March 13, 2003
Aaron's Baseball Blog: SUPERSIZED (and with pictures!)
As promised, today's entry is a massive one. I'm now on Spring Break for a week or so and I'm in good spirits, so what better to do then write a whole bunch of stuff about baseball?
The Twins signed Kenny Rogers to a 1 year contract worth $2 million, plus incentives.
I think my feelings on this signing are somewhat complicated and ever-changing, so I'll try to lay it out as simply as possible:
1) Adding Kenny Rogers to a baseball team for $2 million dollars is a good thing.
He's a veteran pitcher with a long history of being average or better and is coming off of a good season in which he pitched 210 innings with a sub-4 ERA in a hitter's park.
2) Removing Johan Santana from the rotation is not a good thing.
I've talked about Johan enough here that I don't think I have to discuss his pros and cons anymore, but suffice it to say I think the more Johan Santana the Twins get in 2003 and beyond, the better.
My initial reaction to this signing was that it was a poor decision. In fact, here is what I wrote on BaseballPrimer.com as soon as I found out about it:
Well, that's just great.
Normally, I am happy when my favorite team signs a pitcher that pitched 210 innings with a 3.85 ERA in a severe hitter's park last year. This time however, it means that Johan Santana will be moving back to the bullpen. It is almost as if the Twins did this all to toy with me. I had been talking for months about how Santana should be in the rotation and when Milton went down with the injury, they immediately announced that he would. I was sad about Milton, but very excited about Santana. Then, a couple weeks later, this happens.
Kenny Rogers' K rate has never been very good, but it reached a career low last year at 4.57/9 IP. A low K rate is not unique among Twins starters, as Mays, Radke and Reed all K'd less than 6.0 per 9 last year. Kyle Lohse is now the Strikeout King among Twins starters at 6.18/9. The difference between Rogers and the other starters is that Rogers is an extreme groundball pitcher (2.02 GB/FB), while the other guys all get the ball in the air a ton (Radke 1.05, Reed 0.91, Lohse 0.83, Mays 1.18). Milton (0.67) is one of the biggest flyball pitchers in baseball and prior to this I was under the belief that the Twins were consciously building their pitching staff around their outstanding outfield defense, which I thought was a brilliant plan.
This, of course, puts a hole in that theory. Rogers doesn't strike anyone out and the Twins are very weak up-the-middle defensively, which is a recipe for mediocrity at best and disaster at worst.
On its own, this signing is a nice one. They get a veteran starter that was pretty good last year. But it isn't on its own, it is on the Twins, which means one of the most promising young lefties in baseball now goes back to pitching in relief.
After thinking about it a little more, I realize that my feelings were based entirely on Santana being bumped from the rotation. I have been pushing Johan as the next big thing more than perhaps anyone else in the world, so I was obviously very disappointed when I found out he won't be starting the year in the rotation.
However, thanks to some discussions with other Twins fans, I have come to the conclusion that this signing is a good one.
A few reasons...
1) There really isn't much downside.
If Rogers stinks, you cut bait, lose your $2 mill and stick Johan back in the rotation. Rogers was very good last year, but he did post a 6.19 ERA in a injury-filled 2001 campaign. If he appears headed toward a 6.00 ERA again, you stick him in long-relief or put him out to stud. $2 million bucks is a lot, but even to a team like the Twins it isn't going to affect their budget much. Plus, I believe they will be getting about $1.8 million from the insurance company to cover Eric Milton's contract, so they can just use that money to pay Rogers.
2) As my good buddy Ross pointed out, what are the odds that a team can go through an entire season with only 5 starting pitchers?
It has obviously been done quite a few times, but what are the chances that the Twins, who have already lost a starter for most of the year, would have been able to count on Radke, Reed, Mays, Lohse and Santana to each take their turn in the rotation every single time? Radke missed a ton of time last year and so did Mays, plus I think Mays is a strong candidate to stink in 2003. Rick Reed is like 56 years old and strikes me as the kind of player that could fall off a cliff at anytime. Kyle Lohse had a very nice season in 2003, but would you really be willing to bet on him pitching 180 innings with a low-4.00s ERA in 2003? I wouldn't.
So, as you can see, there are a lot of reasons to think the Twins will need more than 5 starting pitchers in 2003.
3) Santana will get his starts in 2003 and he'll pitch high-leverage innings out of the pen. I'll take 180-200 innings from a starter over 70 innings from a reliever anytime, but if the Twins can find a way to get him 15 starts in 2003 (like they did in 2002) and a total of 120 innings or so, I would be fine with that. He's only 24 and a few less innings on his arm is probably a good thing anyway, right?
I'd still rather see Santana in the rotation for 180 innings, but I figure 200 innings of Rogers and 120 innings of Johan is probably better than 180 innings of Johan and 140 innings of Jose Cabrera, Juan Rincon, Kevin Frederick and the other bums the Twins were talking about for their last bullpen spot(s).
This now gives the Twins the following pitching staff, as far as I can tell:
SP - Brad Radke (R)
SP - Kenny Rogers (L)
SP - Rick Reed (R)
SP - Kyle Lohse (R)
SP - Joe Mays (R)
That's a damn good staff. They don't have a real "ace" (which is what I think Santana could have been), but they've got 5 starters, most of them veterans, that should be able to give them league average or better pitching and some bulk innings.
The bullpen, which was looking a little bit shaky last week, is now back to being a major strength. You've got Tony Fiore to do the long-relief work. Fetters and Hawkins to shut down the righties and the lefty trifecta of Santana, Romero and Guardado to shut down anyone and everyone.
Actually, looking at that setup, if I had my way I would switch Kyle Lohse to the pen to get Johan in the rotation.
Check out Lohse's numbers:
vs Righties = .213/.272/.361
vs Lefties = .308/.392/.516
vs Righties = .219/.274/.393
vs Lefties = .348/.415/.597
Those are amazing splits for a guy that was actually a very good pitcher last year (180 IP, 4.23 ERA).
He did improve slightly against lefties last year, but he was just simply a better pitcher last year, period. I would love to see what he could do as a long-reliever/righty setup man, where he could be spotted against righty-dominated parts of lineups and kept away from left-handed power hitters.
As for Kenny Rogers...
I don't think he will post a 3.85 ERA again this year. Unlike most of the Twins other pitchers, he is a groundball pitcher. He also doesn't strike anyone out, which means he'll be relying on Cristian Guzman and Luis Rivas to convert a lot of balls into outs in 2003, which is something I'd want to avoid if I were a pitcher. Nevertheless, he has a fairly sustained level of success and I would say 180-200 innings and a 4.00-4.50 ERA should be considered a nice season.
The Twins seem to be convinced that Santana is better off in the pen this year and, although I disagree and am disappointed, it's not the end of the world and I think he'll get his chance sooner rather than later.
Believe it or not, I actually think Baltimore made a good move for once.
Chris Richard is a nice player to have. He can play first base and any of the 3 outfield spots and he hits well enough (.259/.325/.453 career) that he won't hurt you and can actually help when he's doing well.
That said, he turns 29 in a few months and has struggled with injuries a lot of late.
He missed several months last year after having shoulder surgery and is still not 100%. In fact, this what he said after learning he was headed to Colorado:
I haven't made throws from the outfield on consecutive days," said Richard. "I'm sure the shoulder will be able to handle it. ... I hope the Rockies realize that I'm less than 100 percent throwing from the outfield."
When is the last time you heard an injured player say, basically, "Well, I am still hurting, so I hope the team knows that"? On a good team, Chris Richard is a good pinch-hitter/spot-starter at 1B/DH/LF/RF against right-handed pitching and a guy that should probably get 200-300 ABs a year. Like I said, a nice player to have, but nothing special.
Jack Cust, on the other hand, could potentially be an impact player.
Here are his performances of late:
Year LVL AB AVG OBP SLG HR 2B BB SO
1999 A 455 .334 .450 .651 32 42 96 145
2000 AA 447 .293 .440 .526 20 32 117 150
2001 AAA 442 .278 .415 .525 27 24 102 160
2002 AAA 359 .265 .407 .524 23 24 83 121
A couple of "interesting" patterns here.
1) His batting average is falling like a rock: 334 to .293 to .278 to .265. That aint a good sign. However...
2) His "isolated power" is actually rising. For those of you unfamiliar with that stat, it is simply SLG% minus batting average. I would call it a measure of "raw power" or batting independent of batting average.
His actual SLG% has stayed almost identical, but because his batting average has fallen his ISO has gone way up. Basically, Cust is becoming less and less able to hit singles, but his power is still damn good.
One theory with this would be that he is having more trouble making contact with the ball as he moves up the organizational ladder, but that simply is not the case here. His at bat per strikeout rates are: 1/3.1, 1/3.0, 1/2.8, 1/3.0. That's pretty much a stable rate of striking out.
As long as we are looking at "rates" let's check out his homer and doubles rates. I am gonna forget about his 1999 stats because they came in Single-A and probably don't mean a whole lot in this discussion...
At bats per homer:
2000 = 22.4
2001 = 16.4
2002 = 15.6
At bats per double:
2000 = 14.0
2001 = 18.4
2002 = 15.0
Jack Cust has definitely got some impressive power. Besides the falling batting averages, the big knocks against Cust are that he is absolutely dreadful defensively and that he has typically played in very good parks for hitters.
I haven't seen him enough to give my opinion of his defense, but almost everything I've ever read about him says he stinks in LF and at 1B. Now that he's in the AL he can safely DH and just stick to hitting the snot out of pitches. As for the hitter's parks, that is definitely correct. Cust has not only played in hitter's parks, he has played in some of the best hitter's parks (Colorado Springs, Tucson, El Paso, etc). That takes some air out of his numbers, but it doesn't change the plate discipline and his power is still very real.
While Richard is turning 29 soon, Jack Cust is only 24. So, even if they were equals as players, Cust would get a huge edge. And I think Cust has the potential to be a lot better hitter than Richard, so it is really no contest.
As bad as Baltimore is (and trust me, they are pathetic) they now have at least a couple of intriguing, young players to build around.
Here's how I would assess their franchise building plan at this moment:
Okay, so it isn't much, but it's 50% more young players to build around then they had this time last week, right? You gotta start somewhere.
When I think of spring training, I think of sitting in the sun, sipping some lemonade and watching some baseball. In other words, paradise. But apparently some people get to spring training and get kind of ornery.
A couple of days ago Jose Mesa said he wanted to kill Omar Vizquel. Seriously.
You see, Omar Vizquel wrote a book that came out about 9 months ago. Seriously.
Anyway, in it he bashes Jose Mesa pretty hard for his performance in game 7 of the World Series a few years back (Mesa blew the save and Cleveland lost the game). Jose took great offense to what Omar said and responded like this:
"I will not forgive him. Even my little boy (Jose Jr.) told me to get him. If I face him 10 more times, I'll hit him 10 times. I want to kill him."
"If he comes to apologize, I will punch him right in the face. And then I'll kill him. If you're a writer and you want to write a good book, you don't write a story about somebody else."
First of all, Mesa seems to be missing the point about literature by saying you shouldn't write about other people. I mean, if Vizquel was limited to stories that only involved himself, the book would be even worse than it already is. Seriously.
And if I were limited to writing about myself, instead of baseball players, you'd get really sick of hearing about how much macaroni and cheese I ate in the cafeteria and how I chose to go about avoiding studying on that particular day.
Aside from that, the thing I am wondering is why Omar Vizquel thought that he could write a book and include negative comments about another active player and not expect some sort of retaliation. Plus, look at the pictures of those 2 guys again and tell me you don't think Jose Mesa's facial hair could kick Omar Vizquel's butt all by itself?
Of course, after Mesa's quotes came out, MLB stepped in and put their collective foot down. So here's what Mesa said yesterday:
"I was hurt by remarks by a former teammate," Mesa said in a statement Thursday. "I would never injure anyone."
Gee, ya think someone had a chat with Jose?
Jose Mesa isn't the only guy in a bad mood this spring...
A few days ago Vlad Guerrero charged the mound after Brad Penny plunked him, but that's nothing compared to what happened Wednesday in the Dodgers/Mets game.
If you haven't seen the footage yet, you are really missing out. It is some of the best stuff I've seen in a while.
Basically, here's what happened...
Last March, Guillermo Mota plunked Mike Piazza with a pitch and Piazza waited until Mota was coming off the field at the end of the inning and confronted him, getting into a shouting match in the outfield.
On Wednesday, Piazza and Mota were matched up again and this time Mota threw the first pitch way inside, but missed hitting Piazza. No matter, he just threw another one way inside and this time he nailed him right in the back.
Piazza immediately threw his helmet to the ground and went running toward the mound, fist cocked for a punch.
The only problem was that Mota threw his glove at Piazza and then exhibited one of the most amazing displays of backpedalling that I have ever seen.
He literally ran around the entire field backwards as he was chased by Piazza, before Piazza was finally restrained by various people. But then Jeromy Burnitz and a couple other Mets went after Mota and he continued his amazing display of backpedalling, eventually fleeing into the Dodgers dugout and then all the way into the clubhouse.
Mota didn't stop there. He quickly got changed into his street clothes, jumped in a car and got the hell out of there.
Piazza also got in his car and left the stadium early, but not before going to the Dodgers' clubhouse and shouting, "Where's Mota?! Where's Mota?!" as he searched the locker room, shower stalls and training area.
"If he wants to hit somebody he needs to stand there and fight," Mets manager Art Howe said. "He backpedaled faster than I can run forward."
If I hadn't seen the footage I would say that is hyperbole, but I really think Howe is right. Mota is really an amazing backpedalist (Is that a word? If not, it should be).
"If he had gotten loose, I don't know what would have happened,"
Once again, Howe is right on the money. Piazza looked like he had completely snapped. His eyes were bugging out of his head and his face was all red. I am fairly confident that Piazza would have beaten the living bejesus out of Mota, and yes, bejesus is a scientific term.
"The guy ran like a scared rabbit. If he wants to hit someone, he should stay there and fight. It was a set up, as far as I was concerned. I'm angry. He's my best player and I don't want guys taking potshots at my best player."
Memo to Guillermo Mota: If you are going to try to act all manly and tough and plunk Mike Piazza, you probably shouldn't run away from him and backpedal your way around the entire infield, into your dugout and into a car. The two events (plunking and running) sort of contradict each other.
If this scene had played out in a bar or something, instead of a baseball stadium, here's how I envision it happening:
Mota: Hey Pizza, wanna fight?
Piazza: Sure, let's go.
Mota: Hold on one second.
Mota: [High-pitched screaming as he runs for his car in the parking lot]
Finally, there is this quote from Mota, which leads me to believe that, in addition to being incredibly scared of Mike Piazza, he is also an incredibly bad liar:
"I know what I did and it was not intentional," said Mota. "Whatever they (the Mets) think ..."
No Guillermo, Mike tried to murder you with his barehands last year and you just happened to throw not one but two fastballs right at his back. If only Mota could lie as well as he runs backwards, he could have a career in politics after he retires.
Is anyone else interested in a tag-team steel cage match?
I think it would work out very nicely. First of all, it is pitchers versus hitters. Piazza and Mesa are a good matchup and I don't see any way Mota or Vizquel would be capable of hurting anyone, so they are a good fit. Vlad and Penny could be a bit of a mismatch, but Penny is listed at 6'4" and 247 lbs. and maybe he knows karate or something.
It would be worth the price of admission just to see Piazza strangling Mota in the corner as Mesa picks up a chair and smashes it over Piazza's head, only to have Vlad Guerrero come flying off the top rope...
Hmm...I think maybe I watched a little too much Saturday morning wrestling when I was younger.
(If you want to download the video from MLB.com, click here. The link you want is located on the right side of the page, under "related links.")
*****Comments? Questions? Email me!*****