Thursday, September 25, 2008

Speed Kills

In baseball, "speed" doesn't translate well. Speed doesn't beget speed, or at least not speed in terms of scoring runs quickly. It's a misnomer.

Much like "piranha" has become a misnomer. In fact, it has become a dirty word in Twins Territory, mostly because it had been so revered in 2006. Its meaning transformed from "guys whose speed can impact a game" to "overhyped guys without any power that Gardy falls in love with". And that's why you won't hear Carlos Gomez, Denard Span and Alexi Casilla referred to as "piranhas" today.

But last night we saw exactly what piranhas are supposed to be. A group that swarms around you in a feeding frenzy. A group that turns ground balls down the line or in the gap into three bases, whether the runner start at first or home. A group that smells blood and goes 9 for 14 with three triples and two doubles.

But mostly it's a group or players where you feel like somehow, someway, they're going to find a way to turn a break into a run. Bobby Jenks talked last night about how one of the problems you face as a closer is that you can't pitch around these guys. And Ozzie Guillen talked about how you must pitch to them, because you can't walk them and put that speed on base. And they're right.

But these guys make it even tougher by managing the strike zone. Anything below a 2.0 K/BB is above average. Here are our guys:

Nick Punto - 1.96
Alexi Casilla - 1.39
Denard Span - 1.27
Carlos Gomez - 5.56

OK, Gomez is still dismal in that regard. I'm on board. You're talking to the guy who suggested demoting him just a month ago. And I still don't see where he plays on this team next year. But I also don't know how you don't play him next year.

And as for Casilla and Span, I don't know how you don't PAY them next year. The Twins are fortunate enough to find themselves with a couple of young players with promising futures, very little service time, and tangible results. They'll also likely have somewhere between $25 million and $35 million worth of payroll room for things like signing bonuses. It sure seems like a pretty good match.

But that's something to worry about in the offseason and today the offseason seems pleasantly distant. A team that can chip away a division rival's five run lead in less than six innings sounds like a team that can score a run or two in the playoffs when it really needs to.

And that's why speed is a misunderstood. It doesn't translate to big, fast-scoring innings. It translates to certainty. Or, if you rather, to muscling a single run across through sheer force of will. That happened seven times tonight in five different innings.

And little by little, like piranhas, it killed.

Ozzie and the Press
"I will. I'll take two sleeping pills and a glass of vodka and to go to sleep tonight. I'll need it tonight."
- Ozzie Guillen

OK, that's probably not the exact quote, but I'm a blogger, and my TIVO happened to crap out, so sue me. Get, and enjoy, the exact quote from someone who cares about the details.

And while you're at it, you might want to pity those poor beat writers a little too. Can you imagine needing to write up a game story or column after that game? On a deadline? It's been a couple of hours and I'm still trying to figure out what I just saw. fortunately, I can spit out just about anything. Journalists, on the other hand would almost certainly not be able to write up the next blurb.

This game wasn't decided by poor umpiring, but it's pretty clear that it was just dumb luck that it wasn't. As I watched home plate Mike Reilly look like he was guessing on about every fifth pitch, I assumed he was a rookie umpire in a very big game, and was simly over his head.

Turns out, the only way I could've been more wrong is if I was actually Mike Reilly trying decipher a borderline pitche. Reilly has been an umpire for 31 years, and was either really gifted or really connected in the 70s because he rocketed through the minors to the majors in just five years. Plus, he sounds like a hell of a guy. He lives in the town he grew up in. Has four kids. He's even on the Board of Directors for Big Brothers/Big Sisters.

Of course, none of that made a smidgen of difference last night as he turned each pitch into a guessing game for the batter. I don't know if he had a bad night, or if he's just going through a rough patch, or if he's losing it after 31 years on the job. But I do know that someone besides the guys yelling from the two dugouts should call that performance what it was: embarassing. It truly marred an otherwise amazing game.

Freezing Up
Punto, Gomez, Span and Casilla got on base 12 times last night. AJ Pierzynski has thrown out just 21 out of 112 stolen base atempts. And the Twins not only had no stolen bases, they didn't have any official stolen base attempts.

Now, part of that is becaue the Twins just plain swing the bats. And it's not like they didn't try to be aggressive. There were multiple stolen base attempts on foul balls, and even a suicide squeeze play that could've scored the winning run in the eighth inning.

But it didn't happen, and it didn't happen for a reason. The Twins batters are willing to watch a couple of strikes, but the runners on base aren't willing to risk a stolen base on the first or couple pitches. Opposing teams have learned this, and they're throwing a lot of early strikes when, say, Gomez is on first base. Why not? Span is taking them, because that's what he should do. Gomez is sticking around first, because he's studying the pitcher. Why not get ahead in the count and force Span to foul off pitches later, when Gomez is more likely to run?

And it's driving me crazy, especially in the late innings of close games. Can we do something about this please? We're not going to learn anything life-altering by watching Jenks throw two pitches to the plate. How about we take off the skirt, get on our horse, and gallop to second base on the first pitch occasionally?

(Deep cleansing breath)

Ok, that' probably more than enough for tonight. But it's likely not enough for the weekend. The magic number is still four, with just three games to play. That will likely be hard to wittle down without sweeping the Royals, including a tough game on Saturday where the Glen Perkins faces Gil Meche. Feel free to stop by on the weekend. One way or the other, I'll likely be covering it.

1 comment:

TT said...

"it didn't happen for a reason."

One reason is didn't happen last night is the Twins were down by more than a run most of the night. You don't take base running risks when you need to score multiple runs.

"AJ Pierzynski has thrown out just 21 out of 112 stolen base atempts"

As everyone knows, you steal on the pitcher, not the catcher. And how often a catcher throws runners out depends mostly on how often the runner miscalculates.

Which is not to say the Twins shouldn't be trying to steal more. But given the way the top of the order hits, it isn't surprising that they avoid taking the bat out of their hands by getting caught stealing.