April 23, 2009

No Fastball = Big Problems

The Minnesota Twins played a one day series in Boston yesterday which included a day-night double-header. The Red Sox combined to score 17 runs in the two games while the Twins could only muster up four runs. I don't really have much to add besides the fact that the Twins just looked overmatched in every aspect of both games. But primarily when it came to the starting pitchers.

Francisco Liriano really struggled with his control, throwing only 58% of the pitches he threw in for strikes. The good news is that out of the six strikeouts he recorded, five came at the hands at the best slider I've seen from Liriano since his surgery. The velocity still isn't consistently at 87 MPH, but he did touch it multiple times yesterday. While his slider looked great, his fastball did not. He threw 49 fastballs, but only 28 were strikes. That's a major problem. He missed a lot with his slider as well (13 of 22 for strikes) but he was trying to make the hitter fish for it quite a bit of the time.

Having a reliable fastball has been something the Twins have focused a lot on, and when the pitcher doesn't have a good fastball going we most times than not see terrible results. That is what both Liriano and Scott Baker struggled with a lot yesterday, establishing a relaible fastball.

Baker for the second straight start was setting pitches up on a tee for the Red Sox to clobber out of the yard. Baker gave up ten hits, three of which were home runs. The three home runs all came with a runner on base, and through two starts he has now given up seven home runs which is tied for the most in the Major Leagues.

Six of the seven home runs Baker has given up have come off of a fastball that he just simply left up in the zone. His fastball has been his bread-and-butter pitch thus far in his career and obviously any player that relies on a fastball will have major problems if he cannot command it. And Baker is no different.

It's not necessarily that Baker was missing the strike zone with his fastball, in fact 64% of the fastballs he has thrown this season have crossed the plate as a strike. The problem with Baker has been that it's that he is just not keeping the ball low in the strike zone, which has been the reason opponents are hitting Baker at a .375 clip and that seven of the 15 hits he has given up have left the yard.

The fastball sets up all the other pitches you feature in your repertoire. When a player only has a fastball, it's bad. But when a player doesn't even have a fastball, which neither Liriano or Baker did yesterday, the results are almost always negative.

Baker still doesn't look 100% and I wouldn't be surprised to see the Twins put him back on the D.L. to try and work on his mechanics in the minor leagues. He needs to pitch more, but the Twins really can't afford to have one of their most relied-upon starters trying to work on his mechanics while getting shelled every five days. I doubt they take this route, since there really isn't another option besides Anthony Swarzak in Triple-A that would really be worth a call-up at this point.

It's too soon to push the panic button, by all means. But it is something that is going to have to change soon. The organization cannot allow Baker or the team continue to get beaten up this badly.

Thankfully, the Twins have an off-day today to regroup after a bashing in Beantown yesterday.