October 31, 2006

Top 40 Minnesota Twins: #23 Cesar Tovar

CESAR LEONARDO TOVAR | CF/LF/RF/2B/3B/SS | 1965-1972 | CAREER STATS

G PA AVG OBP SLG OPS+ WARP WS
1090 4595 .281 .337 .377 103 32.2 142

Signed by Cincinnati as an 18-year-old out of Venezuela in the winter of 1959, Cesar Tovar batted .304, .338, and .328 in his first three pro seasons. After moving up to the Triple-A in 1963, Tovar hit .297 with 115 runs scored while showing tons of speed and gap power. Blocked at the major-league level by the likes of Pete Rose and Vada Pinson, Tovar remained at Triple-A in 1964 and slumped, hitting .275 with a .379 slugging percentage.

In December of 1964, with a young nucleus of hitters already in place from a 92-win season, Cincinnati shipped Tovar to Minnesota in exchange for 23-year-old left-hander Gerry Arrigo. It was a controversial deal at the time, because parting with young southpaws has never been viewed in a positive light and Arrigo was coming off a rookie season that saw him go 7-4 with a 3.84 ERA and 96 strikeouts in 105.1 innings split between the starting rotation and bullpen.

With incumbent second baseman Bernie Allen struggling to get healthy after knee problems ended his 1964 season, Tovar was given a long look in spring training and headed north with the team, making the Opening Day roster as a reserve. Tovar saw just 13 at-bats in a month with the Twins and was sent back down to Triple-A in mid-May, where he batted .328 with a .523 slugging percentage in 102 games before returning to the big leagues in September.

The Twins won 102 games and the AL pennant before falling to the Dodgers in the World Series, but Tovar didn't see any postseason action. In fact, mere hours after Sandy Koufax struck out Bob Allison to end the season, the New York Times reported that team president Calvin Griffith was "not satisfied with their top second base candidates" and "would be active in the trading market ... seeking a second baseman."

Speaking to the Los Angeles Times early that spring, manager Sam Mele called second base "my only infield problem" and an article in the Chicago Tribune suggested two weeks later that the position was a three-way battle between Allen, Frank Quilici, and Jerry Kindall. Meanwhile, Tovar was seeing some work at second base, but also played the other infield positions and spent much of his time in center field, where he was viewed as a potential platoon partner for the lefty-hitting Jimmie Hall.

Sure enough, Allen began the 1966 season as the starting second baseman and Tovar didn't find his way into the lineup anywhere for three weeks, finally starting both games of a Sunday doubleheader in center field on May 1. Allen's poor play and health problems eventually opened the door for Tovar to see significant action at second base and he ended up starting 73 games there despite not getting his first chance at the position until late June.

In addition to starting 73 times at second base, Tovar also saw 27 starts at shortstop and 16 starts in center field, combining to hit a modest .260/.325/.335 with 16 stolen bases in 527 plate appearances. With Hall traded to the Angels that winter, Tovar was needed more as a center fielder in 1967, starting 60 times there, but also started at 56 times at third base and 31 times at second base while seeing occasional action at shortstop and in the outfield corners.

While most fans have come to think of a "utility man" as someone like Denny Hocking who's a capable backup at multiple positions, Tovar was more like an everyday player who simply didn't know where he was going to play on a given day. Tovar batted just .267/.325/.365 in 1967, but ranked among the AL's top five in at-bats (649), runs (98), hits (173), doubles (32), and triples (7) while grabbing headlines for his finish in the MVP voting.

Tovar finished a surprising seventh in the balloting, ahead of guys like Frank Robinson and Tony Oliva, but more importantly received the lone first-place vote to elude Triple Crown winner Carl Yastrzemski. After initially remaining anonymous despite media scrutiny, Max Nichols of the Minneapolis Star was revealed as the guilty party, proving that beat writers making selections for season-ending awards that are equal parts horrible and biased is nothing new.

Not only wasn't Tovar even in the same ballpark as Yastrzemski in 1967, in hindsight it ended up being one of his worst seasons. With offensive levels insanely low in 1968 (the mound was lowered the next year), Tovar batted .272/.326/.372 while ranking among the AL's top five in hits, runs, stolen bases, and doubles. He also made his mark by becoming the second player in big-league history to play an inning at all nine positions in a single game (although several players have since done it).

Tovar was the starting pitcher in a 2-1 win over the A's on September 22, striking out Reggie Jackson during a scoreless first inning and moving around the diamond on the way to producing the following boxscore line (and scoring nightmare):

Tovar p, c, 1b, 2b, ss, 3b, lf, cf, rf

Tovar was even better in 1969, batting .288 with 45 steals, and then hit .300/.356/.442 with 120 runs in 1970. Even those career-best numbers seem unspectacular by today's standards, but like other stars from the 1960s and 1970s it's important to evaluate his performance in proper context. Not only did he lead the league in doubles and triples while ranking among the top 10 in runs, hits, total bases, steals, and extra-base hits, Tovar did so in an environment that drastically suppressed hitting.

Not all .300/.356/.442 hitting lines are created equal. The AL as a whole batted .250/.322/.379 in 1970, compared to .275/.339/.437 in 2006. That means overall offense today is up approximately 15 percent from the overall level of offense in 1970, which skews raw numbers dramatically. If adjustments are made for that difference, converting Tovar's 1970 numbers to fit into today's environment, here's what you get instead:

                     AVG      OBP      SLG      OPS
Tovar in 1970 .300 .356 .442 .798
Tovar in 2006 .330 .375 .510 .885

In today's terms, Tovar's 1970 season equals something like .330/.375/.510, which certainly registers as impressive a lot easier than his actual numbers do. Applying the same fit-to-2006 adjustments for each of Tovar's seasons in Minnesota paints a much clearer picture of his value as a hitter:

YEAR      AVG      OBP      SLG      OPS     OPS+
1966 .280 .342 .373 .715 86
1967 .291 .343 .423 .766 98
1968 .308 .353 .452 .805 107
1969 .309 .347 .469 .816 110
1970 .330 .375 .510 .885 118
1971 .331 .365 .419 .784 104
1972 .289 .346 .401 .747 94

TOTAL .310 .357 .442 .799 103

In today's terms, Tovar is a perennial .300 hitter whose career numbers with the Twins jump all the way from .281/.337/.377 to .310/.357/.442 once they're put in context. His smoothed-out numbers also show a textbook aging curve in that he started slow, peaked from age 27-29, and gradually declined into his early 30s. Interestingly, as Tovar improved offensively he also stopped moving around the diamond so much defensively.

By 1970 Tovar was primarily an outfielder, starting 125 games in center field and another 21 in left field compared to a total of just 10 starts as an infielder. He saw 145 of his 150 starts in the outfield in 1971 and was exclusively an outfielder in 1972, his final year in Minnesota. After hitting poorly as the primary right fielder on a 77-win team, the Twins traded Tovar to the Phillies for Joe Lis, Ken Sanders, and Ken Reynolds.

Much like Arrigo never amounted to much after going to Cincinnati in exchange for Tovar back in 1964, none of those three provided much value to the Twins. Tovar batted .268/.335/.357 as a part-time player in Philadelphia, splitting time at third base with a struggling 23-year-old rookie named Mike Schmidt. He had a brief resurgence after joining Texas, hitting .292/.354/.377 as an everyday player in 1974, but was done as a big leaguer within two years.

TOP 25 ALL-TIME MINNESOTA TWINS RANKS:

Steals 186 3rd
Triples 45 7th
Hits 1164 8th
Runs 646 8th
Doubles 193 9th
Total Bases 1561 13th
XBH 276 16th
AVG .281 17th
Walks 299 18th
RBI 319 25th


October 30, 2006

Talk Amongst Yourselves

It's late Sunday night as I write this, I'm dead tired after covering a full slate of NFL action for RotoWorld and NBC Sports all day, and I'm supposed to wake up in about eight hours to do it all over again. Plus, I still have some stuff left to do in preparation for my trip to the East Coast later this week, not the least of which is getting a "professional" haircut for the first time in well over a year.

When you work entirely from home and your job revolves around doing something most people gladly do for free, all via the computer, it's often difficult to explain exactly what you do when people ask. When I try, my explanation is usually met with confused nods and questions like "wait, you get paid to watch football games?" or "you don't really write from bed, right?"

Given my plans for Monday, I think the best way to describe my life, both in terms of what I do for a living and what I do every day, might simply be to point out that I haven't paid someone to cut my hair in a very long time. That singular fact reveals a lot, including that I don't have co-workers, wear a hat close to 100 percent of the time when I'm not in bed, and rarely have to depend on looking the least bit presentable.

I suppose it also says plenty about me outside of what I do for a living, although that's more "sad" than "amusing." Why am I bringing this up, when no one in the world could possibly care about how or when my hair gets cut? Because I'm about to go to bed, didn't have anything written to post here, and felt bad about not providing a new entry of some sort a couple days before leaving on a trip. Seriously.

Rather than Friday's Link-O-Rama column remaining in this space and some mystery being left as to why nothing new was posted for today ("maybe Luis Rivas finally found him and killed him!"), you get a rambling, entirely pointless entry on a meaningless topic and a promise that player No. 23 in the oft-delayed Top 40 Minnesota Twins series will be posted first thing tomorrow morning.

Even better (and assuming my laptop permits), I should be able to use my flights to and from New York to finish up a few more profiles in the countdown and maybe even start on that Top 30 Twins Prospects series I've optimistically promised will be forthcoming. Either that or I'll just sit there, nervously thinking about what waits for in New York and then dissecting how things went while I was there. Either way.

While I attempt to get some much-needed sleep, wake up too early to do some difficult-to-explain work, and then move on to putting the finishing touches on a write-up of the 23rd-best player in Twins history, feel free to chat about whatever it is people chat about on a Monday morning. I'd suggest haircuts and the identity of tomorrow's player as topics, but writing about them didn't work so well for me just now.

October 26, 2006

Link-O-Rama

  • Over at The Baseball Analysts, Kent Bonham wrote perhaps the best description of a website that I've ever seen:
    If Bill James and Jessica Alba ever bore a child, and their child came out as a minor league baseball website, it would probably look something like minorleaguesplits.com.

  • It's funny, because I've always told people that if Tim McCarver and Rosie O'Donnell ever bore a child, and their child came out as a blog, it would probably looking something like AaronGleeman.com.

  • I keep this blog relatively free of football talk because that's what I'm focusing on over at RotoWorld and NBC Sports right now, but I stumbled across some good quotes while doing my news-gathering and column-writing duties this week. First, here's what Tampa Bay coach Jon Gruden told reporters when asked about the differences between quarterbacks Chris Simms and Bruce Gradkowski:
    They're totally opposite. One is left-handed, one's right-handed. One is 6-foot-5, one is 6 foot. One is handsome, one is ugly.

    In typical newspaper fashion, the Tampa Tribune declined to speculate about which player fits which description, instead offering only that "Gruden wouldn't say which one he thought was ugly." In typical blog fashion, I'll point out that Simms looks like this and Gradkowski looks like this, and then make a pithy comment about how neither of them are likely to win any beauty contests. Then, in typical reader fashion, you'll go to the comments section and remark that I'm not exactly in a position to comment.

  • Meanwhile, Tiki Barber fired back at various media members who criticized him for saying earlier this month that he plans to retire following the season:
    I will call them idiots because they have neither spoken to me nor any one of my teammates or any of my coaches, yet all they do is criticize me for being a distraction with this retirement thing.

    Barber went on to name names, mentioning New York Daily News columnist Gary Myers and ESPN's Tom Jackson before saying:

    That includes the ultimate character guy, facetiously speaking, of course, Michael Irvin. Please get a clue how to be a journalist.

    While I'm in complete agreement with Barber, I think it's safe to say that "how to be a journalist" is pretty far down on the list of things Michael Irvin should "get a clue" about.

  • This doesn't qualify as a quote, but I was amused by the New York Times reporting that first-year Jets coach Eric Mangini "was nicknamed the Penguin ... by receiver Laveranues Coles." There are several possible reasons for the nickname and nearly all of them are funny.
  • According to MLB, 28 of the 30 players "who sacrifice for their team in often unrecognized effort" are white guys (including Jason Tyner from the Twins). Long-time readers of this blog may remember me discussing a Sports Illustrated player survey in which the question "who gets the most from the least talent?" yielded nine white guys among 11 total vote-getters, while "who gets the least from the most talent?" yielded all but one minority. I don't really have a point to make here, but it's sad.
  • It's been quite a while since the Official Fantasy Girl of AG.com title was passed from Jessica Alba to Elisha Cuthbert, although Alba has remained in serious contention ever since. When it comes time for the torch to be passed again, there's a pretty good chance Keeley Hazell will take over the top spot. I've been scouting her for a while now and I think she's on the verge of making The Leap.
  • Of course, additional evidence like this could make me reconsider.
  • I haven't been paying much attention to the Timberwolves, but the one thing I was hoping for was that Paul Shirley would make the opening-night roster. Shirley writes a regular column at ESPN.com and reading about the Wolves' season through his eyes might have made it easier to tolerate wasting another year of Kevin Garnett's career. Instead, the Wolves cut Shirley, robbing fans of an interesting way to follow the team and robbing beat writers everywhere of a good quote.

    The good news is that being let go allowed Shirley to fire some amusing parting shots on his way out of Minnesota, via his next-day ESPN.com chat. Asked about "going up against Mark Madsen every day in practice," Shirley called it "a flurry of paleness." He also described the team as "a franchise that has made some interesting decisions over the last few years" before adding that "I don't know that cutting me will have many lasting ramifications, though."

    Asked how good he thinks the team will be, Shirley replied: "If they start well, they'll be fine. If they don't, it will quickly disintegrate." Asked about his brief time in Minnesota, Shirley deemed the women "better looking than those in Kansas City, but just as predisposed to prudish behavior" and requested that "someone explain ... how there can be so many homeless people in the coldest big city in the country."

    And just so you don't think he's merely a jerk with an axe to grind--the responses came off much more playful in the context of an entire chat--here's what Shirley had to say about Garnett:

    I was thoroughly impressed with Kevin Garnett. He may be the most individually unstoppable basketball player I've ever seen. It's almost unfair that he is that tall, that skilled, and can jump so well. He's a hard worker and a fairly down-to-earth guy. Funny, too.

    In a season that will likely see the Wolves lose 45 games and the interest of most fans, a player who uses words like folly, methodology, adulation, extrapolated, predisposed, and apathetic in his writing was let go so they could keep Vin Baker around. I have no idea if Shirley is a legitimate NBA player or not, but I do know that the state's level of writing talent just took a nosedive. Unless Baker has found a time machine, that's a bad tradeoff.

  • Speaking of NBA players who are entertaining in print, the first installment of Raja Bell's journal at ESPN.com was very enjoyable.
  • Finally, be nice to Will Young today. We matched up in the ALCS of a Diamond-Mind keeper league last night and he suffered a horrific collapse. Despite my team having homefield advantage and Johan Santana starting Game 1, Will's team won the first two games of the best-of-seven series on the way to taking a 3-1 lead. My squad then came up with back-to-back wins to force a Game 7, but Will seemingly ended my comeback hopes before they could even get started by jumping out to an early 7-0 lead.

    He then watched in horror as his Game 7 starter Kyle Lohse (seriously) and his bullpen proceeded to cough up the lead before eventually falling 9-7 in extra innings. I found myself feeling sorry for Will and almost felt bad for coming back to take the series, but then I remembered there's a decent chance I'll be similarly crushed after losing in the World Series. Whether it's real life or what someone I know refers to as "a dork league," no one likes their season to end.


  • October 25, 2006

    Rained Out

    If there was ever any doubt about my incredible love of baseball, it was confirmed last night when I sat through back-to-back-to-back episodes of The War at Home in the hopes of the rain in St. Louis letting up at some point. It didn't, and I couldn't even salvage the evening by writing a lengthy blog entry due to Blogger being "down" the entire time. In fact, it's 10:07 p.m. and everything started running again just in time for me to go to sleep.

    Instead of a World Series game and some heavy blogging, I spent a couple hours glancing at Michael Rapaport's horrible television show while what were surely countless unfunny, laugh track-supported lines fell on deaf ears thanks to the miracle of mute. And I actually like Rapaport; that's how awful the show is. The experience went perfectly with Joe Buck assuring everyone that the game was "about to begin" every 20 minutes while the camera showed the rain pouring down.

    So much for those "storm trackers" showing cluttered maps of the greater St. Louis area while colors flashed all over the screen, I guess. If a meteorologist can't accurately predict what the weather will be like in an hour, why does anyone bother with seven-day forecasts? And is last night's performance the sort of thing that gets a meteorologist fired? Does such a thing even exist? When you're paid to analyze the weather and your analysis is completely wrong, does that impact your job security one bit?

    Speaking of job security (how's that for a clumsy segue?), prior to spending my entire night waiting for something that never arrived, I received news that I'll likely be taking a trip to the East Coast next week. The details aren't quite finalized yet, but it sounds like I'll be boarding a plane Wednesday night, which means blogging will either be light or non-existent for at least a couple days. The good news is that I should have some interesting stuff to talk about once I return.

    The other good news is that my oft-delayed Top 40 Minnesota Twins series will officially be resuming before I leave. Shane Mack's days as the last guy profiled are coming to an end, with the long-awaited No. 23 player in team history finally being unveiled either Monday or Tuesday. In the meantime, those of you who weren't around way back when I began the series in January should consider catching up on the players you missed:

    #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

    I'm also planning to kick off a Top 30 Twins Prospects series soon, although running simultaneous countdowns will likely lead to disaster (or, if the Top 40 Minnesota Twins delay is any indication, the No. 1 prospect being profiled sometime in 2011).

    F-Bomb

    Despite what has been a surprising amount of optimism from Twins fans, I've been saying for the past couple months that I don't think time off will "fix" Francisco Liriano's arm problems. Sadly, it looks like I was right. The Official Twins Beat Writer of AG.com, LaVelle E. Neal III, reports that "Liriano has left the team's year-round facility in Florida and is considering surgery after being unsatisfied with rehab" for his injured elbow.

    Here's more of LEN3 from today's Minneapolis Star Tribune:

    Liriano left Fort Myers, Fla., to travel to Miami, where Dr. John Uribe, one of several experts who have examined Liriano, is headquartered. While that might appear to be more than a coincidence, indications are that a final decision on surgery has not yet been made.

    "Francisco continued to experience pain while taking part in a throwing session, and at this point, he felt it was necessary to re-evaluate his situation," said Gene Mato, one of Liriano's agents. "After conferring with the Twins and the different medical personnel that have evaluated him, he will determine whether or not he wants to have surgery in the next week or so."

    The Twins were hoping Liriano could pitch in winterball and be ready for spring training after rehabbing in Florida, but that was wishful thinking from the outset. Instead, he made it just a few weeks before the pain became an issue again. Terry Ryan told LEN3 that he's still "hoping to get him back here and see how things go," which continues the disturbing trend of acting like it's something he can pitch through when Liriano can't make it more than a few throwing sessions without experiencing significant pain.

    I realize surgery is always the last resort, but injuries like Liriano's simply don't heal on their own. Had Liriano gone under the knife when it became an option, he'd be over a month into his recovery and on track to pitch in the second half. Now, even if he elects to have the same surgery, he'll have to make quick progress to pitch at all in 2007. Of course, in the grand scheme of things 2007 matters little, but that's why the Twins should have taken the long-term approach with Liriano the entire time.

    Regardless of how many times the Twins stick Liriano back on the mound after a little time off, this is not something that figures to go away. Rather than risk further damage by gambling on a non-surgical option, I think it's time to put aside any thoughts of Liriano being a part of the 2007 team and do what's best for his long-term career. As counter-intuitive as it may seem, evidence suggests that Tommy John surgery is as close to a speed bump on the road to greatness as you'll get in a situation like this.

    As I wrote here the day after Liriano "heard something pop" in his elbow back in September: "Whether it's in spring training, next September or the second game of 2008, I look forward to seeing a healthy, dominant Liriano again." Here's hoping nothing the Twins have done in the six weeks since then have put that in further jeopardy.

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