July 26, 2010
• I wrote about "the new and improved Delmon Young" a month ago, examining changes he'd made to finally start living up to his potential ... and since then he's hit .350 with five homers, 11 doubles, and a .564 slugging percentage in 30 games. The new-found patience he showed early this season has vanished, with Young drawing a grand total of one non-intentional walk in 123 plate appearances during that stretch, but hitting .350 makes that seem kind of trivial.
Hitting coach Joe Vavra had some interesting quotes about swing changes Young has made:
He doesn't have the head-shoulder drop any more. His head is not moving, he's [keeping] a firm front side. So he's kind of putting it all together, which is a good thing to see. He came into spring training on a mission. He had that weight drop, and he was on a mission to clean up some things that he needed to do, and he did.
We go out in that cage every day, and we try to solve issues and problems that come up. He listens real well, he tries different things, but he's his own guy. He gets out there and does what he thinks is going to help himself to be successful, and he takes what we do in the cage and it's all on him then.
Young is up to .322/.354/.528 with 13 homers and 28 doubles in 92 games overall this season, which is good for an .882 OPS that ranks as the highest from any Twins outfielder who played enough to qualify for the batting title since Kirby Puckett in 1995.
• Fans and media members love to talk about the importance of defense, but I'm realizing now that's mostly just lip service. Few people seemed to recognize the role defense played in Nick Blackburn's success in 2008 and 2009, just as few people seem to realize the negative impact defense--or more accurately, outfield defense--has had on the rotation this year. For instance, Francisco Liriano's batting average on balls in play is the highest in all of baseball at .357.
Liriano has a 133-to-36 strikeout-to-walk ratio and just two homers allowed in 122 frames, but because such a high percentage of balls in play have gone for hits his ERA is a half-run higher than it probably should be, his record is just 8-7, and he's not getting credit for an ace-caliber year. Blackburn, Scott Baker, and Kevin Slowey are also each among the league's 10 highest in-play batting averages, which isn't a coincidence and has played a big part in their struggles.
Denard Span in center field flanked by some combination of Young, Jason Kubel, and Michael Cuddyer in the corners simply isn't a good defensive outfield, which is reflected in the pitching and in the Twins' outfield ranking 24th in Ultimate Zone Rating. Baker and Slowey have often been lumped in with Blackburn, but as extreme fly-ball pitchers with xFIPs of 3.77 and 4.45 it's pretty easy to see they've been hurt by fly balls turning into extra-base hits instead of outs.
• Orlando Hudson straining his oblique muscle Saturday is tough break for the Twins, because that injury tends to linger and he was hitting well recently after initially struggling in his return from wrist problems last month. Hudson has hit .285/.356/.387 in 80 games overall this year, including .293/.360/.393 in his last 25 games, which along with solid defense at second base makes him one of the most valuable players on the team.
Alexi Casilla will apparently be the primary fill-in at second base after returning from an elbow injury of his own last week. Casilla has played well in limited action this season, but is a career .246/.306/.315 hitter and not as good as Hudson defensively. Plus, because Ron Gardenhire equates defensive position to place in the batting order that means Casilla and his .306 career on-base percentage will likely be hitting second in the lineup for however long Hudson is out.
• Justin Morneau felt good enough to work out over the weekend, but various reports make it clear that he's not close to coming off the disabled list. He hasn't played since taking a knee to the helmet while breaking up a double play on July 7 and Cuddyer has started all 15 games at first base in his absence, with Kubel in right field and Jim Thome as the regular designated hitter. Along with last year's back injury, Morneau has missed 42 of the past 123 games.
• You can cross Dan Haren's name off the Twins' trade deadline wishlist, as the Diamondbacks traded him to the Angels yesterday for Joe Saunders and three prospects. I'm underwhelmed by the package Arizona received, because Saunders is more or less a left-handed Slowey and none of the prospects are considered elite, but regardless of that Haren in Minnesota may not have been possible. He's a California native and reportedly had the Twins on his no-trade list.
• Carl Pavano has four complete games in his last seven starts and now ranks third in the AL with 143.2 innings, which is just two fewer innings than he threw combined during four years with the Yankees. Pavano has basically spent one full season in the Twins' rotation since being acquired from the Indians last August for mid-level pitching prospect Yohan Pino, starting 32 games with a 17-10 record, 3.73 ERA, and 140-to-35 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 217.1 innings.
Since the trade Roy Halladay, Felix Hernandez, Adam Wainwright, and CC Sabathia are the only pitchers with more innings than Pavano, which is amazing given his history. Seth Stohs wrote recently that "the front office and advanced scouts who told the Twins' brass Pavano should be targeted deserve a ton of credit" and I agree, but numbers told the same story. At the time of the trade he had a 3.94 xFIP. Since the trade, he has a 3.95 xFIP and 3.73 ERA.
• Forgotten man Clay Condrey will miss the rest of the season with an elbow injury after not throwing a pitch for the Twins, which means they wasted $900,000 on a 34-year-old middle reliever they never really needed in the first place. For now he's hoping to avoid surgery while instead undergoing platelet rich plasma injections and the Twins opened up a 40-man roster spot for Anthony Slama by transferring Condrey to the 60-day disabled list.
• Speaking of season-ending elbow injuries, Joe Nathan played catch last Monday for the first time since going under the knife in March. Starting to throw again from flat ground is merely the first big step on the long road back from Tommy John surgery and Nathan is still not a sure thing to be ready for Opening Day next season, but so far so good. Mel Antonen of USA Today wrote a lengthy article about Nathan rehabbing away from the team in Tennessee.
• One of my pet peeves with the method stats are recorded is that pickoffs are not counted in stolen base totals. For instance, Span is officially 18-of-19 stealing bases this season, which is great, but he's been picked off an MLB-high five times. He was also picked off an MLB-high 10 times last season while officially going 23-of-33 on steals. He should stay tethered to the base at this point, but beyond that it's more evidence of the value of steals being vastly overrated.
• When the Twins struggled mightily with the bases loaded early on this season many people misguidedly tried to attach all sorts of "explanations" for the lack of production, when in reality extreme outcomes simply come with the territory when the sample size is merely a few dozen at-bats. Sure enough, FOX9 sports producer Seth Kaplan pointed out that since starting the season 7-for-47 (.149) with the bases loaded the Twins are 24-for-60 (.400) in those spots.
Kubel's grand slam yesterday was the seventh of his career and he's now hitting .400 with an .833 slugging percentage in 73 plate appearances with the bases loaded.
I've been grooming this thing since April. I didn't know all this was happening up here, the mustache extravaganza. It's good to see some real men in here.