The one sport that stands to benefit most from advances in technology is America’s Pastime. My colleague Ben Beecken shares that sentiment and understands baseball’s big problem and how to solve it. But as a semi-traditionalist baseball fan, I’m not ready to take the umpires off the field in favor of robots. Something must be done, obviously, and Major League Baseball owners are apparently pushing Commissioner Rob Manfred to make “bold” changes to address what they believe to be a pace-of-play problem caused by the increased employment of defensive shifts. But baseball doesn’t have a pace-of-play problem; it has a lack-of-action problem that an electronic strike zone can solve without taking umpires’ jobs.

Increased Action Makes Pace of Play Irrelevant

“Time flies when you’re having fun” they say, and that goes for a three-plus-hour-long baseball game, too. Shortening the game or speeding it up isn’t going to make the game more appealing to young people. You need action to appeal to the all-time low attention spans of young people, or they’ll just find their entertainment on that computer in their pocket. MLB isn’t providing that action and hasn’t for a decade or so.

Thus far this season, MLB’s collective batting average is .248 — the 21st-worst league batting average since 1871, according to Baseball Reference. Runs are down to 1956 levels, but on-base percentages, upon which run production depends, have remained steady, according to ESPN’s Buster Olney. But there’s never been more strikeouts in the bigs.

The league is on pace to break the strikeout record set last year, and the year before that, and in each of the eight years prior. That’s a decade’s worth of record-setting strikeout totals, so no one should be surprised by how often professional hitters are failing to hit. And you can’t blame defensive shifts for strikeouts.

This idea that the increased employment of defensive shifts has forced hitters to alter their approach at the plate to increase their “launch angle” and “exit velocity” to hit over the shift is ridiculous. Defensive shifts don’t force hitters to do anything except exactly what hitters have been expected to do since the game’s inception: hit it where they ain’t. If any professional ballplayer could bunt these days, and every one of them should be capable, or if managers valued baserunners over extra-base-hit potential, defensive shifts would all but disappear except for pull-happy, power hitters who aren’t paid to bunt — ever. The defense is the one taking a risk by shifting; most hitters risk nothing except their batting averages trying to hit over the shift and into the stands. We shouldn’t want more hitters bunting, however. We should want more action occurring from hitters hitting — or better yet, driving the ball.

Some of those hitters, like the Cubs’ Daniel Murphy, have explained why they don’t bunt against the shift despite having a gimme single if they can get it in play past the pitcher on the vacated half of the infield. Murphy’s reasoning is that he’s more valuable to his team pursuing extra-base hits rather than occupying first base and waiting for another two teammates to hit singles to score him given his lack of speed. “It’s really difficult to get three hits in one inning,” he told ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick, citing “how good pitchers are now” as a reason.

The Evolution of Pitching is to Blame for Baseball’s Problem

Young fans are avoiding baseball because it’s boring. Hitters can’t hit because pitching is too good. Many hitters, like former MVP and batting champion Justin Morneau, say a hitter can expect one hittable pitch per plate appearance, and hittable pitches are fewer and farther between in today’s MLB than ever before.

Batters aren’t looking to get the ball in the air more often to avoid hitting into defensive shifts. Batters are looking to get the ball in the air more often because there are fewer pitches thrown they are physically capable of hitting hard in the air. There are fewer pitches thrown that have extra-base-hit potential.

Since 2002, swings on pitches outside the strike zone have increased 12.7 percent, resulting in an all-time low contact rate and all-time high swing-and-miss rate.

In 2010, 50.2 percent of all pitches thrown in MLB were in the strike zone, according to FanGraphs. This season it’s down to 47.9 percent, and despite the percentage of swings at pitches in the zone at an all-time high over the 11-year history of this research, the contact percentage on those strikes is at an all-time low. Contact on pitches outside the strike zone is also at an all-time low, but why?

Reliance on Relief Pitchers Contributes to Baseball’s Problem

Before defensive shifts became the norm and launch angle was ever uttered, the approach to pitching had already evolved immensely in MLB. John McGraw had a dedicated relief pitcher on his New York Giants roster as early as 1905, according to the research of Bryan Soderholm-Difatte for “America’s Game.” That tactic became more popular in the 1920s after Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown’s career was shortened considerably having served as the Cubs’ ace starter and ace reliever from 1908 to 1911.

Even though the lengths of MLB pitchers’ careers were shortened by the now-incomprehensible number of innings pitched over a hundred years ago, there are still pitchers calling for starters to go longer in games and ignore pitch counts.

Hall of Fame pitcher Bert Blyleven reminding MLB’s aging audience that starters were expected to finish games as recent as the 1980s should consider how effective he and his peers were the third and fourth time through a lineup instead of calling it evidence that throwing more pitches leads to fewer injuries.

Real research conducted by real physicians found that throwing fastballs, not curveballs, is linked to Tommy John surgery, according to Sports Illustrated’s Ian McMahan. Blyleven made his living with his curveball, which is why he’s a terrible spokesperson for getting rid of the pitch count and treating today’s starting pitchers like it’s 1971.

Over his career, Blyleven allowed an OPS of .679 when pitching to opponents for a third time and a .711 OPS when seeing hitters a fourth time in a game. That’s respectable, but according to Total OPS+, or tOPS+, Blyleven’s teams, on average, would have been better off had Blyleven never pitched to a hitter a third or fourth time. That is, of course, if there was a relief pitcher on the team with a better tOPS+ when facing hitters for the first time in relief than Blyleven’s tOPS+ when facing hitters a third or fourth time in a game.

In 1971, at age 20, Blyleven’s tOPS+ against batters in their third plate appearance of a game was a fantastic 77 (the further below 100 the better a pitcher was in that particular instance). Only Minnesota closer Tom Hall was more effective in his first time facing batters as a reliever than Blyleven was facing batters a third time as a starter. And while Blyleven struggled a bit when facing batters a second time (107 tOPS+), he certainly had a good feel for his curveball when they stepped to the plate a third time.

Blyleven’s struggles the second time through lineups persisted throughout his career, but he actually got better as the game went on because he was throwing mostly curveballs, not fastballs. In 1986, Blyleven allowed an .853 OPS to hitters in their second plate appearance. But in their third plate appearance, opponents’ OPS was down to .733 and back up to .828 in their fourth look at Bert. So Blyleven, besides a knuckleballer, is the last person who should be calling for today’s pitchers to go longer in games because he was spending the early innings “finding” his curveball so he could throw it more often and more effectively late in games while pitchers today are throwing far more fastballs and fast breaking balls than he or anyone else in his era was throwing.

Reliance on Velocity Contributes to Baseball’s Problem

Since the 1980s, when the curveball gave way to the slider as the breaking ball of choice, pitchers have been throwing more fastballs and are understandably less effective against hitters a third and fourth time given that approach, losing their velocity and, in turn, movement. A curveball is difficult to track regardless of inning, but a fastball can be timed in a single plate appearance and exploited in the next. Sliders and cutters slide and cut less with less velocity, which is lost by pitchers faster in games these days due to the volume of fastballs and fast breaking balls thrown.

Since pitchers have been relying on fastballs more so than breaking balls, and rather effectively given the aforementioned statistics, pitchers ought not throw as many pitches as a curveball specialist given the medical research previously cited. Hence the advent of the pitch count.

Managers want to keep their starting pitchers healthy and able to start every five days, and the pitch count provides them with a guide for attempting to do so. But managers’ number one priority is winning ballgames, and throwing four or five electric arms at a lineup instead of one or two increases their chances to win games and preserve the health of their pitchers. But it doesn’t matter how fresh the arm or how electric the stuff if pitches thrown in the strike zone aren’t called strikes.

Reliance on Humans Contributes to Baseball’s Problem

Baseball purists like my attorney and Blyleven think it’s the human element home plate umpires provide that makes the game of baseball great. Each home plate umpire having his (and “his” sadly is the proper pronoun, at least in MLB) own unique, strike zone does make the game great. It sparks dugout chatter and builds camaraderie as teammates badmouth that day’s enemy behind the plate while trying to figure out the one 60 feet, six inches in front of it.

Then questionable calls lead to looks of “whoa” directed at the home plate umpire, culminating in confrontation and eventual ejections followed by the truly inspired, laid-bare performances in response, as if these men, like all great thespians, forget they have an audience. Now that’s drama.

There’s nothing more entertaining in baseball than a player or manager getting their money’s worth after being tossed from a game. Maybe a three-homer game or a straight steal of home could rival Ron Gardenhire’s red-faced rants or the legend of Lou Piniella’s interpretive, dirt dances, but hitting for the cycle pales in comparison. An ejection can invigorate both a team and crowd for the entirety of the game like winning a fight in hockey. The cycle climaxes with a curtain call lasting a few minutes, while the ejected entertainers, also deserving of a curtain call, make for a lonely locker room to find some semblance of solace in a cold shower and comfort food.

Frankly, I think the decline in ejections has been detrimental to baseball and contributed to baseball’s problem attracting young fans, who have gravitated toward the soap operatic drama of soccer instead. Bad actors with no respect for the theatre of sport are taking advantage of baseball’s dwindling drama thanks to a surplus of soccer drama performed by characters like The Zlatan — too unreal for even MTV’s Real World.

The advent of replay has scrubbed the sport of baseball relatively clean when it comes to disputing plays on the bases, and that’s an unfortunate but necessary sacrifice to get the calls right. An electronic strike zone will have a similar effect, removing some of the drama that makes a baseball game both joyous and enraging for all involved.

I like when an incorrect call goes my team’s way as much as the next fan, and I scream at the television when an umpire or official misses one. Officiating-hating is part of the fun for fans of all sports. There’s a problem, though, when pitches outside the strike zone are called strikes in a game where even the best players fail seven out of 10 times. It makes a game ESPN’s Tim Kurkjian calls “the hardest game in the world to play” even harder for hitters.

Reliance on Spin Rate Contributes to Baseball’s Problem

Pitches these days are harder to hit than they’ve ever been. On average, they’re being thrown harder than they’ve ever been. Fastballs, split-finger fastballs, sinkers, sliders and even change-ups are being thrown harder in 2018 than they have since 2007, which is where FanGraphs’ dataset starts. Pitches are moving more, too. Sliders, on average, have more horizontal movement than ever, with a focus on spin rate making pitches move more and making it harder for hitters to recognize pitches.

Not only has fastball velocity increased almost annually in MLB, but almost every pitch is being thrown faster than ever before.

So not only are we expecting MLB hitters to hit the nastiest pitches ever pitched, but we’re expecting them to hit the highest volume of nasty pitches despite an inconsistent strike zone that changes everyday, or twice daily for doubleheaders. The players are quite literally playing by different rules every game, and while Babe Ruth and Ted Williams dealt with similarly subjective strike zones in their eras, neither they nor the umpires of the day had to track an exploding slider or sinking and cutting fastballs thrown in the mid-90s all game, every game. Williams was subjected to defensive shifts, though, and they didn’t ruin the game back in the 1940s and won’t now.

The Solution to Baseball’s Problem

Baseball is a contact sport in that it requires contact between bat and ball to provide audiences action. “Strikeouts are boring. Besides that they’re Fascist,” as Crash Davis correctly claimed in Bull Durham. “Throw some ground balls. It’s more democratic.” Contact equals action, and a lack of contact is a lack of action.

Baseball’s problem attracting young fans is a result of that lack of action, not pace of play. You could shorten games to a two-hour time limit and without contact, the game would still be boring to young people. But the game wasn’t boring when Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire were launching steroid-fueled bombs into the stratosphere back in the 1990s because we had contact — epic contact.

Since ending MLB’s performance-enhancing drug policy is unlikely, using technology already available and already being used to train umpires to provide players with a consistent strike zone will lower chase and swing-and-miss rates, increase contact rates and, in turn, increase action. If baseball wants to attract young fans, instead of Commissioner Manfred altering the rules to limit defensive shifts or defensive positioning, he should consider implementing an electronic strike zone that’s consistent from game to game, umpire to umpire.

The most fun I have watching the lowly Twins is when Logan Forsythe runs out to left field from second base to serve as a fourth outfielder and then running back to the infield. Players are probably getting more exercise than they ever have in the history of the game, and movement is action.

Defensive shifts are the most interesting thing baseball’s had to offer since the Steroid Era. That is until Tampa Bay’s use of relief pitchers to start games becomes the norm so starters can relieve the “openers” and face hitters during their higher-leverage plate appearances the second, third and fourth time through the lineup. But instead of hitters figuring out a starting pitcher in their second or third at-bat, they’re figuring out a new pitcher in their second at-bat. If you thought strikeouts were out of control now, just wait until flamethrowing relievers are facing hitters at their most vulnerable — their first plate appearance — and then starting pitchers come in and make hitters relive the horror of their first plate appearance all over again.

Not only do both hitters and pitchers have to figure each other out throughout the course of a game, but they have to figure out the home plate umpire as well. Pitchers test the edges of the plate to see how wide the umpire’s strike zone is that day, resulting in plenty of pitches thrown out of the strike zone slowing play to a halt. A ball off the plate that doesn’t entice a swing is a complete lack of action, and a ball off the plate that does entice a swing tends to result in poor contact and little action. Until pitchers are forced to throw strikes, why would they? Greg Maddux carved out a Hall of Fame career pitching out of the strike zone, and he didn’t have the velocity or wicked movement pitchers feature today.

So what’s the answer to baseball’s problem? No, not robots, but technologically enhanced umpires. I’m not talking about creating special headgear that projects the strike zone on a see-through visor like Google Glasses and makes blue look like RoboUmp, although that’s a cool option. That way home plate umpires still feel useful and in control of the game, with technology assisting the umpire in calling a consistent strike zone instead of dictating balls and strikes. Technology is a tool humans should use to do work better; it should not be a means to do away with work altogether.

A less cool but effective option would be to put a microphone in the ear or a buzzer in the pocket of home plate umpires that indicates when a pitch is thrown in the electronic strike zone, and the technology is close to doing so accurately. That way hitters come to the plate every game knowing exactly what a strike is and is not, so they swing at more strikes instead of chasing balls incorrectly called strikes, which will result in more contact, better contact and fewer strikeouts despite defensive shifts. It will also give managers one less reason to argue with umpires, which, unfortunately, might be one of the last reasons left. But the electronic strike zone will make a three-plus-hour game more appealing to the short attention spans of young fans.

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Fans will get to see if the Minnesota Twins truly can hang over their next nine games. Starting Thursday, the Twins will see starting pitchers Jose Quintana (8.7 K/9, 2.47 K/B), Trevor Bauer (7 IP, 2 ER, 2 BB, 8 K in last start against Twins), Corey Kluber (11 K/9, 4.71 K/BB), Josh Tomlin (9.33 K/BB), Chris Sale (12.2 K/9), Drew Pomeranz (10.4 K/9), Rick Porcello (4.72 K/BB), David Price (BOS 3-1 in his four June starts) and Jason Vargas (200 ERA+). All those games are on the road.


This was originally published at FoulPlaybyPlay.com, a community of foul-mouthed, sports broadcasters providing commercial-free, uncensored play-by-play and color commentary during select games.


The premiere games will be when Jose Berrios takes on Chris Sale in Boston on Monday, and when veterans Ervin Santana and Jason Vargas do battle in Kansas City next Friday. The Twins have to be underdogs in just about all nine of those games, though.

The Twins better hope they get some pitching reinforcements. Right now the Twins are running Nik Turley out there, but they just signed Dillon Gee, so expect him to get a start over that nine-game stretch.

Hector Santiago is getting a rehab start on Wednesday for the Rochester Red Wings, and if all goes well, he could pitch as early as Tuesday against Pomeranz. That could end up being a big game for the Twins and Santiago, who has fallen and can’t get up.

The bullpen could also use reinforcements, and Alan Busenitz doesn’t seem to be the answer. Phil Hughes could also pitch out of the bullpen for Rochester on Wednesday. Expect Hughes to take longer to get back to MLB ready, but he’d be a welcomed addition to the worst bullpen in baseball. If Hughes can even get through a lineup once, he would leave fewer innings for guys like Matt Belisle (5.1 BB/9) and Craig Breslow (5 SO/9). Hughes will likely be forced back up during that brutal nine-game stretch for the Twins whether he’s pitching well at AAA or not.

This is the stretch of games that will turn contenders into sellers. Consider if the Twins go 2-7 over that nine-game stretch. They’d be two games under .500 at best, and with Cleveland’s offense finally taking off (and three more games coming against them) the Twins could be looking up from farther down in the AL Central than the 1.5 games they are entering Wednesday.

The Twins will have 10 more games after the nine-game stretch against playoff-caliber starting pitching to avoid becoming sellers at the deadline. Regardless, you can bet new chief of baseball operations Derek Falvey will be active over his first Trade Deadline. It won’t take much for him to be as active as Terry Ryan ever was.

So who do the Twins move? Santana’s value has plummeted lately, and given the Twins don’t have enough MLB-caliber pitchers to start every fifth day, it’s a safe bet anyone capable of eating innings will be sticking around.

Brian Dozier’s value has dried up a bit, too, which isn’t all bad. He’s still signed through 2018, and at a very reasonable rate next season ($6 million). This offseason or the deadline next season would be a good time to shop him, depending how Nick Gordon performs if he gets a cup of coffee when rosters expand this season. Mike Berardino of the Pioneer Press said it’s a possibility. Gordon would likely push Jorge Polanco to second base.

The most valuable players on the team aren’t going anywhere. Zach Granite can bang on the door all he wants, but Byron Buxton is going nowhere. Neither is Max Kepler, and I doubt Eddie Rosario would be moved given he’s not even arbitration eligible until 2019.

Robbie Grossman is one of the most valuable trade chip the Twins have, and I expect him to be shopped. He’s not an everyday outfielder, but man, can he hit. I think Falvey really likes Grossman. But what’s not to like? His OPS+ is 112, and he’s absolutely wrecking right-handed pitching (6 HR, .435 SLG, .801 OPS). He’s not bad against lefties either (.441 OBP, .741 OPS). He still has the highest on-base percentage amongst designated hitters at .389 and should be an All-star. He has a higher OPS than Hanley Ramirez, Victor Martinez, Mark Trumbo, Albert Pujols and Carlos Beltran. Grossman will be arbitration eligible next year and would be a fantastic addition as a designated hitter for a playoff team, but I can’t expect any of the teams of the players mentioned to make a move for the position.

That leaves Eduardo Escobar, who is on fire to say the least. He has hits in seven straight games and is 22-for-45 in June. His .838 OPS is fourth amongst shortstops, and his OPS+ is a team- and career-high 121. While he’s a below-average defensive shortstop, there are plenty of playoff-bound teams who would love to have a utility bat with a 1.066 OPS against lefties. And the Twins don't need to be out of it to move Escobar. He's arbitration eligible for the final time next year and will make considerably more than the $2.6 million he’s being paid this season. He will also be a free agent after next season.

Escobar can play just about everywhere, which makes me think the Chicago Cubs would be a perfect fit. Escobar could give Addison Russell a breather against lefties (Russell is hitting .219/.349/.346 against them this season), and play the outfield for Kyle Schwarber against lefties (Schwarber has a .567 OPS against lefties this year).

What should the Twins ask in return? Well, lefty starter Jen-Ho Tseng with the AA Tennessee Smokies is intriguing. He’s just 22, and his K:BB ratio is 3.1 and he’s striking out 7.7 per nine innings. Future relievers could include righty Pedro Araujo, 23, who has a K:BB ratio of 7.0 through 31.2 innings with the Myrtle Beach Pelicans of Advanced-A ball. His teammate and fellow righty Craig Brooks, 24, is actually striking out more batters than Araujo (13.3 K/9 over 20.1 IP).

If Falvey and the Twins want to take advantage of Escobar’s hot bat, now’s the time, especially with Gordon knocking on the door in AA. While Jorge Polanco has struggled in June, he is in the Twins' long-term plans. Nick Gordon is also in the Twins' long-term plans, and Escobar is not. That's why it won't matter where the Twins are in the standings come the Trade Deadline. Players will be shed to give playing time to youngsters. Escobar seems like the most obvious choice.

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In a prior post I called Jose Berrios the ace of the Minnesota Twins pitching staff. Not because I think six starts proves anything, and not because I don't believe in Ervin Santana. I do. Santana gets by on pitching prowess like Greg Maddux. But Berrios can flat out miss bats, regardless of who's swinging them, and that's what makes an ace. We'll get a good indication of Berrios's development on Thursday at noon against a hot Mariners lineup that roughed up Ervin Santana, Wednesday.


 

This was originally published at FoulPlaybyPlay.com, a community for foul-mouthed, sports broadcasters providing commercial-free play-by-play during select games.


 

Berrios is in a position to lift his team with a strong start. It's kind of a big spot, especially with the disarray that is the Twins pitching staff. The only thing we can honestly expect from the three other starters in the Twins rotation is that they will leave plenty of innings for baseball's worst bullpen. Even if Hector Santiago comes back and is serviceable, there's still at least three innings left in every game he starts! At least! The same goes for Kyle Gibson and Adalberto Mejia (or anyone else). And while the Twins bullpen is terrible, all bullpens are less terrible the fewer innings they pitch.

Berrios pitched into at least the seventh inning in each of his first three starts this season. He hasn't done so since. While he allowed just four runs against the game's best Houston Astros (and that is an accomplishment), it took 105 pitches to get through five innings. He only went five and a third innings against San Francisco, the worst offense in baseball. And while he struck out eight, I think Paul Molitor would have preferred he pitch seven innings.

I know, I'm starting to sound like Terry Ryan. But Berrios must find that happy place between missing bats and kissing bats. "Strikeouts are boring. Besides, they're fascist. Throw some groundballs." Sure, it's from a movie, but it's 100 percent correct. When you have the game's best defense, you can kiss bats rather than miss them and get easy outs, especially if you work ahead in counts.

Jeff Sullivan of FanGraphs raves that the Twins finally have a strikeout starter for the first time in nine years, but being a member of a team requires sacrifice. When the bulk of your bullpen arms can't miss bats nor prevent runs, the starter must do everything he can to extend his starts.

Santana has not been great his last six starts. He's allowed 18 earned runs during that span. But you know what he has done over those six starts? He's pitched 41 innings -- three more than Berrios over the same number of starts. If that trend continues, Santana will have pitched an entire game's worth of innings more than Berrios over 18 starts.

You know what else Santana does that Berrios must? He doesn't leave runners on base for the bullpen to clean up. In 14 starts, the Twins bullpen hasn't inherited one runner in a game Santana has started this season. That's huge for a bullpen that allows 29 percent of inherited runners to score.

Over Berrios's six starts, he's left three of them with runners on base, and the bullpen's inherited four runners total. That trend can't continue. The solution is to get outs with fewer pitches earlier in games to leave something in the tank for later.

When your pitches naturally move as much as Berrios's do, it's understandable that some days you just can't find the strike zone. That's when a hard fastball comes in handy. In the past, Berrios would appear visibly frustrated when he couldn't command his pitches, but this season he's acting more like Santana -- cool, calm, collected. He's getting out of jams by believing in his fastball and locating it for quality strikes. He's just not doing it late in games because it's hard to trust anything you throw when your "arm feels like Jell-O."

So while Santana struggled Wednesday, there's still plenty to be learned from his outing if you're Berrios. First, when you don't have command of your pitches early, trust your fastball. Santana got strikeouts of Nelson Cruz and Danny Valencia to get out of the first inning on Wednesday by elevating his fastball and enticing swings. Next, don't let an early mistake control your approach. There's a lot of game left and your team needs every inning you can give them. Finally, never leave a game with men on base. Santana didn't have a single 1-2-3 inning on Wednesday, but the closest he got was in his final inning. If Berrios can take these few pages from the Smell Baseball book of pitching, he will have earned the title of ace.

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Ervin Santana tossed his third complete game shutout of the season Friday night. That's one more than the rest of the league combined despite it coming against a San Francisco Giants team with the lowest team OPS in baseball (.651). But the "Maddux" Santana pitched Friday night in San Francisco is so important given the recent stress on the Twins bullpen and the struggles it has experienced all year.


 

This was first published at FoulPlaybyPlay.com, a community for foul-mouthed, sports broadcasters who provide live, uncensored, commercial-free play-by-play and color commentary during sporting events.


The Twins bullpen allows the highest opponent batting average in baseball (.273), which has resulted in baseball's worst bullpen ERA of 5.20. So when Santana doesn't pitch a complete game shutout, there's a pretty good chance the bullpen will allow a little more than one run every two innings (1.155 to be more precise).

If you take the average start of all Twins starters besides Santana, you get a dismal 4.68 innings pitched per start. Santana has nearly raised that by an inning by himself (5.5). So if we can depend on a Twins starter to go four and two-thirds innings instead of Santana's three complete game shutouts, 16 more innings would have been pitched by Major League Baseball's worst bullpen. That would take the Twins from 12th in fewest bullpen innings pitched (197.2) to 20th, which would likely inflate the bullpen ERA, too.

Given that run every two innings the Twins bullpen allows, you're looking at nine more runs allowed. That's the difference between first place and not first place for a team with a -24 run differential (third worst in the American League).

It's not only what Santana has been able to do in his three complete game shutouts that's been important to the Twins. Even in games he's not right he's given a break to the bullpen. Despite allowing five runs to Colorado on May 18, Santana went seven innings. He went six innings against Boston despite allowing six runs. In fact, only one of Santana's starts has not been longer than the rest of the team's average start length of 4.68 innings (last week in Anaheim). Santana is tied with Clayton Kershaw with most innings pitched so far this season (90).

With Santana throwing just over 90 pitches in his third complete game shutout, he actually saved the Twins an inning for later, which is another half run the bullpen can't allow. So regardless of who Santana is facing, his ability to pound the strike zone and get out of innings with low pitch counts will continue to pay off for the Twins because of their bad bullpen.

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Last week I urged the Minnesota Twins front office to acquire pitching -- any pitching -- and not to wait too long in doing so. Well, here are five pitchers the Twins could target if they want to remain competitive this season, but most of them will cost something you might not like to lose.


 

This was first published at FoulPlaybyPlay.com, a community for foul-mouthed, sports broadcasters who provide live, uncensored, commercial-free play-by-play and color commentary during sporting events.


 

Pat Neshek

Neshek is familiar to Twins fans, and his side-armed delivery should play well out of a Twins bullpen that can't miss bats. He misses plenty (8.4 K/p) despite going on 37. He's a free agent at year's end and playing on a bad team in rebuilding mode. I can't imagine Philadelphia would have interest in bringing back Neshek, so the Twins should bring him home. It's only money after all (over $6 million per year, so $4 million as of this writing). But with the year Neshek's having (.797 WHIP), the Phillies could ask for a lot. So what do they need? Well, starting pitching, which the Twins can't afford to lose.

The Phillies seem set on letting 22-year-old, third baseman Maikel Franco work through his struggles (68 OPS+). But the Phillies also have a 30-year-old, light-hitting, bad defensive right fielder who will be a free agent at the end of the year. Michael Saunders (73 OPS+) is not the future. Of Philly's minor league outfielders, center fielder Cameron Perkins (26) is closest, and he's more likely to take light-hitting, center fielder Odubel Herrera's place (82 OPS+). Nick Williams fits the bill as a power-hitting right fielder (11 HRs and 10 2Bs for a .515 slugging percentage). He's even got okay range and has logged quite a few innings in right field.

Anyways, it's going to be hard to find something to pluck from Rochester unless you're talking about Daniel Palka, and I doubt that'd be enough. So now we're looking at something more complicated than a one-for-one deal, which isn't really a problem.

David Phelps

Phelps is another one who will cost the Twins plenty because Miami won't want to give up his final arbitration year for anything less than young, starting pitching. I got nothing.

Drew Storen

Storen is quietly having a pretty good year (196 ERA+) but a regression is on the horizon given the massive difference between his ERA (2.25) and FIP (3.80). He can still miss bats, though (7.5 K/9). But the Reds need the same thing as everyone else: starting pitching.

Brad Hand

San Diego is a most interesting trade partner because they have glaring need at shortstop, and the Twins have a really good, young one in Nick Gordon. He's untouchable, however.

Sam Dyson

It sure seems like the Twins are the perfect landing spot for Texas Ranger relief pitcher Sam Dyson. The Twins are in the mix and the Rangers are nearing a deal, according to Darren Wolfson. GM Thad Levine came over from Texas, and Dyson could probably use a change of scenery (10.80 ERA, 9.05 FIP). He's given up more homers this season (6) than last (5) for a HR/9 of 3.2, but maybe the depths of Target Field, where nothing but rain drops, will help Dyson get back on track.

It's pretty sad that the best the Twins front office might be able to do to fix a broken bullpen and bending rotation is picking up a guy allowing 16.7 hits per nine innings, but trading for any kind of pitching is expensive. I can't imagine any team with a competent reliever giving him up for anything else than high-upside, starting pitchers (think Kevin Jepsen for Chih-Wei Hu).

Hey, the Twins should get Glen Perkins back in mid-June, though. And Joe Nathan is available. He only allowed 10.7 hits per nine innings in AAA before being released by the Nationals. He was striking out 8.4 batters per nine, though. I guess I'm saying the options suck, and the Twins are stuck. Hey, at least they claimed Chris Heston, right (12.66 FIP, 23 ERA+, 5.4 HR/9, 25.2 H/9, 5.4 K/9 this year and last)?

Published in News & Information

Despite being the Minnesota Twins best hitter, and one of the best in all of baseball during Spring Training, ByungHo Park will not be on the field with the Twins at Target Field on Opening Day. Park, who hit .353 with six home runs and 13 RBI in Spring Training, was optioned to AAA Rochester.

 

Park didn’t do himself any favors in his first season in America. After dominating the hitter-friendly Korean Baseball Organization, Park hit just .191 with 12 home runs and struck out 80 times in 244 plate appearances (a .275 on-base percentage) last season. But Park sustained a wrist injury on May 13, 2016, that clearly affected him at the plate. He was hitting .245/.324/.582 before the injury and over the next 33 games posted a slash line of .145/.233/.265.

 

In the offseason Park was placed on waivers by the Twins, which allowed the team to put reliever Matt Belisle on the 40-man roster. Belisle had an uncharacteristically good 2016. His career WHIP (walks and hits per inning pitched) is 1.357, and it was 1.087 last year. The last and only time his WHIP was that low was seven years ago. Belisle’s 2016 FIP (fielding independent pitching) was nearly a run lower than his career FIP.

 

So now that Park is not on the 40-man roster, the Twins had a convenient way of demoting him despite winning the designated hitter gig over the injured Kennys Vargas. Switch-hitting outfielder Robbie Grossman will be the Opening Day DH because Twins president of baseball operations Derek Falvey basically said the team can’t trust its pitching staff. Rookie Adalberto Mejia is the Twins fifth starter, and both Phil Hughes and Hector Santiago might not be ready for long starts, as Santiago’s spring program was affected by competing in the World Baseball Classic. Hughes is recovering from thoracic outlet surgery.

 

Twins manager Paul Molitor said Park did everything he was expected during the spring, and even gave him a few extra words of encouragement on his way out the door. Imagine your boss is looking to promote either you or a fellow employee, and while you outperform your fellow employee in a different area of expertise, your boss awards the promotion to your fellow employee -- patting you on the back and saying, “You exceeded our expectations, but we’re going in a different direction because the rest of our staff sucks.”

 

Granted, Park’s stay at AAA shouldn’t be a long one, but he’ll have to be added to the 40-man roster, which means someone will have to be removed from the 40-man roster. Given Buddy Boshers terrible spring and age (29 in May), he could be a waiver candidate that allows Park onto the 40-man roster.

 

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Published in News & Information

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