Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Final Countdown

The Minnesota Twins are at least still making it interesting for us:

And so are the Tigers.
Hey, if the Vikings can make an amazing comeback, why can't our baseball team?

I've had a long, long, long week at work, and it's only going to get worse for a couple days (so the posting might get a little light until after the Detroit series), I promise, I'll make up for it with some good ones soon. But I must say, this weekend was perfect for watching Minnesota sports.
You could be of the opinion that the Twins didn't do themselves any favors by not winning on Sunday when the Tigers gave them an opportunity to get within 1 game.

Oh, thanks Chicago. We thought it was fun too!

However, the Twins have been on an extended road trip and they've shaved a game off the Tigers lead. Sunday they faced the guy who by all accounts should win the Cy Young

Yeah, you Zack! Smile!

Despite Kubel's bat becoming nonexistent, they managed to peel of 8 wins in a row until running into Mr. Cy Young. As long as they break out the bats again tomorrow against Porcello, this team still has a very realistic shot. It's coming down to the wire.

This is going to be a very interesting 4 days of baseball. I like the Twins chances, even in Comerica. The Tigers just seem to be imploding and the Twins are picking each other up at exactly the right times. All season long I've never had this much confidence that we'd find a way to eke out a win when watching games.

OK, so again, I'll try to post if I find time in the next few days, but expect me back towards the end of the week at the very least. Check out the Twins blogs on the lefthand bar for your daily dose of Twins news though.

I know, Nick, it's getting exciting! Hold on!

Wave those homer hankies! Let's get some optimism flowing!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Cleveland Just Can't Do Anything Right

Well, I was kind of hoping I'd be pleasantly surprised to flip over to the Tigers/Indians game and see some miracle of how the Tribe edged Verlander. Apparently Cleveland did draw first blood, but that was short-lived, because at the top of the next inning the Tigers began a 4-run rally to take a lead which they wouldn't relinquish.

I thoroughly dislike cheering for Cleveland, it makes me feel dirty. And I know I will thoroughly dislike rooting for the Chicago White Sox from here on out as well. But the enemy of my enemy is my friend -- at least until next year. So -- here goes: "Go get 'em Sox! Ozzie, lead those boys on a win streak!"

**Taking a short break while I go throw up**

In all seriousness, hopefully they can do something that the Indians appear incapable of: win a baseball game.
Yeah, you guys are bad, we all know. Feel free to cry.

It's fun to look back and see ridiculous overestimations of some teams. Cleveland and their farm system always seems to be the little darling in the AL Central, but you've got to believe that fans (and probably Larry Dolan) are getting a little upset with Eric Wedge and Mark Shapiro, as their booming core of young players has suddenly all been shipped off in cost-cutting moves only to start over into another rebuilding cycle.

Anyway, I decided that watching Cleveland fall on their face to Detroit was dampening my baseball high, so I caught up on some of the World Series action that I've been missing every Tuesday night.

I'm trying to avoid hearing anything about the November 9 until, you know, Novemberish, so please don't spoil anything for me. I've already been leaked one name and that takes a little bit of fun out of watching (though it will always be fun, even to watch old episodes). I must say, Phil Hellmuth looks awesome at the tables this year, as much as it pains me to compliment the Poker Brat.

But who wouldn't look awesome if they arrived to the WSOP like this?

It's also kind of fun watch Jordan Farmar at the tables with everyone else. I guess after winning an NBA championship, the only thing to do is follow it up with a Main Event championship as well. He wasn't playing half-bad either.
Next year I hope Morneau throws another casino night, because I'll definitely be flying back to Minnesota to play some Hold 'Em with him. I'm not going to pass up that opportunity again.

In other news, the Twins were finally eliminated ... from the Wild Card, don't worry. Just a wake-up call as to how pathetic the Central has been this year (Seattle outlasted us in the Wild Card standings...). Let's hope that's the last time we see that awful capital "E" after our name.

Tomorrow, we carry the momentum into Kansas City. Go Twins!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Punto vs. Tolbert, Who is the Scrappiest of Them All?

Everyone who remotely follows the Twins is familiar enough by now with manager Ron Gardenhire's obsession with scrappy, light-hitting, infielders who "hustle their tail off", and two of the biggest examples we've seen over his tenure both happen to be on the team right now: Nick Punto and Matt Tolbert.

Pictured here sandwiching fellow "futility infielder" Alexi Casilla

Both will most likely figure into the team's plans for next year, with one being a likely starter (Punto), and the other hopefully only being a bench option if he makes the roster (Tolbert), but that could all change if the Twins find any other realistic options either in-house or via trade/free-agency, as practically ever position on the infield except for Morneau and Mauer probably figure to be question marks.

The Twins will likely have 13-14 positions on their roster for hitters, and and after subtracting probably 5 spots for the outfield, one for Morneau at 1B, one for Mauer at catcher, and one for Morales as the back-up catcher, that leaves us with 5-6 spots, including the starting 2B, SS and 3B. Barring some crazy occurrence, you can almost guarantee one of those starting spots will be occupied by Nick Punto.

Pictured here flying through the air, as he always appears to do.

The Twins already have Punto under contract for around $4M next year, and Buscher, Tolbert, Harris, and Casilla will all either be under team control or receive minimal arbitration salaries. I doubt anyone who follows this team looks forward to those 5 players rounding out our infield next year, but unless they look into the minors (Hughes, Valencia, Plouffe, Huber, Peterson), that's probably the group we'll be choosing from.

The only thing keeping Buscher on this roster is his friendship with Morneau and the fact that he knows how to hold a bat left-handed (swinging it is another story), and Casilla and Harris are probably so far in Gardy's doghouse that they'll be lucky if they're on the roster next year. In truth, Harris is probably the one of those 5 we should keep around, but he'll also be the easiest for the front office to ship to another team and actually get something back in return.

That leaves Punto and Tolbert, with three people who very well might replace Buscher, Harris and Casilla, yet to be identified and will make themselves known this offseason. So let's familiarize ourselves with Mr. Punto and Mr. Tolbert, as I'm sure we'll grow accustomed to them next year.

Punto pictured here, diving through the air ... again

Tolbert pictured here, apparently knows how to plant his feet.

Nick Punto

The definition of a scrappy switch-hitter, Punto is turning 33 this November (happy early birthday), and in 9 seasons of major league service he's amassed a .249/.321/.326 slash line with 12HR, 174RBI, and 83 stolen bases.

He's quite the enigma, I don't know if we'll ever quite figure out who the real Nick Punto is. Breaking down his individual seasons, he was strictly a bench utility player from '01-'04, never amassing a significant amount of starts or plate appearances to really see his true style.

Though this, apparently, is part of his style...

He's had 5 years where he has essentially been a starter (and I'm including this year), and oddly enough each year he seems to be the exact opposite of the previous. In '05 he was bad. In '06 he had his best year to date (.290/.352/.373). He dropped back down to non-relevance in '07 before rebounding slightly last year by posting .284/.344/.382 slashes. This year? Well, it's an odd numbered year so he's struggling away again at .232/.332/.288 with 1HR and 34RBI (this is even taking into account his recent slew of superb play, so, picture how bad his numbers looked before this...)

In the field, Punto has held his own. He's posted a .976 fielding percentage this year at SS (though that's dropped slightly to .973 this year), and that's been just slightly more than league average.

But does THIS look league average to YOU?

At 2B he's just slightly below league average, displaying a .983 career fielding percentage, two points lower than the league.

At 3B he's actually well above the league average of .958, as he's actually posted a .970 fielding percentage there. My amateur opinion on this would be that 3B is typically more offense-oriented, and so to have a cat-like middle infielder at the hot corner he'd be fielding the position better than some of the more "bat-oriented" players who are filling it on other teams.

Unfortunately, we're paying Punto a salary equivalent to that of Jason Kubel, which pretty much cements the fact that he'd better lock down a starting spot because we don't want to pay $4M for a bench player. The Twins would probably be better off releasing Punto (or trying to trade him), because they essentially have a younger (read: cheaper) version of him in Matt Tolbert.

Matt Tolbert

Pictured here thinking "Who? Me?"

Tolbert is 6 years younger than Punto (math says he's 27), and also a switch hitter (and making 3.5 million less, thankfully). With the void of no-Joe Crede haunting us, Tolbert has inexplicably apparently been handed the starting 3B job over the platoon of Buscher and Harris. Even more amazingly, he's been holding his own, though nothing leads me to believe that this will last.

He saw limited big-league action for the first time in '08 (123 plate appearances), and responded with a respectable .283/.322/.389 slash and 7 stolen bases (though he was walking less than once for every two strikeouts). Those numbers were relatively in line with his 6 seasons of minor-league ball, where he posted a career .280/.341/.404 with limited power, decent speed (47 stolen bases, caught 19 times), and around the same strikeout-walk ratio.

For whatever reason, his numbers have plummeted down to Punto-level this year, and although the season isn't over, he's amassed more plate appearances than last time. He's currently sitting on a .221/.301/.266 slash with 6 stolen bases and his normal strikeout-walk ratio.  

Whereas Punto as a switch hitter only has a modest difference in his splits batting right-handed vs. left-handed batting, Tolbert skews more significantly. As a lefty versus right-handed pitchers, he's hitting .198/.288/.207, but as a righty hitting lefties, he's .279/.333/.419.

I don't want to get too down on Tolbert. He could actually be a decent bench-option and serviceable player if that kind of role wasn't already taken up by Punto. But to have two of them on the 25-man roster next year is a little ridiculous. And if Punto wasn't there, you can sure bet that Gardy would find a way to sneak Tolbert into an every-day spot so he wouldn't really be filling the role he's best suited for anyway.

It's harder finding pictures of Tolbert sprawling all over the place...

As far as fielding goes, Tolbert has a small sample size at each position. At SS, he appears to have about a .978 fielding percentage, which is somewhat better than league average. At 2B, he's almost exactly league average (he's .987, average is .986). And at 3B his fielding percentage skews drastically down to .930, a good 30 points lower than the average at the position. This is in part due to the fact that he was horrible at 3B in 17 games through '08, but after starting there practically every game this September he's been flawless (1.000 fielding percentage...). Those numbers probably won't remain unblemished for the long-haul, but it seems that regardless of where you put him (SS, 2B, or 3B), he'll be just around league average in terms of fielding.

(I'm not qualified to talk about UZR or Range Factors, I'll leave that to more qualified bloggers.)

Suffice to say, that if Punto is not released or traded this offseason, there's no reason that the Twins should renew him again. Tolbert should easily slide into his role and still be much cheaper, and by the time Tolbert deserves a significant raise, there should be someone else in the pipeline as well, so hopefully we don't hand out another albatross of a contract.

But in the meantime, Punto and Tolbert continue to defy numbers and logic...

and apparently gravity... they hold down 2B and 3B daily in our race to the postseason, and I'm all for it for now. As long as they don't start batting lead-off or in the 2-hole if Span has to miss any games because of his concussion.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

3 Things to be Thankful For

To be completely honest, it was a major let-down to not sweep the Tigers this weekend. That would have effectively put the nail in the coffin despite the fact that we still would have been 1 game behind. Regardless, a series win is a series win, and the Twins could have done a lot worse. 

What did this show Bill Smith, however? No clue. At times the Twins were firing on all cylinders, and at other times they looked utterly futile. I think it's safe to say that no reinforcements will be coming of any kind, and the current roster will have to continue to exceed expectations these next two weeks for us to have any chance. If you haven't yet read this article at Twins Fix though, do so and it will give you an interesting take on why we can take heart in the product we're currently putting on the field.

Still, this weekend showed us at least three things that we can take away and be thankful for going down the stretch:

1. Brian Duensing is amazing.
I don't know if anyone remembers this, but Duensing was essentially given up on earlier this year by everyone following this team. He did OK in Spring Training and made the team out of the bullpen due to the fact that Scott Baker needed some time to rehab from an injury. During his cup-of-coffee in the bigs at the beginning of the year he made a lone appearance against the White Sox in Chicago, where he pitched three innings and gave up two runs (via homer). He didn't see any more action with the big league club until July.

After a handful of appearances out of the pen to start July, he was forced to make a spot start against the White Sox (thanks to Glen Perkins and the omnipresent "shoulder injury"), where he pitched 5 solid innings to earn a no decision, although the Twins got a much needed win later in the game.

Due to all the upheaval in our starting pitching, Duensing finally joined the rotation full-time on August 22 in Kansas City, and since then he's rattled off 4 wins over 6 starts, lasting 7 innings in half of those starts, and blanking the A's over 7 innings and the Tigers over 6.1 innings in his past two.

Most likely, all the attention going into Friday night's game was focused on Porcello and the solid rookie season he's put together, but Duensing deserves special recognition for being so dependable after nearly being written off by an entire fan base. 

Some might forget that Duensing was actually selected to the Olympic team in Beijing to represent the United States, and although he only played in one game (out of the pen), he pitched 3.1 scoreless frames for the win against Canada.
It's hard to tell if his rockstar performance will continue for the duration (or into next year), but who would have predicted Denard Span to defy his minor league career numbers and become one of our most dependable players? Duensing's peripherals don't indicate that he's winning by smoke and mirrors -- his good numbers have been legitimate (and consequently I've added him to my fantasy roster for the final week just to try to capture some of this magic...)

2. Michael Cuddyer is a beast.
Michael Cuddyer's defensive and offensive proficiency while in the infield has always been a huge concern; thus his move to right field where he flourished. I'll admit, when I heard that Morneau was out for the season and Brock Peterson was not joining the team, I figured Cuddyer at 1B spelled doom for our chances. In truth, he's been more than adequate and I'll gently remove my foot from my mouth and take this opportunity to apologize for anything negative I've said about him.

Cuddyer is the glue holding this team together, and it's not just the magic tricks:

In fact, in the past 7 days he's hit .350/.350/1.050 with 4 HR and 11 RBI. Those are Mauer-like numbers. Those are Pujols-like numbers. Those are better than anything that even Morneau has shown us for a stretch in September.

Not to hype up my fantasy team, but I got a text in the middle of a game this weekend from the person I'm facing in the semi-finals, and he was clearly in awe of the numbers that Cuddyer's been posting (for my fantasy team...) this past week. He's turning heads, and at the right time of the season too. Perhaps it's because he was rewarded with his favorite candy.
For all the concentration Mauer, Morneau and Kubel get for this offense, Cuddyer is easily overlooked, including by me, and I'm glad he's finally enjoying the spotlight.

3. At least we're not the Tigers.

Yeah, OK, so they're in first place. I've seen this before. The Twins are clearly playing the best baseball of their season and they've saved it for the right time. The Tigers are struggling and scraping for every win right now, and I can't point to anyone on their team who I think will carry them to the post-season.

Sure, Ordonez has been doing well recently. Miguel Cabrera has been putting up typical numbers for himself as well. Verlander is as dominant as ever. But Ordonez and Cabrera were kept relatively silent this weekend, and the Twins eventually got to Verlander before he left on Saturday as well. The Twins are still 9-5 against the Tigers this year, and if you watch either of these teams play you can tell that the Twins are clicking and the Tigers look like they're struggling to stay relevant.

In some sense, for inconsistent and underperforming teams like the AL Central, it might almost be better to have something to chase after than to have something to hold on to, and as long as the Twins are still gaining ground, I think they have the upper hand.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Frustrating Logic

Ok, in lieu of my previous post where I called for Bill Smith and Ron Gardenhire to bring up at least Brock Peterson and hopefully Danny Valencia to fill out our roster, La Velle posted an update that the Twins have no plans on bringing up reinforcements of any kind.

That was discouraging. Primarily because I don't agree with the reasoning behind this. From the sounds of the article, Gardy asked for help and Bill Smith said "No". This is further elaborated in two points:

1. Gardy explained that a couple players he had in mind, infielders Luke Hughes and Trevor Plouffe, are playing in the World Cup in Europe. Others, like third baseman Danny Valencia and first baseman Brock Peterson (.344 post All-Star break) are not on the 40-man roster.

40 man roster? The obvious solution here is putting both Joe Crede and Justin Morneau on the 60-day DL to free up space, as neither will be able to contribute this year anyway. Valencia needs to be added in the offseason regardless. This can't be the problem.

The problem, is that adding them to the roster and calling them up means a significant pay raise as they'll need to be given the major league minimum (prorated) over the course of their stay. We all know that the Twins are a frugal (cheap) team. Bill Smith has already eaten money for Jon Rauch, Ron Mahay, Orlando Cabrera and Carl Pavano in an attempt to improve the team, but the fact that he won't eat some prorated salary for two rookies is a little odd in my opinion. The Twins have been putting up runs and -- more importantly -- wins recently, but I can't help but feel like they're playing above their heads right now.

2. I spoke to Bill Smith. who said he’s staying in contact with Gardy about the roster. “Right now, we are going to sit tight and see how the rest of the club plays out over the next few days,” he said.

The second opposition that Bill Smith apparently is presenting is that he wants to see how it "plays out" the next few days. Well, those next few days are most likely the upcoming series with Detroit, the team that currently sits ahead of us in the standings for the post-season berth.

From what I can see, this team can "play out" one of three ways over the series, and I'm curious which way would give Bill Smith the motivation to bring in those reinforcements:

- The Twins sweep the Tigers and valiantly pull back into contention. This leads Bill Smith to smugly sit on his hands and gloat that this team doesn't need any help, they can win on their own. This might be true, it might not, because the Twins could be playing over their heads, and the Tigers could simply continue their woeful play.
- The Twins are swept by the Tigers and fall out of any realistic contention. This leads Bill Smith to sit on his hands and think that now that the Twins are out of it officially, there is no reason to spend any further cent of salary to help a lost cause. Peterson and Valencia lose out on valuable experience and playing time before they audition for next year.
- The Twins and Tigers muddle about and no one is a clear winner. The standings don't change. Bill Smith has wasted 3 valuable games where we could have had reinforcements in place, but maybe this is the only scenario that he thinks the team needs an injection of fresh blood.

(Side note: Why is this the only picture anyone ever uses of Bill Smith?)

Of those scenarios, I can only think the last one might lead him to pick up the phone and get Peterson and Valencia on the first flight out to join the team. That's because the Twins will still remain as a big question mark. Either they make a statement and pummel Detroit and nothing needs to be done, or they fall on their face and nothing deserves to be done, or nothing significant happens and Smith is forced into action, albeit too late to help them in this valuable series.

Your thoughts?

*Oh, and kudos to the boys for their sweep of Cleveland. Of course, if they didn't sweep Cleveland they would have been shooting themselves in the foot. Every win keeps us in contention now, and every loss kills our chances. I hope they don't feel too much pressure...

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Corner Infield Conundrum

Obviously this team has more issues now than it had a week ago. This all but shatters any realistic hopes to stay in the hunt, although I'd like to retain some level of optimism until after I see what happens with Detroit this weekend.

Thankfully, the most logical options for this team to stay competitive also happen to be the same as if we were preparing for next year. How? Good question, glad I asked. Other than Justin Huber, who is already with the team and seems to be battling some lingering health issue himself, two of our top performers in Rochester happen to be corner infielders:

Danny Valencia, 3B

.286/.305/.454, 7HR, 41 RBI (71 games, 282 plate appearances in AAA)
Danny Valencia, the man that almost every blogger I read has been pining to see get some starts, and, I'm included. His offensive numbers are solid, although they dropped off slightly at the end of the season. He's the man that many are already pegging to have the edge at 3B next year as we move into Target Field. The biggest concern I foresee at the moment is his glove, and that could be what's holding him back (besides not currently being on the 40-man roster). During his stint at Rochester, he's committed 12 errors at third base and posted a .927 fielding percentage. Compare that to Crede (.983), Buscher (.979), and Harris (.950) when they start at 3B. In fact, the league average is .958, so it's quite a drop off to .927 -- although that is comparable to what Bobby Crosby and Mark DeRosa have posted there this year. I'd love to see Valencia get some reps nonetheless, as he'll at least be exciting to watch and should bring a solid bat. But I'm worried about seeing him on the field turf right now, and if he comes up and makes some big errors I can only imagine what Gardy's backlash would be. So if bad defense on turf that he won't be seeing next year gets him in Gardy's doghouse, is it worth a call-up?

Brock Peterson, 1B

.304/.376/.468, 10HR, 43RBI (99 games and 356 plate appearances)
Brock Peterson has put in his time in the minors. It's about to the point where the Twins need to figure out if he can contribute at a major league level, and the season he had at Rochester should have warranted a spot on our bench at least in my opinion. His minor league fielding percentage stands at .994 as he committed 4 errors in his starts at 1B in Rochester. And, if it translates, the league average for 1B in the majors is also .994 (Kendry Morales and Miguel Cabrera's defense is good for league average at 1B). With Morneau and Huber not available, Peterson should be a much better fit than Cuddyer at 1B, who posts an ugly .964, well below league average. I'm not a baseball manager or executive, obviously, but with his numbers and the open spot I can't see why he's not already on a plane to Minnesota.


Calling up these two would allow us to keep our outfielders in the outfield (where they belong), keep Harris, Tolbert, Buscher, and Casilla available off the bench, and potentially even give Morales some DH opportunities if they arise. If Huber's injury goes away, both he and Peterson should compete for the 1B spot and the other would be a nice option off the bench in a critical situation as they both are great bats.

Obviously there could be some growing pains, but I highly doubt they'll be much worse than trying to shove Cuddyer into the lineup at 1B every day and having to watch Delmon Young bumble around in left every night. When the lineup we see everyday looks like this, I can't help but wonder how we're going to score runs:

Span, RF
Cabrera, SS
Mauer, C
Kubel, DH
Cuddyer, 1B
Young, LF
Harris/Buscher, 3B
Gomez, CF
Punto/Casilla, 2B

Adding these two players would allow slightly more offense while not shifting people from their best positions:

Span, LF
Cabrera, SS
Mauer, C
Kubel, DH
Cuddyer, RF
Peterson, 1B
Valencia, 3B
Gomez, CF
Punto/Casilla, 2B

And good bats like Harris, Morales, Huber and even Young would all be available in critical situations.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Learning Not to Care

I watched about one hour of Twins baseball this weekend -- and that was solely to pick out Katie and Betsy in the crowd on Friday, which I swear I did on a long focal lens where they were fuzzy in the background. Then I had some buddies come over for poker, one of whom was a Rockies fan, so we watched that game, and their come from behind win in the 9th inning was a refreshing reminder of why baseball is fun, something that's easy to forget in Minnesota these days.
It was exciting. This was not.

Saturday, thankfully, the Twins game wasn't even an option. It became college football day for me. And even though my alma mater isn't anything to speak of -- although our fencing team apparently is awesome, who knew? -- I tend to cheer either for team's that my friends have strong allegiences to, or else for the Minnesota Gophers. So I found myself watching Tate Forcier have a huge game against Notre Dame and singing "Hail, hail, to Michigan, the leader of the West..." during the day, and capping that off at night by going to the bar and watching the last quarter of Minnesota's inauguration of TCF Bank Stadium.
Isn't that a pretty sight?

(For the record, outdoor sports in Minnesota is beautiful, isn't it? If the Twins were playing that night at least it would have been a beautiful ballpark experience, even if the results were lackluster...)

Sunday, I had the option to enjoy the first day of the Minnesota Vikings with a bunch of friends at a bar on the Upper West Side, or watch a game of my floundering baseball team. I opted for the former, and as much as Favre made me want to hurl, this was beautiful:

Click the link above for the glorious replay that I kept watching on every TV in the bar -- yes, fans of every team were in attendance and they all roared as AP swatted the Browns player aside like a fly.

I suppose I missed a good game by the Twins that day too. 8-0, great start by Duensing. But gee, the Tigers won too. Is this some sort of conspiracy to match them step for step in mediocrity?

I have a feeling that when it comes down to the Twins vs. Vikings on Sunday, I'm going to have to go with the Vikings. At least they've been fun to watch. Twins games seem like a chore and a test of my loyalty. I'll still tune in on weekdays and regardless of what happens down the stretch I'll watch that last game at the dome against the even more hapless Royals. But 8-0 Sunday means nothing to me unless they can carry that energy into their next game against Cleveland. This is it, boys, make me want to watch again. If the Vikings can trample Cleveland, can't you do it to?

Thursday, September 10, 2009

I feel bloated with confidence.

Not with baseball. With baseball I have a bare glimmer of hope that keeps getting darker.

No, instead, I feel extremely bloated with confidence going into the football season. Things couldn't look brighter.
With the dawn of the Titans-Steelers game (and their ridiculously self-indulgent and stupid hour long intro), football season really has arrived.

I can't remember the last time I've gone into a season feeling so completely and utterly sure that my team would win a championship. In any sport, in any year. But really, if I put myself in the place of any other team in football I would have to be quaking with fear to face this Vikings team.

Lord knows I'm not a Brett Favre fan. But really, I dare any team to stack the box on Adrian Peterson with this man lined up behind center.
Do it.

After a long, hectic day at work today where I balanced two people's jobs, I decided to go to my bar and relax for a bit.

My bartender, Sam, is a sincere Packer's fan and puts up with my taunts, so I couldn't help but tease her about buying her a purple Favre jersey as a present. It's the little things in life that make me happy.

Eventually, an old drinking buddy, Ron -- lifelong Giants fan -- stopped by and we inevitably talked football. For some odd reason he still thinks the Bears are the favorites in our division, and I could only stare dumbfounded. Really?

I can't think of one team in the NFC let alone the AFC that would be a clear favorite over the stacked Vikings -- and this is in spite of Favre. Despite all the face time he gets, Favre isn't the person taken #1 over all in practically every Fantasy Football draft, nor is he the man in practically every Nike or Gatorade commercial you'll see on TV. Who is that again?

Oh right.

Ron asked me to pick the one flaw on our team and for the life of me I couldn't find it. Our O-Line? That's going to be pretty solid with Loadholt paving a freeway down the right side just as he did in the first drive against Texas. Maybe our secondary? Perhaps if you forget about Antoine Winfield and Madieu Williams.

Perhaps I'm going to be extremely let down. But I doubt it. It's the first week of the season and I'm allowed to feel extremely confident. And I think this year I have a right to. Fear the purple.

That being said, Brad Childress and the Vikings front office are complete douche-bags and I really feel bad for Bobby Wade. That's just wrong.

The Three Catchers

What a game today! Finally beating Halladay after how many years of trying? I feel bad for the fans that missed that one (me)... So if you want to read about last night's game, may I suggest other fine sources.

Also, Josh Johnson is back with another fine article with some insights into next year.

No, instead of looking at the great game that I happened to miss, or focusing my thoughts on next year, I'm going to check out a concept that's been bugging me for awhile: Is there a tangible difference in how our pitchers fare depending on who's behind the plate?

Way back in Spring Training we heard that the Twins weren't sure if they were going to go with Morales or Butera to complement Redmond while Mauer was on the DL -- the argument being that Butera was a much better defensive catcher and that pitchers seemingly loved throwing to him. The assumption here, to me, was that they did not feel the same about Morales. Where his value obviously lay was with his bat, which went 4-4 in his major league debut and still seems to have plenty of zing in it today.

We all know that Mauer is a defensive whiz, and there were articles earlier in the year about how mature he is in going through pre-game meetings with his pitchers where he lays down the game-plan and so on.

But what about Redmond? Obviously his bat isn't what it once was, and it's certainly not at the level of Jose Morales these days, so why does Gardy continue to give him the nod over Morales on days when Mauer DH's or gets the day off? (Obviously, today's win against Halladay is not taken into account as Morales was the starting catcher. Finally.) My guess would be that his veteran presence and poise behind the plate is the plus over Morales ... but is this just in Gardy's head or do the numbers back it up?

In this analysis, obviously Mauer is the gold standard, but I'm including his numbers with each pitcher as a frame of reference. First -- the original 5:

Scott Baker
Mauer - 17 games and 435 batters: .229 BAA, 4.63 SO/BB ratio
Redmond - 7 games and 172 batters: .294 BAA, 3.20 SO/BB ratio
Morales - 3 games and 74 batters: .206 BAA, 2.50 SO/BB ratio
(Small sample size notwithstanding, Baker posts the highest batting average against him when Redmond is behind the plate, although his K-BB comes at a higher clip than Morales.)

Francisco Liriano
Mauer - 14 games and 344 batters: .275 BAA, 1.66 SO/BB ratio
Redmond - 5 games and 122 batters: .303 BAA, 3.13 SO/BB ratio
Morales - 4 games and 100 batters: .261 BAA, 2.44 SO/BB ratio
(Again, ditto. In both starter's cases, Cisco and Baker seem to post a better batting average against than even Mauer does.)

Kevin Slowey
Mauer - 10 games and 250 batters: .288 BAA, 4.17 SO/BB ratio
Redmond - 4 games and 91 batters: .295 BAA, 9.00 SO/BB ratio
Morales - 2 games and 53 batters: .423 BAA, 7.00 SO/BB ratio
(Morales and Slowey seems to not be on the same page. But this is a very limited sample size.)

Glen Perkins
Mauer - 11 games and 226 batters: .346 BAA, 1.92 SO/BB ratio
Redmond - 5 games and 135 batters: .248 BAA, 1.63 SO/BB ratio
Morales - 3 games and 62 batters: .271 BAA, 3.00 SO/BB ratio
(This skews things. Redmond's starts with Perk seem to fare better, although Perk just generally isn't a strikeout pitcher.)

Nick Blackburn
Mauer - 14 games and 385 batters: .312 BAA, 2.53 SO/BB ratio
Redmond - 10 games and 260 batters: .278 BAA, 1.54 SO/BB ratio
Morales - 5 games and 113 batters: .269 BAA, 1.43 SO/BB ratio
(Mauer seems to be the weak backstop here, although how he gets Contact Pitcher Blackburn's SO/BB ratio to climb is clever.)

And the replacement pitchers?

Brian Duensing
Mauer - 13 games and 175 batters: .240 BAA, 2.00 SO/BB ratio
Redmond - 5 games and 66 batters: .293 BAA, 1.38 SO/BB ratio
Morales - 1 game and 11 batters: .200 BAA, 1 K no walks
(Morales only caught Duensing in one game in the majors, but it was a beauty.)

Anthony Swarzak
Mauer - 9 games and 199 batters: .298 BAA, 1.86 SO/BB ratio
Redmond - 3 games and 69 batters: .349 BAA, 1.33 SO/BB ratio
(Morales hasn't caught Swarzak yet in the majors. But even though Swarzak hasn't exactly shined brightly in the majors, he did pitch his best with Mauer behind the plate and got lit up with Redmond back there.)

Jeff Manship
Mauer - 6 games and 65 batters: .263 BAA, 1.14 SO/BB ratio
Manship - 1 game and 10 batters: .556 BAA, 1 K, no walks.
(Small sample size, yes, but what a skew.)

Carl Pavano
Mauer - 5 games and 131 batters: .279 BAA, 4.00 SO/BB ratio
Redmond - 1 game and 29 batters: .192 BAA, 2.00 SO/BB ratio
(Redmond called a beautiful game the one time these two squared up.)

OK, so the numbers don't definitively prove everything here, but they are interesting. Slowey and Morales don't seem to have the greatest numbers together, neither do Swarzak, Liriano, Baker or Duensing when paired with Redmond.

And in the bullpen of many arms:

Joe Nathan
Mauer - 42 games and 162 batters: .169 BAA, 4.67 SO-BB ratio
Redmond - 6 games and 24 batters: .238 BAA, 2.33 SO-BB ratio
Morales - 9 games and 32 batters: .167 BAA, 5.50 SO-BB ratio
(Morales and Nathan rock when they team up. Red's numbers lag here, although it's hard to lag too much with the all-star on the mound.)

Matt Guerrier
Mauer - 46 games and 173 batters: .193 BAA, 6.20 SO-BB ratio
Redmond - 12 games and 44 batters: .275 BAA, 2.67 SO-BB ratio
Morales - 10 games and 41 batters: .158 BAA, 1.67 SO-BB ratio
(Again, Morales and Mauer both shine with Matty G, but Redmond, not as much.)

Jose Mijares
Mauer - 43 games and 155 batters: .206 BAA, 2.33 SO-BB ratio
Redmond - 11 games and 42 batters: .278 BAA, 1.50 SO-BB ratio
Morales - 5 games and 20 batters: .167 BAA, 3.00 SO-BB ratio

Jesse Crain
Mauer - 29 games and 127 batters: .257 BAA, 1.77 SO-BB ratio
Redmond - 12 games and 43 batters: .333 BAA, 1.50 SO-BB ratio
Morales - 3 games and 10 batters: .000 BAA, 3.00 SO-BB ratio
(Extremely limited sample size, but trend.)

Jon Rauch
Mauer - 1 game and 4 batters: .250 BAA, no K's or walks
Redmond - 3 games and 13 batters: .400 BAA, 1.00 SO-BB ratio
Morales - 1 game and 4 batters: .250 BAA, 2 K's no walks
(Extreme microcosm, but you see where this goes.)

Bobby Keppel
Mauer - 18 games and 118 batters: .245 BAA, 2.11 SO-BB ratio
Redmond - 8 games and 67 batters: .356 BAA, 1.14 SO-BB ratio
(Morales isn't a factor here, but if you take Keppel's line with Mauer only he really hasn't been that bad it seems.)

I'll spare you the rest of the many pitchers.

Ok, so it's tough to read too much into these numbers. Much of this falls on the pitcher's shoulders as well, but I used to do a bit of pitching myself when I was younger and I do believe there's something to be said for a certain connection between battery mates. Also, when a pitcher's numbers with one catcher in particular particularly skew, that could be kind of telling. 

My die-hard Yankee fan boss and I were talking just the other day about how pitchers hate pitching to Posada and that there's a noticeable difference in especially Burnett and Chamberlain's games when Jorge catches. I think there's at least a little something to this.

My main point is that at least on the surface level, there doesn't seem to be a downgrade on the whole when Morales is behind the plate versus Redmond. Even Mauer to some extent. Morales has been teaming up well with most of the pitchers on this staff, and in some cases, he's paired up better than Redmond has so far.
I love Red, and I think he is an invaluable clubhouse presence and veteran leader on this team. But it's not his bat that's keeping him in the lineup these days, and I don't think his game-calling is substantially better than Morales, so favoring him over youth at this point isn't really helping the team right now. I'd like to see Morales starting games where Mauer doesn't, as is backed up by today's showing against Halladay and the Jays.

That's my case.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

E is for Elimination

September is the time of year when teams who are actually in contention begin watching their Elimination Number to find out when they clinch the division. Or, it could also be the number you watch slowly shrink as you shuffle off into oblivion until spring comes again.

I've been ignoring this number, because instead I've had the optimism to focus on the "Games behind" stat. Which currently sits at 7 as I write this and if Detroit stays ahead of Kansas City, it will be 7.5, if they lose, it will be 6.5. Regardless, it's been growing.

Our E number stands at 19. For some reason, 19 games until elimination is a much more palatable number for me to comprehend than 7 games behind. It seems as if there's more season left to play, and that's always a good thing in my book (although my roommate has already turned his attention to football).


What little I caught of the game tonight due to an incredibly busy workload today, shows me that: A) completely resting Joe Mauer and starting Mike Redmond = white flag, B) Jose Morales and his great pinch-hitting performances (even if they end in an out he battles like a rock star) would be much more useful if they appeared several times a game, thus, again, why Redmond? and C) I think letting Justin Huber -- and hopefully Valencia at some point -- get some swings would actually make me more excited to watch the games than seeing our current team flail about. Maybe playing some of our youngsters wouldn't be giving up? Look at what the infusion of new blood did to give Cleveland somewhat of a boost?

For some reason I got the Toronto broadcast on my MLB Extra Innings package, and for those of you listening to Dick & Bert, you missed some sincere adoration of Joe Mauer's ability and praise for Jose Mijares and what a gem he's been for our bullpen. I tend to agree. In fact, I feel more comfortable with Mijares out there than Guerrier.

Honestly though, looking at their numbers, Guerrier has been more effective than Mijares recently. Let's take a look at two splits in particular that emphasize this:

1st half vs. 2nd half
A lot of people argue that Gardy has been running Guerrier into the ground and he wears down in the second half of the season. Well, in the 1st half, batters were hitting 1.99 against him in 159 plate appearances, and he posted a 3.38 SO/BB ration. And, although the season isn't over, he has posted an ever-so-slighty higher BAA of .204 in 99 plate appearances -- although his SO/BB ratio has also increased to 5.67. Oddly enough, even with a slightly elevated BAA in the 2nd half so far, it's still lower than Mijares.

Mijares posted a .217 BAA in the 1st half, and it dropped down to .213 in the 2nd half, which is quite good, but Guerrier's been even better! Similarly, his SO/BB ratio has been lower than Guerrier's in both halves, as it was 1.79 in the first half and has increased to 3.00 now.

Platoon Lefties vs. Righties
Mijares seems most adequately suited as the lefty specialist, and, true to form, he's held lefties to a .227 BAA and 2.50 SO/BB ratio in 94 plate appearances, and against righties it's elevated to .282BAA and his SO/BB ratio drops to 1.91 in 119 plate appearances.

But wait just a second ... Guerrier is actually more effective against lefties and righties -- this despite being a right handed pitcher and probably being the assumed counterpart of a "righty specialist" to Mijares. Guerrier boasts a .221 BAA and a 4.00 SO/BB ratio in 155 plate appearances against righties, but his numbers against lefties are actually better. He's posted a .170 BAA, exactly the same SO/BB ratio, and has done this over 103 plate appearances.

All this just makes me wonder why I trust Mijares more than Guerrier? Perhaps it's because I've simply seen Guerrier's mistakes in person more than I have of Mijares. Or that squat lefties who look like Rich Garces just make me feel giddy.

Don't get me wrong, I think they're both excellent weapons in the bullpen. The thing that Mijares has on Guerrier though, is age. We can probably expect Mijares to keep getting better as he reaches his prime, and we've probably been witnessing Guerrier's best years. I stick by a comments dialogue I had with Erin over at Plunking Gomez awhile back, that we might be wise to sell high on Guerrier this offseason as we could have a crowded bullpen and his dominance might bring us a nice return due to the shortage of reliable bullpen arms. It sounds strange, but if you think about it, it makes sense.

Assuming we carry 6-7 relievers, we can wager that Nathan, Mijares, and Rauch are locks. Crain will very probably come back. Neshek will hopefully be back, but even if he isn't, Bonser will probably net a bullpen role. You still have to consider Slama, Delaney, and probably Gabino. And if we land a veteran starter or not, we will most likely have a long relief man in the form of Manship, Duensing, Swarzak or maybe Perkins. Even though we've considered our bullpen a weakpoint for awhile now, Guerrier might just be expendable enough to still bring us a decent package that if Smith gets a good offer he should probably act.

Just a thought...

Sad fact: Toronto announcers during the game bemoaned the poor state of the Pirates -- they are the only professional sports team in North America to endure 17 straight losing seasons. Ouch. At least Twins fans can take heart that we haven't reached that level of despair.

Around the blogosphere: If you haven't seen k-bro's pledge yet, check it out and try to pledge along! Over the Baggy has some more assurance on why we shouldn't worry too much about Nathan. And Twins Fix has some great analysis of why Gomez is the better option than Delmon Young.

Playin' Toronto? Ya Sure.

Dead Blue Jay = Symbol of finally beating Toronto for once in the past decade. (Slight exaggeration).

Let me just say that I had a great week in Minnesota, and that I'm never again going to schedule a flight back to New York that arrives at 11PM EST -- taking the Air Train/Subway from JFK back to the Upper East Side is ridiculous even when the trains are actually running.

So since I'm going to be especially behind on work tomorrow I need to get in early; hence, I probably won't be posting anything meaningful until late tomorrow night.

Thanks to my family for having me around and taking me out while I was in town; thanks to Jay for baseball tickets and accompanying me to the games; thanks to Betsy and Katie for watching a couple games with me and hanging out; thanks to the Twins for winning once when I was in attendance; and thanks to my old high school friends for the cigars, warm beer, and going to the State Fair.

Back with more tomorrow sometime!

Friday, September 4, 2009

Rubio? We don't need no stinkin' Rubio!

I'm sorry, but I'm not a teenage girl, so I can't really be that in love with Spanish basketball sensation Ricky Rubio (although man, that name is fun to say).

Awesome, he led his Spanish Olympic basketball team to an exhilarating loss to the U.S. and he was all set to make his splash as the flashy young heart-throb point guard in NBA this year -- but wait, no one wanted to take a chance on him because they were worried he didn't want to play there (Memphis), or that he wouldn't really be a good building block for their team (Sacramento), so Minnesota snatched him a little lower than he wanted to go and Rubio did his best Matt Leinart impression as everyone took his picture holding up Timberwolves apparel.

Sorry your dream didn't go the way you wanted, kid. Welcome to the real world. This whole song and dance he and David Kahn have done this offseason has been almost as bad as other Minnesota stars (Brett Favre, I'm looking at you).

But despite the text from my friend, Boston Dan, telling me that Ricky Rubio was backslapping my team to stay in Spain for a couple of years, I can't help but not care. Really, I don't care

Have you seen how bad the Minnesota Timberwolves have been lately? I haven't, thankfully, because I didn't renew my NBA League Pass subscription since they were just as horrible the year before! I never thought for one minute that Rubio would change things -- again, I'm not a teenage girl so I wouldn't be tuning in to games just to swoon at his pretty Spanish face.

I'm going to announce again that I live in New York. And I happen to frequent a bar in the city that is occupied by some die-hard Syracuse fans. And all last season they were so happy about their team because of one special player -- one who now happens to be on the Minnesota Timberwolves: Johnny Flynn. Can I be honest and say that I was more excited to see the Timberwolves take Johnny Flynn than I was to see them snag Rubio?

Please, tell me you saw this game:

That was easily one of the most exciting games I ever watched, and I'm not even a Syracuse fan! Flynn has more maturity and experience and drive than Rubio can imagine, and maybe 2 years from now when Rubio realizes that he's not going to get his dream of playing in New York or Miami right away, he'll settle for his rightful role as Flynn's understudy on the arctic Timberwolves team.

Tomorrow: Back to baseball.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Preaching Patience

"Beware the fury of a patient man!"
-John Dryden

If you had told me a few weeks ago, when I started this blog, that I would still be eagerly cheering for the Twins to reach the postseason, I never would have believed it.

If you had told me that the Twins rotation of Baker, Pavano, Blackburn, Manship and Duensing would be looking this solid I'd have rolled my eyes at you.

If you had told me a week ago that Joe Nathan and Matt Guerrier would implode today while the rest of our pitchers combined for a shutout, I'd scoff.

This was a horrible game, and I was so smug in the 9th. Even after the first home run I said that at least we knew he'd never give up two in an inning. I really hope no CSN cameras caught me because I probably looked like the most disillusioned and disheartened Twins fan they could find. Watching that second ball escape Span's reach I could hear Hawk Harrelson screaming in my head, "You can put it on the BOOOOOARRD!" and I wanted to hide.

I think the loss is primarily compounded by the fact that (A) we were one strike away from winning it, (B) our pitching was dominating them the entire game, and (C) we wanted to usher the White Sox out with a stiff boot instead of letting the parting image be something like this:
 You know what? Joe Nathan is still the best closer in baseball. Have we been spoiled to have someone so lock-down that we start harping on him because instead of matching his 1.33 ERA and 0.901 WHIP from last year he's spiked all the way up to a 1.71 ERA and 0.911 WHIP? How about how he's actually averaging several more K/9 innings and is 5 saves shy of breaking his total from last year?

Everyone goes through rough patches. Maybe he signed too many autographs pregame and his hand cramped -- if so, partially my fault and everyone else's along the line today. Ok, so because of this we're only 7-2 against the Sox at the Dome this year instead of 8-1. That is disappointing I know. And the fact that they're pretty much throwing in the towel on the season makes no difference? Trading away their biggest power threat for a minor league infielder in the middle of a "pennant race"? Oh, and I'm sorry, but if they lose 3 games to Boston at the Cell, how do they expect to fare at Fenway in a four game set coming up?

Listen, the Twins bullpen is stronger than it has been since Neshek left us. Crain seems to have found his form (or at least more so), Rauch has been delightful to watch, Mijares has matured into Rich Garces of the new era, and I think any team would be happy to have Nathan and Guerrier on it. We need to take our lumps and keep going, leave it to the White Sox fans to whine and cry, that's their job.

As Tertullian said, "To put it in a nutshell, every sin is traced back to impatience." This was one game. One which we seemed to have wrapped up, and that's what makes it hard. How about noticing how Kubel seems to have forgotten how he can't hit lefties and hit the ball with some authority off Buehrle today? Or how about how Mr. Olympiad Brian Duensing delivered again. Do you remember when people kept trying to talk about sending he and Humber off with Delmon for some super player to save the day? Those ideas were ridiculous. But, don't you think there are some teams salivating over Duensing now? Oh ye of little faith. Patience. Things will work out.

(The above is me preaching to myself essentially, maybe you weren't as disheartened as I, but I needed to reassure myself.)

I was trying to figure out what to write about this game all day and there's not much more to be said. Cuddyer made a beautiful catch that for some odd reason was overturned, and I still have no idea why. Maybe it's because Tim Tschida was on the field again? Who knows.
What I do know, is that Jay and I enjoyed some beautiful seats, literally right next to the Twins bullpen. Neither of us had the foresight to bring a camera, but thanks to Jay's iPhone we have some pictures and video:

TC High-Fiving the fans

TC stopping on his bike to wave.

Mijares signing autographs.

Some random kid displaying his Mijares signed ball.

The boys warming up.

Justin Morneau standing in during Duensing's warm-ups.

Nathan warming up.

Nathan warming up again.

Some fine footage of Jon Rauch, yes, he's HUGE.

As you can see, these seats were awesome. That, and Jose Mijares signing a ball to add to my collection somewhat counterbalanced the sad ending to the game. (Also the Leinenkugel's helped.)

Oh, and as I mentioned in my post yesterday, Betsy at For the Love of the Game took a ton of pictures from yesterday, so check them out! In the meantime, try to enjoy a day away from baseball as best you can. I'm going to spend mine at the State Fair with cheese curds and "beer on a stick".