Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Darkest Before The Dawn

Talk about dark.

Yesterday, Francisco Liriano had his worst start of the young season statistically. In just five innings (actually, 5-plus), he gave up seven runs, all earned, and watched his ERA climb to 9.42. And yet, I think we watched a possible turning point.

In each his two previous starts, Liriano only gave up four hits – and yet he gave up four runs in each, too. He gave up that many runs because he also put eight additional guys on base with walks. Yesterday he only gave up one walk, but gave up eight hits in five innings.

Er, make that one inning. The eight hits became seven runs because so many were strung together. The Royals produced a six-run fourth inning that included six straight hits. Actually, let’s put “hits” in quotes…

1st AB – Melky Cabrera gets a ground ball through the left side of the infield.
2nd AB – Alex Gordon gets a ground ball over second base, just out of the reach of shortstop Matt Tolbert and second baseman Michael Cuddyer.
3rd AB – Billy Butler grounds a hit between third baseman Danny Valencia and Tolbert.
4th AB – Another ground ball up the middle that neither Cuddyer nor Tolbert can reach.

By now, the 1-0 lead has turned into a 2-1 deficit, we’ve seen four grounders become hits, and there still aren’t any outs. Nor will there be any time soon.

5th AB – Wilson Betemit – Hey, an actual line drive! A soft line drive, but a line drive.
6th AB – Mike Aviles doubles when (you guessed it) a ground ball goes past Danny Valencia down the third base line. Two more runs in.
7th AB – Matt Treanor grounds out to third baseman Danny Valencia.

At this point, a Bronx Cheer rose from the Target Field faithful. A fielder … FIELDING?!? That’s awesome!

8th AB – Alcides Escobar is sawed off - and ends up floating a soft blooper in front of right fielder Jason Kubel. At least it was in the air. Another run scores.
9th AB – Chris Getz hits a….well, you know. Cuddyer ranges and dives to field it, throws to first base, but pulls Justin Morneau off the bag. It is scored as a hit, driving in the sixth run. Getz is eventually picked off of first by Liriano.
10th AB – Liriano strikes out Melky Cabrera.

In case you didn’t have an abacus handy, that was eight hits and six runs, or just about all the damage that Liriano gave up. Liriano’s seventh “earned” run came after he had left, when reliever Glen Perkins gave up a double which scored the only batter Liriano had walked.

So while the box score was ugly (and watching it live was even uglier), it was a positive step forward in a lot of ways. This was the first outing where Liriano didn’t hurt himself.
It’s also worth noting that even with all those balls in play, Liriano still struck out four in five innings.

(One side note: It’s tempting to put the blame on the range of the infielders, but sitting down the first base line, I have trouble judging that. I’ll say this – there weren’t any obviously missed plays. But there were several times during the game that both the infielders and outfielders looked a step slow to me.)

But this felt like a bad luck game with an inordinate amount of bad luck. Change that to an exponentially inordinate amount of bad luck. I’m choosing to believe that the dawn has just about arrived.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

True Thome Tater

The second that Jim Thome's home run hit somewhere in the center field concourse, the media corps' ears pricked, fingers poised and eyes gathered atop their sockets. They all waited for the same thing - the measurement.

The ears were waiting for the "official" announcement, which happens within a minute or so of a home run. The fingers were poised for the tweets, a new learned behavior. And the eyes waited to roll, a planned journey designed to convey disbelief.

It came as scheduled: 444 ft. The tweets went out, and we all turned to each other, eyeballs askance, sure we had witnessed an injustice. We wanted it to be greater than that. We wanted to be part of "greater than that."

This time, unlike so many others, I think we were. Home runs in ballparks should be a science, but are usually more of an art - and art is not immune to hyperbole. The 444 foot home run was announced to be the 5th longest home run at Target Field, all of which are hit by Jim Thome. The longest - the infamous "Labor Day flagpole" home run, was estimated at 480 feet (though I had trouble confirming if that was the "official" length.)

An important clarification is that nobody says that Labor Day blast traveled 480 feet. Home run distances are always estimated by how long the ball would have traveled if there had been no obstacle. That's where the "art" comes in.

But the site attempts to use science to determine the ultimate length of those hits. Thome's blast from today isn't loaded yet, but that Labor Day blast came in at only 440 feet.

I'm here to tell you, yesterday's blast was longer than that. After the game, I went out to center field with Joel Anthony from Twins Guest Services. He saw where the ball landed. It found the gap between the decks out there and bounced off of the TV in the picture to the right.

That TV is just above the "State Fare" concessions in center field, the place The Boy insists on going for cheese curds (and where I apparently need to try their new ribs.) It is in the deepest part of the ballpark, above the batting eye.

The dimensions to that part of the ballpark are 403 feet. Then the ball needed to clear a small garden (which is where the pine trees used to reside). Joel and I estimated that garden to be 15-20 feet wide. Then we paced off the width of the concourse, from the batting eye to the TV. It was about 8 paces, or 24 feet. So the ball traveled about 443 feet horizontally.

But that still isn't the story - because it still hit a TV on the second deck.

How high is that above the playing field? The TV is approximately 5 feet higher than the batting eye. The batting eye extends down to the center field wall. It consists of panels that are about four feet wide, and there are 6 and a half of them. And the wall itself in center field is at least eight feet tall. Add that all up, and the ball was still about 40 feet above the ground when it hit the TV.

Major league estimators are supposed to multiply that vertical difference by a factor depending on whether it was a line drive, a normal fly, or a high fly. (Here's the formula.) Assuming this was a high fly, that factor is .6, which means the ball would have traveled an additional 24 feet. Which puts the length of that home run at 467 feet.

We'll see what says, but it looks like the "eyes" had it. We saw something greater: a true Thome tater.