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6/25/08

Musings on another late game day

Baseball is a lot like surfing. You catch your wave and ride it, till it breaks at the shore. Successful teams have been able to catch and ride hot streaks from people who would not necessary be in their plans in the beginning of the season. Point in case Buscher and Casilla (and Tolbert earlier) this year with the Twins. Glad to see that Gardenhire has not been making major changes in the lineup this week with Punto up, letting Harris and Buscher who are both swinging hot bats to play. I wouldn't even question benching Young (.343/.395/.429 the last 2 weeks) for Kubel (.342/.395/.658 the last 2 weeks). Wave riding is fine and fun and Gardy seems to be a decent surfer, but sometimes you got to take care of your surfboard too. The situation with Lamb and Monroe has to be resolved. You cannot simply let them rot on the bench. Either use them or trade them. They do have value as pinch hitters, but Gardy has never utilized pinch hitters appropriately in AL games (like e.g. pinch hitting for a light hitting infielder Tolbert/Punto/Harris/Casilla and substituting with another on the field at the next inning.) and he still insists on having an extra light hitting infielder on the bench instead of someone like McDonald or Ruiz who can actually hit the ball out of the park. The team is doing fine and is riding a 7 game wave. Still there are 2 pitchers (Bass and Bonser) who are practically dead weight. That situation has to be resolved also. You can keep one for the blow out games, as the baseball wisdom might suggest, but wouldn't it be better to get a prospect up instead, who can test his stuff at the major league level and actually develop without hurting the outcome of the game more than Boof or Bass? The Rincon booting was a good thing. The previous management team would not have done that. I am glad that Bill Smith did it and I hope that he does a few more small things to keep the team going.

On another note, a current Twin minor leaguer (Ben Revere) and a former Twin (Terry Tiffee) are the only players who are hitting above .400 in professional ball (the young rookie seasons aside.) The Ted Williams watch has started.

6/24/08

back to hitting

Great article about Young and Gomez. If you can't read it, the gist is that Gomez and Young have a batting average of .324 and .320 respectively when they are hitting pitches in the zone and .181 and .206 respectively when they are trying to hit pitches outside the zone. The writer is pleading for patience from Gomez and Young, but I believe that the true cause of the problem is bad coaching, as I argued in the last several posts here. Effective managers and hitting coaches would have seen the problem and tried to make changes. Apparently Gardy and Varva don't...

And yet, there is more

For the sake of completeness, here are the road splits for every MLB team, ranked by decreased home to road era (the differential in parenthesis) along with their home stadium factor (the second parenthesis):

Pittsburgh 2008: Home ERA 3.75, Road ERA 6.59 (+2.84) (98)
Twins 2008: Home ERA 3.32, Road ERA 5.69 (+2.37) (96)
Tampa 2008: Home ERA 2.87, Road ERA 5.05 (+2.18) (100)
San Diego 2008: Home ERA 3.38, Road ERA 5.10 (+1.72) (91)
Milwaukee 2008: Home ERA 3.36, Road ERA 4.95 (+1.59) (101)
Dodgers 2008: Home ERA 3.35, Road ERA 4.51 (+1.19) (105)
Cleveland 2008: Home ERA 3.57, Road ERA 4.75 (+1.18) (102)
Oakland 2008: Home ERA 3.01, Road ERA 4.02 (+1.01) (93)
Mets 2008: Home ERA 3.57, Road ERA 4.58 (+1.01) (96)
Boston 2008: Home ERA 3.45, Road ERA 4.27 (+.82) (105)
Reds 2008: Home ERA 4.05, Road ERA 4.85 (+.80) (105)
Toronto 2008: Home ERA 3.24, Road ERA 3.95 (+.71) (99)
Colorado 2008: Home ERA 4.35, Road ERA 4.97 (+.62) (108)
MLB 2008: Home ERA 3.89, Road ERA 4.48 (+.59) (100)
Kansas City 2008: Home ERA 4.20, Road ERA 4.75 (+.55) (104)
Seattle 2008: Home ERA 4.41, Road ERA 4.95 (+.54) (96)
Cubs 2008: Home ERA 3.44, Road ERA 3.92 (+.48) (105)
Atlanta 2008: Home ERA 3.52, Road ERA 3.98 (+.46) (96)
White Sox 2008: Home ERA 3.31, Road ERA 3.70 (+.39) (105)
Philadelphia 2008: Home ERA 3.71, Road ERA 4.04 (+.33) (104)
Baltimore 2008: Home ERA 4.20, Road ERA 4.47 (+.27) (102)
Marlins 2008: Home ERA 4.37, Road ERA 4.55 (+.18) (97)
Detroit 2008: Home ERA 4.53, Road ERA 4.59 (+.06) (101)
Texas 2008: Home ERA 4.96, Road ERA 4.92 (+.04) (100)
Yankees 2008: Home ERA 4.13, Road ERA 4.10 (-.03) (99)
Giants 2008: Home ERA 4.45, Road ERA 4.36 (-.11) (100)
St Louis 2008: Home ERA 4.16, Road ERA 3.89 (-.27) (99)
Nationals 2008: Home ERA 4.80, Road ERA 4.41 (-.39) (100)
Houston 2008: Home ERA 4.95, Road ERA 4.20 (-.75) (99)
Arizona 2008: Home ERA 4.32, Road ERA 3.45 (-1.13) (106)
Angels 2008: Home ERA 4.44, Road ERA 3.21 (-1.23) (100)

What is clear from this is that, surprisingly, there is no correlation between home/road ERA differential and park factor of the home park. There are 3 teams, Pittsburgh, the Twins and Tampa Bay, which have really bad home/road ERA differentials this year. It's all about planning, managing and coaching. The current Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay managers and coaches have been regarded as 'not that great'; however, the Twins manager, has been regarded as 'one of the best in the game'. Who lies? numbers or opinions?

Even more about pitching

The 4 game differential in the previous post is somewhat high level and I wanted to get a bit more granular to increase the accuracy of the statistical argument.

Here are the home road splits posted previously:

Joe Nathan: Home ERA 0.86,Road ERA 2.79
Dennys Reyes: Home ERA 1.32,Road ERA 4.00
Matt Guerrier: Home ERA 1.46, Road ERA 5.74
Jesse Crain: Home ERA 1.47, Road ERA 4.72
Nick Blackburn: Home ERA 2.20, Road ERA 5.06
Scott Baker: Home ERA 2.28,Road ERA 4.60
Brian Bass: Home ERA 3.20, Road ERA 6.95
Livan Hernandez: Home ERA 3.86, Road ERA 7.0
Boof Bonser: Home ERA 5.73,Road ERA 8.55

additionally pitchers not currently with the team are:

Juan Rincon: Home ERA 3.68,Road ERA 8.78
Pat Neshek: Home ERA 1.29,Road ERA 8.53
Bobby Korecky: Home ERA 6.00,Road ERA 2.45
Francisco Liriano: Home ERA 5.40,Road ERA 16.88

by subtracting road from home era, subtracting the differential between the league average Home ERA 3.89, Road ERA 4.48 (.59) and dividing by 9 to get runs per inning pitched that the team would have gained if the Twins' pitchers were pitching on the road with the same effectiveness that the league average pitcher does, based on home ERA:

Joe Nathan: 0.15 R/IP
Dennys Reyes: 0.23 R/IP
Matt Guerrier: 0.41 R/IP
Jesse Crain: 0.30 R/IP
Nick Blackburn: 0.25 R/IP
Scott Baker: 0.19 R/IP
Brian Bass: 0.35 R/IP
Livan Hernandez: 0.28 R/IP
Boof Bonser: 0.25 R/IP
Juan Rincon: 0.50 R/IP
Pat Neshek: 0.74 R/IP
Francisco Liriano: 1.21 R/IP


Looking at the Twins road losses and adjusting the score based on the above numbers (i.e. if Livan Hernandez pitched 5 innings and Brian Bass 4, in a hypothetical 5-0 loss, the adjusted score would be 5-(0.28*5 )-(0.35*4)= 2-0. To make it fair to the particular game, if a pitcher did not allow any runs, his differential will not be counted. Here is a list of those road losses, the original score and the adjusted score, along with win loss differential for the Twins and other AL Central teams:

Apr 7 @CHW act: L 4-7 adj: L 4-5
Apr 13 @KCR act: L 1-5 adj: W 1-0 diff +1 Twins -1 KC
Apr 14 @DET act: L 9-11 adj: W 9-8 diff +2 Twins -1 KC -1 Det
Apr 15 @DET act: L 5-6 adj: W 5-4 diff +3 Twins -1 KC -2 Det
Apr 23 @OAK act: L 0-3 adj: L 0-1 diff +3 Twins -1 KC -2 Det
Apr 24 @OAK act: L 2-11 adj: L 2-9 diff +3 Twins -1 KC -2 Det
Apr 25 @TEX act: L 5-6 adj: W 5-4 diff +4 Twins -1 KC -2 Det
Apr 27 @TEX act: L 0-10 adj: L 0-8 diff +4 Twins -1 KC -2 Det
May 6 @CHW act: L 1-7 adj: L 1-5 diff +4 Twins -1 KC -2 Det
May 8 @CHW act: L 2-6 adj: L 1-4 diff +4 Twins -1 KC -2 Det
May 17 @COL act: L 2-3 adj: W 2-1 diff +5 Twins -1 KC -2 Det
May 18 @COL act: L 2-6 adj: L 2-6 diff +5 Twins -1 KC -2 Det
May 24 @DET act: L 3-19 adj: L 3-16 diff +5 Twins -1 KC -2 Det
Jun 6 @CHW act: L 6-10 adj: L 6-8 diff +5 Twins -1 KC -2 Det
Jun 7 @CHW act: L 2-11 adj: L 2-9 diff +5 Twins -1 KC -2 Det
Jun 8 @CHW act: L 2-12 adj: L 2-11 diff +5 Twins -1 KC -2 Det
Jun 9 @CHW act: L 5-7 adj: L 5-7 diff +5 Twins -1 KC -2 Det
Jun 10 @CLE act: L 0-1 adj: L 0-0 diff +5 Twins -1 KC -2 Det (assume loss)
Jun 12 @CLE act: L 2-12 adj: L 2-10 diff +5 Twins -1 KC -2 Det
Jun 15 @MIL act: L 2-4 adj: L 2-4 diff +5 Twins -1 KC -2 Det

According to this, the Twins record should have been 45-31 (a .592 winning percentage that projects to 96 wins for the season). If the pitching preparation problems were fixed, they type of discussions that are happening today wouldn't be happening... It is still early. There are 86 games left in the season. If the team identifies the problems, adjusts and plays the remaining 86 games at the potential .592 rate, it will finish the season with 91 wins, easily on top of the AL Central. The team management should really focus on this vs. adding bats...

Digging more into pitching this year...

The huge discrepancy in home and road ERAs, posted earlier, really took me by surprise and made me dig a bit deeper. I have been suggesting (screaming actually) that the numbers indicate that problem with this team this year is pitching, esp starting pitching and not batting. All the trade talk about adding 'better' bats and the talk about players like Lamb, Monroe and Everett underachieving, and who should the utility player be, in order for the Twins to win, are really moot points. I even wrote the following in Joe C's blog:

This team can and should contend. Starting pitching has been a problem and the most serious problem in this team. Having discussions about whether one of Punto/Tolbert/Macri/Harris should play, is somewhat atopic, because either way the way the team has been performing this year, it would not make a difference. Looking at the bench vs. starting pitching is like looking at someone with a heart failure, and trying to give him/her a pedicure before resuscitating him/her… (extreme hyperbole, but I’m trying to make a point… That’s why I think that Gardy messing around with the line up is like an old lady at the checkout counter arguing whether she was shorted 3 cents, while someone is pickpocketing her purse…)


I think that the previous analysis showed that the root cause of the pitching problems is bad road pitching. What is the root cause of bad road pitching?

The players are the same, their stuff is the same at home and on the road. Just the preparation is different and this, as I said before, falls on the manager, the pitching coach and the travel staff. The team should look more serious into this big problem that is costing 2 runs for every away game.

I'll come back to the last point later, but here are the numbers for the major leagues this year, making sure that there is not a league-wide aberration

MLB 2008: Home ERA 3.89, Road ERA 4.48
AL 2008: Home ERA 3.81, Road ERA 4.45
NL 2008: Home ERA 3.96, Road ERA 4.52

and here are the historic numbers for the Twins

Twins:
2008: Home ERA 3.32, Road ERA 5.69
2007: Home ERA 3.84, Road ERA 4.54
2006: Home ERA 3.40, Road ERA 4.54
----
2005: Home ERA 3.62, Road ERA 3.83
2004: Home ERA 3.89, Road ERA 4.20
2003: Home ERA 4.50, Road ERA 4.31
2002: Home ERA 3.76, Road ERA 4.52
2001: Home ERA 4.47, Road ERA 4.56
2000: Home ERA 5.18, Road ERA 5.13
1999: Home ERA 5.08, Road ERA 4.97
1998: Home ERA 4.52, Road ERA 5.00
1997: Home ERA 4.94, Road ERA 5.10
1996: Home ERA 5.38, Road ERA 5.22
1995: Home ERA 5.74, Road ERA 5.81
1994: Home ERA 5.26, Road ERA 6.17
1993: Home ERA 4.73, Road ERA 4.73
1992: Home ERA 3.68, Road ERA 3.76
1991: Home ERA 3.90, Road ERA 3.48
1990: Home ERA 4.24, Road ERA 4.03

Up until and including 2005, the Twins' splits were comparable with the league. Ron Gardenhire and Rick Anderson came to the team in 2002. Rick Stelmaszyk has been the bullpen coach all those years, so his presence probably has nothing to do with this. Did something change between 2005 and 2006? Where any changes made in the travel routine this year? The one thing that changed in 2006 was that this was the first year the majority of the Twins pitching staff had the Gardenhire/Anderson combination as their only Twins MLB coaching/manager combination. Arguable, a veteran pitcher that learned travel habits and preparation that work for him from other coaches, a change in coaching stuff and road preparation philosophy will be less affected than a younger pitcher who has seen nothing else in the Twins' organization. Could it really be just Gardy's and Ronnie's fault?

If the Twins followed the ML trend, their road ERA should have been 3.91. Instead it is 5.69. This is the equivalent of starting every road game down 2-0. Looking closely to the road games this year, if the manager and coaching stuff had the team prepared like every other ballclub in the majors this year, the following games would statistically have been wins:

Apr 15 @DET L 5-6
Apr 25 @TEX L 5-6
May 17 @COL L 2-3
Jun 10 @CLE L 0-1


And the club record would have been 44-32, 2.5 games ahead in Central and 0.5 game off the WC race.

The numbers clearly show that the issue with pitching is not personnel but preparation, managing and coaching. Is the management of the team aware of this issue? I would think that they have someone who analyzes the team performance and reports such obvious discrepancies. If the team straightens things out with the above problems, it would be the equivalent of adding 2 great pitchers in the rotation... If not, Gardenhire and his coaches should be held accountable, unless the management of this team would like to continue its pickpocketing at the rate of 2 runs a game.

It's a late night's day, so here are some tidbits

It looks like Juanie singed a minor league deal with the Indians. Effectively, this is trading Rincon for Breslow, while eating Rincon's salary. A bunch of teams are willing to give a major league contract with a multi million dollar signing bonus to a 16 year old. The Twins are on the road at San Diego. Here are some interesting splits:

Pitching:

Team: Home ERA 3.32, Road ERA 5.69

home buddies:
Joe Nathan: Home ERA 0.86,Road ERA 2.79
Dennys Reyes: Home ERA 1.32,Road ERA 4.00
Matt Guerrier: Home ERA 1.46, Road ERA 5.74
Jesse Crain: Home ERA 1.47, Road ERA 4.72
Nick Blackburn: Home ERA 2.20, Road ERA 5.06
Scott Baker: Home ERA 2.28,Road ERA 4.60
Brian Bass: Home ERA 3.20, Road ERA 6.95
Livan Hernandez: Home ERA 3.86, Road ERA 7.00

Frequent Fliers:
Glen Perkins: Home ERA 4.98,Road ERA 3.32
Kevin Slowey: Home ERA 4.71,Road ERA 4.17

Consistently bad:
Boof Bonser: Home ERA 5.73,Road ERA 8.55




Batting:

Team: Home OPS .734, Road OPS .707

home buddies:
Joe Mauer: Home OPS .952, Road OPS .742
Brian Buscher: Home OPS .802, Road OPS .690
Craig Monroe: Home OPS .788, Road OPS .595
Michael Cuddyer: Home OPS .772, Road OPS .626
Nick Punto: Home OPS .770, Road OPS .655
Brendan Harris : Home OPS .719, Road OPS .590
Mike Redmond: Home OPS .717, Road OPS .632

Frequent Fliers:
Delmon Young: Home OPS .626, Road OPS .774
Mike Lamb: Home OPS .416, Road OPS .752

Even Stevens:
Justin Morneau: Home OPS .858, Road OPS .834
Jason Kubel: Home OPS .797, Road OPS .759
Alexi Casilla: Home OPS .758, Road OPS .783
Carlos Gomez: Home OPS .672, Road OPS .690


This is pretty interesting data, looking at the whole pitching squad grossly underachieving on the road. Is it a routine/preparation issue? The coaches should do something to reverse this trait, or at least attempt to do something. It is a glaring difference and squad-wise. When your team ERA is 2.some points higher on the road it is a serious problem of preparation and the blame falls of the manager, pitching coach and travel staff.

As far as the batters go, I would not be surprised to see Mike Lamb play in San Diego. A home/road platoon at 3rd might not be out of the question. Craig Monroe should play more at home, occasionally spelling Gomez and Young.

6/23/08

do you wonder...

who “Brian Buster” and “Carols Game” are? Read on...

Minor league tour: Rock Cats at Defenders 6/21

Gorgeous weather last Saturday, I was in Connecticut and lucky enough, the Rock Cats were playing the Connecticut Defenders (SF affiliated Eastern League club) at Dodd stadium, the host of Norwich Navigators until this year. The stadium is very difficult to find, one needs to go up through a long an winding road through a business park like setting. Once there, the facility is really nice, with plenty of parking ($2).



We got there 2.5 hours before the game and went to the box office to purchase tickets. I was happy to find 4 tickets at the first row, right behind the catcher ($10 each). I was hopping to go in and catch a bit of batting practice, but the doors open only one hour before the game. One one hand, getting there early enough got me the best seats in the stadium, on the other, nothing much to do around there, save an ice cream shop/batting cage venue half a mile away where we spent the waiting time. Once inside the stadium looks really nice for a AA park, albeit the usual billboard kitchness at the outfield.





concession-wise, other than the usual park stuff, the gem of the stadium is the San Fransisco fries stand at the left field where one can get fries with a variety of toppings ($3.75; Garlic fries were a killer) and several micro-brews were offered throughout the stadium ($4.50 for a pint).

This was a spare of the moment decision and did not know any of the starting lineups and the defenders were not very good with providing them ahead of the time. There were a couple of xeroxed papers with the rosters of the 2 teams, which one had to use to make the lineups out. Scorecards are not provided.

Our seats were great. Here is the view from my eye level:



and looking up:



Yes this is a rope and not metal net (patched several times at several places) and not too tight, so I had to warn my kids to stand back while there is a batter in the box and use the floor instead of the wall as a caddy, otherwise drinks could be worn.

It was an integration commemorative weekend and the home team wore the beige Brooklyn tops, the Rock Cats were in red.


pre game stretch


getting ready for the national anthem


Moses (13), Dinkelman (28) and Valencia getting ready to bat at the first warm up pitches.


Dinkelman on deck


Moses taking a ball


Valencia moving in with Moses on second.

Look at the size of the home plate umpire (Valencia is 6'2", for comparison). The ump could not crunch all the way (the best he could do was shown in the previous picture). This really unsettled Swarzak because the low strike was not called and after the Defenders realized that after the first inning, they stopped swinging at it. Swarzak try to compensate by throwing middle of the plate strikes, instead of nipping at the corners, resulting in the 2 home runs. Here are a couple of warm up shots:





He has a nice fluid motion and plus stuff (look at the spin of the curve in the second picture), but he does need coaching to learn how to adjust in situations like that day when he does not get strikes called. He has tons of potential, but needs coaching to try to understand and apply the intricacies of the game. On another note, he is not spotting his legendary crew cut this season, but a John Candelaria look.

The Rock Cats lost, but it was a very enjoyable experience to say the least. AA and A+ are probably the best places to see games live, because you can be so close to the action. One has to realize that this is not the majors and that there are only 3 umpires and 2 coaches plus the manager for each side (the hitting and pitching coaches serve as 1st and 3rd base coach as well) which makes things a little more difficult, some of us will say a little more pure...


Rock Cat player evaluations (take them with a grain of salt the size of Greenland, because this is the first time I saw many of these guys):

Dinkelman can be the real thing. Nice fluid swing, good feel of the game, probably better than Tolbert. Valencia physically reminds me of Gomez. However, he has a nice compact swing that looks a lot like Morneau's. Lis, Peterson and Winfree look like the same player out there. There are really stiff, extremely minimal range on the field (Peterson booted a double play ball that was almost impossible to boot) but they can hit. I do not see any of them beeing more that DHs in the majors. Moses is a disappointment. He seems really lost on the batter's box. I still do not understand what is Gardenhire doing in pro ball. Felix Molina is good in the field and showed a live bat, but I cannot see him be anything more than a career minor leaguer; same with Palacios

That's all, folks