Monday, May 26, 2008

Not Exactly Blessed

I'm starting to worry about Ron Gardenhire.


Or maybe a better preposition would be "for". I look at this roster and how it's constructed, and the pieces he has to work with, and I can't help but wonder just how much he's second-guessing his options. There are just too many pieces that don't necessarily fit neatly together.


I noticed it most last Saturday night, when the Twins were trying to come back versus the Rockies in the ninth inning. The were facing left-handed reliever Brian Fuentes and he was wild. In a one run game, the tying run was in scoring with one out. The game ended when Mike Lamb who had one hit aginst lefties the whole year struck out, chasing a pitch that would have been ball four.


Lamb had no business hitting in that situation, but when I looked at the roster, it became apparent that Gardy didn't have much choice. You could make a case that any matchup would have been better, but there was no real right-hande option, because the roster was filled with guys like Alexi Casilla (who was hitting .219 in AAA), Howie Clark (who also bats left-handed) and Bobby Korecky (the 12th guy in the bullpen who hadn't pitched for a week). If I was Gardy, I think I would've spent the rest of that night curled up on my couch, looking into the darkness, sipping bourbon (possibly laced with Nature Blessed Tart Cherry Extract) and trying to make sense of it all.


And then of course, two nights later the trio of Casilla, Clark and Korecky won a game that Twins had no business winning. Which is the other reason I'm starting to worry about Gardenhire. It's very possible that sometime between Saturday night and Monday night that he sold his soul to the devil. The real one - not Scott Boras. All the evidence is there. But I digress.


The sad thing is that the bench options are the toughest part with this group. Lost in the satisfaction of Sunday's win is that the last two series have shown that the Twins bullpen is an absolute mess. If the starter doesn't get through at least seven innings there is NOBODY who can be trusted to get this team to the ninth without giving up a run.


Stats can be deceiving for, well, anything really. But that goes double for relievers. Still, I've found that if you want to know who has been trustworthy in a bullpen, the stat to look at is WHIP or (Walks+Hits)/Innings Pitched. If it's close to 1, they're doing very well. If it's up to 1.5, then they're probably best used when the game isn't on the line. For instance, last year the top three pitchers in the Twins bullpen were Joe Nathan (1.01 WHIP), Pat Neshek(1.02) and Matt Guerrier(1.05). Two years ago it was Nathan (.78), Neshek(.78) and Dennys Reyes(.99). This year?



Nathan's been quite good. Neshek can't help this year. Korecky hasn't been too bad, but also has all of nine innings pitched in the majors. The rest? They've all been inconsistent at best. If the Twins need someone to mop up innings in a blow out, Gardy has five different options. But if he wants to protect a one run lead in the eighth inning, it's not totally clear he has any.


Or at least not here. It does appear that there is someone in Rochester who might be able to improve the bullpen right now. Tim Lahey has racked up 23 K and just two walks in 20 IP as Rochester's closer. He also has a WHIP of just 1.0. That profiles like someone who can be an effective late-inning setup man, though having 4 losses doesn't bode particularly well for a guy that has appeared in only 13 games.


Another option would be to move an existing starter like Boof Bonser into the bullpen. Bonser's strikeout rate in the minors hasn't translated to long-term success in the majors, but it might be interesting to see what a guy like that can do if he can let the ball fly for two innings at a time. On the other hand, his first inning has been his biggest weakness, so there are plenty of questions about moving him to the bullpen.


The biggest question might be who Bonser or Lahey replaces. The two obvious choices are Bass and Korecky, but in a bullpen full of question marks, aren't they on the roster because they are possible answers? But it can't be the left-hander (Reyes) and Guerrier has been reasonably effective since a shaky first two weeks.


And that's when things get really dicey, because that means losing Crain and Rincon, and do either of them have options? If not, would the Twins really risk losing one of them? If not, that would probably bring us back to Bass - but then who is the long relief guy? Korecky has always been a one-inning guy, even in the minors. Can Rincon's or Crain's arm withstand long relief? Which brings us back to sending down Korecky, even though he's arguably been the second best guy in the bullpen? Especially because that's what we're trying to do - find someone who can be second best guy in the bullpen?


It's enough to to make a Twins Geek throw up his hands in surrender. And I have this vision of our hometown manager throwing a tablespoon back into a kitchen drawer and slamming it shut. And then chugging cherry extract like a college kid on spring break.


I know from experience that such acts rarely end well. And that's why I worry for Ron Gardenhire.

11 comments:

TT said...

Isn't this about what we should have expected with all the turnover the Twins have had? The Twins are going to spend half the year trying to sort out roles.

Lamb was supposed to be an everyday player, but we are seeing why he has always been platooned. Harris defense is about what was expected. There was a reason Tampa wanted Bartlett to replace him and it wasn't because of their bats. Injuries haven't helped, but they are part of the game.

If the Twins get things sorted out by the allstar break maybe they will still be able to make a run. More likely this will be a rebuilding year that identifies the holes that need to be filled for next year.

As for the bullpen, haven't they been getting an awful lot of work recently? Its amazing how much difference getting regular rest can make. I don't know that the Twins bullpen is weaker than most other teams, its just that Twins fans have been spoiled into assuming the game is virtually over if they have a lead after the 7th inning. Now, even a quality start sometimes turns into a loss.

Nick N. said...

The Twins need to start moving Anthony Slama aggressively. He's 24 and dominating Single-A. Probably the best shot this organization has at getting another Neshek in their bullpen.

CubberLang said...

As a Rochester native, I've seen Lahey throw quite a few times. If you actually look at Lahey's loses- they were on errors in the field and little dink shots. He's had one ball hit hard off him all year.

Looking at his line on the stat sheet wouldn't tell you that. I hope someday those sabremetric guys can develop better statistics that more accurately reflect players' performance. I bet Lahey's line drive to hits ratio is fantastically low.

Andrew said...

TT, yes this was expected. I don't know why there are people out there freaking out. We knew this was going to happen.

Nick, I hear you. Anthony Slama, (along with Luke Hughes), need to be moved up a respected league quickly.

Cubberlang, with how great sabermatricians are today, I wouldn't rule that out as a possibility.

TT said...

Anthony Slama is a 24 year old pitching in A ball. It probably is probably past time for him to move up. That he hasn't is not a good sign no matter how well he is doing against inexperienced A-ball hitters. He is still a long way from helping the Twins, much less replacing Neshek.

Nick N. said...

Pat Neshek spent his entire age 24 season in Double-A, so Slama isn't really that far behind him. There are actually quite a few similarities between the two, right down to a unique and funky delivery. Slama has experienced nothing but success as a pro and if he finishes this season in New Britain (which is almost assured at this point, unless he advances even further), he'll have gone through four levels of the minors in 1.5 seasons. Slama is old for his level of competition, but it's important to note that he was already 23 when the Twins drafted him and he has thus far been a very quick riser in this system. I think he's closer than you give him credit for, though I never implied we'd be seeing him with the Twins this year (note that I never said he'd be "replacing" Neshek, just that he's the best bet in the organization to be "another Neshek").

TT said...

Pat Neshek was 22 when he first pitched at AA. He started the next year in A ball at age 23, but pitched 2/3 of the season at AA. While his first full season in AA was at age 24, he got there a lot sooner. Slama is at least a year behind him.

My point, comparisons to Neshek aside, was that Slama has not shown much of anything by his ability to get young A-ball hitters out. There are several pitchers at AA I suspect would dominate A ball right now. They are having less success at AA.

Nick N. said...

So Neshek made his first appearance in Double-A at an age where Slama was still in college. I don't think you can hold against Slama the fact that he was relatively old when he got drafted. He got a late start relative to Neshek but by the end of the year he'll probably already be caught up to where Neshek was at this age.

The fact of the matter is that Slama has given us nothing but reasons to be encouraged thus far. He's pretty much pitched as well and moved as quickly as could possibly be expected. Obviously, the transition to the high minors will be key, but based on his deceptive delivery, nasty stuff and solid control, there's every reason to believe he will continue to do well there.

TT said...

I don't think you can hold against Slama the fact that he was relatively old when he got drafted.

Why not? The fact is that he is older than most players in A-ball and would be expected to do well there.

by the end of the year he'll probably already be caught up to where Neshek was at this age.

At this point that is impossible - he already missed that boat. He will need to be pitching effectively in the major leagues next year to catch up with Neshek.

The fact of the matter is that Slama has given us nothing but reasons to be encouraged thus far.

He didn't win a roster spot at AA coming out of spring training. The fact of the matter is that he has done nothing that would make you think he is going to be a major league contributor. He has done about what you would expect of a 24 year old with a "deceptive delivery". He has been dominating against inexperienced hitters in A ball.

So you can say he hasn't eliminated himself as a prospect. Struggling against A ball players at age 24 would have done that. But he is a long way from showing he is going to contribute at the major league level.

Nick N. said...

Why not? The fact is that he is older than most players in A-ball and would be expected to do well there.

He's not just doing well there. His numbers are unreal. I think he's going above and beyond what is expected of him, even when his age is taken into account.

At this point that is impossible - he already missed that boat. He will need to be pitching effectively in the major leagues next year to catch up with Neshek.

Huh? Not sure I understand your math here. Neshek opened his age-25 season pitching in Rochester for the first time. If Slama is promoted to New Britain in the near future (inevitable) and finishes well there (likely, in my mind), he'll probably open his age-25 season pitching in Rochester for the first time.

He has done about what you would expect of a 24 year old with a "deceptive delivery". He has been dominating against inexperienced hitters in A ball.

I guess I just think you're blowing his age advantage out of proportion. It gives him an upper hand, yes, but this isn't rookie ball. Most of the guys he's facing have more pro experience than he does. I don't think you can simply "expect" any pitcher to be striking out 14 batters per inning. The guy's got very good stuff.

In any case, it should be interesting to see how he does when he gets promoted, which may not be until sometime around the All-Star break considering this organization's M.O. If the move up to Double-A competition results in a sudden massive drop in all of his numbers, I'll tip my hat to you. I find that rather unlikely.

TT said...

Neshek opened his age-25 season pitching in Rochester for the first time.

And ended it in the major league bullpen.

Most of the guys he's facing have more pro experience than he does.

The guys he is facing are in A ball for a reason, regardless of their age or experience.

I don't think you can simply "expect" any pitcher to be striking out 14 batters per inning.

That's for sure, unless they don't have a catcher :). But I don't think striking out A ball hitters with a funky delivery tells you much about how he will do against more experienced hitters who have the benefits of a scouting report.

In any case, it should be interesting to see how he does when he gets promoted

I agree. We will see whether he moves up when the new players from the draft arrive.