July 28, 2009

Mr. Gleeman Goes to Washington

Blogging will be on hold until next week because of my annual trip to the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) convention, which begins tomorrow in Washington, D.C. My plan is to post updates from the convention via my new Twitter account, so if you're into reading 140-character missives about presentations I'm attending or alcohol I'm consuming feel free to check that out. I'll be back Monday to talk about the convention and trades that did or didn't happen.

July 27, 2009

Twins Win Game, Lose Slowey

Last night's win puts the Twins back at an even .500 through 100 games, but more importantly they lost Kevin Slowey for the remainder of the season. Slowey landed on the disabled list earlier this month, as the Twins revealed that he'd "battled pain in his wrist for a while" and had trouble "opening doors and things like that." At the time the hope was that he could return in a couple weeks, but unsuccessful throwing sessions were followed by a canceled rehab assignment and now he's going under the knife.

Slowey will undergo surgery to remove bone chips from his wrist, which despite being fairly innocuous in the grand scheme of pitching injuries will sideline him for several months and ends his year at 10-3 with a 4.86 ERA and 75-to-15 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 91 innings spread over 16 starts. Slowey's great 10-3 record obviously doesn't match his mediocre 4.86 ERA, but he had a 4.04 mark before giving up 11 runs over six innings in his final two starts while hurting and still finished with a solid 4.36 xFIP.

Slowey's injury means that Anthony Swarzak will remain in the rotation for the rest of the season after going 3-3 with a 3.74 ERA and 26-to-17 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 46 innings through eight career starts. Swarzak's sub par strikeout-to-walk ratio, high fly-ball percentage, and 5.32 xFIP suggest that he likely has a trip back down to earth in his future, and even if he can continue to out-perform those secondary numbers his having to step into the rotation on a full-time basis ruins the Twins' pitching depth.

Instead of having Slowey in the rotation, Swarzak waiting in the wings at Triple-A, and enough capable options to possibly include one starter in a trade, the Twins now have Kevin Mulvey, Brian Duensing, R.A. Dickey, and Bobby Keppel next in line if another starter is needed. None of those guys figures to have much success in a major-league rotation right now, and Scott Baker, Nick Blackburn, Francisco Liriano, and Glen Perkins haven't exactly formed an air-tight front four.

Baker has quietly gone 8-3 with a 4.14 ERA and 80-to-21 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 94 innings spanning 15 starts since beginning the year 0-4 with a 9.15 ERA and Perkins thankfully bounced back from his disastrous one-inning outing last week, but Blackburn's deal with the devil predictably appears to have expired and Liriano ruined what had been a very positive six-week stretch by serving up three homers Friday. We're a hundred games into the season and Twins starters rank 12th in the AL with a 4.80 ERA.

Even with Slowey done the rotation is nowhere near being the glaring weakness that second base has become and within the pitching staff adding another late-inning relief option is still a far bigger priority than adding another starter, but clearly the Twins have no shortage of holes as Friday's trade deadline approaches. At some point trying to patch up everything on the fly ceases making sense and the odds are slim for Bill Smith pulling off multiple trades, let alone multiple trades that actually help the team.

Guys like Orlando Cabrera aren't going to make a big impact in the final 60 games, we're nearing 15 straight months without Smith addressing the bullpen's lack of setup-quality arms after Pat Neshek's injury, and an already shaky rotation is a tweaked elbow from including Mulvey or Duensing. Certainly sitting at 50-50 after 100 games is far from disastrous, especially in a division where that puts you just three games back of a plenty flawed team, but you can only patch so many holes on July 31.


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

July 26, 2009

Should The Twins Trade For Orlando Cabrera?

Both local newspapers and multiple national outlets report that the Twins spent the weekend talking to the A's about acquiring shortstop Orlando Cabrera, with Buster Olney of ESPN.com noting that the two sides are "deep into talks and talking composition of a deal." Naturally no one from the front office was willing to comment on a possible trade, but Ron Gardenhire had no problem telling reporters that he wants the team to deal for a middle infielder and specifically likes Cabrera:
I like Cabrera, yes. I'm not allowed to talk about players, but yes I like Cabrera. It's a direct question. I can answer a direct question. I think he's a great player. [White Sox manager] Ozzie [Guillen] and he really butted heads. [Joe] Crede told us he was a great teammate, hard worker. These guys over here said fantastic things about him, played the game, played hard, the whole package.

It just can't continue with both guys in the middle struggling at the same time at this pace. We're not really getting much out of either one of those two. There's just too many outs. You're playing the game with less outs than you should be. You can't continue that. That's hard, really hard to do, and there are no answers. There's nowhere to go.

Twins second basemen have batted .186/.272/.234 in 410 plate appearances and their shortstops are at .238/.301/.328 in 405 trips to the plate, which combined gives the team an embarrassing, MLB-worst .212/.286/.281 line from the middle infield. Gardenhire's points about simply giving away too many outs are right on the money and something that I've been harping on in this space for most of the season, but unfortunately his unabashed praise of Cabrera is significantly less encouraging to hear.

There's perhaps some room for debate about whether or not Cabrera was ever, as Gardenhire puts it, "a great player." He certainly never fit my description of greatness, but as a two-time Gold Glove winner with 1,740 hits, nearly 200 stolen bases, and a .275 batting average over 13 seasons in the majors it's not shocking that Gardenhire is a big fan. However, even stretching your standards to give Cabrera the "great" label at one point in his career leaves him miles from that level now.

Cabrera will be 35 years old in three months and like the majority of mid-30s shortstops throughout the history of baseball his range has deteriorated. He was once a legitimately great defender and Cabrera managed to remain very good defensively into his 30s, but this season Ultimate Zone Rating pegs him as 9.3 runs below average. Even if you give him the benefit of the doubt at the age of 35 and assume that he simply had a bad first 96 games, Cabrera is unlikely to be better than average at this point.

Of course, average or slightly below average defense at shortstop is hardly a terrible thing if it comes along with strong offense, and Gardenhire would probably tell you that Cabrera is a really good hitter. After all, his batting average is .276, he rarely strikes out, he's on pace for a ninth straight season with 15-plus steals, and Cabrera no doubt "battles his tail off." In reality, he's hitting .276/.313/.366 this year after batting .281/.334/.371 last season and has a lifetime adjusted OPS+ of 86 where 100 is average.

2008/2009              AVG      OBP      SLG      OPS
Brendan Harris .264 .318 .386 .704
Orlando Cabrera .279 .327 .369 .695
Nick Punto .253 .333 .329 .662
Alexi Casilla .250 .309 .328 .637

Since the beginning of last year Cabrera has a solid-looking .279 batting average, but it's completely empty with 40 walks per 600 plate appearances and a puny Isolated Power of .090. He doesn't get on base or hit for any power, and at this point in their respective careers Cabrera is essentially Brendan Harris, offering sub par defense and a .700 OPS. Harris and Cabrera have both been better than Nick Punto offensively, but that's obviously not saying much and the difference is just 30-40 points of OPS.

Bringing in Cabrera at shortstop and moving Punto to second base while using Harris primarily at third base and sending Alexi Casilla back to Rochester would probably make the Twins slightly better and would definitely make Gardenhire think that the Twins were significantly better. However, unless the A's are willing to basically give Cabrera away the cost likely doesn't justify such a small upgrade and still leaves the Twins with a horrible middle infield for the final two months of the season.

It's nice to hear that the Twins are actually attempting to upgrade the awful middle infield that's dragged them down all season and because of how bad they've been plenty of potential upgrades are (or were) rumored to be available as Friday's trading deadline nears, but Cabrera is not someone who's likely to make a major difference down the stretch and that Gardenhire and/or the Twins' front office believes he'd be a big upgrade perhaps explains why the Twins are in this mess to begin with.


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

July 24, 2009

Link-O-Rama

  • Day 1 of the great Twitter experiment included 25 updates (I'm not mentally prepared to use the word "Tweets" yet), 250 people signing up to "follow" me, one interaction with a girl I've not spoken to in over 10 years, the discovery of TwitterBerry to make posting from the SABR convention next week possible, one complaint about Ron Gardenhire not leaving Joe Mauer in the No. 2 spot, and lots of good advice about improving the overall Twitter experience. All in all, a solid first 24 hours. Addiction is on the way.
  • He's only been with the team for a couple weeks, but this picture of Jeff Francoeur from Wednesday night's game basically encapsulates both the current state of his career and the Mets' entire season.
  • Presented without comment, the powerful tale of my Circling the Bases blogmate Craig Calcaterra discussing the intricacies of baseball with his wife.
  • Seth Davis of SI.com wrote a great tribute on the 15th anniversary of Hoop Dreams, which for some reason I can remember watching for the first time while sitting in the hallway of my elementary school. Easily one of my favorite movies of all time and just as compelling 15 years later.
  • Rick Astley has moved on from his lucrative career in Rickrolling and is now fronting Nirvana:


    Honestly, that sounds kind of not horrible.
  • This site comes in handy for me several times per day, although often I'm not quite a big enough jerk to actually use it.
  • Cole Hamels is married to former Survivor contestant Heidi Strobel and Phillies minor leaguer Kyle Kendrick recently got engaged to former Survivor runner-up Stephenie LaGrossa. Somewhere a nude Richard Hatch is studying Philadelphia's depth chart.
  • Yet another solid reliever acquired at a reasonable cost by a contender while the Twins act like every decent player on the market would require trading away multiple top prospects.
  • As always, I'm a sucker for jokes in graph and chart form.
  • Minneapolis Star Tribune columnist Jon Tevlin makes some very good points about the downside of having comments sections attached to articles, including: "I've had people refuse to have their photos taken because they were overweight ... people would call them names in comments." Fortunately my self-esteem is low enough that I post pictures of myself specifically for you guys to mock. In fact, that's the only reason I even own a camera.
  • When it comes to women's teeth I'm normally not a fan of the Michael Strahan look and True Blood lost my interest after five episodes, but for some reason Anna Paquin is still right in my wheelhouse.
  • Eddie Guardado is five outings away from becoming the 21st pitcher in baseball history to appear in 900 games. Trevor Hoffman (958) and David Weathers (932) are the only active guys ahead of him, although it's worth noting that 112 active pitchers have faced more career batters than Guardado's total of 3,965. Still, it's been a pretty good run.
  • Like me, Manny Ramirez is incredibly amused by Batting Stance Guy:

    Of course, FSN replaying his Kirby Puckett impression multiple times per game probably ensures that I'll be sick of him soon enough.

  • Jeff Garlin of Curb Your Enthusiasm and Kevin Hench of FOXSports.com were both great as guests on Adam Carolla's podcast this week.
  • This whole thing seems perfectly reasonable to me.
  • Alex Rodriguez loaned his car to girlfriend Kate Hudson, Hudson loaned the car to her friend, and her friend crashed the car. And for some reason I'm endlessly amused by that chain of events.
  • Matt Gagne of the New York Daily News wrote a lengthy profile of Sean Forman, who in addition to being one hell of a nice guy runs the world's greatest website.
  • Mets Walk-Offs looks back at Johan Santana's first career win.
  • Here are some of the highlights from my NBCSports.com blogging this week:

    - Red Sox get LaRoche from Pirates for pair of prospects
    - Rockies adding top prospect Chacin to bullpen
    - Kemp building case as baseball's most underrated player
    - Joe vs. Ichiro: The plot thickens
    - GM: Halladay not interested in signing extension
    - Quote of the Day: 'I can't see the point in coming back'
    - Good news, bad news for Olsen and his labrum
    - With deadline looming, Halladay isn't the only ace available
    - Details of Pedro's incentive-laden deal with Phillies
    - Soon every Cubs hitter will have his own coach

  • Finally, this week's AG.com-approved music video is Portishead, accompanied by a lit cigarette and the New York Philharmonic orchestra, doing a live version of "Glory Box":


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

    July 22, 2009

    Twins Notes: Injuries, Massages, Graphs, and Twitter

  • Joe Crede's surgically repaired back was the big concern when the Twins signed him to a one-year contract this offseason, but instead he's been sidelined for a couple days at a time with an assortment of other injuries that now includes a potentially serious shoulder problem. He's avoided the disabled list so far despite sitting out 24 of 95 games, but that could change depending on how things go during his visit with Angels team doctor and shoulder specialist Lewis Yocum.
  • Glen Perkins can carpool with Crede to Yocum's office, because after getting rocked for eight runs while recording three outs yesterday he complained of shoulder problems. He was on the disabled list with an elbow injury earlier this year, but prior to imploding yesterday Perkins had gone 4-2 with a 3.96 ERA in six starts since returning.
  • Kevin Mulvey has been sent back to Triple-A after retiring the only batter he faced in his big-league debut Monday and then coughing up four runs in one inning of work yesterday. He could be back in a hurry if Perkins' injury proves serious, but in the meantime the Twins have recalled Jesse Crain from Rochester. Crain has pitched well there since last month's demotion, posting a 2.55 ERA and 22-to-8 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 17.2 innings.
  • Not that anyone with the Twins would care given that they haven't even bothered to promote him to Triple-A at the age of 25, but Anthony Slama has a 2.98 ERA, 20 saves, and 77 strikeouts in 54 innings at Double-A. His control isn't great, but opponents are hitting .218 against Slama while striking out 35 percent of the time, and he now has a 1.83 ERA with 236 strikeouts compared to just 102 hits allowed in 157 career innings. What possible reason could there be not to at least promote him to Rochester?
  • As if ranking No. 26 on my list of the Twins' top prospects heading into the season wasn't enough of an honor for Rene Tosoni, he was named MVP of the Futures Game over the All-Star break. Tosoni has boosted his stock quite a bit by hitting .281/.387/.476 with 10 homers and 33 total extra-base hits in 86 games at Double-A as a 23-year-old.
  • After cycling through the usual assortment of banjo-hitting middle infielders in the No. 2 spot, Ron Gardenhire has mercifully gone back to using Joe Mauer there. There was zero reason to move Mauer from the second spot to begin with given that he batted .435/.481/.739 with 22 RBIs and 24 runs in 25 games there, so hopefully Gardenhire will stop tinkering with what works. If you remove Mauer's totals, the No. 2 spot has hit .193 with a .243 on-base percentage and .256 slugging percentage this season.
  • Here's what the Win Probability Added graph looked like for Monday night's implosion in Oakland:


    I'd make some pithy comment about WPA showing home-plate umpire Mike Muchlinski as the game's MVP, but I'm just trying to forget the whole debacle ever happened. Thankfully yesterday's game wasn't on television, or I'd be trying to scrub that memory from my brain too.

  • Speaking of scrubbing memories from your brain, here's footage of Ron Coomer getting a massage that was featured during Saturday's game against the Rangers:


    Not shown in that video are the other plugs for the Wisconsin Dells that annoyingly dominated the FSN broadcast, causing me to long for the sweet sounds of Dick Bremer and Bert Blyleven for the first time in my life. FSN better have made tons of money for the non-stop infomercial overshadowing the game.
  • Garrett Jones left the Twins as a minor-league free agent this winter following four underwhelming seasons at Rochester and a forgettable 31-game stint in Minnesota, but now appears to have found a home in Pittsburgh. Jones is hitting .313 with nine homers in 17 games with the Pirates, which is pretty astounding for a guy who hit .265/.321/.463 in 575 games at Triple-A. He'll come crashing back down to earth soon enough, but in the meantime the Pirates cleared first base by dealing Adam LaRoche.
  • Released by the Twins last month in large part because he complained about not being used as a late-inning setup man despite being completely unqualified for the job, Luis Ayala has found a home in the Marlins' bullpen ... and so far has been used in even lower-leverage situations.
  • Next time someone opines that the Twins don't make in-season deals because quality players are too costly, point to Felipe Lopez and Cla Meredith. Lopez is a switch-hitting second baseman with a decent glove who's hit .294/.355/.402 in 230 games since the start of last year, yet the Brewers got him for two marginal prospects. Meredith is a ground-ball machine with a 3.49 ERA in 240 career innings, yet the Padres basically gave the 26-year-old reliever away. Inexpensive upgrades are available.
  • Joe Christensen of the Minneapolis Star Tribune wrote a well-done article about the mutual respect between Mauer and Ichiro Suzuki as they battle to see who can capture their third career batting title.
  • Jim Caple, who worked for the St. Paul Pioneer Press before landing at ESPN, wrote a nice feature on Mauer for a national audience.
  • Rod Carew recently joined the Angels' front office as something called an "executive representative." Carew finished his Hall of Fame career with the Angels and later served as the team's hitting coach.
  • Last and least, after listening to everyone's thoughts on the subject I've decided to give Twitter a try. Please be gentle, because I have no clue what I'm doing yet and the whole thing makes me feel sort of like my grandparents looked when we first gave them a computer. Any advice on how to get started is definitely appreciated. In the meantime, you can start "following" me in the hopes that someday I'll get the hang of things enough to actually post something that interests someone.

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

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