Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Slowey Train Out of Town

By The Common Man

In early March, amid the rumors that the Twins were looking to move Francisco Liriano, The Common Man wrote this:

“The Twins remain an organization driven by emotion. They lack the ability to keep dissatisfaction in-house (a problem they’ve had since Tom Kelly was managing, actually), and actively seem to antagonize and marginalize talented players. They also overreact to perceived needs and slights without considering alternatives that do not fit with their preconceived notions of what players should be and what roles they can fill. The Twins are, in short, not rational or logical actors. You cannot count of them to make reasonable and sound decisions in the face of high emotion and mounting pressure."

Well, they held on to Liriano, in spite of The Common Man’s concerns that they would trade him for pennies on the dollar. That decision, which The Common Man would have been elated about at the time, has not turned out well thusfar. Liriano is 3-5 with a 5.73 ERA. His strikeouts are way down and his walks are way, way up. He’s allowing more flyballs than he did last year, has seen his fastball velocity dip, and is not throwing his slider as often. The Twins clearly monkeyed with his head during Spring Training and the early part of 2011, telling their only strikeout pitcher that it was important for him to “pitch to contact.” But it’s difficult to tell how much of his struggles are based on this tinkering. Indeed, there is evidence that Liriano may be hiding an injury or have changed his mechanics. The Twins have recently backed off their coaching and encouraged Liriano to just pitch however he wants, and the results have been mixed. It’s unclear what the exact problem is at this point or how it’s going to be resolved.

The one thing that is apparent, however, is that the Twins could not help criticizing, tweaking, and tinkering with him for much of this season because they were dissatisfied with how he did not fit into the “Twins mold.” They cannot leave well enough alone when it runs counter to their organizational sensibilities.  They continue to be base coaching and personnel decisions not on evidence, but on gut feelings, personal animosities, and irrationality. Take Exhibit B: Kevin Slowey.

While not flashy, and not durable, Slowey has been a mid-level starter since mid-2007. He combines mediocre stuff with pinpoint control to maintain an adequate strikeout rate and an exquisite K/BB ratio. In fact, among pitchers with more than 200 innings, Slowey has the third best K/BB ratio in baseball since 2007, behind only Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee. He also is extremely fly-ball oriented, which makes him somewhat homer-prone (which actually should play well in the cavernous Target Field given adequate time and outfield defense). He has yet to throw more than 160 innings in a season, which is a red flag, but he also has consistently performed well when in the rotation.

Naturally, then, the Twins shuffled him into the bullpen in Spring Training after two straight strong starts and left him there. Unable to adjust to his new role, Slowey went on the disabled list with soreness in his bicep and shoulder bursitis in early April. Fearing that Liriano was hurt, the Twins stretched Slowey out in his rehab, then pulled the rug out from under him again by resigning him to the bullpen. Since then, he has come up sore several times, and eventually Slowey was placed on the DL with an abdominal problem. Along the way, he has made it clear he does not like being in the bullpen, does not feel like he’s suited to relieving, and would like a change one way or another. Since that has become clear, the Twins have been in character assassination mode. Bert Blyleven and Dick Bremer have been highly critical of Slowey on Twins broadcasts. Manager Ron Gardenhire has said the right things but made it clear he’s frustrated by Slowey’s inflexibility and inability to get loose quickly in the pen. There are rumors that Slowey is difficult, unmanageable, and not a team player. That he’s too smart. Too assertive. Too invested in his own ability to perform well.  Jim Souhan writes, "I've never encountered a players so disliked by so many at so many different levels in the Twins organization.  His clubhouse lawyering and reluctance to work out of the bullpen have damaged a once-promising career." 

Right, because it's Slowey's fault he's being used differently than ever before, has had to try and adapt on the fly to a new way of pitching and a new way of getting ready, and he's still not phyisically ok with that.  He should just suck it up, ignore the pain, and keep pitching.  He should ignore the fact that he's a solid starter and that the prospect of staying in the bullpen long-term could easily damage his long-term earnings potential as well as his long-term health. 

And so the Twins are looking to trade him. Indeed, rather than using one of their guys who has traditionally been one of the better starters on the team, a guy that the cheaply control for another two years, they are shipping him out of town. Because Twins management cannot seem to coexist with players who are not “their guys” or guys who “fit the mold.” The irony, in Slowey’s case, is that he has been the exact kind of player the Twins have wanted, if not the exact kind of person. And now, it seems, the Twins can’t even live with the embodiment of everything they look for in a player, because Slowey and the management have antagonized each other to the edge. Undoubtedly, as they have in the past, they will get little in return for a valuable commodity and the team’s depth will continue to suffer. But at least, on the long march to 90 losses in 2011, and to continue to divest the organization of depth and talent, the clubhouse will be peaceful and Ron Gardenhire can run another replacement level arm, who doesn't complain, out there to blow leads for Carl Pavano or Scott Baker.

1 comment:

michael said...

Wow. Did not know about all this internal strife. Neyer mentioned once before that the Twins were misusing their pitching talent by leaving certain pitchers in the rotation and certain ones out of the rotation. This was revealing.