Monday, May 4, 2009

When Something Bad Is Actually Good...

Do you want to have your mind blown? The Twins are counting on Nick Punto and Alexi Casilla to provide passable offense up the middle, in their quest to take home their 5th division title since 2002 (though just their first since 2006). By and large, neither have done anything at the plate. Nick Punto, as he did in 2007 (when he "hit" .210/.291/.271), is walking and striking out at a prodigious rate while doing a terrible job of putting the bat on the ball. He's second on the team in pitches per plate appearance (4.05) though (and is leading it in embarrassing shirts). And his line drive percentage is an acceptable 19%. So even though, going into tonight's game against Detroit, Punto's at .224/.338/.239, chances are he'll be ok and that his poor start is due to some bad luck (his BABIP is just .268, despite the decent LD%).

Casilla, on the other hand, has been wretched in every aspect, not even showing a modicum of plate discipline. Going into tonight's game, Casilla was at .160/.232/.200. His line drive percentage is at just 8% this year, and has a corresponding .197 average on balls in play. Casilla's career LD% hovers around 12 (he'll likely always be dependent on bunt and IF singles), so his performance thusfar is much much more disappointing than usual.

While that's unbelievably bad, here's the mind-blowing part: Before tonight's game, against left-handed pitchers this year the dreadful duo are just 1/36 against lefties. Clearly something is wrong here. Punto is 0/16 with two walks. Casilla is 1/20 with a sacrifice bunt. Just so we're clear, after a full month of baseball, Punto's line against LHP is .000/.111/.000 and Casilla's is .050/.050/.111.

The good news in all of this, is that none of this performance is sustainable. Casilla will either hit more or lose his job. Neither of them can possibly be this bad against LHP over the full season. The singles will eventually start to drop for Punto. Meanwhile, among the Twins other hitters, none is a significant risk for regression (aside from Joe Mauer, who (going out on a limb here) probably won't hit .700/.727/1.200 for the rest of the year). Morneau may not have a .963 OPS for the rest of the year, and Jose Morales won't continue to hit .300, but Morales's regression will be covered by Mauer's presence and Morneau's slide should be adequately covered by a regression toward the mean (in a good way) by Casilla, Punto, Crede, and maybe Gomez.

The pitching, too, is a good bet to improve. Unless he's really, really hurt, Scott Baker is not going to continue to have a 9.15 ERA. Liriano is not going to stay at 6.04. And Slowey's not a good bet to stay at 5.17. Yes, the bullpen is still a mess. But once Crain comes back and the Twins learn to trust one or more of their minor league relievers (as Aaron pointed out today, Anthony Slama's struck out 20 in 11 innings at AA), they can jettison Ayala (please God, please).

This leaves the Twins in surprisingly good position to win the division with a strong final five months. It's a recipe that's worked before, and seems primed to happen again. Perhaps The Common Man's initial thoughts, of a .500 year, were too pessimistic...

The bad news tonight is that Jerry White was injured in the game today when he took a liner off the ankle in the first base coaching box.

Somebody, and The Common Man can't remember who for the life of him (help him out, readers), has been all over this lately. And he's right; it's amazing more people haven't been killed on the diamond with all the wicked googlies flying around the old ballyard. That said, there certainly seems to be a rash of on-the-field scariness lately, with Mike Coolbaugh's death last year and the scary Jose Martinez incident (where he took a comeback liner off the noggin).

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