June 15, 2004

Reader Mail (Shame On You Edition)

My e-mails have been piling up lately, ever since I got my new laptop (thanks again to everyone who contributed to the fund!). So, to help clear out the ol' mailbox, here are a couple reader e-mails ...

From Dave, in response to yesterday's article over at The Hardball Times about Jacque Jones' struggles against left-handed pitching:

Quite simply, the Twins don't win when Jacque is on the bench.

This year, the Twins are 1-3 in the games he hasn't started.

And how can you possibly forget their 1-11 record last year when Jacque was on the DL?

Stat-heads can't explain things like this, so they just ignore it.

Shame on you.

First of all, I'm not a big fan of the one-sentence-per-paragraph approach to e-mails. Second, I have a hard time taking someone seriously when they conclude an e-mail about Jacque Jones with the phrase, "Shame on you."

Despite those two things, let me try to address this in a reasonable manner ... In short, if you are someone who believes there is great significance to the Twins being 1-3 with Jones out of the lineup this year or that their horrific 1-11 stretch before the All-Star break last season was due to Jones' stint on the disabled list, then there isn't much I can do to talk you out of it. It's an unreasonable stance to take, in my opinion, but clearly Dave doesn't think much of my opinion anyway.

One thing I would point out regarding their 1-11 record with Jones out the lineup is that Dave conveniently ignores what they did in the two weeks prior to that. Jones missed from July 1 to July 16, during which time the Twins did indeed go 1-11. However, with Jacque Jones in the lineup from June 14 to June 27, the Twins went 3-8. Also, in the 14 other games Jones missed in 2003, the Twins went 8-6.

Here's another stat that I figure Dave might get a kick out of ...

As I discussed in yesterday's article, Jacque Jones became an everyday player for the Twins when Ron Gardenhire took over the team in 2002. Since then, check out Minnesota's record against right-handed pitching (which Jones hits well), compared to their record against left-handed pitching (which, as was the point of my entire article yesterday, Jones does not hit well):

                 W       L     WIN%

vs. RHP 159 97 .621
vs. LHP 60 70 .461

Since Jones started playing everyday, against righties and lefties, the Twins have won 62% of their games against right-handed starting pitchers and just 46% of their games against left-handed starting pitchers. That means they've been 35% better against pitchers who don't make Jones look like Rey Ordonez at the plate.

So, Dave, you stick with your stats based on 16 games, and I'll go with three seasons worth of complete data. Of course, I'm not blaming the Twins' struggles against lefties since 2002 on Jones, just as I'm not making him the cause of their 1-3 record this season when he sits out or their 1-11 slide heading into the All-Star break last year. Doing so would be silly.

I just get offended when someone like Dave tries to "out-stat" me. It's funny too, that Dave would use a statistic to support his argument, and then mock someone for being a "stathead." Tisk, tisk, Dave. Shame on you, indeed.

Here's a far better e-mail from a long-time reader, MLO, regarding my article from earlier this week about Eric Milton and Carlos Silva:

You seemed at a loss to understand how a Twins fan would do anything but back flips over the Milton for Punto, Silva and cash deal (ok, we didn't get cash cash, but we unloaded salary). You wondered what the average fan thinks -- well, as a Twins fan (only) I think I'm pretty average.

Everything you say about the trade, how it unloaded salary and got us Nick Punto and Carlos Silva is correct. Silva has pitched very well and I hope it continues. Punto is a serviceable middle-infielder. It was probably a smart baseball move. But one-third of a season is far too short of a time frame in which to conclude that Silva is better than Milton, or as good as Milton. And, really, I don't want to hear it, as much as I do like watching Silva pitch. And one-third of a season is too short of a time to become attached to Silva, or to forget Milton.

The heart of the matter is this: is there any way you can justify the trade on its merits, without mention of the money it saved? Of course not. No matter how you slice it, the core the transaction is the Twins lack of money. And while I can acknowledge that the trade makes reasonable financial sense, my emotional attachment to the home team runs deeper than giving me the opportunity to play arm-chair-general-manager.

In brief, we got Milton with a bunch of other minor leaguers because we had to dump an established star in his prime. With the "wait 'till next year" mentality, we looked to the promise of the minor leaguers we got in the Knoblauch deal with the hope that they could develop into front line players for the home team. We invested our hopes that Eric Milton would blossom as a Twin, not as a Philly. If he does well in the majors, I wanted it to be in a Twins uniform.

He goes on to describe a long history of Twins trades involving "dumping" higher priced guys to save money, but I'll stop here and address the above, because otherwise this entry would turn into "MLO-length."

One of the things that separates an "average fan" from ... I dunno, let's say an "advanced fan" (I tried to think of a better word and I just couldn't), is the ability to see beyond the on-field stuff. An average fan has grown attached to Eric Milton and also sees Milton at 8-1 and Silva at 7-3, and they think "I wish we still had Milton, that was a bad trade."

An advanced fan sees that the pitchers are a lot closer than their won/loss records indicate, and that the difference in their salary has huge ramifications and cannot be ignored. Trades are not made in a fantasy world, they are made in a real world, where teams have payroll issues and players can leave via free agency.

Would it be nice for the Twins to have kept Eric Milton until he retired? Of course. But he's not worth $9 million this season, especially not for a team with a $55 million payroll. Milton is also a free agent after the season and Carlos Silva, thus far, is doing just as well for about 4% of the cost.

MLO asks (and then answers), "Is there any way you can justify the trade on its merits, without mention of the money it saved? Of course not."

I disagree here. Eric Milton is a 28-year-old pitcher who came into this season with a career ERA of 4.76. Even his best ERA, 4.32 in 2001, is nothing special. On top of that, he pitched a grand total of 17 innings last season and also missed time in 2002, all because of a serious knee injury. And, as I just mentioned, he had the ability to leave the team after the season.

Meanwhile, Carlos Silva is a 25-year-old pitcher with a career ERA of 3.83 coming into this season, albeit as a reliever. In addition to him, the Twins got Nick Punto, a 26-year-old utility player. This isn't some lopsided trade, and if you think it is then you definitely think a whole lot more of Eric Milton and his league-average pitching than I do.

And, of course, asking if you can "justify the trade on its merits, without mention of the money" is interesting, but ultimately meaningless. There are only about 2-3 teams for which money is, essentially, not an issue, and the Minnesota Twins will never be one of them.

Incidentally, if you go back to the Chuck Knoblauch trade and trace all of its impact, it's fairly interesting. Here's what the Twins have gotten out of Chuck Knoblauch, so far ...

- 6 seasons and counting of Cristian Guzman, in which he has hit .265/.303/.379 in 755 games.

- 6 seasons of Eric Milton, in which he went 57-51 with a 4.76 ERA in 987.1 innings.

- 3 seasons of Brian Buchanan, in which he hit .258/.319/.428 in 143 games.

- 1 season and counting of Carlos Silva, in which he has gone 7-3 with a 4.00 ERA in 81.0 innings.

- 1 season and counting of Nick Punto, in which he has hit .268/.388/.268 in 22 games.

- 1 season of Danny Mota, in which he went 0-0 with a 8.44 ERA in 5.1 innings.

- Jason Bartlett, currently in the minor leagues.

- Bobby Korecky, currently in the minor leagues.

Now, there is no doubt that, like the Milton trade, the Knoblauch trade was made for reasons other than simple, on-field stuff. However, that does not mean it can't still be a good trade.

Chuck Knoblauch played in 619 games after leaving the Twins, hitting .265/.356/.389. He was never as good with the Yankees as he was in his best seasons in Minnesota, and he eventually had to be moved to the outfield and then DH, before playing his final big league game at the age of 33.

In exchange for Knoblauch, the Twins got Guzman, who has been their starting shortstop since 1999, six seasons of Eric Milton, three years of Brian Buchanan and a few odd games of Danny Mota. And those are just the four guys they directly received from New York.

They traded Buchanan to the Padres for Jason Bartlett, a player I think has a chance to be very good and perhaps our starting shortstop or second baseman as soon as 2005. They also dealt Milton to the Phillies for Silva, Punto and a minor leaguer named Bobby Korecky.

In a couple years, maybe they'll deal Bartlett or Silva or Punto or Korecky, and this whole trade will keep growing. The point is, deals are not made in a fantasy world and sometimes they are done for reasons that go beyond purely baseball, but that doesn't keep a deal from being a good one.

Would the Twins have liked to have kept Knoblauch for the rest of his career? Absolutely. Did they do okay by trading him? I think so.

Would the Twins have liked to have kept Milton for the rest of his career? Sure. Did they do okay by trading him? Definitely.

New article at The Hardball Times: The Magic Twenty (Left Field)

Today's picks:

Chicago (Maddux) -105 over Houston (Redding)

Chicago (Schoeneweis) +125 over Florida (Pavano)

Detroit (Maroth) +160 over Philadelphia (Myers)

Anaheim (Lackey) -120 over Pittsburgh (Fogg)

Colorado (Jennings) +210 over Boston (Schilling)

Total to date: -$2,835

W/L record: 99-136 (3-2 yesterday for +90. Hello Drop, meet Bucket. Bucket, this is Drop.)

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

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