Thursday, August 05, 2010

Credit Where It's Due

It's easy to be impressed by the results of the Twins' four-game series in Tampa Bay this week. They went on the road to face arguably the best team in baseball and came away with a split. They rebounded from tough losses in the first two games of the series to gain big victories in the final two, building momentum as they travel to Cleveland and Chicago for the final two legs of their current road trip.

It's less easy to be impressed by the way they achieved those results. On Wednesday night, the Twins let a one-run lead slip away in the ninth inning, wasting a brilliant start from Scott Baker and forcing a 13-inning marathon before finally managing to pull off the victory. Today, Kevin Slowey and the bullpen crumbled late in the game as the Rays erased a 6-0 deficit before the Twins, again, were able to scratch out a late victory.

It was tough to watch the Twins allow a pair of games they'd been in complete control of slip away late. But these are the types of games that are extremely difficult to win on the road, especially against a fantastic team like the Rays, and the Twins do deserve a lot of credit for managing to finish the job in both the final two contests in this series.

They probably won't experience the good fortune of having a routine pop-up hit off a cat walk and land in the middle of the infield to score the winning run if they face the Rays again in the playoffs, but the Twins did play neck and neck throughout this series with a team that is tied for the MLB lead in victories. The Twins received gritty pitching performances in the first two games, losing on both occasions only because their offense was stymied by a very good starter, and more importantly they received dominant performances on the road from Slowey and Baker in the final two games. Those two have struggled immensely when pitching outside of Target Field this season, so for both to step up against a great team in a statement series like this speaks volumes about how far they have come and helps legitimize their recent success against weaker lineups.

In the spirit of assigning credit (and blame) where it is due, here are some other notes on the series in Tampa:

* There was plenty of head-shaking after newly acquired Matt Capps coughed up his first big save situation for his new team on Wednesday, as he came in with a 1-0 ninth-inning lead and allowed the tying run to cross the plate, but anyone who watched the game can hardly hold Capps accountable for the blown save.

Evan Longoria led off the ninth inning by hitting a fly ball to left field. It was a ball that most left fielders around the league would have caught in the air, and at worst it should have been smothered for a single, but Delmon Young awkwardly slid into it and kicked it back toward the infield, allowing Longoria to move into scoring position as the tying run with no outs. He'd eventually score.

The muffed play by Young was just one of many miscues in a game that was easily the ugliest of the season from a defensive standpoint for the Twins outfield, as he and Denard Span failed to track down numerous catchable balls. Miraculously, the Twins still only allowed one run in 13 innings -- all the more reason to praise Baker and the bullpen for their outsanding work in the game -- but Wednesday night's contest spotlighted something that has been a subtle issue for this club all year long: poor outfield defense is costing the Twins' pitchers.

With his minimal range and terrible instincts in the outfield, Young seems destined to become a designated hitter within the next few years. He probably should be one already. Keep that in mind when this premature MVP talk starts bubbling up.

* I have to admit, I have taken quite a liking to Jason Repko. His stellar play in the outfield has been a breath of fresh air in light of the issues mentioned above, and it doesn't hurt that his bat has been red-hot when he's gotten into the lineup, racking up a .319/.385/.617 hitting line with three homers and five doubles in 55 plate appearances.

I've enjoyed Repko's play so much that on Wednesday night I jokingly started using a #Repko4MVP hashtag on Twitter, though the gag seemed a little less silly yesterday when Repko was a crucial contributor in the Twins' victory.

Obviously he won't continue to hit like this, but a solid .274/.336/.433 hitting line in the minors (including .289/.357/.461 in Triple-A) suggests that there's no reason he can't keep his bat afloat, and if he's able to do that while maintaining his rangy defense in the outfield, he figures to be a useful piece for the Twins down the stretch.

Just maybe not an MVP. Yet.

* Speaking of unsustainably hot recent performances, I'd be remiss not to mention the play of Drew Butera, who has now started five consecutive games at catcher with Joe Mauer's shoulder aching. In those five games, Butera has gone 4-for-15 with a homer and a double while performing well defensively.

The "hot streak" has raised Butera's overall hitting line .205/.237/.341, which borders on palatable for a defensive specialist in the majors. However, before anyone starts getting keen on the idea of keeping Butera in the lineup more regularly even after Mauer's shoulder has healed, keep in mind that the kid has a long (LONG) history of not hitting in the minors.

Soon enough, he'll go back to being a massive liability with the bat, and -- as the first two games of this series against the Rays helped illustrate -- that's something the Twins can ill afford against contending clubs with good pitching staffs.

* J.J. Hardy has been on a tear since the All-Star break, and after going 3-for-4 in yesterday's contest he's hitting .270/.310/.398 on the season. The average MLB shortstop has hit .264/.322/.371 this year, so Hardy's production is firmly above average for his position. When accounting for his spectacular defense, Hardy has been a very good contributor for the Twins this season in spite of his wrist issues; meanwhile, while his defense in the outfield is missed, Carlos Gomez has essentially made zero strides offensively in Milwaukee. Looking like a nice trade for Bill Smith.

* Has there been a more enigmatic player than Alexi Casilla over the past few years? An apparent breakout season in 2008, when he hit .281/.333/.374 as a 23-year-old while helping the Twins mount a late charge for the AL Central crown, was followed up by an absolutely abysmal season in '09. Casilla has spent much of this season on the shelf, but he's returned to fill in at second with Orlando Hudson on the shelf and has performed admirably, using a combination of plate discipline in speed produce solid offensive numbers much like he did in '08.

His defense has also looked spectacular at times, most notably on the play that ended today's game, when Casilla ran about 20 feet to his left to track down a grounder and threw to first while twirling in mid-air to retire the speedy Carl Crawford.

During his career in Minnesota, I have seen Casilla track down some seemingly unreachable ground balls, yet UZR pegs him as a very poor second baseman, with a -9.7 rating in close to 2,000 MLB innings at the position. It strikes me that, like with his offense, Casilla's inconsistency on defense is mostly mental. The kid clearly has enough talent to be playing in the big leagues, but seemingly has a tough time staying focused. Whatever he's doing right now, hopefully he is able to keep it up until Hudson returns and beyond.


Dan Cook said...

I'm glad you pointed out that the Hardy/Gomez trade seems to be favoring the Twins at this point.

I was floored that Twins fans weren't more excited about that deal when it happened. And all the silliness about GoGo's hot start really flummoxed me.

Yes, Carlos has better range in center than Denard. But getting his frenetic bat out of the line-up was more than worth the defensive sacrifice in my opinion.

Hopefully J.J. keeps the hot bat going.

Anonymous said...

Butera made 2 errors in the series but heroicly caught the day game after a night game(extra innings and that). If it's not maddening enough to struggle vs. the east, the Twins almost always play tight, well contested games that just go the other way. They must have a good feeling going to Cleveland where they must take care of business. Burn on Big River!
Frank Sturgis

Anonymous said...

I know you liked the Capps trade nick, but excusing his blown save as simply poor outfield defense does not tell an accurate story. The fly ball to left should have been caught and I'm sure it would have by many mlb outfielders. But the next ball hit was a smash at repko in right that ended up being a sac fly. A ball hit like that is probably extra bases at least as often as it happens to be hit at someone. The next batter hit a line drive to right for a single. The first hit was certainly unlucky, but the second hit was lucky and overall capps was not very good that inning. He was terrible the day before too, walking 2 and allowing a single.

USAFChief said...

Delmon's not going to be a DH 'in a couple years.' He's not yet 25, his defense is bad, but not THAT bad, and he's clearly better this year than last. If Manny Ramirez can play LF for 15 years, so can Delmon.

Jacob said...

I don't know about Casilla's UZR numbers. They seem fishy to me. His fielding percentage is 2% below league average at 2nd base and 1% below at shortstop. He has a strong arm, quick release, and seemingly lots of range.

Is he not being positioned properly? Does he sometimes get slow jumps? I mean have we really "proven" that UZR is the definitive defensive stat anyways at all positions? I don't know that you can really prove something like that but for a second baseman who often has to cover a bag defensively or play a shift and the fact that how fast ground balls hit to him are moving just makes me think that his UZR numbers might be more a matter of how hard the pitcher gets hit and how often there is a runner on first and stuff like that.

Or maybe he just "looks" fast. Maybe that 2% under average fielding percentage makes a bigger difference than I think.

It brings up a good point though. If UZR is the only part of his defensive game that looks bad can you really call him a bad defender? Don't the other stats and observations hold validity? After all the other stuff is what most teams go by anyways.

Jacob said...

I'm going to pimp out Butera a bit.

The guy plays outstanding defense. I can't remember a catcher making so many perfect throws in a series. The Rays running game obviously HURT them big time when you consider how many of their runners were thrown out. Losing an out and a baserunner is more damaging than gaining a base and the Twins certainly won that war of atrition. His throwout of Upton when they were down 6 and running anyways was sick. He was walking off the field already after he released the ball. And he has a mustache. Dude is sweet.

Yes his bat stinks. And I realize that we can't just atribute our starting pitching renessaince to a guy who doesn't actually throw the ball. But in a sport often dominated by superstition and hunches and weird mental blocks it is hard to ignore the fact that we are thriving with our two best players either hurt or hurting and Butera is literally right at the center of it. He seems to be oozing a calm sense of confidence that you usually don't see from a guy who projects to be a career AAA emergency option.

The guy is a gamer. I know we take a big offensive hit with him in there but even after Mauer is better I'd like to see him continue to get more than the average backup catcher's starts to keep Mauer as fresh as possible (AFAP).

Matt said...

Repko might just take Span's job or something. If Delmon ended up DH'ing you'd think the logical move would be to move Span to left...
But, Span's just having an off year and while Repko has displayed excellent range, I feel like Span will re-claim his game next year.
And as for Delmon? He's a kid, still has lots to learn and there's a good chance he improves in LF. He does have pretty good speed, or at least it would seem so.

rghrbek said...

Delmon s/b in right field. He posted a positive UZR there when playing for tampa and is his natural position.

Gardy though won't play him there, well because Gardy likes his slots.

To suggest Hardy is well above average batting is a reach. Barely above in average, below in on base%, and sl. above in slugging. to me, because on base is probably the most important for a SS, they all balance out to average. However, I do think he is above average in fielding.

I also think it should be noted that Repko actually hit a breaking ball!!! For a bomb!!!! If he can actually hit breaking balls we may have found our 4th outfielder and Kubel should never play out there, once Cuddy is in Right.

Steve L. said...

Don't forget, Delmon is a LF playing in a RF's body (RF is his natural position). It would seem logical to me that with Morneau out and Cuddy filling in at 1B, that Repko should be in CF, Span in LF, and Delmon in RF on the days all 3 of them are playing. That gives you a pretty good OF defense in my opinion.

Josh said...

Well, at least Nick isn't fooled by Butera's recent spate of adequate hitting...but I think Gardy is. Morales has been up with the team for what, 2 weeks now? And he's gotten 4 ABs. Proof positive again that Gardy would rather play a slappy, no-hit guy with good defense over a player who might be able to actually hit in the majors.

The only reason Butera's average is going up is because he was so incredibly bad (historically bad by Twins standards, in fact) earlier. And all he's doing right now is hitting acceptably, not well. It won't last and pretty soon he's going to go back to being the auto-out he's been his entire career. That's just not good.

Nice to see Hardy get a little recognition. When healthy, he's been well-above average at the plate and in the field. His struggles at the plate came when he was fighting injury; now that's he's healthy again he's hitting quite well for a guy batting in the 7-9 spots. And he D has been as good as advertised. The range is better than I thought and the arm is fabulous. Idiot sportscasters keep raving when Jeter does that "jump throw" thing, but Hardy makes that play (and can make that play further in the hole), just without the flash of the jump. Hardy just sets his feet and guns the guy out. It's not as "pretty", but he actually makes more plays.

It's great having a SS who's so reliable in the field and can still swing the bat. can't recall the last time we had this combo: Hardy's more consistent than Guzman, seems more accurate than Bartlet, and better with the stick than almost anyone else we've had there.

Anonymous said...

Josh said: "And all he's doing right now is hitting acceptably, not well. It won't last and pretty soon he's going to go back to being the auto-out he's been his entire career. That's just not good."

Interesting, since Butera is hitting a few points less than his Minor League agerage (.214). Isn't that the Holy Grail?

Presuming Mauer gets healthy AND Butera catches 1/2 games a week, that probably works out to 3/4 lost hits over the remaining 53 games. That's worth what, 8-10 losses?

IF your going to play the statistics game, at least do it well.

You folks seem to forget that a baseball team actually has at least, 9 distinct and different hitters per game, who get to make 24 or 27 outs. I suspect Butera could bat .000 the rest of the way, AND the Twins could still win 35 games, I also suspect Butera could bat 1.000 the rest of the way and the Twins could lose 35 games.

I suspect that whether Butera hits .155, or .185 or .205 or .225 or .255, will have far less to do with the Twins results in the next 53 games, than IF Baker and Slowey become more consistant and approaching their pre 2010 performances, AND if Morneau & Hudson return. I know those thoughts are fanciful, and Pollyannish, BUT I have no desire to join the Chicken Little Society.


David McGraw

Ed Bast said...


To play devil's advocate to your convoluted logic, playing Morales 1-2 times per week would result in , what, 3-4 more stolen bases by opponents? Surely not much in the grand scheme of things, right?

Anonymous said...

Ed Bast said...
To play devil's advocate to your convoluted logic, playing Morales 1-2 times per week would result in , what, 3-4 more stolen bases by opponents? Surely not much in the grand scheme of things, right?"

Ed, Totally agree.

IF there is a player to be concerned about as to UNSUSTAINABLE play (statistically speaking), I nominate Delmon Young. He is well above historical norms.

A drop-off by Delmon Young to his career averages (majors & minors), would/will have far more impact on the Twins results in the last 53 games, than whatever Butera or Morales do. IMHO, that is.

Nick said:"Soon enough, he'll go back to being a massive liability with the bat, and -- as the first two games of this series against the Rays helped illustrate -- that's something the Twins can ill afford against contending clubs with good pitching staffs."

Including a 0-3 game in 4-2 loss, AND a 2-2, with HR + walk in 6-4 loss. Those HR's are a killer (the ones Butera called for and which Duensing & Gurrier sheepishly submitted to pitching), although I am confused as to the downside of .400 avg, OBP of .500. Thankfully, no one else in the line-up had such pathetic numbers.

You can't make this stuff up ;-)


David McGraw

Nick N. said...


Does Drew Butera's bat single-handedly turn the Twins' offense from great to terrible? No. Will his constant out-making cost the Twins hits, runs and potentially games in a tight AL Central race? Surely it's possible. Jim Thome and Jason Kubel have both delivered a lot of big hits for this team, and when Mauer is DH with Butera at catcher, at least one of those bats is being forced out of the lineup.

You win by putting your best team on the field. Butera is not a part of that equation. He's not a major-league caliber hitter, and his presence in the lineup essentially erases the value of having a designated hitter.

And you misinterpreted the point I was making about the first two games of the Rays series. My point was not that Butera suffocated the offense in those games, but that runs and hits will be at a premium against good teams like the Rays so the Twins should be focused on putting forth the best lineup possible.

I will point out that they've been swept in two straight playoff series because they've been unable to score enough runs. They need to get away from their historical tendency to field a lineup that includes multiple out-making machines at the bottom of the order.

Anonymous said...

Great stuff as always. I echo the sentiment on here that Delmon needs to be moved to RF. I can't remember who it was but recently on KFAN they were talking about a Tampa scout who mentioned that Delmon was an above-average RF. His arm strength, quick release and lack of range all point to RF. I hope that when Morneau comes back we at least try Cuddy in LF with Delmon in RF but I guess I'm not holding my breath.

In terms of OF play I think Span should be held just as accountable as Delmon for the play this year. Span's range IMO is not even close to what it should be and he seems hesitant to take control out there, just my two cents.

Anonymous said...


IF you left it where you just did, you get NO argument from me. I have not said Butera is a better hitter than Mauer or Kubel or Thome.

BUT, you didn't stop there, you used statistics to prove your point, and SPECIFIC statistics at that. In fact, statistics which were in direct contrivention to your point.

One could argue, and I have, that Butera may have, unprovable for sure, but may have had some benefit to the struggling Slowey. That doesn't make Butera a Hall of Famer, yet if that helps (speculation) Slowey get himself together, that has much more benefit to the team than whatever Butera does at the plate, IMHO of course.

Just, please don't think I am stupid enough to believe that Butera's bat was the cause of the 2 losses to Tampa Bay. IF you're looking to place blame, try Casilla 0-6 1 walk, Young 1-9, Thome 0-5 3K's, Valencia 0-8, Ploffe 0-3...

Statistics are an artifact. IF they were any way predictive, on a consistant basis, I wouldn't be posting here, I would have my own island, phoning in a couple of bets each day, and living a life of luxury.


David McGraw

ps: I must correct the Stats for those 2 games (which I posted above) on Butera the correct line 2-4, 1 HBP, 1 walk, 1HR.

Anonymous said...

David, I think your opinion of statistics is wrong. Its true statistics are artifacts in the sense they are just constructs we use to describe and sometime explain the environment, but to say logical, relatively independent statistics are not predictive is false. Deeming statistics irrelevant because they cant accurately predict tiny sample sets is stupid. Say there was a bucket of 1000 balls; 700 red, 300 white. If you were to bet on which color you thought would be picked out of the bucket at random you'd of course bet on the red balls. Of course meaning statistical analysis of baseball is much difficult than a rudimentary probability example because there are a lot of variable that go into baseball, but there certainly are statistics capable of predicting future performance in a relative way. Just because statistics are meaningless in an single game, or even a series or a month or more, doesnt mean they arent useful.

As for advocating more playing time for butera I think thats a really terrible idea because butera is a really terrible player. Against RHP, you would lose a ton of value playing butera over mauer at catcher and you lose some value playing mauer over thome at DH. Butera is certainly one of the worst hitters and baseball, and while his defense is solid and good, some peoples perception of his defense is inflated. Hes not the best defensive catcher in baseball, hes not the best at stopping the opposing running game, hes simply good. And attributing some mythical, unmeasurable value to butera because he calls a good game is lazy, baseless and nonsense. Did butera stop calling a good game in the 8th last night? Buteras game calling skills are a lot like orlando cabrera's club house leadership.

Anonymous said...

Butera is a huge help to Joe for getting him time to be healthy the final push. For those who are down on Hardy think back to the platoon of shortstops past. The biggest help this team needs is to bench Cuddy, do to his awefull hacking at pitches out of the zone.Caps is better than he looks in small sample he upgrades the bullpen, or would fans been happy with nothing at trade deadline.

Anonymous said...

"Deeming statistics irrelevant because they cant accurately predict tiny sample sets is stupid."

Fair enough, IF that is what I said.

My point was "Deeming statistics AUTHORITATIVE because they MIGHT ACCIDENTLY predict tiny sample sets is stupid."

Talking of tiny sample set...I mentioned 1/2 games a week, say 9 weeks left, 4 PA per game is @54 PA out of something like 3300-3500 PA's by the Twins in the remaining 52 games. Since you argue Butera has LITTLE VALUE on defense, an easy solution is to replace Butera with either Kubel or Thome at catcher. Butera has a pathetic 41% caught stealing rate. GOOD ML Catchers surpass 75-80% I'm sure, Kubel/Thome can easily exceed that lowly 41%.

That change projects to 54 Additional HR's, at least 125 RBI. Season Changer.

I surrender,

David McGraw

Anonymous said...

I didnt say butera had little value defensively. I believe i said he was good and ive seen information that rates his defense as solidly above average. My point is that some people have made his defensive value the stuff of legends. Butera is so bad offensively that even strong defense doesnt make him a particularly valuable player, probably roughly replacement level which is really not good. Jose morales is almost certainly a more valuable catcher than butera but just barely as neither player is very good. I dont really care which catcher is the twins backup catcher, my point is that whoever is the backup catcher should get very little playing time. Something like 3 start every 2 weeks max. No personal catcher appearances, no expanded role because he works so well with the pitchers. Butera is not a valuable asset and every time he plays the twins are not maximizing their fielded team.

Anonymous said...

Stats are very meaningful in baseball. But that doesn't mean you can throw away knowledge and experience of the game of baseball just because a stat might disagree here or there. Both stats and general observations have to work in concert.

Statistically you might say Morales is a better catching option than Butera. Stats might tell you that Morales's offense makes up for the better blocked balls and runner throwouts that Butera has.

But if you think that starting a game with Drew Butera gives you a lower chance of victory than going with Morales then I'd say I totally disagree. Butera manages the pitchers and game in general extremely well. He needs to get some credit. Just because you can't prove his value with stats doesn't mean that he isn't in many ways carrying this team right now.

I'll probably give a stat master a stroke with that statement. But I watch damn near every game and with Mauer unavailable to catch Drew Butera is absolutely proving that he knows how to manage a game from its most important defensive position. He is a true catcher. His bat sucks yes. But I truly believe that Butera catches the same 100 games as Morales and our pitchers have a lower ERA with Butera, bottom line.

Anonymous said...

The commenter above is example A of fans hyperbolic perception of Drew Buteras defense. I will not deny that I really hate evaluation using an 'eye test' but it can be meaningful if done well. My problem with how must fan use the eye test is that the evaluation is typically influenced by things other than the players actual performance, the evaluation typically lacks much perspective and cataloging the results are almost impossible to do without actually charting the them. I believe that lots of people exaggerate butera's defensive prowess largely because before the season butera was hailed as being very strong defensively and every time he makes a good play Dick explodes and reinforces that the play was made because butera is so great defensively. When really we have no idea how a typical catcher would have handled the same play, we dont break down the mechanics of how he stops balls or attempts to throw basestealers and any quantitative way compared to other catchers, but we still believe it was a great play. We, as fans, have been conditioned to believe that the good plays butera makes are better than the are. The larger point here is that neither butera or morales have caught enough major league innings to say anything definitive about how they play defense. The pro butera camp makes it seem like morales is an abomination defensively and drew butera is the adam everett of catchers. Butera and morales have each caught 30 games for the twins. Speculating on how much better butera is than morales defensively is baseless.

As for the part about butera have lots of value because of how he calls a game is such crap. So lazy. 2 starts ago liriano was as good as ive ever seen him, last night he was as bad as ive ever seen him. Did butera call a terrible game last night? If we attribute value to him when pitcher throw good games then we should subtract value when bad game are thrown right. Or is a more likely explanation that liriano pitched poorly last night because he couldnt locate any of his pitcher and he pitched well 2 starts ago because he located his pitches exceptionally well? How about sloweys last start. Great for 7 innings and than 6 ER in the 8th. Did butera stop calling a good game after 7? Or did the pitchers not execute very well that inning? Pitcher execution>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>catcher game calling. The butera calling a good game, and any analysis similar is so worthless.

Ed Bast said...

Butera's carrying this team now? Oh my Lord. Either you are Drew Butera, you've never seen a Twins game, or you simply have no capacity to analyze the game of baseball.