June 22, 2004

Starting to Come Around

The Twins lost last night and their bullpen basically imploded, but that's not totally unexpected playing against the suddenly healthy Red Sox, at Fenway. The good news from the game is that the Twins got another solid effort from a starting pitcher, as Kyle Lohse went six innings and gave up three runs. Nothing great, obviously, but I'll take a "quality start" against Boston any time.

Lohse's start continues a pretty impressive run of starting pitching for the Twins this month. Ignoring their Seth Greisinger/Matt Guerrier fifth starter combo, Minnesota's front four have come up with the following performances in June ...

OPP    STARTER             IP     ER     SO     BB

TAM Carlos Silva 7.0 2 1 2
TAM Brad Radke 7.0 3 3 1
TAM Johan Santana 7.2 4 7 4
DET Kyle Lohse 6.0 2 5 2
DET Carlos Silva 7.2 3 2 1
NYM Brad Radke 7.0 1 7 2
NYM Johan Santana 7.0 1 10 0
NYM Kyle Lohse 7.0 2 3 1
PHI Carlos Silva 7.0 1 8 0
PHI Brad Radke 7.0 1 7 1
MON Johan Santana 8.0 2 7 0
MON Kyle Lohse 6.0 4 3 0
MIL Carlos Silva 4.0 3 1 2
MIL Brad Radke 6.2 2 5 0
MIL Johan Santana 8.0 2 12 2
BOS Kyle Lohse 6.0 3 3 1

Pretty impressive. That's a total of 16 starts. Fifteen of them were at least six innings. They haven't had a starter throw shutout baseball, but no one has allowed more than four earned runs, either. A starter has walked more than two batters in game just once, which is remarkable to me.

Overall, the Twins have a 3.00 ERA in those 16 starts and they have gone an average of 6.75 innings per game. Perhaps the most impressive thing, to me at least, is that they have combined for 84 strikeouts and just 19 walks in 108 innings.

The most encouraging thing is that the solid performances have come from all four of the Twins' regular starters; this isn't just a case of one or two guys getting hot for three weeks.

PITCHER             GS       IP      ERA     SO     BB

Brad Radke 4 27.2 2.28 22 4
Johan Santana 4 30.2 2.64 36 6
Carlos Silva 4 25.2 3.16 12 5
Kyle Lohse 4 25.0 3.81 14 4

Now, if only the team could remember how to hit, we'd be on to something. After scoring 6.05 runs per game in April, the Twins have scored just 4.15 runs per game since. After averaging over six runs per game for the entire first month of the season, they've scored more than six runs in a game exactly eight times since. Not pretty.

On a completely unrelated note (or not) ... Justin Morneau is now hitting .310/.388/.625 with 18 homers, 18 doubles and 52 RBIs in 56 games at Triple-A Rochester.

Mr. June, Luis Rivas, went 0-for-3 last night, dropping his average this month all the way down to .487. I got a really great e-mail regarding Luis' amazing hot streak yesterday from long-time reader Jim Mohl. It's so good that I'd just like to present it in its entirety, without comment ...

His performance post-injury is certainly remarkable. Using the binomial distribution, the chances of a .261 hitter suddenly going 19-for-36 (or better) is about 1-in-6,000. To put that in perspective, the chances of being dealt 4 of a kind in 5 Card Stud is roughly 1-in-4,000. Definitely a rarity. But given enough players and enough time, it's bound to happen to somebody. Rivas could be this year's Mr. Lucky.

To put what he's done in perspective, I went back to 2001, looking for players who hit .500 or better for an entire month, minimum 30 AB's. (Of course, Luis has another 8 games to go before he achieves that. But let's assume for now that he will.) Would you believe there were only two of them? Way back in April 2001, Moises Alou went 20-for-40. Nobody did it in 2002. And then, in May 2003, another Luis (Matos of the Orioles) turned in a 17-for-34 performance. That's it. Nobody has managed to hit OVER .500 for an entire month over the last 20 months, which is where the Twins Luis stands right now.

Of course, a requirement of just 30 AB's is very low for an entire month. In fact, Matos got his 34 AB's in just 8 games! Rivas has appeared in 11 games since coming off the DL. But as you pointed out, in one of them he never got to the plate. You should have also mentioned that he got only 1 AB each in 2 other games, and still managed to keep his hitting streak alive in both! So his 36 AB's came from 8 and a fraction games as well.

Figuring the average team plays about 27 games per month and allowing for 3 1/3 AB's per game, that works out to 90 AB's per month for a regular. But if the minimum requirement was set that high, I doubt that anyone would ever hit .500 for a month. Recalling that Rivas' chances of doing what he's done so far were 1-in-6,000, what do you think his odds are of going 45-for-90 (or better)? Write down your best guess. Answer #1 below.

Moises Alou is a lifetime .300 hitter, so his awesome April of 2001 is not nearly as amazing as Rivas' June 2004. (The odds against a .300 hitter going 20-for-40 or better are only 1-in-413.) Matos' May of 2003 is comparable though. In fact, it probably was an even a bigger surprise at the time. Prior to that, his career BA was a puny .212, albeit in just 311 AB's. (Rivas is 10 months YOUNGER than Matos. Yet he started 2004 with 1,412 AB's, 4 1/2 times as many as his fellow Luis had at the same age.) What are the odds of a .212 hitter suddenly going 17-for-34? See Answer #2 below.

With the benefit of hindsight, I think we can safely say that Matos was NOT a .212 hitter, despite the results of those initial 311 major league AB's. In 2003, he went on to hit .303 for the whole year, in 439 AB's. The chances of a true .212 hitter going 133-for-439 is only 1-in-331,000. It just doesn't happen.

Can Matos' performance provide a clue to Rivas' future, now that he has essentially duplicated the other's feat? Should we expect him to go on to hit .300? Probably not, for 2 reasons. First, in 2004 Matos has nearly reverted to his pre-2003 form, batting just .234 in 235 AB's. So we can be pretty sure he really isn't a .300 hitter either, despite his terrific 2003 season. That year has "fluke" written all over it. He entered this year with a career .265 BA, nearly identical to Rivas' .263. Maybe that is his true level, or maybe not. Time will tell.

In the case of "our" Luis, though, we have to give a lot more weight to the prior experience, just because of the huge number of AB's he has piled up over the years. Consequently, while we can't rule out the possibility his joyous June reflects a true breakout, we should regard it with suspicion until we've compiled a lot more data.

Answer #1: 1-in-2,737,000.

Answer #2: 1-in-21,400.

Folks, that is a great e-mail. I am notoriously awful at answering e-mail, in part due to the sheer volume of them I get each day. However, if you ever want to be assured that I'll read what you write and pay close attention to it, all you have to do is write something as good as what Jim just put together.

Of course, that's much easier said than done. I'd say the ratio of e-mails like Jim's that I get, compared to e-mails that are essentially asking me for advice on which middle reliever to start this week in fantasy baseball, is about 1-to-1,000.

See ya tomorrow ...

Today's picks:

Chicago (Buehrle) -140 over Cleveland (Lee)

Detroit (Knotts) +105 over Kansas City (May)

Total to date: -$2,670

W/L record: 107-144 (1-3 yesterday for -200.)

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

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