Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Francisco Liriano's no-hitter, Jason Kubel's winning hit.

As most of the people reading this probably know, Francisco Liriano pitched a no-hitter last night. A strange no-hitter, but a no-hitter nonetheless. Enough (probably too much) has been written about how Liriano wasn't all that outstanding last night, so I really don't think there's a whole lot I can offer. After all, we already knew that in order to pitch a no-hitter you have to be both lucky and good. Sometimes more lucky, sometimes more good. Dave Cameron at Fangraphs has probably the best recap here:

A subplot from last game that hasn't gotten nearly as much press (which is fair, of course) is that the Twins only won the game 1-0, with the offense provided by Jason Kubel. Kubel is the only guy who has hit consistently for them all season, and he hit a solo home run in the 4th inning, all of the offense the Twins would need.

The Twins have had a lot of things go wrong for them this season. Just about everything, really has been bad. Usually when a team has the worst record in the league, you look at the stats and find out that they've had some bad luck too - not the Twins, who have an expected record of 7-21. They're last in the AL in runs scored, but a lot, and have allowed the most runs, by a lot. They have four more homers than Jose Bautista, one more stolen base than Sam Fuld. They're on pace to score 507 runs this year. Given two weeks against Twins pitching, Ben Zobrist might drive in that many.

Kubel, however, has been a standout. He has a .350/.400/.530 line, giving him an OPS+ 60 points higher than Jim Thome, who is second on the team. For comparison's sake, in 2009 when we were talking about Pablo Sandoval not getting any help from the rest of the Giants, there were seven other batting title qualifiers on his team--five of them were within that modest 60 point difference. His slugging percentage is 155 points higher than #2, also Thome. Using Bill James' Runs Created formula, the Twins should have 88 runs scored (two runs more than they actually do), and Kubel has created 21 of them. As a team, the Twins have hit .229/.288/324. Twins who aren't Jason Kubel have hit .214/.275/.299. Only one regular in all of baseball in 2010 had an OPS lower than .570. It was Cesar Izturis, having the worst season of his career. Take a moment to think about that. The Twins, without Jason Kubel, are hitting like the the worst season of Cesar Izturis's career.

To have an entire team hitting at such a historically bad level, you have to have some bad luck. Indeed, Joe Mauer wasn't healthy in the few games he did play, Justin Morneau is recovering from a concussion, and Delmon Young's follow up to his supposed breakout season has been a disaster. This hasn't just been bad luck, though. The Twins went into the season with a middle infield of Alexi Casilla (.194/.253/.284) and Tsuyoshi Nishioka (.208/.269/.250 before getting hurt). Knowing that Mauer was an injury risk, they nevertheless went into the season with Drew Butera (.100/.151/140, not a misprint) as the backup. So, for all of the talk about the Twins injury problems, it's a poorly constructed team. Every team has injuries, not every team collapses from them.

In the long run, I expect Morneau to return to form and Young to stop being so terrible. Danny Valencia and Michael Cuddyer are probably better than they've played as well. Throw in eventually having a healthy Joe Mauer, and the Twins will easily blow away that 507 runs pace. They won't score enough to make up for their mediocre starting pitching, though. It may be early, but I'm comfortable making the call now - unless major roster changes are made, the Twins aren't going to win more than they lose, never mind make a playoff run. So let Twins fans have Liriano's no-hitter without spoiling the fun. There isn't going to be a whole lot else to cheer about this year.

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