July 6, 2006

Twins Notes

  • One thing you can almost always count on with the Twins is that even when they make a good decision--like handing Jason Bartlett the shortstop job without any strings attached--they take far too long to do so. Calling up Pat Neshek from Triple-A can now be added to the very long list of what can probably be best described as "delayed intelligence."

    The Twins are finally giving Neshek a look in the bullpen several months after I began pleading with them to do so in this space, which is basically how things played out previously with (among others) Bartlett, Juan Castro, Tony Batista, Michael Cuddyer, Jason Kubel, Luis Rivas, and Johan Santana. Here's all Neshek had to do at Rochester in order to get a chance in mid-July:

     G     W     L     SV      ERA       IP     SO     BB     OAVG
    33 6 2 14 1.95 60.0 87 14 .189

    Neshek either won or saved 20 of the 33 games he appeared in, posted a 1.95 ERA in 60 innings, ranked third in the International League in strikeouts despite being a reliever, and posted a ridiculous 87-to-14 strikeout-to-walk ratio and .189 opponent's batting average. Oh, and he also had a 2.19 ERA in 82.1 innings at Double-A last season.

    Interestingly, the talk of Neshek struggling against left-handed hitters appears to be a non-issue. He held lefties to .235/.278/.412 at Triple-A, compared to .157/.215/.281 against righties. That's a big difference, but this year at least it has more to do with his complete dominance over right-handed hitters than it does with any real struggles against lefties. He'll be very good.

  • Francisco Liriano may not have won the MLB.com "Final Vote" for an All-Star spot, but the national media is starting to take notice of how great he's been. In a column Wednesday, Pat Borzi of the New York Times cast another vote for "The Franchise" as Liriano's nickname, provided some great quotes about Liriano from various sources, and discussed the difference between the two types of sliders he throws.
  • The national media has been covering Joe Mauer for weeks now, and it's really starting to pick up steam with Mauer's batting average continuing to hover around .400 as the All-Star break approaches. In fact, in their fervor to write something about Mauer, columnists are cranking out incredibly similar pieces, right down to the lame Paul Bunyan references and notes about former Miss USA Chelsea Cooley.

    This is far from an example of plagiarism, but rather what happens when people outside of Minnesota try to write about something happening in Minnesota. It's nothing new. If you were to look back through every mainstream media article about Santana, Kirby Puckett, and Kevin Garnett, I'd bet that at least half of them contain some reference to Bunyan or Prince.

    Plus, can you imagine if the national media deemed it a noteworthy story every time a star athlete from New York or California dated a woman who has won a beauty competition? They'd run out of paper within days and test the limits of space on the internet. Mauer is simply carrying on a long tradition of people having absolutely nothing original to say about Minnesota.

  • Sam Mellinger of the Kansas City Star wrote a column about Mauer earlier this week that contained references to Bunyan, Prince, and Cooley. To Mellinger's credit it was still a good read, and also contained this amusing note:
    ESPN's "Pardon the Interruption" had him on Tuesday. Stephen A. Smith's show is later this week. Other national shows have called the Twins and settled for rookie sensation Francisco Liriano or Cy Young winner Johan Santana.

    I suppose dealing with Stephen A. Smith is a relatively small price to pay for fame and a .390 batting average. Incidentally, how would you like to be Santana right now? He's been baseball's best pitcher for going on three years, leads the league in both ERA and strikeouts, and is at best the third-biggest story on his own team.

  • In his quest to acquire every guy the Twins ever let go, regardless of how horrible they are now, Wayne Krivsky traded for Eddie Guardado yesterday. In just a few months on the job, Krivsky has already brought in Guardado, Castro, and Joe Mays. Surely Rivas, Dustan Mohr, Terry Mulholland, Michael Ryan, Augie Ojeda, and Jose Offerman can't be far behind, and I remain hopeful that Terry Ryan can talk his former assistant into giving something up for Kyle Lohse.
  • I talked earlier this week about hitting coach Joe Vavra deserving credit for how well several of the Twins' young hitters have done this season, and specifically mentioned his impact on Justin Morneau. Here's what I wrote way back in November when the Twins hired Vavra to replace Scott Ullger:
    Vavra is a complete unknown to me, both as a person and as a coach, and other than reading what other people have had to say about him since the hiring there isn't much to base a potential opinion of him on. ... Perhaps more important than anything we could possibly know about Vavra the player or Vavra the coach is that he simply isn't Scott Ullger.

    [...]

    In addition to the underwhelming runs scored numbers, Ullger had almost zero ability to coax power out of the lineup and had anything but a positive influence on the hitters' collective approach at the plate. The Twins did not hit home runs or draw walks under Ullger, and in the case of this season the hitters were neither aggressive or patient at the plate. Instead, they were simply passive or complete hackers.

    Check out how this season's paces under Vavra compare to last season's numbers under Ullger:

    YEAR     COACH      HR      BB      RS
    2006 Vavra 146 529 804
    2005 Ullger 134 485 688

    Homers and walks have each increased by nearly 10 percent, although a half-season's worth of games obviously isn't enough to draw any big conclusion's about Vavra's coaching. It's possible that Mauer and Morneau would have experienced similar breakouts under another coach, but there's little doubt in my mind that Vavra is far better than Ullger.

    While Ullger used to openly rip guys for taking a patient approach at the plate and play into the Twins' odd tendency to treat young guys like dirt, Vavra actually says stuff like this about working with Morneau:

    I think the biggest thing with Justin is just staying positive and emphasizing strike-zone discipline.

    Over the years I've criticized the Twins for their inability to develop impact hitters at the big-league level, but there are certainly some signs of that changing under Vavra.



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