The Twins took 2 of 3 from the Phillies in Philadephia, smashing home runs and recovering from ugly starts by both Nick Blackburn and Kevin Slowey to win a wild one on Saturday and kind of cruise to victory on Sunday behind a strong start by Carl Pavano, aka Luigi.
After two young and relatively inexperienced starters were forced out very early over the first two games of a series in a tough opposing ballpark, Pavano faced off against one of the game’s most dominant pitchers and delivered a masterful complete-game victory, relieving a beleaguered bullpen and salvaging a series that at one point looked completely lost.Pavano has completed seven or more innings in 11 of his 14 starts this season and has accumulated more innings than all but four starters in the AL. It’s no coincidence that he has factored into the decision each time he’s pitched this season; he’s routinely lasted deep into games and he has heavily impacted their outcomes. Talk about earning your paycheck. (That last sentence can be read with a not-so-slight tinge of irony by my friends who follow the Yankees.)
notes that former Twins’ pitchers Carlos Silva and R. A. Dickey are a combined 12-0; it should be pointed out that both are now pitching in the National League.
The weekend for the Twins was frustrating: the won one of the two games they played, but (a) in the game they won, they had to rally after the bullpen–Jesse Crain–allowed the A’s to tie the game in the 8th inning, and (b) on Sunday Nick Blackburn continued to realize it isn’t May and was, well, wildly ineffective as the A’s stuck it to Minnesota.
Hitters are making contact with 96 percent of Blackburn’s offerings and they’re elevating plenty of those pitches, so it should come as no surprise that the league is hitting .338 against the right-hander. This isn’t the result of bad luck, as Blackburn’s batting average on balls in play isn’t too far above the league average and is basically in line with his career norms. It’s not that a ridiculous number of balls in play are turning into hits behind Blackburn, it’s that he’s allowing a ridiculous number of balls in play to begin with.
The Twins entered play Friday night having dropped three straight to the Seattle Mariners. Well, they recovered, and they won, 5-4, in eleven innings. Yes, the Twins had to go extra innings in a game that looked like it might go easily for the Twins but which ended up looking really…hard for them.
The Minnesota Twins opened their seven-game West Coast road trip with a 5-4 victory over the Seattle Mariners at Safeco Field.
A record crowd of 39,659 watched Rangers’ starting pitcher C. J. Wilson silence, or at least seriously muffle, the Twins’ bats for five and two-thirds innings Saturday afternoon at Target Field. He was coasting along, with the Rangers holding a 2-0 lead. And then things changed quickly.
Delmon Young has probably been the most frustrating member of the Minnesota Twins since the club acquired him in 2008, depending on where you fall on the Punto-spectrum. Built like a bull, Young tantalizes Twins fans with his strong baseball pedigree and his athletic appearance. He was the #1 overall pick in 2003 over Rickie Weeks and Nick Markakis. God, if anybody could be a ballplayer, surely Delmon Young could.
Alas, in his two seasons in Minnesota, Young has quickly morphed from prospect to suspect. After a troubling 2008 in which he hit 55% of his balls in play on the ground, Young’s walk rate plummeted and he lost playing time. Plus, watching him play left field is actually considered an enhanced interrogation technique. Whether he’s letting balls clank off his glove, taking routes that suggest he’s playing with his eyes closed, or letting the ball bounce 10 feet behind him, Delmon Young has been an abysmal defensive player, something truly frightening, give that he’s still only 24 years old and in his supposed defensive prime. In his Twins tenure, Young has actually been below replacement level both offensively and defensively.
But there has been a subtle change this year. Through his first 100 plate appearances, Delmon’s strikeout rate has been cut by more than half over his 2009 level. His walk ratio, at 8%, is actually around the league average. His strikeout to walk ratio has decreased by more than 600%, from 7.67 to 1.25, easily the best of his career. So what’s happening? Delmon Young is actually swinging less often. Last year, he swung at 59.3% of the pitches he saw. This year, he’s dropped that to 55.5%, and all of the difference is coming from pitches within the strike zone. Young swung at 81.5% of strikes last year, but just 76.1% this year. Despite giving away more strikes, his strikeout rate has fallen precipitously. It’s counterintuitive, but by not swinging at more strikes that are hard to reach, Young has essentially saved his cuts for pitches that he can drive, and it’s making a great difference. His HR rate is essentially unchanged, Young’s extra-base hit ratio is way up , from 27% to 42%. While he had just 16 doubles last year in 416 PAs, he already has 7 this year.
So far, Young’s batting average remains relatively low for him, at just .267. But his OBP is at .320 and his SLG is .444. And, if Young maintains his current approach, those numbers are likely to rise significantly, as Delmon has only hit .266 on balls in play. From 2007-2009, Young hit .338 on balls in play each year (amazing consistency, actually), and will likely approach that number again.
The two categories most telling to me are contact rates and
swinging strikes. It’s representative of what we’ve seen through the
first six weeks or so of the season: Young is putting the bat on the
ball. He’s still lacking in strike zone discipline, but he’s been able to
take better swings and make contact as a result. It’s resulted in fewer
strikeouts, and in spite of a much lower batting average on balls in play is
making his hits count.
still too early to say that Delmon has “finally” turned it all around
at the ripe old age of 24, but there are a lot of positive signs here.
Hopefully he can keep it up, because if he can he’ll be a great hitter to have
in the bottom third of the order.