May 20, 2010
• One of the downsides to the first four guys in the batting order having on-base percentages of .362, .366, .422, and .482 is that an already double play-prone No. 5 hitter suddenly has an incredible number of chances to make two outs at a time. Michael Cuddyer grounded into his MLB-leading 12th double play last night, which in 40 games puts him on pace to finish with 50 or so double plays and shatter Jim Rice's all-time record of 36 in 1984.
He leads MLB in DPs and is on pace to break Rice's record by 35 percent, yet his DP rate--how often he hits into a DP when given a chance--isn't even among the 10 worst. Cuddyer has hit into one 24 percent of the time, which is a very high rate and above his career norm, but Ivan Rodriguez, Carlos Lee, Aaron Rowand, Mark DeRosa, Orlando Cabrera, Yadier Molina, Billy Butler, Alberto Callaspo, Adam Jones, Paul Konerko, and Pedro Feliz are above 25 percent.
You'll notice that, like Cuddyer, nearly all of those guys are right-handed batters without much speed, but unlike Cuddyer not all of them have had a gazillion chances to hit into a double play this year. On the flip side, Justin Morneau has yet to ground into a double play. In addition to being left-handed and not having his own .482 OBP constantly standing on first base, Morneau also has the lowest ground-ball rate in the entire league. Crushed fly balls are rarely DPs.
• Sticking with Cuddyer as a topic, John Bonnes has long theorized that his bad Ultimate Zone Rating totals were due to the odd right field at the Metrodome not being properly accounted for within the data collection. However, yesterday Fan Graphs made home/road splits for UZR available and we can see the theory doesn't really hold up. For his career in right field Cuddyer has a UZR of -2.8 runs per 150 games at home ... and -11.1 runs per 150 games on the road.
All of which makes sense, to me at least. In breaking down the overall UZR totals even further, Cuddyer's throwing has fared much better at home than on the road and his range has been much better on the road than at home. In other words, while calling the Metrodome home he did an excellent job of playing caroms off the right field baggy. On the other hand, when asked to cover more ground in road ballparks his poor range was magnified.
• Speaking of UZR, the widely held assumption that Denard Span would be a strong defensive center fielder replacing Carlos Gomez caused people to dismiss his poor UZR stats there going into the season as a small sample size fluke or an example of the metric's general unreliability. Thanks to Gomez's presence Span had just 704 career innings in center field prior to this year, so sample size was definitely an issue, but so far this season his UZR hasn't changed much.
UZR has Span at -2.0 runs over 350 innings in center field this season, which makes him -10.5 runs in 1,050 career innings. Some people will scoff at those numbers no matter what, but in watching him play center field every day for six weeks some flaws have certainly come to the surface. Span can definitely go get gappers, but seems to frequently have poor jumps or take odd routes. He's also lost several gloved balls mid-catch and has struggled with walls at times.
None of which is to suggest he's a disaster out there, because clearly he's not. For the most part he's made the plays you'd expect him to make, but UZR is comparing Span to other center fielders and, as a group, they tend to make the same plays and perhaps a few more. Coming into the year I worried the Twins' outfield defense would be a weakness and UZR says it has been, which may help explain fly-ballers like Scott Baker and Kevin Slowey being so-so.
• Once upon a time Jesse Crain was a ground-ball pitcher, but this season he actually has the lowest ground-ball rate on the Twins' staff at 30.2 percent. To put that into context, consider that Crain induced 49 percent ground balls from 2004-2007, posting a 3.16 ERA in 200 innings during that time. Since returning from mid-2007 shoulder surgery he's induced just 38 percent ground balls with a 4.49 ERA in 130 innings, and this season he's been a fly-balling mess.
Crain throws in the mid-90s with a sharp-breaking slider, but people have been waiting for him to emerge as a reliable late-inning option for ... well, his whole career. He's certainly better than he's looked so far this season, but Crain has never racked up many strikeouts, doesn't have particularly good control, and is 28 years old with a 4.60 ERA in his last 150 innings. He's also had an xFIP below 4.50 exactly once in seven seasons. He just isn't very good.
• After initially bypassing several legitimate prospects to call up Matt Tolbert as J.J. Hardy's replacement, the Twins sent Tolbert back to Triple-A and added Jeff Manship to what's now a 13-man staff. Carrying eight relievers is silly, and because Ron Gardenhire only trusts a few of them and no longer uses Jon Rauch in non-save situations it mostly just leads to underwork. Rauch's durability is a big part of his value, as he averaged 80 innings a year from 2006-2009.
Now that he's a "closer" and subject to the rigid usage patterns of save-based managing, he's on pace for just 60 innings. How that makes sense, I'll never understand. There's speculation the Twins could dump Crain once Hardy returns, which would involve eating over $1 million. He figures to eventually settle into the same 4.50 ERA as usual, but I'd be just fine cutting Crain loose if it meant finally giving Anthony Slama a chance.
Much has been made of the fact that the Twins don't have to add Slama to the 40-man roster until the offseason, but they're free to do so whenever they want and keeping a 26-year-old at Triple-A because they're not required to do otherwise is absurd. Slama has a 1.85 ERA and .123 opponents' batting average in 24 innings at Triple-A and a 1.86 ERA in 208 career innings. For a team carrying eight relievers, not giving him a shot post-Crain would be laughable.