November 5, 2014

Twins hire Paul Molitor as manager

Paul Molitor and Ron Gardenhire

It took five weeks and interviews with at least a half-dozen candidates, but in the end the Twins' new manager is the guy everyone always assumed would get the job: Paul Molitor.

Molitor is a Minnesota native with a long history in the organization and spent this season on the coaching staff, so hiring him isn't exactly the massive change many people envisioned when the Twins fired Ron Gardenhire after 13 seasons as manager and 27 seasons in the organization. For a decade fans and media members clamored for Molitor to join Gardenhire's staff and as soon as Gardenhire's job security looked shaky Molitor became the presumed manager-in-waiting.

None of which means he's the wrong choice for the job now. He lacks managing experience at any level and went nearly a decade without being a full-time coach at any level, but during his Hall of Fame playing career and in retirement Molitor has established a reputation for being an incredibly smart baseball mind. He's also earned praise for working with young players, communicating well, and walking the thin line between being likeable and being respected.

Hall of Fame players rarely go into managing, presumably because they're satisfied enough with their legacy, financial standing, and post-career options to stave off whichever competitive juices continue to flow. And when Hall of Fame players have gone into managing the results have been underwhelming to say the least, with the most frequent criticism being that a great, immensely talented player has trouble managing and relating to lesser talents.

Molitor's legacy is a spectacular one, especially in Minnesota, and after earning more than $40 million in salary as a player he could have easily filled his time with various media opportunities and part-time coaching roles. And for years he did just that, filling in for fellow Hall of Famer Bert Blyleven occasionally on television broadcasts and spending spring training in Fort Myers as a roving instructor.

However, something within Molitor clearly kept pulling him back toward baseball in a major way. Outsiders like me could hear it in his voice whenever he talked passionately and expertly about something as potentially mundane as getting a great jump off a pitcher on stolen base attempts and insiders almost without exception raved about his passion, intelligence, and hard work. And they did so often.

For instance, while recording this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode Saturday, shortly after news of Molitor getting the job began making the rounds, we spotted someone a few bar stools down wearing a Yankees World Series ring. It turned out to be Tim McIntosh, who played for the Gophers, was the Brewers' third-round draft pick in 1986, and played parts of five seasons in the majors.

Not only did McIntosh play with Molitor in the big leagues, he also had experience with Molitor the mentor and Molitor the coach. And after being told the news of Molitor's impending hiring by two strangers in a bar McIntosh's eyes lit up. He talked to us for 30 minutes on the microphone and another 20 minutes off the microphone about how thrilled he was for Molitor and how he strongly believed Molitor is a fantastic choice uniquely qualified to thrive despite a lack of experience.

And that's essentially the argument in favor of choosing Molitor. He lacks experience, there are questions about how he'll handle the day-to-day grind of the job on and off the field, and as the favorite in-house candidate the decision seems like more of the same for the Twins in many ways. But you'll be hard-pressed to find people who've seen Molitor in action as a player, as a coach, or as a guy simply hanging out to talk baseball who doesn't rave about his expertise and intelligence.

Red Sox bench coach Torey Lovullo finished runner-up to Molitor, with speculation he may have gotten the job with more support from ownership, which is interesting given how different their resumes look. Lovullo was a journeyman player with 308 games in the majors and 1,433 games in the minors, plus a season in Japan. He managed nine seasons in the minors, winning division titles at Single-A, Double-A, and Triple-A, and has coached in the majors in a variety of roles.

Lovullo is also known for being analytical, well versed in modern stats, and genuinely interested in sabermetrics, which along with his vast experience working his way up through the coaching and managing ranks is what intrigued me. Molitor doesn't have quite the stat-head reputation, but it's worth noting that he played a big role in getting Gardenhire's staff to finally dip their toes in the analytical pool this season and was credited with the team's dramatic increase in defensive shifts.

Molitor may not be a full-blown stat-head like Lovullo, but he's smart, intellectually curious about how new-school knowledge can help a team win, and at age 58 showed more of an open mind in one season than the 57-year-old Gardenhire showed in 13 seasons. He's now at the helm of a young team that will likely get younger and almost can't help but get better, so he'll be learning on the job just like many of his key players.

Managers with a decade-plus on the job can be extremely tough and perhaps even impossible to evaluate, with Gardenhire being a prime example of the wide ranges of opinion. Predicting how a first-time manager will fare ... well, that's somewhere between an educated guessing game and a coin flip. Molitor will need to choose his coaches wisely and get help from a front office that has done more harm than good of late, but he seems like a sound choice.


For a lot more about the Twins hiring Molitor, including an impromptu interview with his former teammate, check out this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode.

October 29, 2014

Twins Notes: Molitor, Maddon, Lovullo, Colabello, Buxton, and chafing

Joe Maddon Rays

• After interviewing a surprising (to me, at least) number of outside candidates to replace Ron Gardenhire the Twins have settled on a final three of Paul Molitor, Doug Mientkiewicz, and Torey Lovullo. Molitor was on Gardenhire's coaching staff, Mientkiewicz managed the Twins' high Single-A team, and they're both longtime members of the organization. Lovullo has no real ties to the Twins and is portrayed as being very stat-head friendly, so I'll be shocked if gets the job.

Because the Twins' manager search is still unresolved Joe Maddon opting out of his contract with the Rays led to some speculation about their chances of hiring him. General manager Terry Ryan then fanned those flames by publicly commenting on Maddon, seemingly making it very clear that he thought highly of and had interest in Maddon. However, according to multiple reports the Twins never even contacted Maddon. Anyone shocked probably isn't much of a Twins fan.

• For a lot more about the Twins' managerial search and why Maddon was never going to happen, check out this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode.

• Gardenhire has publicly been supportive of Molitor's candidacy to replace him, but this tidbit from Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press was interesting:

Molitor's addition to the staff caused Gardenhire to chafe at times behind the scenes, especially early on, considering their shared expertise when it comes to infield play.

For years fans and media members wondered why Molitor wasn't being added to coaching staff and there was speculation that Gardenhire was against the idea. Molitor was finally added to the staff in October of last year and less than 365 days later he's a finalist to replace Gardenhire, with the assumption that he's been the favorite the entire time.

• On a random note: While looking at his Hall of Fame playing career I thought this comparison of Molitor through age 31 and Joe Mauer through his current age of 31 might interest people:

THROUGH AGE 31          MOLITOR    MAUER
Batting Average          .299      .319
On-Base Percentage       .360      .401
Slugging Percentage      .435      .459
OPS                      .795      .860
Games                   1,282     1,298
Wins Above Replacement   40.8      46.3

Anything portraying Mauer in a positive light angers a lot of people these days, but whatever.

Chris Colabello joins the lengthy list of Twins to play through an injury and perform horribly, admitting that he suffered a thumb injury on April 23 and "still feels numbness and tingling" six months later. At the time of the injury Colabello was hitting .346. He continued to play for the next month, going 8-for-73 (.110) with 28 strikeouts before the Twins demoted him to Triple-A. He returned later and hit .222 in 19 games before being sent down again.

According to Colabello's hometown Worchester Telegram he "glued cotton to his batting gloves and tried a thumb protector" to alleviate the pain and "didn't tell the media in Minnesota" about the injury. Berardino also reports that "a Twins official rejected that notion" of Colabello being injured when asked in June and "suggested it was purely a matter of timing and confidence." As usual the tough-guy culture of playing through it helped neither the player nor the team.

Parker Hageman of Twins Daily notes that Twins pitchers combined to throw a grand total of one pitch 97 miles per hour or faster this season. It was by Lester Oliveros, in September. By comparison, every other team in baseball threw at least 75, all but four of the other teams threw at least 150, and half of the teams threw at least 500. Kansas City led MLB with 2,287 pitches of 97 mph or faster. Again, the Twins threw one.

• Last month I examined the 40-man roster and identified 19 players the Twins could potentially drop. So far they've dropped four of them by declining Jared Burton's option for 2015, cutting Doug Bernier and Yohan Pino, and selling Kris Johnson to a team in Japan. Johnson and Alex Presley were the Twins' haul from the Pirates in exchange for Justin Morneau. They combined to play 31 games for the Twins and were both sent packing for nothing in return.

Byron Buxton's injury wrecked season keeps getting worse. Playing in the Arizona Fall League after missing all but 31 games of the regular season with a wrist injury and a concussion, Buxton fractured the middle finger on his left hand while attempting to make a diving catch. In the grand scheme of things a busted finger isn't a big concern, but the missed development time for a 20-year-old is lost forever.

• Wins by American League Central teams from 2011-2014:

Detroit Tigers       366
Cleveland Indians    325
Kansas City Royals   318
Chicago White Sox    300
Minnesota Twins      265

And that's not even counting postseason wins.

• Outfield defense played a huge role in the Royals' success this season and according to Ultimate Zone Rating their outfielders were 60 runs above average. Meanwhile, the Twins' outfielders were 36 runs below average according to UZR. Improving the pitching staff is obviously very important, but don't discount the negative impact defense and specifically outfield defense has had on their runs allowed totals. Oswaldo Arcia's continued presence makes big improvements tough.

• In the 23 years since their last World Series title the Twins have a 1,777-1,908 record for a .482 winning percentage, including 6-21 in the playoffs.


This week's content is sponsored by Harry's Razors. Go to Harrys.com and enter in the promo code "Gleeman" to receive $5 off your first order.

October 17, 2014

Link-O-Rama

• Approximately one million people sent me the New York Times' "brunch is for jerks" article, but here's the thing: Combining breakfast food and booze is undeniably great. End of story.

• UFC announcer Mike Goldberg did play-by-play for the Vikings-Lions game and it was a mess, with botched names and confused calls throughout. Afterward he cursed out people on Twitter who were criticizing his performance, at which point FOX removed him from their NFL schedule.

• If this is true about Kate Mara ... well, then I quit.

• How much payroll space do the Twins have and, more importantly, will they actually spend it?

Martha Stewart vs. Gwyneth Paltrow is this generation's Notorious B.I.G. vs. Tupac.

• Congrats to friend of AG.com Dana Wessel for winning "Mrs. Arkansas International, 2014."

• On this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode we drank beer at 612 Brew and revisited our preseason predictions to see just how terrible they were.

• We also had Twins beat reporter Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press as our guest on "Gleeman and The Geek" two episodes ago and lots of listeners enjoyed it more than usual.

• Imagine if someone from England looked just like Aaron Rodgers and hung around Green Bay:

Tom Wrigglesworth is a quality name, too.

• I "took issue" with something a local newspaper columnist wrote about Joe Mauer and brain injuries, leading to City Pages' amusing recap and this brilliant "Douse Mauer in Gasoline and Chase Him with Matches" parody by Steve "Randball's Stu" Neuman.

• Speaking of which, one year ago Neuman wrote my favorite parody ever, including this opening line: "As night-life emissaries go, one could do better than Aaron Gleeman."

Maggie "Boss Lady Yung Mags" LaMaack is one of the most underrated writers in Minnesota, this time on the subject of using Tinder to date.

• The local chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America gave Ron Gardenhire their "media good guy" award on his way out.

Andrew Friedman left the $50 million payrolls in Tampa Bay for the $250 million payrolls in Los Angeles and sent a goodbye letter to a Rays blog.

• I went to a high school journalism conference when the Final Four was here in 2001 and Bob Ryan's storytelling mesmerized me, so I enjoyed Grantland's profile of the Boston sportswriter.

• Believe it or not the Twins had many valuable players this season and I ranked them on my hypothetical team MVP ballot.

• Two all-time greats, Bill Murray and Howard Stern, had a nice long chat and it was very fun.

• You may not think so, but you'll definitely want to watch a little kid recreate Patrick Swayze's dance moves from the final scene of "Dirty Dancing":

I can do the same thing, except with Elaine Benes' dance moves in "Seinfeld."

Dax Shepard is one of the most underrated actors/funny people around and he was predictably funny/charming chatting with Marc Maron.

• I spent a week reading "Gone Girl" and wherever I put it down--on the bed, on the floor, on random places around the house--she immediately slept on it.

• On a related note, my power rankings of David Fincher movies:

1. "Seven"
2. "Fight Club"
3. "The Social Network"
4. "The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button"
5. "The Game"
6. "Gone Girl"
7. "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo"
8. "Panic Room"
9. "Zodiac"
10. "Alien 3"

I apologize in advance for not liking "Zodiac" more. I realize that will bother many people.

J.J. Hardy, whom the Twins basically gave away to the Orioles in 2011, signed a three-year, $40 million contract extension to remain in Baltimore.

• Thrilled that Tom Scharpling is bringing back "The Best Show" after reconsidering retirement.

• I agree with Rick Nelson's review in the Minneapolis Star Tribune: Libertine has quickly become one of my favorite restaurants for dinner and brunch.

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

- "Man who couldn't stop laughing at his own twin"
- "Sweet Martha's Cookies revenue"
- "Sylvester Stallone young beard"
- "What will happen to Rick Anderson?"
- "Jerome Felton's girlfriend"
- "What was Aaron Burr's sidekick's name?"
- "Jon Taffer pumpkin carving stencil"
- "Naked twins"

• Finally, this week's AG.com-approved music video is "Take Me To Church" by Hozier:

October 9, 2014

My hypothetical Twins MVP ballot

Brian Dozier and Danny Santana

Most Valuable Player of a 70-92 team isn't the most prestigious award, but within their struggles the Twins had plenty of good individual performances. Here's my attempt to rank them:

1. Phil Hughes

I've always found arguments against pitchers being MVPs lacking, because while they don't pitch every day their influence on the games they do pitch is huge. For instance, Phil Hughes started 32 games, threw 210 innings, and faced 855 batters. By comparison, Brian Dozier led the Twins with 707 plate appearances. Add in defensive plays and position players re-take the lead, but the point is that saying "pitchers only play once every five days" short-changes their influence.

All of which is a long way of saying that Hughes is an easy choice for team MVP. He had a great year by traditional standards, going 16-10 with a 3.52 ERA in 32 starts while the rest of the Twins' rotation was 32-60 with a 5.53 ERA in 130 starts. Oh, and he had the best strikeout-to-walk ratio in the history of baseball with an incredible 186 strikeouts versus 16 walks, standing atop of this star-studded list:

                    YEAR     SO/BB
PHIL HUGHES         2014     11.63
Bret Saberhagen     1994     11.00
Cliff Lee           2010     10.28
Curt Schilling      2002      9.58
Pedro Martinez      2000      8.88
Greg Maddux         1997      8.85
Pedro Martinez      1999      8.46

Hughes was hurt by the Twins' terrible defense, which allowed a .324 batting average on his balls in play for the second-highest rate of any pitcher in the league and a much worse rate than his career average of .296. That and some mediocre bullpen support caused his ERA to rise to 3.52 compared to an xFIP of 3.18 that ranked eighth among AL starters. Here's a list of the best xFIPs by a Twins starter in the Ron Gardenhire era of 2002-2014:

                     YEAR     xFIP
Francisco Liriano    2006     2.54
Francisco Liriano    2010     2.95
Johan Santana        2004     3.01
Johan Santana        2005     3.12
Johan Santana        2006     3.16
PHIL HUGHES          2014     3.18

Hughes had the most strikeouts (186) and highest strikeout rate (8.0) by any Twins starter in the Gardenhire era except for Johan Santana and Francisco Liriano. Hughes walked zero batters in an MLB-leading 19 of 32 starts and walked one or fewer batters in an MLB-leading 30 of 32 starts, with a season-high of three walks in his second outing of the season on April 9. He led MLB in walk rate with 0.69 per nine innings, which is the second-best rate in Twins history.

Wins Above Replacement for pitchers is calculated in two manners. One, by Fan Graphs, focuses on secondary numbers and has Hughes tied with Jon Lester and David Price for third-best in the league behind Corey Kluber and Felix Hernandez. The other, by Baseball-Reference, focuses on raw totals and has Hughes ninth-best in the league. That large disagreement stems from treating defensive support and luck differently, but either way Hughes had a fantastic year.

2. Brian Dozier

If you're vehemently against pitchers being MVP candidates then Dozier is the obvious choice. His power vanished in the second half, but he still broke his own team record for homers by a second baseman with 23. He also added in 33 doubles, stole 21 bases at a decent clip, and drew 89 walks for the second-most by any Twins player during the Gardenhire era behind Joe Mauer with 90 in 2012. His poor .242 batting average doesn't even begin to show Dozier's offensive production.

And he did all of that at an up-the-middle position where the MLB average was a .313 on-base percentage and .372 slugging percentage, beating the average OPS by 77 points. Dozier led all MLB second basemen in homers, walks, and runs. He also ranked second in extra-base hits and Isolated Power, third in times on base and Runs Created, fourth in on-base percentage, total bases, OPS, and steals, sixth in slugging percentage and RBIs, and seventh in doubles.

Defensively he always looks good and makes plenty of highlight plays, particularly when going to his left, but Ultimate Zone Rating and Defensive Runs Saved show him as slightly below average. He played 156 games, logged 1,400 innings at second base, and joined Denard Span in 2010 and Justin Morneau in 2008 as the only Twins to top 700 plate appearances under Gardenhire. Add it all up and here's where his 5.2 WAR ranks among hitters in the Gardenhire era:

                    YEAR     WAR
Joe Mauer           2009     7.8
Joe Mauer           2010     5.9
Joe Mauer           2006     5.8
Joe Mauer           2008     5.6
Jacque Jones        2002     5.4
Joe Mauer           2013     5.3
BRIAN DOZIER        2014     5.2

Helluva season.

3. Danny Santana

After posting a .719 OPS in 131 games at Double-A last season and a .692 OPS in 24 games at Triple-A to begin this season Danny Santana was called up by the Twins on May 5 and batted .319/.353/.472 with 41 extra-base hits and 20 steals in 101 games as a 23-year-old playing a new position. In a lot of seasons that would have gotten Santana serious consideration for Rookie of the Year, but White Sox slugger Jose Abreu figures to win the award unanimously.

Defensive metrics pegged Santana as below average in center field and he certainly looked raw there after spending nearly his entire career at shortstop, but he still had the fourth-highest WAR by a Twins rookie in the Gardenhire era behind Liriano in 2005, Lew Ford in 2004, and Span in 2008. If you prorate his WAR to, say, 155 games, Santana would rank 10th among AL position players and top Dozier for the team lead.

There are strong reasons to be skeptical of Santana's rookie showing being for real, including his mediocre minor-league numbers and ghastly 98/19 K/BB ratio in the majors, but on a per-game basis he was arguably the Twins' best player this season. He places third on this ballot because he was not in the lineup for 38 percent of the Twins' games while Hughes never missed a start and Dozier sat out just six games.

4. Trevor Plouffe

Coming into spring training it seemed like Trevor Plouffe would be keeping third base warm for however long it took Miguel Sano to convince the Twins he was ready, but instead Sano missed the entire season following elbow surgery and Plouffe had a career-year. He struck out a little less, walked a little more, and traded four-baggers for two-baggers on the way to 40 doubles. The end result was an adjusted OPS+ of 110, compared to his OPS+ of 97 from 2011-2013.

His offense improved, but Plouffe's biggest gains came defensively. After three years of rating him horribly at third base both Ultimate Zone Rating and Defensive Runs Saved showed him as solidly above average. Who knows if the better glove is for real--it's not so much different than Santana hitting .319--but Plouffe was one of the 10 best all-around third basemen in baseball after just barely being better than replacement level in his first three seasons.

5. Kurt Suzuki

Defensively his poor numbers are basically the opposite of his sterling reputation and predictably he came back down to earth late, but Kurt Suzuki started 115 games and hit .288/.345/.383 compared to MLB catchers as a whole batting .249/.309/.380. Not trading Suzuki and giving him a two-year extension is questionable, but he was a great pickup on a one-year, $3 million deal and kept the Twins above average at the position post-Mauer.

6. Glen Perkins

If not for his late-season collapse while trying to pitch injured Glen Perkins would have ranked a spot or two higher. As of August 25 he had a 2.44 ERA and 64/9 K/BB ratio in 55 innings, but then he gave up five homers in eight games after giving up a total of seven homers in his previous 116 games. It's a self-inflicted shame, because Perkins was having a fourth straight dominant season while converting saves at the same rate as Mariano Rivera and Joe Nathan.

7. Eduardo Escobar

Little in Eduardo Escobar's track record suggested he was more than a utility man-caliber hitter, but when Pedro Florimon flopped he stepped in at shortstop and batted .275 with 43 extra-base hits in 133 games for a .721 OPS that's 43 points above average for the position. Defensive stats failed to reach a consensus, but he looked decent and if you think his glove was actually a plus Escobar had the best all-around season by a Twins shortstop since Jason Bartlett in 2006.

8. Kyle Gibson

After a putrid rookie showing Kyle Gibson bounced back to throw 179 innings. He managed just 5.4 strikeouts per nine innings and the awful defense turned all those balls in play into too many undeserved hits, leaving Gibson with a 4.47 ERA compared to the AL average of 3.92 for starters. However, his ground-ball rate of 54.4 percent ranked fifth among AL starters and he allowed just 12 homers in 31 starts. If given average defensive support xFIP pegs his ERA at 3.99.

9. Joe Mauer

After missing the end of last year with a concussion Mauer got off to a terrible start and then, just when he was starting to get rolling, an oblique strain sidelined him for a month. There's no way to spin his season as anything but a major disappointment, but Mauer hit .300 in his final 63 games and overall his .361 on-base percentage was 30 points above average for first basemen. Even with his extreme lack of power Mauer was basically an average all-around player at his new position.

10. Kennys Vargas

Promoted from Double-A on August 1 after the Kendrys Morales salary dump, Kennys Vargas hit .337 with a .906 OPS in his first 23 games and .225 with a .665 OPS in his last 30 games. He was good but not great overall, with a .274 average and .456 slugging percentage versus a 63/12 K/BB ratio and .316 OBP. He also played only 53 games, compared to 101 for Santana and 120 for Mauer. He was very fun to watch and dropped a lot of jaws with his smooth, easy power.


For a lengthy discussion of the Twins' ongoing manager search, check out this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode with special guest Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

October 6, 2014

WAR in the Gardenhire Era

Ron Gardenhire, Rick Anderson

Now that Ron Gardenhire's tenure as Twins manager is over, here are the team's Wins Above Replacement leaders during the 13-season Gardenhire era of 2002-2014:

                    WAR
Joe Mauer          46.3
Johan Santana      35.1
Justin Morneau     23.5
Torii Hunter       21.7
Joe Nathan         18.4
Denard Span        17.2
Scott Baker        16.0
Brad Radke         13.4
Michael Cuddyer    12.4
Corey Koskie       10.7

Gardenhire definitely had plenty of star-level talent to work with, including a pair of MVP winners and a multi-time Cy Young winner all in the middle of their primes. For long stretches Joe Mauer was the best catcher in baseball, Johan Santana was the best pitcher in baseball, Joe Nathan was the second-best reliever in baseball, Justin Morneau was an elite power hitter, and Torii Hunter was an elite center fielder.

Within those numbers, here are the Twins' highest single-season WAR totals from 2002-2014:

                   YEAR     WAR
Johan Santana      2004     8.6
Joe Mauer          2009     7.8
Johan Santana      2006     7.4
Johan Santana      2005     7.2
Joe Mauer          2010     5.9
Joe Mauer          2006     5.8
Brad Radke         2004     5.8
Joe Mauer          2008     5.6
Jacque Jones       2002     5.4
Joe Mauer          2013     5.3

I'm still angry that Santana was robbed of three straight Cy Young awards because voters weren't yet over their obsession with win-loss records in 2005.

Oh, and here are the Twins' lowest overall WAR totals from 2002-2014:

                    WAR
Tsuyoshi Nishioka  -2.4
Liam Hendriks      -2.2
Rondell White      -1.5
Joe Mays           -1.4
Chris Herrmann     -1.3
Drew Butera        -1.2
Vance Worley       -1.2
P.J. Walters       -1.2
Trevor May         -1.2
Jason Marquis      -1.1

Joe Mays and Luis Rivas have the lowest WAR totals among Twins who logged at least 1,000 plate appearances or 1,000 batters faced under Gardenhire.

Older Posts »