Monday, April 11, 2005
One Week, 5 Questions
Good Monday Morning to all! A busy weekend just past. The Wolves playoff hopes were essentially finished Friday night when they lost to the Nuggets. The Twins and White Sox played three games. There is not much better than the first week of the major league regular season. There are new story lines. There are great moments like yesterday's John Smoltz/Pedro Martinez pitching dual or Dmitri Young's 3 homer opening day. There are new players trying to make their name known to us; guys like Jorge Cantu, Ruben Gotay and Clint Barmes. There are players making comebacks from injury (Joe Mays, Runelvys Hernandez) and from disappointments (Pat Burrell).
So much is made of these first weeks and it is great to hear the stories. There are guys off to great starts and there are guys off to horrible starts (JD Drew started the season 0-25 for the Dodgers... then he had two straight hits). And there are guys who are lights out right now (Ichiro is hitting .478!). We know that Drew will be just fine, but we also know that Ichiro won't, ok probably won't, maintain that kind of batting average. The season is less than 4 percent complete! Part of the beauty of baseball is that it is such a long season, a grind.
But again, the first week of the season is great! The Twins are now 3-3 after their win last night against the White Sox. It is just a small sample size, but I came up with seven questions about the Twins so far. I'm sure you have some of the same, and maybe some more. If you have the answers, or if you have more questions, be sure to e-mail me.
1.) How will the loss of Carlos Silva affect the team's pitching staff?
To me, this jumped to the team's number one question. With his first performance, I believe that Silva showed that he would be really solid as the team's #3 starter. Yes, he would give up some hits and from time-to-time the ground balls would become hits and runs, but he would have provided the team with a lot of innings. Unfortunately, he pitched that game with an injury that was really unknown. He had thought he was having hamstring problems throughout spring. Turns out that he has a 70% tear in his meniscus. This is not good news to Twins fans who know that this is the same injury that Joe Mauer was afflicted with a year ago and cost him so much time. In the next few days, Silva will have surgery and will be lost until at least after the All-Star break, if not for the full season.
So, to answer the question about how it affects the pitching staff... Well, the quick answer is that for now Joe Mays will jump into the #4 spot in the rotation. The team will need a 5th starter starting on April 16th. For now, the team has decided to recall LHP David Gassner from Rochester. Scott Baker was the talk of training camp, but David Gassner was almost as impressive. When each made their first AAA starts, there were different results. Baker gave up 8 hits and 4 runs in 4 innings. Gassner gave up just one run in 6 innings.
Obviously the team is not dumb enough to make this decision based on just one AAA start, so there are other reasons for this decision. It would be dishonest to think that the biggest factor in this decision is that Gassner is on the Twins 40 man roster and Baker is not. Had they decided to recall Baker, someone from the 40 man roster would have had to have been put on waivers and possibly lost. Gassner is left-handed. Gassner also led the International League with 16 wins a year ago. Baker started last season at Class A, moved up to AA and finished the season with a few AAA starts. In other words, Gassner just has a better AAA track record.
To be honest, Gassner's future may be as a reliever and Baker could be a #2-type starter. Baker will get his chance and probably not real far away. JD Durbin will re-appear with the Twins this year too. But there is no arguing that for right now, Gassner absolutely deserves this opportunity. I hope he really gets a chance!
2.) How will the left side of the infield perform?
Well, Michael Cuddyer already has three errors, so there is some concern with him. I'm really not concerned. I have seen him make a couple of plays already that were jaw-dropping. He also has an absolute rocket for an arm, perfect for third base. It seems to me that his errors have been on more routine plays, and those will be corrected just with more time. Offensively, I am not worried at all. Sometimes I may believe he takes too many pitches, but he just has that arrogance at the plate (and arrogance probably isn't the word). He just looks confident, like he knows what he's going to do. He will get a lot of extra-base hits, I think. He will also take some walks. The problem I see if just that he swings and misses a lot. Hopefully that can be corrected.
Through one week, I am still thrilled with what Jason Bartlett has done. He really did look almost scared last year when he got his 10 innings of work on defense for the Twins. He is making the routine plays. He is showing good range, and he has a good arm. Confidence is so important on defense, and with more playing time, that confidence should continue to grow. Offensively, I love that he is in the #2 spot. He is another guy who just looks like he knows what he is doing. He is willing to go down in the count 0-2 and battle. He is aggressive at times. No, he probably won't hit .350 all year, but I don't think that .280 is out of the realm of possibility.
Juan Castro, for all the bad things I write about his signing and particularly his guaranteed contract, is a very capable utility player. Yes, he struggled with the glove in spring training, and mis-played the first ball hit to him in Seattle. But he will make most of the plays hit his way and does have a quick release. Offensively, it doesn't look real good, but he is 3-5 so far!
3.) How will this catching situation work out?
I wish I understood. I mean, I understand the concern about Joe Mauer's knee, but are two back up catchers and an emergency catcher really necessary? Mauer has not had any problem with his knee so far, but it is still early. I think that the Twins should be cautious with him, especially early in the season. However, Mauer has now been out of two games and Mike Redmond caught one of them and Corky Miller caught the other. How can those two possibly get into any rhythm at the plate, or with any of the pitchers?
I do think that this is a temporary situation. I think that the Twins will remain cautious with Mauer at least into mid-May. If there are no problems at that time, I believe that Miller will be sent to AAA. I believe he is out of options, so he would have to clear waivers to be sent to AAA, and I don't think that he would, so he's probably be lost. Redmond has a guaranteed two-year contract, so he's not going anywhere. At that point, Mauer will catch, Redmond will back him up and LeCroy can be the emergency catcher.
4.) When will Johan Santana lose a game?
Well, he is now 16-0 in his last 16 decisions. That is pretty good. The short answer to the question is, "probably when someone throws a shutout against the Twins." Seriously, it is almost becoming that difficult to beat Santana. He did give up two runs last night, but the Twins did comeback with some run support for him.
Of course, at some point, Santana will put a number in his loss column. It is just exciting to watch him pitch. It is exciting to see the defense working so hard behind him. It is fun to see all of the extra fans in the stands and how excited they get every time Johan gets two strikes on an opposing batter.
5.) From reader Scott Ostman, just trying to stir the pot. I'd love to hear your thoughts on this:
And now that the baseball season has started again, my thoughts turn to how
overrated Brad Radke is. Granted, he had his best year last year. But come
on, how many games has he spotted the opposition at least 2 runs in the
first inning? When will the Minnesota media FINALLY admit that Radke is a
piece of crap? Last year I laid off the Radke bashing because I wanted to
give him the benefit of the doubt since he was actually pitching well for a
change. But here we are, two games into the 2005 season and he's back to his
Don't get me wrong, I'm not thinking the Twins are in any danger of not
winning the Central. But I'd really appreciate if the media (and you
bloggers) would stop coddling this overrated pitcher. Let's call a spade a
spade. Brad Radke would be no better than a #3 or #4 starter on most teams.
Yet, for some unknown reason, he's still considered the Twins' big gun.
I would love for you to shake things up on your site and do a little
research on how ineffective Radke is. I'm a die hard Twins fan as you
probably know, but deep down it does my heart good to see Radke fail. Maybe
if this happens enough, the media will FINALLY see him for what he is - a
very average pitcher who struggles in the early innings and puts his team in
a hole to the point that they can't win!
In closing, BRAD RADKE IS A PIECE OF CRAP!
I certainly will not call Brad Radke a piece of crap. First, if he is so overrated and horrible as you seem to think, why did he turn down more years and more money to pitch for the Red Sox. If, as you contend, Radke would be 'no better than a #3 or #4 starter on most teams," why would the Red Sox even want him? But lets just take a second and think about some of the other teams in baseball and where Radke would fit in. Here are what are generally believed to be the top pitching staffs in baseball:
Chicago Cubs: Mark Prior, Kerry Wood, Carlos Zambrano, Gred Maddux, Glendon Rusch
New York Yankees: Randy Johnson, Mike Mussina, Carl Pavano, Jaret Wright, Kevin Brown
Boston Red Sox: Curt Schilling, David Wells, Matt Clement, Bronson Arroyo, Tim Wakefield, Wade Miller
Atlanta Braves: Tim Hudson, John Smoltz, John Thomson, Mike Hampton, Horacio Ramirez
Now, this will not be backed statistically, but here is where I would place Radke in these rotations:
Cubs: #4, behind Zambrano and ahead of Maddux; Yankees: #2, behind Johnson, ahead of Mussina. That could be argued, but he would certainly be ahead of Pavano; Red Sox: #2: behind Schilling, ahead of Wells. OK, he'd be #3 is Pedro was still around; Braves: #3: behind Smoltz, ahead of Thomson.
Let's look at some of the free agent pitching signings this offseason:
Matt Clement, 3 years, $25.5 million, Red Sox
Carl Pavano, 4 years, $39.95 million, Yankees
Jaret Wright, 3 years, $21 million, Yankees
Russ Ortiz, 4 years, $33 million, Diamondbacks
Eric Milton, 3 years, $25.5 million, Reds
Kris Benson, 3 years, $22.5 million, Mets
Pedro Martinez, 4 years, $53 million, Mets
Jon Lieber, 3 years, $21 million, Phillies
Armando Benitez, 3 years, $21.5 million, Giants
Now, look at that list. Name the pitchers you would want on your team more than Radke? Pedro comes to mind. His track record makes him worth the most. OK, now take Pedro off that list and name one of those guys that you would rather have than Brad Radke. Now, Radke took a "home-town" discount to stay in Minnesota. He got two years and $18 million. Then you realize that the Red Sox offered him just over $30 million for 3 years. That says that it isn't just Minnesota fans and media (and bloggers) who think that Brad Radke is a bit more than a piece of crap.
Now let's get to the numbers:
First of all, as is the case with most free agent signings, the previous year's statistics are pretty important. Brad Radke had an absolutely remarkable 2004 season. Johan Santana and Curt Schilling are the only two pitchers in the AL that you can say had a better season than Radke. And yes, that includes Pedro Martinez. I'm sure there are still a lot of people out there who say 'he only won 11 games', he couldn't have been that good. WRONG! His 3.48 ERA was 4th in the AL. His WHIP (walks and hits per inning) of 1.16 was 3rd in the league. He walked just over 1 batter per nine innings which was 2nd in the AL. His career 1.68 walks per nine innings is better than any active pitcher. His adjusted ERA+ of 136 was third in the AL. In other words, his 2004 season was better than just pretty good.
But, you say that he hasn't been a better than average pitcher much of his career. Lets look at that:
His career record is 127-118. His winning percentage is 52%. So, some can again say that he is nothing more than a .500 pitcher. And if you only want to look at his record, that's about right. But, that is not fair. Just because he hasn't pitched for the Yankees or received massive run support throughout his career does not mean he isn't as good as some of those pitchers who have racked up wins.
A pitcher can only affect a few things. A pitcher can not affect his team's run support at all (especially in the AL). A pitcher generally can control his ERA. Radke has a career ERA of 4.23. Sounds pretty average, right? Well, the league average ERA over that time frame is 4.81. In other words, he allows a 1/2 run less per nine innings than the average pitcher. May not sound like much, but over 210 innings that you are almost guaranteed he will pitch in a season (he has more than that in 8 of his last 9 seasons), that saves his team 23 runs below the average.
There is the Adjusted ERA (ERA+) in which the pitcher's ERA is adjusted for his ballpark and compared to the league average. An ERA+ of 100 would be a very average pitcher. Here are the ERA+ of Brad Radke's career: 89, 115, 121, 109, 135, 118, 115, 94, 103, 136. As you can see, he has been above average in eight of his 10 big league seasons. His sub-par seasons were his rookie year and 2002 when he missed half the season with a groin injury. These numbers suggest that not only has he consistently been above average, but by a significant amount. If you're looking for more proof that a pitcher's Win-Loss record means very little, notice that in 1999, Radke's ERA+ was almost what it was in 2004. His record in 1999... was 12-14.
Of course, you also want to bring up his home runs and early inning runs allowed. Certainly it is not a positive thing. No pitcher or team wants to give up home runs. No team wants to get behind right away, but does that really matter? Is it really worse to give up two runs in the 1st than it is in the 7th? Yes, there is the mental side of falling behind. But I think that the Twins players and coaching staff know that Radke will settle down in most games and keep the team in most games, giving them a chance to come back. Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Roy Oswalt, Curt Schilling. The list could go on and on of great pitchers who have really struggled in the first inning. Add Brad Radke's name to that list. It is what it is. Radke doesn't like it any more than the fans do and will certainly try not to let it continue. But I would rather have a guy give up 2 runs in the first innings and go seven or eight innings than have a pitcher throw a 1-2-3 1st inning and get shelled the rest of his innings. And on the home runs, it has also been an issue with Radke. He didn't allow many last year, but if you recall the beginning of his 2004 season, he had given up more homers than he has in his two starts this year. So, it isn't worth over-analyzing at this point. Also, because he doesn't walk hitters, many of the homers he allows are of the solo variety. That wasn't the case opening day, but will be for most of the season. Hey, great pitchers give up home runs from time to time. They also get big outs when they need them, and Brad Radke does that too!
I could go on and on about how good Brad Radke has been for the Twins over the course of the past decade. Numbers say a lot. And then you add in that he has become a part of the community, he is great with the media, he has spent numerous hours and dollars for various charities, and more and it is no wonder the media chooses to remain positive about him. He is clearly the leader of the pitching staff. He is the guy that pitchers look to for advice. The fact that he took less money to stay in the market means a lot too. Seems like a nice thing to do, but that isn't always how it works. Corey Koskie could have accepted the Twins low-ball offer to stay, but he didn't.
All in all, I will continue to back Brad Radke. He may not be a 'dominant' pitcher, but he is certainly a quality starting pitcher who would be considered an asset on any major league team. You all are certainly able to disagree and maybe have your own reasons. I will not say that Radke is beyond criticism. He has earned some this year. But in both of his starts, he has kept his team in the game into the seventh innings.
Any thoughts? E-mail me.
TWINS MINOR LEAGUE REPORT
Beloit's box scores could be fun to watch. There are a number of good prospects on the team. I mentioned last week that Anthony Swarzak threw six shutout innings in the team's season opener. Well, ends up that it was six no-hit innings. He also struck out eight and walked none. The next night, 1st round pick a year ago, Kyle Waldrop, started and gave up two unearned runs in five innings. He struck out five without walking a batter. The team's first (of 3) 1st round picks last year, SS Trevor Plouffe, has just 1 hit in 15 at bats so far this year, but his hit was a home run yesterday. 3B David Winfree and 1B Johnny Woodard are a couple of other guys to watch.
Ft. Myers has a few guys worth keeping an eye on. Through four games, Denard Span is hitting .375. He's leading off and playing CF for the Miracle. Another #1 pick, Matt Moses is hitting .417 for the team. Hopefully both will stay healthy this year and be able to progress.
New Britain also has a few players I want to watch. Alex Romero is one of my top Twins prospects. On Saturday, he was 3-3 with a couple of RBI. Pat Neshek blew a save chance on Saturday.
AAA Rochester is an interesting situation. There aren't a lot of prospects on the team. Willie Eyre, Travis Bowyer, JD Durbin, Scott Baker and Terry Tiffee are the young guys most likely to contribute to the Twins now that David Gassner has been promoted to the Twins. But there are some minor league veterans who could help as well; guys like Jason Tyner, Todd Dunwoody, Augie Ojeda, Brent Abernathy. Then there are the guys like Michael Ryan, Luis Rodriguez and Josh Rabe who are not old, but are also not top prospects, but really do well.
That's it for today. Have a great Monday and week! If you have and questions or comments or ideas, please feel free to e-mail me!
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