May 20, 2010

Twins Notes: Double Plays, UZRs, Ground Balls, and Bullpen Crowds

• 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.

  • ?

    “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.”

    Cite?

  • grubah

    The best part of the “speculation” link is the ad on the right side featuring Bill Smith and Kibbles and Bits. Doubt he had that product in mind when they signed him to be on an ad.

  • Ted

    Eight relievers!? Dear lord. So the bench is what now? Butera, Thome/DY/Kubel, Casilla?

  • Karl

    Free Anthony Slama?

  • pk

    The 8 relievers are more a result of trying not to burn through the bullpen on the rare occasion the team gets blown out. Similiar to the second game in Toronto. These blowouts can burn a team for a series or two until they get a couple of strong starts or a day off to recover.

    Plus, what was Tolbert giving them? A subpar defensive replacement, a below average baserunner, and certainly not an offensive threat. I love the guy and all but really? Don’t the Twins have a better option in their organization?

  • AaronGNP

    One thing to keep in mind that UZR is a statistic that needs a large sample size to ensure accuracy. I am having trouble finding it, but I believe it was Tangotiger (or MGL) that said one-season UZRs are basically worthless, and even with 1050 career innings in center for Span, that’s less than a full season of playing time in center.

    I wouldn’t be so hasty to declare the previous 700+ innings in centerfield as a positive indicator of fielding ineptitude by Span, based on those 700+ innings and another 300 this year.

    Heck, just look at Delmon’s POSITIVE UZR this year.

  • To be fair to John, at the time of his original publishing in October, he was correct in assuming the Metrodome adversely effected Cuddyer’s UZR numbers. It was not until an adjustment in April factoring in the smaller dimensions that this was corrected.

    Here’s one description of it from Tom Tango’s website from summer 2009:

    “*Park adjustments are handled differently- I believe UZR applies blanket adjustment across all buckets, while Plus/Minus has park factors in form of more precise buckets. A ball hit 395 feet to Vector 190 that stays in the park is only compared to all other balls hit 395 feet to Vector 190 that stay in the park. If it leaves the park, it neither helps nor hurts the fielder. Also, we added the “Manny Adjustment”, which removes fly balls hit unreachably high off a wall. We named the system after the Green Monster’s most notable victim, who went from being by far the worst left fielder in baseball before the adjustment to being only arguably the worst left fielder after the adjustment.”

    UZR on Fangraphs was updated in April 2010 to account for the quirks of the stadiums:

    “Park factors have been improved, especially for “quirky parks and portions of parks,” such as LF and CF at Fenway, LF in Houston, RF in the Metrodome, and the entire OF in Coors Field. Of course, park factors in general are updated every year, as we get more data in each park, and as new parks come into existence and old parks make material (to fielding) changes.”

  • Dave T

    Dang, Aaron, I agreed with everything you said. WTF. 13 relievers is a joke, as is the Twins bench outside of Thome.

  • Dave T

    Correction, 13 PITCHERS is a joke. 13 relievers is one of those head-scratchers: Let’s see, if each guy pitches one inning per day, three games on and one game off, is 13 relievers enough?

  • jimbo92107

    Prediction on Crain: He’ll be released by the Twins, go to some other club’s minor league system, learn a cut fastball, then come back up and be a star reliever.

    He’s got a very live arm, but his fastball has zero movement and little variation in velocity, so hitters just swing flat to hit line drives on him. Crain also can’t hit the corners consistently with his heater, which means hitters can wait for one right down the middle, and usually Crain will serve one up during an at-bat. Ka-boom.

    A cutter would give Crain a fastball-looking pitch that bends. Then hitters couldn’t sit on a straight heater, because he might throw a cutter “down the middle” that suddenly bends down and left. If the delivery looks similar and it comes at about 92mph, then it would miss a lot of bats.

  • Gendo

    Lirano’s last three starts: 18.2IP, 24H, 11R, 11ER.

    He’s also now given up 3 or more ER in four straight starts and and 5/8 overall. After giving up 18H in his first four starts (29IP) he’s given up 32H in his next four starts (only 23.2IP).

    I’ll have to wait to see what his GB/FB ratio was this start, but the trend was already reversing. In his first four starts he gave 31FB to 42FB, in the three starts prior to this one it was 33GB to 33FB.

    Not lookin’ good, Big G.

  • I couldn’t agree more about Slama, and I try to make a similar point In my most recent blog post. BTW – Trevor Plouffe has been called up and Manship sent back down. This also is going to make me have to rewrite a portion of a future article I’ve written criticizing the Twins for not rewarding Plouffe’s emergence this year (Leads Rochester in XBH and is hitting .303). Time to see what another former 1st Round pick can do!

  • torgo23

    Its pretty sad when the wheels come off the bus after only 40 games. Twins need to get back in control of things or they will be staring at a brand new empty ballpark wondering what went wrong.

  • Jake

    UZR sounds great in concept. But clearly it is as inaccurate of a stat that you can find. Seriously. Look at any veteran player and watch how the UZR fluctuates year to year. A guy can literally go from being the worst defender in the league, to average, to the worst, to average, to above average.

    Unless a player’s defensive ability truly does fluctuate dramatically year over year, I have to call shenanigans on this stat. I’ve checked a dozen veteran players and never does that stat make sense year to year.

    Generally a better UZR does go with the better defender. But I’m thinking you almost need a 10 or 20 season sample size to truly find the mean. Better off just “watching the guy”.

  • Brian

    Wow,

    A losing east coast road trip against NY, Boston and Toronto and the wheels are coming off the bus?

    It’s May and the Brewers are coming to town. Lets wait until June before hitting the panic button.

  • brock

    have to agree w/brian. 2-5 against 3 teams that are as good or better than us,in their parks; the wheels are not falling off. remember we only have to beat those teams in october, the rest of the time we can feast on the central div. and win that.

  • ewen21

    Cuddyer has had more chances to hit into double plays? How about he has more chances to drive in runs than virtually every other major leaguer. He has played every single game and has gotten up with boatloads of baserunners. If you are going to say his double play total isn’t so bad because he keeps getting up with runners on base then you have to also say his run production isn’t as good as it looks either. Don’t make excuses for those double plays because 12 is an absurd number no matter ho you cut it!

    Furthermore, forget his UZR. We don’t even need to look at it because just by watching the games anyone can see he has aleays been rather below average covering ground. Even moreso this season. And for whatever reason there has been more than a little bit of confusion between both he and Span.