August 19, 2008

Twins Notes: Slowey, Hicks, Revere, and Sweet Fancy Moses

  • Kevin Slowey tossed seven innings of two-run ball against the A's last night, shattering his previous career-high with 12 strikeouts. Through his first 30 career starts Slowey struck out six or more batters just seven times and totaled more than eight strikeouts just once, when he fanned nine in a win over the White Sox on September 23 of last year. And not only did he rack up 12 strikeouts last night, he did so without issuing a single walk, putting him in some elite company among Twins pitchers:
                        YEAR     DATE     OPP      IP     R     H     SO     BB
    Johan Santana 2007 8/19 TEX 8.0 0 2 17 0
    Johan Santana 2004 9/19 BAL 8.0 0 7 14 0
    Bert Blyleven 1986 9/24 KAN 9.0 2 9 14 0
    Johan Santana 2006 6/13 BOS 8.0 1 5 13 0
    Jim Kaat 1968 8/16 BAL 9.0 2 9 12 0
    Jim Kaat 1967 9/18 KAN 10.0 0 6 12 0
    Camilo Pascual 1962 6/26 NYY 9.0 0 9 12 0
    Dean Chance 1967 7/2 WAS 9.0 1 5 12 0
    Mark Guthrie 1995 5/25 DET 6.0 2 4 12 0
    Kevin Slowey 2008 8/19 OAK 7.0 2 5 12 0

    Last night Slowey joined Johan Santana (three times), Jim Kaat (twice), Bert Blyleven, Dean Chance, Camilo Pascual, and Mark Guthrie as the only pitchers in Twins history to record at least 12 strikeouts without a walk. Fittingly only Blyleven lost his start, tossing a complete game in a 2-1 loss to the Royals on September 24, 1986. Slowey is now 14-9 with a 4.05 ERA and 132-to-26 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 31 career starts, including 10-8 with a 3.78 ERA and 91-to-17 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 20 starts this year.

  • At a recent $250-per-plate charity event raising money for the local Boys and Girls Clubs, numerous Twins players waited tables and tended bar at Morton's Steakhouse. Bill Ward of the Minneapolis Star Tribune wrote about the evening and the newspaper's website features pictures from the event along with an amusing video recap narrated by McKenna Ewen (unlike most sites they won't let me embed the video here, so you'll have to click the link). Here's what Justin Morneau looks like tending bar:

    If you like that, there's also a shot of Scott Baker working the hell out of pepper mill.

  • Who is the man who wrote this column and what has the Star Tribune done with Patrick Reusse?
    Earlier Saturday, the amiable host of a long-standing Twin Cities sports talk show received a call from a gentleman suggesting that Delmon Young was having a season for the Twins nearly as productive as Mauer's. He wanted to stick with the basics to make this comparison. As of this morning, those numbers are .321 average, 74 runs scored and 59 RBI for Mauer, and .294, 62 runs scored and 53 RBI for Young.

    "There's not that much difference between them, and yet the media gets on Young and doesn't criticize Mauer,'' the radio caller said. He remained unimpressed when the disparity in on-base percentage was pointed out. Mauer leads the league at .414, compared with .339 for Young. The 75-point gap accounts for dozens of walks, many of which have moved runners forward into scoring position and contributed mightily to Justin Morneau's current total of 94 RBI.

    More please!

  • Denard Span and Alexi Casilla have rightfully gotten tons of praise for their impact following midyear call-ups, but Brian Buscher also deserves some love. After going 3-for-5 with a homer and five RBIs last night Buscher is hitting .314/.343/.431 with four homers and 38 RBIs in 44 games. That's right at the MLB average of .266/.337/.437 for third basemen and he's also played surprising decent defense at the hot corner, posting a .735 Revised Zone Rating that's safely above the .698 positional average.
  • First-round pick Aaron Hicks' pro career is off to an excellent start, as the 18-year-old center fielder has hit .303/.399/.484 while going 11-for-12 on steals through 40 games in the rookie-level Gulf Coast League. Plus, those raw numbers actually underrate Hicks' performance significantly thanks to the GCL being an incredibly pitcher-friendly environment where the average hitter has produced a measly .254/.333/.357 line this season.

    If you adjust Hicks' rookie-ball performance to the AL's current offensive level, his hitting line jumps to .320/.405/.570, which is amazing for a teenager making his pro debut. Hicks' strong 30-to-26 strikeout-to-walk ratio is also very encouraging, because high-school draftees typically lack plate discipline and drawing walks isn't something that the Twins are known for stressing. Hopefully he can follow the Joe Mauer path by bringing a patient approach at the plate with him to the organization and maintaining it.

  • Not to be out-done by Hicks, 2007 first-round pick Ben Revere continues to lead all of minor-league baseball in batting average by hitting .379/.433/.497 in 83 games at low Single-A. He's homered just once in 374 plate appearances, but has still shown solid power with 17 doubles and 10 triples. In fact, despite the one long ball his .118 Isolated Power is right at the Midwest League average of .121 and adjusted to the AL offensive environment his hitting line comes out at a ridiculous .400/.450/.550.

    Along with hitting like a souped-up Tony Gwynn, Revere has stolen 44 bases at a 77-percent clip. He hasn't shown as much plate discipline as Hicks, but it's tough to blame someone for eschewing walks when they're hitting .380 and a 31-to-27 strikeout-to-walk ratio is outstanding for a 20-year-old anyway. Combined with what he did in rookie-ball during his pro debut last year, Revere has hit .360/.416/.484 with 44 total extra-base hits, 65 steals, and a 51-to-40 strikeout-to-walk ratio through 133 games.

  • Randy Ruiz has yet to display any power, which is surprising given his 17 homers and 33 doubles in 111 games at Triple-A, but has shown how he compiled a .302 batting average during a decade in the minors by spraying line drives all over the field. Ruiz is 11-for-29 (.379) with two doubles and five RBIs since replacing Craig Monroe as Jason Kubel's platoon partner, quickly instilling enough confidence in Gardenhire that he's even received some starts against right-handed pitching. Shocking, huh?
  • Lost in Carlos Gomez's season-long struggles at the plate is that he inexplicably stopped running for three months after being a major base-stealing threat early on. Gomez went 16-for-18 (89 percent) stealing bases through 32 games, putting him on an 80-steal pace. However, over his next 74 games he was just 5-for-13 (38 percent) on the bases, including a 28-game stretch from July 1 through August 6 in which he failed to swipe a single base while attempting just two steals.

    Gomez has started running again recently, swiping four bases in his last 11 games, but his 25-for-35 (71 percent) mark in 117 games overall is disappointing. During the winter my suggestion was that the Twins should give Gomez some extra development time in the minors and avoid needlessly burning through a year of service time while he'd likely struggle. Given his .250/.286/.343 hitting line, 113-to-19 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and inconsistent work on the bases that would've been a good plan.

  • Last week in this space Al Reyes was highlighted as a potential acquisition for the Twins' struggling bullpen after he was designated for assignment by the Rays and now he's freely available after being released yesterday. Reyes is 37 years old and has a history of arm problems to go with some off-field issues, but like many veteran relievers floating around the waiver wire and piling up on the scrap heap these days, he'd be a worthwhile addition to the Twins' right-handed relief options:
    Expected Fielding Independent Pitching (xFIP)

    2008 05-07
    Matt Guerrier 4.14 4.48
    Al Reyes 4.33 4.07
    Jesse Crain 4.41 4.45
    Boof Bonser 4.49 4.53
    Brian Bass 4.40

    With a 4.33 xFIP this season Reyes would rank second to Matt Guerrier (4.14) among the team's right-handed relievers, and his 4.07 xFIP over the previous three years is better than Guerrier, Jesse Crain, and Boof Bonser (and would be better than Brian Bass, except he didn't pitch prior to 2008). Reyes is far from a world beater, but he's at least as good as any right-hander the Twins have trotted out of the bullpen since Pat Neshek went down and another capable arm in the late innings would help.

    Of course, if general manager Bill Smith were actually interested in providing Ron Gardenhire another capable reliever he'd have claimed Chad Bradford off waivers, traded for LaTroy Hawkins, or called up Bobby Korecky. Korecky has six straight scoreless outings at Triple-A, saving five games during that stretch to give him a 2.99 ERA, 67-to-20 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and .236 opponent's batting average in 69.1 innings. Bradford and Hawkins have combined for 11 shutout innings with their new teams.

    UPDATE: Reyes signed a minor-league contract with the first-place Mets, who reportedly may give him a shot at closer. Meanwhile, the Twins finally cut Bass loose Wednesday about three months later than they probably should have, making room for Casilla's return while leaving Korecky at Rochester.

  • Following Guerrier's latest ugly outing Sunday versus the Mariners, the Seattle Post Intelligencer had a disturbing note on the Twins' worn-out setup man:
    Yuniesky Betancourt is the toughest player in the AL for a pitcher to walk. Kenji Johjima is third-toughest. They both walked in the eighth inning against Twins' reliever Matt Guerrier.

    Guerrier is 0-2 with a ghastly 19.89 ERA over his last nine games, allowing 15 runs in 6.1 innings.

  • Back when Doug Mientkiewicz was with the Twins his wife caused a minor stir in the blogosphere by appearing on camera during FSN broadcasts. Now with the Pirates, Mientkiewicz took bereavement leave this week because his wife underwent heart surgery Monday to install a pacemaker:
    Jodi Mientkiewicz first went to the cardiologist last Friday, after dealing with shortness of breath and a dropping heart rate over the previous week. [Pirates manager John] Russell said that her heart rate had dropped to as low as 35 beats per minute. A normal resting heart rate is typically between 60 and 100 beats per minute.

    The cardiologist discovered a viral infection in a critical location of Mientkiewicz's heart, to which the doctor said "you couldn't put a bullet or a needle in a worse spot to where the infection is," according to Russell. The infection kept the heart rate low and prevented the top of her heart from sending a signal to the bottom of it.

    Scary times in the midst of what has been a solid season for Mientkiewicz, who's hitting .285/.371/.388 in 280 plate appearances for the Pirates while seeing extensive action at third base for the first time in his career. Jodi Mientkiewicz has been released from the hospital and is reportedly doing well.

  • During last night's game FSN play-by-play man Dick Bremer repeatedly called A's right fielder Jack Cust "a free swinger." Bremer no doubt came to that conclusion after seeing his AL-leading strikeout total, but as with many things he says it couldn't be further from the truth. Among the 158 major-league hitters who qualify for the batting title, only three--Bobby Abreu, Chone Figgins, Mauer--swing less often than Cust, who as if on cue took three straight Slowey pitches for a first-inning strikeout.
  • Even if going 1-5 with a 3.78 ERA and 65-to-34 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 69 innings at Rochester doesn't earn him a September call-up to Minnesota, Casey Daigle will still be doing just fine.
  • Joe Christensen of the Star Tribune earned my respect a long time ago, but if he hadn't this excerpt from his "notebook" column Monday would have done the trick:
    Seattle reliever R.A. Dickey had his knuckleball dancing, but it looked like Elaine from "Seinfeld" when he matched a major league record for wild pitches in an inning with four in the fifth.

    For the non-Seinfeld fanatics who don't get the reference, here's what Christensen is talking about:


    "Sweet Fancy Moses."

  • Once you're done here, check out my latest "Daily Dose" column over at Rotoworld.

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