Scouting Report: Minnesota Twins

With the advent and widespread openness of resources likeFangraphs and Baseball Reference, sabermetrics has matured and democratized baseball. Advanced statistics have grown to be fairly exhaustive, continuing to describe the game more objectively and making the game better for all.

Nonetheless, data – particularly at the level of granularity available to the public – ultimately does more describing results than explaining process; while a quick trip to Fangraphs tells us that the Nationals aren’t hitting well right now, the site only provides a cursory view to the drivers behind those struggles.

This contention is reasonable enough: numbers don’t lie, but they only tell you what they’re meant to describe (and there is a practical limit to what can be described objectively). The onus is on us to interpret the statistics, synthesize that with what we see, and judge appropriately. We know that Nationals are getting into a fair share of pitchers’ counts and batting miserably in them, but our eyes tell us that some players are potentially regressing to their scouting reports and poor swing mechanics.

Pitching is particularly fluid when it comes to process. Between the game theory subconsciously going on between the pitcher/catcher and the batter, mechanics, delivery times, and other nuances of the game, there are a lot of things going on before anything is recorded into the box score.

(Remember that 5-4 win in Pittsburgh in early May where Zimmerman and LaRoche had the double steal that set up the game-winning sacrifice fly? The Nationals’ advance scouts knew that the reliever the team was facing in the 9th inning still kept a slow delivery with baserunners on – 1.8s –, and that awareness tangibly contributed to the win.)

This ongoing feature will attempt to dive into these nuances and highlight points that could be turned into competitive advantages for the Nats this weekend and beyond.

Today’s feature will scout two of the Twins’ starters pitching this weekend: Kevin Correia and Scott Diamond.

Scouting the Twins

The Twins have one of the worst rotations in the league, plain and simple. After Vance Worley was demoted to the minors for poor performance, Kevin Correia took the title of staff “ace”. Inspiring, yes?

I’m not quite sure why the Twins’ built a pitching staff entirely comprised with low-strikeout, soft-tossing pitchers (well, I do – it’s all on Bill Smith) – all of their starters have fastballs in the 89-91mph range and possess K% under 12% –, but the philosophy hasn’t panned out (and that is probably why Bill Smith was fired).

It’s hard to presume that the Nats will hit Correia (Saturday), Diamond (Sunday afternoon), or Deduno (Sunday evening) since we all know that the offense struggles against seemingly craptacular – mediocre stuff that somehow becomes effective – pitching, but the home side has very few excuses not to hit against one of the league’s worst staffs.

Saturday: Kevin Correia (3.71 K/9, 1.54 BB/9, 100 ERA-):

Mechanics:

Despite his general mediocrity, Kevin Correia is actually a cool case study of how minor mechanical adjustments can build a sustainable MLB career.

When he first came up to the majors through the Giants’ system, Correia had relied on hitting the outside edge of the zone with his fastball-slider combination. His delivery was fairly smooth, but it involved a huge turn after his follow-through where his body would actually rotate and move with his lead foot (i.e., his left) towards first base before the foot planted down on the ground.

As a reliever, Correia’s tendencies were fine, since he was effective enough retiring batters the first time through the lineup. However, the issue resulted in delivery inconsistencies – it’s hard to move your body consistently to the same location when your lead foot doesn’t land at a consistent spot, even if his foot ultimately pointed towards first base. Scouts also noted that Correia’s momentum after his follow-through made him an ineffective defender against a bunt down the third-base line.

Correia’s flaws were exposed when he moved to the starting rotation for the Giants in 2008, and he was let go from the team in the ensuing offseason. He was eventually picked up by the Padres to fill the back-end of their rotation in 2009, as a Petco Park-reclamation project and home-town signing.

One of the first things Padres pitching coach Darren Balsley tweaked with Correia’s delivery was the aforementioned foot pivot.

 

Notice the quick hitch in his lead foot after the release of the ball, planting straight towards home plate before the distinct crow-hop towards first base well after the follow-through. This change helped Correia possess a more consistent delivery (and release point) and increase velocity (by creating the hip-to-shoulder separation that was previously lacking when his entire body was moving towards first in the follow-through).

Although Correia will never be more than back-end starter, the marginal gains in control and velocity due to Balsley’s adjustments were instrumental in building his career when he was at a crossroads after 2008.

Delivery / Tactical:

Correia’s windup delivery is quite slow, clocking in around 2.5s-3s.

While this observation in itself is fairly meaningless, it provides a stark contrast for Correia’s 1.0s-1.2s stretch delivery time, which is around league average for stretch times (see the first GIF for his stretch delivery). Considering Joe Mauer has a pop time of around 1.8-2.0s, it’s nearly impossible for Nats baserunners to steal second without a perfect jump and some help from Mauer (for reference, Span has a steal time of about 3.1s with a decent lead off first).

Correia also has an impressive career 40% CS, if that means anything.

Sunday afternoon: Scott Diamond (4.18 K/9, 1.77 BB/9, 115 ERA-)

Mechanics:

Scott Diamond – a former Braves prospect – is a renowned control artist and a shining model for pitch-to-contact types. Without an out pitch, Diamond relies on command of his fastball, a curve/slurve hybrid, and changeup to keep hitters off-balance and induce ground-ball contact (53.4% GB rate last season, 48.2% this season).

Diamond’s ground-ball rate stands for three primary reasons: he locates his pitches low; his pitches’ have cutting/tailing action; and he has a high overhand arm slot that creates downward plane (in addition to his already immaculate control).

He also blocks his glove-side very well, closes his shoulders downwards, and takes a fairly long stride, all of which enhance his control and the illusory effect of the downward plane on batters.

Diamond does display a bit of an inverted L on his delivery at times (see below, with the frame with the yellow L highlight), but I don’t think this is a particularly big issue given Diamond’s finesse style, closed shoulders, and otherwise good mechanics.

Delivery / Tactical:

Diamond’s delivery is fairly quick, and there doesn’t appear to be much of a distinction between windup and stretch. Stretch deliveries I’ve observed clock in at around 1.2s-1.3s, which is around league average (and what’s taught as a proper stretch time). Given Joe Mauer’s pop time, our fastest baserunners could possibly steal successfully if the jump and lead are both good.    

 

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