Out of Business

Obviously I haven’t posted here in years. I found it difficult writing a blog just about baseball (and just about the Twins). As we begin another season of baseball, I’m making it official: this blog is dead to me.  I’ll leave it up for the foreseeable future as a bit of history — my own little “Kilroy was here” on the vast interweb wall.

My love of baseball hasn’t died at all; if anything, it’s grown. There are many, many areas still let to explore. I’m still unclear whether sliders and cutters break out or in, or if that’s even consistent. Are there right-handed pitchers who throw sliders that break both left and right? Or does the slider of a RHP always break to his right? And I’ve only scratched the very outer surface of sabermetrics.

It’s a bit ironic that I became a Twins fan in 2010, when they did okay, and they’ve sucked ever since.  Really, really sucked. Just look:

2010: 94-69 (.577);  .273/.340/.421;  4.79 R/G;  3.93 (4.15/3.48) ERA
2011: 63-99 (.389);  .247/.306/.360;  3.82 R/G;  4.60 (4.64/4.51) ERA
2012: 66-96 (.407);  .260/.325/.390;  4.33 R/G;  4.77 (5.40/3.79) ERA
2013: 66-96 (.407);  .242/.312/.380;  3.79 R/G;  4.55 (5.27/3.46) ERA

The above lines show win-loss (percent); team AVG/OBP/SLG; team average runs per game; pitching staff ERA (starters’ ERA/bullpen ERA).

We’ve typically been okay (and sometimes downright good) in the field, and our batting isn’t stellar, but doesn’t seem our worst feature. That would be our pitching. Which stinks. Year after year.

My burning question: Why can’t the Twins get decent pitching?!

Anyway, so far this year, it looks like this:

2014: 6-6 (.500);  .240/.340/.373;  5.58 R/G;  5.17 (5.40/4.79) ERA

So we’re scoring some runs (and winning some games!), but not looking a whole lot better at the plate and — once again  our pitching really, really sucks.

Why can’t the Twins get decent pitching?!

In any event, while I maintain (increasingly desperately) my membership as a Twins fan, I won’t be posting about it here anymore.  At least such is my intent. The world is a place filled with change, so it’s not impossible I could return to this blog. But it’s unlikely as a Twins’ Championship this season.

(Plus: The extra ads they’ve added are another huge reason I’m abandoning this blog.  Baseball is becoming as ad-ugly as the other sports. E.g. The Target Field batter’s eye has an ad superimposed on it in many camera shots, and I hate that!)

I do love baseball very much still, and will continue to write about it when the mood strikes.  I’ll just be doing it on my other blog: Logos con carne.  Maybe I’ll see you there.

But from New to the Game it’s, “So long and watch out for foul balls!


So far this August…

The Minnesota Twins just beat the Detroit Tigers in the first of a three-game series at home. This comes after a painful three-game sweep (also at home) by the Tampa Bay Rays.

That was a painful series to watch! The Twins had trouble at the plate, which is not unexpected against one of the best pitching staffs in the MLB. In fact, right now, the Rays, with a team ERA of 3.38, are the best pitching staff in the AL. And since the All-Star break, the Rays, with an ERA of 2.33, are the best pitching staff in the MLB.

Contrast that with the Twins, who, with a team ERA of 4.82, have one of the worst pitching staffs in MLB. In fact, they are second only the Colorado Rockies, which makes the Twins the worst pitching staff in the AL.  We knew going in that this was probably not going to be pretty.

And it wasn’t. In the three games, the Twins scored 6, 2 & 3 respectively. That first game, statistically, should have been a Twins win, as they were 29-6 (.829) on games with more than five runs. Problem there was the Rays scoring 12 runs (seven of those runs being scored off Cole De Vries in the first 1.1 innings; poor De Vries was taken out then with a game ERA of 47.25)!

That all brings up another stat, games won/lost by more than five runs, and there the Twins were 7-14 (.333).  We might have had a chance of not embarrassing ourselves, except for the melt down in our pitching:

          ERA   WHIP  HR/9  K/9   BB/9  K/BB
Starters  8.79  2.02  3.77  5.65  1.88  3.00
Bullpen   5.27  1.24  0.00  5.93  4.61  1.29
Team      7.07  1.64  1.93  5.79  3.21  1.80

That’s just not gonna get it done!

Things have been looking better for the Twins recently. In August so far they are 6-6 (.500) and averaging 5.50 runs/game. The rotation has a 4.84 ERA and 1.53 WHIP. The bullpen has a 3.13 ERA and a 1.18 WHIP.

In the last 20 games, and in the last 10 games, they are playing .500 ball, and if they can keep that up we will at least beat our record last year. We’re close! Last year, after 115 games, the Twins were 51-64. After tonight’s win, they are 50-65. One more win to tie the 2011 record!

And our batting has been better. The Twins are averaging 5.70 runs/game in the last 20 and 5.90 runs/game in the last 10. Their batting average is .284 and .287, respectively. Since the All-Star break, they’re batting .288, which—astonishingly—ranks them first in all of MLB!  How about that!  And their .351 OBP ranks them second (behind the Tigers).

Go Twins!

Here’s an interesting stat: The Twins are 10-9 (.526) since trading Francisco Liriano. The rotation has been throwing 4.27 and the bullpen 4.58 (making the team ERA 4.37). It might actually have been smarter to put Frankie in the bullpen, which has not been doing as well recently. And since Liriano left, the Twins are batting .282 and averaging 5.79 runs per game.

Opposing Pitcher: Liriano!

Of course you know that Twins pitcher, Francisco Liriano, was traded to the Chicago White Sox.  And tonight, he’ll be pitching for the Sox against the Twins at Target Field.  It should be a very interesting game. Liriano has, at times, been a real pitching ace for the Twins, but at other times he’s been a source of frustration. Fans refer to “Good Frankie” versus “Bad Frankie”.  Good Frankie can throw a complete game shut out (even if he does walk five batters).  Bad Frankie,… well, Bad Frankie can last only 2.2 innings and give up 7 earned runs as he did in his final Twins start on July 23.

Many Twins fan will miss him; many are glad he’s gone.  I haven’t quite made up my mind how I feel about it.  Trades are part of baseball, and it doesn’t pay to get too attached to any one player (it’ll break your heart).  On some level, just because he was a long-time Twin and I saw him pitch at one of the games I went to last year, I will definitely miss him.  What I may not miss is his erratic performance.  I won’t miss wondering if Good Frankie or Bad Frankie will take the mound.

You can read about his history with the Twins elsewhere, and you can find considerable debate about this trade elsewhere.  I won’t rehash that.  I did look at some numbers regarding his pitching this year, and turned up some interesting stats that I will share:

On one of the blogs I frequent, there was a bit of a debate about Twins pitcher, Scott Diamond, versus Frankie Liriano.  So these stats also consider Diamond, who has been a real blessing for the Twins.

Here are some season-to-date stats for the two pitchers:

Liriano:  5.34 ERA, 2.1 IP minimum, 5.1+ IP average.
Diamond: 2.88 ERA, 5.1 IP minimum, 6.2 IP average.

Hitting behind Liriano: 3.41 R/game, .250 BAVG
Hitting behind Diamond: 6.13 R/game, .326 BAVG

Bullpen after Liriano: 3.48 ERA
Bullpen after Diamond: 6.68 ERA

Frankie has had some short outings, and he averages fewer innings per game than Diamond, so that’s one thing. What’s more important, perhaps (since runs win games), is that the run support behind Diamond seems considerably better than behind Liriano.  In fact, it’s almost double!  On the other hand, notice how bad the bullpen throws following an outing by Diamond versus an outing by Liriano.

I’ve read one comment that suggests the same relief pitchers tend to follow a given starter, and that would be a thing to check out.  What may be showing up there is a certain set of bullpen pitchers.  It’s the run support that’s really interesting to me.  One suggestion is that the catcher (Drew Butera usually for Liriano) may be a factor.

As fans know, Liriano began the season as one of our starters, but was “demoted” to the bullpen in early May with a 9.97 ERA.  He did okay as a relief pitcher and returned to the rotation at the end of May.  Since then he’s mostly done very well other than a pair of less than great outings (twice giving up 4 runs in 5+ innings). It was his last start for the Twins that was a disaster: 2.2 IP, 7 ER (giving him a 23.63 game ERA).

Looking at his stats since his return, we see the same odd mix of run support and bullpen pitching:

Liriano: 3.68 ERA (BP 2.60), 6.0 IP avg, 3.45 R/g, .262 BAVG
Diamond: 3.16 ERA (BP 8.68), 6.2 IP avg, 6.70 R/g, .341 BAVG

Even just looking at things since the ASG shows the same oddity:

Liriano: 6.48 ERA (BP 1.93), 5.1 IP avg,  2.67 R/g, .277 BAVG
Diamond: 3.86 ERA (BP 9.00), 7.0 IP avg, 11.00 R/g, .398 BAVG

An odd effect, indeed!

I also took a look, curious to see what the effect of not having Liriano around would be, at the pitching stats of the staff minus Liriano (and minus Diamond as well).  For the period since Liriano’s return on May 30:

Starters minus Liriano: 6.82 ERA (BP 6.00), 4.2 IP avg, 5.20 R/g, .285 BAVG
Starters minus Diamond: 5.42 ERA (BP 3.33), 5.1 IP avg, 4.38 R/g, .266 BAVG

The bottom line seems to be that, without Liriano, depending on who replaces him, our starters’ ERA may go up.  On the other hand, so may our runs/game.  So was this a good trade?  Much depends on how Liriano does from here out, and many Twins fans will be watching with great interest.

And the watching, and the great interest, begins tonight in about one hour!  More later!!

“Baseball is the only field of endeavor where a man can succeed three times out of ten and be considered a good performer.” ~Ted Williams

This isn’t lookin’ good, folks!

As of games #64 and #65 (both Brewers @ Twins), the Twins have been back in synch with their 2011 performance.  What’s particularly distressing is that, in 2011, game #64 (Rangers @ Twins, 6/11) was the beginning of an eight-game winning streak.  That means the Twins need to win the next six games just to stay even with 2011.

In 2011 the Twins followed that winning streak with a six-game losing streak, so we have a bit of wiggle room, but the bottom line is that we need to play .500 baseball for the next 12 games to stay even.

And that just might be possible.  (Likely is another story.)

So far in June, the Twins have stayed above .500 and for a while even got about .700.  Currently they are 8-7 (.533) on the month, and that’s after losing four of the last five games.  June has seen 15 games so far. Looking back a bit further, the Twins are 11-9 (.550) in their last 20.  On the other hand, looking at the last ten, they are 5-5, right at .500 (losing those four-out-of-five hurt!).

Our starting pitchers are still have a 6.00+ ERA on the season (barely: 6.06).  In June they’ve been throwing 5.59, which is a slight improvement, and that again reflects some recent issues (such as the recent P.J. Walters start of 0.0 IP and 4 ER, which gave him a game ERA of ∞!).  The short view, last ten games, shows this: an ERA of 5.80 compared to 5.05 in the last 20.

The bullpen continues to be a team strength (comparatively) with an ERA of 3.61 on the season. Looking at the short (last 10), medium (June, 15) and longer (last 20) views we see ERAs of 3.99, 3.08 and 2.98, respectively.  And Matt Capps, with 14 saves (out of 15 opportunities) ranks 12th in MLB and 6th in the American League!

Overall, the Twins’ pitchers are throwing 5.05 on the season and 4.44 in June.  The tasty 20-game view shows us down to 4.14!

Team BAVG has been hovering around .250, and we have been seeing some very good hitting from Joe Mauer, Denard Span and Josh Willingham. But the real success story for the Twins recently has to be Trevor Plouffe!  With 14 home runs on the season, Plouffe ranks 14th (three-way tie) in MLB with Willingham’s 13 homers ranking him 18th (nine-way tie).  Plouffe currently has a BAVG of just .243 with an OBP of .331 and SLG of .566 (making his OPS .897).  He’s been instrumental in helping us win games recently!

Ben Revere has also been a bit of a success story with a .328 BAVG and .353 OBP (and .397 SLG). Between his decent batting average and some pretty awesome fielding, he’s been a delight to watch. And his sheer joy in the game brings a nice energy level to all he does.  His weak arm continues to be a bit of an issue, but all is forgiven in light of his good points!

And that’s kind of the good news.  The bad news is that we’ve been playing teams that aren’t the strongest  right now (Indians, Royals, Cubs, Phillies, Brewers), and we haven’t exactly been knocking them dead.  The Cubs and Phillies, for example, are at the bottom of their respective divisions (just like we are). The Royals are ahead of us, but in fourth place in the AL Central. The Brewers, like us, are 8.5 games behind in the NL Central.  The Indians, in second, were probably the toughest.

And while we haven’t swept anyone this month (we closed May by sweeping the A’s), we’ve managed to avoid being swept.  Considering we’re 2-6 on sweeps, that’s a plus.  Currently we’re 7-3-11 on series (win-tie-lose), so we have some work to do.

Things are about to get tougher.  We’re facing the Pittsburgh Pirates tonight. As I write this, the fourth inning just ended with a score of 1-0 Pirates. Currently the Pirates are second in the NL Central and 4.0 games behind the Reds. And guess who we play next?  Yep, the Cincinnati Reds.

I suspect (and the current score bears this out) that we won’t score many runs against the Pirates. First, our bats are sometimes good, sometimes bad, but rarely great. More importantly, the Pirates’ pitchers are throwing 3.52 overall (starters: 3.97, bullpen: 2.73). That’s some good pitching!

The saving grace is that they may be worse at the plate than we are.  The team BAVG has been around .255 all month (worse in May), and they’re averaging 3.42 runs per game. The Twins have been improving their Runs/Game from the high .300s, and it’s currently at 4.23.  And in June the Twins have been getting 5.27 R/G and 5.50 R/G in the last 10 games.

The Reds, as one might expect for a top team, will be tougher. Their pitchers are throwing 3.48, and their offense is getting 4.38 Runs/Game.  And then we’ll be back in town to play the White Sox, who are currently at the top of our division.  Tough times ahead!

“Baseball is an allegorical play about America, a poetic, complex, and subtle play of courage, fear, good luck, mistakes, patience about fate, and sober self-esteem.” ~Saul Steinberg

404: Losses Not Found

With the Minnesota Twins reaching a Win-Loss record of 23-34 (.404), they’ve gotten their percentage above 400 for the first time this year.  They are 12-8 (.600) on their last 20 games, and a very tasty 8.2 (.800) on their last 10.  Lately it hasn’t totally sucked being a Twins fan!

June is seeing us with a 5-2 (.714) record!  As you may recall, last June was also a power month for us (in the midst of an awful season); the Twins ended last June 17-9 (.654).  And last July wasn’t quite as great, but was still a winning month with 16-13 (.552).  Some feel this “June Zoom” comes from playing National League teams; others feel it comes from the Twins finally “gelling” as a team after early struggles.  Either way, here’s to another June  Zoom!

And while we’re on the topic of tasty numbers, in the last 10 games the bullpen continues to a team hot spot with a 1.51 ERA!  Starters are throwing 4.22, which is a huge improvement from the 6.00+ ERA we’ve been seeing. These numbers are even an improvement on the “last 10” stats reported three games ago (starters 5.44, bullpen 2.39)!

The Twins have also gotten above 400 on another important stat: They are now averaging 4.07 runs per game (on the season). In the last 20 games, they’ve averaged 5.20 runs (go Twins!), but in the last 10 are down slightly to 4.80.  But still a big improvement from earlier in the season and a key part of winning games.  Overall, opponent are still getting more runs per game on average (5.28), but the Twins have held that to 5.10 in the last 20 and (better yet) 3.70 in the last 10.

I mentioned last time that, while the Twins have been lagging behind their (unfortunate) 2011 performance from this season’s start, they have recently managed to get above that (in terms of their win-loss record).  Above you can see a chart that compares last year’s W-L record with this year’s.  The red lines are the losses, and the green lines are the wins.  The thicker lines (which only run for this first third of the season) are the 2012 lines, the thin ones are 2011.  On the right you see the important part of this chart with some vertical lines to highlight the key areas.

The left blue line (game #38, 5/17, Twins @ Tigers) shows where we matched, and then exceeded, our 2011 performance for the first time. A bit later, the left brown line (game #41, 5/20, Twins @ Brewers), we dropped back into complete synch with 2011.  We got behind 2011 again for a short while from game #46 (5/26, Tigers @ Twins) and then pulled ahead two games later (5/28, As @ Twins).  We’ve been ahead of 2011 ever since!

I’ve also mentioned that the attendance at Target Field has been down from its previous two seasons. This isn’t too surprising given last year’s season and this year’s start.  The attendance short fall doesn’t seem due to it not being Target Field’s inaugural season.  The attendance in 2010 and 2011 were very similar—at least until later in the year.  Attendance did fall in 2011 starting roughly in August.  The chart on the right shows the attendance in all three years.  The blue line is 2010, the orange line is 2011, and the red line is 2012.

As a setup to taking a closer look at this year’s short fall, consider the chart on the right, which shows the attendance of 2011 compared to 2010.  The black line shows the total attendance short fall, and the dark red line shows the short fall of each game.  Importantly, note that the black line uses the left vertical scale, and the red line uses the right vertical scale.  As you can see, per game attendance jumps around in a 4,000 fan range, which is not particularly significant.  It’s around the 50th game played at TF that you can see an actual short fall.  By the end of the season, there were definitely fewer fans attending every game, and the overall short fall plummets.  By the end of 2011, nearly 60,000 fewer fans had attended Twins home games.

Now compare that to a similar chart for this season!  The chart to the right shows 2012 attendance compared to 2010, and, again, the black line shows the overall short fall while the dark red line charts attendance per game.  Also, again, the left and right vertical axes apply, respectively, to the black and red lines.  But note how much larger the scales are!  Target Field ended with a total short fall in 2011 of nearly 60,000, but we busted that record in 2012 after only 11 games.  Currently, after only a third of a season, TF is over 120,000 fans behind previous years.  If you look at the black line closely, it does appear to be flattening out a bit.  Especially if the Twins pull off a June Zoom, we may see attendance improve.

Let’s hope so… Target Field is a beautiful ball park, and well worth visiting!

“Baseball is not necessarily an obsessive-compulsive disorder, like washing your hands 100 times a day, but it’s beginning to seem that way. We’re reaching the point where you can be a truly dedicated, state-of-the-art fan or you can have a life. Take your pick.” ~~Thomas Boswell, Washington Post, 13 April 1990




Three Innings Down

With 54 games behind them, the first third of a season has passed the Twins (hence this article’s title; three innings is 1/3 of a game), so it seems a good time to look at how they’ve been doing and what that might suggest for the coming season. There are 108 games remaining, so anything can happen, but one thing is certain: the first third hasn’t been very good.

At this point, the Twins have lost 33 and won only 21. That’s a win percentage of only .389, which would wind up winning us a mere 63 games.  If those numbers sound familiar, it’s probably because that’s exactly how last year ended: 63-99 (.389).

On the other hand, last year after 54 games, the Twins were at 17-37 (.315), so we are finally pulling ahead, at least a little, of where we were last year!  This is good news; for most of the season we’ve been trailing behind last year and shaping up to have–by far–the worst season in Twins history.

April ended with a win-loss of 6-16 (a pathetic .273, which would win us only 44 games). Compare that to last year after 22 games when we were at 9-13 (.409). The Twins played 26 games in April 2011 and ended the first month of the season 9-17 (.346).  This year we didn’t win our ninth game until the 32nd game (giving us 9-23… a hugely depressing .281)!

When May ended we had a win-loss of 18-32 (.360), so things were looking up (but we remained deep in the cellar).  On the month we were at 12-16 (.429), so May was definitely a lot better than April!  Oddly, May 2011 was the first of three awful months (the other two were the last two of the season: August and September).  In May 2011, we had a record of 8-19 (.296).  That sounds pretty awful until you look at August and September: 7-21 (.250) and 6-20 (.231), respectively.

So after a very rocky start the Twins seem to be improving, especially recently.

Looking back at the last 18 games, the Twins are 11-7 (.611). They are also 3-3 (.500) at home and a tasty 8-4 (.666…. Demon Ball!) on the road.  In the last 10, they’re 6-4 (.600), which suggests they are playing at a consistently higher level.  Let’s hope it continues!

You can also see some improvement in our pitching:

April May June last18 last10 season
Starting Pitching 6.75 5.75 6.30 5.83 5.44 6.20
Bullpen Pitching 3.84 3.79 0.60 3.61 2.39 3.56
Team Pitching 5.64 4.96 3.86 4.86 4.15 5.15

As you see, starters’ ERA dropped from 6.75 in April to 5.75 in May–a whole run! Still ugly, but definitely improving. The bullpen has been pitching very well this year (bravo bullpen!), and the team’s overall ERA has dropped consistently. June seems to show a worse ERA for starters, but there’s only four games on the month, and that ERA is inflated by a bad outing by Carl Pavano (who is now on the DL). Meanwhile, check out the bullpen’s ERA this month!!

And the pitching stats for the last 10 and the last 18 show even better performance, especially in the last 10 games. The stats on the season could be better, but we seem headed in the right direction.

And then there’s our other problem area: our batting. April saw us getting an average of 3.95 per game (versus 5.64 by our opponents–not how you win ball games). In May there was a very slight increase to 3.89 (opponents, 5.21). Our overall batting average, which got only as high as .270 in April, started at .259 in May and dropped. It hovered around .240 for most of the month, ending at .244. Currently it’s .247.

On the other hand, the last 18 games show a run average of 5.56 (opponents, 5.50!!). That’s dropped a bit in the last 10 to 4.80 (opponents, 4.70!). In both cases, we’re getting more runs (just barely) then our opponents. And that will win ball games!

Min-R Min-H Min-E Opp-R Opp-H Opp-E
April 87 199 14 124 216 9
May 109 208 14 146 266 28
June 24 41 6 21 40 4
L18 100 171 15 99 178 26
L10 48 90 9 47 100 10
Season 220 448 34 291 522 41

Here’s a thing: May 20 (game #41), when our record was 14-27 was the point we synchronized with last year. We stayed in synch until May 26 (game #46), when our record was 15-31. Then we lost one and fell behind 2011 one game. Then we won one and got back in synch. Since then we’ve been edging ahead!

One dark cloud is that we’ve been shut out five times this month (including one no-hitter). That stings!

In closing, condolences to New York Yankee Mariano Rivera who suffered a busted ACL and torn meniscus early in May. Adding insult to the injury, it happened during practice while Rivera was shagging fly balls for fun.  By all accounts, Rivera is one of the real gentlemen of baseball; one of the great players and great people of this fine sport. I add my wishes to myriad others in hoping he can be fully healed and returned to the game!

On a more positive note, serious major kudos to former Twins pitcher, Johan Santana, now throwing for the New York Mets.  (How odd that these closing notes involve both New York teams!)  Santana started his career with the Twins and was one of the great pitchers in the game.  He was out all season last year for shoulder surgery, but on the first of June Johan Santana entered the history books with he threw the very first no-hitter in Mets history (51st season of the team and 8,019 games without a no-hitter).  That’s just beyond awesome!

“Baseball is almost the only orderly thing in a very unorderly world. If you get three strikes, even the best lawyer in the world can’t get you off.” ~~Bill Veeck

So Far… Not So Good

The Minnesota Twins continue to struggle with life in the cellar. It’s been an awful season so far, and the Twins are in last place with a 9-23 (.281) win-loss record. We’re even behind the Padres (11-22) and the Royals (11-20). The record on the month (recall GardyMath™ where every month starts 0-0) isn’t terribly much better, 3-7 (.300). So far the 2012 season is worse than the 2011 season. Last year, after 32 games, the Twins had a 12-20 (.375) record.

The lineup continues to evolve nightly, including some major roster changes (notably, Danny Valencia taken off the active roster and Francisco Liriano moved from the rotation to the bullpen). And a number of new players have joined the Twins: Ryan Doumit, Brian Dozier, Erik Komatsu and Darin Mastroianni. Let’s hope these changes do something to change the way the Team plays!  I will say that the Dozier (SS) and Jamey Carroll (2B) combo seems to lock down our middle-infield nicely.

The basic math is that, in a 162-game season, a team needs to play .309 ball to win just 50 games.  We closed out 2011 with a 63-99 (.389) win-loss record. This year we’re having a tough time getting above the .300 mark; we’ve been below it since April 22. As it stands right now, playing .281 ball, we’re on pace to win about 45 games this year.

That would shatter all previous Twins loss records!  The worst loss record in Twins history (going back to 1961) was 60-102 (.370) back in 1982. That’s considering “worst” by percentage rather than by games won or lost. Not all seasons are 162 games long, so looking at the wins or losses isn’t a level playing field. For example, the second worst winning percentage comes from 1981 (.376) when their record was 41-68; that’s only 109 games.

There are two years tied for third worst in Twins history: 1995 (56-88) and [drum roll] 2011 (63-99). In both cases, the win percentage was .389 even though the 1995 season was only 144 games (the 1994 season was even shorter: 113 games).  So while we “held the line at 99,” last year was (tied for) third worst in club history!

If you look only at games lost, 2011 (99) was the second worst year ever. The worst year is still 1982 (102), but 1999 (97) moves to third place followed by 1997 (94) and 2000 (93).

You can also move 2011 to a fifth place tie by looking only at games won. Now 1981 is the worst (41), 1982 (60) sinks to fourth and 2011 (63) is tied with 1999. But this is the least accurate way to consider it, as it’s heavily influenced by the season length. The Win, Place and Show seasons (1981, 1994, 1995) were all short seasons.

And it appears there is some risk that 2012 could be significantly worse than 2011.  Not good news for Twins fans!

While I’m certainly not qualified to say what exactly ails this team or how to fix it, it’s not hard to see the effect of the team’s performance in the stats (which are such a big part of baseball). Perhaps the most telling statistic is simply this:

Average number of Twins Runs per Game: 3.47
Average number of opponents Runs per Game: 5.53

You can’t win ball games when the other guys are making, on average, two more runs per game than you are.  You can also see we’re being out hit:

Average number of Twins Hits per Game: 7.84
Average number of opponents Hits per Game: 9.66

The outcome of the difference is that the Twins have scored 111 runs YTD, whereas our opponents have scored 177 runs. We’re scoring just under two-thirds the runs! We do a little better when it comes to hits. Our 251 to their 309 means we’re getting slightly over 80% as many. That’s not good, but it’s better than (less than) 66%.

For whatever it’s worth, we are doing a bit better at home than on the road (which you would hope would be the case). Our home record is 5-11 (.313), and our away record is 4-12 (.250).  I suppose “better” isn’t the right word. About all you can say about our home record is that it’s above .300.

The Twins continue to see a noticeable fraction (37%) of games won or lost by one run. This year, out of 32 games, 12 have been one-run, and the record is split 6-6.  Last year there were 59 one-run games (36%), and the record was 27-32.  I’d have to look at other teams to know if this is just baseball or particular to the Twins. It does seem to indicate close games, although the total runs would be an important factor. A 0-1 game is probably a very different beast than a 9-8 game.

In any event, our bats are cold and our base running weak. That’s been one obvious problem. Another has been the starting pitching, which has been, at times, downright painful.  Unlike last year, our bullpen this season is doing a much better job pulling its weight. And it has really needed to given the starting pitching! Last year the bullpen posted an ERA of 4.51 compared to the starters ERA of 4.64.  This year the starters have a depressing 6.70 ERA, but the bullpen ERA is only 3.50.  Lower would be better, but it’s a nice change from last year.

The Twins moved Francisco Liriano from the starting rotation to the bullpen. This was after he managed to bring his ERA down (from 11.91!) to 9.45. Frankie was really struggling on the mound. His best game ERA was 6.75; two of his earlier season games topped 10.00! Other than Scott Diamond (who just started and who just pitched seven shut out innings), all our starters have ERAs greater than 5.00.

Not surprisingly, Target Field attendance is down significantly this year.  I’ll have more details for you next time, but suffice to say that, compared to both 2010 and 2011 (which saw roughly the same attendance until 2011 mid-August), over 80,000 fewer fans have visited so far this year.  Last year finished with over 50,000 fewer fans attending than in 2010, and we’ve already broken that record.

It’s looking like it will be a long season for the Twins unless things turn around big time!

“Slump? I ain’t in no slump. I just ain’t hitting.” ~Yogi Berra

Goodbye Danny

No more Danny, no more Frankie.
Thank you, no, don’t need a hanky.
No more Frankie, no more Danny.
This poor team’s been on its fanny.

Marquis is on the mound tonight.
Hope the new guys play alright.
Darin, Denard, Komatsu,
Field those flies, we need you to!

Dozier, Lexi, hold the middle,
Plouffe’s on third, now there’s a riddle!
Doumit’s catching, Joe’s on first.
These losing games just suck the worst.

Now the Jays have men on base,
But maybe Josh will be our ace.
Oh, we need some wins so bad,
‘Cause all the fans are getting mad!

Bases loaded, inning one,
Already this is not much fun.
The Jays have scored, and here we go,
Hand me a Hamm’s! On with the Show!!

Baseball vs Other Sports

The Twins are off to a very poor start this season. It would be nice to say there’s no place to go but up, but “famous last words” and so forth. It’s arguable that this season’s start series against the Baltimore Orioles was even worse that the season start series against the Toronto Blue Jays last year. We won one of the three games last year, but just got swept this year.

Last year, after three games we totaled eight runs, whereas this year we’ve racked up only five. Starting pitcher Carl Pavano did better this year, as I mentioned yesterday, but Francisco Liriano did a bit worse in his start this year. Last year, Frankie went 4.1 innings and earned four runs; this year he went 4.0 and earned five. And in today’s game, started Anthony Swarzak went 5.0 innings and earned only one run (which coincidentally is close to Nick Blackburn in game three last year: 5.2 innings with only one ER).

But the bottom line is we lost all three games, and a large share of the reason was our poor hitting. In all three games, we scored runs in only one inning of the game, never more than two (in one case, just one), and those innings came late in each game. Today’s game was very nearly a no-hitter, until doubles by Justin Morneau and Josh Willingham got us on the board with our one and only run (and our only two hits).

Tomorrow is the Target Field opener, and we’ll play the California Angels. The Orioles were thought by many to be an easier team to beat; things get harder now, so we’ll see how it goes. Baseball, like life, is funny, and you never know. Something things work the opposite of what you’d expect.

But enough about these games; they’re better forgotten and left in the rear view mirror for now. I want to talk about something else.

“Baseball is Boring” (Not!)

It’s not uncommon to hear people say that baseball is “boring.” Homer Simpson once made the observation that baseball was boring if you’re not drunk. And my ex-wife recently mentioned she can’t get into baseball (although she is a football fan).

So this post is a bit for her, but in particular for those who think baseball is boring. Of course, our hobbies and sports and interests are personal. One can certainly choose to follow any sport that appeals (or no sport at all). One can certainly find baseball not their choice, but it shouldn’t be for thinking that baseball is boring.

Because baseball really isn’t boring. In truth, once you begin to fully appreciate the game, it turns out to be a very interesting and exciting sport.  Personally, I think it’s a lot more interesting than any other sport, and I’d even make an argument it’s actually more exciting.

I will grant that sports such as football, basket ball and hockey, have more movement on the field (or court or ice), and if you only watch them casually, that can make them look more interesting. Baseball is more sedate visually. In some regards, baseball is more akin to chess than to, say, boxing.

And mentioning boxing brings up a key point that may or may not impress you, especially in light of the recent news report about football players being instructed to attempt injury to the opposing players. Injuries in football and hockey are often deliberate, and if not deliberate, are a natural outcome of normal play. This seems to me somewhat like crashes at auto races; the chance of destruction being part of the draw for some.  In baseball, injuries are almost always due to accidents. Many baseball rules explicitly forbid contact. For example, a catcher cannot block the plate unless in possession of the ball.

Baseball contains a lot more strategy and subtlety than the other pro sports. Every pitch involves a choice by the catcher (what pitch to signal), a choice by the pitcher (what pitch to throw) and a choice by the batter whether to swing or not and what kind of swing). All these choices depend on who’s pitching, who’s batting, and what bases are occupied and by whom (fast runners, slow runners). Even the pitch count factors in to what pitch a pitcher will throw. Whether the pitcher or batter is right- or left-handed is the least of it!

The way the defense positions itself on the field is also strategic. Those positions depend on who’s batting and who’s on base. This means that baseball players, especially catchers and pitchers, need a strong knowledge about the capabilities of each batter on the opposing team. The batters, in turn, need a good knowledge of the opposing pitchers.

Which brings up another key point: baseball is hugely about individual performance. The other pro sports are often about team work. Football, for example, other than the Quarterbacks and a few key receivers, has an offensive and defensive line. And while those who get deeply into football may appreciate the contributions of individual players, generally speaking, most fans seem to know only the key players. In baseball, every player has a very distinct position with a very distinct job, and usually even the most casual fans know every member of the lineup and what they do.

This extends to another unique thing about baseball: the prevalence of statistics. Every player has a boatload of statistics representing their performance in the last game, in the last XX games (take your pick of XX), in the season and in their lifetime. And these only scratch the surface. You can, for example, look at “splits.” How does a player do in night games versus day games? Or in home games versus away games?  And, of course, there is another whole boatload of stats for the team. It’s not just about the number of wins and losses, although, in the end, that is the one stat that matters most.

And I haven’t yet touched on the whole quintessential American-ness of baseball; how it’s our national pastime and deeply ingrained in our national consciousness. The saying is, “As American as baseball, hot dogs and apple pie.” (And it is, perhaps, no coincidence that hot dogs are thought to have been invented for baseball fans.)

Nor, for that matter, have I mentioned any of the classic books and movies made about American baseball. (I recently had a chance to see The Natural again, and I plan to watch Bull Durham tonight.)

Americans have been playing baseball for a very long time (since the mid-1800’s, and the earliest known reference is in a 1744 British publication by John Newbery), and it has spread to other countries (most notably, Japan).  “Football,” meanwhile, is actually a completely different sport in most parts of the world.

And, so to my dear ex-wife, consider this: I was right about beer and dogs, and you love them now. If you give baseball a chance, you might just come to love it as well.

“Basketball, hockey and track meets are action heaped upon action, climax upon climax, until the onlooker’s responses become deadened. Baseball is for the leisurely afternoons of summer and for the unchanging dreams.” ~~Roger Kahn

A New Season Begins

It’s been a long time since I’ve posted to this blog. As sometimes happens with the projects we start, this one ran out of gas and rolled to a stop. In baseball terms, it went into a slump and ended up on the DL (Disabled List, not Down Low). And putting it in baseball terms is good, because a significant fraction of the problem was due to baseball. That fraction of the pie chart is labeled: “Minnesota Twins 2011 Season–One of the Worst in Team History!”

And it was. We lost 99 of our 162 games last year, finishing off at 63-99 (.389). The only part of that that doesn’t suck is that we, “Held the line at 99.”  We managed to not lose 100+ games, and the way things were looking by then, “managed not to lose” is saying something. It was a season that was often painful to watch.

The June Blast gave us our high point with 17-9 (.654), and July ended okay, 16-13 (.552), but you can see the beginning of the downwards slide. In August we didn’t get it done to the tune of 7-21 (.250), which put us at 57-79 (.419) on the year. September was no better, only 6-20 (.231), and that was that for 2011.

If there was any bright spot in all that, it had to be the last two games. By the time we played that final pair, we had lost 99 games. In order to not break 100 (which for some reason seems hugely worse—maybe it’s the triple digits), we had to not lose those last (home) games. We had to not lose to Kansas City in our own ballpark.

We were last in the league, and Kansas City was ahead of us in fourth place. At that time, we’d played 16 games against the Royals, winning half and losing half. That includes the first game of the final series, which we lost 7-3 with Kevin Slowey (5.1 innings) on the mound.

Anthony Swarzak pitched the penultimate game (6.1 innings), which we won 4-7, and there was a lot of cheering in Twins Country! Holding the line at 99!

Carl Pavano pitched the final  Twins game of the season, and he did the Twins–and himself–proud, not just by going the full nine innings, but by giving up no runs to the Royals. He also struck out three and gave up no walks. All Kansas City accomplished was five hits. Meanwhile the Twins offense managed to turn ten hits into…  one run, and that’s all it took to win.

In a year somewhat characterized by low-scoring games, and in particular by games won or lost by one run, that we won the final game 0-1 seems right. Adding to the year-end excitement, we didn’t get that single winning run until the ninth inning. Talk about a tense final game!

And while the last two games were exciting and ended well, the season was awful. In the final two months, the Twins had a painful 13-41 record, which crushed any hopes of success (let alone glory) created in June.

Which all brings us back to the blog slump and season-ending injury. The irony is that the original purpose of the blog was to chart, and possibly make fun of, what looked to be a notably bad season beginning back in April. I’d discovered a great group of “eTailgaters” to hang out and chat with during the games. The banter and clowning around—not to mention the very knowledgeable contributions of some long-time, very serious fans—added a whole new dimension to my newly awakened interest in baseball. All that conspired to give me the idea of creating this blog.

I wanted to explore this new (to me) All-American sport that I’d come to love. Hanging out with the Tailgaters began to teach me how intricate and subtle baseball can be and opened doors to a variety of topics, fun and serious, to blog about.

I never did manage to take this blog to where I wanted. Part of it was discovering how much there was to learn—how much I didn’t know. It began to seem almost presumptuous to write about baseball. And my feeble dabbling in stats, once I began to realize how much there was to baseball analysis, seemed almost childish. Crayon drawings compared to Picasso.

But I’m now on my third season of loving baseball. I find myself excited about the new season. I may be a kid tagging along with the grown ups, but isn’t that a big part of baseball anyway? Doesn’t it start as a kid’s game? Isn’t that were the joy begins?

So I’m back, and I hope to do better. And differently, perhaps. Maybe less stats and more… I donno, something.  More “blogging” maybe.  More fun, more heart.

That’s the plan anyway. Best laid schemes of mice and men (and baseball fans).

And so we begin.  As the Twins began yesterday in an away game against the Baltimore Orioles. Which they lost 2-4, and which they came close to losing 0-4 were it not for a two-run homer by Josh Willingham. Carl Pavano started and went 7.0 innings, but didn’t have a great day. He earned all four Royals’ runs, including a two-run homer in the first inning, walked two and only struck out one. So he starts his season with a 5.14 ERA.

But that’s better than his start last year against the Toronto Blue Jays. Pavano went only 4.0 innings and earned seven runs, including three home runs. He left that game with a 15.75 ERA!

So maybe things are looking up this year. Some familiar faces are gone (Thome, Cuddyer, Kubel, for instance), and there are some new faces present (Willingham, Carroll, Doumit and others). One can hope.

On the other hand, if you read the last post from last year (Aug 1), I was optimistic about our chances then. So, for now, I’m gonna go with “cautious optimism” and cross my fingers.  We play the Orioles twice more this weekend, and I’d love to see us take that series. Go Twins!

The Target Field opener is Monday against the Angels. I’m very tempted to go, but the weather is looking chilly with a predicted low and high of 37/49. It’s rainy now, but Monday is supposed to be sunny. Tempting, but brrrrrrrr!

But above all, a new season begins. Baseball is back! Hot dogs, home runs and high hopes, hooray!

“The other sports are just sports. Baseball is a love.” ~Bryant Gumbel, 1981