Wednesday, June 30, 2010

What seems to be the problem?

Much has been made of the Twins pitching problems, particularly with Scott Baker, Kevin Slowey and Nick Blackburn, who seem to be serving up a lot of gopher balls and have struggled epically. I thought the problem might be a home/away issue, and as it turns out it was, but for three different reasons. All three have put up much better numbers at home than on the road, and I thought I would like to explain why.

Scott Baker: Baker has always been a fly ball pitcher, and Target Field has been a Godsend for him. His home run total is 15 on the season, with 10 of those coming on the road. He is 5-1 at home and a much better pitcher overall. In addition, his flyball BAbip (Batting Average for balls in play, a good metric of how lucky a pitcher has been) is below .200 at Target Field. On the road, many of those fly balls that would be innocuous fly outs are leaving the park.

Kevin Slowey: Slowey's is perhaps the most unfortunate case. His control and home run totals are practically the same at home and on the road. The number that climbs is his BAbip, which goes from .295, at home which is still a hair higher than should be expected, to .352 on the road.  The funny part for Slowey is that he is also a flyball pitcher, but has allowed more homers at home than on the road, despite the fortuitous park, so the climb in ERA can almost entirely be pinned on luck and the fact that the defense doesn't get to as many balls when he pitches. He could stand to strikeout more guys on the road, that would help, or he could hope his fielders get to more balls behind him.

Nick Blackburn: There is no real explanation for Blackburn's collapse on the road, aside from the fact that he might be a headcase. He loses all semblance of control on the road, fails to strike anyone out, walks too many batters. He isn't a power pitcher, so those strikeouts are rare, and at home, so too are the walks. On the road, he walks more than he strikes out. His auxillary stats, the BAbip, the home runs, everything is also up, but everything stems from his lack of control.

I think the universal problem across the board is the higher BAbip, which is higher for all the Twins pitchers, but inexplicably so on the road vs at home. Liriano would have similarly poor stats, it appears, if he didn't strikeout so many people, and he is more a groundball pitcher. Carl Pavano seems to be the only pitcher getting any defensive support, so it IS there. This is reflective of the defense, which was a strength of the organization for many years.

Just think, as recently as last year, the Twins were lamenting the fact that these pitchers were ravaged by injury, and when they were healthy, they were quite reliable. If the problem is defense this year, the solution isn't to get another big ticket pitcher, because he will likely be ineffective for the price we pay. Baker is still a very good pitcher at home, but can't relax on the road, because the ball tends to carry further on the road. Slowey needs to keep on trucking. That luck will eventually turn around to his favor. Attacking hitters on the road won't hurt. If anyone needs to be dropped it's Blackburn. A mature pitcher shouldn't see such a horrendous drop on the road. Time needs to be spent figuring out what is wrong with him, and it might be in his head.

The Twins, if they want to address the rotation would be best served improving the defense. This is best done by
A) Getting JJ Hardy back
B) Moving Punto back the 3b,
C) Moving Cuddyer back to right
D) Keeping Kubel on the bench
I know it hasn't been discussed, but Kubel is the poorest fit on this team, no matter how much people like him. I like him too, but the roster is well stocked with lefty power hitters, and he is a bad fielder. If he could be packaged with Wilson Ramos for a pitcher instead of Slowey or Blackburn, I think that helps the team infinitely more in the short and long term, as the defense improves, and perhaps we put another groundball pitcher in the rotation.

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