November 19, 2010

Link-O-Rama

• I'll be on 1500-ESPN tonight, talking Twins with Doogie Wolfson starting at around 7:15. You can listen online here.

• Who knew 19-year-old girls from Apple Valley were so tech-savvy?

Fire(d) Joe Morgan.

• As someone who regularly eats $11 worth of food from Taco Bell, this amused me.

• I'm following A.J. Pierzynski's lead and not shaving for the entire month of "Movember."

• On a related note, I live in fear of this every day.

• Not a bad week for Ron Gardenhire, who won the Manager of the Year after five runner-up finishes and then signed a contract extension the next day.

• If you're good-looking and a female, Coco Crisp might pay you $40,000 to live with him.

• I'm not sure which is the more unlikely bit of Kris Humphries news, that he might be dating Kim Kardashian or that he's had two double-doubles in the past week.

• I already have an app for this. Her name is Judi.

• I can't think of a way to describe this properly, but I found it impossibly cool.

• It's slightly less funny after his big game Wednesday night, but this video made me laugh:

And if you're not already a fan of The Basketball Jones, you should be.

• At the end of the day, we're all Craig T. Nelson.

• In fairness, ESPN was only off by about $36.5 million.

• I'd be really worried about this, except luckily leaving the house, interacting with people, and dating are all required before fertility becomes an issue.

• My latest podcast discovery is "Never Not Funny" with Jimmy Pardo and Matt Belknap. They offer the first 20 minutes of each episode for free and after listening to a few of them I ponied up the $19.99 for a season's worth of the full-length versions. And then I liked those so much that I spent $19.99 on each of the previous six seasons. Seriously. I spent $140 on a podcast, that's how good it is.

• After years of annoying people about this topic, the world finally listened to me.

• Beyond the Boxscore crunched the numbers on how long pitchers take between pitches and the results are very interesting. I'd have pegged the Twins as one of the faster-working staffs, but it turns out they're basically average.

• Next time someone brings up Gold Glove awards as a viable measure of defensive ability feel free to tell them to shut up.

• On a related note, my writing finally made into the newspaper. Sort of.

• And to think, people have always accused the Spurs of being "boring" for a great team. Ha!

• Call me nuts, but if someone offers me $2.1 million, for just about anything, I'll take it.

• Linking to weirdos lip-synching isn't as fun now that celebrities are showing up in the videos:

Stick with it for a full minute or so, it's worth it.

Awful news for anyone who likes calm, reasoned talk radio. Shouting dumb stuff wins, again.

• NBC will mercifully start showing Parks and Recreation again, and with a whole bunch of other comedy surrounding it too.

• My favorite aspect of Twitter--aside from the ego boost involved in having "followers"--is that you really never know who's going to see and reply to your tweets. Within the past week I've gotten random replies from Peter Gammons, Mike Mayock's daughter, and the official Twitter page of the NBC show Community. Still waiting for one from Diora Baird, though.

• My old friends at The Hardball Times are beginning to ship their annual book and, as always, you should buy it.

• Remember the French-Asian fusion restaurant I reviewed a few months ago? They finally got a website and my review highlights the "press" page. It's kinda cute. And the food is nice, too.

• Speaking of local places where I eat stuff, a new "donuts and coffee bar" called YoYo Donuts opened near me and I've quickly become one of their best (and fattest) customers.

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

- Does the free agent compensation system overrate relievers?
- Royals acquired Vin Mazzaro for the stuff, not the stats
- Ramon Hernandez is kicking himself (or his agent) after seeing John Buck's contract
- Diamondbacks "listening" to offers for Justin Upton, but "need to be blown away"
- Neftali Feliz beats Austin Jackson for AL Rookie of the Year
- Vladimir Guerrero’s undeserved Silver Slugger award
- By giving White Sox chance to match any offer is Paul Konerko limiting interest?
- Rickie Weeks is "open to listening" about contract extension

• Finally, this week's AG.com-approved music video is Ben l'Oncle Soul doing an acoustic cover version of "Seven Nation Army" by The White Stripes:

November 18, 2010

Top 40 Minnesota Twins: #31 Butch Wynegar

Harold Delano Wynegar Jr. | C | 1976-1982 | Career Stats

Butch Wynegar was Joe Mauer before there was a Joe Mauer. A switch-hitting high-school catcher from Pennsylvania, the Twins selected Wynegar in the second round of the 1974 draft. He tore through the minor leagues, leading the rookie-level Appalachian League with a .346 batting average in 60 games after signing and hitting .314 with 19 homers, 112 RBIs, and 106 runs scored in 139 games at Single-A in 1975.

That was enough for the Twins to bench Glenn Borgmann, skip their stud prospect past both Double-A and Triple-A, and enter 1976 with Wynegar as the starting catcher despite the fact that he celebrated his 20th birthday at spring training. Wynegar was an immediate success, starting 137 games behind the plate and another dozen as the designated hitter while batting .260/.356/.363 with 10 homers, 21 doubles, 79 walks, and 69 RBIs.

Wynegar began the year batting sixth in the lineup, spent some time hitting fifth, and ended up in the cleanup spot for much of the season. His raw numbers may not look like much, but for a 20-year-old catcher in 1976 they were amazing. In fact, if you adjust Wynegar's numbers from 1976 to today's offensive environment his rookie season looks an awful lot like Mauer's first full season in 2005:

            YEAR       G      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     OPS+
Wynegar     1976     149     622     .275     .375     .435     109
Mauer       2005     131     554     .294     .372     .411     107

Mauer finished third among catchers in Value Over Replacement Player behind Victor Martinez and Jason Varitek, while Wynegar ranked fourth in VORP behind Thurman Munson, Johnny Bench, and Ted Simmons. Add in the fact that Wynegar was actually two years younger than Mauer was in 2005--and possessed a similarly outstanding throwing arm--and it's easy to see why he was considered an extremely special player.

Wynegar missed out on winning the Rookie of the Year award because Mark Fidrych turned in one of the greatest rookie seasons in baseball history, but did manage to receive the only two first-place votes that Fidrych missed. He also became the youngest player ever to be selected to the All-Star team, serving as the AL's third catcher behind Carlton Fisk and Munson, and even found himself on one voter's MVP ballot.

Wynegar turned in a nearly identical sophomore season, making his second All-Star team by throwing out 44 percent of stole base attempts while hitting .261/.344/.370 with 10 homers, 22 doubles, 68 walks, and 79 RBIs. A switch-hitting catcher who played great defense, could hit, and made two All-Star teams by the age of 21? It doesn't get a whole lot better than that, and many observers around baseball saw great things in Wynegar's future.

An article in the Los Angeles Times on June 8, 1976 called Wynegar "this year's Fred Lynn" and also quoted Twins owner Calvin Griffith as saying that Wynegar was "going to be so good it's fantastic." Within the same article, Oakland manager Chuck Tanner said Wynegar had "one of the best swings for a young kid that I've ever seen." And here's an excerpt from an article that appeared in the Washington Post on June 5, 1977, midway through Wynegar's second season:

"He's the most complete catcher in the American League," said Houston scout Harry Craft. "He doesn't hit yet like Thurman Munson or maybe Carlton Fisk, but considering everything, he's the best of the three."

Unfortunately, by his 22nd birthday Wynegar's best days were already behind him. He threw out 45 percent of steal attempts in 1978, but hit just .229/.307/.308 with four homers in 135 games to rank 39th among major-league catchers in VORP during his third season. And while Wynegar's apparent bounceback .270/.363/.351 line in 1979 looks close to the numbers that he put up in 1976 and 1977, the levels of offense in the AL had risen quite a bit since then.

Wynegar dropped off again in 1980, hitting just .255/.339/.335 with five homers in 146 games, but managed to start 130-plus times behind the plate for the fifth straight year and gunned down 45 percent of steal attempts to keep his defensive contributions very strong. Despite looking so promising offensively early on, he had essentially become your typical good-glove, no-hit backstop.

Wynegar's durability left in 1981 too, as he hit .247/.322/.280 and played  just 47 games. The Next Big Thing at 21, he was suddenly 26 and hadn't improved a bit. His swing never produced the big batting averages people expected and his power declined at a time when the rest of baseball's soared. After hitting .209 in 24 games to start 1982 the Twins dealt Wynegar to the Yankees along with Roger Erickson for John Pacella, Larry Milbourne, and Pete Filson.

They'd traded Roy Smalley to the Yankees in April and dumping another high-priced veteran wasn't a popular move. Ron Davis, who arrived in the Smalley deal, told the Washington Post: "If anybody should be traded, it's the owner. All he's worried about is money. There ain't no future for this team." Griffith's response was to call Davis "a New York counterfeit," which likely stung quite a bit considering he had just blown a game against the Red Sox the day before.

Filson is the only player from the deal to provide any sort of value to the Twins, while Wynegar stepped in for an injured Rick Cerone in New York and hit .293/.413/.393 in 63 games for the Yankees. Not only was Wynegar better than ever for the Yankees after the trade in 1982, he batted .296/.399/.429 for New York in 1983--catching Dave Righetti's no-hitter on the Fourth of July--and .267/.360/.342 in 1984.

He spent a total of six seasons with the Yankees, and ended his career with two seasons as a backup catcher after being traded to the Angels in December of 1986. Wynegar's career was an odd one and there are certainly plenty of interesting lessons that can be learned from it, with one being that young superstars in the making--and especially young catchers who log over a thousand innings per year behind the plate right away--don't always turn out that way.

It's not that Wynergar was bad--The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract ranks him as the 65th-best catcher in baseball history--but rather that he peaked early and then suffered from not living up to the substantial hype. Had his career been shaped differently, with the poor seasons at 20 and 21 and peak years at a more typical age, he'd be viewed in a different light. Instead, he'll have to settle for being one of those "what could have been" players.

TOP 25 ALL-TIME MINNESOTA TWINS RANKS
Walks                 358    15th
Plate Appearances    3188    23rd
Times On Base        1070    23rd

November 17, 2010

Top 40 Minnesota Twins: #32 Al Worthington

Allan Fulton Worthington | RP | 1964-1969 | Career Stats

Originally signed out of the University of Alabama by the Cubs in 1951, Al Worthington made his major-league debut with the Giants in 1953 and amazingly pitched shutouts in each of his first two big-league starts. He cooled down after that, finishing his rookie season at 4-8 with a 3.44 ERA in 102 innings. Worthington spent most of 1954 and all of 1955 pitching in the minors and returned to the Giants' rotation with a 7-14 record and 3.97 ERA in 165.2 innings in 1956.

He spent the next two years bouncing back and forth between the rotation and the bullpen, and then posted a 3.68 ERA in 73 innings when the Giants decided to use Worthington almost exclusively as a reliever in 1959. Just before the start of the 1960 season San Francisco sent the 31-year-old Worthington to Boston for light-hitting first baseman Jim Marshall (not to be confused with the other, harder-hitting guy with the same name).

Worthington struggled with the Red Sox, was dealt to the White Sox in September, and lasted just four games in Chicago before leaving because he claimed they stole signs from teams and he was morally opposed. As you might expect, the White Sox decided he could use some time in the minors. He threw a no-hitter while pitching for San Diego of the Pacific Coast League in 1961 and then went 15-4 with a 2.94 ERA for Indianapolis of the American Association in 1962.

According to a New York Times article in September of 1962 then-Mets scout and Hall of Famer Rogers Hornsby had identified Worthington as the minor leaguer most deserving of a shot in the majors and the Mets purchased his contract. Sure enough, he returned to the majors in 1963, but it wasn't with New York. Cincinnati snatched him up in the Rule 5 draft and watched as Worthington went 4-4 with 10 saves and a 2.99 ERA in 81.1 innings out of their bullpen.

In a series of events that essentially summed up Worthington's career to that point, he got off to a slow start in 1964 and the Reds gave up on him after just seven bad innings. They first sent him down to Triple-A and then sold his contract to the Twins in June. Worthington was 35 years old and had been deemed washed up by seemingly every other team in baseball, but he immediately stepped in as the Twins' relief ace.

Worthington made his Twins debut relieving starter Dick Stigman against those sign-stealing White Sox on June 28, 1964, coming into a tie game with one out and the bases loaded in the sixth inning, getting out of the jam unscathed, and then tossing three more scoreless innings to earn the victory when Zoilo Versalles, Harmon Killebrew, and Bob Allison each homered off Chicago reliever Eddie Fisher late in the game.

Despite not joining the Twins until three months into the season Worthington threw 72 innings with a 1.37 ERA and team-leading 14 saves. Four decades later no pitcher in Twins history has thrown more innings in a season with a lower ERA. He followed that up by going 10-7 with 21 saves and a 2.13 ERA in 80.1 innings to help lead the Twins to the World Series in 1965, and pitched four scoreless innings in two appearances against the Dodgers.

Worthington continued to be one of baseball's elite relievers from 1966 to 1968, posting ERAs of 2.46, 2.84, and 2.71 while saving 16, 16, and 18 games. He gave up ninth-inning duties in 1969, stepping aside in favor of Ron Perranoski at age 40 and serving as a middle reliever in what would be his final season. Worthington retired with a 2.62 ERA, 37 wins, and 88 saves in 473.1 career innings with the Twins, including this remarkable five-year run as closer:

YEAR      G       IP      ERA     SV     GF
1964     41     72.1     1.37     14     32
1965     62     80.1     2.13     21     38
1966     65     91.1     2.46     16     46
1967     59     92.0     2.84     16     44
1968     54     76.1     2.71     18     34

Those save totals obviously aren't nearly as gaudy as those put up by the modern one-inning closers like Joe Nathan, but they're equally as impressive considering the context. Not only did his 18 saves in 1968 lead the American League, he ranked among the league's top 10 in both saves and games finished in each of those five seasons. Among all major-league pitchers, only Ted Abernathy had more saves than Worthington during that five-year span.

For whatever reason the Twins have likely had more than their fair share of top closers since 1961, from Perranoski, Mike Marshall, and Jeff Reardon to Rick Aguilera, Eddie Guardado, and Nathan. You wouldn't necessarily know it based on his save totals, but Worthington leads off that list and the remarkable way in which he ended up closing games in Minnesota is one of the more interesting career paths in team history.

TOP 25 ALL-TIME MINNESOTA TWINS RANKS
ERA                  2.62     2nd
Adjusted ERA+         134     3rd
Opponents' OPS       .604     3rd
Opponents' SLG       .308     3rd
Home Run Rate        0.53     3rd
Opponents' AVG       .221     4th
Games Finished        213     5th
Saves                  88     6th
Opponents' OBP       .297     7th
WHIP                 1.19     8th
Strikeout Rate       7.59    10th
Appearances           327    13th
Winning Percentage   .544    18th

November 15, 2010

Twins Notes: Hardy, Hacker, and high payrolls

• In addition to a whole slew of free agents the Twins also have a decision to make regarding J.J. Hardy, who's under team control for 2011 as an arbitration eligible player and would be all but guaranteed to get a raise from his $5.1 million salary. From my point of view keeping Hardy for at least one more season is a no-brainer, but there have been some hints in the media to suggest the Twins are less certain it's the right move.

Hardy was far from spectacular after coming over from the Brewers last November in exchange for Carlos Gomez, batting .268/.320/.394 and missing 60 games with injuries, but evaluating his performance and value can't be done properly without comparing him to other shortstops. At first glance Hardy hitting .268/.320/.394 doesn't look impressive at all, but that was actually better than the MLB average for shortstops of .262/.319/.371.

There were a total of 28 shortstops who played at least 100 games this season. Hardy ranked 11th in batting average, 13th in on-base percentage, 10th in slugging percentage, and 11th in OPS. Much like how some people don't fully appreciate Joe Mauer's value because they don't realize how terrible the average catcher is offensively, Hardy's season seems to be underrated by people who don't realize he was actually an above-average hitter among shortstops.

And of course Hardy is also an excellent defender, leading all MLB shortstops in Ultimate Zone Rating per 150 games at +12.8 runs. His lack of durability is a real issue and makes committing to Hardy long term risky, but for a one-year commitment at $6 million it should be an easy call. He's above-average offensively, fantastic defensively, and ranks among the top dozen players at a position where the Twins lack an MLB-ready replacement and the free agent crop is weak.

• In their first pickup of the offseason the Twins signed right-hander Eric Hacker and give him a spot on the 40-man roster after the 27-year-old left the Giants as a six-year minor-league free agent. Hacker was voted the Pacific Coast League's top right-handed starting pitcher, but that surely must have been based almost entirely on his winning 16 games because his actual performance wasn't noteworthy at all even accounting for the hitter-friendly nature of the PCL.

Hacker started 29 games and his 4.51 ERA was barely better than the PCL average of 4.78. He managed just 129 strikeouts in 166 innings, walked 62 batters, and allowed opponents to hit .280 with 21 homers. There's really nothing about his performance that stands out in any way aside from the fact that he went 16-8 and the only thing more misguided than judging pitchers on their win-loss record is judging minor-league pitchers on their win-loss record.

And that was his second season at Triple-A. He also had a 4.50 ERA and just 94 strikeouts in 132 innings at Triple-A in 2009, walking 3.4 batters per nine innings while opponents hit .301. He's a 27-year-old pitcher with a 4.52 ERA and mediocre secondary numbers in 301 innings at Triple-A, and while signing that type of guy is perfectly reasonable as organizational depth the Twins' decision to give Hacker a 40-man roster spot confuses me.

Perhaps the Twins reviewed the minor leaguers they'll need to protect from next month's Rule 5 draft and concluded they have 40-man spots to spare, but if signing Hacker means leaving a guy like Kyle Waldrop unprotected it'll be a major mistake. In addition to the underwhelming stats, Ben Badler of Baseball America offered this scouting report on Hacker: "88-92 miles per hour, works both sides of the plate, average slider, stuff very hittable, solid Triple-A-type arm."

• During their final two seasons in the Metrodome the Twins ranked 24th and 25th in spending with payrolls of $57 million and $65 million, but they increased the payroll to slightly over $100 million in their first year at Target Field. That shattered the team record by around $25 million and thanks to better-than-expected revenue from the ballpark Twins president Dave St. Peter told Joe Christensen of the Minneapolis Star Tribune that the payroll will rise again in 2011:

The payroll is going to go up. We don't take it for granted. We're all tremendously appreciative of the support but we also know we need to keep moving forward. We need to keep moving forward on the field, and frankly, we need to keep doing everything possible to make Target Field the best ballpark it can be.

Some of that quote refers to the planned Target Field improvements announced last week, but St. Peter making a clear "the payroll is going to go up" pronouncement suggests that perhaps there's room for another significant bump in spending. Even an increase to $115 million won't suddenly give the Twins a ton of spending room, because the players under team control for 2011 figure to cost about $105 million and that doesn't account for re-signing any free agents.

However, getting into the $115 million range would complete the transition from small-payroll team to large-payroll team, as Christensen notes that just six teams (Yankees, Phillies, Red Sox, Cubs, Mets, Tigers) had an Opening Day payroll that high in 2010. For next year that type of money is needed to simply pay team-controlled guys, but maintaining a top-10 payroll in the future would mean adopting a new view of roster management and free agency involvement.

As a 27-year-old, lifelong Twins fan ... well, that could take some getting used to.

November 12, 2010

Top 40 Minnesota Twins: #33 Greg Gagne

Gregory Carpenter Gagne | SS | 1983-1992 | Career Stats

A week into the 1982 season the cost-cutting Twins traded starting shortstop Roy Smalley to the Yankees for All-Star setup man Ron Davis, Paul Boris, and a 20-year-old prospect named Greg Gagne. At the time Davis was clearly considered the big name coming back to Minnesota in the deal, but he flopped in the closer role and Boris was a non-factor while Gagne ended up being the real find as Smalley's eventual replacement.

He spent 1982 hitting poorly at Double-A, but the former fifth-round pick from Massachusetts bounced back at Triple-A in 1983. Gagne batted .255/.323/.462 with 17 homers in 119 games there as a 21-year-old and also got his first tastes of the big leagues with a brief stint in June as an injury replacement and a September call-up. He struggled, managing just three hits in 27 at-bats and found himself at Triple-A again in 1984.

Gagne put together another strong season there, hitting .280/.374/.441 with nine homers in 70 games, but didn't make it back to Minnesota until rosters expanded in September and then merely sat on the bench once he got there. Tired of trotting out guys like Ron Washington, Houston Jimenez, and Lenny Faedo the Twins turned to a 23-year-old Gagne as their starting shortstop in 1985.

He batted just .225/.279/.317 with two homers in 114 games as a rookie and missed time with injuries in May and August. In his absence the Twins turned to Smalley, who had returned that offseason in a trade for Ron Scheer and Randy Johnson (no, not that one), but back problems forced Smalley to be a designated hitter in 1986 and the Twins went with Gagne on a full-time basis at shortstop.

He came up with a solid sophomore campaign, hitting .250/.301/.398 with 12 homers in 156 games to rank 11th among all major-league shortstops in Value Over Replacement Player. In the second-to-last game of the season, Gagne hit inside-the-park homers in each of his first two at-bats against Chicago starter Floyd Bannister, and then smacked a triple off reliever Gene Nelson in his third at-bat to come 90 feet short of an all-time record.

After committing an AL-worst 26 errors in 1986 he had a team record 47-game errorless streak in 1987. He also hit .265/.310/.430 with 10 homers in 137 games as the Twins defeated the Tigers in the ALCS and beat the Cardinals in the World Series. Gagne hit just .229 in 12 playoff games, but had three homers and four doubles, scored 10 runs, and delivered the sixth-inning single that drove Tom Brunansky in as the go-ahead run in Game 7 of the World Series.

He had three fairly mediocre years from 1988-1990 and then hit .265/.310/.395 as the Twins again won the World Series in 1991. This time Gagne hit just .195 in 12 postseason games and had just one homer, but it was a big one. With the Twins clinging to a 1-0 lead in the fifth inning of Game 1 versus Atlanta, Gagne launched a three-run homer off Charlie Leibrandt that provided all the breathing room Jack Morris needed in a 5-2 win.

Gagne became a free agent after batting .246/.280/.346 in 1992 and signed a three-year deal with Kansas City. He gave the Royals three solid years and then finished up his 15-year career with two NL seasons playing for the Dodgers. Gagne retired at age 35 and was a starting shortstop in the major leagues from the moment the Twins handed him the job in 1985 to the moment he hung up the spikes in 1997, logging nearly 15,000 innings at the position.

Researching these rankings has changed my opinion of Gagne's career more than any other Twins player. My only real memories of him in a Twins uniform were from 1991 and 1992, and my primary experience seeing him play came after he departed as a free agent. By that point Gagne was on the downside of his career and other shortstops were starting to put up lofty numbers that made his .249/.292/.385 line with the Twins look pathetic.

However, take a closer look back at Gagne's decade in Minnesota and you'll discover a player who was more valuable than his paltry .677 OPS suggests. Perhaps the biggest key to seeing Gagne's value is in understanding the difference between baseball today and baseball in the 1980s. Not only has offense in general risen dramatically, players like Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Miguel Tejada, and Nomar Garciaparra revolutionized the way we look at shortstops.

Meanwhile, during Gagne's time with the Twins the average shortstop hit .252/.309/.346. For comparison, since 2000 the average MLB shortstop has hit .270/.325/.400. That may not seem like a huge difference, but for overall offensive production it's a gap of about 10 percent. If you take Gagne's career numbers with the Twins and add 10 percent to them, you get something along the lines of .275/.320/.425. Jimmy Rollins is a career .272/.328/.435 hitter.

He still wouldn't light up a stat sheet, but those adjusted numbers are a lot more palatable. And then you have his defense, which was excellent regardless of era. He never won a Gold Glove, as Alan Trammell and Tony Fernandez dominated the award in the 1980s, but Gagne is widely considered the best defensive shortstop in Twins history and Total Zone Rating pegs him as seven runs above average per 150 games in Minnesota.

Despite the speed and athleticism needed for his defensive range he was awful swiping bags. Historically bad, in fact. He was 79-for-134 (59 percent) for the Twins and no one else in team history with at least 50 steals is under 60 percent. And he was somehow even worse after leaving, including a 10-for-27 mark in 1994. Seriously. Overall he was 108-for-204, which at 53 percent is the second-worst rate ever for those who attempted 200 steals behind Lou Gehrig.

TOP 25 ALL-TIME MINNESOTA TWINS RANKS
Triples                35     9th
Games                1140    11th
Steals                 79    13th
Doubles               183    16th
Plate Appearances    3695    17th
Hits                  844    18th
Runs                  452    18th
Total Bases          1304    18th
Extra-Base Hits       287    18th
Times On Base        1060    24th
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