Thursday, June 28, 2007

Twin City Minute: Playoff Chances

Forgive me for refraining from the topic du jour. Like a ninny, I'll be sitting through a 2.5 hour class during this much-anticipated NBA draft. Instead, I want to build on T-Bird's sentiments about another Twins postseason run.

As of June 28, the club sits 6 games back, 5.5 in the Wild Card. Assume the Wild Card stays in the Central again. An entire half of baseball remains, including 25 games versus Detroit (12) and Cleveland (13). Additionally, the Tigers and Indians play each other 11 times. Plenty of ground to be made, but traditional optimism is wavering. As much as I want to think it will happen, the chips are stacking up against Minnesota's Little Team That Could.

The Tigers' potent lineup features MVP-bound Magglio and the frightening Gary Sheffield. Kenny Rogers' return adds to an already solid rotation. A disastrous bullpen limits them, but that's what deadline trades are for. The Indians boast good bats, but have gotten this far without Grady Sizemore and Travis Hafner playing to their potential. Expect a second half surge. Cy Young-apparent CC Sabathia holds down a capable, yet culpable staff. Cleveland seems to be the smaller hill to climb, but the Twins have yet to beat the Tribe this year (0-5), outscored 36-14.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Blog in 60 Seconds: I'll Take Ndudi Ebi

A public service announcement: the NBA Draft is today (Thursday). It doesn’t matter if you don’t care about basketball and can’t tell Yi Jianlian from Jackie Chan. The NBA has far and away the most entertaining and watchable draft of any sport.

The Draft doesn’t drag on like the NFL or the MLB; picks come rolling in at a rapid pace, and the whole thing is done in two rounds. It’s the single biggest business day of the year for every Big & Tall menswear store in the country, like Christmas plus Valentine’s Day, with guys that are 6-10. Plus, they all shake hands with David Stern, who can’t be an inch taller that 4-7.

The NBA Draft always has the best storylines. This year, there’s the excitement over Greg Oden and Kevin Durant, two transcendent talents. But the fun keeps going after the first two picks—just this year, we’ve got the foreign import (Jianlian) with the government (China) trying to manipulate where he ends up. There are sleepers who got kicked off their college team (Sean Williams). There are two-time college champs (the Florida guys). It’s probably my favorite sporting event; I know what I’ll be doing tonight.

Going for Broke

REPORT: The Timberwolves are on the verge of trading Kevin Garnett to the Phoenix Suns in a three-way deal that would land the Wolves the #3 and #11 pick, along with F/C Zaza Pachulia, presently of the Hawks.

As you know, yours truly has been awfully hard on Kevin McHale -- as recently as yesterday I said his tenure as GM has landed poor draft picks, poorer free agents, and hardly a single trade of note.

That could all change VERY quickly. If the Wolves pull the trigger on this deal, one that would send Amare Stoudamire to Atlanta for the bevy of picks headed to Minnesota, tomorrow evening would become Kevin McHale's new signature moment. He made his mark early in his career as a GM by signing the first high schooler since Moses Malone and that player has become the face of a franchise, earning MVP honors along the way. But this would give McHale and the Wolves three picks in the top 11 of what is seen as the deepest draft in many a year. In fact, if you rule out the first two obvious picks of Greg Oden and Kevin Durant, it in fact gives them three of the "first" nine picks on what would still remain a deep pool of talent. This team would be young, and three years from now will be one hell of a negotiation session to resign everyone, but, if done right, they could cement their spot as a young, talented team for years to come.

Just count on one thing NOT happening, and that's drafting Chinese 7-footer Yi Jianlian with that third pick. Yi has indicated, with the backing of the Chinese government, that he will not go to anything other than a major market. How can the Chinese government back him, you ask? They are his employer -- if he doesn't go to the team that drafts him, they pay him for one more year and he goes back into the draft as a potential number one pick just months before the Beijing Olympics. They can do that -- therefore, despite the lure of selling 1 billion t-shirts, he won't be a Wolves' player next year.

So, that means either Al Horford of Florida or Mike Conley, Jr. of Ohio State with the third pick and likely Jeff Green of Georgetown or Joakim Noah, also of Florida, with the seventh. Frankly, although they project to the same position in the NBA, something has me drooling about the possibility of keeping two players who earned back to back national championships (Horford and Noah) together and adding a third SF/SG type (Corey Brewer, a third Gator, for example) with pick #11. Add a young player in Pachulia who can shoot and rebound and continues to develop (offensively, at least), match them up with the talent of Randy Foye, and although it begs the what-if questions for Mark Blount and Craig Smith if they do draft big, and... well... let's just say McHale is making or breaking his career in just two days.

It's not just better than nothing. It's three lottery picks and the start of a brand new era, for better or worse.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Sosa and Bonds Can Still Impress

Last week Sammy Sosa became the fifth played in baseball history to hit 600 homeruns; Barry Bonds is less than 10 homeruns from breaking the most prestigious record in all of sports. In the last decade, their images have been tainted by juice and corked bats. Many have lost respect for Bonds and had barely a shred of respect left for Sosa—until Wednesday. Hearing the Rangers’ announcer call the homerun with stroke-inducing excitement gave me goose bumps that were beyond my control. At that moment, a quote from the movie Fever Pitch came to mind: “You can have a lucky season, but you can’t have a lucky career.”

An impressive handful of players have hit 500+ homeruns, but get to number 586 and the number drops significantly to an awe-inspiring five players (which will grow over these next years). So a small part of me admits—hesitantly—that to hit the ball so hard for so long cannot be summed up by steroids or other elements. These two record-chasing men may have used outside help along the way, which should not be condoned, but there is still a great deal of real talent and commitment buried in their numbers.

Gardy's Deadly Sin: Loyalty

For years now, the Twins' bullpen has been the absolute bedrock of the pitching staff and, quite frankly, the envy of many other teams in baseball -- especially small market teams who overpay on the open market for bullpen help while the Twins continue to raise their own and supplement with the odd free agent gem unearthed by Terry Ryan.

So why then, after pitching seven glorious innings, does the team fail to warm up a couple of relievers (presumably one from each side) the absolute second that Jason Kubel's ball hits the turf in right field, scoring Michael Cuddyer and the go-ahead run. You can talk 'til you're blue in the face about how Reyes, Guerrier, and Rincon all pitched the night before -- that doesn't stop the fact that both Pat Neshek and Joe Nathan, the two best relievers on the team in 2007, did NOT and should be all that was needed for the eighth and ninth innings, respectively.

Instead, the Twins go blindly forth into the eighth, without even the possibility of a change, with a starting pitcher who's pitching his first quality start in ten starts, is in the 90's on pitch count, and, despite striking out nine in the game, had not fooled any of the previous eight hitters -- relying on defense and some poor situational hitting by the Jays to get through the seventh unscathed.

Many teams in baseball go by the theory of not letting a young pitcher lose a ballgame once you've put him in a position to win. For Ron Gardenhire, and I believe this is part of his being such a "player's manager," it's about letting a young man go out there and finish what he started. It is my firm belief that if Gardy managed in a larger media market, where the pressure to sell papers turns beatwriters into something you hide the kids from, he wouldn't hear the end of his failure to utilize one of the Twins' greatest assets when the time is absolutely ripe. I know the Twins have fifteen games in fourteen days, but how likely is it that the game tomorrow will be tied or within a run in the eighth inning -- just look at how many games Nathan has pitched this season and you'll understand that you need to use your strength when you need it and not save it for the rainy day that might never come.

As it is, the Jays scored a run and tied the game because Baker was left out there and the Twins' ended up having to pitch in extra innings -- thereby putting more stress on the bullpen. Funny how that works.

Bloggers Minute: Skepticism of the Ostrich

Early Tuesday morning, Wolves GM Kevin McHale indicated that he was "not thrilled" about the idea of receiving Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom for 10-time NBA All-Star Kevin Garnett.

Phew. I was worried there for a minute.

And now I am again. You see, McHale should not have been thrilled about nearly every trade or free agent move he's made in his career. His trades have exposed his longtime obsession with Ricky Davis as well as his subpar talent evaluation skills -- you know Marko Jaric is better value than Sam Cassell (did I mention that Cassell's Clippers nearly made the playoffs this year?) and Terrell Brandon is a franchise point guard, right? His free agent moves include use of the mid-level exception (which makes or breaks many an NBA team) on studs like Michael Olowokandi and Troy Hudson (who did indeed have his fifteen er... five minutes of fame), as well as other signings like Eddie Griffin or Anthony Carter. His draft picks? Two all-stars, Szczerbiak and the Big Ticket -- in 12 years.

So, with all that in mind, I damned well hope McHale is sick to his stomach about unloading Garnett for something other than a lottery pick -- this team is young, this team has some talent, and it does not need another malcontented journeyman like Odom joining the fray. That team already exists, it's called the Boston Celtics. Hmm... Maybe that explains it.

Blogger's Minute: A Dose of Reality

Here's my attempt at a blogger's minute. After calculating the Yankees' odds at the playoffs a few different times and giggling, something dawned upon me:

Everyone’s enjoying the Yankees’ demise, right? They’re hovering around .500, 10 plus games back in the AL East and banking on a late addition to be their savior and turn their season around. Baseball Prospectus thinks their odds of making the playoffs are around 25%, not surprising, considering they need to play .625 ball to get the 92 wins they’ll likely need for a playoff spot.

Of course, you could say the same thing about the Twins. They’re hovering around .500, 6.5 games back in the AL Central, and are banking on a late addition to be their savior and turn their season around. Whether that savior is Kevin Slowey, Scott Baker, Matt Garza or some to be determined slugger, I’m not sure yet. No matter who it is, however, that savior better work some magic, since the Twins are in the same boat as the Yankees, needing to play better than .600 ball the rest of the year in order to have a shot at the playoffs.

So while you’re gleefully writing off the Yankees’ playoff hopes, you might not want to get too excited, since the Twins are in a similar situation.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

The Bloggers Minute: .... and BREEEAAATTTHHEeee

I’m blaming it on the Vikings.

I’m talking, of course, about the nearly universal pessimism of the Twins that is flowing through the daily print, radio waves, and my inbox. The Twins don’t have the pitching. The Twins need to trade Torii Hunter. The Twins are finished.

And I’m blaming it on the Vikings. This state has always been a football state, and we’ve ingrained some bad habits.

Like, a 6.5 game deficit is NOT particularly daunting. It turns out that there are 162 games in a baseball season and roughly 16 in a football season, and you don’t have to be able to do OPS calculations in your head to figure out that means one football game corresponds to roughly 10 baseball games. So, we do not need to plan for next year. And, more importantly, after every loss, we do NOT need to question every pitcher, every hometown hero, every coach, and every front office move to determine if we’re on the right track.

So tonight, try this. Try watching Joe Mauer’s four at-bats as something less than a referendum on his career. And while you're at it, try enjoying a more sane game.

That doesn’t involve hyperventilating.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------

Hey. We're playing around a little this week. Several GameDay writers have agreed to try and write a "Bloggers Minute" - something rheotical that can hold an audience's interest, but still be about 200 words or less. If you're interested in joining the fun, or just showing your chops, post a comment with your own 200 word take. I'd love to see what you got.

Thanks,
John

Saturday, June 23, 2007

An Interesting Thought Devolves Into Contract Musings

Over at Baseball Prospectus writer Kevin Goldstein has an interview with Blue Jays' pitching prospect Paul Phillips about the intricacies of closing. It's behind the membership wall so unless you have a subscription you won't be able to read much of it (but if you're a baseball fan I can't see why you wouldn't pony up the $40—BP's content is an "epic get").

One quote from Phillips caught my eye:

I definitely think [the closer mentality] exists. You have to have a short memory—about everything. If you’re throwing great, remember how it feels and go back out there to do it next time—and if you throw badly, you got to let it go. The thing is, if you throw badly, your team normally loses if you’re a closer. I mean, very rarely can you make a mistake and still win the game. I would define it as... I’m not sure if it’s being cocky or just extremely confident, because you definitely need to have a little bit of a swagger about you—just because you’re out there when it matters the most, and [laughing], if you throw bad you lose. So it’s just rebounding and forgetting any bad things that happen.
A common problem that even very smart general managers make is to waste money on average relievers because they have closed in the past. For example, Joe Borowski would be making much less money than he is now if he had produced identically in middle relief during his career. Having said that, Phillips does make an interesting point in that the negative reinforcement that comes with being a closer is very severe.

It's difficult to measure what impact mentality has on a closer's performance and the typical responses are shrouded in cliché. With the stakes being the highest any pitcher can face it does put more pressure on the pitcher, and teams need someone that can handle pressure and adversity well. But pitchers that don't handle adversity or pressure well are probably going to get weeded out before they're able to reach the major leagues or won't be likely to rise to the role of even setup man.

Teams undergo self-inflicted pain all the time when they sign washed up former stoppers like Jose Mesa and Armando Benitez on the qualification that these pitchers have experience dealing with the pressures of the ninth inning while failing to take notice that there are other relievers who actually are more effective pitchers. There's also a closed feedback loop in play when only pitchers who have experience closing are looked to in filling the closer role—how is anyone else going to gain that experience?

One thing the Twins have done well in the past is to buck the trend of overpaying for experience and instead promoted successful setup men to the closer role. Neither Eddie Guardado or Joe Nathan had closed before the Twins anointed each pitcher their closer and the Twins have averaged 41.8 saves a season out of their stopper since 2002.

With the Twins facing some tough financial decisions in the coming years about which veterans to sign to longterm contracts (Santana, Mauer, Morneau, Hunter, Cuddyer, and Nathan), they shouldn't make the mistake of paying a premium for Joe Nathan. As amazing as he has been, his title is going to inflate his salary. Nathan has been the best reliever in baseball over the span of the past three seasons, but I don't buy that there is a $9,000,000 difference between him and Pat Neshek. The Twins won't be able to resign everyone and need to make efficient payroll decisions. Paying more for performance and less for labels would be a good start.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Don't Panic

Imagine you have been captured by the most diabolical of James Bond villains. (I’m partial to Goldfinger, myself, but feel free to choose your favorite.) This is a Bond villain who has learned from the mistakes of past 007 adversaries; he is not going to place you in an overly-complicated and easily-escapable death trap. Instead he has devised something much more certain: he is going to put you in the box against Johan Santana. Get a hit, and you live. Fail, and it’s to the genetically-mutated sea bass for you. For just such an eventuality, we here at Gameday are proud to bring you the Johan Santana Survival Guide. By following these simple instructions, you can dramatically increase your chances for success. Good luck.

1. Face him in May

Johan’s slow starts are not a secret, and the numbers back them up. May has been Johan’s worst month statistically; his .257/.308/.446 allowed are all worst among months. March and April are also acceptable choices, but whatever you do, avoid him from June onward; he is especially deadly.

2. Green Monsters are your friend

Fenway Park has been unkind to Santana thus far in his career, and you should exploit this weakness whenever possible. His .328/.387/.469 opposing line in Fenway ranks as Johan’s toughest environment. If Fenway is temporarily unavailable, Camden Yards and the Rogers Centre are acceptable substitutes; however, avoid at all costs the Rangers’ Ballpark In Arlington, where Santana has a career line of .215/.283/.405

3. Use the twilight hours to your advantage

While Johan has allowed identical .278 OBPs in day and night games over his career, the opponent’s BA rises from .210 to .225 as the sun goes down. He also appears to be slightly more vulnerable on grass than on artificial turf, but the difference is so minute that you are better off seeking more substantial ways to gain an advantage.

4. Catch him on short rest

While opportunities to pounce on Santana on three days’ rest have been few and far between, his .231/.331/.454 line without the extra day of recovery is a marked improvement in your chances when compared to four days rest.

5. Attack early

The more pitches you see from Santana, the smaller your chances become. Your odds dramatically increase if you make contact within the first three pitches you see; however, care must be taken, for he is deadly and nearly unhittable with two strikes. When you pull the trigger early in your at-bat, make sure you don’t miss.

The challenge before you is great; it is for this reason that you must take every opportunity to better your chances. Even if you faithfully follow the above advice, the odds are against you. We wish you the best of luck, and may your evil adversaries be less ingenious in the future.

Split stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

In Other News...

That was fun, wasn't it? All hail the Naked BP.

Commission This

I’m not sure it’s even necessary to throw another opinion on the pile here, because most of the columns I’ve seen on this issue have been in agreement. But I do think it’s moderately important regardless. I’m sure everyone has heard that the commissioner is looking into suspending Jason Giambi for his sort-of-admittance to steroid use. It appears to be badly-veiled blackmail, with the message “talk to the Mitchell Commission, or else.” This is stupid, for a few reasons.

First of all, and most notably, Giambi has not failed a steroids test. For years now, baseball has said that without a failed test, their hands are tied. They’ve said their hands are tied (which is true); the Players’ Union (unlike their NFL counterparts) has been very active in trying to protect players from this kind of witch-hunt. If you suspend Giambi for what he said, then what do you do with the leaked Barry Bonds grand jury testimony? He admitted using “the cream and the clear” there. Bud Selig says that “any admission regarding the use of illegal performance-enhancing substances, however casual, must be taken seriously.” Perhaps, but the Bonds issue has obviously done more harm to baseball’s reputation; it’s impossible to justify going after one and not the other.

Any suspension would get hit with a lightning-quick appeal, of course. That would be interesting, just to finally clear up that foggy “best interests of baseball” clause that we hear so much about. Selig used those words himself when talking about Giambi, and I would enjoy seeing that kind of thing go to arbitration. But I might just be a closet anarchist.

The underlying issue here is the continued existence of the sham that is the Mitchell Commission. Can anyone explain what it still putters along? I suppose it’s to keep Congress satisfied, but all it’s doing is obscuring the process that baseball has made over the past few years. In a funny way, Mark McGwire was right. Talking about the past here probably does no good. Everyone has already made their mind up about what they think happened or did not happen. (I know I have.) And, honestly, I don’t really care. If we are not going to be able to retroactively test (Marty McFly is not returning my calls), all we can do is focus on the now.

Baseball has a good steroids policy. It didn’t ten years ago, but it does now. There’s no perfect system, but the 50 game penalty is appropriately tough, and testing is frequent enough. There is a lot baseball could be doing to proactively promote their new system. But instead, baseball continues to show how behind-the-times it really is. Just like they were slow to act on the steroid issue, they have been slow to move past it. Giambi was actually honest for a moment, and we should be glad. He said the right things: everyone involved should just admit the mistake and move on. That’s all anyone can do. Selig and his commission are just keeping a dead story alive; I hope Giambi stands up them here.

Monday, June 11, 2007

So Much Inconsistency

As I alluded to last week, I've been working on an update to my earlier article about the Twins lack of power (as seen through Isolated Slugging Percentage [ISO]). And let me tell you--it is not a pretty picture. Then again, you could probably guess that the Twins were still having problems with their offensive consistency after Levale Speigner held them to one run on two hits on Saturday, a feat which lowered his ERA to 7.79. If you'll excuse me for one moment, I'm going to smash a bat against my face to see if I can repress that memory (as well as display more power than every Twin not named Morneau, Cuddyer or Hunter).

If you look at the Twins run distribution, you'd expect to see a Bell Curve, with the biggest part of the curve centered somewhere near the Twins' average of 4.59 runs per game. That's not what happens, however. Since the Twins have scored 3 or less runs in almost half their games (29 out of 61), and their run total is skewed upwardly by the five games in which they've scored ten or more runs, the distribution actually looks like a downward slope, rather than a bell curve.

So if you want inconsistency, well, this is the team for you. The Twins have been shut out the same amount of times that they've scored more than ten runs. Only four teams have been shut out that many times (Pittsburgh and Oakland are tied with the Twins at five, while Washington, San Fransisco and St. Louis have six). Of those five teams, only Oakland has an OBP better than the league average and they are also the only one that's in the top two thirds of the Majors in that crucial statistic. Consequently, none of them are in the top two thirds in run scored.

Of course, the Twins are in the top ten in the Majors in OBP, yet they are seventeenth in runs scored. Of the top fifteen teams in OBP, only Colorado and Oakland have scored less runs than the Twins. My explanation for this phenomenon is the same as it was earlier--lack of power. Their inconsistency is due to their complete and total lack of power (the Twins' ISO is currently .124, which is less than 2006's .138 and 2005's .132). Colorado also backs up this theory--their ISO is just barely above the Twin's at .129, which helps explain why they have the 22nd most runs despite the 8th best OBP and a similar run distribution (28 of 64 games with 3 or less runs).

Currently, on the Twins, only Cirillo (.103), Kubel (.138), Mauer (.135), Morneau (.269), Hunter (.250) and Cuddyer (.171) have ISO's over .100. Only the last three have ISO's over the league average of .152. You'd expect an ISO of .200 or greater from a power hitter, which means the Twins have only two legitimate power threats and only three players that could be considered to have better than average power. Of course, this might not be surprising to you if you knew how many home runs the Twins' DH's have hit (2--both by Morneau).

So in a nutshell, the Twins' lack of power has once again lead to an offensive inconsistency that is both befuddling and infuriating. And there's little hope of any help on that front from the minors or from any of the Twins' current players. Which means that barring a trade, you can expect the Twins' offense to continue it's inconsistency through out the year, and it may even get worse next year, as the Twins could be down to just one power threat if Torii Hunter signs elsewhere.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

If I Could Afford New Walls, I'd Be Throwing Folding Chairs at My Walls Too

A light-hitting, speedy centerfielder? As if it was that hard to dig up a Jason Tyner or Denard Span will turn out to be anything more than a fourth outfielder? The Twins "first round pick" Ben Revere is also a prep player, which means he isn't going to be ready for the show for a number of years. Maybe, after budgeting for Santana, Mauer, Morneau and possibly Nathan, the Twins will resign Torii Hunter to a long enough deal where Revere is ready to step into center field for the big league club by the time Hunter leaves, but I doubt it, in case you were planning to use that in defense of the pick. Even if you were, and even if Revere could be ready in a breakneck three or four years, it still doesn't hold up as justification as the vast majority of teams buy into the logic that it is always best to draft the best available talent in the first round and pay little mind to organizational needs.

This pick blew my mind. There are the "signability" concerns that a lot of teams bow to, but still... Ben Revere? Seriously? Haven't the Twins shown themselves to be experts at packing their roster with a bunch of singles hitters on the cheap?

Rooting for the Twins is a bizarre thing. When it comes to pitching, the organization puts others to shame. The Twins do a truly stunning job of drafting, developing and pilfering major league arms. The organization grooms its hurlers to throw strikes and limit walks and Rick Anderson deserves a lot more mention than he gets, both locally and nationally (although he might prefer his relative level of anonymity).

When it comes to hitting, the organization shows time and time again that they just don't get it. The piranhas have no bite, and they're often strung four-deep in the line-up. It takes what, three singles to score a run? Two with a sacrifice or two thrown in? The odds of three batters reaching base in an inning are what, somewhere around one-in-four? And there is some cause of confusion over the Twins not scoring enough runs most of the time and the general inconsistency of the offense?

The idea that an offense built around getting on-base and hitting for power is some new fangled stat-geek idea is flawed. It's Earl Weaver baseball: "Pitching, defense, and three run homers." And the Twins already prioritize the the first two!

Don't give me that small market nonsense about the Twins not being able to afford to play that brand of baseball because its too expensive, because I'm not complaining about us not giving Alex Rodriguez a guaranteed $250 million. I'm talking about not taking Baseball America's 135th ranked player in the draft who doesn't even weigh 160 pounds with the 28th overall pick!

Who were some of the players the Twins could have had? Six players from Baseball Prospectus' top 30 were still on the board at the time of their pick:

13. Matt Harvey, RHP, Fitch HS (CT)
21. Corey Brown, OF, Oklahoma State
22. Josh Smoker, LHP, Calhoun HS (GA)
28. Kyle Russell, OF, Texas
29. Kyle Blair, RHP, Los Gatos HS (CA)
30. Andrew Brackman, RHP, North Carolina State

Those are two power college bats the Twins passed on to draft a leadoff hitter that no one, Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus or any other industry or media outfit, thought worthy of a first round pick. The Twins also passed on three pitchers with a lot of upside (Brackman is a 6'11" converted basketball player who is very raw for a college player but has still touched 99 with his fastball and has as much upside as any player in the draft).

But hey, the Twins did get the fastest player in the draft. There's just that whole retooling of Revere's entire approach at the plate to get him to utilize his speed that needs to be done and the reality that with his tiny frame Revere will never hit for any semblance of power at the major league level. Who's to say that the Twins couldn't have gotten Revere with their next pick (number 92 overall). According to Baseball America, that still would have been a slight reach of a round or so too early.

To add insult to injury, the Twins took another speedy, punchless centerfielder with their third pick! Here's what MLB.com had to say about Angel Morales:

"Morales is an extremely fast outfielder who likes to run and is fun to watch patrol center field. He still needs to learn how to use his speed to help his offensive game. If he can do that by playing small ball -- more line drives, hitting the gaps, bunting -- he could evolve into a pretty good leadoff type. Right now, except for the pure speed and the plus defense, everything else is a projection."

Watch out AL Central! The Twins have cornered the market on the Alex Sanchez/Joey Gaithwright clones! Can you hear the Tigers shaking in their shoes as they pony up the cash for yet another blue chip that falls to them because they're willing to invest a little money on someone with "signability" concerns. Here's what Baseball Prospectus' Kevin Goldstein had to say about the prospect that fell to the Tigers at 27th overall who BP had ranked second in the entire draft class:

"Porcello has a big, projectable frame, touches 98 and sits in mid-90s; excellent arm action in terms of both speed and smoothness; mature changeup for age; excellent athlete who fields position very well."

For all his "signability" concerns, I doubt Porcello's bonus comes out costing much more than the Twins paid for a month's worth of good starts from Ramon Ortiz. I can't fault the Twins for not taking Porcello, because the Tigers picked before the Twins did and MLB does not allow teams to trade draft picks, but I can get up on my soapbox and scream to the heavens that this is the kind of pick that the Twins should be making. Kevin Goldstein on the Tigers' scouting director David Chadd:

"Scouting director David Chadd loves pitchers with Porcello's profile, and he's not afraid to take the best player on the board on worry about money later -- see Verlander, Maybin, Miller in the last three years."

It's days like today that really test my allegiances as a fan. I don't care if the team I root for wins. The players are almost always trying their best, and if a team simply doesn't have the talent to contend that year but everyone goes out and puts up a good fight, that's all anyone can ask. But on an organizational level, when a team shoots itself in the foot, repeatedly, I'm left with one thought: If they're not going to learn from their mistakes, I'd better learn from mine.

I know the Twins have been an awesome team for the past half decade. I don't really care that much. I don't care if they're good. I don't care if they're awful. I just want them to try and be the best they can, at all times. Obviously the team thinks that's what they're doing in drafting slap hitters like Revere and Morales, but I just don't see it.

Live, From Cinderella's Castle...

As you may have heard, the first four hours of baseball’s draft were broadcast live on ESPN2 on Thursday. Since I know almost nothing about draft prospects aside from a few random articles, I figured it was natural for me to sit down for the first round and report back on the goings-on. Every draft has a trademark; the NFL has Jets fans, the NBA has amazing suits, and the NHL has people un-ironically using the word “eh” in casual conversation. What will set baseball apart? Let’s find out...

--

Karl Ravech in the house, live from... Disney World? Sure, why not. Steve Phillips and the Man, the Myth, the Gammons fill out ESPN’s crew, who are speaking in a dead-silent room. You can hear the echoes when they speak. We’ve got people from Baseball American and Scouts, Inc. as well so that we have someone here who knows what they’re talking about.

Every draft has its own buzzword; football loves a player’s “motor,” the NBA loves “length.” Apparently baseball is all about “signability.” Tell me something doesn’t need to be fixed there.

I’m glad they broke out the green-room for the players here; watching players hold up jerseys they won’t see again for three more years (if at all) is going to be a hoot. Especially the part when the Commish has to force a smile; I don’t think I’ve seen Bud smile in ten years.

Don Zimmer is here to represent the D-Rays. I hope they don’t make him carry the card up the podium; Tampa’s five-minute clock might run out.

Apparently Devil Ray fans do exist; in fact, all 34 of them might be in the building this afternoon.

Apparently the Royals here at number two are the big wild card—if they take George Brett, everyone else’s draft board goes down the tubes.

Judging solely by decibels, it doesn’t sound like Royals fans turned out this afternoon. Or Nats fans. Or Cubs fans. Or Pirates fans. It’s going to be a quiet four hours.

Good, I get my first unspellable name—Mike Moustakas (Moustakis? Mustakas?). Anyway, he’s a prep shortstop that probably will end up at third base, and he goes to the Royals. I feel even worse for Royals beat writers than I already do—they’re going to have to learn to spell him.

I’ve read that the Cubs are in baseball’s doghouse because of their ownership problems and are being heavily leaned on not to overpay a guy here. I love me some conspiracy theories. Anyway, they take Josh Vitters, a prep third baseman. He’s the first in-attendance pick of the day, and sets the bar high for “most awkward interview of the day.” I’ve seen more personable things on the side of the road.

A good day for the Greeks so far—Daniel Moskos off the board, joining Moustakas. Gammons tells us that he wasn’t “abused” in college, which is good to know; I’ve heard rumors of the Gophers using Chinese water torture in practices.

A name I’ve actually heard goes off the board in Matt Wieters, a Georgia Tech catcher. This was not supposed to happen according to what I’ve read; Wieters is a Scott Boras client, and Peter Angelos apparently hates Boras. I’d enjoy sitting in on those negotiations.

The Nationals grab a left-handed pitcher at number six, Ross Detwiler. Is he already their third-best starter? Either way, he apparently eats six meals a day trying to gain weight. That comment is followed directly by a highlight package of Prince Fielder (the Brewers pick next); I’m guessing that if Detwiler (who is a skinny chap) eats six meals, Prince eats about forty-nine.

Brewers fans actually get a bit of a chant going as they grab Florida first baseman Matt LaPorta. The main word associated with the pick was “interesting,” followed by “intriguing.” I think both of those are code words for “bad.”

At 11, the Mariners grab a Canuk, Phillippe Aumont from Quebec. He’s apparently the last player in the building, which is a shame. I was hoping for someone sitting there until 50. In any case, he’s giving Vitters a run for his money in the interview. He’s the master of the three-word answer.

Another AL Central team up next with Cleveland on the clock. I’m preparing to hate whoever gets picked here... and that lucky chap is Beau Mills, a lumbering college slugger. ESPN has him on the phone, and I think he has a hate-able face. I can muster the required spite for this guy.

The Braves take a high school outfielder from Georgia, netting the biggest in-house cheers since Price at number one. ESPN has an epic list of Braves in-state picks; someone should buy the Atlanta front-office an atlas.

The Reds grab a high schooler from Punxsutawney, PA. Feel free to make your own Groundhog Day joke.

Over half-way through the first round now, and so fan I’m vastly disappointed by the use (or, the non-use) of all the team representatives in the house. If we don’t give Darryl Strawberry something to do soon, he’s going to relapse.

Peter Gammons just snuck in a shot at all of the people who “talk about Moneyball and then never read it.” I hope Joe Morgan isn’t watching. Oh, wait. Of course he isn’t watching. That would mean he’s actually attempting to do something informative for his job as a baseball analyst.

Karl Ravech points out the boards in all of the teams’ rooms, and asks Steve Phillips what’s on them. Response: “...Names of players.” That’s the kind of hard-hitting analysis that I’ve come to know and love.

Whoops. I got sucked in by a fantastic YouTube video and missed like three picks. Focus! Anywho, the White Sox on the clock, with the Twins coming up in three picks. We’re in the good stuff now.

Selig is finding a nice groove with his “Team X is on the clock” delivery. It’s just bored enough with a touch of obliviousness. Fantastic stuff. The White Sox take some college lefty. I wish him ill. Tigers, followed by Twins for the next two picks.

I snuck a question into a chat with Baseball Prospectus’ Kevin Goldstein on Wednesday, and he said to be looking for high school middle infielders with the Twins at 28. The specific guy he mentioned may or may not have been named after the dorm I lived in my first year of college; we’ll see how this shakes out.

The Tigers take Rick Porcello, a high school pitcher regarded as one of the absolute top talents in the draft who fell because of the Scott Boras effect. The Tigers have been willing to take tough-to-sign guys (see: Andrew Miller last year) and it’s paid off big-time for them (Verlander, Miller, etc.). Twins on the clock.

I’m getting a bit worried about Detroit. They’re very willing to spend the extra money to get top-flight draft talents, and their rotation could be dominant in two years. Eek.

Ben Revere, a 5’9”, 152 pound high school centerfielder from Kentucky. Sounds like a pure speed guy; one of the ESPN talking heads loves this guy. No one else seems to have heard of him.

One thing that drives me nuts: Steve Phillips says that the Twins have to score runs by grinding it out because they don’t have the “boppers.” That might be true now, but why would that affect a draft pick? I mean, they could just as easily grab a power hitter, right? Not that I’m against this pick (I mean, what do I know?); I’m just against Steve Phillips.

On the plus side, this guy has an easily-punnable name. His first stolen base in a West-Coast night game can be his midnight ride. On the minus side, ESPN does not have a picture of Mr. Revere; he may or may not exist.

Here come the Yankees with the final came of round one. Everyone is expecting the money-bags to open up here. They end up rolling the dice on Andrew Brackman (a college righty), who may or may not have some kind of elbow injury. They’ll just keep him away from Pavano and I’m sure he’ll be fine.

So with the first round wrapped up, I’ll skedaddle as well. Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by ESPN’s coverage. It was quite no-frills, with people who actually knew what they were talking about. There was no John Kruk-type to be seen, just Gammons, the prospect gurus, and Phillips to give a bit of front office perspective. The five minute gap is pretty solid as well; it gives the TV guys time to give a little info about each pick without the whole thing dragging. So all in all, not too shabby.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Links 6/5

I had a half written out piece on the Twins' offensive inconsistency, their awful isolated slugging percentage (which is currently lower than the iso. in both 2005 and 2006), but after spending all day reading the great stuff on the web today, I've decided to put it on the back burner for now (don't worry, I'll be revisiting it later) and just provide links today.

And now, after building them up, here are the links:

  • Frequent Batgirl and Section 220 commenter Jim Crikket checks in with a report from Kevin Slowey's debut.
  • So how did Slowey's debut fare in comparison with Twins' Aces from the past (and present)?
  • Ubelmann from Twinkietown looked at Slowey's career projections and found that those fans who are missing Brad Radke are going to really like the kid.
  • Reason #1 why being a paid blogger is worse than doing it for free--you aren't a target for Fire Joe Morgan.
  • Joe Christensen complements his feature on Tony Olivia with even more stories on his blog.
  • Erik Lis on hitting a home run off the highest paid pitcher ever to suffer a groin injury.
  • If you saw the Fresno St. pitcher take a line drive off of his head in the game against the Gophers Sunday night, I'm sure you'll agree with the Bleacher Boys. I'm sure Pat Neshak does.
  • John Sickel held a five round mock draft at his site in preparation for Thursday's draft. Don't forget--they're televising it for the first time this year on ESPN2.
  • What if ESPN had been around the entire century?
  • Wondering how the Twins' current prospects are faring? Seth and Roger both have up their Minor League reports for May.
  • We're gonna win Twins! We're gonna score!
  • Only a few more days until the Side Burned One returns...and he's anxious to be back.
  • No wonder Joe Vavra's such a good hitting coach.
  • And finally, in case you haven't seen it, Bobby Cox' successor.