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Here Come the Yankees

 The following will appear in the Gameday Program for this weekends series against the Yankees.  I wrote it.  I have reservations about giving away my pearls of genious and wisdom for free, but I though, ah, what the hell.

April Showers Bring…

April was not a kind month to the hitters of the Minnesota Twins.  They finished the month with the worst On Base Percentage and the third worst Slugging Percentage in the AL and scored more runs than only the lowly Royals.  Carlos Gomez, the centerpiece of the Johan Santana trade, was exciting for the first few games before showing his inexperience en route to a dreadful .253/.260/.354 (Batting Average/On Base Percentage/Slugging Percentage) hitting line.  Michael Cuddyer spent most of the month hurt, Joe Mauer hit a lukewarm .298 with 0 home runs, Jason Kubel did little outside a few home runs, Mike Lamb hit below the Mendoza line, and Delmon Young did nothing to add power to the lineup.

May brought the flowers as promised.  The Twins have rebounded to score 129 runs so far in May, 3rd most in the American League, while putting up the third best On Base Percentage in the league and a surprisingly solid sixth best Slugging Percentage.  The Twins also managed to defy their usual problems with plate patience by drawing the third most walks in the AL and striking out the third fewest times.

Leading the improvement charge was Carlos Gomez.  After sitting out a game in Oakland on April 23rd, Gomez hit a home run and a single in his return to the lineup and hasn’t looked back since, posting a  .317/.367/.505/ line with 4 home runs total and 8 stolen bases in 10 chances.  All this was capped by his astounding cycle performance on May 7th in a 13-1 drubbing of the hated White Sox.  Gomez still strikes out a lot, but after only one walk in the entire month of April his 6 in May are doing wonders for his OBP, which is doing wonders for his ability to actually use his speed as a leadoff hitter.

Jason Kubel returning to form has also had a big effect on the Twins offense.  After a bad April that had Craig Monroe threatening for more at bats in the DH spot, Kubel has gotten on track in May with a .264/.344/.472 line with 2 home runs in 53 at bats.  After a dreadful 20/3 K/BB ratio in April, he has found his plate eye again with an even 7/7 ratio in May.  After years of seeing players like Jason Tyner and Lew Ford spend lots of time in the DH spot, it’s nice to see Kubel start to thrive in the role.

There is more room for improvement too.  Michael Cuddyer has stunk up the batters box since his return and is now hitting a putrid .237/.304/.319.  Cuddyer is an important hitter for the Twins since most of the Twins best hitters are all left handed and productive Cuddyer makes it much harder for opposing managers to create favorable matchups against Mauer, Morneau, and Kubel late in the game.  Meanwhile, Delmon Young has also struggled at the plate with a mediocre .268 BA and almost no power.  The Twins expected to have more than one home run between their two starting corner outfielders by now.  Fortunately, Cuddyer’s established track record and Young’s age gives us plenty of reason to think they’ll bounce back soon and give the offense another boost.

And, sure, it doesn’t have anything to do with offense, but Fransisco Liriano is still down in AAA slowly getting his control and velocity back…

The Little Things?

The media, both local and national, has long praised the Twins for “doing all the little things right.”  But it doesn’t seem like this year’s Twins got the memo.  The Twins defense this year has been quite bad by several different measurements.  Team Defensive Efficiency measures the percentage of balls in play that a team turns into outs.  Even seemingly small variations in this number can have enormous effects on the effectiveness of a team’s ability to prevent runs.  Currently, the Twins DEF ranks them at 24th in baseball, a very bad place to be for a team that is supposed to pride itself on defense and pitching.  The Twins are also making more mistakes than most teams as they have already committed 40 errors, 4th most in baseball.  And all of this isn’t taking into account a whole host of other mistakes the Twins have made such as Delmon Young’s recent misplay that turned a blooper down the line into a game-tying inside the park home run or Brendon Harris’s continued struggles at turning the double play.

Another thing the Twins have been used to is a rock solid bullpen.  The Twins bullpen has been downright pedestrian this year, ranking in at 8th in the American League in ERA.  Losing 8th inning ace Pat Neshek has had a predictably bad effect on the bullpen as the Twins relievers have given up more runs in May than the relievers of any other AL team.  This is all after signing the still-dominant Joe Nathan to a contract worth at least $47 million this offseason.  Unfortunately, Nathan hasn’t been used terribly often this year, having logged only 20.1 innings so far, which represents only 13% on the bullpen’s total innings.  A lot of pitchers are going to have to step up to fill Neshek’s funky shoes and it seems like the best pitcher on the team should be asked for a little extra as well.


Friday: Glen Perkins (2-1, 2.77 ERA, 5.5 K/9)

•    2008:  26 IP, 16 K, 27 H, 4 BB, 4 HR
•    (AAA):  33.1 IP, 27 K, 28 H, 19 BB, 2 HR
•    After missing most of last year with a shoulder injury, Glen Perkins has made the most of his time in the majors since his callup with 4 great starts against some of the league’s top offenses.
•    Perkins has stranded over 90% of his runner allowed on base so far this season.  Unfortunately, history shows that number to be impossibly high for any pitcher to sustain over time, so unless he starts allowing fewer baserunners he’s likely to start seeing more runs score.

Saturday: Boof Bonser (2-6, 6.16 ERA, 5.6 K/9)

•    2008:  61.3 IP, 68 H, 40 K, 17 BB, 8 HR
•    2007:  173 IP, 199 H, 136 K, 65 BB, 27 HR
•    Boof will be happy to see the month of May end.  After a solid April with a 3.75 ERA, Boof has been throwing batting practice in May to the tune of a 9.59 ERA…
•    And there may be good hope for Boof going forward. Bonser has stranded only 52% of his runners so far.  That number is bound to improve, helping Bonser’s ERA.
•    Boof may be running out of chances though.  With Scott Baker returning from the DL, Bonser may find himself the odd man out if he doesn’t find his stuff soon.

Sunday: Nick Blackburn (4-3, 3.39 ERA, 4.8 K/9)

•    2008: 71.2 IP, 38 K, 86 H, 11 BB, 4 HR
•    2007 (AAA): 110.2 IP, 57 K, 96 H, 12 BB, 7 HR
•    And you thought the Twins lost Carlos Silva.  Blackburn has showed why he was ranked the Twins best prospect by Baseball America this offseason.  He doesn’t strike many out, but he walks very few and gets a lot of ground balls.
•    For a change of pace, Blackburn has stranded a totally average number of runners and all of his peripheral numbers align with his results.  His performance so far has been legit.

Monday: Livan Hernandez (6-2, 4.22 ERA, 2.7 K/9)

•    2008:  70.1 IP, 22 K, 90 H, 13 BB, 9 HR
•    2007:  204.3 IP, 90 K, 247 H, 79 BB, 34 HR
•    Hernandez’s signing was a controversial move for the Twins.  His fastball routinely guns in around 85 MPH, his performance has suffered over the last few years, he was blocking the youngsters, and the move to the AL, league of the DH, would balloon his ERA off the charts.  Or so it seemed…
•    Instead, Hernandez has done a nice job for the Twins.  He still has a laughably low strikeout rate, but he’s cut his walk rate in half and given a nice boost to the number of grounders he induces.  With all the injuries to the bullpen, Hernandez’s steady 200 innings may be just what the doctor ordered.