June 27, 2006

Blogless in Seattle

If George Costanza has taught me anything, it's that leaving on a high note is extremely important.

With Joe Mauer's 5-for-5 game and Francisco Liriano's eighth win providing the proper send off, I'm heading to Seattle for the 36th annual Society for American Baseball Research convention. This will be my third SABR convention, and if you're curious about what sort of stuff I'll be doing in Seattle you can check out my trip reports for Cincinnati in 2004 and Toronto in 2005.

The short version is that it involves baseball, poker, and drinking, with the added bonus of attending a couple big-league games in the host city, meeting some big names from the world of baseball writing, and seeing some great research presentations. I'm particularly excited about this year's convention because the keynote speaker is Jim Bouton, who wrote the greatest book I've ever read, Ball Four.

When I return Monday, I hope to have both a non-botched Wolves draft pick (LaMarcus Aldridge or Brandon Roy, please!) and a still-hot Twins team to discuss, and if Mauer's not hitting at least .450 by then I'll be very disappointed.


June 26, 2006

Another Win

Clearly livid with himself for going an entire week without a multi-hit game, Joe Mauer went 4-for-5 with a career-high five RBIs against the Dodgers last night. Mauer's batting average--which had slumped to a pathetic .368--jumped back to an MLB-leading .377 and his .444 on-base percentage now ranks second in the AL behind only Travis Hafner's .448.

A 23-year-old catcher who has thrown out 41 percent of would-be base-stealers, Mauer is on pace to hit .377/.444/.526 with 10 homers, 45 doubles, 215 hits, 90 runs scored, 85 RBIs, and 15 steals in his second full season. After lining an RBI single to left field off left-handed reliever Hong-Chih Kuo, Mauer is now hitting .370 against southpaws to go along with his .380 batting average against righties.


A few other notes on the Twins' 8-2 win, if only because it helps me avoid packing for my trip to Seattle ...

  • Carlos Silva turned in his third straight Quality Start, holding the Dodgers to two runs over eight innings. Silva looked a lot like he did last season, handing out zero walks, striking out only three of the 30 batters he faced, and needing just 97 pitches to record 24 outs, but there was one major difference. Typically a ground-ball pitcher, Silva induced six ground-ball outs compared to 15 outs through the air.

    Obviously one game doesn't mean much by itself, but take a look at Silva's season-long ground ball-to-fly ball ratio compared to his first two years with the Twins:

    YEAR     GB/FB
    2004 1.58
    2005 1.55
    2006 1.05

    Silva has basically gone from being a ground-ball pitcher to being a neutral pitcher, which is bad news for a guy who allows such a huge number of balls in play. Since moving back into the starting rotation this month Silva has a 0.88 GB-to-FB ratio in five starts, which means he's actually been an extreme fly-ball pitcher.

    What's interesting is that throughout Silva's time in Minnesota pitching coach Rick Anderson has said that how well Silva is pitching can be determined more by his keeping the ball on the ground than his actual results. In other words, if Silva gets tons of ground balls he's doing a good job regardless of what the fielders do with them.

    There's a lot of truth to that, but if you asked Anderson about Silva's pitching since rejoining the rotation he'd probably be very pleased. Anderson has a right to be, of course, but over the long haul I don't think Silva can be successful with a GB-to-FB ratio close to even. He gives up too many hits to make it work without also bailing himself out of jams with double plays, and the extra-base hits will pile up in a hurry.

  • The new-and-improved Nick Punto did his best to fight off the nasty bastard that is regression to the mean, going 2-for-3 with two singles and two walks after watching his batting average drop 40 points in two weeks. As he is wont to do, Punto also over-hustled his way into an out at second base and stupidly slid into first base on a routine play for about the 50th time this season.

    Despite showing almost zero power over the past month, Punto is hitting .277 on the year and has maintained an outstanding .375 on-base percentage, including .388 in May and .392 in June. Can he keep that up while essentially just taking a bunch of pitches and slapping some singles? I doubt it, but at the very least his defense at third base is a revelation after watching Tony Batista for 50 games.

  • After years of talking about wanting to improve his plate discipline and then being as hacktastic as ever when it came time to put his money where his mouth was, Torii Hunter appears to actually be following through with his plan this time. Hunter walked twice last night, giving him a career-best 16 walks this month after walking 13 times in May.

    For the season Hunter has drawn 32 non-intentional walks in 73 games, which doesn't sound like a lot until you realize his career-high is 43 non-intentional walks back in 2003. Hunter also showed some marginal improvements in patience last year, and if he keeps up his recent pace he'll set a new career-high by the All-Star break.

    The new-found plate discipline has allowed Hunter to post a career-best .340 on-base percentage despite a .264 batting average, but it's not all good news. Hunter's .421 slugging percentage would be his lowest since 2000 and his .158 Isolated Power is nearly 20 percent below his career mark coming into this season.

  • I was thinking about a potential nickname for Mauer since I haven't had much success coming up with one for Francisco Liriano, and "The Show" seems like a good fit in light of my recent column. Unfortunately, the fact that "Joe" and "The Show" rhyme make the nickname pretty cheesy-sounding, so it's probably back to the drawing board. This whole nicknaming business would be a lot easier if I was as clever as some people.


  • June 25, 2006

    Running Really Fast ... In Place

    The Twins have won 14 of their last 16 games, going from 25-33 (.431) to 39-35 (.527). They've won five straight series--including three-game sweeps of the Red Sox, Pirates, and Cubs--and have won six of their last seven road games after beginning the season 9-24 away from the Metrodome. That's obviously the good news.

    The bad news is that despite completely turning the season around, the Twins are nearly as far out of the playoff picture as they were before. Back on June 7 the Twins were 11.5 games behind the Tigers in the division and 11 games behind the White Sox for the Wild Card. And now? The Twins are 11 games behind the Tigers in the division and 9.5 games behind the White Sox for the Wild Card.

    That's right, by winning 14 out of 16 games the Twins picked up a half game on Detroit and 1.5 games on Chicago.

    The Twins' play over the past three weeks has been incredibly encouraging and the emergence of several young players once Tony Batista, Rondell White, and Juan Castro stopped playing regularly has made the team fun to watch again. With that said, the argument could be made that the Twins are actually facing longer odds to make the postseason now than they were before winning 14 of 16.

    They've gone from being 11 games out of a playoff spot to 9.5 games out, but there are now 16 fewer games with which to close the gap. In other words, another 10 percent of the season has been played and the Twins essentially treaded water relative to the teams in front of them. That's a depressing way to look at things, but such is life when two teams in your division are on pace for 105-win seasons.

    If the Tigers and White Sox simply play .500 baseball for the remainder of the season--they've won 67 percent and 66 percent of their respective games thus far--the Twins would have to go 56-32 (.636) to win the division or 55-33 (.625) to win the Wild Card. They'd also have to hold off the Yankees and Blue Jays, who are both still ahead of the Twins in the Wild Card standings.

    I realize that today's entry makes me the proverbial turd in the punch bowl, but these are just the facts. Actually, my level of optimism rose to a surprisingly high level over the weekend, right up until the point that I looked at the standings and noticed how little things have actually improved. And if my new-found optimism has to come crashing down ... well, everyone else's optimism is coming along for the fall.

    With all of that said, it's a whole hell of a lot more fun to watch the Twins now than it was just a few weeks ago. There's some reason to be emotionally involved on a day-to-day basis beyond wanting to torture yourself and there's some reason for hope. It's just that the hope probably has more to do with next season than most fans are willing to admit while riding this current wave of wins.

    As for what's been behind all the winning, let's take a look ...

                           G      AVG      OBP      SLG      OPS
    Justin Morneau 16 .422 .471 .875 1.346
    Jason Kubel 13 .367 .380 .673 1.053
    Jason Bartlett 11 .368 .455 .474 .928
    Joe Mauer 14 .358 .469 .434 .903
    Terry Tiffee 9 .316 .381 .474 .855
    Michael Cuddyer 16 .237 .384 .441 .824
    Torii Hunter 15 .255 .369 .364 .733
    Mike Redmond 9 .316 .316 .368 .684
    Nick Punto 16 .220 .350 .260 .610
    Luis Castillo 13 .254 .290 .288 .578
    Lew Ford 14 .121 .237 .182 .419

    Justin Morneau has carried the team on his shoulders for the past 16 games, smacking eight homers, driving in 24 runs, and hitting .422/.471/.875 for a ridiculous 1.346 OPS. Jason Kubel can't quite match those numbers, but he batted .367/.380/.673 with four homers and 14 RBIs while also cracking a 1.000 OPS.

    Jason Bartlett hit .368/.455/.474 stepping in for Castro (.231/.258/.308) at shortstop, Joe Mauer continued to bat .350, Terry Tiffee provided a nice spark off the bench and at third base, and Michael Cuddyer kept his overall production up despite a dip in batting average. Those six hitters have been the Twins' offense, making up for Luis Castillo's continued slump and Lew Ford's season-long ineptitude.

    The lineup as a whole batted .280/.359/.432 during the 16-game stretch, scoring 5.7 runs per game after averaging just 4.5 runs per game through June 7. Despite a few big homers receiving most of the attention, getting on base at a much higher clip is actually the main reason behind a healthy run-scoring increase of 27 percent.

                            IP      ERA     SO     BB     WHIP
    Juan Rincon 9.2 0.00 8 2 0.72
    Dennys Reyes 4.2 0.00 5 1 0.86
    Johan Santana 28.0 1.29 26 2 0.79
    Jesse Crain 6.2 1.35 4 1 0.90
    Francisco Liriano 22.0 1.64 24 5 0.68
    Joe Nathan 13.0 2.08 17 2 1.00
    Brad Radke 24.2 2.55 13 6 1.34
    Boof Bonser 9.2 2.79 2 1 1.24
    Willie Eyre 7.0 3.86 6 3 1.57
    Carlos Silva 18.0 4.00 9 2 1.33
    Kyle Lohse 6.1 8.53 7 4 2.21

    After allowing 5.2 runs per game through June 7, the Twins' pitching staff amazingly cut that in half over the past 16 games, allowing an average of 2.7 runs per game. During that stretch they held opponents to a measly .236/.278/.344, posting a 114-to-29 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Five of those 29 walks were intentional, meaning the pitchers handed out just 1.5 non-intentional walks per game.

    The main sources of the staff's dominance is easy to spot. Johan Santana and Francisco Liriano combined to go 6-0 with a 1.44 ERA and 50-to-7 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 50 innings. In the bullpen, Joe Nathan and Juan Rincon combined for a 1.19 ERA and 25-to-4 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 22.2 innings, as Nathan finally found consistent work for the first time all year.

    Jesse Crain and Dennys Reyes were also very effective in relief, and Brad Radke and Carlos Silva quietly returned to respectability after throwing batting practice for the first 10 weeks or so. In fact, the only pitcher on the entire staff who pitched poorly over the past 16 games is Kyle Lohse, who put up an 8.53 ERA in 6.1 innings while Pat Neshek keeps making Triple-A hitters look silly.

    Add it all up and you get an offense scoring 27 percent more often, a pitching staff giving up half as many runs, and a team going 14-2 after starting 25-33. The Twins may not keep it up and it might be too late to truly matter anyway, but watching Mauer, Santana, Liriano, Morneau, Kubel, Nathan, Bartlett, Cuddyer, and Rincon is enough to make me think 2007 could be a special year.


    June 22, 2006

    Link-O-Rama

  • Given the obscene amount of hype Roger Clemens' return received, it was doubly satisfying to see Francisco Liriano take center stage last night. Liriano is now 7-1 with a 2.17 ERA in 66.1 innings, including an amazing 6-1 with a 1.64 ERA in seven starts. If he had just a few more innings Liriano would be leading the AL in ERA, pushing Johan Santana to the No. 2 spot. Roger who?
  • I rode my elliptical machine while watching the United States-Ghana World Cup match yesterday morning. When Clint Dempsey scored on a great play to tie the game near the end of the first half, I instinctively did a fist pump and ended up nicking my knuckles on the ceiling. Seriously.

    If you think that was stupid, consider that just a few moments later Ghana scored on a penalty kick to take a 2-1 lead into halftime. Never let it be said that I won't reveal embarrassing stuff about myself here solely to amuse my audience. And by "embarrassing stuff" I'm not talking about hurting my knuckles, I'm talking about watching soccer.

  • I'm not sure what it says about me that this story in the Minneapolis Star Tribune was the most upsetting thing I've read all year, but it was.
  • As I've discussed in the past, this blog receives several dozen hits each day from people looking for some variation of the phrase "Jennifer Aniston's butt" on search engines. For proof, check out the top result from that search on Google. Anyway, I bring this up today because the number of people arriving here looking for Aniston's butt has skyrocketed of late, and until yesterday I was wondering why.

    The answer? Apparently Aniston actually shows the oft-searched-for butt in her new movie. Since plenty of people have already been disappointed after arriving here while looking for Aniston's butt for going on four years, here's the scene (it's probably "not safe for work," so don't press play if you're not into that sort of thing):


    After all these years it was disappointing, like finding out that Santa Claus exists, but collects presents in his parents' basement and delivers them on foot.
  • Speaking of work and video clips, if by some sick twist of fate I was forced to work in an office setting, there's no question that I'd spend all day doing this (it's definitely safe for work, unless you're this guy's boss):


    Hell, who am I kidding? I work from my bedroom and I've still been practicing my Joe Mauer foot sweep and Justin Morneau above-the-head bat twirl.
  • Anyone who has followed the Wolves over the years knows that it was only a matter of time before we saw something like this in the Star Tribune:
    No doubt the Wolves rank Gonzaga forward Adam Morrison as their No. 1 choice in the draft. However, the agent for Morrison won't allow his client to work out for the Wolves because he believes Morrison will be drafted long before the Wolves pick sixth in the first round. But don't be surprised if the Wolves try to improve their position in the draft so they can put Morrison in a Timberwolves uniform.

    Given the Wolves' track record I'm skeptical that they'll be able to pass on J.J. Redick with the sixth pick, so I'm certainly not surprised that they're lusting after Adam Morrison there. Of course, the above information is dubious at best since it comes from Sid Hartman (or so I'm hoping).

    Hartman also throws in this nugget:

    The word is that Wolves free agent point guard Marcus Banks is headed for the Los Angeles Lakers. Two years ago, the Boston Celtics and the Lakers made a trade that had Banks going to the Lakers and Gary Payton moving to the Celtics. But Payton failed a physical and the deal was called off. The Lakers have been trying to land Banks ever since, and that is where he is likely to be when the 2006-2007 season starts.

    If the Wolves end up losing Marcus Banks for nothing, their trade with the Celtics will have been an even bigger disaster than I predicted at the time. They will essentially have traded Wally Szczerbiak and a first-round pick for Ricky Davis, which is the sort of deal that landed Isiah Thomas a job coaching the Knicks.

  • For most of this season I've been touting Pat Neshek as someone who is extremely deserving of a call up to the Twins, even devoting an entire column to him last month. Neshek continues to dominate at Triple-A, with a 1.93 ERA, .183 opponent's batting average, and incredible 79-to-12 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 51.1 innings.

    In addition to being one of baseball's best reliever prospects, Neshek runs his own website and has done several Q&A sessions over at Seth Speaks. The latest version includes e-mail questions from readers, and as you might expect from someone who is so interested in interacting with fans Neshek provides some interesting, non-cliched answers.

    I'd be shocked if Neshek isn't a big part of the Twins' bullpen in the second half, and based solely on merit (as opposed to whatever got Kyle Lohse back to the big leagues so quickly) he should have been in Minnesota a month ago. Plus, you've got to respect a pitcher who knows what his lefty-righty splits are right down to the at-bat.

  • Pictures like this are why Jessica Alba is on track to become a first-ballot Hall of Famer. Of course, she'll have to avoid running into the same wall that has snuck up on so many would-be Hall of Famers.
  • I recently stumbled across a blog written by Marty Andrade, who I once had a non-fiction literature class with at the University of Minnesota (although I wouldn't be surprised if he doesn't remember me from it). Anyway, Andrade recently posted an article comparing the win-loss records of teams managed by Tom Kelly and Ron Gardenhire to those teams' Pythagorean winning percentages. It's a good read and shows Gardenhire in a positive light, but there's a significant flaw in the analysis.

    What the comparisons show is how a team performed relative to their runs scored and runs allowed. In other words, if a team scores 700 runs and allows 700 runs, they are "expected" to go 81-81. If they instead go 84-78, the team outperformed their Pythagorean winning percentage by three games and an argument could be made that the manager did a good job. However, what that analysis doesn't show is how the manager impacted those numbers.

    Let's say Gardenhire benched Joe Mauer and Johan Santana, replacing them with Corky Miller and Jesse Orosco. He would be doing a horrible job and the team would score fewer runs and allow more runs. On the other hand, it wouldn't necessarily lead to the team underperforming its Pythagorean winning percentage, because that's just comparing actual wins to expected wins based on those Gardenhire-depressed run totals. See the problem? Now go tell Marty I said hello.

  • There was a big storm here last week and DirecTV predictably went down. After requesting a service call on Saturday morning, we were told that "someone can be out there Wednesday." I don't really have a point to make here, but for some reason I feel the need to share that. When combined with the air-conditioning repair guy being a racist, you can see why the service industry has a bad reputation.
  • One of my favorite non-sports bloggers and one of my favorite baseball bloggers are teaming up over at LAist. Tony Pierce--who once served as guest columnist here while I celebrated my 21st birthday in Las Vegas--has taken over as the site's new editor, and one of his first moves was hiring Rob McMillin to cover the Angels and Dodgers.
  • The Ozzie Guillen-Jay Mariotti story has been beaten to death at this point, but I wanted to touch on something that is being overlooked. In what is a credit to his remarkable ability to come across as an unsympathetic jerk against all odds, Mariotti has managed to make me dislike him even more than I did before Guillen started calling him names.

    You would think that's impossible, but by acting like some sort of good-intentioned martyr--as opposed to an annoying media whore and mud-slinging hack columnist--Mariotti has made me think even less of him than before. Here's a quote from his Chicago Sun-Times column on the subject:

    Guillen's beef with me involves his belief that if I criticize him, I should rush down to the ballpark immediately and let him litter me with insults. ... Imagine a critic panning a movie, then being required to take a tongue-lashing the next day from an angry Vince Vaughn. Imagine a restaurant critic not liking an Italian joint, then having to show up so the chef can throw meatballs at him.

    [...]

    I might cede to Guillen's wishes, by the way, if Sox management through time had been more professional in controlling numerous incidents in which I was threatened physically in their clubhouse. This, in turn, led to published stories about the episodes and turned me into what no journalist wants to be -- the news -- which led to a Sox-generated perception that I am some evil being who roots for the Cubs.

    Mariotti's points about being a critic are valid, but there are few things in the history of mankind that have been less true than the combination of Mariotti claiming that a) he's a journalist, and b) he doesn't want to be the news. Mariotti's entire career is based on writing ridiculous things in his columns and screaming ridiculous things on television, and then counting on people to get upset enough that they talk about him.

    I'm certainly not in favor of what Guillen did, but I didn't doubt for one second that Mariotti would fail to come anywhere close to taking the high road in response. As with everything else, he's milking the story for everything it's worth and getting as much attention as possible. In fact, I'd be shocked if Mariotti isn't thrilled beyond belief at what happened.

    If he's a journalist who wants to avoid being the news, I'm Tony Batista's biggest fan. And it's all too predictable that Mariotti's fellow columnists are now tearing Guillen down for saying something stupid after previously building him up for being outspoken.

  • Here's a new addition to the ever-growing world of Twins blogs: Todd's Twins.
  • Lawrence, Kansas will never be the same.
  • I'm heading to Seattle next week for the annual SABR convention. Since I didn't plan ahead enough to have guest columnists lined up like I did for my aforementioned Las Vegas trip, I thought re-running some past columns would be a good idea. I have over 1,000 to choose from dating back four years, so if you have a favorite entry that you remember enjoying the first time around, let me know.


  • Twins Notes

  • Now that Juan Castro is no longer the Twins' problem, I can finally laugh at stuff like this from the Cincinnati Enquirer:
    Reds manager Jerry Narron is sensitive to players' feelings - to a degree.

    The addition of Juan Castro means Felipe Lopez or Edwin Encarnacion might be spending the eighth or ninth inning on the bench should Castro come in as part of a double switch or a straight defensive replacement. That plays on a young player's confidence.

    "I worry about it a little bit," Reds manager Jerry Narron said. "But I worry about winning the game more than I worry about their confidence."

    It's laughable that a team would even consider benching guys like Felipe Lopez or Edwin Encarnacion to get Castro into games as a defensive replacement. Not only are Lopez and Encarnacion two of the Reds' best players and two of the best young infielders in baseball, at this point in his career Castro is about as qualified to be a defensive replacement as I am to be a pinch-runner.

    Last week in this space I speculated that Reds general manager Wayne Krivsky "was behind signing Castro two years ago" when he was Terry Ryan's assistant. I've since seen that confirmed in several places, which makes me glad that Krivsky and Castro are together again ... in Cincinnati. Ryan has enough trouble staying away from crappy veterans without someone like Krivsky egging him on.

  • Speaking of former Twins, apparently the Cubs are just now discovering that Jacque Jones has trouble consistently making good throws from the outfield:
    Right fielder Jacque Jones' throwing problems might be more mental than physical.

    "He can't find his release point right now," [manager Dusty] Baker said, preferring not to say a great deal.

    It's certainly possible that Jones' throwing problems are "more mental than physical," but anyone who saw him play in Minnesota knows it's not a "right now" situation. In fact, in writing Jones up for my "Top 40 Minnesota Twins" series I described one of his most memorable traits as "throws from the outfield that were either air-mailed past the catcher or launched directly into the turf."

    To Jones' credit, he's bounced back from some early-season struggles and is currently on pace for arguably the second-best year of his career. He still can't hit lefties and has walked a grand total of 10 times in 65 games, but Jones is batting .296/.328/.517 with 13 homers and 36 RBIs. If you're curious, Twins right fielders are hitting .254/.343/.412 with eight homers and 33 RBIs.

  • Shocking but true: Matt Garza is human.
  • One of the nice things about Ron Gardenhire is that he frequently comes up with quotes like this:
    With Jason Bartlett replacing Juan Castro at shortstop and Nick Punto replacing Tony Batista at third base, Gardenhire likes the athleticism on the left side of the infield.

    "We couldn't catch people in rundowns before," Gardenhire said. "Tony couldn't catch anybody. Juany's not the fastest guy, and it was kind of amazing watching us get in a rundown and have to make like six throws because nobody could catch anybody to tag them."

    Of course, one of the bad things about Gardenhire is that he frequently does things like let Castro and Tony Batista play together for 50 games. As much as I enjoy the quotes, I'm pretty sure I'd prefer a mute who wouldn't have given Castro 450 plate appearances.

  • I've been campaigning for Gardenhire to move Shannon Stewart to designated hitter full time once he returns from the disabled list, and it sounds like that's the plan:
    When Shannon Stewart returns from the disabled list, he'll be used mostly as the designated hitter, not in left field, Gardenhire said.

    The Twins don't want to displace left fielder Jason Kubel, who had homered in four of five games before Tuesday.

    "I'll talk to Shannon about it," Gardenhire said. "But we're looking to probably to DH him and maybe spot play [in left field] here and there when he comes back to protect him, before he hurts himself out on the AstroTurf."

    It seems likely that Stewart still thinks he should be the everyday left fielder, in which case it's smart for Gardenhire to act like his decision is about keeping Stewart healthy rather than keeping Stewart away from fly balls.

  • It's reassuring to know that going from starting to relieving hasn't made one bit of difference when it comes to Kyle Lohse's maddening inability to put hitters away once he gets two strikes on them. So much for increasing his trade value out of the bullpen, huh? At least the Twins won't have to worry about some bum making his first start of the season ending their winning streak.
  • Once Joe Mauer's batting average rose above .350 it was only a matter of time before the national media started paying attention. Sure enough, stories on Mauer have started popping up all over the place of late.

    ESPN.com's Peter Gammons writes that Mauer is "the Twins' franchise player" and brings up the now-tired talk of Mauer moving out from behind the plate:

    He's had the knee operation and some leg problems, and some on the Minnesota staff believe that eventually getting him out from behind the plate will free his legs and allow him to be a middle-of-the-order star.

    Not that Mauer isn't a good catcher. He is. He has soft hands, an excellent presentation, a good arm and a selfless approach. But like Joe Torre and Craig Biggio, sometimes a player is so good offensively that he needs to get out from behind the plate and let his offense be a priority. Ron Gardenhire believes Mauer is so athletic that he will have no problem playing third base.

    As I've said here numerous times, anyone who thinks moving Mauer to another position is a good idea simply doesn't have a proper understanding of positional adjustments. As a third baseman Mauer is merely another very good hitter, but as a catcher he has a chance to be something truly special. What makes guys like Johnny Bench and Ivan Rodriguez inner-circle Hall of Famers isn't that they're great hitters, it's that they're great hitters and outstanding defensive catchers.

    Consider that Mauer's .968 OPS is 30 percent better than the MLB average for catchers (.744), but just 20 percent better than the MLB average for third basemen (.802). That means switching positions would cause Mauer to immediately lose about 10 percent of his value without even accounting for his game-calling and ability to gun down would-be basestealers.

    It's possible that he could be Brooks Robinson defensively at third base while tacking on an additional 75 points of OPS, but why risk that when he's already the best catcher in all of baseball? The guy is hitting .375, playing great defense, and has been healthy for going on two seasons. Why people insist on changing something that couldn't possibly be going any better is beyond me.

  • Meanwhile, the amount of energy wasted on Mauer's lack of votes for the All-Star game continues to rise. The Twins have launched a campaign to get him more votes, fans continue to act offended at the notion that he won't start, and Jason Williams of the St. Paul Pioneer Press wrote earlier this week that "there is a chance Mauer will be snubbed" for a spot, starting or otherwise.

    As someone who cares little about the All-Star game, allow me to be the voice of reason. First, there's almost zero chance of Mauer being "snubbed" if he enters the break hitting anywhere close to .370. Beyond that, the uproar over his lack of votes seems to imply that the system for choosing the game's starters is anything close to fair. It's not and never has been.

    As of right now the AL's starting lineup consists of Vladimir Guerrero and seven players from the Red Sox and Yankees. Not only do Boston and New York have the top vote-getters at nearly every position, they have the second-place guy at three spots. That's not "fair" in the sense that it doesn't actually lead to the most deserving players getting starting spots, but that's what happens you hand decision-making power to people sitting at games or logging on to MLB.com 50 times a day.

    The Yankees and Red Sox play in two of the country's biggest markets, they're on national television more than any other teams, they have significantly more people attend their games than the Twins do, and they have nationally recognizable players who the average fan has seen play (and heard Joe Buck and Tim McCarver gush over) numerous times in October.

    Getting worked up over the fact that Mauer doesn't have more votes than Jason Varitek is like being angry when a so-called psychic doesn't correctly predict your future. Instead of letting something that was never going to happen in the first place bother you, perhaps think twice about why you attach value to something that is so clearly valueless. Hell, next you'll probably tell me the writers didn't chose the right guy for last year's AL Cy Young Award or something.

  • Last but not least: This still stings.


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