March 22, 2004

Same great taste, different package

Since announcing the birth of The Hardball Times, I've received tons of e-mails from readers of this blog.

Some with questions, some with comments, some with suggestions. And others with concerns. The most common of which is that people really seem to like stopping by here every day to read what I have to say and they worry about not being able to do that anymore. This is obviously a very nice thing for me to hear and I appreciate it very much.

For example, the other day I got this e-mail from a reader:

I want to wish you good luck, but I also want to comment on something...

I can understand wanting to move on to another stage, but I think with this blog that you've stumbled onto something more than just people who like your writing. Not to say that your writing isn't good, but I think part of the reason your blog was such a success was that it was:

a) a regular column, which is more than can be said for any baseball commentators on any of the popular sites such as, BP and even your new site. And it was a full (Gleeman-Length) column, not just random bits like most blogs. We could count on, every morning, a couple new pages of analysis, BSing, insights, and rambling.

b) highly personal. You were very much in your columns, and we felt like we were somehow special, Aaron Gleeman readers tuning into to listen to you. The new site takes some of the magic away...

I certainly understand the feeling of intimacy that comes with reading a website like this one. Hell, it's part of the reason why I have enjoyed doing this blog so damn much. The fact that I can talk about anything and I can get the words from my keyboard to your screen without having to go through any sort of filter is a wonderful thing. It's gotten me in trouble a few times, but it's also why blogging is so much fun.

At the same time, I think the people who have sent me similar e-mails to the one above are overreacting just a bit. While it's true that my involvement here will be less than it was previously, that doesn't mean my overall writing will become less frequent. I will be doing a daily column over at The Hardball Times, just as I did a daily column here. And the content will be no different, trust me.

For those of you afraid I'll stop rambling or BSing, let me remind you that yesterday's THT column began with me professing my love for Scarlett Johansson, moved on to me mocking Rey Ordonez, and ended with me talking about the Minnesota Twins. I really don't think that's any different than the type of stuff I've been writing here for the past two years.

In other words, if you liked stopping by here every day, you're going to like stopping by THT every day just as much. My writing will still be there, there will still be just as much of it as there was here, and it'll be just as good (or bad). Plus, there'll be the added bonus of a bunch of other good articles from other good writers being there too.

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How are those brackets looking?

Is everyone's bracket looking as screwed up as mine?

Every year, I fill out my NCAA tourney bracket and think, "you know, this looks pretty good." And then, sure enough, by the end of the opening weekend, the whole thing is useless and I feel like a moron.

There are people who watch more college basketball than I do, but I watch a ton. And yet, aside from the easy opening-round matchups, I barely do better than someone flipping a coin. It's really maddening. Of course, this time next year, I'll be saying the exact same thing, after flushing more money down the toilet that is NCAA office pools.

While you try to think about what warning signs there were that the Sweet Sixteen would include UAB, Alabama, Nevada and Xavier, but not Kentucky, Stanford, Gonzaga and Mississippi State, make sure to check out my latest article at The Hardball Times...

News, Notes and Quotes (March 22, 2004)

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March 19, 2004

Weekend Reading

Not much of an entry today. Sorry. I'm not quite sure what's going to happen with this blog in the near future because of my involvement at The Hardball Times. I suspect I will keep doing entries here, but they may be a little less frequent and a little less Gleeman-Length. Time will tell, I guess.

For now, I have a brand new article up over at The Hardball Times. Click on the following link and just imagine you are reading it here, and it's basically no different than what you've been doing for months now, right?

6/$66 (by Aaron Gleeman)

It's a look at Eric Chavez and the new $66 million contract he just signed with the A's.

Also, here are my THT articles from earlier in the week, if you're looking for some weekend reading:

The Top 50 Prospects of 2004 (1-25)

The Top 50 Prospects of 2004 (26-50)

The Top 50 Prospects of 2004 (Notes)

Beyond the stuff I've written, there are also a ton of great articles by the other THT authors, which you can check out by clicking here.

And then, if you're looking for even more stuff to read in-between basketball games this weekend, you can check out my blog entries from earlier in the week.

Monday: Putting an end to all the ass tickling, once and for all

Tuesday: Any Questions?

Wednesday: 14 Cuts

Thursday: NCAA Picks

Incidentally, I started yesterday a perfect 8/8 on my NCAA tourney picks, nailing the Manhattan over Florida upset along the way. Sadly, that quickly went downhill during the night games. I finished the day 13-3, which sounds good, until you realize I had Michigan State in my Elite Eight. Just a friendly reminder, kids, the Big Ten stinks this year and me attending a Big Ten school apparently can't change that.

Also, I hope everyone noticed what Syracuse guard Gerry McNamara did yesterday. As I've said here before, I'm a big believer in judging a basketball player not by how many points he scores, but his efficiency scoring them. In other words, scoring 20 points per game isn't all that great if you need 20 shots to do so.

Well, McNamara went nuts yesterday. He took 17 shots and scored 43 points. No, that's not a misprint. He went 9-13 on three-pointers and 12-16 from the foul line. That's just sick. Think about that the next time Allen Iverson goes 8-23 and scores 20 points.

Have a good weekend!

*****Comments? Questions? Email me!*****

March 18, 2004

NCAA Picks

I made my NCAA basketball tournament picks public last year and...well, I'm actually not sure how I did, because I don't have a whole lot to compare them to. I do know that I didn't win any of the pools I was in, so I must not have done that well.

I correctly predicted nine of the Sweet Sixteen teams, which seems decent enough. I nailed five of Elite Eight teams, which actually seems pretty damn good. It gets kind of ugly when we get all the way to the Final Four, because I only got one right (Texas). The Longhorns were also my pick for national champs which, sadly, didn't quite happen.

But I'm back again to see if I can do a little better this time around. So here now are my picks for the 2004 NCAA basketball tourney...

First Round Winners (upsets in CAPS/bold):

Kentucky         St. Joe's        Duke             Stanford

Washington Texas Tech ARIZONA Alabama
Providence MANHATTAN Illinois Syracuse
Kansas Wake Forest Cincinnati Maryland
UTAH Wisconsin N. Carolina W. MICHIGAN
Georgia Tech Pittsburgh Texas NC State
Michigan St. Memphis Xavier DAYTON
Gonzaga Oklahoma St. Miss. St. Connecticut

It seems like I should have taken way more than five first-round upsets, but actually only eight lower-seeded teams won in the first round last year and there were only seven in 2002.

I could always get a couple more upsets by going with some #9 seeds over #8 seeds because those are usually toss-up games, but I'll stick with what I've got.

Sweet Sixteen (seed):

Kentucky (1)

Kansas (4)
Michigan State (7)
Utah (11)

Oklahoma St. (2)
Wake Forest (4)
Wisconsin (6)
Texas Tech (8)

Duke (1)
Mississppi State (2)
Illinois (5)
North Carolina (6)

Stanford (1)
Connecticut (2)
NC State (3)
Syracuse (5)

Ah, there we go, some upsets! I'm going out on a limb and saying 11th-seeded Utah will not only knock out #6 Boston College in round one, they'll take down #3 Georgia Tech (a very trendy Final Four pick) in round two. And yes, I realize that's crazy, but I guarantee there will be one double-digit seed in the Sweet Sixteen, so why not Utah?

I also have #7 Michigan State taking down #2 Gonzaga and #8 Texas Tech taking down Billy Packer's favorite team, St. Joseph's.

Elite Eight (seed):

Kentucky (1)

Michigan State (7)

Wake Forest (4)
Wisconsin (6)

Duke (1)
North Carolina (6)

Connecticut (2)
Syracuse (5)

A few more upsets. I'm not sure I really think UNC and Duke will meet, but I'm putting it down as my prediction just because that's the game I want to see. And yeah, two Big Ten teams in the Elite Eight (yes, I go to a Big Ten school, so what?!).

Final Four (seed):

Kentucky (1)

Wisconsin (6)
Duke (1)
Connecticut (2)

If that prediction holds true, there will have been an all-ACC (Duke/UNC) and all-Big East (UCONN/Syracuse) matchup in the Elite Eight, which would be interesting.

As you can see, I really think Wisconsin is a sleeper in this tourney. They got ripped off by getting the #6 seed, after going 12-4 in the Big Ten regular season (tied for second) and winning the Big Ten tournament (beating Illinois and Michigan State along the way). They finished #12 in RPI and #10 in both top-25 polls. I'm not sure how the hell that makes them a #6 seed...

The Badgers always play great defense and they have some good size (Wilkerson, Morley) and enough scoring (Harris, Tucker) to win games that aren't just defensive battles. Devin Harris is one of the most underrated players in the country.

Final Two (seed):

Kentucky (1)

Connecticut (2)

And the National Champs? Drumroll please...


That's right, you heard it here first! Unless of course Emeka Okafor's back flares up, in which case this blog entry will self-destruct in 5...4...3...2...1

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March 16, 2004

14 Cuts

Good practice, kids. Now it's time for the easiest part of any coach's job. The cuts. Although I wasn't able to cut everyone I wanted, I have cut a lot of you.

Wendell is cut. Rudy is cut. Janey, you're gone. Steven, I like your hussle...that's why it was so hard to cut you.

Congratulations, the rest of you made the team! Except you, you and you.

--- Homer Simpson, "Bart Star"

According to the St. Paul Pioneer Press, the Twins sent the following poor souls to the minors yesterday:

Adam Johnson

Boof Bonser
Mike Nakamura
Rob Bowen
Jason Bartlett
Terry Tiffee
Colby Miller
Brian Wolfe
B.J. Garbe
Jason Kubel
Jeromy Palki
Brandon Marsters
Jake Mauer
Luis Rodriguez

No huge surprises, obviously. The big decisions involving guys like Lew Ford, Michael Cuddyer, Michael Ryan and Jose Offerman have yet to be made.

Among the cuts...

Jason Bartlett is a guy I like quite a bit, if only because he represents essentially the only quality middle infielder in the system and is thus my only shot at not having to watch Luis Rivas play every day for the next decade.

Adam Johnson and B.J. Garbe are a couple of former first round picks who look, as of right now, like major busts. They're still young enough to turn things around, of course. I very much doubt Garbe ever will, but I'm holding out hope that Johnson can be valuable once he moves full-time to the bullpen.

The guy on the above list that I wish hadn't been cut is Mike Nakamura. The Twins' bullpen isn't the strongest in the world right now and I really think Nakamura could have done a very good job as a middle reliever. He had a 2.99 ERA in 78.1 innings at Triple-A last year and had a beautiful 95/28 strikeout/walk ratio.

For Nakamura's minor league career, he has a 2.99 ERA in 421.2 innings, with 439 strikeouts and 129 walks. I would be shocked if he couldn't put up a 3.50-4.00 ERA in 60-80 innings if given the chance. But now he'll head back to Triple-A for the third straight year and hope for an injury or something, I guess.

I also wish they'd have given more of a shot to Rob Bowen. With Joe Mauer on the team, Bowen doesn't figure very heavily into their long-term plans, despite being a 23 catcher, but I think he'd make a great backup to Mauer during the rest of the decade.

The Twins seem committed to going with veteran no-bat Henry Blanco as their backup, which isn't the worst idea in the world. Who the backup catcher is on a team with a starter who is likely to play just about every day isn't a big deal and having a good defensive veteran around Mauer can only help. That said, Blanco can't hit worth a lick (.219/.295/.353 in 1,404 career PA) and Bowen is young and hit .285/.350/.456 betwen Double-A and Triple-A last year.

In fact, now that I'm talking about Minnesota's roster, I might as well tell you which 25 guys I would keep to start the season. I'll say this now, before the Twins officially screw Lew Ford out of a job.

 C   Joe Mauer

1B Doug Mientkiewicz
2B Luis Rivas
SS Cristian Guzman
3B Corey Koskie
LF Shannon Stewart
CF Torii Hunter
RF Jacque Jones
DH Matthew LeCroy

No big surprises there. This is assuming I took over the team today, of course. If I had taken over a couple months ago, Rivas would clearly be somewhere else (they already signed him for way too much, so I can't get rid of him now) and Jacque Jones would probably be gone too.

 C   Rob Bowen

IF Nick Punto
IF Michael Cuddyer
OF Lew Ford
OF Michael Ryan

You'll notice a severe lack of Jose Offerman here. The Twins need an old, defensively-challenged pinch-hitter who can't actually hit like they need another Rivas. Lew Ford is a perfect 4th-outfielder, Nick Punto is a good utility guy, Michael Cuddyer can play all the corner spots and Michael Ryan gives Gardenhire a lefty off the bench.

That's actually a damn good bench and they're very young too. At least two of those guys deserve to be starting somewhere.

SP   Johan Santana

SP Brad Radke
SP Kyle Lohse
SP Carlos Silva
SP Grant Balfour

The big change here is that I would go with Grant Balfour instead of Rick Helling. Helling has proven he is mediocre (5.17 ERA last year, 4.77 ERA career), whereas Balfour has been great in the minors and may actually be good if you give him a chance.

RP   Joe Nathan

RP Jesse Crain
RP J.C. Romero
RP Juan Rincon
RP Mike Nakamura
RP Sean Douglass

So here's the deal. If you keep Nakamura on the team, then there is a choice to make. You can either keep Jesse Crain and risk losing a fairly good pitcher on waivers, or you can keep everyone and send Crain to Triple-A to start the season.

I would keep Crain around. If he pitches like he showed he's capable of in the minors, he'll be a great setup-man for Joe Nathan and the Twins need that more than anything right now. By keeping Crain (and Nakamura), that leaves only one spot open for Brad Thomas or Sean Douglass. They are both relatively young (Douglass is 25, Thomas is 26) and out of options, which means if you don't keep them, you risk losing them.

If I had to pick, I'd go with Douglass. I'd keep him around for mop-up/spot-start/long-relief duties, which is always needed. It's really a coin-flip choice over Thomas, but Douglass is younger and has had more success in recent years. I wouldn't argue with either one for the last spot.

Of course, the Twins will keep Helling and Offerman and Blanco, so none of this is based in reality. That said, my general rule is that I prefer unproven young guys over crappy old guys any day of the week, but maybe that's why I'm writing about what I would do if I were running things.

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