July 8, 2004

Not a shutout, but I'll take it

After three straight complete game shutouts, the Twins' starting pitcher last night, Terry Mulholland, actually gave up a run. For a little while, it looked like that's all Mike Maroth and the Tigers would need, but Minnesota's offense finally broke things open in the late innings, with the help of Detroit's defense.

Mulholland turned in a surprisingly good start, giving up just the one run in 5.2 innings of work, while striking out seven hitters. Grant Balfour relieved him, got the final out of the sixth inning, and then stayed in to pitch a scoreless seventh to pick up the win.

As he has been since the start of June, Balfour was absolutely dominant, getting three of his four outs on strikeouts. Balfour missed the first six weeks of the season with a shoulder injury and was rusty when he first returned, but since giving up three runs without recording an out against the White Sox on May 23, he has the following numbers ...

 G       IP      ERA     W     L     SO     BB

13 16.0 1.13 3 0 19 5

During the last couple weeks, as Balfour keeps coming into games and blowing people away, I've gotten a lot of e-mails about him, most of them asking something along the lines of "Who is this guy and what can you tell me about him?"

Those of you who have been stopping by here on a regular basis for a long time know that Balfour is a guy I have been a big fan of for a while now. I looked back through my archives and found a few of my thoughts on him throughout the past two years ...

From October 21, 2002:

If any Twins minor league reliever has a shot to be successful in the major leagues, it is Grant Balfour. He deserves to be given a full-time role in the Minnesota bullpen in 2003 and beyond.

From January 24, 2003:

What [the Twins] really should do is forget all about [Jose] Cabrera and give a bullpen job to Grant Balfour, a minor leaguer that I think could be a very good reliever.

From September 2, 2003:

[Joe] Mays gave up five runs in three innings against the Rangers on Saturday and mercifully got yanked from the rotation for the second time this season. The man who replaces him this time is Grant Balfour, a young right-hander who I really like quite a bit. Not quite at the Johan Santana-level, but he's up there.

From March 19, 2004:

I would go with Grant Balfour instead of Rick Helling [in the starting rotation]. Helling has proven he is mediocre (5.17 ERA last year, 4.77 ERA career), whereas Balfour has been great in the minors and may actually be good if you give him a chance.

There are more mentions of Balfour that I could quote, but I figure that's enough.

Needless to say I've been high on him for years now and it doesn't surprise me at all that he's doing a very nice job as a reliever. What I'd still like to see is the Twins give him a chance as a starting pitcher, but it took them so long to try him as a reliever that I'm not holding my breath.

Joe Nathan and Juan Rincon have been dominant all year and now Balfour is joining them as another fireballing righty who Ron Gardenhire can call on in a tight spot. If the Twins decide to promote Jesse Crain at some point in the second-half, that could give them an incredible foursome from the right side, as Crain currently has 17 saves and a 2.98 ERA in 42.1 innings at Triple-A Rochester, along with a 55-to-13 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

It would be nice to have J.C. Romero step things up and give the Twins someone to count on from the left side, but I really don't think it is as important as most people think. The Angels have had incredible bullpens over the last few years and they've rarely had a dependable lefty, and the Marlins did pretty well last year without a lefty in the bullpen. Plus, the nice thing about having all your good relievers be righties is that it limits the amount of micro-managing Ron Gardenhire can do.

A couple other Twins-related notes heading into the weekend ...

- Joe Mauer has the best throwing arm behind the plate that I've ever seen from a catcher who can actually hit, save for maybe -- maybe -- Ivan Rodriguez in his prime. Mauer is 7-for-16 (44%) throwing out runners this year, which is good but not great. However, he should be 9-for-16 (56%).

In both Wednesday night's game and last night's game, Mauer put a throw right on the bag, throwing out a runner by a huge distance, only to have the man making the tag screw it up. It was Nick Punto on Wednesday and Cristian Guzman last night. Both times, the throw was incredibly accurate and beat the runner to the bag, but both Punto and Guzman whiffed on the tag.

Actually, I think Guzman got the tag down, but he looked so awkward doing it that I can't blame the umpire for thinking he missed. Punto just flat-out missed the tag. It's a real shame, because I think if Mauer is able to build up an incredible caught-stealing percentage as a rookie, it will do a lot to discourage teams from running on him in the future. Of course, if he's throwing out 50% of the guys trying to steal a base, we probably want teams to run on him as often as possible.

Still, it stinks when a guy throws a rocket down to second base, perfect in every possible way, and the guy on the receiving end just totally blows the play.

- Remember how everyone was all excited when Luis Rivas had that amazing week-long stretch of hot-hitting last month? I said I'd keep quiet as long as he kept hitting, a point that has certainly passed. Rivas is now 8-for-45 (.177) since his 8-game hitting streak came to an end, and his season totals are back down to .271/.296/.427.

I have never seen a player who is able to simultaneously avoid criticism for his continued suckiness and then get everyone's hopes up with any tiny glimpse of decent play.

People are now talking about Rivas' 2004 season as a breakthrough and a reason to keep him in a prominent role for the future, as if he's made any sort of offensive improvement beyond some random good week in the middle of June.

I held my tongue for as long as I could, but I think it's time to snap back to reality. And it's not like I didn't warn you plenty of times. Hell, way back in July of 2003, after another of Rivas' "Hey, maybe he's turning things around!" stretches had everyone all excited, I wrote the following:

For every player, a "season" is made up of good stretches and bad stretches, good months and bad months. At any given time, you can stop and examine what a player has done over some period of time and conclude that they have made tremendous improvements or are struggling mightily. Maybe Barry Bonds is just 3 for his last 16 or Albert Pujols is hitting .443 in June. That doesn't make Barry Bonds a .188 hitter and it doesn't make Pujols a .443 hitter. It just means that, during a particular period of time, that is what they are hitting. Check back later and it may be reversed, because, if it didn't go in ups and downs, Albert Pujols would be a .443 hitter and we'd have to reprint all the record books.

My point is that Luis Rivas is having a very nice (for him, at least) period of time right now, but he and every other major league baseball player go through this same thing every season. You have good months and bad months, and they combine to make you the player that you are.

The player that Luis Rivas is so far in 2003, even with his two months that have Twins fans all excited, is almost identical to the player he has been throughout his major league career (and minor league career).

It's amazing to me that I wrote something like that over a year ago and it applies exactly the same now as it did then, which shows you just how eager everyone is to start thinking happy thoughts about Rivas.

But here are the facts ...

YEAR      OBP      SLG      OPS      GPA

2000 .323 .414 .737 .248
2001 .319 .362 .681 .234
2002 .305 .392 .697 .235
2003 .308 .381 .689 .234
2004 .296 .427 .723 .239

In other words, the process might be different, but the end result is the same old Rivas.

He stinks, folks. He stunk in 2000, he stunk in 2001, he stunk in 2002, he stunk in 2003, and he's stinking in 2004. And you know what? I'm pretty certain he'll stink in 2005 too, but I'm just hoping it will be for a different team.

A quick non-Twins note ...

I am hoping that perhaps one of you loyal readers has some information on book publishing that you wouldn't mind sharing with me. As I've learned from this blog in the past, I should never underestimate the varying areas of interest and expertise that my readers have.

So, if you are in some way affiliated with a book publishing company of some sort or you have experience publishing something of yours and wouldn't mind helping me out with some information, drop me an e-mail when you get a chance.

See ya Monday ...

New article at The Hardball Times: News, Notes and Quotes (July 9, 2004)

Today's picks:

Arizona (Johnson) -125 over San Francisco (Williams)

Total to date: -$2,850

W/L record: 121-163 (0-2 yesterday for -200.)

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

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