August 30, 2009

Twins Add Rauch, Mahay To Bullpen

It took 15 months in the wake of Pat Neshek's elbow injury last May, but the Twins finally addressed the bullpen by adding a veteran setup man over the weekend. In fact, they added two within the same hour Friday afternoon. Left-hander Ron Mahay, who'd been designated for assignment by the lowly Royals a few days earlier, agreed to a one-year contract worth a prorated share of the minimum salary, and the Twins traded a player to be named later to the Diamondbacks for right-hander Jon Rauch.

Mahay will be a situational lefty and with only five weeks remaining he's unlikely to throw more than 10 innings for the Twins, limiting his potential impact. Originally an outfielder when the Red Sox made him an 18th-round pick in 1991, Mahay became a full-time pitcher five years later and started a six-year run as one of the league's better setup man in 2003, at the age of 32. He went 15-7 with a 3.50 ERA and 283 strikeouts in 336.2 innings from 2003-2008, posting a mark above 4.00 just once during that span.

He pitched his way out of Kansas City this year with a 4.79 ERA and .313/.382/.545 opponents' line in 41 innings. For comparison, Justin Morneau is at .290/.378/.545. Normally a sustained track record of success makes someone a sound bet to bounce back, but Mahay is 38 years old and wasn't great last season either. Mahay is better than Sean Henn and worse than Craig Breslow, which means that the Twins could have saved themselves some trouble by not making that ill-advised swap in the first place.

Predicting how Mahay will perform in what will likely be at most 10 innings in Minnesota is impossible, but he's a reasonably effective pitcher and for a cost of about $100,000 and no prospects the price was certainly right. Not a good move. Not a bad move. Just a move. Rauch is a different situation, because along with getting him for the rest of this season the Twins have added him for next year at $2.9 million. He also cost a PTBNL, which makes it difficult to evaluate the trade until that prospect is revealed.

For instance, the Twins announced that the PTBNL going to Cleveland for Carl Pavano is Yohan Pino, which makes that deal less appealing than it appeared initially. Pino isn't a top prospect by any means, turns 26 years old soon, and seemingly never earned the Twins' trust because of underwhelming raw stuff. However, his numbers in the minors have been strong at every level and this year he's posted a 3.03 ERA and 108-to-27 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 113 innings between Double-A and Triple-A.

If the Twins were willing to part with an intriguing mid-level prospect for 10 starts from Pavano it worries me what they may send Arizona for Rauch, but in the meantime let's focus on his value. Originally taken by the White Sox in the third round of the 1999 draft, the 6-foot-11 righty went 16-4 with a 2.66 ERA and 187-to-49 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 166 innings during his first full season to earn Minor League Player of the Year honors from Baseball America, who ranked him as MLB's fourth-best prospect for 2001.

Two months into the next season Rauch needed surgery to repair his labrum and rotator cuff, and like so many pitchers who undergo those career-threatening operations he was never the same. He spent the next three years at Triple-A reestablishing himself as a solid but unspectacular starter and posted a 6.51 ERA in 10 games with Chicago. "I just don't have the same arm," Rauch later explained. "Things didn't work out like they should've with my rehab. I'm just thankful I can still go out and get hitters out."

Traded to the then-Expos for Carl Everett in July of 2004, Rauch reinvented himself as a reliever only to undergo another shoulder surgery. There was less damage to repair the second time around and he actually made it back in September. Despite being less than a year removed from his second shoulder surgery Rauch emerged as the workhorse of the Nationals' bullpen in 2006, logging 91 innings in 85 appearances to rank second among NL relievers in both categories while posting a 3.35 ERA.

He led the majors in appearances the next season, working in 88 games with a 3.61 ERA and 71-to-21 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 87 innings. With closer Chad Cordero hurt the Nationals handed ninth-inning duties to Rauch last year and he had 17 saves with a 2.98 ERA and 44-to-7 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 48 innings before being dealt to the Diamondbacks in mid-July. And then he fell apart. Rauch was 0-6 with a 6.56 ERA following the trade, including allowing 15 runs in his final 14 innings.

It looked like more of the same when he gave up 17 runs through 18 innings this year, but he bounced back with a 2.52 ERA and 22-to-7 strikeout-to-walk ratio in his next 36 innings before Friday's trade. In slightly more than a calendar year with Arizona he had a 4.87 ERA and 57-to-26 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 78 innings, serving up 11 homers. That's a steep decline from his time in Washington, and given his shoulder problems and huge workloads it wouldn't be shocking if he's simply wearing down at age 30.

Rauch became a full-time reliever in 2006 and since then he's the only pitcher in baseball to appear in 300 games. He's been ridden very hard and has shown clear signs of decline even while getting back on track lately. After going from Washington to Arizona his strikeouts dipped 20 percent, his walks rose 25 percent, and he served up 30 percent more homers, and this year's strikeout rate is the worst of his career. Fortunately he's still a capable reliever and isn't that far removed from being a very good one.

Waiting until now to bring in some bullpen help is mind-boggling, because the Twins are clinging to their playoff lives at 4.5 games back with 32 games remaining and the team's middle relief has been a weakness for the past 250 games. While the front office sat on their collective hands for 15 months the bullpen trotted out Rochester-caliber arms Henn, Brian Bass, R.A. Dickey, Bobby Keppel, Luis Ayala, Philip Humber, and the washed-up remains of Eddie Guardado and Juan Rincon for 240 innings.

Better late than never, perhaps, but making a move like this last season could've put the Twins into the playoffs and making a move like this a couple months ago could've left them without needing to mount a miracle comeback in September. Rauch and especially Mahay aren't going to have a huge impact in five weeks, but adding Rauch for next year at $2.9 million is certainly a reasonable price and should be a worthwhile pickup depending on the PTBNL. Still, probably too little and definitely too late.


Once you're done here, check out my NBCSports.com blog and Twitter updates.

August 27, 2009

Link-O-Rama

  • If this story is even close to true, I'm likely going to retire and just spend the rest of my life watching the footage on an endless loop.
  • Cowboys receiver Roy Williams is so irate about his 86-rated speed in Madden 10 that he used the phrase "geez Louise" and the term "slowpoke."
  • If ever you doubt the pure evil humans are capable of, read this horrific story 18 years in the making.
  • CNN reports on formerly anonymous bloggers who suffered consequences once their true identities became known, but the real key to remaining an anonymous blogger is picking a believable pen name such as "Aaron Gleeman."
  • According to the New York Post's gossip column, Derek Jeter and Minka Kelly might be "secretly engaged." First, that's the best decision Jeter has made since roaming into the middle of the infield on the Jeremy Giambi flip play. Second, imagine getting to a point in your life where you're not even eager to tell everyone about your engagement to the insanely attractive girl on Friday Night Lights. I'm tempted to tell everyone when I watch Friday Night Lights.
  • My quick review of Inglourious Basterds: Perhaps not quite a great film and definitely not my favorite by director Quentin Tarantino, but amazing acting, several absolutely extraordinary scenes, and a pretty awesome movie-going experience. Also, from now on I'd like everyone to refer to me only as "The Bear Jew." Thanks.
  • Speaking of Inglourious Basterds, while top billing naturally went to Brad Pitt (and Tarantino) veteran Austrian actor Christoph Waltz completely stole the show as one of the great movie villains of all time. Better yet, he was also interesting, funny, smart, and charming during a 45-minute interview on Adam Carolla's podcast this week.
  • One of the main perks of working from home is the ability to quote Seinfeld with zero consequences.
  • However, one of the biggest drawbacks of working from home is the lack of potential for slow claps:


    Aside from maybe causing massive explosions by flicking a cigarette at stuff, is there anything that gets portrayed more often in moves while happening less often in real life?
  • Twins high Single-A affiliate Fort Myers--which at various points this season has been home to 13 of their top 40 prospects--recently held a "What Would Tim Tebow Do?" promotion, with amusing results.
  • Quote of the Week, courtesy of Ichiro Suzuki talking about racking up infield hits during an era when "chicks dig the long ball":
    Chicks who dig home runs aren't the ones who appeal to me. I think there's sexiness in infield hits because they require technique. I'd rather impress the chicks with my technique than with my brute strength. Then, every now and then, just to show I can do that, too, I might flirt a little by hitting one out.

    Ichiro has an MLB-leading 449 infield hits since joining the Mariners in 2001, including 43 this season when no one else has even 25. He leads the league in cool by an even wider margin.

  • Friend of AG.com Keith Arnold is now part of the NBCSports.com family with Inside the Irish, which joins Circling the Bases and Pro Football Talk in the site's growing stable of blogs. A friendly word of advice from someone who's already been through the grueling initiation and humiliating hazing: Don't take off your underwear, no matter what Gregg Rosenthal and Mike Florio tell you.
  • Purple Jesus apparently does not save ducks.
  • Anna Paquin gets offended when people wonder why she hasn't fixed the gap in her front teeth after tuning into True Blood for her weekly nude scene.
  • As you might expect from someone who was placed on the disabled list with a testicle injury, Adrian Beltre probably won't be returning when eligible next week. "I think the swelling has going down a little slower than we thought," manager Don Wakamatsu said. Of course, the craziest part of the whole story is that Beltre is undecided about wearing a protective cup when he does come back.
  • Not that he's wrong in any way, but when someone who looks like this makes fun of my fellow SABR convention attendees' physical appearance ... well, it stings just a little more than usual.
  • Friend of AG.com Tom Tango launched his annual "scouting report by the fans for the fans." If you've ever dreamed of being a scout, this is your chance. After going to Tango's database, enter in personal observations about the players you watch on a regular basis to become part of the huge collection of scouting reports compiled entirely by fans. Take a look at the instructions and details, and then head to the Twins page to mark down what you think of, say, Delmon Young's "instincts" in the outfield.
  • Some of the highlights from my NBCSports.com blogging this week:

    - Big Papi back to putting up big numbers
    - If you're worried about Hamels, look past his ERA
    - Lidge keeps job after blowing MLB-high ninth save
    - Cookie Monster, Wily Mo Pena, and J.D. Drew
    - Defensive metrics, the Mariners, and Kevin Kouzmanoff
    - Remaking the Halladay-Lee comparison, a month later
    - Wagner changes mind, agrees to join Red Sox
    - Papelbon changes tune on Wagner, not a Rhodes Scholar
    - Twins getting what they paid for with Crede
    - Penny dropped from rotation; Smoltz was tipping pitches?

  • Finally, this week's AG.com-approved music video/audio is The Black Keys with "I'll Be Your Man":


  • Once you're done here, check out my NBCSports.com blog and Twitter updates.

    August 23, 2009

    Twins Notes: Tools, Ballet, Fastballs, Casinos, and Retirement

  • From the minors to the majors several Twins were picked in Baseball America's annual "best tools" survey of managers. Joe Mauer was named the league's best hitter and best defensive catcher while placing second behind Bobby Abreu for best strike-zone judgment and third behind Carl Crawford and Ichiro Suzuki for most exciting player. Joe Nathan came in second to Mariano Rivera for the AL's best reliever and Justin Morneau won for the league's best power.

    In the minors Ben Revere earned best hitting prospect, fastest baserunner, and most exciting player in the Florida State League, David Bromberg was named the FSL's best pitching prospect, Brad Tippett was picked for the best control in the Midwest League, and Drew Butera was named the International League's best defensive catcher. Now, the same BA managers survey once pegged David Ortiz as the best defensive first baseman at Triple-A, but grain of salt or not the picks are always interesting.

  • John W. Miller of the Wall Street Journal wrote a great profile of Max Kepler-Rozycki, the 16-year-old German outfielder who recently signed with the Twins for $800,000. His parents, American-born Kathy Kepler and Polish-born Marek Rozycki, met while starring together in the Berlin ballet, which led to an intriguing upbringing for their baseball-playing son. Twins scout Andy Johnson first saw him when he was 14 years old and described Kepler-Rozycki running to first base "like a galloping baby deer."
  • Dave Allen of Fan Graphs put together an eye-opening analysis of Francisco Liriano's struggles this year, basically concluding that his slider and changeup remain very good pitches while his fastball has gone from good to awful following Tommy John surgery. In terms of damage done on specific pitches, only Armando Galarraga has had a less effective fastball than Liriano. Meanwhile, despite averaging a modest 90.9 miles per hour with the pitch Scott Baker has had the majors' ninth-best fastball.
  • Whoever runs Morneau's personal website posted a bunch of photos from his recent "Casino Night" fundraiser, so you can see what Morneau, Mauer, Baker, Nick Punto, Mike Redmond, Brendan Harris, and Orlando Cabrera look like in their civvies. Also pictured: General manager Bill Smith after losing 40 pounds, MLB.com beat writer Kelly Thesier, Morneau playing poker with his wife on his lap and then raking in chips after winning a pot, and finally this beauty of Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel:


    From the arms-crossed guy standing guard behind Cuddyer and Thesier making an appearance in the background to Kubel's omnipresent shit-eating grin and Andy Sipowitz-like formal wear the photo is all kinds of amusing. And more importantly, Morneau and company raised $75,000 for juvenile arthritis.

  • Former first-round pick Jay Rainville has decided to retire from baseball at the age of 23 after failing to reestablish himself as a prospect following 2006 shoulder surgery, explaining:
    I think I owed it to the Twins and the Rock Cats not to keep spinning my wheels. I didn't have what it takes to pitch competitively. I did everything I could. I was able to get my arm strength back but never quite got the velocity back. It's tough to pitch when you don't have any velocity. I sat down with my family and thought about it and I feel this is the right move.

    In my annual ranking of the Twins' top prospects Rainville placed 21st in 2007 and 28th in 2008, but he dropped off the list after serving up 23 homers and posting a 5.45 ERA in 138.2 innings between high Single-A and Double-A last season. He continued to struggle at Double-A this year, allowing 51 runs in 69.2 innings while opponents hit .315. Rainville had a 3.15 ERA and great control in the low minors, but even before the surgery a high fly-ball rate and modest strikeout totals limited his upside.

  • Torii Hunter's tough-guy act took another hit recently, as he spent six weeks on the disabled list with a groin injury and then delayed his return thanks to "flu-like symptoms" after dining at the Olive Garden. Seriously. Hunter spent his final season in Minnesota publicly criticizing Mauer for not possessing the toughness to play through injuries, yet has missed 56 of a possible 284 games since signing with the Angels and has been in the lineup just eight more times than Mauer during the past five years.
  • Chris Jaffe of The Hardball Times found that every team but the Rays, Reds, and Brewers have had at least one player produce a 200-hit season since the Twins last got one from Paul Molitor in 1996. In fact, Mauer and Morneau are the only Twins to have even 180 hits since then. Interestingly, the Brewers' last 200-hit season also belongs to Molitor, way back in 1991.
  • Either the people who write the captions for Associated Press pictures are dyslexic or the Twins have a new pitching prospect.

  • Once you're done here, check out my NBCSports.com blog and Twitter updates.

    August 20, 2009

    Link-O-Rama

  • My attempt to take this test resulted in the internet blowing up.
  • Major-league pitchers everywhere were saddened by this news.
  • Sometimes nerds are awesome, like when the seriously attempt to answer burning questions such as: "How long did Bill Murray spend trapped in the film Groundhog Day?" There's even a pie chart.
  • My MinnPost colleague David Brauer reports that the St. Paul Pioneer Press is shaking up its sports section a bit, moving John Shipley from Wild coverage to secondary Twins writer behind Kelsie Smith and having Shipley, Ray Richardson, and Brian Murphy split the Timberwolves beat. Now if only they could somehow find a way to make the newspaper's website less of an unusable disaster.
  • Joe Maddon has added to his trademark hipster glasses by dying his hair black, which means that earrings, Ed Hardy t-shirts, and a tribal tattoo can't be too far away for the 55-year-old Rays manager.

    UPDATE: Too late on the Ed Hardy t-shirts thing, apparently. And I was just kidding!

  • Gregg Rosenthal's plan to take over the world is progressing nicely, as the Wall Street Journal just named Rotoworld the best website for fantasy football draft preparation while "judging for ease of use, value, features, and configurability to the myriad scoring rules used by various fantasy leagues." Their conclusion? "Rotoworld provided so much information and value it is hands down our No. 1 pick."
  • Speaking of Rotoworld's football content, Chris Wesseling wrote a tremendous article about Vikings rookie Percy Harvin's upside this season.
  • I've been to dozens of Northern League games back when the St. Paul Saints were in the league, but was never lucky enough to see opposing managers brawl along the third-base line:


    The game was in Canada, so naturally the play-by-play guy yelled out, "Oh, it's the old hockey fight!" And my favorite part is that no one was suspended for the incident that involved two middle-aged men in charge of running their respective professional baseball teams punching each other in the face.
  • With a name like Brooklyn Decker, she's gotta be good.
  • Bill Simmons did another great interview on his ESPN.com podcast, this time with Steve Nash. Lots of interesting questions, lots of worthwhile topics, and 50 minutes of actual conversation. I'm convinced that he's one of the best interviewers around and Nash was very good too.
  • Matt Keough made an All-Star team, pitched in the playoffs, and won 58 games in the big leagues, yet when TMZ.com reports on his recent DUI arrest he's merely "Matt Keough of The Real Housewives of Orange County."
  • During the last Olympics my statement that Usain Bolt's accomplishments were superior to Michael Phelps' accomplishments drew a lot of negative reaction, but running will forever be more impressive to me than swimming and Bolt continues to dominate. This week Bolt shattered his own world records for both 100 meters and 200 meters, including "the biggest improvement in the 100-meter record since electronic timing began in 1968." And he can even show off his skills on dry land.
  • Breaking news: An out-of-work man in his mid-30s smokes pot at home.
  • If you've ever wanted to see a 6-foot-6, 300-pound man hit a baseball 400 feet and then sprint 360 feet in 15 seconds, make sure to check out the footage of Kyle Blanks' inside-the-park homer Tuesday.
  • As always I'm the last person in the world to see every big movie, but I finally caught Tropic Thunder on HBO earlier this week and loved it. Started extraordinarily strong and sagged a little bit at times, but overall very enjoyable with tons of funny moments. I'd give it an A-minus.
  • A recent study shows that short children aren't necessarily treated differently than tall children, but to me the far more interesting tidbits from the New York Daily News article are that the average American adult male is just 5-foot-9 and there's a National Organization of Short Statured Adults called NOSSA. I've never really thought of myself as that tall at around 6-foot-2, and I'd definitely rather be short than fat. Of course, the grass is always greener on the non-obese side of the fence.
  • Speaking of obese, Washington Post blogger Dan Steinberg put together a roundup of stories about how out of shape Stephen Strasburg was when he first arrived at San Diego State. He weighed 250 pounds, was throwing up 10 minutes into the team's first workout, had teammates wondering if there was something medically wrong with him, and earned the nickname "Slothburg." And just two years later he's the best pitching prospect in baseball with a deal worth over $15 million. Amazing.
  • As one of the few people who loved Lucky Louie on HBO, I'm excited to see that Louie C.K. is getting a new show on FX. The network is also producing a new show about "a group of longtime guy friends who participate in a fantasy football league," which sounds pretty lame even to someone who works for a fantasy sports website. FX does a lot of good stuff though, so we'll see.
  • Kelly Brook, doing whatever it is that she does.
  • According to a recent study, 40 percent of Twitter updates are "pointless babble." First, that number seems low to me. Second, pointless babble can be entertaining if the people doing the babbling are interesting. I'm still getting the hang of what type of stuff to post on Twitter, but have gotten a lot of good feedback from people who enjoy my updates and have somehow accumulated over 1,000 "followers" who signed up to have my unique brand of pointless babble delivered right to them. I'm addicted.
  • Some of the highlights from my NBCSports.com blogging this week:

    - Great pitching has Giants looking very scary
    - Carlos Marmol, poor control, and unhittable relievers
    - Wagner, mid-90s fastball return intact
    - Big Hurt got Rizzo started down GM path
    - Dead body found on Chipper Jones' ranch
    - Rangers bring back Ivan Rodriguez
    - Tigers get Huff from Orioles
    - Smoltz hooks on with Cardinals
    - Randy Wolf's one-man show

  • Finally, in honor of Stephon Marbury this week's AG.com-approved music video is Ben Harper with a live version of "Burn One Down":


  • Once you're done here, check out my NBCSports.com blog and Twitter updates.

    August 19, 2009

    Joe Mauer, MVP Votes, and Historic Awesomeness

    There's been lots of talk lately about Joe Mauer's chances of winning the AL MVP, but rather than focus on how 28 newspaper writers might cast their ballots in six weeks let's concentrate on the historically awesome season that the Twins' catcher is having. After collecting six hits and three homers in the first three games of the Texas series, he's 33-for-66 (.500) with seven homers, six doubles, and 19 RBIs in 16 games since his batting average fell to a season-low .353 on August 1. Yes, a season-low .353.

    He leads baseball with a .380 batting average and tops the AL in on-base percentage (.448), slugging percentage (.648), OPS (1.095), Runs Above Replacement (65.0), and percentage of runners driven in. Despite spending all of April on the disabled list he's up to 25 homers, 77 RBIs, and 237 total bases, each of which ranks among the AL's top 10. Oh, and he's also the league's reigning Gold Glove catcher and has thrown out 30 percent of steal attempts this year while making great plays behind the plate.

    Mauer has been the AL's best, most valuable player whether or not the 28 people with an actual vote on the award recognize it, but beyond that he's having a truly historic year. What makes his performance so amazing is that throughout baseball history catcher has been home to the worst hitters. This year is no different, as MLB backstops have managed a measly .256/.321/.398 line and .719 OPS that rank as the worst from any position. In fact, shortstop is the only other spot with an OPS below .750.

    Not only is Mauer the best hitter in the league, he's the best hitter in the league and a good defender at the least-offensive position on the diamond. Catchers just don't hit like this, which is why Mauer is on track for his third batting title in four seasons after no catcher in the history of the league ever managed even one before he came around. He's also at or near the top of almost every all-time leaderboard for catchers, including batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, and OPS:

                      YEAR      AVG                            YEAR      OBP
    JOE MAUER 2009 .380 Mickey Cochrane 1933 .459
    Babe Phelps 1936 .367 Mickey Cochrane 1935 .452
    Mike Piazza 1997 .362 JOE MAUER 2009 .448
    Bill Dickey 1936 .362 Johnny Bassler 1924 .441
    Mickey Cochrane 1930 .357 Chief Meyers 1912 .441

    YEAR SLG YEAR OPS
    JOE MAUER 2009 .648 JOE MAUER 2009 1.095
    Mike Piazza 1997 .638 Mike Piazza 1997 1.069
    Gabby Hartnett 1930 .630 Bill Dickey 1936 1.045
    Bill Dickey 1936 .617 Gabby Hartnett 1930 1.034
    Mike Piazza 2000 .614 Mike Piazza 2000 1.012

    Mauer currently has the highest batting average, slugging percentage, and OPS in baseball history for a catcher, ranks third all time in on-base percentage, and Mike Piazza is the only guy from the past 70 years to even appear on those lists. Mauer is on track for one of the single greatest catcher seasons in baseball history and has easily been the AL's best player. He has a 1.100 OPS when no one else is at even 1.000 and, as an aside, his batting average is higher than Mark Teixeira's on-base percentage.

    Mauer has clearly contributed more runs to his team than anyone else in the league, he's having one of the greatest seasons of all time for a catcher, and the only other players in baseball history to have a .380 batting average with at least 25 homers this late in the season are Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Lou Gehrig, and Joe DiMaggio. If in six weeks the 28 newspaper writers with an MVP ballot don't recognize just how amazing he's been, then perhaps we should stop caring so much about what they think.


    Once you're done here, check out my NBCSports.com blog and Twitter updates.

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