September 8, 2004

It's Been Awhile

Between packing for my move back to school, moving back to school (twice) and taking pictures of my tiny little dorm room, I haven't had much time to rant about the Twins (or anything, for that matter) lately. I'd like to make up for that today ...

  • Exactly one year ago today, this blog moved from its old home on "blogspot" to I actually didn't realize it was the one-year anniversary until I stumbled across the entry announcing the move while looking for something else in my archives.

    The other thing I noticed is that, on that same day this blog made the move to, the Twins and White Sox were tied atop the American League Central at 76-66 (and the Royals were just three games back at 73-69).

    What a difference a year makes, huh? The Twins are now sitting alone atop the division at 78-60, 8.5 games ahead of Chicago, with Cleveland in third place. The Royals are 21.5 games worse than they were at this point last season, and 28.5 games behind the Twins.

    Whereas last year I was breaking down the remaining schedules and hypothesizing that the Twins had a huge advantage and would draft behind the White Sox until the final two weeks of the season and then surge ahead (which was pretty accurate), this time around I'm more interested in postseason matchups and playoff pitching rotations.

    Speaking of which ...

  • There's still a lot of time left before the playoffs and the Twins' first-round opponent is far from settled. The way things look right now, the Twins will be playing the winner of the American League East in the first round, which doesn't sound very appealing.

    But when the choice comes down to New York, Boston or Oakland (or Anaheim, I suppose), there really isn't an appealing option. It's like if I asked if you'd rather I punch you in the face, elbow you in the side of the head, or knee you in the stomach? There's probably one you'd take over the others (I'd go for the knee to the stomach, myself), but it's not like you'll be looking forward to any of them.

    The one thing the Twins appear to have on their side is the scheduling for the opening round. According to everything I've read on the subject, it looks like the Twins will be able to go to a three-man rotation for their first series, rather than relying on four starters.

    For some teams that's not a big deal, but when you're the Twins and you've got Johan Santana, Brad Radke and a bunch of guys who make you get the bullpen up and running during the pre-game show, it matters a whole lot. So, instead of counting on two very iffy starters, they'll simply need one, which means things could set up as follows ...

    GAME 1   Johan Santana
    GAME 2 Brad Radke
    GAME 3 [Fill in the blank]
    GAME 4 Johan Santana
    GAME 5 Brad Radke

    You can flip-flop Santana and Radke if you like; I'm not sure who the Twins will actually trot our there for the first game. Regardless, I would guess that there isn't a team in baseball that would benefit more from having to use only three starters than the Twins, and I feel damn good about their chances of winning three out of five games with Santana and Radke going a total of four times.

    The Twins are 36-23 (.610) in games Santana and Radke start, including 20-9 when Santana is on the hill. When anyone else goes for them, they are 42-37 (.532). That gap is big, but it isn't quite as big as I would have guessed, and the Twins are amazingly still an above-.500 team with Carlos Silva, Kyle Lohse, Terry Mulholland, Seth Greisinger and Matt Guerrier on the mound.

    Of course, a lot of that win-loss record stuff is dependent on the amount of runs the lineup scores, and as I've discussed here in the past, both Santana and Radke have been on the short end of the stick in that area this season. Of the 41 American League pitchers who qualify for the ERA title, Santana and Radke rank 29th and 31st in run support, respectively.

    If you ignore wins and losses, you can really get a feel for just how much better Santana and Radke have been than their rotation-mates ...

    Santana & Radke 59 6.66 3.23 .235 8.26 5.29
    Everyone Else 79 5.74 5.04 .313 4.31 1.80

    The Twins' non-Santana/Radke starters have averaged nearly an inning less per start and have given up nearly two more runs per nine innings. They've also surrendered a .313 batting average against, compared to just .235 from Santana and Radke, and their combined strikeout-to-walk ratio is 66% worse than Minnesota's 1-2 punch.

    In other words, if ever there was a "Spahn and Sain and Pray for Rain" situation, this is it. You wanna know how scary the Twins' rotation is after the front two? I would actually start Mulholland in Game 3 of a postseason series right now and hope that he can go five innings and turn it over to the bullpen without giving away the game.

  • Actually, an idea I pitched to my uncle the other day (he didn't think much of it) was that, depending on whether or not Santana and Radke can each pitch very deep into their starts, the Twins could potentially make Game 3 a "bullpen game." In other words, if the relievers are barely needed in the first two games of the series, perhaps Ron Gardenhire could unload the bullpen in Game 3, pitching 4-5 different guys 1-2 innings each.

    There are a few different ways you could do it. One is that you start Mulholland and leave him in until the first sign of trouble. This has the added benefit of the other team likely putting all of its right-handed batters in the lineup, not to mention the fact that it's possible Mulholland could cruise through 5-6 innings without any trouble.

    If he does get into a little trouble, then you start bringing in right-handed relievers in bunches. Grant Balfour for an inning or two, Jesse Crain for an inning or two. Then if you can get deep into the game, you go with Juan Rincon and Joe Nathan, with J.C. Romero coming in when the opposing manager decides to use whatever lefties he didn't start against Mulholland.

    The other option involving a starter is to do the exact opposite and start either Lohse or Silva, at which point the other team's lineup is likely loaded up with left-handed batters. Then, at the first sign of trouble, you can bring Romero and Mulholland into the game to face mostly lefties.

    The third and final option is to just give up on all the lefty/righty stuff and just completely blow the bullpen out. Something like ...

    INN       PITCHER
    1st Balfour
    2nd Balfour/Crain
    3rd Crain
    4th Crain/Romero
    5th Romero
    6th Romero/Rincon
    7th Rincon
    8th Rincon/Nathan
    9th Nathan

    And, of course, if at some point the game gets out of hand, Joe Roa and Mulholland are available to eat innings. Would the Twins ever try anything like this? Of course not. Hell, I'm not even sure I'd try it in anything other than one of my Diamond-Mind leagues. Still, this is the sort of stuff I think about.

  • Michael Cuddyer's game-winning homer last night came in his 503rd career at-bat, giving him what is essentially one full season's worth of playing time during his four years in the majors. The fact that it has taken him into September of his fourth stint with the team to amass a season's worth of playing time (actually, slightly less than a season's worth) is frustrating, because I think he deserved a chance to play regularly a long time ago. That said, he has not done well.

    Here are his career totals ...

     AB      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     2B     3B     HR     BB     SO
    503 564 .249 .321 .419 27 4 17 54 119

    Now, those aren't horrible numbers, particularly if he's playing an infield spot, but they are nowhere near the level of production I expected out of him. Hell, .249/.321/.419 is only about 7% better than the offense Luis Rivas has provided during his career (.261/.306/.384).

    While my expectations of Cuddyer have definitely been lowered, I still believe he needs to be given a chance to play regularly for more than a week or two at time, which, despite all his time in the majors, is something that has yet to happen.

    His Isolated Power (slugging percentage minus batting average) is simply average, at .170, whereas it was extremely good throughout his minor league career. He had an IsoP of .233 in 139 career Triple-A games and an IsoP of .259 in 141 Double-A games. Given those numbers, I would have expected something a little closer to .200 in the majors.

    His walk rate has been similar to what he did in the minors, but the big decline, along with the power, has come in his batting average. A career .308 hitter at Triple-A and .301 at Double-A, Cuddyer has hit just .249 in the majors.

    Even if his power only improves a little bit (say up to a .175 IsoP), he can become a very solid player if he can simply get his average north of .270. Given his other rates, a .270 batting average would make him something along the lines of a .270/.345/.445 hitter.

    In a corner outfield spot, that's nothing more than average, but it's damn good hitting at second base, which is why I'll continue to complain about his lack of playing time and continue to pray he's starting at second on Opening Day next season.

  • Terry Tiffee has burst onto the scene and become a fan favorite in just a few games. Tiffee, who has been subbing for an injured Corey Koskie at third base, went 2-for-2 with a big hit in his major league debut and then hit a walk-off homer at the Dome last weekend.

    While I'm not complaining about Tiffee's hitting thus far, I think it's time for a voice of reason when it comes to future expectations. Regardless of how many game-winning hits he can cram into his first week with the team or whether or not he can maintain a .300 batting average for two weeks, the fact is that there isn't much in Tiffee's track record that suggests he has star potential.

    Here are his minor league numbers ...

    LEVEL            G      AVG      OBP      SLG     IsoP     IsoD
    Single-A 383 .281 .319 .396 .115 .038
    Double-A 139 .315 .351 .464 .149 .036
    Triple-A 82 .307 .357 .522 .215 .050

    I love the .300 batting averages and the increases in Isolated Power, but the thing that sticks out about Tiffee when I look at his stats is the fact that he barely walks. And if there's something the Twins don't need more of, it's hackers.

    With his walk rate, Tiffee is likely going to need to hit at least .290 in order to be an average offensive player at third base, where the average major leaguer has hit .274/.344/.455. If he hits .280, his lack of walks would put his on-base percentage somewhere around .320-.330. And, if his power is closer to his pre-2004 levels, his slugging percentage would check in at around .430. I don't know about you, but I can't get excited about a guy who'll struggle to post a .750 OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage) unless he hits .300.

    An intriguing role player? Absolutely. A future star? I doubt it. Someone Twins fans should count on replacing Koskie at third base next season? No way.

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

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