July 25, 2012

Twins Notes: Deadline duds, spreadsheet nerds, back hair, and Zubaz

• In what may have been his final start in a Twins uniform Francisco Liriano turned in a clunker Monday night in Chicago, failing to make it out of the third inning while the White Sox got to him for seven runs. Coming into the game Liriano had gone at least five innings in every start since April 27, but he allowed three homers in 2.2 innings after allowing a total of three homers in his previous 71 innings.

Obviously one bad start isn't likely to significantly impact someone's trade value and even with the ugly outing Liriano has a 3.68 ERA, .190 opponents' batting average, and 10.8 strikeouts per nine innings in 11 starts since rejoining the rotation in late May. Still, it was rough timing considering he has a maximum of one more start before the July 31 trade deadline and at least a half-dozen scouts were on hand to file reports to interested teams.

In terms of what the Twins might actually get for Liriano, the Marlins' haul for fellow impending free agent starter Anibal Sanchez offers some clues. Miami sent Sanchez and good but not great infielder Omar Infante to Detroit for a three-prospect package led by 21-year-old right-hander Jacob Turner, a 2009 first-round pick who ranked among Baseball America's top 30 prospects in 2010, 2011, and 2012. Fans should be thrilled with a Turner-like prospect.

• On a related note, this week's Gleeman and The Geek episode featured me arguing with John Bonnes about whether or not Liriano's trade value was likely to continue rising if the Twins held off making a trade until right before the deadline.

Terry Ryan made it clear he'll be looking for high-upside prospects rather than MLB-ready prospects at the trade deadline, which is good to hear. Putting a decent team on the field for 2013 would be nice, but taking a short-term view of a long-term problem would be a mistake and Ryan deserves credit for recognizing that even when he might not be general manager for the long haul. They simply need talent and putting any limits on that search is silly.

• Two weeks ago Glen Perkins publicly outed himself as a Fan Graphs-reading, batting average on balls in play-quoting stat-head, which means he's now subject to the same anti-sabermetrics taunting that lowly bloggers like me have long endured on a regular basis. Case in point, this Twitter exchange between Perkins and a media member bully following Monday night's game in which Twins hitters grounded into five double plays:

Nerds are the worst, amirite?

Carlos Gutierrez has been limited to 10 appearances at Triple-A due to shoulder problems and now the 2008 first-round pick may be out until next season following arthroscopic surgery. If healthy Gutierrez still projects as a potential ground ball-getting middle reliever, but with a 4.90 ERA in 257 innings between Double-A and Triple-A his on-field performance has never matched the Twins' frequent touting of his raw stuff and he'll be 26 years old in September.

Brett Jacobson, the minor-league reliever acquired from the Orioles along with Jim Hoey for J.J. Hardy, has been released. Jacobson was always a marginal prospect and completely fell apart at Double-A this season, walking 45 batters and allowing 41 runs in 42 innings. Hoey was lost on waivers to the Blue Jays back in December, so the Twins officially got zero value out of the Hardy trade that was all kinds of misguided even if they'd gotten a better return.

Jason Kubel had a three-homer game this week and is hitting .297/.368/.577 with 21 home runs and an NL-leading 71 RBIs for the Diamondbacks, but it's tough to blame the Twins for letting him walk. Ryan Doumit has matched his Twins production at a fraction of the cost and Kubel has hit .257/.320/.414 away from Arizona's hitter-friendly ballpark. And for all the talk about Target Field killing Kubel's power he hit .275/.335/.450 on the road in 2010-2011.

• I'm not saying this couldn't have been me, but it wasn't me:

My favorite part? Someone else had to do the sculpting of that Joe Mauer back-hair jersey.

• It's too bad that so much of Chris Parmelee's season has been spent collecting dust on the Twins' bench, because when given a chance to play regularly at Triple-A for the first time in his career he's been very impressive. Parmelee, who initially skipped Triple-A to begin this season in the majors, has hit .302/.446/.510 with four homers, eight doubles, and more walks (24) than strikeouts (18) in 28 games for Rochester.

• In their never-ending search for pitching depth the Twins have signed Eric Hurley, a former first-round pick who was released from Triple-A by the Angels. Hurley is still just 26 years old and ranked among Baseball America's top 100 prospects in both 2007 and 2008, but hasn't pitched in the majors since 2008 and has a 5.43 ERA in 60 career starts at Triple-A. He's purely depth for Rochester at this point.

Trevor Plouffe's thumb injury is a shame, because even after his power binge of 13 homers in 22 games came to an end in mid-June he's hit .283/.354/.460 with five homers, five doubles, and 11 walks in 26 games since. And overall since carrying a .133 batting average into May 15 he's hit .296/.344/.618 with 18 homers in 52 games.

• When asked by Ken Rosenthal of FOXSports.com if the Twins are shopping Josh Willingham an unnamed general manager replied: "He's out there if you want to pay, like, forever."

Michael Rand of the Minneapolis Star Tribune passes along the best Tom Kelly picture ever:

I'm waiting for Zubaz to make a comeback. Maybe we can get hipsters to wear them ironically?

This week's blog content is sponsored by Ballplayer: Pelotero, a controversial new documentary about baseball prospects in the Dominican Republic starring Miguel Sano as a 16-year-old.

July 23, 2012

“Gleeman and The Geek” #51: The Trade Deadline Rises

Topics for this week's episode of Gleeman and The Geek included Francisco Liriano's constantly fluctuating trade value, whether Denard Span will also be on the move before July 31, why I can't make friends, John Bonnes' mid-life crisis, Scott Diamond's return to earth, Matt Capps joining Carl Pavano on the disabled list, reviewing The Dark Knight Rises, Aaron Hicks' recent bounceback, and mailbag questions from listeners via Twitter.

Gleeman and The Geek: Episode 51

In addition to the direct download link above you can also subscribe to the podcast via iTunes.

This week's blog content is sponsored by Ballplayer: Pelotero, a controversial new documentary about baseball prospects in the Dominican Republic starring Miguel Sano as a 16-year-old.

July 20, 2012

Link-O-Rama

(Our whole crew, including me in the middle and Bill Parker talking to Robby Incmikoski.)

I spent yesterday afternoon at Target Field watching the Twins-Orioles game in FOX Sports North's suite. Along with a few other bloggers I was invited there to try the "Game Connect" platform that incorporates play-by-play, statistics, scores, social media, and a bunch of other stuff for an online supplement to the game-watching experience. It's definitely worth trying, especially if you're like me and typically watch Twins games on FSN with your computer nearby.

(After seeing John Bonnes' tweet they actually asked to do this and who was I to say no?)

FSN treated us too well. Becky Ross and Laura Beshire were great hosts, plying us with beer and food. Angie Avestruz and Kaylin Cockriel--also known as "The FSN Girls"--couldn't have been nicer, even when John Bonnes creepily used Twitter to peer-pressure them into running their fingers through my hair. And sideline reporter Robby Incmikoski hung out, interviewed me on television, and was incredibly nice despite me often being critical of him and FSN.

 (Nick Nelson was more focused on his beer and sunglasses than my FSN television debut.)

And then after the game we put the finishing touches on a fun day at the Fulton Tap Room. You can find some more pictures and details about the whole experience on my Twitter page. Thanks to FOX Sports North for reaching out to the bloggers and thanks to everyone involved for being so damn nice. And last but not least check out "Game Connect" the next time you're watching the Twins on FSN, if only so they don't regret inviting me. OK, now on to the links ...


• As always, Louis C.K. is the best.

Pete Rose is getting his own reality television show and it sounds as bad as you'd expect.

• Yesterday morning during my KFAN appearance with Paul Allen the inevitable happened, as PA and my mom joined forces in the name of ... well, listen for yourself.

Heidi Klum was the first Official Fantasy Girl of AG.com way back in 2002 and suffice it to say she's aged a whole helluva lot better than I have.

• Friend of AG.com and former Gleeman and The Geek guest Lindsay Guentzel made it to the MLB Fan Cave's final seven, but after four months in New York she was voted out this week.

• Speaking of which, this week's Gleeman and The Geek show was our 50th episode, which means only 450 more until my mom is allowed to come on as a guest.

• Having reached the point where losing more weight isn't really possible--I'm down under 170 pounds after being 355 pounds on March 7, 2011--for the past two weeks or so I've been on a Chinese food and gum diet mostly just to see what happens. And despite getting takeout from Yangtze in St. Louis Park literally every day I somehow haven't gained any weight. Order the "hunan chicken with just carrots and baby corn." It'll change your life.

• Jets coach Rex Ryan went from 348 pounds in late 2009 to 242 pounds now, although he underwent lap-band surgery rather than relying strictly on diet and exercise.

Pete Caldera is officially the coolest beat reporter in baseball. And best-dressed, too.

• Nationals first-round pick Lucas Giolito has $2.9 million and a signed lightsaber from Samuel L. Jackson hanging in his room.

• If you're into statistical analysis for basketball, Court Vision's graphics showing exactly where rebounds wind up based on where shots are taken are pretty great.

Bert Blyleven had a perfect response to Reggie Jackson: "God gives us many holes in our body and he just spoke out of the wrong one."

• As someone forced to use a Blackberry for work, the company's situation is depressing.

• This will probably make it even more confusing when I try to explain where I work to people.

• Congrats to my HardballTalk blog-mate Craig Calcaterra for being named "internet writer of the year" by the Baseball Bloggers Alliance.

• Looking at Official Fantasy Girl of AG.com candidate Kelly Brook is just like riding a bike.

Darren Wolfson's ongoing coverage of the Timberwolves' offseason has been a must-read at 1500-ESPN and his lengthy article breaking down the Nicolas Batum drama was excellent.

• Except for the parts about leaving the house and hanging out with strangers for three hours this sounds like a great way to watch a Twins game at Target Field.

Paul F. Tomkins filmed a series of short video interviews with interesting actors, comedians, and musicians over drinks and they're all worth watching.

• Netflix instant recommendation: Rampart, which stars Woody Harrelson and convinced me even further that he's one of the best, most versatile, and most underrated actors around.

• On a related note, one screenshot can tell the story of a crazy evening.

John Legend was a great guest on The Champs with Neal Brennan and Moshe Kasher.

• Finally, this week's AG.com-approved music video is Legend singing the hook to "Do You Wanna Ride" by Jay-Z:

This week's blog content is sponsored by Ballplayer: Pelotero, a controversial new documentary about baseball prospects in the Dominican Republic starring Miguel Sano as a 16-year-old.

July 19, 2012

Spending a day off from baseball writing at the ballpark, courtesy of FSN

I'm taking a rare day off from HardballTalk blogging duties on NBCSports.com to attend this afternoon's Twins-Orioles game at Target Field, where the fine folks at FOX Sports North have invited me and a few other bloggers to their suite to watch Cole De Vries vs. Wei-Yin Chen and learn about the "Game Connect" platform. Depending on how the day unfolds I'll probably be posting updates on the whole experience, so check back later and/or follow me on Twitter.

Oh, and before heading to the ballpark I'll be on KFAN with Paul Allen this morning at 9:00.


UPDATE: This morning during my KFAN appearance on Allen's show the inevitable happened, as PA and my mom joined forces in the name of ... well, listen for yourself.


UPDATE: OK, so this happened (for the explanation, click here):


UPDATE: This is what it looks like when they put bloggers on television:


UPDATE: Robby Incmikoski interviewed me on FSN:


This week's blog content is sponsored by Ballplayer: Pelotero, a controversial new documentary about baseball prospects in the Dominican Republic starring Miguel Sano as a 16-year-old.

July 18, 2012

Twins Notes: Liriano, Santana, Mauer, Blackburn, Capps, and Pavano

• How dominant was Francisco Liriano against the A's on Friday night? Not only were his 15 strikeouts the second-most in Twins history behind Johan Santana with 17 on August 19, 2007, his 30 swings and misses induced were the most by any MLB pitcher since ... Santana had 32 on August 19, 2007. I went back through the AG.com archives to find what I wrote about his incredible performance that day and shockingly it included a Jessica Alba comparison.

Liriano's first start following his brief demotion to the bullpen also came against Oakland and he overpowered the A's then too, giving him a ridiculous 24-to-3 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 14 innings against them since May 30. And it was good timing, as at least a half-dozen teams reportedly sent scouts to evaluate Liriano for a potential trade. Since rejoining the rotation he's thrown 57 innings with a 2.83 ERA, .170 opponents' batting average, and 67 strikeouts.

• Some fun facts from that Santana start on August 19, 2007: He struck out 17 in eight innings and then closer Joe Nathan struck out two more in the ninth inning, as they combined for 19 strikeouts, zero walks, and two hits allowed in a 1-0 shutout of the Rangers. Michael Cuddyer homered for the game's only run, C.J. Wilson pitched in relief for Texas, and the Rangers had a 38-year-old Sammy Sosa batting cleanup. And here was the Twins' lineup:

1. Alexi Casilla, 2B
2. Joe Mauer, DH
3. Torii Hunter, CF
4. Justin Morneau, 1B
5. Michael Cuddyer, RF
6. Mike Redmond, C
7. Rondell White, LF
8. Tommy Watkins, 3B
9. Nick Punto, SS

Oh, and Jason Tyner came in defensively for Rondell White late in the game. One not-so-fun fact about the game: Santana made just seven more starts in a Twins uniform.

• Friday's deadline to sign draft picks came and went without much drama for the Twins, who'd already agreed to deals with their first 11 picks weeks ago. Or so everyone thought. It turns out sixth-round pick Andre Martinez, a high school pitcher from Florida who originally agreed to an over-slot $260,000 bonus, ended up reworking his deal after a pre-signing physical exam revealed shoulder issues. He signed Friday for $80,000 compared to the $200,000 slot.

Another last-minute signing was 20th-round pick Zach Larson, a high school outfielder from Florida who agreed to a $190,000 deal that's nearly twice the slot value for picks after the 10th round. By saving money elsewhere compared to the slot values for various picks the Twins had plenty of extra money to throw Larson's way and in fact overall they spent about $300,000 less than their MLB-high $12.3 million allotment.

Ninth-rounder L.J. Mazzilli is the earliest Twins pick not to sign, as the Connecticut second baseman and son of longtime big leaguer Lee Mazzilli presumably turned down close to the $130,000 slot amount for the No. 280 overall pick. Mazzilli hit .339/.404/.548 with 16 steals in 58 games as a junior, but also committed 20 errors and was no sure thing to stick at second base defensively as a pro. In all the Twins signed 27 of 43 picks, including 14 of their first 15.

Mark Appel, the Stanford pitcher represented by Scott Boras who fell to No. 8 after being an oft-projected No. 1 pick and possible Twins choice at No. 2, ended up as the only first-rounder not to sign. He turned down $3.8 million, which is $900,000 more than slot and the most the Pirates could offer without forfeiting next year's pick. Appel can return to college for his senior year and be drafted again, while the Pirates get the No. 9 pick in 2013 as compensation.

• After going 3-for-4 with a walk (and a great diving catch) last night Joe Mauer is now hitting .333/.420/.462, which is nearly identical to his .324/.404/.470 career line despite offense being down across baseball. He leads the league in on-base percentage and ranks second in batting average, has hit .385 in his last 45 games, and is projected to be worth $26 million this year according to Fan Graphs. He's being paid $23 million.

Nick Blackburn is already back with the Twins after allowing one earned run in two starts at Triple-A following his demotion, but the bad news is that he managed just five strikeouts in 15 innings. He succeeded there by keeping the ball in the ballpark, but his ground-ball rate wasn't exceptional and as usual there's little reason to think pitching to that extreme level of contact is going to get the job done against big-league hitters.

Matt Capps' return from the disabled list lasted all of five days, as he showed decreased velocity and was shut down again with more shoulder problems. That ruins whatever chance the Twins had of trading Capps before July 31, which is a shame because reportedly at least one team was actually showing interest. Suffice it to say that the Twins' decision to forfeit a draft pick in order to re-sign Capps for $5 million has gone about as well as expected.

Carl Pavano isn't close to returning from his own shoulder injury, so the even slimmer odds the Twins had of trading him before the July 31 deadline is officially gone. It's possible that he could return in time to make a few starts before the August 31 waiver trade deadline, but even that's no sure thing and obviously counting on Pavano to be effective enough to draw interest at that point would be wildly optimistic.

David Laurila of Fan Graphs interviewed Terry Ryan and the lengthy transcript is definitely worth reading, but here's one particularly interesting excerpt about the team's oft-questioned involvement with statistical analysis:

We never messed with that too much back in the '70s, but we did in the '80s and the '90s and the 2000s. We've been looking at that forever. ... People don't want to hear that out of the Minnesota Twins. But we've been looking at that forever. Way before some. We're not as deep as some, but we do believe in certainly doing our work, and that stat page is one big piece to the puzzle of putting players together.

Our scouts, and our people, will tell you if I'm looking at a player, and I go down and look at his line, and it doesn't add up, I've got to give him a call quick. I tell him, "This doesn't make any sense." His role, his skills and his statistical history, and you're going to tell me this? How do you get there? I believe in that.

All forms of information are good. I've drilled that into our people. Bring it on. All forms, let me sort it out. ... I read all that stuff, and sometimes it's so much information that I do get paralyzed reading it and taking it all in. You can spend as much time as you want on everything that is available. It's almost mind-boggling how much stuff is out there.

Ryan and other Twins decision-makers have adopted "we're into that even if you don't know it" as their response to those questions. And that's fine, although it's worth noting that, for instance, assistant general manager Rob Antony lacked familiarity with basic aspects of statistical analysis as recently as two years ago and even in the above excerpt Ryan talking about looking at stats isn't really what anyone would consider a new-school approach.

When people wonder if the Twins are involved with statistical analysis the questions aren't about literally looking at a player's stats--that much is assumed, no matter a team's public stance--but rather taking full advantage of new technology and the increasingly in-depth data available. They've recently hired some stat-heads and clearly want to keep things secretive, but what little Ryan and others do say about the issue leaves plenty of room for skepticism.

• Midseason prospect rankings are out and Baseball America moved Miguel Sano from No. 18 to No. 22, whereas ESPN.com moved Sano from No. 28 to No. 26. In other words Sano remains a top-30 talent as an all-around prospect and among hitters who don't play up-the-middle positions only Wil Myers of the Royals, Oscar Taveras of the Cardinals, and Nick Castellanos of the Tigers rank ahead of Sano on both lists.

• As part of their minor-league roster shuffling the Twins released Jairo Perez, who ranked 34th on my preseason list of the team's prospects. He hit .337/.413/.580 at low Single-A last year and .265/.350/.403 at high Single-A this year, which makes cutting Perez in July an odd move. On the other hand at age 24 he was very old for Single-A and didn't really have a clear defensive home. And now he's playing in an independent league.

Matt Maloney parlayed a good spring training into an Opening Day bullpen spot after the Twins claimed him off waivers from the Reds in October, but the soft-tossing left-hander coughed up 10 runs in 11 innings and not surprisingly passed through waivers unclaimed in May. He was even worse at Triple-A, allowing 33 runs in 24 innings, and now he'll be out until mid-2013 following Tommy John elbow surgery.

• Twins castoff Luke Hughes was released by the A's after hitting .223/.316/.338 in 42 games between Double-A and Triple-A.

This week's blog content is sponsored by Ballplayer: Pelotero, a controversial new documentary about baseball prospects in the Dominican Republic starring Miguel Sano as a 16-year-old.

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