September 17, 2010

Link-O-Rama

• R.I.P., White Sox (April 5, 2010 - September 16, 2010)

• Her control and velocity weren't quite as good as the last time she threw out a first pitch, but Marisa Miller still looked great on the mound at AT&T Park.

• I'm willing to undersell any and all pay-to-follow Twitter offerings. I'll even toss in a Facebook friendship.

David Brown of Yahoo! Sports is one of my favorite interviewers and Vin Scully is the best announcer of all time, so when they get together for a chat I link to it.

• Believe it or not this is what an Official Fantasy Girl of AG.com candidate looks like after hours of makeup.

• Baseball has proven really difficult for the Royals, so they're giving another sport a try.

• I let my nerd flag fly and brought my laptop to the 1500-ESPN studio for the past two nights. Thanks to Darren Wolfson and Joe Schmit for having me on "Twins Wrap." It was lots of fun.

• My never-ending quest for new podcasts to devour recently led me to discover Jesse Thorn and his pair of great shows. One is a relatively formal, NPR-style interview series called "The Sound of Young America" and the other is a more laid back comedy show with co-host Jordan Morris called "Jordan, Jesse, Go!" Both are excellent podcasts, in large part because of Thorn's incredibly dry yet goofy sense of humor and easy going yet intelligent conversational style.

Plus, he's a big baseball fan and even interviewed Bill James on an episode of "The Sound of Young America." If you're into smart, lengthy interviews listen to Thorn's chats with Louis C.K., Nick Hornby, Adam Carolla, Martin Starr, and Paul Rust. And if you're into funny stuff, check out basically anything in the "Jordan, Jesse, Go!" archives. Thorn is great, Thorn and Morris are a great duo, and both podcasts have quickly become part of my daily listening routine.

• Friend of AG.com Jay Jaffe wrote a nice tribute on the 40th anniversary of my favorite book.

• If you see Kevin Mitchell on a golf course don't ask the former MVP if you can play through.

Torii Hunter is $5,000 poorer because Hideki Matsui hit a triple.

• My fellow Friday Night Lights fans will really enjoy Diablo Cody interviewing Kyle Chandler:

Coach Taylor couldn't possibly have been more charming.

• There are two extraordinarily promising 20-year-old rookie hitters in the National League this season. One is showing historic power and the other is showing historic on-base skills.

• I could definitely see paying a la cart prices for long-form writing online, but unfortunately I suspect I'm in the minority.

• Speaking of good long-form writing, Nicholas Dawidoff's profile of Rex Ryan in the New York Times is a must-read for anyone who enjoyed Hard Knocks on HBO.

• And speaking of the Jets, a female sports reporter told a story about why Orel Hershiser's good-guy reputation is deserved.

• Apparently sometimes "saddest" can be just a synonym for "greatest." After all, she's "up 22 percent in popularity this week."

• I blame Brooklyn Decker for this.

• My favorite television writer, Alan Sepinwall of HitFix.com, gave one-sentence reviews for all the new network shows this season and sadly not one of them struck me as particularly worth checking out. Thank god for the other 500 channels.

• I'm moving further and further down the list of the best writers in my family.

• NBCSports.com unveiled a re-design this week and it looks pretty sweet.

• I'm really hoping this becomes the new Rick-rolled.

• As if I needed any help getting fatter, a restaurant called Yo Yo Donuts just opened up about a block from my house. So far I've been too scared to even check it out, because obviously no good can come of this.

• I'm addicted to WhatIfSports.com's Hardball Dynasty game and my league has one franchise open with a new season set to begin next week. Hardball Dynasty is not fantasy baseball, but rather an incredibly detailed simulation of running a fictional MLB organization from rookie-ball to the majors, so due to the steep learning curve and time commitment required we're looking for an owner with previous Hardball Dynasty experience. If you're interested, let me know.

• Here are some highlights from my NBCSports.com blogging this week:

- Clayton Kershaw is 22 years old and really, really good
- Joe Morgan's opinion about the Cy Young debate is exactly what you'd expect
- Carlos Marmol has the highest strikeout rate in MLB history
- Mariners to fire professional scouting director over Josh Lueke controversy
- Manny Ramirez comes up empty as White Sox's playoff hopes slip away
- Japanese pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma said to be eyeing MLB
- Fredi Gonzalez turns down interview for Cubs' manager job
- After 10 seasons and 1,500 games Michael Young is finally playoff bound
- Livan Hernandez was a one-man gang in Atlanta

• Finally, in honor of the White Sox this week's AG.com-approved music video is "All Over Now" by Eric Hutchinson:

September 15, 2010

Say goodnight, Ozzie

It wasn't pretty, but the Twins have already done what they needed to do in Chicago, which is simply avoid a sweep. They're now up seven games with 18 left to play, only two of which are against the White Sox, which puts the Twins' odds of winning the division at about 98 percent. Another win tonight or tomorrow night and everyone can start worrying more about homefield advantage and ALDS matchups. For now the magic number is 12.

Francisco Liriano was great early, but got hurt by ugly defense (self-inflicted and otherwise) on the way to six innings of three-run ball. Not bad in a hitter-friendly road ballpark against a solid lineup, but it could have been much better. Jesse Crain came up big yet again, wriggling out of Matt Guerrier's jam with his slider of death, Delmon Young, Danny Valencia, and J.J. Hardy each had key hits, and Jason Kubel put together a great at-bat against a tough lefty.

I'm sure Twins fans are hesitant to declare any division race over following last year--and after prematurely writing the Twins off then I should've learned the lesson as well as anyone--but ... well, I'll let legendary Lakers announcers Chick Hearn describe the state of the AL Central:

Hopefully the Twins will hammer the final nail into the coffin tonight, so we can have some fun eulogizing the White Sox's season on the 1500-ESPN postgame show. Win or lose, I'll be on "Twins Wrap" talking about the game with Darren Wolfson and taking phone calls beginning 30 minutes after the final out. You can listen online here.

September 14, 2010

OPS on MPR and the 1500-ESPN postgame show

"Morning Edition" with Cathy Wurzer had me on as a guest today to preview the Twins-White Sox series and I made what is surely the first (and maybe last) reference to OPS in the history of MPR. You can listen to my appearance on Minnesota Public Radio by clicking here.

I'll also be on 1500-ESPN following the games Wednesday night and Thursday night, breaking things down with Darren Wolfson and taking calls on "Twins Wrap." So keep your radio tuned to 1500-ESPN after the games or listen online here.

And after that I promise to go back into hiding and resume being a hermit.

September 13, 2010

Twins Notes: Fox, Young, Revere, Blackburn, Santana, and Batgirl

• Yesterday the Royals scored six runs in the top of the first inning against the White Sox and then lost 12-6. Despite that lack of help the Twins hold a six-game lead with 19 games left and this week's series is their final matchup with the White Sox, so most simulations put the Twins at 95-98 percent to win the AL Central. Basically, as long as they avoid being swept in Chicago the biggest question will be whether the Twins play the Yankees or the Rays in the first round.

Matt Fox fared well in his last-minute spot start on September 3, holding one of the AL's top lineups to two runs in 5.2 innings, but the Twins designated him for assignment a couple days later to clear 40-man roster space for Ben Revere. Calling someone up, having them pitch well on short rest and little notice in their MLB debut, and then cutting them loose 72 hours later is obviously not an ideal scenario for anyone involved, but it's important to note Fox's situation.

He wasn't on the 40-man roster to begin with and was only added when a dreadful 13-inning game the previous night left the Twins' pitching staff extremely short-handed. Had that mess of a game never happened (or had the Twins better prepared for it by expanding the roster on September 1) he never would have been in the majors and could have left the organization as a 28-year-old minor-league free agent this offseason anyway.

So instead of remaining at Triple-A to finish the season and then having the right to leave as a free agent Fox got to make a completely unexpected major-league debut and collected an MLB paycheck for a few days. And, as it turned out, Fox impressed the Red Sox enough that they claimed him off waivers, used a 40-man roster spot on him, and now seem likely to keep him in the majors for at least the rest of the month. And all because of that stupid 13-inning game.

• Speaking of unexpected debuts, Revere was certainly surprised that the Twins called him up for the stretch run. Not only wasn't he on the 40-man roster, Revere was initially thought to be out for the year after being hit in the face by a pitch and suffering a fractured orbital bone on August 3. Instead he returned to the Double-A lineup three weeks later, went 13-for-34 (.382) in eight games, and is now in the majors wearing a protective face guard on his helmet.

Albert Lyu of Think Blue Crew used swing zone charts to take an interesting look at Delmon Young, Vladimir Guerrero, and Jeff Francoeur, who are the only hitters in baseball to hack at 60 percent of the pitches thrown to them. Young's swing-at-everything approach was easy to overlook when he was crushing the ball early on this season, but that production has dried up and unfortunately now just the horrible plate discipline remains.

Young has hit .211/.242/.314 in 38 games since August 1, striking out 29 times while drawing just five walks in 158 plate appearances. His batting average is still around .300 and he'll drive in more than 100 runs, so I'm sure some people will call it a great season. However, his .805 OPS isn't very far above the .775 average for corner outfielders and once his terrible defense is factored in Young ranks just 33rd among AL outfielders at 13 runs above replacement level.

The clutch hitting has been very valuable and Young has obviously been much better than he was in 2008 and 2009, but a .328 on-base percentage and .477 slugging percentage from an awful defensive left fielder just isn't all that great. For some context, in his four seasons as a regular Jason Kubel has a .344 on-base percentage and a .477 slugging percentage, topping Young's current OPS by 15 points. And rarely does anyone make a big deal of his production.

• His overall numbers are still ugly and that's not going to change, but Nick Blackburn has a 1.71 ERA while allowing zero homers in four starts since returning from a month-long demotion to Triple-A. Prior to the demotion Blackburn induced 49 percent ground balls while striking out 7.4 percent of the batters he faced. Since the demotion he's at 58 percent grounders and 16.8 percent strikeouts. Also encouraging, he's more than doubled his rate of swinging strikes.

• As expected, Randy Flores has proven to be a horrendous "lefty specialist." He's faced eight left-handed batters since joining the Twins and has recorded one out, giving up six hits and a walk. Overall this season lefties are hitting .298/.385/.509 off Flores and he's apparently been shaking off Joe Mauer while refusing to throw off-speed pitches. Hopefully with Brian Fuentes available and Jose Mijares back after surgery Flores has seen his last high-leverage spot.

Joe Posnanski wrote a fun piece for SI.com ranking the majors' 30 managers by their playing careers and Ron Gardenhire fares a lot better than you'd probably expect from someone who hit .232/.277/.296 in 285 games for the Mets in the early 1980s. I won't spoil the whole article, because as usual with Posnanski it's really good and really lengthy, but fewer than one-third of current managers could reasonably be described as good major-league players.

• Gardenhire wasn't much of a player, but as a manager he's on an historic pace for ejections. During the aforementioned 13-inning nightmare Gardenhire was tossed for the 51st time in his nine seasons as Twins skipper, which works out to 3.6 percent of his career games managed. Bobby Cox is the all-time ejections leader and has been booted from 3.5 percent of his games.

Johan Santana will miss the rest of this year and possibly much of 2011 following shoulder surgery. That doesn't make the Twins' haul from the Mets any better, but it does reinforce that handing out the long-term deal likely needed to keep Santana in Minnesota would have been a mistake. His performance hasn't been the problem, with a 2.85 ERA for the Mets after a 3.11 ERA in 175 starts for the Twins, but now his future is murky and he's still owed $77.5 million.

• Last year the Twins sent a fairly underwhelming set of prospects to the Arizona Fall League, but this year's group of seven players is pretty strong: Revere, David Bromberg, Joe Benson, Kyle Waldrop, Chris Parmelee, Carlos Gutierrez, and Tyler Robertson. In my annual ranking of the Twins' top 40 prospects six of those guys made the list (and cracked the top 20) coming into this season and all seven will definitely be among the top 40 for 2011.

• According to Jim Callis at Baseball America the Twins are one of nine teams to hand out less than the MLB-recommend "slot" signing bonus amounts to draft picks this year, spending the fifth-least money relative to the suggested numbers. While not uncommon for the Twins, that's a definite change from last year when they went over "slot" to sign Kyle Gibson after he fell to them with the No. 22 pick despite once being a consensus top-10 prospect.

• Something to think about next time an announcer claims "doing the little things" is the key to the Twins' success: Matt Klaassen of Fan Graphs points out that of the nearly 3,000 bunts and bunt attempts across MLB this year just 27 percent have actually increased the bunting team's Win Probability Added. Most of the time, giving up an out is just a bad idea.

• Random stat: Matt Capps has thrown 78.3 percent fastballs this season, which is the fourth-highest rate among all pitchers with at least 60 innings.

• Last week Wilson Ramos hit his first career homer off R.A. Dickey while behind the plate for a Livan Hernandez start. The game was played in some sort of Twins bizarro world.

• If you remain on the fence about joining Twitter despite my obsessive involvement, perhaps this will push you over the edge: Batgirl is now tweeting.

September 10, 2010

Link-O-Rama

• A new season of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia begins next week and after reading this I'm really looking forward to the "Sweet Dee Gives Birth at a Phillies Game" episode. So realistic!

• In fairness, she's really, really good looking.

• You might think someone who graduated from medical school would recognize the difference between the legend of Santa Claus and the reality of basic masonry, but apparently not.

• My bid of a gazillion dollars was rejected, for some reason.

• In case you thought MLB teams only disliked dealing with bloggers, check out the anti-media e-mail Mariners boss Howard Lincoln sent to team employees (at least one of whom leaked it to the media).

• In theory this is an amazing idea, but I'm sure it'll just lead to more people running over kids.

• If you watch the Twins on FSN you might recognize Kate Bilo as the attractive meteorologist who gives weather reports during games. She has sort of a cult following among certain fans, so Ben Collin interviewed her about her job and effective weather-related pickup lines.

• Sure, the story about his getting arrested for stealing drugs is sad, but I'm most upset about the state of Jim Neidhart's once-spectacular facial hair.

• Official Fantasy Girl of AG.com candidate Kate Beckinsale looks good enough that I'm willing to ignore the stupid hat.

• I've never seen this happen in a baseball game before, at least not unintentionally.

• Someone to keep in mind in case the Twins need rotation help next season.

• My cousin, Amy Gallop, is one of six finalists for the National Scholastic Press Association's "story of the year" contest in the "feature story" category, which is sponsored by the American Society of News Editors. In related news, the first "Top 25 Writers in My Immediate Family" poll of the season just came out and I'm in the "others receiving votes" group.

Kent Hrbek left his mark on Target Field while playing in the Twins' "legends game."

• I'm not really sure how to describe this video, but I'm definitely sure you should watch it:

I never realized hip hop had so many rules. Or such amazing uniforms.

• If you're a fan of Mad Men, photo-shopping, and crying ad executives it's your lucky day.

• For whatever reasons Robert Schimmel never quite reached the level of stardom his talent warranted before dying last week at age 60 following a car accident, but he ranks among my favorite stand-up comedians and was one of the greatest radio guests of all time.

• Not a single girl from my Hebrew school made this list. In related news, I worked yesterday.

Tiffany Simons may or may not live in Craig Calcaterra's basement.

• All joking aside, I bet everyone did think it was fly when girls stopped by for the summer. For the summer.

• Tweets about Justin Bieber take up three percent of Twitter's servers. I'll assume the other 97 percent is for my tweets about Bert Blyleven's announcing and Delmon Young's defense.

Crazy stat of the week: Zack Greinke has a 3.77 ERA over 165 career starts and the Royals are 68-97 in those games.

• On a related note, Geoff Baker of the Seattle Times explains why assuming a pitcher with a great record "knows how to win" is bullshit.

Buck Showalter apparently likes lying a whole lot more than he likes Keith Olbermann.

Livan Hernandez narrowly missed the cut for this list by Joe Posnanski, ranking 14,582nd.

• I once owned a Nick Van Exel jersey, so this makes me feel old and happy simultaneously.

• At this point, I'm looking forward to Kimbo Slice's inevitable fight with James Toney.

• MinnPost will soon be celebrating its third anniversary and I'm proud to be a very small part of what is a great website.

Sidney Crosby can hit a little bit too.

Alan Sepinwall put together a handy list of all the fall television premiere dates for new and old shows.

• Happy one-year blogiversary to On the road with ... Shawn Berg.

• Here are some highlights from my NBCSports.com blogging this week:

- Jim Thome ties Frank Robinson for eighth place with 586 homers
- Hells Bells: Trevor Hoffman notches 600th career save
- Chris Sale is thriving in the White Sox's bullpen three months after being drafted
- Domonic Brown isn't playing for the Phillies, so he'll likely play winter ball
- Cubs owner Todd Ricketts films "Undercover Boss" episode
- Jeremy Hellickson named Baseball America's minor league player of the year
- Shin-Soo Choo hoping to avoid military service by playing for South Korea in Asian Games
- Homefield advantage and drawn-out NLDS schedule would be huge for the Phillies
- Travis Hafner quietly having a good, healthy year in Cleveland

• Finally, this week's AG.com-approved music video (sort of) is Sam Cooke performing a cover version of "Don't Get Around Much Anymore" by Duke Ellington:

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