June 30, 2003

Louie, Louie

One of the cool things about having my own website where people read what I write everyday, is that I am "known" for certain stuff. For example, writing very long, "Gleeman-length" entries. Or for my never-ending support of Bobby Kielty and my incredible obsession with Johan Santana. And, perhaps most of all, my dislike of Luis Rivas.

However, as I have watched my beloved Twins over the past month or two, I can't help but notice that Luis Rivas is playing better lately, at least offensively. His batting average was, until an 0-3 last night, up over .270 for the first time all season, he is actually getting multiple hits in games occasionally and, overall, his work at the plate has simply been noticeably better.

So, for the past week or so, I have been planning on devoting an entry to Luis Rivas and his play of late. I wanted to examine his improvement and see where it is coming from and try to decide how "real" I think it is. Then, I woke up yesterday morning, turned on my computer and made my daily treck around the blogging universe. One of my first stops, as it is every day, was TwinsGeek.com.

The Twins Geek, aka John Bonnes, is a really great guy (if you remember, we went to lunch a while back), a huge Twins fan and an excellent writer. I read his entries every day and I always enjoy them. Yesterday's entry was particularly enjoyable for me, because...well, it was the same entry I wanted to write about Luis Rivas!

And I don't mean "the same" as in he wrote about Luis Rivas and I was planning to write about Luis Rivas. No, I mean the same, as in he wrote the exact entry I would have written (well, his was more to the point and wasn't 50 pages long, but you get the idea...).

I mean, just take a look at the first paragraph of John's entry:

"The Twins won a thriller yesterday afternoon, beating Milwuakee 5-4 in an extra inning game featuring a rally in the bottom of the ninth. The winning run was scored by Luis Rivas, who came around from 2nd on an infield single, and set that up by stealing second base. He also went 3-5. So it seems like a good time to research a question I've wondered for a couple of weeks now...

Has Luis Rivas turned a corner?"

I won't quote John's entire entry, because you should definitely head over to TwinsGeek.com and read it yourself (after you are done here, of course). I will say that John examines three parts of Rivas' offense: Batting Average, Isolated Slugging Percentage and Batting Eye.

Batting average, as everyone knows, is simply hits divided by at bats. It's probably one of the first mathematical "equations" you ever learned (assuming you were a baseball geek like John and myself).

Isolated slugging percentage is a hitter's slugging percentage (total bases divided by at bats), minus their batting average. In other words, how much power does this person have?

Batting eye is strikeouts per walk, which could, depending on your point of view, be described as either "plate discipline" or, as I would call it, "strike zone judgment."

Those three stats that John chose to talk about are essentially the three big ones. Is he getting hits, are they going for extra-bases and is he taking walks/striking out?

So, John pretty much covered what I wanted to cover. But, because I like to hear myself talk (and see myself type), I want to take my own look at Rivas' play of late. After all, I have been pretty harsh on Luis Rivas for a very long time now, so the least I could do would be to spend a little time seeing whether or not he is actually becoming a good player, right?

Most of the optimism surrounding Luis Rivas comes from the fact that he has been a much better hitter over the last 2 months:

Month     AB      AVG      OBP      SLG

April 67 .194 .229 .313
May 70 .300 .329 .371
June 70 .300 .402 .386

That's real, significant improvement and his numbers in June are the type that even I can get excited about.

The problem, of course, is that a month (or even 2 months) is much too small a sample to conclude that a player who has been a very bad hitter for several years has changed dramatically.

On the other hand, some Twins fans disagree with me. Many people I have spoken with are very excited about Rivas' last month or two and they feel like it is almost certainly the start of him becoming a good hitter.

Well, check out these numbers:

 AB      AVG      OBP      SLG

53 .302 .316 .415
77 .299 .364 .325
101 .277 .311 .366
72 .361 .403 .444
29 .310 .333 .345
65 .292 .333 .431

The above hitting lines are from Luis Rivas - in September of 2000, June of 2001, July of 2001, September of 2001, October of 2001 and September of 2002.

As you can see, Rivas has had several months during his career when he has been a decent hitter. The fact is, every major league hitter who gets everday playing time for several years in a row is going to have good months, that's just the reality of small sample sizes, luck and random distribution.

Are Luis Rivas' back-to-back "good" months this season any different than any of those other months? Well, not really. In fact, if I were to put May and June of this year in with the 6 other months from earlier in his career and mix them up, you wouldn't be able to tell which was which.

 AVG      OBP      SLG

.277 .311 .366
.302 .316 .415
.300 .329 .371
.292 .333 .431
.300 .402 .386
.361 .403 .444
.310 .333 .345
.299 .364 .325

Now, you tell me. Which is May and June of this year?

There are a lot of .290s and .300s on that list, there are a couple of .400 OBPs, some decent slugging percentages and even a month when he hit .361. Yet, in 2001, 2002 and so far this season, Luis Rivas has been one of the worst hitters in baseball.

The point is, improvement from a player like Rivas has shown over the past 50-60 days or so is absolutely great to see. However, it is no more a sign of significant, long-term improvement in his overall ability than those months in 2000, 2001 and 2002 were.

Pretend we just traveled back in time to the end of the 2001 season. Luis Rivas, after a bad first few months, has just hit .361/.403/.444 in September and .310/.333/.345 in October. Reason to get excited, right? Not so much. The next year, Rivas hit .256/.305/.392 and was, once again, among the worst offensive players in baseball.

As I write this entry, Luis Rivas has the following career stats:

                      G       AB      AVG      OBP      SLG

Major Leagues 325 1147 .267 .317 .373
Minor Leagues 561 2117 .260 .315 .369

Maybe this is just me being stubborn, but I tend to trust 1,100+ major league at bats and 2,100+ minor league at bats over 140 at bats, even if they are the most recent performance from a player. And, even if I were to want to believe in Rivas' last 2 months being the start of significant improvements on his part, why would I trust his .300/.402/.386 this June any more than I would his .361/.403/.444 in September of 2001. And why would I trust his .300/.329/.371 (which, incidentally, isn't even a good offensive month) over his .302/.316/.415 in September of 2000 or his .292/.333/.431 in September of 2002?

I wouldn't, unless of course I was looking, searching and praying for a reason to believe Luis Rivas is going to become a good hitter. I'm not looking for such a thing, because I don't believe such a thing exists. I could be wrong, of course. And, believe me, nothing would make me happier than to have Luis Rivas become a good player. It's going to take more than a decent month or two to convince me though, especially when there are literally thousands of at bats to remind me of his past and many other instances of Rivas "improving" throughout his history with the Twins that have, as of yet, proven to be simply decent months.

For every player, a "season" is made up of good stretches and bad stretches, good months and bad months. At any given time, you can stop and examine what a player has done over some period of time and conclude that they have made tremendous improvements or are struggling mightily. Maybe Barry Bonds is just 3 for his last 16 or Albert Pujols is hitting .443 in June. That doesn't make Barry Bonds a .188 hitter and it doesn't make Pujols a .443 hitter. It just means that, during a particular period of time, that is what they are hitting. Check back later and it may be reversed, because, if it didn't go in ups and downs, Albert Pujols would be a .443 hitter and we'd have to reprint all the record books.

My point is that Luis Rivas is having a very nice (for him, at least) period of time right now, but he and every other major league baseball player go through this same thing every season. You have good months and bad months, and they combine to make you the player that you are.

The player that Luis Rivas is so far in 2003, even with his two months that have Twins fans all excited, is almost identical to the player he has been throughout his major league career (and minor league career):

Year     AVG     OBP     SLG     OPS     EqA     ISO    PA/BB    PA/SO

2001 .266 .319 .362 .681 .247 .096 15.5 6.2
2002 .256 .305 .392 .697 .246 .136 18.2 6.7
2003 .267 .325 .357 .682 .244 .090 13.6 7.1

Meanwhile...

While Luis Rivas was having one of his best months as a baseball player, Aaron's Baseball Blog was having it's best month as a website. The two facts are, I think, purely coincidental.

After topping 20,000 visitors in a month for the first time in May and crossing the 100,000 visitor-mark on June 18th, this blog had over 25,000 total visitors in June (25,950 to be exact).

As I do every month, I present to you the month-by-month visitor totals:

Month          Visitors     Per Day

August 2,800 90
September 3,200 107
October 4,200 135
November 4,400 147
December 6,600 213
January 7,800 252
February 10,100 361
March 11,500 371
April 14,900 497
May 20,550 663
June 25,950 865
-----------------------------------
TOTAL 112,000 335

Now, if only one of those 112,000 visitors wanted to actually pay me for writing...

Today's picks:

Chicago (Buehrle) -130 over Minnesota (Radke)

Cleveland (Rodriguez) +130 over Kansas City (Lima)

Total to date: + $2,105

W/L record: 159-149 (1-1 yesterday for -30, but still above 2K for the season.)

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

June 29, 2003

Chatting through the pain

On Friday night, the Milwaukee Brewers and Minnesota Twins played the first game of their three game series at the Metrodome.

I watched the game and chatted with Al Bethke, a Brewers fan who runs "Al's Ramblings" - one of the best baseball blogs around.

Enjoy...

[PRE-GAME]

Aaron: I'm watching the Red Sox through the beauty of DirecTV. They scored 10 runs in the first inning without making an out!

Al: I love Boston, Theo has built his team just like I would if I had $90 million to spend. Who they playin' tonight?

Aaron: Florida. Already on their 3rd pitcher and they have recorded 2 outs.

Al: 3rd pitcher? Did one get hurt?

Aaron: Nope.

Al: At some point, you have to admit you're beat and let someone take a beating.

Aaron: Okay, so how do I save the transcript of this chat?

Al: That I don't know.

Aaron: Hmmm...

Al: Did you do the other chat in this room?

Aaron: Yeah, but I wasn't in charge!

Al: I can barely turn on the computer if my wife isn't here.

Aaron: I think I have it set up.

Al: Matt Kinney gets another chance to face his former 'mates.

Aaron: Yeah, he pitched okay last time against the Twins, although they got some runs off him.

Al: Did you see the matchups for the rest of the series? Our pitchers that is?

Aaron: No, I haven't looked.

Al: Saturday, Dave Burba (yes, the one who fought in the second World War) is in town, though he hasn't been added to the roster yet.

Al: Sunday, we have Matt Ford going, who is a Rule 5 lefty. He has pitched very well, but he was in the Florida State League last year. First start.

Aaron: Good, we'll welcome them both into the rotation....

Al: I knew that would upset you.

[FIRST PITCH FROM KYLE LOHSE TO ERIC YOUNG]

Al: So, most of us Brewers fans think Eric Young would be a perfect fit for the Twins.

Al: Free agent after the season, better than Luis Rivas.

Aaron: Ugh. As much as I hate Rivas, I'm not a big Young fan either.

Al: I'm not either, but he could win you a game at some point. For you guys, one win could mean it all.

Aaron: I have always thought Young was pretty bad defensively.

Al: Yes, he's awful in the field, one of the worst second basemen in MLB, bottom 5 for sure.

Aaron: Rivas has been getting a lot of heat from the media and from Gardenhire lately, so maybe they'll do something.

Aaron: I'd rather have Mark Loretta, whom I am sure you are familiar with.

Al: Loretta would be a great guy for you. Rumor has it he's headed for St. Louis.

Aaron: Yeah, I bet a lot of teams have called San Diego about him.

Aaron: I just saw this graphic: "Lohse vs Brewers: 1-1, 9.53 ERA."

[MILWAUKEE GOES DOWN 1-2-3 IN THE TOP OF THE FIRST INNING]

Al: Funny, the Crew had Loretta, Young, Jose Hernandez, Ronnie Belliard and Tyler Houston last year, and Lenny Harris still got a ton of ABs. Harris is the worst player in the game.

Aaron: I think Lenny Harris somehow acquires pictures of his managers in "compromising" situations.

Al: That may well be the case. Lenny has a career sub .700 OPS and he hasn't been able to play middle IF in a decade. I don't get it.

[BOTTOM OF THE FIRST, JACQUE JONES LEADS OFF AGAINST KINNEY]

Aaron: So what do you think of Kinney so far this year?

Al: Matt has looked solid. I saw him pitch for the Twins some the last couple seasons, and I always liked him. Only weakness is he tends to give up a few HR's.

Aaron: Yeah, he seems to have periods when his mind just lapses and he pitches stupidly.

Aaron: When he's on and concentrating, I always thought he could pitch.

Al: He has had a bad start or two in a row. Hope that ends tonight.

[JONES SINGLES, CRISTIAN GUZMAN COMES TO THE PLATE]

Al: Do you think Guzman is injured? He doesn't look the same as he used to.

Aaron: Yeah, I think he's been injured since he came back from the all-star game in 2001.

Aaron: Although, his triples are back way up this year, so it's weird.

Aaron: He's on pace for 19 doubles, 19 triples and 0 homers in 612 ABs. That's pretty pathetic.

[GUZMAN TAKES A CALLED THIRD STRIKE]

Aaron: I am really hoping Corey Koskie makes the all-star team, he has been great -.311/.408/.502 with nice defense at 3B.

Al: Koskie's having a good year, for sure. Always liked him. .400 OBP, can't beat that.

Aaron: Blyleven just said Koskie's hitting .439 over his last 23 games.

Al: Maybe he's do for a cool streak.

Aaron: Close pitch.

Al: I thought it was strike 3...too close to take.

Aaron: Jones was running on 3-2...I can't tell you how many times we have had a strikeout/throwout to end an inning this year.

[KOSKIE POPS OUT TO LEFT, JUSTIN MORNEAU COMES TO THE PLATE]

Al: Here's the kid.

Aaron: Did you see his HR in Milwaukee last week?

Al: I did not, but the TV guys are talking about it.

Aaron: It dented the scoreboard!

Al: Hit the scoreboard, that's quite a poke.

Aaron: 460 feet I think. It knocked a light bulb out.

[MORNEAU HITS A CHECK-SWING GROUNDER BACK TO KINNEY FOR THE THIRD OUT]

Aaron: Well, so much for that. I start talking up his power and he hit one 3 feet.

Al: Boston got 14 in the 1st. One touchdown pass and Florida's right back in it!

Aaron: I just heard that ties an AL-record for the 1st inning.

[TOP OF THE SECOND, JOHN VANDER WAL AT THE PLATE]

Al: John Vander Wal was a dandy pickup. $700K and he's mediocre. Nice spot filler.

Aaron: Does he platoon or play against lefties too?

Al: Platoons with Brady Clark, another cheap guy who can hit a tad. Nice 5th OF, Clark is.

Al: Brady does everything well except hit for power, plays all 3 spots, good defender.

Aaron: The Brewers have made some nice low-cost pickups. I like Keith Ginter too.

Al: I love Keith Ginter. I love anyone who gets on 35% of the time, but especially when they play middle IF.

Al: That's why I'd like to move EY, I think Ginter's younger and better in the field and at the plate.

[VANDER WAL WALKS]

Aaron: Did you see Eric Young's kid got drafted? He must've had him while he was in high school.

Al: Yep, he's 36 and his son's 18. Eric Jr. is going to college however.

Aaron: Speaking of kids, the Brewers drafted Anthony Gwynn, right?

Al: Yep, just activated him today. Started him in low A-ball. He sounds like a slap hitter with OBP skills.

[WES HELMS GROUNDS INTO A DOUBLE-PLAY TO END THE INNING]

Al: Wes Helms has the 9th best OPS for 3B in MLB. Didn't get a chance to get that in. :)

Aaron: Yeah, Helms was a nice low-cost pickup too.

[BOTTOM OF THE SECOND, DOUG MIENTKIEWICZ AT THE PLATE]

Aaron: When he doesn't pull everything, Doug is a great hitter. He gets in trouble when he starts pulling grounders to 1B and 2B.

[MIENTKIEWICZ SINGLES TO LEFT]

Aaron: Right on cue.

Al: Do you think the Twins would be better with Doug at 2B and one of their bench bats at 1B? He played there in AAA the year he was in Tom Kelly's doghouse.

Aaron: Yeah, if Doug could handle 2B defensively, they'd obviously be much better off.

Aaron: Morneau could play 1B, LeCroy could DH...it would solve all kinds of problems (goodbye Rivas!).

Al: I doubt if he'd have great range, but his hands are as good as anyone's.

Aaron: I get a ton of emails from Twins fans saying they think Doug should play 2B. I'm just not sure he could handle it.

Al: Is he the best defensive 1B you've ever seen?

Aaron: Absolutely.

Aaron: The only thing he isn't awesome at is making throws, but he picks everything, he has great range and he's very nimble around the bag.

Al: Keith Hernandez was outstanding as well, but I'd take Doug M.

Aaron: Yeah, I didn't get a chance to see Hernandez obviously, but I'd like to see how they compare

Al: Am I that old?

Aaron: Am I that young!

Aaron: Actually, I was 7 when Keith retired, but by that time he had been done for a couple years already.

Al: The thing about Keith, on a SAC bunt, he'd field a ball bunted down the 3B line and make the play. He was literally 10 feet away from the batter when contact was made.

[TOP OF THE THIRD]

Aaron: Bremer just said they are renaming "Kirby Puckett Place" "Memory Lane."

Al: Really?

Aaron: Gotta be because of Kirby's "problems"

Al: Too bad, who didn't love Kirby?

Aaron: Yeah, Kirby's situation broke a lot of hearts here.

[BROOKS KIESCHNICK FLIES OUT TO THE WARNING TRACK IN CENTER]

Al: Too bad Kieschnick doesn't swing hard.

Al: Our idiot announcers just said, "Hunter is one of the better OFs defensively in the game." Ya think?

Aaron: He's definitely top 5, but if I could take one guy right now, it'd be Mike Cameron.

Al: I never saw Mays play, but I'll put Hunter against anyone, ever. I can't believe how often he takes away HRs.

Aaron: I was at a game this year when he took a homer away from Carlos Lee. Best catch I have ever seen.

Al: He stole a couple in games I attended at the Dome as well.

[YOUNG LINES A SINGLE OFF OF LOHSE'S ARM]

Aaron: I hope Lohse is okay.

Al: I'm sure he'll be OK, unless it stiffens up later.

Aaron: If he's injured, our rotation becomes a complete disaster.

Aaron: Although....(FREE JOHAN!)...nevermind.

Al: Hey, just so you have Johan pitching "important" innings in the bullpen, you'll be fine. :)

[SCOTT PODSEDNIK HITS A DOUBLE INTO THE GAP IN RIGHT-CF, 2-0 MILWAUKEE]

Al: He smoked that one.

Aaron: He's really been great this year - .312/.391/.428 before that double - and completely out of nowhere.

Al: I still feel he'll "correct" but I agree. Heckuva year thus far.

Aaron: I'm still mad I didn't grab him as a free agent in my Diamond-Mind league at the start of the year.

Al: Career .338 OBP in AAA.

Aaron: Yeah, that's why I didn't grab him up.

Al: Butch Wynegar, our hitting guy, has seemed to have a good influence on Pods and Helms. Both take a ton of pitches compared to early in the season.

Aaron: I didn't know Wynegar (former Twin) is the hitting coach.

Al: Yep. Yost actually did interviews and such, rather than hiring his buddies.

Aaron: What do you think of Yost?

Al: I question Yost's use of the bullpen, and his fascination with Royce Clayton, but overall, I'd give him a "B-."

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