April 16, 2014

Twins Notes: Dozier, Plouffe, Buxton, Mauer, Burton, Nunez, and Hughes

brian dozier and trevor plouffe

It doesn't make a lot of sense to attempt any meaningful analysis after just two weeks, but here are some random observations I've had while watching the Twins start 6-7 ...

• Last year Brian Dozier set the Twins' record for homers by a second baseman with 18, which came as a surprise after he totaled just 16 homers in 365 games as a minor leaguer. There was evidence that Dozier changed his approach at the plate to pull the ball more, and he's already gone deep four times in 13 games this year. I'm still not convinced he's a top-of-the-order bat, but 15-20 homers along with a solid glove would make him a long-term solution.

• It took 13 games for Trevor Plouffe to homer, but that might not be a bad thing because he looks like a much different hitter. He came into this season with a lifetime .240 batting average and 289/89 K/BB ratio, but so far he's hit .314 with an 8/8 K/BB ratio. His batting average will obviously go down soon enough, but Plouffe has been much more willing to push pitches to the opposite field and assuming at least some of the power remains that's a positive change.

• I'm not a big Alex Presley fan because he's stretched defensively in center field and stretched offensively in a corner spot, but as backup outfielders go he's a decent one. Losing him on waivers for nothing left the Twins lacking in outfield depth and injuries to Josh Willingham and Oswaldo Arcia quickly made that a problem. When it's still early April and you're starting replacement-level talent like Chris Herrmann in an outfield corner something went wrong in the offseason planning.

• With that said, given their current options the Twins might as well continue to trade defense for offense by using Jason Kubel and Chris Colabello in the outfield corners. For one thing their intended corner duo of Willingham and Arcia is brutal defensively anyway. Beyond that by using Kubel and Colabello somewhere other than designated hitter it also allows Josmil Pinto to get into the lineup and his long-term development could be one of the biggest keys of the season.

• Back when Miguel Sano underwent Tommy John elbow surgery I wrote about how so many of the best Twins prospects of my lifetime have suffered major injuries early in their careers, ruining the chance to see what they were fully capable of becoming without any road blocks along the way. On a sadly related note, Byron Buxton hasn't played since injuring his wrist diving for a ball on March 16 and the Twins announced that he won't see game action until at least May 1.

• I'm curious to see if Joe Mauer is more vocal arguing balls and strikes with umpires as a hitter now that he no longer has to help pitchers get calls from them as a catcher. That certainly seems to be the case so far, although being on the wrong end of a couple incredibly obvious terrible calls could be skewing the small sample size. Thanks in large part to Mauer's patience at the plate, the Twins lead the league in walks.

Jared Burton has had back-to-back brutal appearances despite nearly a week off between outings. Tuesday night he walked three consecutive hitters with two outs and then served up a grand slam, which really should have its own name along the same lines as a "golden sombrero" for hitters. Burton also struggled down the stretch last season, so it might be time to let him get some low-leverage work with plenty of days off mixed in.

Ron Gardenhire and assistant general manager Rob Anthony had some odd quotes about Eduardo Nunez after acquiring him from the Yankees, saying stuff like "we know he can swing the bat" and calling him an "offensive-oriented player." Meanwhile, he's 26 years old and has hit .267/.313/.379 in 270 games as a major leaguer after hitting .272/.315/.366 in 712 games as a minor leaguer.

Phil Hughes' results haven't been very good so far, but he's managed to keep the ball in the ballpark in two of his three starts and a 17/5 K/BB ratio in 15 innings will definitely work over the long haul. On the other hand even with Hughes racking up plenty of strikeouts the Twins' rotation as a whole ranks dead last among MLB teams with 5.9 strikeouts per nine innings. By comparison, four rotations are averaging more than 9.0 strikeouts per nine innings.

• For anyone going to Target Field: I highly recommend the Butcher and The Boar rib tips. They're new this season in right field around Section 140 and one of the best things I've ever eaten at a baseball game. Plus for $5.50 you can get a shot of Knob Creek bourbon with them.

• For a lot more about Mauer, Nunez, Willingham, Arcia, Dozier, Plouffe, and Buxton--plus the sad story of how I tore my ACL--check out this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode.


This week's blog content is sponsored by Fan HQ at Ridgedale Mall, which will be hosting an autograph and meet-and-greet session with former Twins closer Joe Nathan on April 26. Please support them for supporting AG.com.

January 10, 2014

Link-O-Rama

• I invite you all to share in the greatest moment of my life.

• Uh oh, now Joe Mauer is joining Chris Kluwe in speaking out about social issues.

Sid Hartman is having an estate sale this weekend to "sell clothes such as suits, shirts, pants, and shoes." I desperately want a Hartman-owned cardigan sweater, so I'm thinking about going.

Maggie LaMaack ranked the "Top 20 Twin Cities Twitterers" for City Pages, so I decided to do my own local Twitter power rankings. It's controversial and has ruined some friendships.

• For anyone not obsessed with Twitter but curious about those of us who are, this is a handy little guide to some of the silliness.

• I was correctly pegged as being from St. Paul by the New York Times' dialect quiz.

• I wrote a super personal thing about my life during the past year.

Parker Hageman's collection of the 10 best Twins moments of 2013 is really fun.

• I'm thinking about trying to rig the Minneapolis Star Tribune's "crush contest" so I can win it.

UPDATE: I asked Twitter to help me, so someone submitted me to the contest and I've already been approved. Based on the photo and quotes, it's honestly hard to imagine me not winning.

"Gleeman and The Geek" just surpassed one million total listeners, which is so far beyond the scope of anything we ever imagined. Thank you.

• On this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode I talked about drugs, got someone to disrobe in public, and bought drinks for a table of women at Town Hall Lanes.

Aubrey Plaza playing the saxophone is enough to make me sit through any video:

On a related note, I cannot believe they went on a vacation without me and Dana Wessel.

• This is why I'll take Rihanna over Beyonce all day.

• Not even Alicia Keys could save BlackBerry.

• As the comedic genius known as Ampersandria brilliantly shows, for women life on Tinder is a lot like an Alanis Morissette song.

• As someone deathly afraid of weddings, I thought this Talia Wischmann article was interesting.

• Bone Thugs-N-Harmony are coming to St. Paul next month. I saw them in concert 18 years ago.

• I'm completely sick of everything Hall of Fame related, but Frank Thomas is my favorite player of all time and his first-ballot induction makes me happy. Big Hurt, in his twenties: .330/.452/.600 in 1,076 games. Such a bad motherf-er.

James Avery, who played Uncle Phil on "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" and voiced Shredder on "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles," died at age 65. He had a big role in any decent 90s childhood.

• Oh nothing, just a junior high school Trevor Plouffe in a Wu Wear shirt.

• I'd never read it before, but Gay Talese's famous Esquire profile of Frank Sinatra from 1966 definitely lives up to the hype and then some. I mean, this is the opening line:

Frank Sinatra, holding a glass of bourbon in one hand and a cigarette in the other, stood in a dark corner of the bar between two attractive but fading blondes who sat waiting for him to say something.

And then there are like 10,000 more words of greatness.

• At my house party a couple weeks ago "The Sportive" podcast crew recorded a star-studded, filthy, trainwreck of an episode in my basement. Literally one minute into the episode they accuse me of having killed multiple women in my basement. And then it goes downhill from there.

Louis C.K. was the first guest on the new season of "Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee" with Jerry Seinfeld. They went boating and he explained getting high at the movies. I loved it.

• Being a huge Howard Stern fan also means I'm a huge Artie Lange fan, and his interview with Marc Maron was especially fantastic for anyone interested in addiction and recovery.

• Comedy Central posted the first episode of its new show "Broad City" online and it's really funny.

• Netflix added director commentaries to "House Of Cards" episodes, so I can fulfill my dream of hearing David Fincher talk about Kate Mara.

• Two really good movies recently added to Netflix instant: "Drinking Buddies" and "Amelie."

• Paparazzi caught me mid-brunch.

• Important interview with one of the all-time greats.

• An early heads-up: We'll be recording the February 8 episode of "Gleeman and The Geek" at Sociable Cider Werks in Minneapolis. Details here.

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

- "Minnesota's sexiest bloggers"
- "Cash considerations"
- "I need to lose 150 pounds"
- "Shirtless Jerome Felton"
- "Brad Ausmus shirtless"
- "Stallone twins"
- "Gillian Jacobs socks"
- "Robin Thicke socks"
- "SABR bourbon"
- "Fat-O-Meter numbers"
- "Calling up an old ex and catching up"
- "Lindsay Guentzel boyfriend"
- "Erin Gleeman"

• Finally, this week's AG.com-approved music video is a combination of "Sure Thing" by Miguel and Lil Wayne's remix of the same song:


This week's blog content is sponsored by Sports Kingdom, which features a talk show that goes live weekdays at 5:30 pm EST. Please support them for supporting AG.com.

November 22, 2013

Link-O-Rama

• It never disappoints when a local Minnesota media member makes it on Deadspin.

• Let's pool our money and hire Frank Stallone to play a New Year's Eve blogger meet-up.

• This makes me want to find my doppelganger and just be like "sorry man, I know it's rough."

• Me and this baby from Indonesia have officially swapped bad habits.

• I set my alarm each night, yet wake up a few minutes before it goes off 99 out of 100 mornings, which makes a lot more sense after reading about the science of it on Mental Floss.

• Gophers football coach Jerry Kill on Minneapolis Star Tribune columnist Jim Souhan: "Kiss my ass. I'm going to show you. I'm a Division I coach, OK? I've got epilepsy. I've been doing this shit and winning for a long time. I'll show you."

• Don't pay attention to this troubling report. Cuddling season has officially started in Minnesota. Lower those standards, send out some desperate texts, and get cuddling!

• I've always said that relationships and baseball don't mix.

Ricky Rubio got super dressed up to meet Selena Gomez.

This week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode features the first f-bomb in the podcast's history, along with lots of talk about Joe Mauer changing positions and me getting married. It's also the first brunch episode we've done, so you can hear what I sound like hungover and on zero sleep.

• On a related note, here's an important message about the future of "Gleeman and The Geek."

• Before he became a great big-league catcher Mauer was a great high school quarterback and this KARE-11 feature on him from 2000 is worth watching just for his glasses:

And no sideburns!

Dave Chappelle capped his epic week in Minnesota with a midnight basketball game/pancake breakfast at Target Center. Prince even sent a $25,000 donation for charity.

• During the show I was at Monday night Chappelle talked to an audience member about a local rapper named Tall Paul. They met later in the week and now Tall Paul is getting some press.

• Lorde's song "Royals" was inspired by ... George Brett?

• And here's an interesting cover version of "Royals."

• Even the people who sell boner pills aren't making their employees use BlackBerry any more.

• Living legend Carson Cistulli of Fan Graphs chatted with my former Hardball Times partner Dave Studeman and approximately six minutes in they discussed my social habits, with Cistulli concluding: "Aaron actually is very sweet despite what I've said about him."

• Proud to say that Randball's Stu used the best bathroom in America on our date last month.

• In fairness, television is great and men are gross.

• For those of you with massive crushes on baseball bloggers, Jamie Shupak of How About We explains how to transition an online relationship offline, including: "The first time my fiance ever contacted me was through a direct message on Twitter."

• Meanwhile, hooking up via direct messages just got a little more difficult.

Facebook data shows that people are weirdly racist when it comes to online dating and also that Minneapolis is one of the pickiest cities "based on the lowest number of responses from women."

• Honestly, without this some of us bring nothing to the table (literally and figuratively).

• As if burritos weren't sexy enough already on their own, toss in some D'Angelo and boom:

Just a good all-around use of the internet, really.

• Shoutout to all the Jewish boys who suddenly have big dreams after seeing the Adam Levine news this week. Now go do some situps.

• Can the Twins get anything out of Jason Bartlett and why did they send Duke Welker back to the Pirates two months after acquiring him in the Justin Morneau trade? I'm glad you asked.

• MLB teams hired away two more Baseball Prospectus writers.

• My future wife is getting more obscure with her cover song choices, but her hair remains great.

• I found this "how did we end up married" video equal parts sappy and delightful.

• "The American" just got added to Netflix instant. One of my dozen or so favorite movies, with a great slow burn and George Clooney being George Clooney.

• Beards have now reached Minneapolis Star Tribune trend piece status.

• You could say the Marlins want Juan Uribe to prove it all night, prove it all night.

• This is how I make new fans on Twitter.

• This is the website of the man who coached me through my Bar Mitzvah. No further comment.

• Never forget: Life is amazing.

• As part of a Saturday bachelor party I'm tailgating at the Gophers-Badgers football game to kick off an all-day party bus bender, so my Twitter account should be pretty annoying/amusing.

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

- "Aaron Gleeman married"
- "Aaron Glee"
- "How can an unhealthy teen boy lose 100 pounds?"
- "Boys face stuffing"
- "Top travesties"
- "Doing the truffle shuffle"
- "Twins nerd on KFAN"
- "Effects of the drug known as Kubel"
- "Cory Cove pornstar"

• Finally, this week's AG.com-approved music video is "Unbroken Promise" by Erick Baker:


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.

November 12, 2013

Concussion forces Joe Mauer to switch from catcher to first base

joe mauer first base

Since the moment Joe Mauer suffered a concussion from a foul tip to the mask on August 19 there was a very real possibility that his days behind the plate were numbered. He attempted to return to the Twins' lineup down the stretch only to experience dizziness, sensitivity to light, irritability, and other post-concussion symptoms and missed the final 40 games. And now Mauer and the Twins have decided a permanent position switch is necessary.

It's a damn shame, because Mauer has been the best catcher in baseball for the past decade, hitting .323/.405/.468 in 1,178 games while making six All-Star teams and winning three batting titles, three Gold Glove awards, five Silver Slugger awards, and one MVP. Among all the catchers in MLB history through age 30 he ranks sixth in Wins Above Replacement, behind only Johnny Bench, Gary Carter, Ivan Rodriguez, Joe Torre, and Ted Simmons.

This year Mauer batted .324/.404/.476 with 46 extra-base hits and 61 walks in 113 games before the concussion, basically duplicating his career numbers while leading all MLB catchers in batting average, on-base percentage, and OPS. He also threw out a league-leading 43 percent of stolen base attempts. Here's how Mauer's career numbers look among all active catchers with at least 1,000 plate appearances:

BATTING AVERAGE            ON-BASE PERCENTAGE         SLUGGING PERCENTAGE
JOE MAUER         .323     JOE MAUER         .405     Buster Posey      .486
Buster Posey      .308     Buster Posey      .377     Brian McCann      .473
Yadier Molina     .284     Carlos Santana    .367     JOE MAUER         .468
A.J. Pierzynski   .283     John Jaso         .364     Carlos Santana    .446
Jonathan Lucroy   .279     Ryan Hanigan      .359     David Ross        .441

Mauer has the best batting average by 15 points over Buster Posey and at least 39 points over everyone else. Mauer has the best on-base percentage by 28 points over Posey and at least 38 points over everyone else. And he ranks third in slugging percentage behind Posey and Brian McCann. However, if you take his 2012-2013 numbers and make the same comparison to first basemen (and designated hitters) Mauer slides down the rankings a bit:

BATTING AVERAGE            ON-BASE PERCENTAGE         SLUGGING PERCENTAGE
JOE MAUER         .321     Joey Votto        .450     David Ortiz       .582
Joey Votto        .317     JOE MAUER         .410     Chris Davis       .571
David Ortiz       .312     David Ortiz       .403     Edwin Encarnacion .546
Allen Craig       .311     Prince Fielder    .387     Paul Goldschmidt  .523
Billy Butler      .301     Paul Goldschmidt  .382     Joey Votto        .520
                                                      ...
                                                      JOE MAUER         .460

If you compare Mauer to first basemen he dips behind Joey Votto as the king of OBP and falls all the way to 20th in slugging percentage. However, his overall production (as measured by adjusted OPS+) would've ranked sixth among all first basemen in 2012-2013 behind Votto, David Ortiz, Edwin Encarnacion, Chris Davis, and Paul Goldschmidt. Mauer will clearly be a top-ten first baseman and could easily move into the top five without the physical demands of catching.

With that said, it will be very hard for Mauer to provide more all-around value at first base than he did at catcher because he's shifting from one end of the defensive spectrum to the other. As a catcher Mauer was arguably the best at his position and no worse than the top three, producing 20-25 percent more offense than an average player. As a first baseman he'll likely have zero claim to being the best at his position and produce 10-15 percent more offense than an average player.

Unfortunately a brain injury makes any debate about all-around value sort of silly. Mauer is 30 years old with five years remaining on his contract and the Twins need him healthy and in the lineup. Moving to first base certainly won't make him immune to injuries, but it will make him less likely to get hurt and specifically less likely to rejoin the incredibly long list of catchers to spend time on the disabled list for a concussion in recent years. Catching is a rough, rough gig.

Under normal circumstances it might make sense to say that Mauer should stay at catcher unless or until the injury reoccurs, at which point a position switch could be made for good. However, with a brain injury that could mean it's too late, both to save Mauer's value as a baseball player and to avoid significant long-term health problems off the field. This isn't an elbow or a knee we're talking about and too often that distinction seems to be overlooked.

In the short term this may not even have a particularly big impact on the Twins, in part because their in-house options at first base (Chris Parmelee, Chris Colabello) aren't exactly can't-miss prospects and in part because Josmil Pinto's emergence gives them a 25-year-old potential replacement at catcher with upside. He'll need to show that his defense is passable enough to play regularly behind the plate, but the Twins were going to find a spot for Pinto's bat somewhere.

In the long term switching Mauer from catcher to first base removes a spot in the lineup for the Twins to stash a big bat with a poor glove--which is always part of the dynamic that tends to make good-hitting catchers underrated in general--but that may not become a full-fledged logjam for a couple more seasons and by that point Mauer would have been old enough that moving away from catcher may have been needed regardless of injuries.

Mauer moving to third base could have represented a potential middle ground positionally, but with Miguel Sano nearly MLB-ready and the Twins seemingly convinced he'll stick at third base for at least a little while it wasn't really much of an option. It's disappointing to see Mauer forced to move away from a position he dominated for a decade, especially when his performance hadn't declined at all, but brain injuries aren't something you can really negotiate around.

If he can stay healthier and up his production even a little bit by getting out from behind the plate and Pinto can turn himself into a reasonably capable defender in addition to being an asset with the bat the Mauer position switch might not even be a huge negative. Those are some pretty large ifs, of course, but I'll take my chances on them rather than holding my breath every time Mauer took a foul tip off the mask or stood tall for a plate collision. It's sad, but it's the right move.


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September 25, 2013

Twins Notes: Mauer shut down, rotation spending, and no platooning

joe mauer catching mask

Joe Mauer continues to have post-concussion symptoms more than a month after suffering a brain injury, so Monday the Twins shut him down for the final week of the season. Mauer hasn't played since taking a foul ball off the mask on August 19 and experienced setbacks when he tried to ramp up workouts during the past few weeks, with Phil Miller of the Minneapolis Star Tribune writing that he "still feels sensitivity to light and noises, and has trouble outside confined spaces."

Shutting him down is absolutely the correct decision and by the time spring training rolls around Mauer will be six months removed from the concussion, but sadly as the Twins and so many other teams have learned in recent years there are no guarantees with brain injuries. And now, much like with Justin Morneau and Denard Span, the only thing the Twins can really do is wait and hold their breath hoping that time and rest do the trick.

In making Monday's announcement both Mauer and general manager Terry Ryan stressed that they expect him to remain at catcher next season, but whereas that seemed like a questionable stance at the time of the concussion last month it now seems borderline crazy to me. I've spent a decade writing about how much of Mauer's value comes from catching and have always argued against a position switch, but the question has changed and the old answers cease to apply.

There's no way to stop a catcher from taking foul balls off the mask on a regular basis, along with all the other physical dangers that come with the position, and if he were to suffer another brain injury it might be too late to avoid major long-term consequences on and off the field. As a first baseman Mauer's odds of remaining an elite player into his mid-30s are much lower, but he'd still provide plenty of value there and Josmil Pinto is a potential replacement with upside.

(Note: I went into a lot more depth analyzing the Mauer position switch decision last month.)

• There seems to be considerable disagreement within the organization about how much focus to put on acquiring pitching via free agency. Nick Nelson of Twins Daily wrote a breakdown of the situation, with the short version being that Ron Gardenhire is basically begging for rotation help and owner Jim Pohlad says he's willing to spend big for reinforcements, all while Ryan downplays free agency much like he did last winter before settling for Kevin Correia and Mike Pelfrey.

Every team would love to build a rotation full of young, cheap pitchers and for many years the Twins did that well enough to avoid having to swim into the deep end of the free agency pool. And generally speaking free agent pitching is typically overpriced and requires making risky long-term commitments to players on the wrong side of 30. However, their current lack of MLB-ready arms with more than back-of-the-rotation upside makes Ryan's usual approach a tough one to pull off.

Despite his rookie struggles Kyle Gibson still has a chance to develop into more than a fourth or fifth starter and Alex Meyer remains a potential top-of-the-rotation starter if he can stay healthy, but neither can be counted on to make a huge 2014 impact and even if they do surrounding them with the likes of Correia, Scott Diamond, Vance Worley, and Samuel Deduno is going to leave the rotation well short of decent.

Last season Twins starters had the second-worst ERA in baseball at 5.40 and this season Twins starters have the worst ERA in baseball at 5.26. Based on those numbers and the in-house options who can realistically be rotation members in 2014 there's little chance of building even an average rotation without bringing in outside help. Ryan would surely prefer trades to free agency, but my fear is that his real plan involves a third straight season with a terrible rotation on the cheap.

• One of my frequent complaints about Gardenhire is his unwillingness to platoon hitters, which he's basically never done. Most prominently Jacque Jones and Jason Kubel played no matter the pitcher, but versus lefties Jones hit .231/.286/.355 and Kubel hit .239/.313/.365. For a more recent example on the other side of the plate, Trevor Plouffe plays no matter the pitcher despite hitting .223/.280/.381 off righties. And there are no shortage of maddening day-to-day examples.

Many of the best managers in baseball history regularly employed platoons and current examples in Gardenhire's own league include former Manager of the Year winners Joe Maddon of the Rays, Bob Melvin of the A's, and Buck Showalter of the Orioles. It's hardly a new-school approach and it's hardly a complicated thing to make sense of, yet Gardenhire has never budged and said the following when asked about it by Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press:

I don't recall ever having a platoon. I'm not against it. I'll tell you that. I wouldn't have a problem having a platoon if it fits. If it makes sense numbers-wise and it works, then you go with it.

"I don't recall ever having a platoon" and "I'm not against it" are statements that don't fit together coming from a manager in his 12th season on the job. Gardenhire may not be against it in theory, but his actions over nearly 2,000 games have certainly shown that he's very much against it in practice despite having plenty of opportunities to improve the lineup via platooning. And for his part, Ryan told Berardino that he's fine with the manager's lack of platooning:

I don't think he likes to platoon players at all. I don't either. Put guys out there that are everyday players, then you don't have to platoon. You're always looking for players that can play 162 games, right? That's what I'm looking for. I don't go out looking for platoon players.

Obviously every team would love to find nine everyday players and trot them out there 162 times, but that's an impossible goal and instead leads to so-called "everyday players" like Jones, Kubel, and Plouffe flailing away against same-sided pitchers they have no business facing. Over the past three seasons the Twins have scored the fewest runs in the league, making "I don't go out looking for platoon players" sound awfully tone deaf coming from the GM. It's nothing new, though.

• Mauer hasn't played since August 19, but according to Win Above Replacement and Fan Graphs' valuation system he's still been worth more than his salary this season.

• This year the Twins have been out-scored by 158 runs, which is the second-worst run differential in baseball. The worst run differential in Twins history belongs to the 1995 team at -186.

• Since taking over for Matt Capps as Twins closer Glen Perkins has converted 90 percent of his save chances (52-for-58) with a 2.31 ERA.

LaTroy Hawkins left the Twins for a two-year, $8 million deal with the Cubs as a 31-year-old free agent and a decade later he's still rolling along.

Francisco Liriano is lined up to start the Wild Card playoff game for the Pirates.

• For a lot more about Mauer's future and the Twins' roster options for next season check out this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode.


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