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5/8/09

Doing Things the Twins' way: Uncle Ron's and Cousin Joe's Small-ball Shop of Horrors

One of the Twins' maxims has been that they are proud to be doing things the Twins' way, which translates to "doing the little things right", in other words: hitting and running, advancing runners to scoring position, taking an extra base here and there; in other words: small-ball.

How has that pride and joy helped the Twins during the Gardenhire years? Let's examine the facts. One way to look at it is that if the method is successful, one would assume that a team would need fewer hits to score runs. That would be efficient way of playing. In this way, you make the best of each hit and score more runs than the competition with fewer hits. This is a recipe for winning. The following graph spans every season from TK's last season, 2001 (1) to 2009 (9). I am plotting total hits over runs (i.e. how many hits it takes to score a run) for the Twins (blue), the AL average (burgundy) and the AL champion (yellow; for 2009 I am using the team with the best AL record, Toronto):



As you can clearly see, the Twins need more hits to score a run than the average AL team and the team that wins the pennant usually scored more runs with fewer hits than the average. And (other than 2008), the situation has gotten worse with Joe Vavra as the hitting coach.

Conclusion 1: Small-ball, i.e. doing the little things right, i.e the Twins' way is hurting the Twins.

How much?

Let's quantify:



This is the table that is used to create the graph above. The columns are years, Twins Hits/Run, AL Average Hits/Run and AL Champion Hits/Run for every season (the last column is the difference of the Twins' squad from that of the AL Champion every season, but it is unimportant in the calculation)

The averages of all 10 seasons are underneath each column. The ratios of the Twins average to those of the other averages are noted under each column. Still, all these are ratios, fractions and small numbers; how do they translate in concrete terms.

There we go:



here is a table with the runs the Twins scored each season since 2002 and the runs they would have scored that season, if they were scoring runs at the rate of an average AL team based on the number of their hits and if they were scoring runs at the rate of the AL champion based on the number of their hits. The two last columns are the difference for how many runs the Twins scored and how many they would have scored, if they were translating their hits into runs as effective as the average AL team or the AL Champion. I averaged the values of the last two columns and came to this conclusion:

Doing things the Twins' way, cost this team between 40 and 73 runs every season.

And if you calculate about 5 runs per win, this is costing between 8 and 15 wins a season.

That is concrete. And it is so concrete, that in other words I could have called this little piece: "Honey I've shrunk the offense"

5/7/09

5 games behind; 5 things that should happen now

The Twins just finished the second and last game of their series in Baltimore, where they got swept, two to nothing. Despite Joe Mauer's return, this club is lacking energy and the ability to fight, from the manager down to the players. Last night's game should not have been played. It was. It was up to Gardenhire to do anything possible to delay it in order not to become official. He didn't. Instead he sat at the dug out watching batters swing away and pitchers pitch fast and throwing strikes. All he did was to whine afterward during the press conference about how unfair it was to play. Yesterday, Matt Tolbert was brought up from Rochester and Alexi Casilla was optioned to the Red Wings. This might help infuse some life to an apparently lifeless club, but here are 5 moves that should be made sooner than later:

  1. Re-assign Joe Vavra within the Twins organization and get Riccardo Ingram from Rochester as the interim hitting coach. In Vavra's four years with the Twins the teams ranked 12th (current), 9th (2008), 13th (2007) and 8th (2008) among the 14 teams in OPS. As a reminder, OPS and more specifically the SLG component of OPS is what makes the Twins win. And here is how the Twins are ranking among the 14 AL teams during Joe Vavra's tenure: 2009: 12th, 2008: 9th, 2007: 13th, 2006: 8th. An exact mirror of the OPS rank. About time for a change

  2. Option Brian Buscher to Rochester and recall Luke Hughes. This season the Twins are hitting .240/.295/.343 against left hand pitching. The right hand batters are hitting an even worse .195/.260/.280 against LHP. Luke Hughes in Rochester this season against LHP has been hitting .474/.524/1.158 (yes, folks, that is a 1.682 OPS) with 4 home runs. Nobody will miss Buscher's "defense" and his .179/.324/.286 line. In addition, Brian Buscher has appeared in a grand total of 5 games this season. It is time that a better player comes up. This would allow the Twins to establish a rotation of Tolbert/Hughes at 2B and Harris/Punto at SS, with Hughes serving as the primary PH and some DH against LHP

  3. Establish an outfield of Denard Span LF, Carlos Gomez CF, Delmon Young RF and find a taker for Cuddyer or keep him on the bench. The energy and defensive ability of Gomez at center is direly missed this season. This arrangement is the best defensive arrangement for the Twins and Young will be able to provide better offense than Cuddyer. Once Cuddyer is traded, bring up Dustin Martin or Jason Pridie (both LHB) from Rochester as the 4th OF.

  4. Assign Mike Redmond to Rochester and recall Jose Morales. Hopefully Redmond will accept the assignment. The fact that this team lost a lot of energy and started losing when Morales went to AAA instead of the worse-performing Redmond, is not coincidental. Morales could replace Redmond as the back up catcher and provide a better LH bat off the bench than Buscher.

  5. Keep a short leash on Craig Breslow and R.A. Dickey and be on the phone with Pedro Martinez' agent. I have been a a proponent for the Twins signing Pedro this offseason. Their starting pitching at this point, esp. Baker, Blackburn and Perkins do not inspire a lot of confidence. Martinez will need about a month to tune up and be in MLB form. At that point, if Dickey falters, release him and replace him with the starter who is the least productive in the pen and insert Martinez in the rotation. Or, Alternatively, since the Dodgers are now an outfielder short and have six starting pitchers, try to see if you can work out a deal of Mike Cuddyer for Hiroki Kuroda. The money is pretty much even.


I think that all these moves will energize these Twins. What do you think?

5/6/09

A blog not to miss

I became away of a brand new blog, 'R Red Wings, which is a must for followers of the Twins' minor leagues. There is nothing like it as far as Red Wings' coverage and there are even videos of the games. Make sure you drop in.

I was going to write a post about the recent event, but got sidetracked. Will probably do it tomorrow or tonight if the game is called/delayed

5/4/09

Pitching and the seventh-inning stretch

The seventh-inning stretch has been a long tradition in baseball, legendarily attributed to President Taft. During the middle of the 7th innings, the fans are standing up in the stands and signing take me out to the ball game.

However, the Twins pitchers this season, so far are creating a different version of the seventh inning stretch, practically begging to be taken out off the ball game.

Here is the Twins' opponent OPS at the different innings (10 is all extra innings):

5/3/09

Minor league Thoughts after Sunday's game

Just a bunch of thoughts about the minor leagues, after the end of the series with the Royals today. I will probably write more about the state of the big club tomorrow, but I strongly believe that the big club is as strong as its whole organization, so I will start with the minors


  • Juan Morillo after he was outrighted to Rochester, he appeared in two games for the Red Wings pitching one and two-thirds innings of perfect baseball. No walks, no strikeouts. So far he has been used as a middle reliever in both occasions. I strongly believe that his coupling with Bobby Cuellar, Rochester's pitching coach and the man who taught Johan Santana the change up, would be a great think for Morillo. To accommodate Morillo in the roster, the Red Wings released Carmen Pignatiello, a LHP with 14.14 ERA and 2.15 WHIP and one of the never-had-beens that Jim Rantz likes to accumulate in Rochester every season

  • Speaking of Jim Rantz' rejects, Rochester has been horrible this season. If Twins' fans are concerned about the major league team, Red Wings' fans have many more reasons of concern. The team is 9-12, nine games behind Scranton in 5th place, below the lowly Lehigh Valley IronPigs. Is there a reason for Twins' fans who are not really concerned with minor league matters to be concerned about this? Yes. Since the 71 year old Jim Rantz, the Twins minor leagues director discovered Shane Mack as a minor league free agent 28 years ago, he repeats the practice of signing 5-10 aging minor league free agents every season. Nobody the last 28 years of the practice panned out. The closest was Randy Ruiz last season. Singing minor league free agents might be a good practice if: a. the player has some upside and b. the player is young enough to potentially realize that upside. For example, the singing of Justin Huber, a 26 year old OF/1B, former minor league All Star, who has a power right hand bat was great. That of the likes of Carmen Pignatello, Sean Henn, Bobby Keppel, Mike Gosling, Reid Santos, all pitchers at or beyond their primes were not for a pitching-rich organization.

  • There are several problems with this practice:

    1. It keeps talented players from advancing in the organization (e.g. Rob Delaney is setting up Anthony Slama who is closing at New Britain, when either of them could close in Rochester instead of Sean Henn and both of them are more capable pitchers than any of Rantz' 5 never-had-beens in Rochester and they are not spring chicken either: Delaney is 24 and Slama 25 years old

    2. This practice creates a Domino effect throughout the organization, keeping players like the 23 year old Steve Hirshfield (0.69 ERA, 0.538 WHIP), the 22 year old Carlos Gutierrez (0.78 ERA, 0.652 WHIP) and the 24 year olds Henry Arias and Blair Erickson in Ft. Myers instead of New Britain, and someone like Tom Stuifberger, the guy who held the powerful Dominican Republic lineup scoreless in the WBC for the Netherlands, in extended spring training

    3. One of the worse parts of this practice is that when the major league club needs a player in case of injury or bad performance, a suitable replacement has to be found outside of the organization, because the best players are usually in AA, with AAA filed up with lesser quality players

  • The Twins need to re-evaluate the way they are doing things as an organization. Here is an example: Once a player is put in the 40-man roster, he has 3 years of "options" and evaluation before he either has to be part of the major league (25 man) roster practically for the rest of his career, or be released. The Twins have 2 players in that roster who are in Ft. Myers (D. Romeiro) and in New Britain (W. Ramos), while players with iffy future with the organization who are not part of the 40 man roster (Machado, Christy) are in Rochester. It should practically be a rule that if someone is on the 40-man roster he better be either in the majors or in AAA (potentially AA the first year he is added) so that the team properly evaluates him.

  • The Twins' bullpen might need some help at this point. Nobody in Rochester, other than Anthony Swarzak, is ready to answer the call.


Update: The Twins re-activated Crain and send Jose Morales to the minors. Morales has been batting .238 OPS points higher than Redmond and .180 OPS points higher than Brian Buscher, but he is the one to go. This is not the way to win games. You have to put the best 25 man in the majors and at this point neither Redmond nor Buscher are part of the 25 best players in the organization. As I have indicated previously Morales should have stayed ahead of both Redmond and Buscher. And there is something else to consider: Morales is leading the team in batting average. His reward? A $350K pay cut. This in not how a top organization should reward its top performers.