April 17, 2013

Twins Notes: Four hits, two strikes, leading off, and mystery pitchers

joe mauer four hits

• Monday night Joe Mauer went 4-for-5 with a homer and a double for his 20th career four-hit game and then he followed that up Tuesday night by going 4-for-5 for his 21st career four-hit game, which ranks fourth in Twins history and third in Twins history through age 30:

OVERALL                      THROUGH AGE 30
Kirby Puckett      47        Kirby Puckett      33
Rod Carew          42        Rod Carew          29
Tony Oliva         28        Joe Mauer          21
Joe Mauer          21        Tony Oliva         15
Chuck Knoblauch    15        Chuck Knoblauch    15

You certainly wouldn't know it based on this week, but strictly in terms of racking up hits Mauer is at a small disadvantage because he draws so many walks, especially compared to a free-swinger like Kirby Puckett. Here's the Twins' leaderboard for games getting on base at least four times:

OVERALL                      THROUGH AGE 30
Rod Carew         117        Rod Carew          84
Kirby Puckett      94        Joe Mauer          79
Harmon Killebrew   92        Chuck Knoblauch    76
Joe Mauer          79        Kirby Puckett      59
Chuck Knoblauch    76        Kent Hrbek         59

"Four-hit game" rolls off the tongue a lot smoother than "four-times-on-base game" but as always walks are a good thing too. Either way, Mauer is ridiculous right now.

• Three of Mauer's four hits Monday night came with two strikes, which prompted manager Ron Gardenhire to comment:

One of the best hitters I've ever seen with two strikes. It's incredible how he can go deep into a count and never panic, never have any fear, have a nice swing and barrel it just about every time.

Thanks to Baseball-Reference.com recently adding splits data to the already amazing Play Index here are the active leaders in batting average and OPS with two strikes:

TWO-STRIKE AVG                 TWO-STRIKE OPS
Todd Helton        .263        Albert Pujols      .789
Juan Pierre        .261        Todd Helton        .784
Ichiro Suzuki      .260        David Ortiz        .698
Albert Pujols      .258        Ryan Braun         .697
Joe Mauer          .256        Miguel Cabrera     .696
                               ...
                               Joe Mauer          .668

As you might expect, guys with low strikeout rates have the best two-strike batting average and guys who're simply great all-around hitters have the best two-strike OPS. Mauer ranks fifth in batting average and 17th in OPS with two strikes.

• Last night Gardenhire moved Aaron Hicks out of the leadoff spot for the first time, which got me thinking about the history of Twins leadoff hitters. First, here's a list of the most starts in the leadoff spot in Twins history:

Cesar Tovar        742
Chuck Knoblauch    695
Denard Span        549
Zoilo Versalles    547
Dan Gladden        478
Kirby Puckett      417
Jacque Jones       320
Shannon Stewart    313
Lenny Green        263
Hosken Powell      225

Zoilo Versalles and Dan Gladden are two of the five most-used leadoff hitters in Twins history despite posting on-base percentages of .299 and .318 in the role. Jacque Jones and Hosken Powell weren't a whole lot better at .329 and .327, although at least Jones also slugged .472 for the highest mark by a Twins leadoff man. In all 25 hitters have started at least 100 games in the leadoff spot for the Twins and here are the leaders in on-base percentage:

Chuck Knoblauch    .399
Steve Braun        .386
Lyman Bostock      .362
Otis Nixon         .360
Shane Mack         .359
Shannon Stewart    .358
Luis Castillo      .357
Denard Span        .354
Lenny Green        .350
Larry Hisle        .348

As part of my "Top 40 Minnesota Twins" series I compared Steve Braun to Chuck Knoblauch and called him one of the most underrated players in team history. Braun played in a low-offense era, so his OBP was even better than it looks. The worst OBP by a Twins leadoff man with at least 100 starts belongs to Carlos Gomez at .280, which won't surprise anyone. Hicks has led off 10 times so far, which ties him for 69th in Twins history with Pedro Munoz and Mark Davidson.

• Hicks tied the all-time record for most strikeouts in a hitter's first 10 career games:

Aaron Hicks       2013     20
Brett Jackson     2012     20
Matt Williams     1987     19
Russell Branyan   1999     18
Ray Durham        1995     18

There's no real positive way to spin 20 strikeouts in 10 games--particularly when combined with just two hits--but Matt Williams and Ray Durham went on to have very good, long careers and Russell Branyan was a productive slugger for quite a while. And just short of cracking the above top-five is Giancarlo Stanton, who had 17 strikeouts in his first 10 games in 2010 and is now one of the elite hitters in baseball.

• Just a few weeks ago Terry Ryan said this about Hicks as the Opening Day center fielder:

The guy has earned it. I find it almost humorous that people are talking about service time, starting the clock. We didn't trade Span and Revere to stall the next guy. ... I can't ever feel guilt about stopping a guy that deserves to be there because I know if I put myself in that man's shoes, I would be severely disappointed.

Are we trying to win, or what are we doing? Can you imagine if we sent somebody out that did what the kid did, and I had to look at Willingham and Morneau and Perkins and Mauer and those guys that are trying to win, and I'm going to stop that guy? I just don't believe in that. I hear this stuff. Not here.

"Earning" something by playing well for 20 spring training games can be a funny thing, although perhaps not as "humorous" as Ryan found the service time discussion.

Oswaldo Arcia's first taste of the big leagues lasted all of one game before Wilkin Ramirez returned from paternity leave, but he managed to get his first hit, make his first error, and have Mike Trout rob him of his first extra-base hit. And now with Darin Mastroianni going on the disabled list Arcia is coming back up after a 24-hour demotion to Triple-A. Arcia debuted about three weeks before his 22nd birthday, making him the 10th-youngest Twins player since 1991:

Joe Mauer           20.352
Cristian Guzman     21.016
Luis Rivas          21.017
Johan Santana       21.021
Rich Becker         21.221
Pat Mahomes         21.247
A.J. Pierzynski     21.253
David Ortiz         21.288
Francisco Liriano   21.314
Oswaldo Arcia       21.341
Javier Valentin     21.359

I believe the technical term for that list is "mixed bag." Jim Manning was the youngest player in Twins history, debuting in 1962 at 18 years and 268 days. He pitched seven innings that season and never played in the majors again. As for Arcia, it may take a trade or an injury but the odds seem pretty strong that he'll be a regular in the Twins' lineup for good by August. I rated him as the Twins' third-best prospect coming into the season, one spot ahead of Hicks.

• It's possible that the Twins demoted Liam Hendriks to Triple-A primarily because the various off days mean they won't need a fifth starter for a while and liked Pedro Hernandez more as a bullpen option during that time, but clearly their faith in Hendriks isn't very high right now. Faith in a pitcher with an ERA near 6.00 tends to be minimal and I've never been especially high on Hendriks as a prospect, but writing him off after 22 career starts would be a mistake.

Compare the following three Twins pitchers through 22 career starts:

                 IP      ERA     SO9     BB9     HR9
Pitcher X       118     5.63     5.4     2.5     1.4
Pitcher Y       137     5.40     3.8     2.2     1.6
Pitcher Z       121     5.20     6.5     2.1     1.5

One set of those lines is Hendriks and the others are Brad Radke and Scott Baker, who also frequently got dinged early on for not throwing hard and giving up too many homers. I'm certainly not suggesting he's the next Radke or even the next Baker, but if there's any benefit to being a bad team with a poor rotation it should be having few qualms about giving a 24-year-old like Hendriks an extended opportunity to sink or swim in the majors.

• Back in January team president Dave St. Peter was our guest on "Gleeman and The Geek" and we asked him if the Twins' recent struggles played a part in the inability to sign some free agent pitchers they targeted. St. Peter denied that was the case, repeatedly saying that "dollars and years" were the main factor:

No. It's dollars and years. It's dollars and years. And at the end of the day, a player might have Option A and Option B, depending where they're from. He may be able to take less in Option A, but at the end of the day it's ultimately going to come down to dollars and years.

I found that interesting at the time, because it seemingly differed from some previous things said by other members of the organization. Fast forward to last week, when Jesse Lund of Twinkie Town interviewed assistant general manager Rob Antony and got a much different answer to a question about the inability to sign targeted pitchers:

We made very competitive offers to a couple pitchers, and maybe even better offers than what players signed for. You get into a situation when you're coming off of two 90-plus loss seasons, some pitchers, and to their credit they are looking to land in a place where they'll get a chance to win, and some teams can just offer that and a player will look at it and believe it more so than when we say "Hey, we're trying to win, too." ...

So we tried to get some guys. We went after some free agents who basically didn't have a lot of interest in coming here, just because they thought that at this point in their career they wanted to win and they thought they could get the money and win somewhere else better than ... be in a better situation than they would be here.

That's about as far from "dollars and years" as you can get.

Glen Perkins continued his recent media tour by talking to my favorite interviewer, David Brown of Yahoo! Sports. It's great, because how could it not be? For example:

DB: How are you personally coping without Denard Span? I don’t think I’d be doing too well.

GP: This is the first year since 2004 that we won't be teammates. It's weird. I unfollowed him on Twitter. I guess that's my coping mechanism.

Perkins actually unfollowed Denard Span right after the trade in January, later refollowed him, and then unfollowed him again. I know this because Span pointed it out each time on Twitter.

• On a related note, Span had no idea what a double-switch was until this week despite playing two dozen interleague games under NL rules while with the Twins. And also, you know, being a professional baseball player.

Ben Lindbergh of Baseball Prospectus did some really interesting research about catchers and framing high and low pitches, with Mauer playing a prominent role in the analysis.

Chris Jaffe of The Hardball Times tells the story of the time Bert Blyleven charged the mound.

• For a lot more about Hicks, Hendriks, and Arcia, plus the Twins' premature press release, check out this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode.


This week's blog content is sponsored by DiamondCentric's new GAME SIX shirt, commemorating one of the best moments in Minnesota sports history. Please support them for supporting AG.com.

February 5, 2013

Transcript of Twins president Dave St. Peter on “Gleeman and The Geek”

Twins president Dave St. Peter was recently our guest on "Gleeman and The Geek" for a lengthy, unedited interview about a wide variety of on- and off-field topics. We talked to St. Peter for more than 35 minutes, so I'd encourage everyone to listen to the entire episode for the full context of our questions and his responses, but here's a transcript with a sampling of his direct quotes on various subjects.

On the Twins decreasing their payroll significantly for the second straight season:

There's a lot of focus on payroll. I tend to focus more on where we end up, versus where we start. ... I can assure you that Terry Ryan has all sorts of flexibility relative to where our payroll number is. But we also understand that I don't know if he views it coming into this offseason that we were, say, one or maybe even two players away. We're trying to do this right, we're trying to do this the only way we know how to do it, which is build this thing through our farm system over the long term. ... We don't focus a lot on payroll. That's something you guys in the media and all the fans focus on. We try to focus on what gives us the best chance to win.

On why the Twins don't use the payroll space to sign players to one-year deals:

I can just tell you that there's plenty of payroll flexibility. We don't view payroll as the problem. It takes two. It's easy to say "spend $15 million on guys on one-year deals." When you're sitting in that GM chair it's a little different in terms of getting that agent to agree to that one-year deal. ... Particular from a free agent who's going to assess how close we are to really winning. You might identify a player who's a high-profile guy, but you've got to understand he also has to want to come play in Minnesota, play at Target Field. ... I can tell you Terry Ryan has had a lot of discussions with a lot of free agents, a lot of guys you have championed that we sign. Don't think that we don't necessarily agree with you, but it takes two to get those deals done.

On whether it's been hard to get free agents to come to Minnesota for non-monetary reasons:

No. It's dollars and years. It's dollars and years. And at the end of the day, a player might have Option A and Option B, depending where they're from. He may be able to take less in Option A, but at the end of the day it's ultimately going to come down to dollars and years.

On the many free agent starters who signed one-year deals with other teams:

We've had a rich history here, certainly during Terry's tenure, of trying to make good baseball decisions. And we certainly have a belief in what a guy's worth. I have to trust, with all due respect, I have to trust our evaluators. I think they've done a great job. We're trying to get better. And ultimately your assessment of a player, there might be a reason why a guy got a one-year deal versus a multi-year deal that perhaps we're more privy to than maybe the public is. Whether it's health, whether it's makeup, whether a player specifically wanted to play in a certain market or a certain ballpark or with a certain manager or a certain teammate.

On the rapidly growing gap in local television revenue:

I think TV revenue has always played somewhat of a role, certainly since the explosion of cable and satellite television back in the early 80s. We all know about the disparities in payroll that we've dealt with in our game and that's largely been driven by baseball's economic model, which certainly is much more based on local television and cable dollars being the driving force versus the national. I think on some level Minnesota is going to be Minnesota. There's going to be some limitations on what we can reasonably expect out of our local partnership with a FOX Sports North relative to what the Los Angeles Dodgers can expect. ... I think right now we have a market deal. Will that be the case five years from now or 10 years from now? I don't know.

On the impact of revenue sharing within the new collective bargaining agreement:

The good news from a baseball perspective is now today we have a pretty robust revenue-sharing plan, so now the Dodgers, if you read, they're going to go out and sign a record-breaking deal. They're going to give up a certain percentage of that into the revenue-sharing pool, which in essence benefits every team in the game, not just the Dodgers. ... That's played a huge role in having much more competitive balance in the game. Could there be more revenue sharing? Yeah, I'd love to see it, but it's interesting in the National Football League, where it's all about national television revenue, you have many owners fighting for less revenue sharing.

On the Twins' unsuccessful attempt to launch their own channel, Victory Sports, in 2004:

I think it was the right idea, it was probably the wrong time. But at the same time I would tell you that without that launch, or failed launch, of Victory I don't know that we would be where we are today relative to the television revenue that we're garnering from our partnership with FOX. I don't look back on that with a lot of regrets, but it certainly was a concept that was pretty controversial in the market at the time. I think what we were trying to do was control our own destiny, so to speak, in terms of television.

On the Twins switching radio stations from 1500-ESPN to the Pohlad-owned KTWIN-96.3:

I think radio tends to be a little more pure in the sense that, yeah there's a revenue component to it, but it's never going to be the single biggest driver in terms of a team's broadcast revenues. For us it was more of an opportunity that we have a sister company that's a radio station, an FM radio station, and we felt as though we could do a better job of servicing fans in the Twin Cities metropolitan area with not only the game sounding better, but hopefully covering more area, penetrating more buildings.

On the 81 percent renewal rate for season tickets:

I'd say your average renewal rate is probably 75-80 percent. I can tell you it's extremely good for a team coming off of two consecutive 90-plus loss seasons. It continues to confirm that this is frankly a dynamite baseball market and one that certainly has great passion.

On the future of Twins Fest once the Metrodome is no longer an option:

I'm hopeful that perhaps the new football stadium, which will be able to be configured for baseball, perhaps could be the long-term home for Twins Fest despite the fact that we don't have any history there. I think it'll lend itself well to the event. But short term, as we move from the Metrodome, we'll probably have to change the event pretty dramatically for a couple years. ... It probably becomes a little bit smaller, it probably becomes a little bit different in terms of the way we price tickets. And I'm not really thrilled about that, but I just think that's going to be the reality of it.

On his expectations for the team in 2013:

I think we expect to get better. Everybody talks about how we look on paper versus everybody else and I can tell you from my experience in this game is that's a very dangerous assessment. ... At the end of the day I'd like to think that you're going to see a baseball team that's very competitive, we hope to obviously be in a position where we can contend, but first things first I think we've got to restore some of the fundamentals and we've got to get off to a better start. I think that's been a significant issue for us, particularly last year, the year before. We've got to play better early and we understand that. Our everyday nine lineup, we frankly think is good enough. We think we'll score enough runs. We think our bullpen will be fine. But ultimately it's going to come down to who's on that mound in terms of the starters and there's going to be a lot of focus on that in spring training.

There's a whole lot more where that came from--the above quotes represent maybe one-third of the total interview--so check out the full episode.


This week's blog content is sponsored by Rotoworld's annual "Fantasy Baseball Draft Guide," which is available in both magazine and online versions. Please support them for supporting AG.com.

February 1, 2013

Link-O-Rama

Aaron Rupar of City Pages was at a coffee shop when he witnessed the start of a blind date, so naturally he stuck around for the whole thing and live-tweeted it.

• I'm thrilled that one of my favorite writers, Joe Posnanski, will be joining NBCSports.com as a columnist, blogger, and all-around "digital voice." And now that he's a co-worker I'm going to use Posnanski to become friends with Ken Tremendous/Michael Schur and then use him to meet Aubrey Plaza. Any writing Posnanski does is just a bonus.

• Speaking of Posnanski, it almost seems like he didn't enjoy watching "Trouble With The Curve."

• And speaking of NBCSports.com, my blog-mate Craig Calcaterra put together an extensive oral history of HardballTalk.

Tony Soprano's daughter is marrying Lenny Dykstra's son.

• As a kid I owned a Nick Van Exel jersey, so this news makes me feel both old and sad.

• I made my triumphant return to Paul Allen's show on KFAN yesterday and we talked Twins, but the highlight was when he sang to me and asked how my mom is doing.

• I'm asking my family to do the same thing, but with Chinese food carryout.

Eddie Guardado was elected to the Twins' team Hall of Fame. I ranked him as the 26th-best player in Twins history.

• My first concert was Boyz II Men (with opening acts Babyface and Tevin Campbell) at Target Center in 1994. They're coming back to Target Center in July ... with New Kids On The Block and 98 Degrees, which is probably more nostalgia than I can stomach at this point.

• Twins president Dave St. Peter was our guest on this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode and we asked him all about payroll, revenue, television money, attendance, and a lot more.

• Also on this week's podcast: If you listen closely John Bonnes mentions magnets at one point and I start to say this before realizing he won't get it.

• This would be a bargain at double the price, but as always the University of Minnesota could have saved $3,406 and just watched "Seinfeld":

"Fake, fake, fake, fake" is one of my top-five lines in "Seinfeld" history.

• And people think I never leave the house.

Phil Miller has officially started covering the Twins for the Minneapolis Star Tribune, so you should definitely be following him on Twitter.

Carl Pavano had his spleen removed after suffering a laceration when he fell shoveling snow.

Chuck Klosterman wrote a very interesting, nuanced article about mental illness and Royce White, who's yet to play an NBA game.

• As someone who relies on a GPS to get him everywhere, I now have something new to fear.

• Saturday night's attempt to #GetSethDrunk at the Twins Daily get-together was unsuccessful, but this receipt shows that I tried my best. Sadly, he gave up after one.

• I posted a few other pictures from Twins Fest and the star-studded post-Twins Fest get-together.

• Based on this study Nick Punto should have been murdered years ago.

• I consider these men American heroes and hope their story is the plot of "Ocean's Fourteen."

• Phillies manager Charlie Manuel summed up Delmon Young's entire career in one depressing but true quote.

• On a related note, reading what Phillies blogs wrote about signing Young is quite an experience.

• I don't know enough about the non-baseball part of Boston sports media to say if Alan Siegel's article in Boston Magazine is particularly accurate, but it definitely raises some interesting topics that can be applied to Minnesota and every other major market.

• And to think, people make fun of me for only wanting to go to bars around Hopkins.

David Fincher is my favorite director and I'm obsessed with Netflix instant, so I'll probably watch "House of Cards" in one sitting.

• "End of Watch" was a mediocre movie overall, but it's worth renting just for Anna Kendrick singing "Hey Ma" by Cam'ron:

Seriously.

• As if that video didn't make world-renowned Kendrick fan and 1500-ESPN producer/writer Dana Wessel happy enough, his wardrobe is about to expand significantly.

• On a related note, Wikipedia says the following about Cam'ron's pre-music days:

Cameron Giles was born and raised in Harlem, New York. He went to school at Manhattan Center for Science and Mathematics, where he would meet his long time friends Mase and Jim Jones. He was a promising basketball player alongside Mase, however, he was unable to take advantage of various scholarship offers due to a poor academic record.

I'm the biggest Mase fan in the world, but not living in the alternate universe where Cam'ron and Mase became the next Stockton and Malone makes me very sad. If nothing else, based on this video we can say conclusively that Cam'ron was a better basketball player than David Arquette.

• Friend of AG.com and Twins Daily blogger Nick Nelson profiled fantasy sports payment service LeagueSafe and its creator Paul Charchian.

• As a nation we're not talking enough about Michael Beasley's hair.

Terry Ryan's explanation for signing Kevin Correia makes it difficult to buy into the Twins' supposed embracing of statistical analysis or trust their scouts.

• Friend of AG.com and longtime prominent stat-head Tom Tango now works exclusively for the Cubs after consulting for multiple teams and they're also looking to hire a Director of Research and Development in Baseball Operations.

• After his 10-year NFL career former Vikings running back Leroy Hoard struggles with memory loss and emotional problems at age 44.

Carson Cistulli's first act of journalism since joining the Baseball Writers Association of America involved asking Brewers reliever John Axford about his mustache and Ryan Gosling.

• New podcast discovery: "Put Your Hands Together" with Cameron Esposito, who records the weekly stand-up comedy show she hosts at the Upright Citizens Brigade theater in Los Angeles and mixes in some interviews. Through three episodes the list of comics featured includes Aziz Ansari, Anthony Jeselnik, Bob Odenkirk, Kyle Kinane, Steve Agee, Bobcat Goldthwait, James Adomian, and Jerrod Carmichael. Stand-up comedy nerds will absolutely love it.

• I guess A's left-hander Brett Anderson is my new favorite player now.

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

- "Can you get skinny by going swimming?"
- "What team did Denard Span go to?"
- "Quick ways to lose 150 pounds"
- "Jason Kubel tattoos"
- "Twins pitcher sucks"
- "Aubrey Plaza tied up"
- "29th birthday"
- "Rob McElhenney bench press"
- "Dan Gladden daughter"
- "Is winter statistically harder to lose weight?"
- "Girlfriend obsessed with podcast"

• Finally, this week's AG.com-approved music video is "Hey Ma" by Cam'ron:

This week's blog content is sponsored by Peter David Benson's book "All Babies Suck," which is available on Amazon.com as a free Kindle download. Please support him for supporting AG.com.

January 28, 2013

“Gleeman and The Geek” #78: Live at Twins Fest with Dave St. Peter

This week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode was recorded at the Metrodome during Twins Fest with Twins president Dave St. Peter as special guest, and topics included unspent payroll room, revenue sharing, attendance and season ticket renewals, television contracts, the joys of Twitter, Aaron Hicks' timeline, the future of Twins Fest, why John Bonnes owes me $20 for a ruptured spleen, going back to school, breathalyzers, and Delmon Young's be-less-fat clause.

Gleeman and The Geek: Episode 78

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


Some pictures from Twins Fest and the post-Twins Fest get-together at Hubert's. First, my view entering Twins Fest for the first time since 1995:

Podcasting from the Metrodome seats before interviewing St. Peter:

Bonnes bartending at Hubert's:

Some of the crowd at Hubert's, including me and (if you look closely) Seth Stohs of Twins Daily and Phil Miller of the Minneapolis Star Tribune:

Also there but not pictured: Rhett Bollinger, Joe Schmit, Darren Wolfson, Parker Hageman, Nick Nelson, Randball's Stu, Jon Marthaler, David Temple, Mike Bates, Bill Parker, Cody Christie, Official Couple of "Gleeman and The Geek" Joe and Kate, and 75-100 other people. Thanks to everyone who came to the get-together. It was an amazing turnout and a great time, so we'll definitely plan more events soon.

This week's blog content is sponsored by Peter David Benson's book "All Babies Suck," which is available on Amazon.com as a free Kindle download. Please support him for supporting AG.com.

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