Thursday, May 29, 2008

Friday Comments

Hey gang, I promised I would try to address comments from the week before in Friday's entry, so let's take another stab at it this week...

Slamming The Door: What's It Worth?

Ken said:
"because a pitcher must pitch at least a half inning to get The Save"
Surely that's some kind of editing mistake. I know that you know that a pitcher can get a save by getting only the last out of the game.

Y ou know, I do know that, but here's the rule, from Rule 10.19 of the Rules of Baseball. It says that the official scorer shall credit a pitcher with a save when such pitcher meets ALL four of the following conditions:

1. He is the finishing pitcher in a game won by his team
2. He is not the winning pitcher
3. He is credited with at least ⅓ of an inning pitched
4. He satisfies one of the following conditions:

1. He enters the game with a lead of no more than three runs and pitches for at least one inning
2. He enters the game, regardless of the count, with the potential tying run either on base, at bat or on deck
3. He pitches for at least three innings

So I thought you could get a save just by getting out the last batter two. But doesn't the 3rd condition up there preclude that? I'll be interested in everyone's comment on that.

twayn said...
Billy Beer, mood rings, pet rocks, CB radios, BJ & the Bear. Wait, where was I? Oh, yeah. Interesting how the rise of The Save coincides with the success of closers like Rollie Fingers, Goose Gossage, Bruce Sutter, and Dennis Eckersley. Their dominance probably had a lot to do with the inflation in the value of that particular statistic. Oh, wow. Inflation. WIN buttons. The oil embargo. The hostage crisis. Burt Reynolds...

Terry, I like you so I'm going to try and forget that you DARED to defame CB radios and Burt Reynolds. Without them, would we have C.W. McCall? We got a great big convoy, rockin on through the night. Yeah, we got a great big convoy, ain't she a beautiful sight. CON-VOY!

TT said...
There does not appear to by any correlation between the creation of the save as a statistic and the rise of the closer which didn't happen until over a decade later. The number of complete games started to decline in the 70's, again before the one inning closer became a fashion. It is far more likely that the decline in complete games lead to the rise of the one inning closer, than the other way around. It certainly preceded it.

I'm printing TT's comment, but a number of people pointed this out. And the more I think about it, the more I think you may be right. I did print out the save totals for the American League from 1965 throuh 2007, and it's interesting that in 1970, the number jumped a lot. But then it settled down until the early 80's. That's why, in the story, I specifically said "The change towards gathering The Save was more gradual than you might think. "

But looking at the evidence, I certainly should have mentioned how starting pitchers were being asked to throw fewer complete games. And that might well be the primary reason that saves jumped to a new level in the early 80s.

Not Exactly Blessed

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.

Well, here's a new name on my radar. Slama is 24 yers old, and only in High A ball, so you wouldn't think he is much of a prospect. But he's primarily in High A ball because he was drafted in the middle of last year out of college. He started last year in the rookie league because that's where you start guys who are drafted in the 39th round.(!!!) It took him just six games, seven innings and 10 strikeouts to earn a promotion to Low A ball. He spend the rest of the year there, striking out 39(!) batters in 24 innings (with 9 walks).

This year he started in High A ball, and it's been more of the same. 43 strikeouts in 26 innings with 9 walks and 0 home runs against. In fact, he hasn't give up a home run yet in his minor league career. Lefties are batting just .140 against him, and righties just .111.

I would argue that the Twins have been moving him fairly aggressively, but Nick is right in that they should continue to do so. I'll go so far as to say that I would love to see him in a September call-up situation. Anyone know anything more about him?

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.

To be totally honest, I can't figure out why he's not here already. Or at least I can't figure out exactly why he's not here already. Today the Twins picked up Craig Breslow, a left-handed reliever from the Indians, because the Yankees have traditionally had several batters who are susceptible to southpaws.

To make room for him on the roster, I suspect they'll send Bobby Korecky back down to Rochester, even though he doesn't really deserve it. But the only other real option is to cut bait on Juan Rincon and you don't lose a guy to gamble on a left-handed mediocrity. Plus, Rincon still seems to have more of Gardy's confidence than Korecky, for whatever reason.

But unless Breslow is immediately returned to the recyclables plant after this Yankees series, Lahey might well end up three deep from getting a callup. H's likely behind Korecky and Breslow, and by Tuesday we'll probably see Bonser in the bullpen. That's got to be tough pill to swallow since just last weekend he was probably on more Tigers' blowout away from finding his way up here. I'm betting he won't be sending Glen Perkins a Christmas present.

On Buttons and Being Emminently Winnable

KEN said...

My first reaction was to also label the Tribe as still the favorite - but based on what? They're five games under .500. In run differential they're barely above .500. The front of their rotation looks tired. Their offense is slumping and two of their most valuable hitters are either fading fast (Hafner) or battling injuries (Martinez). And their bullpen is six fuses sticking out of a powder keg. Again.

Plus, they have a losing record versus their division. They are .500 or below against right-handed and left-handed pitching. They haven't been especially unlucky in terms of one-run losses. I'm just not sure why - based on this year - I would label them favorites.

The reason I would have labeled them favorites was because of what they did last year, but let's not forget that after years and years of being talked up as the up-and-coming dynasty in the AL Central, last year was only the second time they fulfilled that promise. They underachieved in 2006, 2004, and 2003. I'm trying to remember if they've shown the ability to heat up after a slow start in any year of this decade, and if anything, it seems like the opposite. Either they start hot, or they're cooked.

In short, my predilection for Cleveland seems based more on my analysis in March than on what it is now. And maybe I should rethink that analysis.

Jesse said...
Whichever team decides to NOT shoot itself in the foot.

Except Kansas City. They're not it.

I guess I agree. Although I might also count out Detroit, who I just can't see winning consistently enough to contend. This is going to be a very fun year to watch baseball. And it's going to especially be a fun year to watch the little things that might add up in the margins, beyond what our run differential and EQA formulas tell us.

On Buttons and Being Emminently Winnable

Could there be any more to write about this week? Unfortunately, a short update this morning is all I have in me...

Gardy's Buttons
Amid criticism about under-using Joe Nathan, Ron Gardenhire's team probably won a game last night because his opposing manager did EXACTLY what we've all been suggesting.

On Tuesday night, Kansas City manager Trey Hillman rode his closer in a non-save, but critical situation. Joakim Soria threw 31 pitches over two innings in a game the Royal's lost. Meanwhile, Nathan was pulled after one inning and just ten pitches, causing one irresponsible blogger to suggest that maybe Gardy was covering up some health problems for his closer.

And so, in last night's game, when the Twins started nibbling away at a five run deficit, and turned the game into a save situation in the last inning, KC's closer was unavailable. And when the Twins took a one-run lead in the tenth inning, their closer "slammed the door". I'm just saying....

Emminently Winnable
It's time to come to the conclusion that this is not a rebuilding year, and that another AL Central division championship might well be within reach for the Twins. In part, thats because I expected this fairly young team to get better as the year progressed. But mostly it's because the rest of the division is so mediocre.

Starting at the bottom of the divison...
  1. The Royals (21-32) appear to still be the Royals. That's a little harsh, because I continue believe this team is considerably better than in previous years and are on the right track, but this young lineup needs to improve across the board.
  2. The Tigers (22-31) are better than their record, and still capable of a major run. But it's worth noting that they STILL haven't scored as many runs as they've given up. Neither have the Twins, btw, but the Twins aren't starting nine games under .500.
  3. The Indians (24-29) are by no means out of this thing, but similarly they aren't a lock for 90 wins this year. In fact, even to get to 86 wins, they need to go 62-47 over the remaining four months, winning almost 57% of their games. So far, they've won 45%.
  4. The team the Twins are trailing, the White Sox, won 72 games last year. They also collapsed over the second half of the season.

Just to be clear, I'm not giving the Twins the title. But you look at that list and tell me who the clear-cut favorite is.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Is Nathan Hurt?

There's been some chatter in the blogosphere concerning how Ron Gardenhire is using Joe Nathan this year, and the fact that Nathan hasn't pitched more than one inning in any outing. Aaron Gleeman analyzed this earlier this week, but back in mid-April, Nick Nelson suggested a specific alternative that the Twins might employ in GameDay's Dugout Splinters:

So, what I propose is this: bring in Nathan during the eighth or even seventh inning of tight games from time to time, and utilize his ability to prevent runs better than any other pitcher on the roster. If necessary, offset his extra usage by letting Neshek or Crain get a few of those cushy saves where the team has a three-run lead going into the ninth.

So this isn't new ground. But it's probably received a little more attention this week in part because how Nathan was utilized last Monday night. Nathan threw just five pitches in an extra-inning game where it was obvious the Twins risked short-suiting themselves on relievers. I heard it casually criticzed as yet more evidence of Gardenhire's fascination with formulaic bullpen usage.

Well, Gardy might have his formulaic tendencies when it comes to the bullpen, but under-utilizing a closer in an extra-inning game - especially at home - wasn't one I remember. Looking back at last year, there were four instances where Nathan pitched two full innings:

1. Apr 26 home vs. KC - He threw 35 pitches in the 9th and 10th innings to preserve a 0-0 game.
2. June 26 home vs TOR - He threw 33 pitches in the 10th and 11th innings to preserve a 1-1 game
3. July 19 home vs DET - He threw 27 pitches in the 9th and 10th innings to try and preserve a 3-3 game (he didn't and the Twins lost 4-3).
4. Sept 4 home vs CLE - He threw 23 pitches in the 9th and 10th innings to preserve a 5-5 game.

Like I said, Gardy has his formulaic tendencies. It was always at home, because Nathan can't get the save in extra innings at home. (Sigh.) Natha also always covers the first couple extra innings, but Gardy pulls him around that 30 pitch mark.

But that formulaic tendency is what made last week so weird. In a home game, Nathan came into the game and pitched the 10th, and then left after just five pitches?

It kind of happened again three days later. Home game, tie game, Nathan pitches the ninth and then doesn't return for the tenth. That one I wrote off, because he had throw 23 pitches in that ninth inning. But it was still another data point that maybe things had changed.

And then it happened AGAIN last night. Nathan blew the save in the ninth inning on Teahan's inside-the-park homerun. (And by the way, that is NOT the most exciting play in baseball. An inside-the-park homerun is almost always the result of a tremendous fielding gaffe or an injury to an outfielder. For the team that gives it up, it's the most excruciating play in baseball. And for the team that hits it, it's the most guilty play in baseball. You feel like you got away with something.)

But anyway Nathan left the ninth inning with the game tied and having thrown only 10 pitches. And the fact that this was a road game didn't matter, because Nathan was already in the game and wasn't going to get a save. In this situation, just like in the other two, Gardenhire usually let Nathan keep the ball for a second inning. And for the third time in a week, he didn't. This is a change, and the question is whether it is a change in philosophy or whether Nathan is hurt.

Could it be a change in philosophy? I suppose it could be because Nathan is making more money now and the organization or Gardy feels like they need to be super-extra-special careful with him. Or maybe they think he's less effective in outings after he's thown that many pitches. (BTW, a cursory glance at his performance after the games I mentioned above doesn't seem to support that). Or....

Or the Twins and Nathan are tending to something. Maybe it's some soreness or fatigue or something that isn't so bad that Nathan can't pitch but is bad enough that the Twins are being careful about when they use him. It's likely a question worth asking, or at least it might be interesting to ask Gardenhire why his usage pattern for his closer has seemingly changed this year.

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.