September 10, 2002

Those damn lefties (Part 2)

For those of you who didn't read yesterday's part 1 of this entry, I urge you to do so before going any further.

Okay, are you finished reading it?


It was really a great entry wasn't it?

Oh, you're so kind.

Before I get to the pitching aspect of the Twins in the playoffs, I just want to add one thing to what I originally said about the hitting...

In the playoffs the Twins would be best served to take an approach similar to the Oakland A's as far as base stealing goes.

You see, the Twins have some fast players, but for whatever reason, they are the worst team in Major League Baseball at stealing bases.

As of this moment, they have stolen 72 bases and have been caught 60 times, an absolutely horrible rate of "success."

The playoffs often consist of low scoring games and the Twins, especially against lefties, are going to have to work very hard to scrape together as many runs as possible.

And making outs and losing runners on the basepaths is not the way to go about that.

On to the pitching...

(Please keep in mind that this is what I think the Twins SHOULD do, not what I think they WILL do)

In any game starting pitching is key, but in the playoffs it becomes even more important.

The reason for this is pretty simple, you just cannot have a starting pitcher pitch a "disaster start" and expect to have any reasonable shot of winning a playoff game.

And what is a disaster start?

Well, I first heard the term last year from Jim Baker's (now of daily email newsletter.

He defined a disaster start as one in which the pitcher gives up as many or more runs as innings pitched.

For example, 2 IP/6 ER or 5 IP/7 ER or 2/3 IP/11 ER.

Get it?

In the regular season teams frequently get disaster starts and sometimes they even manage to win the games.

But in the playoffs, when teams are facing the other team's top starting pitchers, you cannot afford to have a guy give up 6 runs in 5 innings.

All of which is my way of saying that the Twins decision on who will start their playoff games is extremely important.

Because of injuries, the Twins have had 7 different guys start at least 10 games this year.

One of them, Matt Kinney, got injured and sent to the minors, so that leaves 6 possibilities for a starting assignment in the playoffs:

(in order of games started):

Rick Reed

Kyle Lohse

Eric Milton

Brad Radke

Johan Santana

Joe Mays

All of them have pitched well, either this season or last season, so the decision is that much tougher.

That said, I believe starting spots 1-3 would be relatively easy choices for me to make...

Game 1: Eric Milton

Eric Milton got injured in early August and is just now coming back.

He pitched 3 innings on September 2nd against Seattle and 4 innings on Sunday against Oakland.

His totals for those two, post-injury games:

7 IP

10 H

5 ER

4 K

2 BB

2 HR

So obviously, while those numbers aren't horrible, he is not back to 100% yet.

But that is okay, he still has several weeks to round back into form and the Twins don't have to worry about him winning games down the stretch.

So, assuming Milton regains his form, he would be my choice for the starter of game 1.

A couple of main reasons for this...

1) When he is on his game, he is the most dominant starter the Twins have.

What I mean by that is, when he is at the top of his game, he has the best chance of throwing a shutout or going very deep into the game while allowing 0 or 1 run.

2) He started off slow this year, but since the all-star break he has been very good.

In his last start before he was injured Milton threw a complete game, 3 hit/11 strikeout/0 walk, shutout against the White Sox.

In his last 7 starts before the injury, including the shutout against Chicago, here are his stats:

52 Innings (7.4 IP/start)

16 Earned Runs (2.77/8 IP)

35 Hits (6.1/9 IP)

47 Strikeouts (8.1/9 IP)

7 Walks (1.2/9 IP)

And he was 5-1 (with a no-decision) during that stretch.

Those are the kind of numbers you want from your #1 starter.

3) He is left handed.

As I already talked about in part 1 of this entry, some teams (like the Twins) have trouble with a pitcher that throws with a certain hand (like left handed).

If I were another team facing the Twins and I saw their struggles against lefties, I would throw as many left handed starters at them as was reasonably possible.

So, wouldn't it figure then that the Twins should do the same thing (throw lots of lefties) at other teams?

Well, lets find out.

The Twins most likely first round opponent is Oakland.

Oakland versus righties = .268/.345/.447

Oakland versus lefties = .253/.324/.415

Not quite as big of a drop-off as the Twins have, but is still pretty significant.

Against a lefty, the A's lose about 15 points of batting average, 20 points of on-base % and 30 points of slugging %.

Which is all the more reason to start Milton is game 1.

Game 2: Rick Reed

Coming into this season, Rick Reed was the Twins #4 starter and (as I wrote an entry about earlier) many people (myself included) thought that trading for him had turned out to be a big mistake.

But this season, and particularly since the all-star break, Rick Reed has been very good.

His post break numbers:

74 Innings

2.69 ERA

69 Hits

50 Strikeouts

5 Walks

8 Wins and 2 Losses

Reed was only mediocre in the first half of the year (4.62 ERA) but since then he has dramatically cut down on the amount of home runs he allows (19 in 97 first half IP vs. 9 in 74 second half IP), while increasing his strikeouts slightly.

And he is at the point now where he basically just does not walk people.

Plus, he has some prior playoff experience with the Mets in 1999 and 2000, which might make a difference to those people who believe that sort of stuff matters.

I know I already said that throwing lefties against the A's would be a good idea (and Reed is right handed), but since the Twins only have two lefties to choose from, you need a righty anyway, so why not throw in game 2, between Milton and...

Game 3: Johan Santana

This is where my choice and Ron Gardenhire's eventual choice is most likely to differ.

Gardenhire may decide to go with a more "veteran" pitcher or simply decide not to go with such an "inexperienced" pitcher.

His choice to not start Santana may have already been shown to us, as Johan has been working out of the pen for the last couple of weeks.

In fact, he relieved Eric Milton in the two post-injury starts that I talked about before.

But Johan Santana is, if you look at it objectively and without any kind of bias, the best choice, because Santana has simply been great this year.

I wrote an entry about him last month in which I discussed, among other things, his amazing strikeout rate.

At the time of the entry, Santana was striking out 11.81/9 innings, which was a higher rate than any other starter in baseball, including Randy Johnson, Curt Schilling, Pedro Martinez and whomever else you want to mention.

Right now, for the season, Santana is striking out 11.32/9 innings.

So his strikeout rate has dropped a tiny bit since then, but guess what?

It is still good for 2nd in all of baseball, behind only Randy Johnson, who is striking out 11.49/9 innings.

I need to point out now, as I did then, that Johan has not pitched enough innings to qualify for the league leaders in strikeouts/9 innings.

But, he has thrown almost 100 innings so far, so this is far from a fluke.

Santana's numbers this year:

97 Innings

3.35 ERA

87 Hits

122 Strikeouts

45 Walks

7 Homers

Those are some pretty impressive numbers.

He is striking out tons of guys, he is keep the ball in the ballpark and he has kept his walk rate at an acceptable level.

And those 3 things are the key to pitching (for those of you that want a little more info on why I think that, click here).

And, as an added bonus, Santana is a lefty.

Okay, so now you know who I would start in games 1-3.

Depending on the amount of days in between games (and whether or not their is a 3 game sweep), the Twins may also need to use a 4th starting pitcher.

And that is where it gets very tricky.

Kyle Lohse has been very good this season after being pretty bad last season.

Brad Radke has been very good in past seasons, but has been injured and primarily ineffective this season.

Joe Mays was great last season, but has been injured and extremely inconsistent this season.

Assuming we play Oakland in round 1, here are a few things that I would base my decision on...

Kyle Lohse:

Lohse (who throws right handed) is extremely effective against right handed hitters, holding them to .208/.270/.350 this year.

However, he struggles big time against lefties, who hit .318/.403/.544 against him.

Those two stats are enough for me to not start Kyle Lohse in game 4 of a series against Oakland.

The Oakland left handed hitters, which includes Eric Chavez, David Justice, John Mabry, Scott Hatteberg, Terrence Long, Greg Myers and switch hitter Ray Durham, would all likely be in the lineup against Lohse, which would mean trouble for the Twins.

So Lohse is out, how about...

Joe Mays:

Joe Mays was absolutely great last season, probably one of the top 5 pitchers in all of baseball.

But he was horrible from the very start this season and they soon found out that he was pitching with an injury.

So he went on the DL for a while and came back in late July.

Since then he has been extremely inconsistent, mixing in great games (like his shutout against Pedro and the Red Sox) with horrible ones (like his 2 inning/6 run game against Chicago on August 21st or his 5 inning/12 hit/8 run game against the Royals on August 5th).

Coincidentally enough, Mays' last two starts have come against Oakland.

Start 1 (September 1st):

6 IP

10 H

4 ER

Start 2 (September 7th):

7.1 IP

5 H

1 ER

So, just as he has been all season, Mays has been inconsistent in his last two starts, both against the A's.

I just think Mays is too much of a "disaster start" risk.

More than any other Twins' starting pitcher, Mays has a chance to give up tons of runs in not very many innings, and as I said before, you simply cannot have that in the playoffs.

So, Mays is out, which leaves...

Brad Radke:

Radke has been the Twins best and most reliable pitcher during his 8 seasons.

He pitched over 200 innings in 6 straight seasons, before getting injured this year.

So, like Mays, Radke is a pitcher who has been effective in the past, but who has been injured this year.

Radke came back on August 3rd and has made every one of his starts since (7 total).

Also like Mays, his most recent start came against Oakland.

Last Friday:

9 IP

0 ER

6 H

5 K

1 BB

And against Oakland for the year, Radke has 2 starts totaling 15 innings, with a 1.20 ERA.

Plus, he has shown the ability, both this year and in the past, to do as well against lefties as he does against righties, which is important against those Oakland lefty bats.

So, Brad Radke is my 4th starter (if one is needed).

Now, what about the bullpen?

I'll try to be brief, because this post is getting really really long and I want to finish before the actual playoffs start...

Eddie Guardado will close, of course.

J.C. Romero will do what he has done all year, which is be the most important member of the bullpen, coming into games whenever and wherever an extremely important out needs to be had before the 9th inning.

Beyond those two however, I don't have the most confidence in the rest of the pen.

Mike Jackson has been very mediocre since the all-star break (4.97 ERA).

Latroy Hawkins is still Latroy Hawkins, which means I wouldn't have him pitching anywhere near a close playoff game, plus his post break ERA is on the wrong side of 4.00.

Tony Fiore has been very good all season long (he has a 2.64 ERA as a reliever this year), but he still scares me for whatever reason.

Maybe it is because he throws his best pitch, an ephus/palm ball, about as hard as I do.

That said, before the late innings, with men on base and a right-handed hitter at the plate, Fiore would probably be the best option and the best bet for getting the batter to pop up.

So those are the normal members of the pen, but this is the playoffs, so Joe Mays and Kyle Lohse would both be available to pitch in relief.

As I discussed before, I would like to keep Mays out of the game if at all possible.

However, if something were to happen that knocked the Twins' starter out of the game early, Mays would be my choice to come in and try to pitch deep into the game.

Unlike Lohse, Mays doesn't have an extreme platoon split that favors lefties, so he would be the safer bet to pitch multiple innings against the A's.

And finally, while Kyle Lohse does get knocked around pretty well by lefties, he is great against right handed batters.

I would put Lohse into the right handed setup role, using him against Miguel Tejada, Jermaine Dye, Adam Piatt, Mark Ellis or Ramon Hernandez (although Piatt, Ellis and especially Hernandez would likely be pinch hit for).

How I would use the pen:

Closer: Eddie Guardado

Reliever saved for the most important non-9th inning at bats of the game (otherwise known as the RSFTMIN9IABOFG): J.C. Romero

Right handed setup: Kyle Lohse

Right handed middle-man: Tony Fiore

Right handed middle-man #2: Mike Jackson

For use in emergency situations only: Latroy Hawkins

Long relief/mop up: Joe Mays

There you have it, the complete blueprint for what the Twins should do in the playoffs.

Now, if only Ron Gardenhire was a reader of this site...

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