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.

No comments: