December 18, 2005

Link-O-Rama

Link-O-Rama entries have been an end-of-the-week staple of AG.com for a long time, but me ranting about the Twins' big free-agent acquisition put that on hold Friday. Never one to waste a bunch of random links, I've added a few more things and posted it today.

  • Every few months one my favorite blogs dies out and I write something about how difficult it is to maintain a blog for any significant length of time. The most recent example of almost immediate blogger burnout comes from none other than the Official Fantasy Girl of AG.com, Elisha Cuthbert, whose blog on NHL.com appears to be dead after a grand total of four entries.

    Losing Elisha from the blogging community is sad -- my dreams of wooing her at a blogger get-together have been dashed -- but it is also understandable. After all, she is far too good looking to be wasting energy thinking about hockey and far too busy looking good to be wasting time typing up her thoughts.

  • There was a time when being written up in Saturday's St. Paul Pioneer Press would have caused me to rush out, buy multiple copies of the newspaper, and brag about it for days here.
    Twins' signing of slugger makes blogger miserable

    Aaron Gleeman has waited most of his life for the Twins to have a 30-home run hitter, and now that they appear to have one, he couldn't be more miserable.

    "Tony (bleeping) Batista," was the headline on his Twins blog, AaronGleeman.com, after the team signed the third baseman Thursday.

    A product of the University of Minnesota whose interest in baseball was spurred by the Twins' 1991 World Series championship, Gleeman writes daily about the Twins on a blog that has registered more than 1.6 million visits since Aug. 1, 2002.

    One day after lamenting that the team hadn't had a 30-home run hitter since 1987, he wrote, "Batista will hit 30 homers if given everyday playing time, but he will make so many outs that it won't even matter."

    And now? Apparently I've become jaded, because not being able to overcome my laziness to actually find a copy means I'm taking the word of everyone who e-mailed me that I'm even in the paper. Either way, thanks to Gary Derong for the nice write-up.

  • Of course, the flip side to being jaded when it comes to what people have to say about you in public places is that things like this no longer bother me even a little bit:
    I don't give a **** about Aaron Gleeman, whoever the **** he is.

    Indeed.

  • Speaking of Tony Batista (and I suppose we have to now), here's a video clip with some great footage from Batista's season in Japan. It takes a little while to get to the good part, but it's worth watching all the way through if for no other reason than it's probably the last time you'll see Batista scare a pitcher.
  • While I didn't get my hands on a copy of the Pioneer Press this weekend, I saw the cover of People magazine and it made me sad. A large picture of Jennifer Aniston dominated the page, and there were also pictures of "Crazy Love" Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes and "Just Married" Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood. And over on the right-hand side was a small picture of Richard Pryor.

    Now, I'm not saying People should be in the business of covering Pryor's recent death particularly well (especially in their "Best of 2005" issue), but if you're going to put him on the cover shouldn't his death be given more emphasis than some complete non-story about a complete non-talent like Jessica Simpson?

    My introduction to Pryor's genius came about six years ago when HBO ran an all-day marathon of his four concert movies. I watched them in one sitting and immediately knew what all the fuss was about it, like a teenager who had only seen Michael Jordan's forgettable final days with the Wizards stumbling across a '90s Bulls marathon on ESPN Classic.

    I don't pretend to have something meaningful to say in tribute of Pryor. However, the media gives an incredible amount of coverage to people when it's not clear why they're even celebrities these days, so a few more words about Pryor couldn't hurt. If you haven't seen his stand-up, you really should. Rarely does something like that live up to the considerable hype, but decades after the fact Pryor certainly does.

    Richard Pryor will be missed, and if you want to read about his amazing life check out his obituary in the New York Times.

  • Speaking of basketball games I'd like to see on ESPN Classic (sort of), friend of AG.com Eric Neel wrote a wonderful piece on ESPN.com last week about the highest-scoring game in NBA history. It's worth checking out just to see the boxscore, and as always Neel's writing is immensely enjoyable.
  • THT's Craig Burley sent me a great article last night about Ron Artest's recent appearance on a local radio show:
    Artest said some of the criticism he has received has been unfair. Former NBA great Magic Johnson said Artest doesn't deserve a second chance in the NBA.

    "It's like saying, 'Magic, should your wife give you another chance?'" Artest said. "He's saying Ron Artest should have no more second chances. What's worse -- me saying I want to be traded or you cheating on your wife?"

    Yes, but what about telling your wife you want to be traded?

  • One of life's greatest questions finally answered: There is nothing sexy about a good-looking woman in a neck brace. Even a really fancy one.
  • "Ever heard of a chef who can't cook?" Pete Nice from '80/'90s rap group 3rd Bass has written three books about baseball history under his real name, Peter Nash. Seriously.
  • This story amused me far more than it probably should have.
  • If you think my criticisms of Jim "Shecky" Souhan are bad, check out Dead Spin's complete annihilation of this week's "Why Your Hometown Columnist Sucks" target, Skip Bayless.
  • If you're even close to as poker-obsessed as I am you'll want to check out Card Player's podcasts from the Bellagio Five Diamond World Poker Classic. Not only is co-host Mike Matusow predictably entertaining in the five episodes, special guests Daniel Negreanu, Michael Mizrachi, Paul Darden, Phil Laak, Joe Cassidy, and Gavin Smith are all solid. I really wish the poker world would do more stuff like this.
  • Today at The Hardball Times:
    - Demystifying the MLB Constitution (Part 2) (by Maury Brown)
    - Range Revisited (by David Gassko)

    Pick of the Day (155-132, +$2,165):
    Green Bay +3.5 (-110) over Baltimore


    December 16, 2005

    Tony F'ing Batista

    Any optimism I had in regard to the Twins' offseason was ruined yesterday when the team signed Tony Batista to a one-year contract. I have been critical of many Twins trades and signings in the past, but I can't possibly stress just how awful I think signing Batista is. I almost wish I had never disagreed with anything the franchise has ever done before, just so I could save up all of my disapproval for this singular decision.

    The move is horrendous on a number of levels, not the least of which is that Batista is simply not a good player. He hits home runs, which is almost certainly why the Twins signed him, but he does nothing else to help a team win games. He strikes out a lot, hits into tons of double plays, has one of the worst approaches you'll ever see a professional hitter bring to the plate, and is not a good defensive player.

    In the coming months you're bound to hear a lot about how Batista hit 32 homers in 2004 and is a "proven RBI man" or "much-needed power threat," but all that does is show that the person doing the talking has absolutely no clue about how a lineup scores runs. And sadly, the fact that Terry Ryan chose to sign Batista and presumably hand him an everyday job in 2006 is a major sign that he doesn't have a great grasp on how to build an effective offense either.

    Batista will hit 30 homers if given everyday playing time, but he will make so many outs that it won't even matter. While hitting 32 homers in 2004, he posted a ghastly .272 on-base percentage and used up an extraordinary 494 outs in 650 plate appearances. There is a reason he had to find work in Japan in 2005 despite coming off a 32-homer, 110-RBI year, which is that most general managers recognize that no amount of power makes up for a .272 OBP.

    There is a fairly well-known stat called Runs Created Per Game that attempts to quantify exactly how many runs a hitter produced for every 27 outs he used up. For instance, in hitting .335/.418/.662 with 46 homers in 2005, Derrek Lee led MLB with 10.02 RC/G. Said another way, a lineup full of nine Derrek Lees would have scored around 10 runs per game. Joe Mauer led the Twins in RC/G this season with 5.94.

    The stat also works remarkably well on a team level. In fact, in evaluating the Twins' offense in 2005 it was perfect. As a team, the Twins combined for 4.24 RC/G. Now guess how many actual runs per game the team scored. That's right, 4.24. What does this have to do with Batista? Well, he spent this year playing in Japan (posting a horrible .294 OBP), but during his last two MLB seasons Batista ranked among the worst hitters in all of baseball when it came to RC/G:

    2003                 RC/G          2004                 RC/G
    Cesar Izturis 2.94 Alex Gonzalez 3.43
    Jose Hernandez 3.12 Alex Cintron 3.63
    Deivi Cruz 3.17 Eric Hinske 3.83
    TONY BATISTA 3.22 Cristian Guzman 3.86
    Jack Wilson 3.50 TONY BATISTA 3.88

    (Source: Sabermetric Baseball Encyclopedia, which adjusts for ballparks.)

    The goal offensively is not to hit homers, but rather to produce runs, and from 2003-2004 Batista was significantly worse at that than the Twins were collectively this year. That's probably hard to fathom if you watched the Twins struggle to score runs this season, but the fact is that the Twins got on base 32.3% of the time in 2005 while Batista got on base just 27.1% of the time from 2003-2004. That's a massive difference, and it's what makes the number of home runs Batista hits nearly meaningless.

    You'll also notice above that Batista is the only hitter to crack the top five (or, more accurately, the bottom five) in both seasons, and all but three of the worst RC/G belong to shortstops. Not Batista -- he's a third baseman who the Twins might play at designated hitter. Oh, and remember how poorly Cristian Guzman hit during his final season in Minnesota? Well, he was only about 0.02 runs per game worse than Batista that year (and he was far better than Batista in 2003).

    I actually find myself struggling for words to describe just how pathetic this move is, as if every criticism I've ever leveled against the organization in the past was simply me crying wolf. The fact that Batista will hurt the team in 2006 is almost an afterthought, because the much more damning aspect of signing him is that it exposes the organization as completely unable to recognize what leads to scoring runs.

    Make no mistake about it, this move is an unqualified disaster. Regardless of what happens between now and Opening Day, this offseason will have been a complete and utter failure if Batista -- perhaps the single worst everyday hitter in baseball during his last two MLB seasons despite all of his home runs and a 32-year-old who got on base at a 29.3% clip in Japan -- receives significant playing time in 2006.

    Someone please wake me from this nightmare.

    Today at The Hardball Times:
    - World Baseball Classic Update (by Craig Burley)
    - Wally Pipp: Put Me Back In Coach ... Pretty Please? (by John Brattain)
    - Daily Graphing: Orlando Hernandez (by David Appelman)

    Pick of the Day (154-130, +$2,285):
    Golden State -4 (-110) over Toronto

    Saturday's Pick:
    Kansas City +3 (-110) over New York

    Sunday's Pick:
    Seattle -7 (-110) over Tennessee


    December 15, 2005

    Twins Notes

  • ESPN.com's Jerry Crasnick wrote a nice article earlier this week about the Twins' complete lack of a 30-homer hitter since 1987, which is a topic I've lamented here numerous times. According to the article, "145 players combined to hit 30 or more homers in a season a total of 464 times" since the Twins had their last 30-homer season.

    If you can get over how depressing that is, it's pretty amazing that the team has won a World Series and made four trips to the postseason over that span. I also found it interesting that scouting director Mike Radcliff is quoted as saying "nobody's really put a finger on" why the Twins haven't had a 30-homer guy, but then Crasnick writes the following just a few paragraphs later:

    Even the team's approach to teaching hitters in the minors has come under scrutiny. [Tom] Kelly, who led the Twins to two world championships during his tenure, liked his hitters to use the inside-out, opposite-field approach and shorten up with two strikes. That approached filtered down to the instructors in the minor leagues, and it hasn't necessarily been conducive to producing sluggers.

    The Twins may not want to change their approach, but the finger is firmly in place on a legitimate reason (or multiple reasons) for the lack of power. Crasnick also brings up David Ortiz as an example of how the Twins don't create an ideal situation for someone capable of hitting for big power even at the big-league level and discusses how the team's drafts have been heavy on pitchers and athletic position players.

  • Bill Mueller, who was likely Terry Ryan's #1 target to play third base for the Twins in 2006, signed a two-year deal with the Dodgers yesterday. Reports of the deal say that Mueller turned down a three-year contract from the Pirates, so it's possible that he also turned down a competitive offer from the Twins at some point. I hope that's the case, because $9.5 million over two seasons probably makes Mueller one of the bigger bargains of the offseason.
  • In yesterday's entry I focused on the on-field aspects of Jacque Jones declining arbitration, but today I'd like to comment on something Jones' agent told the Minneapolis Star Tribune when asked if Jones would be accepting the Twins' offer:
    "I think we're not going to accept it," Dan Lozano said. "We've got a couple of multiyear deals on the table and not a one-year deal. Why would we turn those down and accept a one-year deal?"

    This is the sort of thing that gets glossed over in sports, but I often think about how things would be handled in non-sports situations. Not counting income like signing bonuses and endorsements, Jones has made a little over $13 million playing baseball professionally through the age of 30. From all indications he would have liked to finish his career in Minnesota, but the Twins were not willing to pay him what has been deemed fair-market value for multiple seasons.

    He may very well get $15 million over three years from a team like the Royals, instead of what probably would have been something like $6 million over one year from the Twins. Of course, barring a career-ending injury he could then have negotiated another contract as a free agent next offseason, which tightens the gap between the two offers. Yet his agent seems to imply that the decision was as simple as weighing the number of years each team is willing to guarantee his salary.

    Now pretend that instead of playing baseball, Jones has been a long-time employee of, say, Best Buy. He has advanced up the company ladder to make $13 million by the age of 30, likes working there, has called Minnesota home for nearly his entire adult life, and would like to be a lifelong employee if possible. Unfortunately, when he goes to negotiate a raise, the company is unwilling to give him the contract he wants.

    He shops around a bit and finds another, similar company located somewhere else that is willing to guarantee his salary for multiple years. In that case, would it be such a no-brainer that the long-time Best Buy employee would leave the job he enjoys in the state he calls home to get more financial security when he has already earned over $13 million at his job?

    I'm not blaming Jones for leaving the Twins, but I think history has shown that veteran players who leave their long-time teams aren't always thrilled with their decision down the road. I wonder if Jones and his agent discussed that part of the situation, rather than just the number of years teams are offering to pay him guaranteed money for.

  • For anyone interested in getting a look at new Twins prospect Alexi Casilla that goes beyond his stats, FutureAngels.com has some nice action shots of him hitting, running, and fielding.
  • Today at The Hardball Times:
    - Catching Up On Trades (Part 2) (by Aaron Gleeman)
    - Pitching Contracts (by Dave Studeman)

    Pick of the Day (154-129, +$2,395):
    San Antonio -2.5 (-110) over Minnesota


    December 13, 2005

    Jacque Declines Arbitration

    As expected, Jacque Jones declined the Twins' arbitration offer yesterday.

    I don't think Terry Ryan was ever particularly interested in Jones returning to the team, but rather wanted the draft pick the Twins will now receive as compensation when he signs with another team. Plus, as a worst-case scenario, Jones agreeing to accept what would essentially have been a one-year deal at a fairly reasonable price didn't represent much of a risk.

    Jones was always an enigma in my eyes. He was clearly a gifted athlete and a very talented player, yet was never able to put all of his tools to great use. He was extremely inconsistent, possessed one of the least reliable outfield arms in all of baseball despite being a very good defender, displayed horrible plate discipline regardless of the situation, and never figured out a way to hold his own against left-handed pitching.

    Playing for the Twins and having Ron Gardenhire as his manager likely magnified Jones' already sizable flaws. His combination of outstanding athleticism and a hacktastic approach at the plate is in many ways representative of the Twins' organization as a whole, both good and bad. And Gardenhire's refusal to platoon Jones against southpaws did nothing but expose him as an incomplete player while hurting the team.


    Despite racking up at least 500 plate appearances in each of the past six seasons, Jones never once drew as many as even 40 non-intentional walks in a year. Much was made of his improved patience this season, but the fact is that 12 of his career-high 51 walks came intentionally, leaving him with a measly 39 non-intentional walks in 585 plate appearances. In 3,783 career trips to the plate, Jones has struck out 737 times while drawing a total of 206 non-intentional walks.

    Jones finishes his Twins career as a .227/.277/.339 hitter against left-handed pitching, a subject that is a sore spot with me. It has been painfully obvious for years now that Jones has no business playing every day, yet thanks to Gardenhire's stubborn refusal to face facts and do something as simple as platoon a left-handed hitter, nearly 30% of Jones' at-bats over the past three seasons came against lefties.

    None of those flaws kept Jones from being a quality player, but they make him relatively easy to let go. Had he been platooned, the team would miss Jones' .294/.341/.488 career line against right-handed pitching and likely struggle to replace him with similar production. However, that was never going to be an option as long as Gardenhire is around, and replacing Jones' mediocre overall production will simply not be very difficult.

    After back-to-back .300 seasons in 2002 and 2003, Jones' batting average fell off a cliff over the past two years and he hit just .251/.317/.432. For all the criticism Lew Ford and Michael Cuddyer have taken for their sub par 2005 seasons, their offensive production was every bit as good as Jones'. Throw in what is hopefully a healthy Jason Kubel at some point in 2006 and right field is certainly an area for potential improvement at a fraction of what Jones has been (and will be) paid.

    So long, Jacque.

    Today at The Hardball Times:
    - PrOPS: 2005 and Beyond (by J.C. Bradbury)
    - How Much Can We Learn By Looking At "Stuff"? (by David Gassko)

    Pick of the Day (153-129, +$2,295):
    Miami -2 (-110) over Milwaukee


    Slow News Day

  • My mom noticed the new ad on the left-hand sidebar yesterday and asked, "New ad for porn, huh?"

    I said, "No, the ad is for MSNBC."

    To which she replied, "What is BC?"

    That is the sort of conversation that movies and television simply don't accurately capture.

  • An interesting note from Charley Walters' column in Sunday's St. Paul Pioneer Press:
    Tony Cicalello, who played baseball at Cretin-Derham Hall, will become baseball coach at St. Thomas Academy, with former Raiders pitcher Billy Mauer as an assistant.

    By "interesting note" I mean interesting to me, because I was Little League teammates with Tony Cicalello. In fact, I'd probably rate him as the third-best player I ever played on the same team with, behind current University of Minnesota center fielder Tony Leseman and a guy named Travis Brown, who as far as I can tell has vanished from the face of the earth.

    Although Cicalello may not remember this (or even having me as a teammate), he and I were double-play partners at one point. He played shortstop when he wasn't pitching and I played second base when I wasn't hitting pop ups to right field. I don't really have a point to this little bit of nostalgia, but it does seem weird to see a guy like Cicalello becoming a high-school coach.

    I always think of high-school coaches as the gym teacher-types who wore those weird spandex biking shorts, aviator glasses, and a whistle around their neck. Not slick-talking Italian kids who once knocked me out cold with a feed from shortstop when we were practicing double plays and I wasn't paying attention. I guess I'm getting old.

  • Guess which Twins player said the following:
    I told them I didn't want to do any underwear shots.

    Give up? I'll give you a hint ... he's the brother of the new assistant coach at St. Thomas Academy.

  • Some bad news for those still holding out hope that the Twins can trade Kyle Lohse for something significant. The Phillies dealt Vicente Padilla to the Rangers yesterday for a PTBNL. What does that have to do with Lohse? Well, he and Padilla are very similar and "PTBNL" isn't going to look great batting cleanup.

    Lohse is 27 years old, made $2.4 million in 2005 while going 9-13 with a 4.18 ERA in 178.2 innings, and is eligible for arbitration. Padilla is 28 years old, made $3.2 million in 2005 while going 9-12 with a 4.71 ERA in 147 innings, and is eligible for arbitration. And here's how their career numbers match up:

                   IP      ERA      W      L     K/BB
    Lohse 844.2 4.72 49 52 1.95
    Padilla 779.0 3.95 51 51 1.96

    Much like with J.C. Romero, it seems as though most Twins fans have gone overboard on that whole "one person's trash is another person's treasure" thing. Maybe Alexi Casilla has a brother or something.
  • Today at The Hardball Times:
    - Franchises at Birth: The Royals and the Pilots/Brewers (Part One) (by Steve Treder)
    - Patience and Position (by Dan Fox)

    Pick of the Day (153-128, +$2,405):
    Miami -4 (-110) over Chicago


    « Newer PostsOlder Posts »