September 17, 2009

Link-O-Rama

  • AG.com favorite Bill Withers pranked the USC football team and then led the whole locker room in a rendition of "Lean On Me," which is every bit as awesome as it sounds:


    Unfortunately for Ohio State, they carry a football better than a tune.
  • As if Adrian Peterson didn't do enough last week, Sidney Rice blogs about how Purple Jesus stole his Maserati. His conclusion? "Not cool."
  • My MinnPost colleague David Brauer wrote a good article about the first step in the Minneapolis Star Tribune's plan to start charging for content online and the Vikings are at the forefront.
  • In the wake of Bartolo Colon getting cut by the White Sox this week, Arlington Heights Daily Herald beat writer Scot Gregor calls him "one of the stranger guys I've run across in MLB." Not mentioned, of course, is that he's also one of the sexiest.
  • Based on Alan Sepinwall's nifty primer on this season's television schedule I'm giving the following new shows a three-episode tryout: Community, Bored to Death, Cougar Town, Modern Family. Aside from Parks and Recreation last year's new series did absolutely nothing for me, so my DVR is in need of some new blood.
  • Speaking of Sepinwall, he's trying to come up with "similarity scores" for actors and actresses like the ones Bill James invented for baseball players. And if that's not intriguing enough, he's starting with longtime AG.com favorite Maura Tierney.
  • At this point, hopefully Tim McCarver sings better than he announces.
  • The new season of Curb Your Enthusiasm and quasi-Seinfeld reunion looks pretty, pretty good.
  • Remember last week's amazing video of the kid who loved bacon? Well, there's a dance remix:


    Someone really needs to get this kid his own television show.
  • My thoughts on Derek Jeter breaking the Yankees' all-time hits record matches The Onion's take.
  • Peter Abraham of the New York Journal News notes that Yankees outfielder Nick Swisher is dating actress Joanna Garcia from Gossip Girls, adding: "That's not good news for you ladies out there who like bad haircuts and a high on-base percentage." Incidentally, the Journal News is losing Abraham to the Boston Globe, which is a big blow online and in print not to mention the fact that a reporter going from covering the Yankees to covering the Red Sox just seems weird.
  • One of the most underrated actors of all time died this week despite the fact that "pain don't hurt."
  • Fedor Emelianenko is finally fighting again and it'll be on network television in November.
  • Official Fantasy Girl of AG.com Keeley Hazell's attempt to become mainstream apparently includes no longer getting naked, so the bikini version of her annual calendar will have to suffice. In completely unrelated news, it may be time to find a new OFGoAG.com.
  • This is more or less how I feel when people ask me for fantasy football advice.
  • Here's a little behind-the-scenes feature video on the Adam Carolla podcast that I'm always talking about. Dr. Drew made an appearance on the show this week, which is always good times.
  • In honor of The Office premiering their new season last night, here's Official Fantasy Girl of AG.com second runner-up Jenna Fischer unveiling the Pam Beesly bobblehead:


    If only I had some sort of connection with NBC, maybe I'd get a bobblehead.
  • Alyson Footer of MLB.com reports that 35-year-old Astros reliever Tim Byrdak has a man-crush on, of all people, Nick Lachey. Sad.
  • For anyone curious about what the NFL pregame scene looks like here at casa de fatboy on Sunday.
  • I've been watching several House episodes per week for the past few months and have decided that Olivia Wilde is a two-face, and believe it or not these possibly not-safe-for-work photos from GQ might support my theory.
  • Rob Dyrdek's mother thinks that John Mayer is a bad influence on him.
  • If you're not following me on Twitter, this week you missed my mom's analysis of Justin Morneau's season-ending injury, great moments in advertising, and the latest on the ever-growing list of teams for which I'm apparently biased.
  • Some of the highlights from my NBCSports.com blogging this week:

    - Giants' midseason moves haven't paid off
    - When is a strikeout just like any other out?
    - Report: Cubs 'plan on shopping' Zambrano
    - After the hype, Wieters having solid rookie season
    - Tigers likely playoff bound in spite of Washburn
    - Shoulder surgery puts Flores' status for 2010 in question
    - They may be bad, but the A's aren't 'playing softball' any more
    - Hoffman 'would really like to come back' to Brewers

  • Finally, this week's AG.com-approved music video is Withers singing "Ain't No Sunshine" from about 40 years ago:


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

    September 16, 2009

    Back Injury Ends Slumping Morneau's Season

    Whatever slim playoff chances the Twins have left took a big hit earlier this week when Justin Morneau was diagnosed with a stress fracture in his lower back. While the injury doesn't require surgery, he'll miss the remainder of this season and doctors have advised Morneau to rest for the next three months before doing any running or weight lifting. "He needs the time off so he doesn't jeopardize his career," hitting coach Joe Vavra said. "Basically that's what we were looking at."

    Morneau revealed that he's been playing through the back pain for 3-4 weeks, which helps explain the brutal 12-for-87 (.138) slump that he went through during that time. Of course, fading down the stretch is nothing new for Morneau, who finished last year in a similar 11-for-64 (.172) slump and batted just .220/.305/.355 during the final two months in 2007. Even when Morneau hit well down the stretch in his MVP-winning 2006 campaign his power was modest, and the monthly splits for his career are extreme:

                 AVG      OBP      SLG      OPS
    April .286 .348 .521 .870
    May .305 .380 .570 .950
    June .286 .345 .499 .844
    July .307 .378 .572 .950
    August .250 .327 .443 .770
    September .251 .323 .413 .736

    In each of April, May, June, and July he's hit at least .280 with an OPS above .840 for a combined mark of .297/.364/.543 through four months. Then in August and September he's hit just .250/.325/.429. His strikeout and walk rates have basically remained constant during the second-half fades, but Morneau's power has dropped 27 percent in August and September while his batting average on balls in play has fallen 32 percent for an overall production decline of about 15 percent.

    Whether that's all the result of injuries and wearing down physically or there's something else at play is difficult to say, but his career-long numbers are impossible to ignore and his late-season performance during the past three years has been particularly dreadful. If you add up Morneau's final 50 games from 2007, 2008, and 2009 he's hit a combined .236 with 17 homers in what is essentially one full season's worth of playing time.

    Despite the up-and-down nature of his performance Morneau has been hugely productive offensively in each of the past four years, ranking 8th, 27th, 8th, and 12th among American League batters in Runs Created (although this season's ranking will drop steadily over the next three weeks). And regardless of league from 2006 through his being shut down this week only five first baseman and 17 total hitters have racked up more Runs Created than Morneau with 434.

    Ultimately it matters little whether someone hits well early and poorly late or vice versa, because a win in April or May counts the same as a win in August or September. However, struggling down the stretch is a sure-fire way for any player to turn a fan base against him and in Morneau's case the big question is whether something could have been done to avoid his late-season collapses. We'll never know, of course, and right now just getting him back to normal for even April through July of next year is the goal.


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

    September 14, 2009

    Appreciating Denard Span

    Denard Span ranked 28th on my inaugural list of the Twins' top prospects in 2007 despite coming off a season in which he hit just .285/.340/.349 at Double-A, and then narrowly missed my top-40 for 2008 after batting just .267/.323/.355 at Triple-A. At that point he was still relatively young at 24 years old, with good speed and athleticism, but the former first-round pick had racked up 2,184 plate appearances spread over five seasons in the minors and was a career .283/.348/.348 hitter.

    Prior to last year I wrote that "there's little in Span's minor-league resume to suggest future big-league success" and actually tried to show optimism by opining that "even modest improvements could make him an option as a reserve outfielder." Less than two years later Span has established himself as not only a big part of the Twins' future, but as one of the best all-around players in the entire league. I'm not quite sure how to explain Span's transformation from bust to star, but he's made a believer out of me.

    It didn't seem especially significant at the time because of his long track record of mediocrity, but Span quietly started to turn things around during the second half of 2007. He hit .306/.371/.393 with improved strike-zone control at Triple-A following a miserable first half and then turned things up another notch back at Rochester last year, hitting .340/.434/.481 with vastly improved plate discipline and power in 40 games. At that point my view of Span's potential began to change, but what came next is still a shocker.

    Called up to Minnesota for good in late June, Span was in the starting lineup for every single one of the final 81 games and batted .294/.387/.432 in 411 trips to the plate. He smacked six homers after going deep a grand total of seven times in 509 minor-league games coming into the season and posted an outstanding 60-to-50 strikeout-to-walk ratio after striking out nearly two times for every walk previously. Toss in excellent outfield defense and Span ranked fifth on my ballot for team MVP as a rookie.

    There was a healthy bit of skepticism regarding how Span would fare this year, but he's looked nothing like the pre-2008 version and has basically duplicated his fantastic rookie performance over the course of a full season. He's batting .310/.394/.419 in 127 games, producing the league's ninth-best on-base percentage while again posting a strong strikeout-to-walk ratio at 80-to-65. His defense in center field has statistically graded out poorly, but as a corner outfielder his glove continues to get excellent marks.

    Basically, he's a stud. Span has hit .304 with a .391 on-base percentage and .425 slugging percentage through 220 career games, rates as one of the elite defensive corner outfielders in all of baseball, can play center field without embarrassing himself when needed, has shown absolutely zero platoon split against left-handed pitching, and at 25 years old is under the Twins' control for another five seasons. Here's how his batting average and OBP rank among all outfielders since the beginning of last year:

                         AVG                             OBP
    Ichiro Suzuki .330 Manny Ramirez .428
    Manny Ramirez .323 Matt Holliday .402
    Matt Holliday .318 Adam Dunn .397
    Carlos Lee .310 DENARD SPAN .391
    Magglio Ordonez .306 Bobby Abreu .385
    DENARD SPAN .304 Brad Hawpe .383

    Span has the speed that conventional wisdom craves in a leadoff man, with the added bonus that he's actually an ideal fit atop the lineup. He takes tons of pitches, draw walks in bunches, and is one of only 12 players--regardless of position--with a .300 batting average and .375 on-base percentage over the past two seasons. The others? Albert Pujols, Manny Ramirez, Joe Mauer, Hanley Ramirez, Chipper Jones, Kevin Youkilis, Matt Holliday, Miguel Cabrera, David Wright, Nick Markakis, and Derek Jeter.

    Of his 215 career starts he's played right field 98 times, center field 72 times, and left field 45 times, but Ron Gardenhire indicated recently that he'd like to keep Span at one position beginning next season. In doing so Gardenhire didn't specify which position he'd prefer as Span's long-term home, but my hope is that he ends up in left field. According to Ultimate Zone Rating per 1,400 innings Span's defense has been 12 runs above average as a corner outfielder and 15 runs below average as a center fielder.

    The true gap likely isn't that extreme and there's some sample-size issues at play because we're only talking about a grand total of about 1,900 innings spread over three positions, but having watched him for two years now I'd agree that Span is an elite corner outfielder and a mediocre center fielder. Moving him to center field full time makes sense if the Twins are absolutely convinced that Delmon Young has a significantly brighter future than Carlos Gomez, but my view is the opposite.

    The jury is still very much out on both Young and Gomez offensively, but we already know that Gomez is an excellent defensive center fielder and Young is a terrible defensive left fielder. By playing Gomez and Span together the Twins would guarantee themselves a very good defensive outfield, which is key for a team that constantly talks up the importance of strong defense and almost always features a staff filled with fly-ball pitchers. It's tough to see a Young-Span-Michael Cuddyer alignment being a strength.

    Wherever he ends up defensively the Twins are incredibly lucky to have Span atop the lineup, because his high batting average, patient approach, and fantastic on-base percentage make him a near-perfect fit there and if not for his presence Gardenhire would no doubt be tempted to put two light-hitting middle infielders with awful OBPs in front of Mauer, Justin Morneau, and Jason Kubel. Span has emerged as one of the Twins' most valuable building blocks and I'm thrilled to have been so wrong about him.


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

    September 10, 2009

    Link-O-Rama

  • A wise man once said, "I love you like a fat kid loves cake." As this video shows, bacon also works:


    "I had a very, very calm day until this."
  • Just in case Quentin Tarantino makes a sequel to Inglourious Basterds, these guys are ready.
  • My favorite player of the mid-90s and one of the biggest screwups in basketball history is making his triumphant return for something called the North Texas Fresh in the American Basketball Association. What could possibly go wrong?
  • September means rookie hazing and rookie hazing means ... well, David Price in a pink dress and matching high heels. Now spend the rest of your day trying to remove that image from your brain.
  • Much like with Friday Night Lights earlier this year, I'm now obsessed with Lost after discovering that Hulu has the first four seasons. It's hard to imagine any television show having a better debut episode and it took me less than 72 hours to watch the 25-episode first season. Seriously. If you're like me and refuse to jump into a series midstream, seeing the first two episodes will make you feel like someone who just discovered that pizza tastes good. Also, Evangeline Lilly.
  • Richard Deitsch of SI.com put together a fantastic guide to the various NFL broadcast teams for this season. I'd love to see someone do a similar breakdown for baseball.
  • John Mayer used his Twitter account to shoot down rumors that he's sleeping with Kristin Cavallari. I used my Twitter account to ask people to suggest good snacks to eat during last night's NFL season opener. So more or less the same, basically.
  • Dana Mattioli of the Wall Street Journal profiles the 73-year-old man (and his son) behind one of my favorite Twitter feeds.
  • Random fact: Kids starting college this week were born in 1991, which is when the Twins last won a World Series. Let that sink in. Now try not to feel old.
  • Here is this week's completely gratuitous link to a bunch of Kelly Brook pictures. And here's the Kate Beckinsale version. I'm apparently into exceptionally good looking British women. Who knew.
  • Prince Fielder and the Brewers choreographed a hilarious celebration following his walk-off homer against the Giants earlier this week:


    As a fellow fat guy, my favorite part is that he started untucking his jersey at second base.
  • Quote of the Week, courtesy of Albert Haynesworth when asked about facing big running backs like Brandon Jacobs: "They all fall the same. What is he, 250? I weighed 250 in the 10th grade."
  • Adam Everett's wife recently represented Georgia in the Mrs. America (notice the extra "R") pageant.
  • Not only has Craig Breslow posted a 3.00 ERA and 37-to-16 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 45 innings for the A's since the Twins misguidedly put him on waivers, he might be the smartest player in baseball.
  • The good news is that the Twins are probably going to pick in the first half of the draft next June.
  • My favorite article of the week: "Chuck Klosterman Repeats The Beatles."
  • Two great tastes that taste great together: Patton Oswalt on Bill Simmons' podcast.
  • Jeremy Greenhouse of Baseball Analysts put together an intriguing look at which pitchers have the best "stuff" based on velocity and movement.
  • Some of the highlights from my NBCSports.com blogging this week:

    - Petco Park and appreciating Adrian Gonzalez
    - Ordonez will be back in Detroit next season, making $18 million
    - Searching for Madison Bumgarner's fastball
    - Brian Roberts and the art of the two-bagger
    - Quote of the Day: "Everything in my office is going on eBay"
    - Nationals moving Guzman to second base next year?
    - Are the Yankees finished with Chien-Ming Wang?
    - Citi Field might be a bigger mess than the Mets

  • Finally, in honor of her upcoming wedding at First Avenue this week's AG.com-approved music video is Lucinda Williams doing a live version of "Are You Alright?":


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

    September 9, 2009

    Top 40 Minnesota Twins: #37 Jimmie Hall

    JIMMIE RANDOLPH HALL | CF/LF/RF | 1963-1966 | CAREER STATS

    G PA AVG OBP SLG OPS+ WARP WS
    573 2104 .269 .334 .481 124 13.5 76

    Jimmie Hall signed with the Senators as an 18-year-old in 1956, but didn't make it to the big leagues until three years after the team moved from Washington to Minnesota. A 25-year-old rookie in 1963, he initially served as a reserve outfielder on a team that had veterans Harmon Killebrew, Bob Allison, and Lenny Green established as starters. He struggled early on, hitting just .188 in 80 at-bats through the end of May, but then got his big break when Green went down with an injury in June.

    It wasn't quite Lou Gehrig replacing Wally Pipp, but Hall stepped in as the center fielder and had a big rookie year. At a time when the league as a whole hit a measly .247/.310/.380 and teams scored just 4.1 runs per game, Hall hit .260/.342/.521 with 33 homers and 65 walks in 571 plate appearances. Despite ranking among the AL's top 10 in slugging percentage, homers, runs scored, total bases, and OPS, Hall finished just third in the Rookie of the Year balloting behind Gary Peters and Pete Ward.

    His adjusted OPS+ of 136 in 1963 not only ranked seventh in the league that season, it's a number that only 14 of the Twins' hitters have topped in the 45 years since then. What made Hall's rookie season particularly impressive was that he ended up with those outstanding overall numbers despite playing sporadically and performing horribly through the first two months. Then from June 1 through the end of the year Hall batted .273/.354/.556 with 31 homers and 77 RBIs in 116 games.

    Hall's rookie campaign was more than enough for him to supplant Green as the Twins' center fielder going forward, and in the 13th game of the 1964 season Hall, Killebrew, Allison, and 25-year-old rookie Tony Oliva hit four consecutive extra-inning homers in a 7-3 win over the A's. While not an outstanding defensive foursome (Allison played mostly first base that year), they combined to blast 138 homers on the season and the Twins led the league with 221 homers while no other team reached even 190.

    Despite all that power, the Twins won just 79 games in 1964 because of a mediocre pitching staff and some tough breaks. Hall turned in a solid sophomore season, batting .282/.338/.480 with 25 homers while making his first All-Star team, but was involved in an incident that might have led to his early decline. Playing center field and batting sixth in a May 27 game against the Angels, Hall led off the fifth inning and was hit on the cheek by a pitch from southpaw Bo Belinsky.

    Hall immediately left the game, but returned to the starting lineup about a week later and played well for the remainder of the season while wearing a special protective flap on his batting helmet. However, there's quite a bit of speculation that the beaning ultimately led to his being timid and ineffective versus left-handed pitchers, and could help explain why he was finished as a productive player by his sixth season. Of course, that theory has some holes in it.

    First and foremost is that Hall struggled against southpaws prior to the beaning, like many left-handed batters do, hitting just .235/.297/.338 against them during his rookie campaign. Beyond that, whatever negative impact the incident had on his hitting ability certainly didn't show up for several years. In fact, Hall had arguably his best all-around season in 1965, making his second All-Star appearance while hitting .285/.347/.464 and setting career-highs in batting average, on-base percentage, and RBIs.

    In large part thanks to Hall's excellent third season, the Twins went 102-60 in 1965 to win the American League pennant by seven games over the White Sox and then matched up against the Dodgers in one of the best World Series in baseball history. Because the Dodgers' three-man rotation included a pair of dominant lefties in Sandy Koufax and Claude Osteen, manager Sam Mele decided to bench Hall in five of the seven games.

    The move was somewhat understandable considering how good Koufax and Osteen were and how bad Hall's .240/.272/.333 line against lefties was in 1965. On the other hand, his replacement in center field, rookie Joe Nossek, was one of the worst hitters in the league and hit just .228/.262/.325 against lefties himself. Hall started the two games that right-hander Don Drysdale pitched, going 1-for-7 with five strikeouts, Nossek went 4-for-20, and Koufax tossed a Game 7 shutout to win the series.

    Hall remained a power threat in 1966, smacking 20 homers in 356 at-bats, but hit .239/.302/.449 for his worst season in four years with the Twins. He was phased out in center field, giving way to rookie Ted Uhlaender while spending time in both outfield corners, and was used mostly as a platoon player and bench bat. That was Hall's last season in Minnesota. On December 2, 1966 he was traded to the Angels along with Don Mincher and Pete Cimino for Dean Chance and Jackie Hernandez.

    Chance became the ace of the Twins' pitching staff for two seasons and Mincher went on to have a quality post-Minnesota career. As for Hall, despite being only 29 years old he had exactly one more decent season left in him. Hall hit .249/.318/.404 with 16 homers in 129 games for the Angels in 1967, which doesn't look very good until you consider that the league hit .236/.300/.351 in what was one of the lowest-scoring periods in baseball history. His modest .722 OPS was good for a solid 117 OPS+.

    Hall stuck around for another three seasons, playing for four teams while hitting .208/.277/.297 in 618 plate appearances. He flamed out quickly, but Hall's impact on the Twins was significant. He packed 98 homers into just four seasons in Minnesota despite playing at a time when big offensive numbers were rare, and played a passable center field while doing so. If you adjust his numbers with the Twins to today's hitting environment, they look something like .285/.340/.525.

    TOP 25 ALL-TIME MINNESOTA TWINS RANKS:

    Slugging % .481 6th
    OPS .815 12th
    Homers 98 13th
    Adjusted OPS+ 124 13th


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

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