Twins Shed Talent to Improve Roster

Terry Ryan can admit when he’s made a mistake. But he knows that when the chips are down, sometimes it’s better to retool with some brand name mediocrity.

After signing pull hitter Josh Willingham in the offseason and hoping for a much needed veteran presence in the clubhouse, what the Twins got was an aging slugger who had never heard of right field, hadn’t laid a sacrifice down in years, and was only concerned with padding his stats, hitting 19 home runs, 16 of which were of the selfish variety.

Image

Willingham thinking of words with “I” in them.

But Ryan has been here before, acquiring such luminaries as Drew Butera and Dustin Martin in a deadline deal in 2007. And on Friday he pulled off a trade that, while it has its skeptics among the blogger aristocracy, is a slam dunk of deadline craftiness; classic Ryan. He put Willingham and control-challenged “thrower” prospect Hudson Boyd into a package for Jerry Hairston Jr., Elian Herrera, and pitcher Scott Elbert, now former Dodgers. What the Twins gave up were two one dimensional players, and what they got in return was a gift basket of speed and flexibility, and with Elbert an arm they can groom to be decent number 3 or 4 starter.

“We like Elbert a lot, he’s a guy we’ve had our eye on, “ Explained skipper Ron Gardenhire. “He’s a kid with a good arm, he can hump it up to 92, but what we really like is his approach, and his ‘here it is come get it,’ strike one mentality.”

“He’s had a lot of years in the minor leagues, so we know he’s a gamer who doesn’t take anything for granted,” Continued Gardenhire, “So we figured, why not give him a chance to fail at the big league level in front of paying fans?”

Herrera was another wise find. After superstar/diva Matt Kemp went down with an injury in early May, Herrera stepped in and sparked the offense for 4 games.

“That’s leadership, plain and simple,” explained recently benched third baseman Trevor Plouffe. “When Kemp went down, you were like, ‘man they can’t recover from this,’ but then Herrera stepped in and really softened the blow for a few dozen hours. And look at his team, they’ve been on a steady descent since then and are still within shouting distance of the wild card.”

Plouffe added with a chuckle, “That’s what we play the game for.”

Perhaps the most tantalizing prospect in the deal is wunderkind Jerry Hairston, who has treated Dodger fans to a dose of his oozing potential from twelve years ago.

“We like him at the plate. He’s patient, sometimes too patient, but unlike an [Adam] Dunn type player, he takes his walks but also puts the ball in play without striking out a bunch,” said Gardenhire.

“We want the ball hit on the ground because striking out is a rally killer, hit it somewhere and balls have a way of finding holes.”

“Yeah we definitely need more contact type hitters,” said Joe Mauer, who currently leads the major leagues with 16 double play grounders. “Put it in play, things happen, strike out and you’ll be kicking yourself back to the dugout wondering what kind of spectacular double play you could have just hit into.”

Some critics have been quick to point out Hairston’s lack of power. Gardenhire disagrees.

“We know he can hit one out, he’s had some years with decent power numbers, such as in 2009 and 10 (When Hairston socked 20 longballs combined), but he knows what he’s here to do is play different positions, move the runners over and maybe if the date is July 29th, and we’re facing a lefty and there’s a runner on first with 1 out and we’re down by seven, he can maybe send a hanger over into the bullpen.”

“Well hopefully not the bullpen of the opposing team. Showing people up isn’t Twins baseball.”

Meanwhile, Willingham and Boyd mull their lost opportunities.

“The Dodgers have a decent team,” said Willingham while stabbing himself in the neck with a ballpoint pen.

Boyd sees an opportunity for a fresh start: “I can throw 99, but don’t tell them I told you that. What was the question?”

Meanwhile the Twins hope the revamped roster will lead to some momentum in the standings.

“You gotta wait and see, there’s a lot of baseball to be played at an intentional disadvantage,” said a straight faced Ryan.

Twins fans can hardly wait.

July 10, 2012 at 10:00 pm Leave a comment

Ridiculous Players: Jose Bautista

Your pick.

You may have noticed Jose Bautista when he came to Target field for a weekend series and hit 5 home runs. In fact, I was fortunate enough to be in attendance for his Sunday performance, where he went 3 for 5 with 3 home runs. The first one, he clobbered into the left field seats. And it looked easy. The second home run wasn’t even in the strike zone, but Bautista hooked the inside pitch just inside the left field foul pole.

Digressing for a moment, last year a lot of pundits pointed out that Bautista hit almost all of his home runs to left; he was a dead pull hitter. For good measure, then, Bautista flared his last home run just over the wall in right field. Yes, a flare. Like how Denard Span can get hits by flaring the ball over the shortstops head. Or how a reasonable power hitter like Pat Burrell will hit a flare that makes the left fielder come in a few steps for the out. But Jose Bautista is so locked in right now, and swinging with so much power, his flares are home runs.

The Twins have 6 home runs at Target field this year. Bautista has 5 in three games.

The Twins have hit 18 home runs all season. Bautista has 16, which is ahead of his 2010 pace, when he hit a league leading 54. A 2010 that everyone with sense assumed had to be a fluke to some degree. Most experts in predicting what “Joey Bats” would do for 2011, tried to find a middle ground in not minimizing Bautista’s amazing performance from 2010, but making sure not to jump on board for a repeat. They respectfully predicted a .250 batting average, with good plate discipline and perhaps 30 home runs.

Which is basically taking the average production of Bautista from 2004-August of 2009, and the Bautista from September 2009-2010. The first iteration had a strong sim score with Jim Hickman, who had a journeyman career with the Cubs, Mets and Dodgers in the 60′s and 70′s. Hickman played a couple positions, and displayed above average plate discipline, some power, and a .250 batting average. That was Bautista. Prior to 2010, he had received one season with 600 PA’s. He hit .254/.339/.414 for those 2007 Pirates, similar to his .235/.335/.420 2006, and his .238/.313/.405 2008. He did average 15 home runs during those years, so as a utility player with pop he wasn’t useless. In fact, he probably would have secured major league contracts for years to come.

But then on September 7th, 2009, Bautista apparently got tired of being a plus bat, minus field utility player. So, working with Blue Jays hitting coach Dwayne Murphy, Bautista began starting his swing earlier. He changed his hand position as well, but mostly he stopped swinging defensively, which was something he tended to do, according to scouts.

I don’t know, of course, but it seems like Bautista’s talent was always there, but he suffered from David Ortiz syndrome. The tragic illness present mostly in parts of Minnesota, Missouri, and Pittsburgh, that causes hitters with great power and great eyes at the plate to, “Hit the ball the other way” and to, “Grind out good at bats even if it means letting a meatball go by on 3-1.” But like Ortiz, Bautista found that loading up and being ready to hit the crap out of the ball, didn’t mean he had to swing. He hit 10 home runs from that point on in 111 at bats.

Then 2010 came along, and Bautista hit 54 homers, adjusting to pitchers as the year wore on and actually being more productive in the second half of the season. Even after pitchers had realized that, hey, this guy hit 24 home runs in the first half, we should probably notice, Bautista hits 30 in the second half in 38 fewer at bats with a better average OPB and SLG. But overall he did hit just .260 and all but one of his home runs went to left field.

Not content to be another Willie McCovey or Mike Schmidt, Bautista has this year decided to be Barry Bonds. Crazy, huh? But as it stands, Bautista’s current 277 OPS+ is better than the record set by Bonds in 2002 of 268. Better than Babe Ruth’s best of 255. Or Ted Williams best of 234, Jeff Bagwell’s 213, Albert Pujols’ 190, or Alex Rodriguez’s 176. Yes Bautista could let his OPS+ drop 100 points and equal A-Rod’s best offensive season ever.

And again, Bautista was considered a utility player prior to 2010. As in, someone who got into the lineup based on defensive versatility, and not offensive production. A guy that doesn’t hit well enough to be a regular player, but who could fill in for enough guys at other positions to get 400 plate appearances during a season. Guys such as Nick Punto, Aaron Miles, and John McDonald fit this mold. Those three players do not just change their swing and become the best hitter in baseball. Except that’s exactly what Jose Bautista has done.

But hey it’s mid-May. He won’t keep this up forever. And surely some team has figured out how to get him out. Surely he has some weakness.

Vs Lefties: .409/.552/1.045

Vs. Righties: .361/.508/.804

Home: .429/.571/1.095

Away: .338/.485/.714

Batting average on balls in play: .333, which is a bit above average, but not exactly Josh Hamilton’s 2010 (Bautista had a BABIP of .233 that year to Hamilton’s .390, all things equal who should have been MVP?)

Day games: .278/.418/.815

Night games: .446/.591/.877

His worst line against any opponent: Against Boston he holds a line of .217/.333/.391 with only one home run.

His best line against an opponent: Against the East leading Rays, Bautista is hitting .750/.846/2.250 with 3 home runs. Yes, that’s a slugging percentage at 2.250, which in layman’s terms means that on any given plate appearance, Bautista will, on average, end up about a quarter of the way between 2nd and 3rd base.

Against the Twins, he’s hitting .480/.581/1.360 with seven home runs.

Players go into slumps. What I’m wondering though, is if Bautista slumps mean he goes .250/.400/.500 for a week with two home runs. It remains to be seen, of course, but if Bautista maintains 80% of his current pace throughout the year, we’re in for a season only Ruth and Bonds could ever claim.

Which is pretty ridiculous.

P.S  http://steroids-and-baseball.com/ READ IT.

May 17, 2011 at 6:52 pm 1 comment

Something Encouraging?

The Twins could not have played worse, nor endured worse fortune during the first month of the season. They were outscored by 60+ runs. That is far and away the worst differential in the majors. Morneau, Mauer, Young, Cuddyer, Valencia, Casilla, Thome whoever was playing 2nd, all TERRIBLE. Liriano has been dreadful, and even his no hitter was pretty pathetic as far as no hitters go.

Quietly, though, some players are really thriving. I am referring to Kubel, Span, Baker, Duensing, and Perkins. Only Duensing enjoyed a quality 2010 season, but like the other four, was a pretty big question mark going into 2011.

But now these past few games have actually been, what’s the word, encouraging? Not that anyone is really hitting, but the team has won three in a row, and this most recent game against Boston was almost, need another word here, exciting?

Trevor Plouffe comes up and homers in his first at bat. Did he get pissed at his poor spring and just start hacking? Maybe, and this is a long shot, he could be a spark plug. He ends up stealing a base, scores three runs, and takes a walk.

Scott Baker pitched a real gem, and now has a 2.97 ERA to go with his usual solid K/BB ratio. He’s still allowing home runs, but not as many hits, and he’s striking out more batters. He says he’s starting to feel healthy, could this be a big year for Bake? If so, he is a legit #2 starter.

Joe Nathan pitched a scoreless 9th, and has been much more stable since his move out of the closer’s role. A role Matt Capps has handled pretty well.

Most importantly, though, the team scored nine runs against a good team! Does success against a knuckleballer indicate success going forward? Eh, that’s a bit murky. But the fact remains, Liriano threw a no hitter, and the team has won the next two games. And scored nine runs in one. Young should come back soon, Mauer shortly after that (And he is after all, the team’s most stable bat when in the lineup). If Plouffe proves he belongs, and puts up fair power numbers with average defense, Liriano jumps off his performance against Chicago, Nathan and Morneau shake off the rust and become forces again (Not to previous levels, but maybe 80% of those levels), and perhaps Nishioka comes back All of a sudden this is a team to watch for as a bigtime comeback story.

Say what you will of Ron Gardenhire, no manager in the game gets his team on track better after bad stretches.

It’s not a tough division. The Indians are for real, but won’t maintain their current pace. The team with the most talent in the division currently sits behind the Twins in the standings. If the Tigers don’t take off, I would say 85 games could win this division.

A lot of things must go right for the Twins to reach that level. But a ton of things have had to go wrong for them to be where they are right now. Just wouldn’t put it past them, is all I’m saying.

May 6, 2011 at 11:06 pm Leave a comment

Jottings. And Panic?

Hey everyone, guess what time it is! It’s time for…

Joe Mauer’s early season mystery injury!!

The aftermath of this slide oughta keep me out 5-7 games at least three times this year.

Looking back, there’s been:

The stress fracture! Some people claimed at the time that a stress fracture isn’t even possible.

The quad pull! An injury I’ve never seen come from anyone else’s quad.

The heel bruise! Seriously! Sprain an ankle, pull a hammy, something that other players can relate to!

And now Bilateral leg weakness!!

Seriously, Joe Mauer would never have to deal with skepticism over his durability if he actually managed to HAVE REAL INJURIES, and not ones that need to be scrupulously diagnosed by a misanthropic TV doctor.

Ive got it! All the Head & Shoulders he uses causes him to become a demon serial murderer every few months! Good thing this unrelated argument with Wilson has allowed me to see the truth.

In other news, our hometown team has gotten off to an awful start. A 4-8 record and a team slugging percentage under .300. Every player not named Kubel and Span has not stumbled out of the gates, but suffered a collective stroke while standing at the gates, and fallen on their collective faces in a pile of drool and shame.

In Spring Training, it was speculated that Alexi Casilla needed a good start to the season to get a good hold of his shortstop job. But can you really hate on the guy for batting .160 when what he’s been doing has been pretty standard throughout the lineup?

To be fair, most of the guys have gotten their batting averages over .200, which seemed like a novel goal a week ago. But as far as home runs are concerned, we have Valencia, Thome and Span with one apiece. That’s it. Did all the ‘adjusting to Target Field so we’re not going to hit home runs’ talk go to everyone’s head?*

*I do like that Morneau has five doubles, however. His results aren’t there, but his performance is above the threshold where we could say his head injury is causing him problems.

But the offense won’t suck forever. Young and Cuddyer are flawed hitters, but they’re going to OPS at least .780 between them. Not .500. Casilla might be bad, but he’s not OPS .368 bad.

It could be worse, in other words. Span seems to have solved his mechanical problems, and Kubel is avoiding his early season mailaise from years past. Carl Pavano has rebounded very nicely from his opening day massacre. Blackburn has been solid, Duensing hasn’t provided much to be worried about, and Baker hasn’t imploded (Though he hasn’t exactly been encouraging). Liriano is the one to be concerned with. Walking guys like crazy, then trying to not walk guys and getting lit up by Kansas City. It will be interesting, and perhaps pivotal, to see what he does in his next trip.

The bullpen has been pretty decent (Despite managing to blow two saves in one game today), considering it was supposed to be the glaring weak spot on the team. Everyone knows signing Dusty Hughes was dumb, but when he’s non tendered in a few weeks maybe we’ll get to see what Jim Hoey can do.

Now, looking around the league, there are some interesting tidbits to be found:

Well at least the fact that Im always injured hides that fact that I dont have any plate discipline and generate most of my power from playing in extreme hitters parks.

- Josh Hamilton and J.J. Hardy are fragile and should be handled with care. If I were the Rangers, I’d put Hamilton on the 60 DL, and activate him in September. Does past drug abuse contribute to having easily broken bones and easily pulled muscles? Probably not. But he is going to continue to get hurt, I will say that. My theory, not that anyone cares, is that players who get injured a lot are just worse at falling down than other players. Cal Ripken was really good at falling down. J.D. Drew probably isn’t. Jeff Francouer and Melky Cabrera are both really bad Royals players, and probably haven’t done their teams much of a service by being good at falling down and never getting hurt. Bob Sanders of the Indianapolis Colts is terrible at falling down. The man can’t avoid breaking something if you leave him unsupervised for ten minutes.

They say guys who get hurt just play harder than everyone else, they take more risks. I guess that’s probably true with Carlos Gomez. He puts his body in danger like he’s forgotten what gravity is. I seriously worry about him, sometimes. But I’m pretty sure most players play the game hard look at Francouer. Everyone in the game says no one plays harder. And he’s never on the DL. David Wright supposedly plays really hard; he’s rarely hurt.

You know that little kid back in elementary school who wanted to be a stunt man when he grew up? He would jump around doing crazy shit and would never get hurt? That kid grows up to be Randy Johnson, Orlando Cabrera, Jon Garland (Actually Jonny’s finally on the DL this year), Ichiro, Adam Dunn. The kid who’s constantly on crutches from falling off his bed, or landing awkwardly playing hop scotch? He grows up to be Howie Kendrick, or Larry Walker, or Marcus Giles, Chase Utley, Rafael Furcal, Aramis Ramirez.

Freak injuries do happen. A pitcher is going to burn his finger grilling steak this year and miss two starts. But if Howie Kendrick and O-Cab collide and both end up on the ground, I bet you 9 times out of 10, O-Cab wins.

Ya know its true.

The most interesting thing going on so far has been the 10-2 Rockies, and more specifically, Troy Tulowitzki. He’s slugging .909 so far with seven home runs, pretty much carrying the entire offense, similar to his performance last September. At this point, is there a more valuable player in the game? The man hits like a superstar first baseman while playing legitimately gold glove defense at shortstop. Although I’m kind of on the fence about his falling ability…

The Rays and the Red Sox are not playing good ball, but I like the Sox chances to rebound a lot better. They have depth at every position except catcher, and like the Twins, have pretty much every hitter starting out cold. When you have Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez, Kevin Youkilis, Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz, and J.D. Drew in your lineup on a daily basis, eventually the runs will come. If they, by some crazy circumstance, don’t come, at least you have Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, Josh Beckett and John Lackey to pick up the slack. And then Jon Papelbon, Daniel Bard and Bobby Jenks for an extra layer of security.

If you’re the Rays, you have good starting pitching, but after that you’re looking at a lot of reliance on B.J Upton and Ben Zobrist to play to the potential they showed in one of their seasons, and Evan Longoria to handle everything else. John Jaso is good when he doesn’t have to be good. Same goes for Dan Johnson and Reid Brignac. Scoring runs is going to be a problem, and Desmond Jennings isn’t going to make it go away. And having Joel Peralta and Kyle Farnsworth holding down the fort isn’t a great idea, either. Jake McGee is a shiny alternative, but if you saw him try to throw breaking balls to Kubel and Valencia today, you’ll agree he’s not a shutdown closer yet.

Wait a minute. Thats Vernon Wells, not zombie Duke Snider... That Greek bastard lied to me.

A few things are going as expected. Namely that the Phillies won’t give up a lot of runs, and that the Rangers have a really deep offense. As far as surprises, I’d say the Orioles are a little better than what they’re given credit for. As I write this they have lost four in a row, but with Zach Britton looking like a potential phenom, and Brian Matusz on the mend, all of a sudden their offseason pickups of Guerrero, Reynolds, Lee and Hardy don’t look so frivolous and prospect blocking. I mean, offensively, where are their holes? Adam Jones still has potential, Markakis = Paul O’Neil?, Brian Roberts can still play, and Wieters might just bust out. Oh, and Luke Scott can OPS .900 without anyone noticing. Who the hell knows?

I also like the Blue Jays. Not much defense, but a powerful offense once their middle of the order guys (Lind, Hill, Encarnacion) start heating up. Yes, I am a Jose Bautista believer. And they have some pitching depth, as well. Not to mention payroll flexibility that was apprehended right out of Tony Reagins’ pocket.

Basically the whole AL East is worth watching, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the Rays were the ones to finish 5th.

April 14, 2011 at 11:21 pm 2 comments

AL Central Evaluations

The first week of the season is past and I thought I’d trot out some predictions for the Central. A lot of people seem to think it will be a race between the Sox, Twins, and Tigers. But I think it’s ridiculous to ever expect anything from the Tigers beyond 70 wins.

Kansas City:

Objects on mound may be smaller than they appear

Now it normally is very foolish to be high on the Royals in any legitimate way. Especially this early in the season. But, and I will emphasize that I place no emphasis on their 6-3 start to the season, this team doesn’t even look that bad. The most impressive thing about them is their bullpen. Joakim Soria at the back is always a wonderful thing. But then look at the supporting cast: Robinson Tejeda, someone with a big arm and great K numbers wherever he’s pitched, now healthy and in the bullpen. I’m bullish on guys who have what is considered to be good stuff, have had spotty but sometimes legitimate success as a starter, and who are put into bullpen roles. He could have a big year. Then you have Tim Collins the 5’7″ lefty, who has had a brilliant minor league career, especially K wise, and who is getting a shot in the bullpen. So far he’s pitched 4+ innings with 7 K’s and hasn’t given up a run. I wouldn’t doubt he’ll take his lumps, but given his minor league track record (329 K’s in 223 innings, 2.26 ERA) I’d say he has a good shot to be a force. Jeremy Jeffress is considered to be the dark horse centerpiece of the Greinke trade. Which means he’s been hurt a lot, but when healthy has put up big K numbers as well. He’s been given a shot in the pen to start out the year and I wouldn’t doubt he succeeds in the low leverage situations he gets put in. Then you have Sean O’Sullivan, a former Angels starting prospect turned mop up KC reliever. Never bet against someone who an organization was formerly high on as a starter, having success as a reliever.

In other words, their pen isn’t relying on Dusty Hughes’ in high leverage situations.

Starting-wise, the tale is a little more grim. Jeff Francis has looked good so far, and he had an underrated 2010, but he’s an average #2/good #3 at best. Luke Hochevar is the ‘ace.’ No comment. Bruce Chen was pretty good last year, KC brought him back, and I wouldn’t doubt he could be a decent fourth starter. He could also remember that he’s Bruce Chen. And then there’s Kyle Davies. Poor, unfortunate Kyle Davies. But at least this year KC has a decent, young bridge to Soria even if the starter only goes 5. A lot will ride on the offense, however.

As for the offense, we have Billy Butler and a bunch of questions. Butler himself has to answer the question of whether he’s gonna be Lyle Overbay or Edgar Martinez. Alex Gordan has looked real good so far, which is encouraging, and there is still a ton of potential in his bat if he can keep his success going. Kila Ka’aihue could be a poor man’s Adam Dunn. The offseason additions of Melky and Frenchie could conceivably be league average, though that is a bit of a stretch. Alcides Escobar is great with the glove, but is he Rey Ordonez or Jose Reyes with the bat? He’s at least better than Tony Pena Jr.

Chris Getz has a little on base ability, Mike Aviles has shown he can actually be a 4-5 win player if everything goes right, and Wilson Betemit could be the second or third best hitter on  the team if given a shot.

Then there’s Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer waiting in the wings at triple A.

A flawed team, but a lot of potential for improvement, and an incredible farm system to back it up.

Prediction: Third place. 82-80

Cleveland:

Don't worry Cleveland, I'll give you 13 home runs, 56 RBI and only 3 more shoulder surgeries

Like KC, the Indians have gotten off to a hot start. As of this writing, they have won seven games in a row. But where is this production coming from? Not where you want it to. Orlando Cabrera has started out hot, Asdrubal Cabrera somehow has 3 home runs, fill in Jack Hannahan has an .891 OPS, and Travis Hafner is being his usual tease self. Eventually, this team will realize it’s starting pitching is pretty bad, and that unless Matt LaPorta busts out no one on this team will hit more than 20 home runs. I like the bullpen, however, and almost want to pick Cleveland over Detroit, but no matter how much you want something to be true, sometimes you have to face that it can’t happen.

Prediction: Fifth place. 75-87

Detroit:

I'm pretty sure I beat this guy up in middle school. But I'd still take him over Tolbert.

I really dislike the Tigers. Because you can usually take it to the bank that no one on their team will ever build off a good year. That’s why guys like Ryan Raburn and Brandon Inge and even Justin Verlander tend to fluctuate between serviceable, good and awesome and non tender material. Brennan Boesch is not the answer. Austin Jackson is DEFINITELY not the answer (I’ve never seen a position player succeed with his MAGNITUDE of terrible peripherals). Magglio is already hurt, Jhonny Peralta is just like Raburn and Inge, you don’t know if he’ll OPS .650 or .850. Will Rhymes, Alex Avila? Please. Oh, and Brad Thomas makes this team AGAIN? Yeah it’s cute that he throws left handed, but at some point, don’t you have to accept that there is no better definition of batting practice pitcher in the GAME?

Rick Porcello can’t strike guys out, Brad Penny might have a good first half, but don’t bet on him finishing with an ERA under 4.50. Not away from the NL. Scherzer and Verlander I like at the top, and Valverde and Benoit are a good tandem at the back. And Cabrera and Martinez will dutifully carry most of the offense. But this team is built to underachieve; they always do.

Prediction: 4th place. 77-85

Minnesota:

I am the optimist among optimists. But I also tend to believe in narratives. Anything besides logic for me. In Minnesota, if our team has a good year, dominant year, first place in our conference type year, the next year will be disappointing. Look at the 99 and 2010 Vikings, the 04-05 Wolves, the 07 Twins.

The 2011 Twins. On paper, this is still a good team. Joe Mauer can have as bad an April as he wants, when it’s said and done you’ve got an .860 OPS from your catcher. And if he gets hot for an extended period of time, like during the summers of ’06 and ’09, that might rise to .960. I think Morneau will hit, even if it takes him a minute to get into the groove. Young and Kubel are not without their flaws, but they both hit the ball hard enough that at least one figures to have a good year offensively. Cuddyer probably won’t be as bad as last year. Thome can hopefully hit a few home runs, though I’ll take the under on him getting to 600 this year. Casilla, Tolbert, Hughes, Nishioka when he gets back are all unfortunate options. And then I think about how WE TRADED J.J HARDY FOR UNPROVEN ‘POWER’ BULLPEN ARMS AND THEN TRADED BILLY BULLOCK FOR A 5TH STARTER WE ALREADY HAD UNDER TEAM CONTROL*.

*I would advise Bill Smith to stick to trading with organizations that don’t make intelligent decisions. Which means no Rays, no Braves, no Red Sox, no A’s, and not even the Orioles anymore (Apparently). Just stick to exploiting Seattle, Kansas City, Philadelphia (Oh yes that team is so fucked in 3-5 years), Florida, Houston, the Cubs and the L.A teams.

But if Liriano continues to struggle with his control, Pavano takes a step back, Baker loses that one grain of velocity that determines whether hitters will be late on his fastball or crush it, and Duensing falls into what his FIP and xFIP said he would always do, then we have problems. Because we have Dusty Hughes in our bullpen.

In summary, good offense, questionable starting pitching, average at best bullpen. I would say it’s an 85 win team at this point. And who knows who is going to get hurt.

Prediction: 2nd place. 86-76

Chicago:

You know I hate to do this, but where is there a weakness on this team? Their offense will be good. It might be great. Their starting pitching is deep. It might be really really deep. Their bullpen is great. It might really start to piss me off in about 5 months.

Oh hello, postseason

Carlos Quentin looks good, Konerko can’t fall too far, Dunn is Dunn and definitely not done (If there wasn’t this misguided notion that since Dunn is sarcastic and goofy => he hates baseball, could he see some hall of fame support with 4-5 more good seasons?), Rios is the sort of player I think plays better when his team is contending, Beckham has nowhere to go but up, Danks and Floyd are like poor people’s Smoltz and Glavine, Peavy will come back presumably, Buehrle will likely remain solid, Sale Santos and Thornton are a really good bullpen trio who also serve to keep Jesse Crain in the 6th and 7th innings, where he belongs (As Twins fans know. Nothing worse than an 8th inning Crain-wreck). There are simply too many good players on this team. It would take a rash of injuries for them to not win 90 games, in my estimation.

Prediction: 1st place. 94-68

I feel good about these predictions. My particular biases may have taken 4-5 wins from the Tigers and added them to the Twins and Royals, I will admit.

April 11, 2011 at 4:18 pm Leave a comment

Baseball or Football: An In-Depth Look at an Age Old Debate

Baseball has been a sport for a really long time. For 165 years, actually. And it’s still pretty popular. And the players have arguably the best gig in professional sports in terms of money and the number of niches a player can fill.

But despite the staying power of Major League Baseball, and the fact that about 25 teams each year have a legitimate shot at a title (Sorry KC, Pittsburgh, Arizona, Cleveland, and Mets fans), people don’t seem

to get too fired up about it. I only know three or four people who I can have a knowledgeable conversation about baseball with. And that’s making the assumption that I’m capable of a civil conversation about the sport without frothing at the mouth and cursing the Yankees back to the hell from whence they came (That’s a pretty big assumption).

But why the apathy for out nation’s pastime? Ask anyone who doesn’t watch baseball regularly and they say it’s boring. It doesn’t have the intense pressure, hard hits, and breakaway speed of, say, football.

Which is true to an extent. A running back taking over a game is pretty special. A safety knocking the ball out of the hands of a receiver to force a fourth down is kinda awesome. A properly executed two minute drill can be electrifying.

And it’s true that football doesn’t have the downtime of professional baseball (Though I might counter that having two commercial breaks at every change of possession is pretty annoying). But does that really decide the argument? Maybe. Maybe in the day we live in, people don’t have the patience for a sport that takes three hours and doesn’t usually involve players being carried out on stretchers.

In any case, I don’t think either side is fair to the other. Football fans ignore the

#1 Mark against the NFL, Philip Rivers, that cocky bitch

way suspense is built into major league pennant races and playoff games in favor of pointing out how boring it is when a pitcher loses his command with his team behind by seven runs. In May. Baseball fans tend to ignore the genius behind effective play calling and strategy in football, in favor of saying it’s just a bunch of behemoths smashing each other to bits.

So I think it’s prudent to do an evaluation of the pros and cons of each sport, in relation to each other. Because I have the time, and since I picked apart the post of an accomplished blogger yesterday, someone might actually be reading.

What is required of players to succeed:

This is a big sticking point with me. What makes an athlete special is both athletic ability and emotional strength. When I’m watching a sport and a player is lacking in one of those criteria, yet still succeeding, I find this morally absurd and root against said player. God I hated when big fat drunk David Wells pitched a perfect game against the Twins when I was a kid.

But what is more impressive than a player who has the size, the quickness, the reactions, the flexibility, but also can outthink opponents and mentally undress them? This is why I think Tiger Woods at his peak may have been the best athlete ever. Golf is a sport governed by mental toughness. A lot of the guys on tour don’t spend any time in the gym, can’t touch their toes, and eat more big macs than protein shakes. But they have the wherewithal to bounce back from a double bogey the way you and I cannot. But Tiger Woods came along and had the body of a swimmer, the strength of a cornerback, AS WELL AS the mental prowess of… I have no idea. Maybe Peyton Manning? He was unprecedented. What little athletic ability golf demanded from its best players, Tiger Woods surpassed tenfold. He wouldn’t wear down because he was in the best physical shape. And his focus wouldn’t wear down because his mind was just as strong as anyone else’s.

So I think Football and Golf fall on opposite ends of the spectrum. In football, you can succeed without any mental ability at certain positions. In golf, you can succeed without any athletic ability. I don’t mean to diminish what NFL players do. It just seems like if you’re big and fast enough, you will succeed in football. That’s what the scouts look for in their draft strategies, and that’s who gets the big contracts. At least for the following positions:

Offensive lineman – There is technique in what they do, of course, but technique doesn’t mean shit if you aren’t 6’4″ and 300 pounds.

Set phasers to KILLFUMBLE

Defensive lineman – Their job is to get to the quarterback or running back and essentially kill them. It doesn’t matter how they do it, but they can’t do it effectively unless they’re really big or really fast. And they have to be at least somewhat big.

Running backs – They too must be fast, and it helps if they’re big, but they must have the added ability to change direction quickly and with deception. So running backs have the added chore of needing to be good… dancers?

Fullbacks – They have to be big, but fast enough to move themselves so that defenders can’t get around them.

Wide Receivers – Being big and fast is paramount at this position, with the added caveat of running routes, and being mentally stable enough to not drop the ball.

Quarterbacks, linebackers, tight ends and defensive backs all need more specific skills, most notably the ability to read defenses/offenses. I think you can see this difference in how many players of each position are selected in the first round of the draft. Since 1980, the most represented position in the first round is defensive linemen (199 picks). The second most is offensive linemen (156 picks). Then defensive backs (148 – Maybe the thinking is that so few excel at this position that the only ones worth having are 1st round talents?). Then running backs (119), then wide receivers (114). Quarterbacks and linebackers, the positions that arguably require the most mental strength and ability to survey and react to surroundings, are the least represented (103 and 74, respectively). My point being that it’s a lot easier to bank on drafting Lenny from Of Mice and Men and molding him into something useful, than to spend a precious draft choice on someone who needs to be smart as WELL as big and fast.

As for baseball players, I think they fit somewhere in the middle of the spectrum between football and golf. I don’t think you need to look past someone like Brad Lidge to come to that conclusion. How does someone go from the the most effective closer in the game to the worst one in a year? Certainly Lidge has the ability; his slider has always been devastating and his fastball still has life. Bu if you lose confidence as a pitcher you. are. fucked. You can’t just steamroll your opponents into submission. You have to play cat and mouse with the hitter. The hitter is trying to force you into a count where you have to give them something to hit, and you’re trying t0 deceive them by changing speeds and locations, or trying to get them to chase something out of the zone. And you can’t play this game without the confidence that you can pull it off.

Shit. I hope this doesn't turn into a recurring thing.

As a hitter, you are hitting a small ball with a round bat. That’s hard enough. But then you have to have good pitch recognition by detecting spin on the ball and subtle changes in arm movement from the pitcher. You have to have a good gauge of what the pitcher is going to come with, whether he’s going to throw a strike or a ball, where the infielders are positioned, what the situation calls for as far as outs and who’s on base and where. If the pitcher has an overpowering fastball, you need to account for that. If he has a good slider, too, you need to be prepared for that, as well. And even if you are great at all of that; recognition, plate discipline, analyzing the situation, you still need bat speed, and leg torque and strong wrists to be able to succeed. And even then you can get unlucky and hit hard smashes to the third baseman over and over until you’re batting .200.

Furthermore, baseball scouts talk a lot about tools. Guys who have power, strong throwing arms, fast legs, quick wrists. But having tools doesn’t equate to success. That’s why so many prospects, previously heralded as the next big thing, flame out (I’m looking at the Mets here; Fernando Martinez and Carlos Gomez, what overhyped jokes). The player must convert those tools into skills in order to succeed. In football, there are a lot of positions where simply having the tools; big body, quick feet, fast legs, are enough to be a star. They may learn some subtleties of the game that allow them to be even better, but once they turn 30 and lose a step, it won’t matter, because they’ll be facing off against someone young, giant, fast and crazy.

Screw this game. I'm opening a restaurant.

And really, for non-kickers football doesn’t really allow for old or small guys to compete. Take Emmitt Smith playing his last season for the Cardinals. It was sad. He was once one of the best running backs the game had ever seen, and here he was playing for Arizona and averaging 3 yards per carry. Sure, quarterbacks can play into their 40′s, and they can be successful. But the quarterback position is a whole different animal. The myriad things you have to account for relies on rock solid mental strength. Which is why Tarvaris Jackson is, and always will be, a terrible quarterback, and Brett Favre had his best season at age 40. Show me a 40 year old defensive lineman, or running back, who still plays at a high level. They are true freak anomalies, if any of them even exist.

Now look at Jamie Moyer. The guy started pitching before I was born. His fastball royally sucks. He’s 47 years old, and attempting to come back from ligament replacement surgery on his pitching elbow. It’s absurd that he doesn’t just retire. But he posted a 3.1 WAR season as a 45 year old, which is over 15M worth of value.

In baseball, there is a distinction often made between pitchers and throwers. Jamie Moyer is a pitcher, he does all the things I mentioned earlier; changes speeds and locations, fools hitters into making weak contact. Basically you can be a pitcher without being a thrower, like Moyer, but you can’t succeed as a thrower alone. Ask Juan Morillo. Haven’t heard of him? Exactly. He could throw 99 but couldn’t pitch to save his life. But he’s probably entertaining for the Japanese baseball fans he now throws in front of.

You know what? I could beat up Jamie Moyer. I could, but I don’t think that could be said for any non-kicker NFL player. I find that really cool. David Eckstein paced his 2002 Angels in WAR and led them to a world series title. I could definitely beat up David Eckstein.

I couldn’t beat up Albert Pujols. He’s like the new Tiger Woods in his combination of physical and mental ability. The media gets on him when he hits too many line outs and his average drops to .301. But then he just comes back and combines his ridiculous reflexes and coordination, strong wrists, powerful legs and bulletproof mind into hitting 5 home runs over the next week. Like coming back from a double bogey.

Which is all a long way of saying, I think baseball requires a more well rounded athlete than football does.

Parity and the way teams operate:

Different teams in baseball have different stances on what skills, or stats, or philosophies, they value. Oakland and Tampa try to exploit market inefficiencies in their evaluation of players, the Yankees try to outspend to remain competitive and to compensate for their farm system, the Twins and Angels have the reputations of focusing more on pitching and defense and baserunning than other teams, the Padres try to lure in pitchers with their expansive home ballpark, while a slugger coming off a down year might be courted by a team like the Diamondbacks or Rangers who have hitter friendly parks and the possible promise of a bounce back, 30 homer season.

Philosophical differences are prevalent in the NFL, as well. The Steelers have been defense first for more than 40 years. Oakland is seen as a place for misfits and castoffs. New England seems to be a place for players who are done with individual accomplishments and want a chance for a ring. Denver, at least until recently, was an assembly line for quality running backs. The Vikings will choke for eternity. I think it’s cool that those things can last for generations in some cases.

Parity is a different subject, however. I think the two sports are somewhat of a wash, really. There are mainstays at the top (The Patriots, the Yankees, the Steelers, the Braves), but there are always teams that come out of nowhere (Last year there were the Chiefs, the Reds, the Bears to an extent, and both pennant winners in the Rangers and Giants). Sure the fans of the Bengals and Browns and Royals and Pirates might have something to say about parity, but they are the exception, and mainly suck due to bad drafting and poor management more than luck and the system working against them.

Which brings us to the salary cap issue. It’s something football fans will point to when arguing for the NFL over MLB. They argue that since every team has the same money to spend, that makes everything fair.

Which is true. But then, isn’t that a little boring? I’ve written at length about this before, so I won’t delve too far into this, but isn’t it more exciting to see the Rangers beat the Yankees in the ALCS knowing they spent 100M less in payroll? As opposed to the Seahawks beating the Saints this past year (Which was a tremendous upset, an under .500 playoff team defeating the defending champions), when they both spent the same. Doesn’t that make it a little less terrific? I suppose I’m overly sentimental about these things; I always prefer David to beat Goliath and not Goliath beating Goliath. But I’m a Twins fan, so can you blame me?

I think when teams have to make do with less money than the big market teams, it forces them to be creative. Which is essentially what Moneyball was all about. And I think that’s a cool part of baseball and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Not even if I was a Pirates fan (I grew up with the mid 90′s Twins, so I can empathize to an extent).

The Role of Random Chance:

This is where I have to give the NFL it’s props. Good teams generally destroy bad teams. It might be because they’re bigger, faster, stronger, trickier, or smarter, but they generally win. A bad call or a freak injury or a mental blunder might turn the tide, but mostly the best team wins. And this usually holds for the playoffs. Most would say the Packers had one of the most talented rosters in football last year. And the Steelers had a great team, too. The Packers won the superbowl and not the Seahawks.

This past October, the Giants WERE the Seahawks. They capitalized on late season collapses by their division rivals, the Padres and the Rockies, and squeaked into the postseason on the strength of their pitching and some nice seasons from Aubrey Huff, Andres Torres and rookie Buster Posey. So like the Seahawks, they had some strong points, and some good players, but were deeply flawed. They didn’t have much of an offense, and still don’t. Returning a similar roster this year, I can almost GUARANTEE the Giants won’t make the postseason in 2011. But baseball is all about bad hops, ground balls with eyes, pitchers who have bad nights, hitters with ill timed slumps and a myriad other things that have little to do with the strength of the team, the wisdom of its coaches or the talent of its players. The Phillies were the best team in the NL. Any three of the AL teams not named the Rangers could have claimed to be the best team in the AL.

When confidence and mental strength is at issue, sometimes the best teams don’t win. Hot and cold streaks take over. To succeed in the MLB playoffs, you need a higher percentage of your players to go on hot streaks than the opposing team. Cody Ross usually is a pretty average player. Doesn’t walk, can hit 20 homers a year and play average defense. But in the playoffs, he got hot. So did Madison Bumgarner, a rookie who had his ups and downs in the regular season. The Giants rode these performances, among plenty of others, straight to a world series title.

As for the Twins, Joe Mauer went cold. So did Jim Thome and Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel. Delmon Young was pretty good, hit a triple, but it wasn’t nearly enough. I thought they stacked up pretty well against the Yanks, but they had fewer players get hot and more players go cold. That’s how it goes.

The Packers had a good pass rush, and it caused Roethlisburger to force things and make mistakes. If they played the super bowl 100 times, barring injury, the Packers pass rush would stay good.

Something we all have the same feelings toward?

If the Twins played the Yankees in a 5 game set 100 times, Joe Mauer would probably hit well in 70-75 of them.

The Announcers:

No comment.

Ways to Measure Player Performance:

I’m not well briefed in advanced football statistics. I do know that there are basically no stats that measure what offensive lineman do, which is infuriating to me. How can you know definitively if a player is good if he accumulates no statistics? I suppose that is what scouting is for. But couldn’t there be instances where a lineman is actually performing very well, but looks really bad doing it? Kind’ve like how Rick Ankiel LOOKED really smooth out in center field this past year for the Royals, but in fact had terrible range and was costing his team runs?

Defensive Lineman are celebrated, and paid, for how many sacks they accrue (Stopping the run is important as well, but again, what if they LOOK good at stopping the run, but in fact are terrible at it?). But what about when the pass rusher gets double teamed? What about when he forces the quarterback to make a bad throw?

I bet there are stats for at least some of these things, but with baseball, I KNOW there are stats for just about everything. Defensive stats are getting more accurate, WPA is a great way to measure what a player actually contributes, regardless of his talent or projectability going forward. OPS is flawed but pretty telling of a batter’s effectiveness, while also having been accepted into the mainstream baseball following public. WAR can actually quantify how many wins a player provided. Basically, with baseball we can now pretty accurately measure everything a player does, even if we can’t SEE it. And in football you can hardly see anything outside of what the guy with the ball does.

Further, baseball’s abundance of stats allows for great arguments, because there’s always a way to “prove from the text,” as it were. If someone starts saying Nate McClouth deserved his gold glove, there are tons of stats you can draw from to prove that guy wrong. In football, if someone says Bryant McKinnie is “A beast out there,” you kind of have to take that guy at his word.

Conclusion?

I think this has gone on long enough. Out of the various criteria I’ve drawn from, I can say with confidence that baseball requires a more well rounded athlete than football. I can say that parity in the two sports is pretty even and that a winner in that regard depends on your opinion of salary caps. I can say that there are more easily accessible ways to measure player performance in baseball than football. I can say that in football, the better teams tend to succeed more in the playoffs (The 98 Vikings notwithstanding), as opposed to baseball and its 2010 world champion Giants. So yes, I think baseball is more complex, multi faceted, measurable, requires more skill and is more interesting to follow. But I’m biased and if you’re a football fan and you root for the best team in a given year, it is probably nice to see them win sometimes. And not the 2006 St. Louis Cardinals, yeesh.  Well, maybe I just wasted 3,000 words. You be the judge.

March 22, 2011 at 11:52 pm Leave a comment

Actual Positional Analysis

Now, I like Nick’s Twins Blog, generally. Lots of updates, good content, but trying to get through his ‘positional analysis’ has been quite a chore. Let me explain:

I think Twins bloggers are in a unique position of being obligated to be anti-homers. Because our team is run by homers, managed by a homer, and even the media coverage is a bit homerist. I like it, I think it’s unique and harks back to a time when baseball was about more about mythology than wOBA, and more about the players than the player’s off the field personalities. But I’m old fashioned, and let me be clear that I don’t expect anyone to agree with me.

But since our team has this culture of “Oh yeah Nicky Punto’s been seein the ball better, his wife just had a kid, he’ll be fine, pencil him in,” the bloggers are almost required to remind everyone that Nicky Punto is batting .220 with a .330 BABIP (As a fake example).

The blogger I feel is most skilled at this is Aaron Gleeman. I couldn’t say I like Subway more than Arby’s without him coming up with mathematical proof that I’m just wrong. When the front office makes a move, or Gardenhire flips the lineup, Gleeman will provide statistical evidence for or against the decision, and whether it was prudent from a probability standpoint.

For example, when discussing Liriano’s slider usage, Gleeman points out that he used the pitch far more in 2010 than 2009 (But less than 2006), that it has always been his most effective pitch, and that he can’t know whether or not the increased usage will lead to more risk of health problems down the road.

Gleeman provides substantiated evidence for his claims, and when there is no evidence to provide, he takes a wait and see approach. And this is where Nick Nelson comes in like an Alchemist at a MENSA meeting. His analysis of Justin Morneau’s 2011 prospects:

That the afflictions which haunted him for eight months would suddenly disappear just weeks before the start of the baseball season seems awfully convenient, so it’s entirely possible that they’ve grown more mild and he’s simply decided to start pushing through them a little more than he’s been willing to in the past.

Ideally, Morneau will be completely free of symptoms from the get-go this season, putting the traumatic brain injury behind him without issue. That’s a best case scenario but probably not an entirely realistic one. Given the persistence of the concussion’s lingering after-effects throughout the offseason it’s hard to imagine he won’t at least experience some minor symptoms as he attempts to return to everyday duty.

…Even if he does fully overcome concussion symptoms, we must acknowledge the fact that Morneau is returning from what is likely his longest hiatus from the sport since he began playing it.

…With this being the case, it seemingly would have made sense for the front office to invest in some sort of legitimate backup who could keep Cuddyer, Jason Kubel and Jim Thome in their natural (and most suitable) roles. Unfortunately, it looks like Cuddyer will be Morneau’s sole legitimate backup.

This just doesn’t strike me as responsible analysis. Particularly from a blogger who represents the Twins on ESPN’s sweetspot network. To say that Morneau’s recovery is timed conveniently disregards the fact that he was cleared to play by his doctors. Who, I would think given the Twins financial investment in Morneau, would not let him play unless he really was okay to play. Look at all the media coverage concussions get nowadays. It’s the players who want to play through them; it’s the doctors that are increasingly cracking down and being extra cautious. I haven’t heard anyone from the Twins say Morneau felt serious symptoms since January. Maybe I missed something.

I know of one professional sports player who had concussion symptoms last longer than eight months (I’m sure there are more). That was Corey Koskie. Is that a bad omen? Yes, but I would think Koskie’s case is the exception, not the rule.

Then Nelson grandly speculates that even if Morneau ends up healthy, which is “Not entirely realistic,” he will be terribly rusty because he hasn’t gone this long without baseball since he was in T-ball. I’m not one to talk, but if you make a claim, do some research! Or realize that you’re making a pretty baseless claim. Eight months is a lot, yeah. But that’s what spring training is for. And you didn’t follow Justin Morneau’s childhood. I hope. Morneau has always been a pretty quick starter anyway (.914 Career OPS for April).

Then to say we should have gone on he market for a legitimate backup is ludicrous –

(I’m going to digress here, skip this if you like. You know what’s really annoying? When a big market team loses a key player for a few weeks, not a serious injury, and then immediately ESPN and MLBtradrumors start saying who they should trade for or sign. Like when A-Rod was set to miss the first month of 09 with his hip thing, and all of a sudden trading for Aramis Ramirez made sense? Or sometimes teams actually do these types of transactions, like Ruben Amaro with Luis Castillo just this past week because Chase Utley might miss a month or two. Teams have farm systems for a reason. I call this phenomenon hot stove masturbation. Take some adderall and call up the guy in Triple A for christ sakes.)

–As if the Twins don’t have enough plodding DH types to mix and match with Kubel, Cuddyer, Young and Thome, Nelson is suggesting we go out and what, pick up Garrett Atkins? It’s nice to be cautious with injuries. But this is a tough player who says he’s good to go, who plays the easiest and most replaceable position on th

Two good months and guys predict 30 homers out of me? Shit!

e diamond. I would prefer Cuddyer at 1st as opposed to the outfield. Maybe it isn’t immediately obvious that Cuddyer’s -18.4 UZR/150 is horrendously bad and that stashing him at first can only help poor Baker and Slowey?

I know I’m making too much of this. It’s probably because I really want Morneau to be back and healthy and actually capitalize on his talent and have a great full season (As opposed to a great 3-4 months a year). The guy hits for power, hits for average, and his plate discipline has improved markedly throughout his career. No reason besides freak injuries he can’t hit 35-40 dingers with a 1.000 OPS.

But you know what? We can’t know how Morneau will bounce back. And to articulate a pessimistic projection based on grand speculations of a condition Mr. Nelson knows nothing about is pretty lame. What has Gleeman predicted for Morneau? Nothing that I’ve seen.

And what irks me on a more superficial level is Nelson’s projection of .290/.360/.480 for the first baseman. It’s been six years since Justin’s had an OBP that bad. If he’s going t0 be recovered, he’s going to be recovered. But wait, it gets worse. Nelson’s projection for Delmon Young, he of the 0.8 WAR in 2010? .360 OBP with 30 homers. C’mon.

March 22, 2011 at 1:41 am 3 comments

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