Thursday, July 15, 2010

Gettin 'Er Duen

What do the Twins need this second half? They need a bunch more “Brian Duensings.”
This week I got to participate in the Sports on Demand web show on Fox 9 (which you can see here). On of the midseason awards we presented was the Twins Most Valuable Player, which belonged to Justin Morneau, who was chosen unanimously. This is not a surprise.
But second place, at least on my ballot, should surprise.

When I look at MVP, I like to look at a statistic called Win Probability Added. WPA isn’t like most of the advanced offensive metrics: you’re not taking a bunch of other stats and adding them or dividing them together. WPA just measures how much each player impacts the probability of their team winning a game. So, if a player who comes to bat with his team having a 47% chance of winning a game, and leaves the at-bat with his team having a 51% chance of winning the game, he gets .04 points. If they have a 44% chance of winning the game when he’s done with his at-bat, he loses .03 points. That’s it.

I like WPA because it places a player’s performance inside the context of their situation. Pitching a scoreless inning in an 8-1 blowout doesn’t help your team much. Doing the same thing in a tie game does.

You find out that players with higher WPA scores are often fan favorites. Why? Because fans watch the game, and understand that this guy’s impact on their season was far higher than their numbers might indicate. For instance, if you liked Orlando Cabrera last fall, you had good reason. His stats were good, but his WPA was excellent. His impact far exceeded his time here.
If you look at WPA this season for Twins hitters (you can find them here), Morneau is where you would think he would be – atop the list and by a far amount. If you look at the list of pitchers, you find Carl Pavano, Jon Rauch and Francisco Liriano, but you find them in 2nd, 3rd and 4th place. Guess who is at the top of that list…

A: Brian Duensing

How does one become one of the team’s most valuable players as a middle-innings reliever? The SOLE answer is consistency. Duensing has appeared in 38 games. Only in five of them has he decreased the team’s chances of winning. Those five are:

6/19 at Philadelphia – This was Saturday’s “comeback” game in Philadelphia. He gave up a solo home run in the 7th when the Twins were down 8-4. Because the lead was already large, it didn’t have much of an impact. Total percentage impact: -1.2%

7/4 vs Tampa Bay – With the Twins already down 5-1, Duensing took over for Nick Blackburn with one out in the seventh, inheriting runners on first and second base. He got out of the inning but the two runners scored on a double by Gabe Kapler. Again, team is already losing, so a small impact. Total percentage impact: -3.4%

6/10 vs. Kansas City Royals – The Twins had been down 8-1 but had closed the gap to 8-6 as Duensing pitched the top of the ninth. After getting two quick outs, he gave up a home run to Wilson Betemit and a single before being placed to Matt Guerrier. The Twins continued their comeback in the bottom of the frame, but lost 8-9. Total percentage impact: -3.9%
Now we get to the one’s that hurt, because the game was close.

6/23 at Milwaukee – With the Brewers leading 3-2 in the seventh inning, Duensing walked a batter, got an out, intentionally walked a batter and hit Prince Fielder with a pitch. One of those runners eventually came around to score. Total percentage impact: -7.5%

5/22 vs Milwaukee – This was the Saturday game at Target Field, where the Twins grabbed an early lead, the Brewers tied it in the ninth, and the Twins finally won it in the 12th after missing all kinds of previous chances to win it. I expect to find out that Duensing was the main culprit for that comeback. Nope. He just started the seventh with a single and a walk when the scores was just 4-2. Then he was pulled. Guerrier got him out of the inning without any runs scoring. Total percentage impact: -13.6%

Bu that’s it for negative WPA. By contrast, he has impacted 31 games positively (two were neutral). But what is amazing here is that these are not Herculean endeavors. These are a guy doing his job in a close game. Here are the five games he impacted most positively:

5/12 vs Chicago White Sox – The Twins were clinging to a 3-2 lead and Duensing started the 8th. He struck out Juan Pierre, and got AJ Pierzynski to ground out to second. That’s it. Guerrier got the third out of the inning and the Twins eventually won the game 3-2. Total percentage impact: +9.9%

5/1 at Cleveland – The Twins blew a 4-2 lead to lose this game 5-4 in the 11th inning when Jesse Crain was unable to clean up a mess that Alex Burnett created. Duensing pitched a scoreless 7th with a 3-2 lead. Total percentage impact: +10.9%

4/24 at Kansas City – Duensing entered the eighth inning of a tie game with one out and a runner on first. He walked David DeJesus but got a line drive double-play to get out of the inning. This one was mostly luck. Total percentage impact: +11.3%

4/17 vs. Kansas CityNick Blackburn had given up 5 runs in five innings, but the Twins had matched it. Duensing pitched the 6th and 7th innings of the tie game. He actually got a “W” for this one too, because Orlando Hudson hit a home run to lead off the bottom of the seventh. The Twins won the game 6-5.

4/9 at Chicago White Sox – This was the first game versus the White Sox, and the big question was what Liriano would look like away from Fort Myers. But the pitchers that carried the team that night were Guerrier and Duensing, who each pitched two scoreless innings in a 3-3 game. Duensing shut down the 9th and 10th frames, and also got the “W” when JJ Hardy singled in Joe Mauer in the 11th inning.

There are another 25 examples like that.

Brian Duensing is never going to be a Cy Young winner, and is probably a longshot to make it to an All-Star game. But he’s doing his job on a consistent basis, and the impact it is having on the team is overwhelmingly positive. The Twins have more than enough talent on this team already. If they can coax more players to perform like Duensing – day-in and day-out positive impacts – this pennant race can still be over early in September.


Have you downloded your 2010 Trade Deadline Primer yet? How about the free 1/4 book sample? Why not? It's FREE. And it's going to help you sort through all the trade B.S. that is rushing your way. Get it! Hurry!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Cliff Lee Fallout: Now What?

So the Twins missed out on Cliff Lee. If they want to address their pitching issues, there is a list of 40 starting pitchers in the 2010 Trade Deadline Primer (available here), 38 of whom are not Twins. Let's go through some of the bigger names, and to play along, we'll coax the Geek Chorus out of retirement....

Roy Oswalt -
This is the name everyone likes to mention, which is a shame. Because this is not ever, ever, in any way, shape or form, ever going to happen.

Geek Chorus: What if....

No. Not happening.

GC: But if...

Stop. Stop now. Quit talking.

GC: B...

Listen, and listen good. Oswalt is owed $16 million next year. The Twins payroll is already looking like it's going to go up as much as $10 million in 2011, and that's without re-signing any of their free agents. (You can find details in a Primer essay.) They cannot absorb that salary. It would gut the team.

GC: Maybe the Astros will pay it? The Mariners paid part of Cliff Lee's salary for the Rangers...

It is thought that the Mariners paid about $2.5 million of Lee's salary. Oswalt is owed almost 10 times that - $8 million this year and $16 million next year. How many prospects would the Twins need to include in a deal to make that worthwhile? The mind boggles.

So repeat after me: This is not going to happen. It is SO not going to happen that it is not worth the breath it takes to say it is not going to happen.

Dan Haren
This seems to be the next most popular name out there and is seen as a better, more long-term and economical choice than Oswalt.

GC: That's why you've publicly pimped him on Twitter. As usual, you're about 1/3 right. He's long-term alright - he's under contract through 2012. But what exactly is economical about $12.75 million over each of the next two years?

Right. I didn't realize that contract was for quite so much. That doesn't fit it too well with that whole payroll thing I just talked about.

GC: Don't forget to talk about how he sucks.

TG: "Sucks" is a strong word. He has a 4.36 ERA. His problem seems to be how many home runs he's given up. The league average is about 1 per nine innings, which would be about 14 home runs for him. He's given up 19. But his career ERA is 3.61. That's worth something.

GC: Yes. Apparently it's worth $25 million over the next two years. But before you expect him to extract himself from this year's slump, don't forget that this slump actually started last year. After the All-Star break, he posted a 4.61 ERA, due largely to a spike in his home run rate. It's possible you actually supported someone who is a worse fit than Oswalt.

Pedro Martinez
TG: My personal favorite. Last year Pedro showed that in a short season, he's still a heck of a pitcher. After signing late with the Phillies, he posted a 3.63 ERA in nine starts during the regular season. Then he started three postseason games, pitching reasonably effectively in two of the three games and posting a 3.71 ERA. He's worth kicking the tires on.

GC: Be careful kicking Pedro in the tires. I'm pretty sure that's what Don Zimmer was going to do a few years ago..... Hey YO-O-O!

TG: Best of all, you don't need to trade anyone for him - he's a free agent. He was signed last year for $2 million plus incentives, which should be well within the money the Twins received back for insurance for Joe Nathan's injury.

Jarrod Washburn
GC: No. NO! Don't say it.

TG: I can't believe it isn't already done. This is who the Twins are going to get, right? He's available without giving up any prospects. He's got to be desperate. They can try him in the minors for awhile, make sure he's still effective.

GC: The horror. THE HORROR!

TG: It's also got to be enticing to Washburn. Back to his midwestern roots. A chance to pitch in a pitcher's ballpark to show what he can do. Behind a stellar defensive, hold on.

GC: Leave it alone! What is the matter with you?

TG: Ok, let's move on to....

Carlos Silva
GC: Blink. Blink. You pulled me of retirement just to torture me, didn't you?

TG: Hey, this isn't your old Carlos Silva.

GC: The old Carlos Silva was OK. It's the newer Carlos Silva that has been killing teams. Good lord - the man was traded straight up for Milton Bradley. And everyone thought Jack Z got the best of that deal.

TG: Everyone always believes Jack Z gets the best of every deal, all evidence to the contrary. Silva has apparently added a pitch to his repertoire and not only is his ERA at 3.45, but he's only given up just 97 hits in 101.2 innings, and he's struck out 72. He's a different guy.

GC: He'll kill us. He's like Jason. He's risen from the dead and he'll come back to kill us.

TG: Don't worry, you can still take that late-night walk with the hottie in the woods. Silva is owed $11.5 million next year. The Twins can't afford him the same way they can't afford Oswalt and Haren. He won't be coming here.

Ted Lilly
TG: He's left-handed, he's a free agent next year, and he's got a 4.08 ERA. He's also a 34-year-old veteran. And the Cubs are likely done.

GC: He's also been knocked around in his last two starts and is coming back from arthroscopic shoulder surgery.

TG: Fair enough. But he needs to be on the watch list. He says he's healthy. Let's see what happens.

That's it for today. If you would like to kick around another 20 names or so, please stop by and take a look at the $9.95 Primer or download the 1/4 book sample of it for free. But first a few more notes....

- On 7/24 at the Hennepin Stages Theater, baseball historian (and Twins scorekeeper) Stew Thornley is going to be doing a baseball talk. If you don't know Stew, he's an absolute local baseball stud and literally wrote THE book on Minnesota baseball history. He's also funny.

They're going to have drawings for theatre and baseball merchandise and it's the same night as the Aquatennial fireworks so people can come downtown and enjoy two events for free! You can find more information here. I'll almost certainly be there, too.

- Tomorrow morning I'll be on KFAN at 7:20 to talk baseball with the Powertrip morning show. You'll be able to download the podcast here.

- I took part today on Fox 9's "Sports on Demand" webcast with Jim Rich and Seth Kaplan. It looks like it isn't posted in the archives yet, but it may be by tomorrow morning. So check it out and then come back and bust on me in my comments for using the word "frankly" too much.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Cliff Lee Fallout: So What Happened? And Now What?

What Happened?
When we produced the first draft of the 2010 Trade Deadline Primer (now available) last week, here was the introductory paragraph (written by Scott Lucas of The Newberg Report) for the Texas Rangers:

"The Rangers have marketed their 2010 club with the slogan 'It’s Time,' asserting that they won’t settle for mere prospect development and a polite stab at contention. Despite financial constraints, the Rangers geared their offseason toward a legitimate run at the division title. During spring training and the season, roster decisions have largely reflected a 'win now' mentality that stands in bold relief against most of the post-Alex Rodriguez era."

Little did we understand how prescient that was. Now it includes a final sentence:

And that has now culminated in a four-for-one trade for Cliff Lee.

The bottom line is that the Texas Rangers were just plain more willing to go after this thing very hard. They also might have been a little lucky that the Mariners (and most commentators) value the main prospect so highly.

Justin Smoak, for some reason is considered to be gold grade. Looking at his minor league record and availability, I'm surprise more people aren't asking if it's really fools gold. He's supposed to be a powerful middle-of-the-order presence for many years, but he's got all of 17 home runs in his 2+ years in the minors. He's also 23-years-old (a year older than Wilson Ramos), plays first base, and has yet to show he's mastered AAA, let alone the majors.

And the rest?
  • Blake Beavan is Twins type of pitcher, strike-throwing, low strikeout rate, good at getting grounders. He'll start at AAA. I'd liken him to Jeff Manship.
  • Josh Lueke is a pitcher in AA who is striking lots of guys out, but he's also 25 years old. Oh, and he was arrested last year for rape and sodomy, though he eventually agreed to a lesser charge of false imprisonment with violence. By the way, apparently for a first offense you can get just 40 days in jail for that.
  • Matthew Lawson is a 24-year-old second baseman who has an 809 OPS in AA this year.
There isn't anything special in the bunch of them, with the possible exception of Lueke, provided he becomes a human being.

So, I guess I'm puzzled. I can't figure out how the Twins got outbid here. And I can't figure out why everyone is so quick to praise Seattle GM Jack Zduriencik, other than the fact that it's Jack Zduriencik, and he had one hell of a good first year on the job.

It's worth noting that his second year has been almost as bad as his first year was good. He was praised for taking a 61-win team and turning them into an 85-win team in one year. Well, guess how many wins the Mariners are on pace for this year? A: 65. A four-win improvement in two years is a little less impressive.

So What's Next?
Gimme 24 hours and we'll delve into it. Frankly, both myself and my family are a little burned out by the publishing of the Trade Deadline Primer, which you can now order for $9.95. Or you can download a free "quaterbook." (Because it's about 1/4 of the whole, book. Get it?)

If you get either, you'll see a list of starting pitchers that will be available. That will be tomorrow's starting point.