Friday, August 5, 2011

Twins' Notes and Thoughts... 8/5/11

By Matt Tschida

Free Kevin Slowey
Isn't it time to give Kevin Slowey another shot in the starting rotation? I think the Twins need something to spark this staff, and a motivated Kevin Slowey could be the trick. He has started six games in Rochester and posted an acceptable 3.55 ERA, with 32 strikeouts and only four walks in 45.0 innings. Even if the Twins plan on trading Slowey, there’s only so much he can do for his value at AAA. If he can step in for Nick Blackburn and put together some quality starts, then the Twins could either trade him before September 1, or keep him for their own postseason push and trade him in the offseason. Meanwhile, Blackburn (who's posted an awful 8.37 ERA in his last seven starts) could work things out at AAA, like he did last year.

The Twins could be hoping that keeping Slowey in the minors for the rest of the season might result in a Glen Perkins-like resurgence. Perkins spent all of 2010 in the minors, upset with the organization. However, he sucked it up and came into the season prepared to contribute, and he's been the Twins' most consistent reliever all year. I’m not sure that's something Slowey has in him, and I’m guessing either he or his agent will demand a trade this offseason. Therefore, a value-boosting call up is probably the team's best bet.

Anthony Swarzak has earned the rotation spot over Slowey, but he's also proven that he's more flexible and can come out of the bullpen effectively. The Twins could still use a “long” guy out of the bullpen, and having another capable spot-starter like Swarzak in the pen is a nice asset.

Another rift between Slowey and the organization has been the team's perception that Slowey shakes off Joe Mauer too much. I would rather have a pitcher throw the pitch he is comfortable with than what the catcher wants all the time. You hear Bert Blyleven constantly preaching that pitcher is in control, and should throw what he wants, but Ron Gardenhire and Rick Anderson seem to disagree with that theory. Go back to the Milwaukee series, when Jose Mijares gave up that costly hit to Prince Fielder. Mijares was upset with the pitch Mauer called for, but the media and the announcers went after him for not shaking Joe off. However, management's actions seem to imply that pitch selection is not the pitcher's final call for this team. The numbers below illustrate the staff ERA's by catcher in 2011.

Twins Pitching Staff by Catcher 2011
Butera: 4.96 ERA
Rivera: 3.32 ERA
Mauer: 4.25 ERA

Should the coaching staff really be telling pitchers to shut up and throw what Joe calls? I for one am not sold on Mauer's pitch calling.

Rick Anderson
I find it odd that Joe Vavra has gotten a lot more heat than Rick Anderson. Aside from a couple missed starts by Baker and Liriano, the starting staff has been the healthiest part of this team. To put that into perspective, every regular hitter for the Twins, with the exception of Michael Cuddyer and Danny Valencia, has spent time on the DL. There’s not a whole lot a hitting coach can do when he’s working with minor leaguers and scrubs not ready or able to step in.

The starting pitchers carried the team for about a month, but these guys have all been on the MLB roster for 2+ years and should be able to give more consistent efforts. The ERA for the starters is only a few points higher than it was last year, but we shouldn’t have to keep waiting every single year for Baker, Blackburn or Liriano to step up. I don’t think an ERA in the 3.80-4.20 range is too much to ask for out of each starter. Instead, we have one or two starters step up each year, and one or two starters step backwards.

At one point Scott Baker, Kevin Slowey, Glen Perkins, Francisco Liriano, and even Nick Blackburn were considered relatively promising prospects. None of them, with the exception of Liriano, were considered to have ace potential, but each was considered a No. 2-4 starter. It just seems to me that Rick Anderson has been given a free pass here. Some people still praise him for working magic, but that notion feels old and overblown. He seems to want to turn every pitcher into a “pitch-to-contact” pitcher, instead of letting them do what they’ve done their whole life.

Take Francisco Liriano, for example.

"We've told him forever that he's a strikeout pitcher... We understand that he can strike people out, but if he really wants to become a pitcher, pitch to contact."
- Ron Gardenhire, 4/12/11

It's also concerning that so many starters seem to clash with this coaching staff. Going back to Kyle Lohse, there have been many talented pitchers who could have helped stabilize this rotation–-Matt Garza, Glen Perkins and Kevin Slowey all come to mind. I understand that Anderson has been with Gardy since he took over as manager (and was his roommate with the Mets during their playing days), but I think it might be time to consider a change. Pitchers who “pitch to contact” generally do not have a lot of success in the playoffs.

Valencia’s Slide
A lot has been made of Valencia’s “soft” slide into home last night by Bert, media outlets and bloggers. Well, it shouldn’t have even happened with the team down 7-1. There is no excuse for Steve Liddle sending him in that situation (no outs, and down by six with the tough-to-double-up Ben Revere coming up). Am I excusing Valencia's soft slide? No. He should have slid hard and late towards the back of the plate, but down six runs you generally don’t truck the catcher, as many people are suggesting.

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