July 16, 2013

Who are the worst All-Stars in Twins history?

coomer and laudner

Because so many All-Star selections are based more on first-half performances than overall track records and there's a rule that every team must be represented by at least one player there have been plenty of head-scratching inclusions over the years. Joe Mauer and Glen Perkins are both deserving All-Stars this year, but that hasn't always been the case throughout Twins history and I thought it would be interesting to look back at the team's most questionable All-Stars.


Ron Coomer, 1999: With the Twins in the midst of their seventh consecutive losing season and their third straight 90-loss season Coomer was chosen as the team's lone All-Star in 1999. At the All-Star break the Twins were in last place at 34-52 and Coomer was hitting .282/.312/.458 with 11 homers and 12 walks in 75 games as a first baseman/third baseman. And his production was even worse than it looks because offensive levels across baseball were very high in 1999.

As a whole the American League hit .275/.349/.439 in 1999, which means during the first half that got him named to the All-Star team Coomer had an OPS that was 20 points below average. And not only was he a first baseman/third baseman--two positions where the standard for offense is even higher than the league overall--Coomer was 32 years old with no real history of success. He then made the All-Star nod look even worse by hitting .235/.300/.372 in the second half.

Coomer finished his first and only All-Star season hitting .263/.307/.424 with 16 homers and 30 walks in 127 games, posting an OPS that was 60 points below the league average. That year the AL had 31 first basemen and third basemen who played at least 100 games and Coomer ranked 20th in batting average, 28th in on-base percentage, 25th in slugging percentage, and 25th in OPS. He was also a very limited defender and baserunner.

So who should have been the team's All-Star in 1999? What makes the Coomer selection doubly weird is that the Twins actually had some very good players that season. Brad Radke threw 219 innings with the league's fourth-best ERA. Eric Milton threw 206 innings and ranked among the AL's top 10 in strikeouts, strikeout-to-walk ratio, and opponents' batting average. Corey Koskie hit .310/.387/.468 in 117 games. Coomer wasn't one of the Twins' five best players.


Tim Laudner, 1988: Laudner was 30 years old and in his eighth season when he was chosen as a first-time All-Star in 1988. Combined during the previous seven seasons he hit .218/.285/.393 in 1,580 plate appearances, ranking as one of baseball's worst hitters over that span, and Laudner typically split time behind the plate with catchers like Dave Engle, Mark Salas, Sal Butera, Jeff Reed, Ray Smith, and Tom Nieto.

Laudner hit .191 for the World Series-winning team in 1987, but then in 1988 he took on a bigger workload behind the plate and hit .264/.329/.462 with nine homers in the first half. That earned Laudner a spot on the All-Star team backing up starting catcher Terry Steinbach of the A's, but he turned back into a pumpkin in the second half by hitting .234/.299/.341 with four homers to finish his lone All-Star season at .251/.316/.406 with 13 homers in 117 games.

It was a weak year for catchers and the position's standard for offense is always low, but of the league's 14 regulars he was eighth in OPS while throwing out just 25 percent of steal attempts. And then one season after being a first-time All-Star at 30 he was retired at 31, calling it quits after hitting .222/.293/.351 for the Twins in 1989. Laudner was one of 293 players to log at least 2,000 plate appearances in the 1980s and he ranked 292nd in batting average and 280th in OBP.

So who should have been the team's All-Star in 1988? Believe it or not, Laudner actually wasn't the Twins' only All-Star. In fact, coming off the World Series victory in 1987 they had five All-Stars in 1988, including the deserving Frank Viola, Kirby Puckett, and Gary Gaetti. Allan Anderson also won the ERA title without making the All-Star team and Kent Hrbek wasn't picked in perhaps the best season of his career, hitting .312/.387/.520 for the league's seventh-best OPS.


Jim Perry, 1971: Perry is one of the best pitchers in Twins history and in 1970 he won the Cy Young award with an AL-best 24 victories and a 3.04 ERA in 279 innings. And then in 1971 he was terrible. In a very low-scoring year Perry posted a 4.23 ERA compared to the AL average of 3.46, allowing the most earned runs (127) and home runs (39) in the league. If you translate his 1971 numbers to today's offensive environment it equates to a 5.00 ERA and 53 homers allowed.

And he didn't even have a good first half with a 4.10 ERA and 20 homers in 22 starts. Perry did, however, have enough run support and luck to go 12-8 despite coughing up tons of runs, which is often enough to get an All-Star nod in 2013 and was certainly enough in 1971. It's not hard to see how the reigning Cy Young winner with 12 wins at the All-Star break got chosen for the team, but Perry had a worse ERA than all but three AL pitchers to qualify for the ERA title in 1971.

Perry was so good for so long that it seems wrong to put him on a list with guys like Coomer and Laudner, but strictly in terms of performance during an All-Star season no pitcher in Twins history was worse. Despite going 74-86 in 1971 the Twins had five All-Stars, yet the three players with the highest Wins Above Replacement totals on the team--Bert Blyleven, Jim Kaat, and Cesar Tovar--weren't picked.

                  GS      IP      ERA      SO      BB     HR
Jim Perry         39     270     4.23     126     102     39
Bert Blyleven     38     278     2.81     224      59     21

Blyleven was 20 years old, so no doubt the baseball world in 1971 was slow to come around to him being an elite pitcher, but that comparison between Twins rotation-mates is crazy. Blyleven allowed 95 runs in 278 innings, Perry allowed 135 runs in 270 innings, and Blyleven nearly had twice as many strikeouts, half as many walks, and half as many homers allowed. Three decades later Blyleven detractors used his lack of All-Star games to discredit his Hall of Fame case.


Dave Engle, 1984: As a prospect Engle was acquired by the Twins as part of the four-player deal for Rod Carew in 1979. Engle was very good for the Twins in 1983, hitting .305/.350/.449 in his first season as a starting catcher, and a solid first half in 1984 led to a spot on the All-Star team backing up Lance Parrish of the Tigers. He then hit .192 in the second half and finished the year at .266/.308/.363 with four homers in 109 games overall.

Engle never got 200 plate appearances in a season again after being a 27-year-old All-Star and played a grand total of just 269 career games after the selection, hitting .229 with 10 homers. He was the Twins' lone All-Star on an 81-81 team despite Viola and Hrbek having standout seasons as 24-year-olds and no fewer than a half-dozen other players being far more deserving by the end of the season.


Ken Landreaux, 1980: Landreaux, like Engle, was acquired from the Angels in the Carew trade. And, like Engle, he was the lone All-Star on a mediocre Twins team in 1980 that featured several stronger performances. Landreaux was actually much better for the Twins the previous season, hitting .305/.347/.450 in 151 games as their primary center fielder. He nearly duplicated those numbers in the first half of 1980 to get the All-Star spot, but then dropped off in the second half.

Landreaux wasn't bad in 1980, he just wasn't anywhere close to All-Star caliber. He finished at .281/.334/.417 with seven homers in 129 games split between center field and left field, grading out very poorly in modern defensive metrics. There were 47 outfielders to play at least 100 games in the AL and Landreaux ranked 22nd in batting average, 29th in OBP, 23rd in slugging, and 28th in OPS. That offseason the Twins traded him to the Dodgers for Mickey Hatcher.


This week's blog content is sponsored by the Twins Daily light rail pub crawl/Twins game, where you can join Aaron Gleeman, John Bonnes, Parker Hageman, Nick Nelson, and Seth Stohs for a day of bar-hopping and baseball on September 14. Space is limited, so book your spot.

June 19, 2013

Who are the best young hitters in Twins history?

best young hitters

Oswaldo Arcia has thrived as a 22-year-old rookie, Aaron Hicks has struggled as a 23-year-old rookie, and Twins fans are counting down the days until stud prospects Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton arrive in Minnesota. All of which got me thinking about the best young hitters in Twins history, so I looked up the most productive seasons for each age based on OPS. No teenage hitter has even gotten regular playing time for the Twins, so let's start with 20-year-olds ...


AGE 20              YEAR      PA      OPS
Butch Wynegar       1976     622     .719

Butch Wynegar is the only hitter in Twins history to see regular action at age 20 and he logged 622 plate appearances, started 133 games at catcher, threw out 35 percent of steal attempts, and made the All-Star team while hitting .260/.356/.363 with more walks (79) than strikeouts (63) in a pitcher-friendly era. Adjusting for the time it was a Joe Mauer-esque year, which is why he was such a phenom and why, despite a solid 13-year career, he was ultimately a disappointment.

Bert Blyleven actually has the second-most plate appearances by a 20-year-old in Twins history with 100, because he was an amazing young pitcher who debuted before the designated hitter. In fact, he also has the most plate appearances by a 19-year-old in Twins history with 58. Through age 20 he hit .135 in 158 trips to the plate ... and tossed 442 innings with a 2.95 ERA. Blyleven ended up with 514 career plate appearances and hit .131 with a 193-to-5 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

Among position players Luis Rivas has the second-most plate appearances by a 20-year-old in Twins history with 64. In the early days of this blog the Twins rushing Rivas to the majors and repeatedly handing him a starting job based almost solely on his age was a frequent source of frustration. He debuted at 20 and got the sixth-most plate appearances in team history through age 24--Wynegar got the most by a wide margin--but Rivas basically never improved.


AGE 21              YEAR      PA      OPS
Tom Brunansky       1982     545     .848
Rod Carew           1967     561     .750
Butch Wynegar       1977     617     .715
Zoilo Versalles     1961     542     .704
Luis Rivas          2001     619     .682
Cristian Guzman     1999     456     .543

Those are the only six 21-year-olds in Twins history to log at least 300 plate appearances. Tom Brunansky actually began that 1982 season at Triple-A in the Angels organization and was hitting just .205/.317/.330 in 25 games there when they traded him to the Twins in mid-May along with Mike Walters for Doug Corbett and Rob Wilfong. He was immediately handed a starting job and hit .272/.377/.471 with 20 homers, 30 doubles, and 71 walks in 127 games.

Rod Carew was also no slouch at 21, hitting .292/.341/.409 in one of the lowest-scoring eras in baseball history. Seriously, in 1967 the American League as a whole hit .236 with a .303 on-base percentage and .351 slugging percentage. If you adjust Carew's raw numbers to today's offensive environment he hit around .315/.360/.475, which is amazing from a 21-year-old second baseman and explains how he missed being the unanimous Rookie of the Year winner by one vote.

Wynegar cracks the list again and Rivas shows up too, along with shortstops Zoilo Versalles and Cristian Guzman. In six decades of Twins history only two regulars have been above-average hitters at 21, which is something to remember when Sano and Buxton show up. Mauer doesn't make the age-21 list because a knee injury cut short his rookie season, but he hit .308/.369/.570 in 122 plate appearances for what would be the top OPS by a wide margin.


AGE 22              YEAR      PA      OPS
Kent Hrbek          1982     591     .848
David Ortiz         1998     326     .817
Joe Mauer           2005     554     .783
Oswaldo Arcia       2013     133     .759
Tom Brunansky       1983     611     .753

I've included Arcia on the age-22 list despite his not having enough plate appearances to qualify yet because he's actually what got me thinking about this topic in the first place. Arcia has fared well enough in the early going that I wondered how his production compares to other 22-year-old Twins, discovering that he's in some pretty nice company with Kent Hrbek, David Ortiz, Mauer, and Brunansky.

In all a total of 12 different Twins have gotten at least 300 plate appearances at age 22 and Hrbek leads the way by hitting .301/.363/.485 with 23 homers in 140 games as a rookie in 1981. The worst OPS in the group of 22-year-olds belongs to Wynegar, who fell to .229/.307/.308 in his third season after being an All-Star at 20 and 21. Rivas, Guzman, Versalles, Carew, and Carlos Gomez also posted a sub-.700 OPS at 22.


AGE 23              YEAR      PA      OPS
Joe Mauer           2006     608     .936
Justin Morneau      2004     312     .875
Kent Hrbek          1983     582     .855
Rod Carew           1969     504     .853
Cristian Guzman     2001     527     .811

Four of the truly elite hitters in Twins history ... and Guzman. He'd been terrible in his first two seasons with the Twins, but in 2001 he hit .308/.346/.507 with seven homers, 22 doubles, and an incredible 13 triples in the first half to make the All-Star team. And then just as everyone was getting excited about a switch-hitting 23-year-old shortstop emerging as a star Guzman hurt his shoulder, missed much of the second half, and resumed being a terrible hitter.

Mauer hit .347/.429/.507 in 140 games at age 23, becoming the first catcher in AL history to win a batting title. He likely should have finished either first or second in the MVP voting, but instead placed sixth while teammate Justin Morneau won the award based largely on racking up RBIs with Mauer on base in front of him. Two years earlier Morneau posted the second-best OPS by a 23-year-old in Twins history, hitting .271/.340/.536 in 74 games after a midseason call-up.

Carew, like Mauer, won his first batting title at age 23, hitting .332/.386/.467 in 1969 to boost his OPS by 200 points compared to 1968, which happened to be one of the lowest-scoring seasons in baseball history and the final season before MLB lowered the pitching mound. In all 28 different Twins have gotten at least 300 plate appearances at age 23 and 13 failed to crack a .700 OPS, including Torii Hunter and Roy Smalley.

Hicks hasn't reached 300 plate appearances yet, but his current .575 OPS at age 23 would rank third-worst ahead of only David McCarty (.542) and Danny Thompson (.482). Greg Gagne (.596) and Rich Becker (.599) also aren't very far ahead of Hicks and two guys who preceded him in center field, Gomez and Ben Revere, posted an OPS under .625 at 23. Next season Arcia will try to become the sixth Twins hitter to crack an .800 OPS at 23.


AGE 24              YEAR      PA      OPS
Kent Hrbek          1984     635     .906
Delmon Young        2010     613     .826
Denard Span         2008     411     .819
David Ortiz         2000     478     .810
Joe Mauer           2007     471     .808

Hrbek has the best OPS for 22-year-olds, the third-best OPS for 23-year-olds, and the best OPS for 24-year-olds. In his age-24 season listed above he hit .311/.383/.522 with 27 homers in 149 games, finishing runner-up in the MVP voting behind Tigers reliever Willie Hernandez despite not even making the All-Star team. Hrbek never finished in the top 15 in MVP voting before or after that season, although he had plenty of other productive years.

Delmon Young appeared to have a breakout season in 2010, hitting .298/.333/.493 with 21 homers and 46 doubles in 153 games at age 24 to convince a lot of people he was finally living up to the hype he received as a prospect. He finished 10th in the MVP balloting because some voters overlooked his terrible defense and focused on his high RBI total, but in three seasons since then he's hit just .263/.297/.404.

Ortiz has the second-best OPS for 22-year-olds and the fourth-best OPS for 24-year-olds, so while no one could have predicted that he'd become one of the elite hitters in baseball after leaving the Twins there was certainly plenty of promise shown at a young age. In all Ortiz hit .266/.348/.461 in 455 games for the Twins through age 25. In team history only Mauer, Hrbek, Morneau, and Rich Rollins had more plate appearances and a higher OPS than Ortiz through age 25.

By age 24 plenty of hitters are regulars in the majors and a total of 38 different Twins hitters got at least 300 plate appearances as 24-year-olds. Kirby Puckett ranks 34th out of 38 with a .655 OPS, hitting .296/.320/.336 with zero homers in 128 games as a rookie. Carew would hold the top spot among 24-year-olds with a .930 OPS in 1970, but a knee injury ended his season after 51 games with a .366 batting average.


AGE 25              YEAR      PA      OPS
Harmon Killebrew    1961     656    1.012
Justin Morneau      2006     661     .934
Tony Oliva          1964     719     .916
Bobby Kielty        2002     348     .890
Joe Mauer           2008     633     .864

Harmon Killebrew couldn't crack any of these lists before age 25 because the team didn't move to Minnesota until then. In his first Twins season Killebrew hit .288/.405/.606 with 46 homers and 107 walks. Five decades later he's still the only Twins hitter to top a .950 OPS by age 25. Tony Oliva also cracks these lists for the first time at 25 because it was his rookie season. He led the AL in batting average, runs, doubles, and total bases, winning Rookie of the Year.

Morneau's aforementioned MVP-winning 2006 season came at age 25, as he hit .321/.375/.556 with 34 homers and 37 doubles in 159 games. Morneau has the second-best OPS for 23-year-olds and 25-year-olds, but hit just .239/.304/.437 in between as a 24-year-old. Mauer cracks the top five in OPS for ages 22, 23, 24, and 25. And he likely would've had the top OPS for 21-year-olds too if not for the knee injury.

Bobby Kielty is the odd man out on the age-25 list, which reminds me that I've never been more wrong about a player. He was a switch-hitting outfielder with power and plate discipline, and as you can see Kielty put up big numbers at an early age. When the Twins traded Kielty to the Blue Jays for Shannon Stewart in 2006 he was a 26-year-old .269/.375/.444 hitter. I thought they'd made a terrible mistake. And then Kielty hit .246/.333/.389 after the trade, flaming out at 30.


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April 26, 2013

Link-O-Rama

• Sunday afternoon "Gleeman and The Geek" is back on the radio for our second season on KFAN. Beginning at 4:00 you can tune into 100.3-FM or steam the show on KFAN.com to hear us live, or you can wait for the podcast like always.

• Photographs of what death row inmates choose as their final meals are predictably fascinating.

• I've often wondered how much pot could fit inside a Pac-Man arcade game.

Yu Darvish is a helluva drug.

• What does it say about me that I grew up dreaming about getting, tried to get, and failed to get what is now deemed the worst job in America?

• One second before Oswaldo Arcia launched his first career home run approximately 1,000 feet Bert Blyleven wondered if he would be asked to bunt. So perfect.

• I would gladly have participated in Nathan Fielder's little freak-out-your-parents experiment, except my mom a) wouldn't care and b) doesn't text.

• I'm pretty obsessed with Twitter and like gaining followers, both for my ego and because it helps me get people to read my writing, but this whole thing seems pathetically shady.

• On this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode we had two special guests on and at one point I tried to convince everyone that Doug Mientkiewicz is one of the best-looking Twins of this era.

• One of my favorite musicians, Richie Havens, passed away at age 72. My annual Opening Day tradition here involves ending my Twins season preview with a video of his great live version of "Here Comes The Sun" from 1971:

RIP, one of the best.

• It turns out that Tom Cruise does most of his acting standing on an apple crate.

• Try to find another MLB closer who engages idiots on Twitter between doubleheader games.

• Last week I ranked my top 10 baseball movies of all time at HardballTalk and tried to convince everyone that "The Sandlot" is underrated, so naturally Wendy Peffercorn showed up on "Mad Men" a few days later.

• Even better, the Twins and FOX Sports North announced that they'll be showing "The Sandlot" on the Target Field jumbotron after the Twins-Red Sox game on May 19.

• Stand-up comedian Rob Delaney is singing the National Anthem at the Dodgers-Brewers game tonight, and the recap of how that came to be is pretty funny.

• Netflix now has more American subscribers than HBO.

• It has nothing to do with anything, but this is my favorite GIF from "Mad Men" this week.

Nate Sandell of 1500ESPN.com wrote a very good article about new Gophers basketball coach Richard Pitino getting into statistical analysis.

• In which Paul Allen suggests we go on a double-date at a Twins game.

• Of course A.J. Pierzynski was involved in this somehow.

• After years of playing through injuries and taking painkillers former Vikings quarterback Brad Johnson is struggling just to live life at age 44.

• Earlier this week I named Hannibal Buress as one of my five favorite stand-up comedians and he also does a nice job acting in this short film.

Fortunately that did not happen when I saw him at Acme Comedy Company a few months ago.

• Anyone who likes Elisabeth Moss on "Mad Men" (or liked her on "The West Wing") should check out the mini-series "Top Of The Lake" on Netflix for a really well done, slow burn mystery/drama co-starring Peter Mullan and Holly Hunter.

• IFC put the pilot episode of Marc Maron's new television show on YouTube.

• Wanna buy all of Bret Saberhagen's old baseball stuff?

• My favorite part of this week's Carson Cistulli-Dayn Perry podcast was 36 minutes in, when Perry tells Cistulli that he thinks podcasts are terrible and Cistulli tries to convince Perry otherwise by saying: "Aaron Gleeman listens to podcasts all day." (Spoiler alert: It did not work.)

• I enjoyed this video from the Sloan Conference panel about basketball analytics featuring Stan Van Gundy, R.C. Buford, and Zach Lowe. SVG in particular was really impressive/funny.

Kelly Dwyer of Yahoo! Sports examined whether Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson are the best-shooting backcourt in NBA history.

• I answered a bunch of mailbag questions from Twitter. I'd like to figure out a way to make the mailbag posts a regular thing here without having to specifically ask for questions each time, so let me know any suggestions.

• We made some changes to the comments section and might have a few wrinkles to iron out, so check it out, be patient, and let me know any issues.

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

- "Is Aaron Gleeman a mensch?"
- "What to do if you're a 30-year-old kid"
- "T-ball lineup card"
- "Gordon Ramsay and George Michael"
- "Denzel Washington baseball"
- "How long should you fry wing sections?"
- "Sabermetics approach to dating"
- "Does Aaron Gleeman blog with his pants off?"
- "What synagogue does Jeselnik go to?"
- "Luis Rivas baseball"

• Finally, this week's AG.com-approved music video is Havens singing "Freedom" at Woodstock:


This week's blog content is sponsored by "Hank Greenberg: The Hero of Heroes" author John Rosengren's upcoming appearance at the Minneapolis Sabes JCC on May 5. Please support him for supporting AG.com.

July 20, 2012

Link-O-Rama

(Our whole crew, including me in the middle and Bill Parker talking to Robby Incmikoski.)

I spent yesterday afternoon at Target Field watching the Twins-Orioles game in FOX Sports North's suite. Along with a few other bloggers I was invited there to try the "Game Connect" platform that incorporates play-by-play, statistics, scores, social media, and a bunch of other stuff for an online supplement to the game-watching experience. It's definitely worth trying, especially if you're like me and typically watch Twins games on FSN with your computer nearby.

(After seeing John Bonnes' tweet they actually asked to do this and who was I to say no?)

FSN treated us too well. Becky Ross and Laura Beshire were great hosts, plying us with beer and food. Angie Avestruz and Kaylin Cockriel--also known as "The FSN Girls"--couldn't have been nicer, even when John Bonnes creepily used Twitter to peer-pressure them into running their fingers through my hair. And sideline reporter Robby Incmikoski hung out, interviewed me on television, and was incredibly nice despite me often being critical of him and FSN.

 (Nick Nelson was more focused on his beer and sunglasses than my FSN television debut.)

And then after the game we put the finishing touches on a fun day at the Fulton Tap Room. You can find some more pictures and details about the whole experience on my Twitter page. Thanks to FOX Sports North for reaching out to the bloggers and thanks to everyone involved for being so damn nice. And last but not least check out "Game Connect" the next time you're watching the Twins on FSN, if only so they don't regret inviting me. OK, now on to the links ...


• As always, Louis C.K. is the best.

Pete Rose is getting his own reality television show and it sounds as bad as you'd expect.

• Yesterday morning during my KFAN appearance with Paul Allen the inevitable happened, as PA and my mom joined forces in the name of ... well, listen for yourself.

Heidi Klum was the first Official Fantasy Girl of AG.com way back in 2002 and suffice it to say she's aged a whole helluva lot better than I have.

• Friend of AG.com and former Gleeman and The Geek guest Lindsay Guentzel made it to the MLB Fan Cave's final seven, but after four months in New York she was voted out this week.

• Speaking of which, this week's Gleeman and The Geek show was our 50th episode, which means only 450 more until my mom is allowed to come on as a guest.

• Having reached the point where losing more weight isn't really possible--I'm down under 170 pounds after being 355 pounds on March 7, 2011--for the past two weeks or so I've been on a Chinese food and gum diet mostly just to see what happens. And despite getting takeout from Yangtze in St. Louis Park literally every day I somehow haven't gained any weight. Order the "hunan chicken with just carrots and baby corn." It'll change your life.

• Jets coach Rex Ryan went from 348 pounds in late 2009 to 242 pounds now, although he underwent lap-band surgery rather than relying strictly on diet and exercise.

Pete Caldera is officially the coolest beat reporter in baseball. And best-dressed, too.

• Nationals first-round pick Lucas Giolito has $2.9 million and a signed lightsaber from Samuel L. Jackson hanging in his room.

• If you're into statistical analysis for basketball, Court Vision's graphics showing exactly where rebounds wind up based on where shots are taken are pretty great.

Bert Blyleven had a perfect response to Reggie Jackson: "God gives us many holes in our body and he just spoke out of the wrong one."

• As someone forced to use a Blackberry for work, the company's situation is depressing.

• This will probably make it even more confusing when I try to explain where I work to people.

• Congrats to my HardballTalk blog-mate Craig Calcaterra for being named "internet writer of the year" by the Baseball Bloggers Alliance.

• Looking at Official Fantasy Girl of AG.com candidate Kelly Brook is just like riding a bike.

Darren Wolfson's ongoing coverage of the Timberwolves' offseason has been a must-read at 1500-ESPN and his lengthy article breaking down the Nicolas Batum drama was excellent.

• Except for the parts about leaving the house and hanging out with strangers for three hours this sounds like a great way to watch a Twins game at Target Field.

Paul F. Tomkins filmed a series of short video interviews with interesting actors, comedians, and musicians over drinks and they're all worth watching.

• Netflix instant recommendation: Rampart, which stars Woody Harrelson and convinced me even further that he's one of the best, most versatile, and most underrated actors around.

• On a related note, one screenshot can tell the story of a crazy evening.

John Legend was a great guest on The Champs with Neal Brennan and Moshe Kasher.

• Finally, this week's AG.com-approved music video is Legend singing the hook to "Do You Wanna Ride" by Jay-Z:

This week's blog content is sponsored by Ballplayer: Pelotero, a controversial new documentary about baseball prospects in the Dominican Republic starring Miguel Sano as a 16-year-old.

January 20, 2012

Twins Notes: Arbitration, invitations, compensation, and reconsideration

• Tuesday night was the deadline for players and teams to submit salary figures for arbitration hearings to be held next month, but the Twins avoided that with Francisco Liriano and Glen Perkins by signing them to one-year deals. Liriano got $5.5 million for his third and final year of arbitration eligibility, which is exactly what I projected as his salary last month. Perkins got $1.55 million for his second arbitration year, which is slightly less than my $2 million projection.

Alexi Casilla did not agree to a pre-deadline deal in his second arbitration year, filing for $1.75 million while the Twins countered at $1.065 million. If the two sides fail to reach a compromise they'll go to a hearing, present their cases, and have someone choose which salary he'll get for 2012, but given that the Twins haven't actually gone to arbitration with a player since Kyle Lohse in 2005 and 2006 odds are they'll split the difference on a one-year deal before then.

• Last month the Twins non-tendered Jose Mijares rather than retain him via the arbitration process, with general manager Terry Ryan explaining that "we didn't want to go there" with a salary bump. That struck me as very odd, because Mijares was paid $445,000 last season and projected to make about $725,000 in 2012, whereas the new minimum salary is $480,000. No team cuts a player they think has any sort of value over $250,000. Or at least they shouldn't.

Mijares didn't spend much time as a free agent and ended up with more money than he would have gotten from the Twins, quickly signing with the Royals for $925,000. He was bad enough last season that bouncing back is certainly no sure thing, but considering Mijares' modest cost and the fact that he's 27 years old with a 3.16 ERA and .243/.310/.381 opponents' line in 154 career innings makes letting him go for nothing a questionable move.

Mijares was an easy target for criticism because of his weight and supposed poor work ethic, but the oft-repeated notion that he was an ineffective pitcher who failed in key situations isn't supported by facts. In addition to his 3.16 ERA in 154 innings Mijares held opponents to a .219 batting average and .590 OPS in high-leverage situations and had a positive Win Probability Added, which measures performance in context to reward doing well in crucial spots.

• Fort Myers will be crowded after the Twins signed 25 players to minor-league contracts with invitations to spring training. I've written about most of those players, but neglected to cover J.R. Towles, Steve Pearce, and Aaron Thompson when they signed last month. Towles is the most interesting of that trio, both because he was once a top-ranked catcher prospect and because a decent alternative to Drew Butera as the Twins' third catcher would be nice.

After hitting well in the minors Towles hit .375 in a 14-game debut with the Astros in 2007 and was No. 53 on Baseball America's prospect list going into 2008. He flopped as a rookie, hitting .137 in 54 games, and has repeatedly failed in other brief chances with the Astros, hitting .187 in 155 career games spread over parts of five seasons. However, he's still just 27 years old and never ceased producing in the minors, batting .286/.389/.443 in 152 games at Triple-A.

Pearce was also once a top prospect, albeit briefly, ranking 89th on that same Baseball America list for 2008 after a monster 2007 season in which he hit .333/.394/.622 with 31 homers and 40 doubles in 134 games between three levels. He was already 24 years old at the time, his OPS dropped 300 points the next season, and Pearce hit just .232/.302/.366 in 185 games for the Pirates, but his Triple-A numbers remained strong and he's useful first base/outfield depth.

Thompson was the 22nd overall pick in the 2005 draft by the Marlins, but the left-hander's career never got enough traction to crack any top prospect lists. He pitched well in the low minors, but struggled some with injuries and has a 4.91 ERA in 473 career innings between Double-A and Triple-A. Thompson made his MLB debut last season, appearing in four games for the Pirates, but got knocked around and seems like a poor bet to make it back to the majors.

Phil Mackey of 1500ESPN.com did some digging and found that the Twins recently extended their television contract with FOX Sports North, signing a new deal worth approximately $29 million per season. That may sound like a lot and it's certainly a big improvement compared to their previous television revenue, but relative to many other teams it actually puts them at a significant disadvantage.

For instance, the Angels were able to hand out massive long-term contracts to Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson this offseason because their new television deal pays around $150 million per season and that pales in comparison to the estimated $400 million in revenue the Yankees get per season from their own network. Even the Rangers, who weren't previously viewed as a big-market powerhouse, inked a new television deal worth a reported $80 million per season.

• Speaking of which, Patrick Reusse of the Minneapolis Star Tribune spit some truth about the Twins' television broadcast as it relates to an overall trend in local announcers:

It was uncomfortable listening to Twins telecasts last season as Dick Bremer and, to a lesser extent, Bert Blyleven spent most of the three hours nightly trying to explain away the 99 losses as something other than a disaster wrought upon the public by the front office.

Apparently, they did have permission slips to denigrate Kevin Slowey. Injuries and Slowey's attitude--those were about the only factors that could be identified by the long-serving duo for this fine baseball organization to have fielded the worst team in the American League.

And we can't forget that a Bremer-Blyleven telecast is always rich with the fable that there's a Twins Way of playing baseball: exceptional fielding, being smart and aggressive on the bases, and throwing strikes. No matter that you have to go back to 2006 to find a Twins team that stuck to those principles.

Amen. I'd guess that my television was muted for about 90 percent of Twins games last year.

• Cutting payroll by $15 million luckily hasn't stopped the Twins from spending on prospects, as they signed 16-year-old pitcher Mauricio Silva out of the Dominican Republic for $370,000. Ben Badler of Baseball America praised Silva's fastball-curveball combo and calls the 6-foot-2 right-hander "one of the more promising Latin American pitching prospects" eligible to sign in 2011. And this will make you feel really old: Silva was born in Brad Radke's rookie year, 1995.

• They'll also be spending big in the draft, because in addition to having the No. 2 overall pick by virtue of their 63-99 record the Twins are projected to receive the No. 32 and No. 67 picks as compensation for losing Michael Cuddyer and the No. 41 pick as compensation for losing Jason Kubel. Toss in their own second-rounder and the Twins will likely have five of the top 70 picks in June's draft, which makes for one incredibly important day in their rebuilding process.

• Back in early 2008, when the Twins were in the process of trading Johan Santana, various reports had them seeking Fernando Martinez from the Mets as the centerpiece of a deal. At the time Martinez was a 19-year-old center fielder who twice ranked among Baseball America's top-20 prospects, so the Mets balked at including him and eventually the Twins settled instead for a four-player package of Carlos Gomez, Deolis Guerra, Kevin Mulvey, and Philip Humber.

Four years later none of those four prospects panned out as hoped and Guerra is the only one who remains in the Twins organization, but it turns out they wouldn't have been any better off with Martinez. Chronic knee issues and mediocre hitting caused his stock to plummet and last week the Mets placed him on waivers, giving up on Martinez for nothing. He didn't make it far, as the Astros used their No. 1 waiver priority to claim Martinez ... directly in front of the Twins.

• Of course, the Santana trade didn't work out particularly well for the Mets either. He missed all of last season following shoulder surgery, remains a question mark for the beginning of this season, and is owed $55 million over the next two years. Santana did at least give them 600 innings of a 2.85 ERA prior to going down in late 2010, which is even better than his 3.22 ERA in 1,309 innings with the Twins.

Ron Gardenhire's son, Toby Gardenhire, has retired after playing seven years in the minors for the Twins and the former 41st-round pick is the University of Wisconson-Stout's new coach.

Seth Stohs' annual Minnesota Twins Prospect Handbook is now available and as always I can't recommend it highly enough. Well worth the price, for the 180 pages of content and to support all the free blogging Stohs has provided over the years. Go buy it, you'll be glad you did.

• For a lot more on how the whole arbitration process works, plus analysis of the Joel Zumaya signing and talk about what moves the Twins have left to make this offseason, check out this week's podcast with special guests Nick Nelson and John Bonnes' horrible beard.

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