July 6, 2006
The Twins are finally giving Neshek a look in the bullpen several months after I began pleading with them to do so in this space, which is basically how things played out previously with (among others) Bartlett, Juan Castro, Tony Batista, Michael Cuddyer, Jason Kubel, Luis Rivas, and Johan Santana. Here's all Neshek had to do at Rochester in order to get a chance in mid-July:
G W L SV ERA IP SO BB OAVG
33 6 2 14 1.95 60.0 87 14 .189
Neshek either won or saved 20 of the 33 games he appeared in, posted a 1.95 ERA in 60 innings, ranked third in the International League in strikeouts despite being a reliever, and posted a ridiculous 87-to-14 strikeout-to-walk ratio and .189 opponent's batting average. Oh, and he also had a 2.19 ERA in 82.1 innings at Double-A last season.
Interestingly, the talk of Neshek struggling against left-handed hitters appears to be a non-issue. He held lefties to .235/.278/.412 at Triple-A, compared to .157/.215/.281 against righties. That's a big difference, but this year at least it has more to do with his complete dominance over right-handed hitters than it does with any real struggles against lefties. He'll be very good.
This is far from an example of plagiarism, but rather what happens when people outside of Minnesota try to write about something happening in Minnesota. It's nothing new. If you were to look back through every mainstream media article about Santana, Kirby Puckett, and Kevin Garnett, I'd bet that at least half of them contain some reference to Bunyan or Prince.
Plus, can you imagine if the national media deemed it a noteworthy story every time a star athlete from New York or California dated a woman who has won a beauty competition? They'd run out of paper within days and test the limits of space on the internet. Mauer is simply carrying on a long tradition of people having absolutely nothing original to say about Minnesota.
I suppose dealing with Stephen A. Smith is a relatively small price to pay for fame and a .390 batting average. Incidentally, how would you like to be Santana right now? He's been baseball's best pitcher for going on three years, leads the league in both ERA and strikeouts, and is at best the third-biggest story on his own team.
ESPN's "Pardon the Interruption" had him on Tuesday. Stephen A. Smith's show is later this week. Other national shows have called the Twins and settled for rookie sensation Francisco Liriano or Cy Young winner Johan Santana.
Check out how this season's paces under Vavra compare to last season's numbers under Ullger:
Vavra is a complete unknown to me, both as a person and as a coach, and other than reading what other people have had to say about him since the hiring there isn't much to base a potential opinion of him on. ... Perhaps more important than anything we could possibly know about Vavra the player or Vavra the coach is that he simply isn't Scott Ullger.
In addition to the underwhelming runs scored numbers, Ullger had almost zero ability to coax power out of the lineup and had anything but a positive influence on the hitters' collective approach at the plate. The Twins did not hit home runs or draw walks under Ullger, and in the case of this season the hitters were neither aggressive or patient at the plate. Instead, they were simply passive or complete hackers.
YEAR COACH HR BB RS
2006 Vavra 146 529 804
2005 Ullger 134 485 688
Homers and walks have each increased by nearly 10 percent, although a half-season's worth of games obviously isn't enough to draw any big conclusion's about Vavra's coaching. It's possible that Mauer and Morneau would have experienced similar breakouts under another coach, but there's little doubt in my mind that Vavra is far better than Ullger.
While Ullger used to openly rip guys for taking a patient approach at the plate and play into the Twins' odd tendency to treat young guys like dirt, Vavra actually says stuff like this about working with Morneau:
I think the biggest thing with Justin is just staying positive and emphasizing strike-zone discipline.
Over the years I've criticized the Twins for their inability to develop impact hitters at the big-league level, but there are certainly some signs of that changing under Vavra.