Monday, June 30, 2008
I'LL TAKE THE "OVER"
I'm back. Enjoyed a three day weekend from work and from the blog. I checked the computer a couple of times over the weekend but only to see if people were updating the site (thanks to those who were commenting!) and if I had any e-mails, but for the most part, I just stayed away. So today, I am going to just do some catching up. I had the opportunity to go to the Twins/Brewers games on Saturday night and Sunday afternoon, so I've got thoughts on that and other links and such. So, I apologize for the random, stream of consciousness type of posting, but after a few days off, that's about all I've got in me. So, as always, please feel free to e-mail me any time, or leave Comments below for people to respond to. Have a great week!
You're probably wondering what the title (I'll
Take The Over) of this blog posting has to do with. Well, you may recall
Kevin Slowey's non-good start against the White Sox on June 8th. Eight
runs on ten hits and a walk in three innings is hard to forget. At that
time, I posted on one of the Star-Tribune blogs that I predicted 150
wins for Kevin Slowey in his career, and I'm sticking by that. People
thought (and many of you still think) I was crazy. In fact, a couple of days
later, I wrote an "If I was GM..." article
in which I called Slowey an Untouchable. If you check out the Comments from
that day, there was a general feeling that I was not very smart. So, the
next day, I decided to put some numbers to it,
comparing Slowey's numbers through 21 big league games to the first 21 games
of Scott Baker's career. They were remarkably similar, and my main point was
to say that it was ridiculous to make too much out of that few of big league
So, what has Mr. Slowey done since that awful start? In a word, he has Dominated! He is 3-0 with a 0.93 ERA. In his last two starts, he has out dueled Jake Peavy and Ben Sheets. In 29 innings, he has given up just 19 hits and two walks (0.72 WHIP) while striking out 24 hitters. I feel the need to repeat that... TWO walks, TWENTY-FOUR strikeouts.
Of course, four starts is a small sample, and any starting pitcher is only as good as his next start. But just to take a look back at the numbers a little deeper. In his last eight starts, he has gone 5-2 with a 2.71 ERA and a 0.98 WHIP. In 53 innings, he has given up 46 hits with six walks and 38 strikeouts. Impressive numbers when you again consider the eight run/three inning debacle. Now, I know you can't do this, but if you were to take out that one start, here is how the numbers would look. In seven starts, he would be 5-1 with a 1.44 ERA and a 0.82 WHIP. In 50 innings, he gave up 36 hits and five walks with 34 strikeouts. Again, I fully realize that you can't just eliminate the bad games in any analysis, but I do think that it helps paint the picture of how great Kevin Slowey has been since coming back from his biceps injury.
Even from the upper deck, I could see the pinpoint control that Slowey showed. I could see the he was working the knees and the outside corner to get ahead, but wisely, he also pitched hard and up and in, right under the hands of hitters for outs as well. He was staying at 90-91 mph with his fastball (according to the gun-readings at the Dome) throughout the game. He had a second pitch, a slider or cutter in the 84-86 range. He also had good control on a couple of pitches in the 70s.
No out pitch? Seriously? No track record? What pitcher with 25 starts has a proven track record? And, name a handful of big league starters who had a minor league track record as incredible as Slowey's? I know people like to think I'm biased about Slowey because of all the Q&As he's done for this site, or because he's been participating in the SethSpeaks NFL "Expert" Picks panel for the past three off seasons. And of course, it would be naive on my part to say that I'm not a huge fan of the person that Slowey is. But if you haven't seen what Slowey has done throughout his pro career, or in his time at Winthrop, it would be silly not to give him the benefit of the doubt through some early career struggles and realize that there is really something special about Kevin Slowey.
I also have to make a confession. I broke one of my cardinal rules in Sunday's game. I was sitting up in the upper deck in right field, third row, above the baggy. I had made a commitment to leave the game at 3:00 and go to the Minnesota Zoo. So when the game was 1-0 through three innings, I told the friend sitting next to me that I was going to have to leave, and Slowey was going to have a no-hitter in the late innings. So, in a weird kind of way, I was relieved when the Brewers got their first hit in the fourth inning.
On Saturday night, we sat in the 8th row in
left-centerfield. I went inside right when the gates opened and saw the last
round of batting practice for the Twins. Jason Kubel absolutely
crushing everything. If the ball didn't go into the upper deck it was
usually still on the rise when they hit the wall over the baggy. Then the
Brewers took batting practice. Lefties Prince Fielder and Russell
Branyan were equally impressive. Right-handers Ryan Braun,
Corey Hart and JJ Hardy hit a lot of long home runs into the left
Usually a Sunday afternoon game means that neither team takes batting practice before the game. When I got to my upper deck seat shortly after 11:00, several of the Twins players were out on the field with their little kids. They were hitting, running the bases and generally just hanging out on the field. I was very surprised when I saw the the Brewers were going to take batting practice. Included in the first group was Prince Fielder. He seemed to really be focusing on hitting line drives and using the whole field. He wasn't even trying to hit home runs. After several rounds, the players picked up the baseballs and I assumed that group was done, so I went and got some nachos. I came back and saw the Fielder was still hitting. He hit a couple very close to us. When someone one row in front of us and five or six seats to our left "caught" a Fielder home run ball (it hit him in the stomach, he didn't even know it was on its way until right before it hit him), I suddenly realized that I had left my pop at the concession stand. When I thought Fielder was done hitting, I walked through the aisle, not even noticing that he stepped back into the batting cage. When I got to the entry into to field and headed out, I felt something brush by my left leg. It was a Fielder home run ball. It literally grazed my leg hair, bounced several feet in front of me (now in the hallway of the concourse), off the back wall, over my head, hit a couple of guys behind me. This happened over the course of about a second or two, so I turned to go toward the ball and saw four kids racing toward it, so I kicked it toward them. This paragraph was probably not worth the time you took into reading it, but if nothing else, it is a nice story about how fun getting to the ball park early can be!
Speaking of the crowd... being in left field on Saturday night was probably the strangest experience I have had at a Twins game. I would estimate that 75% of the fans out there were Brewers fans. And, I would guess that 50% of those, if not more, were drunk. They made quite the impression. In fact, I saw a few of them kicked out. But the Brewers fans were loud, which was actually cool. Chants of "Let's Go Brewers" were combated by boos from Twins fans (I know... creative, huh?). I went to a couple of Twins/Brewers fans at Miller Park five or six years ago, and it was great, but at that time, the Twins fans out-cheered the Brewers fans. So, my general thought is that home-crowd fans are more quiet or just regular "cheerers" whereas when fans go into an opposing park, they feel the need to be extra loud and extra boisterous. All in all, it makes for some great atmosphere at a baseball game. I have to think that it is enjoyable for the players too.
From sitting both in left field and the upper deck in right field this weekend, you will definitely never read here any negative comments about a player losing a ball in the Dome's roof or in the lights. Once the ball gets above the lights, it is hard to stay with, much less find if you lose it. If the flight of the ball causes it to go through the lights, it has to be even more difficult. When my eyes went past the bright lights, I saw spots and couldn't really see clearly for several seconds, more than enough time to misjudge a fly ball or line drive.
In Saturday's game, I thought Livan Hernandez showed us, for the first time, his ability to eat innings. In reality, he could have been taken out of the game in the third or fourth inning. He was being hit hard and the team was already down 5-0. But he stayed in the game and battled through five innings. When he walked off the mound after the fifth inning, he had thrown 96 pitches or so. He could have come out, but he stayed out for the sixth inning. Then after a relatively quick sixth, he came out for the seventh inning despite nearing 110 pitches. He finished that inning. Now that, to me, is innings-eating.
One other observation from watching the game on Sunday afternoon. Alexi Casilla should have been taken out of the game. In his second at bat, he took three swings that were very weak. He was letting go with his (injured) left hand and looked bad. In his next at bat, he swung and really looked in pain. He grounded out to 1B and didn't even make it 1/3 of the way down the line. He got to 1B coach Jerry White, who had to help him take off his batting glove. That's how much pain he was in. He couldn't even take off his own batting glove. And, if he wasn't hurt, well, then he should have been taken out for complete lack of hustle. Somehow he talked Jerry White into telling Ron Gardenhire that he was OK. Even in warm-ups, he slowly put his glove on his left hand and turned his back from Justin Morneau who was throwing with the infielders, as they do each inning. He didn't even want to catch a throw. So, of course, the first batter of the next half inning hit a ball up the middle that Casilla should have played, but instead he couldn't. And then, of course, after I left, he hit an RBI double, so maybe it was all a big act.
Speaking of fingers... Michael Cuddyer has another injured digit and is back on the Disabled List. He has been hitting well in June, so it is too bad. And of course, one man's misfortune is another man's gain. Denard Span was pulled from Rochester's game Sunday afternoon and will report to the Twins for Monday's game. Good for him. He definitely deserves it. Now, there is talk that Span will play RF and lead off much of the time. Interesting that Span would lead off and push Carlos Gomez, who has not done well for about a month, to the nine spot in the lineup. I have no problem with that and I like the idea of a pure leadoff hitter like Span doing just that. Now you can have three good, selective hitters at the top of the order. And the idea of Gomez, Span and Casilla hitting back-to-back-to-back is pretty exciting!
Over the weekend, a commenter at John Sickels' Minor League Ball asked the question "How was Delmon Young ever considered one of the best prospects in baseball?" Of course, I would love to say that not only was he considered 'one of' the best prospects, but he was Baseball America's #1 prospect. It's a fair question, but his offensive output during his teenage years was incredible, and despite the lack of walks in his rookie year (last year), he put up very solid numbers. I know many are disappointed with Young's performance so far in 2008, and I will be the first to admit that he hasn't performed to the level that I thought he would, but to call him a bust (which many have said) is not exactly fair either. No, he has not hit for the power that he did last year, when he hit 13 homers and had 51 extra base hits. Last year, he hit .288/.316/.408 (OPS of .724). This year, he is hitting .281/.329/.378 (OPS of 707). More importantly, in June, he was hitting .329/.350/.461 with eight extra base hits before hitting his second homer on Sunday. In other words, improvements have been made. He is walking more. He has started turning on the ball more. He still has those bat at bats, but those happen. I know some don't like the "He's just 22 years old" excuse, but it is reality whether people like it or not. Defensively, sure, he has struggled at times. But he is now playing in the Dome. That's a huge adjustment. He is also playing in LF rather than RF, which is a far bigger adjustment than most people think. He's got good speed. He's got a cannon for an arm. He is looking more and more relaxed. He will be just fine there. Maybe this is where I should make my BOLD statement on Delmon Young. How about this one? I bet he ends the season with 12-15 home runs. How about this one... he will hit 300 home runs in his career!
Jason Kubel's OPS in June is well over 1.100. He has tied Justin Morneau for the team lead in home runs with 12. He has been incredible, and his batting average is working its way upward. I think one of the big keys for Kubel are his walks and strikeouts. Check this out. In April, he walked just three times and struck out 20 times. In May, he walked seven times and struck out 14 times. In June, he walked 14 times and struck out just ten times (with a game left to play). If you recall back in 2004 when he was making the big name for himself in the Twins minor league system, he was a high batting average, power hitter with more walks than strikeouts. That is the reason that I liked to call him a combination of Morneau. As has been repeated, he was statistically the Twins top hitter after May last year, and he is well on his way to being so again this year. But I would monitor his strikeouts and walks as a key indicator. (For reference, Joe Mauer has walked 41 times and struck out just 22 times)
Brian Buscher has come up and been excellent, particularly with runners in scoring position. He is hitting right around .500 in such situations and he has 15 RBI in just 54 at bats. I am definitely a believer in regressing to the mean, so I certainly don't expect Buscher to maintain this level of play. No one should expect that. 54 at bats is still a small sample. And, if his 54 at bats are enough to tell you anything, then I need to point out that Buscher's OPS is .826. Matt Macri, in an even smaller sample of 30 at bats, has an OPS of 906.
Which Twins pitcher leads the staff in strikeouts? If you guessed Boof Bonser, nice work! He has 57 strikeouts, three more than Livan Hernandez.
With Ben Sheets on the mound for the Brewers on Sunday, you had to assume that he would last well into the game. Despite a career of injuries, when he is healthy, they always have him go a lot of innings. That made it possible for the Twins to have Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau and Jason Kubel hitting three, four and five and getting at least three at bats from each before they might face a lefty.
I read frequently that the Twins should consider making a deal for Cristian Guzman. He could be a free agent at the end of the season, so he would be a two month rental. I actually wouldn't mind that acquisition if it didn't cost the Twins more than a C level prospect. I certainly don't think he would be the difference maker. Of course, all reports indicate that the Nationals are close to signing Guzman to a two year extension.
Be sure to read La Velle Neal's Minor League report this week. I learned the Chris Parmelee will miss about six weeks with a broken wrist. Joe Benson is also likely out a month with a stress fracture in his back. With Ben Revere's hamstring at less than 100%, that's a lot of potential not getting at bats!
Also, be sure to read Roger's Weekly Minor League report at Twinkie Town. There, I learned that Jair Fernandez was put on the disabled list for Beloit. Also, Jay Sawatski was moved down to Ft. Myers again. Also, Andrew Schmiesing and Rene Leveret were moved up to Beloit.
Congrats to Jeff Manship on his first AA win on Sunday. He gave up two runs in six innings in the second of two Rockcats one-run wins on Sunday. He was helped by Erik Lis and his ninth home run.
After a couple of weeks off, Travis is back, so be sure to check out Travis Talks.
A lot of people have asked me why Ben Revere was not promoted to Ft. Myers. I think there are a lot of reasons that it makes sense to keep him in Beloit, especially now with the injury. However, maybe the best case to be made for him moving up to Ft. Myers is because of Yangervis Solarte. You recall, he was called up to the Miracle about a month ago, for a couple of days. He was then to go back to Elizabethton since he played for the GCL Twins in 2007. He played adequately enough to stay up for now. He is hitting .260 with ten extra base hits (which is three more than he had in 175 at bats with the GCL Twins last year). He is also playing at 2B, the OF and on Sunday he played 3B. He will turn 21 next week, so it isn't like he would be young for Elizabethton. I have no problem with him being in Ft. Myers, and he is doing alright. But he skipped two levels, so I don't understand why he is staying there while Ben Revere, is being held back in Beloit. (and again, I need to stress that I have no problem with Revere playing and learning at that level for the season).
I hadn't heard much about how Dontrelle Willis was doing down in the Florida State League. I saw that Lakeland (Tigers affiliate) beat Daytona 3-2 in 20 innings on Sunday. In the game, Willis made his first appearance with the team. He came in and pitched the 7th and 8th innings. He gave up one run on one hit. He walked three and struck out none. He has a long way to go, and yet, I still find it humorous that people not only thought he was good (hasn't been for a couple of years), but that the Tigers gave him a three year, $27 million extension before the season. Former Twins prospect Adam Harben threw two scoreless innings in relief for the Daytona Cubs.
Beloit beat Cedar Rapids 2-1. The Snappers didn't have a guy hitting over .245 in the lineup except Schmiesing, who with a 1-3 ended the game at .250 (2-8)_Fortunately they had Mike McCardell on the mound! He gave up one run on five hits in nine innings. That's right, a complete game. And he struck out six while walking none. In his last four starts, he has thrown 31 innings. He had two eight inning starts to go with this complete game. In those 31 innings, he is 4-0 with a 1.74 ERA and a WHIP of 0.76. He also has 27 strikeouts to go with just two walks.
How about the professional debut of Twins draft pick Bruce Pugh on Sunday for the GCL Twins. He pitched on relief inning and did not allow a run. Good job, right?! That's very good for a debut. Of course, he walked three batters and struck out two. I'm sure his nerves were flowing!
The Twins begin a series with the Detroit Tigers. The Twins are hot and playing well, but so are the Tigers. They have gone 17-7 in their last 24 games and are now above .500. This would be a nice series to win!
I'm sure you noticed that Chris Coste had another home run, his seventh of the year, over the weekend. His updated stats are on the left of the screen.
Wow! That got longer than I was thinking it would... Hopefully you found a few things worth reading. Continue the discussion in the comments below!