July 26, 2013

Link-O-Rama

Glen Perkins was definitely right: Converting a save with his fly down did guarantee him a spot in Link-O-Rama.

• I've spent most of the past couple years counting calories, so this photographic look at what 200 calories worth of various food looks like was fascinating.

• If you're going to have "fields of marijuana plants" worth $4 million Hinckley is as good a place as any, just because of the proximity to the donuts at Tobies.

• Friend of AG.com Alex Belth combined Greg Maddux and Al Green, which you know I loved.

• Speaking of which, I just realized that YouTube has my favorite album of all time available in full. You should listen to it, many times.

• Reading about how various people at the New York Times didn't appreciate or even respect Nate Silver hit a lot of familiar notes about old-school media.

• I've been wearing "dad jeans" for years, so it's good to see fashion trends are catching up.

• If this works I'm requesting that Otis Redding play at my birthday party next year.

• On this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode we talked about Scott Diamond's demise and the notion of clutch, and then I revealed my plans to kill middle infielders via time travel.

• Official Fantasy Girl of AG.com candidate Aubrey Plaza does a remarkable job making me want to see her new movie:

She also gave some amusing answers in a GQ magazine interview.

Parker Hageman of Twins Daily talked to Twins stat-head Jack Goin about what exactly goes into the trade deadline.

• Do the Twins even have any players other teams will want at the trade deadline?

• When it comes to Derek Jeter it's hard to tell the difference between news and fan fiction.

• Apparently a "specialty whiskey and craft beer store" is coming to my neck of the woods, which might suggest I've gotten a second job as a city planner.

Justin Morneau's out-avoiding slide Tuesday night must be seen to believe.

Samuel Deduno chewing on his necklace mid-pitch also go the GIF treatment.

• While at KFAN for my weekly half-hour appearance on Paul Allen's show I saw psychic/nutcase Gary Spivey roaming the hallways, but didn't have the guts to snap a photo of his ridiculous hair.

• On a related note, PA's preseason plan to bet $100 on the Twins in all 162 games has shown a $74 profit through 99 games. I have a spreadsheet tracking it and everything.

Chris Colabello might be pretty good if the Twins give him a chance.

• As someone who doesn't care about steroids, this was an amusing collection.

• Terminally ill "The Simpsons" co-creator Sam Simon is giving away his vast fortune to charity.

Geraldo Rivera made weird headlines this week, but one key thing to remember is that he got beat up by Frank Stallone on Howard Stern's show back in 1992:

Rivera was only 49 years old back then, so he wasn't yet the old 50 or the new 50.

• I'm going to ask for this look at Great Clips next time.

Never forget: "Kevin Correia pitching like an ace right in front of our eyes."

• Re-watching "The Sopranos" update: I looked up Johnny Cakes on Wikipedia and learned that the actor killed himself in 2008. Lots of sad, premature deaths among the show's great cast.

Jon Dore has become one of my favorite guests on the podcast circuit and he was lots of fun on "The Crabfeast" with Ryan Sickler and Jay Larson.

Bill Simmons did a nice job interviewing Anthony Jeselnik, who's gotten famous enough that his biggest claim to fame is no longer being Gregg Rosenthal's college roommate.

• Friend of AG.com Axel Kohagen makes the case for "End of Watch" as a horror movie. Sort of.

• I'm going to the Society for American Baseball Research convention in Philadelphia next week, so if any AG.com readers are going to be there let me know.

• Unlike the Twins last night I remembered having a really good time at Safeco Field when I was there in 2006, so I looked up this excerpt from my SABR convention recap.

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

- "What happened to Drew Butera?"
- "Twins blogger Aaron"
- "Stepped on the scale get even fatter"
- "Notes to twin babies"
- "Justin Morneau shirtless"
- "Famous Jewish women celebrities"
- "Ryan Braun penis"
- "Matt Capps net worth"
- "How much do the Fox Sports North Girls make?"
- "Jon Taffer hair"

• Finally, this week's AG.com-approved music video is "If I Loved You" by Delta Rae:


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.

April 4, 2013

Ron Gardenhire, Joe Mauer, and the No. 2 spot

joe mauer and brian dozier

There's been lots of talk about who should bat second in the Twins' lineup. Many simulations and studies show that teams tend to score more when the best overall hitter bats second, but for most of MLB history the best hitter has batted third or fourth and the second spot has been home to lesser hitters with above-average speed and contact skills. Not surprisingly Ron Gardenhire prefers the speed-and-contact route, telling Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press:

I've always had the thought a No. 2 guy has to be able to take pitches a little bit. He has to be able to protect the guy on base and be an on-base-percentage guy also so your 3-4-5 guys are getting opportunities. Bunt. Get 'em over. Be able to shoot the ball the other way with a man on second. All those things. Basically, handle the bat. That's a No. 2 guy.

Not mentioned by Gardenhire is that he also has a very strong preference for second basemen and shortstops in the second spot. You wouldn't think a player's defensive position should factor into where he fits best in the batting order, but whether Gardenhire specifically wants middle infielders or middle infielders are simply the players who usually fit his "handle the bat" description they've dominated the No. 2 spot since he took over as manager. Starts in the No. 2 spot, 2002-2012:

Cristian Guzman       254
Nick Punto            228
Alexi Casilla         203
Orlando Hudson        126
Ben Revere             86
Jason Bartlett         83
Luis Rivas             77

All four players to start at least 100 games in the No. 2 spot were switch-hitting middle infielders with little power. Six of the seven players to start at least 75 games in the No. 2 spot were middle infielders with little power and the seventh, Ben Revere, was a speedy, no-power center fielder. In all 17 players started at least 30 games in the No. 2 spot and all but four of them (Revere, Joe Mauer, Jacque Jones, Doug Mientkiewicz) were middle infielders.

Gardenhire has used middle infielders in the second spot regardless of on-base skills and overall hitting ability, and not surprisingly the results haven't been good. None of the seven players with at least 75 starts in the No. 2 spot had a .350 on-base percentage there and only Revere, Jason Bartlett, and Orlando Hudson were above .330. Cristian Guzman, who started most often in the No. 2 spot, had a terrible .283 OBP there, and Luis Rivas was even worse at .276.

Looking beyond on-base percentage, the Twins' overall production out of the No. 2 spot has been consistently awful under Gardenhire. During his first 11 seasons as manager here's how the Twins ranked in OPS from the No. 2 spot in the 14-team American League: 13th, 13th, 14th, 14th, 12th, 13th, 8th, 12th, 11th, 13th, 12th. Not once in 11 seasons did they place higher than eighth in OPS from the second spot and they were 12th or worse nine times.

Berardino's article notes that Jack Goin, the Twins' manager of baseball research, has suggested that Mauer should bat second. Goin is the team's stat-head and no doubt has seen the research showing that the No. 2 spot should be filled by the best hitter. Mauer fits that description, with the added benefit of having more on-base skills than power, making him ideal there. As of last week Gardenhire seemed uncertain about the idea, saying:

People say Joe Mauer should hit second or whatever, but do we really want "man on second base and Joe Mauer coming up," and he's shooting it over the other way? I don't know about that. That's not his game. Just hitting is his game, but he could do it. ...

Once we start, I'll make that final decision. I'll sit down with my staff and our stat guy and see what that computer spits out, and then we'll go from there. If it's coughing, then I'll do it my way.

For the past 11 seasons "I'll do it my way" led to ranking among the worst teams in the league at getting production out of the second spot, as Gardenhire chose "handle the bat" middle infielders for a role that logs the second-most plate appearances in the batting order and sets the table for the lineup's power hitters. Sure enough it looked like Brian Dozier, a second baseman with little power and a .280 OBP between the minors and majors last year, would bat No. 2 this year.

All the statistical analysis in the world doesn't mean a whole lot if the actual decision-makers don't incorporate it into their decision-making, but whatever Goin and "that computer" said must have worked on Gardenhire because Mauer batted second in the first two games. Of course, it's worth noting that Gardenhire also batted Mauer second on Opening Day in 2008, but gave up on the idea after a week and turned to light-hitting middle infielders Alexi Casilla and Nick Punto.

In fact, Gardenhire has batted Mauer second a total of 73 times in nine seasons and Mauer has fared well in the role, hitting .316/.373/.512, but within weeks the manager has always moved the best hitter back into the third spot and inserted a light-hitting middle infielder into the second spot. We'll see if it sticks this time around. If it does Goin deserves credit for making a convincing argument and Gardenhire deserves credit for listening and adapting. Better late than never.

Most of the focus on batting orders tends to be about the interactive nature of a lineup, such as a leadoff man getting on base in front of big bats or a cleanup hitter "protecting" a No. 3 hitter, but the bigger impact tends to come from the allocation of plate appearances. Last year, for instance, the No. 1 spot in the Twins' lineup batted 758 times, whereas the No. 9 spot batted 619 times. Moving up or down one spot in the lineup adds or subtracts 15-20 plate appearances.

In this case by dropping Dozier from No. 2 to No. 8 they'd take away 100 plate appearances from one of the lineup's worst hitters. And by moving Mauer from No. 3 to No. 2 and sliding everyone else behind him up one spot as well they'd give an extra 15-20 plate appearances to each the lineup's best hitters. Whether you want to call that sabermetrics or common sense, more of the best hitters and less of the worst hitters is a pretty smart approach.


This week's blog content is sponsored by Territory Train, which takes the heavy lifting out of planning and executing Twins road trips. Please support them for supporting AG.com.

January 9, 2013

Twins Notes: Goin, Tosoni, Harden, Bullock, Diamond, and Liriano

Parker Hageman of Twins Daily interviewed Twins manager of major league administration and baseball research Jack Goin for a glimpse into the team's use of statistical analysis. Hageman co-hosted this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode and we discussed that topic quite a bit. Short version? While it's nice to see the Twins get more involved in statistical analysis my sense remains that they're merely dipping their toes in the water while other teams are swimming.

Rene Tosoni, who the Twins dropped from the 40-man roster in August, has signed with the Brewers on a minor-league contract. Tosoni cracked my annual ranking of Twins prospects at No. 11 in 2010 and No. 14 in 2011, but he was sidetracked by injuries and then basically just stopped hitting. Now he's a 26-year-old corner outfielder who struggled in 60 games for the Twins in 2011 and hit just .224/.293/.315 in 81 games between Double-A and Triple-A last season.

Clete Thomas, who briefly filled a bench spot while the Twins kept Ben Revere at Triple-A for a bit longer, has re-signed on a minor-league deal. Thomas struck out 16 times in 28 at-bats for the Twins and hit just .232/.281/.405 with a 109-to-22 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 109 games at Triple-A, so despite his big-league experience the 29-year-old outfielder now looks like little more than depth for Rochester.

• After appearing on "Gleeman and The Geek" two weeks ago Darren Wolfson of 1500ESPN.com did some digging and found that Rich Harden's minor-league contract with the Twins includes a July 31 opt-out clause. As far as opt-out clauses go that's a very late one, so if he doesn't look to be at full strength in spring training the Twins can stash Harden at Triple-A for a while and that makes what was already a worthwhile, low-risk flier look even better.

• Free agent Brett Myers was linked to the Twins by various sources throughout December, but ended up signing a one-year, $7 million deal with the Indians that includes an $8 million team option for 2014. And according to Wolfson the Twins never even made him an offer, which has become a familiar story this offseason and makes Kevin Correia's two-year, $10 million deal all the more confusing.

• And speaking of the Indians, they're the latest mid-market team to secure a new local television deal that significantly surpasses the Twins' current contract with FOX Sports North.

Adam Rubin covers the Mets for ESPN New York and had an interesting little note related to the Twins, reporting that they would have taken Jefry Marte from the Mets with the No. 4 pick in the Rule 5 draft had Ryan Pressly of the Red Sox not been available. Marte is a 21-year-old third baseman who hit just .251/.322/.366 at Double-A last season and was not selected by another team, with the Mets later trading him to the A's for Collin Cowgill.

Billy Bullock, the 2009 second-round pick traded to the Braves for the ability to stash Scott Diamond at Triple-A as a Rule 5 pick, was suspended 50 games for a "drug of abuse." He still throws hard with lots of strikeouts, but Bullock's control is awful and he's no longer a prospect at age 24. I hated that trade at the time and it's worked out very well for the Twins, although I still think they should have just kept Diamond as a long reliever and kept Bullock.

• On a related note, Diamond underwent minor elbow surgery to remove a bone chip and should be ready for spring training, but he won't pitch for Canada in the World Baseball Classic.

• In looking over Mike Pelfrey's career it struck me how amazing his draft class ended up being. Pelfrey was the No. 9 pick out of Wichita State and among the players selected ahead of him were Justin Upton, Alex Gordon, Ryan Braun, Troy Tulowitzki, and Ryan Zimmerman. But wait, there's more. Other top-30 picks included Andrew McCutchen, Jay Bruce, Cameron Maybin, Jacoby Ellsbury, Colby Rasmus, and Matt Garza, who the Twins took No. 25. That's crazy.

Jeff Clement was the No. 3 pick in that same draft--between Gordon and Zimmerman--and after hitting just .218/.277/.371 in 152 games for the Mariners and Pirates he'll likely spend this season at Triple-A for the Twins.

• After spending nearly all of last season in the Twins' bullpen despite adding to his lengthy track record of mediocrity with a 5.71 ERA and 26-to-22 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 52 innings Jeff Gray was dropped from the 40-man roster in late August. He went unclaimed on waivers, became a free agent, and agreed to a minor-league deal with the White Sox.

Kiley McDaniel, who formerly worked for several MLB teams, recently watched Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton play instructional league games and wrote very detailed, interesting scouting reports for Fan Graphs.

Francisco Liriano's two-year, $12.75 million deal with the Pirates is in jeopardy because of an offseason injury to his non-throwing arm.

• An oral history of Nick Punto sliding into first base is the best thing you'll read today.

• Podcast listeners who enjoy when we're interrupted by a drunk person will absolutely love this week's episode, and there's also some good Twins talk about how the roster is shaping up.