August 27, 2014

Hardball Dynasty league openings

I'm addicted to WhatIfSports.com's excellent "Hardball Dynasty" game and run a pair of leagues called "Gleeman World" and "Gleeman World 2." Seasons last about four months, so that means I'm frequently looking for new owners to fill openings.

Hardball Dynasty is not fantasy baseball and in fact has nothing to do with fantasy baseball. It's much better. From rookie-ball to the majors Hardball Dynasty is an incredibly detailed simulation of running a fictional MLB organization, with fictional players and everything from the Rule 5 draft and international prospect signings to free agency and 40-man roster management.

Here's what one of the player cards looks like:

Screen Shot 2013-06-03 at 10.12.11 AM

Due to the steep learning curve involved in the game and significant time commitment required to master it I'm looking first and foremost for owners with some previous experience playing Hardball Dynasty. Mostly, though, I'm just looking for good owners and despite the sales pitch-like tone of this post I get absolutely nothing in return for someone signing up (except for a better league to enjoy, of course). If you're interested, let me know.

August 25, 2014

Gleeman and The Geek #159: What To Watch In September

Topics for this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode included Terry Ryan all but saying Ron Gardenhire will be back in 2015, broadcasting live from the Twins Daily light rail pub crawl with various special guests, and discussing things we want to see in September including Joe Mauer, Danny Santana, Aaron Hicks, Phil Hughes, Brian Dozier, Ricky Nolasco, Kyle Gibson, Alex Meyer, Trevor May, and Josmil Pinto.

Gleeman and The Geek: Episode 159

In addition to the direct download link above you can also subscribe to the podcast via iTunes.


This week's blog content is sponsored by Uber, which is offering a free ride to first-time users who sign up with the promo code "UberGleeman."

August 22, 2014

Link-O-Rama

Ron Gardenhire admitted to knowing of Fan Graphs and, despite this being 2014 and his being a highly paid baseball manager, everyone was rightfully shocked. Which is funny, but also not.

• I mean, did someone really "fake their own death" if one phone call to their parents immediately blows up the entire scheme?

• The American Reader examined how "bae" became a thing people say.

Phil Hughes, Ace. (Seriously.)

• One of my favorite writers, Gaby Dunn, put together an amusing Jezebel post about "ghosting" people via text, which I've regretfully done twice and constantly feel guilty about.

Pat Neshek gave up his number so John Lackey could keep wearing No. 41 after being traded from the Red Sox to the Cardinals and in return he received a ball autographed by Babe Ruth.

• On this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode I finally got rid of John Bonnes.

• Comedy Central just made the entire first season of "Broad City" available online and I liked it so much I'm re-watching the whole thing. Here's a scene featuring Hannibal Buress:

Ilana and Lincoln might be the best couple on television.

• You'd think people mistakenly getting into random cars believing they'd paid the driver to pick them up would be crazy, but as someone who now uses Uber and Lyft regularly it makes sense.

Chipper Jones randomly bumped into Manny Ramirez at the Des Moines airport.

• Indians righty Corey Kluber came out of nowhere to become one of baseball's best pitchers and Jordan Bastian of MLB.com deftly mixed reporting and analysis to see how that happened.

• Good job, y'all. Negative feedback made Blue Plate Restaurants get rid of the "minimum wage" fee and increase their servers' base pay.

• This week's "Gleeman and The Geek" guest co-host, Parker Hageman, has his own podcast called "The No Juice Podcast" and I generally find it very amusing.

• Another catcher whose career may be in jeopardy due to concussions from foul tips.

• Thought Catalog occasionally has some interesting stuff and has given quite a few good writers their first sizable audience, but things have gotten pretty disgusting there lately.

• Sadly, it didn't work.

• Friend of AG.com Dana Wessel is back writing his weekly Premier League column for the Minneapolis Star Tribune's website.

• New Bohemia in Northeast has been a big supporter of "Gleeman and The Geek" and now the beer-and-sausage house is opening a second location in Golden Valley.

• Some of this week's weird and random search engine queries that brought people here:

- "Roy Smalley, baseball player"
- "Your favorite Coen brothers movies"
- "What is Scott Ullger good at?"
- "Sad guy sitting alone in restaurant"
- "How much does Joe Nathan make per inning?"
- "Where did Nick Blackburn go?"
- "Are the suites at Target Field air-conditioned?"
- "Weight loss Zubaz"

• Finally, in honor of the Twins Daily light rail pub crawl Saturday this week's AG.com-approved music video is "Fast Train" by Solomon Burke:


This week's blog content is sponsored by Uber, which is offering a free ride to first-time users who sign up with the promo code "UberGleeman."

August 20, 2014

Phil Hughes, Ace

Phil Hughes Twins

Phil Hughes has been the Twins' best starter with a 3.76 ERA in 25 starts, yet that good but not great ERA vastly understates just how well he's actually pitched. He ranks 10th in the league with 140 strikeouts while issuing just 15 walks in 158 innings for a 9.3-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio that leads all of baseball. Clayton Kershaw ranks second behind Hughes and he's followed by Hisashi Iwakuma, David Price, Masahiro Tanaka, Felix Hernandez, and Chris Sale.

Hughes is a fly-ball pitcher and poor defense--particularly in the outfield where Josh Willingham and Oswaldo Arcia roamed the corners for most of the year alongside a revolving door of center fielders--has hurt him in the form of a .343 batting average on balls in play. Not only is that much worse than Hughes' career mark of .300, it rates as the fifth-highest batting average on balls in play across MLB among the 120 pitchers with at least 100 innings this season.

Expected Fielding Independent Pitching (xFIP) attempts to more accurately evaluate a pitcher's individual performance by removing defense, luck, and bullpen support from the mix and Hughes ranks 20th among all MLB starters in xFIP at 3.23. In other words, he's been a No. 1 starter. And he's also been much better than he ever was for the Yankees from 2007-2013, when he posted the following yearly xFIP figures as a starter:

YEAR   xFIP
2007   4.58
2008   4.94
2009   4.93
2010   4.17
2011   4.74
2012   4.35
2013   4.36
...
2014   3.23

Hughes never posted an xFIP below 4.00 as a starter with the Yankees and only once, in 2010, came within a full run of his current xFIP with the Twins. He's a completely different pitcher in a home ballpark much better suited for his skill set and the results have been dramatic. In terms of recent Twins history, Hughes is in rarefied air. Here are the best xFIP figures by Twins starters during the Ron Gardenhire era of 2002-2014:

                      YEAR     xFIP
Francisco Liriano     2006     2.54
Francisco Liriano     2010     2.95
Johan Santana         2004     3.01
Johan Santana         2005     3.12
Johan Santana         2006     3.16
PHIL HUGHES           2014     3.23

Now that's a list.

Hughes isn't throwing any harder than he did with the Yankees. His average fastball this season has clocked in at 92 miles per hour and he's used it 63 percent of the time. With the Yankees his average fastball was 92 miles per hour and he used it 63 percent of the time. His strikeout rate has improved, but only slightly from 19 percent to 21 percent, and Hughes' swinging strike rate remains at his career norm of 8.5 percent.

If he's using his fastball exactly as often and throwing his fastball exactly as hard as before and he's not missing significantly more bats, how did Hughes get so much better? Well, basically he decided to simply stop walking anyone. As a starter for the Yankees he averaged 2.8 walks per nine innings, but this season Hughes has sliced that to 0.85 walks per nine innings for baseball's second-best walk rate.

Hughes walked zero in an MLB-leading 13 of 25 starts (52 percent), whereas for the Yankees he had zero walks in 24 of 132 starts (18 percent). He also leads MLB by walking zero or one batter in 23 of 25 starts (92 percent), compared to 61 of 132 starts (46 percent) for the Yankees. His overall walk rate of 0.85 per nine innings is the second-lowest in Twins history among starters with at least 100 innings:

                      YEAR     BB/9
Carlos Silva          2005     0.43
PHIL HUGHES           2014     0.85
Brad Radke            2005     1.03
Brad Radke            2001     1.04
Brad Radke            2004     1.07
Brad Radke            2003     1.19

And it's not just his walk rate that tells the story. According to MLB.com's Pitch-FX data Hughes has thrown a pitch in the strike zone 56 percent of the time this season, which leads all of MLB by a wide margin. In fact, among the 120 pitchers with at least 100 innings this season no one else is even above 53 percent. And as a starter with the Yankees he threw pitches in the strike zone 49 percent of the time.

No team has emphasized throwing strikes and limiting walks as much as the Twins under the duo of Gardenhire and pitching coach Rick Anderson. During their 13-season tenure together Twins pitchers have MLB's lowest walk rate at 2.6 per nine innings when none of the other 29 teams are below 3.0. Anderson's overall effectiveness has been in question for a while now, but aside from a few prominent examples he does get pitchers to throw the ball over the plate.

For many of the Twins' abundant collection of low-velocity pitchers Anderson's focus on pounding the strike zone has meant letting hitters tee off on inferior raw stuff, but in Hughes' case he's been able to maintain his above-average velocity and strikeout rate while drastically reducing his free passes. Toss in the switch from Yankee Stadium to Target Field predictably hiding his weakness for serving up homers and the result has been enough to create a 28-year-old ace.

Handing a four-year, $49 million contract to Ricky Nolasco six months ago already looks like a disaster and the Twins' other recent forays into free agent pitching to sign Kevin Correia and re-sign Mike Pelfrey for multiple years flopped as well, but Hughes' three-year, $24 million deal looks brilliant. He's on pace to throw 210 innings with the best K/BB ratio and second-best walk rate in Twins history and he's under contract for $8 million next season and $8 million in 2016.


For a lot more about Hughes' breakthrough season and change in approach, check out this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode with guest co-host Parker Hageman.

August 18, 2014

Gleeman and The Geek #158: Just a Concussion and The Purge

Topics for this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode included trading Josh Willingham to the Royals, Byron Buxton's incredibly scary injury, what to expect from Ricky Nolasco, where Danny Santana should be playing defensively, what to make of Oswaldo Arcia through one full season, appreciating Phil Hughes' excellence, the launch of Vikings Journal, and whether or not to freak out about hair in your food.

Gleeman and The Geek: Episode 158

In addition to the direct download link above you can also subscribe to the podcast via iTunes.


This week's blog content is sponsored by Uber, which is offering a free ride to first-time users who sign up with the promo code "UberGleeman."

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