Monday, September 29, 2014

Top 5 Wins for Ron Gardenhire

The Twins announced on Monday that Ron Gardenhire will not return as the team's manager for 2015. Only two managers in the history of the game had survived four straight 90-loss seasons. One of those men was Gardenhire's predecessor, Tom Kelly. Minnesota is a very loyal organization but it seemed like the time was right to make a change.

When a manager wins over 1,000 games with an organization there are going to be some ups and downs. The Twins won six division titles in the Gardenhire era but the club found minimal postseason success under his reign. "You lose this many games, you've got to do something," Gardenhire said, "He called me in this morning, I said 'Terry, you don't have a choice here; do what you have to do.' "

There were some important wins in the history of the Twins during the Gardenhire era. Here's a look at the five wins Gardenhire will remember most as he leaves the Twin Cities.

ALDS Game 5 (2002)
The Twins used a strong pitching performance from Brad Radke and an AJ Pierzynski home run to squeak past the very strong Oakland A's. Brad Radke pitched into the seventh inning while limiting the powerful Oakland offense to one run. Eddie Guardado made things interesting by allowing three runs to score in the bottom of the ninth but he got the last out. Gardenhire had led his team to the ALCS in his first year at the helm but it would be the club's only postseason series win with him as manager.

Game 163 (2009)
The final victory in the Metrodome era was a game for the ages. The back and forth effort between the Twins and the Tigers is the closest thing to a World Series memory for a younger generation of Twins fans. It took seven pitching changes and multiple pinch hitting appearances but the Twins got the win. It also helped to have the speedy Carlos Gomez on the bench as a pinch runner for extra-innings. Things wouldn't go so well against the Yankees but the Twins had won the AL Central for the fifth time under Gardenhire.

Game 162 (2006)
The Twins were already guaranteed to go to the playoffs but this game took on a very different feel. During the course of the game, Joe Mauer was announced as the AL Batting Champion. This wouldn't be the only celebration on the day. After the Twins game finished, fans stuck around in the Metrodome to watch the Detroit Tigers lose to the lowly Kansas City Royals, a club that finished with 100 losses. The loss meant the Twins were division champions and a huge celebration erupted on the field in front of those that stuck around.

Win Number 1,000 (2014)
There have only been 10 managers in the history of the game to win 1,000 games with one club. Gardenhire is part of this elite group. The wins were few and far between over the last four years but Gardy survived long enough to pick up win number 1,000. He's respected enough across the baseball world that he could add to this win total with another organization but his final win in a Twins uniform came on September 27, 2014. It was his 1,068th win and the first time the Twins reached 70 wins since the 2010 season.

Ending Oakland's Winning Streak (2002)
This victory took on an entirely different meaning with the movie adaptation of the novel Moneyball. The Twins would also spoil Billy Beane's postseason plans by defeating the A's in October. Oakland went on to win their next three games so without this Twins victory their streak could have stretched to 24. It took a masterful performance from Brad Radke to stop the streak. He threw a complete game shutout with five strikeouts and one walk. Gardenhire had to leave Radke out there for 113 pitches and over 27,000 fans got to see the A's first loss in a month and a half.

Handing Out Twins End of Season Awards

Looking back at the Twins fourth straight 90-loss season doesn't have to be full of glum recollections of another horrible year. There were plenty of bright spots throughout the Twins roster. Brian Dozier did something only a handful of Twins players have ever done. Phil Hughes set an all-time MLB record. Plus young players like Danny Santana were sure fun to watch.

Every year at the end of the season, I look back at the Twins year and try and handout some end of the season awards. Many of these men were on their way to winning these awards when I reflected back on the first half. However one of the first half winners couldn't hang on to his title until the end of the year.

Each of the awards below has been named after someone that optimizes that award for the Twins organization. There are some legends from the past and even one current MLB player but all have had a significant place in Twins lore.

Harmon Killebrew MVP: Brian Dozier, 2B
First-Half MVP: Brian Dozier, 2B
Previous Winners: Joe Mauer (2013), Josh Willingham (2012), Michael Cuddyer (2011), Joe Mauer (2010)
It's hard to argue with the season compiled by Dozier. He became just the sixth player in Twins history and the first since Torii Hunter in 2004 to notch a 20-20 season. He's also finished second in the American League in runs scored as he only finished by the presumed MVP Mike Trout. According to SABR's Defensive Index, Dozier has been the fifth best defensive second baseman in the American League. He's been a leader on the field and in the clubhouse so the award is well deserved.

Johan Santana Pitcher of the Year: Phil Hughes, RHP
Pitcher of the First Half: Phil Hughes, RHP
Previous Winners: Kevin Correia (2013), Scott Diamond (2012), Carl Pavano (2011), Carl Pavano (2010)
This award is probably the easiest to hand out. Hughes was the ace of the Twins staff this season. He set the all-time strikeout to walk ratio by a starting pitcher. He pitched over 200 innings for the first time in his career and he had an ERA under 4.00 for only the second time in his career. Hughes led the Twins in basically every major category for a starting pitcher. The Twins had to be happy with him being a very good deal as a free agent signing. He will be part of the Twins rotation for the next couple seasons and he will provide a veteran presence for some of the younger players on the mound.

Rick Aguilera Relief Pitcher of the Year: Glen Perkins, LHP
Relief Pitcher of the First Half: Casey Fien, RHP
Previous Winners: Glen Perkins (2013), Jared Burton (2012), Glen Perkins (2011), Jesse Crain (2010)
At the mid-point of the season, this was the hardest award to pick. My vote went to Fien because of his ability to strand runners on base, his strong first half ERA and WHIP, and the amount of innings he had pitched. Fien's numbers came back to the back in the second half so my vote goes to Perkins even with the rough second half compiled by Perkins. According to FanGraphs version of WAR, Perkins was slightly better than Fien. Perkins also struck out more batters and pitched fewer innings. Fien had a very good season but Perkins was still the best bullpen arm. 

Rod Carew Rookie of the Year: Danny Santana, SS/OF
Rookie of the First Half: Danny Santana, SS/OF
Previous Winners: Oswaldo Arcia (2013), Scott Diamond (2012), Ben Revere (2011), Danny Valencia (2010)
Josmil Pinto did some good things at the beginning of the season and Kennys Vargas had his moments in the second half. This award belongs to Danny Santana for the way he was able to impact the Twins line-up this season. He filled in admirably at a position of need for the club and he finished the year with the third highest WAR among Twins position players. There are some that doubt that he will be able to keep up this high level of play into next season but he seems to solidified himself as an everyday major leaguer.

Now it's your turn. Who would you pick for each of the above awards? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Episode 101: A Fan's View with Howard Sinker

This week Eric and Jay are joined by long time podcast friend Chuck Ruether and new podcast friend Howard Sinker, from the Star Tribune.

You can download the new Talk to Contact (@TalkToContact) episode via iTunes or by clicking here, and if you want to add the show to your non-iTunes podcast player, this is the RSS Feed.
Lots of chatter about the end of the season, what to look forward to in 2015, and how the Twins might go about finding a new manager, if they ever get around to getting rid of their current one.

Then plenty of the regular beer, baseball, and the news.

Thanks for listening, folks! Enjoy the show.

If you enjoy our podcast, please tell your friends about us and take a couple extra minutes and rate and review us on iTunes. Ratings and reviews will help Trevor Plouffe recover from his broken arm.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

The 16 Walks of Phil Hughes

On Wednesday, Phil Hughes made his final start of the season for the Twins. It capped a memorable first year in Minnesota for the former Yankees pitcher. He signed with the club as the lesser of two big off-season upgrades to the rotation but he turned out to be the staff ace.

One of the most amazing parts of this season for Hughes has been his ability to completely eliminate walks while still being a very effective pitcher. For the entire season, Hughes had 16 walks charged to him over the course of close to 210 innings. If he doesn't pitch again this season, he will have set the record for best strike out to walk rate in the history of the game. 

There were only two games this season where Hughes allowed multiple walks, one in April and one in June. In the month of April, he had six walks over five starts. Other than that, he went through large stretches of the season with almost no walks on his record.

The Worst Walk Game of the Year
April 9th| 1st Inning: Sam Fuld (4 pitches), Jed Lowrie (6 pitches)
2nd Inning: Eric Sogard (5 pitches)
Hughes must have been a little excited for his first start at Target Field. He started off the first inning with back-to-back walks including a four pitch walk to lead-off hitter Sam Fuld. Both runners would come around to score and Hughes found himself in a 4-0 hole. The second inning didn't start off much better as Hughes walked Eric Sogard on five pitches. However, he would be stranded at second base.

The Walk King
June 1st| 2nd Inning| Brian McCann (7 pitches)
4th Inning: Brian McCann (4 pitches)
McCann would be the lone batter to draw more than one walk from Hughes this year and he did it in Hughes' return to the Bronx. McCann's first walk lead-off the second inning but he was erased on a double play to end the frame. It ended a streak of 178 batters without issuing a walk. The fourth inning was a little more costly as McCann walked with two runners already on base. A sacrifice fly two batters later would cost Hughes his second earned run of the day but that was all he allowed and the Twins won the game.

Walks Will Haunt
June 22nd| 3rd Inning| Tyler Flowers (7 pitches)
This might have been the most costly walk for Hughes this season. His walk to Flowers loaded the bases after he allowed two singles to start the frame. The floodgates opened from that point and he would go on to surrender five runs on six hits. The Twins had been up 3-0 at the beginning of the inning but the club would come back to score three in the fourth. Hughes picked up his eighth win even with the bad inning.

April Showers
April 3rd| 1st Inning | Adam Eaton (7 pitches)
April 15th| 4th Inning| Adam Lind (5 pitches)
April 20th| 2nd Inning| Alcides Escobar (7 pitches)
The first batter Hughes faced in a Twins uniform, Adam Eaton, was able to earn the first walk of the year from the right-handed pitcher. In a game that would see a lot of scoring, he would be left on base. Later in the month, Adam Lind drew a walk with first base open after a Jose Bautista double started the inning. Neither man would score. Alcides Escobar's walk came with two outs in the inning and runners on second and third. Hughes got a flyball from the next batter and escaped the frame.

One Intentional Pass
June 28th| 8th Inning| Adrian Beltre (4 pitches)
In the middle of a tight pitcher's duel with Yu Darvish, Hughes had to try and escape the eighth inning. With Texas already up 2-0, the walk loaded the bases. Three runs would score off the bats of the next two batters as Hughes suffered his fourth loss of the season.

July Losses
July 3rd| 7th Inning| Ichiro Suzuki (6 pitches)
July 19th| 7th Inning| Logan Forsythe (5 pitches)
July 30th| 3rd Inning| Omar Infante (6 pitches)
July would see Hughes lose more games than any other month. Ichiro's seventh inning walk against Hughes set-up his rough inning for the starter. The Yankees held a slim one-run lead but two consecutive hits following the walk pushed Hughes from the game. Another late inning walk to Logan Forsythe would mean result in a loss for Hughes. Forsythe lead-off the inning with a walk and the Rays would add a couple runs to their 3-0 lead. Omar Infante's walk didn't cost Hughes any runs but he still ended up losing the game to end his worst month of the year.

Season Winding Down
August 5th| 3rd Inning| Everth Cabrera (6 pitches)
August 10th| 4th Inning| Josh Reddick (6 pitches)
September 13th| 2nd Inning| John Danks (6 pitches)
Over the season's last couple months, the walks would be few and far between. Everth Cabrera worked a one-out walk in the early innings but he never left first base. One start later Josh Reddick would coax a two-out walk but he too would be left at first. It would be over a month before the next walk from Hughes. John Danks earned the free pass but Hughes would still strike out the side in the frame.

Hughes outperformed many of the expectations for him this year. Leave a COMMENT and discuss what you will remember most about his season. 

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Twins Top 10 Pitching Seasons

Clayton Kershaw is in the midst of one of the best pitching seasons in baseball history. He looks to be a lock for the National League Cy Young and there's a chance he could win the NL MVP. Even after missing a chunk of games at the beginning of the season, he has rebounded to post one of the best seasons on record.

Starting pitching seems to be one of the areas the Twins are struggling to find success. There hasn't been a player of Kershaw's caliber in the Twins rotation since the Johan Santana days in the Metrodome. However, there have been some very good seasons from past Twins pitchers.

Last week ESPN tried to rank the top 20 pitcher seasons of the last 50 years. There were no Twins on the list but some Minnesota members were on the honorable mentions list. For the purposes of this post, WAR is the average between the Baseball Reference and FanGraphs version of the statistic. ERA+ is ERA that is adjusted for home park and league context. Postseason performance was also considered.

1. Bert Blyleven, 1973
W-L: 20-17 |  2.52 ERA | 325.0 IP | 258 SO | ERA+: 156 | WAR: 10.5
"[Blyleven's] best season came in 1973, when he went 20-17, with a 2.52 ERA in 40 starts. He pitched 325 innings and tossed nine shutouts. But in 10 starts in which he allowed one or two runs, he went just 5-4 -- even though he pitched at least 8 1/3 innings in all of those games."--- David Schoenfield, ESPN's SweetSpot Blog
The sheer number of innings thrown by Blyleven at such a high level makes this season the most impressive in Twins history. His record could have been even more impressive if the Twins would have given him more run support. The Twins finished with a .500 record so there was never a shot for Blyleven to strut his stuff in the postseason that year. Surprisingly Blyleven received one lone vote in the AL Cy Young balloting that year. Jim Palmer won the award because he had more wins and a lower ERA. Blyleven bested him in innings, complete games, and shutouts. He also struck out over 100 more batters.

2. Johan Santana, 2004
W-L: 20-6 |  2.61 ERA | 228.0 IP | 265 SO | ERA+: 182 | WAR: 8.1
"He's the only guy I know who at times has a 20-mile-per-hour differential between his fastball and his change-up. Usually guys have a 10-mile-per hour difference." --- Brett Boone, Seattle Mariners second baseman
The toughest choice on this list was between Santana and Blyleven for the top spot. Santana was so dominant in 2004 that it was painstakingly hard not to put him in the top spot. His season didn't even get off to the best start. Through his first 12 starts, he had a 5.50 ERA and he had allowed 12 home runs in just under 69 innings. Things turned quickly as he had a 1.64 ERA and 75 strikeouts over his last 55 innings before the All-Star break. He got even better after the Mid-Summer Classic. He started 15 games with a 1.21 ERA and struck out 129 in 104.1 innings. He walked 23 and batters were only able to muster a .443 OPS and they only coaxed 23 walks.

3. Bert Blyleven, 1974
W-L: 17-17 |  2.66 ERA | 281.0 IP | 249 SO | ERA+: 142 | WAR: 8.3
"It (his curveball) was nasty. I'll tell you that. Enough to make your knees buckle. Bert (Blyleven) was a terrific pitcher -- a dominating pitcher." --- Brooks Robinson, Hall of Fame Third Baseman
In the follow-up season to his best professional season, Blyleven continued his dominating form. Many of his numbers dropped off but he was still very good. He was especially good in front of the Metropolitan Stadium crowd. In home games, he had a 1.91 ERA and he threw 12 completed games. He struck out 150 over 160 innings and he limited his walks to 45. The second half of the season was also particularly strong for Blyleven. He had a 2.00 ERA and he struck out 107 in just under 113 innings. Over his last 12 starts, he threw 98 innings with a 1.65 ERA.

4. Johan Santana, 2006
W-L: 19-6 |  2.77 ERA | 233.2 IP | 245 SO | ERA+: 162 | WAR: 7.3
"Santana fiddled with a change-up before 2002, but that was when the pitch blossomed. After Minnesota sent Santana to Class AAA Edmonton to covert him from a reliever to a starter, Bobby, Cuellar, the pitching coach there preached about the significance of trusting his change-up in any situation." --- Jack Curry, The New York Times
The 2006 season was the last season in a very dominant three year stretch for Santana. He led all of baseball in ERA and strikeouts and he had the most innings pitched and games started in the American League. Among pitchers who compiled a minimum of 600 innings between 2004 and 2006, Santana led in ERA, ERA+, strikeouts, and K/BB ratio. He was the undisputed best pitcher in the baseball world even if it was only for three seasons.

5. Frank Viola, 1987
W-L: 17-10 |  2.90 ERA | 251.2 IP | 197 SO | ERA+: 159 | WAR: 6.9
"It's a tremendous feeling. MVP is a great, great honor but I couldn't do it without the other 23 guys and they all should share in this."--- Frank Viola, 1987 World Series MVP
Some people might look at Viola's 1988 campaign as being more dominant since won the Cy Young that year. His 1987 campaign gets moved into the top 5 on this list because of his playoff performance. Viola was credited with three of the team's eight postseason victories that season. His Game 1 and Game 7 starts at the Metrodome were particularly strong as he pitched eight innings in both games and he limited the Cardinals to three runs. During the regular season, he allowed under 100 runs for the first time in his career and he posted the best ERA+ mark for his entire 15-year career.

6. Johan Santana, 2005
W-L: 16-7 |  2.87 ERA | 231.2 IP | 238 SO | ERA+: 155 | WAR: 7.4
In his first All-Star season, Santana lost some Cy Young support because of his low win total. He struck out more batters than everyone else in the baseball world. There were seven starts during the season were Santana didn't allow more than two earned runs and he was either charged with a loss or given a no decision.

7. Frank Viola, 1988
W-L: 24-7 |  2.64 ERA | 255.1 IP | 193 SO | ERA+: 154 | WAR: 6.9
Vioal road a World Series high into the 1988 season and rattled a league high 24 victories. He posted double-digit victories at home and on the road. Over the first half of the season, he had a 14-2 record with a 2.24 ERA including five complete games. In the month of May, he was a perfect 6-0 with a 1.53 ERA including two complete game shutouts.

8. Bert Blyleven, 1971
W-L: 16-15 |  2.81 ERA | 278.1 IP | 224 SO | ERA+: 126 | WAR: 6.9
There wasn't much of a sophomore slump for Mr. Blyleven. The 1971 season marked the beginning of a six year stretch where he would post an ERA of 3.00 or lower. It would also be the start of an eight year stretch where he threw a minimum of 11 complete games. Blyleven was starting his march toward the Hall of Fame.

9. Dean Chance, 1968
W-L: 16-16 |  2.53 ERA | 292.0 IP | 234 SO | ERA+: 124 | WAR: 6.6
Chance was coming off a 20-win season during his first season in Minnesota. His ERA was .20 points lower in 1968 and he tossed more innings. He had 15 complete games and six of those starts were shutouts. His 234 strikeouts were a career high that he would never break and his 0.98 WHIP was the only time he finished a season below 1.00 in this category.

10. Bert Blyleven, 1975
W-L: 15-10 |  3.00 ERA | 275.2 IP | 233 SO | ERA+: 129 | WAR: 6.4
The 1975 campaign would be Blyleven's last full season in Minnesota before he came back a decade later. His 20 complete games were his second highest total as a Twin behind his 1973 season. He struck out over 220 for the fifth straight year. In seven of his losses or no decisions, he pitched at least seven and gave up three runs or less.

Honorable Mentions: Dean Chance (1967), Camilo Pascual (1962), Dave Goltz (1977), Jim Perry, (1970), Jim Katt (1966), Jim Katt (1967), Jerry Koosman (1979), Francisco Liriano (2006)

Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion. Who would be in your top 10 list?