January 30, 2006

Twins Notes

Between kicking off the top-40 countdown and breaking down a horrible Wolves trade, quite a few interesting Twins-related notes popped up in various places ...

  • While they essentially put an end to the meaningful portion of the offseason by declining to trade for Corey Koskie, the Twins are reportedly still trying to fill out the bottom of the roster by finding a left-handed bench bat. Here's the scoop from the Official Twins Beat Writer of AG.com, La Velle E. Neal III, in the Minneapolis Star Tribune:
    That could mean they are looking at such players as Erubiel Durazo, Dave Hansen and Timo Perez. Hansen's agent has been in touch with the Twins, but it's unclear how much interest the Twins have in him. Perez has played in two World Series, in 2000 with the Mets and last season with the White Sox.

    Durazo has a .381 career on-base percentage but was slowed by injuries last season. He also might be too expensive for the Twins. "I'm looking at it," Twins General Manager Terry Ryan said when asked about bench players. "If there's something there that makes some sense, we will address it. You also have to deal with chemistry and make sure he's happy on that bench."

    Grouping Erubiel Durazo with Dave Hansen and Timo Perez is like grouping Albert Einstein with Paris Hilton and Jessica Simpson, in that it makes almost zero sense on any level. A healthy Durazo would be one of the Twins' best hitters, while a healthy Hansen or Perez would struggle to be Triple-A Rochester's best hitter.

  • According to Jason Williams in the St. Paul Pioneer Press, Ron Gardenhire has already decided on the first five spots in his 2006 batting order: Shannon Stewart, Luis Castillo, Joe Mauer, Rondell White, Torii Hunter.

    The thing that makes little sense is Stewart leading off, rather than Castillo. Castillo has significantly less power and is far more of a base-stealing threat, which means you want him batting in front of the more powerful and less speedy Stewart. Much like Gardenhire playing Stewart over Lew Ford in left field over the past two years, this is another example of the manager not wanting to ruffle Stewart's feathers at the expense of actual performance.

    The other thing that sticks out is that Justin Morneau's name is nowhere to be found, which means he's likely slated to bat sixth. The importance of a batting order is almost always overstated, so I don't think this is much of an issue aside from giving a glimpse into Gardenhire's thought process heading into the season. It's encouraging that Tony Batista's name is also absent from the first five spots. The bad news is that Batista's name will still show up in spots six through nine.

  • Speaking of Morneau, LEN3 reports that he and Hunter patched things up at Twins Fest. Here's what Hunter had to say about it:
    We both apologized. We're going to go out there and play the game. We're like brothers. We're together every day, and you're bound to disagree on something. It's about making up and we made up. It's like a marriage. Well, not like a marriage.

    In other words, they're like brothers who are married. Hopefully the makeup sex was good, because "the only thing you're gonna have better than makeup sex is conjugal visit sex."

  • Within that same article, LEN3 reports that Morneau is feeling "great after being able to work out throughout the offseason." He's up to 230 pounds and unlike last winter has avoided contracting the illnesses usually reserved for people playing The Oregon Trail.
  • MLB.com's Twins beat writer, Kelly Theiser, wrote an article over the weekend that had some details on Jason Kubel's health status. Apparently Kubel tripped and fell off the stage he was standing on during Twins Fest, landed on his surgically repaired knee, and decided that the lack of pain was "a good sign for spring training." Just imagine how optimistic everyone would be if Kubel had dropped an anvil on his foot or something.
  • Former Twins outfielder Dustan Mohr has agreed to a one-year deal with the Red Sox. That should be a good fit for Mohr, who can platoon with Trot Nixon in right field and give Boston a capable backup in all three outfield spots.
  • CBS Sportsline's Scott Miller wrote an article about the Twins last week that had an interesting quote from Terry Ryan. Asked about the negative reaction some people have had in regard to the Batista signing, Ryan said:
    It's not exactly what people admire in statistical analysis. I know that. I'm not so much concerned with home runs. I'm concerned with winning games. I'm concerned for our pitching and bullpen -- we need more (offensive) pressure, more threats.

    It seems to me that the people in favor of the Batista signing -- Ryan included -- are unable to separate one offensive skill from a player's overall offensive package. Things like drawing walks, hitting homers, and bunting for hits are just part of the total value a player can bring to the table offensively. In Batista's case, many people seem to be saying that his ability to hit home runs or put "pressure" on opposing teams makes up for the fact that he doesn't get on base and eats up a tremendous number of outs.

    Not only isn't that true, it shows a lack of understanding about what leads to run scoring. Teams score runs not because they do certain things well -- like hit for power or draw walks or steal bases -- but because the overall makeup of their offense is good. The overall makeup of Batista's offense is horrible, and his ability to hit homers is accounted for within that.

    Think of a hitter like a movie. There are a number of things that need to go right for a movie to be good, from the acting and directing to the script and cinematography. Batista is like a movie that has good actors, but they're doing scenes from a horrible script, being directed by someone who has no clue, and the whole thing is being shot with a camcorder.

    That movie would have some positive aspects and people who wanted to defend it would say things like, "It wasn't a great movie, but the acting was good." Sure, but the overall product would still be sub par because it's not as simple as the good canceling out the bad. In other words, good acting and all, the movie still stunk.



  • January 26, 2006

    Seven Players, No Hope

    I had the usual Link-O-Rama entry ready for today, but everything gets put on hold when the Wolves make a horrible trade. I have been very critical of Kevin McHale in the past, both for his inability to surround Kevin Garnett with talent and his maddening tendency to award mediocre players with long-term contracts worth way too much money. Yesterday's seven-player swap with the Celtics cements my view of McHale as, at the very least, the wrong man to rebuild the team back into a contender.

    Since advancing to the conference finals, the Wolves' problems have boiled down to a simple lack of top-line talent. Garnett is an elite player and Wally Szczerbiak is a capable second or third option, but the rest of the roster has been filled with role players forced into too-big roles. A team that counts Marko Jaric, Eddie Griffin, Trenton Hassell and Troy Hudson among its six best players isn't going anywhere unless it has two superstars leading the way, and Szczerbiak fell well short of that.

    All of which makes yesterday's trade such a disaster. Rather than trying to acquire draft picks to help provide the roster with some much-needed long-term potential or finding a way to trade a couple of those spare parts for another Szczerbiak-like borderline star, McHale chose to unload one of two players on the entire team who have performed at a high level.

    As I showed here last week, take a look at how Garnett and Szczerbiak stuck out from the rest of the team when it comes to True Shooting Percentage (a measure of offensive efficiency that goes beyond field goal percentage by accounting for free throws and three-pointers):

    Wally Szczerbiak      60.8
    Kevin Garnett 58.4

    NBA AVERAGE 53.2

    Trenton Hassell 53.1
    Marko Jaric 48.7
    Troy Hudson 48.7
    Michael Olowokandi 46.1
    Anthony Carter 45.7
    Rashad McCants 45.1
    Eddie Griffin 41.4

    Szczerbiak has his flaws and is not what I consider to be a great player, but he has consistently been one of the most efficient offensive players in basketball. On a team that is among the worst in the league offensively, that made him the equivalent of the last canteen full of water for a man trapped in the desert. Now he's in Boston, hitting mid-range jumpers alongside Paul Pierce and a promising young core, and Garnett's supporting cast is even weaker.

    To make matters worse, for the privilege of essentially swapping Szczerbiak for Ricky Davis (at best a push, and likely a downgrade), McHale gave up a future first-round pick and the cap room that comes along with Michael Olowokandi's expiring contract, and took on Mark Blount's bloated long-term deal. Blount will fit right in with Hudson, Jaric, Hassell, and Mark Madsen on the Wolves' roster full of overpaid players, and the lack of a first rounder is certainly something the Wolves are used to.

    A combination of the Joe Smith debacle, including first-round picks in trades, and McHale's inability to find talent in the draft of late leaves the team with a future that doesn't look much better than the present. Next year's first-round pick (lottery protected) is already property of the Clippers thanks to the misguided Sam Cassell-for-Jaric swap and McHale used the only two first rounders he's had this decade on Ndudi Ebi (since cut) and Rashad McCants (a poor pick bound for a mediocre career).

    There is no light at the end of this tunnel. Garnett turns 30 years old in May, the team has no hope for any meaningful salary cap room to pursue free agents, and McCants represents the best (and perhaps only) long-term building block the Wolves have. It doesn't get much worse than that, which is why a trade like yesterday's that fails to make things better now or in the future is maddening.

    Davis is the type of player the Wolves should have been trying to add, but doing so at the expense of losing Szczerbiak makes absolutely no sense. Marcus Banks was one of my favorite college players while at UNLV and is one hell of an athlete, but he's shown little ability to be a quality NBA point guard. Blount is a stiff center who rebounds like a guard, and Justin Reed is Ronald Dupree without the cool-sounding name.

    With each forfeited draft pick, botched trade, and uninspired free-agent decision McHale and the Wolves move one step closer to wasting the career of one of the greatest big men in NBA history. I see no way for the team to provide Garnett with a championship-caliber supporting cast in the next three years, and even if a minor miracle allows them to get their act together to do so soon after that, it'll be just in time for his decline.

    The Wolves are a train bound for nowhere, and they're heading there fast.

    UPDATE: John Hollinger, who is my favorite basketball writer, opines on ESPN.com that the trade is "slightly in favor of Minnesota." He makes some fair points, but the fact that Davis' defense is better than Szczerbiak's likely doesn't offset the offensive dropoff for a team that was already doing well defensively while struggling to score.

    The Wolves are well past the point of "slightly in favor" doing them any good regardless of if it's true, and Szczerbiak has a significant edge in Hollinger's all-encompassing pet stat, Player Efficiency Rating:

                    TS%     AST%    REB%      TO%       PER
    Szczerbiak 60.1 12.9 7.4 9.9 18.67
    Davis 52.9 19.8 6.5 10.3 16.06

    UPDATE #2: I keep hearing that Davis is "a slasher" and "the type of aggressive scorer Garnett needs." That's all fine, but if he's so aggressive and can get to the basket so well, why is he averaging a measly 3.9 free-throw attempts in 41.7 minutes?


    January 23, 2006

    Top 40 Minnesota Twins: Intro

    I've long wanted to incorporate more Twins history here, rather than always focusing on trade rumors and Ron Gardenhire's nightly lineup construction. However, that's difficult because I can't talk about the time I saw Jim Kaat toss a shutout against the Yankees or what a joy it was to watch Rod Carew lay a bunt down the third-base line. By the time I was old enough to be a baseball fan, 30 years of the team's history was already in the books.

    With that said, over the weekend I began working on an ongoing series of entries devoted to Twins history based on an idea I stumbled across while reading one of my favorite blogs. Over at his great Angels/Dodgers Double Play Blog, Rob McMillin is counting down the "Top 40 Dodgers of All Time." He is also participating in a countdown of the "100 Greatest Angels" over at another good blog, Halos Heaven.

    The idea of ranking and discussing the greatest players in team history seems like an interesting yet simple way to take a stroll through Twins history. Plus, it'll give me a long-term topic to write about whenever I can't think of something more timely (I'll devote one day to each player). Before I officially kick off the countdown tomorrow with the 40th-best player in Twins history, here are a few notes and ground rules:

  • The rankings only include time spent playing for the Minnesota Twins. In other words, David Ortiz doesn't get credit for turning into one of the best players in baseball after joining the Red Sox and Paul Molitor doesn't get credit for being one of the best players in baseball for the Brewers and Blue Jays. The Twins began playing on April 11, 1961, and that's when these rankings start as well.
  • Peak value is important, but you've also got to stick around for a while to crack the top 40. Someone like Chili Davis was really valuable for two seasons and is an important part of Twins history, but at the end of the day he played fewer than 300 games in a Twins uniform. Same thing goes for Jack Morris, who tossed an amazing 10-inning shutout in perhaps the most important game in team history, but started just 39 other times for the Twins. Neither guy makes the top 40.
  • I combed through the hundreds of guys who have played for the Twins over the years and came up with a preliminary list of 150 who could reasonably be considered somewhat valuable players while in Minnesota. That trimmed down list still included guys like Davis and Morris, who weren't with the team for very long, and guys like Denny Hocking and Pat Mahomes, who really have no business being associated with anything having to do with the words "top" and "all time."

    The Twins have had more than their share of great players since 1961, but you'd be surprised by how steep the dropoff is once you get past about 50 names. Consider that Luis Rivas safely made the cut for the 150 players I looked at closely, as did immortals like Frankie Rodriguez, Scott Leius, Rich Becker, Danny Thompson, Tim Laudner, and Pat Meares.

    That's something to think about in the context of these rankings, and a big part of why I chose to do a top 40 rather than a top 50 or top 100. Not only do the resumes get thoroughly unimpressive once you get past around 30 or so, no one in the 41-100 range played long enough or well enough for the Twins to really separate themselves from the rest of the pack.

  • Lastly, if you've got any ideas for how to make this a better, more interesting series of entries, please e-mail me or leave a note in the comments section. I'm open to any and all ideas, and would appreciate a link to interesting articles, facts or general tidbits of information related to players who figure to crack the top 40.
  • UPDATE: As the list progresses, I'll update this entry with links to each profile.

    #23 Cesar Tovar
    #24 Shane Mack
    #25 Brian Harper
    #26 Eddie Guardado
    #27 Larry Hisle
    #28 Tom Brunansky
    #29 Kevin Tapani
    #30 Jacque Jones
    #31 Butch Wynegar
    #32 Al Worthington
    #33 Greg Gagne
    #34 Matt Lawton
    #35 Steve Braun
    #36 Dave Boswell
    #37 Jimmie Hall
    #38 Eric Milton
    #39 Scott Erickson
    #40 Randy Bush



    January 20, 2006

    Link-O-Rama

  • For anyone wondering, I lost 12 pounds during the first week of my weight-loss plan. Not bad, but it's still just throwing deck chairs off the Titanic.
  • In what is about as perfect a fit as you will ever find, Luis Rivas signed a minor-league contract with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, who are arguably the least successful franchise in modern sports history. At this point I'm so happy simply to be rid of Rivas that I haven't spent much time hoping he'll do horribly in the future. Plus, I've moved on to complaining about Tony Batista.
  • Speaking of Rivas, someone once asked me if I was ever worried about Rivas or someone in his family tracking me down for all of the nasty things I've written about him here. I said no, in part because I don't think I've really picked on Rivas as a person much, sticking more to his on-field flaws. Of course, I doubt that would keep Rivas or someone he knows from being upset if they ever happen to stumble across this site.

    I bring this up because all-time great point guard and all-time horrible general manager Isiah Thomas is apparently interested in beating up ESPN.com's Bill Simmons for the things Simmons has written about him. There are so many interesting aspects to the whole story that I couldn't possibly do it justice with a brief recap here, so instead I'll simply point you to Simmons' version, Part 1 and Part 2.

    My favorite part of the whole thing is that Thomas' threat toward Simmons came on Stephen A. Smith's radio show. First, I can't possibly imagine listening to such a show, in part because the blood from my ears would eventually drown me. Second, Smith responded to what Thomas said by acting as if he didn't know who Simmons is, which is hilarious considering Simmons is one of the best things to ever happen to ESPN and Smith is one of the worst.

  • Speaking of Smith, his execrable ESPN TV show, Quite Frankly, has been demoted to a late-night time slot, where it can annoy an even smaller audience. And yes, this is the same show that Scoop Jackson once said was "historic in the landscape of broadcast television" and "bigger than ESPN."
  • Speaking of Jackson (I think this Link-O-Rama sets a new record for "speaking of" openers), he now has some competition for his niche on ESPN.com.
  • Along with moving Quite Frankly, ESPN also announced that it is canceling ESPN Hollywood, a marginally sports-related show that is hosted by Mario Lopez of Saved by the Bell fame. I can't really comment on the quality of the show, having watched it a grand total of one time for less than two minutes, but it's cancellation does make me happy.

    Over the last few years ESPN has become less and less about actually covering sports, and more and more about self-promotion and annoying personalities. I'm glad to see some of that get scaled back, if for no other reason than it proved to be a horrible direction to go in. There's still an awful lot on ESPN and ESPN.com that is apparently fairly popular despite what seems to me like no redeeming qualities, but this is a start.

  • Whether you're a Celtics fan or a Wolves fan, when it comes to trade rumors involving Mark Blount and Michael Olowokandi sometimes the only thing you can do is photoshop their faces onto a movie poster and laugh. Looking good, Billy Ray! Feeling good, Louis!
  • Remember how Flip Saunders was the problem with the Wolves? Now he's coaching the team with the best record in the NBA, earning him the honor of coaching the Eastern Conference All-Stars next month, and the Wolves are on pace for a worse record than they had last year. Saunders should send Kevin McHale a thank-you note every day for the rest of time. Or maybe just get him tickets to the NBA Finals in Detroit.
  • ESPN.com's Mel Kiper came out with his first official mock draft earlier this week, with Reggie Bush, Matt Leinart, and Vince Young going 1-2-3, in that order. He also has the Vikings taking Bush's runningmate at USC, LenDale White, with the 17th pick. White rushed for 1,302 yards on 197 carries this year (6.6 yards/carry), added 219 more yards on 14 catches (15.6 yards/catch), and scored a school-record 26 touchdowns.

    A lot of Minnesotans will no doubt be clamoring for the Vikings to take Laurence Maroney if he's available, but if there's a choice between the two running backs I think White is the obvious pick. Kiper has Maroney going 30th overall to the Colts, which could be a nice fit if Edgerrin James ends up leaving via free agency.

  • I'm not exactly sure how they would decide the winner of this tournament, but I'm fairly certain I'd pay to watch. I'm pulling for the sixth seed.
  • You've got to hand it to Daunte Culpepper -- despite a season-ending knee injury he is still able to provide a perfect example of why many fans think pro athletes are greedy jerks.
  • I know Paris Hilton is the lowest of low-hanging fruit, but I can't help myself. Here's what she reportedly said when asked about possibly posing for Playboy:
    They've asked me a million times. Hef has been after me since I was 17, and I got offered a lot of money. But I'll never do it. Because I'm Paris Hilton.

    This is amusing for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that anyone with a computer, internet access, and a working knowledge of Google can find not only pictures of Hilton naked within about 30 seconds, but actual video of her performing an assortment of sex acts.

    Her response is essentially like if someone asked me about eating donuts and I said, "I'll never do it, because I'm Aaron Gleeman." On any given day, at any given time, there's probably a 50% chance that I'm eating a donut and she's being filmed naked somewhere.

  • Today at The Hardball Times:
    - Pitching Runs Created (by David Gassko)
    - Daily Graphing: Bronson Arroyo (by David Appelman)

    Pick of the Day (167-152, +$1,165):
    Memphis -2 (-110) over Philadelphia

    Saturday's Pick:
    Florida -1 (-110) over Tennessee

    Sunday's Picks:
    Pittsburgh +3.5 (-110) over Denver
    Carolina +4 (-110) over Seattle


    January 19, 2006

    More Wolves Stuff

    This is either a remarkable coincidence or proof that Kevin Garnett reads this blog, because in the very first Wolves game since I wrote about Garnett needing to take more shots he hoisted up a season-high 26 attempts against the Celtics last night. Seriously, what are the odds of that happening? His previous season-high was 22 shots and he went over 20 just three times in the first 35 games.

    Sadly, my little theory about Garnett's shooting more leading to more Wolves wins took yet another hit, as they blew a second-half lead and lost 103-96 in Boston. The Wolves are now 1-3 when Garnett takes 20 or more shots, although I don't think that stat says a whole lot about the value of him being more aggressive.

    As for the much-anticipated clash of the titans between Michael Olowokandi and Mark Blount ...

                   MIN     FGM-A     FTM-A     PTS     REB
    Olowokandi 24 2-5 1-2 5 9
    Blount 6 1-3 0-1 2 1

    You know a guy really stinks when he isn't even showcased in a game against a team that is rumored to be interested in dealing for him. Considering how well Boston's twin 21-year-olds, Al Jefferson (18 points, eight rebounds) and Kendrick Perkins (17 points, six rebounds), played last night, Celtics fans should be praying that they can rid themselves of an overpaid stiff like Blount for an expiring contract like Olowokandi's.

    While Olowokandi-for-Blount isn't exactly the sort of trade that makes headlines, here's a much more interesting rumor that Charley Walters floated in his St. Paul Pioneer Press column the other day:

    Trade rumor: Timberwolves Trenton Hassell and Michael Olowokandi to the Denver Nuggets for Kenyon Martin. The Wolves have been trying earnestly for two months to trade Olowokandi.

    I'll give my usual disclaimer in regard to Walters, which is that him writing about a rumor makes it no more likely to come true than buying a lottery ticket using the numbers found inside a fortune cookie makes you more likely to win the lottery. Still, that's at least a rumor that Wolves fans can get somewhat enthused about.

    A starting lineup of Marko Jaric, Wally Szczerbiak, Martin, Garnett, and Eddie Griffin would be extraordinarily long and pose all sorts of matchup problems. Of course, it would also be vulnerable defensively against teams with a guard who can get to the basket, and Trenton Hassell has stepped up his game quite a bit lately. Still, I'd make that swap without thinking twice, and interestingly RealGM.com's "Trade Checker" says the salaries match up just fine.

    Today at The Hardball Times:
    - Pitcher Tables (by Dave Studeman)
    - To Go or Not to Go? (by Dan Fox)

    Pick of the Day (166-152, +$1,065):
    - Sacramento +3.5 (-110) over Los Angeles


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