off day to give him some extra rest, starting Nick Blackburn on regular rest for Monday's finale in Boston. After throwing 123 pitches, I'm sure he could use an extra day. And I'd much rather have him pitching at home against the Tigers. Because if he walks 6 against the Red Sox, he's going to get killed.

During his meetings with pitching coach Rick Anderson between starts, it was determined that Liriano would avoid using his 2-seamer for awhile. That's his GB pitch, and it was immediately missed, as he gave up more flies than grounders for just the second time this season. But most of those flies came off his changeup, and they tended to be popups. Mixed in properly, it can obviously be an effective pitch, especially if he can get back to getting swings-and-misses with his slider on the other side of the plate. He still needs to do a much better job of throwing strike one, though: he started 19 of 30 plate appearances in this game with a ball.

Whatever you think of the quality of this performance, it was absolutely necessary, because the Twins still can't hit a lick. Jason Kubel excepted, of course. His HR accounted for the only run of the game. I liked the aggressiveness I saw on the bases, though. Danny Valencia tested Juan Pierre's noodle arm and stretched a single into the game's only 2B. And though he was thrown out thanks to a friendly bounce off the wall, Alexi Casilla was right to try to gain second after Edwin Jackson threw past 1st on Casilla's 2-out bunt single. Even after the power comes online, the Twins won't be their best unless they force the issue like that.
These 2 free-falling teams each battled to be the one to give this game away. The Sox managed a whopping 6 H in this one, despite facing a starter in Blackburn who has averaged 9+ H/9 for his career so far. The Twins' pitchers helped them make up for that by issuing 5 BB and 3 HBP. The Sox declined that generosity by getting picked off, caught stealing, and hitting into 2 DPs.

For their part, the Sox gave the Twins 4 BB, an extra base on an error, and a critical gift base hit when Omar Vizquel failed to cover 1B on Matt Tolbert's sac bunt. The Twins reciprocated by getting picked off twice and caught on an attempted steal of 3B with 2 outs. The Vizquel gaffe proved to be the difference in the game, though, as the Twins used that extra out to score 2 R. But they gave one of them back in the 8th with a Drew Butera PB. C'mon, which of you guys wants to lose this game most? Attaway, White Sox.

Though the Twins did basically nothing in this series to show that they are on their way out of the woods, they did establish that their recent dominance over the Sox and at US Cellular Field is still in play for 2011. Let that be in everybody's heads the next time these 2 teams connect. For the time being, the Twins proved conclusively that they are not the most unimpressive team in the division. And that makes me damn proud.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Pressing, Depressing

Twins 3, Royals 4
This is the 2nd loss of the season that I'm going to pin squarely on the shoulders of the Twins inadequate depth. Between 9 H (5 for extra bases) and 3 BB, 8 different guys in the lineup reached base at least once. The one who didn't: Drew Butera, who ended 3 innings with men on base, including hanging Danny Valencia out to dry on a missed squeeze bunt. Any kind of rally sustaining PAs from him might have given the Twins' pitchers a bigger cushion.

Scott Baker was good enough that it almost didn't matter. He lasted into the 7th, when he was relieved with 1 out by the freshly called up Alex Burnett. Burnett got the last 2 outs of that inning, and the 1st of the 8th before allowing a 2B to Wilson Betemit. Matt Capps was warming in the bullpen, and had needed just 6 pitches to complete his inning the day before. But Gardy elected to save him for a save opportunity that would never come, and instead rely upon a young reliever who didn't earn a spot on the opening day roster to protect a 1-run lead with the tying run in scoring position.

And Burnett actually did his job, though he got into trouble by falling behind just about everybody. It was the defense that did him in, as Alexi Casilla clanged a one-hopper to his glove side, and then Butera threw the ball into CF while attempting to gun down super fast PR Jarrod Dyson. That let the tying run score and put the winning run at 3B with just one out. After a BB, the winning run came home on a little flare behind 3B that Casilla flagged down but couldn't get to the plate in time to stop Dyson. Had either play been made, the Twins would have taken a lead into the 9th - the slower Betemit would likely have stayed put on a short fly to the SS.

On Saturday, the Twins managed to get themselves shut down on 2 H by Sean O'Sullivan, a starter so erratic that he nearly threw half his pitches out of the strike zone. Actually, he threw more than half his pitches out of the zone, since several of the balls the Twins put in play were plummeting below the knees. Incredibly, they were lucky to get the 1st H (it was an attempted sac bunt that drew a wild throw) and both R, one of which scored on a DP (thank goodness for the extra out the Royals gave), and the other on another throwing error that should have ended the inning. Altogether, the Twins drew 7 BB, and had men on base nearly constantly for the 1st 6 innings, but could only get what the royals handed to them.

The Twins handed one back in the 3rd on a bounced relay throw from "2B" Michael Cuddyer on what should have been an inning-ending DP. The Royals took one on a no-doubter HR from Billy Butler. And the Twins gave another one away when rookie Rene Tosoni played a leadoff single into a triple with an ill-advised dive. Brian Duensing took a tough-luck loss, though he deserved to allow only 1 ER.

The wheels came off in the 8th once again. Joe Nathan gave up a 2B to Butler, then retired 2 of the next 3 around an IBB. He made one huge mistake: hitting Matt Treanor (a BA under .200 - shouldn't he be on our team?) with 3-2 pitch to load the bases. Gardy went to Jose Mijares, who did his job by getting the lefty to hit a weak-ass ground ball. Too weak for Cuddyer, who had no play by the time he reached it, allowing an insurance run to score. Jim Hoey came on and walked in another insurance run, then got a routine grounder. The throw went to Justin Morneau, who simply didn't catch the ball. 2 more R. Then a 3-run bomb to Alex Gordon. Then another weak grounder that Cuddyer didn't have the range to turn into an out. Then a bloop down the LF line that Tosoni bobbled, allowing the final R to score. When the dust settled, a tight game had turned into a laugher. I didn't think it was funny, though.

Time for a closed-door team meeting, at which Denard Span spoke up to try to inspire his teammates. Too eager to make his actions speak as loudly as his words, he went hitless in 5 AB while seeing a total of 13 pitches. That on a day when his teammates once again walked 7 times. Let it come to you, Denard.

Carl Pavano walked away looking like he didn't know how to pitch, and took his frustrations out on a garbage can in the dugout. You can't do it all yourself, Carl. But he wasn't exactly cuffed around until the 6th inning. Everything that happened before that was the fault of more shoddy IF defense, and Cuddyer wasn't even in the lineup on this day. Pavano was lucky to get an unassisted putout on a chopper to the right of the mound when both Morneau and Luke Hughes charged the ball and nobody covered 1B. Later, the Twins botched a rundown on a pickoff throw when Morneau got in the way of Pavano, who had rotated in to cover 1B, and caught the ball behind the retreating baserunner. That extra out would turn into a run. The Twins gave the Royals 2 extra outs in the 4th, both courtesy of Casilla bobbles. Slow it down, Alexi. Or maybe get a new glove.

Casilla had his best day of the year at the plate, with 2 3B and a BB. Morneau finally got his 1st tater of the year, just barely sneaking one over the RF fence. Jason Kubel continued his scorching hitting, going 1 for 2 with 2 BB to raise his line to .354/.406/.510. Glen Perkins had another solid outing in relief. That's it for the positives.

In contrast to the listless effort they gave in the previous series, the intensity on the part of every Twins player to be the one to lift the team out of this slump was palpable in KC. But the results were no better, as though they were tangled in a knot that gets tighter the more they struggle. This funk now most definitely mental as much as it is physical, and they may require some shock to the system to get themselves out of it.

  • To that end, Kevin Slowey pitched 5.2 IP at Fort Myers yesterday and is ready to be activated from the DL. That could happen in a starting capacity if Francisco Liriano or Nick Blackburn fail to pull themselves together.
  • Kyle Gibson had his 4th consecutive strong outing at Rochester. Through 5 GS he has 26 IP, 22 H, 10 ER, 3 HR, 4 BB and 27 K for a 1.00 WHIP and 3.46 ERA. He's giving every indication that he'll be ready for a June call-up should the opportunity arise.
  • Trevor Plouffe has shaken off his brutal spring to put up some very strong numbers in his 1st few weeks with the Red Wings. He's batting .282/.344/.590 with 4 2B, 3B, and 6 HR. The reviews on his defense are still mixed, but he's got to look like an upgrade to Casilla right now.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

April Review

Twins' Record: 9-17
4th in AL Central by 9 games

Hey, it could have been worse - according to the Pythagorean W-L, the Twins should actually be 7-19!

This was a historical bad opening month for them. They set a franchise record for April losses, and finished at the bottom of the league standings in R, HR, SLG, OPS and ERA. As a team, they've hit .233/.291/.322 - worse than the career averages of Nick Punto. As a team. Only 2 players have BA over .250, and just 3 have OBP over .300 and SLG% over .350. Only 3 players have double-digit BB%. Michael Cuddyer leads them in HR with 3. A team that was supposed to be emphasizing speed has just 11 SB, and no player has more than 2. No hitting + no walking + no power + no aggressive baserunning = no scoring.

Half the rotation has generated more poor starts than good. The bullpen did pretty well for the 1st couple of weeks, but then suffered meltdown after meltdown. In a remarkable surprise, the only reliever with significant appearances who's been consistently reliable is Glen Perkins. Twins pitchers have suffered from a higher than average BABIP, but they've also hurt themselves by walking 91 batters in 26 games, placing them 10th in the AL in a category in which Gardy's teams have always been among the best in the league.

Shoddy defense has also hurt the Twins, though not in the way we might have expected. The outfielders generally had a pretty good month, with Denard Span, Jason Kubel and Delmon Young all rating positively on most of the metrics. The infielders grade out as roughly average or poor, though. For the month, the defense committed 17 E, leading to 16 unearned runs, ranking them 8th and 12th in the AL in those respective categories.

To be fair, there have been a slew of injuries, including several which struck positions at which the Twins had particularly poor depth. Joe Mauer's start wasn't nearly to his standard, but his replacements haven't hit half as well as he was doing. Tsuyoshi Nishioka didn't last 6 games before breaking his leg; his loss has invited increased ABs from Matt Tolbert and rookie Luke Hughes. Kevin Slowey went on the DL after just 3 appearances, opening a revolving door for mediocre relievers to be rushed to the Major League 'pen.

And it's been an especially difficult schedule to this point, with just 10 home games. Half of the opponents faced so far finished last season with winning records. That, plus some ill-timed blown saves, kept the Twins from winning their 1st 6 series, but at least they were usually in the games. Just when things seemed to be looking up, they staggered into May on a miserable losing streak, which included a 3-game sweep in which they were outscored 29-6. It was their worst start since they opened the 2006 season at 9-16.

The similarities to 2006 go beyond the W-L record. Through 25 games, that team was hitting .251/.309/.366, with virtually the same number of BB, HBP, SF, SH, GIDP, Net SB and XBH - albeit twice as many HR. That power difference, plus a better BABIP, helped them to score 17 more runs in one fewer game. But their pitching was even worse, with a 6.35 ERA and a staggering 37 HR allowed in 214 IP. That team also staggered into May on a miserable losing streak, which included a 3-game sweep in which they were outscored 33-1!

The 2006 Twins rebounded to win at least 15 games in every subsequent month of the season, eventually earning the division title. They were trailing the Tigers, who would make the postseason as the wild card, by 8 games, and were also behind the previous season's World Series Champs, the White Sox. The 2011 Twins are 9 games out of 1st place in the AL Central, but they trail the Indians and Royals, and like the 2001 Twins and the 2003 Royals, neither one of those teams is likely to sustain their hot starts to a playoff spot. The true contenders are the Tigers, who lead the Twins by just 2.5 games, and the Sox, who are tied with the Twins in the cellar.

This Twins team can definitely bounce back. The schedule is going to get easier, although we won't stat to see that for a couple weeks yet. But more importantly, this is a talented team. Hardly anybody is performing remotely close to their established standards. They're all slumping deeply, horribly, together. Anybody can beat a team that's going through that. Eventually, though, they'll all get hot together. And when they do, no one will be able to stop them.

Ugly grades follow. I'm only going to mention hitters with at least 29 PA (to give Nishioka a break) and pitchers with at least 8 IP (your relief is palpable, Jeff Manship!):

Getting It Done

Jason Kubel - On a team where just about everybody's OPS is under .700, his is over .900. He's holding his own vs. LHP. And he's actually been an asset in the OF so far. The Twins' April MVP.

Denard Span - He took about 10 days off from drawing BB in the middle of the month, and I'd like to see a few more XBH, but he's otherwise delivered. His defense in CF has been superb. Why he's not running more, I have no idea.

Brian Duensing - He's averaged nearly 7 IP/GS, and is pacing the staff in ERA, BB/9 and HR/9. Throw out his 1st 3 batters faced in NYC, and he looks even better.

Scott Baker - 3 magnificent starts in a row in which he looked like the poor man's Ace we saw in 2008. Leading the starters in K/9 and WHIP.

Glen Perkins - I couldn't be more surprised that he's the one member of the bullpen who hasn't struggled. He's been a little lucky on balls in play, but he's limited BB and kept the ball in the yard.

So Far, So Good

Matt Capps - 1 too many HR allowed to the Rays, but otherwise a solid start. Props for being the only Twins pitcher not to issue a BB this month.

Need To Pick It Up

Joe Mauer - Apparently he wasn't fit when the season opened. That's probably because he wasn't ready for spring training when it was time to report. If he's over his sickness, he needs to get down to Fort Myers and start catching, even if it's just for a few innings at a time at first. His "replacements" are absolutely killing the team.

Justin Morneau - He seems to have put his concussion symptoms behind him. Now he's just got to get back into the flow of playing again.

Michael Cuddyer - Another slow starter who didn't get his reps in during spring training. I'm disappointed in his power numbers, yet he's leading the team in HR. Ugh.

Delmon Young - Skipped half of spring training, hit the crap out of the ball when he finally got into Grapefruit League games, then abruptly stopped hitting once the regular season started. On the DL trying to get loose.

Jim Thome - Injuries to other players have forced him into way more games than he should be playing, especially vs. LHP. The discipline is still there. Now we need to see the power.

Danny Valencia - At no point in his professional baseball career has he posted a full-season BABIP lower than .310. This month it was at .225. His BB rate is excellent. He'll be fine.

Alexi Casilla - However bad you thought he was, he's not this bad. I hope he gets another couple of weeks to warm up. The tools are still there for him to be decent if he can just get out of his own way.

Drew Butera - The average NL pitcher hits better than him. He would have to be the best catch-and-throw guy ever to justify his pathetic hitting. But he's not.

Luke Hughes - A guy who really should just be playing against LHP has been forced into some fairly regular duty. Still better than...

Matt Tolbert - The only Twins hitter who has yet to draw a BB. A "scrappy" guy who has yet to steal a base. Not a great player, but he can do better than this.

Jason Repko - I like the BB rate. 24 PA in 26 games seems reasonable. For what he is, these aren't terrible numbers, but he's capable of better.

Francisco Liriano - What's your freakin' problem? Just throw the ball the way you did last year! Jeez...

Carl Pavano - Too many BB, not enough K, too many HR.

Nick Blackburn - If he can't keep the ball in the park, he's screwed. 1.6 HR/9 this month.

Jose Mijares - 7 BB in 8 IP isn't going to work, no matter how well everything else is going.

Joe Nathan - His demotion from the Closer job was probably the most depressing thing about this month. It had to be done - he simply didn't have his velocity or command. His last few appearances have been pretty good (2.2 IP, H, IBB, HBP, 4 K), so he may be on the upswing.

Dusty Hughes - Note: if somebody isn't good enough to stay on the Royals' roster, you probably shouldn't want him, either.