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.

August 3, 2012

Link-O-Rama

• If you thought Tom Hardy was hard to understand as Bane, wait until you hear the original.

• Official Fantasy Girl of AG.com candidate Aubrey Plaza seems nice.

Delmon Young is back in court and looking for a plea deal in his hate crime case. Mazel tov!

Lew Ford is 35 years old and back in the majors for the first time since 2007.

• My mom sent me this link and wrote "could be trouble."

• And then about three minutes later she sent me this link and wrote "sorry."

• Let this be a lesson to local mainstream media: Being nice to bloggers is good for business.

• Nine rejections, one chip on your shoulder, and zero other ideas can make you do something for 10 years. Thankfully.

• Speaking of which, can I use all you guys as references? Fingers crossed!

• My blogging debut on August 1, 2002 was about the Marlins overworking A.J. Burnett. One day short of exactly 10 years later Burnett threw a one-hit shutout.

• This is the perfect tweet, obviously.

Vin Scully + Twitter = adorable:

I still tune into Dodgers games almost every night just to hear him, at age 84.

• Maybe things get polished a little bit in translation, but Andrei Kirilenko comes across as incredibly smart in this interview about signing with the Timberwolves.

• Guess who leads the AL in homers, RBIs, slugging percentage, and OPS since May 15?

Amanda Dobbins examined if The Cutting Edge holds up 20 years later, which reminded me that I watched it at least 10 times on television as a kid and had a crush on Moira Kelly.

• Speaking of movies I've seen on TV double-digit times, Super Troopers is getting a sequel.

• I never know what topics Paul Allen has in mind when I show up to KFAN's studio and this week we ended up talking about our respective food issues and my weight loss quite a bit.

• For anyone who heard the aforementioned weight loss discussion on KFAN yesterday and wants to know more about my story, click here.

• My bourbon-drinking buddy Cee Angi has a very interesting article about the role of gender in baseball writing.

• I'm ashamed and disgusted to admit how charmed I was by this conversation between Carson Cistulli and Dayn Perry.

Parker Posey had a great guest role on Louie and did an interview with Grantland about the experience which she ended by asking: "Why isn't there more ping-pong on television?"

Glen Perkins shared some unique insight into the trade deadline experience.

• If you missed my analysis of the Francisco Liriano trade, I wrote a bunch of words about it and also talked a bunch about it on the radio.

• I'm convinced Paul F. Tompkins deserves a talk show, but these videos will have to suffice:

Zach Galifianakis is pretty good too, of course.

• My all-time favorite podcast guest, Chelsea Peretti, was predictably great on Alison Rosen Is Your New Best Friend.

• I was way too excited for Sunday's season premiere of Bar Rescue, which is my favorite cheesy reality show. You can watch the episodes online and fall in love with Jon Taffer.

• As someone who attended the annual National Sports Collectors Convention a handful of times as a kid, I can only imagine the crazy scene there as this happened.

• I got a nice e-mail from Steve Braun after he read my profile ranking him as the 35th-best player in Twins history. Now if only I had enough free time to finish the series. (Sorry.)

• UFC fans will enjoy watching Tito Ortiz's informal, two-hour conversation with Joe Rogan. It really changed the way I think of him.

• Netflix instant recommendation: Goon, which charmed me despite a shaky start.

• In terms of great Jon Hamm guest roles, this might be even better than his 30 Rock stint.

Artie Lange, Todd Barry, and Greg Fitzsimmons was podcasting magic (and also filthy).

• Having dealt with them in the past, Metro Magazine closing up shop is sad but not surprising.

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

- "Aaron Gleeman fat"
- "Dick Bremer salary"
- "Binge once a week weight loss"
- "Aaron Gleeman chicken"
- "Jerome Felton girlfriend"
- "Hormel chicken packaging"
- "Rob McElhenney exact weight"
- "Yuengling in Minneapolis"
- "Mustache dresser games"
- "Back hair baseball jersey"
- "Jason Kubel's sister"
- "Jon Rauch tattoos"
- "Paul Charchian versus Karl Pilkington"

• Finally, this week's AG.com-approved music video is a live version of "I Can't Hear You" by The Dead Weather:

This week's blog content is sponsored by the local B&B Blog, a top 20 accounting blog and "the most fascinating accounting blog in the world." Please support them for supporting AG.com.

November 9, 2010

Top 40 Minnesota Twins: #35 Steve Braun

Stephen Russell Braun | 1B/2B/SS/3B/LF | 1971-1976 | Career Stats

Taken in the 10th round of the 1966 draft out of a New Jersey high school, Steve Braun came up with the 1971 team that was 74-86 after the Twins won back-to-back division titles in 1969 and 1970. The poor record wasn't Braun's fault, as he played all over the infield while batting .254/.350/.344 in 128 games. That may not look like great production, even from a 23-year-old rookie, but the American League as a whole hit a measly .247/.317/.364 in 1971.

Braun's entire time with the Twins actually came in a very low-scoring era, which is part of the reason why he's one of the more underrated players in team history. His raw numbers show a guy who got on base very well (.376 on-base percentage), but had almost zero power (.381 slugging percentage). However, if you adjust Braun's performance to account for the pitcher-friendly era that he played in he suddenly looks like an offensive force.

Looking at adjusted OPS+ while in Minnesota, his 116 mark ranks ahead of Jason Kubel (111) and Michael Cuddyer (109) among current Twins, plus past hitters like Corey Koskie (115), Chuck Knoblauch (114), Tom Brunansky (109), Matt Lawton (107), David Ortiz (107), Torii Hunter (104), and Roy Smalley (104). Those are some of the best hitters in team history and Braun was arguably more effective offensively with the Twins than all of them.

While with the Twins his .376 OBP was 15 percent above the AL average of .328 and his .381 slugging percentage was actually slightly above average as well. Throughout the five decades of Twins history only seven players have more plate appearances and a higher adjusted OPS+ than Braun. Interestingly, if you adjust their respective raw numbers with the Twins to today's offensive levels, Braun and Knoblauch look nearly identical:

                AVG      OBP      SLG      OPS     OPS+
Braun          .297     .382     .435     .817     116
Knoblauch      .304     .378     .423     .801     114

Knoblauch played longer with the Twins and was a more valuable all-around player, but purely in terms of hitting Braun was a slower, left-handed version of Knoblauch. And while he wasn't nearly as strong as Knoblauch defensively, Braun's ability to play multiple positions gave him value. During six seasons with the Twins he saw significant action at second base, third base, shortstop, and left field, and also got a little time at first base and right field.

If you don't buy a comparison to Knoblauch think of Braun instead as the type of player Denny Hocking could have been if he'd hit like Lawton rather than like Lawton's sister. Braun was remarkably consistent after his solid rookie season, hitting above .280 while getting on base at least 36 percent of the time in each of the next five years. His best season came in 1975, when Braun batted .302/.389/.428 for the eighth-best OBP in the league and a 130 OPS+

Adjusting his 1975 stats to today's environment spits out something like .315/.390/.480, which is pretty close to Joe Mauer's career .327/.407/.481 mark. Braun served as the Twins' primary third baseman in 1971, 1972, and 1973, and was their main left fielder in 1974 and 1975. He was the team's regular designated hitter in 1976 and also saw time at third base and left field while batting .288/.384/.353 to once again rank among the AL leaders in on-base percentage.

In November of 1976 the upstart Seattle Mariners plucked Braun off the Twins' roster in the expansion draft, ending his time in Minnesota after six productive years. After a disappointing stint with the Mariners he was traded to the Royals in June of 1978 for Jim Colborn, who had won 18 games with a 3.62 ERA in 1977. That move signaled the end of Braun's days as an everyday player and was the beginning of his time as one of Whitey Herzog's bench bats.

Herzog was Kansas City's manager when Braun arrived at midseason, and took a liking to him when he hit .263/.380/.350 in 64 games and tied a Royals record by reaching base 11 straight times. Braun gave Herzog another productive season as a part-time player in 1979, and when Herzog moved on to the Cardinals he brought Braun in as a free agent. Braun served as a super-sub and pinch-hitter for the next five years, hitting .258/.382/.348 while rarely starting.

He was a key contributor on two pennant winners, including the 1982 champs, but retired two years before the Cardinals met up with the Twins in the 1987 World Series. Braun has stayed in baseball after retiring, serving as a minor-league hitting coach with the Cardinals, Yankees, and Red Sox. He currently sells "hitting clinics, summer camps, and baseball trips" through via SteveBraunBaseball.com, which offers to help you "train like a pro with a pro!"

Braun is perhaps the least-known player in this series and his inclusion may raise eyebrows, but he absolutely belongs. Six seasons and 2,800 plate appearances of outstanding top-of-the-order hitting, plus versatile defense, made him an impact player even if it wasn't apparent to everyone at the time. Had he played today, rather than 30 years ago, Braun's power would appear a lot more acceptable and his ability to get on base would be properly appreciated.

TOP 25 ALL-TIME MINNESOTA TWINS RANKS
On-Base Percentage   .376     6th
Adjusted OPS+         116    14th
Walks                 356    17th
Batting Average      .284    18th
Times On Base        1059    25th
Taken in the 10th round of the 1966 draft out of a New Jersey high school, Steve Braun came up with the 1971 team that went 74-86 after the Twins won back-to-back division titles in 1969 and 1970. The poor record that year wasn't Braun's fault, as he played all over the infield while hitting .254/.350/.344 in 128 games. That may not look like an impressive hitting line, even from a 23-year-old rookie, but the AL as a whole batted a measly .247/.317/.364 in 1971 (compared to .267/.336/.428 this season).








Braun's entire time with the Twins actually came in a very low-scoring era, which is part of the reason why he's one of the more underrated players in team history. His raw numbers show a guy who got on base extremely well (.376 on-base percentage), but had almost no power (.381 slugging percentage). However, if you adjust his performance to account for the pitcher-friendly era that he played in, Braun suddenly looks like an offensive force.

Looking at adjusted OPS+ while in Minnesota, Braun's mark of 116 ranks ahead of Jason Kubel (114) and Michael Cuddyer (110) among current Twins, plus past hitters like Corey Koskie (115), Chuck Knoblauch (114), Brian Harper (110), Tom Brunansky (109), Matt Lawton (107), David Ortiz (107), A.J. Pierzynski (105), Torii Hunter (104), and Roy Smalley (104). Those are some of the best hitters in team history and Braun was arguably more effective offensively with the Twins than all of them.

He certainly wasn't in the elite class of hitters, but Braun was safely in the "very good" group. While with the Twins his .376 OBP was 15 percent above the AL mark of .328 and his .381 slugging percentage was actually slightly above average as well. Throughout the five decades of Twins history, only seven players have more plate appearances and a higher OPS+ than Braun. Interestingly, if you adjust their respective totals with the Twins to today's offensive levels, Braun and Knoblauch are nearly identical:

                AVG      OBP      SLG      OPS     OPS+
Braun          .297     .382     .435     .817     116
Knoblauch      .304     .378     .423     .801     114 

Knoblauch played longer with the Twins and was a more valuable all-around player, but purely in terms of hitting Braun was a slower, left-handed version of Knoblauch. And while he wasn't nearly as good as Knoblauch defensively, Braun's ability to play multiple positions gave him value. During six years with the Twins he saw significant action at second base, third base, shortstop, and left field, and also got a little time at first base and right field.

If you don't buy a comparison to Knoblauch, think of Braun instead as the type of player Denny Hocking could have been if he hit like Lawton instead of like Lawton's sister. Braun was remarkably consistent after his solid rookie season, hitting above .280 while getting on base at least 36 percent of the time in each of the next five years. His best season came in 1975, when Braun batted .302/.389/.428 for the eighth-best OBP in the league and a 130 OPS+

Adjusting those 1975 numbers to today's scoring environment spits out something like .315/.390/.480, which is pretty close to Joe Mauer's career .327/.408/.483 mark. Braun served as the Twins' primary third baseman in 1971, 1972, and 1973, and was their main left fielder in 1974 and 1975. He was the team's regular designated hitter in 1976 and also saw action at third base and left field while batting .288/.384/.353 to once again rank among the league leaders in on-base percentage.

In November of 1976 the upstart Seattle Mariners plucked Braun off the Twins' roster in the expansion draft, ending his time in Minnesota after six very productive seasons. After a disappointing stint with the Mariners he was traded to the Royals for Jim Colborn in June of 1978, after Colborn won 18 games with a 3.62 ERA in 1977. That move signaled the end of Braun's days as an everyday player, and was the beginning of his time as one of Whitey Herzog's bench bats.

Herzog was Kansas City's manager when Braun arrived at midseason, and took a liking to him when he hit .263/.380/.350 in 64 games and tied a Royals record by reaching base 11 straight times. Braun gave Herzog another productive season as a part-time player in 1979, and when Herzog moved on to the Cardinals he brought Braun in as a free agent. Braun served as a super-sub and pinch-hitter for the next five seasons, hitting .258/.382/.348 while rarely starting a game.

He was a key contributor on two pennant winners, including the 1982 World Series champs, but retired two seasons before the Cardinals met up with the Twins in the 1987 World Series. Braun has stayed in baseball after retiring, serving as a minor-league hitting coach with the Cardinals, Yankees, and Red Sox. He currently sells "hitting clinics, summer camps, and baseball trips" through a company called Steve Braun Baseball, which offers to help you "train like a pro with a pro!"

Braun is perhaps the least-known player in this countdown and his inclusion may raise eyebrows, but he absolutely belongs. Six seasons and nearly 3,000 plate appearances of consistently outstanding top-of-the-order hitting, plus versatile defense, made him an impact player even if it wasn't apparent to everyone at the time. Had he played today, rather than 30 years ago, Braun's power would appear a lot more acceptable and his ability to get on base would be more properly appreciated.