Warm-Up Tosses: For all of my Bay Area/San Francisco-based friends, I’m thrilled to announce an author event next Wednesday, March 20 at 7:00pm. At that time, I will be appearing at Books, Inc. on Chestnut St. in the Marina District for a reading/book signing.
DVR Alert: With Charlie Rose back from Rome, as long as there is no breaking news, tomorrow morning (Monday, March 18) I will be appearing on The CBS Morning News Show.
Yesterday I fulfilled a trading desk bucket-list item by making an appearance on CNBC, specifically On the Money with Maria Bartiromo. Here’s a clip: http://video.cnbc.com/gallery/?play=1&video=3000154696 While my wife was able to pull my daughters away from Phineas and Ferb long enough to watch my appearance, I learned that HD is a cruel mistress. In studying the film, the girls were able to compare a rather massive change in my hairline compared to our wedding video. I should have never told them I was going to be on TV.
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What They Did: 66-96, 5th Place AL Central.
Actual Runs: Scored 701 runs, Allowed 832.
Expected wins based on RS and RA: 68.4 (2.4 above actual)
Restated: Scored 687 runs, Allowed 797.
Exp. wins based on restated RS and RA: 70.0 (4.0 above actual)
(Glossary: Expected wins, based on a modification of Bill James’ Pythagorean Theorem, are the amount of wins a team should win in any season based on the amount of runs it actually scored and allowed. Deviations will be explained in the appropriate team capsules.
Restated Runs Scored and Runs Allowed are the amount of runs a team should have tallied based on its actual components of batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging achieved/allowed. In the case of the Twins, if they posted exactly the same stats in 2013 as 2012, they should expect to win 70 games.)
Last year, the front offices of the Colorado Rockies and Pittsburgh Pirates provided an interesting contrast in understanding the environment they operated in. The Pirates, smarting from a second-half collapse in 2011, identified a crucial weakness: team defense. Largely happy with the offensive potential of many of its young players, management made just minor changes to the lineup. However, recognizing that reducing the number of balls hit into the field of play effectively deemphasizes the impact of defense, the Pirates remade their starting rotation with high strikeout pitchers. Pittsburgh may have had another second-half collapse last season but it was offense related. Even though they weren’t much better on defense, they gave up 38 less runs than in 2011 thanks to the change in roster construction.
The Rockies front office, on the other hand, remade their pitching staff with pitch-to-contact, extreme fly ball pitchers, plus signed a free-agent outfielder (Michael Cuddyer) known to have terrible range in the field, an absolutely insane combination for a team that plays half of its games at Coors Field. Colorado suffered an unfathomable 116-run increase in runs allowed in 2012.
Who do you think I’m going to compare the Twins’ front office to?
One of the reasons that scoring has dropped in baseball the last few years is that pitchers are striking out more batters. Since 2005, when pitchers struck out 16.5% of the batters they faced, the rate at which batters have struck out has increased ever single year – seven straight seasons – resulting in 19.8% of all 2012 plate appearances ending in a strikeout. With such a huge increase in the strikeout environment, you’d expect that change to be reflected at the individual team level as well. Sure enough if you look at the teams who struck out batters at the greatest rate in that eight-year period (2005-2012) no team prior to 2009 is in the top 20 and only one (from 2008) is in the top 25. Not surprisingly, the bottom 20 is entirely populated with teams from the early part of that era – with one exception. The Minnesota Twins are the only franchise since 2010 to appear in the bottom 30 of that list. In 2012, the Twins staff only struck out 15.2% of the batters they faced. The next worse team was the Indians at 17.3%, a huge 2.1% gap. (The gap between those two teams (30th and 29th) was larger than the gap between 29th and 18th in the league.)
As a result, the Twins gave up the second most runs in the American League, and when you adjust for park effects (Target Field suppresses runs) they were the worst. So the Twins clearly need to find a way to improve its pitching staff and find hurlers who can strike out more batters.
Well Minnesota went out and made changes to its staff as the three pitchers who made the most starts for the Twins in 2012 are no longer with the team. They were replaced by Vance Worley, Mike Pelfrey, and Kevin Correia. Worley has seen his strikeout rate drop at least 2% each year for the last two years to the point that he is a below-average strikeout pitcher at the age of 25. That is not the age a pitcher should be seeing his strikeout rate take an alarming drop. He’s also the new ace of the Twins staff.
Mike Pelfrey – and this was before he underwent Tommy John surgery – has struck out less than 13% of the batters he’s faced in his six year career. 13% is abominable for a starter and always places you near the bottom of the league. Then there is Kevin Correia. 78 MLB pitchers threw at least 300 innings over the last two years and the one with the lowest strikeout rate – at 12.0% -- was Kevin Correia.
That’s really all we need to cover in the Twins preview. Minnesota is going to give up the most runs in the American League this year and it’s going to be because of roster construction. If they have any injuries to Mauer, Willingham, or Morneau a decent line up suddenly looks much weaker and they just may be “battling” Houston for the worst record in the league.
Oddsmakers’ expectations: The Twins collapse from perennial AL Central contender to cellar dweller began with a string of injuries in 2011 and there is no guarantee that they will bottom out this year. Oddsmakers see it much the same way, opening Minnesota’s at 67. That market is a full seven wins higher than the Astros and I’m not sure they are going to look any different by the end of the year. I’ll express that opinion by taking the Astros over (as mentioned in Houston’s essay) and leave this one alone.
66-96 – Fifth in AL Central
677 Runs Scored 828 Runs Allowed
Mop Up Duty:
Joe Peta is the author of Trading Bases, A Story About Wall Street, Gambling, and Baseball* (*) Not necessarily in that order, a Dutton Books/Penguin (U.S.A.) publication currently available wherever books are sold. Here are three on-line booksellers you can currently choose from:
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