October 4, 2013

Link-O-Rama

Before getting to the links, I just want to say thank you to everyone who stopped by AG.com, followed me on Twitter, came to various get-togethers, and listened to "Gleeman and The Geek" this season. Being a Twins fan hasn't been much fun lately and at times writing and talking about a third straight 95-loss team felt more draining than rewarding, but knowing there are so many other people out there who also can't bring themselves to look away helped me keep going.

This was my 12th season blogging about the Twins and fan morale has never been lower during that time, but if you can stand all the losing there are certainly plenty of interesting aspects of a rebuilding team. It'll be business as usual here this offseason, which means weekly podcasts, my annual Top 40 Twins Prospects series, lots of free agency analysis, next-day break downs of any moves that happen, and player-by-player outlooks. And lots of other stuff too. Thank you.

• My favorite sentence from this excellent New York Times article: "A recent six-month fling with a 90-year-old woman he met at synagogue did not work out." Happens to the best of us.

• Back when I was shopping for a house I remember really enjoying looking at all the real estate photos online, but this website allows you to enjoy them on another level.

• Here's my analysis of the Twins bringing back Ron Gardenhire and his entire coaching staff.

• Incidentally, regardless of your opinion about Gardenhire re-signing his sunglasses placement and overall style during the press conference were amazing.

• Nothing has ever given more hope to the hopeless than 15-year-old George Clooney.

• For this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode we tried something new by recording from the Target Field stands during one of the final games of the season and the results were interesting.

• For those of us in mourning after the "Breaking Bad" finale there's always the Latin American version starring Walter Blanco. There's a trailer and everything:

Can't wait to see what they do with the Todd character.

Francisco Liriano had a fun Tuesday night. And a few dozen internet friends who got together to watch him beat the Reds had fun too. I even dug this out of the closet for the occasion.

• If you want to read all about Liriano's big night, Jenn Menendez of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette put together a nice quote-filled story on deadline.

• Five years later, Chuck Mindenhall of MMAFighting.com wrote a lengthy article about the night everything came crashing down around Kimbo Slice.

• This is more or less how I watch sporting events at home, but he's taken things to another level.

• "Gleeman and The Geek" regular Kate Agnew was featured in the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

• General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. and the Phillies might hire a stat-head to do ... something.

• There has since been backtracking, but that doesn't change the grossness of #playyousissies.

• SABR announced that next year's convention in Houston will be held from July 30 to August 3, which is less than ideal for me because it's during the trade deadline and will be 1,000 degrees.

David Temple and Than Tibbetts are the only tuba players I know/am willing to associate with, so this is how I choose to imagine their day-to-day lives:

Temple says I'm not the first person to make that joke, but that's just the sign of a great joke.

• We'll be recording the next "Gleeman and The Geek" episode Saturday at 612 Brew's (totally free) Octoberfest event. Beer, food trucks, live music, and at least one podcast. Should be fun.

• Living legend Carson Cistulli chatted with my hero Rob Neyer, so how I could I not listen?

• Twins social media guru Keith Beise, who got guilted into inviting me to the Deckstravaganza event last month, did an interesting interview about his job.

• Last week Keith Moyer was kind enough to invite me to chat with his sports journalism class and one of the students, Mike Potter, has a Gopher sports podcast that you should check out.

• I highly recommend checking out Nightingale restaurant/bar on Lyndale Avenue in Uptown. I've been there twice now and loved the vibe and crowd both times. They also have maybe my favorite bartender of all time, so look for the guy stumping people with hardcore baseball trivia. And the Minneapolis Star Tribune just said they have one of the Twin Cities' best hamburgers.

• I sat a few seats over from Corey Koskie at Target Field last week, which reminded me that he's one of the most underrated players in Twins history.

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

- "Aaron Glee"
- "Can you safely carry a child at 245 pounds?"
- "How will the Twins look next year?"
- "Bill Smith tough decisions"
- "Rob Dibble's ex-wife"
- "Michael Keaton married again"
- "Will elliptical give me my six-pack back?"
- "Aaron Gleeman on Tinder"

• Finally, in honor of the Twins' season mercifully coming to an end this week's AG.com-approved music video is "Love Is A Losing Game" by Amy Winehouse:


Interested in sponsoring a week of AG.com and advertising your product, service, local business, or website directly to thousands of readers each day? Click here for details.

August 10, 2012

Link-O-Rama

Eric Chavez throwing the ball back to an unsuspecting Cody Eppley is GIF magic.

Nicolas Batum's nut-punching above replacement level is off the charts, which is no doubt why the Timberwolves made such a strong run at him this offseason.

• See, now they're just taunting me. Might be time to evaluate some other candidates.

• In honor of Usain Bolt's latest gold medal the New York Times created a fascinating video showing the evolution of the 100-meter dash at the Olympics. Humans are pretty amazing.

• I'm pretty sure Google has been listening to Gleeman and The Geek and is now inventing things specifically for me.

Sid Hartman's recent Minneapolis Star Tribune column includes a note saying that "it's unlikely 1500-AM will carry Twins broadcasts beyond this season."

• For anyone interested in local radio ratings, my MinnPost colleague David Brauer has the latest numbers and analysis. Short version: KFAN continues to dominate.

• Update on my all-Chinese food diet: I ate hunan chicken from Yangtze almost literally every day for an entire month and gained 10 pounds. I'm not sure what was accomplished, other than learning I'm still capable of being a fastso, but now I'm back on the low-calorie wagon.

• Behold, the worst play of the season:

On a related note, for as awful as the Twins have been since the beginning of 2011 they've got 20 more wins than the Astros during that time. Seriously: 112-162 compared to 92-182.

Ricky Gervais is the latest comedian to ride in Jerry Seinfeld's car and go for coffee.

Amelia Rayno of the Minneapolis Star Tribune wrote an excellent article about Corey Koskie's life after a concussion ruined his baseball career.

Tim Allen, who blogged excellently and creatively about the Timberwolves at Canis Hoopis since 2009, committed suicide at age 29.

• Turner Broadcasting bought Bleacher Report for $175 million.

Frank Viola's daughter, Brittany Viola, finished 15th in the Olympic diving semi-finals.

Carson Cistulli put together some good advice for how to become an internet baseball writer, although he oddly left out "be incredibly handsome."

• As always my favorite podcast guest, Chelsea Peretti, was great on Doug Loves Movies with Doug Benson, Sarah Silverman and Anthony Jeselnik. And my friend and former Rotoworld colleague Gregg Rosenthal was actually in the audience.

• Speaking of Peretti, she makes a cameo appearance in this amusing compilation video of all the times Louis C.K. has said "I'm sorry" on Louie:

Also: Joan Rivers.

• Freakonomics Radio explains why getting a college degree isn't always so valuable.

• On the other hand, things are looking up for journalism school graduates these days.

• Old school Orioles catcher Gus Triandos had a very memorable place in The Wire world, but the show had plenty of other sports-related story lines too.

• It turns out the Minneapolis Star Tribune headline about "weed dating" was a false alarm.

• Tuesday morning I was getting tweets saying stuff like "do you really wear tuxedo t-shirts?" and "what's with a polka dot fanny pack?" and "uh, you may want to turn on KFAN." I listened to the podcast later and heard Paul Allen and Marney Gellner discuss "Girls Gone Gleeman" without me even being present, including Gellner replying "I follow him on Twitter and his mom is a sweetheart" when asked if she knew me. Which, really, should be on my tombstone.

• I was in-studio to defend my honor yesterday and PA threw a curveball by actually wanting to talk Twins for a while. We eventually got to the "Girls Gone Gleeman" situation, which now includes at least one legitimate applicant. And if you listen to the podcast you can hear PA's reaction when I strip down to reveal an actual tuxedo t-shirt that was shipped overnight via Amazon.com just for the occasion. In other words, things are getting very serious.

• And because KFAN clearly hadn't devoted enough airtime to my love life this week, two hours later PA cold-called me at home live on the air to deliver some breaking "Girls Gone Gleeman" news. FSN sideline reporter Robby Incmikoski was in-studio at the time, so we became pals again and at some point I agreed to let him serve as a special guest judge for the dating game-style show we're planning at the state fair. He seems excited about it, at least.

• I've been on Twitter for three years and this is by far my most successful use of the medium:

It turns out running your fingers through my hair can be very addicting.

• On a related note, looks like we'll be doing a live Gleeman and The Geek show from the KFAN booth at the state fair on August 26. My guess is we'll take lots of audience questions, so if you've ever wanted to see John Bonnes arguing with me in person this is your big chance.

• Your weekly reminder that Vin Scully is the best.

Jon Weisman is right: This picture made me smile.

• For some reason my rush-delivered tuxedo t-shirt did not come with any huge guns.

What music would you listen to if you'd been deaf for your entire life and could finally hear?

In which I sing a Beyonce song to Danny Valencia.

• If you look up "hero" in the dictionary ... well, you'll see a definition. Also, this Julie Klausner story is pretty great.

• If you're into basketball, sports betting, poker, or (like me) all of the above Jay Caspian Kang's podcast interview with longtime AG.com favorite Haralabos Voulgaris is a must-listen.

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

- "Bert Blyleven fart"
- "Boof Bonser salary"
- "Brian Dinkelman salary"
- "J.J. Hardy wife"
- "Can a catcher also play outfield"
- "Ben Revere throwing arm"
- "Michelle Beadle twinkie"
- "Chelsea Peretti drugs"
- "Parker Posey weight"
- "Dirty slide slow pitch softball"
- "Joe Thurston ex-girlfriend"
- "Tsuyoshi Nishioka error"
- "Christopher Nolan baseball"
- "Fat man stuffing his face"

• Finally, this week's AG.com-approved music video is the album version of "Where We Gonna Go From Here" by Mat Kearney:

This week's blog content is sponsored by DiamondCentric's new "Walks Will Haunt" t-shirt, which looks good on any Twins fan. Please support them for supporting AG.com.

September 26, 2011

Why can’t the Twins find any infielders who can hit?

One of the constants throughout my 10 seasons of blogging about the Twins is their inability to develop or acquire middle infielders who can hit. I started blogging in 2002, when the Twins hadn't been to the postseason in a decade, Ron Gardenhire was a rookie manager, and the double-play duo was Cristian Guzman and Luis Rivas. In the 10 years since then they've had 10 different players start at least 100 games at shortstop or second base:

                      G      OPS
Nick Punto          430     .652
Cristian Guzman     423     .684
Luis Rivas          359     .686
Alexi Casilla       335     .643
Jason Bartlett      301     .706
Luis Castillo       227     .720
Brendan Harris      160     .666
Orlando Hudson      124     .712
Juan Castro         117     .599
Matt Tolbert        113     .570

Yuck.

During that 10-season span the average American League middle infielder has posted a .730 OPS, yet all 10 of the middle infielders to start at least 100 games for the Twins posted an OPS below .730. In fact, each of the Twins' four most-used middle infielders had an OPS below .690 and the 10-player group combined for a .670 OPS that's 60 points below the league average, with the high-water mark being Luis Castillo's mediocre .720 OPS from 2006 to mid-2007.

Here's how Twins shortstops have ranked in OPS for the 14-team league each year:

YEAR     RANK     SHORTSTOPS
2002     12th     Guzman, Hocking
2003      8th     Guzman, Hocking, Gomez
2004     11th     Guzman, Punto
2005     14th     Bartlett, Castro, Punto
2006      8th     Bartlett, Castro, Punto
2007     10th     Bartlett, Punto
2008     12th     Punto, Harris, Everett
2009      9th     Cabrera, Punto, Harris
2010      6th     Hardy, Punto, Casilla
2011     13th     Nishioka, Casilla, Plouffe, Tolbert

On average during the past 10 seasons Twins shortstops have ranked 10th among AL teams in OPS and the only time they've finished higher than the middle of the pack was last season, when J.J. Hardy's decent .714 OPS helped them rise to sixth and they immediately jettisoned him. Twins shortstops have been above average offensively once in 10 years and even then it was just barely, whereas they've been 10th or worse six times and 12th or worse four times.

And now here's the same list, but with Twins second basemen:

YEAR     RANK     SECOND BASEMEN
2002      9th     Rivas, Hocking, Canizaro
2003     12th     Rivas, Hocking, Gomez
2004      7th     Rivas, Cuddyer
2005     12th     Punto, Rivas, Rodriguez, Boone
2006      9th     Castillo, Punto
2007     13th     Castillo, Casilla, Punto
2008     10th     Casilla, Harris, Punto
2009     14th     Casilla, Punto, Tolbert
2010      9th     Hudson, Casilla, Tolbert
2011     13th     Casilla, Hughes, Tolbert, Cuddyer

Believe it or not the Twins' second basemen have actually been slightly worse than the woeful shortstops, ranking 11th among AL teams in OPS on average during the past 10 seasons and never placing higher than seventh. In those 10 years they've been ninth or worse nine times and 12th or worse five times. And this year both the Twins' shortstops and second basemen are second-to-last among AL teams in OPS.

It's also worth noting that they haven't been any better at finding productive third basemen, at least since Corey Koskie left as a free agent. Koskie was the Twins' starting third baseman from 2000-2004 and on average during those five seasons their OPS at third base ranked fifth in the league. Koskie signed with the Blue Jays after the 2004 season and since then here's how Twins third basemen have ranked in OPS among AL teams:

YEAR     RANK     THIRD BASEMEN
2005     10th     Cuddyer, Rodriguez, Tiffee, Castro
2006     13th     Punto, Batista, Rodriguez
2007     14th     Punto, Rodriguez, Buscher
2008     11th     Buscher, Lamb, Harris
2009     11th     Crede, Harris, Buscher, Tolbert
2010     10th     Valencia, Punto, Tolbert
2011      9th     Valencia, Hughes

Actually that's even uglier than the middle-infield picture. This year is the first time since Koskie left that Twins third basemen have ranked better than 10th in the league in OPS and they're still below average in ninth place. Koskie started 762 total games at third base for the Twins, producing an .839 OPS. In the seven seasons since his departure they've started six different players at least 75 times at third base and none of them have cracked a .750 OPS:

                      G      OPS
Nick Punto          246     .653
Danny Valencia      222     .724
Michael Cuddyer     107     .741
Brian Buscher       106     .702
Brendan Harris       86     .688
Joe Crede            84     .729

If you combine their shortstops from 2002-2011, second basemen from 2002-2011, and third basemen from 2005-2011 that's 27 total years of infielders. And in those 27 positional years the Twins have had an above average OPS twice (shortstops in 2010 and second basemen in 2004) and have never finished higher than sixth in the league while ranking 10th or worse 18 times. All of which is a very long way of saying they can't find any infielders who can hit.

As for why they can't find any infielders who can hit ... well, there are a few theories that seem to make sense. First and foremost is that the Twins clearly focus on speed and defense more than most teams. Whether they do so successfully is up for debate, but when Nick Punto has the team's most middle-infield starts since 2002 and most third base starts since 2005 glove work and running fast are obviously priorities.

There are some exceptions, of course, particularly at third base, but even in the cases where the Twins attempted to sacrifice defense for offense they did so with non-sluggers. Third base has long been a power-hitting position and during the past 15-20 years more and more teams have viewed second base and to a lesser extent shortstop as a spot for guys with the power for 20-plus homers, but the Twins have never really come around to that approach.

Their shortstops and second basemen have almost always been diminutive players with a low strikeout rate, above-average speed, and below-average power, and that skill set rarely adds up to strong offensive production. They've been more willing to stray from that player type at third base in guys like Tony Batista, Mike Lamb, Joe Crede, Brian Buscher, Brendan Harris, and now Danny Valencia, but in none of those cases was there upside beyond solid regular.

As a tall, slow shortstop with 25-homer power Hardy is perhaps the most obvious example of the Twins going against their usual infield focus and not surprisingly they tired of him after just one year despite the highest OPS by a Twins shortstop since Guzman in 2001. Hardy's injuries were a big factor, but so was Gardenhire's desire to add speed to the infield. And now Hardy has 30 homers and an .800 OPS for the Orioles while Twins shortstops are back to not hitting.

Hardy and his .750 career OPS were sent packing because of injuries and lack of speed, while Valencia and his .735 career OPS are entrenched in the doghouse because of shaky defense and a general lack of awareness. Valencia is hardly a long-term building block, but he's a solid all-around player with a better bat than most Twins third basemen since Koskie and has plenty of value while earning the minimum salary.

It'll be interesting to see if the Twins ditch Valencia a year after ditching Hardy because neither player fits the organization's preferred infield mold and there's little indication they've realized how ineffective that mold is at finding competent hitters. Trevor Plouffe might be another test case, because in addition to possessing 20-homer power he's bigger, slower, and considerably less reliable defensively than the Twins like.

Trading away Hardy and replacing him with Tsuyoshi Nishioka showed a discouraging inability to properly evaluate those two players, but it also speaks to an overall approach to acquiring and developing infielders that's resulted in a decade of consistently awful offensive production from second base, shortstop, and third base. It's long past time to find infielders who can hit, but it remains to be seen if the Twins are capable of learning from mistakes and adapting.

August 18, 2010

Twins Notes: Thome, Morneau, Mijares, Gibson, Revere, and Wimmers

• This offseason the White Sox chose not to re-sign Jim Thome in large part because manager Ozzie Guillen urged general manager Ken Williams to let him go, saying he preferred to cycle various players through the designated hitter slot and make the lineup less homer dependent. Thome signed a one-year, $1.5 million contract with the Twins and has batted .273/.391/.593 in 253 plate appearances, including last night's dramatic walk-off homer in the 10th inning.

Meanwhile, the White Sox have gotten a combined .235/.305/.399 line from the DH spot, with Mark Kotsay drawing the most starts at the position. There is still a ton of baseball left to be played and even with the Twins now up four games on the White Sox in the division you can realistically point to any number of players on either team as the "difference" in the standings, but it sure is easy to focus on Thome simply switching sides. He's been amazing.

Justin Morneau revealed Friday and then repeated yesterday that he's yet to get through a single day symptom-free since suffering a concussion from a knee to the helmet while breaking up a double play on July 7. He's finally been able to take batting practice this week, but the Twins officially abandoned any timetable for his return. Here's how he described the situation to Phil Mackey of 1500ESPN.com:

At first it was wake up in the morning, feel good for about 10 minutes, and then the rest of the day not feel great. It's gone to wake up in the morning, get here, feel good, we start doing stuff, feel good, then get home and symptoms come back. Obviously you can't start pushing it too hard.

It has to be slow progression like we've done and hopefully that day's coming soon. I'm optimistic, just with how it's gone each day from where we started. Obviously it's taken longer than I thought or than I'd like, but I think they've handled it well and they want to make sure I'm ready to go when it's time to go back out there.

Morneau also talked about the frustratingly unpredictable nature of concussions:

When it happened, I thought two days after I'd be feeling all right. The thing about it, it's unpredictable. Coming in tomorrow, everything could be feeling good, could make it through the whole day. It could be next week, it could be two weeks, you never know. It's unpredictable. That's the part that's most frustrating.

You know, you hurt your knee, your MCL, it's 4-6 weeks. OK, you do a certain type of rehab, if everything goes good you can make it back in four weeks, and you kind of have that timetable. With this, it's different with every single person that goes through it.

Morneau has no doubt talked to his friend, fellow Canadian, and former Twins third baseman Corey Koskie, whose career was wrecked by a concussion at age 33. Koskie was playing for the Brewers in 2006 and hitting .261/.343/.490 through 76 games for one of his best seasons when he suffered a concussion while chasing after a foul ball on July 5. He never played again, finally retiring after going through several years of false starts and setbacks and frustration.

Obviously there's no reason to assume Morneau will mirror Koskie's sad tale, but there's a real possibility that he won't play again this year and legitimate reason to worry about his future. Combined with his missing the end of last season due to back surgery I'm starting to sense a certain segment of the fan base becoming frustrated by another long absence, but this is not an injury that Morneau can simply will himself to come back from. This is beyond toughness.

Jose Mijares being out for a month following knee surgery is a tough break because he had a 2.16 ERA and 21-to-6 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 25 innings since a bad first outing on April 5, but his role has been so limited that the impact could be fairly minimal. Factoring in his Triple-A stint, Mijares was on the Twins' roster for 90 games and logged 25.2 innings. Not only is that just 46 innings prorated to a full season, he faced an average of 2.8 batters per appearance.

Mijares had basically been pigeonholed into a left-handed specialist role despite holding right-handed hitters to a .256/.316/.400 line for his career. Losing him for a month and possibly the rest of the season is tough in the sense that he's one of the Twins' best relievers, but he was being severely underutilized anyway and the bullpen might be better off if Ron Gardenhire got back to his old style where lefty/righty matchups weren't driving so many decisions.

Ron Mahay tends to be the first name fans bring up when pondering relievers to potentially bump from the bullpen, but he's quietly been very solid in a low-leverage role this season and has a 3.14 ERA with a 33-to-11 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 43 innings since joining the Twins last August. I'm not convinced that the Twins really benefit much from having a strict left-handed specialist, but Mahay is certainly capable of filling that limited role for six weeks.

On the other hand, keeping Glen Perkins around primarily to have a second left-hander in the bullpen makes little sense. He got a big out last night versus Kotsay, who's 0-for-22 off lefties this year, but Perkins is ill-suited for a role that matches him up mostly with lefty bats. For his career Perkins has allowed lefties to hit .327 with an .857 OPS and righties to hit .283 with a .786 OPS. And as Nick Nelson pointed out, it's been the same story in the minors.

• It doesn't mean anything for the big-league team this season, but the Twins promoting 2009 first-round pick Kyle Gibson to Triple-A last week puts him in line to possibly claim a spot in the rotation next spring. After signing for $1.8 million, Gibson made his pro debut at high Single-A with a 1.87 ERA and 40-to-12 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 43.1 innings. That got him a promotion to Double-A, where he had a 3.68 ERA and 77-to-22 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 93 innings.

Gibson moved up to his third level of the season Friday and tossed 5.1 innings of one-run ball in his Rochester debut, giving him a 3.04 ERA, .245 opponents' batting average, and 118-to-36 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 142 innings overall. Not bad for a 22-year-old in his first pro season, and Gibson has somewhat offset his pedestrian strikeout numbers with a strong ground-ball rate of 56 percent. He may not have No. 1 starter upside, but could be an MLB-ready No. 2.

• Gibson's new Triple-A rotation-mate Nick Blackburn has a 1.10 ERA in three starts since last month's demotion to Rochester, but an 8-to-5 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 16.1 innings isn't quite as encouraging. Blackburn has been very tough to hit with a .186 opponents' batting average and he's allowed zero homers while inducing 72 percent ground balls, but ultimately if he can't find a way to miss more bats or re-establish his pinpoint control it's tough to be very optimistic.

Plus, with Brian Duensing thriving as his rotation replacement there's little room for Blackburn as anything other than a long reliever unless Kevin Slowey's elbow issues reoccur. Duensing was brilliant Saturday, hurling a complete-game shutout of the A's, and is now 3-0 with a 2.43 ERA in five starts this year and 8-1 with a 2.62 ERA in 14 career starts. I'm still skeptical about his ability to be more than a fourth starter long term, but clearly he's not going anywhere.

Ben Revere was hit near the right eye with a pitch on August 3 and is expected to miss the rest of the season with an orbital fracture, but Joe Christensen of the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports that he could be cleared to play in the Arizona Fall League. Prior to the injury Revere's stock dropped for the second straight year as his once-lofty batting average predictably came back to earth against more experienced competition and exposed his lack of secondary skills.

Everyone looks great when they're hitting .379 like Revere did at low Single-A in 2008, but he batted .311/.372/.369 at high Single-A last year and .297/.365/.349 at Double-A this season. He managed just three homers, 32 total extra-base hits, and 70 walks in 207 games and 886 plate appearances during that time, which is why I suggested coming into the season that his upside is basically Juan Pierre. Right now he looks like a poor man's Pierre, which isn't good.

• Lost in the MLB-wide flurry of draft pick signings before the midnight deadline Monday is that the Twins signed their first rounder, Alex Wimmers, for the slot-recommended $1.3 million last week. Wimmers is unlikely to move through the system as quickly as Gibson, but he'll start out at high Single-A Fort Myers and has a chance to be in the Twins' plans as soon as 2012. In all the Twins signed each of their top 10 picks from what was a pretty standard "Twins draft."