May 11, 2011

Twins Notes: Hail Mary

Joe Mauer took batting practice prior to last night's game, but told reporters that there's still no timetable for his return despite "feeling a lot better." Here's more from Mauer on his status:

Today was kind of my first day getting on the field a little bit, moving around, and it was a good day. That [viral infection] really did push me back quite a bit. When it was all said and done, I lost around 15 pounds. I lost a lot of strength, so that probably pushed me back a week or a couple weeks.

I'm feeling a lot better now. I'm getting my strength back and my weight back, so hopefully I can get back on the field. You've got to get back into baseball shape. But yeah, I still got some work to do, and I wish I knew when I would be back, and I know everybody else wishes too, but you just got to keep going in the right direction.

Mauer and Twins trainer Rick McWane have both admitted that he wasn't physically ready for Opening Day due to offseason knee surgery, but unsuccessfully played anyway until shutting it down after nine games. In his absence Drew Butera, Steve Holm, and Rene Rivera have hit a combined .102 with zero homers and a .136 slugging percentage. For comparison, National League pitchers have hit .133 with a .167 slugging percentage this season.

• Last week I wrote about Carl Pavano's strikeout rate plummeting and then he whiffed zero of the 25 batters he faced Sunday against the Red Sox, marking his second straight start with zero strikeouts. Pavano now has just 17 strikeouts in 42 innings this season and a total of 29 strikeouts in his last 81 innings dating back to August of last year. Since the beginning of 2010 here's a list of the lowest strikeout rates in baseball among pitchers with at least 200 innings:

                    SO/9
NICK BLACKBURN      3.92
Mark Buehrle        4.23
Brad Bergesen       4.45
CARL PAVANO         4.59
Livan Hernandez     4.77

Having two-fifths of the rotation on the lowest strikeout rate list isn't a good thing, particularly with a poor defense trying to turn all those balls in play into outs behind them, and Pavano's inability to miss bats is very worrisome six weeks into a two-year, $16.5 million deal.

• Unfortunately throwing one of the least impressive no-hitters of all time didn't magically get Francisco Liriano back on track, as he allowed four runs before departing after three innings with the same illness that pushed the follow-up start back in the first place. Liriano now has a 7.07 ERA and more walks (27) than strikeouts (21) in 36 innings after posting a 3.62 ERA and 201-to-58 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 192 innings last year. What a mess. And then it hailed.

• Ranking dead last among AL teams in runs, batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, homers, and walks is depressing enough, but Nick Nelson notes that the Twins have still managed to hit into the fourth-most double plays. Pretty hard to do with the fewest baserunners, but they've found a way. Overall they're on pace to score 505 runs after scoring 781 runs last season. Makes the removal of those trees in center field seem kind of silly, huh?

Jason Kubel deserves plenty of praise for continuing to thrive in the middle of an otherwise horrendous lineup. He hasn't driven in many runs because no one else can get on base, but Kubel is hitting .347/.400/.504 with three homers and 10 doubles in 34 games. Take out Kubel and the rest of the Twins' lineup has hit .216 with a .297 slugging percentage. Seriously.

Matt Tolbert has a .290 career on-base percentage, including .183 this year, yet yesterday was the 10th time in 34 games this season he's batted first or second in the Twins' lineup. And prior to Trevor Plouffe's hamstring injury Ron Gardenhire had him batting second despite a .306 career OBP in the minors. At this point I should be used to it, but Gardenhire ignoring OBP skills because he has it in his head that No. 2 hitters should be middle infielders is maddening.

Michael Cuddyer has hit just .267/.332/.406 in 189 games since the beginning of last year while earning around $12 million, yet when it comes to the local mainstream media you're far more likely to see him touted as team MVP than criticized for sub par production. Following the various Twins beat writers on Twitter provides an interesting glimpse into why Cuddyer rarely gets any heat from people who rely on him for quotes in an otherwise untalkative clubhouse.

For instance, here's a recent tweet from Jon Krawczynski of the Associated Press:

Wanna know why the Twins kept Cuddyer? Because he's a leader. Because he stands up and faces the music when they're struggling. Sets an example.

And here's a similar tweet from John Shipley of the St. Paul Pioneer Press:

How long can media go with just Cuddyer, Span, and the starting pitcher talking after games?

Personality and media friendliness definitely impact how a player's performance gets portrayed and with Cuddyer serving as everyone's go-to quote his on-field struggles tend to be ignored. I'm not necessarily blaming reporters for taking that approach, since it's somewhat natural and I'd surely be guilty of doing the same to some degree if put in that position, but it's one reason why being an outsider with no access can be a positive thing for objective analysis.

Delmon Young went 4-for-5 in an extended spring training game yesterday and is aiming to come off the disabled list Friday, which would mean missing 19 games with a strained oblique muscle. Obviously the lineup is desperate for some help, but hopefully Young is fully recovered because oblique strains tend to linger. My guess is that Rene Tosoni heads back to Triple-A to make room for Young, if only because Ben Revere can back up Denard Span in center field.

• Much has been made about the Twins' franchise-record $113 million payroll, which only adds to the frustration with their early struggles, but Michael Rand of the Minneapolis Star Tribune points out that they've basically gotten zero positive value from their five highest-paid players earning a total of $67 million in Mauer ($23 million), Justin Morneau ($15 million), Joe Nathan ($11.25 million), Cuddyer ($10.5 million), and Pavano ($8 million).

• Third base coaches from successful teams are frequently linked to managerial openings each offseason, yet Scott Ullger was rarely even mentioned as a candidate during his mistake-filled five seasons as the Twins' third base coach. Ullger was moved (or perhaps demoted) to bench coach this season and now Phil Rogers of the Chicago Tribune names him as a potential Ozzie Guillen replacement if the White Sox continue to struggle, writing:

Few potential candidates are more intriguing than Scott Ullger, who has been on the Twins' coaching staff since 1998 and is currently Ron Gardenhire's top lieutenant. Would the Twins let Ullger talk to the White Sox? Would Ullger want to?

Yes, please. Talk about killing two birds with one stone.

• Every time Jose Mijares allows a hit, let alone a run, my Twitter feed fills with people calling him names and acting as if he's the worst pitcher in Twins history, so just a reminder: Mijares has a 2.56 career ERA and .225 opponents' batting average. I realize fat people make for easy targets, literally and figuratively, but being overweight doesn't preclude someone from being good at their job.

Matt Capps didn't pitch in Monday night's extra-inning loss because there was never a "save situation." Last night he closed out a 10-2 loss. Modern closer usage is hilarious sometimes.

Conor Glassey of Baseball America broke down the picks for next month's draft and the Twins have seven of the first 200 selections, including their own first rounder at No. 30 and a pair of compensatory picks at No. 50 and No. 55 for losing Type B free agents Orlando Hudson and Jesse Crain. They forfeited as many as four more compensatory picks for Matt Guerrier, Brian Fuentes, and Jon Rauch by not offering them arbitration.

Tsuyoshi Nishioka fracturing his fibula when Nick Swisher slid hard into second base raised questions about whether he was fully prepared for American baserunners aggressively trying to break up double plays after not having to account for that threat in Japan. As part of his ongoing rehab Joe Christensen of the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports that Nishioka may start working on double-play technique with former second baseman Paul Molitor in Fort Myers.

J.J. Hardy returned from the disabled list last night and homered for the Orioles.

• All the Twins' injuries and subsequent call-ups from Triple-A have left Rochester with a very thin roster, so they signed 27-year-old Aaron Bates to a minor-league contract. Bates was the Red Sox's third-round pick in 2006 and briefly made it to the big leagues in 2009, but as a first baseman with a .230/.318/.344 line in 198 games at Triple-A he's little more than roster filler. Bates is, however, engaged to Lacey Wilson, the reigning Miss Massachusetts.

• They also signed Deinys Suarez, a 27-year-old right-hander who defected from Cuba along with Yuniesky Maya in 2009. Maya and Suarez both threw in front of scouts in the Dominican Republic after defecting, but Maya got a $7.4 million deal from the Nationals and Suarez had to settle for a minor-league deal from the Twins two years later despite solid numbers in Cuba.

• Pitching prospect David Bromberg underwent surgery to fix a broken forearm that involved inserting five screws to stabilize the injury suffered from a line drive. Bromberg ranked 13th on my list of Twins prospects coming into the year and prior to the injury he had a 3.63 ERA and 11-to-4 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 22 innings at Double-A.

• Sad news about Paul Bargas, the 21-year-old reliever acquired from the Rockies this winter for Jose Morales. He was sent home from spring training with what was called a neurological condition and LaVelle E. Neal III of the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports that Bargas has been diagnosed with brain cancer.

  • Hurricane Cake

    This is my life plan. Win $300+ million lottery. Buy the Twins. Fire Bill Smith. Burn him in effigy. Hire Gleeman, Mackey and other SABR-minded people to run the Twins. Invite Mila Kunis to throw out the first pitch with Gleeman. That is all.

  • http://fieldoftwins.blogspot.com/ Shane

    This Tolbert situation is beyond maddening. How Ron Gardenhire does not understand that the higher up in the batting order a player is the more plate appearances he gets is beyond comprehension. Doesn’t anyone tell him that he is blatantly stupid about this?

  • Pedro Munoz

    Mauer and McWane both knew Mauer wasn’t ready? Then why was he out there? That reminds me of the occasions over the last few years where a pitcher would get shelled for a couple of games and only then reveal that he had been hurt. Is it really too much to ask that the players and the trainer communicate? That they are honest with each other about what is going on? As I have said before, if it was going to take Mauer so long to recover from offseason surgery, why did he wait until December to have it?

    From Howard Sinker’s Star Tribune blog:

    “So far this season, Cuddyer has three home runs and four RBI in 122 plate appearances. That means he’s driven in exactly one player who isn’t named Cuddyer. That was Jason Kubel with a fielder’s choice on April 23 against Cleveland. Save for the solo home runs, Cuddyer does not have a run-scoring hit in the 52 times he’s batted with runners on base — including 27 with runners in scoring position.”

    Yeah, I know that RBI isn’t a statistic we like to talk about here, but you have to admit that is just pathetic.

    Jose Morales is hitting .231/.323/.308 for the Rockies. Not only is that better than twice what our catchers have done, it would probably qualify him to bat cleanup in tonights lineup. I know Morales didn’t play great defense, but can you say that about Butera this year? What is Mike Redmond doing these days? I bet he could still put up at least a .200 OBP, which would be a HUGE improvement over what we have now.

    Matt Tolbert is just awful. Really, really bad.

    Watching Justin Morneau just makes me sad.

    Over the last year I have defended Bill Smith’s work as a GM. To anyone I argued with or disagreed with on this point, I apologize. I know realize that Smith can’t tell his ass from third base.

  • frightwig

    Don’t forget, before Ullger’s escapades in the 3B box, he’d also failed as the Twins hitting coach. But then, according to his Wikipedia page, he was the California League Manager of the Year in 1990, so I guess I better shut my mouth.

  • chris

    Jose Mijares is one of the better pitchters we have..so do not burn him people!!!

  • Neil T.

    It’s amazing how quickly it’s come apart. The first season at Target Field ended up marking the end of the Twins being a competitive team for awhile. Seriously, mediocre minor league talent, ownership counting profits and star talent injured and/or a shell of their former selves — that’s where things are now.

    As frustrating as it was that the Twins were never really a factor in October under Gardenhire, we’ve been spoiled. Now all the sudden this franchise is back where it was in about 1998, only the payroll is a lot higher and we have an outdoor stadium where it hails.

    Actually, the way things are going, I couldn’t be surprised if the next delay involves locusts…

  • theOW

    Wouldn’t it be a hoot to see our pitchers pitching to our hitters? Who would win this match up of futility?!

  • mell

    Aaron your love affair with J.J. Hardy is very evident.

  • pk

    At the beginning of the season when the Twins FO sits down and imagines a best case and worst case scenario, even the most sinister, dark thinking person couldn’t have imagined the season going like this.

  • JoeK

    I’m on board with Hurricane Cake.

    Having Tolbert bat first or second is hilarious. Gardenhire’s complete disregard for what should be common knowledge to any baseball manager is indefensible.

    I am so glad you pointed out that Cuddyer is a reporter darling. It’s almost impossible to read an article about the Twins in which Cuddyer isn’t quoted. Even when the article is about another player. Torii Hunter was similar.

    It’s too bad the Twins are such a steady club otherwise both the GM and Manager would be on the hot seat.

  • spoof bonser

    Man, what a weird year, probably not unpredictable, but unlikely for sure. It seems like a loser mentality has taken over the entire clubhouse. That might have something to do with the fact that most of the team were losers in a lesser league last year, “if we sucked as a team in AAA, we will really suck against MLB.” Everything just gets highlighted when losing, like Gardenhires inability to maximize a lineup card, Smith’s inability to build an infield, etc etc.

    The brightside? It can’t get any worse. We are on the up & up!

  • Parkman

    Seriously, why did we trot Brian Deunsing out to the mound last night? When is this organization going to realize that he’s our most consistent STARTING pitcher? You don’t trot out one of your top starting pitchers in a rain-delayed 5-1 game. That’s terrible managing.

  • Mike

    How is Chuck James not on this team yet? Yeah, so he’s a lefty, but you can’t tell me Burnett or Hoey deserve to be on the team more than he does. Especially after last night’s walk fest, a 23 to 5, SO to BB ratio looks pretty damn good.

    Take Holm off the 40-man and bring this guy up! He can’t be any worse than what we already have….

  • mike wants WINS

    Kubel is having a very good year. Span seems to be playing better than last year. Baker is pitching well. I think that is all I am allowed to post today.

  • Brandon

    Parkman, I totally agree.

    I could rant for a while but I will limit it to our catching situation today. Neither Butera or Rivera are major league calibar players and it doesn’t take a scout or Sabermetrics to see it. When my mom walks into a room and knows that it’s a bad thing to see Butera at the plate it’s pretty clear he is absolulely brutal.

    When Coomer was filling in for Bert in the Chicago series on the FSN broadcast Butera had a 2-0 count in the 2nd inning against Jackson and Coomer said “This is where a guy hitting just .100 really needs to let it fly.” As Jackson released the pitch Coomer fires a “Here we go” line of encouragement and Butera delivers with a pop out to shortstop.

    I am not calling for them to make any trades to solidify the catching position but it’s tough to watch the train wreck called Twins baseball this season.

    Is there any way the Twins can talk Tim Laudner into strapping on the gear again? His .680 career OPS looks Cooperstown worthy next to Butera and Rivera’s numbers.

  • mike wants WINS

    My committment to only saying nice things on the interwebs is being sorely tested…..

  • Pedro Munoz

    Nice work, Capps. I would be booing as hard as I could if I was there today.

  • Greg

    “I’m not necessarily blaming reporters for taking that approach, since it’s somewhat natural and I’d surely be guilty of doing the same to some degree if put in that position, but it’s one reason why being an outsider with no access can be a positive thing for objective analysis.”

    Yes, you are blaming reporters for taking that approach. But that is what is so great about being a blogger and using other people’s work and research; you don’t need to talk to primary sources yourself and thus don’t need to get along with anyone when you type up their quotes, add some stats and commentary, and call it a blog entry.

    In the real world, you can’t always be 100% honest with your wife, your kid, your neighbor, your boss, your co-worker, or your source if you are a reporter, because you need to get along and have some degree of compromise and respect to get things done. That is life, and just because I don’t say my boss is stupid to his face doesn’t mean I don’t think it or know it. See the difference?

    I would be careful of believing that a person on the “outside” with no access is in a better position to reach conclusions in any situation, whether it be politics, relationships, or a baseball team.

    Yes, you would absolutely be doing the same thing in their shoes, and you know this. You would be fired if you were a beat reporter covering a team and no player or coach would talk to you. So since you can’t do your job well without the beat reporters doing theirs, have some perspective, please.

    Regards.

  • mike

    Who else bats second? there is no good option. Kubel cant hit everywhere

  • spookymilk

    Embarrassing, Greg. You essentially agreed with everything Gleeman said about himself, but your entire comment is based on what you could have said if Gleeman hadn’t admitted he’d be the same way. Have some perspective, please.

    Also, stop this nonsense about a blogger’s job being predicated on the beat reporter doing his. Stats are readily available and anyone can watch the games. Take out a Cuddyer quote here or there, and you wouldn’t lose the blog.

  • Pedro Munoz

    I want to second spookymilk’s comment above, except that instead of embarrasing, I would have just called Greg a total d-bag.

    Aaron, my apologies if that violates site civility rules, but Greg’s comment was seriously stupid.

  • Lei

    The Vikings, the Timberwolves, the Gophers, now the Twins. Go Bulldogs!