Let’s Clear Some Stuff Up

Why on earth does the world get so up in arms when a professional baseball organization says it would listen to trade offers for any of its players? I am referring to the Twins brass saying they would listen to offers on Francisco Liriano, which in actuality happened more like this.

Media reporter: Heyyy Francisco Liriano is really good and has two arb years left, so hey Twins officials, what of it?

Bill Smith: We’d be open to trading anyone if the right deal came along.

ESPN: OMG YANKS TELL MOFUCKIN MONTERO TO PACK HIS BAGS WE’VE GOT OURSELVES A #2 STARTER!

Twins bloggers: OMG WHY R WE UNDERVALUING F-BOMB HERE R HIS STATS HE’S REALLY GOOD DUH STUPID BILL SMITH.

 

So it’s really like this:

 

Media reporter: News please?

Bill Smith: I don’t understand how the media works, so I will give an honest answer.

ESPN: OMG OMG ZOMG

Twins Bloggers: Ooh something to blog about.

Me: Ooh something to criticize other people for.

 

But many would refute my argument by saying, well then why haven’t we seen a long term extension offer?

My response: Because that doesn’t make any business sense, and if the Twins don’t like to make bad business decisions.

Look, he had really bad shoulder problems in the minors (And he’s already been backed off this spring with shoulder soreness). He had TJ surgery. He’s had bouts of dead arm. He pitched a career high in innings last year. Furthermore, he’s had ONE GOOD FULL SEASON. You do not give out multi year contracts to pitchers with a laundry list of serious injuries and only one good full season on their resume. That is STUPID.

If all goes well, he will improve on his ’10 numbers and win a few more games in ’11. And then cost more money if we were to lock him up.

But at this point he would have a lot more trade value.

And it wouldn’t be completely idiotic to talk long term with him, as something of a more established commodity. Especially with Kubel and Cuddyer potentially coming off the books.

You think Billy Beane regrets not giving Rich Harden an extension after his 2004 season that featured the then 22 year old pitching 189 innings with a 114 ERA+?

And really, if the Royals decided to be like, hey want Mike Moustakas and Mike Montgomery, you wouldn’t listen? My point is that, responsibly, that’s all we should glean from what Joe Christenson vaguely relayed.

It certainly doesn’t mean the Twins are giving up on Liriano. It’s juicy to use that as a hypothesis, as Aaron Gleeman does:

Christensen is one of the best beat reporters in the country and rarely engages in speculation or rumors, so there’s definitely plenty of fire behind the Liriano-related smoke. Tom Pelisserof ESPN1500.com later confirmed Christensen’s report, talking to “baseball sources” who said the Twins are indeed willing to trade Liriano. After reading those two reports my first reaction was that the Twins are severely undervaluing what they have in Liriano.

How do we know the Twins are undervaluing Liriano just because they would be willing to trade him? Are the Twins really naive enough to think that can adequately replace him? Or could all this speculation and the refusal of the Twins to talk long term, as well as Rick Anderson’s report that Liriano didn’t keep up with his offseason conditioning, point to an organizational ploy to keep Liriano motivated?

Just a thought. But I will say, when the season starts, Liriano will be the #2 starter (And should be the #1). If he isn’t, say hello to Desmond Jennings and Jake McGee, your outfielder of the future and bullpen ace, respectively.

February 21, 2011 at 5:57 pm Leave a comment

Predictions (Because I was so Good at it Last Year)

I want to gloat about an item I predicted last year around this time. Actually not gloat, since I made a few irroneous calls, such as:

Predicting Alex Avila to win the AL ROY

Predicting the Marlins to win the World Series

Predicting the AL MVP being… Milton Bradley

Well we all make mistakes and it is the very nature of making preseason predictions that they appear ridiculous in retrospect.

But I will say, that I predicted Francisco Liriano, that of the ERA approaching 6 in ’09, of dipping velocity, of being a constant health risk, and having serious control problems, to pitch 190 innings and compile a 3.75 ERA.

All told, he ended up with an ERA of 3.62 in 191.2 innings.

So I’ve decided to go at it, again. Here are my major predictions for 2011:

For the AL Rookie of the Year balloting, I have deduced its future winner to be J.P Arencibia of the Toronto Blue Jays. I have this feeling that there is something in the water over there. That hitters are being told to just ‘swing like hell’ and that this mentality is having an effect on some of their players. Positively for Jose Bautista, of course, negatively for Adam Lind and Aaron Hill. Arencibia had like 32 homers in triple A last year. I think, if he plays adequate defense, the Jays have decent pitching (He’ll get credit for handling the pitching staff) and he hits 20 home runs he has a good shot.

My secret hope choice: Any Royals rookie. Possibly Moustakas.

For the NL, I’m debating between Brandon Allen and Freddie Freeman. But predicting a rookie of the year vote is like predicting when your car is going to break down. It could happen at 100,000 miles, or it could throw you a fuckball and break down outside the dealership. You can’t even know what variables you’ll have to contend with, just like you can’t know who even ends up eligible for the award.

Secret hope choice: Don’t care enough.

But MVP voting, there you have a few near certainties. Assuming everyone stays healthy (And for predicting awards, you may as well assume), you pretty much know that Adrian Gonzalez is going to tear up Fenway Park. Hitting in front of Chase Headley is different than in front of Kevin Youkilis or J.D Drew or whoever. And hitting into a lil baby short porch in left field is different than trying to hit a ball over a vast field of wheat/Petco Park.

And you know Miguel Cabrera and Joe Mauer and Evan Longoria will be good. It all depends on circumstances such as,

BABIP, Team performance, number of RBI opportunities.

For these criteria, I give Gonzalez the edge. His BABIP can’t help but go up moving from Petco (Or so I’m led to believe), his team will be very, very good, and he will have many, many RBI opportunies.

Secret hope choice: Vladimir Guerrero. Too much hate about him blocking Nolan Reimold and Felix Pie. They’re not Logan Morrison and Mike Stanton. They’re Nolan Reimold and Felix Pie. Vlad was a childhood favorite of mine, and hopefully he puts together a whole season like his first half last year. Could happen; he’s kind’ve a freak talent.

Can you ever bet against Albert Pujols to win the NL MVP? Not rationally, but for fun, I will do so. I’ll go with Jason Heyward. I think he would have had MVP numbers last year had he not gotten hurt. The Braves have a decent team, he plays great defense, and will know the league a bit better (And yes correspondingly the league will know him better, but I think when you’re dealing with freaky natural athletes like Pujols or Mauer or Cabrera, and I’ll include Heyward just because his OBP was .390 in his rookie season at age 20, you give the advantage of familiarity to the freak, and not the control group).

Secret hope choice: Justin Upton. Hope he contends. Wouldn’t it be nice to see an Upton brother do something interesting.

For the AL Cy Young, I think it’s hard to bet against King Felix. So I won’t. Not with Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay being Phillies. Though I do hope someone like Brett Anderson or Brandon Morrow makes it interesting.

Secret hope choice: Morrow. If he realizes his full potential, even for just one season, the Jays look quite a bit better. And then if Aaron Hill gets his BABIP out of the toilet (He will), Adam Lind finds a middle ground between ’09 and ’10 (Wouldn’t bet against it), Snider takes any sort of step forward (Seems likely) and Bautista realizes it takes more than one ridiculous season to earn a long term contract from a GM who isn’t affiliated with the LA Angels in any way shape or form (Crapshoot), we could see the Jays contend a little.

The NL Cy Young will probably be a Philly. We all know this to be true. I think Halladay is a superior pitcher to Lee. Honestly I think Lee has gotten overrated due to his K/BB ratio and playoff performances. But let us not forget, he’s never been super hard to get hits off of, he’s never been super great at limiting home runs, and he has thrown two rather poor World Series starts in the last two years. The K/BB ratio gets all the statheads salivating, and the playoff record gets all the fairweather fans on the wagon. But a rational person knows that Lee is an average #1 or a really good #2 starter, particularly considering he’s getting up in years.

Halladay, on the other hand, took the NL out back last year and got it pregnant with Cy Young awards. His ERA+ was 165, compared to Lee’s 130, he had tons of strikeouts, complete games, walked negative four batters. Just dominated all the way through while Lee was serving up home run after home run in Texas.

Also, Halladay is a surefire Hall of Famer. Lee has had one great season. So has Jose Bautista. And Ben Zobrist. Just saying.

Secret hope choice: Roy Oswalt. The man has been better than I tend to think about him. And I think about him as a poor man’s Nolan Ryan. Except Oswalt doesn’t walk half the guys he faces like Ryan did, and his career ERA+ is among the best in MLB history, look it up. He also had a great year last year, posting the best strikeout rate of his career. And this from a guy we all thought was in decline a year ago. He also has never won a Cy, so wouldn’t it just be lovely if he were to outshine his slightly more heralded teammates this year?

Now for the divisions. We all know the Twins will take the central, although Adam Dunn and Victor Martinez will dial up the difficulty. But everyone underachieves for the Tigers, and, well… yeah the Sox look pretty good. Good lineup, good rotation, good bullpen. I’m just banking on the Twins overachieving, which is never a bad bet.

The East will go to the Red Sox. They can’t have as many injuries as last year. Ridiculous lineup, smartly constructed roster, great rotation, ridiculous bullpen. Versus the Yankees with Russel (I’m too tired to hit) Martin at catcher, declining A-Rod and Jeter, and a shitty back end of the rotation. And the Rays, who no longer possess a lineup or a bullpen. Honestly the Jays could sneak into second place this year.

The West will go to Texas. I can’t jump on the Oakland bandwagon. Because the Oakland bandwagon is usually creaky and spends half its time on the 60 day DL. And Adrian Beltre doesn’t hurt, even in his “I’m not playing for a contract” form (Seriously though, what a fucking bastard, only playing well in contract years, he owes every Mariner ticket holder a personal apology). The Angels and the M’s will suuck, by the way.

The NL Central will return to the Cardinals, because last year was fluky bad, and the Reds are not for real. Joey Votto is, but they are not. Holliday, Rasmus, Wainwright, Carpenter, and first baseman will not screw up like last year again. And they get to beat up on the Cubs, Pirates and Astros all the time. The Brewers will be better, I see them getting almost 90 wins and maybe getting the Wild Card. Prince, Braun and Greinke make up some good star power.

The East is for the Phillies. Too much pitching, even if there isn’t a bullpen to match, or any concept of cost efficiency in the mind of Ruben Amaro. The Braves will be good, too. I think Heyward will take a leap forward this year, barring another nagging injury, Freddie Freeman looks legitimate, and Chipper Jones has one more glory year in him before he completely flames out in 2012. And Tommy Hanson is way better than he was last year, I feel.

And the West has to fall in favor of the Rox. Not that you can really predict the NL West, but the Giants will not overachieve so much, nor will they be so fortunate on the injury front again. Aubrey Huff is just not good in odd numbered years, Mark DeRosa is probably done, someone out of Cain, Lincecum and Sanchez will get hurt, and Andres Torres, while really good last year, will not ever be that good again.

The Rockies have an amazing shortstop, a true ace, a really good closer, a ridiculous, if not quite as good as he was in 2010, center fielder, and some guys in Ian Stewart and Dexter Fowler that can probably still bust out, in their own ways. Maybe 30 HRs for Stewart and a .300 average for Fowler. Jhoulys Chacin, in addition, put up some really good numbers last year and is a quality #2. They still have a soft bullpen and soft back end of the rotation though. That’s the feeling I get with the Rockies, that their pitching is soft. The Reds give off that impression, too, as does the Phillies bullpen and the Rays lineup.

And the World Series will be between the Yankees and the Braves and the Braves will win in six games.

February 14, 2011 at 3:36 am Leave a comment

Offseason Post! (Why Everyone is Wrong but Me)

Alternate Title: Everyone sucks but me.

This is meant to be sarcastic. Could you tell? I have been vocal about blogger elitism, or rather the blogger tendency to make their claims with finality, and presenting only statistical evidence that supports their case, and absolutely no semblance of a counter claim, or recognition of human elements of the game.

Let’s pick on Umpbump.com for a minute. Now you know Umpbump for their irreverent style; they can be clever in the way they take the game out of context, having a long line of posts about UFH (Unfortunate facial hair) and the like. What is truly unfortunate is that the writer’s for this site very often phone in their content. Let me qualify:

Nick Kapur writes an article about the Dodgers signing of Matt Guerrier. He hates the signing, as would I. After all, Guerrier is getting up in years, has poor peripherals, weak stuff, and a ton of mileage on his arm.  You go to fangraphs and find that Guerrier is indeed 32 years old. Hmm sounds old. In addition, you find that he has thrown 461.2 innings since 2005. That’s a lot of innings. And then you note that his FIP hasn’t ever been below 3.91. Last year it was 4.23. Seems high for someone getting a 3 year deal huh? And then you can scroll down to more advanced statistics. You can find Guerrier’s average fastball velocity! Oh dear, 90.6 MPH, that’s not too fast.

Kapur focuses on WAR, though. WAR is a good statistic; it can quantify a player’s value fairly effectively. However, in the case of middle relievers, they don’t really pitch enough to accumulate a lot of WAR (Unless they are truly elite). Kapur points out that Guerrier has been worth .2 WAR over the past three seasons, and that means that his production could easily be replaced by any old triple A reliever, or waiver wire pickup. There’s a little bit of gnome logic here. Step one: Note that some of his statistics are a tad underwhelming. Step Two: … Step Three: AWAY WITH HIM.

Baseball analysis will forever be riddled with the debate between results and the prediction of future results. That players should be evaluated by what they’ve done vs. being evaluated by what they should have/will do.

Kapur obviously subscribes to the second, more predictive side of the coin. Which is absolutely legitimate. All things being equal, he’ll probably be right more than half the time in terms of his evaluations of players.

But that side completely ignores the human element of the game, as well as the reality of the marketplace. Because in spite of his mediocre fastball, hittability, and consistently poor peripherals, Matt Guerrier continues to amass results. Is it his goat-like facial hair? Who knows! But what is a pitcher’s job again? To limit runs. His ERA’s the past six years: 3.39, 3.36, 2.35, 5.19, 2.36, 3.17 (Oh and his total WAR from those seasons, excluding 2008, is 2.1. It was .9 in his 2007 season, which is pretty damn good. See how cherry picking can make almost any argument true?). Yes, middle relieving is a fickle industry, but this man has done his job at an elite level for 5 of the 6 years he’s been with the Twins, which is a pretty good ratio.

And yes, Ned Colletti has made some poor decisions, you’re right, Mr. Kapur. But I think he and his staff may have noticed that Matt Guerrier has limited runs better than almost any other middle reliever over the past six years. If he hadn’t given Guerrier three years, you don’t think someone else would have? This is real money, not hypothetical money. You don’t give out millions of dollars based on what someone is predicted to do, you give it out based on what they have done. That isn’t likely to change any time soon, Mr. Kapur, so your argument is essentially that you’re mad that athletes get paid too much.

Now, will Matt Guerrier succeed in L.A? He might, and he might not. Dodger stadium is a big park, and Matt’s a bit of a fly ball pitcher. But I’m fairly certain that the Dodger brass will be pretty happy with the deal if they get three years of 3.50 ERA ball. I’m also fairly certain they won’t give a shit what his FIP is during those years.

December 23, 2010 at 2:29 pm Leave a comment

What to take away from this season

Who here is tremendously disappointed with the way this season finished for the Minnesota Twins? Anyone?

Oh, right. Everyone already flew the coop immediately after Curtis Granderson’s double in game 1. It really is too bad, the way the playoffs have gone recently. Because the more the Twins lose, the less confidence they have, the more confidence other teams have in playing them in the postseason, and the faith of the fanbase diminishes even more.

This was supposed to be the year. This was the year we were prepared to make a run. The whole season seemed tilted that way. The division was never out of reach and in the end was won rather easily. We had a real shortstop, a real second baseman, almost a real left fielder even. It was a strange season around the league as well. The Rangers and Reds came out of somewhere and nowhere, respectively, the Padres competed without an offense for 5 months, there were 2.9 perfect games, pitching was up and hitting was down (To what degree of amazing that is is entirely subjective). Justin Morneau and Joe Nathan were out, Jim Thome was back in a tremendous way. This season was full of weird. And in my sentimental view, that would seem to imply, cosmically, that this was the year the Twins took down the Yankees and dispelled their reputation as playoff/Yankee chokers.

But there was one constant from seasons past, despite all the roster turnover and seemingly good karma, and that was failure in the ALDS. Certainly it was soul crushing to see our guys fold to those bastard Yankees again. But I’m reminded of a passage from Tim O’Brien’s book, The Things they Carried. The book is about war stories and the myths surrounding them and partly O’Brien’s experience in Viet Nam. You may have had to read it in high school. Anyway there’s this passage where a guy in the protagonist regiment, Rat Kiley, sees his best friend blown to pieces. The guy steps on a land mine, and is immediately lifted into the tree tops, light surrounding him, and he ascends into a mosaic of sunlight and blossoms. It is undeniably beautiful, and yet the harsh reality is, of course, that a man’s life was just lost. Rat Kiley goes and brutally, slowly, and gruesomely murders a baby water buffalo as an act of attrition. No one does anything, they just watch this baby animal slowly die in the most revolting fashion possible.

The way the Yankees win is they put landmines underneath our players. We’re blown to bits and there’s nothing we can do to stop the onslaught. The Yankees know they’re going to win, even if they’re behind. And I can’t deny the beauty in the way they do it. Leadoff guy draws a walk. You know it’s about to happen. Next guy doubles. The confidence they exude at this point is stunning. It could be Bret Gardner, it could be Mark Texiera. You know they won’t choke. You know if they’re behind, they’re going to tie it up at any moment. You know if they have a 1 run lead, it’s about to become a 2-3 run lead. They have a mission and they have all the belief in the world that they can accomplish it.**

**The only way, and we saw this in May or June in the final game of a 3 game set between the teams, that the Twins can overcome this is through various x factors. This usually means called strike threes. The only way the Yankee hitters won’t do exactly what they need to do is if they take called strike three. And it probably has to be a bad call. When Jon Rauch struck out Texiera with the winning run on base in May, it was a questionable call, but Texiera didn’t swing, and if he doesn’t swing he can’t achieve his objective. If the Twins ever want to overcome this profound defeatist mentality against the Yanks, they will need help from home plate umpires.

Now the way the Twins lose, that is the baby water buffalo. It’s sad, and it’s pathetic, and you know all the water buffalo wants is to survive this torment. But it can’t, and everyone knows it. It might be able to stand for a moment (Hudson’s homer in game 2, Valencia’s bases loaded walk in game 1) but its nose is about to get shot off by a rifle.

This is the beauty and savagery of the sport. What other game could have ‘curses’ that actually have the ability to mentally effect generation after generation of players such as the Cubs and until recently the Sox teams? Is the Twins ineptitude against New York at curse level yet? I don’t know, but this is beyond the realm of statistical analysis. This is a deep seeded loss of all belief and hope. This is me going up to bat for my 5th grade team against the hulk of a pitcher playing for the best team in the league. He’s just struck out our best hitter easily, he hasn’t given up a hit. I know what’s going to happen. I better hope he walks me, because I do not have the belief I can make a base hit happen without a fielding error.

I remember a class discussion about the water buffalo passage. One girl was appalled by the passage, couldn’t even read it, it stirred up too much awful imagery and despair for her. But that a passage of a book, or the playing of a game, can arouse such emotion in a person, is a testament to the true beauty of the book/game. The way the Yankees mentally undress the Twins is profound. The only other sport where that can exist is golf, but that is individual, this is an entire organization being mentally picked apart.

Our pitchers know they have to pretty much spin a perfect game. And by perfect I don’t mean that they go 9 innings, allowing no hits or walks. I mean they can’t make any mistakes. Pitching against a lineup that is brimming with confidence and belief, knowing they have a tremendous mental advantage, requires perfection in location. Liriano managed for a while, but in the end a player who in a given season can’t hit .200 off lefties, showed him the door. Carl Pavano is wonderful at deceiving batters and being a masterful pitcher, if not someone who possesses great talent anymore. He managed for a while, but in the end he made a couple mistakes, when he needed to make zero. Brian Duensing may very well have pitched as well as he is capable. He’s a great competitor, he really gets pumped up. But he isn’t Greg Maddux. He will make several mistakes per game. He never had a chance.

And it was one of the obnoxious TBS announcers who said it. It takes a great pitching performance to get a team out of ‘cursed’ situation like this one. One masterful shutout by Liriano and all bets are off; none of this applies anymore, or at least, not as much. Other teams have gotten this against the Yankees in the playoffs. The Angels were great at it for a while. We got it in ’03 and ’04 from Johan Santana, a man with such a combination of talent and craftiness that no curse could apply to him. But we also had a lot of tough breaks in game 2’s those years. Plus Joe Nathan is far too fidgety and and unsure of himself to handle a curse.

And now, to all you fair weather fans, who now think the Twins are chokers, bums, great in the regular season but crappy in the playoffs. Your solutions are as follows:

-Revamp the lineup, they’re chokers

-Fire Gardy, he can’t get the team ready for the playoffs

The lineup was revamped. That doesn’t matter, clearly.

No manager in baseball creates better clubhouse chemistry than Ron Gardenhire. The team would never have made the postseason the past two years without him. Being able to overcome notable and devastating injuries and to fire up the team for amazing stretch runs, that is Gardy’s strength. But when the postseason arrives, it’s not on him anymore. It’s up to the players. Managers don’t matter in small sample sizes like the postseason. Because there can always be a Brooks Conrad situation where 3 terrible errors screw the whole series up. Errors caused by by the psychological aspect of the game. The beauty and the ugliness of the game. The humanness of the game.

I suppose the point I’m trying to make, in the most roundabout way, is that teams in the midst of curses, or semi curses, or the beginnings of curses, need their fans more than ever. It’s easy to be a pessimist because that way your heart doesn’t get broken. When the team fails, you can lean back in your chair and say, told ya so. But that does nothing to help the team succeed, and get over this funk. It only puts more pressure on them to in back their Reusse-esque fans. And that can only hurt their ability to get out of this funk.

Hey fine, jump off the wagon and go cheer on Randy Moss. This Twins team will be good again next year. Gardy will make sure they don’t underachieve. But if they play the Yankees in the postseason, it will take a minor miracle for the team to prevail. If the Twins are to succeed in the playoffs in the future, at least one of these things need to happen.

1) Several amazing pitching performances.

2) Not playing the Yankees

3) Really fortunate umpiring

All real fans can do is wait and see if this happens. It will happen eventually, but hopefully it won’t take 86 years. It might. But if that’s what it takes I’ll be the happiest 106 year old in history.

October 11, 2010 at 6:36 pm Leave a comment

Everything is Okay

Now the Twins just swept the White Sox despite the Sox lining up their three best starters, at home, and having nothing to lose. Or maybe they everything to lose. In any case they had to lay all their cards on the table and they still got crushed. Not that Paul Konerko isn’t awesome for hitting a home run mere innings after being smacked in the face by a Carl Pavano fastball. But the division hasn’t been so tidily wrapped up since, what, 2004? (On September 16th, 2004, the Twins had a 13.5 game lead on the Sox. What a beautiful time)

Anyway, now that a 9 game lead has been established, there are other, more pressing concerns than the White Sox.

The Yankees have really been slumping lately. With todays win Minnesota has the same record as those despicable Bombers. Which is odd because 10 games ago 6 games separated the two teams. Furthermore, the Twins would be playing the Yankees in the playoffs if the season ended today, and staying away from Yankee Stadium would be more than helpful.

Who starts game 1? Liriano or Pavano? The feeling has been that Hotcarl has anchored the staff this year and that Liriano has been inconsistent. Although, as my last post attests, that’s a bunch of crap with regards to Francisco. Pavano has thrown many a clunker himself this year, as will happen from time to time with someone who never gives up walks, but it shouldn’t be assumed that just because he has a mustache and a lot of complete games, Pavano is your best bet in game 1 of a short series. Liriano has a historic home run rate going at the moment (4 and counting), as well as a sick FIP and far superior strikeout rate.

Game 3? The feeling is in Duensing’s favor, and on an intangible level, at least, he seems to have a competitive fire that Slowey and Baker not only don’t have, but are probably secretly afraid of.

Gardyyy, Brian is being scary and demanding to pitch another inning. Should we call the police?

Seriously, in his start against the Angels where he demanded to pitch the 9th inning, Duensing went against every tenant of Minnesota white guy boring pitcher Joe Mays-Rick-Reed-Bob-Tewksburyishness. That’s why he should get a crack against the Yankees, if we do in fact play them. You can’t measure intangibles such as these. But as I have hypothesized before, playing the Yankees demands a level of fearlessness that our pitchers have lacked in recent years. Nice guys like Joe Nathan don’t beat the Yankees. Douchebag Josh Beckett beats the Yankees. Kevin Slowey can’t face A-Rod with the bases loaded and not crap his pants. Asshole Curt Schilling can. It’s so easy for those briefed in modern statistical analysis to rely solely on stats  to form conclusions, because it seems as though stats can back up any argument you could possibly want to make. But in a 5 game series, everything is such a crapshoot that I would rather have the guy with a 4.00 FIP and a badass neck tattoo than the guy with a 3.00 FIP who listens to Andy Williams.

Look, I appreciate every article that makes fun of some old backward journalist who accuses bloggers of only looking at the game through their computer screen. And it’s always funny because the old journalist is always making some idiotic argument than can be dissected and pulled apart to show how out of touch the guy is. What if he isn’t making that idiotic point, though? What if we simply focus on his main argument, that modern statistical analysis has blinded us from some key aspects of the game, intangible aspects. Dave Cameron can look more and more and more in depth and conclude that, say, Carlos Gonzalez is really just having a lucky season and is totally taking advantage of his home park blah blah blah. But what if all Cargo needed was some confidence? Because I’m fairly certain, having played some ball myself, that all the game is about is having confidence in your abilities. That can’t be measured. Dave Cameron can say that Jason Kubel is worth the same as Eric Hinske and back that up with advanced metrics. But have you seen the way a Ron Gardenhire clubhouse works, Cam Cam? You think the Twins can non tender Kubel, pick up Hinske and go on like nothing has happened? The Twins success these past 10 years can’t be traced to powerful lineups or electric pitching staffs, or even really to stellar defensive play. These Twins are successful because they all care, they all respect Gardy, they all really believe in the program over here. Sometimes that program can be oppressive and can result in David Ortiz not reaching his full potential. That’s fair, but prior to this year, the Twins front office had made some pretty stupid decisions. We’re known around the league for great scouting and talent evaluation, but we never really have that much talent. Ramon Ortiz, Sidney Ponson, Luis Rivas, the Matt Garza trade.. this club has succeeded despite the front office, not because of it. This year, you can see what a competent front office performance can result in, when combined with the way Ron Gardenhire and Rick Anderson run a ballclub. Statistics can help us see so much about this game, so much we couldn’t see before. They help settle arguments, and are integral in predicting future performance. But I think this is why SABR inclined GM’s don’t tend to succeed any more than the old school ones. The way a clubhouse is run is, while certainly not the only factor, a big part of team success. And one that absolutely cannot be measured statistically.

And I’m sure Dave Cameron and all the other autobots on Fangraphs love baseball. Of course they do, otherwise they wouldn’t devote so much time to it.

But sometimes it’s really hard to see, and I totally understand where the old school Murray Chass’ are coming from when they accuse the SABR types of not appreciating the game. Because the way the articles on say, Fangraphs or Baseballprospectus are phrased are often very pompous, and almost always with arrogant finality. And honestly, for every success story the SABR community has in terms of predicting a player or team’s performance to a T, there are tons of stories where statistics have no explanation. Look at Scott Rolen, or the San Diego Padres, or Vlad Guerrero, or Paul Konerko, or the fall of the Cardinals despite 5 legit superstars. Look at frickin Jose Bautista! This isn’t small sample size variance anymore, that dude has crushed 47 home runs.

I’m not saying the SABR community should have predicted those seasons. I’m saying it couldn’t, and it can’t. Statistics can’t measure the ability of a human being to figure out their life, which is essentially what Jose Bautista is doing right now. And statistics won’t find a way to back up Brian Duensing, because he has a bad xFIP and has pitched to some bad teams. They will point out that Scott Baker has been unlucky. But those of us who watch Twins games know, Scott Baker is a talented guy who won’t put it together, and that Brian Duensing is an untalented guy who knows how to motherfucking pitch.

For every Homer Bailey, Dave Bush and Joba Chamberlain there is a Jon Garland and 2010 Tim Hudson. For every Alex Gordon and Matt LaPorta there is a corresponding Mike Aviles and Austin Jackson.

I read an Umpbump.com article (It’s generally a very good site) recently that wanted Cliff Lee to win the Cy Young because of his ridiculous K/BB ratio. Okay, Cliff Lee is a great pitcher, and great pitchers usually have great K/BB ratios, but the objective of pitching is not to have the best K/BB ratio. The goal of pitching is to give up the fewest amount of runs, which Cliff Lee is not doing. In fact, while he has at times been brilliant this year, Cliff Lee has missed a decent amount of time with injury, he hasn’t pitched particularly well since his trade to the Rangers, and he has given up a pretty good number of home runs. Basically what he is doing that is historic is that he is allowing a ridiculous low amount of walks. Good for him.

This has really turned into quite the diatribe. I really don’t mean to rag on the SABR community, because I really get a lot from it. I just get frustrated by the statheads thinking there is only one side to everything. Baseball isn’t about statistical tunnel vision, it’s so much more. It’s about humans playing a crazy, complex game with more variables than you can imagine. We have found ways to measure their performance, and those measures are extremely useful, but not when they take away from the game. Not when Eric Hinske is being championed as a cheaper, better Jason Kubel by someone who doesn’t give a shit about any quality that can’t be measured, who doesn’t give a shit about the Twins, and who has no appreciation for the fact that this game is played by human fucking beings. That isn’t why I would pay hundreds of dollars for a playoff ticket, I would pay that money because the game is so inherently human, so psychological, so unpredictable. In football, if a 5’9″ running back runs into Pat Williams, Pat will eat him 100 times out of 100. In baseball, Mariano Rivera can pitch to David Eckstein and lil Dave can get a hit 25 times out of 100. The Royals will beat the Red Sox pretty much every year, at least once, but it will probably be a generation before the Cleveland Browns beat the Colts. I’m rambling, but my point is that over analysis detracts from the beauty of the game, which is, if you’ve watched any baseball this season, at, arguably, an all time high.

September 17, 2010 at 12:04 am 4 comments

Do the Twins need a Front Line Starter?

This is something I’ve thought about for a while. It seems most pundits believe the Twins are a playoff team, but won’t advance in the playoffs, or even make the playoffs, without a “front line starting pitcher.”

Now the obvious response, and I’m sure many will share this point of view among those trained in modern statistics, is that the answer is Francisco Liriano. He leads the league in FIP. His K/BB is great, he’s only given up 2 home runs all year. He’s an ace.

But then the more mainstream of sports journalists tend to view Liriano as “erratic.” What does this mean, exactly? I suppose with most pitchers, the term erratic would mean that they tend to struggle with control, or are inconsistent with their results. One day they look great, the next they don’t last 4 innings. Brandon Morrow is very erratic. I think that can be agreed upon by most. He struck out 17 in a near no hitter last week. He also walks more than 4 batters per 9 innings and has had 8 starts where he has given up 5 runs or more. Erratic.**

2010 has been a great big Cliff Lee lovefest, and a lot of that has to do with the fact that Mr. Lee is in no way, erratic. He has 9 walks all year and in 15 of his 20 starts, he’s gone 8 innings or more. He’s given up 8 runs, and he’s given up 6 runs, once apiece. He also has 15 quality starts, for what it’s worth. Cliff Lee is consistent. As such, he is viewed universally as a front line starter.

**The Morrow comparison is interesting because Morrow is white. How many other white pitchers are out there that could be described as “erratic?” Maybe Max Scherzer. A.J Burnett. Homer Bailey. Now how many minority players have been described in such a way? Well the Twins have Mijares, Liriano himself, then there’s guys like Octavio Dotel, Franklin Morales, Armando Benitez (Is he still making a comeback? The Royals should get on that), Gio Gonzalez, Ervin Santana, Johnny Cueto, Aroldis Chapman, Joel Zumaya, Rafael Perez, Manny Delcarmen, Mike Gonzalez, Jose Valverde, Frank Francisco, Francisco Cordero.. well I don’t see National League teams much so I don’t want to speculate on someone’s ethnicity beyond what I know for sure. But isn’t this interesting. I think what strikes me is not that there necessarily ARE more erratic minority players, but that our perception makes it a lot easier to rattle of names of erratic latino players as opposed to white players. I think it comes down to a preconceived notion in our heads that white pitchers ascend to the majors as polished players, while Latin players are wild and erratic but have great arms and maybe if they work on their control they could be the next big thing. Is it that we apply the label incorrectly towards Latino players, or is it that there are MORE Latino players with high walk rates and inconsistent performance? Or are white pitchers historically less able to survive in the majors with high walk rates and wide variances in performance; like we are more tolerant of wildness from Latino players because we expect that kind of erratic performance from them? I wonder what Ozzie Guillen would say.

On to our dear F-pletive. Certainly his rate stats are pretty great. But the argument against his being considered “front line” is stronger than you might think. The first point against him is that he’s too inconsistent to be an ace. Coming out of the gate, Liriano won 4 of 5 starts with a 1.50 ERA. Over his next 5 starts, his ERA was 4.84 with a record of 1-3. He was decent for a while, until his first clunker against Detroit where he gave up 6 runs in 6 innings, actually bouncing back pretty well after an awful first few innings (This happened to be the one game I attended, and will attend, this year). Then he threw a great game against the Rays, only to go to Detroit and have his ass handed to him once more, this time not surviving the 2nd inning. Then after the break, he gave up a total of 2 runs in 4 starts (Albeit 3 of those teams were KC, Seattle and Cleveland). Then he had a dead arm, apparently, against Cleveland on August 6th, and didn’t make it out of the 5th. Last night, he gave me a few hundred heart attacks en route to holding the Sox to 1 run in 5.2 innings.

Is that a decently up and down year so far? I’d say it appears that way. However, looking at each performance, he’s had 6 pretty bad starts (less than 6 innings, 3 or more runs), 5 decent ones (quality starts but with 3 runs given up), and 12 good to great ones (2 or fewer runs allowed). Cliff Lee’s % of decent, or quality, starts is 75%. Liriano’s is 73.9%.

Well that changes things. Now factor in Liriano’s superior K rate (9.84 to 7.64 for Lee), his dreadful defense behind him, (Lee’s BABIP is .293 to Liriano’s .350) and better (Though not sustainable) home run rate and all of a sudden it seems silly to say the Twins lack a front end starter. And since Carl Pavano has been a pretty great number 2, Baker and Slowey have rebounded a bit, Duensing has been very servicable and the bullpen fantastic (And although the Capps trade was pretty moronic, the bullpen has a ton of depth all of a sudden, assuming Mijares makes it back eventually), I think it’s safe to say this pitching staff is postseason qualified, at least when positioned alongside an offense that has proven potent with or without Justin Morneau.

August 13, 2010 at 7:56 pm 2 comments

Hold On Now, Reusses

Now, I normally don’t read the Star Tribune very much in depth. I certainly try not to read it when the Twins aren’t doing so well. Today I was reminded why. Souhan had an article about how Joe Mauer was trying his best, but due to extenuating circumstances (The pressure of playing under a huge contract, playing catcher, defensive shifts he’s not adjusting to somehow, not playing third base etc) there’s just no way we can hope for him to be a great player. He will merely be a very good one.

Reusse’s article was a cliche for him. He probably wrote it in spring training, hoping for everything to collapse. Here’s a summary: Span bad, Hudson bad, Mauer bad, Morneau good but Cuddyer Kubel Hardy Punto bad, Young and Thome good but Slowey Baker Blackburn Liriano bad. Pavano good.

What analysis. Now first let me point out that Mr. Mauer already has accumulated 2.1 WAR on the season. He’s not hitting for much power, and his BABIP is his lowest since his rookie year. His walk rate is a little down, but he’s making just as much contact, hitting the same amount of line drives. Yes, a lot of line drives are ending up being caught on the warning track. But is this Mauer’s fault, for not hitting his warning track line drives in the right place?

I like it when my players hit warning track line drives. Those are well hit balls that should be hits more often than not. And also, and this is a fundamental rule of statistics, bad luck (And good luck) can only last so long. Let’s say you’re doing something the kids do.. like shooting fish in a barrel. You may miss the first 15 or so shots you take, but eventually, you’re going to hit one. What Jim Souhan is suggesting, then, is that when you miss the first 15 shots, you get a different gun, alter your shooting technique, or maybe get someone new to shoot for you. This may result in a hit fish right away, it may not, but your odds are no different. You’re shooting fricking fish in a barrel, get over yourself!

This goes for Joe Mauer, as it goes for the whole team. Joe is going to improve in the second half, and even if he stays at his current pace, he’s going to be a 12M or so player in value. Wait a minute, as Matt Klaassen of Fangraphs points out, Mauer’s extension doesn’t kick in until next year. He’s making 12.5M this year. So before you lambast him for not playing up to his contract, realize that, as of right now, as a great catcher having a decent enough season with good defense, he’s worth every penny.

Now on to Mr. Liriano. Were you aware that his FIP is 2.18? Well, if you didn’t, let me remind you that that number leads the entire major leagues. Josh Johnson is second with a 2.31. The great Ubaldo Jimenez has a 3.13. What this means is that Liriano does a great job at the three things pitchers are truly responsible for, strikeouts (9.81/9), limiting walks (only 30 so far), and limiting home runs (2 and counting). He has an awful outfield defense, and a worsening infield one, with Cuddyer continuing to play third (Badly). Reusse referred to Liriano as erratic. I suppose he did just have his worst start of the year, not getting out of the second inning. But is it not the very definition of cherry picking, to pluck one bad start out of 16 better ones?

Carl Pavano has been fantastic. He has always known how to pitch, and by this I mean throwing the right pitch at the right time, setting up hitters, fooling them. But now, as he attests, he is gaining more velocity, which is making him even more effective. He is no fluke. We have the pre-Yankee Carl Pavano.

Scott Baker has a 5/1 K/BB ratio. That would be third best in the majors. The gripe with Baker is that when he has his good stuff, he’s awesome and his stuff is good enough to pitch up in the zone. However, when he doesn’t have his best, he can’t afford to pitch up and gets clobbered. So perhaps Sir Scott is showing how someone can be continuously ineffective despite having a stellar K/BB ratio. He needs to adjust his location when he doesn’t have it.

J.J. Hardy hasn’t gotten enough playing time to warrant much criticism. He has a wrist injury, not a hamstring pull or a broken nose. Wrist injuries make good hitters bad. And decent hitters into the .226/.268/.340 line Hardy currently has. But his defense has been remarkable, and he has yet to have a hot streak. Or even just a string of a few games where he gets some extra base hits and some multi hit games. Give him some time.

The bullpen has been really good. I agree with Aaron Gleeman that Gardenhire should not withhold Jon Rauch for only save situations. He’s wearing Guerrier down to a nub, while Rauch and his 3.32 FIP sit fully rested. That’s really bad bullpen management. Although if I were Matt Guerrier, I’d be getting sick of, every time I had a bad week it being blamed on me being overworked and tired. But either way, the bullpen has not been the problem.

It’s been Nick Blackburn. I feel like there’s something wrong with him. But most likely, it’s a simple lack of confidence. And as I alluded to in my previous post (Which was months ago), Blackburn seems to thrive on confidence and intimidation rather than throwing effective pitches. He really needs a stint in triple A.

What I’m trying to get at is that it seems as though people are wanting to hit the panic button. But the fact is, this is still a good team and bad luck combined with underperformance is keeping them in 3rd place. These things straighten themselves out. Mauer, Kubel Hudson, Span and Hardy will hit better in the second half. Liriano and Baker will pitch a lot better (At least in terms of results). And I think, assuming Morneau comes back strong from his concussion, the offense and the pitching figure to improve, because the only player who looks like they completely don’t have it is Blackburn. And he can be replaced if he keeps it up. So in summary, this is the happy little optimist reminding you that Twins fans needn’t worry. Not yet, anyway.

July 16, 2010 at 12:24 am Leave a comment

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