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


    January 18, 2006

    Mildly Intriguing Rumor of the Week

    ESPN.com's "Rumor Central" had an interesting note about the Wolves yesterday:

    According to two league sources, a deal that would send Mark Blount to Minnesota or Memphis could be completed soon, reports the Boston Globe. One source described a deal as "imminent." The most likely scenario would have the Celtics shipping Blount to Minnesota for Michael Olowokandi.

    I'm all for getting rid of Michael Olowokandi as soon as possible, but I'm not sure that this deal really solves much of anything. The Wolves have struggled to put together a talented supporting cast for Kevin Garnett for several reasons, one of which is that they've handed out long-term deals to mediocre players like Trenton Hassell, Troy Hudson, Joe Smith, and Mark Madsen. The team has also wasted a lot of money on Olowokandi, but at least he comes off the books this offseason.

    According to ESPN.com, "Blount's contract, which includes a 15% trade kicker, has four years and $28 million remaining after this year." In other words, if the Wolves trade for him they will owe $33 million over four seasons to a guy who is averaging 13.1 points and 4.4 rebounds this year. Here's a little of what my favorite basketball writer, John Hollinger, said about Blount prior to the season:

    Blount had a career year just in time for his contract to expire in 2003-04, and unfortunately the Celtics decided to pay for it. ... Blount came crashing back to earth in 2004-05 and now the Celtics are feeling they wasted their money.

    The most disturbing aspect of Blount's season was the degree to which his energy level diminished. Blount looked especially sluggish at the defensive end, and his "effort" stats confirm that impression. His Rebound Rate suddenly declined to one of the worst at his position.

    Great. Amazingly, Blount's rebounding skills have gotten even worse this season, as he's averaging an anemic 6.1 rebounds per 40 minutes despite being seven feet tall and 250 pounds. He'd be a big improvement over Olowokandi, but so would a lot of guys who aren't scheduled to make $33 million over the next four years.

    2005-06     TS%     REB     PER     2004-05     TS%     REB     PER
    Blount 55.8 9.2 12.1 Blount 55.9 10.4 12.5
    Kandi 46.2 14.2 9.1 Kandi 48.0 15.7 10.3

    *TS% is a shooting percentage that accounts for free throws and three-pointers.
    *REB is the percentage of missed shots that a player rebounds.
    *PER is Hollinger's overall rating of per-minute statistical production.


    As you can see, from a purely on-court standpoint swapping Olowokandi for Blount is a home run. While Olowokandi is a much better rebounder, Blount is a significantly more efficient scorer and a much better all-around player. However, from a team-building standpoint, it would be yet another example of the team clogging up the roster with a mediocrity who takes up far too much cap room.

    Of course, thanks to Garnett's massive salary and the long-term money being paid to the likes of Wally Szczerbiak, Marko Jaric, Hudson, Hassell, and Madsen, the Wolves weren't going to have much cap room to play around with anyway. That means that upgrading from Olowokandi to Blount is probably worth the ridiculous cost, although it also likely means that it won't matter much in the grand scheme of things.

    * * * * * * * * * *

    On an unrelated note ...

    For me, one of the nicest things about having this blog is that it serves as a sort of timeline of my life. I've been writing here nearly every day since August 1, 2002, and while I generally try not to fill too much space with boring personal stuff there is certainly enough of it in the archives for me to relive some memories. It's like keeping a diary that everyone you know has access to.

    I was searching for something interesting to write about last night, and ended up looking back through the archives to see what topic I covered a year ago today. Turns out, on January 18, 2005 I wrote about moving back into my dorm room at the University of Minnesota after spending winter vacation at home. Here's a little excerpt:

    I moved back into my dorm room yesterday afternoon. Those of you who are long-time readers of this blog know my move-ins and move-outs tend to go horribly, but this one went remarkably well, with no real problems or incidents. Well, aside from the fact that my internet connection still isn't working. I'm told it is a "network-wide problem," but all I know is that I have yet to move in here, whether at the start of the year or after a vacation, and have both the cable and internet hookups working simultaneously.

    Ah, the good old days.

    Today at The Hardball Times:
    - Mapping the Strike Zone (by David Appelman)
    - Business of Baseball Report (by Brian Borawski)

    Pick of the Day (165-152, +$965):
    Pittsburgh -2 (-110) over Rutgers


    January 17, 2006

    Shoot! (The Kevin Garnett Story)

    Kevin Garnett is in the middle of the most efficient offensive season of his brilliant 11-year career, yet he is attempting fewer shots per game than he has since 1997-1998, his third season. Those two facts coexisting would be somewhat understandable if the Wolves were suddenly packed with great offensive players and Garnett was simply blending in, but the team is among the worst in the NBA when they have the ball.

    The Wolves rank 25th in the league with an average of 91.5 points per game and rank 24th in the league with an average of 104.8 points per 100 possessions. Now, compare those ugly numbers to Garnett's outstanding individual performance. He leads the NBA with a 54.7% Field Goal Percentage and his 60.0% True Shooting Percentage ranks seventh among frequent shooters. Both of those numbers are career-highs.

    There are, at most, a handful of players who have been more effective than Garnett offensively this season, which along with his usual outstanding defense, passing, and rebounding makes him without question one of the league's elite players. However, at this point his unselfishness and/or passivity with the ball (depending on how you want to view it) is actually keeping the Wolves from being a better team.

    On a roster with few capable scorers, Garnett should be taking more shots than ever before. Instead, he's attempting 15.9 shots per game, which ranks a ridiculous 21st in the league. Adjusting for playing time and the Wolves' slow tempo, Garnett ranks 30th in the league by using 23.4 possessions per 40 minutes. To put that in some context, Kobe Bryant leads the league at 35.8, with Allen Iverson (32.7), Tracy McGrady (32.1), LeBron James (30.1), and Dwyane Wade (29.8) rounding out the top five.

    Garnett is less able to create his own shot than those five guys, all of whom spend most of the game with the ball in their hands, but there's no excuse for him shooting less often than fellow big men like Jermaine O'Neal (26.4), Zach Randolph (24.9), Pau Gasol (24.5), Elton Brand (24.3), and Chris Webber (23.5).

    Garnett's outstanding passing ability and unique unselfishness have proven to be major assets in the past, but those skills are less valuable this year. The only other efficient shooter the Wolves have is Wally Szczerbiak, who often struggles to create his own shot. That means the shots Garnett passes on are trickling down to Marko Jaric, Troy Hudson, Eddie Griffin, Rashad McCants, Trenton Hassell, and Michael Olowokandi, which is like The Rolling Stones cutting a set short so that their opening act can play a few extra songs.

    TRUE SHOOTING PERCENTAGE*

    Wally Szczerbiak 61.3
    Kevin Garnett 60.0

    NBA AVERAGE 53.2

    Trenton Hassell 52.4
    Mark Madsen 51.9
    Richie Frahm 49.8
    Marko Jaric 49.3
    Troy Hudson 48.0
    Anthony Carter 46.6
    Michael Olowokandi 46.4
    Rashad McCants 44.2
    Eddie Griffin 40.3

    *True Shooting Percentage = (PTS / (2 x (FGA + (.44 x FTA)))

    When those are the alternatives, there is no reason for Garnett to be shooting 16 times per game. Even if increasing his shots meant a significant drop in efficiency, he'd still be helping the offense by taking attempts away from the assortment of mediocrities the Wolves run out there every night. Prior to this season Garnett's TS% was 53.9%, which is safely above league average and would rank second on the team behind only Szczerbiak.

    Yet here it is the middle of January, the Wolves are hovering around .500 and clearly struggling offensively, and Garnett hasn't taken 20 shots in a game since December 26. In fact, he has hoisted up 20 or more shots in a game a grand total of three times this season. There are five players (Bryant, Iverson, James, McGrady, and Gilbert Arenas) who are averaging more than 20 shots per game on the year.

    This isn't a criticism of Garnett as much as it is a plea to him. The Wolves are going nowhere with other players taking 80% of the team's shots, and while Szczerbiak has been excellent this year, his skill set makes it difficult to increase his attempts much beyond where he's at right now. All of which leaves it to Garnett to finally emerge as more than just a great all-around player. The Wolves need him to become a great scorer.

    Today at The Hardball Times:
    - The Team That Nearly Wasn’t: The Montreal Expos (by Maury Brown)
    - Phranklin (by Craig Burley)

    Pick of the Day (165-151, +$1,075):
    Louisville -2 (-110) over St. John's


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