April 21, 2003

If you thought that was bad...

Okay, so that's the last time I ever complain about the Twins getting their butts kicked in a series before it is over. New York crushed the Twins 15-1 yesterday afternoon. Sadly, the game was on ESPN, which means I watched it and so did quite a few other people.

I hate to bring up the same things over and over, but the Twins once again stunk in those same 3 areas they have been stinking in all season long:

1) Working counts/taking pitches/getting good pitches to hit.

2) Getting hits with runners on base.

3) Avoiding giving up home runs in bunches.

Let's start from the bottom and work our way up.

Rick Reed gave up a 3-run homer to Nick Johnson in the 3rd inning and a grand slam to Alfonso Soriano in the 4th. Then Tony Fiore came in and gave up a solo-homer to Johnson in the 7th and J.C. Romero finished things off by serving up a 2-run shot to Bernie Williams in the 9th.

The Twins didn't get many base runners, but the ones they did get were stranded, as usual. Matthew LeCroy singled with 1 out in the 2nd, but was left on 1st base. Michael Cuddyer started the 5th with a single, but never moved off of 1st base. Torii Hunter started the 7th with a walk, then LeCroy struck out and Cuddyer lined into a double-play. Even in the 9th, with the game well out of hand, Bobby Kielty led off with a double and LeCroy singled 2 batters later to put runners on the corners with 1 out. Cuddyer and Dustan Mohr each flew out to end the game.

This is easy to say in a game where a team scores only a single run, but the Twins, once again, appeared to have absolutely no plan at the plate and had no discipline up there, swinging wildly at stuff out of the strike zone the whole game. David Wells (who is also a very control-oriented pitcher) issued only 1 walk and needed only 103 pitches for his complete-game.

Here's the difference between the Yankees' approach and the Twins' approach, in a nutshell ("Hello, this is me in a nutshell")...

The Yankees went down 1-2-3 in the 1st inning, but saw 15 pitches.

The Twins went down 1-2-3- in the 1st inning and saw 6 pitches.

The Yankees had four batters come to the plate in the 2nd inning and saw 17 pitches.

The Twins had four batters come to the plate in the 2nd inning and saw 12 pitches.

So, at that point, both teams had 1 hit and, after 2 innings, one had seen 32 pitches and the other 18.

But okay, I think you get the point and it's no fun discussing the same old problems over and over, especially after you get spanked 15-1.

Oh, one last thing: Bobby Kielty got his 6th straight start and Ron Gardenhire is making me seriously think about taking down the "Bobby Kielty Liberation Watch" that's on the left side of this page. I think I'll wait another week or so, just to make sure Kielty stays in the lineup. By the way, Kielty has now played in 12 games this season and has a hit in every single one of them.

In other sad baseball news...

Randy Johnson was put on the disabled-list yesterday with a "sprained right knee." According to ESPN.com, this is Johnson's first stint of the disabled-list since 1996, which is pretty amazing. The good news here is obviously that the injury is not one having to do with his left arm. The bad news is that he is turning 40 in a few months and something as "minor" as a knee sprain can have a big effect on an aging player, particularly a 40 year old pitcher that is 6'10" and probably puts a ton of pressure on that knee with every pitch.

I did a big entry on Randy Johnson back in February (which you can see by clicking here) and that led to a whole bunch of really good responses, including one from Lee Sinins of Sabermetric Encyclopedia fame, which led to two more days worth of entries about Randy (which you can see by clicking here).

The entries were basically a Randy Johnson love-fest, where we discussed exactly how great he has been and how he has done it (he made some major changes in his pitching style during the 2002 season).

Suffice it to say that I am hoping Randy Johnson comes back in a few days and is healthy for the rest of the season. It would be really sad if he had an injury to his knee that slowed him/ended his career, while that magical left arm was still completely healthy.

I'll definitely be keeping an eye on RJ for the rest of the year.

Arizona's "other" ace, Curt Schilling, recently had an "emergency appendectomy" and was also placed on the 15-day DL. Obviously these two events are a massive blow to the Diamondbacks, because they depend on those two players perhaps more than any team has depended on two players in the entire history of baseball. Actually, that would be an interesting question to look at...in another entry!

Here's what I said about the D-Backs in my NL West season-preview:

I toyed with putting the Dodgers in second-place, I really did. In fact, I actually had them there up until about 30 seconds before I started typing this very sentence.

But I just couldn't go against the power of Randy and Curt. I tried, but I chickened out. If [the Dodgers] do end up finishing in 2nd or even winning the division (which they definitely could do) I am going to be really angry at myself for not going with my gut and sticking them ahead of Arizona.

But look at these numbers again:

90 Wins

24 Losses

2.75 ERA

1,026 Innings

1,315 Strikeouts

Those are Johnson and Schilling's combined totals from 2001 and 2002. Unbelievable.

At some point Randy and Curt are simply going to stop performing like this. Johnson is 39 and Schilling is 36. Is it going to be this year? Who knows?

If one of them gets injured or stops pitching like a human strikeout-machine, this team is going to be in trouble, despite what I think is a much improved 3-4-5 part of the rotation. I guess I am just banking on them being able to do it for at least one more year.

I'm still hoping it isn't "going to be this year," but it's not looking real good right now. Stay tuned.

In happier news...

Last Thursday I wrote an entry entitled: "The Freedom Squad" in which I ranked my top 8 hitters "that most deserve to be given consistent, everyday playing time."

Here's the list:

Bobby Kielty (#1, of course)

Jason Grabowski
Ramon Castro
Shawn Wooten
Benji Gil
Mike Kinkade
Javier Valentin
Craig Wilson

After I gave my list, I said this:

I'm thinking this team should probably be in the American League and thus need a 9th hitter to add to the lineup. That's where you guys come in. Do you have a good candidate to join this group? A guy in need of a break and a full-time gig?

Please email me with all your nominees and I will pick the 9th member of the "Freedom Squad" next week.

Well, it's "next week" and I got a ton of really good responses to the call for a final member to the "Freedom Squad."

Here is a sampling:

Hey Aaron -

For my own pick as a DH, I'd have to split my vote. Dave Hansen had a shot at 23 (in 1992) to be the Dodgers' 3B, but he wasn't ready. Somehow, he got a bad rep, and has never had more than 181 at bats ever since, despite a career OBP of .365. He has shown power in the past (he's a Diamond Mind All Star in 2000), it seems to be a

matter of him getting a ton of doubles to turn into a ton of HR. The league's best pinch hitter should be your DH.

If you're looking for a younger guy who didn't get much of a shot, my other pick would be good ol' Buck Buchanan. His numbers with the Padres last year (.293, .363, .543) are very much in line with his 2001 numbers in Minnesota (.274, .342, .487). While we don't have room for him now, I think he'd make a fine addition to your all-trapped team and would give them 25-30 HR and a .340-.360 OBP. He could even play LF and bump Javy Valentin to DH.

My real reason for writing, however, is to talk about Ramon Castro. I agree that he needs to be freed, but something you said about him interested me and I'm wondering what you think about it. It's no secret that catchers deteriorate faster than non-catchers. Piazza, IRod, Berra, Dickey, Scalk, Carter, Bill Freehan, and even Pudge Fisk

to an extent dropped off at around 10,000 to 11,500 innings caught. Bench somehow got to around 14000, before falling off, but was 32 at the time. However, I think the fact that they dropped off had a great deal to do with their usage patterns over time than with actual time itself. These guys all caught a lot in their younger years.

Castro, conversely, isn't catching much at all right now. In fact, if he starts to get playing time, I'd put him in with guys like Don Slaught, Mike Stanley, Mickey Tettleton, and Gene Tenace as guys who were catchers, but who enjoyed solid late career success (respectively, they had their last above average seasons at 37, 36,

35, and 35). The connecting factor is that each of these guys never caught an excessive ammount of games in a season at the start of their big league careers.

Slaught only topped 100 G twice because he was being platooned or sharing his job most of his career. Tenace began having success in 1973 as a full time first baseman, then split time between 1B and C, only catching more than 100 G in a season twice; however, he caught more games than he played at any other position. Tettleton started

as a full time C, but began DHing a great deal in 1989. He topped 100 games catching for two seasons in a row in 1991 and 1992, but that was the only time in his career that he did so.

Perhaps the most interesting comparison for Castro, however, is Mike Stanley. When Stanley came up, it looks like the Rangers liked to carry three catchers. Slaught and Stanley each got 200 ABs in '87 (Stanley's rookie year), as did Gino Petralli. In '88, it was Petralli, Stanley, and Jim Sundberg. In '89, Stanley took a back seat to Chad Kreuter, Sundberg, and Petralli, and probably spent most of the year catching at AAA. He was back in '90 and '91, but was then went to the Yankees when IRod began asserting himself in Texas. He did not catch 100 games in a major league season (despite being on rosters most of the time) until 1993, at the age of 30, and then caught 100 in 2 of the next three seasons. Then he made a switch to 1B, and continued to produce until 1999.

My thinking is, if Castro can get into a usage pattern similar to the ones used with these guys, he could enjoy a productive career as a C-1B-DH well into his middle and late 30s since he hasn't caught many innings during these past two seasons. You're right, however, he needs to get his shot at that soon, before he turns into a AAAA player.

Cheers,

Mike

Wow. Now, that is a great email! It's definitely an interesting idea and I think that any time a person can avoid squating behind a plate for hours at a time, it is probably a good thing for the length of their career. Another guy I have heard this theory about is Jorge Posada, who converted from infielder to catcher late in his minor league career with the Yankees and then served as Joe Girardi's backup for a year in New York. Jorge is 31 now and isn't showing signs of slowing down, which would certainly go along with Mike's thoughts.

All that said, the last two seasons (2002 and this year) are the only ones in which Ramon Casto has not caught a ton of games. I don't have his "games played by position" for his minor league career, but he appeared in 115 games between Calgary and Florida in 2001 and appeared in 117, 121, 79, 115 and 96 games in each season since 1996.

That's a lot of squating and throwing and getting hit with foul tips, even though he only played 54 games last year and probably will be lucky to see that many again this year. I do hope he gets his shot and it would be really nice if he was able to have an extra-long career because of the Marlins not recognizing that he deserves to play.

Here's another nominee from a different "Mike":

I would vote for Jason Lane of the Astros. This guy can flat out hit the ball...yet he isn't given a shot in Houston. He was sent to the minors AGAIN this spring because Houston wanted to keep Orlando Merced and Brian Hunter (!!!). Last year Lane was finally given a few at bats and he responded by hitting .290 In his 3 full years in the minors he hit .299, .316, and .272 with 23, 38, and 15 homers. He draws plenty of walks too. So far in New Orleans this year he's hitting .366 with 9 walks in 41 AB. He's screaming for an everyday job, and im sure he could hit better than Richard Hidalgo...its just a matter of getting a shot. If you can't tell I have him in my keeper league, so this one is a personal matter. 🙂

I think Jason Lane is a really great choice for the team and I absolutely agree that he deseves a shot and could be a very good major league hitter. Plus, I know how you feel about the "I have him in a keeper league" thing, since I have Grabowski in one of mine.

I also got a few other Lane nominations, including one from Al of "Al's Ramblings," who said:

I am nominating Jason Lane of HOU. He not only is better than both Orlando Merced and Brian Hunter, the Astros reserve OFs, he's better than Biggio starting in CF nightly.

Lane won the league RBI title in each of his first three pro seasons and was on his way to contending for another RBI crown last season, before the Astros called him up in August and ended his Triple-A season after only 111 games (and 83 runs batted in). He hit .290/.375/.536 with 4 homers, 3 doubles and a triple in only 69 at bats with the Astros. And, as Mike said, he is tearing up AAA again this year.

Here's one from "Seth":

I’d like to nominate Chris Coste. First, he’s from Fargo. I don’t have his complete stats in front of me, but I know after playing for the FM Redhawks for 3 or 4 years and always hitting over .300 there, he signed with the Indians organization. He split a season between AA Akron and AAA Buffalo, hitting well at both spots. He’s hit over .300 the last 2 years at Buffalo and was a AAA All-Star last year. Well into the season, he was hitting around .400.

He primarily is considered a catcher, but has played 1B, 3B and some RF as well as DH for the (Buffalo) Bisons. After not getting a call-up last year, he knew that he was appreciated by the Indians organization as a minor leaguer only and wanted a shot at the majors. So, as a free agent, he signed a minor league contract with the Boston Red Sox with a major league spring training invite (which he had with the Indians the previous two years).

He was one of the last players the Red Sox sent down. I don’t really think that’s a good place for him. He was told that if anything happened to Varitek or Mirabelli, he would be the first one called up (although, he’s on the DL now in AAA and they signed Bill Haselman to play there now too). The fact that he can play 1B, 3B, DH or RF is kind of lost in Boston’s scheme of Ortiz, Giambi, Millar, Hillenbrand and Mueller.

He’s 30, so he’s not a “prospect”, but at every level he’s played at, he’s hit. Because of his age, I’m sure he’d love to be a #2 catcher somewhere. Maybe even a #3 catcher who can play these other positions. I think that he’d be a great guy for your roster. And, no major league experience. So, he’s my favorite minor leaguer. I may be biased because I played college ball with him, actually behind him at 3B. Actually, he was a 3 time all-American, so I pretty much never played, but that’s cool. He’s a great guy. Plus, he’s written two great baseball books. I’ve read the first ("Hey, I’m Just the Catcher"), and the 2nd is supposed to be coming out in May.

You gotta love a catcher/author that can hit a little bit, don't you? Another excellent nominee.

Thanks to everyone else that sent in nominations (there were about 20 players mentioned, all together). Unfortunately, I don't want to make this a 50-page entry and I have decided that Jason Lane (who got the most votes, by far) is the man to add to the team.

So here's the new starting lineup:

 C    Ramon Castro

1B Shawn Wooten
2B Jason Grabowski
SS Benji Gil
3B Mike Kinkade
LF Jason Lane
CF Bobby Kielty
RF Craig Wilson
DH Javier Valentin

You give me a decent pitching staff and I'll take that group into battle with me anyday of the week. They might not be pleasant to watch on defense, but they'll score some runs and I bet they'd hustle their butts off.

Finally...

A while back I mentioned that Rickey Henderson was considering signing with the St. Paul Saints of the Northern League, in an attempt to get back to the major leagues. I was sad that Rickey needed to do that to get a job, since I thought he was still a major league-caliber player, but I was excited at the prospect of seeing one of the greatest players of all-time right in my backyard. Well, yesterday Rickey announced that he will not be playing in the Northern League and will instead be playing with a team in the Atlantic League.

I really hope a major league team out there gives him one last shot at a bench-job, because he can still help a team win games. Plus, I'm not quite as excited about a future Hall of Famer playing in an independent league when it isn't in Minnesota!

Today's picks:

San Francisco (Foppert) -115 over Pittsburgh (Suppan)

Houston (Redding) -105 over New York (Cone)

Toronto (Walker) -130 over Tampa Bay (Kennedy)

Texas (Park) +220 over Boston (Martinez)

Minnesota (Rogers) +115 over Kansas City (Hernandez)

Total to date: + $1,570

W/L record: 42-36 (2-0 yesterday, including that 15-1 disaster)

*****Comments? Questions? Email me!*****

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