September 30, 2007

Breaking Down The Bullpen

Relief pitching was perhaps the Twins' biggest strength this season, but the bullpen was actually much worse than last season. Over at The Hardball Times, Dave Studenmund compared each team's 2006 bullpen to their 2007 bullpen using Win Probability Added, which showed that the Twins' bullpen experienced the third-biggest season-to-season decline. Last season's relievers combined for an 11.00 WPA, whereas this year's group finished at 6.02. Here's what the traditional numbers look like:
YEAR      ERA        IP      SO      BB     HR      AVG      OBP      SLG
2006 2.91 498.0 450 137 39 .248 .301 .359
2007 3.87 469.1 384 171 55 .255 .325 .400

Even at 6.02 WPA the Twins' bullpen ranked as the sixth-best in baseball, but at 11.00 they led MLB by a wide margin in 2006. That 4.98 WPA decline ranked as the third-largest behind only the A's (8.31) and Yankees (8.04). In what isn't surprising given that they went from a fourth-place finish that included tons of blown leads to a division title, the Indians' bullpen experienced the biggest season-to-season improvement, going from -6.80 WPA in 2006 to 7.83 WPA in 2007 for an amazing jump of 14.63 WPA.

It's also interesting to note that MLB bullpens as a whole improved quite a bit compared to last season, which suggests that either teams are doing a better job of deploying their relievers or relievers simply had a good year. A dozen teams saw their bullpen improve by at least 3.00 WPA this season, whereas the Twins were among just six teams that saw their bullpen decline by at least 3.00 WPA. For the Twins relievers who were around in both 2006 and 2007, here's a look at how they fared:

                    2006     2007      DIFF
Pat Neshek 1.10 2.83 +1.73
Matt Guerrier 0.43 1.61 +1.18
Glen Perkins 0.09 0.35 +0.26
Jesse Crain -0.17 -0.28 -0.11
Joe Nathan 5.13 3.63 -1.50
Dennys Reyes 1.47 -0.42 -1.89
Juan Rincon 2.38 -0.46 -2.84

TOTAL 10.43 7.22 -3.17

Joe Nathan's decline was a big one, but he actually just went from extraordinary to merely excellent. In 2006, Nathan's 5.13 WPA ranked third among all MLB relievers. This year, Nathan's 3.63 WPA ranked seventh among all MLB relievers. Dennys Reyes experienced an even bigger decline than Nathan as he struggled with injuries and predictably came crashing back down to earth after posting a 1.47 WPA and 0.89 ERA in 2006.

Along with Nathan remaining one of baseball's elite closers, the big improvements from Pat Neshek and Matt Guerrier are what kept the Twins' bullpen as a major strength. Neshek was fantastic last season, but spent half the year at Triple-A. This season he was in the Twins' bullpen the entire time and ranked 10th among MLB relievers with a 2.83 WPA. Meanwhile, Guerrier went from being a solid middle reliever (0.43) to a good setup man (1.61), ranking 18th among non-closer relievers in WPA.

Neshek and Guerrier combined for a massive 2.91 WPA jump, but Juan Rincon's 2.84 WPA decline essentially canceled that out. Last season Rincon's 2.38 WPA ranked 17th among all MLB relievers and fifth among non-closers, but it plummeted to -0.46 this year. As a group, the seven holdovers from 2006 saw their WPA decline by 3.17. To put that in some context, a 3.17 WPA would have ranked eighth among all MLB relievers, so the decline was essentially like losing one elite reliever.

Of course, even the seven holdovers' 3.17 WPA decline accounts for just 64 percent of the bullpen's total dropoff. A small chunk of the decline (0.11 WPA, to be exact) came from starters who spent some time in the bullpen. In 2006, Carlos Silva, Matt Garza, Francisco Liriano, and Kyle Lohse fit into the "starters" group and combined for a 0.49 WPA as relievers. In 2007, Garza, Scott Baker, Kevin Slowey, Ramon Ortiz, and Boof Bonser fit into the "starters" group and combined for a 0.38 WPA as relievers.

That leaves 1.70 WPA worth of decline to account for still and it's pretty easy to spot. Aside from the aforementioned starters spending some time in the bullpen, the Twins used a grand total of just eight relievers in 2006 and all but Willie Eyre returned in 2007. However, because of injuries to Reyes and Jesse Crain, the Twins used a total of 11 relievers (again, not counting starters) this year. The "extra" relievers were Nick Blackburn, Julio DePaula, Carmen Cali, and Jason Miller.

They combined for a -1.62 WPA, which along with Eyre's 0.08 WPA as a mop-up man last season accounts for that "missing" 1.70 WPA dropoff. Most of that comes from DePaula's brutal -0.63 WPA in just 20 innings and Blackburn's back-to-back implosions that dragged him down to a horrendous -0.81 WPA in 11.2 relief innings. Toss in Cali's -0.23 WPA in 21 innings and the new guys did an awful lot of damage in limited action.

There is certainly no shortage of areas to point to when it comes to explaining how the Twins had their first losing season since 2000, but lost in the many obvious weaknesses is the fact that the bullpen went from being extraordinary to very good. Relief pitching remained a major strength, but the difference between being the absolute best in baseball and simply being among the best in baseball definitely cost the Twins wins.


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

September 27, 2007

Link-O-Rama

  • I learned an awful lot from Minneapolis Star Tribune investigative reporter Paul McEnroe while taking his class at the University of Minnesota's journalism school, but I don't think he ever covered what to do when someone tries to run you over with their car.
  • Not wanting to admit that he's joined the ranks of bloggers after ripping them in the past, Chicago Sun-Times columnist Jay Mariotti has taken to calling his new blog a "perpetual web column," which is perhaps the only description of writing that's confusing and silly enough to make "blog" sound clear and appealing. Normally I'd make some sort of snide remark here, but Mariotti refusing to call himself a blogger is one of the best things that could possibly happen to bloggers.
  • Speaking of good things happening to bloggers, Jamie Mottram has left AOL FanHouse to become "Senior Editor of Blogs & Community" at Yahoo! Sports. Yahoo! Sports has brought in a ton of big-time talent over the past year or so, both from online and print, and given what he did to turn AOL FanHouse into a traffic-producing content machine Mottram may quietly be one of the most important. I'm curious to see what a big-name site can do with someone who truly understands blogging in an important role.
  • Prince Fielder is now the youngest player in baseball history to hit 50 homers in a season and an intriguing sub plot to that milestone is the fact that he seems incredibly motivated to out-shine his estranged father, Cecil Fielder. Prince said that he didn't care what happened to home-run ball No. 50, but hopes to hit and keep No. 52 because "my dad had 51 ... then, he can't say anything." Here's more:
    [The MVP] would be a cool award to get but that's not something I think about besides the fact my dad never did it. If I do get it, that shuts him up again. ... That's what drives me. People said I was too big and all this, and the only reason I got drafted was because of the name. That's why I'm so passionate about playing. I don't mind people comparing me to him but I'm a completely different player. One day I want people to mention my name and not have to mention his.

    Like Barry Bonds and Ken Griffey Jr. before him, Prince is well on his way to making sure that Cecil goes down as "Prince Fielder's father." Of course, given the well-known drama between them and the fact that he's quoted as calling his dad "not really the brightest guy" in the same article that produced the above quotes, even that might not make Prince happy. He's definitely someone to root for (and not just because he looks like me in a uniform).

  • You know you're reading a good news story when it includes someone being quoted as asking, "Can you do something about the two people having sex in the women's restroom stall?" I suspect that my fellow Minnesotans won't be surprised to learn which sporting event the story takes place at. Yet another reason why I probably should have thought twice before going to the University of Minnesota.
  • It's not quite having sex in a bathroom stall at a college football game, but the New York Daily News and New York Post provide some interesting details from Stephon Marbury's court-room testimony earlier this week. As the newspapers detail, Marbury allegedly had sex with a 22-year-old Knicks intern in the backseat of his car. Even better, the intern previously had sex with Marbury's cousin, who was with him at the strip club where the car was parked.

    The above picture shows an obviously distraught Marbury leaving the courthouse.

  • Johan Santana's final start of the season Wednesday ending after three innings because of a rain delay was bad enough, but mother nature also cost Santana his fourth straight strikeout crown and snapped his 123-start streak of lasting at least five innings. Santana struck out just four batters before the game was put on hold, which enabled Scott Kazmir to overtake him for the MLB lead by striking out 10 batters last night. Here are Santana's year-to-year strikeout numbers:
    YEAR      SO      SO%
    2004 265 30.1
    2005 238 26.2
    2006 245 26.5
    2007 235 26.8

    Kazmir struck out 26.9 percent of his batters faced for a total of 239. As for the streak of 123 straight five-inning starts, it's the third-longest of the past 50 years behind Curt Schilling (147) and David Cone (145). Between the lost strikeout crown, snapped streak, career-high 13 losses, league-leading 33 homers allowed, and a 3.33 ERA that's his worst since 2001, much will likely be made of Santana having an "off year." While true to some extent, Santana's xFIP shows that it wasn't off by much:

    YEAR     xFIP
    2004 3.28
    2005 3.35
    2006 3.42
    2007 3.56

    Santana's 3.56 xFIP is his worst in four seasons as a full-time starter, but it still ranks third among AL pitchers, behind only Erik Bedard (3.14) and Felix Hernandez (3.49). He ranks ahead of every other starter in the league, including popular Cy Young candidates like Josh Beckett (3.60), C.C. Sabathia (3.63), Fausto Carmona (4.00), Dan Haren (4.00), John Lackey (4.10), Kelvim Escobar (4.32), and Chien-Ming Wang (4.36).

  • Friend of AG.com and Baseball Musings blogger David Pinto has gone against the recent trend of sportswriters leaving print for online by stepping away from Baseball Prospectus to join The Sporting News. TSN has completely fallen off my personal radar despite my being a subscriber many years ago, but I do know that they've made an excellent hire in Pinto, who's partially responsible for me starting this blog way back in 2002.
  • I realize that it can't possibly compare to last week's epic "Touchdown, dude! Touchdown!" clip in terms of all-time great videos, but "He squeezed his hamburger!" is pretty solid.


    If for some reason you can only waste your day watching one 51-second video of an incredibly startled guy making a ridiculous face while his friends laugh at his expense, make it that one.
  • As a couple dozen e-mailers have pointed out to me, the star of the aforementioned "Touchdown, dude! Touchdown!" video is actually actor/writer Tony Barbieri playing a character named "Jake Byrd" that he does for Jimmy Kimmel Live. At first that revelation made me sad, but after thinking about it for a while I'm fairly certain that the video's genius actually increases.
  • The original Official Whipping Boy of AG.com, Luis Rivas, was called up from Triple-A by the Indians when rosters expanded on September 1 and had the best game of his career Wednesday. Starting at second base because the Indians already had their playoff spot locked up, Rivas homered and tripled in the same inning on the way to going 3-for-5 with four RBIs while missing the cycle by a double. The homer was his first since September 13, 2005.
  • I had no idea about this until it was mentioned during Sunday's game, but Mewelde Moore of the Vikings was selected out of high school as a center fielder by the Padres in the fourth round of the 2000 draft. While playing baseball part time, he attended Tulane and became just the second player in NCAA history to total 4,000 rushing yards and 2,000 receiving yards in a career. On the baseball side, Moore never made it out of rookie-ball while hitting .210/.294/.284 in parts of three seasons.
  • I've heard people suggest that Kristin Cavallari from Laguna Beach: The Real Orange County is famous despite possessing no discernible skills or accomplishments, but I would argue that looking like this is a major skill and an impressive accomplishment.
  • I'm assuming some sort of editing error is to blame for me not being included among the Maccabi Games alumni, because surely my six-point performance against Toronto during the 1998 games in Detroit will never be forgotten.
  • I'm always surprised to find out that people remember things that I've written in the past.
  • Friend of AG.com and ESPN.com contributor Paul Katcher once wrote that "people who write open letters are hacks," which is immediately what came to mind after seeing this in the Star Tribune earlier this week. Shockingly, it's not the first time.
  • Here's a new blog that's worth checking out: On the Mark: Minnesota Sports. Stop by and say hello.
  • All you ever wanted to know and more about Luis Castillo joining the Mets.
  • In honor of his upcoming concert at the Fitzgerald Theater, this week's AG.com-approved music video is Paolo Nutini doing a live version of "Jenny Don't Be Hasty":


    Enjoy the final weekend of the Twins' season and come back Monday for the first entry of a too-long offseason that I have some (hopefully) interesting Twins-related projects planned for.

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

    September 25, 2007

    Twins Notes: Retirement, Targets, Changes, and Laws

  • Rondell White batted .313/.348/.497 in 97 games with the Tigers in 2005 and then signed with the Twins that December, inking a reasonably priced one-year deal with an option for a second season. The plan was for the 34-year-old veteran with a career .289/.343/.472 hitting line in 1,337 big-league games to slide into the cleanup spot behind Joe Mauer, providing some much-needed right-handed pop. Instead, White batted .182/.209/.215 in the first half and found himself playing at Triple-A.

    Whether simply healthy or motivated by the quasi-demotion, White returned to bat .321/.354/.538 in 45 games after the All-Star break and then went 5-for-12 (.417) with a homer in the three-game playoff series loss against the A's. That amazing turnaround was enough to convince the Twins that White's horrendous first half was behind him, so they bought out his 2007 option for $750,000 and re-signed him to a new one-year deal worth $2.75 million.

    Nicknamed "RonDL" for having played as many as 140 games just once in 15 major-league seasons, White made it through three games before going down with a calf injury. He missed the next 96 games before returning in mid-July and has batted .163/.220/.293 in 32 games since then, saying Monday that there's a "99-percent chance" that he'll retire at season's end. "My body hurts," White said. "There's a good chance this is it."

    I liked the decision to sign White as a free agent two years ago and thought that re-signing him was a decent gamble given how well he hit in the second half, but there's no spinning the fact that he's been an unmitigated disaster. Cash-strapped and hurting for offense, the Twins have paid White $6 million to split time between designated hitter and left field while hitting .226/.264/.346 and playing 42 percent of the team's games.

    White falling apart shouldn't have come as a huge shock given his lengthy injury history and advanced age, but he hit .289/.341/.476 in the three seasons prior to signing with the Twins and had an OPS between .790 and .900 in eight of the previous nine years. There was no reason for the Twins to expect the two worst seasons of his career and he seemed like a perfect low-risk pickup. Instead, no Twins player has contributed less while having more words devoted to him in the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

  • On the subject of old, injury-prone designated hitters, Mike Sweeney said last week that he might be interested in signing with the Twins as a free agent this offseason:
    I've always loved hitting in the Metrodome. If I'm not playing in Kansas City, I'd love to play on a winning team, and Minnesota's been that for a long time. I don't know. We'll pray about my future and see which door God opens. I know there will be one that will be wide open, and that's the one I'll walk through, whether it's here in Kansas City or someplace else.

    Sweeney was one of baseball's most underrated hitters during his prime, batting .313/.383/.521 from 1999-2005 while posting an OPS of at least .850 every year. Unfortunately, he's 33 now and injuries have kept him off the field while turning him into a shell of his former self, as he's hit just .261/.333/.427 while playing 41 percent of the Royals' games over the past two seasons. A one-year investment similar to White's original deal wouldn't be a bad gamble, but anything beyond that is a mistake.

  • Geoff Jenkins is another potential veteran pickup for the Twins assuming that the Brewers do as expected and decline his $9 million option for 2008. A formerly outstanding defensive outfielder who's still good in either corner spot at the age of 32, Jenkins has been above average offensively in each of his nine full seasons. A left-handed hitter who should be platooned at this point in his career, Jenkins has the following year-to-year splits against right-handed pitching:
    YEAR      AVG      OBP      SLG      OPS
    1999 .326 .381 .602 .983
    2000 .309 .363 .615 .978
    2001 .244 .322 .445 .767
    2002 .258 .350 .472 .822
    2003 .308 .400 .607 1.007
    2004 .281 .338 .505 .843
    2005 .307 .384 .538 .922
    2006 .306 .381 .490 .871
    2007 .267 .332 .493 .824

    CAREER .289 .359 .526 .885
  • Ron Gardenhire probably wouldn't use Jenkins optimally because he tends to save his platooning for young players whose development might actually benefit from playing every day, but he'd still be a good bet for an .800 OPS and 20 homers. Along with good numbers against righties, Jenkins also offers a strong arm, solid range in an outfield corner, and better health than Sweeney. In terms of veteran bats who might be available to the Twins for a reasonable price, Jenkins is an appealing target.

  • A not-so-appealing target is Darin Erstad, whose $3.5 million option for 2008 figures to be declined by the White Sox after batting .250/.308/.339 while missing half the year with injuries. Erstad remains a good defensive outfielder, but he's played a total of 125 games over the past two seasons and hasn't been an above-average hitter since 2000. Unfortunately, the Twins' recent track record with such things suggests that they're more likely to target a low-upside veteran like Erstad over someone like Jenkins.
  • Back in December, when I interviewed him at the Winter Meetings in Orlando, Gardenhire said that Glen Perkins wouldn't be asked to work out of the bullpen this season and was viewed as a long-term starter. Gardenhire's long history of saying one thing and doing another makes the fact that all 16 of Perkins' appearances this season have come as a reliever less than shocking, and the same is true for Gardenhire saying yesterday that Perkins could remain in the bullpen next year:
    It's just going to depend on how everything breaks down and how his health is, with his arm, and what our needs are. If we're in dire need of starting pitching, he'll go into the rotation. If we need him to come out of the bullpen, that's where he'll go. It just depends on how everything else breaks down. There are a lot of arguments as to whether he should be a starter or a reliever. What it comes down to is that he's a young pitcher with a great arm.

    I ranked Perkins as the Twins' third-best prospect coming into the season and wrote that he "has No. 2 starter potential," so it'd be nice to see him given an extended chance to start before being pigeonholed into a bullpen role based on some arm problems and 32.2 good relief innings. Either way, Perkins is one of many reasons to think that the Twins' pitching staff is in excellent shape long term whether or not Johan Santana sticks around.

  • Last week Gardenhire said that Nick Punto "would have a head up" on the starting second-base job for next season "if we were to start right now" and "has got a lead going into spring training, as far as I'm concerned." The oddly timed statements about Punto's role on next year's team were met with a lot of criticism and Gardenhire has seemingly backed off his stance a little bit. Asked about Punto again yesterday, here's what he said:

    He's giving himself an opportunity to come into spring training and fight for a job. He'll be an option for second base, at least be in the mix for it, and I think that's all he expects.

    That's quite a change. Last week Punto "would have a head up" for the job and "has got a lead going into spring training." Now Punto will "come into spring training and fight for a job" and "will be an option for second base" who will "at least be in the mix for it." Either someone in the front office talked to Gardenhire, the criticism reached him, or he's simply at the point where he amuses himself by tossing out ever-changing quotes that he knows fans will be confused by.

  • Matthew LeCroy began his major-league career as the Twins' starting catcher back in 2000, but struggled both offensively and defensively as a rookie. The Twins did their best to avoid using him behind the plate over the next five seasons, with LeCroy catching exactly one inning in 2005 while hitting .260/.354/.444 in 101 games. Because of their past reluctance to let him catch, it's interesting to note that LeCroy got back behind the plate Monday and caught a shutout against the Tigers.

    His noodle arm was on full display as the Tigers went 3-for-3 stealing bases, but LeCroy showed the soft hands and solid pitch-calling ability that have allowed him to compile a 4.63 career catcher's ERA. Nichols' Law of Catcher Defense states that "a catcher's defensive reputation is inversely proportional to their offensive abilities," so LeCroy being washed up as a hitter probably made it more likely that the Twins would give him time at catcher in his return to the team.


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

    September 24, 2007

    Player X

    Earlier this season Torii Hunter suggested publicly that Joe Mauer needed to be more willing to play through injuries despite the fact that Hunter himself had missed 103 games over the previous three seasons, with Minneapolis Star Tribune columnist Jim Souhan later jumping on the bandwagon by first opining that Mauer should move to a less-demanding position defensively and then essentially accusing Mauer of inventing injuries.

    Mauer has largely remained silent despite the various criticisms thrown his way, but Official Twins Beat Writer of AG.com LaVelle E. Neal III reported Sunday that he's been playing through a hernia since midseason and may require surgery. Along with the apparent hernia, Mauer was briefly shut down in spring training because of a stress reaction in his leg, missed a month with a strained quadriceps, and was sidelined for two weeks with a strained hamstring.

    He's clearly been playing at less than 100 percent while gingerly jogging around the bases since returning from the hamstring injury earlier this month, but that doesn't seem to have done much to lessen the perception that he's fragile, injury prone, and lacks toughness. Meanwhile, Mauer has fought through the various injuries to log almost 800 innings at baseball's most physically demanding position after catching 1,000 innings in 2005 and 1,059 innings in 2006.

    Mauer ranks 12th among AL catchers in innings behind the plate this season and combined over the past three years only 10 catchers in all of baseball have logged more innings defensively. During that three-year span, he's caught essentially the same number of innings as Yadier Molina, has been behind the plate more often than Bengie Molina, Ramon Hernandez, Johnny Estrada, Michael Barrett, John Buck, and Miguel Olivo, and is within about 100 innings of Jason Varitek and Brian Schneider.

    Mauer ranks first in all of baseball with a 54.5 caught-stealing percentage this season and combined over the past three years has gunned down 44.2 percent of would-be base-stealers. He also ranks fourth among all MLB catchers in Value Over Replacement Player (VORP) this season and combined over the past three years only Victor Martinez (154.4) and Jorge Posada (135.8) boast a higher VORP total than Mauer's 129.6.

    Mauer suffers from ridiculously high expectations, a focus on the few things he can't do instead of the many things he thrives at, and a lack of understanding about the difference between catcher and other positions. He's been among the best handful of catchers in baseball this year despite the fact that his season is often treated as a huge disappointment and over the past three years he's logged nearly 3,000 innings behind the plate while arguably being the single most valuable catcher in all of baseball.

    Part of Mauer's "problem" is that hitting .347 as a 23-year-old catcher tends to raise expectations to unreachable levels. It sounds absurd now, but at this time last year the comments section here held heated arguments about whether or not Mauer should be "expected" to hit .347 again. The notion is ridiculous and most people surely realize that now, but at the time there were a shocking number of people who felt that Mauer should be counted on to make history on an annual basis.

    Instead, what he's done this season is essentially duplicate his 2005 campaign:

    YEAR      AVG      OBP      SLG     IsoP     IsoD      BB%      SO%      BIP
    2005 .294 .372 .411 .117 .078 8.8 11.6 .322
    2007 .288 .378 .415 .127 .090 10.1 11.0 .315

    Those seasons are amazingly similar, especially considering that they surround a year in which he hit .347. Mauer drew a non-intentional walk in 9.5 percent of his plate appearances while batting .347 in 2006, which fits between his 2005 and 2007 walk rates, but the big differences came in strikeouts and batting average on balls in play. In 2005 and 2007, Mauer struck out 11.3 percent of the time and batted .318 on balls in play. In 2006, Mauer struck out 8.8 percent of the time and batted .364 on balls in play.

    When you put 20 percent more balls in play and see them fall for hits 15 percent more often, that adds up to a huge increase in batting average. Mauer also had 28 percent more power in 2006, but was far from a power hitter, so the big difference in performance came from making more contact and seeing an unsustainably high percentage of balls in play drop for hits. Not only was counting on a repeat of 2006 silly, a career filled with his 2005 and 2007 seasons would be Hall of Fame-caliber for a catcher.

    One of my favorite stats to look at when comparing hitters from different points in baseball history is OPS+, which adjusts for the often sizable differences in ballparks, eras, and leagues. A hitter playing his home games at Coors Field in 2007 is compiling numbers in a significantly different environment for offense than a hitter playing his home games at Dodger Stadium in 1968, and OPS+ attempts to adjust for that so fair comparisons can be made.

    An OPS+ of 100 is exactly average. For their careers, Neifi Perez is at 63 and Albert Pujols is at 169. As a 24-year-old catcher finishing up his fourth big-league season, Mauer has compiled an OPS+ of 124, which coincidentally is the same OPS+ that Kirby Puckett finished his career with. To put that in further context, here's a complete list of all the catchers in baseball history with at least 1,000 games behind the plate who can boast a career OPS+ equal to or better than Mauer's:

                        OPS+
    Mike Piazza 143
    Mickey Cochrane 128
    Bill Dickey 127
    Johnny Bench 126
    Gabby Hartnett 126
    Jorge Posada 126
    Yogi Berra 125
    Ernie Lombardi 125
    JOE MAUER 124
    Roy Campanella 124

    Mauer has a long way to go before he reaches 1,000 games at catcher, but that's impressive company given that he's still several seasons from his assumed prime. So far, few catchers in baseball history have been as good offensively as Mauer. If you're curious, the average MLB catcher has posted an 88 OPS+ this season, whereas the average third baseman and designated hitter are at 107 and 110. Lastly, take a look at the following comparison of two well-known players and their career numbers:

                  AVG      OBP      SLG      OPS     OPS+
    Player X .312 .393 .456 .849 124
    Player Z .317 .388 .461 .849 123

    Both guys are active players who man up-the-middle positions defensively, but they're perceived much differently. Player X gets picked apart by fans and criticized constantly by the local media, while Player Z is perhaps the most fawned-upon player in baseball and has national media members asserting that he's "the best player of my lifetime" and "the best baseball player I ever saw." Oh, and between the two mystery men, only Player X has won a batting title.


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

    September 23, 2007

    Hunter's Home Farewell

    Saturday afternoon was the inaugural Stick and Ball Guy Convention, so I headed downtown for some breakfast at Hubert's before taking in the Twins-White Sox game at the Metrodome with a dozen other citizens of SBG Nation. A good time was had by all despite the fact that we saw Scott Baker exit early with an injury, Boof Bonser cough up five runs in relief, and Nick Punto go 0-for-4 with three strikeouts in an 8-3 loss that dropped the Twins to 75-79.

    While ugly, the game was probably fitting given the group's collective disappointment and frustration. Will Young and Kyle Eliason booed Punto several dozen times, Bonser's stock continued to plummet, Jim Thome's 504th career homer was one of the cheapest that you'll ever see, Darin Erstad hit a ball into the upper deck as SBG speculated that he'll be Torii Hunter's replacement next year, and we got to see a lineup that featured Punto, Chris Heintz, Luis Rodriguez, and Jason Tyner.

    If we weren't going to see a good game, it was certainly the right kind of bad game. Of course, Sunday afternoon's game would have been slightly more enjoyable, with Kevin Slowey setting a career-high by striking out nine batters over seven innings of one-run ball, Brian Buscher and Alexi Casilla making a rare appearance in the same lineup together, and Hunter playing what seems likely to be the final home game of his Twins career.

    Twins fans are understandably reluctant to give up hope when it comes to Hunter potentially returning, but the odds seem pretty long at this point. He spent most of the season publicly campaigning for the Twins to open negotiations with him and then said that he wasn't interested in negotiating during the season once they did. Hunter is clearly interested in hitting the open market and once that happens it'll become obvious that the Twins aren't in a position to make anything close to the best offer.

    Seeing his Twins career wind down is sad, but the fact that Hunter turned down a chance to remain in Minnesota makes it a little easier to take. I don't think Hunter handled his pending free agency very well publicly, but I don't blame him one bit for wanting to maximize his earning potential. Still, at the end of the day he's choosing money over remaining with the Twins. Rather than take $45 or maybe even $60 million to stay in Minnesota, he'll likely be getting $75 or $90 million to leave.

    That's obviously a huge difference, but if Hunter truly had his heart set on staying with the Twins he could do so while still making a huge amount of money. I'm of the opinion that the difference between $45 or $60 million and $75 or $90 million is a lot smaller than it looks, but a) that's easy for me to say when I'll never come close to making that type of money, and b) I have no idea whether or not Hunter actually wants to stay with the Twins regardless of the money involved.

    If he does, then my guess is that he'll regret leaving over money. However, it's very possible that he's simply ready to move on or at least willing to move on enough that he values maximizing his salary over remaining in Minnesota, in which case my only beef is with the way he tried to spin the situation in the media. I'd love to see Hunter return, but committing $75 or $90 million to a 32-year-old center fielder with a .271/.325/.470 career hitting line just isn't something that makes sense of the Twins.

    Hunter has been the Twins' second-best player this season and if he leaves it will come following what is arguably the most-valuable season of his nine-year career. He's been so good, in fact, that by procrastinating with my "Top 40 Minnesota Twins" series I've given Hunter enough time to move up several spots. You'll have to wait a while to find out exactly where he ends up in the rankings, but for now suffice it to say that he's one of the elite players in team history.

    If he leaves, Hunter will make what's already a weak offense significantly weaker while opening up a huge hole in center field that the organization has no strong internal options to fill. Outside of the organization there are plenty of quality options to replace him, which I'll discuss in the coming weeks, but I'm nervous about the Twins' ability to identify and pursue those options given their reluctance to trade young pitching for young hitting and their frustrating preference for washed-up veterans.

    The thought of Erstad or Tyner or Lew Ford or Denard Span attempting to fill Hunter's shoes is a scary one, but faults and all the Twins should be able to uncover a better solution. If they can't, then their problems go far beyond what happens with Hunter. Replacing him is just one of several key decisions that the Twins will have to make soon and they'll need to avoid some of their recent mistakes in order to begin another success cycle like the one that Hunter was a big part of from 2001-2006.


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

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