June 18, 2007

Game #68: Mets 8, Twins 1

  • With back-to-back rough outings, Juan Rincon's ERA has ballooned from 2.38 to 4.50 in about 48 hours. Ricky Ledee's eighth-inning homer was the fourth long ball Rincon has served up in just 24 innings after allowing a total of four homers in 151.1 innings between 2005 and 2006. While the homers are out of character, even more concerning is the fact that Rincon's secondary numbers have declined across the board since his 11-win, 106-strikeout season in 2004:
    YEAR      SO%     K/BB     OAVG
    2004 32.4 3.4 .181
    2005 26.3 3.1 .224
    2006 20.6 3.0 .270
    2007 19.3 1.8 .305

    Rincon's strikeout rate, strikeout-to-walk ratio, and opponent's batting average have all steadily gotten worse on an annual basis, to the point that he's no longer pitching like a quality setup man. Rincon is just 28 years old, but high-workload relievers like him tend not to age particularly well and the above patterns are very discouraging. With Pat Neshek long since passing him as Joe Nathan's primary setup man, Rincon is the obvious choice should the Twins decide to deal a reliever for offensive help.

  • Speaking of dealing for offensive help, in soliciting reader-submitted questions last week, I was asked to "pick one position that the Twins should try to upgrade before the trading deadline." My answer was sort of a long one (shocking, I know), but the main point was that "third base is the place to target an upgrade, as it would provide a huge boost this season while also patching a hole that the Twins have going forward." I put a lot of thought into my answer, but started questioning it yesterday.

    Jim Souhan's column in the Minneapolis Star Tribune carried the headline: "Twins' biggest need is a third baseman who can hit." In a piece that was surprisingly (and pleasantly) short on lame one-liners and forced pop-culture references, Shecky wrote that "the right third baseman would improve the Twins immediately and perhaps dramatically." Normally I'd say something like "great minds think alike," but that seems like a stretch on all fronts.

  • With a pair of runners on base and the Mets leading 2-0 with two outs in the fifth inning, the Twins' outfield played Carlos Delgado to pull the ball with an extreme shift shading him toward right field. Instead, he looped a fly ball down the left-field line, with Jason Kubel making a sprawling catch after an all-out sprint to get Carlos Silva out of a jam. If the ball had gotten past Kubel's dive, Delgado likely would have been able to do his Prince Fielder impression around the bases.

    Kubel runs like someone who's suffered a significant knee injury and his bat has been disappointing thus far, but he's been solid defensively. He gets to more balls than his speed suggests he should, flashes a strong arm, and has come up with a handful of diving grabs in key spots. I'm hesitant to say that the diving catches suggest outstanding defense, because that can be incredibly misleading, but it seems relatively clear that Kubel has at the very least avoided being a weakness in left field.

    In addition to looking capable, Kubel ranks 12th among all MLB left fielders in Zone Rating at .887 (Carl Crawford leads baseball at .960, while Manny Ramirez ranks dead last at .706). Beyond that, through 324.1 innings Baseball Prospectus, The Hardball Times, and Ultimate Zone Rating all show Kubel as safely above average compared to other left fielders. None of that will matter much unless he eventually starts hitting, of course, but he's slugging .457 since snapping a 0-for-13 slump on May 10.

  • After being held to one run by John Maine, Pedro Feliciano, and Aaron Heilman, the Twins have now scored three runs or fewer in 33 of 68 games (49 percent). Included in that total is being shut out five times and scoring one run seven times, which means that the Twins' offense has basically given them no chance to win about 18 percent of the time. For the year, the Twins are averaging 4.58 runs per game, which ranks 10th among 14 AL teams.

    Johan Santana is the most noticeable victim of the poor run support, going 6-6 despite a 3.19 ERA because the lineup has scored three runs or fewer in 10 of his 14 starts. However, Silva has perhaps gotten it even worse. While the Twins have been held to three runs or fewer in "only" eight of Silva's 14 starts, they've scored zero or one run in six of his outings. That's how he's 4-8 despite a 4.20 ERA that is far better than I ever expected.

  • During the FSN pre-game show (which I don't typically watch), Ron Coomer and Anthony LaPanta had a discussion about the Twins' potential All-Star representatives. Within the span of 20 seconds, Coomer called Luis Castillo "the Twins' MVP" and "probably the best leadoff hitter in the league." One of my many pet peeves is when media members ruin an otherwise good point by injecting ridiculous hyperbole, and Coomer's take on Castillo is a perfect example of that in action.

    Castillo is a good player having a good year, and he's among the best second basemen in the league. Toss in a .313 batting average and an MLB-record errorless streak, and there's plenty of evidence to use in making an All-Star case without resorting to extreme statements that have no basis in reality. First of all, a player with a .699 OPS who has missed 13 of 68 games is going to have a difficult time being the MVP of any team, let alone a team with the reigning MVP on it.

    On a team with Justin Morneau, Santana, Torii Hunter, Michael Cuddyer, Joe Mauer, Nathan, and Neshek, Coomer expects us to believe that someone with a .313/.356/.343 hitting line is the MVP? The notion that Castillo is "the best leadoff hitter in the league" is equally as implausible. In fact, among the 10 AL hitters with at least 200 plate appearances in the leadoff spot, Castillo ranks fifth in on-base percentage, eighth in stolen bases, and ninth in OPS, GPA, and slugging percentage.

                         AVG      OBP      SLG      OPS      GPA     SB
    Curtis Granderson .295 .349 .579 .928 .302 8
    Ichiro Suzuki .356 .408 .466 .874 .300 19
    Grady Sizemore .285 .398 .468 .866 .296 20
    Alex Rios .291 .340 .527 .867 .285 6
    Brian Roberts .303 .392 .397 .789 .276 22
    Kenny Lofton .278 .361 .387 .748 .259 16
    David DeJesus .268 .346 .391 .737 .253 2
    Johnny Damon .257 .348 .362 .710 .247 11
    LUIS CASTILLO .313 .356 .343 .699 .246 7
    Julio Lugo .207 .270 .309 .579 .199 19

    Castillo's numbers pale in comparison to Ichiro Suzuki, Grady Sizemore, Curtis Granderson, Brian Roberts, and Alex Rios. Plus, he doesn't even stand out compared to Kenny Lofton, David DeJesus, and Johnny Damon. My point here isn't to bash Castillo, because he's having a good season and has been valuable. Rather, my point is that instead of getting me to think about Castillo's good season or how valuable he's been, all Coomer did was get me to think about how silly his "analysis" was.

    In Coomer's defense, he once made the All-Star team in a season that saw him hit .263/.307/.424 as a first baseman, so it's perfectly understandable if his thoughts on who's deserving of a spot on the team are a little bit out of whack.

  • While they likely can't beat the Twins when it comes to bloggers-to-state population ratio, the Mets have a ton of good blogs devoted to them. Perhaps the best and most widely read is MetsBlog.com, which is run by friend of AG.com (and NBCSports.com "Fantasy Fix" guest) Matt Cerrone. Cerrone and co-blogger D.J. Short were impressed by the Twins' defense in Game 1 of the three-game series, and if you head over there now you can read an interview about the Twins with a familiar name.

  • Once you're done here, check out my latest "Daily Dose" column over at Rotoworld.

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