July 19, 2011

Twins Notes: Diamond’s debut, Mauer’s momentum, and Rauch’s return

Scott Diamond had a decent big-league debut, particularly for a mid-level prospect called up for an emergency spot start after posting a 4.70 ERA at Triple-A. He was very efficient early on and ended up using 90 pitches in 6.1 innings, allowing four runs on seven hits and two walks against an Indians lineup that ranks 11th among AL teams in OPS versus lefties. He served up a homer to Lou Marson, which is pretty tough to do, but also induced 12 ground-ball outs.

In terms of projecting his future performance Diamond looked basically like you'd expect based on his minor-league track record, showing good control and ground-ball tendencies along with mediocre raw stuff. He averaged just 88.9 miles per hour with his fastball, topping out at 90.3 miles per hour, and wasn't very successful with his off-speed pitches. Diamond struck out just one of the 26 batters he faced and also managed only one swinging strike on 90 pitches.

• In yesterday's doubleheader Joe Mauer made a pair of good defensive plays at first base in Game 1, threw out one of the two runners attempting to steal against him in Game 2, and was 6-for-8 at the plate while the rest of the Twins' lineup went 10-for-60 (.167). Mauer struggled initially after returning from a two-month stay on the disabled list and was hitting just .186 on June 24, but since then he's 27-for-72 (.375).

Mauer still hasn't shown any power yet, but he's hitting .375 with a .456 on-base percentage and .431 slugging percentage during the past 21 games, raising his batting average from .186 to .290 in three weeks. During that same time his on-base percentage rose from .234 to .361, which ties Denard Span for second-highest on the team. Oh, and the Twins are 19-15 when Mauer starts and 25-36 when he doesn't. It's almost as if he's still really good or something.

• In an interview with Tom Pelissero of 1500-ESPN assistant general manager Rob Anthony said that the Twins will be looking for middle relief help going into the July 31 trade deadline, which makes sense assuming they should be buyers at all. Glen Perkins has been fantastic all year in a setup role and Joe Nathan has thrived since returning from the disabled list, but with Matt Capps basically relegated to mop-up duties they could use another right-handed option.

Alex Burnett has been thrust into a high-leverage role almost by default and has the potential to some day be a viable late-inning asset, but for now he's an overmatched 23-year-old rookie with a 6.21 ERA and 20-to-13 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 29 innings and has struck out just two of the last 30 hitters he's faced. Joe Christensen of the Minneapolis Star Tribune speculates the Twins may try to reacquire Jon Rauch from the Blue Jays, which would certainly be interesting.

• Over the weekend the Twins released 25-year-old former 11th-round pick Steve Singleton, who'd been starting regularly at shortstop and second base at Triple-A. Singleton is hardly an elite prospect, but the release still raised eyebrows considering the Twins' organization-wide lack of middle infield depth and Rochester's ongoing struggles just to put a competitive lineup on the field thanks to the big-league team calling up most of their best hitters.

Sure enough, LaVelle E. Neal III of the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports that Singleton was let go due to "off-the-field issues." Singleton cracked my annual list of the Twins' top 40 prospects just once, ranking 33rd in 2009, but since then he's hit just .273/.320/.414 with twice as many walks (117) as strikeouts (58) in 265 games between Double-A and Triple-A. Singleton never projected as more than a potential utility man and even that seems like wishful thinking now.

Justin Morneau has been cleared to resume "baseball activities" three weeks after surgery to address a pinched nerve in his neck, which according to trainer Rick McWane means "he's ready to take ground balls, play catch, and run around." Swinging the bat will come later, so even setting aside the Twins' inability to get any injured players back within their initial return timetables this season Morneau is unlikely to be ready before mid-August.

• Last but certainly not least: Delmon Young's adorable reaction to Jim Thome's monstrous 596th career homer is now in GIF form. If he never played baseball and only reacted to Thome homers, Young would be my favorite Twin of all time.

This week's content is sponsored by Wholesale Gold and Diamond Distributors in Minneapolis, so please help support AG.com by considering them for your jewelry needs.

July 18, 2011

Twins Notes: Closer changes, monster homers, regrets, and somersaults

Matt Capps blew a 1-0 lead and took the loss Friday, serving up a mammoth two-run homer to Royals rookie Eric Hosmer for his league-leading seventh blown save of the year, at which point Ron Gardenhire finally made a change at closer. Gardenhire turned back to former closer Joe Nathan rather than give the bullpen's most effective reliever, Glen Perkins, his first shot in the role, which I agreed last week makes the most sense as a short-term solution.

Perkins may eventually prove to be an elite closer, but he's been so valuable in part because of Gardenhire's willingness to use him in crucial spots whenever the need arises, whereas the manager's closer usage has always been far more rigid. For now at least I'd rather see Perkins throw 80 innings in a variety of tight situations than 65 innings with a lead of 1-3 runs in the ninth inning and Nathan's past closer experience makes the move even more of a no-brainer.

Nathan hasn't looked quite like his pre-surgery self, but he's still been impressive since coming off the disabled list in mid-June. His velocity is up compared to earlier this season, he pitched on three straight days over the weekend for the first time since 2009, and Nathan has allowed just one run in 9.1 innings since the month-long DL trip, with seven strikeouts versus one walk and a .125 opponents' batting average. As for Capps, there isn't much left to say at this point.

By focusing on save totals and supposed "proven closer" status the Twins overvalued a setup-caliber pitcher, paying a premium in players and money. It was a huge mistake then and looks even bigger now, but Capps has also fallen apart. He's managed just 4.8 strikeouts per nine innings, which is 30 percent below his career rate, and command issues have hitters teeing off on what's always been a nearly all-fastball repertoire. Bad process, bad decision, bad result.

• Fortunately even with Capps turning a 1-0 lead into a 2-1 loss Friday night the Twins began the 18-day, 19-game stretch that figures to define the season by taking three of four from the Royals. They're now just five games below .500 for the first time since April and sit five games back in the AL Central with the first-place Indians and second-place Tigers coming to town for back-to-back four-game series. Giddy up.

Scott Baker was scheduled to start Game 1 of today's doubleheader versus the Indians, but was scratched from that outing yesterday and placed on the disabled list with the elbow injury that prematurely ended his last start on July 5. Scott Diamond will start in Baker's spot, as the Twins bypassed No. 1 prospect and Triple-A rotation-mate Kyle Gibson. Kevin Slowey wasn't an option because he last started Friday at Rochester.

Diamond hasn't impressed at Triple-A, posting a 4.70 ERA and 68-to-30 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 92 innings while allowing opponents to hit .291 off him, but he's fared better of late and the Twins clearly think very highly of him. They picked Diamond in the Rule 5 draft and then, when it was clear there wouldn't be an Opening Day spot for him on the pitching staff, they overpaid to keep him by giving the Braves hard-throwing reliever prospect Billy Bullock.

Under normal circumstances the Twins likely would've replaced the injured Baker with Anthony Swarzak and avoided calling up Diamond (or even adding him to the 40-man roster), but with Swarzak already set to start Game 2 of the doubleheader they needed another stretched-out arm and promoting Gibson for a one-and-done start didn't make sense. And instead of taking Baker's spot tomorrow Gibson started yesterday at Triple-A, coughing up nine runs.

• In addition to sticking Baker on the DL and calling up Diamond the Twins also optioned Matt Tolbert to Triple-A so they could add another pitcher for the doubleheader, increasing the staff to a ridiculous 13 arms. Chuck James never should have been sent back to Triple-A in the first place when the Twins chose to keep Phil Dumatrait over him last month and has continued to dominate with a 2.25 ERA, .197 opponents' batting average, and 48 strikeouts in 40 innings.

Jim Thome's monstrous three-run homer yesterday was the 596th of his Hall of Fame career and came in his 150th game for the Twins. Thome, who earned around $2 million last season and will make about $3 million this year, has hit .264/.392/.573 in those 150 games, with 31 homers and 82 walks in 476 plate appearances. That works out to a .965 OPS, which is by far the best OPS and adjusted OPS+ in Twins history among all hitters with 150 or more games:

                       G      OPS                                 G     OPS+
JIM THOME            150     .965          JIM THOME            150     160
Harmon Killebrew    1939     .901          Harmon Killebrew    1939     148
Joe Mauer            871     .878          Rod Carew           1635     137
Chili Davis          291     .862          Chili Davis          291     135
Justin Morneau      1003     .855          Joe Mauer            871     134

Thome is also the only hitter in Twins history with a slugging percentage above .550 (.573) or an Isolated Power above .300 (.309), topping Harmon Killebrew in each category. My favorite part of Thome's homer may have been Delmon Young's reaction to it from the on-deck circle:

Thome has 31 home runs and 82 walks in 476 plate appearances for the Twins. Young has 45 home runs and 83 walks in 1,884 plate appearances for the Twins.

Joe Christensen of the Minneapolis Star Tribune talked to a source who says "the Twins have no plans to trade Michael Cuddyer even if they fall from contention" and in fact "an effort will be made to re-sign Cuddyer this fall." Among impending free agents Cuddyer would bring back the most in a trade, but considering his extreme popularity it's certainly not surprising that the Twins aren't shopping him despite various reported interest from contending teams.

As a good but not great 32-year-old making $10.5 million on the verge of free agency Cuddyer is exactly the type of player most sub-.500 teams should be looking to cash in for future value at the trade deadline, but because the division is so weak the Twins aren't like most sub-.500 teams. With that said, not trading Cuddyer for long-term help could be a missed opportunity if they fall out of contention and re-signing him for similar money would be very dangerous.

• Trading away J.J. Hardy, much like trading for Capps, was a poor move at the time that now looks considerably worse. Hardy has hit .278/.335/.490 through 65 games for the Orioles after hitting .302/.356/.436 in his final 65 games for the Twins, and passed up free agency by inking a three-year, $22.5 million extension over the weekend. He surely would have been cheaper for the Twins to sign, but instead they spent $15 million for three years of Tsuyoshi Nishioka.

Meanwhile, neither player acquired for Hardy has impressed. Jim Hoey is faring well enough at Triple-A to think he may still provide some value, but he flopped with the Twins by allowing 17 runs in 12 innings as opponents hit .344 with nearly as many walks (8) as strikeouts (9). Brett Jacobson has split time between the rotation and bullpen at Double-A, posting a 4.24 ERA and ugly 60-to-48 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 74 innings. From the Baltimore Sun extension story:

Hardy, who came over this offseason in a trade with the Minnesota Twins for two minor-league pitchers, is a free agent at season's end and was looking for more stability after being with three teams since 2009. The Orioles have been pleased with his offense, defense, and leadership in the clubhouse.

Funny how that works. Bad process, bad decision, bad result.

• I've already written plenty about Slowey, so I won't delve back into that situation other than to say for as much harsh criticism as he's taken from fans, media members, and the Twins their handling of him fits on the same list of terrible decisions as the Capps and Hardy trades. He's currently in the rotation at Triple-A, trying to build back arm strength, and Jon Paul Morosi of FOXSports.com reports that the Pirates and Rockies have expressed interest in Slowey.

Slowey's value has likely never been lower and he's under team control for 2012, so there's no major urgency to move him. On the other hand, that 2012 team control would come with a salary of around $3 million and he's deep enough in the doghouse that it's awfully difficult to imagine digging out, in which case salvaging some kind of value for Slowey might make sense. He's the most likely player to be traded by July 31 whether the Twins are buyers or sellers.

• One offseason move that definitely worked out was not bringing back Nick Punto. Declining his $5 million option and instead giving him a $500,000 buyout was a no-brainer, but given the Twins' lack of quality middle infield depth I thought re-signing him for $1 million would've made sense. He ended up signing a one-year, $750,000 deal with the Cardinals, but missed much of April following hernia surgery and now may need season-ending elbow surgery.

• After taking three months off from game action following his disastrous season debut 2010 first-round pick Alex Wimmers has finally taken a big step in his recovery from extreme control problems. He returned to the mound last week at rookie-ball with just one walk in a scoreless inning, after which the Twins assigned him back to high Single-A. He's nowhere near out of the woods yet, but hopefully Wimmers can get somewhat back on track heading into 2012.

• I've written a few times that Ben Revere runs so fast that it often looks like his feet almost can't keep up as he flies around the bases. He took that to another level Friday night, losing his balance rounding second base and falling into a somersault before ending up on third base with a triple. Revere's long-term upside is still very much in question, but there's no doubt that he's been as fun to watch as a player could possibly be while hitting just .278/.314/.320.

This week's content is sponsored by Wholesale Gold and Diamond Distributors in Minneapolis, so please help support AG.com by considering them for your jewelry needs.

July 15, 2011

Link-O-Rama

This week's Link-O-Rama is sponsored by the Minnesota band Shoveldance, so please help support AG.com by checking out their new album ...

Joe Mauer and his girlfriend received the paparazzi treatment in Duluth, of all places.

Justin Timberlake got my vote for All-Star game MVP after trolling Joe Buck on the air.

• And runner-up on my MVP ballot was Kate Upton for her performance in the celebrity game.

• I've never hung out in Miami with Minka Kelly (yet!), but did see enough of the All-Star game to say Derek Jeter made the correct choice.

• I'm not usually big on collecting bobblehead dolls, but the set of all 25 players from the 1991 championship team being offered by the Twins next week looks pretty great. Hint. Hint. Hint.

• Take away the beard and Zach Galifianakis is just a nerdy looking high school kid. Literally.

Mila Kunis is on the cover of the latest GQ magazine and not only does the Official Fantasy Girl of AG.com look spectacular enough to make iced coffee an effective photo shoot prop, the first word she utters in the accompanying interview is "oy." She may hold the title for a while.

• Meanwhile, not everyone is as comfortable speaking Yiddish.

• As great as the Kunis cover is, it might not even be the best photo shoot in this month's GQ.

• I'm glad to see Stringer Bell and Omar Little could settle their differences in the afterlife.

• Best opening paragraph of the year? "A Russian man who tried to rob a hair salon ended up as the victim when the female shop owner overpowered him, tied him up naked and then used him as a sex slave for three days." On a related note, robberies are up 500 percent in Russia.

• Let's hope Bryce Harper's plate discipline proves better than his tattoo discipline.

• For those of us with clear eyes and full hearts Robert Mays' oral history of Friday Night Lights on Grantland is pretty spectacular.

• Also spectacular? This collection of every "y'all" from Connie Britton:

Definitely one of the best moms in television history.

• And just like that, another blogger was born.

• Slideshows usually annoy me, but I'll make an exception for Aubrey Plaza.

• My aunt, Jane Gallop, has a new book out that everyone should buy. Here's a review quote:

Gallop is one of the small handful of critics who are keeping close reading alive. With this volume, she illuminates the stakes in paying such careful and loving attention to the words by which writers are turned, and turn themselves, into authors: stakes made visible on the relational field joining reader and author in an intimate bond that’s desirous, companionate, aggressive, indecent, sustaining, disturbing, unstable, and, when elaborated by a critic and thinker as gifted and incisive as Jane Gallop, also endlessly productive.

She's also a great aunt and has been incredibly supportive of my writing career, so order it.

• It's official: America's Next Great Restaurant is the most misleading title in television history.

• My first thought after reading this story? Hopefully this guy isn't as annoying as John Wayne Bobbitt was during his 15 minutes of fame in the 1990s. Also, ouch.

• Thanks to the internet I didn't have to watch the ESPYs to know Serena Williams was there.

• Last week I heard Scott Boras discuss "managing the media" during his speech at the SABR convention, so suffice it to say his latest headline grab doesn't surprise me.

• This could be an interesting way for mainstream media sites to make their comment sections less mind-meltingly awful, if only since it removes the ever-dangerous anonymity from the mix.

Zach Lowe of SI.com wrote a nice piece on why David Kahn's ongoing push for an up-tempo offense is, like many things he says and does, sort of silly.

• My idol Tom Scharpling took a break from steamrolling chumps to be interviewed by AV Club.

• Podcast recommendation: Julie Klausner's predictably charming and hilarious appearance on "Jordan, Jesse, Go!" with Jesse Thorn and Jordan Morris. And her own podcast is great too.

• ESPN3.com is showing live coverage of the World Series of Poker main event all weekend.

Matt Kemp and I live basically the same life.

• My perception is skewed by spending a week at ballparks in California, but it occurred to me that fewer men and more women wearing baseball hats would make the world a better place.

• One of the upcoming sponsors of the week had to delay their date, so if anyone is interested in stepping in to sponsor the week of July 25-31 click here for details and let me know.

• Finally, in honor of my fantastic trip to Long Beach and the surprising lack of drama in the LBC this week's AG.com-approved music video is Snoop Dogg with a live version of "Gin and Juice":

July 14, 2011

18 days, 19 games, and 1 thin line

I'm still not sure what to make of the Twins, exactly. Since their MLB-worst 17-37 start they've gone 24-11, yet sit in fourth place seven games below .500, a half-dozen games behind both the Tigers and Indians, and are nowhere near full strength with Justin Morneau possibly done for the season, Jason Kubel, Denard Span, and Kevin Slowey also on the disabled list, Scott Baker dinged up, and Joe Mauer yet to look like his usual self offensively or defensively.

In many divisions the Twins would be all but dead, but the Tigers, Indians, and White Sox are each flawed teams that don't look capable of winning more than 85-88 games. With even two or three of those aforementioned key players back healthy and productive it wouldn't surprise me one bit if the Twins had the AL Central's best record for the final 45 percent of the season, but is the massive hole they dug in April and May too big to climb out of in just 73 games?

For the Twins to reach 85 wins they'd have to finish 44-29, which is a 98-win pace. To reach 88 wins they'd have to finish 47-26, which is a 104-win pace. While certainly within the realm of possibility for a team that has played at a 111-win pace for the past six weeks and looked like a 90-something win team coming into the season, the Twins are plenty flawed themselves and even playing 100-win ball for the final two-plus months would leave them needing some help.

None of Detroit, Cleveland, or Chicago is particularly fearsome, but trailing two different teams by a half-dozen games with 73 to play is already a huge enough challenge that the Tigers or Indians getting hot, even for a couple weeks, would be extremely difficult to overcome in such a limited time frame. Not only do the Twins need to play 100-win ball, they can't afford to have the Tigers or Indians play like even a run-of-the-mill playoff team during that same time.

Such is life when you're the worst team in baseball for two months and now the Twins play 19 games during the first 18 days of the second half, with a July 18 doubleheader and their next scheduled off day on August 1. And as if a roster that's been wrecked by injuries both big and small all year and simply can't afford to slump playing 19 times in 18 days isn't drama enough, the trade deadline looming on the final day of that brutal stretch adds another wrinkle.

I'm still not sure what to make of the Twins right now, but by July 31 everyone should have a far clearer picture of where they stand one way or another. And that's a good thing. Clawing further into contention by then would leave the Twins with an opportunity to add a key piece or two for the stretch run, but failing to make up any ground during those 18 crucial days could convince them to cash in some impending free agents for help in 2012 and beyond.

Eighteen days to make or break a season and help shape the Twins' future. They need to play consistently well and avoid slip-ups in series against the Royals, Indians, Tigers, Rangers, and A's, all without rest for the weary, and the front office also needs to realistically and smartly evaluate where they stand leading right up to the July 31 deadline. Normally the line between buyer and seller isn't so thin, but then again nothing about this season has been normal.

This week's content is sponsored by the St. Paul band Shoveldance, so please help support AG.com by checking out their new album.

July 12, 2011

2011 SABR Convention Recap

I avoid airplane small talk because an iPod usually beats chatting with strangers and I feel bad for people stuck next to the fat blogger listening to his iPod, but on Wednesday's flight to Los Angeles for some reason I struck up a conversation with a mom and daughter who happened to be from Long Beach, where I was headed for the 41st annual SABR convention. They were baseball fans and seemed genuinely intrigued by the Society for American Baseball Research.

We talked about ballparks in California, they told me Long Beach wasn't a great place to hang out except compared to Oakland, and then the daughter posed a question I've wanted hear my entire life: "Do you want free drinks?" I replied like I would to "do you want to meet Mila Kunis?" and from her purse came a stack of cards good for one drink apiece. They used two on Bloody Marys and, it being a late-morning flight, I used used two on orange juice ... and vodka.

It didn't even dent the stack, so as we exited the plane four hours later they insisted on giving me another handful. And so on the way to an event where I spend five days each year talking baseball and drinking I talked baseball and drank. There are other fantastic things about SABR and the convention, but for me it's mostly an excuse to get together with friends I've made in the online baseball world. My first convention was 2004 and now I can't imagine missing one.

(BTF's power couple, Dial and Giacalone, on a date at Dodger Stadium)

Within seconds of arriving at the hotel I was in the lobby bar catching up with two of my oldest online buddies, Joe Dimino and Chris Dial, whom I originally "met" on the old Baseball Primer site and then actually met at that 2004 convention. Along with Baseball Think Factory regulars Anthony Milazzo and David Peng we drove to The Yardhouse near Staples Center, where The Hardball Times staffer Ben Jacobs and Paramount vice president Bryan Ellenburg joined us.

(From left to right at Dodger Stadium: Gleeman, Dimino, Jacobs)

From there we headed to the Dodgers-Mets game at Dodger Stadium, where the announced attendance was 31,000 and the actual attendance was probably closer to half of that. Dimino, Peng, Jacobs, Milazzo, and I bought $30 tickets for $20 and then almost immediately upgraded to the section where Dial and Ellenburg were sitting, finding five empty seats in their exact row because there were five empty seats in basically every row.

(What "31,000" fans look like in the middle of the first inning)

It was my first game at Dodger Stadium and the experience was underwhelming despite great company and nice seats. Mets fans nearly outnumbered Dodgers fans and the half-empty park had all the excitement of spring training. There was more excitement two nights later when I returned for what was a 1-0 win over the Padres, but the beer was still $11, the seats were still half-empty and not facing home plate, and the parking situation was ridiculous.

(From left to right at Dodger Stadium: Milazzo, McCullough, Daley, Munk, Wyers)

On the way back from Wednesday night's game we stuffed six guys into a car that comfortably sat four, got stuck in that famous Los Angeles traffic I'd heard so much about, and stopped for six-packs because the hotel bar charged $7.50 for beer and closed before midnight. They hate money, apparently, so Dimino, Jacobs, and I took our six-packs upstairs along with BTF regular Mike McCullough, MLB Advanced Media boss Cory Schwartz, and SI.com writer Will Carroll.

(From left to right in the hotel bar: Brewer, McCullough, Jacobs, Jaffe)

By coincidence Carroll's room was right next to my room and had an adjoining door, which we opened in an attempt to create a quasi-suite where a half-dozen guys drinking beer in a hotel room until 3:00 a.m. seemed far more fun than sad. And then because the convention is about beer and baseball, I was up at 8:30 a.m. the next morning to attend SABR's annual business meeting and see keynote speaker Scott Boras.

(From left to right in the hotel bar: Dimino, Young, Kumar)

His speech focused on the transition from minor leaguer to agent and how he built his hugely successful company. I've been critical of Boras, mostly for his hyperbolic hyping of clients and ability to manipulate certain media members, but he showed the type of charm and humor that makes it easy to understand how he's able to talk star players into choosing him and general managers into signing his star players. It also made me want to buy a used car.

(Boras speaking before SABR's annual business meeting)

At one point the lights in the room dimmed and Boras didn't skip a beat, quickly quipping that "SABR is a lot like the Dodgers, they don't pay their bills either." He got big laughs throughout and even discussed the first time he realized how much "managing the media" would help him, which would've gotten the biggest laugh of the entire 45-minute speech had my HardballTalk blogmate Craig Calcaterra been in attendance.

From left to right in the hotel bar: Webber, Gleeman, Reisner, Forman)

Boras' speech and a somewhat sobering business meeting were followed by lunch and beer at Rock Bottom, where I met Colin Wyers of Baseball Prospectus and Geoff Young, whose blog Ducksnorts is one of the few that predates this one. We got back to the convention in time for a baseball media panel featuring Sean Forman of Baseball-Reference.com, Dave Cameron of Fan Graphs, Bill Squadron of Bloomberg Sports, and Russ Stanton of the Los Angeles Times.

(From left to right at the media panel: Squadron, Stanton, Forman, Cameron)

It was an interesting discussion, but my favorite part of the panel came afterward when I met one of my favorite writers, Sam Miller of the Orange County Register, and along with Young we had our own lengthy discussion about the state of baseball writing. That evening Miller was among the panelists at a star-studded Fan Graphs event that also included Rob Neyer, Jonah Keri, Jon Weisman, Rich Lederer, Eno Sarris, Eric Stephen, David Appelman, and Cameron.

(From left to right at Fan Graphs event: Miller, Lederer, Stephen, Weisman)

Great weather and proximity to multiple ballparks were good reasons to hold the convention in California, but the best part of SABR returning to the West Coast for the first time since Seattle in 2006 was the number of great writers attending. Not meeting Keri and only having a couple minutes with Weisman were my main regrets of the convention after a decade reading them, but it was great to finally meet Cameron, Lederer, Stephen, Appelman, Sarris, and Sarris' hair.

(From left to right at Fan Graphs event: Lederer, Cameron, Gennaro, Neyer, Cistulli)

Carson Cistulli stole the show, hilariously moderating a panel and proving he's even funnier in person than in writing, which is quite a feat. It was a wonderful three-hour event made even better by a couple hours hanging out with panelists in the hotel bar afterward. And when the hotel bar closed too early again I went with a smaller group to a dueling-piano bar and closed it down too, stumbling back to the hotel to amusingly find Cameron on his laptop in the lobby.

(Treder and Giacalone, mid-presentation)

I woke up bright and early Friday, narrowly missing the start of a 10:30 co-presentation about the 1965 Dodgers by BTF regular Anthony Giacalone and original The Hardball Times member Steve Treder. Giacalone and Treder are two of my favorite online baseball friends and did a great job, even if the presentation was about a team that beat the Twins in the World Series. Plus, as an added bonus the Dodgers' first baseman in 1965, Wes Parker, was in attendance.

After the presentation a group of 15-20 piled into two cars and a van for lunch at In-N-Out, the famous West Coast hamburger chain where the line was literally out the door at 1:00 p.m. on a Friday. It was well worth the wait, as I graded my burger and fries as amazing but just short of life-changing. From there I hopped in a convertible and drove to The Yardhouse, where we did $393 worth of pregame drinking despite everything being half-off during happy hour.

Back at Dodger Stadium for a Dodgers-Padres game I was fortunate enough to sit by Forman, who along with creating and running the world's greatest website is simply a helluva guy. Alex Reisner was also a lot of fun to talk to and the crazy ninth inning made up for an otherwise nondescript game, the highlight of which was watching the man pictured below snatch a beach ball out of the air and stuff it underneath his seat as his whole body shook from anger.

(President of the Society for American Beachball Rejectors)

We retreated back to the hotel following a 1-0 game, opting against the lobby bar and instead creating our own bar in the bathroom of the room Giacalone was sharing with BTF regular, The Hardball Times writer, and occasional AG.com commenter Chris Jaffe. Based on his convention recap apparently Jaffe wasn't thrilled by that, but their room had a walk-out balcony with an amazing 14th-floor view of the city that comfortably fit a dozen guys and tons of booze.

(SABR's foremost Jack Bauer impersonator performing fellatio on a Dodger Dog)

We drank, cracked jokes about each other, and argued about stuff like the Negro Leagues and Major League Equivalencies in what I'd more or less describe as a perfect few hours. It's tough to beat baseball, beer, friends, and 75-degree weather from a 14th-floor balcony overlooking California and the night was such a perfect representation of why I come to SABR conventions that it had me quoting Snoop Dogg on Twitter after finally going to my room at 4:15 a.m.

(Giacalone's balcony, sans sabermetricians and beer)

I woke up just in time to have lunch Saturday and then went to a Neyer-moderated panel with Padres general manager Jed Hoyer and former Dodgers GMs Fred Claire and Dan Evans. The fun panel was made even better by the Padres no-hitting the Dodgers for 8.2 innings before losing on a walk-off as a blissfully unaware Hoyer kept his phone off. At one point he asked for an update, was told 0-0 in the sixth, and said: "Great, another pillow fight." Little did he know.

(From left to right at the GM panel: Hoyer, Claire, Evans)

From there I went to Angels Stadium for the Angels-Mariners game with my roommate, Jacobs, and Dimino and Vinay Kumar, who convinced me to attend my first SABR convention in 2004 by telling me how much fun they had in 2003. Not only did we see Mike Trout's first career hit and Torii Hunter's two-homer game, I got to hear Wyers utter the phrase "your Rally Monkey is getting in my beer" after his spilled drink started flowing into the row in front of us.

(From left to right at Angels Stadium: Dial, Wyers' dad, Wyers, Jacobs, Gleeman)

We didn't stay for Dierks Bentley's postgame concert, partly because his cowboy hat-wearing fans kind of freaked me out and I'd never heard of him, but mostly because we needed to get back to the hotel for the annual SABR convention poker tournament. Ellenburg brought the chips from his high-stakes home game, Dial talked the hotel manager into opening a ballroom for us at midnight, and we spent the next few hours playing a 15-person tournament.

(SABR convention poker tournament final table)

Actually, to be more accurate we spent the next three hours drinking while occasionally playing poker, although there was a solid group of spectators that grew to include Neyer and, ever so briefly, Mark Armour. I finished out of the money in fifth. Giacalone won the whole tournament after complaining beforehand that he hadn't played since the convention in Toronto five years earlier and the Scotty Nguyen of the SABR convention, Dial, was runner-up.

(Just like the World Series of Poker, we put the money on the table for heads-up play)

As players were knocked out and onlookers smartly concluded that sleeping sounded better than watching us the group gradually got smaller, but when the tournament was over about 10 of us carried what was left of the booze to a third-floor balcony and held an official chapter meeting. Or tried to, at least. I don't remember much aside from refilling my glass of Jameson, but my headache riding a shuttle to the airport in the morning suggested I had a great time.

(My dance partner Saturday night)

Sitting on the flight back to Minnesota, sipping some more orange juice and vodka courtesy of those nice women and their drink tickets, I was already thinking ahead to the 2012 convention and how much fun it was going to be. SABR42 is in Minneapolis, which initially didn't sound all that great to me because part of the reason I love going to conventions so much is traveling to another city and seeing games in other ballparks.

(Left to right: Kumar, Gleeman, McCullough, Brewer, Dial, Jacobs, Dimino, Ellenburg, Milazzo)

However, more than any of that the SABR convention is about hanging out with like-minded friends who love baseball and poker or drinking or just shooting the shit, and my hope is that the event coming to Minnesota means the excellent and ever-growing Twins blogosphere will be well-represented. I'll be there, because I'll never miss another convention, but I'm hoping to see tons of AG.com readers and my fellow Twins bloggers too. You won't regret it, promise.

You have 12 months to clear your calendar and prep your liver. Women of Minnesota, look out.

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