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Written by Andrew Kneeland | 19 August 2010

Brought on to solidify a somewhat-shaky bullpen, Matt Capps hasn't exactly received a hero's welcome in the Twin Cities.

In fact, Twins fans seem to think the 26-year old closer is a liability when pitching in high-leverage situations. Capps has been suffering through a poor stretch lately, though these last five games hardly give enough reason to worry.

Opponents are batting an incredible .409/.435/.636 against Capps in his last five relief appearances – each in the ninth inning. Minnesota has managed to win each of these games, but it is clear that Capps is struggling to get batters out.

My guess: Capps has struggled recently to release pitches with his usual “zip,” which has made his offerings infinitely more hittable. Give him some time to recover and settle down, and Capps will be every bit as good as he ever was.

And yes, Capps is a good closer. Don't let these snap-judgements from Twitter have too much influence on you:

Capps

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Capps suffered through sky-high BABIP and home runs per fly ball marks last season, which had a dramatic impact on his ERA. This year Capps' BABIP and HR/FB are both regressing to give us a real-life application to what sabermetricians preach. As a result, his ERA (though an awful stat compared to alternatives) has dropped significantly.

With an increased ground ball percentage, and a significantly lowered fly ball and walk rate, Capps will make Minnesota a better baseball team. And there's no denying that, despite what some will tell you.

 


 

As I was watching the game last night with my TweetDeck screen open, I realized how far Twitter had advanced in the cynicism department. I'm all for microblogging, and, for the most part, love how Twitter has impacted the Internet.

But I can only take so many knee-jerk reactions. I'm obviously biased, as the majority of people I “follow” are Twins fans, but I haven't found a fan base with the despondency of Minnesota's. I could screen-grab tweets of rampant pessimism all day, but here's one @FanaticJack sent a few days ago:

Jack

This is utterly baffling to me. There isn't a shred of truth in this tweet. Minnesota won that game, and have one of the best offenses in baseball by just about any measure. Not all fans are at (or have yet to reach) Jack's level, but I'm seeing more and more tweets like the one above from people who I think are reasonable people who understand the important of context.

I have no doubt that you, faithful readers, realize that a single strikeout with runners on second and third doesn't erase all past performance and transform you into an awful player. (Right?)

Twitter has become a medium for instant reactions, for better or worse. I love using Twitter to read and react to various things, and there are certainly smart and funny people worth following on the social media giant, but keeping my Twitter stream open during a game has almost become a painful activity.

I realize people have always thrown remotes and yelled at umpires, but there's no reason I should be forced to watch these explosions in the form of badly-constructed sentences.

Twitter during the game is no longer an acceptable combination in my house.

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Written by Andrew Kneeland | 18 August 2010

Don't you just love baseball?

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Written by Andrew Kneeland | 10 August 2010

A few notes to get you prepared for tonight's show-down between the Chicago White Sox and Minnesota Twins:

  • Just three Twins have been able to hit home runs against Freddy Garcia in US Cellular Field: Torii Hunter, Justin Morneau, and Jason Kubel. Both Hunter and Morneau won't be taking the field for Minnesota this evening, so the odds are good that Gardenhire will have Kubel (a 1.767 OPS in 12 career PA against Garcia) somewhere in the lineup.

  • Scott Baker has given up six home runs in US Cellular Field over his career, though just eight runs have been scored via the long ball. The Twins hope that Baker will continue his tendency to limit dingers to solo shots, as the White Sox score 25 percent of their runs off home runs.

  • If ever there were a time for Baker to improve his low ground-ball percentage (35.9, 10th-worst in league), it would be tonight. When the White Sox have an opportunity to ground into a double play, they do 14 percent of the time. (The same percentage as Minnesota.)

  • US Cellular is one of the most homer-friendly parks in the league, which will benefit a powerful Chicago lineup but also allow Minnesota to sneak some offense-first bats into their batting order without much defensive sacrifice.

  • Chicago's starting staff is good at throwing first-pitch strikes, getting ahead early in 60.6 percent of opposing plate appearances. Minnesota leads the league in this department, however, with an impressive 63.7 mark. Despite this pitching prowess, both teams' offenses have low walk and strikeout rates, which should mean quite a few balls in play.

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Written by Andrew Kneeland | 04 August 2010

With the Twins enjoying a hot streak and leaving little room for analysis, I think it's time for a change of pace. This post was also published over at Bill's The Daily Something.

The Baseball Writer's Association of America has long irked sporting fans from coast to coast. Basing their decisions on trivial aspects of the game (grittiness, hustle, and clutch being a few personal favorites) that really shouldn't factor in to MVP discussions.

But ever since 1931, this entity has been entrusted with selecting the “Most Valuable” player in each league after every year. Here are five of their biggest mistakes, based on difference in wins-above-replacement between the winner and league leader:

5. Andre Dawson (2.7 WAR) over Tony Gwynn (8.1 WAR), 1987

Dawson: .287/.328/.568, 49 HR, 103 SO/32 BB, .378 wOBA
Gwynn: .370/.447/.511, 7 HR, 35 SO/82 BB, .419 wOBA

The Chicago Cubs of the late 1980s were not the best of teams. Even though they boasted Ryne Sandberg, Leon Durham, Jerry Mumphrey, and Rick Sutcliffe, (and a 24-year old Jamie Moyer, believe it or not), the Cubs rarely found themselves at the top of the National League East.

After being allowed to leave as a free agent after 11 seasons in Montreal, the 32-year old Dawson struggled to find a new home thanks in part to his old knees and baseball's rampant collusion problem. Dawson ended up parading around the reluctant Cubs' Spring Training Facility and offered Chicago a blank contract. The Cubs scribbled “$500,000” in the blank.

Dawson enjoyed one of his best seasons in 1987, hitting .287/.328/.568 with a league-leading 49 home runs. (His 137 runs batted in no doubt impressed voters, who obviously over-looked his 444 RBI opportunities.) Although I give the BBWAA credit for ignoring that their MVP selection came from a last-place team, Dawson was not the most valuable player in the National League in 1987.

Tony Gwynn was.

Gwynn finished 8th in MVP voting that year even though his 8.1 wins-above-replacement was the best in the league. Hitting .370/.447/.511, Mr. Padre combined speed and power better than anyone in the league. The 27-year old stole 56 bases that year, and was one of the few bright spots on a poor San Diego team, along with this guy.

Dawson simply wasn't the best hitter in 1987 (his .378 wOBA was 27th in the league), and, when considering his below-average defense and harsh positional adjustment, was far from being the most valuable player. Gwynn's resume hardly requires any tampering, but the Hall of Famer is bereft an MVP Award. He should have won in 1987.

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Written by Andrew Kneeland | 01 August 2010

For my full recap of this year's trade deadline, with an emphasis on the Arizona Diamondbacks, be sure to check out my article this week in the Green Valley News. no comments

Written by Andrew Kneeland | 29 July 2010

During a year in which pitchers are being sold for remarkably low prices, the Minnesota Twins announced last night that they had traded Wilson Ramos to the Washington Nationals for closer Matt Capps. On the face of things it seems a very high price to pay for a closer.

Ramos, 22, was one of the most-blocked prospects in baseball. Being a catcher in Minnesota's organization doesn't exactly qualify you for much playing time, and Ramos was a virtual lock to be traded eventually. That he was only able to bring Matt Capps as a return, though, is disappointing. Many thought Ramos was worth much more than an expensive relief pitcher, but a lot of that can probably be attributed to a fan base over-valuing a prospect's worth.

The fact is, Ramos hasn't helped the Twins out much this year. By hitting a paltry .241/.280/.345 in Triple-A Rochester this season, Ramos' value has either dropped significantly or Minnesota's front office panicked and sold Ramos for less than he was worth.

Capps is owed around $1.3 million for the rest of this season, and is set for another raise for the 2011 campaign. With Joe Nathan expected to attempt a comeback next year, though, Capps may not even be tendered a contract. If Nathan can make a full recovery, Capps would be a very expensive set-up man, to say the least. While it would be nice to have a Capps-Nathan combo in the 2011 bullpen, the duo would combine to make entirely too much money for the impact they could make on the team as a whole. But while it wouldn't be cost-effective to keep both a functional Nathan and Capps next year, the 26-year old reliever from Washington will be available should Nathan not recover from Tommy John surgery.

Expensive though he is, Capps makes the Twins a better team than they were yesterday. Being inserted directly into the 9th-inning role, Capps will force the entire bullpen chain down a notch, which should help other Minnesota relievers improve, or, in some cases, take high-leverage innings away from relievers who have no business pitching in them.

Capps has induced quite a few ground balls this year, and has seen a healthy drop in his fly-ball rate. The transition from Nationals Park to Target Field will be negligible, so the Twins are hoping Capps can keep batted balls on the ground. Minnesota's infield is much more prepared to handle an increased work-load than the outfield.*

* Minnesota's currently outfield deserves a post of its own. The primary culprit for Baker, Slowey, and Blackburn's poor seasons this year, the outfield could use an infusion of range. As Beth Sickella opined last night on Twitter, the Twins should consider giving Cuddyer a few games at third (once Morneau is healthy again, of course) during starts from Slowey and Baker. This will hurt the infield defense, but allow both Repko and Span to play in the outfield. An interesting idea, to say the least.

By bringing in Capps, the Twins will increase the final win total of the regular season by a fraction of a win, at best. Still, in the very tight American League Central, a division that has required a couple Game 163's, even a fraction of a win could make a huge difference.

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Written by Andrew Kneeland | 27 July 2010

Something wasn't quite right with Zack Greinke.

The 26-year-old defending Cy Young Award winner had a 3.59 ERA on the season; quite good, but certainly not great. Even though his walk rate was down from his glorious 2009 campaign, Greinke wasn't receiving the attention that he used as fuel.

With a merely above-average strikeout rate this year, Greinke was slipping from national acclaim back to the anonymous ace he was in 2007 and 2008.

Greinke can attribute his slip to many things, but pitching for one of the worst teams in baseball is on the top of the list. It's extremely difficult to maintain an aura of winning and success on a team that is 15 games below the .500-mark. Just ask Felix Hernandez.

But while the environment may not be ideal, Greinke has also seen his fastball lose its zip and his breaking balls go flat. His struggles against the Twins on July 26 were hardly indicative of his season, but Greinke did suffer through the same things that have been haunting him all season.

Greinke's struggles Monday night allowed Danny Valencia to hit his first major-league home run, which happened to be a grand slam and the most devastating swing in Minnesota's 19-1 rout of the Royals.

I won't claim to know what went on in Kansas City's bullpen before the 7:10 p.m. matchup between the two division rivals, but I'd wager that Greinke struggled to make his breaking balls work for him. His slider wasn't dropping in the strikezone like he wanted, and his curveball had very little curve.

If Greinke's warm-up pitches had been televised, more people could have predicted the quick Minnesota runs. Without being able to utilize his breaking balls, Greinke would be forced to rely on a fastball/changeup duo. Facing Minnesota's deep lineup, Greinke most likely knew it was going to be a long time.

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