September 28, 2012

Link-O-Rama

Glen Perkins took Joe Posnanski pitch-by-pitch through a recent save against the Yankees and it was a great read for a whole bunch of different reasons.

• My favorite headline of the week/weak: "Wisconsin man busted for curbside sex with couch."

• Mental Floss did an incredible amount of research to basically show my childhood was a lie.

• At this point Mila Kunis is putting her Official Fantasy Girl of AG.com title at serious risk.

• Based on a Wall Street Journal study MLB's most biased announcer ... well, you may want to sit down for this shocking revelation.

Louis C.K. hates wearing a suit, but it was probably worth it just for this one picture.

• An alternate headline for this news story could have been: "Why people still watched the NFL even though the replacement referees were a complete joke." Gambling is a helluva drug.

• Congratulations to my blog-mate Craig Calcaterra for his well-deserved spot on this prestigious list. My tweet game remains flawless, of course.

• And then Calcaterra went and got himself on Deadspin again for an even better reason.

Torii Hunter Jr., a top-ranked high school wide receiver from Texas, has committed to play football (and baseball) at Notre Dame.

• How did the Twins' pitching become such a mess? I'm glad you asked.

• It takes a very special talent to make a legal deposition worth watching and Lil Wayne is that very special talent:

"He can't save you" is a phrase I'm going to work into my everyday usage.

• All things considered the "Full House" cast holds up pretty well 25 years later and I'm happy that Lori Loughlin remains the show's best-looking (non-John Stamos) person at age 48.

David Simon revealed that HBO once turned down a spinoff of "The Wire" that would been all about Tommy Carcetti's political career. Dang.

• For some reason this kind of reminds me of Paul Allen and "Girls Gone Gleeman."

• My mom's review of this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode: "I liked it because it sounded like you guys drank a lot."

• Also, for anyone who already listened to this week's podcast: Kate Agnew, whom we mention as being, among other things, diabolical, blogs at Kate's A Cliche.

• An update for anyone interested in the nuts and bolts of "Gleeman and The Geek": Our last eight episodes have averaged 9,600 downloads, including at least 7,500 per show. That's way above and beyond our wildest expectations and it's great to know the audience hasn't ditched us since shifting back to podcast-only mode after six months on the radio. Thanks to everyone who listens and please keep recommending it to new people throughout the offseason.

• Two things are for sure: One, this definitely isn't too little too late. Two, that was sarcasm.

• My instincts that told me not to bother seeing "Trouble With The Curve" seem to be correct.

• Never forget the night Manute Bol started launching three-pointers, because I won't.

Kevin Love is the new Jon Rauch.

• Perhaps the last strong candidate for "catch of the season" came from an unlikely candidate.

• SABR announced the dates for next year's convention in Philadelphia, so you know where I'll be from July 31 to August 4 even if being on a vacation during the trade deadline is tricky.

• "Stop Podcasting Yourself" has become my favorite podcast and this week's show with stand-up comedian Kyle Kinane as their guest was especially good.

Zach Galifianakis' appearance on "Who Charted" was podcasting at its finest, including his appraisal of "Lights" by Ellie Goulding: "That song seems like it was sung by a woman who talks about tree houses a lot."

• Netflix instant recommendation: "Neds," which is a Scottish film about unstable families, gangs, bullies, and how things can unravel in a hurry for a kid thrown into the fire. Really good.

• I found the best IMDB page, in case you were wondering.

Ben Collin is one of the most creative Twins bloggers around, but he's also a meteorologist and weather-related software developer looking for work.

• Some of this week's weird and random search engine queries that brought people here:

- "Rob Dibble ex-wife"
- "Ate fried rice and lost weight"
- "Bernardo Brito"
- "Glen Perkins hazing"
- "How to lose pounds on a scale"
- "Women wearing baseball caps"
- "Nick Punto false hustle"
- "How much does Louis C.K. weigh?"
- "Sergeant Slaughter porn"
- "Knife-throwing injuries"

• Finally, this week's AG.com-approved music video is "Mr. Carter" by my favorite deponent, Lil Wayne, and featuring Jay-Z:

Interested in sponsoring a week of AG.com? Click here for details.

September 26, 2012

What happened to the Twins’ pitching?

Rick Anderson took over for Dick Such as the Twins' pitching coach when Ron Gardenhire replaced Tom Kelly as manager in 2002 and since then the staff has issued the fewest walks in baseball, leading the league in walk rate six times. However, one common misconception about Twins pitching under Anderson is that their fantastic control has always come attached to terrible strikeout rates.

In reality Anderson's early pitching staffs were often able to combine excellent control with solid strikeout rates, and in fact Twins pitchers led the league in strikeouts as recently as 2006. That was Johan Santana's second-to-last season in Minnesota and his third straight year leading the league in strikeouts, and the Twins also got a ton of missed bats from Francisco Liriano before the 22-year-old rookie blew out his elbow.

They were joined in the 2006 rotation by Brad Radke and Scott Baker, who produced above-average strikeout rates, and the late-inning bullpen trio of Joe Nathan, Jesse Crain, and Juan Rincon combined for 220 strikeouts in 219 innings. Overall the pitching staff had a league-high 1,164 strikeouts and a league-low 356 walks in 1,439 innings, and not surprisingly they also had the AL's second-best ERA.

That season marked the fifth time in five years under Anderson that Twins pitchers had an above-average strikeout total and the next year they extended that streak to six consecutive seasons by ranking fourth in the league. Suddenly that all changed in 2008 as the staff's strikeout total plummeted to 10th in the league without Santana or Radke around, and Twins pitchers haven't had an above-average strikeout rate since.

They ranked 10th among the league's 14 teams in 2008, 2009, and 2010 before finishing dead last among all 30 major-league teams last season, producing just 940 strikeouts when every other team had at least 1,000. As bad as that was their strikeout rate has amazingly fallen even further this year, going from 6.0 to 5.9 per nine innings as they once again rank dead last among all 30 major-league teams. And it's not even close.

Twins pitchers have 890 strikeouts in 154 games, which is 14 percent fewer than any other team and 23 percent below the MLB average. Once upon a time Anderson-led staffs threw strikes and missed bats, boasting several starters and relievers with good raw stuff and strong whiff rates. And now? Well, they still throw strikes with a better-than-average walk rate ... and the AL's fewest strikeouts, second-most homers allowed, and second-highest ERA.

Santana was MLB's best, most dominant starting pitcher for Anderson's first six seasons as pitching coach, posting a 2.92 ERA with the most strikeouts and highest strikeout rate in all of baseball. During that same time Nathan racked up a remarkable 11.3 strikeouts per nine innings to go with a 1.94 ERA and five other Twins relievers who saw regular action had at least 7.5 strikeouts per nine innings.

When you have the best starting pitcher in baseball racking up league-leading strikeout totals, one of the best closers in baseball piling up whiffs at an even higher rate, and multiple setup men capable of missing bats then surrounding them with low-strikeout control artists is a sound strategy. But when you no longer have those elite, high-strikeout pitchers to anchor the staff the same strategy fails.

Santana going from unknown Rule 5 pick to MLB's best pitcher is one of the more remarkable journeys in modern history and Nathan emerging as MLB's best non-Mariano Rivera reliever is similarly astounding, so counting on Anderson and the Twins to duplicate those feats would be silly. Beyond that, considering the Twins' longtime aversion to acquiring hard-throwing pitchers it's unclear how much blame to assign Anderson as opposed to the front office.

With that said, it's very clear that something needs to change. They've failed to develop a front-line starter since Santana left five years ago and there are few power arms in the farm system aside from some 2012 draftees. Talk of succeeding by pitching to contact--or throwing strikes and playing defense--is a nice story with some truth behind it, but that approach doesn't work so well without elite bat-missers like Santana and Nathan leading the way.

In the absence of that front-line talent the Twins have essentially built entire staffs out of the guys who're supposed to be the surrounding pieces. In the five seasons since Santana's departure 37 different Twins pitchers have thrown more than 25 innings and three of them--Nathan, Liriano, and newcomer Casey Fien--have topped 8.0 strikeouts per nine innings. Of those 37 pitchers 27 had a strikeout rate below 7.0 and eight had a strikeout rate below 5.0.

How much stems from Anderson's well-established preferred pitching mold and teaching methods versus the front office simply not targeting hard-throwing, high-strikeout arms is up for debate, but whatever the case it needs to change and they need to adapt. In addition to having the fewest strikeouts and highest ERA in the AL since the beginning of last season Twins pitchers also have the league's lowest average fastball velocity at 90.9 miles per hour.

At the opposite end of the pitching spectrum are the Nationals, who this season lead the NL in both ERA and average fastball velocity while totaling a remarkable 42 percent more strikeouts than the Twins. Not surprisingly the Nationals have MLB's best record despite an offense that has scored 692 runs compared to 676 runs for the Twins. And when asked why he built a staff of hard-throwing strikeout pitchers, general manager Mike Rizzo replied:

We used to have sinker, pitch-to-contact guys. That's who you get when you're not elite.

Injuries to highly paid veterans like Baker, Carl Pavano, and Matt Capps took a big toll on this year's staff and injuries to prospects like Kyle Gibson and Alex Wimmers sapped the Twins of reinforcements, but none of those guys are hard-throwing, high-strikeout arms anyway. In fact, the last pitcher they've developed who fits that description is Matt Garza ... and the Twins traded him away for Delmon Young in 2007 at age 23 and after 24 career starts.

At this point even Crash Davis himself would advise the Twins to go looking for a few fascists.

September 24, 2012

“Gleeman and The Geek” #60: Tickle Me Pink

Topics for this week's episode of Gleeman and The Geek included pink drinks, locked-in starters, revisiting the free agent pitcher market, Joe Mauer, batting titles, and MVPs, going back to the scene of car trouble, moving from Beloit to Cedar Rapids, what the new MLB television deals mean for payrolls, running from religion, Miguel Sano, Oswaldo Arcia, B.J. Hermsen, and minor league awards, Liam Hendriks getting over the hump, and our listener survey.

Gleeman and The Geek: Episode 60

In addition to the direct download link above you can also subscribe to the podcast via iTunes.

September 21, 2012

Link-O-Rama

• If they ever discover something like this in Chinese food I'm going to be a billionaire.

Headline of the week/weak: "Man killed by truck after allegedly running from Waffle House without paying."

• On second thought, maybe this is actually the headline of the week/weak: "Woman finds out late husband was also her father."

• I'm pretty sure they're just taunting me now.

• Forget the fact that this happened in a Yankee Stadium bathroom, the bigger story is that it happened despite the guy wearing a CC Sabathia shirsey.

• I hadn't watched Survivor since the first season back in 2000, but Jeff Kent being on the show got me tune in for the new season premiere and I recapped the former MVP's debut.

• As part of this season's hazing Twins rookies dressed up like they were in a chain gang:

All things (and potential outfits) considered, the rookies got off pretty easy this year.

• Some things are too far-fetched even for science fiction.

Vince Young really knew how to party.

• If you're wondering how the Twins can fix their starting rotation this offseason, we broke down all the free agent pitching options for 45 minutes on this week's Gleeman and The Geek.

• And if you're wondering what a Gleeman and The Geek recording looks like, here's a picture of us in "action."

• One of the original baseball bloggers, Jon Weisman of Dodger Thoughts, called it quits after 10 years of great work. He was willing to keep going, but couldn't justify taking so much time away from his family and day job without getting paid to write about the Dodgers. Hmm.

• I love Google and I love DMX, so DMX's reaction to learning about Google was great:

Reminds me of my grandparents' reaction when we bought them a computer a few years ago.

• Not only did the great Tom Scharpling direct Aimee Mann's new video, he got Jon Hamm to play him in the video.

Ted Williams writes pretty well for a 95-year-old who's been dead since 2002.

• I sometimes write posts on HardballTalk just for the accompanying picture choice.

• Kansas City police went undercover to stop underage binge drinking at Royals games and then made some jokes at the Royals' expense.

• Who is Chris Herrmann? I'm glad you asked.

• One of my favorite basketball writers, Sebastian Pruiti, has left Grantland to take a job as the Oklahoma City Thunder's video analyst. I'll miss his Twitter ramblings most.

• I'm starting to like the White Sox more and more.

• This week in Chelsea Peretti being awesome involves Bobby Lee and lots of weirdness:

I suppose at this point I should just make her an Official Fantasy Girl of AG.com candidate.

• Good on former MLB Network host and current CSN New England reporter Trenni Kusnierek for publicly sharing her struggles with depression.

• My modest contribution to sabermetrics is still (sort of) breathing despite me.

Spoiler alert!

• Back by popular demand, this week's most amusing, weird, and random search engine queries that brought people here:

- "How to make chicken wings like Pizza Hut"
- "320 pounds and want to conceive a baby"
- "Bryce Harper fan fiction"
- "Ron Mahay wife"
- "Yuengling in Minneapolis"
- "Picture of old man asleep in a meeting"
- "Kevin Slowey engaged"
- "Boof Bonser tramp stamp"
- "Ricky Rubio my husband"

• I'm hoping everyone checked out the AG.com sponsor of the week, Emily Meier, a fiction author with a very compelling story. Here's part of a Minneapolis Star Tribune profile of her:

For years, there had been nibbles from publishers in New York, but no bites. Now, with breast cancer metastasizing through her bones, she decided she didn't have time to wait; she would publish them herself. But because she was Emily Meier--driven, focused, hardworking--she didn't do this halfway. Instead, she started her own publishing company.

Sky Spinner Press of St. Paul, incorporated as a for-profit business and co-owned by Meier's son and daughter, has published all six of her books in record time. ... The books are done, but Meier continues to write daily---her website (www.emilymeier.com) is an orderly maze of drop-down menus and essays and suggestions for book clubs and links to reviews and interviews. There's even a page of quotes from rejection letters she received over the years.

As someone whose entire writing career has been shaped and fueled by rejection I view Meier as a kindred spirit and it would make me incredibly happy if everyone who visited AG.com this week would take some time to visit her website as well. Poke around Meier's site, look at the rejection letters, get familiar with her collection of writing, and help fulfill someone's dream.

• Finally, in honor of the Twins' rookie hazing outfits this week's AG.com-approved music video is "Chain Gang" by Sam Cooke from 1960:

September 19, 2012

Twins Notes: Herrmann, Mauer, Florimon, Dozier, and Cedar Rapids

• As part of September roster expansion the Twins called up just two players, Luis Perdomo and Eduardo Escobar, but injuries to Joe Mauer and Ryan Doumit left Drew Butera as the team's only healthy catcher and led to Chris Herrmann being added to the 40-man roster as a third call-up. Herrmann ranked 20th on my list of Twins prospects coming into this season and should hold a similar spot for next year after a solid Double-A campaign.

Herrmann hit .276/.350/.392 in 127 games for New Britain, nearly matching his .264/.357/.382 career line and showing his usual on-base skills, good strike-zone control, and modest power with 58 walks versus 89 strikeouts and 10 homers in 558 plate appearances. His performance at Double-A was nothing special, particularly for a 24-year-old repeating the level after playing 97 games there in 2011, but Herrmann likely has a big-league future beyond this month.

How long and in which role that future will be depends largely on his defense behind the plate, as Herrmann was an outfielder at the University of Miami before moving to catcher at high Single-A in 2010. This season he played 83 games at catcher compared to 43 games between left field and designated hitter. His defense gets mixed reviews, but Herrmann threw out 44 percent of steal attempts this year and 38 percent in 2011.

Another issue for Herrmann is that he's a left-handed hitter hoping to become the third catcher behind a left-handed hitter in Mauer and a switch-hitter who swings better from the left side in Doumit. That makes Herrmann less than an ideal fit, although his ability to play other positions should be handy and it's not as if Butera's offensive ineptitude coming from the right side helps anyway. Herrmann is likely Triple-A bound next year, but he's shooting for Butera's job.

Rene Rivera, a journeyman catcher who played 45 games for the Twins last year, indicated via Twitter that he was upset about being passed over for the call-up in favor of Herrmann:

I guess I should not expect promises to be kept. Best of luck to everyone. #Disappointed #Lies

Rivera later tried to put that toothpaste back in the tube, tweeting that he never mentioned the Twins and various other damage control, but there seemingly isn't a whole lot of nuance or need for interpretation in his original words. I have no idea what was or wasn't promised, but based on performance alone Rivera didn't warrant more time in the majors. He's a 29-year-old career .193 hitter in the majors and hit .226/.307/.385 at Triple-A this year.

• After going 3-for-4 with two walks last night Mauer is now hitting .325 with a league-leading .419 on-base percentage, which is remarkable considering he was hitting .265 on May 18. Here's a list of all the players in Twins history with an on-base percentage of .410 or higher:

                    YEAR      OBP
Joe Mauer           2012     .419
Joe Mauer           2009     .444
Joe Mauer           2008     .413
Joe Mauer           2006     .429
Chuck Knoblauch     1996     .448
Chuck Knoblauch     1995     .424
Rod Carew           1978     .411
Rod Carew           1977     .449
Rod Carew           1975     .421
Rod Carew           1974     .433
Rod Carew           1973     .411
Harmon Killebrew    1970     .411
Harmon Killebrew    1969     .427

And then there's also this: Mauer's current OPS? .877. Mauer's career OPS? .874.

Pedro Florimon looks good defensively at shortstop and can't hit, so Ron Gardenhire has predictably taking a liking to him immediately:

I'm very comfortable with him out there. We're not going to name a starting lineup [for 2013] or anything like right now, or even later, but I really like him out there. I think there are things he can get better at ... but I like him. I like the way he moves, I like the way he watches. He pays attention. He's got great hands.

Assistant general manager Rob Antony agreed about Florimon and also indicated that Brian Dozier's future may no longer be at shortstop:

Florimon has kind of made the plays and shown some of the range that you really like from a shortstop, that Dozier didn't necessarily do. So it might be a situation where we still think Dozier can be a good player, but he may end up being a second baseman instead of a shortstop.

While perhaps a surprise to the people who didn't know any better and bought into the misguided hype surrounding Dozier's arrival, his defense at shortstop has always been in question. Of course, for as bad as Dozier was offensively this year there's at least some reason to believe he's capable of being a decent hitter. The same is not really true of Florimon, who has hit .228/.284/.327 in the majors and .250/.318/.352 between Double-A and Triple-A.

According to Baseball-Reference.com the Twins' attendance is down 4,967 fans per game, which is a drop of 372,000 total fans compared to this same point last season. And that represents tickets sold rather than actual attendance, of course. Only the Astros have seen their attendance drop more than the Twins this year, no other team is down more than 3,400 fans per game, and across baseball overall attendance is up nearly 1,000 fans per game.

• In their last 324 games (two full 162-game seasons, basically) the Twins are 127-197 for a .392 winning percentage.

Josh Willingham became the fourth player in Twins history with 30-plus homers and 100-plus RBIs in a season, joining Harmon Killebrew (seven times), Justin Morneau (three), and Gary Gaetti (two). Overall the Twins now have 13 of the 665 total instances of a hitter reaching 30-100 since 1961. By comparison, Alex Rodriguez has 14 seasons with 30-100 all by himself.

• After eight years with Beloit as their low Single-A affiliate the Twins have switched their Midwest League team to Cedar Rapids, which offers better facilities in addition to being closer to Minnesota.

Phil Miller of the Minneapolis Star Tribune does Twins updates for Baseball America and got an interesting quote on Tsuyoshi Nishioka from vice president of player personnel Mike Radcliff:

The player we all saw was not the player we scouted in Japan. For whatever reason, we haven't seen that guy. I mean, none of us believed that he wouldn't hit.

When the Twins spent $15 million to acquire Nishioka in December of 2010 he was coming off a batting title in Japan, but a deeper look at his numbers showed that the .346 average was due to unsustainable success on balls in play. However, even projections adjusting for that had Nishioka as a decent all-around hitter. Instead he's hit .215/.267/.236 for the Twins and .260/.318/.327 for Rochester. Radcliff is right, but sadly the Twins were very wrong.

• Twins prospects Miguel Sano and Oswaldo Arcia were both selected for Baseball America's minor league all-star team, which includes a total of 30 players.

• This year eight American League pitchers with at least 50 innings have posted an Expected Fielding Independent Pitching (xFIP) worse than 5.00. Three of them are Twins: Jeff Gray, Nick Blackburn, Alex Burnett.

• Perdomo, who the Twins called up while leaving Anthony Slama and his consistently great numbers to rot in the minors, now has a 5.06 ERA and 10 walks in 10.2 innings this season.

• Complete list of players in Twins history with more plate appearances and a lower OPS than Alexi Casilla: Al Newman, Danny Thompson.

• Old friend Pat Neshek, who spent most of the past three seasons at Triple-A before being called up by Oakland three weeks ago, now has a 0.63 ERA in 17 appearances for the A's.

• Regarding the Twins' offseason plans John Shipley of the St. Paul Pioneer Press wrote that the free agent starting pitcher market "isn't deep." That jibes with some comments general manager Terry Ryan made previously, but on this week's Gleeman and The Geek episode we spent about 45 minutes breaking down the various free agent starters and found that to be anything but true. It's plenty deep, especially in the type of pitchers the Twins usually go after.

This week's blog content is sponsored by Sky Spinner Press and EmilyMeier.com. Please support them for supporting AG.com.

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