March 10, 2009

Quarterly Questions: Answers

How is this format different than your live chats?

Fewer one-word answers and no musical score, among other things. I'll likely get back to live chatting next week, but this is a nice change of pace.

Who were the toughest players to decide where to rank on the top-40 prospects list?

Prospects can come in so many different shapes and sizes that the biggest struggle is often trying to balance upsides and track records, so someone like Deolis Guerra was probably the toughest to rank. Guerra has significantly more chance of being a star than, say, Steven Tolleson, but probably has less chance of simply being a solid big leaguer. Choosing the 38th, 39th, and 40th guys is also pretty tough, because realistically there are at least 10-15 prospects who could fill those spots.

Which G.I. Joe character do you most want to see in the live-action film coming out this summer?

Refrigerator Perry.

How much velocity do you think Francisco Liriano will have on his fastball and slider this season? Close to that of 2006?

Francisco Liriano has a chance to be a very good pitcher for a very long time, but he's never going to be the otherworldly stud from 2006. His fastball and slider were both down about four miles per hour last year, although the good news is that his velocity improved somewhat as the season went along. He averaged 91.2 mph with his fastball and 84.9 mph with his slider in September, which while about three miles per hour off his pre-surgery levels is still plenty good enough to dominate.

Who will be the first pitcher to start a regular-season game for the Twins not named Scott Baker, Kevin Slowey, Francisco Liriano, Nick Blackburn, or Glen Perkins?

Philip Humber.

Which player do you think is more likely to be demoted to the minors this season: Delmon Young or Carlos Gomez?

Neither. Both of those ships have sailed already.

Delmon Young had a VORP of 14.4 and Carlos Gomez had a VORP of 0.3, but you consistently state that Gomez was better than Young. Was Young's defense really that horrendous?

Delmon Young's defense was indeed "really that horrendous" and just as importantly Carlos Gomez's defense was fantastic. Young was likely 10-15 runs better than Gomez offensively, which seems like a lot until you consider that Gomez was likely 30-35 runs better than Young defensively. By accounting for offense, defense, and positional adjustments, Fan Graphs shows Gomez as 22.4 runs above average last season while showing Young as 5.4 runs below average. Gomez was significantly more valuable.

Better John Mayer girlfriend: Jennifer Aniston or Jennifer Love-Hewitt?

That's a tough one. At their respective peaks I'd probably choose Jennifer Love-Hewitt, but they're both right in my wheelhouse. And the rest of his resume isn't bad either.

According to Tom Verducci, Orioles prospect Matt Wieters is "Joe Mauer with 30-homer power." Is that a little much or do you think that's an accurate projection?

Matt Wieters is the top prospect in baseball and the best catching prospect to come along since Joe Mauer. He projects as an MVP-caliber player, but Mauer has hit .317/.399/.457 with excellent defense behind the plate and someone who adds "30-homer power" to that would be among the 10 greatest players in baseball history. Is that Wieters' upside? Perhaps, but no prospect is good enough for that to realistically be his projection.

Jim Souhan won a writing award recently, but I can't find mention of it. I'm wondering if you might know the award he won and if you have any thoughts about it?

Jim Souhan of the Minneapolis Star Tribune was named "one of the nation's top 10 large newspaper sports columnists" by the Associated Press sports editors last month. Seriously.

How much are you allowed to bash Jimmy Fallon before your job is in jeopardy?

If NBC starts firing people for not liking Jimmy Fallon they're going to run out of employees in a hurry.

Why do people think that sabermetrics and scouting can't be complimentary?

Because many people feel strongly about the comparison despite having merely cursory knowledge of the topic and end up misguidedly arguing against strawmen. For example ...

I would like to hear you talk a bit about the difference between the sabermetricians/PECOTA way of viewing baseball, which is certainly necessary, versus the gut level operation of a game. To put this in a question: Would the stats have recommended to Tom Kelly to send Jack Morris out for the 10th inning of Game 7 in 1991? Your statistical approach takes some of the mystery out of it, doesn't it?

First of all, PECOTA is merely one of many projection systems used to predict player performance on a season-wide level. It's hardly a "way of viewing baseball" and has absolutely nothing to do with whether or not a starting pitcher should be sent out for a 10th inning in Game 7 of the World Series. Managers make those decisions and are rarely into statistical analysis, yet almost never ask pitchers to throw 10 innings. Given that, why would you blame "the sabermetricians/PECOTA way of viewing baseball"?

Regarding the Twins not having a statistician in their front office, how much difference do you think that would really make given that they seem to perpetually maintain a deep farm system anyway?

I'm not sure why having a good farm system would make statistical analysis any more or less valuable. There's zero doubt that the Twins have been successful this decade because of scouting and player development, but they've also made plenty of bad moves that could have been avoided by paying a little more attention to some worthwhile stats. I'd never expect the Twins to become the A's in terms of how they evaluate players, but at this point not taking advantage of all the tools available is just foolish.

Do you think the Twins will eventually regret not building a retractable roof for the new ballpark?

Absolutely, and I suspect "eventually" will be more like "April."

Why should we get excited about the Twins when it feels like the only thing their advertising talks about is 2010 and moving into the new ballpark?

Because your excitement about your favorite baseball team shouldn't be determined by advertising?

Glen Taylor said that Kevin McHale will not be back as general manager and the Wolves are looking outside the organization for front office help. Does this give you hope as a hoops fan?

If you've been going to the same restaurant for years and the food is always terrible, should it "give you hope" if the owner announces that the chef will no longer be cooking and will instead be managing the place? At what point should people stop eating at the restaurant until the guy is just gone altogether?

What do you think of the Royals' chances in the division this year?

Not good. They have some solid young building blocks, but general manager Dayton Moore has been extremely unimpressive. They're definitely the fifth-best team in the division, although the gap from top to bottom isn't huge.

Which team will make the playoffs first: Reds, Pirates, Orioles, or Royals?

Andy MacPhail is beginning to do some good things with the Orioles, but because that division is so tough I'll pick the Reds.

Do you expect Denard Span to play more like his minor-league track record or how he performed after being called up?

Somewhere in between. Denard Span hit just .283/.348/.348 in 2,184 plate appearances coming into last season and I'm convinced that he's now better than that, but his .294/.387/.437 line in 90 games with the Twins will be tough to maintain long term. He homered six times in 347 at-bats with the Twins after homering 10 times in 2,095 at-bats as a minor leaguer, so duplicating that power showing will be particularly tough. With that said, because of his defense Span can be plenty valuable hitting less.

Do you think Michael Cuddyer might be washed up? He looks slower and heavier all the time.

Michael Cuddyer is a 30-year-old career .268/.344/.441 hitter who's topped an .800 OPS once. He's not "washed up" so much as just not all that great to begin with.

What's the deal with the Season Pass? Are you guys not doing it this year or does it start once the actual baseball season is up and running?

Season Pass won't launch until slightly before Opening Day, but in the meantime the Fantasy Baseball Draft Guide should have everything you could possibly need.

What are 2-3 unique rules you tend to abide by while drafting your fantasy baseball team?

I'm not sure how unique they are, but I tend to a) value upsides over track records, b) place a great deal of importance on positional scarcity, and c) target elite starting pitching earlier than most people.

Who's the last player the Twins lost on waivers who mattered?

Casey Blake?

How many Twins will finish 2009 with at least 250 plate appearances and an OPS+ over 100?

Same as last season: Five.

What do the Twins do if/when Wilson Ramos starts knocking on the door? Assuming they extend Joe Mauer, does Ramos become the backup catcher? Play designated hitter? Get traded away to strengthen another position?

I'm obviously extremely high on Wilson Ramos after ranking him as the Twins' third-best prospect, but he's 21 years old and has yet to play an inning above Single-A. He's far from a sure thing, and is likely 2-3 years away from arriving in the majors to stay even if things continue to go well. Not only is being forced to figure out what to do with a pair of starting-caliber catchers a great "problem" to have, there's really no reason for the Twins to worry about it until 2011 or so.

Are you happy that the Twins didn't sign Eric Gagne to the contract they discussed?

Of course. It seemed strange at the time, but obviously the Twins backing out of their reported deal with Eric Gagne looks smart now that he's potentially facing more arm surgery.

What are some possible destinations for Bobby Crosby?

The most likely destination is probably "Oakland's bench." Or at least it should be. Over the past three years Bobby Crosby has batted .232/.292/.344 without cracking a .240 batting average, .300 on-base percentage or .350 slugging percentage. For comparison, Nick Punto is a career .252/.319/.332 hitter.

Do you see an expanded role for you at MinnPost in the future? Do you think a site like that could one day replace the newspaper as we know it?

My involvement with MinnPost will likely remain fairly minimal because I'm employed elsewhere, but it's tough not to be impressed with how far the site has come in such a short time. One of the points that I've tried to make regarding newspapers is that good writing and quality journalism doesn't have to be distributed as ink on paper. As the world of online media continues to expand sites like MinnPost will absolutely be in position to replace much of the coverage previously found in newspapers.

Why do the titles of your entries not show up in RSS feed readers?

Because there technically are no titles for the entries. This blog was started before Blogger offered that and I'm not big on change, so the titles are improvised.

What's your favorite Twins-related message board on the web?

I'm not very big on message boards. The comments section here is more than enough for me in terms of watching people argue and call me names.

Brian Buscher, Delmon Young, and Jason Kubel are hitting much better this spring than last year. Can they keep it up?

Playing well is always better than playing poorly, but between the small number of plate appearances, varying levels of competition, and laid-back atmosphere spring training performances mean very little in the grand scheme of things.

Despite your general lack of interest in the World Baseball Classic, will you watch anyway?

My excitement level for the World Baseball Classic was initially just slightly more than it would be for a normal spring training game, but I watched the United States-Canada game Saturday with a group of fellow bloggers and was glued to the television last night for the Netherlands' shocking upset over the Dominican Republic. Some of the early games have had a March Madness vibe, and Bert Blyleven's squad playing the role of a No. 16 seed that actually beats the No. 1 seed was incredibly entertaining.

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