Friday, October 01, 2010

What, Me Worry? Maybe a Little

I'm breaking no new ground in stating that the Twins have been struggling lately.

After being blown out by the homer-happy Blue Jays last night 13-2, the Twins have now dropped six of their last seven games, being outscored 61-27 in the process. They were rather thoroughly pummeled throughout a road trip that brought them through Detroit and Kansas City, and then returned home to open their final series of the season by surrendering six home runs in a stadium where they -- as a team -- have gone deep only 50 times in 78 games this year.

Aaron Gleeman and Phil Mackey have both offered some perspective recently on the true impact of momentum heading into the playoffs, noting that historical evidence suggests no real correlation. Mackey also points out that the majority of damage done against the Twins during this ugly stretch has come against players who will not be factors on the postseason roster.

These things are true. However...

Francisco Liriano, looking to rebound from an outing shortened by illness and sharpen up in his final tune-up start, surrendered three home runs -- half of his previous season total -- in 5 1/3 innings. Since seeing his ERA dip to 3.24 after hurling seven two-run frames against the Royals, he's gone 1-3 with a 6.98 ERA. Five of the nine home runs he's allowed this season have come during that span.

Not that many of you need to be reminded, but Liriano has a history of arm problems. He missed the entire 2007 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery, had a documented bout with dead arm last year and had another one this year. After last night's start, he's thrown more than 190 innings this season, and that's not counting the 50 or so innings he tossed in winter ball prior to spring training.

Liriano will take the hill five days from now at Target Field, most likely against the Yankees, who have scored a lot more runs than the Blue Jays this year. Taking the hill in Game 2 will be Carl Pavano.

The same Pavano who was knocked around for seven runs on 11 hits over four innings in Detroit last weekend. Another guy with a history of arm problems, Pavano is at 214 innings this year entering tonight's start. He's given up 19 hits over nine innings in his last two turns.

Do these slumps have any bearing on how those two (not to mention Brian Duensing, also coming off his worst start of the season) will fare in the opening round of the playoffs? Perhaps, and perhaps not. But to leisurely play these simultaneous slumps off as random statistical noise seems awfully short-sighted.

The poor play hasn't stopped with pitching, of course. The Twins have been held to two or fewer runs four times during this seven-game span, being shut down by such household names as Sean O'Sullivan and Shawn Hill.

Much of the offensive ineptitude over the past week can be pinned on scrub-filled lineups, but last night, with Joe Mauer returning, Ron Gardenhire sent out his A-lineup minus one hitter. That lineup was held to two runs on four hits by a group of pitchers consisting of Hill, Brian Tallet, Robert Ray, Casey Janssen, David Purcey and Taylor Buchholz. It happened in the same stadium the Twins fought so valiantly to ensure they'd open their postseason run.

Orlando Hudson, who was benched during the playoffs last year in Los Angeles, has hit .194 with three extra-base hits in 93 September at-bats. Jason Kubel, who might as well have been on the bench during the playoffs for the Twins last year, is at .222 since the All-Star break and .173 with an 18-to-3 strikeout-to-walk ratio this month. Mauer went 0-for-4 last night in his first action since September 19th. Jim Thome was expected to take swings at the ballpark yesterday but wasn't able to, as he's reportedly suffered a setback with his back injury.

I'm normally one to caution against overreacting to slumps, and to be clear, the Twins' abysmal performance recently does not in any way doom them in the playoffs. Teams can emerge from slumps at any time, and over the course of the season as a whole these Twins have proven that they're one of the league's most talented clubs.

But this isn't just a slump. This team is getting throttled, with several of their worst losses of the season bunched up closely. And while that's partially attributable to the inferior players they're trotting out, one can't exactly take solace in the way the regulars have been performing when given a chance.

The Twins have a grand total of three regular-season games remaining. I'm going to be grasping desperately for positive signs, because -- regardless of what the historical data says -- there's just no way I'm going to feel very confident heading into the playoffs with almost the entire team playing like absolute trash.


Marshall Garvey (MarshalltheIrish) said...

Great call once more, Nick. Tonight's loss definitely cemented my concern about the overall play. I hoped last night's win in KC would get them back on track, but going into the opener against Toronto I had a nagging feeling things would implode.

The starting pitching is easily the greatest concern. Anyone slumping offensively can come alive at just about any time, but a lackluster start from Liriano or Pavano could be a huge setback in the playoffs.

A couple of wins this series (preferably with a great start from Pavano) would be reassuring.

Ed Bast said...

If Liriano is indeed starting to wear Couple that with his tendency to let first inning adrenaline run amok AND his occasional struggles in high-pressure situations, and Game 1 could be an absolute disaster. And let's just say I doubt this club has the mettle to recover from a 1-0 deficit with 2 games at holy Yankee Stadium staring them in the face.

Sorry, it's just hard to be positive about the past week. Let's hope they figure it out quick.

Anonymous said...

so now you agree that momentum is good going into the postseason, yet you agreed with gardy resting everyone so that they would get nice and rusty?

I still think the starters should have been on a regular schedule, they start any game that they would have under normal circumstances. They don't have to play the whole game, just get them a couple at bats and get them out of there. That way they don't look lost when you throw them in there when it matters.

Even though we didn't give it all when going for home field advantage, it would have been nice to see the guys out there staying sharp for the upcoming playoffs.

Nick N. said...

so now you agree that momentum is good going into the postseason, yet you agreed with gardy resting everyone so that they would get nice and rusty?

The only players that Gardenhire has been resting have been injured players. Pushing those guys to play in games that ultimately don't matter very much is ill-advised, any way you look at it.

Anonymous said...

"But to leisurely play these simultaneous slumps off as random statistical noise seems awfully short-sighted." Panicing over this same insignificant sample size is short sided too.

I also think you are kind of grafting analysis onto results as far as lirianos start last night goes. Certainly he hasnt been pitching his best the last few starts, but I thought he pitched fine last night. He struck out 6, walked just 1, got a lot of ground balls and didnt give up a ton of hits. He was hurt by a fluky hr night. He allowed either 5 or 6 fly balls and 3 of them left the park, and thats really an unlikely event. I dont think any of his peripheral suggest he has a dead arm or that hes really struggling. Just filing his start away as bad because he allowed 5 runs is misleading. If liriano gives up hr on 60% of his flyballs to the yankees hes going to struggle. But if he can strike out a lot of guys, limit the walks and get groundballs he should do fine.

Ed Bast said...

Now that we don't really have a shot at home field, I think as Twins fans we have to suck it up and cheer for the Yankees as our first round opponent. Absolutely need to have home field against them, and it's probably better to get them in a 5-game series anyway.

So, go Rays!

Ed Bast said...


Dude, Liriano gave up 5 runs in 5.1 innings. Over his last 19 innings, 15 runs. Only a sabermatrician could look at that performance and say he's not struggling.

"Good peripherals" aren't going to win a playoff game. 5.1 innings out of your "ace" is unnacceptable.

Why can't folks call a spade a spade when Frankie has a bad outing? I know we desperately want to call him an Ace or Cy Young or whatever, but come on.

Jack Steal said...


Great article!! Much better than the one where you ranked Gardy as the team MVP. If the Twins are swept in the first round will Gardy still be your MVP?? When are other bloggers going to stop kissing up to Gardy and his staff and call them out. 6-18 is the only record people should care about. The team has quit playing hard and gardy is making excuses for them

Anonymous said...

I wont hide my disgust for run scored evaluations. It is stupid to evaluate a pitcher based on how many runs are scored when he pitches and if you believe its a good way to evaluate pitchers you are some combination of lazy/stupid. All that being said theres no good way to meaningfully evaluate how a pitcher pitched in a game or over 19 innings. My point was that he did a lot of things in last nights game that should result in fewer runs allowed, reacting to his era dismisses that entirely. And besides that using just that insignificant era to make conjecture about lirianos dead arm is shoddy work.

Matt said...

If he gave up hr on 60% of fly balls at Target Field, how do you think he'll fare at Yankee Stadium with that stupidly, rediculously short right field fence?
He left pitches up and got hammered. In the playoffs, pitching mistakes almost always cost big.
But, our pitching all season hasn't been a huge asset until recently. What worries me is that no one's hitting much lately. We've seen our offense get cold leading up to and during the playoffs before. They really need to step it up and slug some balls or we're doomed.
Oh, and on the Rays in the first round? I dunno, I'll be at work during the games! At least if the Yanks come to town I'll get to watch.

Ed Bast said...

Well, I'm an idiot, but my theory is that runs allowed go a long ways in determining if a team wins or loses. It's crazy, I know.

Please give me an example of a pitcher who gave up 5 earned through 5.1 and pitched really well. Please.

Now if Nick Blackburn had given up 5 in 5.1 innings, you would be utterly destroying him in these comments. You'd find some "bad peripherals", cite a low k/bb ratio, and mock and ridicule the Twins for even thinking about pitching him in the playoffs.

This stat head love for Liriano is driving me nuts. They are so enraged that he isn't mentioned in Cy Young voting that they completely tune out from reality whenever he pitches and it's either the greatest pitching performance of all time or there's an excuse for a bad outing. Always an excuse.

At least Nick has the objectivity to consider, hey, maybe he hasn't been very good lately (gasp!!!).

Nick N. said...

And besides that using just that insignificant era to make conjecture about lirianos dead arm is shoddy work.

There would be a point to be made about Liriano's extensive workload this year regardless of whether or not he was struggling. The fact that his performance is eroding as the season comes to a close is not something that should be ignored.

Anonymous said...

Ed Bast, etc, the point of looking at peripherals isn't to make excuses, it's to be predictive. Guys can pitch poorly and get good results, guys can pitch well and get bad results. All people are saying re: Liriano is that he pitched well enough to get better results, and if he pitches that well the next time, the odds are decent he'll have better results. It's not rocket science.

If Liriano had walked 5, struckout none, and given up all flyball outs, but no runs, I'd feel a lot more leery of Liriano going into his next start than I do right now.

Ed Bast said...

Matt said it best, and most concise. Frank left pitches up and got hammered. I say he got what he deserved because he made bad pitches. You say it's unlucky because 60% of his fly balls were homers. You're not looking at how he actually pitched, you're looking at how his peripherals align with league averages, and making your judgement based on that alone.

Who's the lazy one here?

Dr. Truth said...

Yeah it's not rocket science. The Twins lost 13-2. Liriano didn't give his team a chance to win. Not rocket science.

Anonymous said...

If you can't even grasp that luck and skill intersect for pitchers to produce "results," well then, you are too dense to explain the concept to in a blog comment section.

Anonymous said...

The injuries and performances by all 4 of our postseason starting pitchers concerns me. The losses and final scores don't matter quite so much because a lot of damage comes from our non-playoff players.

Still unsettling though. I think Yankees fans should be equally concerned as their situations are quite similar.

Ed Bast said...

Again, I'm saying a pitcher who consistently left balls up, gave up half his season home run total, 5 earned runs and couldn't get out of the fifth, which left his team in a hole they could not dig themselves out of, ultimately losing the game going away, didn't pitch well.

You're saying he pitched well.

You, sir, are redifining the word "dense".

This level of thickheadedness is what gives sabermetricians a bad name. Throwing common sense out the window and pounding away at some esoteric statistic to prove a point anyone who watched the game would dispute.

Matt said...

Throwing common sense out the window and pounding away at some esoteric statistic to prove a point anyone who watched the game would dispute.
I'm sick of that, too. Saying ERA is a worthless stat makes no sense to me. Sure, the more obscure measureables are predictive, I get that. But saying a guy "pitched well" and that the runs he gave up were due to "bad luck" when he gave up 5 in 5.1 leaves me scratching my head, especially at a park like Target Field where balls don't fly out that much.
Overall, last night's game was a blip statistically and isn't likely to happen again for a long time. But 13-2 is 13-2. Liriano left pitches up last night in a "tune up" start. He does not deserve a Cy Young, he's not a #1 pitcher on the other AL playoff teams (Lee, CC, and Price are all better), he will not pass Go, he will not collect $200.

Ed Bast said...

Cheers, Matt.

Anonymous said...

"my theory is that runs allowed go a long ways in determining if a team wins or loses. It's crazy, I know. " RBI and runs scored go along way towards determining if a team wins or loses too, they are still terrible stats for evaluation. So youre not crazy, just kind of clueless.

"You're not looking at how he actually pitched, you're looking at how his peripherals align with league averages, and making your judgement based on that alone. " Im not trying to say anything profound about liriano's performance other than it wasnt terrible as his earned run would suggest. But hr/fb of 60% screams fluke. Even if the fluke was the result of liriano leaving some pitches up its not likely to happen again.

rghrbek said...

The bottom line, is and should be, our starting pitching stinks right now.

We are banged up, and two of our most feared 3 hitters are either not playing, or still sore enough where they cannot run balls out to first.

Not good.

Our lineup is not as deep as people think, even when at full strength.

Sinker was right in his blog, that Kubel s/b savaged a bit more this year than he has, compared to others. Batting .245 or .246 is not good for him. Now he has produced better than Cuddy, especially for the salary he makes, but both of those guys bat in high leverage areas in the lineup.

That scares me. Couple that with Hudson and Span's below .340% on base, and well, we need Joe and Jim, to be Joe and Jim immediately. I worry that by the time the rust comes off, we might be down two games in the playoffs.

Nick, thanks for posting so frequently, you've racked up a lot of innings this year.

Did anyone hear Dick claim that Cuddy is probably the team's mvp. I love it when the media spews whatever Gardy simply says. Brutal.

Guy Banister said...

Liriano has failed to complete 6 IP in 6 out of his last 10 outings. Couple that with his tendency to implode under pressure and lack of bulldog mentality left me scratching my head the moment I heard he was the game 1 starter. Does he really seem to have the poise to take the mound and shove it down the yankees throats? Not likely. The only worse scenario would be him pitching game two with the Twins down a game so maybe that's why Gardy put him game 1. I'm not saying the Twins cant win the A.L.D.S but Frankie being a boss in game 1 is not too realistic to me.

Ed Bast said...

Anon, I promise you I can make a spot-on evaluation of which team won the game based on runs allowed and runs scored. Lost in your in-depth analysis of hr/fb ratio is the fact that the Twins lost 13-2. You do care about the outcomes of the game, don't you?

I know you'd rather see Frank keep his ground ball ratio up and his xFIP down. Me, I'd rather see him pitch well enough to give his team a chance to win.

Ed Bast said...

Also, the RBI-bashing is almost as comical as the ERA bashing. A quick look at the RBI leaderboard: 4 of the 5 top RBI guys are in the top 14 in WAR. A-Rod is the 5th and his WAR is 4+.

Top 3 WAR guys on Fangraphs: Hamilton, Pujols, Votto. Pujols in 4th in RBI, Votto 7th, and if Hamilton had played the last month he might be #1 in RBIs.

How are RBIs "terrible stats for evaluation" again? If so, I'd say WAR is terrible too.

Matt said...

I use a lot of statistics in my job (don't tell my boss I'm posting here).
We evaluate all kinds of things, and compare them to one another. It starts with simple stuff, like % difference, and progresses to more complicated metrics like p-values derived from ANOVAs and Gage studies that produce a whole set of metrics, that basically prove or disprove "x is like y."
However, despite all the fancy hardware and software and data collection efforts by various people (point being that stats are expensive to calculate), common sense is NEVER just tossed out the window. A good statistician can manipulate anything he/she wants to make YOU, the viewer, believe it.
What I'm trying to say is, these peripheral metrics will never tell the whole story. How many runs a guy allows and whether his team wins or loses will always be the most important. To say "Frankie's peripherals suggests a much better performance" is hogwash. His ERA in that game was close to 9.00, his team lost, and he walked some guys. He left meatballs over the plate that got slugged out of a big ball park.
Is there really anything else to worry about heading into October? Who cares how his xFIP looks right now? 5 runs, 5.1 IP. Enough said.

Anonymous said...

As a fan I care about how many runs he allows, the result of the game and things like that. For evaluation purposes I dont care about the results of the game at all. And from an evaluation stand point, I'd be happier seeing liriano give up a bunch of run but getting a lot of ground balls, striking out a lot of people and not walking many, than i would if he were to throw a shutout with a lot of flyballs, a lot of walks and no strike outs. The way he pitched in the outing he gave up runs has a high probably of giving up fewer than the outing he gave up none. I dont think you differentiate between being a fan and analyzing baseball very well Ed.

Ed Bast said...

Anon, you're probably right about the last bit. Sorry if I was a little aggressive - that happens sometimes. Bottom line, go Twins!

Have a nice weekend.

Anonymous said...

I think it's a great time for a slump. We've clinched the division, have one of the best records in the entire league...we're heading into the playoffs with mental and physical power now. Baseball is full of streaks - let the next one begin.

On the road with.... said...

Heh, I used that pic in a post the other day when I wasn't worried. I'm starting to worry now that the good players are playing poorly.

Anonymous said...

The Twins will be ready for the playoffs this year and they will get to the World Series! Don't worry!