July 30, 2007

2007 SABR Convention Recap

As I boarded a Wednesday morning flight to St. Louis for the 37th annual Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) convention last week, the man seated next to me asked, "Are you going to SABR?" I later learned that he was traveling to his first convention (it was my fourth straight), but he was right to assume that a gray polo shirt, khaki cargo shorts, and a Twins hat might as well be the uniform for SABR convention goers.

In fact, after arriving at the St. Louis airport I waited around for Vinay Kumar's flight from San Diego to land and soon learned that he was sporting the exact same look, right down to the color of his shirt, except his was a Padres hat. As a wise man once said, we looked like brothers from a different mother. Within seconds of arriving at the Adam's Mark hotel, we spotted Joe Dimino, who along with Kumar is one of my oldest "online friends."

(Where's Waldo?)

We'd all been friends for several years already when I finally met them in person back in 2004 while attending my first SABR convention in Cincinnati. For many people the annual SABR convention is about stuff like research presentations and committee meetings, but for me it's always been about simply hanging out with the many friends I've made over the years through this blog, The Hardball Times, Baseball Think Factory, and various Diamond-Mind leagues.

For instance, Kumar lives in California and Dimino lives in Illinois, so the annual SABR convention is our only chance to see each other in person. However, between near-daily conversations online and spending 96 straight hours together in a random city every 12 months, I'd probably consider them two of my closest friends. Hell, I ran The Hardball Times together with Dave Studenmund for several years, yet didn't meet my business partner until last Thursday in St. Louis.

(The Hardball Times crew: Kumar, Dimino, Jaffe, Jacobs, Gleeman, Studenmund)

Of course, the SABR convention isn't solely about hanging out with friends. Sitting through interesting, well-done research presentations in between all the hanging out can be fun too. Despite being a White Sox fan who has the same name as a famous mobster, Jack Bauer look-a-like Anthony Giacalone is one of my favorite people and always does a fantastic job presenting. He did double duty this year by turning in a pair of outstanding, energetic presentations about Cardinals history.

Frequent AG.com commenter Chris Jaffe shared enlightening research on the now-extinct practice of leveraging starting pitchers, keeping the Saturday afternoon audience on their toes by shouting out "aha!" whenever he got to an especially interesting point. Perhaps my favorite two presentations of the weekend came back-to-back later that afternoon, when Mark Armour and Adrian Burgos took two different yet equally intriguing looks at integration and diversity in baseball.

(Giacalone's second presentation of the weekend)

BTF regular Jon Daly (who also shares a name with someone famous), opened my eyes to the great career of former Cardinals manager Billy Southworth and broke from his mild-mannered persona to have the best mid-presentation line of the convention. About halfway through a scheduled 30-minute talk, Daly looked toward the person timing him and asked, "Am I running out of time?" The clock wasn't even close to running out, but that didn't stop Daly from saying:
I gave this presentation at our local chapter meeting last month and had a bandage on my chin. I told them that while I was shaving, I had been thinking about my presentation and cut my face. Some guy in the back stood up and said, "Why don't you think about your face and cut your presentation."

I suppose that's probably one of those "you had to be there" moments, but you'll just have to trust me that coming from Daly in the middle of a presentation at a SABR convention, it was damn funny. Keynote speaker Joe Garagiola provided a lot more than one joke during Saturday's awards luncheon, regaling the audience with funny anecdotes from his playing days (which I later learned were almost all pulled directly from his new book, Just Play Ball).

(Garagiola, mid-speech)

I was lucky enough to sit at a star-studded table for the luncheon, with Baseball-Reference.com creator Sean Forman, ESPN.com's Gary Gillette, Baseball Info Solutions president Steve Moyer, Maple Street Press president Jim Walsh, and Basketball-Reference.com's Justin Kubatko joining me. While the average baseball fan may not know him by name, Forman at a SABR convention is not totally unlike William Shatner at a Star Trek convention.

Forman and Kubatko had a booth in the vendor's room, where they spent the weekend showing off B-R.com to what was a shocking number of people who had never used the indispensable site before. It was amusing to see people gawk at the screen when they saw the ridiculous amount of information that's available there. I've used B-R.com on a near-daily basis for about five years, so watching people see it for the first time was like watching someone's reaction to their first drink of water.

(Dimino, Kubatko, Jacobs, Gleeman)

Walsh has employed me several times in the past, so it was great to speak to him at length and in person. His company, Maple Street Press, puts out well-done, upscale publications and has recently begun to expand their offerings far beyond the Red Sox and Notre Dame football annuals that I once worked on. The chicken wasn't great, but between Garagiola's speech, the company, and THT's Jeff Sackmann winning an award, it was a great way to spend an afternoon.

Another highlight was Friday's panel featuring ex-Cardinals Al Hrabosky, Ricky Horton, Ted Savage, and George Altman. One of the Cardinals' television announcers, Hrabosky is a known personality, but Horton, Savage, and Altman were also very entertaining. They told stories from their playing days, some of which sounded suspiciously apocryphal. Normally that type of thing just comes with the territory when former players get together, but the audience at a SABR convention is a little different.

For instance, both Altman and Savage claimed to have had tons of success against Sandy Koufax, and the words were barely out of their mouths when cell phones all around me began to punch up B-R.com in search of evidence. In reality, they hit .190/.190/.357 and .240/.240/.400 against Koufax, which probably isn't what they meant. Similarly, I won't blame Savage for using poetic license in saying that he "killed lefties" during a career that saw him hit .244/.340/.401 against them.

(Emeigh, Traven, McCullough, Giacalone, Kumar)

Of course, as always most of the real highlights came away from the convention. One of my favorite moments came at Mike Shannon's restaurant at around 10:30 Wednesday night, when I bet Dimino that he couldn't consume a 24-ounce steak after eating and drinking all day. If he ate the whole thing, we'd pay for it. If he didn't, he'd be on the hook for $45. Dimino weighs about 150 pounds soaking wet, but got through the steak with little problem and even had some calamari off Kumar's plate.

Unfortunately for him, the night didn't end there. After eating, Dimino joined me, Kumar, Giacalone, Mike McCullough, and Ben Jacobs for a mile-long walk to a hole-in-the-wall bar where an unusually large number of tattooed people danced to loud hip-hop music and drank one-dollar cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon beer. Despite the odd scene, once there Dimino proceeded to slump up against the wall for a nap while continuously rubbing his distended belly.

(Dimino won the battle, but lost the war)

Perhaps most amazingly, the fact that one member of his party was in a food coma a few feet away didn't stop McCullough (better known as "DeJesus Freak") from spending about an hour chatting up one of the cutest women in the bar while wearing a vintage Chicago Federals hat. If you really think about that sentence, it's pretty spectacular. At some point we woke Dimino up and walked back to the hotel, but not before Jacobs used the power of PBR to climb a traffic light.

(My roommate, climbing stuff)

The next night, while about 15 of us ate a restaurant called Caleco's that was across the street from the hotel, a different woman sent over a drink for McCullough. Not known as a ladies man coming into the convention, McCullough had the entire group buzzing until he ruined things by informing us that the drink-buying woman was someone he already knew. Of course, approximately 18 percent of SABR convention goers don't actually know a woman, so it remained somewhat impressive.

(Rauseo ruining what would have been a perfectly good date)

We returned to Caleco's enough that the female bartenders came to know us, saying things like "wow, you guys are really on a mission tonight" as we rushed to consume eight drinks in the hour before the bar closed. Bradley, the bartender at a hotel bar called A.J.'s, was significantly less impressed by our drinking skills, kicking one of us (who shall remain nameless, I suppose) out of the bar for falling asleep mid-drink, but came around once we included him in our round of Jagermeister shots.

(SABR's new power couple)

The hotel also had Players Sports Bar, where a group of about 10 were gathered on Friday afternoon when Rob Neyer walked by and poked his head in. Neyer seems like a quiet guy and I admire him a great deal, so I've tried my best to leave him alone at past SABR conventions (although anyone who read my convention recap last year knows that hasn't always worked so well). This time, however, the handful of drinks I had already consumed motivated me to yell out, "Hey Rob!"

He heard me, looked right at the group, gave one of those half-hearted waves you give when someone you have no interest in talking to makes eye contact from across the street, and immediately began walking in the other direction. As much as I'd love to hang out with Neyer and as much fun as I find our little group of degenerates, my guess is that his fleeing upon seeing us was probably for the best. After unsuccessfully trying to convince Neyer to join us in the bar, we headed to Shannon's restaurant again.

(Would you want to hang out with this group? And yes, I'm holding a bottle and a cup. So what?)

Somewhere along the way we learned that it was the last place Josh Hancock drank before his fatal car crash, but that didn't stop us from preparing for that night's Cardinals-Brewers game by downing a few more rounds. The actual game was horrible, in part because of the 12-2 score and in part because of a 40-minute rain delay. Beyond that, our seats in the left-field corner were partially obstructed and the combination of rain and humidity made it feel like approximately 500 degrees where we sat.

(The view from the SABR section)

The overhang above shielded us for the most part, but apparently funneled all of the water into one spot, which happened to be where Jaffe was sitting. After several gallons of water were dumped on him, Studenmund heroically attempted to shield Jaffe with the help of an empty beer cup, but sacrificed himself in the process. As I reminded everyone at the time, none of this ever would have happened at the Metrodome.

(Save yourself, Studes!)

You haven't lived until you've taken in a blowout, rain-delayed game in the corner of a ballpark with dozens of drunk, sweaty SABR members. As one of the drunkest and sweatiest SABR members I didn't feel particularly bad for myself, but Paul Brewer's nine-year-old daughter got a pretty raw deal. Most likely thinking that the group she'd be sitting with would be as nice and mild-mannered as her father, she instead got seated directly behind me and right next to Matt Rauseo.

(Me pointing at something; Brewer's daughter seemingly having a good time)

Rauseo, a stereotypical East Coaster whose "Mister High Standards" nickname I coined at the 2005 SABR convention in Toronto, unleashed a high-volume swear word about as often as the Brewers crossed the plate. Each time he did so, the group would let out a collective "woah!" and Jacobs almost had him convinced that he should pay the little girl $50 for her misery. While I have no memory of it, I'm told that several hours later I nearly agreed to an MMA-style fight against Rauseo for $1,000.

(Rauseo in all his sweaty, drunken glory)

While at the game we gambled on where the ball would be placed between innings, with McCullough eventually winning over $100 when it was finally rolled up on the mound about halfway through the game. We also took over the hotel's "media room" one night, playing cash-game poker that began with no-limit hold 'em, shifted to H.O.R.S.E., and finally became drunken, high-stakes, four-handed Indian poker in someone's hotel room. Oh, and at some point I coin-flipped Dimino for $20. And lost.

(The SABR Indian Poker Championship final table)

With the convention more or less over, Saturday night reminded me of the final night of summer camp. Because they had early-morning flights, Kumar and Jacobs did the responsible thing by leaving Caleco's at a relatively reasonable hour and headed back to their respective hotel rooms for some much-needed sleep. After the rest of us closed the bar, we made our way back to the hotel with enough alcohol to kill an elephant.

(Down to one beer, at least)

The plan was to bust into Kumar's hotel room and wake him up, because that's the sort of thing that a bunch of drunken idiots do to a friend who has decided that he should get some sleep before a pre-dawn cross-country flight. Much to our disappointment, when we got to the room we found Kumar, wide awake, drinking beer with McCullough. Naturally, we joined them and woke Jacobs up, so he could too. Kumar left for the airport at around 4:30 and things broke up for good soon after that.

(I'm sensing some sort of pattern here)

Drunken hugs and talk of seeing people again at next year's convention in Cleveland eventually gave way to everyone stumbling back to their rooms. My flight back to Minnesota was originally set for 10:30 Sunday morning, but was one of several hundred flights canceled by Northwest Airlines. I spent the next nine hours at the St. Louis airport, unsuccessfully trying to stand-by my way onto three flights before finally boarding one that took off at 8:15.

(SABR convention or the set of a really bad gay porn movie? You decide)

Despite nine excruciating hours of airport food eating, iPod listening, gate changing, people watching, small-talk making, and "sorry sir, the flight is totally full" hearing, attending my fourth straight SABR convention was another amazingly good time and continues to be something that I plan to do every single year. In fact, while my liver might feel differently, I'm already counting down the days to SABR38 in Cleveland.

(Good night, sweet prince)


Once you're done here, check out my latest "Daily Dose" column over at Rotoworld.

July 24, 2007

Vacation Time

My annual trip to the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) convention begins today, so all blogging will be on hold until Monday. At some point next week I'll have a full recap of all the baseball watching, research presentations, drinking, gambling, and rubbing elbows with the likes of Rob Neyer, Joe Garagiola, Gary Gillette, Pete Palmer, Sean Forman, Dave Studenmund, and about 700 other baseball nuts (including familiar names from The Hardball Times and Baseball Think Factory).

In the meantime, to get a feel for what I'll be doing in St. Louis over the next 96 hours, check out my trip reports from past SABR conventions in Seattle (2006), Toronto (2005), and Cincinnati (2004). While it might be wishful thinking given their play of late and the three-game series in Cleveland that's looming, my hope is that the Twins will still be above .500 when I return, if only because it'd be sad if they faced a double-digit deficit for a playoff spot before the trading deadline had even passed. See ya Monday.


Once you're done here, check out my latest "Daily Dose" column over at Rotoworld.

July 22, 2007

Twins Notes: DPs, Strike Threes, and Injuries

  • When Joe Mauer grounded into a double play in the third inning yesterday afternoon, it struck me that he hasn't done that a whole lot this season. Mauer grounded into a team-high 24 double plays last year, which is something that people looking hard for reasons to criticize him focused on while he put together arguably the most-valuable season in the AL and became the first catcher in the history of baseball to lead both leagues in batting average.

    Often overlooked is that Mauer was an extreme ground-ball hitter batting third in a lineup that featured a pair of singles hitters with solid on-base percentages (Luis Castillo, Nick Punto) in front of him. Sticking a bunch of runners on first base and bringing a ground-ball hitter to the plate is a recipe for double plays, and Mauer's team-leading total was largely a product of opportunity. Because of his place in the batting order, Mauer had more chances to hit into a double play than anyone else.

    Without looking at the actual numbers, you might have been led to believe that Mauer's propensity to bounce into a double play was a massive, team-crushing weakness worthy of focusing on (especially if you regularly listened to, say, Dan Barreiro's radio show). In reality, Mauer "converted" 19.1 percent of his double-play opportunities, which was far from the worst rate on the team. In fact, seven of the Twins' hitters converted a higher percentage of their double-play opportunities than Mauer last season:

                        DP%
    Jason Kubel 34.0
    Lew Ford 25.0
    Rondell White 23.8
    Juan Castro 23.1
    Shannon Stewart 22.9
    Mike Redmond 22.0
    Luis Rodriguez 21.4
    JOE MAUER 19.1
    Jason Tyner 18.4
    Torii Hunter 16.2

    Whether grounding into two dozen double plays last season was simply a product of opportunity or a legitimate weakness, Mauer has cut way back this season. Even after yesterday's third-inning double play, Mauer has hit into just six double plays this year, which ranks seventh on the team. Of course, he missed a month with a quadriceps injury and his place in the lineup no doubt impacts his total again, so let's look instead at his double-play rate:

                        DP%
    Mike Redmond 23.7
    Jason Tyner 21.1
    Jeff Cirillo 20.4
    Michael Cuddyer 16.5
    Lew Ford 16.0
    Torii Hunter 14.3
    Jason Kubel 14.0
    Justin Morneau 12.1
    JOE MAUER 12.1
    Luis Rodriguez 11.8

    Like last season, seven Twins have converted a higher percentage of their double-play opportunities than Mauer, who's sliced his percentage from 19.1 to 12.1. Jason Kubel has cut his percentage from 34.0 to 14.0, and the team as a whole is on pace to hit into 16 percent fewer double plays after ranking third in the league last year. Interestingly, note that for all his speed and supposed small-ball skills, Jason Tyner has converted 20 percent of his double-play opportunities over the past two years.

  • Another oft-cited knock against Mauer is that he's too passive at the plate and takes too many called third strikes. Along with grounding into a double play, he also did that yesterday afternoon. However, as Ubelmann points out over at Stick and Ball Guy's blog, Mauer has struck out looking just 10 times this season. That works out to taking a called third strike once every couple weeks and, much like with the double-play percentages, is far from the worst rate on the team:
                        C3S
    Jason Kubel 21
    Nick Punto 20
    Michael Cuddyer 15
    Torii Hunter 11
    Justin Morneau 10
    JOE MAUER 10
    Luis Castillo 9
    Mike Redmond 8
    Jason Tyner 8
    Jason Bartlett 6

    Those are the raw called-third-strike totals, but here they are as a percentage of plate appearances:

                        C3S%
    Jason Kubel 7.3
    Nick Punto 5.6
    Jason Tyner 4.7
    Lew Ford 4.7
    Michael Cuddyer 3.8
    Mike Redmond 3.8
    JOE MAUER 3.4
    Torii Hunter 2.9
    Justin Morneau 2.5
    Luis Castillo 2.5
    Jeff Cirillo 1.9
    Jason Bartlett 1.7

    Mauer has taken a called third strike in 3.4 percent of his plate appearances, which ranks seventh on the team and is less than half as often as Kubel and 40 percent less often than Nick Punto. Much like with the double plays, Tyner is the overlooked offender here, striking out looking in 4.7 percent of his plate appearances to rank third on the team. Of course, Barreiro spending a few hours every week railing against Tyner probably isn't as good for ratings.

  • Our long national nightmare is over: Rondell White is coming off the disabled list. For someone who batted .246/.276/.365 while missing 63 games last year and has missed at least 25 games in all but one of his seasons, the amount of space devoted to White updates in the local media over the past few months is staggering. White made it through just three games before a strained calf put him on the shelf and ever since then we've been treated to seemingly daily updates on his setbacks and delays.

    Looking only at the print edition of the Minneapolis Star Tribune, there were no fewer than 16 updates on White that were at least one paragraph in length over the past month alone. Seriously, count for yourself: June 26, June 28, July 1, July 3, July 4, July 6, July 8, July 10, July 13, July 15, July 16, July 18, July 20, July 21. For those of you who didn't bother to count them, that adds up to 14. The 15th and 16th White updates in the past 30 days can be found in today's newspaper.

    In one update, Joe Christensen reports that White is due back in the lineup tonight against the Blue Jays. In another update, Melissa Rosenberg reports that White "told team officials Sunday he'd prefer to return to the team as the DH, not in left field." I had relatively high hopes for White coming into the season, because after hitting .189/.209/.215 in the first half last year, he batted .321/.354/.538 in 45 games after the All-Star break.

    With that said, given his latest health problems and the Twins' lack of production at multiple positions, the notion (put forth at various points and in varying degrees by Terry Ryan, Ron Gardenhire, and Torii Hunter, among others) that getting White back is the solution to improving an inconsistent, punchless offense is silly. Having White's bat in the lineup was the starting point and the fact that the Twins didn't have a capable backup plan in place for his inevitable injury was a huge and predictable mistake.

    Adding his bat to the lineup now certainly beats wasting more playing time on Tyner or Garrett Jones, but it's beyond wishful thinking to hope that he'll remain healthy and productive while playing regularly for the remainder of the season. If the Twins have been holding off on making a trade because of White's uncertain status (which has been implied, at the very least), it's almost as big a mistake as counting on him to be an everyday player while having no depth behind him in the first place.

    If White miraculously manages to stay healthy and productive, Michael Cuddyer's potentially serious thumb injury could create an even bigger hole in the lineup and third base remains a major weakness (as Howard Sinker of the Star Tribune points out, Punto's lack of hitting isn't his only problem lately). Plus, as the various late-inning moves Gardenhire has had at his disposal over the past week or so have shown, the bench is severely lacking. Getting White back is a bonus, not an answer.

  • After picking up his first major-league victory last week, former Twins prospect J.D. Durbin tossed a complete-game shutout last night against the Padres. Durbin began his big-league career 0-3 with a 10.91 ERA, but has since gone 2-0 with a 0.60 ERA.

  • Once you're done here, check out my latest "Daily Dose" column over at Rotoworld.

    July 20, 2007

    Link-O-Rama

  • Between the incredible amount of tripping over his own words, cheesy false excitement, misused vocabulary, odd inflections, name-calling, and constant proclamation that "we're going to get into that later," I initially assumed that Jeff Straub's podcast devoted to criticizing me must be satire (and exceptional satire, at that). Having thought about it a little further, I'm pretty certain that it's actually just really bad.

    But feel free to decide for yourself, if you can get through it (I had a tough time and the entire show was about me). The whole thing reminds me of some sort of insane cross between the famous "boom goes the dynamite" clip and Will Ferrell's "I drive a Dodge Stratus!" skit on Saturday Night Live. You stay classy, Jeff.

    UPDATE: After noticing that Straub's podcast had been removed by the site hosting it, I sent an e-mail requesting that they put it back up so that everyone could listen to it. They agreed to do so, although it was apparently done under protest:

    This podcast had been temporarily pulled down, but it's back up now at the request of Aaron Gleeman. Mr. Gleeman asked that his readers have a chance to hear Jeff Straub's take, and that seems very fair.

    If you have any complaints regarding this edition of Mr. Straub's podcast, please direct them to me, Cory Humes, the director of baseball for MVN.com. You can reach me at chumes@mvn.com. I'll do my best to respond promptly.

    As both the person being criticized and the person fighting to keep the criticism available to the public, I'm confident that this must be what it's like to live in a bizarro world. Also, in the future anyone who suggests that I don't welcome criticism should be the subject of Straub's next podcast.

  • After reading this story in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, here's my first question: For a 500-pound man, is tubing down the St. Croix River really "a fun but safe activity"?
  • People seemed to enjoy the Win Probability Added (WPA) breakdowns for both the season totals and last weekend's series against Oakland, so here are the WPA figures for the three-game series against Detroit:
                          WPA                                WPA
    Pat Neshek .266 Dennys Reyes -.037
    Matt Garza .260 Luis Castillo -.094
    Michael Cuddyer .134 Jeff Cirillo -.112
    Jason Kubel .129 Scott Baker -.118
    Johan Santana .070 Jason Tyner -.130
    Matt Guerrier .044 Nick Punto -.132
    Joe Nathan -.148
    Torii Hunter -.168
    Mike Redmond -.171
    Jason Bartlett -.217
    Lew Ford -.223
    Garrett Jones -.237
    Joe Mauer -.294
    Justin Morneau -.323

    Ugly. In sweeping Oakland, the Twins received positive contributions from 13 players and negative contributions from eight players. In being swept by Detroit, the Twins received positive contributions from six players and negative contributions from 14 players. The pitchers combined for a solid .337 WPA, but of the 13 hitters who came to the plate against the Tigers only Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel added to the Twins' chances of winning.

    The other 11 hitters dragged the team down and most of them did so in a big way. Torii Hunter, Mike Redmond, Jason Bartlett, Lew Ford, and Garrett Jones were all awful, but the two best hitters on the team, Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer, combined for an astounding -.617 WPA. The two of them were essentially twice as bad as the Twins' pitchers were good, combining to go 5-for-24 (.208) with eight strikeouts while leaving 17 runners on base in a series of three straight one-run losses.

  • Official Twins Beat Writer of AG.com LaVelle E. Neal III had an interesting article in the Star Tribune about athletes and blogging. Not only did LEN3 go to Deadspin's Will Leitch for quotes and provide the traffic numbers for Pat Neshek's site (surprisingly low, given all the press he's received of late), we learn that both Cuddyer and Johan Santana are thinking about starting up blogs of their own.
  • In case you were wondering, former Official Fantasy Girl of AG.com Jessica Alba is still nice to look at even when wearing ridiculous sunglasses. On the other hand, even in a bikini Tara Reid just looks painfully odd. Hard as it may be to believe now, there was a time before all the botched surgeries and heavy drinking when she was really cute in sort of a natural, girl-next-door way. The lesson? Plastic surgery is not always your friend.
  • Royals shortstop Tony Pena Jr. has set a new team record by going 219 plate appearances without drawing a single walk. To put that in some context, Mauer has drawn 27 walks over his past 219 plate appearances. Asked about Pena's streak, first-year general manager Dayton Moore had this to say:
    I couldn't care less if he walks again all year. I don't want him worrying about that. The biggest mistake that players make is they start focusing so much on their weaknesses that they don't maintain their strengths.

    Pena is an outstanding defensive shortstop and it's obviously vital that he "maintain" that "strength," but would trying to draw a walk once every month or so really keep him from doing that? In 130 big-league games, Pena has hit .272/.289/.367 with a 62-to-8 strikeout-to-walk ratio, so in terms of hitting there aren't a whole lot of strengths to worry about maintaining.

  • As someone who was in a reporting class with Ali Lucia at the University of Minnesota's journalism school, I was surprised by how quickly she managed to become on-air talent at FSN. I'm not quite as surprised by this.
  • Thanks to Alyssa Milano's blog, we now know that Dmitri Young "isn't built for power" and "isn't built for speed," but "is built for comfort and has the loveliest way about him." Seriously. There's sadly no visual evidence of Young being "built for comfort" in Milano's presence, but there are pictures of her hanging out with Russell Martin (not to mention Jeff Garlin, Ernie Banks, and Ozzie Smith).
  • Speaking of Martin, he was one of the topics when Jon Weisman of Dodgers Thoughts joined Gregg Rosenthal and me on NBCSports.com's "Fantasy Fix" show Thursday. Ken Tremendous from Fire Joe Morgan joined us on Monday's show and was a very good guest, but displayed a lack of sanity in writing about the experience afterward:
    The fine folks at NBCSports.com had me on today for some good old fashioned fantasy baseball talk. Got to chat with legendary Twins blogger/Rotoworld.com writer Aaron Gleeman, which was as close to an honor as a baseball blogger can get.

    If that's truly "as close to an honor as a baseball blogger can get," then we should all just quit now and move out of our parents' basements.

  • Yesterday in this space I criticized the Twins for trying to censor their radio broadcasts, including Ron Gardenhire's quote that "they should be with us" in response to critical comments about Juan Rincon's decline and Santana's pitch counts. Today in the Star Tribune, Judd Zulgad agrees with me:
    Most of what Gardenhire said was off base. KSTP pays good money for the Twins' rights and on-air talent has no obligation to be cheerleaders for the team. If this had been a criteria, the club would have kept its games on WCCO. Not only was Thompson well within his right to broach the subject, but it's an interesting point.

    While the Twins may be used to the rose-colored coverage they receive from FSN and MLB.com, it's sad that so many people are resigned to the idea that media outlets working closely with who they cover should preclude them from being at all critical. Rincon was suspended for violating baseball's performance-enhancing drug policy two years ago and his performance has consistently declined in the time since then. Those are facts and commenting on them is perfectly reasonable.

  • Francisco Liriano undergoing season-ending Tommy John surgery last year was a little easier to swallow knowing that Santana was still around to start every fifth day, but the Cardinals have no such luck with Chris Carpenter.
  • Not only is there a new announcement about a different newspaper cutting jobs seemingly every week as the industry continues to decline, now entire newspapers are closing up shop.
  • As someone who spent way too much of my youth in various Shinders locations, I was sad to see the news that they are no more:
    The loss of Shinders, known equally well for comic books, pornography, magazines, baseball cards and sports memorabilia, hit some customers hard on Monday. They compared the store to such other longtime Minneapolis originals as First Avenue and the Electric Fetus.

    I'll let you guess which of those things brought me to the store in my teens.

  • If you're interested in the four Gophers football players who were dismissed from the team yesterday and haven't yet done so, set aside some time to read the criminal complaint.
  • Back in October, I created a WhatIfSports.com Hardball Dynasty league for readers of this blog. We recently completed Season 3 of "Gleeman World" and there will be a handful of open franchises this offseason. The league is filled with a bunch of friendly AG.com readers who fill the message board with daily chatter, but it's also extremely competitive. Because of that, any new owners would have to convince me that they're capable of devoting time to maintaining their team on a near-daily basis.

    Previous experience with WhatIfSports, and especially Hardball Dynasty, is a plus, but not necessarily required. If you're interested in claiming a spot and aren't worried about real-life responsibilities getting in the way of managing a fake baseball team, drop me an e-mail. And if you're curious, my team, the Minnesota Fatboys, has won three straight division titles and 91, 95, and 95 games, but have yet to make it to the World Series. I suppose we're sort of like the Twins.


  • Once you're done here, check out my latest "Daily Dose" column over at Rotoworld.

    July 18, 2007

    Twins Notes: Tough Guys, Censors, and Little Things

  • Last month, when Joe Mauer returned following a stint on the disabled list with a quadriceps injury, Torii Hunter had this to say:
    I think some people take pain in different ways. Some people have to play at 100 percent, and Joe may be one of those guys. I've seen it happen. Joe is a good player, and he wants to perform at 100 percent, not at 80 percent. Me, I grew up in a different time. I'm ready to play no matter what--broken toe, hamstring, groin, back--and that's the mentality I've grown to have.

    I criticized Hunter for those comments last month and was met with the usual assortment of outrage from the subset of fans who aren't being ironic when they call him the "face of the franchise" and think that he can do no wrong on or off the field. That wasn't the first time Hunter has bragged about being a tough guy and he's predictably convinced people like Dick Bremer and Bert Blyleven that he's indeed "ready to play no matter what."

    In fact, last night Bremer launched into one of his trademark breathless monologues about how incredibly tough and durable Hunter is ... after he left the game with a strained hamstring. Hunter has missed just two games this season, but he's exited early with an injury no fewer than four times and sat out 103 games over the previous three years. To be very clear, I have absolutely zero interest in criticizing Hunter for missing time with injuries, because doing so would be absurd.

    Injuries are simply a part of baseball and missing time with them rarely says anything about a player's toughness or character. With that said, for a player who's missed significant time with injuries to put forth a tough-guy act to the media at the expense of a teammate is laughable and should be noted somewhere in the midst of the continuous praise heaped on Hunter for his supposed leadership skills, self-proclaimed toughness, and sparkling personality.

    If you want to be an actual leader instead of merely a good player whose willingness to provide quotes has made friends in the media, don't accuse teammates of lacking the toughness to play through injuries when you've missed over 100 games in the past three years. Similarly, don't act as if the inability to play through injuries is a character flaw when, if it was, you'd be plenty flawed. Regardless of someone's "mentality," injuries happen. Fortunately for Hunter, Mauer isn't a quote machine.

  • Given the rose-colored coverage they receive on FSN and MLB.com, it's no surprise that the Twins are trying to censor criticism on their radio broadcasts. The offenses? Host Dave Thompson "made reference to the 10-game suspension Juan Rincon received in May 2005 for violating baseball's policy on performance-enhancing drugs and suggested Rincon hasn't been the same" and analyst Jack Morris asked a question about pulling Johan Santana "with 91 pitches and a shutout bid" last week.

    Here's what Ron Gardenhire had to say about the situation:

    It's been talked about and it's being addressed. We've had our say with our president, and he's going to take care of it. He's going to talk to them. They're supposed to be with us. And some of the things that were said were uncalled for and wrong.

    If you're keeping track, three of the five media outlets that offer the most Twins coverage fit Gardenhire's "they're supposed to be with us" label. No wonder people read blogs.

  • If you're unfamiliar with MLB.com's "they're supposed to be with us" Twins coverage, Leslie Parker's recent article about "clubhouse favorite" Nick Punto is par for the course. Here are some excerpts taken directly from an article written by someone who presumably went to journalism school:
    - He keeps the clubhouse loose with jokes, entertains (and sometimes scares) teammates and coaches with his headfirst slides into first base and helps Minnesota secure victories with seemingly impossible plays in the field.

    - Everyone in the clubhouse is cheering for Punto.

    - Hunter has named Punto his "pick to click" for the second half.

    - Even reigning American League MVP Justin Morneau knows Punto will eventually turn it on.

    - What he lacks in offensive consistency he more than makes up for with his dependable defense.

    - When he does get on a roll and break out of the slump, his teammates will be the ones cheering the loudest.

    Difficult as it may be to believe, Parker's job title is "associate reporter."

  • At the opposite end of the reporting spectrum, after watching the Twins drop to eight games behind the Tigers last night, LaVelle E. Neal III of the Minneapolis Star Tribune wrote: "The way things are going, the Twins have a better chance to be sellers than buyers before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline." LEN3 isn't the Official Twins Beat Writer of AG.com for nothing, although I fear that he'll never be able to land a gig at MLB.com. Oh, and Mr. Gardenhire wants to see you in his office.
  • On the same day that Gardenhire chose to start Jason Tyner in left field against left-hander Nate Robertson, Jim Leyland called him "the best manager in the league." Tyner is a 30-year-old veteran of seven big-league seasons and has hit .253/.289/.257 for a .546 OPS against lefties during his career, including .174/.240/.174 for a .414 OPS against southpaws this season. Tyner went 0-for-2 against Robertson and the Twins were shut out for the eighth time in 93 games. "Nice blog."
  • Dropped from the rotation and demoted to Rochester earlier this month after going 3-0 with a 5.84 ERA in his first seven major-league starts, Kevin Slowey tossed a complete-game shutout Tuesday. Alexi Casilla's leadoff homer provided all the run support that Slowey needed on the way to beating Toronto's Triple-A affiliate 1-0. Slowey now has a 1.59 ERA and 70-to-6 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 79.1 innings at Triple-A, including a 1.80 ERA and 13-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio following the demotion.
  • Despite holding the best offense in baseball to three runs over eight innings to finish last night's game with a 2.65 ERA, Santana's record dropped to 11-7 because the Twins' offense provided him with three or fewer runs of support for the 11th time in 20 starts. The first four lineup spots combined to go 8-for-18, but the last five spots went 2-for-19. Since scoring 32 runs in a doubleheader against the White Sox, the Twins have totaled 24 runs in eight games. Hey, maybe they need some hitting help!
  • Once upon a time the Twins were legitimately good at "small-ball" and "doing the little things," but these days they're simply living off that long-expired reputation. Here's an excerpt from the Detroit News' recap of Tuesday's game (which the Twins lost 1-0 thanks to an error):
    It also helped that the Twins didn't do the little things well that they usually do. For instance, after a leadoff four-pitch walk to Lew Ford from Macay McBride in the eighth, Nick Punto failed to get a bunt down and ended up flying out to right instead. After that, Luis Castillo hit into an inning-ending double play.

    Given the number of times that they've failed to get a bunt down, run into an easy out on the bases, or been unable to simply make contact in a key spot, it seems that many people have a difficult time differentiating between a team that doesn't hit for any power and a team that actually "does the little things well." For instance, in leaving 14 runners on base in last night's 3-2 loss, the Twins didn't hit for any power and they didn't "do the little thing well."

  • Former Twins prospect J.D. Durbin, who began his major-league career by going 0-3 with a 10.91 ERA while spending time in four organizations, finally picked up his first big-league victory Tuesday. Starting for the Phillies, Durbin held the Dodgers to one run over six innings to drop his ERA from 10.91 to 8.49 and also went 3-for-4 with three singles at the plate.

  • Once you're done here, check out my latest "Daily Dose" column over at Rotoworld.

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