May 22, 2009

Link-O-Rama

  • After six straight road losses yesterday's 20-1 thrashing of the White Sox was an unexpected treat, and the Twins amusingly finished the 1-6 road trip with a plus-seven run differential. Justin Morneau and Nick Punto combined to go 0-for-7 while the rest of the Twins' starters went 19-for-35 (.543) with four homers, including a grand slam from Joe Mauer. And of course Nick Blackburn took the 20 runs of support and tossed seven shutout innings before Joe Nathan closed out the 19-run lead.

    Mauer is such a great hitter that batting .417 or getting on base at a .500 clip during a 19-game stretch shouldn't surprise anyone, but eight homers and five doubles in 72 at-bats is totally unexpected even without considering that he missed April with an injury. He hasn't abandoned his patient approach at the plate and isn't suddenly pulling the ball consistently. He's still taking tons of pitches and going the the other way with most of the balls he hits, but the fly balls just seem to be traveling a little further.

    I'm not sure how to explain it and have no idea whether it'll last, but holy shit has Mauer been amazing. At .417/.500/.819 he'd be leading all of baseball in batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage with enough plate appearances to qualify and he has one homer per 9.0 at-bats after going deep once every 46.8 at-bats coming into the season. Plus, Ron Gardenhire may even leave him in the No. 2 spot that I've been advocating for years now after the 20-run outburst with Mauer there yesterday.

    UPDATE: Just posted a lengthy entry about Mauer over at the NBCSports.com blog.

  • Thanks to Jessica Biel, I've discovered the real reason why the Minnesota Daily wouldn't hire me.
  • Have you ever wondered what it would look like if Pablo Sandoval was running the bases, spotted a piece of cake on second base, and then got shot in the leg by a sniper? If so, this is your lucky day!
  • After years of developing Twins prospects as minor-league pitching coordinator, Rick Knapp is now thriving as the Tigers' new pitching coach. I'd be slightly happier for him if they weren't in the AL Central.
  • According to the New York Times, Jimmy Kimmel's monologue this week at ABC's annual upfront presentation was "withering" and "the assembled advertisers received his performance with a mixture of uneasy laughs and the occasional gasp." That description caused me to seek out the footage:


    Unless the video has been doctored somehow, I'm not sure how anyone could watch that and call the crowd's reaction "a mixture of uneasy laughs and the occasional gasp." Seems more like he killed for the better part of six straight minutes, got a ton of big laughs throughout, and was basically hilarious.
  • On a related note, Aziz Ansari of Parks and Recreation was a great guest on Jimmy Kimmel Live.
  • I'm really hoping that Mark Buehrle knows this woman.
  • For anyone who thinks their childhood was bad, read this disturbing story. "My daddy ate my eyes."
  • I'm totally against the notion of Brett Favre quarterbacking the Vikings at this stage of his career, but could probably be talked into Kim Kardashian behind center after looking at these pictures.
  • According to the New York Post, Alex Rodriguez has "traded in a vintage Madonna for a late-model Kate Hudson" and the two were "making out" in a bar following last Friday's game against the Twins. I'll say this about A-Rod: He has eclectic taste.
  • On a similar note, Jim Edmonds appears to be coping just fine with unemployment.
  • I'm still not sure what Kelly Brock does and it still doesn't matter to me.
  • Last year I went on a reading binge, burning through like a dozen books in a couple weeks, and The Road by Cormac McCarthy was one of my favorites. I'm intrigued by the movie version, which is set to come out in October, but based on Charlize Theron being prominently featured in the preview it seems like the film strays significantly from the novel in at least one huge way. Based strictly on the book, the female character would get approximately 42 seconds of screen time in the movie.


    I'm cautiously optimistic, because the original material is so amazing and Viggo Mortensen strikes me as a good choice to play the lead role, but an I Am Legend-style disappointment wouldn't surprise me. Movies straying significantly from the source material when the source material would've made a better movie really bothers me and I Am Legend is the prime example of that recently. Of course, it still ends up hooking me for a half-hour each time I stumble across it on HBO.
  • After getting turned down by their first 50 or so choices, the Timberwolves settled on David Kahn as their new general manager. His primary qualification is not being Kevin McHale, but aside from that I'm not very excited about a guy who "last worked full time in the NBA in 2002." Kevin Love was 14 in 2002.
  • My MinnPost colleague David Brauer reports that the St. Paul Pioneer Press could be eliminating as many as 30 newsroom jobs as part of $2.4 million in budget cuts, so Twins fans should be hoping that Phil Miller and Kelsie Smith avoid the ax.
  • Because devoting about half of my DVR to his assorted television shows isn't enough, now Gordon Ramsay can scream profanities directly at me.
  • The Atlanta Journal Constitution recently profiled the most underrated person in sports television.
  • Here are some of the highlights from my NBCSports.com blogging this week:

    - How good would Peavy be away from Petco Park?
    - Nationals bullpen providing zero relief
    - Eric Chavez is a sneeze away from retirement
    - What's wrong with Garrett Atkins?
    - Justin Upton is a freak of nature
    - Pudge's 300th homer and why catching is hard
    - Quarter-season progress report: MIN and WAS
    - Quarter-season progress report: BAL and SD

  • Finally, in honor of the Wolves hiring Kahn this week's AG.com-approved music video is The Rolling Stones doing a live version of "You Can't Always Get What You Want":


  • Once you're done here, check out my "Circling The Bases" blog over at NBCSports.com.

    May 20, 2009

    Twins Call Up Swarzak, Lose Breslow on Waivers

    Glen Perkins' sore elbow set in a motion of a series of moves that ultimately boiled down to Anthony Swarzak replacing Perkins in the rotation and Sean Henn replacing Craig Breslow in the bullpen. For now it sounds like Perkins has avoided a serious injury, so Swarzak will likely make three starts before heading back to Triple-A, with big-league debut coming Saturday against the Brewers. Swarzak ranked seventh on my list of the Twins' best prospects coming into the season, with this write-up:
    Anthony Swarzak got off to a slow start in 2007 before being slapped with a 50-game suspension for violating baseball's substance abuse policy, but had a 2.67 ERA and 69-to-18 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 80.2 innings at Double-A after returning. Despite that strong showing at New Britain the Twins sent him back there last year and he was awful, going 3-8 with a 5.67 ERA and .304 opponent's average in 20 starts before an undeserved promotion. And then of course he went 5-0 with a 1.80 ERA at Triple-A.

    Those pretty numbers make it seem like something clicked for Swarzak once he got to Rochester, but in reality his success there came via an awful lot of smoke and mirrors. His strikeout rate actually fell 15 percent compared to what he did at Double-A and his strikeout-to-walk ratio was sub par at 26-to-14 in 45 innings. Swarzak thrived in his first taste of Triple-A because 74 percent of his balls in play were converted into outs, whereas that number was 66 percent at Double-A and 68 percent for his career.

    His strikeout percentage has declined with every step up the organizational ladder, going from 26.2 at low Single-A and 21.8 at high Single-A to 18.6 at Double-A and 13.8 at Triple-A. To some extent that's due to moving quickly through the system and reaching Triple-A as a 22-year-old, but that trend casts doubt on Swarzak's ability to be more than a mid-rotation starter. The raw stuff is certainly there to miss more bats and he's still got plenty of time to develop further, but his ceiling has lowered.

    Since then he's posted a 2.25 ERA in seven starts at Triple-A, which is no doubt why the Twins chose him over Kevin Mulvey or Brian Duensing to fill in for Perkins and no doubt what most people will focus on when discussing Swarzak's future. However, his 32-to-11 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 44 innings once again failed to match the sparkling ERA and Swarzak now has just 58 strikeouts compared to 25 walks in 89 career innings at Rochester.

    Those numbers certainly aren't bad from a 23-year-old at Triple-A, but when combined with the fact that he's a fly-ball pitcher Swarzak's sub par strikeout rate and mediocre control don't predict great success. Now, he throws much harder than the lack of missed bats would suggest and also features a curveball that everyone seems to agree is a strong pitch, so what Swarzak has done at Triple-A thus far definitely doesn't put a cap on his long-term upside.

    At the same time, it does signal that the odds are against his thriving in the big leagues right now and indicates that he's currently on track to develop into a mid-rotation starter rather than an ace, which will be something to consider when all anyone wants to talk about is his ERA. Along with adding Swarzak to the rotation the Twins also lost Breslow on waivers, which is disappointing fewer than 48 hours after calling up Henn from Triple-A because both are 28-year-old, left-handed middle relievers.

    Breslow has struggled to throw strikes, handing out 11 walks in 14.1 innings, and served up a walk-off homer to Alex Rodriguez over the weekend, but he had a 1.91 ERA and 39-to-19 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 47 innings last season and is simply a better pitcher than Henn. The difference isn't huge and the impact will likely be minimal given the limited bullpen role, but it sure seems like the Twins chose the new lefty reliever over the old lefty reliever just because they felt the need to shake things up.

    MAJORS           IP      ERA      FIP      SO%      BB%      GB%
    Breslow 89.2 2.91 3.89 19.7 11.9 39.8
    Henn 50.0 7.20 6.60 15.2 15.2 38.0

    TRIPLE-A IP ERA FIP SO% BB%
    Breslow 144.2 3.42 2.94 25.8 8.1
    Henn 113.0 3.58 3.24 21.5 10.2

    The above stats ignore how Henn fared as a full-time starter, so it's an apples-to-apples comparison of relief work. Breslow has been significantly better as a major-league reliever, with 30 percent more strikeouts, 22 percent fewer walks, and a huge edge in ERA and FIP. The gap isn't nearly as big when it comes to Triple-A numbers, but Breslow still holds a clear advantage in strikeouts, walks, and overall performance. He's just a better pitcher, period, and not surprisingly the A's plucked him off waivers.


    Once you're done here, check out my "Circling The Bases" blog over at NBCSports.com.

    May 19, 2009

    I'd Much Rather Stay Fat and Have the Twins Win

    I'm in no mood to write about a five-game losing streak despite allowing my "pounds lost" to approach "Twins wins" on the Fat-O-Meter, so instead feast your eyes on this hopefully amusing video of the very special message that Torii Hunter had for Joe Nathan when they faced off last month:


    At least he was nice enough to aim it away from Jose Morales.


    Once you're done here, check out my "Circling The Bases" blog over at NBCSports.com.

    May 18, 2009

    Twins Swept, Perkins Hurt

    As if losing four straight games to the Yankees by a total of five runs wasn't enough, now Glen Perkins has been placed on the disabled list with left elbow inflammation.

    Even before last night's first-inning implosion Perkins had given up 18 runs in 22.1 innings during his previous four starts, and now we know why: Perkins "said after the game that he had been dealing with some soreness in his elbow for some time." As usual attempting to pitch through arm soreness ends up simply hurting the team and the player. Instead of being shut down immediately, Perkins allowed 24 runs in 23 innings while delaying a trip to the disabled list and possibly making the injury worse.

    Now he's headed back to Minnesota to undergo an MRI exam today and the Twins have called up Sean Henn from Triple-A to take his place on the roster, although another move will probably be necessary to replace him in the rotation Saturday. I'm not sure whether Perkins hid the injury or the Twins allowed him to "pitch through" the soreness even after being informed, but either way it was foolish. Hopefully all it ends up costing the Twins are some wins, rather than the alternative. Oh, and next up: Chicago.


    Once you're done here, check out my "Circling The Bases" blog over at NBCSports.com.

    May 17, 2009

    Twins Notes: Good Play, Bad Batting Order, Ugly Bullpen

  • If you missed it during yesterday's game, Joe Mauer's diving play at the plate on a ball that deflected off Jose Mijares is among the best you'll ever see from a catcher. Joe Christensen of the Minneapolis Star Tribune has a recap of the play and MLB.com has the video. And here's the end result:


    As Mike Redmond put it: "That's one of the best plays I've ever seen. Instinct-wise, that play was off the charts. I told him I don't know how he did it. I would have thrown that ball on instinct."

  • You won't find tons of analysis about batting orders in this space, because few topics are discussed more and matter less. Batting orders certainly do matter, but as long as you're doing a reasonable job putting the best hitters near the top of the lineup and the worst hitters near the bottom of the lineup the difference between "perfect" and "mediocre" is minimal in the grand scheme of things. In other words, I'm typically far more concerned about who's in the lineup than where they're batting.

    However, sometimes the batting order is so obviously out of whack that it screams for an adjustment and Matt Tolbert hitting second directly in front of Mauer and Justin Morneau is clearly not an example of "putting the best hitters near the top of the lineup and the worst hitters near the bottom of the lineup." Instead, it's an example of a manager obsessed with sticking light-hitting, bunt-happy middle infielders between the leadoff man and No. 3 hitter. And it's an example of something that costs the Twins runs.

    Ron Gardenhire may love him, Dick Bremer and Bert Blyleven may fawn over everything he does, and fans may have been excited when the Twins called him up to replace Alexi Casilla at second base, but Tolbert is arguably the team's worst hitter and at the very least is among the team's worst hitters. He's hit .257/.314/.349 through 172 plate appearances in the majors after batting .287/.347/.417 in 582 plate appearances at Triple-A, and at 27 years old isn't likely to suddenly get much better.

    Yet because Tolbert is a small, scrappy, switch-hitting middle infielder with little power and the ability to bunt Gardenhire is willing to a) give him the second most plate appearances on the team, and b) give added importance to those plate appearances by putting them directly in front of the team's best hitters. Given the lack of other options I'm fine with Tolbert as the short-term starter at second base, but batting him second in the lineup shows a fundamental lack of understanding about how runs are scored.

  • Peter Gammons of ESPN.com reports that the Twins are among a handful of teams that "are on the prowl for relievers," which is either mildly amusing or incredibly frustrating given general manager Bill Smith's refusal to address the obvious weakness of the bullpen dating back to the middle of last year. Twins relievers have a 5.51 ERA along with the third-worst Win Probability Added in the league. And it's not due to being overworked, because the bullpen's 109.1 innings rank fourth-lowest in the AL.
  • The bullpen is a mess and prospects Robert Delaney and Anthony Slama are thriving at Double-A, so the Twins are thinking about calling up ... Sean Henn. According to Kelly Thesier of MLB.com, Henn "features a 95-mph fastball" and "has posted a 1.23 ERA in 14 appearances at Rochester." According to reality, Henn has thrown 1,354 big-league pitches with an average fastball velocity of 91.7 miles per hour, has a 7.56 ERA in the majors, and is a 28-year-old with 77 walks in 197 career Triple-A innings.

    So, why not call up Delaney or Slama? Thesier writes that they "have caught some people's attention at New Britain, but it doesn't seem like they are quite to the point of helping the club just yet." Gardenhire explains that "there are some pretty good pitchers there, but guys that are not ready." In other words, as always the Twins must waste time and wins on veteran mediocrity before turning to their young talent. Hell, Delaney and Slama are 24 and 25 years old respectively and can't even get promoted to Triple-A.

  • Matt Garza has a 3.50 ERA and Jason Bartlett is batting .370/.407/.563, so naturally Sid Hartman is writing about how the "Twins-Rays trade may yet pay dividend." He explains that at the time of the trade "there was a lot of enthusiasm among fans and the media" and "Smith received a lot of accolades," as if that's evidence of anything but "fans and the media" buying whatever the Twins are selling. In reality, the trade stunk from Day 1 and is getting progressively worse. Smith, of course, has "no regrets."
  • Remember how Gardenhire said a few weeks ago that he wouldn't use Mauer at designated hitter? Since returning from the disabled list Mauer has started 11 of 16 games at catcher and has been the DH in three of the other five games. I'm certainly not complaining, just saying.
  • Tim Kurkjian of ESPN.com wrote the latest in a long line of puff pieces about the Twins having "high-character players." Worth reading, if you're into that sort of thing.
  • Juan Rincon was designated for assignment by the Tigers after allowing six runs on 12 hits and six walks in 10.1 innings. Rincon has now played for three-fifths of the AL Central since 2007, so hopefully he completes the divisional tour.

  • Once you're done here, check out my "Circling The Bases" blog over at NBCSports.com.

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