Sunday, August 16, 2009

OtB Twins Notes 08.17.09

Nick Blackburn had a deteriorating performance in the second-half of last season as his K/BB ratio dropping from 3.56 to 1.54 and his ERA swelling from 3.65 to 4.85.  The right-hander has experienced a similar fading in the beginning of the second-half of 2009 thus far.  Prior to his start against Cleveland on Sunday, Blackburn had witnessed his second-half ERA open at 8.87 as his slugging percentage against shift from .393 to .639.  Following Tuesday's 1 2/3 inning outing against Kansas City in which he surrendered four earned runs on six hits and two walks, the right-hander and pitching coach Rick Anderson reviewed video footage to identify any potential problem areas.  According to Joe Christensen, the pair noticed that Blackburn was not using his legs as much as he was in the beginning of the year and, after several bullpen sessions this week, they felt confident that they had corrected this problem.  Unfortunately, when implemented into practice, Blackburn was once again bombarded by opponents, allowing six runs on three home runs in a pathetic 2 1/3 inning showing on Sunday and raising his second-half ERA to 10.79. 

I had long suspected that because of his inability to strikeout batters regularly in addition to his high-contact rate that Blackburn would eventually regress this year.  This complete unraveling, however, was unexpected.  Interestingly enough, according to pitch f/x data Blackburn threw a total of three two-seamed fastballs (5.5 percent) on Sunday.  Comparatively, Blackburn threw this pitch 36 times in his start against the Detroit Tigers on July 5th (33 percent).  This decrease indicates one of two things.  The first being a glitch in the system registering the pitch as a four-seamer due to little movement, the second being Blackburn’s lack of confidence in the pitch and thereby not throwing it. Either way, the side bullpen session was not enough to get the right-hander back on track or confidence in his abilities.

While Blackburn has had a rough second-half, Anthony Swarzak has too suffered dearly in August.  In his three starts this month, Swarzak is 0-3 with an 18.00 ERA and an opponent batting average of .543.  John Shipley notes that Ron Gardenhire is pondering whether to remove the rookie from the rotation. "Well, we'll decide that later," Gardenhire told reporters. "Let's let him rest on this and let everybody think about this and try to figure out where we go next. We'll get through this today and then make a decision in a few days."  One of the bigger differences between Swarzak’s July (2-1 record, 3.50 ERA, .239 BAA) and his horrendous August (0-3, 18.00 ERA, .543 BAA) is his ability to get ahead of the batter.  In his July starts, Swarzak got strike one in 56.0 percent of his match-ups.  This month the righty has managed to fall behind in 62 percent of his match-ups, putting the hitter in favorable counts.

Rochester Democrat & Chronicle’s Jim Mandelaro wrote that the recent promotion of Jeff Manship should be a message to Kevin Mulvey and Philip Humber. Paraphrasing Mandelaro’s opinion, the columnist feels that Manship is a good pitcher who probably isn’t quite ready for the big leagues.  Understandably, his 4-2 record and 3.22 ERA makes him appear to be a better option but in reality, he might be a slight degradation from Humber and certainly from Mulvey.  Following an eight-inning, five-hit outing Manship dropped his opponent batting average to .277, slightly lower than Mulvey (.278) and Humber (.280).  Conversely, Manship has sported a slightly worse K/BB ratio (1.76) than Mulvey (2.14) and Humber (2.00).

Reviewing Manship’s outing on Sunday at we find graphical evidence that he is an extreme over-the-top hurler (as opposed to three-quarters).  If you follow the link, you’ll see that Manship’s release point is in a direct line with home plate – most pitchers tend to be off to the side.  While those three-quarter pitchers get more horizontal movement on their fastballs, Manship’s offerings cut downward descending from a little over six feet to around two feet on average.   This has led to over 50 percent of his balls in play being put on the ground. 

At John Dewan’s Stat of the Week, Dewan ran down my favor unavailable stat: the first baseman scoops.  According to the Fielding Bible database, Twins first baseman Justin Morneau led the field in 2008 with 44 scoops.  This year, he is 12th with 19 scoops.  This downturn is due to Joe Crede’s presence at third.  A year ago, the combination of Mike Lamb, Brendan Harris and Brian Buscher made 12 throwing errors.  That trio obvious lent itself to more errant throws in the dirt than with the addition of Crede who delivers nothing but chest-high strikes.  

Twins pitching prospect Jay Rainville announced with little fanfare that he was retiring last week telling hometown Pawtucket Times that he felt he could not “compete at the Double-A level”.  When the Twins nabbed Rainville in the supplemental round of the 2004 draft (39th overall), the organization felt they had a major steal and signed him to an $875K bonus.  As a high school pitcher out of Rhode Island, Rainville already touched 95-mph, control and a desirable 6’2” and 220 pounds frame to mold into a power pitcher.  In his first two pro seasons, Rainville threw 176 innings between three levels and going 15-7 with a 3.06 ERA and a 4.16 K/BB ratio quickly becoming another touted arm in the system. Nerve damage in his throwing shoulder would erase the entire 2006 season for him and when he returned, Rainville’s velocity had dropped significantly. Post-surgery, Rainville had gone 22-24 with a 4.60 ERA and a 2.14 K/BB ratio.  His track record reiterates Baseball Prospectus’s Joe Sheenan’s prophetic acronym TINSTAPP (There Is No Such Thing as a Pitching Prospect) no matter how projectable they may be. 

Alan Schwarz at the NY Times examines why there has not been a left-handed catching catcher since Barry Distefano for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1989.  Anyone know who the last left-handed fielding catcher in the Twins organization was?

Joel Millman at the Wall Street Journal details the influx of foreign talent within major league baseball’s minor league system. 

As we continue to watch futility personified in the second base position, a reminder that Milwaukee’s Felipe Lopez is now batting .333/.390/.438 (32-for-96) in 24 games since being acquired on July 19th from Arizona. Internally, fielding-challenged Steven Tolleson is batting .311/.364/.426 in 61 at-bats in August.