October 8, 2008

Twins Notes: Bunts, Walks, Johan, and Thoma

  • The Twins narrowly missed posting the highest batting average with runners in scoring position by any team during the past 25 years, fading somewhat down the stretch to finish six points behind the Rockies' mark of .311 from 1996. However, they did manage to tie the all-time record for most bunt hits in a season with 68, which equals the Dodgers' total from 1992. Carlos Gomez led all of baseball with 30 bunt hits and Alexi Casilla ranked second in the league with 16 despite playing just 98 games.

    Early on Gomez was on pace to shatter Brett Butler's single-season record for bunt hits, but ended up finishing a dozen shy of the mark and will have to settle for becoming just the fifth player since 1959 to bunt for at least 30 hits in a year. Along with the league-leading totals from Gomez and Casilla, the Twins also got at least one bunt hit from each of Nick Punto (7), Denard Span (4), Joe Mauer (4), Matt Tolbert (4), Matt Macri (2), and Mike Lamb (1).

    Bunting for a hit is a great skill to have for someone with Gomez's speed and he successfully reached on 45 percent of the bunts he put in play. However, that means Gomez hit just .232 when not laying one down, which isn't a good sign for his actual hitting ability. By comparison, Casilla hit .265 on non-bunts. Gomez totaled 149 hits and 48 of them (32 percent) failed to leave the infield, which tied Ichiro Suzuki for the MLB lead. As a team, the Twins had 178 of their 1,572 hits (11 percent) stay in the infield:

                        IFH     HIT     IFH%
    Carlos Gomez 48 149 32.2
    Matt Macri 3 11 27.3
    Alexi Casilla 26 108 24.1
    Denard Span 14 102 13.7
    Nick Punto 13 96 13.5
    Matt Tolbert 4 32 12.5
    Michael Cuddyer 7 62 11.3
    Delmon Young 17 167 10.2
    Joe Mauer 14 176 8.0
    Mike Lamb 4 55 7.3
    Randy Ruiz 1 17 5.9
    Mike Redmond 2 37 5.4
    Brendan Harris 6 115 5.2
    Jason Kubel 6 126 4.8
    Justin Morneau 8 187 4.3
    Adam Everett 1 27 3.7
    Brian Buscher 2 64 3.1
    Craig Monroe 1 33 3.0

    Every guy on the team with more than 20 plate appearances got at least one infield hit and not shown above is that Livan Hernandez's lone hit was of the infield variety. Delmon Young had zero bunt hits, yet still managed to rank third on the Twins with 17 infield hits. That may seem odd at first glance, but Young runs relatively well and had the third-highest ground-ball rate in the league at 55 percent. He put a total of 262 balls in play on the ground, so it makes sense that he'd beat out a fair number of them.

    Of course, while Young hitting the ball on the ground 55 percent of the time helped him pile up infield singles, it's also why he remains a poor bet to develop into the power threat that he was misguidedly hyped as when the Twins acquired him. Young hit 262 ground balls and struck out 105 times, which means that he had zero chance of homering in 64 percent of his at-bats. At 22 years old he's certainly still young enough to develop more power, but it simply won't happen without a change in approach.

  • With 24 free passes in 160.1 frames Kevin Slowey had baseball's lowest walk rate among pitchers who logged 100-plus innings, and Hernandez, Nick Blackburn, Scott Baker, Glen Perkins, and Boof Bonser also posted walk rates good enough for all six Twins pitchers with at least 100 innings to fit in the league's top 30. Not surprisingly, for the fourth time in seven seasons under pitching coach Rick Anderson the Twins' staff issued the league's fewest walks.
    YEAR      BB     RNK
    2002 439 3rd
    2003 402 2nd
    2004 431 1st
    2005 348 1st
    2006 356 1st
    2007 420 2nd
    2008 406 1st

    Anderson deserves plenty of praise for annually coaching an entire staff of strike-throwing machines, but limiting walks was already a Twins staple when he arrived. Under former pitching coach Dick Such the Twins issued the AL's fewest walks in both 1997 and 1998, and haven't ranked worse than third in walks allowed since 1995. An amazing run for sure, although it's frustrating that they do such a great job developing pitchers who limit walks without seeing the same value in their hitters drawing walks:

    YEAR      BB     RNK
    2002 472 10th
    2003 512 7th
    2004 513 7th
    2005 485 7th
    2006 490 8th
    2007 512 8th
    2008 529 10th

    What's amazing about the Twins drawing just the 10th-most walks in the league this year is that Mauer and Justin Morneau ranked among the AL's top dozen in individual free passes and Span had the AL's 15th-best walk rate among hitters with 400-plus plate appearances. That trio combined for 210 walks in 1,755 PA while the rest of the team managed just 319 walks in 4,576 PA. Or put another way: Mauer, Morneau, and Span drew 40 percent of the team's walks in 27 percent of the team's trips to the plate.

  • Not only did Johan Santana go 8-0 with a 2.17 ERA in the second half--including a complete-game shutout on the penultimate day of the season--he did so while pitching through a torn meniscus in his left knee that required surgery. In fact, the New York Daily News reports that he "demanded to take the ball on the second-to-last day of the season, despite the injury and having tossed a career-high 125 pitches four days earlier."

    Early in the season, when the Mets' lineup wasn't providing him with much run support and the Mets' bullpen was consistently coughing up late-inning leads, far too many people made far too big a deal about Santana's supposed "struggles." When the dust settled he had a spectacular first year in New York, leading the NL in innings (234) and ERA (2.53) while ranking second in strikeouts (206). He was just seventh in wins with 16, but that's due to the bullpen blowing seven potential victories for him.

    Give Santana some decent bullpen support and he wins 20 games, the Mets make the playoffs while his late-season heroics become legendary, and he receives a ton of first-place votes for the Cy Young award. Instead, thanks to factors largely beyond his control Santana will probably finish no higher than fourth in the voting while becoming the first NL pitcher to ever lead the league in both innings and ERA without winning the Cy Young.

  • Not that Mankato doesn't deserve good sports columnists in their newspaper too, but can we please start a petition to bring Ed Thoma to the Twin Cities? There has to be some sort of trade that can be worked out, right? Seriously, what about Sid Hartman, Jim Souhan, Bob Sansevere, Tom Powers, and Charley Walters straight up for Thoma, and we'll throw in Katherine Kersten too?

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

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