Oct
05

Exploiting Minnesota’s weaknesses

By

(AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

The Twins finished the regular season with the fourth best record in baseball (94-68) and on a three-plus month hot streak that saw them go 47-25 down the stretch. They did that primarily by crushing their own division and the AL West, because their 15-18 record against the AL East is hardly awe-inspiring. Like every other team they have their flaws, some more noticeable than others. Exploiting those weaknesses is going to be important for any team playing the Twins, and it just so happens that they draw the Yankees in the ALDS.

Here are two of Minnesota’s biggest drawbacks, two things that the Yankees wouldn’t have been able to take advantage of in years past because they lacked a little something called speed.

Running On Carl Pavano

Yankee fans are well aware of their team’s problem with allowing stolen bases. Jorge Posada and Frankie Cervelli hardly ever throw anyone out (just 17.3% combined), and some pitchers on the staff seem allergic to holding runners (coughA.J. Burnettcough). The Twins have a bit of a stolen base problem of their own, and it comes in the form of former Yankee Carl Pavano.

Pavano, who has always been slow to the plate, allowed 31 stolen bases in 39 opportunities this year (79.5%). Essentially one out of every seven baserunners with an opportunity to steal have at least attempted it, and most of them were successful. Joe Mauer, who threw out 42.2% of attempted basestealers from 2004-2008 is down to just 26.2% over the last two seasons. He also battled some shoulder soreness this summer, so he’s more susceptible to the stolen base than ever before. Brett Gardner, Curtis Granderson, and Derek Jeter need to take advantage in Game Two and swipe bases whenever possible.

It’s not just about stealing bases to get runners in scoring position either. Pavano is a ground ball pitcher (51.2% grounders this season) and has gotten a double play in 11.5% of his opportunities this year, so swiping some bases will help avoid those twins killings, particularly when Jeter and his league leading 65.7% ground ball rate are at the plate. Run boys run.

Jason Kubel’s Defense

(AP Photo/John Froschauer)

Justin Morneau’s injury hurt the Twins in more ways than one. Sure, replacing his .447 wOBA is basically impossible (though Jim Thome did a helluva job trying), but it also forced an unfavorable defensive shift. Michael Cuddyer stepped in as the everyday first baseman, pushing Jason Kubel into rightfield full-time. There’s a reason that 60% of Kubel’s starts in 2008 and 2009 came as a designated hitter, and that’s because the man is awful with the glove.

Over the last three seasons, his -17.5 UZR in right ranks 35th out of 39 qualified fielders (min. 1,000 innings), and that’s mostly because of an awful range score (-14.5). Kubel simply doesn’t get to all that many balls out there, and that’s a bit exacerbated by spacious Target Field. Beyond just catching the ball, his throwing is a big time liability and something the Yanks can absolutely take advantage of.

In baserunning situations such as first-to-third on a single, first-to-home on a double, second-to-home on a single, and sacrifice flies with the runner at second and/or third, Kubel’s “hold” rate is just 39.3%. The league average is close to 46%. His “kill” rate checks in at just 3.4%, well below the 6% league average. A “hold” is when he limits to the runner to just one base on a single or two on a double (so first-to-second on a single, not first-to-third, etc.), nothing more. A “kill” is when he actually threw a runner out attempting to take the extra base.

Clearly, Kubel’s arm is something guys like Gardner, Granderson, Jeter, Robbie Cano, and even Alex Rodriguez need to exploit. He’s very unlikely to throw them out trying to take the extra base, so they should push the envelope as much as possible, particularly with Francisco Liriano on the mound. They simply won’t get many opportunities to generate extended rallies against him, so they have to create offense in other ways.

It’s also worth noting that Delmon Young is equally awful in left, with a -43.3 UZR over the last three seasons (dead last among qualified fielders). His hold rate on first-to-homes on a doubles, second-to-home to singles, and sacrifice flies to score a run (it’s not often a runner goes first-to-third on a single to left, or advances from second on a sac fly) is just 38.3%, his kill rate 5.3%. Like I said earlier, run boys run.

* * *

I know it’s hard to believe, but it’s not just the Yankees that have weaknesses heading into the playoffs. In addition to the above, the Twins are likely to be without top setup man Jon Rauch because of a knee injury (though he had it drained and claims he’s good to go), and their bullpen had the fourth worst strikeout rate in baseball this year at 6.74 K/9. If you’re going to let the Yanks put balls in play in the late innings, bad things will happen. With any luck they’ll take advantage.

Categories : Playoffs

84 Comments»

  1. Take it as you will, but during the Twins presser today Gardenhire said that Rauch is good to go and will be available this week. Who knows if he’s just trying to throw off the Yankees or something.

  2. B-Rando says:

    Bring. Them. On.

  3. tomaconda says:

    slightly OT but does anyone else think the Yankees would be wise to look at Gerald Laird to back up Jorge and Montero instead of Cervelli

    • Dirty Pena says:

      “slightly” OT? I think you mean “completely and utterly” OT. This is why there’s an off-topic thread.

    • Graig not Craig says:

      Laird’s salary – about 4 million.
      Cervelli’s salary – about 400,000.

      No.

      • tomaconda says:

        Laird is a strong defensive catcher who has a great arm behind the plate. The Yankees will save money with Johnson and Berkman coming off the books being replace by Posada/Montero and Laird has the potential to be a better hitter than Cervelli.

        • Graig not Craig says:

          Do you think the Yankees want to pay 4 million for a third catcher? Do you think Laird will settle for being a third catcher?

          • tomaconda says:

            I think it would benefit them to pay 4mil for stronger defense behind the plate. With Monteros defense being questionable and Posada turning 90 next year I would want someone behind the plate who is at least capable if not strong defensively. We all know that Jorge and Jesus are capable of hitting but if neither one can play adequate defense than I think it pays to pay.

        • Chris says:

          It’s a waste to pay a third catcher that much. With Montero and Posada rotating between C and DH, the third catcher (most likely Cervelli) will not get much playing time.

          /hopefully not just wishful thinking

    • ZZ says:

      Why would all of you spend half the thread responding to an off topic comment in this manner? That just goes against the entire point of the rule against off topic comments.

      Just ignore it, notify one of Mike, Joe, or Ben and move on. That way off topic comments are passed over until they are deleted, keeping with the spirit of the rule to begin with.

      Seeing this type of back and forth is even more annoying than the original comment.

      • radnom says:


        Seeing this type of back and forth is even more annoying than the original comment.

        Agreed. Although one could make the argument that You and I are just continuing it right now.

        Also, I love how the people complaining about it are the same people who would jump all over each other to be the first to post a worn out Casey Kelly joke in any thread about Yankee prospects regardless of topic.

  4. Graig not Craig says:

    Does Rob Thomson read RAB?

  5. larryf says:

    The Jeter GIDP factor must be eliminated in the post season. Steal or hit and run. Watching Jeter get thrown out by 1/2 step at first to kill the inning is getting very old.

  6. Josh says:

    One additional weakness I would have added – being susceptible to left-handed pitching. As a team their OPS is 40 pts lower against lefties, with three important names standing out:

    Mauer – .711 OPS against lefties
    Kubel – .655
    Thome – .769

    Granted, Young’s emergence will help offset this a bit, but I still like our chances with lefties starting 4 of 5 games.

    • vin says:

      If you can neutralize 3 of their 4 most dangerous hitters, then you can pitch around Young a little.

      • CountryClub says:

        Plus, Young still chases a lot of pitches. CC and Andy will cutter, curve and slider him to death.

        • Steve H says:

          This. Even though Young hits LHP well in general he’s a free swinger and CC and Andy know this. He won’t be getting “get em over” fastballs from them and they can mix it up even behind in the count.

          • Josh says:

            This year I wouldn’t characterize him as a “free swinger” – his K % was only 13.2% this season. I do think they will pitch around him though given the others’ weakness against lefties.

            • Steve H says:

              He doesn’t strike out much because he never gets that deep in the count. He’s too busy swinging at 40% of pitches outside the strike zone (for reference Vladdy is at 39.4% for his career).

              • Josh says:

                I hear you, was looking at this year vs. previous years where he struck out a bit more. In any event, he’s still hitting the balls outside the zone with authority, looking at his stats the right answer is don’t give him anything to hit on the first pitch (1.046 OPS when he puts the ball in play on the first pitch).

        • first time lawng time says:

          Unless if those cutters, curves, and sliders are accidental meatballs over the plate, then Young will chase them over the wall and into the stands to death.

          /negative’d

  7. Not Tank the Frank says:

    This a great read. Compelling and rich. I really would like to see the Yankees push the envelope on the basebaths, especially at Target Field. The Tampa Bay Rays we are not, but it’ll be interesting to see if the players mentioned try to go first to third more often. Also, Jeter’s GIDP rate has been discussed on both ESPN and FanGraphs. I really don’t want to see Grandy or Gardy leading off first like a statue for 3 or 4 pitches when the Captain is up. They need to take advantage on the bases. Get a read on The Idle (PeteAbe’d) and go. It was always frustrating watching Gardy stand at first base as if waiting for Jetes to hit a GB. I hope it doesn’t happen in this series.

    The postseason is a war. Gritty Gutty Brett Gardner is a weapon.

    But maybe El Capitan will be too busy busting Jetarian doubles down the right field line and we won’t even have to worry about it.

    I hope I’ve used enough nicknames in this post.

  8. Dream of Electric Sheep/ still haven't register /too lazy says:

    Apparently , Young is hacktastic ! I hope CC and Andy can exploit that.

    I also noticed Young only has accrued 2.1 FWAR vs 5.5 FWAR of Gardner. I struggle with the concept that Garder is worth 2.5 times as much as Young as a player who has drove in 112 RBI along with a near 500 slug.

    • Thomas says:

      Defense. Young is worth 21 runs below average, while Gardner is 14 runs above average, that is a 3.5 win swing.

      • I struggle with the concept that Garder is worth 2.5 times as much as Young as a player who has drove in 112 RBI along with a near 500 slug.

        And defense aside, the notion that Young is a vastly superior offensive player because he’s driven in 112 RBI and is slugging nearly .500 is flawed as well.

        Young combines that .493 slugging with a pedestrian .333 OBP. His wOBA is thus .352 and his wRC+ is 122. Gardner, meanwhile, slugs only .379, but has a robust .383 OBP which gives him a .358 wOBA and a 123 wRC+.

        What Gardner lacks in pop, he compensates for in patience, speed, and the ability to not make outs.

        The RBIs are largely a function of where they hit in the order. In a similar vein, Gardner has scored 20 more runs than Young has.

        • Steve H says:

          And I would argue that runs are even, if ever so slightly, more valuable than RBI (but still not a great indicator of any particular ability or skill).

        • Dream of Electric Sheep/ still haven't register /too lazy says:

          The RBIs are largely a function of where they hit in the order. In a similar vein, Gardner has scored 20 more runs than Young has.
          ——————-
          Young has earned those RBI by performing well in mid-high leverage situations in which he batted 326 and 347 respectively and 83 RBI combined. I agree RBI is dependent on other factors , such as overall team offense and numbers ABS with runner on base. But it’s also a skill to drive those in IMO.

          My argument is not Young is superior offensive player than Gardner , but rather, How FWAR rates Gardner as 2.5 time as valuable than Young whom prolly is MN’s MVP this year.
          Once again, I question the defensive valuation that is contributed to those 3.5 swing in Wins.

          • bexarama says:

            How FWAR rates Gardner as 2.5 time as valuable than Young whom prolly is MN’s MVP this year.

            Heck no. You can quibble over defense, that’s fine. But the fact remains, he’s not a good defender at all (both by the eye test and metrics), and Mauer, even if he didn’t have the godly year he did in 2009, was a lot more valuable. At least.

            I don’t know if Gardner is however many times more valuable than Young but Young makes too many outs to be THAT super valuable.

            • Dream of Electric Sheep/ still haven't register /too lazy says:

              How FWAR rates Gardner as 2.5 time as valuable than Young
              —————————-
              That’s the what I have a hard time in understanding Bex,
              regardless of Young and Mauer’s standing as team’s MVP.

              • bexarama says:

                Because the defensive metrics hate Young and love Gardner, and when it comes to offensive value, I believe they consider OBP > SLG.

                That’s why. You can quibble with their reasoning, but that’s why.

                • Dream of Electric Sheep/ still haven't register /too lazy says:

                  that’s my whole point. there is something amiss with valuation of defensive metrics and how proportionally it contributes to WAR.

                  • Steve H says:

                    A run saved is worth as much as a run gained though.

                    So if Young’s butcher job in LF cost the Twins 9.6 runs and Gardner saved 22 runs with his defense, that’s a huge swing.

                    • Dream of Electric Sheep/ still haven't register /too lazy says:

                      Depends on the game contextual , Steve.

                    • ZZ says:

                      It is much easier to measure a run gained.

                      The issue could stem back to how runs saved are measured and how much each defensive play is valued which could very easily lead to the overvaluation that Dream is talking about though.

                      That standard answer that I have seen quite often doesn’t really answer the concern.

                    • andrew says:

                      Depends on the game contextual , Steve.

                      … as would any offensive contribution…

  9. theyankeewarrior says:

    “Run boys run”.

    My favorite three lines of the post.

  10. Mike HC says:

    Minnesota is a decent ball club, but lets be honest, the Yanks should be able to handle them relatively easily.

  11. Am I the only Kevin? says:

    This weakness of the Twins I think underscores the (hopefully inconsequential) roster mistake of carrying three longman mop up types in the bullpen. Free up a roster spot and you can carry Nunez or a third catcher on the roster, making pinch running more effective/likely. Guys Girardi will likely PR for, if he has the guys available and a reasonable opportunity presents, include Posada, Thames, and Berkman. Pinch running for any of those will burn two bench guys (the pinch runner is not the same person as the backup C or DH). In desperate situations (9th inning, down 1 and hoping for a SB), Girardi’s even shown a willingness to PR for Arod and Swish.

    The more I think about it, the more I come to the conclusion that Mosely is a complete waste on the roster.

    • Mike HC says:

      For me, its better off not even giving Girardi the option of getting too cute with playing small ball, like pinch running guys, bunting etc … I rather just have the extra arms in the pen.

      • Am I the only Kevin? says:

        I hear you, but disagree. I’d rather have a viable option/player, than somebody who is entirely redundant. You don’t need three long men for a 5 game series. IF worse comes to worst and you blow through two long men, then a third long man isn’t going to help. In any kind of close and late situation, Girardi is definitely going to run for Posada or his DH, and giving him one more bench guy would do just that.

        Just for the record, I’d also be in favor of giving Mosely’s spot to Ring or some other matchup-type reliever. Another bench guy would have marginal value, as would someone to matchup with Kubel or Thome. Mosely provides no value.

        • ZZ says:

          How do you know Burnett is considered a long man?

          • Am I the only Kevin? says:

            A career starter that has trouble holding runners and walks without any history of working out of the bullpen (coming in with runners on, getting warm quickly)? Sounds like a long man to me. Burnett will either come into the game in blowouts, where the starter is knocked out very early, or in extras when all of the short relievers have already been used up.

            • ZZ says:

              The Yankees know the same things as you in regard to having 3 longman. They know what they are doing. You shouldn’t make assumptions and listen to what Girardi has said today and continue to listen what he says tomorrow.

              • Am I the only Kevin? says:

                So, you’re saying then that I should ignore all common sense until Girard holds a presser to announce exactly what role AJ will be playing?

              • Am I the only Kevin? says:

                Sorry about the itchy trigger finger!

                To your point about the Yankees knowing what they are doing, you’ll also remember that they were the team that went into the last postseason last year with two pinch runners and three catchers. Gaudin as the long man was used a grand total of one inning. Call me crazy, but while I may not be a baseball executive, I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express once or twice. Those stays, along with a lifetime of watching and playing baseball, I think at least qualifies me to question a manager’s move on a blog.

    • ZZ says:

      Carrying a 10 man pitching staff very likely was never even a point of discussion within the Yankee Front Office.

      • Am I the only Kevin? says:

        Understood – I just can’t see how carrying an 11 man staff with three “break glass in case of emergency” guys is any different from a practical perspective.

        • ZZ says:

          The problem is that you are assuming those 3 players are “break glass in case of emergency” without actually having that information.

          • Am I the only Kevin? says:

            How about long man and emergency short man? Would that description be less offensive to you? See my post above. AJ is going to start in the ALCS if NYY advance, no? He also isn’t going to supplant the top five short men in the bullpen. So the only way I see him entering a game is in situations where Mo, DRob, Logan, Joba, and Wood are unavailable (extras) or unwise (starter bombs, or blowout). In such cases, I imagine the pecking order would be AJ, then Gaudin, then Mosely.

            Does AJ have the “stuff” to be a short reliever? Yeah – he’d probably pick up some MPH in the pen. Is the playoffs the time to roll the dice on AJ suddenly being effective out of the pen when he has no track record whatsoever to base this on? No.

            Girardi hasn’t announced what AJ’s role will be, but I think it is pretty safe to guess.

            • Am I the only Kevin? says:

              As for Mosely and Gaudin, I would be shocked to see either used for other than long or mop-up duty, but I assumed your quible was directed mostly toward AJ.

  12. Yank the Frank says:

    I’m getting antsy. Lets light this candle.

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