Minnesota Twins' Pitchers and the Team's Defense

Andrew KneelandSenior Writer IJuly 24, 2008

This recent series with the Yankees was disastrous in many ways. The bats, at least Minnesota's bats, never lit up the way they have in the past. The pitching wasn't the best it has ever been, either.

The normally fundamentally-sound defense that the Twins are known for has also been lacking.

While defensive blunders have been a regular occurrence for a few weeks now, this series in Yankee Stadium really pointed them out to the world.

In fact, there were so many mistakes on the defensive side of the ball this series; you almost can't fault the pitching at all. Wednesday afternoon's game is a perfect example of this. Key mishaps were made by Casilla, Punto, Mauer, Harris, and others.

That provoked the thought: "Just how good are these Twins pitchers, really?"

There is a popular statistic out there called 'Fielding Independent Pitching." That's perfect! The Baseball Prospectus definition of FIP goes like this:

Tom Tango's Fielding Independent Pitching. Fielding Independent Pitching, a measure of all those things for which a pitcher is specifically responsible. ...FIP helps you understand how well a pitcher pitched, regardless of how well his fielders fielded.

Let's go through the current five starters and see what kind of defense they have benefited from.

Livan Hernandez

ERA - 5.29
FIP - 4.51

Hernandez isn't having the best season of his career by a long shot. In fact, he is having one of the worst, historically. He is giving up an average of 12.5 hits in every nine innings he pitches, to go along with 5.9 runs. The only way in the world to describe how he has 10 wins is to look at the offense.

Or, the defense?

Could it be that outstanding defense that has kept more runs from crossing the plate than what Hernandez would normally allow? From what this statistic says, no. If you narrow Hernandez's ERA down to only what he is responsible for, and take out the defense, he is a much better pitcher.

It could be flawed in Hernandez's case, though, simply because he gives up so many hits. You cannot expect a defense to be totally perfect all the time. If Hernandez keeps giving up over 12 hits every nine innings, the defense will be bound to make a mistake or two. I still think it shows that Hernandez has been the beneficiary of some poor Twins defense, though.

Scott Baker

ERA - 3.26
FIP - 3.92

Things are a little different when you look at Baker. This ace is giving up only an average of 8.3 hits per nine innings. The defense doesn't have to worry when Baker is on the mound as much as they do when Hernandez is.

From this statistic you can tell that without the defense, Baker would allow more runs. It is obvious that he has some solid defense behind him for the majority of the time he has spent pitching.

Baker is the only true ace of the ballclub. He has shown that he can be a phenomenal pitcher at times, but had one or two bad outings that has bloated his earned run average.

Nick Blackburn

ERA - 3.83
FIP - 3.95

Blackburn has pitched a ton of innings already this season, and is giving up just under 10.5 hits per nine innings. That average is the second-highest in the rotation, but he still manages to get out of jams. When you look at his game log, you see that he consistently gives up a lot of hits, but manages to escape the game with a respectable line.

A perfect example of that was on Apr. 19 against the Indians. Blackburn gave up eight hits through seven-and-two-thirds innings, but didn't surrender a run. There was still a lot of pressure on the defense during that game, though, because they were constantly faced with balls in play and runners on base.

These two numbers, Blackburn's ERA and FIP, are the closest of anyone in this rotation. It could possibly be because he controls a lot of what happens when he pitches. He rarely walks batters, and rarely gives up a home run. He also has a decent K/9IP ratio. However, I believe the case is that Blackburn receives his fair share of both good and bad defense.

Glen Perkins

ERA - 3.84
FIP - 4.53

Perkins gives up just under 10.5 hits per nine innings of pitching. Just like Blackburn, Perkins also limits the number of runners who cross the plate. Again, when you look at his game log, you find that he gives up loads of hits but limits the number of runs he surrenders.

Looking back at Blackburn, Perkins could put more strain on the defense simply because he constantly has either a runner on base or a ball in play.

From the two numbers above, you can gather that Perkins is a worse pitcher without his defense. The Twins' defense steps up and holds its own when Perkins is on the mound, despite the constant strain he puts on them.

Blackburn and Slowey are remarkably similar pitchers, it is just that Perkins is worse when the defense is not factored into the equation.

Kevin Slowey

ERA - 4.41
FIP - 4.08

Slowey and Baker are somewhat alike as pitchers. Slowey has a higher ERA, but he allows 8.7 hits per nine innings. That is obviously under one hit an inning. Slowey has also had surprising control this year. He is almost a clone of himself from 2007. Last year, Slowey averaged just under 1.5 walks per nine innings of pitching, while this year he is currently at just above 1.5.

Slowey's FIP and ERA are very close, but aren't the closest in this rotation. Like Hernandez, these numbers imply that Slowey has been receiving less-than-stellar defense that has raised his ERA to a little higher than it should be.

Three out of five of these pitchers are better when the defense is calculated. The other two, Hernandez and Slowey, find their ERAs lower when the defense is not included in the math.

I think this simply means that Minnesota's defense has been sporadically good and bad. They are good one night for a certain pitcher, but poor the next for another pitcher.

Could this be influenced by whom the pitcher is? Are the Twins playing favorites? I couldn't tell you for sure, but I seriously doubt it. It is curious, though, why only three of the five starters are the beneficiaries of good defense the majority of the time.

What are your thoughts on this? Please feel free to discuss this, or anything else that would fill your mind on this pleasant off-day.

Tomorrow I will compare the defense of the 2007 Minnesota Twins and the current team. Be sure to come back and see what I find out!


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