Monday, August 16, 2010

Off -Day Notes

Let's see how quickly I can crank out a few random observations....

Thome's Early Aggression
You can get a pretty good idea of how Jim Thome is going to do in an at-bat based on how many strikes he has. If he isn't making contact early, he's unlikely to do so later in that at-bat.

For instance, once Thome has had two strikes on him, he's in trouble. With a 0-2 count, he has yet to get a hit this year. At 1-2, he's batting just .179. At an even-2-2 count, he's hitting just .111. And at a full count, he's hitting just .161 - but has a .500 on-base percentage.

But if he connects early, watch out. The 3-0 pitch hit for a home run on Sunday is a rarity - he's only put two balls in play at that count and that other one was an out. But consider what he has done on the first pitch this year: 18 AB, 11 hits and 6 home runs. You don't want to groove your first pitch to Thome. There are similarly scary numbers on 1-0 and 2-0 counts.

It looks like Thome can either hurt you bad, or he can't, and you'll find out which when you throw him his first strike.

Mauer's Rest
Since the All-Star Break, Mauer has started at catcher in four consecutive games exactly once - and there was a rest day in between those. Before the All-Star break, he caught four or more consecutive games NINE times, including a streak of ten games, eight games and seven games. In the 30 games since the All-Star break, he has NOT started at catcher 13 times, or 43% of the time. Before the All-Star break that percentage was just 26%.

Maybe it's the rest, or maybe it's something else, but the result is he is hitting the snot out of the ball. We've been praising the starting pitching, and the bullpen, and Danny Valencia's rise and others. But check out Mauer's numbers since the ASB: .437 batting average, including a .504 on-base percentage and .660 slugging percentage. He already has 28 RBI, compared to 35 before the All-Star Break. He is carrying this team offensively right now.

Being Careful Not To Jinx
With a three game lead in the division going into tonight's three-game series with the White Sox, the Twins have a chance to really put the Pale Hose in a tough position. If the Twins were to sweep, the White Sox would be six games back, have just three remaining games to play against the Twins, and still have ten games against the Yankees and Red Sox on their schedule.

It's worth noting how the White Sox responded last year. On August 30th, the White Sox fell 6 games back of the Tigers, and 1.5 games behind the Twins. The next day, they traded away Jose Contreras and Jim Thome, on the last day that playoff rosters were set.

Could the same thing happen this year? It's hard to say, because last year the Sox were dealing with the surprise addition of Alex Rios (and his huge contract) to their roster. That might have been part of the reason that they felt they needed to trade away two rather large contracts despite still having some shot for the playoffs. But if the White Sox find themselves 6 or so games back at the end of August this year, it isn't inconceivable that they would do something similar, especially if it meant getting them out from under of next year's payroll mess.

Sunday, August 15, 2010


Ron Gardenhire was absolutely right.

And I'm writing this as the enemy. I've researched studies that "proved" pitch count lead to injuries, wrote about it in three parts, and concluded that pitch counts are BS.

But I'm surprised there is even any debate about whether Gardenhire should have pulled Kevin Slowey after seven inning of no-hit baseball. I assume that most of the venom is coming from people who dislike Gardenhire as a manager, and looking for some fuel for the fire. This isn't it. And again, this is coming from someone who thinks pitch counts are terribly overused. Here was my summary of that research:

The 100 pitch count “limit” was ingrained in people’s noggins before this study. The original PAP metric had sabremetrics lovers everywhere analyzing and criticizing managers for fragging their players' arms, present company included. The revised metric supposedly brought it even more credence.

It didn’t. The study of pitch counts appears to – as Bill James wrote a couple of years later – resulted in a dead end. The evidence shows that pitchers arms are no more affected in the short or long term by 125 pitches than they are by 100, and barely affected up to 139 pitches. And pitch counts like that almost never happen in major league baseball these days.

I’m not advocating pushing the limit to 180 pitches. But maybe Bert is right: we can trust the opposing batters to indicate to a pitcher when he is done, and rely a lot less on arbitrary pitch counts.

If Kevin Slowey wasn't battling tendinitis, or didn't skip a start, I'd fully support the flack that Gardenhire is getting. But if that wasn't true, I'm just as sure that Gardenhire would not have pulled him. In fact, I think it's funny that of all managers, Gardenhire is the one getting criticized for not giving his player a chance to get an individual accomplishment.

If anything, Gardenhire jumps through hoops to get his players those laurels. He juggles his bullpen to get his closer saves. He'll nurse starting pitchers in close games to the end of an inning, in the hope of getting his guy a win. He pays close attention to milestones his hitters are reaching, and he's extremely cautious about moving players around in the field or the lineup, for fear of embarrassing them.

There is NO WAY he wanted to pull Slowey. He admitted as much after the game. Even said he would "Boo" himself for it. Anyone who watches him manage must know this. It goes against his every instinct.

But you don't F with a pitcher with a sore elbow. Slowey threw a season high 114 pitches last week - and ended up missing a start. Extending Slowey to pitch past that number is a reasonable goal that both he, Gardenhire and Rick Anderson should embrace. But not coming off an injury. That's just nuts - and whether a no-hitter was in play or not is relatively irrelevant.

Gardenhire and coach Rick Anderson showed they are willing to take the heat - from fans, announcers and probably their own team - to watch out for the longer term interested of a team and for a young arm's career. By doing so, they showed foresight, caring, courage and leadership. And that should be celebrated, not criticized.