October 21, 2007

The Answers (Part 1: Baseball Questions)

Opening the floor up for questions last week led to over 100 being submitted between the comments section and e-mails. In an effort to respond to as many of them as possible, I'll tackle questions on baseball-related topics today and get to the non-baseball topics in a separate entry later this week.

When is the next installment of Top 40 Twins series coming out? What number are you up to now?

Hopefully soon, although unfortunately I've struggled recently to find enough time to do the research required for a proper write-up. The last profile in the series was Rick Aguilera at No. 18. Here's the full list of completed write-ups:

- #18 Rick Aguilera
- #19 Dave Goltz
- #20 Camilo Pascual
- #21 Gary Gaetti
- #22 Zoilo Versalles
- #23 Cesar Tovar
- #24 Shane Mack
- #25 Brian Harper
- #26 Eddie Guardado
- #27 Larry Hisle
- #28 Tom Brunansky
- #29 Kevin Tapani
- #30 Jacque Jones
- #31 Butch Wynegar
- #32 Al Worthington
- #33 Greg Gagne
- #34 Matt Lawton
- #35 Steve Braun
- #36 Dave Boswell
- #37 Jimmie Hall
- #38 Eric Milton
- #39 Scott Erickson
- #40 Randy Bush

Are you in favor of changing the "Mendoza Line" to the "Punto Line"?

That might have worked if not for a late-season surge pushing Nick Punto's batting average to .210. Plus, Punto has never actually hit below .200 in a season and carries a .245 career batting average, whereas Mario Mendoza frequently batted below .200 and was a career .215 hitter. Sorry.

What do you think of the structure of the baseball playoffs in general?

I'd be in favor of longer first-round series, fewer days off, and Wild Card winners being allowed to play a team from their division in the opening round. In particular, it bothers me that teams can typically rely on just 3-4 starters and 3-4 relievers in the postseason after needing five starters and 5-6 relievers throughout the regular season. People are often surprised that the strongest regular-season teams don't fare better in the postseason, but it's not always the same team.

What are the Twins going to do for bobbleheads next year now that there are no worthy players left undone?

Surely the Devil Rays still have a few Jason Tyner bobbleheads that the Twins could give out.

What do you think is the biggest niche left to be filled in the Twins blogging community?

There are a lot of possibilities, because most Twins blogs tend to focus on day-to-day issues that don't really qualify as a niche. The one niche that I'd love to see filled is Twins history. Will Young does some good historical stuff and I dabble in it with the Top 40 Twins series, but there's room for a lot more focus on and analysis of things that have already happened.

What types of pitches and/or velocity ranges produce ground-ball pitchers and fly-ball pitchers?

There are people capable of providing much better answers to this question than me, but I'll offer up a simplified version. Pitchers who throw four-seam fastballs and change-ups (Johan Santana, Cole Hamels, Pedro Martinez) typically produce fly balls. Pitchers who throw two-seam fastballs, which are often called "sinkers" (Brandon Webb, Carlos Silva, Greg Maddux), typically produce ground balls.

Be honest, you'll miss the Metrodome a little bit, right?

Not one bit.

Under Tom Kelly and during Ron Gardenhire's early tenure, the Twins were always a fundamentally sound team. With their recent baserunning errors, inability to bunt, etc., who is to blame?

The manager is almost always given the bulk of the credit when a team thrives at the fundamentals, so it seems logical that the opposite should also be true.

Do you see the Twins getting rid of Gardenhire after next season if the team doesn't make the playoffs?

I very much doubt it, although the odds are perhaps slightly greater with Bill Smith replacing Terry Ryan. Ron Gardenhire has a .550 winning percentage and the Twins have employed two managers over the past 20 years.

Should the Twins extend Jason Kubel now while he is cheap?

Any time a team decides that a young player is going to be a big part of their future, they should attempt to sign him to a long-term contract that buys out some of his free agency. I'm not sure whether or not the Twins consider Jason Kubel a big part of their long-term plans yet, but as a 25-year-old who batted .273/.335/.450 despite an awful start they should.

Should Michael Cuddyer be extended?

In a perfect world, sure. But Michael Cuddyer is a good player, not a great one, and once those types of players get close to free agency they tend to be overpriced for the Twins.

If you were hired as Twins general manager, where do you think you'd rank among the 30 GMs?

Dead last, probably by a wide margin. I have no experience within baseball and no experience as an administrator. Being a general manager extends far beyond simply making trades and evaluating players, which is a big part of why Ryan stepped away from the job.

There's no doubt that Torii Hunter runs his mouth, but why does it bother you so much?

I don't mind that Torii Hunter is a quote-machine who loves speaking to the media, because that's a positive trait. It bothers me when he criticizes teammates through the media, often unfairly. It bothers me that he disingenuously spins his future plans. And it bothers me when media members give him a free pass based on his willingness to provide them with quotes. I'm sure that Hunter is a good person, but he acts like a jerk and a phony a lot more often than most fans are able to realize or willing to admit.

What are reasonable expectations for Francisco Liriano next season?

The list of pitchers who've undergone Tommy John surgery is so long at this point that it's really not even worth offering up case-by-case comparables for Francisco Liriano. A huge fraction of pitchers have had the surgery, with the success rate checking in at something like 90 percent. Most pitchers return to their previous level of effectiveness and some pitchers surpass it. The latest updates on Liriano sound very encouraging and barring a setback he'll be more than ready for spring training.

It's going to be tough for many fans to keep their expectations for him "reasonable" given what he did as a rookie, but I'd say that the Twins and Liriano should be incredibly happy with his first season back if he can simply pitch 150 innings without suffering another serious injury. If he can pitch those innings as the same unhittable pitcher that he was in 2006, then that's just a bonus, but it's far from a disaster if it takes some time for Liriano to regain his ability to dominate.

Who's the most overrated Twins prospect?

I'd say Denard Span or Matt Moses, just because many people are still under the impression that they have bright futures.

What would Santana's win-loss record have been if the Twins had produced as a league-average offense during his starts, given the rest of his peripherals?

Santana definitely deserved much better than his 15-13 record. He turned in 21 Quality Starts, yet got stuck with a loss in seven of them to rank third among all MLB pitchers in "tough losses." On the flip side, 54 different MLB starters picked up at least one "cheap win" and Santana wasn't one of them. Santana allowed four or fewer runs in all but three of his 33 starts and the AL as a whole scored 4.9 runs per game, so it's safe to say that he could easily have had 18-20 wins with average support.

The Twins wouldn't bring back Jacque Jones on the cheap to play center field, would they?

I don't know if they would or not, but they should definitely be willing to consider it. Jacque Jones has one year and $5 million remaining on his contract, and the Cubs seem willing to part with him. The Gordon Wittenmyer love letter to Jones that was covered in this space last week was embarrassing, but he'd be a fine short-term solution for the Twins' hole in center field.

Is it a good idea for the Twins to pursue Barry Bonds as a designated hitter?

Would it be a good idea? Yes. Will the Twins do it? I highly doubt it. Many people are quick to overlook Barry Bonds' on-field performance because it hurts their agenda, but he batted .276/.480/.565 this season. Putting his bat in the Twins' lineup would improve the offense far more than any other move that the team could make this offseason. Of course, given the money it would likely take and the fact that both Bonds and the Twins would have to be interested in him playing in Minnesota, it's a long shot.

Can you believe that LaTroy Hawkins will be pitching in the World Series?

Absolutely. LaTroy Hawkins was horrendous as a starter early in his career, but he's been a very good reliever for nearly a decade. Hawkins has turned in a better-than-average ERA in seven of his eight seasons working out of the bullpen, posting a 3.35 ERA while holding opponents to a .255/.311/.376 hitting line in 553.2 career innings as a reliever. During his final two seasons with the Twins, Hawkins combined to go 15-3 with a 1.99 ERA in 157.2 innings.

Do you see Smith doing anything different than Ryan, preferably going after more offense now that we have pitching?

It's nearly impossible to speculate about what type of general manager Smith will be at this early stage, but compared to Ryan he almost can't help but take more risks and focus more on offense.

What is your opinion of the designated hitter rule?

I like the designated hitter, although it should be noted that I'm a lifelong fan of an American League team who was born in 1983. With that said, I'd be in favor of both leagues adopting the same rules whether it meant pitchers or designated hitters batting.

Looking at the Twins' payroll going ahead, why does everyone assume that they have to trade Santana?

Because, rightly or wrongly, many people assume that every star player on a small-payroll team will eventually leave for a big-payroll team due to money. Given the money that they've paid to players like Hunter and Brad Radke in the past, and the fact that the payroll increases on an annual basis, paying Santana in excess of $20 million per season is certainly feasible for the Twins.

Can stats be used to explain everything in baseball?

Not even close.

Can a person cherry pick stats to prove his or her point?

To "prove" it? No. To attempt to prove it? Sure.

If a player has a bad year, one where injury isn't a factor, can he come back and have a great year?

Of course. This happens every season.

Is there anything that can prevent Smith from signing Pedro Feliz?

Sure, money. Pedro Feliz is similar to the player that Tony Batista was in his prime, so he's someone I'd have expected Ryan to pursue via free agency. I'm hopeful that Smith won't go after Feliz, but it's probably a moot point given that several teams seem likely to pursue him after four straight 20-homer seasons.

Why do baseball writers and television analysts say and write "RBIs" instead of "RBI" to indicate multiple runs batted in? The plural is in the "runs."

There are differing views on this, with some major newspapers and websites using "RBI" and others using "RBIs." Because the acronym itself has become a word, I'm of the opinion that "RBI" is what's being pluralized. Thus, I write "five RBIs" instead of "five RBI." It's the same reason that I'd write multiple prisoners of war or multiple weapons of mass destruction as "POWs" and "WMDs."

Do you really think that Alexi Casilla should be the Twins' second baseman?

Yes, although I'd bet on Punto having the job coming out of spring training. Alexi Casilla had a very disappointing season, putting up modest numbers at Triple-A before struggling mightily with the Twins. However, he's just 23 years old and is a career .298/.368/.374 hitter in the minors despite being young for nearly every level he's been at. In time Casilla looks capable of providing an above-average on-base percentage with outstanding speed and strong defense at second base.

What does his impressive showing in xFIP for 2006 and 2007 mean for Felix Hernandez? Does xFIP favor Hernandez too much, or does it indicate Santanian dominance in his future?

Felix Hernandez is among the best young pitchers to come along in decades and the fact that his xFIPs don't match his ERAs shows that he's been inconsistent and hurt by the Mariners' defense. Some people view Hernandez's 30-25 record and 3.94 ERA as disappointing because of the massive hype that he received, but the opposite is actually true. A pitcher who wins 30 games with a sub-4.00 ERA and 3-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio before his 22nd birthday has a tremendously bright future.

Is it possible for the Twins to win the AL Central in 2008? If so, how?

Absolutely. Regardless of how frustrating the 2007 season was, the Twins still boast some of the best top-level talent in all of baseball and can make significant improvements by simply adding depth in the form of players who're merely average. Remember, Cleveland finished fourth last year and the Twins finished third in 2005. With that said, the division is much stronger than it was earlier this decade and in particular the Tigers, Indians, and Royals are setting themselves up very well for the future.

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

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