Thursday, April 3, 2008

A new production stat?

I am a simple guy. I like ketchup, pickles and onions on my hamburger. No mustard or sauer kraut.

In baseball, the ultimate goal is to win games, by scoring runs. Has anyone used run production (runs and RBIs) as a statistic for evaluating hitters? Specifically, here is my new stat - forgive me if someone else came up with this first:

Runs Produced per At-Bat (RP/AB)=Runs scored, plus runs batted in, minus home runs (to eliminate duplication), with that total divided by at-bats. In short, it measures how many runs (usually fractions) will score with each at-bat.

It's simple. It's effective. It works.

Some may argue that this player or that player simply isn't on a team that scores runs, or doesn't have anyone on base when they are up to bat, or is a run-scorer more than an RBI man. That may be true, but baseball is a team sport. The goal as an individual and as a team is to win, to score runs.

If you are doing well, others on your team are doing well, usually. In 2006, several Twins had career years (Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Michael Cuddyer).

If you come to bat and no one is on base, what's your goal? Either get on base to score, or hit a home run. Obviously, hitting more doubles and triples and home runs helps your cause. But so does clutch hitting (with runners on base). So does higher batting average, usually. So does more walks.

Here are some RP/AB stats for some Twins: (the career numbers include the first three games of 2008)

Career 2006 2007
Cuddyer .260 .336 .278
Gomez .191 .192
Kubel .223 .186 .242
Lamb .249 .270 .238
Mauer .267 .301 .283
Morneau .280 .321 .278
Punto .200 .255 .163

Now for another comparison:
Alex Rodriguez .338 .348 .420

The Twins had Randy Ruiz in Spring training. In 28 at bats, he scored 9 times, had 7 RBIs and 2 home runs. His RP/AB: .500

Unlike a batting average, RP/AB can over short periods of time exceed 1.00. For example, hitters who hit grand slams have a 4.00 RP/AB for that at bat. It can - extremely rarely - even exceed that; walks don't add to at-bats, but they can add to runs and RBIs. Baseball purists might use plate appearances rather than at bats. But at-bats - as a statistic - is more readily available.

This stat shows a better overall productivity rating than average or slugging percentage.

No mustard. no sauer kraut. What do you think?

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Three keys

Keys to the Twins' success in 2008:

• The Relief Corps has to remain strong. This is probably the least-worrisome component of the Twins' potential for success.

• Defense, Defense, Defense: The Twins have improved their defense up the middle in the infield with Everett at SS, but Castillo was better defensively than any of the current Twins. If Tolbert shows he can play 2B well, Harris and Punto might yet be the bench players. In the outfield, the Twins have three strong arms in Young, Gomez and Cuddyer, but Gomez' talent is pretty raw. Overall, the defense will be about the same as last year, or perhaps a hair worse.

• The Offense has to click. This is one area where the Twins have at least tried to improve, getting Young and Harris from Tampa Bay, signing 3B Lamb and Monroe, and acquiring Gomez. This offense could click to point of scoring 150 more runs this year over 2007.

• The starting pitching has to learn. This is a young staff, and we have to be patient. Don't expect a lot from Liriano. After recovering from surgery a year ago, he'll still be feeling his way back to success. And Hernandez won't be around too long. He needs to return to the National League. But Slowey, Bonser, Baker, Blackburn and Humber will all contribute to this season and most should have positive winning percentages.

Those are the top keys. They're incredibly obvious. But they can contribute to a winning Twins' season.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008


Some predictions: The Red Sox will win the East, and Angels the west. I see more parity in the Central; I actually think the Twins could vie with Cleveland, Chicago and Detroit for the Central title.

It's true, everyone would have to do well, especially our starters. But Nick Blackburn and Philip Humber will be good additions, and I see Slowey leading in games won, with 18.

If the Bs can pitch up to their potential (Boof Bonser, Scott Baker and Blackburn) it will be an exciting season. I'm actually not expecting a lot from Hernandez or Liriano. Hernandez will be gone before the All-Star break, and Francisco Liriano won't be as effective as he was in 2006. He'll be much better in 2009.

The offense should be greatly improved. And Gomez will provide a lot of excitement. So far this spring, he's been on base 17 times, and scored 12 times. That's a 70 percent clip. I doubt if it will carry into the regular season, but if it did, it would be great.

I know I really felt that Jason Pridie would be the Twins' best CF choice, but Gomez certainly is exciting to watch. As long as Craig Monroe doesn't get much time in CF, I'll be fine. Denard Span was probably disappointed, but he'll get another chance.

Matt Tolbert actually played a little outfield in Tuesday's game. Must be Ron Gardenhire's effort to stretch the infielder into an even more well-rounded reserve. If he gets hot offensively, watch him take over at 2B though.

The relief corps should be solid again, especially now that Joe Nathan has been signed to a 4-year deal. It was expected. The Twins need him to anchor the relief pen.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Tolbert at 2B?

Question: Could Matt Tolbert be the Twins' 2B in 2008?

At Rochester last year, Tolbert was primarily a 2B, playing 101 games there. Although the Twins have him listed as a SS on their spring training stats list, with both Nick Punto (hitting .156) and Brendan Harris (.184) both struggling, and Tolbert
(.276) still in camp, could the Twins be looking at keeping Tolbert and surprising everyone by having him start at 2B? That remains to be seen.

In the race for the CF spot, Denard Span and Carlos Gomez seem to be neck and neck, with Gomez getting the edge just on the excitement level, despite Span's recent surge at the plate. With Jason Kubel and Craig Monroe both in camp, both DHs and both OFs, it's unlikely, but possible, that the other CF candidate stays with the Twins. That also means that OF Jason Pridie is also likely to be sent to AAA, unfortunately, because he could be the starting CF.

Gomez is getting the edge for the starting CF job not because of hitting (.267 this spring) or OBP (.286) but because of excitement. He has 12 hits and two walks, meaning he's been on base 14 times this spring.

He has scored 11 of those times. He has 6 RBI, meaning of the three candidates, he might not be the best hitter, but he's by far the best plate crosser.

If Gomez gets the job, Pridie and Span will start at AAA Rochester. But if Gomez' OBP doesn't increase as a leadoff hitter, either Span or Pridie will get the call.

Hence, Tolbert's likely opponent in the race to be the 25th man out of spring training appears to be 3B Brian Buscher, who is also struggling. Buscher is hitting .138 this spring, with one HR.

Buscher has more power than Tolbert, but Tolbert can play three infield positions, making him more valuable.

Making Tolbert the 2B puts both Harris and Punto on the bench, something that seems unlikely. Harris can hit, but Punto can field. That would make the bench Monroe/Kubel, CA Mike Redmond, Punto and Harris.

Most likely, Harris will be the Twins starting 2B, with Punto and Tolbert on the bench. But the Twins are unlikely to put up with many fielding mistakes at 2B, which means either Harris improves his defense, or Tolbert and Punto will be waiting in the wings.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Fringe players

Several position players seem to be vying for that last spot on the Twins Roster, including:

• Randy Ruiz. A career .300 hitter in nine minor league seasons, Ruiz hasn't yet made it to the majors. He's batting .455 with two home runs this spring. His problem: He virtually only plays 1B and the OF. The Twins have a pretty good 1B in Justin Morneau, who's signed to a 6-year, $80 million contract and they have a glut of outfielders. Thirty-year-old Ruiz just isn't going to make it unless it is as a reserve. Just one more note on Ruiz: He has been the most PRODUCTIVE Twins player this spring; scoring 9 runs and getting 7 RBIs (16 total, -2 for his 2 hrs, makes 14 runs produced). Michael Cuddyer is next at 10. Ruiz is leading the Twins in both RBIs and runs scored this spring.

• Garrett Jones, an outfielder who is out of options, is batting .217 with one homer this spring. A real long shot to make it.

• Jason Pridie, one of the three who was trying for the every day CF position, still might make it there, despite Manager Ron Gardenhire saying that he would prefer either Carlos Gomez or Denard Span for the spot. Pridie is hitting at .280 this spring, higher than either Span (.227) or Gomez (.148). If Pridie doesn't make it as the every day CF, he could be the 25th man on the roster, but more likely would head to AAA.

• Brian Buscher started out this spring on fire, but has cooled off. His average has dipped to .190. It's looking like he'll start out at AAA, but he will likely get called up at some point this season.

• Chris Basak, a journeyman minor leaguer, is hitting .286 this spring with a .412 on base percentage. He has played mostly in the infield in the minor leagues, but the Twins have him listed as an outfielder. He has an outside chance to make the team.

• 3B Matt Macri, Howie Clark and Tommy Watkins look like they are also headed for the minors. Perennial Minor League OF Jon Knott is also headed that way.

• 2B Alexi Casilla is hitting .250, but he has a .423 OBP this spring. He has six walks and five hits, all singles. He might make that 25th spot as a reserve.

• IF Matt Tolbert is hitting .286; he can play 2B, 3B and SS, and also has an outside shot at making the team as the 25th player.

Two other notes about this spring's hitters:

- Nick Punto is not even close to the Mendoza line. He's hitting only .118 this spring. Prediction: Although he is signed through 2008, the Twins may cut him loose before the season starts if he doesn't start hitting soon. Good fielding only takes you so far. In that case, Tolbert or Casilla could benefit if Punto is released.

- The Twins' .400+ hitters right now are Ruiz, OF Craig Monroe, CA Joe Mauer and 3B Mike Lamb. Ruiz, Monroe and OF Jon Knott have each hit two homers to lead the club.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Pitched battle

Kevin Slowey has endangered his would-have-been-a-lock on a starting position with the Twins with two bad outings. He's pitched 3 2/3 innings, and given up six runs (three in each of two outings).

There are just too many good pitchers in camp to ignore Slowey's problems this spring. Slowey - 4-1 with a 4.73 ERA last year - may just start the year at AAA.

As of this morning, there were 11 pitchers in camp who have pitched in at least one game with 0.00 ERAs so far this spring. They include Scott Baker and Boof Bonser - probable locks for the rotation, and two - Nick Blackburn and Philip Humber - who are vying for starting spots. Livan Hernandez is also a starter; he has a 4.5 ERA so far.

There are 14 other pitchers in camp who have given up earned runs. Julio DePaula, a right-handed relief pitcher, was 12-5 for AAA Rochester last year, with a 2.90 ERA. His ERA this spring is 2.25 (1 ER in 4 IP). He could make the Twins relief pen this year.

DePaula has to be a consideration for the relief pen, after his work in Rochester, but the pen is already pretty full with Joe Nathan, Jesse Crain, Juan Rincon, Dennys Reyes, Pat Neshek, Glen Perkins, Matt Guerrier and Carmen Cali all having or vying for spots. So far, Cali, Guerrier, Neshek, Reyes and Rincon all have 0.00 ERAs, making it a tough choice.

A couple others with 0.00 ERAs are Bobby Korecky, the Rochester closer last year, and Deolis Guerra, the 19-year-old received in the Santana trade. Both will likely be in the minor leagues this year, no matter how well they pitch.

So the pitched battle goes on.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Twins' trying different OF options

The Minnesota Twins are trying to find a sixth outfield spot on the roster, and it's getting hard to deny that Jason Pridie should be in the Major Leagues.

While others look to Carlos Gomez to fill the Twin's CF post, and while Gomez has clearly shown he can play the position, it's unclear if the speedy youngster can actually hit. The Twins' CF will probably need to fill the role of lead-off hitter.

Right now, the Twins have LF Delmon Young, RF Michael Cuddyer, DH Jason Kubel set with the major league squad. All can play the corner OF posts. Then there's Craig Monroe, who can (Yuck) play in the OF, but is most likely a pinch hitter.

Gomez, Denard Span and Pridie are all battling for the CF job. The Twins also have Garrett Jones, who is out of options and is a corner outfielder.

Will they keep five - or six outfielders? Manager Ron Gardenhire has already said he plans to go north with 12 pitchers and two catchers, leaving 11 infield and outfield positions. So there are four infield positions, a DH and three outfield positions (eight positions) for 11 players. If you throw the DH position in with the outfielders (since Kubel is expected to have that position and he's an outfielder) you have either five or six outfielders, and five or six infielders.

My guess is that GM Bill Smith is on the phone trying to shop Jones - and maybe even Monroe - for a minor leaguer or two.

Looking at the early Spring Training stats for Pridie, Span and Gomez, Pridie is leading in the hitting, with a .400 average (4 for 10); Span is at .286 (2/7) and Gomez at .154 (2/13).

In all fairness, Monroe is batting .333 this spring as well, in limited play (1 for 3). He's been injured for about a week.

So if the Twins keep Monroe, on top of Young, Cuddyer and Kubel, they are limited to one other OF, with five OF, or could keep two and have six, but that makes it more difficult to carry a sixth infielder (such as Alexi Casilla). My choice would still be to keep Pridie and Gomez.

If the Twins drop Monroe (and I think overall this is the most viable option, because it saves millions of dollars, and a valuable roster spot), it would allow the Twins to keep Pridie, Gomez, and Casilla.

Clearly, it's a difficult decision. Do they want a genuine power threat - Monroe - on the bench - but someone with only a limited ability to field and hit for average, or do they want someone who fields, hits for average, but not for power?

Pridie can hit for power, as well as average. He may not yet be a total power threat, but he hit 17 homers in A ball in 2004 and 14 homers total in AA and AAA last year. Gomez has hit for 8 homers at AA in 2006, but is better known for his speed and fielding ability. Span is not a home run threat, having hit seven total in five minor league seasons.

It looks like the Twins have been trying Pridie out in a number of OF positions, seeing if he can play well in all. That expands his usefullness. But I'd rather have him play every day in CF, and see what he can do - or have him platoon with Gomez, and give them both a shot.

In any case this CF battle is interesting to watch.