Thursday, May 20, 2010

An Apology to UZR

Several times over the last year, I've tried to explore the details of Ultimate Zone Rating(UZR), a defensive metric, in part because I thought it was unfairly rating Twins outfielders. It started back in October, but if you click back, make sure you make it down to the second comment. It was by Parker Hageman of, whose research suggested that maybe UZR is biased against smaller outfields.

That's because we thought the zones in UZR didn't take into account the particular ballpark they were in. So a 350 ft fly ball down the right field line was judged similarly in park after park - even if that fly ball was a home run in the Metrodome or Target Field, but not in another field. So, somewhat ironically, the larger, more spacious outfields pumped up UZRs because fielders had more chances to make plays, while the smaller ones penalized UZR.

But we were wrong. I'm sorry UZR, I should not have doubted you.

It is apparent I was wrong because has now added a "Split" option to their statistics, including UZR. Here is Cuddyer's for last year. Instead of having the Metrodome hurt him, it helped him. Cuddyer's UZR/150 was just -6.6 at home but -22.2 on the road. All in all he cost the team just 2.7 runs at home and 7.3 runs on the road.

The same thing happens as you look at his statistics year to year, and you also see the same thing in other ballparks, like Fenway's left field. Jason Bay's 2009 season shows him having a better UZR in Fenway than on the road.

So it appears that somehow, UZR is making the appropriate call for smaller outfields. There are other weaknesses we can pick apart, but all stats have weaknesses. UZR's method for handling somewhat extreme outfields is not one of them. In fact, it seems to be a strength.

But there is something else going on here, too, I think. Somehow, Cuddyer's defense got a lot better in 2009. This offseason I'm 99% sure it said that his UZR/150 was -22.1 in 2009, but now it's -13.6? That's not an insignificant change.

In some ways, that's good news, because I think that's a lot closer to what we're really seen from Cuddyer, and demonstrates his defense hasn't hurt the Twins the way other outfielders, like Jermaine Dye, have hurt their teams. But it's also very, very bad news, because I don't know why it changed. Was there an error before? Is there an error now?

If anyone knows, I'd love to hear it.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Frustrated by the Slow(ey) Stuff

I’m going to admit it that I’m more than just a little frustrated with Kevin Slowey right now. And by “little frustrated,” I mean turning myself into a parody of Chris Farley’s Matt Foley character every time Slowey fails to make it past the middle innings. I'm one more long middle inning from breaking our coffee table.

It happened again last night. For the fifth consecutive start, and the seventh of his eight starts, he failed to make it through the sixth inning. His ERA has climbed to 4.70, a trend that has also been going on for almost a month. And as I listened to this, I wondered two things:

1) What’s going on with Slowey and
2) How much longer before Slowey finds himself living in a VAN, DOWN BY THE RIVER?!?

Is it possible Slowey just isn’t going to be that good? After all, he’s now 26 years old. This is his fourth year in the majors. His high water mark for endurance is 27 starts and 160.1 innings. He’s given up 50 more hits than innings pitched, and his home run rate is pretty consistently about 50% higher than you would hope. And his career ERA heading into last night’s game is 4.42.

To find the promise, you need to go back to his minor league career. He was drafted in the second round in 2005. In his first full year he posted a 1.88 ERA between High-A and Double-A. In his second full year he dominated AAA-Rochester, with a 1.89 ERA. While Matt Garza was getting all the hype, Slowey was right behind him, moving up a level just after Garza, and often posting at least as nasty numbers.

But in his four years in the majors, we’ve really only seen that promise once, in 2008. That year he stayed relatively healthy, only missing time at the beginning and ending of the year. He still gave up the home runs, but showed the impeccable control that was supposed to make him such a reliable rotation staple. But even then his ERA was only as low as 3.99. As Mr. Foley said, “Well, lad-dee-FRICKIN-da.”

Outside of that year, he’s posted a 4.73 ERA, a 4.86 ERA and now a 4.70 ERA. He received a fair amount of hype last before the All-Star break for having won 12 games, but that was mostly due to being in the right place at the right time; only nine of his 16 starts were quality starts.

Mostly, he’s just plain been hittable. Last year hitters had a batting average of .309 against him and this year it is .304. If you’ve got a lineup full of .300 hitters, your team is a powerhouse. Slowey does that to a team.

But given the injuries he’s faced with his wrist (which really go back to September of 2008) it’s way too early to say he’s never going to amount to JACK SQUAT. 2008 was a very good sign of what Twins fans could expect. And it’s silly to overlook those years in 2007 and 2006 in the minors. Our expectations are not out of line. He could be very good.

So what’s gong on? Because right now, he is easily the weakest of the Twins starters, and it’s not particularly close.

Taking a look at the Pitcher Report Card for him, the easy answer seems to be that he’s having trouble with his namesake – the slow stuff. He is just plain having trouble throwing his offspeed pitches for strikes. In 2008 he was throwing 63% of his offspeed pitches for strikes, which Inside Edge graded out as a B+. (MLB Average is 61%). This year he’s throwing just 50% for a strike, which grades out as an F.

And it looks like Major League batters have gotten the memo, because they’re not chasing those pitches. Again in 2008, he got hitters to chase 33% of those off-speed pitches (MLB average was 31%). This year, they’re chasing just 12%, which grades out as another F.

Is that how things played out last night?

It’s hard to say. The first two runs happened in the second inning, when he found himself in two full-count battles with Alex Gonzalez and Jose Bautista. In both cases he was throwing primarily offspeed pitches, sometimes for strikes, sometimes not. Both hits he gave up were pitches that drifted into the inside edge of the plate about thigh-high. In Gonzalez case it was an off-speed pitch that he singled. In Bautista’s it was a sinking fastball that he hit for a homerun.

It was a little different in the fourth inning. Freddie Lewis got on base after seeing almost exclusively sinking fastballs. Vernon Wells drove him in hitting a changeup on the outside of the plate. In neither case was the batter really ahead in the count, or in a full count.

So I don’t know if the problem is that offspeed pitch control, or that batters just aren’t being fooled. Either way, it could certainly indicate why Slowey is suddenly having trouble keeping his pitch count low enough to get deep into games, and why batters are adjusting to him in middle innings. Let’s hope he makes an adjustment for my own coronary health.

Sunday, May 16, 2010


You can't always get what you want, but you get what you need.
- The Rolling Stones

It wasn't what I hoped for in the Yankees series, but it may have been the best possible outcome.

Friday night I got validation that the Twins (and Ron Gardenhire) were absolutely psyched out by Yankee Stadium. On Saturday, as hit after hit found their way into Yankee gloves, it became apparent that the Twins were also snakebit. (In fact, on Sunday I listened to the Yankees announcers confirm both points throughout the game. They were virtually shaking their heads about how break after break seemed to be going the Yankees way.)

There is only one way for a trend like that to end - in the strangest possible manner. And so I stoically listened to Sunday's late innings hoping that this would be the game that lightning struck.

Did it ever. Down 3-2 in the eighth inning, the Twins were faced with four seemingly insurmountable obstacles:
1. Yankee Stadium
2. Mariano Rivera
3. the bases loaded and
4. Jason Kubel at the plate.

All year the last two virtually assured failure. All decade the first two virtually assured failure. But apparently it's easier to throw four monkeys off your back than just one. Who knew?

And so the Twins will head into the playoffs knowing that they can win at Yankee Stadium, that they can beat Rivera, and that closer Jon Rauch can strike out the top three guys in the Yankees order. That is a far better ending than I would have hoped for on Saturday night, Friday night or even Thursday night.

I got what I need. I think the Twins did too.


I gotta say, I had a GREAT time at the TwinsCentric Viewing Party on Saturday. That's saying something considering the Twins were being shellacked and we probably only had 30-35 people there. Or maybe that was what made it so much fun for me, because the gallows humor kicked in and we just had such a great group relaxing and debating baseball. Sincerely, thanks to everyone who came. It really was a fun communal baseball experience. And I LOVE that.


I did some research on the Blue Jays that I was going to write up tonight, but instead I'm going to try and tweet it tomorrow prior to the game, so please sign up for my Twitter feed, which I think you can even get on your cell phone. See you tomorrow.