February 28, 2005

Working Man

I start a new job today, one that'll keep me busy six mornings a week. Don't worry (or celebrate) though, I'll still be babbling about stuff here and at The Hardball Times on a near-daily basis. And, of course, my new gig involves writing about baseball too (what else do you think I'm qualified to do, exactly?).

I'm not sure if my employers are for or against revealing the identity of the man behind the curtain, so to speak, but if you see some Luis Rivas bashing and Johan Santana worshipping going on over at Rotoworld's "Player News" section, you'll have a pretty good idea why.

Meanwhile, a few notes ...

  • A lot of you have e-mailed me over the past few months, wondering why I didn't have an RSS feed for this blog. To be honest, the main reason was that I had no idea what an RSS feed was or why anyone would want me to have one. But going with the premise that the customer is always right, I have finally given in and set one up for this blog.

    There is now a link to the feed near the top of the sidebar -- the button labeled "SYNDICATED" right under the visitor counter -- although I don't know enough about RSS feeds to figure out if it's set up properly or not. So if you're someone who uses such things, please let me know if it's working correctly.

    The next big step in renovating the blog is to enable comments on selected entries, which is a very simple thing to accomplish in theory. However, when you've continuously monkeyed with a blog's template over the course of three years without really knowing what you're doing, it apparently makes some otherwise simple things difficult.

  • Have you ever gotten a phone call from someone so completely out of the blue that it took you a few moments just to figure out what exactly was going on? Last night a college friend of my mom's called me because her husband has created and developed a pretty intriguing new baseball product. (We also somehow got into a discussion about Hilary Swank's teeth, but that's beside the point.)

    It is called "Pitch Tracker" and is described as "a new and innovative pitching location training system." In other words, it is a device that acts as home plate and tells you exactly where a pitch crossed the plate. Sort of like a miniature version of Questec, except without guys like Curt Schilling and Tom Glavine wanting to destroy it with their bare hands.

    Here are a couple pictures:

    So if you're a coach or a player or the GM of a team and you think this looks as interesting as I think it does, go check out PitchTracker.com. While you're there, tell 'em Judi's kid sent ya.

  • Finally ... the response to The Hardball Times Baseball Annual was so overwhelmingly positive that we've decided to come out with a second book. This one is called The Hardball Times Bullpen Book and it is available only as an "e-book."

    It can be purchased for the low, low price of $5 and the profits will be used to continue to provide all the cool (and costly) stats we make available to you on the site for absolutely free, so I think it's a very worthy cause. For more information, check out our little sales pitch over at THT.

  • No One Likes A Bad Beat Story

    I decided to play in a $50+$5 no-limit hold 'em tournament on Party Poker over the weekend. A total of 490 players entered, putting the prize pool at $24,500. I started out poorly, losing a hand with AK and then with JJ, but minimized my losses with a couple of nice post-flop laydowns. I slowly built my stack back, and then doubled up a couple times to get into a comfortable position. Then I found myself in a pivotal hand.

    With two players having already limped into the pot, I looked down and found two black kings out of the big blind. Sitting with about 10,000 in chips with 55 players left in the tournament and the blinds at 300/600, I raised it to 2,000 and got one caller. The flop came Q73, rainbow. I bet out 2,500 into a pot of 4,900 and was quickly called. The turn was a jack. I bet the rest of my stack, which was around 5,500, and was called after a slight hesitation. My opponent turned over J8 unsuited.

    That means he called a 1,400 raise before the flop with a horrible hand and then called 2,500 after the flop with absolutely nothing. It also means I had a pair of kings against his jacks with one card to come, giving him a grand total of five outs in the entire deck. In other words, unless he spiked one of the two remaining jacks or one of the three remaining eights, I would double up to a little over 20,000 in chips.

    I'll let you take a wild guess as to what happened next. A jack hit the river, giving him three-of-a-kind and knocking me out of the tournament five spots from the money. I was too stunned to get upset at the time, but it has really been eating at me ever since. I played the hand in what seems to me like a smart way, my opponent played it absolutely idiotically, and I was in a position where I had all my chips in the pot with an 88.6% chance of winning with one card to come.

    Had I doubled up, I would have been in excellent position to finish high up in the money, where first place got over $6,000 and second place got almost $4,000. Instead I got nothing, and as I left the table, the moron who sucked out on me and took all my chips said, "Thanks for holding my chips for me."

    What a cruel game.

    On a less infuriating note, I participated in a roundtable discussion previewing the American League Central over at the new Rich Lederer/Bryan Smith combo blog, Baseball Analysts. Bryan, Rich, THT's Brian Borawski, and I chatted about baseball's worst division and the end result is hopefully pretty interesting to read. Plus, it's a promising new site from two of my favorite online writers, so go check it out.

    Today at The Hardball Times:
    - Closer (by Studes)

    February 25, 2005

    Long Weekend

    I'm taking today off, but I wanted to post one little note: Thanks to everyone who responded to my request for insomnia sufferers and experts earlier this week. I got far more e-mails on the subject than I expected, which makes me think that a large part of this blog's popularity might be tied to the fact that most of you are just looking for something to read in the middle of the night. Shocking, I know. Anyway, my goal is to get back to everyone who responded over the weekend, so if you haven't heard from me about it yet, please be patient.

    Here's some reading for the weekend:
    - Coming to America (Part Two)
    - Larkin for the Hall?
    - Ryan's Q&A
    - Spring Has Sprung
    - Gardy's Q&A

    See ya Monday.

    February 23, 2005

    Ryan's Q&A

    As mentioned here yesterday, Terry Ryan participated in a live "chat" over at TwinsBaseball.com yesterday afternoon. He said very little of substance -- far less than Ron Gardenhire revealed in his Q&A over the weekend -- but since it's the end of February and I'm starting to really get baseball fever, there is enough to at least discuss.

    On Joe Mauer's knee and the team's backup plan at catcher:

    Our first alternative would be go with Mike Redmond and probably Matt LeCroy. Certainly, we'd have to keep an eye on anybody that might be available through the course of spring training. So far so good. Mauer is doing fine and going through all the drills. We haven't had any problems.

    The noteworthy thing here is that Ryan still thinks of Matthew LeCroy as an option at catcher, albeit an emergency option. At the end of last season the team went out and got a 97-year-old Pat Borders just to avoid having LeCroy catch once a week.

    On the middle infield situation:

    Punto hasn't shown he can be healthy enough yet, durable enough. The shortstop position is wide open. At second base, we have confidence Rivas can take the next step, we'll give him every opportunity to do that.

    If the Twins have done anything with Luis Rivas, it is certainly "give him every opportunity." I'm sure that breakout year is right around the corner too, because plenty of players have very little success in the minors, put together four awful seasons in the majors, and then suddenly become stars.

    Nick Punto's freak collarbone injury sure has given him the "injury prone" label in the team's eyes, whether fairly or not. And it doesn't help matters that he is now having back problems this spring. As for shortstop being "wide open," I guess we'll find out whether that's the truth if Jason Bartlett puts together a strong spring. I'm inclined to think Juan Castro will be starting on Opening Day unless he gets hit by a bus down in Fort Myers or Bartlett hits like .850 with 20 homers and flawless defense.

    On Justin Morneau's health:

    He has had a number of things happen to him this winter. Wisdom teeth removed, appendix removed -- he had chicken pox and now's he got a little bit of a lung problem. He should arrive today or tomorrow. Hopefully, we'll get him enough strength to be ready by Opening Day.

    When I hear "hopefully" used in connection with a star player being ready to for Opening Day ... well, it isn't very encouraging. Between Jason Kubel's exploding leg, Mauer's bum knee, and Morneau's laundry list of issues ... ugh.

    On the team's plans for Eric Munson:

    I would say he will provide some depth at third, first, catcher and DH. He's a left-handed bat off the bench.

    This is about the fourth of fifth time I've seen Ryan or Gardenhire go out of their way to describe Munson as a bench bat, so I am guessing (hoping?) Michael Cuddyer's hold on the third-base job is a little more secure than some may think. Of course, if the curse on Morneau isn't lifted, the Twins may need Munson at first base.

    On whether or not Lew Ford is the everyday designated hitter:

    No -- he'll rotate amongst others. He'll play left, center and right. And he'll DH.

    I think this is mostly due to Ford being viewed as a young player (despite being 28) and the fact that teams are reluctant to name young players everyday DHs. On the other hand, it may also be the first sign that they are going to value defensive ability over Shannon Stewart's feelings, which is a good thing. Every inning Ford gets in the outfield instead of Stewart is a plus.

    On what sort of baseball writing he reads:

    I certainly read Baseball America, Baseball Weekly, The Sporting News and the Internet. I read newspapers every day from around the country. Most baseball books on the market -- "Moneyball" is a good baseball book. Any scouting information you can get is good.

    First, Ryan is the only person I know of who didn't cancel their subscription to Baseball Weekly when it changed to Sports Weekly. Either that or he hasn't realized it changed, since he is still calling it "Baseball Weekly."

    Aside from that, I am intrigued by the fact that he called Moneyball "a good baseball book" and admitted to both owning a computer and reading stuff about baseball on the internet. By my rough estimation, those two admissions bring the chances of him having ever read this blog up to roughly 0.000005%.

    Hi Terry! Keep up the good work.

    Today at The Hardball Times:
    - Coming to America (Part Two) (by Aaron Gleeman)

    February 22, 2005

    Spring Has Sprung

    Similar to that nonsense with the groundhog and his shadow, Luis Rivas has watched the first ground ball of the year bounce just past his outstretched glove, and so despite it still being below freezing here in lovely, snow-covered Minnesota, we know spring is officially upon us.

    In other, less surprising Twins news ...

    Joe Mauer came away from his first workout of the spring feeling good, which means his knee has passed the first test. Only a couple hundred more aced tests and he will have had himself a healthy season. And yes, that's me being unnecessarily pessimistic, as usual. According to Mauer himself, "It was a good first day."

    On the other hand, Grant Balfour and Justin Morneau aren't feeling quite as good. Balfour, who missed time last season with shoulder problems, has what is being called a "tender right forearm." Meanwhile, Morneau apparently had an awful winter. According to Ron Gardenhire, Morneau had chicken pox, appendicitis, and a lung infection that led to pneumonia, all since the Twins were knocked out of the playoffs by the Yankees. And here I thought I had a rough winter because my favorite team signed Juan Castro.

    La Velle E. Neal reported in the Minneapolis Star Tribune that Morneau "was too sick to travel" when the Twins asked him to show up to camp early and still hasn't arrived. It is obviously better to have these problems in late February, rather than late March, but the Twins need Morneau to have a big season and hearing that a 6'4", power-hitting first baseman is "too sick to travel" after ordering one of everything from the sickness menu during the offseason ... well, it doesn't exactly match the first few pages of the script I had in mind for Morneau's first full season.

    In other news, Rivas is completely healthy and got to camp nice and early.

    The Twins will likely open the season with an 11-man pitching staff and every spot has already been reserved. This is good news, as 11 pitchers is more than enough, particularly during the first month of the season. Plus, they apparently won't need a fifth starting pitcher until a few weeks into the year, which in addition to giving more starts to the front four guys, should give Joe Mays a little extra time to work himself back into shape.

    And finally ... Twins GM Terry Ryan will be doing an online chat at TwinsBaseball.com this afternoon, starting at 1:30 Central time. I'll be heading to class around then, but brave souls with nothing better to do should ask him something challenging and hope he answers it.

    Perhaps something like: "On a scale of 1-10, exactly how stupid would someone have to have been to heavily criticize the Shannon Stewart-for-Bobby Kielty deal?" Or maybe: "How many years have you agreed to keep Rivas around for in order for him to destroy those compromising pictures he has of you?"

    Today at The Hardball Times:
    - Larkin for the Hall? (by Aaron Gleeman)

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