April 19, 2007

Twins Notes

  • Not only did Jeff Weaver let the Twins knock him around for seven runs Tuesday night, he provided an amusing quote afterward when asked about the slider Torii Hunter hit for a fifth-inning grand slam:

    That's the pitch that made the difference tonight. I've faced Torii a bunch of times, and I've had some success with the slider.

    I won't waste time quibbling over the definition of "some success," but it's worth noting that Hunter has hit .480 with an .880 slugging percentage in 27 career plate appearances against Weaver. Given those numbers, I'd love to see who Weaver doesn't think he's had "some success" against with his slider.

  • Justin Morneau returning to the scene of last season's supposed epiphany in Seattle means that stories about his turnaround haven't been hard to find this week. The two best versions that I've read are Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports with the national angle and the Official Twins Beat Writer of AG.com, LaVelle E. Neal III of the Minneapolis Star Tribune, with the local angle.
  • One of the best local sports columnists in the country, Larry Stone of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, tells the interesting story of how good scouting and a little luck helped both the Twins and Mariners get their hands on Venezuelan aces. I'm hoping that the Mariners also have a little luck when it comes to Felix Hernandez's elbow injury last night.
  • It's nice to know that Scott Ullger isn't the only third-base coach in the league making questionable decisions in key spots, but how many more jams can a suddenly hittable Joe Nathan wriggle out of thanks to the other team's baserunning? Opponents batted .158/.212/.242 in 262 plate appearances against Nathan last season. So far this year, they're at .419/.455/.548 in 33 plate appearances.
  • Longtime AG.com reader Tim Kolehmainen covers the Twins' Double-A New Britain affiliate for the Meriden Record-Journal in Connecticut. He'll also be blogging about the Rock Cats, whose Opening Day roster includes AG.com top-40 Twins prospects Anthony Swarzak, David Winfree, Jay Sawatski, Jose Mijares, Trevor Plouffe, Brian Duensing, Brandon Roberts, and Garrett Guzman. With a bunch of good content already, Kolehmainen's blog is a must-read for prospect buffs.
  • For as much credit as pitching coach Rick Anderson deserves regarding Ramon Ortiz's strong start--and I'm willing to nominate him for sainthood if it continues much longer--it's interesting to note that Kyle Lohse has thrived away from Anderson's tutelage. Lohse tossed eight shutout innings while racking up a career-high 12 strikeouts Sunday, giving him a 2.53 ERA and a 19-to-2 strikeout-to-walk ratio this season. Since being dealt to the Reds last year, he has a 4.06 ERA in 84.1 innings.
  • As you might expect, I don't anticipate having to make that nomination. Within Ortiz's 3-0 record and sparkling 2.05 ERA are signs that his improvement is far from sustainable. For instance, Ortiz has managed to strand 87.2 percent of the runners he's allowed to reach base through three starts, which is simply not going to last. To put that in some context, consider that Johan Santana left about 78 percent of his runners on base over the past three years, while Ortiz stranded about 72 percent.

    Similarly, Ortiz has seen 80 percent of the balls put in play against him converted into outs thus far. The Twins' defense is good, but no defense is that good. Over the past three seasons, the Twins turned 70 percent of balls in play into outs and Ortiz himself also had about 70 percent of his balls in play find gloves over that span. If a team is able to convert 72 percent of balls in play into outs during a given year, it's typically good enough to lead all of baseball. Eighty percent is not even close to sustainable.

    None of that takes away from what Ortiz has already done, of course. In fact, for as much as I hated the decision to sign Ortiz, what he's done through three starts goes a long way toward making it a successful move regardless of what happens from here on out. With that said, all the talk of Anderson working a miracle and Ortiz turning into a new pitcher is extremely premature, because the underlying numbers within his performance suggest that he's been extraordinarily, unsustainably lucky.

  • For the second straight year Terry Ryan spoke to a sports law group at the University of Minnesota's law school, for the second straight year Ryan said a bunch of interesting, revealing stuff while there, and for the second straight year longtime AG.com reader Barry Metropolis blogged about being there to hear it.

  • Once you're done here, check out my latest "Daily Dose" column over at Rotoworld.

    April 16, 2007

    Fun With Numbers: 12 Down, 150 To Go

    Note: All numbers are courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and are current through Sunday's action.

  • At 7-5, the Twins are one win ahead of where they were at this same point last year. Past records through a dozen games under Ron Gardenhire: 6-6 in 2006, 8-4 in 2005, 8-4 in 2004, 6-6 in 2003, 7-5 in 2002.
  • The Twins have hit a combined .254/.310/.372. That looks pretty bad, especially when compared to the .287/.345/.425 they hit last year, but it's important to note that offense is down throughout baseball. The AL as a whole has hit just .250/.321/.390, which is way down from .275/.339/.437 last season and means the Twins are just slightly below the league average in batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage.
  • Of course, the flip side is that while the Twins have somehow managed to post the exact same 3.95 ERA that they had while ranking second in the AL last season, it's good for just ninth in the league this time around.
  • In 2006, AL teams averaged 4.97 runs per game while the Twins averaged 4.94 runs scored and 4.22 runs allowed. So far this season, AL teams have averaged 4.39 runs per game while the Twins have averaged 4.08 runs scored and 4.00 runs allowed.
  • The Twins have hit .264/.340/.372 against right-handed pitchers, .239/.262/.371 against left-handed pitchers, .250/.302/.353 with runners on base, and .258/.302/.342 with runners in scoring position.
  • After ranking fourth in the league with 34 triples last season (one every 165 at-bats), the Twins have yet to hit a three-bagger in 390 at-bats. The only other AL team without a triple is the White Sox, who've gone 351 at-bats without one after ranking 12th in the league with just 20 last season.
  • On the other hand, after ranking 11th in the league with 275 doubles last season, the Twins already have 25 two-baggers to rank second in the AL behind only the Blue Jays. Torii Hunter leads the team with eight doubles, which puts him on a record-shattering 108-double pace and explains how he's slugging .523 despite just one homer. Hunter's career-high is 37 doubles, set in 2002 and 2004.
  • The Twins rank 10th in the AL with seven homers and only Justin Morneau has gone deep more than once. Morneau leads the team and ranks tied for third in the league with four long balls, while Hunter, Michael Cuddyer, and Luis Rodriguez have each gone deep once. Incidentally, if you take out Morneau's contributions, the Twins are hitting .249/.298/.339 as a team. For his career, Juan Castro is a .232/.271/.339 hitter.
  • Not only do the Twins lead the league with 12 steals, they've yet to be thrown out. By comparison, the Devil Rays rank second with 11 steals, but have been thrown out 11 times.
  • With 30 walks in 12 games, the Twins rank tied for 12th in the AL. The Mariners are the only team with fewer walks than the Twins, in large part because bad weather has limited them to just eight games. The Indians, who've played just nine games, have drawn 13 more walks than the Twins. Ryan Howard of the Phillies has drawn 16 walks by himself.
  • Dennys Reyes has the worst ERA on the team at 11.25, yet has appeared in a team-high seven games. Joe Nathan ranks second on the team with six appearances, followed by Matt Guerrier, Pat Neshek, and Juan Rincon with five each. Guerrier leads the team with 8.2 relief innings.
  • Joe Mauer is hitting .325, but has just two RBIs thanks to a modest .375 slugging percentage and just seven at-bats with runners in scoring position. Luis Castillo and Nick Punto sport OBPs of .304 and .214 in front of Mauer. Mauer sports a .400 OBP in front of Cuddyer and Morneau, which is how he leads the team with nine runs scored.
  • Positional OPS ranks among AL teams:
             OPS      RANK
    C .708 5th
    1B .982 1st
    2B .525 13th
    SS .509 12th
    3B .461 14th
    LF .384 13th
    CF .872 4th
    RF .911 5th
    DH .752 6th

    As you can see, the "piranhas" aren't doing a whole lot.

  • Nathan faced 262 batters last season, going 7-0 while allowing 38 hits. He's faced 28 batters this season, going 0-1 while allowing 10 hits.
  • Ramon Ortiz and Carlos Silva have yet to serve up a homer in 22.2 combined innings after allowing 63 homers in 371 innings last season (one every 5.9 innings).
  • Jason Bartlett has committed four errors in 87 innings at shortstop, but the rest of the position players have combined to play errorless defense. The only other error on the team belongs to Reyes.
  • After walking 24 batters in 100.1 innings last season, Boof Bonser already has eight walks in 15.2 innings this year.
  • Cuddyer has gunned down three baserunners in 102 innings in right field after totaling 11 outfield assists in 1,227 innings last season.
  • Among AL hitters, Morneau ranks third in homers (4), fifth in slugging percentage (.622), total bases (28), and RBIs (10), sixth in extra-base hits (7), and ninth in OPS (.982). Cuddyer ranks fourth in hits (16), seventh in runs scored (9), and eighth in batting average (.356). Hunter leads the league in doubles (8) and steals (4), and ranks second in extra-base hits (9).
  • Among AL pitchers, Johan Santana leads the league in strikeouts (25), ranks second in wins (2), and fifth in innings (20). Bonser leads the league in homers allowed (5) and ranks ninth in strikeouts (15). Silva ranks third in ERA (0.77). Ortiz ranks second in wins (2). Nathan ranks fifth in saves (3).

  • Once you're done here, check out my latest "Daily Dose" column over at Rotoworld.

    Notes From the Weekend (Condensed Version)

    Note: Some real-life stuff has me short on time, so unfortunately this write-up of the Twins' weekend series against the Devil Rays doesn't contain anything from Sunday's game and is a little short on material, period. I'll try to make up for it tomorrow, but until then I figured something was better than nothing.

  • Coming into Friday's matchup with the Devil Rays, Johan Santana hadn't lost a regular-season game at the Metrodome since August 1, 2005. During that 20-month stretch, Santana was 17-0 at home and the Twins were 24-0 when he took the mound. Toss in the team's 10-game home winning streak against Tampa Bay and the Devil Rays were seemingly the least likely opponent to break his historic streak.

    Instead, Scott Kazmir shut the Twins' lineup down and the defense behind Santana let him down, ending his amazing run with a 4-2 defeat. Despite the loss, Santana again bucked his career-long trend by pitching well in April, racking up 10 strikeouts over seven innings. He's 2-1 with a 3.60 ERA, 25-to-6 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and .194 opponent's batting average in 20 innings. Those numbers fit perfectly with Santana's career totals, but they stick out compared to what he's done in April.

    Through three starts in his first Cy Young-winning season, 2004, Santana was 0-0 with a 6.46 ERA and 10-to-3 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 15.1 innings. Through three starts in his second Cy Young-winning season, 2006, Santana was 0-2 with a 5.71 ERA and 12-to-6 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 17.1 innings. For his entire career, Santana was 6-5 with a 4.42 ERA in 132.1 April innings coming into this year. Home loss or not, to see Santana pitching this well so early is unique.

  • Following the same strategy employed earlier this season by Sam Perlozzo of the Orioles and Ozzie Guillen of the White Sox, manager Joe Maddon stuck three left-handed hitters in the Devil Rays' lineup against Santana. Maddon even laid out his plan to reporters prior to the game, quoting the same "backwards" splits that I've discussed here, which show that show Santana's been significantly better against righties than lefties during his career.

    Carl Crawford, Akinori Iwamura, and Carlos Pena didn't have much success against Santana, going 1-for-8 with a walk and three strikeouts, although it was Crawford's sixth-inning single that Josh Rabe turned into an inside-the-park homer. Santana has held lefties to a .179 batting average thus far, but has allowed a .710 OPS against them, compared to a .534 OPS against righties. Of course, it's so early that Rabe's misplay alone raised Santana's OPS allowed against lefties over 100 points.

  • Once upon a time--after he hit just .208 in his first 255 at-bats against left-handed pitchers and was beaned by lefty Ron Villone--there were concerns about whether Justin Morneau would ever learn to hit southpaws. Suffice it to say that question has been answered. After launching a mammoth homer off Kazmir Friday, Morneau is hitting .316 with a .789 slugging percentage against lefties, which follows a .315/.345/.559 line against southpaws last season.
  • After the Yankees knocked him around for eight runs in his Twins debut last week, I wrote that Sidney Ponson "pitched reasonably well" despite "being squeezed by the home-plate umpire," and suggested that "with a little help from the defense ... Ponson could have ... turned in five or six decent innings." Quite a few readers understandably scoffed at that notion, but that's exactly what happened against the Devil Rays Saturday night.

    Ponson pitched much like he did against the Yankees, yet turned in a start that fits perfectly in the "five or six decent innings" category. He allowed two runs over 5.1 innings, although to be fair it took some help from both the defense and the bullpen for him escape without further damage. Ponson also benefited from a much more liberal strike zone, which helped limit the potential for trouble. His 8.18 ERA remains ugly, but Ponson's actual pitching has been somewhat encouraging.

  • Once you're done here, check out my latest "Daily Dose" column over at Rotoworld.

    April 12, 2007


  • After examining this collection of assorted pictures featuring NBA players' wives and girlfriends, my conclusion is that Kevin Garnett has done very well.
  • If for some strange reason you only watch one eight-minute video about botched wrestling moves this week, make it this one. Brock Lesnar's part is my favorite.
  • Joey Gathright might be stuck at Triple-A after spending most of last season in the majors, but at least he can jump over a parked car (which is especially amazing after you watch the Lesnar clip).
  • The Official Twins Beat Writer of AG.com, LaVelle E. Neal III of the Minneapolis Star Tribune, had an amusing note earlier this week about how the unusually cold weather still impacts the Twins despite the Metrodome's presence:

    Some players--especially those from Latin American countries--have never driven in snowy conditions in the Twin Cities. That subject was brought up to Twins catcher Mike Redmond, who was a teammate of Twins second baseman Luis Castillo with the Florida Marlins.

    "Considering I'm not even sure Luis knows how to even get to the ballpark, it will be tough for him, let alone to drive in the snow," Redmond said. "I would want to alert the Minneapolis-area commuters that Luis Castillo would be driving in the snow, because that would be scary. Truly scary."

    Castillo, who has never driven in the snow, was unaware of the forecast. "I don't know what I'm going to do," he said. "I better go slow." By the time the Twins took the field for early stretching, Redmond had promised to bring Castillo to the park today.

    Luis Castillo made it to the ballpark for the game in question and scored what proved to the game-winning run against the Yankees.

  • It's been a great week for Official Fantasy Girl of AG.com candidates, both past and present. Jessica Biel is in some new Nicolas Cage movie, wearing towels and bed sheets. Jessica Alba is in some new Dane Cook movie, wearing bubbles and bed sheets. Jenna Fischer is in a new Will Ferrell movie, but she's not wearing bed sheets. She is, however, giving interviews about "12 hours of constant boob play" as it relates to this video (don't worry, it's safe for work).
  • I tend to criticize a lot more than I praise when it comes to the local media, so I want to make sure to point out what a fantastic job Joe Christensen of the Star Tribune did Thursday in debunking Jon Heyman's misleading and ultimately inaccurate report about Johan Santana on Sports Illustrated's website. I recapped most of the details in this space yesterday, but it certainly warrants a second mention.

    My job at Rotoworld requires me to read the local newspaper coverage of every major-league team on a daily basis, which is a big part of why I've come to respect and appreciate the work LEN3 and Christensen do covering the Twins for the Star Tribune. I've gotten used to them doing solid work based on good reporting, but Christensen using his new blog to release information well ahead of the newspaper's print edition is a nice little bonus.

    To compare Christensen's follow-up with Heyman's original report is like a "do" and "don't" of sports journalism. Heyman used baseless speculation to produce a report that made little sense, while Christensen spoke directly to the source and got a clear denial along with interesting facts that hadn't been revealed previously. He's understandably hesitant to criticize a fellow reporter too much, but in using his blog to walk us through the process of investigating Heyman's claims, Christensen wrote:

    It just isn't true. La Velle, [Jim] Souhan, and I started working our sources and came to realize just how off-base the SI report was.

    Christensen expressed some frustration that he had to waste an entire day "chasing a non-story," but in the end his hard work quickly squashed a false rumor and means that we know more about Santana's ongoing contract negotiations than we did before.

  • While Christensen is using his blog to break stories and dispense important information, LEN3 is apologizing for the lack of content on his blog:

    I certainly expected to do more with this blog than post lineups. Bear with me for a few more days as I try to get on a schedule here. I haven't unpacked from spring training yet.

    I still have high hopes for LEN3's blog, but I'm not surprised that he's found it difficult to be a good blogger while taking care of a full-time writing job. Welcome to my world.

  • If this trend continues much longer, pretty soon all us bloggers won't be the only ones writing about games from our parents' basement.
  • I'm sure most of my season-long Twins predictions from Opening Day will end up being wrong, but "Dennys Reyes will see his ERA quadruple" is sadly looking a little too good. While posting a 0.89 ERA last season, Reyes allowed a total of five earned runs in 50.2 innings. It took him just three innings to allow five earned runs this year.
  • The Big Lead is one of my must-read blogs and their interviews with mainstream media members are perhaps my favorite blog-produced series. The questions are so good and the interviewees are usually so willing to give honest answers that they're interesting to read whether I've heard of the person previously or not. This week's version, with Mike Vaccaro of the New York Post, is a perfect example.
  • Ramon Ortiz and Carlos Silva have combined for a 1.34 ERA in 26.2 innings spread over four starts, and even Sidney Ponson wasn't quite as bad as his horrible first-start numbers suggests. It's a long season, so two weeks and a total of five starts aren't going to change my overall opinion, but so far at least Terry Ryan has been very right and I've been very wrong. As Ortiz said after beating the Yankees Wednesday, "You know what happened? I've got a good pitching coach."
  • I'm a sucker for a pretty girl in a baseball hat, even when it's the Yankees.
  • The Twins finally unveiled the official plans for their new ballpark yesterday, but for whatever reason I'm not overly thrilled with how everything looks. It seems like more of a hitter's ballpark than I would have liked to see and the overall design leaves something to be desired even ignoring the lack of a retractable roof. With that said, it beats the hell out of the Metrodome and I'm already looking forward to Opening Day, 2010.
  • It's not quite George Foreman naming all five of his sons George Edward Foreman, but Kelvim Escobar's two sons are apparently named Kelvim Jr. and Kevin.
  • With their bullpen somewhat thin due to minor injuries, the Twins called up Glen Perkins from Triple-A prior to last night's game and demoted Chris Heintz. The move means Ron Gardenhire will go from making the mistake of putting both Joe Mauer and Mike Redmond into the lineup against right-handed pitchers (like he did Monday against Carl Pavano) to making the mistake of being afraid to use both of them against left-handed pitchers (like he did last night against Casey Fossum).

    For all the talk about how much flexibility Heintz supposedly added to the roster, his only action came in a blowout loss to the Yankees. In reality, all Heintz did was temporarily remove Gardenhire's irrational fear of losing the designated hitter, which is both unlikely to happen and far from a disaster if it does. And for all the talk about how having Heintz around was important because it would make it easier to give Mauer time off, he started at catcher in each of the first nine games.

  • Perhaps it just seems this way relative to the person being replaced, but ESPN's new ombudsman is off to a surprisingly good start.
  • Former Twins prospect J.D. Durbin has very specific tastes, but he may have to go looking for what he likes in Pawtucket after the Red Sox claimed him off waivers from the Diamondbacks (who claimed him off waivers from the Twins) with the sole purpose of sneaking him through waivers themselves.
  • Finally, if you haven't already, please check out my call-in reports for NBCSports.com's "Fantasy Fix" show. On Tuesday I talked to co-hosts Gregg Rosenthal and Tiffany Simons about the storylines from the season's first week, and on Thursday we discussed what some early-season performances mean for various players.

  • Once you're done here, check out my latest "Daily Dose" column over at Rotoworld.

    April 11, 2007

    Don't Believe Everything You Read

    In a report published yesterday afternoon that predictably has Minnesotans atwitter and my e-mailbox overflowing, Sports Illustrated's Jon Heyman wrote the following about Johan Santana's ongoing contract negotiations with the Twins:

    The Twins may be fighting a losing battle in their efforts to extend Johan Santana's four-year, $40 million contract, which expires at the end of next season. A league source told SI that Minnesota recently offered to add two years to the deal, at around $18 million per season, plus a club option for 2011.

    That offer, however, falls well short of the seven-year, $126 million figure that Barry Zito received from the Giants this winter and virtually assures that Santana, the Koufax of his generation, will be the hottest free agent in the class of '08. Having set this past Opening Day as his deadline for securing a new deal, Santana has told the Twins that he won't negotiate again until he hits the open market -- when, it should be added, he will only be 29.

    First of all, the idea that something happening right now, in the spring of 2007, can "virtually assure" what Santana's actions will be when he has the ability to become a free agent, in the winter of 2008, is iffy at best. Beyond that, I've seen absolutely zero evidence that Santana set a deadline of "this past Opening Day" and "won't negotiate again until he hits the open market." The presence of those statements within Heyman's report makes me question the validity of the entire thing.

    With that said, if there's some truth behind what Heyman is reporting and the Twins really offered Santana a two-year extension worth $18 million per season, he has every right to be frustrated with the negotiations and every right to question whether something will get done before he hits the open market. I'd go so far as to say that offering Santana a two-year extension with an option for a third season isn't a "negotiation" at all. Or at least not a serious one.

    Even if Santana loves playing for the Twins and wants to remain in Minnesota for the rest of his career, asking him to accept less than half of what he'll make on the free-agent market is silly. Why would he sign a two- or three-year extension now when he can have teams lining up to give him seven- or eight-year deals worth in excess of $125 million after next season? Terry Ryan and the Twins surely realize that as well, which is another reason to think Heyman's report is off base.

    Sure enough, mere hours after Heyman's report was first posted on SI.com, Santana denied just about everything in it. Making perfect use of his blog on the Minneapolis Star Tribune's website to get the information out long before the print version of the newspaper could have, Joe Christensen reported that Santana "has not cut off negotiations with the Twins" and "directly refuted" Heyman's story. And how does Christensen know that? Because unlike Heyman, he actually talked to and quoted Santana:

    I'm wondering who said that because as far as I know I haven't talked to anybody about anything. And I'm pretty sure that you guys [Twin Cities reporters] would be the first to know because you are always around. So it doesn't make any sense that any of you would make those kind of comments.

    I tell [the Twins] the sooner the better. You know, it's up to them to make something happen. So I've got a good relationship with them so whatever they want to do. But they said it's a team policy they don't negotiate during the season. They made that clear with Morneau and the other guys. If that's the way it is, that's the way it is.

    I'm not a rule breaker, so if they want to break their own rules, it's up to them, it's not up to me. I'm not closing the door. If I was closing the door, I would have said I'm out of here. I've never said anything like that. So it's always there. Like I said, we haven't talked about anything. That's why I’m surprised. I don't negotiate through the media.

    In other words, nothing significant has changed in the contract talks, Santana never set any sort of deadline to negotiate, and he remains open to staying in Minnesota long term. Santana also added that Heyman's report "doesn't make any sense" and told Christensen that he'd "like to definitely do something longer" than a two-year extension. Asked about the possibility of giving the Twins a "home-town discount," Santana responded:

    I'd say yes, but it's not up to me. It depends on the length of that contract, too. It depends on how many years they're willing to offer.

    Like any good reporter would, Christensen followed up by asking Santana how many years he wants:

    I'm going to be honest with you. I would like to stay here forever. Now, how many years would they be willing to offer? I don't really know. Hopefully I could do lifetime. That would answer your question because that's what I would like to do.

    Not only do Santana's words contradict just about everything in Heyman's report, they're consistent with what he's been saying for months now about wanting to remain in Minnesota for the rest of his career. At the end of the day the Twins are still going to have to come up with a lot of money over a lot of years to make that happen--which is why talk of a two-year extension at $18 million per season is silly--but it's clear that Santana is willing to work with them if the deal they offer is competitive.

    If the Twins fail to come up with a long-term contract offer that's at least in the same ballpark as what Santana is assured of getting on the free-agent market, then they're essentially making the decision for him. Given what a unique, once-in-a-generation talent Santana is and what little Ryan has said publicly about the situation, I have a hard time believing that's already the case with nearly two years to go before Santana actually becomes a free agent. Of course, that won't stop the rumors from swirling.

    Once you're done here, check out my latest "Daily Dose" column over at Rotoworld.

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