June 26, 2006

Another Win

Clearly livid with himself for going an entire week without a multi-hit game, Joe Mauer went 4-for-5 with a career-high five RBIs against the Dodgers last night. Mauer's batting average--which had slumped to a pathetic .368--jumped back to an MLB-leading .377 and his .444 on-base percentage now ranks second in the AL behind only Travis Hafner's .448.

A 23-year-old catcher who has thrown out 41 percent of would-be base-stealers, Mauer is on pace to hit .377/.444/.526 with 10 homers, 45 doubles, 215 hits, 90 runs scored, 85 RBIs, and 15 steals in his second full season. After lining an RBI single to left field off left-handed reliever Hong-Chih Kuo, Mauer is now hitting .370 against southpaws to go along with his .380 batting average against righties.

A few other notes on the Twins' 8-2 win, if only because it helps me avoid packing for my trip to Seattle ...

  • Carlos Silva turned in his third straight Quality Start, holding the Dodgers to two runs over eight innings. Silva looked a lot like he did last season, handing out zero walks, striking out only three of the 30 batters he faced, and needing just 97 pitches to record 24 outs, but there was one major difference. Typically a ground-ball pitcher, Silva induced six ground-ball outs compared to 15 outs through the air.

    Obviously one game doesn't mean much by itself, but take a look at Silva's season-long ground ball-to-fly ball ratio compared to his first two years with the Twins:

    YEAR     GB/FB
    2004 1.58
    2005 1.55
    2006 1.05

    Silva has basically gone from being a ground-ball pitcher to being a neutral pitcher, which is bad news for a guy who allows such a huge number of balls in play. Since moving back into the starting rotation this month Silva has a 0.88 GB-to-FB ratio in five starts, which means he's actually been an extreme fly-ball pitcher.

    What's interesting is that throughout Silva's time in Minnesota pitching coach Rick Anderson has said that how well Silva is pitching can be determined more by his keeping the ball on the ground than his actual results. In other words, if Silva gets tons of ground balls he's doing a good job regardless of what the fielders do with them.

    There's a lot of truth to that, but if you asked Anderson about Silva's pitching since rejoining the rotation he'd probably be very pleased. Anderson has a right to be, of course, but over the long haul I don't think Silva can be successful with a GB-to-FB ratio close to even. He gives up too many hits to make it work without also bailing himself out of jams with double plays, and the extra-base hits will pile up in a hurry.

  • The new-and-improved Nick Punto did his best to fight off the nasty bastard that is regression to the mean, going 2-for-3 with two singles and two walks after watching his batting average drop 40 points in two weeks. As he is wont to do, Punto also over-hustled his way into an out at second base and stupidly slid into first base on a routine play for about the 50th time this season.

    Despite showing almost zero power over the past month, Punto is hitting .277 on the year and has maintained an outstanding .375 on-base percentage, including .388 in May and .392 in June. Can he keep that up while essentially just taking a bunch of pitches and slapping some singles? I doubt it, but at the very least his defense at third base is a revelation after watching Tony Batista for 50 games.

  • After years of talking about wanting to improve his plate discipline and then being as hacktastic as ever when it came time to put his money where his mouth was, Torii Hunter appears to actually be following through with his plan this time. Hunter walked twice last night, giving him a career-best 16 walks this month after walking 13 times in May.

    For the season Hunter has drawn 32 non-intentional walks in 73 games, which doesn't sound like a lot until you realize his career-high is 43 non-intentional walks back in 2003. Hunter also showed some marginal improvements in patience last year, and if he keeps up his recent pace he'll set a new career-high by the All-Star break.

    The new-found plate discipline has allowed Hunter to post a career-best .340 on-base percentage despite a .264 batting average, but it's not all good news. Hunter's .421 slugging percentage would be his lowest since 2000 and his .158 Isolated Power is nearly 20 percent below his career mark coming into this season.

  • I was thinking about a potential nickname for Mauer since I haven't had much success coming up with one for Francisco Liriano, and "The Show" seems like a good fit in light of my recent column. Unfortunately, the fact that "Joe" and "The Show" rhyme make the nickname pretty cheesy-sounding, so it's probably back to the drawing board. This whole nicknaming business would be a lot easier if I was as clever as some people.

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