June 8, 2003

The Johan Liberation Movement

Much to my delight, Johan Santana's spot start against the Padres on Saturday night went extremely well. Santana, starting in place of the injured Rick Reed, went 6 innings and allowed just one run, as the Twins won the game 6-2.

Johan completely dominated everyone in the San Diego lineup, except for Mark Loretta. Non-Loretta Padres got just one hit in 18 at bats (.056) against Johan, with the lone hit coming when Gary Matthews singled to left field to lead off the game for the Padres. After Matthews Jr.'s leadoff single, Johan set down 17 straight non-Loretta Padres, striking out 7 of them and walking none.

Of course, Johan actually had to face the hitting-machine that is Mark Loretta (three times):

1st inning: WALK

4th inning: DOUBLE

6th inning: HOMER

So, for the evening against Johan:

Non-Loretta - .056/.056/.056

Loretta - 1.000/1.000/3.000

Just so we're clear, that was not Barry Bonds playing the role of "Mark Loretta," it was actually Mark Loretta - a career .292/.359/.391 hitter who is hitting .278/.362/.410 this season. For whatever reason, Loretta just had Johan's number Saturday night, which is amazing considering the other Padres got just a single hit off him in 18 at bats.

In Johan's defense (and with the way he pitched he doesn't need one), Mark Loretta is hitting .303 against lefties this year and hit .317 against them over the last 3 years. Still, it was pretty weird to see a pitcher absolutely cruising along all game, striking out people left and right and having simply zero trouble against the Padres, and then Mark Loretta would come up and it was like Johan was Jose Lima and Loretta was Bonds.

Overall, it was exactly the sort of start I was hoping for. Johan threw strikes (52 strikes in 82 pitches; 64%), he was blowing people away (7 Ks in 6 IP) and he was practically unhittable, except for his matchups with Loretta. I don't know how long Rick Reed is going to be out or what the plan is with Johan, but I could definitely get used to seeing him take the mound every 5 games, especially once inter-league play is over and Mark Loretta is safely in the other league.

If not for the pitch-count that Johan was almost certainly on (before the game, the Twins' announcers said Ron Gardenhire wanted him to "throw about 80 pitches"), Johan could very easily have pitched 7 or 8 innings and possibly even a complete-game. He left after 6 innings and 82 pitches (13.6/inning) and was still pitching very well. The second-to-last batter he faced in the game was Loretta, who hit the solo homer off him, but Johan had struck out the two batters before Loretta and proceeded to get the batter after Loretta (Rondell White) to ground out to third base for the final out of the 6th inning.

But, with the team up 6-1, I have no problem with Gardenhire taking Johan out, giving him confidence for his next appearance, saving his young arm and letting the back of the bullpen (Tony Fiore, Micheal Nakamura) get a little work in.

Johan Santana's totals in 2 starts this year (against Boston and San Diego):

GS    W    L     ERA    IP    SO    BB    H    AVG

2 2 0 0.82 11 10 2 7 .179

Okay everyone, say it with me: FREE JOHAN SANTANA!

While my own personal "Johan Santana Liberation Movement" is advancing quickly, the "Imprison Luis 'Oh-for-ThRivas' Rivas Movement" was picking up steam last week, but seems to have hit a bit of a snag.

Rivas was benched in favor of Chris Gomez on both Thursday and Friday and then this little gem appeared in the Minneapolis Star Tribune on Saturday:

SAN DIEGO -- The Twins' middle infield tandem of Cristian Guzman and Luis Rivas is being challenged by the coaching staff to improve defensively.


Entering Friday, Guzman has seven errors, and his .967 fielding percentage is sixth among American League shortstops. Rivas has committed six errors, and his .969 fielding percentage is 11th among AL second basemen. Errors don't tell the whole story. Stats Inc. uses range factor and zone rating to evaluate players.

Range factor is determined by adding putouts and assists and dividing that by innings played. Rivas (4.35) is 11th and Guzman (4.03) 12th in the AL at their respective positions. Zone rating is the percentage of balls fielded in a player's defensive zone, as determined by Stats Inc. Rivas (.803) ranks 10th, Guzman (.839) eighth.

The coaching staff's evaluation: Guzman and Rivas need to pay attention to what pitches are being thrown and position themselves accordingly. They will get to more balls that way.

"By no means am I saying that they are not doing their jobs," Twins infield coach Al Newman said. "What I'm trying to do as the infield guy is to enhance not only their range but help their instincts and bring those back to the forefront. I think they can do more, and my job is to get them to do more."

Gardenhire has given Newman full authority in helping Guzman and Rivas step up their defensive games. Newman believes Guzman and Rivas turn the best double play in the league, but their first-step quickness is lacking.

"The guys in the middle infield, the guy in center field and the catcher are the captains of defense," Newman said. "Their eyes are supposed to be all over the field. Right now [Guzman and Rivas] somewhat have blinders on. They aren't totally in tune to what is going on in the game."

Well whaddya know, it looks as though a real, live major league coaching staff is starting to realize some things that some 20 year old kid with a website figured out a loooooong time ago. Just kidding of course, but it is good to see the guys who run your favorite team start to come around to ideas that you think are very important and to the aspects of the team that you feel are worrisome.

My favorite line of the article is: "Newman believes Guzman and Rivas turn the best double play in the league, but their first-step quickness is lacking." That is almost exactly what I have been saying for the past year or so, not only dozens (and dozens and dozens...) of times on this blog, but also multiple times over at BaseballPrimer.com.

Also, I took the writer of that article, LaVelle E. Neal, to task before for something he wrote, but I have always thought he was generally an excellent beat writer and I have to say that I was very impressed by his use of fielding stats other than errors and fielding percentage in this article. I think LaVelle is a "closet sabermetrician" at heart and anytime he can sneak some "new knowledge" into one of his articles, Twins fans are better off for it.

Of course, the everybody-is-realizing-that-Luis Rivas-stinks train came to a screeching hault when Chris Gomez injured his knee Friday night (he actually injured it before he drove in the game-winning runs in extra-innings). Gomez missed Saturday and Sunday's games (and Rivas was back in the lineup) and could be out for quite a while if the injury is as serious as feared. Not only had Gomez gotten the confidence of the Twins' coaching staff and started to take playing time away from Rivas, he was actually doing very well with the playing time.

Gomez is hitting .299/.333/.429 on the year and has one fewer extra-base hit (8) than Rivas has (9), despite getting fewer than half as many at bats. I am certainly not saying Chris Gomez is a great player, but he is a huge improvement over Rivas defensively (he made a game-saving playing against the Giants the other day) and has the offensive ability to not be a complete sinkhole at the bottom of the lineup. Get well soon Chris, the "Luis Oh-For-ThRivas Imprisonment Movement" is depending on you!

By the way, I have decided it is not too early to mention this: The Minnesota Twins' "magic number" is 94. And yes Royals' fans, that is their number over the White Sox, because, quite frankly, the Royals are now 14-27 since their amazing start and have a much better chance of finishing in fourth place than they do first.


A lot of you (judging from the tons of emails I got over the weekend) may have noticed that I got another nice plug on ESPN.com, this time in Rob Neyer's weekly chat session:

Steve (Gainesville, FL): Hey Rob - As Aaron Gleeman has been chronicling on his blog recently (www.baseballblog.blogspot.com), Joe Morgan seems to be under the impression that Billy Beane wrote Moneyball and it really angers Joe. First of all, how funny is this? And second, can you get the word to Joe that he's wrong?

Rob Neyer: Unfortunately, I don't have a direct line to Joe; if I did, I'd know a lot more about how to play second base than I do. It is a shame that many people talking about Moneyball apparently haven't actually read the book.

(For those of you that missed my entries on Joe Morgan's thoughts about Moneyball, click here to read them)

To whomever "Steve in Gainesville, Florida" is, I really appreciate you jamming a plug for this blog into a public forum! The check is in the mail.

For the rest of you Aaron's Baseball Blog fans, I would encourage you to do the same. Seriously. If you are talking to your friends, tell them about the site. Do you visit a team-specific message board on the internet? Why not post a link to an entry I do or have done about the team? It all makes a difference and the more visitors to this site, the better. Oh, and if you are a more well-known writer, you can feel free to give me a plug too!

The big down-side to writing a personal blog like this instead of, say, being a writer for ESPN.com, is that I don't get a paycheck. The up-side is that the readers of this blog have a much more personal connection to me and what I write. Unlike Rob Neyer or Jayson Stark or someone like that, I am free to write about non-baseball topics or tell you about my personal life (whether that is interesting or not is another matter entirely). You guys can write me emails and know I will respond and, if you crowbar a plug for me into a Rob Neyer chat session, you can actually see the resulting boost in visitors up on the "visitors and counting since August 1st, 2002" display (Friday was the second-biggest day for visitors ever).

If you haven't already, make sure to go check out my latest Baseball Primer article:

Bi-Weekly Review: AL Central (By Aaron Gleeman)

The Bi-Weekly Review contains such literary gems as the following:

"In an effort to find the single best speedy centerfielder who can’t hit in the entire universe, the Tigers have gone through Gene Kingsale and Andres Torres and have been forced to go outside their own organization to bring in Alex Sanchez, whom they believe has a chance to be the speediest and suckiest of all.

Detroit GM Dave Dombrowski has denied media reports that the Tigers have been secretly developing a way to somehow combine all three speedsters into some sort of three-headed supersucky centerfielding monster, the likes of which has not been seen in Detroit since the Brian Hunter Era (otherwise known as "that other time the team was really bad")."

And I'll see you tomorrow...

Today's picks:

Philadelphia (Padilla) +135 over Anaheim (Washburn)

Total to date: + $1,180

W/L record: 121-118 (6-3 over the weekend for +265, with two rainouts.)

*****Comments? Questions? Email me!*****

No Comments

No comments yet.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.