February 22, 2005

Don't Sleep

The last time I made this sort of plea to my audience, a number of you came through for me in a big way and it worked out wonderfully, so let's try it again. I am working on a paper for one of my classes on the subject of insomnia, and I am hoping a few of my readers have some expertise in this area.

Basically, if you suffer or have suffered from insomnia, or if you know of someone who suffers or has suffered from insomnia, let me know. Also, if you are a doctor or some other kind of expert on insomnia or sleep deprivation, let me know. And finally, if you are involved with a sleep clinic in some capacity, let me know.

I promise that nothing too major will be asked of you. Just answer a couple of my questions and give me your thoughts on the subject. I figure a few thousand people will read this little note today, so hopefully at least a few of you have some knowledge of people who have trouble sleeping that you're willing to share with me.

If you're interested in helping me out, please drop me an e-mail as soon as possible. Thanks!

February 21, 2005

Gardy's Q&A

Friday's edition of the Minneapolis Star Tribune included a Q&A session with Twins manager Ron Gardenhire. Normally this sort of thing is filled with cliches and similarly uninteresting stuff, but the Official Twins Beat Writer of AG.com, La Velle E. Neal, actually managed to get a few interesting tidbits out of Gardenhire.

For instance, regarding Jason Kubel's strikeout against Mariano Rivera in a key spot against the Yankees in last year's American League Division Series, Gardenhire was brutally honest:

If I had known that Jason Kubel was going to go up there in that situation and have a panic at-bat, I would have done something else. He hadn't done that the whole time he had been here. He had been right on the ball and was on Mariano Rivera the last time he faced him, and not many others had been. You think about that all the time.

I think calling it a "panic at-bat," while perhaps not Kubel's preferred wording, is a perfect description of what took place. In fact, here's what I wrote about the at-bat the day after it happened, back on October 7:

[Kubel] had perhaps the worst at-bat I've ever seen. Facing Rivera with the game tied at five and runners on second and third with one out in the eighth inning, Kubel took a first-pitch strike right down the middle of the plate and then swung at consecutive pitches that were literally above his eyes. Just a brutal effort in a crucial situation.

Of course, in Kubel's defense, Rivera makes a lot of hitters look bad against him and Kubel was a 22-year-old rookie getting a surprise postseason start. Plus, when Gardenhire says Kubel "hadn't done that the whole time he had been here," he is referring to a grand total of 67 plate appearances.

Asked which jobs were open for competition as spring training gets under way, Gardenhire said:

There are not many open. We have to see who will come off our bench, third base and shortstop. We think we can fill them with what we have here in camp. A pitching spot is open, depending on Joe Mays. We want him to be that starter. He'll have a good shot. There's not too much after that.

We have some veterans from other ballclubs who can give us some depth, and that could be huge.

Gardenhire later followed up on those comments:

[Cuddyer] could still play second if Luis Rivas comes in and doesn't play well. I could put Cuddy over at second. Then I can put [Eric] Munson at third or Terry Tiffee. I've got options. There's lot of things that could happen here, but I want Cuddyer over at third. I think it is time. I think he is comfortable in the major leagues and has been able to make adjustments to different roles. I think he likes second base a lot, but he also understands the opportunity to get 400-500 at-bats at third, and I think he's ready for it.

Those two comments are very interesting when taken together, because they would seem to contradict each other to some degree. Gardenhire lists third base as one of just four "open" spots on the team, but then says, "I want Cuddyer over at third. I think it is time." On the other hand, he does not list second base as an open job, but then goes on to say that Luis Rivas could lose his handle on the spot if he doesn't play well and Michael Cuddyer would be the next option there.

I would be interested to learn what separates the second-base situation from the third-base situation in Gardenhire's mind. Rivas is the favorite at second base, but could face competition from Cuddyer; Cuddyer is the favorite at third base, but could face competition from Eric Munson and Terry Tiffee. Yet one spot is "open" and one isn't. I'd also love to hear what exactly Rivas would have to do to qualify as not "playing well," since I was under the impression that he had been doing that to a sufficient degree for the past four seasons or so.

Basically, I think Gardenhire feels strongly about what he would like to see happen at every position except shortstop. He wants Rivas to come in and claim second base by playing well, he wants to give Cuddyer a chance to play every day at third base, and he would love it if Joe Mays would prove he is healthy and able to take the ball every fifth day. At shortstop, I assume everyone involved would love to see Jason Bartlett have a monster spring training and stake his claim to the job on a long-term basis, but even if he does that I'm not sure that he'd head north with the team.

Asked about Joe Mauer's health status -- the question on everyone's mind -- Gardenhire said:

He's got nothing wrong with his knee, but we want to make sure he gets through the early part of this camp. We'll see how it goes, because there's a lot of work for catchers the first part of camp. We will take it slow and protect him as much as we can. We've got extra catchers here. He looks great, but we still have to use some caution.

That's stretching things a bit, because clearly Mauer does have something wrong with his knee, but Gardenhire is essentially just continuing to toe the company line about Mauer's health. At this point, everyone involved with the Twins has come out so strongly about Mauer being ready to go and ready to catch that the only thing we can all do is wait and find out. In other words, all the talk is going to be meaningless very soon. Mauer either can or he can't, and if you trust the Twins' medical staff and people like Gardenhire and Terry Ryan, the organization thinks he can.

Today at The Hardball Times:
- Smoltz for Alexander (by Studes)

February 18, 2005

Link-O-Rama

You want links? Well, I've got links ...

  • In addition to be being an extremely rich man who is attempting to become the first minority owner in NFL history, Reggie Fowler also apparently does a great George O'Leary impression. I understand why "discrepancies" in a person's resume would matter to someone potentially hiring them, but do they really matter if the person in question is going to buy the company? Thankfully, my resume isn't nearly impressive enough to include any fake stuff.
  • Remember Joel Przybilla, the seven-footer who played for the Gophers, left school amid some controversy, and was drafted in the first round back in 2000? Contrary to popular belief, he is actually still alive. For the first time in his career, Przybilla has been getting significant playing time, starting games for the Trail Blazers. Check out the numbers he has put up in his last three games:
    MIN     FGM     FGA     PTS     REB     BLK
    32 7 10 14 11 5
    39 8 11 19 17 3
    40 8 12 18 17 6

    Wow. In 20 total starts for Portland, Przybilla is averaging 10.6 rebounds, 1.9 blocks, and 8.6 points on 64.4% shooting, while playing 30.3 minutes per game. I hate to say this, since Przybilla broke everyone in Minnesota's heart and all, but the Timberwolves sure could use a guy who rebounds and shot blocks like that.

    Incidentally, I learned a lot about the fleeting nature of loyalty from Przybilla. Seriously. The 2000 NBA Draft was held at Target Center in Minneapolis and I was in attendance (for future reference, NBA drafts aren't particularly exciting live). Przybilla was expected to be a high first-round pick, and so footage of him was included in the various montages that were played on the scoreboard. Each time he was shown, he was booed.

    Then, when he was taken with the ninth pick and stepped up on stage to shake hands with David Stern, he was booed to the point that Stern looked embarrassed for him. Later, when he was doing an interview on a side stage with Craig Sager from TNT, he was booed to the point that you'd have thought Adolph Hitler had just been taken with the 10th pick and then sent to Denver in a three-team trade. And all of this came just a couple months after 13,000 people in Williams Arena cheered like maniacs for Przybilla on a regular basis. I actually wrote about this situation in some depth a little while back.

  • Here's a story about someone losing their job at a newspaper because of things they wrote on their personal blog. Thankfully for me, I don't really have a job to get fired from, so the things I write on this blog only keep me from getting work. (It's funny because it's true.)
  • At the other end of the spectrum, here's a link to a new blog written by Marc Lancaster, the Cincinnati Reds beat writer for the Cincinnati Post. There is nothing earth-shattering on the blog (he's not exactly in a position to crack jokes about Ken Griffey Jr.'s injury history, for example), but there is plenty of interesting stuff about the Reds at spring training.

    I talked in the past about how people enjoy blogs because they can cover things that don't easily fit in the newspaper, so it's only natural to have the guy who actually writes the newspaper articles start up a blog with all that extra stuff. It was only a matter of time. If the Official Twins Beat Writer of AG.com, La Velle E. Neal, were to write a blog like this, I would read every Jacque Jones-loving word.

  • I'm not sure why, but I am always shocked beyond belief when a cast member of The Real World ends up doing some legitimate with their lives. You know, rather than cashing checks from Real World/Road Rules Challenge shows for the rest of their life. First the hot Australian girl from The Real World: London started showing up in big-budget movies, and now the hot virgin/tomboy from The Real World: Paris showed up in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue. There's a joke to be made about Eric Nies here, but I'm too nice to make it.
  • The good news is that ESPN.com recently hired John Hollinger, one of the best and most stat-heavy basketball writers around. The bad news is that Hollinger's writing is going to join Rob Neyer's behind the for-pay "ESPN Insider" wall. The really bad news is that there was a semi-secret way to access the ESPN Insider content for free, but ESPN.com slammed that door shut this week.
  • Speaking of Neyer, here's a link to his review of Jose Canseco's new book in the New York Observer. Although I'm certain I will never read the book (willingly, at least), I have to say that observing the reaction to it in the media is rather amusing.
  • And finally, over at his new blog, John Sickels recently unveiled his rankings for the Twins' top 20 prospects. I am working on something similar for next month (along with my annual overall top 50), and I was surprised to see some of John's rankings. For instance, he's extremely high on Jesse Crain, and while Crain is an elite relief prospect if there ever was one, I'm not sure anyone besides a once-in-a-lifetime reliever can be among the best prospects in baseball. Go check out John's rankings and join in on the discussion that follows.
  • Today at The Hardball Times:
    - Bridging The Gap To Greatness (by John Brattain)

    February 17, 2005

    All Olney, All The Time

    So I'm sitting in my "Magazine Editing and Production" class yesterday afternoon, listening to a guest speaker from the Minneapolis Star Tribune talk to us about developing story ideas. She asks a guy in the front row what sort of stuff he reads and he tells her he likes Sports Illustrated and ESPN Magazine. Hearing that he likes sports writing, she immediately says to him, "Have you heard of a baseball writer named Buster Olney? He has written for the New York Times and ESPN ... he's a really outstanding writer ... fantastic."

    I wasn't sure whether to start laughing, throw up, or get up from my seat to look for the hidden camera crew from Punk'd. Yes, the very day I was, I don't know, let's say "very critical" of Olney's ESPN.com work in this space, I was told by someone brought in to teach me about journalism that Olney is "a really outstanding writer" and "fantastic." It was a surreal experience.

    Actually though, I can see why people enjoy Olney's work. He is, stylistically at least, a fine writer, and his reporting skills are clearly excellent. Where he gets in trouble is when he injects his opinions and biases into his pieces, or more simply when he tries to be an analyst instead of a reporter. However, someone with just a passing knowledge of baseball (the guest speaker who sang Olney's praises, for instance), won't necessarily notice things that go beyond his writing and reporting skills.

    Continuing on the now two-day-old theme that has somehow overtaken this blog, after I got home from class yesterday I had several e-mails from readers telling me to check out Olney's latest article at ESPN.com. I broke my "No Olney" rule for the second day in a row and read his "Around the National League" article that is a companion piece to his "Around the American League" article that I discussed yesterday.

    In it, Olney writes the following about the St. Louis Cardinals (I've put the notable section in bold):

    But Albert Pujols complained during the offseason about nagging injuries, Jim Edmonds turns 41 this season, and Edgar Renteria -- an underrated member of this attack -- is gone. It's possible the Cardinals won't be able to support the pitching the way they did last year.

    In reality, Jim Edmonds was born on June 27, 1970, which means he turns 35 years old in about four months. So Olney was only off by six years.

    Wait, there's more. On the New York Mets, Olney writes:

    Beltran already has five seasons of 100 or more runs, five seasons of 100 or more RBI, five seasons of 20 or more homers, five seasons of 27 or more stolen bases. And he's just 26 years old.

    The only problem, of course, is that Carlos Beltran was born on April 24, 1977, which means he is currently 27 years old and will be turning 28 in approximately two months.

    Olney also got Alex Rodriguez's age wrong in the American League version of the article, although ESPN.com appears to have corrected the mistake. Actually, considering how quickly ESPN.com got rid of the link to this blog the other day, I'm guessing someone over there will eventually notice Olney's latest batch of mistakes and fix those as well. And yes, this qualifies as nit-picking, but sometimes it's just too damn hard not to.

    Today at The Hardball Times:
    - An In-Depth Look at Dodger Stadium's Effects (by Tom Meagher)

    February 16, 2005

    Fun with ESPN.com

  • Friend of AG.com Eric Neel, who is one of the few remaining reasons to check out ESPN.com's baseball coverage, named Doug Mientkiewicz the best defensive first baseman in baseball earlier this week. That title is less impressive to me than being named, say, the fifth-best defensive shortstop in baseball, but I do agree with Neel. Mientkiewicz's defense with the Twins was fantastic, and when he was having one of his good years at the plate, made him a very valuable player. Unfortunately, no amount of defense at first base can make up for a guy hitting .238/.326/.350, like Mientkiewicz did last season.

    Neel's article also included this silly quote from the man who traded for Mientkiewicz this offseason, Omar Minaya:

    Minaya figures first base is undervalued in the market place and in the minds of the average fan. "People take the position for granted," he said. He looks at a guy like J.T. Snow of the Giants, a smooth, graceful glove who "saves the Giants 10 games a year," and he anticipates something similar for his club with Mientkiewicz.

    If J.T. Snow or Mientkiewicz could save "10 games a year" with their gloves, they would be the most valuable defensive players in baseball history. Unless Minaya is talking about what would happen if the Giants and Mets played without anyone at first base, in which case that 10-game estimate is really conservative.

    Incidentally, I just grabbed Mientkiewicz for $5 in one of my Diamond-Mind keeper leagues (with a $400 team salary cap). We replay the season that just ended and he had almost zero value in 2004, but I'm hoping Mientkiewicz can turn things around with the Mets -- something along the lines of .280/.370/.425 or so. I also have Justin Morneau on that same team, so I'm hoping the two of them can coexist in the imaginary clubhouse. Known team-chemistry experts Jeff Weaver, Jose Mesa, and Julian Tavarez are also on the team, so hopefully they can help keep the peace.

    Oh, and here's a little trivia for you: Mientkiewicz and Derek Jeter have been awarded the same number of Gold Gloves in their careers, one. Hell of an award, that Gold Glove.

  • I have been pretty good about avoiding Buster Olney articles lately, but he wrote a "Team-by-team look at the American League" that I somehow found myself reading yesterday. I didn't get through the entire thing (I am only human, after all), but here's my favorite quote from the part I did read:
    From 2000 through 2004, the Athletics won nearly two-thirds of their games when Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder or Barry Zito started; when anybody else started, the Athletics' winning percentage was under .530. Now Hudson and Mulder are gone, replaced by talented young pitchers who don't have much of a track record in the majors. Unless one or two out of the trio of Danny Haren, Dan Meyer and Joe Blanton repeat the instant success that characterized the Big Three, Oakland will struggle to reach 90 victories.

    Here's the thing ... Olney discovered that ridiculously misleading "stat" about Oakland's winning percentages months ago and has been using it incessantly in his columns every since. For instance, here's a passage from an article Olney wrote in September:

    Cheap and young pitching is the root of Oakland's success. From the beginning of 2000 through games played Tuesday night, the Athletics' record when Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder and Barry Zito has started is an incredible 297-156, 141 games over .500, for a winning percentage of .656. When anybody else has pitched, the Athletics' record is 179-159 -- a little better than .500 per season over a five-year span.

    And then here's what he wrote when the A's traded Tim Hudson to the Braves earlier this offseason:

    From 2000-2004, the Athletics won about 65 percent of the games started by Hudson, Mulder and Zito, and when anybody else has pitched, their winning percentage is about .530.

    There are more examples of his re-wording the same misleading information over the past few months too, I'm sure. And why is it misleading? First and foremost, ask yourself why it is noteworthy that a team's winning percentage is significantly worse when their three best starting pitchers aren't on the mound? In other, equally startling news, Caddyshack II had some problems without Bill Murray and Rodney Dangerfield, and the sequel to Dumb and Dumber had trouble without Jim Carrey. (And yes, there was a sequel to Dumb and Dumber.)

    Beyond that, Olney acts as if Oakland's .530 winning percentage when Hudson, Mark Mulder, and Barry Zito weren't pitching is a poor record and something to be concerned about. The fact is, a .530 winning percentage over a span of five years is damn good. For instance, over that same span the Minnesota Twins had a .531 winning percentage. The Anaheim Angels -- the team Olney often pumps up at the expense of the A's -- had a .525 winning percentage during that time. And we're supposed to see the A's .530 winning percentage without their three best pitchers as a negative thing?

  • I was just about to give ESPN.com some credit for once. No seriously, I was! Earlier this week, Jeff Merron of ESPN.com's Page 2 penned an article about the most controversial sports books of all-time and he included a link to a blog entry of mine regarding Joe Morgan's misguided belief that Billy Beane wrote Moneyball. I'm not sure if Merron's editors were on vacation or they just decided to let it go, but I was impressed by the fact that ESPN.com would allow one of their writers to link to a blog entry bashing another person at ESPN.com.

    Of course, I just checked the article out again so I could write about it for today and it appears as though the link to my entry about Morgan has magically disappeared. Oh well, it was fun while it lasted. For those of you wondering, here is what it originally said (thankfully I'm vain, so I saved it):

    7. "Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game" by Michael Lewis

    The most misunderstood sports books ever, perhaps, beginning with the many writers and baseball insiders who believe A's general manager Billy Beane wrote the book himself as a work of shameless self-promotion. (For a short list, check out Aaron Gleeman's short take on the topic.)

    The heart of the "controversy" is that you can't build a team just by looking at stats. Of course, nowhere in the book does Beane argue that you can. Old-school scouts and baseball people especially felt (and still feel) threatened by the increasing use of statistical analysis of past performance to predict a player's future performance and value. In essence, it's a very old controversy, between fans who like (and believe there's much truth in) stats, and fans who'd rather focus on other aspects of a player's makeup (heart, dedication, desire, clubhouse presence).

    Since they took it down about a day after it was originally published, I'm guessing someone screwed up. Hopefully Merron didn't get into too much trouble, since he was kind enough to send about 5,000 visitors my way on Monday.

  • Last, but certainly not least ... Minor league analyst John Sickels, who was recently let go in a very disrespectful way by ESPN.com, has resurfaced with his own baseball blog: MinorLeagueBall.com. From the looks of things over there so far, John is going to be taking advantage of the additional freedom he now has compared to when he was at ESPN.com, which is almost always a great thing.

    In the short time he's been blogging, John has already posted top 20 prospect lists for two teams, discussed his philosophy for judging talent, and posted pictures of Beavis and Butthead and Popeye. For those of us who are simply fans of John's writing and don't care where we have to go to get it, his move from ESPN.com to his very own blog is wonderful news. Head over there and make sure to bookmark it, because it has already joined the ranks of must-read baseball blogs.

  • Today at The Hardball Times:
    - Top 50 Prospects: Year in Review (1-10) (by Aaron Gleeman)
    - Defensive Regression Analysis: Part Three (by Michael Humphreys)

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