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.

October 18, 2007


  • Charley Walters' columns in the St. Paul Pioneer Press are usually pretty short on substance to begin with, but his note this week about Torii Hunter might be his finest work yet:

    If the Twins can't re-sign free agent Torii Hunter, plans are to trade, sign a free agent or go in-house to find his center field replacement.

    In other words, Walters has confirmed that the team plans to put a player in center field next season.

  • Derek Jeter is clearly extremely broken up about the Yankees' early playoff exit and Joe Torre not returning as manager.
  • Normally it would be surprising if a high-profile baseball announcer revealed in an interview that he doesn't usually watch baseball games--"typically I find myself doing other things ... I just read about them the next day"--but given Joe Buck's air of bored ambivalence as FOX's postseason play-by-play man it makes a lot of sense. Of course, in Buck's defense it's got to be tough when your partner is repeatedly saying stuff like this.
  • Someone really needs to tell DeShawn Stevenson that you can get a perfectly nice STD for a lot less than $10,000 these days. Or not.
  • Adrian Peterson was the lead story on ESPN.com yesterday afternoon, with Jeffrey Chadiha giving some national attention to Purple Jesus following his record-breaking game against the Bears. With a matchup against Dallas coming Sunday, here's what Cowboys coach Wade Phillips said when asked about Peterson:

    I think people were saying [Gale] Sayers and [Eric] Dickerson, kind of a combination there. That's what he looks like to me. He's got that shift of gears like Sayers had and of course he has that tremendous speed that Dickerson had; somewhere in there. I was there George Rogers' rookie year and I was there Earl Campbell's rookie year and those guys were amazing and had great years and this guy is right up there with them.

    In terms of running style and immediate impact, the Eric Dickerson comparison is a pretty good one.

  • She's long been in the running for the title, but here are 12 reasons why Keeley Hazell is a legitimate Official Fantasy Girl of AG.com candidate.
  • Earlier this week over at Baseball Think Factory there was a largely negative discussion thread about a recent Bill Simmons column and a poster who goes by the name of Harvey's Wallbangers wrote the following:

    Aaron Gleeman mocks a writer at the Star-Tribune for his "lame" pop culture remarks in the writer's column yet clearly adores Simmons. In five years if Simmons has been unable to make a transition will Gleeman still be complimentary?

    Similar sentiments have occasionally been posted in the comments section here and the randomness of bringing my name up in the Simmons thread makes me think that they came from the same person. Anyway, it's often difficult to explain your feelings about something as subjective as writing or comedy, but the short version is that Simmons strikes me as funny, entertaining, and likable. Souhan is, to me at least, none of the above. In baseball terms, it's the same reason that not all .250 hitters are equal.

    If a designated hitter bats .250 with zero power and no plate discipline, he's a whole lot less valuable than a Gold Glove shortstop who bats .250 with 50 homers and 100 walks. To me Souhan is like the .250-hitting DH in that he brings very little to the table along with his hit-or-miss pop-culture references and attempts at humor. He's not consistently funny or capable of particularly good analysis, and he's not the world's greatest story-teller. Souhan hits an empty .250.

    Meanwhile, Simmons also fills his columns with pop-culture references and attempts at humor, but the difference is that he's actually funny, entertaining, and likable. Whether the question is how I can like Simmons and not Souhan or how I can praise one .250 hitter while criticizing another, the answer basically boils down to "one is good and the other isn't." I won't delve any further into my oft-stated dislike of Souhan, but I will point to this video of Simmons doing ... well, just watch:

    Perhaps it's projected feelings about myself, but it's my experience that many writers are disappointing outside of writing. As I've said many times, I got into writing partly because it doesn't involve talking, and I'm guessing that I'm not alone. Simmons' massive popularity means that he could no doubt do tons of radio and television if he chose to, so the fact that he doesn't suggests that he might feel similarly. In fact, the above video begins with him saying, "I'm terrible at TV, why did you make me do this?"

    Of course, the video actually shows Simmons coming across almost exactly as he does in print--funny, quick-witted, personable--and his weekly podcasts on ESPN.com are fantastic for the same reasons. That might not seem so remarkable, but for many and perhaps even most writers it is. All of which is to say that Simmons is far from perfect and open to criticism, but strikes me and a huge number of people as funny, entertaining, and likable in print, on radio, and now in videos. Souhan? Not so much.

  • Speaking of funny, entertaining, and likable, Los Angeles Magazine recently published an extremely lengthy and well-done article about one of my favorite people, Adam Carolla (who, coincidentally, is good friends with Simmons). I highly recommend reading it, although you might have to set aside a half-hour to do so. While it's far less lengthy, the USC school newspaper also has an interesting article about Carolla recently serving as a guest lecturer for a "business of entertainment" class.
  • Another of Carolla's friends--and the man who's ultimately responsible for getting him into show business--has reportedly been banned from Monday Night Football for goofing on fired announcer Joe Theismann while in the booth for this week's game. As you might imagine, Jimmy Kimmel isn't very broken up about the news: "Technically, couldn't you say Joe Theismann has also been banned from Monday Night Football?"
  • Seth Meyers of Saturday Night Live was a guest on Simmons' podcast last week and Simmons pitched him a sketch idea based on the annoying Dane Cook playoff commercials. Meyers said that he liked the idea after hearing a 30-second pitch and sure enough SNL did the sketch:

    While the sketch wasn't especially funny, it's amusing that Simmons' random idea got on television within about 72 hours of him half-jokingly pitching it to someone on a podcast. Plus, Cook isn't funny either and he's on TV all the time.
  • I feel much better about having watched Office Space a dozen times now that I know it could be worth $250,000.
  • Acquired by the Twins in the mid-1998 trade that sent Greg Swindell and Orlando Merced to the Red Sox, John Barnes was named the organization's Minor League Player of the Year in 2000 after hitting .365/.438/.565 in 119 games at Triple-A as a 24-year-old. He went 13-for-37 (.351) over an 11-game stint in Minnesota that September, but saw a total of 64 plate appearances with the Twins before being lost on waivers to the Rockies the next season and never played in the majors again.

    Hitting .365 in 2000 was a massive fluke in the context of his entire career, but Barnes likely deserved more of a chance to sink or swim in the majors given that he hit .303/.364/.448 in 960 minor-league games spread over a decade. Now 31 years old he's given up on becoming a major-league outfielder again, but is trying to get back to the big leagues as a knuckleball pitcher. Here are Barnes' combined numbers since moving to the mound two seasons ago:

     G     GS        IP      ERA      SO      BB     HR     OAVG
    41 31 187.2 4.46 153 153 18 .225

    A 153-to-153 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 187.2 innings is obviously ugly (and Barnes also plunked 27 batters), but his .225 opponent's batting average shows that he's plenty tough to hit and knuckleballers can't be judged like traditional pitching prospects. For instance, during his minor-league career Tim Wakefield posted a 4.83 ERA and 204-to-180 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 393 innings, which isn't the sort of performance that would normally portend a 15-year, 168-win (and counting) career in the majors.

  • I stick to baseball and football over at Rotoworld and only occasionally write about the Timberwolves in this space, but despite that Sergio Gonzalez of CBSSports.com was kind enough to invite me to participate in a massive 30-team "experts" fantasy basketball league. I drew the No. 1 pick for the first time in any fantasy league, which sounds good until you realize that with 30 teams--rather than the usual 10 or 12--you don't end up going again for another 59 picks.

    Grabbing LeBron James is fun, but grabbing LeBron James and then watching as essentially every star or quasi-star comes off the board long before it gets back around to you is slightly less fun. You can follow along with the snail-like draft on CBSSports.com and once the season begins you'll be able to see just how out-classed I am when going up against guys who actually write and talk about basketball for a living.

  • Last week's Link-O-Rama included a Minneapolis Star Tribune article about the increasingly lengthy commutes that some Minnesotans are taking to work earlier and earlier each morning. A reader passed along a link to an article on the same basic topic by Nick Paumgarten that appeared in The New Yorker back in April.
  • One of my favorite football writers, Mike Reiss of the Boston Globe, had an interesting article this week about how Wes Welker nearly ended up on the Vikings before signing with the Patriots.
  • AG.com reader Jared Maliga wrote and starred in a funny "short" about the job-interview experience. Maliga e-mailed me to request that the video be named Official Job Interview Short of AG.com, so until someone produces footage of me going 0-for-3 at the Minnesota Daily offices it can hold the title.
  • One final reminder that the floor remains open for the reader-submitted questions that I'll be answering here next week. If you missed it the first time around, Wednesday's entry has details.
  • Lastly, this week's AG.com-approved music video is vintage Stevie Wonder doing a live version of "Living for the City":

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

    October 17, 2007

    Twins Notes: More Targets, Fewer Homers, and Love Letters

    Note: Before I get to today's batch of Twins-related bullet points, a reminder that the floor remains open for the reader-submitted questions that I'll be answering here next week. If you missed it the first time around, yesterday's entry has details.

  • A couple weeks ago I suggested Geoff Jenkins as a possible offseason target for the Twins, noting that he remains a strong defensive corner outfielder with a good bat against right-handed pitching. The Hardball Times' resident Brewers fan, Jeff Sackmann, recently examined whether Milwaukee should exercise Jenkins' $9 million option for 2008. I recommend reading the whole piece, but Sackmann's conclusion is that the Brewers should probably decline the option and let him become a free agent.
  • If Jenkins' price tag gets too steep for the Twins, Cliff Floyd is another veteran left-handed hitter who they could potentially pursue. Floyd will be a free agent after hitting .284/.373/.422 in 108 games for the Cubs and indicated last week that he'll only consider playing next season if a team offers him a starting job. Given his age and injury history the teams willing to do that might be limited, but he could certainly help the Twins at designated hitter. Here are his recent numbers against right-handed pitching:
    YEAR      AVG      OBP      SLG      OPS
    2005 .290 .382 .533 .915
    2006 .266 .342 .423 .765
    2007 .281 .370 .422 .791

    For their careers Floyd and Jenkins have hit similarly against righties, but Jenkins fared better recently. He's also younger, healthier, better defensively, and appears to have more left in the tank, but Floyd figures to be available at a reasonable price after playing this season for $3 million. Given that he didn't put up especially big numbers and totaled just 322 plate appearances as a 34-year-old, he might be willing to accept even less than that if it came along with the promise of regular playing time.

  • Tony Clark is yet another pending free agent who the Twins could potentially go after. He's spent the past three seasons in Arizona as a pinch-hitter and part-time first baseman, batting .266/.322/.546 with 53 homers in 785 plate appearances, including .249/.310/.511 with 17 homers in 245 trips to the plate this year. The Diamondbacks have said that they want to re-sign Clark, but 25-year-old Conor Jackson is their starter at first base and Clark could probably find more playing time with a team like the Twins.

    Clark is 35 years old and his numbers in Arizona weren't great considering the hitter-friendly ballpark and low on-base percentages, but he made just $1 million in each of the past two seasons. He's a switch-hitter with a good shot at providing 20-plus homers and a .450 slugging percentage, which wouldn't look bad in the Twins' lineup at a similar price. Of course, until free agency officially begins and the list of available hitters is set, names like Jenkins, Floyd, and Clark and just food for thought.

  • The Twins are reportedly still interested in re-signing Carlos Silva, but his price tag continues to rise. Joe Christensen of the Minneapolis Star Tribune suggested late last month that Silva "could get a three-year, $25 million deal" on the open market, which struck me as "far-fetched on the low side." Joel Pineiro recently signed a two-year deal worth $13 million thanks to putting together 11 good starts with the Cardinals after posting ERAs of 5.62, 6.33, and 5.03 in the AL over the past three seasons.

    If Pineiro can shake off those ERAs to get $13 million based on a couple good months in an inferior league, it seems clear that Silva can do more than double that coming off a 202-inning, 4.19-ERA year. As I wrote last month, my guess is that Silva's next contract is likely to be worth closer to $40 million than $20 million. If that's the case, then hopefully the Twins aren't the team that gives it to him, because they definitely shouldn't be paying a premium for good-but-not-great starting pitching at this point.

  • Among many other amazing stats, Baseball Info Solutions tracks the number of "home runs robbed by outfielders." As you might expect, Torii Hunter leads baseball with a total of eight "robbed homers" over the past four years. That's impressive, although it's important to note that the dimensions of the actual outfields play a big role in the potential for robbed homers. For instance, Manny Ramirez could be the greatest outfielder in the history of baseball and he'd never pull back a homer at Fenway Park.

    Similarly, Jason Bay is far from anyone's idea of a wall-climbing outfielder, but the low left-field fence in Pittsburgh enabled him to rank just behind Hunter with six "robbed homers" since 2004. Meanwhile, with their low walls center field and left field at the Metrodome are good setups for erasing homers. In addition to Hunter wiping away eight homers over the past four seasons, occasional fill-in Lew Ford ranks fourth in all of baseball with five "robbed homers" over that same stretch.

  • Speaking of Hunter, this surely comes as a shock to everyone, but he's apparently open to the idea of signing with a team other than the Twins. The news is so surprising given that he never talked about his pending free agency during the season or anything. It's nice to see Hunter finally open up and talk to the media a little bit for once. Also, I'm hopeful that you avoided drowning in the sarcasm that was dripping from the previous three sentences.

    Interestingly, a friend of AG.com who knows new Reds manager Dusty Baker well and talks with him regularly recently suggested to me that Cincinnati could make a strong play for Hunter. That makes sense, both because the Reds could use a center fielder and because their general manager is former Terry Ryan assistant Wayne Krivsky. The Rangers also seem like an obvious fit given their need for center-field help and the fact that Hunter lives in Texas during the offseason.

  • While at the St. Paul Pioneer Press, Gordon Wittenmyer covered Jacque Jones for years. Then Jones left the Twins for the Cubs and Wittenmyer left the Pioneer Press for the Chicago Sun-Times, which is how a fawning, logic-stretching 1,000-word piece about Jones ended up in the Sun-Times. For starters, the Cubs have a good center-field prospect to potentially replace Jones in Felix Pie, but Wittenmyer writes that "he's not a major-league hitter and it's questionable whether he ever will be."

    Jones himself hit just five homers in 135 games this season, but according to Wittenmyer that's "an aberration" caused by "stress." He also notes that Jones "plays the game the way the Diamondbacks do," although it's unclear what that actually means. He suggests that "the biggest reason to keep Jones" is that "the next time he takes a play off will be the first" and he "runs out every grounder and pop-up." That seems like an odd No. 1 reason to keep someone on the team for $5 million.

    Of course, as he explains, not hustling is "far more damaging to a team ... than an honest, aggressive effort ... that falls short." Coincidentally, Jones was criticized for many honest, aggressive efforts that fell short. According to Wittenmyer that's no big deal as long as he runs hard down the first-base line in the two-thirds of his trips to the plate that end in outs. There's plenty more where that came from, as the entire piece reads like something put together by a public-relations firm that was hired by Jones.

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

    October 16, 2007

    Any Questions?

    I hosted a "live chat" on Rotoworld yesterday afternoon that lasted over two hours, which reminded me that every few months it's a good idea to open the floor for reader-submitted questions here. If you have something to ask me on any (somewhat reasonable) topic, please post it in the comments section or e-mail it to me. I'll go through the questions and then answer them here at some point next week. I'm certainly open to answering Twins-related questions, but don't feel that you're limited to that subject.

    In fact, the other times that we've done this in the past there were more than enough questions to split my responses into two entries, with one devoted to "baseball questions" and one devoted to "random questions." In other words, not everything has to be about Johan Santana and Nick Punto. If there's some pressing issue that you want my opinion on or some random thing that you've been wondering about me or this blog, fire away. Think of it as a low-tech version of my weekly Rotoworld chats.

    And ... go!

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

    October 15, 2007

    My 2007 Awards Ballot

    Earlier this month I laid out my ballot for Twins MVP, going through the various metrics that I use to form an opinion on player value. Today I'll make my picks for MLB-wide awards using those same player-evaluation methods. Rather than repeat everything that I said then about the tools being used to come up with the following ballots, I'll simply link to the aforementioned entry from earlier this month and encourage anyone with questions to read it.

    The short version is that I came up a system that blends together Value Over Replacement Player, Win Probability Added, and Linear Weights for hitting and pitching, plus the defensive rankings from The Hardball Times, Ultimate Zone Rating, and Baseball Prospectus. The general idea is to collective and synthesize as much objective information as possible in a sort of wisdom-of-crowds approach, rather than relying upon a single statistic or gut feel. And away we go ...

       AL MVP                PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     RBI     RUN
    1 Alex Rodriguez 708 .314 .422 .645 156 143
    2 Jorge Posada 589 .338 .426 .543 90 91
    3 Magglio Ordonez 678 .363 .434 .595 139 117
    4 Grady Sizemore 748 .277 .390 .462 78 118
    5 Curtis Granderson 676 .302 .361 .552 74 122
    6 David Ortiz 667 .332 .445 .621 117 116
    7 Victor Martinez 645 .301 .374 .505 114 78
    8 Ichiro Suzuki 736 .351 .396 .431 68 111
    9 Placido Polanco 641 .341 .388 .458 67 105
    10 Derek Jeter 714 .322 .388 .452 73 102

    Honorable Mention: Carlos Pena, Vlad Guerrero, C.C. Sabathia, Fausto Carmona

    There's a pretty good chance that a silly voter or two will put someone other than Alex Rodriguez atop their ballot, but it's really not even a question. He put together an incredibly good season offensively, came to the plate over 700 times while appearing in all but four games, and logged 1,330 innings at a relatively important defensive position. Rodriguez didn't have one of the greatest seasons of all time, but it was certainly among the best handful of non-Barry Bonds seasons from the past decade.

    Those who worship at the idol of batting average or have some sort of bias against Rodriguez may choose to favor Magglio Ordonez, but he was less outstanding offensively while playing a significantly less important defensive spot. In some years Ordonez would be a deserving MVP, but this isn't one of them. In fact, I narrowly prefer the fantastic season that Jorge Posada quietly turned in, because he was close enough to Ordonez offensively that 1,100 innings behind the plate pushes him ahead.

    Unlike the actual voters, who often drool over homers and RBIs without looking beyond raw numbers, I tend to think that an up-the-middle defender providing very good offense is typically more valuable than a no-defense slugger providing great offense. It's easy to see that Ordonez batted .363 and drove in 139 runs, but it's also important to realize that he was about 27 percent better than the average right fielder offensively, compared to Posada being about 35 percent better than the average catcher.

    Ordonez makes up for that by coming to the plate 89 more times, but the difference in defensive value is huge. Posada over Ordonez is a good example of my thought process when it comes to assessing player value, as is Grady Sizemore and Curtis Granderson over David Ortiz. It's also why the final four spots on my ballot are filled by up-the-middle defenders rather than guys like Carlos Pena or Vladimir Guerrero, although both of them certainly have a strong case for belonging in the top 10.

       NL MVP                PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     RBI     RUN
    1 David Wright 711 .325 .416 .546 107 113
    2 Jimmy Rollins 778 .296 .344 .531 94 139
    3 Chase Utley 613 .332 .410 .566 103 104
    4 Hanley Ramirez 706 .332 .386 .562 81 125
    5 Chipper Jones 600 .337 .425 .604 102 108
    6 Miguel Cabrera 680 .320 .401 .565 119 91
    7 Russell Martin 620 .293 .374 .469 87 87
    8 Matt Holliday 713 .340 .405 .607 137 120
    9 Prince Fielder 681 .288 .395 .618 119 109
    10 Albert Pujols 679 .327 .429 .568 103 99

    Honorable Mention: Jake Peavy, Aaron Rowand, Carlos Beltran, Troy Tulowitzki

    The NL lacks a no-brainer choice like Rodriguez, but David Wright gets my vote after finishing 10th on my ballot last season. This year Wright set new career-highs in nearly every important category while batting .325/.416/.546 with 30 homers, 73 total extra-base hits, 94 walks, 107 RBIs, and 113 runs in a pitcher-friendly home ballpark. It was a tremendous all-around season from a 24-year-old who played all but two games, logged over 1,400 innings at third base, and went 34-for-39 stealing bases.

    I'm confident in Wright as my pick, but the middle-infield trio of Jimmy Rollins, Hanley Ramirez, and Chase Utley aren't very far behind him. Based purely on hitting Ramirez was superior to Rollins, but Rollins came to the plate an additional 72 times and is a vastly superior defensive shortstop. Utley would likely have the best argument for topping Wright had he not missed 30 games with injuries, and even still there's a case to be made for his being the NL's second-best player.

    Matt Holliday has become a popular MVP pick, which is understandable given his huge raw numbers and the Rockies' success, but I just don't see it. His offense was less spectacular than it appears given that he played half his games at baseball's most hitter-friendly ballpark and batted .301/.374/.485 on the road. Holliday is a left fielder and wasn't clearly better offensively than first basemen Prince Fielder and Albert Pujols, let alone several guys who manned more important defensive positions.

                      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     2B     HR     RBI     RUN
    David Wright 711 .325 .416 .546 42 30 107 113
    Matt Holliday 713 .340 .405 .607 50 36 137 120

    Holliday has a slight edge in raw numbers, but the vast differences in home ballparks and defensive values push Wright clearly ahead. The same is true for Ramirez, Utley, Chipper Jones, and Miguel Cabrera, although perhaps to lesser extents. Placing Russell Martin ahead of Holliday is similar to picking Posada over Ordonez. Holliday was about 22 percent better than the average left fielder, but Martin was about 18 percent better than the average catcher and adds a ton of value defensively.

      AL CYA                IP      ERA      SO     BB     HR     OAVG     OOPS
    1 C.C. Sabathia 241.0 3.21 209 37 20 .259 .684
    2 Fausto Carmona 215.0 3.06 137 61 16 .248 .661
    3 John Lackey 224.0 3.01 179 52 18 .254 .680

    Honorable Mention: Josh Beckett, Johan Santana, Dan Haren, Erik Bedard

    Johan Santana had a far better season than most people seem to think and was among the league's best handful of pitchers, but as much as it pains me to admit it for the first time since 2003 he's not deserving of the AL Cy Young. C.C. Sabathia narrowly gets my vote over rotation-mate Fausto Carmona and John Lackey thanks in large part to his league-leading 241 innings. My guess is that Josh Beckett represents Sabathia's main competition in the actual voting, but that seems misguided:

                      GS      IP      ERA     xFIP      AVG      OBP      SLG
    C.C. Sabathia 34 241 3.21 3.63 .259 .292 .392
    Josh Beckett 30 201 3.27 3.56 .245 .286 .377

    Beckett deserves credit for essentially staying even with Sabathia in ERA given that Jacobs Field was friendlier toward pitchers than Fenway Park this season. However, the difference between the two ballparks wasn't huge and Sabathia started four more games while tossing 40 additional innings. Given two pitchers who were basically equally as effective, I'll take the guy who worked 20 percent more innings every time.

      NL CYA                IP      ERA      SO     BB     HR     OAVG     OOPS
    1 Jake Peavy 223.1 2.54 240 68 13 .208 .584
    2 Brandon Webb 236.1 3.01 194 72 12 .237 .630
    3 Roy Oswalt 212.0 3.18 154 60 14 .265 .708

    Honorable Mention: Aaron Harang, Brad Penny, John Smoltz, Tim Hudson

    It looks like a Rodriguez-style blowout, but the NL Cy Young race is closer than it appears. Jake Peavy was the best pitcher in baseball, but also benefited from MLB's most pitcher-friendly home ballpark. Meanwhile, reigning Cy Young winner Brandon Webb pitched his home games at one of MLB's most hitter-friendly ballparks. The huge difference in offensive environments wasn't quite enough for Webb to close the gap on Peavy, but it made me take a much closer look before picking Peavy.

       AL ROY                PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     RBI     RUN
    1 Dustin Pedroia 581 .317 .380 .442 50 86
    2 Jeremy Guthrie 723 175.1 IP - 3.70 ERA - 123 SO - .713 OPS
    3 Brian Bannister 683 165.0 IP - 3.87 ERA - 77 SO - .712 OPS
    Daisuke Matsuzaka 874 204.2 IP - 4.40 ERA - 201 SO - .731 OPS

    Delmon Young will wind up on actual ballots thanks to 93 RBIs, but he wasn't close to being the AL's best rookie while hitting a sub par .288/.316/.408 as a corner outfielder. That honor goes to Dustin Pedroia, who easily topped him in batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage while playing 1,140 innings of good up-the-middle defense. Teammates Brendan Harris and Akinori Iwamura were better rookie hitters than Young, as were Reggie Willits, Travis Buck, and others.

    Picking the league's best rookie pitcher is a little tougher. With Joakim Soria (69.0 IP, 2.48 ERA), Hideki Okajima (69.0 IP, 2.22 ERA), Rafael Perez (60.2 IP, 1.78 ERA), and the Twins' own Pet Neshek (70.1 IP, 2.94 ERA) the AL had four outstanding rookie relievers, but I'll give a slight nod to starters Jeremy Guthrie, Daisuke Matsuzaka, and Brian Bannister. My preseason pick, Alex Gordon of the Royals, got off to a brutal start and could only recover enough to hit a Young-like .247/.314/.411 overall.

       NL ROY                PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     RBI     RUN
    1 Troy Tulowitzki 682 .291 .359 .479 99 104
    2 Ryan Braun 492 .324 .370 .634 97 91
    3 Hunter Pence 484 .322 .360 .539 69 57

    While Pedroia had an excellent rookie season, he likely wouldn't have cracked my ballot had he been in the NL. On a rate basis no rookie can compare to Ryan Braun, who batted .324/.370/.634 for one of the greatest offensive displays ever by a rookie. However, Braun's defensive at third base was well below par and he batted under 500 times, while Troy Tulowitzki was fantastic at shortstop while hitting .291/.359/.479 in 682 plate appearances.

    Like Holliday, Tulowitzki's hitting got a huge boost from Coors Field. However, even accounting for that he still managed to be about 11 percent better than the average shortstop offensively and logged 1,375 innings of strong defense at shortstop. Braun was about 21 percent better than the average third baseman offensively, but that came along with what was at best shaky defense. It's very close, but I'll take the massive difference defensively and extra 190 plate appearances.

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

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