Wednesday, June 02, 2004

2-Month Report Card: Your Minnesota Twins

Twins: 28-23, 1.5 GB Chicago

Well, we are almost two full months (about 30%) into the 2004 season, and it is time to dole out report cards. Hey, if my professors can grade my intelligence, why can’t I grade the play of my favorite team? I figure I’m just as qualified as they are. ;)

Hitting: B-

Were it not for the recent slump (yesterday’s 16-4 romp notwithstanding) this grade would probably be a B or possibly even an A-. Overall, the Twins have handled the bats reasonably well this season. After Tuesday’s outburst the Twins rank 12th in the majors in runs scored (9th in the AL), 11th in homers (5th in the AL), and 14th in OPS (9th in the AL). Now these numbers in themselves are not overly impressive, but don’t forget how great the offense was back in April. The Twins finished 15-7 and had the second-best offense in the AL in both runs and OPS.

May was obviously not so great (the Twins finished 13th in the AL in runs and OPS and last in batting average), so we’ll average the two and give the Twins a B-. I absolutely hate to use injuries as an excuse, but it is applicable in this case—the losses of Hunter, LeCroy, Koskie, Mauer, and Stewart have definitely hurt the Twins in this area. But don’t look now! In June, the Twins are leading the majors in almost every single offensive category, including runs (16), homers (5), and hits (14).

Top Individual Performers:
Jacque Jones (.272/.332/.482, 10 HRs, 33 RBIs, 8 SBs)
Lew Ford (.333/.405/.494, 28 RBIs)
Shannon Stewart (.287/.396/.405)- on DL indefinitely
Torii Hunter (7 HRs, 22 RBIs despite a DL stint)

Starting Pitching: C-

I am probably being a little generous with this grade. The starting staff, which wasn’t considered to be this team’s biggest question mark coming in, has been very underwhelming. Twins starters are 15-15 this year with a 4.85 ERA (which is actually better than the Yankees’ starters), which is simply not acceptable for a team that hopes to reach the playoffs. The Twins are not the Yankees; they cannot simply bludgeon every team over the head with a lineup of All-Stars. Johan Santana and Kyle Lohse have been very disappointing thus far. After Lohse had such a great spring I thought that he was ready to have a breakout season, but such was obviously not the case. He has struggled mightily with his command, issuing an extremely uncharacteristic 33 walks in only 61.1 innings this season. “Walks will haunt” is what they always say, and for Kyle that has certainly been the case. Johan has shown flashes of his old (2003) form, but just has not been able to put it all together this season. I think he will snap out of this funk soon; he has seemingly regained his devastating changeup and needs only to tweak a few other things.

The only two positives on the staff have been Brad Radke and Carlos Silva. Brad has been truly “rad” in May, posting a 2.20 ERA with only 3 walks in 41 innings. The Twins have been unable to convert on a few of those outings, but that is a rant for a different time. I have been pleasantly surprised by Radke’s performance. Silva was a godsend early on, going 5-0 and sporting a 3.11 ERA as late as May 11, but had been very human from then until last night. Hopefully yesterday’s encouraging outing will get him back on track as well. Seth Greisinger has not been a ball of fire either as the fifth starter. His 4.59 starting ERA may look decent, but hitters are batting .303 against him with 7 HRs in 35.1 innings. Overall, there is a lot of room for improvement in this area.

Top Individual Performers:
Brad Radke (4-2, 3.52 ERA, 69 IP in 11 starts, plus a staff-low 5 walks as a starter!)
Carlos Silva (6-2, 4.34 ERA, 11 walks in 66.1 IP)

Bullpen: B

I watched a little of the Twins telecast on Monday against the Rays, and I heard Bert Blyleven give the Twins bullpen a grade of a C. Bremer, ever the clueless optimist, gave them an A or something stupid like that. I’m going to put myself right in the middle. The bullpen was the Twins’ main question mark heading into the season, and they have performed above expectations overall. Twins relievers are 12-8 this season with a respectable 4.33 ERA. Now I realize this is a far cry from 2003’s 3.84 and 2002’s 3.68, but if you look at the personnel the Twins have in their pen it’s actually pretty impressive. Who would have thought that Joe Roa would post a 2.22 ERA and 1.27 WHIP heading into June? What about Aaron Fultz (3.65 and 1.18)? The dynamic duo of J.C. and Juan Rincon have been less-than-spectacular, as each have had some control problems and have disturbingly high WHIPs, but they’ve each been pretty decent overall. Joe Nathan is the real standout here. He has been absolutely lights-out this season, posting a 1.14 ERA and WHIP to go along with his 14 saves in 15 chances. Opponents are hitting only .181 off Nathan this season, which is absolutely incredible. Terry Mulholland has been as crappy as we all imagined he would be, but for a mop-up guy I guess he’s okay (assuming that’s the only time Gardy uses him). Grant Balfour will come around once he begins to pitch a little more, as he has performed well of late. I feel pretty good about the bullpen right now, although this is a unit that is at a higher risk of falling apart sometime down the road, simply because so few of them have proven track records.

Top Individual Performers:
Joe Nathan (1.14 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 14 saves, .181 BAA, 11.03 K/9)
Joe Roa (2.22, 1.27)
Aaron Fultz (3.65, 1.18)
Juan Rincon (2.77, 11.08 K/9)

Fielding: D

This is one grade that I would have never expected to give and is also the most befuddling. As of right now, the Twins rank 26th in the majors in fielding percentage, 29th in Zone Rating, and 27th in errors with 42 in 51 games. These are pretty much the same guys that have made up one of the game’s best defensive teams for the past few seasons! Some people have blamed the Evil™ Turf for this abrupt change, but that excuse became obsolete after the first home series, no matter what Dougie Baseball says. I really don’t have a real explanation as to why Twins have been fielding so poorly this year. Cuddyer was very bad in his short stint at 3B (6 errors and a .893 fielding percentage), but the real culprit is probably Twins pitchers, who have committed a team-high 9 errors and are only fielding at a .900 clip. I think this is definitely a fluke occurrence, as there is no way that the Twins staff should be any worse defensively than every other team’s. But there have been some positive signs of late: the Twins have only committed 2 errors in their past 9 ballgames, and the return of Koskie, Mauer, and Rivas will only help this team defensively.

Overall Grade: C+

I think that an overall grade of a C+ is very appropriate for the Twins thus far. At their current pace the Twins will finish with 89 wins, which is slightly more than most people expected them to win before the season started. A C+ is, after all, a slightly above average grade. April was good, May was not, and I think a June swoon in not the cards for our beloved Twins. Perhaps things will stabilize a bit this month and the Twins will revert back to the mean. Tuesday’s win will hopefully snap us out of our slump, and the Twins can get back to the business of winning ballgames.

And Terry Ryan, don’t forget that I expect you to sign this report card and bring it back to school by tomorrow, or there will be no recess for you, young man. :)