June 2, 2008
Twins Notes: Offense!
Asked later to review the movie, Gomez said: "Great. Exciting. Zoom." Of course he did.
There's one guy in front of me, and yes, he was like a kid in a candy shop. "Some of those, and a box of those. Wait, you've got Milk Duds? OK, a box of those, too. That's it. That's all. Oh, and a red licorice." Finally, Carlos Gomez peeled off a couple of $10 bills and started scooping up his sweet-tooth loot.
I suppressed a laugh, just as Gomez turned and saw me standing behind him. First he looked surprised, then got that half-embarrassed grin that he so often sports, and shouted, "Hey, que pasa!" He stuck out his hand, then did that half-hug greeting that became the norm among pro athletes about 10 years ago and that makes me appear so hopelessly awkward.
I said, "just wondering if there's anything left to buy," and he smiled and headed for the theater. I noticed his showing of "Indiana Jones" had started about an hour earlier, so I pictured Gomez, his usual bundle of nervous energy, sitting in the theater thinking, "Candy. I need candy." Probably more than once.
For his career, opponents have batted .301/.336/.439 against Bonser in the first inning, compared to .286/.350/.469 against him overall. In other words, he's actually been more effective in the first inning, even with this season's first-inning struggles factored in. Bonser's average fastball has been about two miles per hour slower than it was in 2006, but shorter appearances may help him reclaim some of that lost velocity. Moving to the bullpen is far from a magic fix, but Bonser has the stuff to be a solid reliever.
It wasn't so long ago that most staffs contained 10 pitchers and for the bulk of my baseball-watching life 11 pitchers has been the norm. Recently the Twins have often carried a dozen pitchers and despite Gardenhire constantly suggesting that the bullpen is overworked that's rarely been true. A dozen-man staff includes seven relievers, which makes it difficult to find consistent work everyone in the bullpen, let alone overwork them. For instance, take a look at the Twins' bullpen usage over the past week:
You are in a stretch of 40 games in 41 days, and if there is any time in baseball you might need 13 pitchers, that would be it. There have been times since I've been managing here that I thought we could go to 13 pitchers. We've always stayed against it and got through it, but this might be a time. We have a lot of issues.
Even with an usually stressful three extra-inning games during that span, it's hard to say the bullpen was overworked. Joe Nathan's week: day off, 10 pitches, 12 pitches, day off, day off, 15 pitches, 18 pitches, 11 pitches. Matt Guerrier's week: day off, 15 pitches, day off, day off, 18 pitches, 3 pitches, day off, 20 pitches. Juan Rincon's week: day off, day off, 19 pitches, day off, day off, 31 pitches, day off, day off. Jesse Crain's week: day off, 12 pitches, 6 pitches, day off, day off, 20 pitches, 23 pitches, day off.
Dennys Reyes' week: day off, 12 pitches, 1 pitch, day off, 19 pitches, 12 pitches, day off, 12 pitches. Brian Bass' week: day off, day off, day off, day off, 25 pitches, 3 pitches, 13 pitches, day off. Bobby Korecky and Craig Breslow basically split the final bullpen job, with their combined workload going day off, day off, 8 pitches, day off, day off, 26 pitches, day off, day off. It's hard to see any single pitcher being overworked during the past week, let alone the entire bullpen. And that was with a 12-man staff.
Reyes' workload has increased somewhat following Pat Neshek's injury, but he's still on pace to throw just 50 innings and has averaged a team-low nine pitches per outing. Thinking that Reyes is somehow in danger of "getting overused" explains the Twins' belief that a 13-man pitching staff is necessary, but in reality having an eight-man bullpen is beyond overkill. As for Breslow, he looks likely to be a fairly ordinary middle reliever despite what was a very impressive Twins debut against the Yankees.
This will give the Twins two lefthanded relievers in the bullpen, allowing them to protect lefty Dennys Reyes from getting overused.
A southpaw who works with a high-80s fastball, high-70s slider, and mid-70s changeup, Breslow has held big-league hitters to .248/.354/.342 in 178 career plate appearances. Major-league relievers as a group have held batters to .247/.329/.381 this year, so that puts him right around average. Of course, 38.1 innings spread over four teams and three seasons is far from a representative sample size, so here are Breslow's career numbers at Triple-A:
G ERA IP H SO BB HR
95 3.42 144.2 130 159 50 10
Solid numbers for a situational left-hander--lots of strikeouts, relatively few homers, shaky control--but it's unclear why the Twins needed to expand the staff to 13 in order to add a second such reliever. With Nathan closing, Guerrier, Rincon, and Crain setting him up, Reyes and Breslow facing lefties, and Bonser and Bass in long relief, finding enough work to go around will be nearly impossible. If the Twins felt strongly about adding Breslow it would've made sense to designate Bass for assignment.
Bass is out of minor-league options, but Bonser could have taken over his long-relief role and there's a good chance that he'd pass through waivers anyway given that he's a 26-year-old career minor leaguer who now sports a 5.35 ERA and 16-to-14 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 35.1 major-league innings. Instead, the Twins add Breslow, keep Bass, move Bonser to the bullpen, and may soon feature a three-man bench of Mike Redmond, Craig Monroe, and Nick Punto.
Hernandez allowed five runs on 13 hits against the Yankees, so he only "kept the Twins in the game" because the offense scored six runs. If the lineup had scored three runs, would his five-run, 13-hit performance have been any worse? If the lineup had scored a dozen runs, would his five-run, 13-hit performance have been any better? Of course not, yet far too many people continue to evaluate pitchers in the context of their run support.
Once again, Hernandez kept the Twins in the game, but he has now given up 116 hits in 13 starts. At this rate, he will finish the season with 303 hits allowed, assuming he reaches his recent career average of 34 starts. No major league pitcher has allowed 300 hits in a season since Phil Niekro allowed 311 in 342 innings pitched for Atlanta in 1979.
One of my entries back in April asked: "Is Livan Hernandez the new Ramon Ortiz?" Sure enough, he's followed in Ortiz's footsteps by out-performing expectations for a month or so before falling apart. Ortiz posted a 2.57 ERA through five starts last season, but then had a 6.75 ERA over his next 56 innings before the Twins dumped him on the Rockies. Hernandez posted a 3.55 ERA through five starts, but has a 5.67 ERA in eight starts since.
Part of my analysis in late April was that "as Ortiz showed, it's tough to out-run a well-established track record for long and Hernandez still figures to struggle keeping his ERA below 5.00 all year." At the time that seemed impossible to the many Twins fans who e-mailed me or left comments here, but his ERA is now up to 4.81 and opponents have amazingly hit .338 against him. Like with Ortiz last season, this is exactly what the Twins should have expected from Hernandez. It just took a while to get there.
THIS SEASON G AVG OBP SLG OPS IsoP K/BB
Billy Butler 53 .263 .330 .339 .669 .076 1.37
Delmon Young 56 .273 .329 .356 .685 .083 2.12
CAREER G AVG OBP SLG OPS IsoP K/BB
Billy Butler 145 .282 .341 .408 .749 .126 1.76
Delmon Young 248 .289 .321 .405 .726 .116 4.25
TRIPLE-A G AVG OBP SLG OPS IsoP K/BB
Billy Butler 61 .295 .411 .535 .946 .240 0.75
Delmon Young 138 .304 .326 .463 .789 .159 5.16
Their numbers this season are eerily similar, while Butler holds a slight advantage in career MLB stats that includes a 23-point edge in OPS and far superior strikeout-to-walk ratio. Butler was far better than Young at Triple-A, topping him by 157 points of OPS, showing 50 percent more power, and walking more times than he struck out while Young whiffed five times for every free pass. Despite all of that, Butler finds himself back in the Pacific Coast League while Young gets a chance to turn things around.
Once you're done here, check out my latest "Daily Dose" column over at Rotoworld.