Wetmore: 5 thoughts on homer-happy Dozier, DIPS theory, wobbly wheels
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Kyle Gibson was the victim of some poor fielding behind him Saturday and Tigers ace Max Scherzer mostly shut down the Twins.
It's difficult to overcome a pair of three-run home runs against Scherzer, even when he isn't at the top of his game. The Twins lost 9-3. They have a chance to win the series in Sunday's rubber game. Joe Mauer returned to the lineup, batting third as the DH, after missing more than five games following back spasms.
This column presents 5 thoughts from Saturday's game.
As always, feel free to ask any questions or make any observations in the comments. If you have a unique baseball observation during a game, feel free to share it with me on Twitter (@DerekWetmore).
1. Kyle Gibson's first strikeout of The Great Miguel Cabrera caught my eye. Similar to Phil Hughes on Friday, Gibson got ahead of Cabrera, except Gibson used a pair of sliders to get there, whereas Hughes relied on his fastball. Once ahead 0-2, Gibson left a 2-seamer higher than he probably wanted it and over the plate. Cabrera mercifully fouled it off.
Then Gibson wasted two sliders in the dirt to run the count to 2-2. His next pitch, a 2-seamer that started middle-in, ran towards Cabrera and tied up his hands as he swung through it. It looked to me like a really good pitch. Then Gibson got a groundball double play to escape a tense situation early.
1(b). Gibson's only other encounter with Cabrera didn't go so well, as he served up a slider that he'd probably like to have back and the reigning American League MVP crushed a three-run homer to right.
2. While the bad pitch ultimately is Gibson's responsibility, he should not have been in the situation to begin with. Some crummy fielding and a bad decision preceded Gibson pitching to Cabrera with two outs and two men on base.
With runners on first and second and two outs Torii Hunter hit a groundball to Danny Santana. Santana has a cannon for an arm and would have had an easy play to retire Hunter at first. Instead, the 23-year-old shortstop flipped to Brian Dozier at second base when it appeared there was not a play there*. Dozier bobbled the ball, but the runner likely would have been safe anyway. Dozier then fired home to try to get out Alex Avila. Avila had started running upon hearing contact, had rounded third and was headed for home. Dozier's throw was errant (he was given a throwing error) and the inning continued.
With two outs and two runners on, Cabrera did his damage.
*My suspicion is that Santana might have recorded that out at second in Triple-A or a lower level in the minors. The pace of the Major Leagues is quicker. Santana will learn that he needs to speed up his internal clock in the field. That arm, though.
3. I thought it was really cool to hear DIPS theory talked about by FSN's broadcasting duo of Dick Bremer and Jack Morris during the game. DIPS stands for Defensive Independent Pitching Statistics, and while they didn't talk about it directly, they espoused the theory in conversation.
Bremer and Morris correctly pointed out that Twins pitchers have been adversely affected this season by having substandard fielding in the outfield. As a pitcher, there's only so much you can do to control the outcome of a game. In the AL, of course, you can't hit, so there's roughly half the game out of your control. Kyle Gibson also can't control if he gets a weak two-out ground ball right at a position player turned into a run because of a mental miscue by the fielder. (See thought 2.)
Some line drives are turned into an out and some dribblers find their way through the infield for a hit. To attempt to smooth out this good or bad luck, the stat Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) was created.
DIPS theory was pioneered by Voros McCracken, who showed that balls in play land for hits at a somewhat unpredictable rate. One pitcher can have a similar season in terms of how he pitched and have a wildly different stat line, depending on how many batted balls were turned into outs.
FIP looks at the results of events a pitcher does control: strikeouts, walks, hitting batters, and home runs. FIP is designed to be on the same scale as ERA, probably in hopes more people will convert to using it. It's also been shown to be a better predictor of future performance than ERA, which involves plenty of luck (both good and bad).
At the heart of stats like FIP and xFIP (Expected Fielding Independent Pitching) is the premise that a pitcher has a limited amount of control over how his fielders perform behind him. Pitchers can help themselves by inducing weak contact, avoiding line drives and home runs, and striking out batters, but every pitcher is helped and is hurt by his fielders at some time and another.
That's one of the reasons that, as Morris put it, chicks dig the strikeout.
4. Eduardo Escobar, filling in for Trevor Plouffe at third base, made a fine fielding play in the bottom of the second. With runners on second and third, Escobar fielded a ball behind the bag and straddling the fair-foul line. He made a high-degree-of-difficulty throw over Austin Jackson and Kurt Suzuki tagged Jackson at home.
It looked fairly routine from TV, but not having a good angle to throw around the runner makes it harder. It's a similar play to when a catcher must throw to first base after a dropped third strike. You'll often see a catcher take a step or two into fair territory or foul territory to create an angle to throw around the baserunner. It's also similar to a first baseman starting a 3-6-3 double play. Generally playing approximately even with the bag (on the baseline between first and second base), a first baseman will take a couple steps into the grass or back toward the outfield to create a throwing angle.
Cabrera started a very nice double play from his knees on a play like this Saturday, throwing angle be darned.
5. Brian Dozier hit another home run, and for the first time this season, it came with runners on base. His three-run shot in the third inning made it a game, but that turned out to be all the scoring the Twins would generate. Before that blast, Dozier had 8 home runs, all with the bases empty. Locally he's been recognized, but I'm not sure if he's gotten his due nationally.
He has easily been the Twins best player this season. In fact, Dozier has been the fourth best player in baseball, according to Wins Above Replacement. You might recognize the names ahead of him on the list: Troy Tulowitzki, Mike Trout and Giancarlo Stanton. I personally don't expect him to remain this high on the list by season's end, but he's been incredible for the Twins through the first six weeks of the season.
Bonus thought: Apparently there's still some confusion about who should bat in the two-hole. (You thought I was going to make it through five thoughts without touching on the second spot in the batting order, did you?)
Apparently there is a Wetmore's Inc. in Ferndale, Mich., near Comerica Park. And according to Kris Attebery of Twins Radio Network, the people there haven't been reading these Twins columns. That's OK. Now that Joe Mauer is back, I would think he'll resume his spot in the two-hole, with Trevor Plouffe sliding into the third slot in the order.
If you'd like to revisit the conversation, we had a nice discussion in the comments section of Friday's '5 thoughts,' which underlines most of the key points to optimal lineup construction. I don't get too bent out of shape over lineup decisions, but my general philosophy is to put the best hitter second and give the best hitters the most plate appearances.
It was a fun bit while it lasted.