May 29, 2005
Twins Take 2 of 3 From Blue Jays
Yesterday's loss at the hands of Roy Halladay was frustrating to no end, but the fact is that taking two out of three games from a good Toronto team, on the road, is nothing to be disappointed about. Plus, any time Joe Mays is matched up against someone with a Cy Young award on his resume, expecting a win is silly.
Some notes on the series ...
Jacque Jones had an at-bat in the fifth inning that looked similar to what might happen if a coach agreed to let a player take a few more swings at the end of batting practice if the player promised to take them really quickly. Halladay kept tossing breaking balls down and out of the strike zone, and Jones chased them all day. Jones wasn't alone by a long shot, but that at-bat -- in which he swung at four out of five pitches he saw and struck out swinging -- wrapped up the whole afternoon.
IP H R ER BB SO HR
Johan Santana 7.0 4 2 2 2 8 0
Kyle Lohse 7.0 6 1 1 0 3 0
Joe Mays 7.0 10 2 2 1 3 1
When a struggling pitcher and his pitching coach talk about making changes on the mound, it is usually nothing more than talk. In Kyle Lohse's case, there have definitely been fundamental changes in his approach. Pitching coach Rick Anderson appears to have convinced Lohse to simplify things on the mound, asking him to rely more on his fastball/sinker and slider than he has in the past. After nearly two years of struggling, Lohse has turned in three straight encouraging performances:
OPP IP H R ER BB SO HR
TOR 6.0 7 2 2 2 1 0
CLE 7.1 7 2 2 2 1 0
TOR 7.0 6 1 1 0 3 0
That's not going to win any awards, but it is certainly a step in the right direction. It is increasingly clear that Lohse is transitioning from attempting to be a power pitcher to attempting to be a ground-ball pitcher, ala Carlos Silva. That is, throw strikes, keep things simple by working mostly with your fastball, and let the defense work for you.
Lohse entered this season with a career ground ball-to-fly ball ratio of 0.96-to-1. Pitchers as a whole averaged about 1.25 grounders for every fly ball over the last couple years, which means Lohse's pre-2005 ground-to-fly ratio qualified him as a "fly-ball pitcher." All of which makes what he's done of late pretty intriguing. Over his last three starts, Lohse has induced 46 ground-ball outs, compared to just 17 fly-ball outs, for a ratio of 2.71-to-1. Only Brandon Webb (3.55-to-1), Derek Lowe (2.87), and Jake Westbrook (2.72) induced a higher percentage of grounders than that last season.
Lohse has never been able to rack up a lot of strikeouts, regardless of his style of pitching. And if you're not going to strike anyone out, you're going to need to get a lot of ground balls. It is the reason guys like Silva and Lowe can succeed despite batters making such good contact against them, and it is why I am suddenly hopeful about Lohse's chances of again becoming the solid middle-of-the-rotation starter he once was.
That of course came moments after Juan Castro homered for the second straight day. You'll find no one on earth happier about Castro homering in back-to-back games than me, but let's at least try to be rational here. Even after homering twice against Toronto, Castro is hitting .268/.302/.427 on the year. Now, if he could keep that up for the entire season, he would be a very valuable player for the Twins and a bargain at a million bucks. The problem is that he won't.
Ha. I thought you claimed Castro couldn't hit?!
Castro's homers shouldn't be especially shocking, because he has actually shown some decent home run power in the past. In fact, take a look at how his amazing power display so far this season (that's sarcasm, people) compares to what he did over the past three years:
2002-04 43.8 .132
2005 27.3 .159
Essentially, Castro has hit one "extra" homer this year, which accounts for the rise in his home run rate and his Isolated Power (slugging percentage minus batting average). One extra home run in 82 at-bats goes beyond small sample-sizes into the realm of not meaning anything significant at all. In other words, if Castro doesn't hit a homer this week, he'll be right back at his regular homer rate from the past three years.
What has changed to give Castro decent all-around offensive numbers for the first time in his career is the fact that he's hitting .268. He's not in danger of winning any batting titles, but that is likely not a sustainable batting average for a guy who came into this season as a career .226 hitter in 1,599 at-bats and has hit higher than .250 just once.
I'll gladly eat a healthy serving of crow if Castro keeps this up, but let's wait until he has an at-bat total that isn't in double digits first. Oh, and just to be clear, I wrote the following in my "defense" of Jason Bartlett: "If the team had kept Bartlett at Triple-A this whole time, handing the job to Juan Castro or Nick Punto out of spring training, it would have been far less troubling than what has actually taken place." Castro starting at shortstop, by itself, isn't what I have a big problem with.
YEAR W L WIN%
2001 33 16 .673
2002 27 22 .551
2003 29 20 .592
2004 27 22 .551
2005 29 20 .592
Interestingly, the only year in the past five in which the Twins have been on pace to win significantly more games than they ended up winning at the end of the season was in 2001, when they started 33-16, faded horribly down the stretch, and missed the playoffs. In the past four years -- which includes three trips to the postseason and, hopefully, a fourth this season -- the Twins have gotten off to very similar starts, winning either 27 or 29 games out of their first 49.
Today at The Hardball Times:
- Murphy's A's (by Aaron Gleeman)