August 25, 2006

Link-O-Rama

  • Shockingly, this story isn't about me: "Teen Posed as Journalist to Get Into Stadium."

    Police arrested the 18-year-old Leli Friday night at Shea just before the start of the New York Mets-Colorado Rockies game and charged him with impersonating a journalist, the Queens District Attorney announced Saturday.

    Prosecutors say Leli told New York Mets management that he worked for NBC Universal and showed a fake NBC employee identification card so he could get press credentials.

    Here's my question: Is "impersonating a journalist" an actual crime? And if so, how many warrants are there out for my arrest?

  • Speaking of that, for a while I thought my new headshot over at RotoWorld was really bad. Then I saw Steve Bisheff of the Orange County Register. Suddenly my giant-head, neo-Nazi look is rather fetching.
  • Here's an interesting note about the Blue Jays from the Toronto Star:

    Clearly it is not as easy as it looks, leaving the employ of a major-league ballclub to become a baseball columnist. Ask Keith Law.

    In last night's blog posting on ESPN.com, Law, a former Jays special assistant to GM J.P. Ricciardi, officially became persona non grata with his former front office mates, stirring the pot surrounding the uncertain future of Vernon Wells in Toronto.

    "Vernon Wells has told Blue Jays' management that he has no intention of signing a contract extension to stay in Toronto," Law wrote online. "He and his family would like to move closer to his home in Texas, and he has become increasingly disenchanted in Toronto as he has faced public criticism from general manager J.P. Ricciardi."

    [...]

    "He's become a writer," Ricciardi said of the Harvard-educated Law. "It doesn't take long. Keith Law is officially an idiot."

    Having had the pleasure of going to lunch with Keith Law when he was in Minnesota to write an article about Joe Mauer earlier this year, that story amused me on a number of levels. Suffice it to say that if I were to draw up a list of "idiots," Law would be somewhere near the bottom.

  • Slightly closer to the top of that same list would be the Sporting News' Matt Hayes, who wrote a column earlier this month promoting the Cy Young candidacy of Tigers closer Todd Jones. The crux of Hayes' argument is that they once hung out together and Jones is "a true good guy." While that makes no sense, especially given some of the evidence against Jones' good-guyness, it's certainly no less convincing than the "he has a 4.53 ERA" argument.
  • What does it mean that a blog I frequent posted candid pictures of Elisha Cuthbert this week for the sole purpose of showing how unattractive she looked and it made her grip on Official Fantasy Girl of AG.com status even stronger?
  • Last week's Mariners-Phillies trade probably had marginal interest to most Twins fans, but it grabbed my attention because the deal involved one of the few professional baseball players who I've actually met. Single-A pitching prospect Andy Baldwin, a Minnesota native who did an interview with me at The Hardball Times, was traded to the Mariners for 43-year-old Jamie Moyer.

    A few days after the trade, I actually played baseball with Baldwin's dad, Bob Baldwin (he took me deep for a mammoth homer to left-center field). And then later that night, Andy made his Mariners system debut and took a no-hitter into the seventh inning. A 2004 fifth-round pick out of Oregon State, Baldwin now sports a 3.86 ERA and 104-to-23 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 154 innings at Single-A.

    I look forward to the day when the boys at U.S.S. Mariner can criticize manager Mike Hargrove for not using Baldwin correctly.

  • Here's one of those "you couldn't make it up if you tried" stories from the New York Times:

    For months, Annie J. Donnelly drove her blue Dodge Durango every day to MK Cards and Gifts near her home on Long Island and bet thousands of dollars on New York State Lottery games, sometimes buying tickets by the hundreds.

    [...]

    Yesterday, Ms. Donnelly, 38, admitted in Suffolk County Court in Riverhead where she had gotten the money she gambled: She embezzled $2.3 million in three and a half years on her job as the bookkeeper for a medical group practice, she said.

    The attorney prosecuting the case summed up my immediate reaction:

    "The irony is the total amount of money she stole is more than she would have won if she hit the lottery," said Donna M. Planty, an assistant district attorney in Suffolk County. "When I first got the case, I said, 'You've got to be kidding.'"

    It's always good to see someone making a late run at the top spot on the aforementioned Idiot List.

  • If I've said it once, I've said it a million times: Nothing is sexier than broken teeth.
  • Having watched Samuel L. Jackson's appearance promoting Snakes on a Plane on The Daily Show, I have to admit that it'd be refreshing if every actor involved in a horrible movie was that up front about exactly how horrible the movie is. Can you imagine Eddie Murphy or Kevin Costner or Ben Affleck doing the talk-show circuit to tell everyone what a steaming pile of crap their latest film is?
  • Presented without (much) comment: Jim "Shecky" Souhan of the Minneapolis Star Tribune was a guest on the August 19 edition of Baseball Prospectus Radio with Will Carroll. I didn't listen to the show, because ... well, I'm pretty sure my head would explode.
  • On the other hand, something I have listened to and strongly recommend is CardPlayer.com's semi-daily podcast, "The Circuit." Hosted by CardPlayer magazine's Scott Huff and poker pros Gavin Smith and Joe Sebok, the show is often amusing and has a ton of great guests from the poker world. If you're a wannabe poker player like me, you'll love it.

    There's an immense archive to get caught up on if you're interested. I'd suggest the shows featuring Phil Ivey, Phil Hellmuth, Barry Greenstein (who is Sebok's dad), Michael Mizrachi, Josh Arieh, Chip Reese, Daniel Negreanu, Haralabos Voulgaris, and Layne Flack. Plus, they even have an episode featuring Shannon Elizabeth, if you've ever wondered what it sounds like when three guys drool over someone for 45 minutes.

  • Speaking of poker, never before have I wanted to be a local celebrity quite this much:

    8th Annual Trent Tucker Celebrity Golf and Poker Tournament

    - Friday, September 8th: Celebrity Dinner and Poker Tournament at Canterbury Park

    - Celebrities scheduled to participate include: Michael Jordan, Phil Ivey, Johnny Chan, Patrik Antonius, Liz Lieu, Chris "Jesus" Ferguson, Scottie Pippen, Trent Tucker, Charles Oakley, Paul Allen, and Dark Star to name a few.

    - $2,500 Buy In (Dinner included)

    You'd think Michael Jordan would be the biggest draw among those names, but I'd rank him no higher than fifth. The top spot? That's easy if you've seen what Liz Lieu looks like. Incidentally, if anyone knows Trent Tucker, feel free to convince him to invite me. I'll be by far the least-famous person there and absolutely no one will be interested in meeting me, but at least I'll blog about the experience afterward.

  • I'm surprisingly unashamed to admit that I spent about 20 minutes of my life reliving my youth by playing an online version of Tecmo Super Bowl the other day. It was well worth it, if only to get the cheesy music and sound effects back in my head.
  • Least Shocking Headline of the Week: "Haley Joel Osment Charged with DUI." Given the paths Macauley Culkin, Danny Bonaduce, Dana Plato, Corey Feldman, Leif Garrett, Tatum O'Neal, Todd Bridges, and many others took after early stardom, the more surprising headline might have been: "Haley Joel Osment NOT Charged with DUI."
  • Last Friday in this space I posted my second annual "iPod shuffle" and challenged other bloggers to open themselves up to the same type of mockery by doing the same. As promised, here are links to the brave souls who did so:

    - A Place Called B.L.O.G.

    - D.A. Humber: Baseball Central

    - Many Highways

    - Garth's Blog

    - The Sporting Brews

    - Twins, not Twinkies

    - Wombat Rampant

    - Twins Junkie

    - Will's Title is Too Long

    If anyone else did the iPod shuffle on their blog and I overlooked it, let me know and I'll add it to the above list. Interestingly, not nearly as many people decided to tear apart my musical taste this time around, so it must be improving with age.


  • August 23, 2006

    Twins 4, Orioles 1

    The reaction to Matt Garza's big-league debut earlier this month is an example of why I tend not to get overly worked up about a single game. Garza gave up seven runs in 2.2 innings against the Blue Jays, and far too many fans and members of the media seemed willing to write him off as a bust, at least for this season.

    Both fans and the media tend to view prospects as unknown commodities, so much so that they often gravitate to one extreme or the other based on their first impression. For instance, if Garza had pitched well against Toronto two weeks ago, thoughts of Garza replacing Francisco Liriano alongside Johan Santana and Brad Radke in the playoff rotation undoubtedly would have been running rampant.

    Instead, he pitched poorly and thoughts of Garza being the next Adam Johnson immediately invaded a shocking number of minds. As usual, the truth is somewhere in the middle. Good or bad, one game means almost nothing in the grand scheme of things, particularly when that one game is a 22-year-old's first in the majors.

    Was Garza's debut a rough one? Absolutely. Was it reason enough for everyone to change their view of him as an elite prospect and a huge part of the Twins' future? Of course not. I tried to express that sentiment after watching Garza struggle against the Blue Jays, writing:

    There were still several positive things to be taken from the game. For one thing, his fastball was electric and his breaking stuff, while not thrown particularly often or with much consistency, was plenty impressive at times. In other words, Garza looked great on individual pitches, but the collective effort was very uneven and shaky.

    He looked incredibly nervous nearly the entire time, so much so that his actual delivery to the plate seemed out of whack. Garza appeared to be telegraphing his off-speed pitches by slowing down his delivery and changing his arm angle, which is surely why he had so much trouble finishing off at-bats once he got ahead in the count.

    [...]

    I expected more from Garza, but his debut was probably what should have been expected from a 22-year-old pitcher who was at Single-A a couple months ago. He flashed electric stuff, but showed a lot of nerves, some inconsistent mechanics, and the inability to finish off major-league hitters. Given a chance to settle in and work with pitching coach Rick Anderson, I expect Garza to improve quickly.

    To both Garza's and Rick Anderson's credit, that's exactly what has happened. Garza's second start, while unspectacular, was a significant step up from his initial offering. He tossed five innings of three-run ball against the Indians, finishing off at-bats to the tune of five strikeouts, keeping the ball in the ballpark, and generally staying out of serious trouble.

    His third outing was another step in the right direction, although the shape of Garza's outstanding performance against the Orioles last night was an odd one. If told that Garza gave up one run over six innings, I would have guessed that at least a half-dozen strikeouts were involved. In reality, Garza's only strikeout came when he threw a 95-MPH fastball past Corey Patterson in the second inning.

    In his first start, Garza got two-strike counts on eight hitters, but was able to finish just two of them off with strikeouts. In his second start, Garza put five hitters away in those situations. Last night, Garza stopped trying to miss bats and focused on pitching to contact. That may sound an awful lot like the approach Carlos Silva took on the way to serving up five homers Tuesday night, but it wasn't.

    Silva simply threw the ball over the heart of the plate and dared the Orioles to hit it as far as possible. Garza attacked hitters in and around the strike zone, but did so with quality, non-meatball pitches that induced ground balls and catchable flies. Garza was able to make that approach work because he pitched efficiently, looking for weak contact rather than strikeouts once he got ahead in the count.

    As a wise man once said:

    Don't try to strike everybody out. Strikeouts are boring. Besides that, they're fascist. Throw some ground balls, it's more democratic.

    Over the long haul, Garza's ability to rack up strikeouts is incredibly important and he figures to thrive at it. In the short term, it's impressive that he was able to switch gears, following up a horrendous first outing with back-to-back solid starts that held almost no resemblance to one another. The challenge going forward will be to produce a performance that combines those gears.

    Garza eventually wants to get ahead in the count, finish hitters off with two strikes, pitch efficiently, and induce weak contact when a strikeout isn't always an option. He's shown the ability to do all of those things already, but not in the same start. Much like when Liriano posted a 5.70 ERA in 23.2 September innings last season, Garza has mixed plenty of reason for optimism in with his 6.59 ERA thus far.

    Garza has shown an overpowering fastball, decent control, and quality breaking stuff, plus the ability to improve his mechanics with work and some calming of the nerves. He put himself in position to take advantage of the outstanding defense behind him last night, but also shook off a dangerous situation when Jason Bartlett booted a likely double-play grounder in the third inning.

    As Ron Gardenhire told reporters after Garza's first major-league win: "Our young guy did a heck of a job. He threw the ball fantastic." And there's a lot more where that came from.

    August 22, 2006

    Open Chat: More Conference Calling

    I receive a lot of odd e-mails because of this site, but here's a particularly strange one I got earlier this week:

    Subject: Your domain aarongleeman.com

    Greetings,

    I would like to buy your domain aarongleeman.com, if possible.

    If you are able to sell and release the rights to this domain please let me know. I am looking to buy within a week or two so let me know how much it would cost to take over this domain.

    Regards,

    Mike [Last Name]

    Amazingly, that's actually not the first time someone has attempted to buy AaronGleeman.com. Of course, I use "attempted" loosely. After all, it's tough to take something seriously when it's basically based upon sending out a form letter with no actual details.

    Imagine cold-calling people on the phone and leaving dozens of messages on random answering machines, saying: "I would like to buy your house, if possible. If you are interested, please let me know within two weeks." Think you'd get many of those calls returned?

    Being the shrewd businessman that I am, I replied that I would like $1.2 million for this site. I was going to say $100,000, but decided I might as well make the price completely ridiculous. Perhaps he'll start to question why I asked for $1.2 million rather than an even $1 million, and then decide it's worth paying the money to find out.

    I'm awaiting his response.

    In the meantime, I spent most of last night reading various informational material and doing reams of paperwork related to my new employment, and have a four-hour conference call scheduled for this morning. Seriously, a four-hour conference call.

    When combined with Carlos Silva serving up five homers to the Orioles last night and the Twins making Adam Loewen look like Sandy Koufax, hopefully you can understand why today's entry is on the light side. Hell, I haven't even had time to play Madden 2007 yet.

    As always, feel free to entertain yourselves in the comments section. If they give us some sort of intermission during the conference call, perhaps I'll stop in to answer any questions or break up any fights.

    August 21, 2006

    WPA Update: Six Weeks Left

    With a day off yesterday and right around six weeks remaining in the season, I thought today would be a good time for the fourth Win Probability Added update of the year. The previous three WPA updates have come after 18 games, after 56 games, and after 86 games. If you're interested in seeing how the Twins stacked up at those points in the season or you simply want to learn more about WPA as a stat, I encourage you to click on those links or visit Fan Graphs.

    The very short version is that WPA is the combined contribution made to increasing or decreasing the chances of winning each game. Each 50 points of WPA is worth one win above or below .500. In other words, someone with 100 WPA has pushed the team from winning 81 games to winning 83 games, while someone with -100 WPA has dragged the team from 81 wins to 79 wins. Pretty simple, right?

    Here are the Twins' WPA totals through 123 games:

    Joe Nathan            414          Josh Rabe              -3
    Justin Morneau 364 Willie Eyre -8
    Francisco Liriano 295 Brad Radke -11
    Johan Santana 291 Mike Smith -25
    Joe Mauer 240 Jason Kubel -29
    Juan Rincon 233 Lew Ford -31
    Michael Cuddyer 162 Matt Garza -43
    Dennys Reyes 97 Luis Castillo -59
    Jason Bartlett 75 Jesse Crain -59
    Pat Neshek 65 Boof Bonser -73
    Jason Tyner 58 Luis Rodriguez -90
    Nick Punto 48 Tony Batista -95
    Matt Guerrier 45 Scott Baker -119
    Ruben Sierra 27 Juan Castro -121
    Shannon Stewart 22 Kyle Lohse -147
    Mike Redmond 17 Torii Hunter -155
    Terry Tiffee 7 Carlos Silva -158
    Rondell White -186

    Joe Nathan has been the team leader in WPA for each of the four updates, which shouldn't be overly surprising if you stop to consider the season he's had. Nathan pitches almost exclusively in what are called high-leverage situations, which means he only comes into the game in important spots. In fact, his Leverage Index of 1.56 is by far the highest on the team, with only Juan Rincon (1.26) above 1.10.

    Not only has Nathan pitched in extremely tight spots all year, he's been nearly flawless while doing so. He's 6-0 with a 1.38 ERA in 48 appearances, has converted 25-of-26 save opportunities while holding opponents to a .172 batting average, and sports a 73-to-10 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 52 innings. He might be taken for granted, but because of Nathan the Twins almost never blow a lead and can take multiple shots at scoring to break ties while the other team is held in check.

    After Nathan comes the four players everyone would identify if asked to name the team MVPs: Justin Morneau, Francisco Liriano, Johan Santana, and Joe Mauer. Mauer ranking fifth on the team in WPA might seem odd, but it's important to remember that WPA measures only offensive contributions and doesn't adjust them for position.

    In other words, WPA shows Morneau as having had more of a raw impact offensively than Mauer, but that gap closes very quickly once you adjust for the fact that one plays first base and the other plays catcher. Not only is Mauer's defense significantly more valuable, his offense is considerably better than Morneau's when compared to the average performance of their respective positions.

    All of which is what makes Jason Bartlett's 75 WPA particularly impressive. Bartlett has played in just 60 of the Twins' 123 games, yet ranks ninth in WPA even without the light-hitting nature of shortstop and his outstanding defensive contributions thrown into the mix. Also noteworthy is that Pat Neshek has racked up 65 WPA despite being in Rochester until July, because with a 0.84 ERA and 32-to-3 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 21.1 innings he's been even more unhittable than Nathan.

    Much like Neshek, Jason Tyner has had a big impact in a short time, producing 58 WPA in 36 games. Tyner's overall hitting line of .323/.357/.353 isn't great, but he's come up with a lot of those singles in key spots. Toss in what has been very good defense in center field and left field, and Tyner certainly has a good case for being among the team's 10 most-valuable players. Seriously.

    At the other end of spectrum are the usual suspects, with Rondell White (-186), Carlos Silva (-158), Kyle Lohse (-147), Juan Castro (-121), Scott Baker (-119), and Tony Batista (-95) making up six of the Twins' seven least-valuable players. It's interesting to note that five of those six guys are no longer on the active roster, with only Silva remaining.

    Torii Hunter's inclusion as the seventh player in that least-valuable group would surely shock most Twins fans, but the relationship between his perceived value and actual value has been warped for some time. Hunter's overall line of .270/.343/.448 is solidly above average even without adjusting for position, but he's hit into rally-killing double plays, done poorly on the bases, and generally failed to come through in key situations.

    Hunter has hit .242/.338/.355 in "close and late" situations, .252/.329/.394 with runners in scoring position, and .274/.345/.428 with runners on base. Hunter's -155 WPA ranks ahead of only White and Silva as the third-worst on the team, because the timing of his contributions have rarely actually led to the Twins having a significantly better chance to win games.

    As usual, there is also a lot of interesting stuff to note away from the extremes. Backing up my claim yesterday that he's been a disappointment, Luis Castillo has produced a -59 WPA that ranks 11th on the team among hitters with at least 100 plate appearances. Luis Rodriguez has a -90 WPA in just 104 plate appearances thanks to coming up empty in many high-leverage spots as a pinch-hitter.

    Aside from Liriano and Santana, no other starter has had a positive WPA contribution, although Brad Radke's -11 WPA puts him on the verge of getting into the black. What's amazing is that Radke was at -116 WPA through 86 games, which means he's been worth 105 WPA since mid-July. That's what happens when you begin the season with a 7.44 ERA through 10 starts and then go 8-3 with a 2.62 ERA over your next 16 outings.

    Willie Eyre has an ugly 6.11 ERA in 45.2 innings, but because nearly all of his work has come in low-leverage situations his -8 WPA is relatively harmless. On the other hand, Jesse Crain has a 4.37 ERA in 59.2 innings, but has a -59 WPA thanks to being used in high-leverage spots and often coughing up runs.

    However, with the emergence of Neshek and Dennys Reyes, and the return of Matt Guerrier from the disabled list, Crain's Leverage Index has plummeted as he's become more middle reliever than setup man. Here's how the bullpen's Leverage Index numbers have changed from the 86-game mark to now:

    LEVERAGE INDEX         86G     123G
    Joe Nathan 1.54 1.56
    Juan Rincon 1.28 1.26
    Jesse Crain 1.03 0.87
    Dennys Reyes 0.53 0.74
    Pat Neshek ---- 0.58
    Matt Guerrier 0.56 0.54
    Willie Eyre 0.31 0.27

    The four constants in the bullpen have been Nathan in the ninth inning, Rincon in the eighth inning, Guerrier in middle relief, and Eyre mopping up. Those four relievers have barely seen any movement in their Leverage Index over the past 37 games. Meanwhile, Crain has been relegated to low-leverage spots, with Reyes' Leverage Index rising and Neshek emerging as Ron Gardenhire's preferred option in the sixth and seventh innings.

    Much like with the lineup when it came to dispatching guys like Batista, Castro, and White in favor of Bartlett, Nick Punto, and Tyner, the bullpen has steadily evolved. Crain began the year coming in with runners on base and the game in doubt or pitching extra innings, but he'd now be hard-pressed to find any work in a playoff series.

    As I've done to conclude each of the three previous WPA updates, here's what my WPA-based team MVP ballot looks like through 123 games after factoring in rough estimates for things like positional adjustments offensively, defensive value, and considerations for playing time:

    1.  Joe Mauer
    2. Justin Morneau
    3. Joe Nathan
    4. Johan Santana
    5. Francisco Liriano
    6. Juan Rincon
    7. Michael Cuddyer
    8. Jason Bartlett
    9. Nick Punto
    10. Brad Radke

    In terms of who the actual team MVP is, I think reasonable cases could be made for any of the top five players and similarly reasonable arguments could be made for any of those five guys ranking fifth in the balloting. I prefer Mauer at this point because of defense and the rarity of great-hitting catchers, but I wouldn't quibble much with Morneau as the choice and the difference between the three pitchers is almost non-existent in my mind.

    Rincon and Michael Cuddyer represent a clear second tier, providing the most value among Twins who aren't also AL MVP candidates. Bartlett and Punto are the third tier, with Bartlett moving up into the second tier if not for having wasted half the season in Rochester. The fourth tier is a fairly large group, which includes Radke, Reyes, Neshek, Tyner, Mike Redmond, Guerrier, and perhaps even Castillo.

    Good arguments could be made for any of those fourth-tier players being more valuable than Radke, but the fact that he's thrown 155 innings in a year when the team has struggled to find reliable starting pitching at the back of the rotation has a lot of value. Plus, I view the "replacement level" for starting pitchers as much higher than for relievers, which is why Radke slides ahead of Reyes or Neshek.

    In looking at the Twins' WPA numbers, it's no surprise that they now sit a half-game out of the playoffs with six weeks left on the schedule. They've gotten MVP-caliber performances from an astonishing five players, star-level production from two players, and have two other players who have been star-caliber since taking over on the left side of the infield. Beyond that, most of the weak links have been ditched, meaning even the team's weaknesses have been lessened heading down the stretch.

    August 20, 2006

    Notes from the Weekend

    I rarely have vivid dreams and almost never remember much about them when I do. However, I had a dream yesterday morning that was odd, detailed, and memorable. In the dream, I attended some sort of huge gathering at a packed stadium with Chuck Klosterman, with the draw being that Bill Simmons and Howard Stern were "answering questions from the audience" up on a large stage.

    Most of the dream consisted of Klosterman and I standing in the seemingly never-ending line to ask Stern a question, but at various points we were in the Simmons-asking line as well. I remember using my digital camera to take a bunch of pictures of Stern up on the stage as he answered questions, with Klosterman posing in the foreground.

    I repeatedly told Klosterman that my question to Stern was going to be: "With all the different copycats in morning radio these days, do you feel like you have to reinvent yourself all the time?" I also informed him that my question to Simmons was going to be: "What do you really think of Stuart Scott?" And throughout it all, SportsCenter played on this huge television screen behind me.

    Many people believe that what you dream is meaningful in terms of what your mind is truly focused on, so I can only imagine what such a specific, oddly detailed dream like that says about me. My initial reaction is that it must have something do with my new employment, but I'm not smart enough to take the analysis much beyond that.

    While I ponder exactly what dreaming about Klosterman, Simmons, Stern, and SportsCenter on a Sunday morning means, here are some notes about the weekend's Twins-White Sox series ...

  • Johan Santana wasn't at the height of his powers yesterday afternoon, but he was close enough. Santana fought off ongoing blister problems to turn in his fourth straight outstanding outing and is now 6-0 with a 3.21 ERA since the All-Star break. The win improved Santana to 15-5 with a 3.03 ERA on the year, but Roy Halladay stayed one win ahead of him for the AL lead by beating the Orioles.

    Along with ranking second in wins, Santana also leads the league in ERA, innings, strikeouts, and opponent's batting average. However, he likely faces an uphill climb for the Cy Young Award thanks to Halladay's 16-3 record. All of which isn't to say that Halladay won't end up deserving the award, just that it may not be a fair fight based on the voters' tendency to focus on wins above everything else.

  • The Twins were at their worst Saturday, making numerous mistakes defensively while their long-sequence offense wasn't stringing together the singles necessary for them to score runs. Fortunately, they were at their best during the other two games of the series, with Santana and the bullpen shutting the White Sox down and the lineup living up to Ozzie Guillen's "little piranhas" nickname:

    They can beat you in so many different ways. You wake up and say they're like little piranhas. Chk, chk, chk. You wake up and you don't have no meat, just bones. All those piranhas--blooper here, blooper here, beat out a ground ball, hit a home run, they're up by four. They get up by four with that bullpen? See you at the national anthem tomorrow.

    When I sit down and look at the lineup, give me the New York Yankees. Give me those guys because they've got holes. You can pitch around them, you can pitch to them. These little guys? Castillo and all of them? People worry about the catcher, what's his name, Mauer? Fine, yeah, a good hitter, but worry about the little [guys], they're on base all the time.

    Guillen gets a lot of heat for stuff he says, but I find him fascinating and a lot more intelligent than most people seem to give him credit for. The way he described the Twins' offense above is brilliant and something I would have been proud to write, which isn't something I've often said about a Ron Gardenhire quote.

  • As if taking two out of three from the White Sox wasn't enough to make it a good weekend, the Twins also got some good news on Francisco Liriano:

    It might be closer to mid-September before Liriano returns from the disabled list, if at all this season. Still, Twins orthopedic physician Dan Buss cleared him to take the next step by beginning a throwing program Tuesday.

    Buss re-examined Liriano's left shoulder and elbow Sunday for the first time since the team learned that the rookie All-Star has a strained elbow ligament.

    "He looks as good as he could possibly look given where he started," Buss said. "He's certainly done his work."

    Buss said Liriano's shoulder strength has improved, and based on the tests conducted Sunday, he felt no elbow pain.

    At this stage I'm more concerned about Liriano making 30 starts in 2007 than I am in him making four starts in September, but either way that's good to hear.

  • Torii Hunter came up with two big hits during the series, but continues to be shaky in center field. He continued to show a noticeable lack of range, misplayed several balls, flopped around in a futile effort to make the spectacular plays he's so used to making, and generally just doesn't look "right." Yet, Hunter's rapid decline defensively is being overlooked by the local media, who apparently have no ability to react to a "story" unless the Twins steer them towards it.

    It's not simply a matter of Hunter "losing a step," because that occurs gradually over time. Instead, he's instantly gone from being one of the best center fielders in baseball to being a liability. Hunter's age, multiple foot injuries, and recent stint on the disabled list provide plenty of foreshadowing and explanation, which makes it all the more disappointing that everyone covering the team continues to act like it's business as usual.

    If someone doesn't see that Hunter is struggling at this point, they're trying to not see. Hell, after watching Hunter whiff on a diving catch over the weekend, my mom asked: "Why don't they just move him to left field and put Jason Tyner in center?" When my mom can watch three minutes of a game and immediately supply a more critical, realistic view of the situation than the combined effort being produced by the mainstream media, you know something isn't right.

  • Mike Redmond taking Joe Mauer's place as catcher and No. 3 hitter certainly worked out yesterday thanks to Redmond's two-run single, and giving Mauer days off is crucial to keeping him fresh down the stretch. With that said, I'd like to see Gardenhire plan Mauer's days off a little better and be more willing to shuffle the lineup rather than stubbornly sticking to the "catcher always hits third" mantra.

    Mauer has improved significantly against left-handed pitching this season and is certainly an asset against them, but he's still far more effective against right-handed pitching. Given the high number of southpaws the Twins face by being in the AL Central, there's little reason for Mauer to be getting his days off against righties.

    JOE MAUER SPLITS

    CAREER AVG OBP SLG OPS 2006 AVG OBP SLG OPS
    vs RHP .346 .431 .538 .969 vs RHP .372 .460 .563 1.023
    vs LHP .268 .325 .319 .643 vs LHP .331 .394 .415 .809

    For his career, Mauer has been about 51 percent more effective against righties. He's closed the gap some this season thanks to a .331 batting average against southpaws, but he's still been about 26 percent better against righties this year. Meanwhile, the opposite is true for the right handed-hitting Redmond.

    MIKE REDMOND SPLITS

    CAREER AVG OBP SLG OPS 2006 AVG OBP SLG OPS
    vs RHP .273 .333 .338 .671 vs RHP .295 .325 .372 .697
    vs LHP .324 .379 .427 .806 vs LHP .396 .411 .491 .901

    Redmond has been about 20 percent better against lefties during his career, including about 29 percent better against them this season. Now, obviously it's not always possible to schedule Mauer's days off against a southpaw and I'm not even suggesting that he should have played over Redmond against Javier Vazquez yesterday.

    I'm suggesting that the Twins would be better off if they avoided playing him against a lefty one day and sitting him against a righty a couple days later. In fact, each time Mauer sits out against a right-handed pitcher is a tactical mistake that shows either Gardenhire doesn't recognize Mauer's sizable platoon split or isn't willing to plan ahead enough to take advantage of it.

    Gardenhire not only benched Mauer against the right-handed Vazquez yesterday, he stuck Redmond into the No. 3 spot. Redmond has hit .295/.325/.372 against righties this season and .273/.333/.338 against them during his career, which makes him ill-suited to hit anywhere but the bottom of the order. Gardenhire's decision worked well yesterday, but this is the sort of stuff that bugs me about him.

    For the year, 35 percent of Mauer's at-bats have come against lefties, while 61 percent of Redmond's at-bats have come against righties. There's room for improvement there and it's the sort of thing Gardenhire might figure out if he took a few minutes to examine at the situation. The Twins have a near-perfect catching combo, but only if they are utilized optimally.

  • Earlier in this very entry I commented on the local media's tendency to let the Twins steer them towards a story. Here's a good example, from Joe Christensen of the Minneapolis Star Tribune:

    Gardenhire mentioned several candidates for a promotion from Class AAA Rochester when rosters expand Sept. 1, including infielder Terry Tiffee, catcher Chris Heintz and speedy outfielder Andres Torres, who could be used as a late-inning base stealing threat.

    Christensen does an excellent job and that's certainly a worthwhile note, but it reeks of going straight from Gardenhire's mouth and into the newspaper despite the fact that it wasn't a direct quote. Saying Andres Torres "could be used as a late-inning base stealing threat" is obviously a throw-away line, but it's also something that Christensen shouldn't have simply taken Gardenhire's word on.

    While fast, Torres is a sub par base-stealer and not much of a threat, going 16-for-23 (69 percent) at Triple-A this season and 9-for-16 (56 percent) in 89 career big-league games. Instead of just passing along whatever comes out of Gardenhire's mouth, I'd love to see Christensen actually comment on Torres' base-stealing ability (or decide that it doesn't warrant mention).

    After all, if Gardenhire told reporters that the Twins were calling Terry Tiffee up from Rochester so they could potentially use him as a "middle-of-the-order power threat," that statement wouldn't just find its way into the newspaper. A little skepticism and a critical eye go a long way when it comes to the thin line between being a reporter and being a spokesperson.

  • With 508 plate appearances, Luis Castillo has triggered the $5.75 million option on his contract for next season. As discussed here several times, Castillo has been a disappointment. His defense has been inconsistent and not as good as advertised, and his .340 on-base percentage is mediocre and his worst since becoming a full-time player in 1999.

    Nagging leg injuries are clearly at least partially to blame for Castillo's disappointment performance. That may offer an excuse or explain how his season has gone, but it doesn't provide any reason for optimism going forward. Castillo turns 31 years old next month, and guys who rely on speed tend not to bounce back once they hit the wrong side of 30 and injuries start taking a toll on their wheels.

    With that said, paying Castillo $5.75 million in 2007 is far from the end of the world and there's little doubt that the Twins could find a taker for him during the offseason. I'd like to see the team explore trading Castillo, for a number of reasons that include payroll flexibility, the need to add power to the lineup, Nick Punto's presence.

    With Castillo declining and Punto improving, Punto is now a better version of Castillo than Castillo himself. Punto is also better suited to play second base than third base, both because his offense would be more of an asset there and his above-average range would actually be used. If the Twins enter next season with Punto as their starting third baseman, they'll have missed an opportunity.

  • Since I love to say "I told you so," here are Pat Neshek's numbers since being called up:
     G       IP      ERA     SO     BB     OAVG     OOBP     OSLG
    15 21.1 0.98 32 3 .100 .137 .186

    Neshek threw 60 innings at Rochester, which means he's on pace to throw about 100 innings this season. The last Twins reliever to throw 100 innings was Greg Swindell in 1997 and before that it was Juan Berenguer in 1990, which tells you either big-league relievers don't pitch enough or the organization's game plan for reliever usage doesn't really extend below the majors.


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