TwinsCentric was formed by Twins super-bloggers Seth Stohs, Nick Nelson, Parker Hageman and John Bonnes. Together they publish at TwinsDaily.com and have authored books, e-books and magazines that provide independent and in-depth coverage of the Minnesota Twins from a fan's perspective. You can contact them at TwinsCentric@gmail.com.
Several times over the last year, I've tried to explore the details of Ultimate Zone Rating(UZR), a defensive metric, in part because I thought it was unfairly rating Twins outfielders. It started back in October, but if you click back, make sure you make it down to the second comment. It was by Parker Hageman of OverTheBaggy.Blogspot.com, whose research suggested that maybe UZR is biased against smaller outfields.
That's because we thought the zones in UZR didn't take into account the particular ballpark they were in. So a 350 ft fly ball down the right field line was judged similarly in park after park - even if that fly ball was a home run in the Metrodome or Target Field, but not in another field. So, somewhat ironically, the larger, more spacious outfields pumped up UZRs because fielders had more chances to make plays, while the smaller ones penalized UZR.
But we were wrong. I'm sorry UZR, I should not have doubted you.
It is apparent I was wrong because FanGraphs.com has now added a "Split" option to their statistics, including UZR. Here is Cuddyer's for last year. Instead of having the Metrodome hurt him, it helped him. Cuddyer's UZR/150 was just -6.6 at home but -22.2 on the road. All in all he cost the team just 2.7 runs at home and 7.3 runs on the road.
The same thing happens as you look at his statistics year to year, and you also see the same thing in other ballparks, like Fenway's left field. Jason Bay's 2009 season shows him having a better UZR in Fenway than on the road. So it appears that somehow, UZR is making the appropriate call for smaller outfields.
There are other weaknesses we can pick apart, but all stats have weaknesses. UZR's method for handling somewhat extreme outfields is not one of them. In fact, it seems to be a strength.
But there is something else going on here, too, I think. Somehow, Cuddyer's defense got a lot better in 2009. This offseason I'm 99% sure it said that his UZR/150 was -22.1 in 2009, but now it's -13.6? That's not an insignificant change. In some ways, that's good news, because I think that's a lot closer to what we're really seen from Cuddyer, and demonstrates his defense hasn't hurt the Twins the way other outfielders, like Jermaine Dye, have hurt their teams.
But it's also very, very bad news, because I don't know why it changed. Was there an error before? Is there an error now? If anyone knows, I'd love to hear it.
Late addition: FanGraphs apparently updated UZR recently to accomodate for extreme ballparks, and that's why Cuddyer's UZR improved, so Parker's research did indeed hold up. So we were right, but now UZR has fixed this. Here are the details: http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/index.php/uzr-updates/
As the rest of the Twins lineup is busy producing runs like a taco stand serving tainted meat, Jason Kubel has been inauspiciously quiet. Since the home opener the left-handed slugger has had fewer hits than Chumbawamba, going just 3-for-29 (.103) with nine strikeouts.
On Wednesday, I showed that part of the reason for his slump is because pitchers have noted his insatiable appetite for meaty fastballs and have switched his diet to low-fat and tasteless sliders and curves. The results are fewer pitches in the strike zone and ultimately fewer pitches he can feast upon. Kubel has displayed restraint in most cases – drawing more walks and chases after out-of-zone pitches less – by largely ignoring the servings of non-fastballs and off-the-plate appetizers.
Yet in order to stop his batting average from slinking towards a number typically reserved for describing a Brewers fan’s blood alcohol content, Kubel also needs to stop hitting them directly at people. There are signs that the defense's good fortunes might not last much longer. For one thing, is batting average on balls in play (or BABIP for shorthand) is absurdly low. As a rule of thumb, if this number is well-below or towers above the league average, there is a strong indication that a player is primed for improvement or regression. In Kubel’s case, the lefty is sporting a BABIP (.226) as ugly as his beard – and far below the league average (.291) in addition to his own career mark (.303).
Meanwhile, considering the method in which he is putting the balls into play, we can easily deduce that he is hitting the ball square. In Kubel’s 56 plate appearances before Thursday’s game, he has hit 27% of his balls in play as line drives. This is an extremely positive total. In general, line drives fall in for hits far more often than grounders or fly balls. Last season, liners became hits 72% of the time while grounders did so 24% of the time and fly balls just 13.4% (with the exception of home runs which are not considered “in play”). The natural conclusion is that if his line drive totals are up, the batting average will eventually correct itself as line drives find vacant real estate.
But not only is he hitting line drives regularly, he’s hitting everything solid. Behind Inside Edge’s pay wall is a fairly underutilized statistic that may assist in bridging the gap from the “assumed” (i.e. high line drive rate coupled with low BABIP equals bad luck) to the “actual” (i.e. genuinely screaming balls around the field off his bat). Like Baseball Info Solutions, who gathers all of the batted ball data that we find at Fangraphs.com, Inside Edge has added a little extra flavor by denoting if the ball – be it grounder, liner or fly ball - was well-hit. The Well-Hit Average (well-hit balls/at bats) provides us with another metric to gauge the type of contact, regardless if it was hit land, air or sea. While the rest of the league holds a .208 well-hit average, Kubel has exercised a very good .239 well-hit average.
If he continues to spray shots around the ballyard at the same rate, there is no reason not to expect a full turnaround long before summer begins.
However, if this decline continues on the road trip, the next step is to shave the beard.
How was your Target Field Opening Day? What did you do? Did you go to the game? Did you play hookie from work or school to watch? I would love to hear your thoughts and observations on what will be a day that Twins fans will remember for years to come. To get things started, here are my observations:
My Monday morning started just like every other Monday morning. I didn't want to wake up, didn't want to open my eyes, just didn't want to do much of anything, but I finally gave in. What causes me to grudgingly roll out of bed? The reminder that Fox Sports North was beginning their live coverage bright and early. I wore a Twins pullover. I dressed my three year old daughter in her Francisco Liriano jersey and took her to daycare. Once I got to work, I tried really, really hard to focus throughout the morning, and I was actually quite successful. But my first observation of the day, as it relates to baseball, was that I needed to take in not only the game, but the pregame festivities. When asked, I said that the historical side of this game made it work taking a few hours off. So that's just what I did. I left work and went home. Here are more observations that I made, and again, I would love to read any others that you had from the day, especially if you were there in person:
Finally, condolences to John Gordon and his family on the loss of his 95-year old mother. Somehow Gordon was still able to call the game today.
What are your observations from Target Field's Opener? I would love to hear any an all thoughts whether you watched from home, listened on the radio or were at the game.
Here are some more TwinsCentric stories, articles and activities for you to peruse:
Much discussion in the wake of yesterday's loss to the White Sox revolved around the frustrating manner in which the game ended. With the Twins trailing 5-4 in the ninth inning, pinch hitter Jim Thome delivered a scorching two-out double over the head of left fielder Juan Pierre. J.J. Hardy, who had been on first base representing the tying run, came charging into third just as the ball was reaching cut-off man Mark Teahen. Unfortunately, Scott Ullger failed to throw up the stop sign, and as a result Hardy was easily thrown out at home plate to end the game.
It was a disappointing conclusion to the Twins' season-opening road trip, but the overall results in the first seven games have been undeniably positive. The Twins went on the road to face a pair of relatively strong teams and came away with two series victories. The starting pitching has been solid, the bullpen -- with the exception of Jose Mijares -- has been highly effective, and of course the offense has been stellar.
Indeed, the team's play thus far has given fans plenty to be excited about. And that excitement will culminate this afternoon when the Twins officially christen their brand new ballpark. Jon Lester and Carl Pavano will face off in the inaugural regular season contest at Target Field at 3 pm, and the next chapter of Minnesota baseball will get underway.
A 5-2 opening road trip bodes well for a team that went 38-43 in opponents' ballparks last year, but one of the Twins' greatest strengths over the past decade has been their ability to consistently win games at home. Today we'll get our first meaningful glimpse of the Twins in Target Field, a stadium they are at this point mostly unfamiliar with. Acclimating to the quirks and tendencies of this field will be a process for the Twins, so it's unclear how much of an advantage they will hold in their new outdoor stadium, especially in the earlier games when cool weather might suppress the power that is shaping up to be this team's hallmark.
Boston makes for a tough match-up in a home opening series, but if the Twins can keep playing the way they did during the first week of the season they should be up to the challenge. The Angels and White Sox are viewed by many as playoff-caliber teams, and the Twins came out of both teams' stadiums looking like the superior club. If the Twins can get off to a fast start against a quality opponent in their own home park, I think fans will have enough positive signs to make them forget about the missed sign at third base yesterday.
The long wait is over. Outdoor baseball in Minnesota begins today. Let's play ball.
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