June 18, 2009

Link-O-Rama

  • It took two decades, but Troy Aikman can finally enter the workforce.
  • Harold Reynolds, expert baseball analyst.
  • Picture of the Week, courtesy of some kid having his dreams crushed by Megan Fox:


    If it's any consolation, I'm of the opinion that she's overrated.

  • And speaking of my not-yet-published list of overrated female celebrities, ESPN may have stumbled across an idea for their 50th television channel.
  • By now you've probably seen and heard plenty about Artie Lange's appearance on the first episode of Joe Buck Live on HBO, so I'll spare you the details and simply offer up a handful of points. First, I'm a lifelong Howard Stern fan and a near-lifelong Joe Buck hater, so you can probably figure out my basic view of the whole thing. Second, anyone who invites Lange to be on a live show running on a channel without language restrictions and then acts shocked when he's filthy is either an idiot or a liar. Or both.

    Third, it should be noted that Buck's show was merely one of several media appearances that Lange made recently while promoting the paperback version of his bestselling book and he was an excellent guest on both Jimmy Kimmel Live and The Adam Carolla Podcast. Fourth, prior to Lange's segment the show was incredibly boring and humorless. Fifth, Buck is the same guy who freaked out about the "disgusting act" of Randy Moss pretending to moon fans in Green Bay. And finally ... Fiya!

  • I'm very excited about Mike Florio and ProFootballTalk joining the NBCSports.com family. Plus, at the bottom of the big announcement--which got tons of media attention throughout the week--is this note:

    "ProFootballTalk on NBCSports.com" is the second major blog on NBCSports.com, joining "Circling the Bases," which focuses on Major League Baseball.

    Hey, that's me!

  • College Humor explains why I stopped watching Entourage several seasons ago:


    Wheel of Fortune has a wider range of storylines (and slightly better acting).
  • David Kahn got off to a nice start as Timberwolves boss with two good decisions this week, cutting all ties with Kevin McHale and turning down the Suns' offer of Amare Stoudemire for Al Jefferson and the No. 6 overall pick. Amusingly, news of the McHale decision came via Kevin Love's midnight Tweet.
  • My MinnPost colleague David Brauer put together an interesting recap of the local media madness that ensued after Love broke the story via Twitter, with appearances by friends of AG.com Seth Kaplan, Doogie Wolfson, and Howard Sinker. His recap contains the first utterance of the phrase "I assumed Doogie knew what he was doing" since our fantasy football draft in 1995.
  • Last month my suggestion that the Wolves should be interested in taking North Carolina point guard Ty Lawson with the aforementioned No. 6 overall selection was mocked by someone in the comments section who wrote that "Lawson isn't even the sixth-best point guard in the draft" and "picking Lawson sixth would be worse than every single move McHale ever made." Both of those statements were fairly absurd even before John Hollinger's "draft rater" on ESPN.com fell in love with Lawson this week:

    Two players are neck and neck for the top spot in this year's Draft Rater. You could easily guess that one of them is Blake Griffin, but most folks never would have guessed that the other is Lawson. Lawson, who is coming off an electric performance in leading North Carolina to the championship, grades out highly for several reasons:

    Although he's short for a point guard, his shooting numbers (47.1 percent on 3-pointers), strong assist rate and microscopic turnover ratio (9.1, first among point guard prospects) all point to him as an NBA keeper. ... [T]he rating is emphatic enough for me to say Lawson should be at the top of the college point guard ladder, ahead of Jonny Flynn, Jrue Holiday, Jeff Teague & Co.

    I'd certainly never suggest that Lawson is the best player in the draft, but my eyes and Hollinger's rating system both think that he'll be a very solid NBA point guard and getting that type of player with the No. 6 pick should be considered a victory for a team in desperate need of backcourt help. Instead he'll likely go in the mid-teens and have a better career than half the players picked ahead of him.

  • For some reason Craig Ferguson, a couple puppets, a guy in his underwear strumming the guitar, and another leather-clad guy lip-syncing "I'm Yours" by Jason Mraz is incredibly amusing to me:


    That would be a pretty good example of why comedy is subjective.
  • Joe Morgan's mind is playing tricks on him.
  • Here's the shirt that all the guys at the SABR convention would wear if we weren't too fat to fit in them.
  • Murray Chass, who still refuses to call himself a blogger, wasn't very pleased after discovering that bloggers don't get quite the same treatment as New York Times columnists:

    Vaughn concluded our telephone conversation telling me not to call Friedman any more. I replied that if I write about the Rays again and feel the need to seek a comment from Friedman I will call and it will be Friedman's prerogative to call or not to call back.

    And then, just to prove that he's a blogger whether he's willing to admit it or not, Chass explained: "I like having no editors. Most of them, I have found, have been useless, if not downright incompetent." Heh.

  • When women say that "men are dogs" this could be what they mean.
  • Here are some of the highlights from my NBCSports.com blogging this week:

    - Joe Mauer, plate appearances, and hitting .400
    - Liriano and Johnson: A tale of two surgeries
    - Blister to blame for Santana's struggles?
    - LaRoches and Weavers making brotherly history
    - More arm issues and maybe surgery for Scheppers?
    - The Jerod Morris Hex? Ibanez lands on disabled list
    - Pirates turning down offers for Ian Snell
    - Manuel completes first year as Mets manager
    - Guillen might be done, so Tigers start shopping
    - Smoltz expects to make Red Sox debut next week
    - Quote of the Day: D-Train derailed again

  • Finally, this week's AG.com-approved music video is Jace Everett with a live version of "Bad Things" on The Tonight Show With Jay Leno:


  • Once you're done here, check out my "Circling The Bases" blog over at NBCSports.com.

    June 17, 2009

    Roster Shuffling: Perkins for Crain, Pridie for Span

    After a month on the disabled list with an elbow injury Glen Perkins rejoined the rotation Tuesday night with six solid innings against the Pirates. Perkins missed slightly more time than initially expected, but looked very good in his return start and said afterward that his elbow was pain free. Anthony Swarzak filled in capably for five turns in the rotation and has now been joined at Triple-A by Jesse Crain, who in a surprise move was optioned back to Rochester to make room on the roster for Perkins.

    Crain hasn't been in the minors since 2004, when he saved 19 games with a 2.47 ERA and 64-to-17 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 51 innings at Triple-A as a 22-year-old before his MLB debut in August. Since then he's made 272 appearances for the Twins totaling 280 innings, posting a 3.57 ERA and 172-to-99 strikeout-to-walk ratio while allowing opponents to bat just .247/.315/.377. While the shape of Crain's performance has varied wildly from year-to-year, for the most part he's been a quality setup man.

    He missed most of 2007 following surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff and labrum in his right shoulder, but bounced back amazingly well from that potentially career-ending combination last year with a 3.59 ERA and 50-to-24 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 62.2 innings. Ron Gardenhire made an effort to give Crain a reasonable workload as he returned from surgery, but that all changed this season as he appeared in seven of the first dozen games before predictably landing on the DL with more shoulder problems.

    Crain returned two weeks later with back-to-back scoreless innings, but coughed up 12 runs on 19 hits and seven walks in 9.2 innings over his next 14 appearances. He's never stopped pumping mid-90s fastballs at hitters and even averaged 94.1 miles per hour while struggling during the past month, but despite retaining that velocity Crain's fastball hasn't been particularly effective since 2005 and his main off-speed pitch has changed from a high-80s slider to a high-70s curveball with disastrous results.

    Whether the slider-curveball switch was made out of post-surgery necessity or design, it's clear that he was far more effective when his mid-90s fastball worked in tandem with a hard off-speed pitch. Sadly, it sounds like the Twins aren't aware of the switch hurting his performance, because Joe Christensen of the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports that "the Twins want Crain to rack up innings at Rochester, so he can hone his sinker and curveball."

    I'm certainly in no position to tell someone how to pitch and Rick Anderson has no doubt thought long and hard about how to fix Crain, but the numbers regarding the effectiveness of his slider and curveball are tough to ignore. Along with the change in his approach, what made Crain's struggles so frustrating was that the Twins never really stopped trotting him out there in high-leverage spots and let him take a ninth-inning loss just hours before sending him to Triple-A.

    Crain is still just 27 years old and the combination of a mid-90s fastball and track record of success in the majors leaves him plenty of room to bounce back, but it would surprise me if he's able to return as much more than a capable middle reliever given that his Expected Fielding Independent Pitching (xFIP) is at 4.72 since surgery and he's never racked up tons of strikeouts. Crain makes $1.7 million this year and will be arbitration-eligible for the final time in 2010, so he's in danger of being cut in the offseason.

    Along with activating Perkins from the DL and sending Crain to Triple-A, the Twins placed Denard Span on the shelf with an inner-ear infection and filled his roster spot with Jason Pridie. Span's trip to the DL was backdated to June 10, so if medication cures his dizziness he'll be eligible to return next Thursday and Pridie will merely spend a week pinch-running and playing defense. Asking him to do more than that is a mistake, as my write-up ranking him as the team's No. 29 prospect this winter detailed:

    Jason Pridie had a breakout 2007 season, hitting .303/.352/.487 in 134 games between Double-A and Triple-A, which convinced the Twins to acquire him from the Rays as part of the Matt Garza-for-Delmon Young swap two years after briefly holding him on their roster as a Rule 5 pick. Pridie predictably came crashing back down to earth at Rochester last year, performing so badly in the first half (.243/.276/.392) that a big second half (.326/.364/.522) left him at just .270/.305/.435 in 138 games overall.

    Pridie has persuaded the Twins that he's promising enough to acquire twice, but it's tough to see him becoming more than a fourth outfielder given his non-existent plate discipline, horrendous strike-zone control, and .278 career batting average. He's an excellent athlete with good wheels and some pop in his bat, which is no doubt the combination of tools that had Twins scouts smitten, but Pridie has yet to consistently turn his physical ability into actual baseball skills and time is running out.

    Pridie's strong finish provides some reason for optimism heading into 2009, but even while putting up big second-half numbers he posted an awful 51-to-12 strikeout-to-walk ratio. For the season he struck out 152 times while drawing 28 non-intentional walks, which is abysmal strike-zone control that keeps Pridie from taking full advantage of his speed or power. He made his MLB debut in September and will likely see more of Minnesota this season, but right now Pridie is just an unused toolbox.

    Since then Pridie has hit .255/.285/.333 with a 41-to-9 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 61 games at Rochester, giving him a .277/.317/.433 career line in 1,160 plate appearances at Triple-A along with .248/.297/.360 in 907 plate appearances at Double-A. In other words, he can't hit. My guess is that the Twins would've bypassed Pridie for another player if they felt that Span would be out for an extended period of time, as calling him up only makes sense because he was the lone outfielder already on the 40-man roster.


    Once you're done here, check out my "Circling The Bases" blog over at NBCSports.com.

    June 15, 2009

    Quote of the Week: "He's just not a real good hitter"

    An unnamed scout, on Delmon Young:

    I'll tell you what. This kid's hitting instincts are nowhere near what we all thought he'd be. He's so undisciplined, it's unbelievable. He's still got speed. He's still got a good arm. He still has skills. He's just not a real good hitter.

    Presumably that isn't the same scout who "gushed that Young's potential is so great that he compared him to Frank Robinson" shortly after the trade with Tampa Bay. Based on the above quote and Patrick Reusse's column in the Minneapolis Star Tribune it looks like people are finally starting to think beyond their old copies of Baseball America when evaluating Young's potential. And all it took was 1,591 plate appearances of undisciplined, powerless, .288/.322/.401 hitting to get the point across.


    Once you're done here, check out my "Circling The Bases" blog over at NBCSports.com.

    June 14, 2009

    Reviewing Anthony Swarzak's Five-Start Debut

    Anthony Swarzak went out on a high note, tossing seven shutout innings Saturday before being sent back to Triple-A with Glen Perkins set to rejoin the rotation Tuesday. Swarzak was solid in his first taste of the majors, going 2-2 with a 3.90 ERA in five starts, although he didn't pitch as well as that indicates. Swarzak struck out 18, walked 10, and induced 42 percent ground balls in 27.2 innings, and Expected Fielding Independent Pitching (xFIP) shows that would produce an ERA around 5.00 over the long haul.

    Of course, even a 5.00 xFIP is a pretty decent five-start debut from a 23-year-old and Swarzak certainly showed that he's capable of being a successful starter in the big leagues. However, in ranking him as the Twins' seventh-best prospect coming into the season my write-up suggested that his minor-league track record "casts doubt on Swarzak's ability to be more than a mid-rotation starter" and he displayed some of those limitations during his first action in Minnesota.

    In particular Swarzak's raw stuff didn't really live up to the hype after Baseball America's scouting report described his "91-93 mph fastball that touches 95" and "high-70s curveball" while opining that he "has the best combination of stuff, youth, and experience" in the Twins' system. That description of his stuff fits what fans have heard from various sources throughout Swarzak's climb up the organization ladder, but in reality he averaged 90.9 miles per hour with his fastball and never came close to "touching 95."

    His "high-70s curveball" averaged 75.9 miles per hour, which is close enough to the hype, but he threw it just 10 percent of the time and had little success with the pitch. Swarzak actually threw his changeup slightly more often than his curveball, but with similarly sub par results. Lack of success with off-speed stuff isn't unique from a 23-year-old pitcher, but when combined with a fastball that clocked in at 88-92 mph it "casts doubt on Swarzak's ability to be more than a mid-rotation starter."

    In other words, many times going off a pitcher's minor-league track record can tell you more than going off a pitcher's scouting report, although I'm certainly not saying that Baseball America does a poor job. At the end of the day radar-gun readings can simply be incorrect and reports can involve exaggeration, but in Swarzak's case at least his performance at Triple-A served as a very strong predictor of his debut performance in the majors:

                   SO9     BB9     HR9      GB%      BIP
    Triple-A 5.9 2.5 0.5 43.3 .282
    Majors 5.9 3.3 1.0 41.6 .276

    Regardless of the velocity of his fastball or the quality of his off-speed stuff, Swarzak had 5.9 strikeouts per nine innings with 43 percent ground balls at Triple-A and nearly duplicated those numbers exactly during his MLB debut with 5.9 strikeouts per nine innings and 42 percent ground balls. His walk rate rose and major-league hitters were predictably able to send more of his fly balls over the fence than Triple-A hitters, but for the most part Swarzak at Triple-A was very similar to Swarzak in Minnesota.

    The scouting reports didn't quite match the stuff that Swarzak actually displayed during his debut, calls for him to replace Francisco Liriano in the rotation were misguided on multiple levels, and there's lots of reason to be skeptical about--don't stop me if you've heard this before--his "ability to be more than a mid-rotation starter." On the other hand, he certainly held his own through five outings and should give the Twins some confidence that they have a capable 23-year-old starter on call at Triple-A.


    Once you're done here, check out my "Circling The Bases" blog over at NBCSports.com.

    June 12, 2009

    Link-O-Rama

  • Oakland has one of the worst offenses in the league and he eventually allowed three runs, but Nick Blackburn holding the A's scoreless through seven innings yesterday afternoon probably qualifies as a minor miracle given the horrendous outfield that the Twins put out there behind him. Of course, the three runs came after the Twins ditched the Delmon Young-Michael Cuddyer-Jason Kubel alignment, which is why I'm not sitting on an island somewhere counting my winnings from betting on baseball.
  • The past two Link-O-Rama entries have featured a pretty girl throwing a football, so in the interest of fairness here's the baseball version.
  • Jose Mijares showed that he could have a post-baseball career in plus-size modeling by dressing up in lingerie and letting Carlos Gomez get fresh with him. Seriously:


    I'd say that he's about 10 pounds away from being Official Fantasy Girl of AG.com material.
  • Kelly Brook dramatically improved her burgeoning OFGoAG.com candidacy this week by following in Mijares' lingerie-wearing footsteps and getting motorboated on an actual motorboat.
  • Braves prospect Barbaro Canizares has a great name and an even better scouting report, because an unnamed teammate explained: "He can't run, can't throw, and can't field, but the sumbitch can hit."
  • Here's what manager Ozzie Guillen had to say following one of the White Sox's recent losses:

    Is the clubhouse closed? We should open it and let them answer why they're so horse shit. I talked to them. One thing about it: Good teams win games. Bad teams have meetings. Well, I think we're to the point of having a lot of meetings. That's all I can say.

    Meanwhile, there's speculation that the White Sox are preparing to sell off some of their veterans.

  • If the Official Fantasy Girl of AG.com competition were limited to native Minnesotans, Kelly Carlson of Nip/Tuck fame would be a front-runner.
  • Despite all the hype in the world, Selena Roberts' book about Alex Rodriguez sold 16,000 copies.
  • In a Minneapolis Star Tribune column ostensibly about Joe Mauer's contract, Patrick Reusse wrote:

    Baseball's descent from the national pastime to relying on regional appeal--as with basketball and hockey--has left the grand old game with a fan base that can be rather dimwitted. There's the smug minority that think it's all about make-believe statistics, and there is the obtuse majority that looks at a 162-game baseball schedule through the same lens as it does a 16-game NFL season.

    Those are people with baseball observations that are neither bright nor original, and yet they have an urge to express them in BlogWorld or in calls to radio shows. A couple of months ago, this crowd was insistent that Mauer was an injury-prone singles hitter and in need of a position change for the Twins to get much more out of him.

    I'm amused by the notion of "make-believe statistics" as opposed to, presumably, "real statistics." Also, Reusse has both a blog and a radio show. Just saying. On a more serious note, the idea that people in "BlogWorld" were "insistent that Mauer was an injury-prone singles hitter" and "in need of a position change" is absolutely absurd, unless by "BlogWorld" he just means people who make comments on the Star Tribune's website and not actual bloggers who, like him, produce content for an audience.

    If he's referring to the people who hang out in the Star Tribune's comments section then congrats for finding a barrel full of fish to shoot, but if he's referring to the people who actually blog about the Twins then Reusse either has no clue what he's talking about or is simply being intelluctually dishonest. Or maybe he's just confusing us with Jim Souhan, who prior to about six weeks ago consistently wrote all of those things about Mauer in the same newspaper. I'd say more, but ... I dunno, who cares?

  • For the most part Jimmy Fallon strikes me as unwatchable, but Mark-Paul Gosselaar appearing on his show in character as Zack Morris was beyond awesome:


    Sad news about his relationship with Kelly Kapowski, though.
  • Meanwhile, Conan O'Brien provided some late-night awesomeness of his own by revealing the true inspiration for his new set design:


    I'm not even really much of a O'Brien fan, but he's still several million times better than Jay Leno.
  • Shane Schilling hasn't been doing all that well since being kicked off the Gophers.
  • Justin Morneau is approximately as good at blogging as I am at hitting.
  • Rob Dibble apparently isn't a big fan of Rob Neyer or Keith Law. I'm sure they're equally crushed.
  • While talking about Billy Joel and Christie Brinkley many years ago, Howard Stern theorized that for every incredibly beautiful, lusted-after woman in the world there's a man somewhere sick of being with her. Leonardo DiCaprio and Bar Refaeli are the latest data points supporting that theory.
  • HBO is reportedly undecided about renewing one of my favorite shows, In Treatment.
  • Here are some of the highlights from my NBCSports.com blogging this week:

    - Quote of the Day: 'My urine, my blood, my stool'
    - Good face, bad player: Why track records matter
    - Arredondo goes from 10-2 with 1.62 ERA to Triple-A
    - Cardinals interested in Miguel Tejada?
    - Smoltz close to joining Red Sox, but in what role?
    - Quote of the Day: 'Money, fame, girls looking at you'
    - Pirates lighting candles over McLouth trade
    - Former No. 1 pick pleads guilty to assault on draft day
    - Brandon Morrow switching roles ... again
    - And so it begins: Boras starts to over-sell Strasburg
    - Mazzaro's career starts with 13.2 shutout innings

  • We just finished the inaugural season of "Gleeman World 2" in WhatIfSports.com's Hardball Dynasty game and it looks like we'll have some franchise openings. Hardball Dynasty is not a fantasy baseball game, but rather a simulation of running a fictional MLB organization from rookie-ball to the majors. It's incredibly detailed and time-consuming with a steep learning curve, so first and foremost we're looking for owners who've played Hardball Dynasty in the past, although anyone is free to express interest.
  • Finally, in honor of Gosselaar/Morris and my childhood this week's AG.com-approved music video is the Saved By The Bell theme song:


  • Once you're done here, check out my "Circling The Bases" blog over at NBCSports.com.

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