April 21, 2010

Wrong Guy On The Bench: Young vs. Thome

Last night the Twins faced Justin Masterson, a right-handed pitcher with a three-quarters arm slot that induces tons of ground balls and leads to an extreme platoon split. Coming into the game he'd thrown 229 career innings, holding right-handed hitters to a measly .200/.280/.299 while left-handed hitters knocked him around to the tune of .299/.395/.461. That's a 277-point difference in OPS, which is huge and suggests you'd want to stack the lineup with lefty bats.

Thanks to signing Jim Thome the Twins have the ability to do just that, but rather than get his powerful, patient left-handed bat into the lineup against a pitcher who struggles with exactly that type of hitter Ron Gardenhire chose to leave him on the bench and start Delmon Young. Ultimately the Twins won anyway, but Young went 0-for-2 against Masterson while the rest of the lineup beat him up and regardless of the outcome it was an illogical decision.

Check out these numbers versus righties:

2009      AVG    OBP    SLG    OPS        07-09     AVG    OBP    SLG    OPS
Thome    .262   .383   .498   .881        Thome    .274   .402   .551   .953
Young    .271   .301   .383   .684        Young    .282   .316   .393   .709

Against righties last year, Thome had an .881 OPS and Young had a .684 OPS. Against righties combined over the past three years, Thome had a .953 OPS and Young had a .709 OPS. Based on Masterson alone the Twins should've gotten as many lefty bats into the lineup as possible and those stats make Gardenhire's decision even more of a mistake. Masterson is much worse against lefties than righties. Thome is far more effective than Young against righties.

It really shouldn't be any more complicated than that, yet Gardenhire ignored overwhelmingly obvious numbers on both sides of the matchup and instead went with his gut instinct, hurting the Twins' chances in the process. Thankfully it didn't matter last night, as the Indians' starter was wild and their shortstop made a crucial error, but over the course of the season benching Thome (or Jason Kubel) for Young versus right-handers like Masterson will cost runs and wins.

  • TL

    Let’s hope this team will be good enough to win games like this one tonight with bad matchups.

    I wonder if Mauer read the splits on this guy. He sure had problems against him.

  • Tim

    I think it’s silly to pretend that we know every bit of data that goes into a manager’s decision. Maybe Thome was too sore to bat multiple times today. Maybe Kubel tweaked something and Gardy didn’t want him in the field. You can say it shouldn’t be any more complicated than the numbers, but it is, and a lot of lineups over the course of a season are going to reflect that.

    Gardy may very well be doing things wrong – it seems to me that he makes quite a few poor decisions – but for some reason he doesn’t get the credit that anyone else gets from you, of requiring a decent sample size to make that argument.

  • Peter

    Thanks Aaron for rescheduling The Gardenhire Files. The only reason to bench Thome here is that he is a far more entertaining guy to sit next to in the dugout.

  • Jake

    This is a ridiculously stupid article mixed into a site full of great ones, quite frankly. I’ll try to explain why as simply as possible and allow others to fill in the blanks.

    Delmon is our starting outfielder. We can argue all day whether or not this is a good idea. It is a complicated argument to say the least. Personally I don’t think he is good enough to warrant the time and it looks like Aaron is with me there. But Gardy believes given a chance he can develop into something that isn’t pure suckage.

    There are more righties in the MLB than lefties. So for Delmon to be the starter, and have proper time to develop, he has to play against some RHP’s at the expense of Thome. I say Thome because Kubel has a freaky OPS against righties and is untouchable in those situations.

    This assertation that Gardy can’t comprehend OPS splits of righties vs lefties is so far beyond stupid that my head hurts having to point it out to a baseball guy. I mean, you do realize that this is the same Gardenhire that HASN’T GIVEN THOME A SINGLE AT BAT THIS SEASON AGAINST A LEFTY because of OPS splits and that Thome is half of the “argument”.

    I mean, this is just terrible. Give Gardy a bit of credit. He is aware of how right handed hitters usually aren’t as good against righties than left handed hitters. I mean, that is pee wee ball stuff. wtf Gardy isn’t retarded?

  • Chris

    Too much raw meat, Jake?

  • ganderson

    I agree with Jake- without the meat- I had a bagel this AM. I’m not a Delmon fan- we make bets on whether he’ll swing at the first pitch (as an aside: Ed Farmer was having a lot of fun with Delmon when the Twins played the Whiteys) BUT I have come to believe that, while Gardy may not approach the game as I would, and IMHO doesn’t pay enough attention to the numbers, he’s pretty good at running a major league clubhouse- I’d guess part of that is not pulling your LF around willy nilly.

  • Matt S.

    Let’s have fun with small sample sizes:

    Lefties went 4-10 with three walks, a hbp, and a double against Masterson. That’s .400/.571/.500

    Righties went 1-6 with two walks and a sac fly. .167/.333/.167

    To be fair, our lineup is already overstocked with lefties (and two switch hitters when Punto is healthy). This doesn’t seem to be a huge issue, especially since Thome will get his playing time.

  • tjw

    Free Thome?

  • SoCalTwinsfan

    A few other factors that may have gone into the decision: The Indians have three lefties in their bullpen, presenting matchup problems late in the game for a left-handed heavy lineup.

    Masterson has had a pretty high walk rate and strikeout rate since coming to the Indians, which would likely mean he wouldn’t be in there very long, which is exactly what happened.

    Slowey has been a heavy flyball pitcher throughout his career and Gardy has shown so far that he believes Delmon is a better OF than Kubel.

  • chuck

    I also agree with Jake. It’s one bat in the lineup, can’t Young get one shot against a lefty? And if Masterson is so bad against lefties, why did Mauer go 0-4?

  • Adam S.

    You don’t want to win like 120 games, it will make the last month or more of the season disinteresting. Why do you think Gardy starts Young or Punto, or puts in Crain? You need to lose some games so the division race can be somewhat close towards the end of the year. You guys really think Nathan is hurt? Or Mauer didn’t strike out on purpose?

  • Jake Depue

    Here’s the only problem with this article: Gardy is NEVER going to figure this stuff out. He’s a “heart” and a “hunch” guy, and he always will be. You do an excellent job pointing out when he messes up the numbers, but he’s always going to mess up the numbers, just like he’s always going to screw up bullpen matchups. It’s incredibly frustrating but it’s not going to change as long as he’s in charge.

  • Dan

    I’ve gotta agree with Jake on this one too. Its much easier early in the season to give Delmon every day at bats to build his confidence and comfort level. If the Twins had platooned Morneau during his first two seasons, for example, he may have never developed into the confident hitter he is today–we probably had a bat or two that looked better on paper than Morneau’s .741 OPS in 2005. Keeping Young in the lineup is more about Young’s (hopeful) development for the team’s future. Thome’s a consummate pro and hall of famer–he will be ready to produce down the stretch and in the playoffs.

  • Jkring

    Plus, stat wise, Thome has a higher OPS, but Young has a .10 point batting average advantage, so its not like Young cant hit righties. This article, seems like a bitch to bitch becasue I have my own blog.

  • http://www.twinsfix.com David

    Aaron, Gardenhire needs to have Delmon in the lineup. That way Delmon can ground into double plays and strike out a lot. Then the game will either be closer, if the Twins are winning, or the Twins will be losing instead of winning. Then Thome will be available to pinch hit and win the game! Then we’ll all see Gardy’s brilliance – how he can pick just the right spot for Thome to come in and mash.

    In all seriousness though, we all know there are probably other reasons why Delmon might be in the game instead of Thome. Maybe Thome is sore. Maybe Gardenhire wants to give Delmon time to develop. Maybe Delmon’s approach is getting better and Vavra has said, “He’ll hit righties soon.” Maybe Delmon’s been working really extra hard and Gardenhire wants to reward him. Fine, yes, maybe these things are happening, but that’s not what this site is about – it’s about illustrating what the numbers say, and Aaron does a really good job of laying it out clearly.

    SoCalTwinsFan – really good point.

  • Brent

    10-4

  • ismist

    I have to agree with those that find this article a bit disappointing. “…Gardenhire ignored overwhelmingly obvious numbers on both sides of the matchup and instead went with his gut instinct, hurting the Twins’ chances in the process.” That may be true, but as another poster points out, it may have been due to human factors, such as soreness, a headache, etc. It could also be the psychology of showing support for Young.

    Stats are an essential tool, and are very useful when evaluating a large sample size. But using multi-season splits as evidence that Gardy is making a single-game decision based purely Twinky Voodoo is a fallacious generalization. No sport should ever be whittled down to a mathematical algorithm. There is SOME art left in baseball, and the element of human subjectivity shouldn’t be dismissed outright.

  • Zach

    Aaron,
    I agree with the majority of posters here. We have to keep our lineup consistent as much as possible. Delmon has the tools to develop into a viable outfielder and he NEEDS the at-bats now. I love your site, but you lose some credibility here because #1 We won the game #2 you are just falling into that hole where writers always have something to complain about, no matter the outcome of the game (in which we won). Mauer did not get a hit and Kubel looked horrible. You can’t just make the assumption that lefties will hit better because of the stats. We are becoming way to dependent on them.

  • http://www.mmmrhubarb.wordpress.com Rhubarb_Runner

    Back when Thome was signed, Gardy said his plan would be to sit Delmon against tough righties. Masterson isn’t a tough righty. Right or wrong, Gardy’s sticking with his original plan.

  • pk

    Please don’t forget….Thome is done. He has little to nothing left to give and that’s why he signed for so little money.

    Thome is the new Redmond for this team. He’s a bench player, a clubhouse veteran, to be there when the team hits its first bad losing streak. If he hits it’s just a plus.

    Delmon is the starting LF..he gets the at bats unless there’s a reason to give him a day off.

  • J. Lichty

    Phil Mackey addressed this issue in his pregame notes, which gets us into Gardy’s thinking a little more:

    In his brief career so far, Masterson has allowed lefties to hit .299/.395/.461, as opposed to .200/.280/.299. This would be a perfect opportunity for Gardenhire to leverage Masterson’s drastic lefty/righty platoon split by inserting Jim Thome in the lineup, but instead Delmon Young will start in left and bat seventh.

    That said, the Twins will likely face numerous right-handed pitchers throughout the season who have similar lefty/righty splits.

    “Delmon knows he’s the left fielder, and that’s comfortable for him,” Gardenhire said. “He knows we’re going to mix it up once in a while with Thome too, but he understands match-ups more about the game, and sometimes you see numbers that don’t work and you put the other guys in there.

    “I think it’s probably more comfortable coming to the ballpark knowing you’ve got a pretty good opportunity to be playing.”

    http://1500espn.com/sportswire/Pregame_notes_Punto_to_sit_Neshek_not_ready_yet

  • jama

    But Delmon has a higher batting average against righties than Thome does!

    /Sarcasm

  • mazeville

    Were you watching the same game I did yesterday? I ask because you said that Young went 0-for-2 against Masterson “while the rest of the lineup beat him up.” The rest of the lineup most certainly did NOT beat him up – Mauer went 0-4 and looked awful on a first-inning strikeout, and Kubel went 0-4, struck out three times, and barely touched the ball. Only one guy, Morneau, had an extra base hit. In reality, Masterson beat himself up.

    While you have a point about playing Thome against righthanders more often, and sitting Delmon, your hindsight argument fails, especially in light of Kubel’s performance. In any event, Gardy clearly likes having Thome come off the bench. That’s why they got him. You might as well get used to it.

  • jimbo92107

    Another reason to hold off on criticizing Gardenhire in this case is the changes in Delmon Young over the winter. He literally looks like a new man in every way, and that includes his approach at the plate, which looks far more professional and mechanically looks much better. 2010 Delmon now lays off most first pitches, which often gets him in better counts. His stance is better, squaring off and keeping his lead shoulder closed. He still does go for some of those sweeping curves in the dirt, but not nearly as much as last year. I think Gardenhire is putting Young out there against pitchers like Masterson in order to find out how much better he bats against guys like that. Gardy is giving Delmon a chance to let his superstar talent shine. If he continues to flop against righties with sweeping curves, after awhile you’ll see the Kubel/Thome swap. Remember: Gardenhire always uses the first part of the season for experiments to see what works. This year, seems like everything works, so it’s going to be a great year.

  • Pete

    Good lord, the Gardy apologists have come out in droves today…

    Aaron is pointing out what should to most baseball fans be an obvious statistical mismatch. He’s not screaming “Fire Gardy!”, nor is he predicting impending doom for the Twins 2010 season. With that in mind, there’s no sense in getting worked up; this is a simple analysis that’s rooted entirely in fact, so I can’t see the why people are so dismissive of Aaron’s criticism.

    Yes, lefties Kubel and Mauer struggled. Yes, the Twins won anyway. But that’s precisely why you should stack the lineup with as many lefties as possible – so that when two of our best hitters have a rough day, someone else is there to pull the slack. Delmon certainly wasn’t going to be the one to do that, and if used improperly in the future, that could be a consistent problem.

  • Grant P.

    What the heck happened to this place?

    Free Thome!

  • Jkring

    NO the problem is that baseball is more than a statomatic baseball game, real players are involved. Why play the games, we should just load stats into Xbox and simulate all the game. The point is, you can find stats to justify anything.

  • Jkring

    and Aaron has a definate dislike for Delmon Young

  • James M.

    You can rail against Gardy all you want. The fact remains: when the Twins got Thome they made it very clear that it was for late inning pinch-hit duties, not as a DH against righties. I wasn’t happy about it then and I’m still not. But at some point you’ve got to let it go.

    jimbo92107: I too had the impression DY was doing better this year. But I checked the Fangraph numbers and got a shock. First, the good news. He has cut way down on his strikeout rate, from 23.3% last year to 12.8% now.

    Normally that would translate to a higher BA & OBP. So why are they both down 28 points? Because his BABIP is down a whopping 103 points, from .338 to .235. Of course there is a lot of luck involved in BABIP and that .235 is bound to rise as the season goes on. He has been incredibly consistent in that regard, 3 years in a row at .338.

    Still, there is some cause for concern. His Line Drive %, which was 22% in TB but fell to 17% and 16% in his first 2 years in MN, is now down to 11%.

    But the category that really caught my eye was Plate Discipline. Over his career he has swung at pitches outside the strike zone 40% of the time. He got that down to 37% last year. But so far this year he’s swinging at bad pitches 46% of the time. And apparently the pitchers have figured out they don’t need to throw him strikes. Until this year 51% of the pitches he saw were in the zone; so far in 2010, only 42% are.

  • Steven

    How can you not have dislike for Delmon Young (the player)? He’s awful on defense and terrible on offense. He has yet to show any sign of improvement, either with his walk rate or hitting for power.

    A lot of people will point to the fact that he’s 24 years old, but he and Kubel have almost the same number of plate appearances. I’d feel differently about Delmon if he’d ever shown improvements at the plate…but he hasn’t.

  • Ross

    Why do the people who hate reading statistical analysis of baseball even visit this site?

  • Pete

    “Why play the games, we should just load stats into Xbox and simulate all the game. The point is, you can find stats to justify anything.”

    Reusse reads AG now? The comments on this site have really gone downhill…

  • Ted

    A lot of Delmon Young fans still out there. And I never tire of the re-hashed nonsense. For those who think Delmon has a different approach at the plate, you are just wrong. Wrong wrong wrong.

    I do not know how many time Delmon has swung at a first pitch this season, but I do know how many of his plate appearances were resolved after one pitch. That number would be 10; seven outs and three hits. Of his 43 PAs this season, 23% ended after one pitch.

    How about two pitches? Thirteen; 10 outs, two hits and one sac fly. So another 30% of his PAs have ended after just two pitches.

    Grand total: 53% of Delmon’s PAs this season have ended after either one or two pitches. The results: 17 outs, five hits and one sac fly.

    As for this business of him getting ahead in the count and waiting for a pitch to hit, more hooey. Eight of his PAs have been decided with Delmon ahead in the count (19%, probably not bad given his free-swinging ways, and it may in fact be a larger percentage than in years past). In those PAs he has four outs, one hit, one walk and one sac fly.

    Delmon has seen only nine multi-ball PAs, six two-ball counts and three three-ball counts.

    He is currently hitting 259/279/462. He has seen a meager 124 pitches, or 2.88 per PA; which is less than his career average of roughly 3.5 pitcher per PA. These are not numbers that would encourage most rational people.

    But, sure, he just needs to play every day and develop.

  • Sammy

    The question isn’t why people who don’t like statistical analysis read this site, but rather, why do people who value statistical analysis so strongly still root for the Twins. Do you like beating yer heads against the wall? I think its clear to everyone here that the Twins don’t do things the way you like and they probably never will. So, unless you get off on criticizing them, I’d suggest finding a new team to follow.

  • kermit

    “Why play the games, we should just load stats into Xbox and simulate all the game. The point is, you can find stats to justify anything.”

    Really, why even post this? You sound like an idiot.

    As for this post, barring some sort of factor we are not privy too, such as an injury, it certainly does appear that keeping Delmon in the game in this situation does not maximize the team’s chance of winning. I agree with Aaron.

  • Sammy

    I should also point out that I am on the analytical side of the argument. I wish the Twins would do things differently, but I’ve stopped expecting them to do things differently and now I just sort of sit back and enjoy them for what they are. I’d recommend some of you do the same before you turn into Yankee fans (meaning: boo your own players/managers).

  • ben

    Once I saw this blog post about how annoying it was that Gardenhire would jerk around the young players and give playing time to aging veterans.

  • mazeville

    I think that people who are defending this post are missing the critics’ point. It’s not that Aaron’s necessarily wrong—I think he has a strong point. The problem is that he followed up a Twins’ win, in the midst of a pretty solid start, by griping about a lineup decision that only represented a slight decrease in their chances of winning the game. Whether Aaron likes it or not, his readers are Twins’ fans, feeling good about their team. These people may bristle at such post-win criticism. In addition, it’s not like he hasn’t said this before. And it’s not like he hasn’t criticized Delmon before, either.

    I come to this site because I appreciate the intelligent and analytical posts, and am willing to overlook their largely negative slant. (Seriously, if you look at the posts from the season’s first couple of weeks you could hardly guess that they were 10-4 and in the midst of their best start in years.) The real issue here, I think, is the negativity.

  • Abe

    It’s funny that the same debate is going on over at Nick Nelson’s blog. We all have to realize a couple of things.

    1. Due to age Thome is a part-time player who will likely get at most 250 at bats this year. He’s also someone we’d like to have fresh at the end of the season/postseason.

    2. Delmon Young is the starting left fielder.

    3. There are obviously more right-handed starters.

    Thus…there’s going to be an occasion where Delmon starts against a tough right-hander and Thome sits. Let’s not get our undies in a bundle every time it happens. Yes Masterson’s splits back up Gleeman’s analysis…but it’s not all that huge of a sample and it’s not like they were facing Roy Halladay.

  • ganderson

    On a completely different note- is there a Twins-O-Gram in the new park, and if not why not?

  • D-Luxxx

    I’d have to say I agree with Gleeman’s analysis, but as stated by other posters, I disagree with the negativity. Delmon will get plenty of starts against righties, and will have some success against some of them. Against others he’ll have SUCKness. I’ve been reading Gleeman for several years now, and I wouldn’t be suprised to see him link to this post somewhere down the road in one of his famous “I told you so” posts.

    Not trashing on it, and I still enjoy the posts, but it is predictable. If he were to come out with a bunch of “we’re the best and this is why” posts, not only would everyone call him a homer. He’s always been critical of some aspects of the team (namley DY and Gardenhire), and that won’t change any time soon. My best advice is this. Get used to it and enjoy it for what it is (very good analysis of baseball using sabermetrics) and stop bitching every time he says something negative… or stop reading.

  • http://www.goodreads.com/story/list/812323 haplito

    Agree with Brent.

    I love statistical analysis, but I think this brand of criticism is better served up later in the season, when there’s a larger sample size and we haven’t won 70% of our games.

  • Jake

    Lol. Someone accused me of having too much raw meat because I did sort of go off like a meat head. The hilarious thing is that I have been in Japan and China going on two weeks and have eaten a ton of raw meat over that time, particularly in Japan.

    So yes, as a matter of fact, I have had far too much raw meat.

    Many posters here defend the article from the perspective that stats are important and there is a good point to be made. The point should be that Delmon sucks and should not be a starting outfielder on a team built to win now. The point shouldn’t be that Gardy is going against the numbers on this one night because ah looky here Delmon sucks against righties. Truth be told, he sucks almost equally bad against lefties!!

    Gardy only plays Thome against righties. Obviously the man is aware of splits. But when you have a young player that you believe can become a good player then you have to live with some growing pains. We did this with Morneau. We did this with Kubel. We did this with Bartlett and then traded him for a chump right when he was getting good.

    The game is just more complex than split stats. Plus, and I know I’m picking hairs here, but Thome does not score from second on a wild pitch, lol.

  • Shannon

    My name is Shannon

  • Robb

    Of course it should be noted by those who list the numbers of the Twins lefties vs. Masterson compared to the Twins right handed hitters that… THE ON THE WHOLE TWINS LEFTIES ARE BETTER THAN THEIR RIGHTIES! Mauer, Morneau, Kubel, Span, O-Dog (swith) & Thome off the bench is a lineup I’d take against any pitcher on the planet as opposed to Delmon, Hardy, Cuddy & Harris.

    So that might contribute to their numbers a bit.

  • Chris

    I accused you of ingesting too much raw meat while sitting at my computer here in Osaka. Small world. Young is a lousy baseball player. Period. Any and all AB’s taken from him by anybody not named Punto or Casilia is a plus.

  • ernie

    Gardy’s stubbornness will always be the difference in him being a great manager instead of a good one. Player’s coaches regularly play inferior players based on gut feelings, clubhouse politics, and favoritism.
    Delmon Young and his first pitch swinging, sub-300 OBP, freakishly bad defense needs to be out of the lineup in favor of Thome vs both lefties and righties. This team is built to win TODAY. Run the best team out as much as possible and destroy this division.

  • Gendo

    Young shouldn’t even be on the team let alone starting against righties or lefties.

  • Dave

    Aaron is absolutely right. It is Masterson’s extreme splits that make his point.

    You don’t have to sit Delmon against every righty. But if you are EVER going to, it should be against a pitcher like Masterson, who melts down vs. patient lefties.

    This isn’t crazy, out-there, new age thinking that only twenty-something bloggers look at. It’s pretty much simple math.

    Gardy DID hurt the team last night with his decision and he ignores splits consistently enough that it deserves to be brought up. In the Boston series the very opposite happened. With the bases loaded and two out he had a warmed up Mijares (who dominates lefties), but left in Crain (who gets pounded by lefties) to face lefty Hermida (who pounds righties and struggles vs lefties). Hermida doubles, three score, game over.

    Anybody who believes in numbers would have made the switch.

  • Jake

    I’ll try not to continue to beat this horse to death. I will concede that given Masterson’s extreme splits there is a bit of a point from the perspective that if Thome is going to have any starts why not against a guy who struggles against left handed hitters.

    But the argument isn’t that much different against a “typical righty”. In any case, let’s get Delmon his at bats now so he can fail and we can bench him before shiz gets real. Can we at least all agree on that?