Thursday, April 23, 2009

MNGameNight Podcast

Pop quiz, hot shot: John isn't writing tonight because

a) He had some painting and repairs that had to get done
b) The Voice of Reason enticed him into some time on the front steps in 80 degree weather
c) He was hosting a podcast until 11:00 PM
d) All of the above

It's "d", but that still means there is plenty to check out. Tonight's podcast at was with Cory Caouette and Doug Hennessee, both of whom were very early contributors to this site (way back in 2002-2003). Topics included:

- Scott Baker
- The Return of Joe Mauer
- The Overcrowded Outfield
- What Beer Should Be Served at Target Field

And then, since these are the two biggest and most knowledgeable Timberwolves fans I know (Cory wrote for some time) we talked about the Wolves after the regular half-hour podcast was finished. I thought it was really fun and I encourage you to check it out. If you can't listen on your computers at work, just cut and paste the following RSS feed into iTunes under the menu items "Advanced=>Subscribe to Podcast".

See you on Monday!

Twins Geek and Dark Star - Late Night

Hey gang,
Besides writing up last night's entry (below) I was also on WCCO Radio late last night with Dark Star. We talked about the upcoming Cleveland series, the lineup decision and the return of Joe Mauer. Oh, and Toni Braxton sitting on a dryer. (blink. blink.)

The download is currently featured on WCCO Radio's home page. I think you can also listen to it here.


Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Glimmer of Hope on Baker

Scott Baker's second game of the year went about as well as his first. Slightly fewer home runs, many more hits, and the same number of runs in about the same number of innings. Last week I insinuated that I was still worried about Baker's shoulder, and that his shoulder problems may have begun early in spring training.

But how are you going to tell? I suppose we could breakdown his problems a bit, now that we have two starts to work with. Since the big problem has been home runs, using, let's take a look at the pitches he's made that have turned into souvenirs and see what we find.

Yesterday vs. Red Sox
Here are the three pitches that led to home runs yesterday:

- Kevin Youkilis, 1-2 count, 92 mph fastball, high, center
- Nick Green, 0-1 count, 90 mph fastball, middle, in
- Mike Lowell, 0-0 count, 92 mph fastball, middle, center

Well, it doesn't look like it's happening because Baker is falling behind in the count. But it does look like control is part of the issue. None of these pitches were low in the zone or on the outside half of the plate. These were pitches ripe to be pounded.

Of course, they were all fastballs, too. Were they just not fast enough? If Baker's shoulder was hurting, one might expect that his velocity would be down, and so I compared the fastball speeds in this start to those from his start in Fenway July of last year. (Why choose the Fenway start? Because I wanted to compare the same radar guns.) This year most of the fastballs were 89-91 mph. Last year most of his fastballs were 92-94 mph.

April 15th vs. Toronto
Here are the four pitches that ended up in the bleachers last week:

- Scott Rolen, 0-2 count, 89 mph fastball, middle, inside
- Aaron Hill, 0-1 count, 89 mph fastball, high, center
- Vernon Wells, 0-1, 81 mph slider, high, center
- Michael Barrett, 0-1, 91 mph fastball, high, center

OK, again it wasn't because Baker was falling behind in the count. In fact, in each case, he hadn't thrown a ball.

Also again, location was critical. The home run by Wells looks like a slider that didn't. The rest are all fastballs that were either high in the zone or middle-in.
They were also low 90s/high 80s fastballs, and so I compared those speeds to an 2008 start by Baker on April 20th.

Turns out, I didn't find the same decrease in velocity I found in Boston. Last April, in his dome start, Baker was throwing fastballs at about the same velocity. He also, by the way, had two starts in the middle of April where he gave up three home runs in each of them.

If you're looking for some hope, and I am, that's not a bad place to start. It appears that Baker's velocity last year increased as spring turned to summer. It also appears that he had some problems with home runs last April, too. This might just be the sort of thing that Baker has had to work his way through, too.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Squirming Thought

Crain DLed
I honestly don't know what to add to this news that likely hasn't been written somewhere else. The key facts, in my mind are:
  • Crain's shoulder hurts
  • That's an especially bad part of Crain to have hurting, seeing as he missed most of the 2007 season with a shoulder problem and rehabbed it extensively.
  • It started hurting after a four-day span where he threw 28, 0, 11 and 30 pitches. He also threw those last 30 pitches while getting the snot kicked out of him.
Someone is going to raise that last point with an arched eyebrow looking towards the coaching staff. That's unfair. It's not a totally unreasonable workload. Or one might suggest that Crain should've been pulled earlier in that last appearance, but I could just as easily suggest given the results that he was having some problems before that outing and didn't tell anyone. Either way, it's all complete speculation, and mostly void of meaning. The bottom line is that Crain threw pitches because that's what he's paid to do. And now his shoulder hurts and needs some rest. That happens.

But I've been squirming over a notion for a couple of years now, and I'd sure like to investigate it a bit more. If Crain's injury turns out to be more serious than just the 15-day DL, or if Crain has trouble being effective after his return, does it continue a trend we've seen this decade with the bullpen? Has the extra careful attitude this organization has with starting pitchers led to overuse of their relievers?

I'm just going off the top of my head here. Besides Crain now (and in 2007) we have Guerrier's decline last year after significant use. Neshek's decline in 2007 after frequent use. Juan Rincon faded significantly. Guardado became injury prone shortly after leaving. JC Romero declined considerably after carrying the team in 2002.

The Twins, and especially Ron Gardenhire, have been extra careful with their starting pitchers, so it's not like there is an uncaring attitude for these young arms. Furthermore, Gardenhire often talks about protecting arms in the bullpen, putting some relievers off limits for games. And while there have been studies examining the effect of high pitch counts on starting pitchers, I've seen no groundbreaking studies on relievers.

But I'm starting to wonder if there shouldn't be. Something like BP's Pitching Abuse Points system that tallies the number of pitches in an outing for relievers and tallies additional points given how recent and extensive their last outing (or two) was.

The recent talk this weekend about extending Glen Perkins and Kevin Slowey made me reach back to my BP2002 book and look up the original study by Ran Jazayerli and Keith Woolner. If I get some time this week we'll go back and take a look at it for starting pitchers, because the more I read it, the more I realize it doesn't match the conventional wisdom regarding overextending young starting pitchers.

And maybe it'll provide a roadmap of what might be a path for evaluating usage patterns and injuries in relievers.