August 2, 2010

Twins Notes: Liriano, Slowey, Plouffe, Myers, Ramos, and Eight Years

Yesterday was the eighth anniversary of this blog and the Twins fittingly celebrated by winning their eighth straight game. When it comes to this blog I've been fortunate about many things, not the least of which is that the Twins have been a winning team for almost that entire time. I started blogging on August 1, 2002. Two months later they made the playoffs for the first time since 1991 and they've had just one losing season since then, going 703-591 (.543) overall.

I've been doing this since the summer after my freshman year of college and I sometimes think about how different my life could have been blogging about the Orioles or Pirates or Royals (or 1993-2000 Twins) during that time. Would losing teams have kept my interest for so long? And even if they did, would anyone have wanted to actually read about it? I've met great people and gotten great opportunities thanks to this blog, and timing and luck have played a big part.

I started because I wanted to be a writer and needed to find some kind of audience when the college newspaper wouldn't have me, so eight years, 1,515 posts, and 6.7 million visitors later I'm still amazed the thing lasted more than a month. Eight years is the limit for a presidency and the length of a $184 million contract, but I have no plans to stop any time soon. Whether you've been here since August 1, 2002 or just found the place today, thank you for reading.

And now the stuff you actually came here for ...

• In analyzing the rotation's struggles a couple weeks ago I noted that Francisco Liriano was suffering from some combination of bad luck and bad defense, because while his ERA was still plenty good his secondary numbers showed one of the elite pitching performances in baseball this season. At the time Liriano was coming off a start in which he failed to make it out of the second inning and so some readers found it hard to believe, but he's been unhittable since.

He shut out the Mariners for seven innings yesterday, making him 4-0 with a 33-to-8 strikeout-to-walk ratio and just two runs allowed in 29 innings spread over his last four starts. And even his current 3.18 ERA is worse than it should be because Liriano still has one of MLB's highest ball-in-play batting averages. Based on his 150-to-38 strikeout-to-walk ratio and two homers allowed in 136 innings, Liriano has been the best starter in baseball according to FIP and xFIP.

• Liriano wasn't alone in blanking Seattle's awful lineup, as Kevin Slowey threw eight shutout frames Friday. I avoid relying much on win-loss records to evaluate pitchers and Slowey being 10-5 with a 4.44 ERA when Liriano is 10-7 with a 3.18 ERA isn't fair. With that said, beating the Mariners improved Slowey's career record to 36-20, which is a .643 winning percentage that ranks as the second-highest in Twins history among pitchers with at least 75 starts:

                      W      L     WIN%
Johan Santana        93     44     .679
KEVIN SLOWEY         36     20     .643
Camilo Pascual       88     57     .607
Mudcat Grant         50     35     .588
Jim Perry           128     90     .587

To be clear, that definitely does not mean Slowey "knows how to win" or even that he's been particularly good while posting a 4.40 ERA in 437.1 career innings, but it is kind of interesting.

Trevor Plouffe was recalled from Rochester to replace Nick Punto, whose hamstring strain requires a stint on the disabled list. Plouffe started six games at shortstop when he was called up to replace J.J. Hardy in mid-May, but seems unlikely to play much this time around with Ron Gardenhire committed to Alexi Casilla as the starting second baseman and No. 2 hitter while Orlando Hudson is out.

Plouffe played just 20 of his 770 games at second base in the minors, but like most shortstops should be able to handle the position just fine and in theory could compete with Casilla for the starting job there in 2011 if Hudson isn't re-signed. Plouffe has shown good power at Triple-A with a career-high 15 homers and .462 slugging percentage, but he's hitting just .259 with a .318 on-base percentage and 71-to-26 strikeout-to-walk ratio in his third season at Rochester.

• You wouldn't know it by his going 24-for-58 (.414) with 12 extra-base hits in 14 games since the All-Star break, but Joe Mauer has been diagnosed with tendinitis in his right shoulder and received a cortisone shot after going 3-for-4 in Saturday's game. According to Gardenhire an MRI exam revealed no structural damage, but because the soreness "just won't go away" the Twins decided to "put this in there, give it a couple days without throwing, and go from there."

Justin Morneau was initially scheduled to take batting practice before yesterday's game, but opted against it at the last minute in part because it was "family day" and various Twins would be on the field with their kids. Gardenhire explained that Morneau "didn't want to be on center stage" and "wants to ease into it ... with less people around." He hasn't played since taking a knee to the helmet on July 7 and recovering from a concussion is notoriously unpredictable.

• After sending Wilson Ramos and Joe Testa to the Nationals for Matt Capps the Twins failed to make another move prior to Saturday's trade deadline, but they reportedly were close to acquiring Brett Myers from the Astros. Whether or not that would have been a sound move is impossible to say without knowing the players heading back to Houston, but Myers was listed among my preferred starting pitcher targets when examining potential fits two weeks ago.

Despite owning the fourth-worst record in baseball and going into full-scale rebuilding mode by trading Roy Oswalt and Lance Berkman, the Astros chose not to deal the 30-year-old Myers and instead signed him to a two-year, $21 million contract extension with a $10 million option or $3 million buyout for 2013. That seems like a questionable decision for a team years from contention and certainly suggests the Astros' asking price for Myers in trade was substantial.

• To make room on the 25-man roster for Capps' arrival the Twins sent Nick Blackburn and his $14 million contract to Triple-A. I've made my objection to Blackburn's extension clear since the day it was signed in March, but at this point demoting him to Rochester certainly makes sense. Whether or not Blackburn has the ability to get back on track is up for debate, but obviously it wasn't going to happen while pitching sporadically as a mop-up man in Minnesota.

• Washington assigned Ramos to Triple-A following the trade, but general manager Mike Rizzo said he'll be "at least" a September call-up because "we feel like he's major-league ready." For now the Nationals have Ivan Rodriguez as their starting catcher and the future Hall of Famer is actually signed through 2011, but he's hitting just .264/.291/.345 at age 38 and moving into more of a backup/mentor role next year seems likely if they truly think Ramos is MLB-ready.

• Capps uses "Final Countdown" as his entrance music, which will always remind me of this.

  • http://www.twinsfix.com David

    Started reading you after the disappointing 2007 season. Disappointing games, stretches, and seasons come and go, but the quality of this blog is constant. I love your work and am really glad you don’t plan on stopping any time soon.

    Cheers.

  • Marshall Garvey

    You are the dean of Twins bloggers, Aaron. Love your insight and analysis no matter what prevails in any given season.

  • brian

    Thanks AG. Required reading.

  • Ganderson

    Aaron- your column adds a lot to my enjoyment of the game. Thanks!

  • Large Canine

    congrats on 8 good years. Here’s to another 8 and many more.

  • marietta mouthpiece

    While eight years is longer than either the Ron Davis or Bombo Rivera eras (they only seemed that long), your takes remain fresh, intelligent and easy to digest. Keep up the great work, congratulations on the progress of your career, and keep working on your slider.

    Went to the ballgame yesterday, and it was great, but I thought the fans should have given Rausch a much bigger ovation upon his entrance. This guy busted his behind in a high leverage (although admittedly overrated) position with limited talent and stuff and performed well given those limitations. This was the first appearance for Rausch since his demotion; it just seemed to me that a recognition from the crowd was in order – but it didn’t happen. I felt bad for the guy and was fairly embarrassed for the crowd.

  • JMP

    I don’t which I enjoy more; your love for the Twins, or your love for Arrested Development.

    “One minute it’s a twenty, the next – Monopoly.”

  • Jake

    Congrats.

    I think Ivan Rod seems like the perfect mentor for Ramos. I liked Wilson in my short time with him and think playing for the Nationals with I-Rod mentoring is the perfect situation for him to get an MLB career going.

    Granted he might not be winning a ton of games but at 22 years old he just needs to see the field and have a little success.

  • mike wants wins

    Love the blog, Aaron. One of the firts places I visit most mornings. Thanks for all the work.

  • yefrem

    CAPPS has final countdown? hahaha what a nerd – or a bullpen jester?

  • JFB

    keep it up AG

  • James M.

    I’ve been with you for 7 1/2 of the 8 years. Sometimes you drive me nuts, but you’ve never been able to drive me away. I left Minnesota 20 years ago and my interest in the Twins would surely have faded by now if not for you and a few other bloggers. Here’s to the next 8!

  • Andrew

    love this blog.

  • Tom W.

    It is amazing. I swear I started reading you in 2001, but apparently you weren’t even blogging then! I think I account for about 1/2 of your 6 million visits. Keep up the good work.

  • Drew

    Congrats on 8 years, you’re doing something right. I can’t seem to figure out what it is but I’m here often enough that I’ve decided I don’t dislike you.

  • Neil

    When you mentioned Capps and The Final Countdown, I knew what the link was without even looking at it. So yes, I’m here regularly.

    Props to Aaron for launching himself via this blog…

  • Dave T

    You’re the best, Aaron. Keep up the good work!

  • jacksonattack

    Happy anniversary AG.com. Keep up the good work, Aaron. You’re a boon to all us Twins fans.

    As for CAPPS… just the fact that he has that as his entrance music makes me like him more. Anyone with that as their song has to have a good sense of humor.

  • yefrem

    btw aaron, good blog, but the comments formatting sucks (there is none). simply don’t get the secondary analysis here that otherwise goes on at twinkietown :(

  • PeteFromBrooklyn

    Congrats on eight years Aaron!