Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Slowey and Baker bad or bad defense?

Recently I posted about the Twins pitching woes here. I used FIP and xFIP numbers to show the Twins starters have probably been better than their ERA would suggest. But if the pitchers are giving up more runs than they should, what is the cause?

On this post I will focus on Kevin Slowey and Scott Baker. I would suggest the outfield defense has been the main culprit in their numbers being worse than expected.

The starters in the OF have been very bad defensively. Micheal Cuddyer has a -16.5 UZR/150 in right field. He's basically given up 16.5 runs per 150 games over an average defensive RF. Delmon Young has a -5.4 UZR/150, which is an improvement over past seasons. Denard Span, with a 3.4 UZR/150 has been slightly better than average, but the net starters have been several runs under replacement. Jason Kubel, who has a -19.9 UZR/150 in relatively limited play in the OF and a -18.3 UZR/150 for his career in the OF. These numbers suggest, the defense will give up 19+ runs per 150 games more than replacement defenders, whether Kubel or Cuddyer is playing RF.

So, the OF D has been bad, why is that an issue with the Slowey and Baker?


Kevin Slowey has a 50.9% fly-ball rate, which is the highest in the AL. His 21.7% line drive rate is high as well, 6th highest in the AL. While his fly ball rate is really high, his home run rate on fly balls is about average. The large amount of fly-balls and line drives in play, plus bad outfield defense, has contributed very heavily to Slowey having a ERA higher than expected.

Scott Baker has a 41.0% fly-ball rate, 19th highest out of 54. His 23.3% line drive rate is the worst in the American League. Line drivers turned into outs or singles for decent defenses turn into doubles or triples for Baker. The above average fly-ball rate and bad defense is affecting Baker's ERA as well. Baker's ERA is more than a run higher than his FIP. Bad defense alone is probably not the only culprit. He also has the 12th highest HR per FB rate in the AL. Baker has been unlucky in the HR rate department and he should be expected to improve somewhat due to the law of averages, even without a defensive improvement.

Kevin Slowey and Scott Baker have both had the greatest opportunity to be victimized by bad outfield defense. The Twins do not have many options to improve the defense without making a trade. The Twins outfielders are offense players more so than defense. There are not many opportunities to sit the current OF starters, But....

One way to improve the defense is to get Jason Repko on the field more. Repko has 7.1 UZR/150 in 234 plays in the majors. He has an 8.8 UZR/150 in RF and a 22.2 UZR/150 in CF. While this is a small sample size and most of his MLB playing time was 4 and 5 years ago, he should certainly be more competent in the field than Jason Kubel. The difference between Jason Repko in RF vs. Jason Kubel is worth as much as .2 runs per game.

Jason Repko has a total of 489 plate appearances in the MLB and has sported a whopping .228/.299/.369 in those appearances. I do not advocate him playing every day, but, especially with Justin Morneau out of the lineup, I'd have him play right field when a lefty pitches. His numbers are not outstanding but, his career .245/.314/.421 line vs. lefties is better than Jim Thome's in 2010 and on par or better than Thome has been the last few seasons. Thome crushes right-handers and keeping him on the bench vs. lefties keeps him fresher vs. righties.  Having Thome as a late inning pinch hitter is also much more valuable than getting 4 at-bats and plugging up the DH spot/bases vs a lefty.

Many fans say pitchers need to make smarter pitches when they get into trouble. By smarter pitches, do they mean fly-ball pitchers should become ground-ball pitchers? If Slowey and Baker can become ground-ball pitchers overnight, more power to them! Otherwise, with Slowey and Baker on the mound and bad defense behind them, expect their ERA to be higher then their FIP/xFIP. Both pitchers are better then they've shown, but their style counts on good outfield defense, and they are just not getting that.

As the trade deadline looms, the Twins should look at ground ball pitchers given their current crop of outfielders.

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