Monday, November 23, 2009

Joe "MVP" Mauer

Do I have much to add, in terms of accolades, to the mountain of praise that has been heaped on Joe Mauer as of late? Simply, no. Can I repeat the praise that others have heaped on Joe Mauer while adding a tidbit of my own here and there? Simply, yes. So here goes:

a) Adam Tidbit: The MVP award has only been given to a catcher 13 times in either league since it's inception in 1931. The last to receive the award in the American League was Ivan Rodriquez in 1999 (read: wtf?) and the last in the National League was Johnny Bench in 1972. (Complete List Here)

b) Mauer's Batting Average this past season, .365, was the highest by a catcher since 1936 when Babe Phelps hit .367, Mauer and Mike Piazza are the only two catchers in the past 73 years who have cleared the .350 mark for a season. (Source: ESPN, need an Insider Subsription)

c) Mauer received a $100,000 bonus for winning the MVP award. Get this though, Miguel Cabrera received a $200,000 bonus for finishing 4th, I wonder if he paid off that writer from Seattle who gave him a first place vote... (Source)

d) A favorite stat of mine and others out there is Value Over Replacement Player (VORP). This past season, Mauer's VORP was 91 runs above replacement at the Catcher position. The next closest?...Derek Jeter at 71 runs above replacement at Shortstop. Last year's AL MVP Dustin Pedroia was 60 runs above replacement. A 91 VORP is ridiculous when you actually think about what it means. (Source)

e) According to Wikipedia, Mauer has been rumored to be creating his own rap music during his free time. This is fantastic evidence for why you should always read Wikipedia with a critical eye.

One More...

f) Few articles I've read have mentioned the fact that Mauer missed a month of this past season recovering from surgery. The fact that he hit 28 HRs and had 96 RBIs is unbelievable. If he had played during that month and was at full-strength, he very well could have put together one of the greatest offensive seasons of all time with 30+ HRs, 100+ RBIs, 100+ Rs and a .360+ average (.400+ OBP).

All I have to say, as a Twins fan, is this; this team owes it's fans to re-sign Mauer. We have continued to support this team despite losing some of our favorites over the years (Hunter, Santana, etc) and even went as far as helping the team to build a brand new stadium, which they move into next year. The community and fanbase has done everything for this team, and I think the organization has finally gotten to the point where it would benefit them and us, as fans, to invest in the talents they have developed. A core of Mauer, Morneau, Kubel and Cuddyer moving forward would be the kind of product that fans in Minnesota could stay behind for awhile.

If the Twins don't re-sign Mauer, it will be awfully difficult to remain faithful to my team. I want to think that I will always be a fan of the Twins no matter what, but this is one of those times where right course of action is so clear that if the Twins front-office blows the opportunity, it will difficult to continue to trust that they know what they're doing.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Jack Morris & the 1991 Twins

What's so special, you might ask, about the above card? To most people not much, I mean, it's not worth much on the market (I paid $5 for it), Morris isn't a particularly well-known player to most baseball fans, and honestly, the autograph itself is a bit washed out looking. But for me, even though the card depicts Morris in a Tigers uniform, the card holds some sentimental value. Afterall, for one year in 1991, Jack Morris was a capital-H Hero in Minnesota, the last year that my beloved Twins won the World Series.

In the months before the '91 season, Morris signed a one-year deal with the Twins. Morris had been the winningest pitcher in the decade of the 1980's with 162 wins and had won one World Series with the Tigers and, ironically enough, lost an ALCS match-up with the Minnesota Twins in the 1987 post-season.

The Twins season was a good one for Morris, he went 18-12 with a 3.43 ERA in 246+ innings. That season, the World Series ended up being Twins v. Braves and it came down to Game 7, one night after Kirby Puckett's miraculous home-run that won Game 6. The match-up was slated to be John Smoltz v. Jack Morris. Throughout Morris' entire career, he had been known as a big-game pitcher, but this was probably the biggest start of his career. Well boy did Morris deliver. He pitched 10 innings of shutout baseball and the Twins won the game and the Series in the bottom of the 10th inning when Gene Larkin singled in Dan Gladden. Morris was named the MVP of the series and many baseball historians and writers still consider that World Series to be one of the greatest of all-time.

After the '91 season, Morris decided not to resign with his home-town Twins, but rather to sign with the Blue Jays who, quite spectacularly, won the World Series in 1992. Morris finished his career with 254 wins and 3 World Series rings but has not seemed to be able to gather the support necessary to get into the Hall of Fame despite the fact that there are many out there who support his induction.

So yes, this card, though not particularly special to most people, is special in terms of my collection because it is an instant reminder of the last moment of true greatness for the Twins.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Nick Swisher: Counterpoint

AK's dislike of Nick Swisher is well-known and well-documented. He even admits that its largely baseless. But in this piece, he makes some claims about Nick Swisher that I would like a brief moment to refute.

AK's piece essentially claims the following:

(1) Swisher is a tool
(2) Swisher talks like an idiot
(3) Swisher is bad at baseball (as evidenced by a low batting average and propensity to strike out).

As I've argued before, I think Nick Swisher is a decent ball player. I'll start with some value metrics, courtesy of Fangraphs.

Since his full-season debut in 2005, Swisher has accrued 13.5 Wins Above Replacement, a performance worth approximately $54.4M (using Fangraph's Win-to-Dollar conversion ratios). Here is the year-by-year breakdown, with value in parentheses.

2005 - 2.2 ($7.5M)
2006 - 3.1 ($11.6M)
2007 - 3.6 ($14.7M)
2008 - 1.0 ($4.6M)
2009 - 3.5 ($15.9M)

Swisher is currently signed to a 5 year, $26.75M contract, structured as follows:

2007 - $0.7M
2008 - $3.5M
2009 - $5.3M
2010 - $6.75M
2011 - $9M

As you can see, Swisher has clearly been worth more than the value of his contract so far. From 2007 to 2009, his salary has totaled $9.5M, and Fangraphs estimates that the value of his performance has been worth $35.92M. Not too shabby.

This brings me to my central point, which is that Swisher is a very valuable player despite his low batting average and propensity to strike out.

In 2009, Swisher's tripleslash was .249/.371/.498, an OPS of .869, which is slightly below Andre Ethier and Derek Jeter, and slightly higher than Michael Cuddyer, Victor Martinez and Nelson Cruz. He also hit 29 home runs and knocked in 84 RBI. When you combine this with a UZR that has typically ranged from 3.0 to -2.1, you have yourself a fairly valuable right fielder, and a tremendous #8 hitter on the Yankees.

I'm not saying that Swisher will ever be in the Hall of Fame, or that he should ever be considered as such. But his low batting average masks the fact that he gets on-base at a fantastic clip and hits for power.

Both CHONE and Bill James project that Swisher's 2010 performance will mirror his 2009 performance:

James - 26 HR, 85 RBI, .247/.365/.467 (.832 OPS)
CHONE - 27 HR, 80 RBI, .248/.367/.467 (.834 OPS)

I'll take that all day, thank you. Swisher is an undervalued, and underappreciated player. Williams' failure to comprehend BABIP, and thus failure to understand that Swisher was unlucky and due for a bounceback in 2009, was a boon for the Yankees. I want to thank him one more time for trading him to us. How's Wilson Betemit working out for you?

Oh yeah.

Swisher FTW.

Championship Glow

It's still sweet.

It's hard to put it into words now, what this title means. It's hard to close the door on 2009. 2009 still seems alive and active and ongoing. We are the champions. "Are" is an active verb. We continue to be the champions, and I feel it every day.

I don't want the offeseason to begin. My interest in the Hot Stove, one of my favorite parts of the baseball calendar, is muted. I have no offseason nerves, no desperation, no anger, no angst. The Yankees are World Series Champions, and there is nothing that will change that until next October when, hopefully, we do this all again.

It was a great year.

To win the World Series, it feels like everything has to go right. Everything has to click. You can have a great team and lose 3-1 in the ALDS if your bats go cold or if your ace has an off-night or if your closer screws up and you lose home field. I know it seems trite, but its true. Your margin of error is so slim, and you have to replicate your good performance and good luck three separate times. It was excruciating, and it was awesome. It seems like a blur.

My favorite moment of the playoffs has to be ARod's home run off Joe Nathan in the top of the ninth, captured here:

And here:

My favorite part of the second video is the 0:13-0:14 span. The crowd goes from chanting and clapping to silent, as Nathan releases the ball, to engulfed in complete and utter mayhem.


The redemption of Alex Rodriguez.

I'd be remiss not to include this wonderful moment with Mark Teixeira:

In other replays, you can see him screaming at the top of his lungs as he rounded second base.

There is too much to talk about, too much to remember, too much to put into words. But it's all in my brain, and it's never going away.

I didn't know if we could make it. But we did. And it was awesome. The Yankees won the World Series.

Baseball is a long way away now. A long, cold winter looms. And for once, I'm OK with that.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Douchebag of the Day: Nick Swisher

Is there a bigger Tool in Major-League Baseball? Just look at this: here, here, and here. The guy can't seem to decide if he wants to look like the monkey-men from the Geico commercials, A.J. Pierzynski, or a 15-year-old kid.

Oh, and have you ever heard this guy speak? I'll save you the trouble, here's a typical interview with Swisher: "Hey everyone, come see how good I look, come see how awesome I am." To display his brain-power, Swished dropped this gem on an unsuspecting reporter back in his days with Oakland. He said, "Everyone knows an ant, can't, move a rubber tree plant." Don't think about that quote, move on to the next sentence because if you think about it, your brain might literally explode.

Like most of the players I hate, my hatred of Swisher is essentially baseless. A big part of it lies in the fact that he spent a year with the White Sox and I had to listen to his stupid, narcissistic pre-game interviews. Another part of it is that he pretends that he's good at baseball. Look at his career hitting line:

.245 Batting Average
639 Hits
665 Strikeouts (yes, he has struck out more times than he's gotten a hit)
437 Rs
406 RBIs
7SBs out of 15 attempts
.818 OPS
Career Postseason Batting Average of .155 in 71 ABs.

**Quick sidenote: Tony Gwynn had 3 times as many plate appearances in his career as Swisher has so far, and he only struck out a total of 439 times.

Basically, Swisher is a mediocre version of Adam Dunn, a guy who has some pop in his bat and that's about it. Swisher is a decent fielder with a career .982 fielding percentage, but seriously, the .245 career average is brutal. How do you stay in the lineup when you get a hit less than 25% of the time and strikeout as much as he has?? I would understand his "look at me" personality if he was a good player, but in reality, he's not. He's had his moments of greatest, most of them coming this past year with the Yankees, but I just don't like the guy.

Stay tuned for more articles in the future. Once (sic) recovers from his championship bender, he's promised a bevy of hard-hitting content.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

The Yankee Championship: 2 Conclusions

A hearty congratulations to the Yankees, to my partner in crime on this blog, (sic), and to Major League Baseball on what was another fantastic season. It all culminated last night with the Yankees winning it all, but I've got a few thoughts from common-man baseball fan.

First off, Matsui for MVP? Really. The guy played 3 games (half) of the series. Sure his monster game last night was a big part of helping the Yankees clinch, but what about the other 3 games they had to win to get to Game 6? What about A-Rod's monster post-season (finally), what about Rivera's dominance when it mattered the most? What about Damon's double-steal in Game 4 that essentially turned the tide of the entire series? What about CC's two dominant games? Hell, what about Cliff Lee's post-season performance and WS performance? Lee had a legitimate shot to become only the 2nd player on a losing WS team to win the WS MVP.

Anyway, that's really not the point of this post. The point is that based on last night and the last 15 years of baseball, I have two conclusions.

1) New York has more religious people than any other city in America.

If God does care about sports, then the Yankees have more people begging God for victory than any other team does. 27 Championships?!? I just want one! The Cubs, wow, if God cares about sports then he must be a White Sox fan....,or a Yankees fan...hmm.


2) God doesn't care about sports.

5 out of the last 10 World Series have been won by the team with the highest payroll in baseball (the Yankees) or the 2nd highest payroll (the RedSox). Of the past 10 winners, the Marlins (25th highest) were the only team to win the WS that wasn't in the top half of the payroll list. If it's true that God doesn't care about sports, a) the Twins don't stand a chance (22nd highest payroll) and b) you would expect the teams with the highest payrolls to win most of the time, which seems to be the case.
I'm not arguing that the Yankees bought their championship, because aside from the pieces they've added via free agency, they've also brought up plenty of home-grown talent like Joba, Cano, Jeter, etc. However, the payroll gap is real and it does make a difference.

I always love seeing the season come to an end, no matter who wins. It's the longest season of any of the major sports and a lot of times you can see the sheer relief in the faces of the players that it's finally over. I'm really happy for A-Rod, Teixeira, and CC on getting their first rings. I was thinking that Damon has to be the first player to win a WS Ring with both the Yankees and Red Sox in quite some time (if ever). Anyway, this blog will be cooking in the coming months with Hot Stove talk so stay tuned!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Just win

Just win baby.

On the precipice now, one win away from WS title #27, its hard to describe how I feel. It feels so unlikely now. It was seven months ago that I first saw those AP pictures of pitchers and catchers stretching on the greenest grass in Florida. It was beautiful. Winter was over. Baseball was back.

And I'm looking back on the year now, and I remember myself standing in Times Square in March thinking about our prospects for the season and I remember how full of hope I was that we could do it. And it was a long year. I've followed the team more closely than I've ever followed it before. Too much, even. I can tell you all the permutations of our roster, the trades we've made and didn't make, I can name 30 or 40 of our prospects, and I can tell you our catcher in Low A Tampa. I can tell you which pitching prospects had TJ and which had breakout years and which were disappointments. I can tell you about the Coming of Sweet, Sweet Jesus Montero and the year from hell from Andrew Brackman. I can tell you about every walkoff we've had. I can tell you about the quality of the sod in our AAA affiliate. And I can tell you about all our wins. I can tell you about the walkoff homer by Arod that my new bride and I witnessed after 14.5 innings of scoreless baseball against the Red Sox on a hot summer evening, and the walkoff my dad and I witnessed against the White Sox in the cold rain in September.

It was a long year.

And then the playoffs come, and the intensity of the regular season, the anticipation, the nerves, everything just gets amped up, like you were listening to your iPod and someone pumped the volume while you weren't looking. And now I'm nervous all day every day. I count down the hours to each game. And there are so many off-days that I think I'm going to run through a wall. And then our games get rained out. It's cold, its wet, and we're winning. And I'm staying up late every game night, and my health is suffering, and this is, well, this is seriously awesome. And I want it to be over, and I want it to go on forever.

Just win baby.

It feels like its been forever since they won the World Series. Truth be told, I dont remember, really really remember what it feels like. I'm sorry, Twins fans. I know you've suffered longer. I can't help it, though. I want this so bad. I want the bedlam in the Bronx. I want to skip work and go to the parade down the Canyon of Heroes. I want 27 in 09. I want to stay up all night and celebrate. Please.

Just win, baby. Just win.

Future Superstars: Aroldis Chapman

We've done a few of these features now, where we (well, mostly (sic) up until now) feature an up-and-coming prospect to keep your eyes out for. Feliz brought the goods after being featured on this blog, Wieters struggled a bit in his first go around with the Orioles, and Strasburg is expected to dazzle next year with Washington. These guys are generally the cream of the crop when it comes to prospects and you can read about them here before they bust out in the Major Leagues.

Aroldis Chapman is one of those guys who is aways down the line, but who has absolutely electric stuff. This 21-year-old lefty has 'stuff' that has been compared to Strasburg, and sports a fast-ball that has been clocked as high as 102mph. He recently defected from Cuba and is currently living in Andorra. If you have a chance, read about his defection here, pretty cool story.

Chapman has been granted free-agent status by MLB, and as recently as last week was visiting with the Boston Red Sox. As many as 10 teams are thought to be interested in Chapman including the Yankees, Mariners and Tigers. According to SI, Chapman is in line to receive more than Jose Contreras was given by the Yankees back in 2002 ($32M) but probably less than Dice-K. Meanwhile, ESPN's Jorge Arangure thinks that Chapman may be looking for a $30-$60M contract.

Chapman is, by no means, a finished product. He's 21, he still has a lot to learn about pitching and that couldn't be illustrated better than by looking at his stats. Last year, pitching for the National Series team in Cuba, he had a 4.03 ERA in 118+ innings (stats found here) At the WBC last year, he posted a 5.68 ERA in 6+ innings, and that's probably the best reflection to-date of how he would do against an MLB line-up. He will probably need a couple of seasons in the minors, but think about facing a lefty who can throw