July 2, 2008
Twins Notes: Missions, Progress, and Strikeouts
Hello like before
I'd never come here if I'd known that you were here
I must admit though that it's nice to see you, dear
You look like you've been doing well
Between the search for a new woman to officially lust after and the annual attempt to ruin my liver while making time with lamps, the amount of Twins coverage here over the past couple weeks has been relatively minimal (although to be fair I've still written more words about the Twins during that time than Minneapolis Star Tribune columnists Jim Souhan and Patrick Reusse, combined). While pictures of Keeley Hazell and Chris Dial have dominated this blog recently, the Twins have won 16 of 20 games.
- Bill Withers, "Hello Like Before"
Despite growing evidence that my writing about the Twins actually hurts the team on the field--it's fairly shocking that someone at Twinkie Town hasn't put forth that theory yet--I've decided to tempt fate and put the team's playoff chances at serious risk by typing up some Twins notes for the first time in over a week. You'll have to excuse a little rustiness, but rest assured that the Official Fantasy Girl of AG.com throne only becomes vacant every couple years and my next vacation figures to be in about 400 days.
PA AVG OBP SLG XBH BB SO
Through May 15 157 .270 .312 .304 4 9 26
After May 15 156 .306 .357 .476 18 12 25
His strikeouts and walks have remained fairly constant, but Young is finally starting to drive the ball with some semblance of authority after spending the first six weeks of the season tapping weak grounders to second base. Since mid-May he has 18 extra-base hits in 156 plate appearances. Prior to that he had four extra-base hits in 157 plate appearances. He's managed just two homers in 78 games and continues to hit the ball on the ground far too often for that to change much, but progress is progress.
Strikeouts are just fine if you're getting on base and hitting for power, but Gomez has done neither of those things thus far. Even with a solid .274 batting average his .308 on-base percentage ranks 75th among the league's 83 hitters who qualify for the batting title, as he's drawn a total of 14 free passes in 358 plate appearances for the fourth-worst walk rate in the AL. Gomez has done slightly better in the power department, but still ranks just 68th among AL hitters in Isolated Power at .108.
Gomez has the worst OBP in the AL among leadoff men by a wide margin and thanks in part to batting so often atop the lineup despite being a poor fit there he's on track to break the Twins' single-season record for strikeouts. At his current pace he'll strike out 161 times, which would shatter the old record of 145 set by Bobby Darwin in 1972. Asked earlier this week whether he'd consider putting Gomez in a spot where his horrible OBP wouldn't make such an impact, Gardenhire gave a predictable answer:
Gomez is doing fine. I know he's not a prototype leadoff guy, but he's having fun. When I sit here and the game starts and he walks to the plate, I don't turn my head.
Having fun and keeping the manager from turning his head are nice and all, but not making an out 70 percent of the time would be way better. No. 2 hitter Alexi Casilla has a .371 OBP through 43 games, walking one fewer time than Gomez in 174 fewer plate appearances. Even Denard Span has gotten on base at a .356 clip in 46 trips to the plate while filling in for Michael Cuddyer (and posted a .434 OBP during his career-best stretch at Triple-A). Oh, and Joe Mauer ranks second in the AL with a .413 OBP.
Liriano was a mess in three starts with the Twins and initially continued to struggle after a demotion to Rochester, but over the past dozen outings he has a 3.69 ERA, 65-to-18 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and .242 opponent's batting average in 75.2 innings. Both his velocity and ground-ball rate remain down significantly compared to 2006 and his overall numbers certainly aren't dominant, but that performance from a "regular" Triple-A pitching prospect would be solid enough to warrant a call-up.
In a perfect world the Twins would find a taker for Hernandez at the July 31 trading deadline and Liriano would join the rotation to give the team a fifth young, productive starter down the stretch. However, with Liriano looking merely decent at Triple-A, Hernandez avoiding a disastrous outing for a few weeks, and the Twins eying a playoff spot, my guess it that Bill Smith and Ron Gardenhire will feel compelled to keep the overpaid 33-year-old with the 5.22 ERA for his "veteran presence."
Bonser has worked almost exclusively in mop-up situations, it's tough to get excited about a 7.10 ERA regardless of the secondary numbers involved, and the sample size is awfully small yet, but at the very least he's shown some reason to think that he can be successful as a reliever long term. It'll probably take a while for the Twins to have any sort of confidence in Bonser as an option in important spots, but if he keeps throwing like he has that ERA is going to come down in a hurry.
Balfour has a 1.08 ERA and 25-to-7 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 16.2 innings with the Rays and prior to being called up in late May he posted a 0.38 ERA and 39-to-10 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 23.2 innings at Triple-A, giving him a sparkling 0.67 ERA and amazing 64 strikeouts in 40.1 innings overall this year. After racking up huge strikeout totals while coming up through the Twins' system, Balfour went 5-1 with a 4.63 ERA and 74-to-38 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 68 innings in Minnesota.
Not only are his numbers there absolutely incredible and not only did he dominate between rookie-ball and low Single-A in his pro debut last season, but Slama is already 24 years old. He was a 39th-round pick after a so-so career at the University of San Diego, so the Twins are understandably skeptical that they have something special in Slama, but there's clearly no need for a 24-year-old to be eviscerating Single-A hitters. He has a 0.97 ERA and 122 strikeouts in 74.1 career innings. It's time for Double-A.
Between punching teammates, throwing people under the bus for not being the ultimate badass like him, and showing teenagers his paycheck, Hunter is full of unique ways to motivate those around him.
Zach Cone, a high school outfielder from Georgia who was a third-round pick in the June draft, took early batting practice with the Angels on Monday and hit one home run. Cone, who is expected to sign with the Angels this week, met several players, including Hunter, who showed Cone the pay stub from the twice-monthly check he received Monday.
Hunter, who is making $16.5 million this season, was razzed by Scioscia and several players for showing the kid his check, but he provided a defense. "Kirby used to do that to me," Hunter said, referring to former Twins teammate Kirby Puckett. "He did it to motivate me."
Once you're done here, check out my latest "Daily Dose" column over at Rotoworld.