Thursday, May 31, 2007

Left Behind

Things are starting to look marginally better for the Twins; their recent stretch of quality play has kept them within shouting distance of the division lead. I still firmly believe that they are the third-best team in the AL Central, but I’m always open to being proven wrong.

Terry Ryan and the Twins brass have finally rectified their other major pitching blunder, banishing Ramon Ortiz to the bullpen. (Now, if we can get them to start realizing their errors before they make stupid off-season moves, we’ll really be in business.) Kevin Slowey takes Ortiz’s spot in the rotation, going Friday in Oakland. We’ll get to Slowey in a moment; first, let’s take a look at what this means for the Twins’ other big-time pitching prospect.

Matt Garza is not a happy camper. That PiPress article from last week is surprisingly candid, with more honesty from both sides than I’m generally used to seeing in the press. Especially interesting is the section about Garza’s dead arm. Garza is adamant in saying that he pitched the end of last year with the dead arm; minor league director Jim Rantz is equally clear in his denial. I’m not even sure how to take that; it kind of feels like Rantz and the Twins are openly calling out Garza and telling him to shut his hole.

The same goes with the talk about Garza’s changeup. The staff wants Garza to further develop the pitch (understandably), but their methods used to do so may have been counter-productive. But again, pitcher and coach totally contradict each other: Garza claims he was on a strict changeup quota “whether or not the situation called for them.” Rantz, again, directly disputes Garza’s claim.

According to Garza himself, all of this stems from the fact that he did not land on the Twins roster in April. Garza refers to the “funk” he was in because of his disappointment. This is more surprising candor from the player; I don’t see players often openly discussing their feelings in the media beyond the standard “I’ll just keep working to get better” line that everyone seems to use. I’m wondering if it is that honesty that vaulted Slowey ahead of Garza in the race for Ortiz’s spot.

The Twins have always preferred experience to youth whenever possible. While Slowey has better AAA numbers so far this year, performance seems to be trumped by experience when the Twins make roster moves (after all, that’s how we got Ortiz in the first place). So Garza (who started nine games for the Twins last fall) would seem to be the more likely candidate for the promotion; he’s also a generally-higher-regarded prospect around baseball.

That’s why Slowey’s promotion seems like a message to Garza, as much as (or more than) it feels like a reward for Slowey’s performance so far. (And his performance has been outstanding: 6-2 with a 1.54 ERA and a WHIP of .81, along with only 5 walks to 57 strikeouts.) The Twins are not big fans of insubordination (perceived or otherwise). They’re pretty old-school in most respects. How Garza responds to what I’m sure he will take as a clear message will go a long way towards deciding his future in the organization. The end of the PiPress article has Garza claiming to feel “normal again.” If that’s the case, then Carlos Silva should start looking over his shoulder.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Buy Low

There’s only so much Nick Punto and Louis Rodriguez a man can take. At a certain point, one starts to long for a third baseman who is, you know, good at baseball and can actually contribute to (rather than detract from) a team’s chances for victory. To make matters even more frustrating, we’re currently in a bit of a Golden Age of major league third basemen; from Alex Rodriguez, to Miguel Cabrera, to David Wright (and I could go on and on), there are so many good players manning the hot corner today that the Twins’ lack at the position becomes even more glaring.

There’s always the chance that Joe Mauer ends up at third base sooner rather than later. In fact, I think there’s a decent chance that Terry Ryan intends this to be the long-term solution, which is why nobody has been brought in to fill the hole created by Cuddyer’s move to right. But putting aside that idea, there are a couple of tasty acquisitions the Twins could make mid-season that have a chance to pay off big-time.

Both Morgan Ensberg and Edwin Encarnacion are in the dog house for their respective teams. Ensberg has fallen into a third-base platoon in Houston thanks to a slow start, and people in Cincinnati have been grumbling about Encarnacion’s perceived attitude problem. In both cases, we have superb “buy low” opportunities that could fill a major hole in the Twins’ lineup.

Ensberg is the older player, by seven years. He’s now two years removed from 2005’s monster season in which he hit .283/.388/.557 with 36 homers, but his 2006 was nothing to sneeze at either. His batting average fell down into the .230s, but his on-base percentage actually rose by eight points to .396. This season, he’s mired in a pretty serious slump, hitting only .216/.369/.345. Houston seems fed up at this point, as he no longer has a full-time starting job. Houston could be a decent trading partner, as well. Houston is sitting 6.5 games back in the NL Central and they lost out on Roger Clemens; now might be the time for the Astros to blow things up and start over, and some of the Twins minor-league pitching might seem tasty (especially when Houston appears to hate Ensberg with the fiery passion of a thousand suns).

I like the idea of an Encarnacion deal even more, as it would represent a forward-thinking move on the Twins part that could add a potentially excellent young talent to compliment the Mauer/Morneau core. Encarnacion has been, in a word, putrid this year. A .220/.303/.284 line doesn’t seem like much of an upgrade. But in last years rookie season (at the young age of 23), he put up a very solid .276/.359/.473 with 15 home runs in about 400 at-bats. All reports out of Cincinnati seem to suggest that both sides of the Reds/Encarnacion relationship need to move on; this is a situation where a change of scenery could spark a major improvement. No one doubts his talent to be a good major league third baseman, but it’s unlikely to happen in Cincy. With Terry Ryan’s good buddy Wayne Krivsky running the show for the Reds, this seems like a good match. The Reds could make good use of some of the Twins’ pitching prospects, and the Twins could end up with someone to hold down third base for a good five years.

With very little hitting in the minor-league pipeline, the Twins are going to have to look outside to fix their attack; Ensberg and (especially) Encarnacion both give them a good chance at a serious coup. It’s time for Terry Ryan to take a bit of a risk for once, and buying low on these two players is a good place to start.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Drafting a plan

Taking a break from writing Bill Simmons’ eulogy (after his fatal heart attack that occurred when the Celtics plummeted in the NBA draft lottery), I’m turning my attention back to baseball and its upcoming draft. For the first time, there is going to be live ESPN2 television coverage of baseball’s spring draft; it’s come a long way from the conference call it used to be. Drafts in general are becoming bigger deals every year; the NFL is currently mulling over a plan to shift its first round to a primetime Friday night slot, and the NBA’s Greg Oden/Kevin Durant duo this year (congrats to the Blazers and Sonics; apparently the NBA lottery had a major west-coast bias this year) had everyone talking. So with all of that in mind, let’s take a look at some possible changes to baseball’s system, and figure out which changes would benefit the MLB.

Lottery to determine top picks
The NBA instituted their current lottery system in an attempt to attempt late-season tanking by teams looking to get into position with a high pick. This season was a spectacular failure for that idea, without a doubt. Numerous teams (like the Grizzlies, Bucks, and Celtics) blatantly threw in the towel, making the last third of the NBA’s regular season borderline unwatchable. Then, none of those teams landed in the top three (the Hawks, Sonics, and Blazers all moved up instead). So the NBA’s system managed to (a) not prevent tanking, and (b) not give the best talent to the worst teams. It’s hard to come up with a worse combination than that. Besides, there isn’t much of a tanking issue in the MLB anyway. Verdict: No.

Tradable picks
Baseball is the only major sport that does not allow teams to trade their picks. There’s a decent argument to be made for and against this; by not allowing picks to be traded, baseball makes sure that a team at the top must actually take something approximating top-tier talent since they can’t simply trade down to take cheaper players each year. On the flip side, teams have to deal with the “Boras Effect” caused by Scott Boras and other top agents commanding top dollar for their clients. This leads to the “signability issues” that caused players like Stephen Drew to drop to teams willing to pony up. If picks could be traded, teams at the top would be able to slide down a few slots and open up a bidding war between deep-pocketed teams for the occasional Boras client. I’m going to go with a Yes on this one, if a system was put into place to make sure that a team couldn’t do too much long-term damage to itself (perhaps by not allowing a team to trade its top pick two years in a row, or something like that.

Slotted contracts
This is another NBA idea; in that league, players drafted in the first round are automatically slotted into pre-determined contracts, eliminating hold-outs, signability questions (rendering a lot of the problems addressed in the trading section moot), and rough negotiations. The problem here, I think, comes from the many inherent differences between baseball and basketball; especially the recent trend of players holding out for a full year and re-entering the draft the next time around (Luke Hochevar, the Royals prospect, did this if I remember correctly). I would say Yes to this idea in theory, but I can’t imagine any situation in which baseball successfully negotiated this with the Players Association.

International players
Baseball’s influx of overseas talent from areas like Japan and Latin America has been the major force shaping the game over the last few years, even while there’s a haphazard system of actually getting these players into the MLB system. Again, the NBA has the most structured approach, where all players must enter through the draft, international or not, and whatever team that drafts them is responsible for negotiating whatever buyouts or other considerations will be necessary to bring a player over. This can backfire, as the Magic recently learned when they spent a first-round pick on a player who chose to remain in Spain (where the rain mainly falls, I forget). Baseball uses the free-for-all approach for players like Ichiro, Jose Contreras, and the like. Using a draft for true prospects wouldn’t be too much of an issue I assume, but those big-name veterans from overseas raise more problems. Ichiro, Matsuzaka, and others are not prospects in the traditional sense; their situation bears more resemblance to a major-league free agent than to a high-schooler. As such, I’m going to say No here; the responsibility for finding foreign players falls on the teams themselves establishing roots in other countries, such as the Twins have done in Venezuela. Teams that put in the effort to find these guys get the rewards, while big-ticket guys still get the freedom they expect.

Those are the four biggest issues that jump to mind; I’m split down the middle, 2-2. But I’m interested in what you guys think; what other aspects should we be considering here? And which of these did I totally miss the boat on?

John Sharkey would take Yi Jianlian number one at aodshark@gmail.com

Monday, May 21, 2007

Links 5/22

Let's see a show of hands--was anyone that surprised when the two young pitchers dominated this weekend and the veteran failed to win a game where his offense scored five runs? Mr. Ryan and Mr. Gardenhire, you can put your hands down. Anyone else? No?

Luckily for the Twins, they have three more stud starting pitching prospects to choose from once Terry Ryan and Gardenhire get around to removing Ramon Ortiz from the rotation. And it's something they should do as soon as possible, starting with using Thursday's bye to skip his spot in the rotation, rather than Scott Baker's. This is doubly important, as we've already seen what happens when Baker doesn't pitch regularly.

After skipping Ortiz, the next step in showing the Twins' commitment to winning is to move him to the bullpen (or trade him) so as to allow a younger, more talented pitcher to get his starts. The choice would likely be between Kevin Slowey and Matt Garza, due to the recent injury to Denny Reyes (never trust a former Royals pitcher) that leaves Glen Perkins as the only left hander in a bullpen that's already missing Jesse Crain. Garza is someone Twins' fans will be familiar with, having watched him pitch last year. Slowey, however, is more of an unknown, as he's yet to throw a pitch in the majors. Naturally, a Twins' blogger took the advice of the 2002 advertising campaign and got to know him through an interview.

While you're waiting for the inevitable announcement that the Twins are skipping Baker's start, make sure you check out the Quick Links:

  • Is Erik Lis the answer to the Twins' power shortage? Roger Clemens thinks so.
  • Coffeyville Whirlwind is holding a playoff of the best teams in the Twins' history. The first matchup? The 1965 Twins v. the 1987 Twins.
  • Pacifist Viking ponders the effect of sabremetrics on poetry.
  • Nick & Nick were in Milwaukee this weekend. And look! They have pictures!
  • The Ballad of Bombo Rivera
  • Possible help for the Twins' injury depleted bullpen?
  • Something for the Twins to keep in mind, since they're about to start relying on young pitchers (Baker definitely looks young enough to pitch in Little League).
  • Apparently, there are still players in the Majors who were in RBI Baseball for the NES.
  • Ozzie Guillen: Completely Insane.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Carlos Paula: The Accidental Pioneer

Second in a series commemorating the 60th anniversary of the falling of the color barrier in Major League Baseball.

It was Spring Training 1954 -- the now legendary Ernie Banks was called up by the Chicago Cubs the previous September, making it nine clubs integrated in the seven full seasons since Jackie Robinson's 1947 debut. Of the four easternmost clubs in the American League, the Red Sox, Yankees, Philadelphia Athletics, and Washington Senators, only the A's had fielded an African-American player. While the Red Sox were waiting for God-knows what and the Yankees needed the incredible talent of Elston Howard to join the New York Giants and Brooklyn Dodgers in the 20th Century, the Senators had what some would consider a legitimate "excuse."

You see, for nearly a generation, the Senators had been fielding players with a skin color not unlike present-day Twins pitcher Johan Santana or even outfielder Torii Hunter. Roberto "Bobby" Estalella, who wore a Senators uniform in 1933, for example, was a man of evident African features, who in Cuba might be referred to in slang as "jabao," which was loosely used to describe a light skinned person with some African ancestry, although in Cuba, "jabao" is not a pejorative or derogatory term. By listing the player as Cuban and acknowledging his limited English language skills, Clark Griffith satisfied the powers that be in Major League Baseball that he was not fielding a "Negro," for whom the door to the promised land remained closed.

While the registration of Estalella, who many cite as the first player of color to play in the majors, took some creativity on Griffith's part, it's clear that Clark was not prepared to be the first to challenge Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis' unwritten but iron-clad race barrier. To that end, there are reports that Griffith met with Negro Leagues' legend Josh Gibson, whose Homestead Grays played at least part of their home schedule in Washington, promising Gibson only that he would offer him a contract once someone else broke the barrier. By the time Jackie Robinson came around, Gibson had already died at the too-young age of 35.

So, on a team renowned by that point for fielding Caribbean (primarily Cuban) players, we are brought back to Spring Training 1954 for Washington's preparation to field an "official" black player in an American League game. His name was Angel Scull. Scull, a member of Cuba's Sports Hall of Fame, even appeared on a 1954 Topps' baseball card wearing the Senators' uniform. Fate denied Scull his chance at the majors however, as an ankle injury suffered at Washington's (and later Minnesota's) Orlando spring training facility prematurely ended his career. Without any other black players ready to seize a job with the Senators, the Pirates, Cardinals, and Reds joined the nine other clubs before them in beating Washington to the punch.

Still, 1954 was not without momentous moments for the Senators' franchise. Camilo Pascual made the team out of Spring Training on his way to a 174-win, 15 year career with the Senators and Twins that saw him make five all-star appearances. In mid-July, only one-month out of high school, future Hall-of-Famer Harmon Killebrew made his big league debut with the Senators as a result of the Majors' new bonus rule requiring signings of over $4,000 to go directly to the big leagues and remain on the roster for a minimum of two years. Finally, Red Sox legend Johnny Pesky, a man who spent 68 years in the game as player and manager and whom Fenway's right field foul pole is named, took his last major league at bat as a member of the Senators in September.

And finally, amid another losing season for the "first in peace, first in war, last in the American League" Senators, one September call-up is forever memorialized as breaking Washington's color barrier. In this highly segregated city with one of the nation's largest and proudest African-American communities, it was yet another Cuban, 26-year old veteran Carlos Paula, who swung the bat on September 6, 1954 and got into nine further games that month. Paula was, not surprisingly, a product of famed Senators' and Twins' scout Joseph "Papa Joe" Cambria, famous for signing some 400 Cuban ballplayers. Unfortunately for Cambria, Paula may not have been one of his best -- while he tied for the league lead the next year with seven triples, Washington baseball historian Phil Wood recalls stories of his defensive ineptness in the outfield being the stuff of legend. In fact, while he ended up just one hit short of .300 in 1955 and posted a respectable .779 OPS, he committed a remarkable 10 errors in the outfield. As a point of perspective, his .950 career fielding percentage stands some twenty points lower than that of current outfielders Chris Duncan of the Cardinals and Manny Ramirez of the Red Sox, regarded by many as some of the worst fielding outfielders in the game.

By 1956, Paula was out of baseball and it took another year until former Dodger pitcher Joe Black was brought in on an flyer by manager (and former Dodger coach) Cookie Lavagetto to become the Senators' first African-American player. Arguably, the team didn't have a black "star" player until its move to Bloomington and the likes of Tony Oliva in the mid-60's and Rod Carew in the early 70's.

While fanfare surrounded many of the barrier-breaking entries into baseball, such as with Jackie Robinson, Larry Doby, Minnie Minoso, and Ernie Banks, the Senators' penchant for Cuban talent resulted in a barrier-breaker whose impact on the game didn't last much longer than the decade in which he played. Nonetheless, while Carlos Paula's story is not terribly well-documented, one can be sure his personal journey had its share of difficult moments. Washington, D.C. is, after all, a city which still suffers from the incredible disparity between the fortunes of its white and black citizens. When Paula made his debut in Griffith Park, a stadium situated very near to that economic boundary on Georgia Avenue and W Street in Northwest Washington, he might well have been made to understand his place or lack thereof. Or maybe, we can hope, he was cheered as much then as when he broke up Whitey Ford's no-hitter a year later. Or as much as the franchise's most famous black player, Kirby Puckett, was on countless occasions from the Metrodome to Cooperstown. After all -- whether or not history chooses to discuss his legacy in any depth -- he was still the Twins' first black player, something no one else will ever be able to say.

Cory Caouette thanks baseball historian Phil Wood for teaching him about the Twins' early days in Washington. Next month: Minnesota's own black baseball pioneers.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

GameDay Career Counseling

Career changes can be tough. After all, when you've spent your whole life doing something and suddenly find out that you're done, that can be a bit jarring. One can find himself wondering, "What now?" Well, that's where we at GameDay Career Counseling (GDCC) come in. Here at GDCC, we're committed to finding the right fit for you as you move into the next stage of your working life.
With a couple of the Twins' own either already on the job hunt or soon to be perusing the classified section, we at GDCC have decided to make a special offer. In order to help Sidney Ponson and Ramon Ortiz find the right second career for them, we've run their profiles through our super-advanced JobMatch 3000 system. The results are available free of charge. So Sidney and Ramon, take a look at these personalized recommendations and pick the one that strikes your fancy!

Judge Smails says: The world needs ditch-diggers too!

Pizza Delivery
Yes indeed, Sid and Ramon. You've proven yourself experts in the field of delivering cheese right over the plate, so that hitters can dive right in. Now you can put those skills to work (in 30 minutes or less, or the pizza's free!).

Doesn't this look fun?

Sparring Partner
You've both proven yourself quite adept at getting knocked around a bit. Now, you can do it for a living! We at GDCC would recommend not waiting on this option; there are no guarantees the sport of boxing will be around much longer, and we doubt either of you would be a good fit in the UFC.


Seems like a perfect fit!

Rocket Scientist
With years of experience in the field of high-speed, vertical trajectories, the transition from the mound to the launch-pad should be a cinch. If you're lucky, one of those probes will find the last home-run ball you gave up!

We're on the verge of a breakthrough!

Major League Pitching Coach
Hey, I had to sneak one joke in here, right?

Well Sidney and Ramon, we at GDCC hope you see something you like. If nothing strikes you, the JM3K spits out over 4,000 unique recommendations; simply drop by our office 24/7 (that's 24 hours per week, 7 months per year) for the complete list. Happy job hunting!

Employers! Have a job listing for Sidney or Ramon? Send it along to aodshark@gmail.com

Monday, May 14, 2007

Sparks, Questions and Jottings

Just when I am ready to post a rant about the Twins escalating failures, they take fans on a nationally televised emotional rollercoaster that doesn’t leave us nauseous and tearing our hair out. Instead, I, like many, was giddy heading to bed after watching the explosive win the Twins handed the Tigers and their rookie starter (poor thing, but not really) Sunday night.

The question is, how do you know when a spark, such as Sunday night’s flare, is truly going to ignite a team to go on a winning tear? Last Tuesday is a benchmark example of a spark that simply smoldered to ash. When Morneau won the game in dramatic, sparky fashion, writers, bloggers and players alike sounded off about how it was the kind of win the Twins needed to get fired up and get going; the kind of spark that gets the piranhas biting and the bats screaming. But we dropped the next two games with minimal effort against a beatable struggling White Sox team. Our play was abysmal and reflected not a teaspoon of magic from the night before.

Ultimately, despite the fanfare and heroics of what will be one of the Twins’ best wins of the 2007 season (yes, it was that great of a win), one can’t help but be cautious. Dramatic finishes, walk off homers, Web Gem defense, and even Cy Young pitching, isn’t always contagious (just look who followed Santana in the rotation--at least up until Sunday).

After all, even the Devil Rays and Royals have a few exciting come-from-behind wins each season that raise the spirits of their fans and local reporters, but it hasn’t turned into anything remarkable this century.

Conclusion: A spark is only a spark when it is capitalized upon; when it is viewed through the illuminating window of hindsight with the intention of pinpointing an exact moment when a team turned it all around.

Additional jottings and questions:

Did anyone else notice that Justin Morneau’s face looked disturbingly angelic Sunday night compared to the mess it was when he left the game the day before with a broken nose? How is it there was absolutely no bruising or signs of swelling?

Nevin, White, LeCroy, Cirillo. When are we ever going to get a designated hitter that lasts an entire season?

I embrace Nicky “Sparkplug” Punto and find his head-first slides to be charming in a daring kind of way. But the head-first slide is only brilliant when it works and gets you on base. This is not happening for Punto this year, and it’s not a pretty sight.

I’m not taking out my frustration with the lack of Twins offense and power on Terry Ryan because why would he focus on obtaining a big bat when Hunter, Cuddyer, Morneau and Mauer are expected to be the power hitters? The Keep Santana Fund shouldn’t take a hit to buy a Gary Sheffield when we have several players perfectly capable of hitting 20+ homeruns and driving in 100 RBIs each. These guys are the bats, and if they’re not producing, then there’s something wrong with them, not the lineup or TR’s lack of acquisitions.

Welcome back Lew Ford. I know he’s not the answer to all of the riddles, but if he’s not an answer, maybe he’s a hint of some kind.



Links for 5/14

Oh Sidney. It seems as if we just met. And now we're saying goodbye. As I'm sure you know, parting is such sweet sorrow. And while we can't say we'll miss you, well, you weren't as bad as we expected. That's probably all we can say about your tenure, but it's something, and it's a lot more than we could say about others.

As they say, "Every new beginning comes from some other beginnings end", and so we welcome Garrett Jones to the Majors with open arms (and visions of two of the three true outcomes). It's unlikely, but one can hope that Jones will have a Jack Cust like impact, at least until Saturday, when the Twins will have to make a decision between Kevin Slowey, Glen Perkins, Matt Garza and Scott Baker.

So who should be called up? The denizens of Twinkietown and Aaron Gleeman's site have already had this debate, and it really seems to come down to a matter of preference. Each candidate has their pros and cons. Thankfully, all four of them have pitched pretty well this year. Personally, I think that Baker should be the choice for the following reasons: he has the most seasoning (137IP in the majors), has performed well in AAA this year (42.2 IP, 3.16 ERA, .89 WHIP, 8.65 K/9) and is the oldest of the four prospects. The Twins need to figure out what they have in Baker soon (so as not to repeat what happened with J.D. "the Real Deal" Durbin) , whether he's trade bait for a young bat or a valuable part of the rotation. And while many seem to think he's the former, there's still a good chance he'll be the latter, despite his poor performance last year. Some of his struggles can be chalked up to his inconsistent usage, as he went more than a week between starts four different times. Another chance at the 5th spot in the rotation should be enough to answer how much of his problems were caused by missing starts. And the Twins, and Scott Baker should start figuring out that answer on Saturday.

And now...the Quick Links:

  • Pulling a Blyleven busts out the Gobbledegookian
  • Poor Little Nicky Punto: “Can’t get a hit to save my life and then I knock the MVP out of the game.”
  • Taunting Ken Griffey, Jr. can have interesting side effects.
  • The Twins' long term answer at third base is not on the DL right now. At least, that's what Joe Mauer thinks.

Friday, May 11, 2007

A Story I Know Too Well

My editor posed the following question in the latest entry over at his blog:

"Jason Tyner and Jason Kubel both play in the game today, but Kubel is in left field and Tyner is DH? Gardenhire isn't an idiot - there's gotta be a story there. I sure hope one of the reporters asks about it."
Gardenhire may not be an idiot, but that doesn't mean he doesn't make some poor choices. Going back to the Twins-Royals game John Sharkey and I game logged, we were both puzzled by Gardenhire's choice to DH Redmond when both he and Mauer were in the line-up (and this before Mauer is shelved with a leg problem).

From an outsiders perspective, based solely on observation, ol' Gardenvariety loves him some routine. Both last season and the start of the 2007 saw Redmond bat third in the Twins' line-up on Mauer's off days, as to not upset the rest of the batting order. I don't know which idea is more laughable: (a) that Mike Redmond is a legitimate No. 3 hitter in any major league line-up (never walks, can't run, and hits for zero power), or (b) that professional baseball players the caliber of Justin Morneau, Torii Hunter and Michael Cuddyer are going to have their world thrown out of whack if asked to move up one spot in the batting order every fifth game.

To be fair, the impact of a less-than-optimal line-up construction in 20% of the Twins' games isn't going to have a huge impact. But I also don't observe the best line-up construction or bullpen usage (don't let Reyes face righties and don't let Neshek face lefties in key situations) from the Twins' skipper. If, as my editor has noted, the Twins are going to pat themselves on the back for being a team that does the little things well in order to win close ball games, shouldn't that start with the manager?

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Schadenfreude On Schadenfreude?

I share the feelings of my sometimes partner in crime John Sharkey. I often feel conflicted as a fan, because in the short term, I want stop-gaps and non-producers like Luis Rivas, Doug Mientkiewicz, Juan Castro, Tony Batista, Nick Punto, Jason Tyner, Ramon Ortiz, Carlos Silva and Sidney Ponson to help the Twins win the day. I am also conscious of the fact that the short-term success of players like these may lengthen their time as regulars when superior players may be toiling away in the minor leagues, or may prevent the Twins from addressing their needs at a particular position during the off-season.

John's post, aforelinked, got me thinking. While an early spurt of good play may make teams more reluctant to cut bait on a player who isn't performing and blocking a superior prospect, salary also plays into things. The Twins spent $3.1 million on Ramon Ortiz and $4.35 million on Carlos Silva. Regardless of the fact that contracts are guaranteed in Major League Baseball and that the combined $7.45 million is now a fixed cost (and that the Twins aren't on the hook for anything in 2008 with either pitcher), no GM is blessed with the complete lack of pride necessary to ignore the percentage of payroll that may have been squandered in deciding when enough is enough. There will always be the desire to stay the course, even if it is the wrong one, in hopes of getting some return on investment.

With the above in mind, I can imagine a scenario in which, because a GM would rather delay admitting he blew $X million as long as he can, an early streak of good play from a player that will eventually play themselves out of a regular role with the major league club will not lengthen that player's time in the majors in spite of their poor performance. This may have two benefits: (a) the brief period of good play at the beginning of the season, and (b) delaying the arbitration clock of one of the organizations best prospects, potentially saving the team money in future years and allowing the team to hold rights over more of said prospect's peak performance.

However, if the stop-gap or non-producer is being paid on the cheap, I believe my colleague John's hypothesis is correct. Given their respective contracts, among Ortiz, Silva, and Ponson the latter will be the first pushed aside to make room for Garza/Slowey.

I dig baseball's more relaxed, longterm perspective. If your favorite NFL team starts out 0-4, the sky is falling. If your favorite MLB team loses four games in a row, oh well. With that in mind, shouldn't we, as Twins fans, be pulling for Ponson to get beaten like a rented mule now that Slowey (who is on Baseball America's latest Prospect Hotsheet) and Garza are heating up in Triple-A? It's in the back of my mind, but I still can't bring myself to do it when Ponson is on the mound.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

On Schadenfreude

How should a Twins fan approach Sidney Ponson and Ramon Ortiz? Embodies in these two hurlers we find an age-old debate: how much evil can one do in order to do good? That’s really what we’re faced with every time one of the two takes the hill.

The problem, really, is how to root during one of their games. We have to balance our desire to win now with what we expect will win later. As a Twins fan, I like to think that I want the Twins to win every game. That generally entails hoping that individual players succeed. With Ortiz and (especially) Ponson, I tend to feel just the opposite, however. I want them to fail, spectacularly and quickly.

I’m sure they’re nice enough people (although, Ponson’s DUI gives me a bit of pause there). But my rooting against them isn’t anything personal, really. It’s just business, as they say. The faster and more drastic their fall, the faster they can be replaced by the Young Guns.

That requires us to sacrifice individual games, however. I hate that. More than anything else, that’s what drives me nuts about having these two guys on the staff. I enjoy watching Ortiz pitch well and all, but deep down I know that we’re just delaying the inevitable. Especially when you consider that once he starts to falter (and we may already be seeing that) any moves will be even slower in coming because the front office will see his early starts and hope he can return to that level.

I’m tired of wasting time. I strongly suspect that the Twins are headed towards a third place finish this year (unless a very un-Twins-like move for a Morgan Ensberg-type is made to give the offense a major boost). The Twins could be using this time to figure out what they have in guys like Slowey, Garza, and (still) Baker, gathering information to set next year’s staff. They could move an arm or two to start filling offensive holes. But hanging around with guys like Ponson and Ortiz costs the Twins more than money: the lost opportunities are even more severe.

John Sharkey still roots for Boof at aodshark@gmail.com.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Links for 5/7

Well that was a fun weekend...NOT.

In fact, aside from Santana's battle against a deep Red Sox tline up, it seemed like everything that could go wrong, did. Joe Mauer's heading to the DL, sideburns, "lump in his leg" and all. Of course, with Cuddyer battling a back bruise and Morneau slumping, the last thing the suddenly punchless Twins' lineup needed was another Ziggy, of which they now have eleven. It seems like the only player hitting, is Torii, who extended his hit streak to twenty and who might just be worth resigning. Even with Torii raking the ball, however, if you want a chance at catching a game ball at the Metrodome, I'd still suggest sitting in foul territory, since it doesn't look like they're going to be many balls hit into the bleachers for awhile.

Of course, as Ozzie Guillen can attest, just because a lineup doesn't have many (or any, really) power threats, doesn't mean it can't beat you. Which is why it's still interesting to read Curt Schilling describe how he went through the Twins' lineup on Sunday. Whatever your opinion on Schilling, his blog is one of the best glimpses into the duel between hitters and pitchers and yet another reason to be thankful for the existence of the internet.

And even when he's spending too much time talking (whether it be about his bloody sock, gaming or politics), Schilling still doesn't approach the obnoxiousness of Roger Clemens. Did everyone else enjoy his announcement from on high on Sunday? And by enjoy, I mean, "made you want to slam your head against the wall." And let's not spend too much time thinking about the ramifications of Clemens' deal on the negotiations with a certain two time Cy Young Award winner. The weekend was negative enough as it was.

And now, an all positive Quick Links:

  • Both papers took a look at the career of Jim Rantz, soon to be a member of the Twins' Hall of Fame.
  • Construction of the Twins' ball park is about to begin!
  • The Twins' field isn't the only one the Twins' are helping to fund.
  • Someone put up a lot of video of Twins' prospects in the Gulf Coast League.

Saturday, May 5, 2007

1,000 Words

Even though I picked the White Sox to finish 4th before the season began, and it looks like Cleveland is the team to beat this season, this still does it for me (after the past few seasons I still don't see the Indians or Tigers as rivals):



Macrochan for evar! (Not safe for work, or kids, or anyone, really.)

Friday, May 4, 2007

Stephen Jackson is Clutch


I saw almost none of the Warriors/Mavericks game on Thursday, really; maybe a quarter and a half or so. That means I can’t really offer any sort of in-depth analysis of what Golden State did right (although, just from glancing at last night’s box score, it looks like they did plenty of it). However, there’s a slightly baseball-related point that I would at least like to touch on.

A lot of the discussion about this series has focused on two basic things. One was the Oakland crowd, which was indeed spectacular. They came out big-time and undoubtedly gave the Warriors a significant boost at home (where they won all three games). But another point that’s been tossed around (off the top of my head, I can remember Bill Simmons at ESPN.com and Charles Barkley on TNT mentioning this): Golden State always seemed to be expecting to win.

In the first game of the series (won by the Warriors, putting the basketball world on notice), Dallas significantly altered their regular-season lineup. Their two-headed monster at center (Diop and Dampier) rarely played, and neither started. Instead, Dallas went “small” in an attempt to match up with the unorthodox Golden State style. What Simmons, Barkley, and others have argued is that by doing so, Dallas gave the Warriors a significant boost. In effect, Dallas signaled to Golden State that the Mavericks feared the Warriors.

This whole idea of self-confidence got me wondering about some baseball; specifically, our old friend the Clutch Hitter. If such a thing exists, I would guess that the ability to hit in the clutch is closely linked to a healthy self-esteem. This sort of thing gets taken for granted in basketball all the time; in fact, the other night after Robert Horry had drilled a late three-pointer to push the Spurs past Denver in their first round series, Big Shot Bob said something to the effect of “Hey, it’s just basketball—I know my family will still love me, my friends will still be there, no matter what happens. So I just play ball.” Seems plausible enough.

If self-confidence plays such a role in basketball, why not in baseball? There are a few possibilities, as I see it. Maybe basketball players are full of it, and the issue is non-existent. Maybe our sabermetric disbelief in the clutch hitter is flawed. Maybe baseball has some kind of selection bias that basketball does not, filtering out those that would be affected by the self-confidence issue in the first place. Maybe basketball is somehow inherently different, allowing for more emotion to come out in the play. I have no answer for this in the slightest; if I had to guess, I’d say it’s a combination of all of these factors, and probably many more. But I’d love to hear what you think about it.

John Sharkey tries to bring the runner in from third at aodshark@gmail.com.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Make Money on the Twins!

Ha! Caught your attention with that title didn't I? Well, let me explain myself -- next time you are at a bar watching your team, whether in a hotel in Saskatchewan or O'Gara's on Snelling, bet your neighbor a dollar that you can stump him with a random fact about a Twins' player... or ten. Just beware, if his name is Paul Feiner, the Minneapolis financial planner who is the only person to have struck out Joe Mauer in high school, you're probably screwed.

Top Ten Bar Bet Facts About Twins Players

10. Johan Santana is the only starting pitcher chosen in Major League Baseball’s Rule 5 Draft to have won the Cy Young Award.

9. Lew Ford had the highest SAT score (1400) of any member of the Twins’ 40-man roster.

8. Jason Tyner is the only active major league player to have had his official 40-man roster position designated as “pinch runner,” while with the Devil Rays in 2003.

7. Joe Nathan is the only major league baseball player ever produced by the State University of New York at Stony Brook (SUNY-Stony Brook).

6. Sir Sidney Ponson was knighted in 2003 by Queen Beatrix, the long-standing Queen of the Netherlands.

5. Jeff Cirillo holds the record amongst active major league players for most games played (1541) without a playoff appearance.

4. Luis Castillo was the batter of the infamous ball that was taken away from Moises Alou by Cubs’ “fan” Steve Bartman in Game Six of the 2003 NLCS.

3. Jesse Crain is the only Twins’ player to be named a first-team Baseball America All-American, while with the University of Houston in 2002.

2. Dennys Reyes has played for the most major league organizations (9) of any Twins’ player.

1. Justin Morneau is the only living holder of a Most Valuable Player award who has never appeared in an All-Star Game.

So, have you just collected $10, or better yet, if you were smart enough to entice your neighbor into a silly "double or nothing" run, $512? Quit now -- or if he or she wants to switch to music in order to win the money back just remember that the only member of ZZ Top without a beard was the drummer, Frank Beard.

Cory Caouette is a Twins' fan living in San Diego who couldn't possibly write serious statistical analysis while watching the Devil Rays.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

What ARE they saying behind those gloves?

I received a fantastic email from my baseball sister first thing at work yesterday morning. We usually communicate baseball-related phone messages and emails approximately two to twenty times a day, and this was a nugget I had to share with the Twins blogosphere. The piece may be in my name, but the words are hers.

Note about the author: The kind of person who, after opera rehearsal, turns on ‘CCO to hear that Smell ‘Em shirts have been released; without a second thought or directions or an address, navigates her way throughout Minneapolis to locate Nick’s Sports World, a parking spot, and to buy T-shirts for her friends less than five minutes before the store closes so they can wear them to the game the next night. And we did.

* original language unsuitable for public display at this time

What Joe Mauer Says During Mound Conversations

Don't you wonder? I do. So here's my best guess, venturing into the black box that is the mind of Joe Mauer. We all know he's as beige as it gets, but he can't be boring during the games. I can safely assume that he's something other than blithe and colorless while doing his job. Here we go. Maybe slightly over-optimistic, but it's kind of fun (if very weird) to picture Joe trying to focus the pitchers.

Boof Bonser: Joseph! Missed you at 6-cent wings night on Thursday at Maxwell's! When ya gonna come out for some wings?
Joe: I go to bed early. I have to catch pretty much every day. Can we talk about Mike Sweeney for a sec?
Boof: I got a new tattoo, I was going to show you in the clubhouse but I couldn't find you--
Joe: I was with the trainers. About Sweeney--
Boof: It's full color, here, look--
Joe: Boof! Shirt down! Sweeney! Slider low and inside, please!
Boof: All business all the time, that's why you never get any action*, kid.
Joe: SLIDER!
Boof: All right. But later, you've gotta see it. I can get you a deal if you want one like it.

Ramon Ortiz: What's up, Joe?
Joe: Let's go with a changeup for A.J. He's always early.
Ramon: I'll throw it in the dirt and make him look really stupid, OK?
Joe: Nah, a plain changeup will work fine. No need to put it in the dirt.
Ramon: Come on, amigo! Let's make that guy look like the jerk* he is. That moron* swings at everything, and have you met you? You can block anything in a ten-foot radius of the plate. Have a little fun.
Joe: You're starting to yell again. I think he can hear us.
Ramon: Oh. Right. Fastball, then?
Joe: Fastball. He'll miss.

Johan: Can I help you?
Joe: (Stops. Pauses.) You're right. I'll go back to the plate.
Johan: Thank you.

Sidney Ponson: What the hell* do you want?
Joe: Easy, Sid. You're fine. I just think we should talk about Jim Thome--
Sidney: Well, you thought wrong, dirtbag*.
Joe: Sidney, we've talked about this. There's no need for the name calling.
Sidney: (Sigh.) You're right. You're always right. Why do I hurt the people I need the most?
Joe: It's all right, Sidney. I understand. Let's just try to keep it out of the strike zone, OK?
Sidney: But everyone will be mad at me if I walk him! You know I can't handle that sort of failure! It makes me start stress-eating! I already have a craving for enchiladas!
Joe: Remember what we talked about, Sidney? Failure is a subjective thing. One day at a time, right.
Sidney: All right. Wait, where are you going?
Joe: I can't stay out here with you. How many have you had?
Sidney: I don't have to answer that! Can we talk some more later?
Joe: Yes, Sidney. But right now, I need sliders anywhere but over the heart of the plate.
Sidney: OK. Joe??
Joe: YES?
Sidney: I'm sorry.
Joe: Pitch, Sidney.

Carlos Silva: What?
Joe: Let's go outside corners with Hafner.
Silva: (Silence.)
Joe: And if he doesn't bite, run it in on his hands.
Silva: (More silence.)
Joe: Are you listening?
Silva: (More silence.)
Joe: You look like you're thinking about throwing a sinker. DON'T DO IT.
Silva: (Snorts and paws the rubber like a bull.)
Morneau to Joe, as they walk away from the mound: God he's scary. Doesn't he freak you out?
Joe: He would if I were shorter than him.
Justin: Maybe that's why Punto never comes in to talk when Silva's out here.
Joe: Probably. OK, let's get two!
Justin: Right on.

BULLPEN...

Jesse Crain: OK, runners at the corners...how about a fastball over the heart of the plate?
Joe: How about a breaking ball, please.
Jesse: Oh. OK. (Mumbles) No promises, though.

Matt Guerrier: God I hate Guerrero, what the hell* am I going to do with him?
Joe: Try working him high and tight for a couple and then put something in the dirt. You know how he likes to swing.
Matt: OK. Get any chicks with those sideburns yet?
Joe: Shut up and pitch, please.
Matt: I'll take that as a no.
Joe: Well, I bet that beard last year was getting you a whole lot of nothing, Honest Abe. Two up and in, and then one in the dirt.
Matt: Fine.

Joe: Dennys, what are you doing?
Dennys Reyes: Hang on, I've got a Snickers in my pocket.
Joe: Leave it there, the ump is going to think you've got pine tar on your hands.
Dennys: Oh. You're probably right. Crap. I didn't get my seventh-inning snack in the bullpen and I'm starving!
Joe: Well, you have Dye 1 and 2, so come after him with a fastball on the inside corner and we can get to the dugout.
Dennys: Yeah! I think I saw Redmond open a new bag of seeds! Maybe he'll share!
Joe: That's the spirit. Put some mustard on that fastball and we'll be out of here.
Dennys: Mmmmm, mustard...

Juan Rincon: Can I just throw my fastball a lot?
Joe: Yes. Do that. And remember to check the runners, please.
Juan: Oh! Right! I always kind of forget they're there.
Joe: Yeah, pitching from the stretch all the time will do that to you.

Pat Neshek: Joe! Hey! You never come talk to me!
Joe: Hey. You're fine. Just talk behind your glove and look worried.
Pat: Right. Why?
Joe: Just messing with Manny's head. He's never going to hit you anyways, just wanted to make it look like we're worried about him.
Pat: Sweet. I am kind of worried about his gums though, that guy's cruising for oral cancer in about five years with a wad like that.
Joe: Yeah, and he spits half a dozen times every at-bat. It's like a tar pit back there.
Pat: Gross. Should I hit him for you?
Joe: Nah, just strike him out.
Pat: Roger that.

Joe Mauer: Hey Joe.
Joe Nathan: Hey Joe, good work so far. I was thinking of staring everyone down from my long-legged, towering perch atop the mound, exhaling through my lips like a horse, and then blowing a bunch of flaming fastballs by these jokers. What do you think?
Joe Mauer: If I had another idea, I've forgotten it. Let's go with that.