Monday, August 06, 2007

Twirling, Loathing and My Digestive System

Twins Territory spent the weekend slowly talking themselves back onto the postseason bandwagon, and I joined them. And then I watched fruitless inning follow fuitless inning, growing gloomier and gloomier, and was suddenly attacked by a very strange thought:

I think I would like Paul Byrd.

Oh, not today obviously. Today I hate him with the frigid fury of a half-mile deep glacier. I might even go as far as to say I loathe him, and I say "loathe" in an especially loathful way - it practically slithers out of my mouth. That's the reaction Byrd earned with his performance in one of the top five most critical games of the year.

But, really, you can't help but admire the guy in an 'everyman' kinda way. Just look at his career, would you? He mostly worked out of the bullpen his first several years in the majors, but had had one great half-year in his first full year stint as a starter. That earned him his only trip to the All-Star game, though nobody trusted him enough to let him pitch. Then he regressed. But he rejuvenated himself as a 30-year-old, regressed again last year, and has twirled his way to a 4.33 ERA this year.

And judging by last night, I'm choosing that last verb carefully. He hasn't "thrown" or "hurled", and even "pitched" doesn't quite describe it. Byrd twirls - changing speeds, inside-out, high-low, and nibbling corners. Watching him against your team is maddening, and I imagine that batting against him must lead to thoughts of senseless violence.

So last night, I tried to watch him from a more objective, appreciative point of view, and a sort of Zen tranquility eventually enveloped me. Granted, it was a seething Zen tranquility, and if maintained for any extended period of time, would lead to ulcers. To be honest, it was a pretty bitter tranquility. But I still preferred it to the acid-refluxing rage a few Denys Reyes walks inspired.

But (and I'm sure you'll agree) enough about my digestive system.

Byrd pitches exactly like you would want him to, and probably how he and his 87 MPH fastball need to. For instance, batters want to "pull" balls on the inside of the plate, and they need to swing earlier to do that. So what does Byrd throw them? Fastballs, of course, so they need to swing especially early.

Those inside pitches are also what tend to end up in the bleachers, since pulling a ball means it can go a lot further. So versus those batters with power, like Mauer or Morneau, the fastball was usually a ball, just inside the edge of the plate. But for those without power, like Alexi Casilla or Brian Busher, the ball was over the plate, leading to a long fly ball.

And on the outside half of the plate? Where batters train themselves to wait a little longer with their inside-out swings? Plenty of off-speed pitches, making them wait an eternity. And almost always with some movement, bending back over the plate, darting off of it, or diving itself into a ground ball. It was more like watching a ping-pong player spin a return than a dominant pitcher lead his team to a division lead.

That's a simplified version of what happened, of course. None of that explains exactly why the Twins have been hopeless against Byrd, while most other teams in the American League have enjoyed at least moderate success. The Twins have failed against the "professional and patient" type of pitcher again and again, which is one of the reasons their bats have been so lifeless in the postseason.

And today, it's one of the reasons that Twins Territory is likely having second thoughts about that bandwagon.


ubelmann said...

That's a nice story and all, but the Twins had scored 9 runs against Byrd in 14 innings this season going into this game.

The shutout today sucks, but does one day's performance really mean that the Twins went from having solved Byrd to Byrd being a problem all season? Or does it just mean that a below average offense met an average pitcher and he happened to have a good night, as many before him have had?

William Sou said...

Great analysis, John. I was at tonight's (Monday's) game and it really pisses me off at how constipated the Twins look offensively. And I don't know about you, but this is the first time all season I heard the Metrodome crowd boo. Also, is it me, or did people start leaving earlier than they usually do (after those two runs in the eighth)? It was like they knew there was no way the Twins were going to come back, not with the way Byrd made him their bitches tonight. And those people were right. Will they come back this season? Should they?

Speaking of Byrd: It's insane and, frankly, unacceptable that Paul freakin' Byrd, of all people, needed only 99 pitches to toss a four-hit shutout. But I have to admit that I admire an anonymous innings-eater like him earning 7 mil. Plus, I too got a kick with how he winds up by flopping his arms back.

Shanghai Twins said...

Welcome back, from what must have been a most enjoyable family holiday.
Terrible to think just days after a holiday, you are fighting off ulcers (especially due to Paul Byrd). Hey, if it's any consolation we barely scored any more runs in the other games. However, as we all know, recent results are no indicator of the future, so we can now look forward to the flip-side of offensive inconsistency. Ought to be a few real high-scoring games coming soon.

walter said...

Welecome back.

As for Byrd why on Earth were most hitters swining at the first or second pitch. Byrd only needed the 99 pitches not because he was masterful, but because we didn't force him to pitch. Mauer took some pitches and drew a walk. What followed was a bunch of helpless swings.

Why not take a couple of pitches and work the count. It has worked for the Yankee hitters for years.

As for the offense our pitchers in a four game series against one of the most dangerous offenses in baseball hold them to just 11 runs. They don't allow more than five runs. It should be a piece of cake to win three games or sweep the series. Instead we score just six runs!

Terri we need some bats! No wonder why the pitchers are frustrated!!!!

Walter Hanson
Minneapolis, MN

William Sou said...

Another stat detailing the Twins' impotence: In Monday's game, they grounded out to second eight times. And the double play that ended the game was started by Indians 2B Josh Barfield. Byrd and the Tribe had a plan and the Twinkies fell into it the whole freakin' game.

And they didn't crawl out of it tonight, dammit.

John said...


Your numbers suprised me, because I had in my mind that Byrd has been pretty dominant so far this year. And after looking at the games, I still think he has.

In the first game, the one where he gave up five runs, he gave up two runs in the first inning, and then didn't give up another until the sixth, when the game was already out of reach, at 9-1. He gave up two more runs in the seventh, when the game was REALLY out of reach at 15-3.

It was more of the same the last time he faced the Twins. Yes, he gave up four runs, but threw a shutout for six innings. All thr runs were given up in the seventh and eighth innings, when the Tribe already lead 10-0.

Certainly part of my perception is based on the great run support Byrd received. But it's also pretty fair to suggest that Byrd might have been pitching a little different with a half dozen run lead late in those games when he gave up all but two of those runs. I'll stick with my contention that the Twins have struggled against Byrd all season.