Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Josh Willingham: What's Not to Like?

Depending on who you trust on Twitter, the Twins may or may not have agreed, in principle, to a deal with outfielder/DH free-agent Josh Willingham. Jerry Crasnick reported earlier this evening that a deal had been reached pending a physical - a report which was contradicted by Rhett Bollinger later in the evening saying that the two sides were close, but that they hadn't yet officially reached a deal...either way, I'm willing to bet that Willingham will become a Twin here within the next 12-24 hours so I thought I'd chime in. On an unrelated note, please forgive my scant postings over the last couple of weeks. I started a new job on Dec. 2nd and, well, it's been non-stop busy-ness since with no end in sight.

There's really not much to dislike about this deal from an outsiders perspective. Michael Cuddyer, whom Willingham is "replacing", is 32-years old, so is Willingham. Their hitting profiles are very similar in that they are both right-handed hitters with some power and good on-base percentages. In watching Cuddyer go to another team, the Twins get two draft picks in return and for a farm system that is somewhat depleted, the picks could not be coming at a better time. In addition, Willingham is likely to save the Twins a little bit of money. All of these things are positive. The only negative, in my opinion, is that you lose a guy in Cuddyer who has been a scrapper and a gamer for the last few seasons, who was clearly a good clubhouse guy and who was somewhat of a fan favorite. That said, none of those are reasons to keep a guy around.

Josh Willingham really didn't start to see regular big-league action until 2006 (age 27) but has been a pretty consistent big-league performer since, compiling a .262/.361/.475 triple-slash in 2,707 big-league at-bats. Since the beginning of the '06 season he has hit 131 homeruns (avg ~ 21/yr) and 155 doubles (avg ~ 26). Defense is where Willingham struggles a bit and where Cuddyer certainly has the upper hand when comparing the two players. Willingham will almost certainly be in left-field for the Twins - a position has spent the majority of his big-league career playing. He also gained some experience as a DH last year with Oakland so if the Twins get him, I would expect we'll see him used in that role as well from time to time.

I really hope the Twins do get Willingham. I was never bitten by the Cuddyer-bug, I respect him as a player and a hard-worker, but I think that the Twins benefit more in the long-run by letting him go. Willingham doesn't have quite the versatility that Cuddyer has defensively, but for a little less coin I'm willing to make the swap.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Remembering Brad Radke


No, he didn't die. I thought about changing the title to make it seem less eulogy-like, but I couldn't think of anything. He didn't die; instead, I found out today that this is Radke's first year of eligibility for the Hall of Fame and given the other people on this year's ballot, he might actually have a shot...just kidding. I thought it would be fun to revisit Radke's career, first inning struggles and all.

Brad William Radke was drafted in the 8th round of the 1991 MLB Amateur Draft at the young age of 18. He was a product of Jesuit High School in Tampa, FL which also produced other Major Leaguers such as Lou Piniella, Al Lopez (HOF), Dave Madagan and Jason Michaels. Radke had early success in the Minors, throwing well in Rookie Ball and A-league ball before a promotion to AA towards the end of the '93 season. Radke spent all of the 1994 season at AA posting a very good 2.66 ERA in 186.1 innings - enough to turn some heads in the Twins front office.

Given that '94 was a strike-shortened season, the 1995 season started late and Radke was actually able to make the team out of Spring Training. He made his Major League debut on April 29th, a relief appearance in which he allowed 3 earned runs (4 runs overall) to the Baltimore Orioles in a game the Twins went on to lose 13-7. After that game, the rest of his appearances that year were as a starter and he managed to do OK considering he was on a team that lost 88 games that season (only 144 played that year). He won 11 games against 14 losses, gave up a league-high 32 homeruns, and threw 181 innings for the Twins...not bad for a 22-year-old rookie who's pro-career, to that point, had not extended past AA ball.

Even in that first year, Radke began to show a pattern which would plague him for his entire career - he had trouble getting out of the 1st and 2nd innings without giving up runs. In '95, his 1st inning ERA was 6.43, his 2nd inning ERA was 5.53 and after that, it settled in the low-4s. Though subsequent seasons were not nearly as terrible, the trend of early-inning struggles continued for most of Radke's career. He also gave up a TON of homeruns. He led the league in homeruns-allowed in both 1995 and 1996 and finished in the top 5 in that category 4 times during his career. For his career, he allowed 326 home-runs which ranks 35th all-time among MLB pitchers...this despite the fact that Radke had a relatively short 12-year career.

Brad Radke's career was not without highlights however. In 1997 he had a pretty lucky season that saw him win 20 games for the hometown club...especially impressive given the fact that the Twins lost almost 100 games that season. In that same year, he also won 12 consecutive games (consecutive starts), becoming only the 3rd pitcher since 1950 to do that (courtesy: wikipedia). Radke's career saddled the Twins transition from perennial loser to perennial contender perfectly; the team has 6 losing seasons and 6 winning seasons during his tenure as a Twin.

Radke was inducted into the Twins Hall of Fame in 2009, the team's last season in the Metrodome. He the poster child for the pitching "mold" that the Twins have become famous for...low strikeout rate, low walk rate. Radke ranks 32nd all-time in BB/9IP ratio (min 1,000 IP), ranking ahead of other famously walk-stingy pitchers like Roy Halladay and Greg Maddux. Radke will, I think, always be fondly remembered by Twins fans. He was quiet, he wasn't a distraction, he was a work-horse and he was reliable - that's about as much as you can ask of any player. In a way, he was kind of a paradox - he possessed pin-point control, yet gave up a lot of home-runs. My personal favorite memory of Radke isn't exactly a good one (if your name is Brad Radke). My favorite player growing up, aside from Kirby Puckett who was done playing by the time I was 12 years old, was Ken Griffey Jr. I begged my dad to take me to see him when the Mariners were in town during the '99 season and in the game we saw, Radke started and gave back-to-back home-runs to Griffey and A-Rod in the 1st inning. Classic.

Monday, November 28, 2011

What DO the Twins Have?

With the baseball winter meetings coming up in a week or so - the baseball hot-stove fires are about to be stoked into a blazing inferno here in the next 1-2 weeks. Up to this point I've done my fair share of speculating about what the Twins will do and in looking around other Twins blogs, you'll find no shortage of others who tried their hand at the same thing. With this piece, I want to take a different tact...I want to take a look at the pieces the Twins have right now that we can be assured of seeing on Opening Day (barring pre-season injury of course). All of us have a pretty good idea of what the holes on this team are - but laying out what the team has right now may make it crystal clear where the team should start in addressing their weaknesses.


Infield (arbitration eligibles in red, backups in parentheses):

C - Joe Mauer (Ryan Doumit/Drew Butera)
1B - Justin Morneau
2B - OPEN (Alexi Casilla)
SS - Jamey Carroll (Tsuyoshi Nishioka)
3B - Danny Valencia
DH - Ryan Doumit/ ?

This infield situation is complicated by unknowns. In a perfect world, the Twins would bring in a Kelly Johnson or a Aaron Hill type to fill the hole at 2nd base and your infield would be set with Morneau & Valencia on the corners with Carroll and Johnson/Hill up the middle. Reality is far from that though as the Twins have still not addressed second base and only God knows what Justin Morneau's availability will be come Opening Day.


Outfield (arbitration eligibles in red, backups in parentheses):

RF - OPEN
CF - Denard Span (Ben Revere)
LF - Joe Benson? Trevor Plouffe?

To me, the outfield situation is just as dire as the bullpen situation. If the Twins do nothing to address the outfield situation, the Twins will have a couple of guys (Revere and Benson) with less than a full-year of Major League experience as your starting Right and Left fielders. Not only that, Denard Span is coming off a 2nd-half which saw him miss significant time due to a concussion. He has said on Twitter that he's been feeling good lately, but with Morneau's cautionary tale, I don't think there's any counting on Span. I would like to think they'll bring back Jason Kubel, though I view his role as more of a DH if he returns, filling the void left by Jim Thome's departure. Aaron Hicks stands to get a look in Spring Training, but as a 22-year-old who spent all of last year a Fort-Myers (A-ball), I don't know that his chances are all that good. The Twins have announced that they are going to make Trevor Plouffe an outfielder, but even if he makes the transition defensively, I don't know that he has much staying power in the lineup (.697 OPS in 286 PAs last season). In short, the Twins have a lot of outfield question marks and not a lot of answers, though I did discuss a few potential free-agent answers in my last post.

Starting Pitching (arbitration eligibles in red):

#1 Francisco Liriano
#2 Carl Pavano
#3 Scott Baker
#4 Nick Blackburn
#5 Kevin Slowey? Brian Duensing?

Some people have seen a lot of question marks here too, but to me the starting rotation is pretty much set with the only question mark being who the Gardenhire and the Twins will decide to install as their 5th starter. As expected, Duensing's permanent move to the rotation last season exposed him and I wouldn't be surprised if they move him back to into the bullpen and give Slowey his old spot back. Then again, Slowey is (and has been) in the dreaded Gardenhire dog-house for awhile, so there are certainly no guarantees there. I would love to see the Twins go out and grab another starting pitcher, but those tend to be expensive, especially in a market like this year's when there are not many good ones available. As far as help from the farm goes, the Twins have nothing in the Minors that inspires much confidence in terms of starting pitching. There are a couple of arms (Hendriks, Salcedo), but they don't seem close.

Bullpen Pitching (arbitration eligibles in red):

Glen Perkins
Jose Mijares
? Jeff Manship ?
? OPEN
? OPEN

Ok, I take that back about the outfield rivaling the bullpen as the Twins most pressing issue. Holy smokes. The Twins have a bunch of garbage arms they could use including (but certainly not limited to): Alex Burnett, Scott Diamond, Jim Hoey, Jeff Gray, etc. With around $69.5M already committed to next year's payroll, and another $15M or so wrapped up in arbitration eligible players...the Twins have about $15M to spend to fill holes in the infield, outfield and bullpen. It's going to take every cent of that money, in addition to some GM wizardry, to field a competitive Twins team in 2012, but I feel that Terry Ryan is up to the task. Capable bullpen arms don't need to be expensive, and as Aaron Gleeman talked about in his most recent column, the Twins shouldn't feel the need to spend a lot of money on a closer either...a closer doesn't need to be "proven" in order to be dominant.

I think if I were Mr. Ryan, I would focus on the outfield first because useful outfielders are likely to be snapped up a lot more quickly than useful bullpen arms will be. Aside from that, I wouldn't overreact or overpay for marginal talent. The Twins have enough quality pieces (especially if Mauer and Morneau are healthy) that they can afford to have a few duds in the lineup). I would rather see good money spent in the bullpen than money needless thrown at replacement level infielders and outfielders.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Looking to the Outfield

Hats-off to Terry Ryan. In his first couple of weeks back on the job he has already addressed two significant areas of weakness on the ballclub using minimal funds. I could take a few minutes and talk about the Ryan Doumit acquisition, but others have already done a good job of that, particularly Nick Nelson  and Parker Hageman - both of them wrote excellent pieces about Doumit and his fit with the Twins, check out both pieces.

Because Terry Ryan has been so thrifty so far, he has left himself with a good chunk of funding left to fill other holes on the team, particularly in the outfield, starting rotation and bullpen. I want to look to the outfield to see what the Twins options are. I'm operating from the assumptions that the Twins lose either Cuddyer or Kubel, or they lose both of them. I don't see the Twins being able to keep both and I find a situation in which Kubel stays to be much more likely. If the Twins keep either Cuddyer or Kubel they will likely only "need" to add one outfielder to the mix because I'm also assuming that Ben Revere and/or Joe Benson will make the Major League club out of Spring Training. I put "need" in quotes because if they Twins keep Kubel, they could technically get away with not adding an OFer at all, but unless you're willing to make Kubel and Revere full-time outfielders, they're going to have to add someone. Moving along...

**By the way, it has been reported that the new collective bargaining agreement in Major League Baseball does away with compensation for Type-B free agents meaning the teams with Type-Bs will receive nothing if the player signs with another club. I haven't seen any sources confirming that this is set in stone so I'm leaving the designations there for now...just keep in mind that it may be utterly meaningless if it's true that MLB did away with "Type-B" designations.


Jason Kubel (Type-B) - 2011 Salary: $5,250,000
I've talked about Kubel before, particularly about how I think he has unique value. Kubel, like most other Twins' players, was injured for a large portion of the season, missing a total of 63 games. Through the first two months of last season he was pretty much the only bright spot in the lineup posting a .310/.355/.465 line through the end of May. He was looking like his 2009-self until being sidelined for all of June and most of July with a sprained foot. Anyway, we all know the story. Kubel is unique in the sense that he's a left-handed power hitter. Prior to the 2011 season, he had 3-straight 20+ HR seasons and during those three years he had a .821 OPS. His defense isn't great, but sans-Thome, the Twins could really use a competent hitter in the DH spot, a role Kubel would be able to fill quite competently. Kubel has been a consistent performer when healthy and at 29-years-old, extending him a 2-4 year deal makes sense.

Cody Ross (Type-B) - 2011 Salary: $6,300,000
Ross is an intriguing option from a few different angles. First, he can (and has) play all three outfield positions. Most of his playing time has been spent in centerfield, but he's also played appreciable time in right and left. With as many interchangeable parts as the Twins have (a catcher that needs frequent breaks from catching, no established DH, etc), having a versatile outfielder could be a major positive for a club that needs to move players around on a regular basis. In addition to that, Ross has some decent power (career .456 slugging %) from the right-side which is lacking in the current Twins lineup.
Ross has a couple of downsides as well. His ability to get on-base leaves something to be desired (career .323 OBP) and he doesn't really hit for average either. Fielding-wise he's very average though for the Twins, "average" is probably an upgrade, especially in right-field. There's also the fact that in each of the last 5 season, Ross' OPS has dropped...from 1.064 in 66 games in '07, to .730 in 121 games last season. At 30-years-old Ross definitely has something left in the tank, but unless Ross sits out there on the free-agent market for awhile, the price tag will likely be too high to make it worth the risk.

Ryan Ludwick (Type-B) - 2011 Salary: $6,775,000
It's scary when you look at how similar Ryan Ludwick and Cody Ross are offensively. Ross' career triple-slash is .261/.323/.456, Ludwick's career triple-slash is .261/.332/.455. Pluses for Ludwick are slightly better plate-discipline and slightly better defense, but other than that the two have very similar career stories. Ludwick, much like Ross, has even seen a decline over the last 4 seasons. After an All-Star season in '08 which saw him hit 37 HRs and drive in 113, his OPS and overall production have declined in each season since. Given his poor 2011 season, I'm guessing that Ludwick could probably be had for a discount and would definitely be an upgrade defensively - I think he's in line for a bounce-back of sorts.

Brad Hawpe (Outright FA) - 2011 Salary: $2,000,000
The Padres had a $6M option on Hawpe but after a dismal 2011 season, they understandably decided to opt for the $1M buyout making Hawpe an outright free agent. From 2006 to 2009 Hawpe was a very consistent hitter for the Colorado Rockies posting 4-straight 20+ HR seasons and a .902 OPS over that time. Ever since, he's looked nothing like that while splitting time between 3 different ballclubs. Defensively, Hawpe is nothing special at all with a career-.978 fielding% and a career -18.9 UZR/150 -- and my 'nothing special' I mean he's pretty terrible. Hawpe might be worth a flier - but if I were Terry Ryan I wouldn't offer anything more than a one-year "let's see" type deal.

Josh Willingham (Type-A) - 2011 Salary: $6,000,000
It's hard to say how realistic it is that the Twins could land Willingham. For one thing, he's certainly going to be making more than $6M per year with whomever he ends up signing. His OPS has been north of .800 for the past 6 seasons and at 32-years old, he has miles left on the tires. Offensively he's probably the best of the mid-tier options out there and defensively he sits somewhere between Cody Ross and Ryan Ludwick. I would be ecstatic if the Twins went out there and got him, but given their self-reported payroll goals, I find it improbable that he ends up in a Twins uniform. Michael Rand over at the Star Tribune wrote an interesting piece about Willingham and how the Twins fans might be focusing too much on him, can't say I disagree - check it out.

I think we'll continue to see the Twins regularly add pieces as we go through the next couple of months - not all of them are going to be household names, but I would be surprised to see one bigger name in there somewhere - I think it will most likely it will be a starting pitcher or reliever.

I haven't mentioned this in a post before (I don't think), but if you want, follow me on Twitter (@thebatshatters). I try to keep it almost 100% sports and Twins related - unlike some people who choose to share their political views on a regular basis. Also, on this Thanksgiving Week, I want to say a big THANK YOU to all of you who are regular readers of this blog, I really appreciate the time you take to read and comment.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

If It Ain't Broke, Don't Fix It


Leave it to the Astros to go and screw everything up. I'm not sure exactly HOW it happened, but the new owner of the Astros (Jim Crane) got Bud Selig and Major League baseball to sign-off on moving the team to the American League as part of his deal to buy the team. In addition to the Astros' move from the NL Central to the AL West, MLB will be adding a second wild-card team to each league and will, most likely, implement a one-game playoff between the two wild card teams in each league (a play-in game, if you will). Oh, and because each league now contains the same odd amount of teams (15), 'Inter-league Play' will now be a regular, every-day part of the baseball schedule.

My first reaction to these changes is all negative. Wasn't this past season's September and October evidence enough that what baseball has/had is working? You had two teams make the playoffs on the very final day of the regular season, you had several compelling and interesting playoff series and you had a 7-game World Series for the 2nd consecutive year. I know it's not like this every year, but even in recent memory there has been plenty of similarly exciting stuff happening at the end of the season (back-to-back Game 163s in 2008 and 2009 for the Twins comes immediately to mind). I can't help but feel that one change in particular hasn't been purely media motivated, and the change I'm referring to is the addition of a second wild-card in each league.

For years now, the Eastcoast Sports Programming Network (ESPN) talking heads have been bitching about the fact that there are three playoff-worthy teams in the AL East and only two of them can make it into the post-season. Other lesser AL East teams like the Orioles and Jays have publicly stated that they don't feel they can realistically compete with the payrolls in their own division and thus cannot field teams that can compete for precious few playoff spots. In swoops Bud Selig to save the day! Make no mistake, these moves are motivated PURELY by revenue opportunities...not for the betterment of the game of baseball. The game is fine the way it is/was.

My second reaction to this news was more rational. It's going to happen, might as well accept it. I do like it in one aspect and one aspect alone. I feel as though the wild-card teams should have a disadvantage of some sort. They didn't win a division and not having home-field advantage is not disadvantage enough. If you have a one-game playoff between the two wild-card teams, then each wild-card team will likely (but not necessarily) be forced to use their respective aces...this will give them a distinct disadvantage, especially in the first round of the playoffs where the series' are only a maximum of 5 games in length. I actually like the change from that perspective, but from every other perspective I think it is a needless change.

I also an idea for one further change MLB might as well make to go along with all of the other changes they're talking about. Do away with the Designated Hitter OR do away with pitchers hitting in the National League. Now that you're going to have year-round Interleague Play, why play with two sets of rules? Year-round Interleague Play is already going to further disrupt the precious idea of a "balanced schedule" so why compound the problem by continuing to hold on to separate rules in each league? DH's are already worthless for 10 games of the season as things currently stand and now they're adding several Interleague games to every team's schedule...

Like I said earlier, all of these changes are motivated purely by revenue - I just wish that Bud Selig and MLB would come clean about it. To say that these changes will "improve the game of baseball" is like slapping every baseball fan in the face. We all know how great baseball has been over the past few months. Nobody even once broached the subject of adding extra wild-card teams to the mix until the Tampa Bay Rays started winning...and adding another wild doesn't even guarantee extra drama. As Bill from The Platoon Advantage pointed out on Twitter (@Bill_TPA), the two sudden-death wild-card teams in the American League in 2001 would have been the Oakland Athletics (102-60) and the Minnesota Twins (85-77) - hardly would have seemed fair to make the A's play a one-game playoff...

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Crazy Thoughts: Twins Should Pursue Reyes


I've been thinking a lot about the Twins lately, specifically what I think the expectations should be for this off-season and for the 2012 campaign. While I celebrated the re-installation of Terry Ryan as Twins GM, I was equally disappointed to hear that the team plans on dropping it's 2012 payroll to around $100M. Imagine my surprise when I saw many fellow Twins' bloggers support this decision; I figured the reaction would be the opposite. Here's my logic, and I'm going to present a case that the Twins should go after Jose Reyes.

Two Aprils ago, on a mild night in Minneapolis, the Twins played their first regular-season game in the new Target Field. That 2010 season was a dream of sorts with the squad tallying 94 wins and easily winning the AL Central crown. The playoffs left a poor taste in all of our mouths, but there was hope for 2011 because a majority of the team was returning...except for the middle-infield and half the bullpen. Things didn't work out the way most of us thought they would. In 2011, the Twins had their worst season in 12 years on their way to losing 99 games and finishing dead-last in the AL Central. Bill Smith was fired. Terry Ryan was re-crowned GM...and now the Twins want to reduce the payroll?? Only 2 seasons after opening their brand-new stadium...a large portion of which was paid for by taxpayers in Minnesota? This may seem crazy, but I think that rather than pulling back, this team should be doing all it can to put a competitive team back on the field next year. The holes are obvious and the potential fixes for those holes are out there in the form of free-agents.

In my opinion, when you fight for 10+ years to get a new stadium built and then it gets done, and then in only your 2nd year in said stadium the team has a bad season...you DON'T give up. I think the Twins owe it to the fans to put as good of a product as possible onto the field, even it is means raising the payroll to $120M or $130M. Here are some other reasons why now is a bad time to reduce payroll and "re-build" for a couple of years: 

a) Joe Mauer isn't getting any younger, neither is Justin Morneau. I realize that both players have had their injuries and that neither is a "sure thing" for the 2012 season, especially Morneau. That said, Mauer is turning 29 shortly after the 2012 season starts and Morneau will turn 31 next May. If you doing the re-building thing for the next season or two, you may be missing out on the last couple of "prime" years from two of your current superstars. Say what you will about Mauer, I know there's a lot of question marks there, but he is going to have a few more great seasons during his career. 

b) The Twins have nothing in the Minors that inspires much confidence, especially in terms of pitching. As this last season showed, the Twins farm depth is no where near what many of us thought it was. Many of the Triple-A players that were called-up as a result of injuries last year were over-matched or were just not very good. Of particular concern was the lack of middle-infield depth and the lack of capable bullpen arms in the farm system. Nothing has really changed on that front. The Twins have a few decent prospects (Hicks, Sano, etc), but NONE of them are pitchers...in fact the one elite pitching prospect they had (Kyle Gibson) will likely not even pitch in 2012 due to Tommy John surgery. Liam Hendriks, who was thought to be one of the Twins better Minor League arms, took a huge step back in 2011 and pitched to a 6.17 ERA in 4 September starts with the Major League club at the end of the year. According to Baseball Prospectus' new prospect rankings, the Twins have ZERO pitching prospects that even rise to the level of "3-stars". No matter how you look at it, the Twins are going to be getting much rotation help from the Minors any time soon and we've all seen what they have for potential bullpen arms and, well, it ain't good. 

c) Re-building isn't going to put butts in the seats. The reason the Twins are talking about reducing payroll is because the team is anticipating a loss of revenue as a result of the team's poor play on the field in 2011. Less season-tickets have been sold, there was less revenue from vendors in the 2nd half of last season, and on and on. That said, spending less on the team and risking a couple more losing seasons isn't going to increase revenue. If anything, it will simply make the problem worse which will result in continued payroll reductions. This has been the Pohlad's M.O. all the way back to when Carl was owner of the team. The Pohlad's want the team to be profitable and they will reduce payroll to the point where, at the very minimum, the Twins are a break-ever proposition. To hear front-office people say, "oh, we might raise the payroll again in a few years" is insulting. The Twins increased their payroll number after every winning season during the 2000's and dropped it following the 2007 after the club had a sub-.500 record that season. The only reason the payroll went up in 2009 was in anticipation of the club's move to Target Field.

You always hear sports media people talk about "windows" for a given team winning a championship. Usually they are talking about how the "window is closing" on a team...and in the Twins case, the window is already closed or, at best, it's almost closed. This is why the Twins put a stopper on the window and try and get Jose Reyes. Landing Reyes would address a number of issues the Twins have. 

a) Shortstop-play is perhaps the Twins most glaring weakness. The position has been a black-hole of offense for them for a majority of the past 20 years and though they have been able to put capable defenders there, they haven't been able to find the complete package (aside from the one season of JJ Hardy).
b) As was made obvious last season, middle infield defense can be directly correlated to the success of the pitching staff. There are a lot of factors at play here, but good middle infield defense can save A LOT of runs which translates directly to wins. Reyes is a very capable defender with a large range when healthy.
c) Ron Gardenhire wants speed? Reyes is speed. He stole 39 bases last season in only 126 games. When he has played full seasons, he's led the National League in steals 3 times (2005, 2006, 2007).
d) There has been talk of the Twins trading Denard Span, some say to the Nationals. If they managed to do that and picked up either Espinosa or Desmond, they could put either one at 2nd base, and by acquiring Reyes, you have a bonafide lead-off man to replace Span. Reyes has more pop, more speed, and a better eye than Span.

Reyes isn't going to be cheap. He made $11M this past season and projects to be making at least $15-$20M/yr depending on the length of the deal. That represents a SIGNIFICANT investment for the Twins, yes, but it also fills a hole that the organization clearly has right now and will probably have for awhile if it is not addressed soon. Reyes is 28-years-old, so he is by no means old, and if you could entice him with a short-term deal, like has been rumored to the be the case with the Marlins (reported that they offered him 3-years @ $20M per), you could hedge your bets a little with regard to age.

I don't expect the Twins to be players in the Reyes sweepstakes, especially considering their recent announcement about payroll, but it's fun to dream. I really don't understand the reduction in payroll and I don't understand the support for it either. This team has set of circumstances RIGHT NOW (in terms of the age of certain star players) that it will not have 2 or 3 years from now. I think the Twins should either try like hell right now to win, or it's going to be awhile before we see a truly competitive team on the field.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Some Thoughts on Bill Smith

It was one of those rare moments where I was actually on Twitter when some big Twins story broke and I was so surprised I had to read it twice. Bill Smith has been fired as GM by the Twins and has been offered another position within the organization...which I'm guessing is one he will likely turn down. His replacement, at least on an interim basis, is former Twins' GM Terry Ryan who was captain of the Twins ship from 1994 to 2007.

This is some pretty exciting news. Calls for Bill Smith's head have been going around the Twins blogosphere for awhile now and he has been rightfully (IMO anyway) blamed for the current state of the team and for a dreadful 2011 season. Terry Ryan certainly has quite a big job ahead of his for this off-season, but my level of trust in his decision-making abilities is far-higher. When Terry Ryan was the Twins GM, he consistently made good trades and good free-agent pickups using a limited payroll AND he also helped build a powerhouse farm-system that churned out many of the starters on the current Twins roster (Mauer, Morneau, Kubel, Cuddyer, Span, Valencia, etc). He also executed several trades, some of which are among the best in recent memory (Liriano and Nathan for Pierzynski and he acquired Johan Santana in the Rule 5 draft). He wasn't immune to bad deals (brought Drew Butera to the team in 2007) but more times than not he made good decisions that brought quality players to the Twins organization and ultimately turned the team back into a winner in 2001.

As a fan of the team, this is a great way to start the off-season in my opinion. I feel comfortable knowing that it is Terry Ryan rather than Bill Smith who has $20-$30M to spend this off-season and I think Ryan will make deals that will benefit the Twins both in the short-term and the long-term.

That said....

Terry Ryan is by no means a savior. Let's not forget that Terry Ryan was a Sr. Advisor with the Twins during the entire time that Bill Smith has been the GM. I don't know to what degree he was involved in making decisions, but he was definitely involved and yet the Twins made bad move after bad move during that time. Additionally, the Twins have a number of holes they need to address this off-season and even with $20-$30M to spend, any Twins GM is going to need to be extremely savvy to fill those holes. On top of that are the health concerns with Mauer, Morneau, Liriano, etc that are mostly out of Ryan's hands, but will ultimately go a long way in determining the outcome of the 2012 season and beyond. Oh, and the farm-system is mostly depleted of near-Major-League-ready talent. Make no mistake, it's a big job. Like I said though, I feel better knowing that Terry Ryan is making the final decisions, here's hoping for a good off-season.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The SS/2B Dilemma

Tonight is the night (any Dexter fans out there?). As the clock strikes midnight, MLB free-agents everywhere will be eligible to sign a contract with any club that makes them an offer. Some are Type-A free-agents, others Type-B, but all of them free to go to any team that will have them. If I'm Bill Smith and the Twins, I have a lot of work to do this off-season. I need half of a bullpen, I need a couple of middle-infielders, I might even need a starter...I've gotta get going. Earlier this week I talked about the Twins bullpen needs and now I want to focus on another somewhat pressing need of theirs and that's the middle infield.

Tsuyoshi Nishioka was a disaster last year. Alexi Casilla was pretty much who we thought he would be. The others were just minor-league fill-ins in what was a dismal season up the middle. Last year's experiments highlighted just how much of a mistake it was to let JJ Hardy and Orlando Hudson go without having a whole lot to fall back on. 5 players saw 15 or more starts at 2nd base. 4 players saw more than 30 starts at SS. 44 errors we committed between the two positions and an overall .970 fielding percentage (league average for the positions combined was .979)...and that's not even counting the 20 errors at 3B. Last year's Twins team was essentially a real-life example of how much of a difference a good (or bad) defensive middle-infield makes.

Given that free-agency is literally right around the corner, here are a couple of free-agents that would be a good fit for the Twins. Some of them are more expensive, others not so much - though for a lower salary you often have to compromise on offensive production.

#1 Candidate: Kelly Johnson (2B) - Type-A
MLBTR thinks that Johnson is headed to the Dodgers, but there's no reason to think that the Twins couldn't get in on this free-agent. I've talked about Johnson here before on this site, but in my opinion he really is the cream of the crop when it comes to free-agent 2nd basemen. Johnson is 29-years-old, he has a career .260/.343/.441 triple-slash, and he's a good 2nd baseman (.981 career fielding % and career 10.9 UZR). While Johnson is perhaps one of the more expensive middle-infield candidates out there, he also is probably looking for a long-term contract which the Twins would be smart to offer him given the lack of middle-infield depth within the organization. Johnson made $5.85M last season and could probably be had for a 3-5 year deal worth about $7-9M per year (worth the picks you'd have to give up due to Johnson's Type-A FA status). Johnson would be an instant upgrade on Alexi Casilla and would allow the Twins to either move Casilla to SS or find someone else to play shortstop and make Casilla a utility option.

#2 Candidate: Clint Barmes (SS or 2B) - Type-B
I actually wouldn't mind seeing the Twins pursue both of these guys, but my gut tells me that's unrealistic. Barmes in not much to look at offensively, but he is intriguing from a defensive standpoint. Barmes has played more SS in his career than 2B, but has a solid (not spectacular) glove and a little pop in his bat. He made $3.92M last year and if offered some sort of multi-year deal, would probably only command a salary in the $4M-$5M per year range, maybe even less. At 32 years old Barmes is probably only to get slower from here, but as a short-term fix, he's worth a look.

#3 Candidate: Aaron Hill (2B best, can play SS) - Type-B
Hill would most likely be a 2B candidate only, but again, it's a need the Twins have so he's worth a look. After being traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks last season, Hill showed that he's still got it carrying a .315/.386/.492 line in 33 games to end the season. Hill has a career 21.7 UZR score at 2B to go along with his .987 fielding %. Hill and Johnson are very similar...both are solid defenders who bring a bat with them to the plate. Within the spacious confines of Target Field, Hill is likely to be more of a doubles hitter than Johnson but either of them would be a vast upgrade offensively from what the Twins have in-house. Aaron Hill made $5M last year and would be the "middle-of-the-road" option between these three, likely commanding a $5-7M salary over a 2-3 year deal.

There are other options out there, Furcal, Betancourt, etc., but these are the three options I like best based on price, age and ability. I would love to have Kelly Johnson, I think he would make a great fit for the Twins, but my gut tells me I'm dreaming which is really too bad.

Monday, October 31, 2011

WS Thoughts & The Off-Season

I went to bed in the 8th inning of Game 6, my birthday was on Friday and I was out and missed Game 7...that said, I still caught the excitement of it and and my thoughts about this year's World Series can be summed up in one word: WOW. I love how a number of 'sportswriters' out there are all, "oh my gawd, this World Series SAVED baseball..." Um...no it didn't, it simply reminded everyone of how great of a sport baseball is and how exciting it can be. This whole season was great (home-town team aside) and the St. Louis Cardinals are an incredible story of how anything can happen if you just keep playing hard every day.

On the flip-side, my heart aches for the Texas Rangers and their fans. Back-to-back Game 7 losses in the World Series?? And I thought missing the playoffs for the first time in 2 years hurt. I just think of all the work that is takes to get to the World Series, then to do it in consecutive seasons and have nothing to show for it...it's heart-breaking. Overall, I thought it was a great series, it was quite compelling, I loved seeing Pujols make some history and I was really glad that there wasn't a "goat" or some extraneous circumstance that would ultimately distract from what a hard-fought series this was.

As we all bask in the glow of a great end to the 2011 MLB season, it's time to start talking Twins again - more specifically, it's time to start brain-storming ways that this team can attempt to field a much more competitive team in 2012. As has been reported on a number of blogs, the Twins look to have about $30M to spend this off-season and with the number of issues they have to address...figuring out how to spend $30M will not be a problem. For my money, the Twins need to address the bullpen first and as things are shaping up, there should be a number of intriguing options. The bullpen was clearly one of the Twins' greatest weaknesses this past season and as far as fixing things go, the bullpen is probably one of the cheaper fixes.


1. To Sign or not to Sign: Joe Nathan.
Those who say that the Twins should not re-sign Joe Nathan are the ones who point to his overall 2011 numbers, which are pretty ordinary. 4.84 ERA, 43/14 K/BB ratio, 1.16 WHIP - not closer-type numbers. That said, the last couple of months were much more Nathan-esque. Between July and the end of the season, Nathan threw 27.1 innings, striking out 27 and only walking 5 while saving 11 games. Considering the Twins only won 22 games in the second-half of the season, 11 saves isn't bad. Velocity-wise, Nathan only improved as the season went on which bodes well for his success next season and beyond. Ultimately, the question will most likely be cost - it wasn't a surprise at all that the Twins declined Nathan's $12.5M option. I think if they could sign the 36-year-old right-hander to a 2-year deal worth around $10-14M, I feel that they would end up getting their money's worth. In reading around other Twins blogs, it would seem I'm not alone in wanting Nathan back next year.

2. Identify your core bullpen pitchers and build around them.
Among the remaining in-house bullpen options (the obvious ones anyway), all of the main guys are arbitration eligible. Jose Mijaries, Glen Perkins and Kevin Slowey are all up for arbitration and the Twins could easily offer arbitration to all of them and not spend much cash. The most expensive of the three, Kevin Slowey, is worth the extra money because of versatility as a spot-starter. The total cost for all three would likely between somewhere in the $4.5 - $5.5M range and all three have been effective in the past. Around these 4 arms (Mijares, Perkins, Slowey and Nathan) - sign 2-3 additional bullpen pitchers. Options are plenty; here's a list compiled last year. There are a number of intriguing names on that list and it should not be any much trouble to land a couple of them on relatively cheap contracts. Some of the names that interest me are: Scott Linebrink, Jason Frasor (if the White Sox don't pick up his option), George Sherrill (left-handed, would be a nice set-up man for Nathan), and Michael Wuertz (could be a cheap option with good potential).

3. Don't sign any relievers to 3-year contracts.
Last year, it seemed like a number of teams lost their heads signing relievers to three-year deals. Of note in the AL Central were Jesse Crain (signed by the White Sox) and Joaquin Benoit (signed by the Detroit Tigers). Both pitchers end up having very good seasons, but one season does not a 3-year contract make. On top of that, for every example of a 3-year reliever deal that started well, you have an equally good example of one that did not (see: Rafael Soriano, NYY). With so many good names out on the market this year, there's no reason to be desperate. If you can't get Player X without a 3-year deal, move on and find someone else.

I know how this all plays out is much more complicated than I make it seem, but I really do feel that a re-vamped bullpen could add 15-20 wins to the season total next year. Twins relievers had 20 blown saves last year against 32 saves and 29% of the runners that Twins relievers inherited last year scored, which was right about average for the American League. If the Twins could reduce that blown-saves number from 20 to 10, that alone would be worth a $10-$15M investment in the bullpen. As was highlighted during the recently concluded post-season, bullpen pitching is critical to a team's success and if a team has a good bullpen, the confidence of the rest of the team increases accordingly.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Some Awards Banter

As much as I was looking forward to the end of the regular season this year I have to admit, I've actually kinda missed being able to check up on the Twins everyday. I don't miss the feeling of loss after loss, but I miss the day-to-day. Fortunately, this year's MLB playoffs have been REALLY good and have been filled with major market schadenfreude which has been medicine for my weary baseball soul. I'm very pleased with the 4 teams that remain and I was really happy for Milwaukee fans who saw their baseball team snatch a Game 5 victory from the clutches of defeat in winning their first playoff series since 1982. I was born in 1983 so to think that in my entire lifetime, the Brew Crew hadn't won a playoff series...wow, this is big. I really like their team too, the combination of power and hustle, scrap and confidence,...and their swagger is undeniable. I like their rotation, I like their bullpen and if they go on to win the World Series, I think I might even have a smile on my face.

Anyway, I didn't put my pen to paper to write about the post-season, plenty of others are writing much more meaningful pieces. The purpose of my piece today is more obligation, but calling it 'obligation' gives it the wrong connotation. As a part of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance (BBA) we are asked to cast our votes every year for various awards and then those votes are compiled amongst all the blogs in the network and the network as a whole comes out with it's winners. This has already been done for manager of the year (Connie Mack Award) which you can check out here. For my part, I'd like to take on a couple of Awards, notable the "Walter Johnson" Award (honoring the best SPs) and the "Stan Musial" (honoring the MVPs). Since we are a Minnesota Twins blog, we vote for the American League winners of these awards.

Walter Johnson Award - Best Starting Pitcher (AL)

The Walter Johnson Award uses a 5-3-1 point system so we are supposed to vote for our 1st, 2nd and 3rd place vote getters which makes this whole process a little more interesting if you ask me.

1st Place: Justin Verlander (5 points)
I've trolled my Yankee followers on Twitter a little bit lately suggesting that Verlander was a 'no doubt' winner of this Award despite the fantastic, but under appreciated season that Yankee ace CC Sabathia had. That said, Verlander had a super-human season and I don't see you could give the award to anyone else. First, the vitals:

24 Wins (not really important, but hey, it's a lot of wins for a single-season)
2.40 ERA - Lead the AL
0.920 WHIP - Lead the Majors
2.99 FIP - 4nd in the AL
3.12 xFIP - 2nd in the AL
251.0 IP - Lead the Majors
250 Ks - Lead the Majors

4.39 K/BB ratio - 2nd in the AL
2.84 SIERA - Lead the AL
5.14 WPA - Lead the Majors
7.0 WAR - 2nd in the AL

The argument for Verlander is pretty convincing. He helped his team run away with the AL Central crown, he was dominant from start to finish, and he lead the Majors in a few of the more important measures of pitching success.

2nd Place: CC Sabathia (3 points)
I already alluded to it earlier but this should come as no surprise. CC actually was worth 7.1 WAR this season which was. 0.1 more than Verlander and also out-pitched Verlander in FIP (2.88) and xFIP (3.02). Pro-CC people will argue that it should be taken into consideration that CC also pitches in the AL East and is therefore facing tougher opponents on a more regular basis. I would say that's a legitimate point, but who a pitcher faces is nothing that the pitcher can determine so what division a given pitcher is in cannot be used as criteria for an award. CCs reward for a great season will be either a) 5 more seasons at $23M per in New York or b) a HUGE free-agent deal somewhere else.

3rd Place: James Shields (1 point)
I'm going out on a limb a little for my 3rd place selection. What I am most impressed with about Shields season was all of the complete games...11 of them to be precise, which led all of Major League Baseball. For a guy who had never been a dominant pitcher, Shields had a breakout year of sorts winning a career-high 16 games with career bests in ERA (2.82), IP (249.1), WHIP (1.04), Ks (225), and WAR (4.9). I will say that Shields had an awfully "lucky" season considering his BABIP was .258 while his career average for that category sits at (.299). That will occasionally happen with ground-ball heavy pitchers though and for this season, it no-doubt worked in Shields' favor.


Stan Musial Award - AL MVP

Here is my list of my top 10 with a general discussion at the end.


1. Curtis Granderson (13 points)
2. Jacoby Ellsbury (9 points)
3. Miguel Cabrera (8 points)
4. Ian Kinsler (7 points)
5. Dustin Pedroia (6 points)
6. Jose Bautista (5 points)
7. Justin Verlander (4 points)
8. CC Sabathia (3 points)
9. Alex Gordon (2 points)
10. Ben Zobrist (1 point)

If I'm going strictly off of WAR (Wins Above Replacement) values, then Ellsbury wins this award running away...but in considering "valuable-ness", Granderson gets my nod. The Red Sox were/are absolutely loaded with talent. Among the WAR leaders, the Red Sox have 3 of the top 9 players (Ellsbury, Pedroia, A. Gonzalez). The Yankees are also loaded with talent, but not to that degree having only 2 players in the top 13 (Granderson & Cano). In a year in which A-Rod was not himself and Teixeira was streaky, Granderson was the constant producer setting career highs in Runs, RBIs, HRs, BBs and OPS all while committing only 3 errors in the field all year next to a dozen highlight-reel catches. Granderson's 7.0 WAR pales in comparison to Ellsbury's 9.4, but to me Granderson was more valuable in the sense that his team really needed his production to win.

I had a couple pitchers on my MVP ballot, though to be clear I would not have put them anywhere near the top. I've talked about this before (mostly on Twitter) but I feel that the MVP award name should be changed to Best Offensive Player. Keep the Cy Young Award as "the best pitcher" and make MVP the best hitter award. "Value" is to subjective and I don't think great offensive seasons should be ignored, much like Alex Gordon's was, simply because the player is stuck on a bad team. In the same way that the team a given pitcher plays for should not factor into the discussion for the Cy Young Award, the team a hitter plays for and whether or not that team makes the playoffs should not factor into their selection as the best hitter.

Anyway, that's enough pontificating for now. I hope to post more regularly here this off-season. My job has changed a bit in the sense that I have less and less time to blog about the Twins, but I am going to try my hardest to keep the discussion going here. It should be an exciting off-season!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Taps


Taps could probably have been played on a number of occasions this season in reference to the Twins, but as we enter the final week of this, the "summer of our discontent", we can finally plays Taps on one of the worst seasons in franchise history and, hopefully, move on. With three games remaining, the Twins have 98 losses, needing to win 2 out of 3 from Kansas City to avoid the 2nd 100-loss season in team history. Here are some of the low-lights:

**In their last 52 games, the Twins are 10-42 (.192) which would translate to about a 32-win (130 loss) season if they played that way over the course of a full year. This stretch has included 3 losing streaks of at least 6 games and was punctuated franchise worst 11-game losing streak against mostly divisional opponents.

**For this entire season, the Twins have never been at or above .500 since before they started playing on April 1st (0-0).

**They've been shutout 13 times.

**Despite 98 losses, the Twins actually own an 8-7 record against Kansas City, a 9-9 record vs. the White Sox, a 5-1 record against Texas and a 4-4 record against Oakland. Against every other American League opponent, they have a losing record this year including a 4-14 record against Detroit.

**The Twins have played in 45 games this year that are considered blowouts (wins by either team of 5+ runs), the Twins record in those games is 15-30...in other words, they've lost 30 games this season by 5 or more runs.

**Despite not having the worst record in baseball (a distinction owned by the lowly Houston Astros), the Twins do have the worst run differential in all of baseball at -185. By comparison, they run differential last year was +110. Yes Bill, good bullpen arms make a HUGE difference.

Alright that's enough. I've been eagerly reading some of the other Twins blogs with their suggestions and analysis of what the Twins might do in the off-season to start turning this thing around. I saw on Twitter the other day that the Twins drew over 3 million fans this year and I guess my message to the organization would be this: without some serious planning and a few savvy moves to improve this club for next year, you will have a brand-new, but half-empty stadium on your hands because I can promise you that the "new stadium smell" is going to wear off pretty quick if you keep carting a .384 team out there.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Hard to Believe

One year ago today, the Twins beat the Cleveland Indians 6-4 and clinched the AL Central crown for the 2nd year in a row. One year ago today we were all talking about how nice it was to clinch the division with 11 games left to go in the season. One year ago today we were talking about how the Twins would set up their rotation for the playoffs.

Today I read an article that the Twins need to win tonight to avoid their longest losing streak since 1982. Today I read an article that the Twins need to win 4 out of their final 9 games in order to avoid only the 2nd 100-loss season in team history. Today the Twins are 59-94, 29.5 games out of first place and have the 2nd worst record in Major League Baseball...

My-oh-my how much can change in one year's time.

Much has been written about the reasons for the Twins' struggles this year and I'm not here to shed anymore light on it, I think we're all had enough hand-wringing and head-scratching for one season. It's amazing that a 94-win team with essentially the same group of core players could end up a near 100-loss team the very next season, but I suppose it's not without precedent. The 1990 Twins finished in last place and won only 74 games before winning 95 games in 1991 and going on to win the World Series. Since 1991, only 5 teams have gone from last place to first place and all of them were National League teams (source), two teams have gone from last place to make the playoffs via the Wildcard. To quote the movie, "Dumb and Dumber"..."so you're saying there's a chance!"

If the Twins can get Mauer, Morneau and a host of other injured players healthy over the off-season, they should have no problem out-performing this year's injury-riddled Triple-A team. It will be interesting to see what kind of fall-out there will be with regard to personnel changes within the Twins organization this off-season. If I had my vote I would probably find a new GM and a new training/medical staff. Bill Smith has proven to be mediocre at best and the with the number of injury debacles the Twins have had over the last few years, I think the Twins need to take a long, hard look at their training staff to see where some changes might be made. Getting healthy will be Goal #1 for the Twins this off-season and they will need to make a few savvy moves to shore up the many holes that this season has made obvious. Here's to next year.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Twins Should Rest Mauer, Morneau, Span, etc...


It's over. It's been over for awhile now - and as of today it looks like Detroit might run away with the division. I suppose that's ok, seems like every 3 years or so they ride Justin Verlander/Miguel Cabrera to a division crown. The Twins can't win the division every year, right? Now that everyone's on the same page about "it" being over, the Twins should be shifting their attention to the off-season and, ultimately, to next season. There isn't much they can do right now to change up their personnel besides throwing people on waivers and hoping that someone bites. That said, they can take steps right now to make next year's team better and I think that starts with giving banged up guys like Mauer, Morneau and Co. some major rest during the last painful month of the regular season.

After spending 2 months on the DL to start the season, Joe Mauer hasn't looked his old self this season and coming into tonight, Mauer has a .287/.347/.349 hitting line through 285 PAs with only 14 of his 74 total hits going for extra bases (13 doubles, 1HR). One possible reason for his poor hitting could be that he has been playing a couple of different field positions than he's used to - but that's unlikely to account for much of it - especially for a guy who came into this year with a career .888 OPS. The more likely culprit for Mauer's poor season at the plate is that he isn't fully healed yet and though Mauer has made a valiant effort up until now to "grind it out" (his words), there isn't much point to it now so why not give the guy an extra month to heal up.

As for Justin Morneau, call it rust if you must but he's looked pretty terrible as well since coming back from the DL on August 12th. In the 9 games since then, he has only 5 hits in 37 PAs and he's walked 2 times against 7 strikeouts. Morneau has been belabored by injuries for well over a year now, why make the guy grind it out during a lost season when you can give him ample time off down the stretch and have him back next year closer to 100%.

It hardly stops with Mauer and Morneau. Just having both of those guys back near 100% would make a huge difference next year, no doubt about it. If I'm the Twins front office, I think about shutting down Denard Span and Scott Baker (and Blackburn) for the rest of the season as well. There is simply no point in trying to get these guys back because at this point, it is more beneficial for this team to lose games than it is for them to win games...

I'm not suggesting that this team purposely tank games, but why rush your star players back just so you can win a couple more games than you otherwise would have? I'm suggesting that the Twins should rest their ailing stars, maybe this team loses a bunch of games, but hey, they get a better draft pick next season. If that player ends up being important to this ballclub down the line, wouldn't it have been worth it? It's a convoluted way of looking at things I know, but it's a reality the Twins might as well embrace. At this point, there is no benefit to having Mauer, Morneau, D-Span, or Bake out on the field. Obviously the Twins aren't going to come out and say, "hey, we're gonna give the M&M boys 2-3 days off per week in September", but if they just did it, I would understand and even be in support of it. I want this team to be a contender in 2012 and I don't think I'm alone there and I think resting these semi-injured players gives them the best shot at that.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Concert Review: Incubus

I have racked my brain trying to come up with something to talk about regarding the Twins and every single one of my ideas is either negative, or it's been talked about a billion times around the Twins blogosphere. So rather than rehash an old issue or needlessly bleat about one of the myriad of problems this team has had this year, I'm going to do something I've never done in the space before and review a concert. If you don't like Incubus, that's ok, there are a bunch of other good pieces about the Twins out there and I promise I'll have another Twins-related post up here soon.

On Sunday night had the the true pleasure of attending the Incubus concert at the Charter Pavillion at Northerly Island here in downtown Chicago. I've been a fan of Incubus for many years - I honestly don't know most of the lyrics to their songs, I'm just in love with their chord progressions and melodies...and Brandon Boyd's voice. My wife and I are celebrating our 3rd anniversary this coming week and she actually surprised me with these tickets (great gift) and one thought I had on the way there was, "will they sound as good in-person as they do on their CDs?" I think that's a legit question of any band these days, especially in an age where even a crappy singer can be made to sound good with studio magic. No need to fear with Incubus, Boyd's voice is just dynamic and pitch-perfect in-person which really made the whole concert for me.


As you can see, we were sitting a little off to the left side of the stage, but that's one of the great things about the Charter Pavillion - no matter where you're sitting/standing, you're not that far away and you have a good view of the stage. The opener for Incubus was 'The Nightwatchman' which is Tom Morello's (RATM fame) "political folk alter ego" band. Let me say this: Morello is known for his electric guitar talents and not his voice and there's a reason for that; his voice is not good. In fact, he doesn't really have a voice, he just talks the lyrics to his songs loudly into the microphone. Morello still worked in a number of bombastic guitar solos into his songs, but whenever he was "singing", it wasn't that enjoyable. That said, they did a good job of firing up the crowd and I guess that's all that's expected of an opener...and it was cool to see Morello play even if we did have to listen to the singing as well.


It took awhile to switch sets, but it was worth the wait. Incubus opened up with 'Pardon Me' and overall, the concert was a good mix of old and new. My personal favorites were "The Warmth", "Anna Molly", and "If Not Now, When?", "In the Company of Wolves" and "Megalomaniac". "The Warmth", in particular, was fantastic...that song was an introduction of sorts between Incubus and I and I love the message of the song, "don't let the world bring you down."

As for Incubus' new stuff, I've read a number of reviews (mostly negative) and I'd like to add my own 'two cents'. A number of reviews I read said that they feel as though Incubus has lost their way with their new album "If Not Now, When?" I have to disagree. Firstly, Incubus took their longest career hiatus after their last album "Light Grenades" in 2006. Their stated reason for taking that break was essentially to re-charge their creative energy after years of constant touring and music-making. As lead-singer Brandon Boyd put it, "I think that we, collectively, were feeling like if we didn't step away from this monster that we created then it would begin to consume us. [...] We had to plant some roots, lest we start to write songs about living on a tour bus. So we had to fall in love, we had to fall out of love, we had to make homes." My point is, an extended hiatus is going to change the music a bit because the people have changed. Secondly, Incubus has been around now for nearly 20 years and while some bands essentially maintain one kind of sound throughout their lifetimes, some bands evolve and change their sound...you simply have to learn to appreciate their different styles.

Another review I read said, "Instead of tremendous riffs and melodies, this album comes off as the Brandon Boyd show, volume II. Sure, his vocals and lyrics continue to prove amicable, but the rest of the band is almost non-existent." Um, hello, Incubus is Brandon Boyd...more precisely, Incubus is Boyd's vocal - so what if it's the "Brandon Boyd" show...that's who I want to hear! I get it, if you like the grunge-rock sound of their early albums or the up-tempo melodies of their early-to-mid 2000's album, then this album would be kinda disappointing. But hey, you've got 6 other albums to listen to that will fulfill your desires. I think it's interesting to hear another side of them, and I like the more soft-rock feel of this album. I think some of the lyrics are pretty juvenile at times, but that's par for the course with Incubus, Boyd has always been a somewhat sub-par lyricist.

The bottom-line is that I had a great time at this show and it was well worth the money. Incubus has just started their tour so if you like their music and you're interested in seeing them, I highly recommend it. The only song that they didn't play that I wished they would have was "Dig" from their "Light Grenades" album - my wife and I both love that song. It was a great night, beautiful weather, a great venue and two days later I still have the "concert buzz".

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Contest Winners

Thank you to all of those who participated in the contest for the World Series DVD Collector's Set. Here are the winners...

To the winners: please send me your address at thebatshatters@gmail.com - thank you and congratulations!!

Grand Prize Winner (Collector's Edition DVD Set):
Maija Varda

Winner of the "Magic in Minnesota" DVD:
Commenter "A Little Bit Urban"

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Thome Hits 600!


I'll be the first to admit I've done a really terrible job of contributing to this blog. There hasn't been a whole lot of posting around here lately on my part; it's been a crazy summer (as it is for many people) but as Adam has mentioned here previously, we're expecting our first child in January, so I'm in the process of figuring out what it's going to mean to be a future dad (to a future Twins fan, obviously) while taking the best care I can of my beautiful wife. Add to that the fact that the Twins season is essentially over for all intensive purposes and the motivation for blogging falls lower on the priority list.

But tonight, there's a big reason for Twins Territory to rejoice, and that reason is Jim Thome. The night was momentarily derailed by Delmon Young hitting a home run for the Tigers in his first Comerica at-bat (seriously?) but it soon got back on track with three runs in the third followed by Mr. Thome giving the Twins the lead for good with home run number 599 in the sixth. The Tigers added two more in the bottom of that inning, but Thome put the game out of reach in the seventh with a blast to the opposite field that brought him into an elite baseball fraternity.

Like the man whose number 3 adorns the sleeves of Twins jerseys for the rest of this season, Thome has always been regarding as one of the nicest guys in baseball off the field. And I don't think there could have been any doubt before, but he most definitely punched his ticket to Cooperstown tonight. Unlike other members of the 600 home run club, there's never really been a question with him of improper aids to his prodigious power. I'm not going to touch the steroids debate with a ten-foot pole here, and if I'm totally honest I'm probably more in line with the view that it's going to be very hard to keep the so-called "juicers" out, but I can't imagine there's a single baseball writer in this country that's going to keep Thome out on his first ballot.

It's unfortunate that he couldn't have reached the milestone at Target Field, but kudos to the Detroit fans for showing Big Jim the recognition he deserves. Before he joined the Twins, I'll admit that my blind hatred of anything related to the White Sox may have prejudiced me against Thome. I didn't really care about his nice-guy reputation, I only cared that he played his home games at US Cellular Field (which is, frankly, a pretty awful place to watch a game as a Twins fan, but I digress). In my younger years, had Thome done that in a White Sox jersey against the Twins in Minnesota, especially to extend a lead in the late innings, every fiber of my being probably would have fought a standing ovation. But Detroit fans were mostly gracious to their credit, including the kid waving a "Thome is my Homie" sign behind the dugout. I'd like to think that I've come far enough in my older age that I'm willing to recognize the game's historical accomplishments wherever and to whomever they occur (although cheering A-Rod would certainly test that assumption).

In the midst of this, there's plenty of other things to be worried about as a Twins fan. Did they just sell low on a once-promising talent that never really seemed to pan out in Minnesota but might benefit from a change of scenery? Do they have enough payroll flexibility to afford the bullpen and middle-infield help they so desperately need? Will the injuries that have and seem to continue to plague this team become a recurring theme that haunts us for seasons to come? Are the Twins stuck in the dreaded Twilight Zone of not being good enough to really justify taking big steps to bolster the roster but not being bad enough to gut the team and start over? I think these are all probably valid questions, and we'll do our best to address them in the coming days and months. But for tonight, all that really matters to me is that one of the game's great ambassadors has taken his place alongside Ruth, Mays, Aaron, and yes, Bonds. Congratulations Jim Thome, and if this is your last season in a Twins (or any) uniform, it's certainly been a memorable one.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Links & A GIVEAWAY

Ugh. What a poor showing for the hometown club over the weekend. I think if you're an avid reader of Twins-related blogs, you already know the sentiment that has been flying around today...the Twins are done, stick a fork in 'em, DONE. I thought rather than rehashing some disappointing aspect of the team this year, I would shine the spotlight on some fellow bloggers who have done some outstanding work covering the Twins this year. Here are a few of the more insightful posts of the past week or so.

Seth Stohs is a titan amongst Twins bloggers and though I can't link directly to this post about Kyle Gibson and possible Tommy John Surgery, I can recommend that you check him out and make him a daily stop. When I have a question about the Twins' minor league system, I go to his blog to find answers.

This is a little self-serving since I'm a writer over there as well, but there some other good writers over there as well and I enjoy reading their stuff. Nate Gilmore had an interesting piece earlier last week about how the Twins seem to have better luck in even years. Even if it is coincidental, it does make you think...

Nick Nelson is one of my favorite Twins bloggers and I think that's because he and I seem to be similarly realistic about this team. Some blogs tend to be overly positive, which is fine, but sometimes things aren't positive and I appreciate people who can tell it like it is. Last Monday Nick wrote a good post about the value of Cuddyer and Kubel and what the Twins might try to do in the off-season and then today he wrote about Liriano's struggles this season and how they are linked to his inability to get the ball over the plate.

Parker Hageman is another blogger who I read regularly and one thing he does that few other bloggers do is provide illustrations to back up the point he is trying to make. He did that today in talking about Nishioka's poor defense. Great read, check it out.

Ben Collin is one of my favorite follows on Twitter (@bennyc50) and he has a blog as well. Just this year he's pretty much invented such things as "Target Field Trail" and "Return of the Swing". His blog is more comedy oriented, but definitely worth a read...especially when the Twins suck as hard as they have this year.

TCHuddle had a sobering piece about Minnesota sports mediocrity and how the Twins have simply added to the pile this year.

Aaron Gleeman published a solid summary of Twins news from the past week including an interesting tidbit about an out-of-shape Chuck Knoblauch...

Fanatic Jack provided a nice summary of Terry Ryan's trades compared to Bill Smith's trades. After reading through the two lists, I can't say I disagree with Jack's conclusion...Smith has got to go.

John Bonnes took a shot at estimating the Twins 2012 payroll. That couples nicely with my post over at Puckett's Pond from last week talking about who the Twins might target in free-agency this off-season.

GIVEAWAY DETAILS!!
We're going to be having a GIVEAWAY of sorts here at TBS. You may have seen this around a few of the other blogs but we're getting in on the action too. A&E Home Entertainment recently released a 1991 Minnesota Twins World Series Collector's Edition 7-DVD set featuring every game of the '91 series in it's entirety and we've been given a copy to give away to our readers. Here is some more information on the set itself, don't forget you can buy Twins tickets and merchandise at www.twinsbaseball.com - including fan apparel, Twins jerseys, memorabilia and more.


MINNESOTA TWINS 1991 WORLD SERIES COLLECTOR'S EDITION DVD SET: http://shop.history.com/detail.php?p=302520&v=aetv




MAGIC IN MINNESOTA: REMEMBERING THE 1991 WORLD SERIES CHAMPIONSHIP DVD: http://shop.history.com/detail.php?p=302519&v=aetv

TO ENTER THE CONTEST:

Here's how we're gonna do this....I don't think we have enough regular readers to make a contest all that interesting. I'm going to giveaway the 1991 World Series Collector's Set and the Magic in Minnesota DVD separately. To enter the contest, simply drop a comment on this post (no anonymous posts obvs), or email me at thebatshatters@gmail.com. The contest will run until Thursday at 12:00pm CDT, at that point I will put all entries received into a hat and draw two names (winners). If you have any questions, please email me at the gmail address above or send me a tweet @thebatshatters.Link

Friday, August 12, 2011

Oh What a Difference an Infield Can Make

With the hometown team having fallen on hard times (again) of late, we need something else to look at and today I'm here to provide that. There's been some talk around the Twins blogosphere lately about J.J. Hardy and how he's having a monster season for the Orioles...basically revisiting what a mistake it was for the Twins to trade him away for practically nothing. I am, of course, in wholehearted agreement with these sentiments, but I want to look at things from a slightly different angle. It's been no secret that for the majority of the season the Twins starting rotation (and bullpen) have struggled and though the rotation is pretty much composed of the exact same pieces, the results have been vastly different. I want to try and see what role infield defense has played in that difference and see if we can draw any conclusions.

First, some numbers.

Here are the ERAs, FIPs and xFIPs for the starting 5 from last year. I've also included their groundball-to-flyball ratio and their HR/FB%. For those not familiar with these metrics, FIP and xFIP attempt to remove variables from the equation that the pitcher cannot control with the goal of giving you an ERA-type number than more accurately states how a given pitcher performed. For example, though Francisco Liriano had a 3.62 ERA last year, his FIP was 2.66 and his xFIP was 2.95, good for 3rd and 2nd in all of baseball respectively. In other words, Liriano's pitching performance as a whole last year was much better than his ERA suggested. For more on FIP and xFIP, click the links.

2010 Pitching Numbers for Twins Starters: (ERA/FIP/xFIP), GB/FB ratio, HR/FB%, BABIP

Francisco Liriano (3.62/2.66/2.95), 1.96 GB/FB, 6.3%, .331
Carl Pavano (3.75/4.02/3.86), 1.66 GB/FB, 10.6%, .281
Scott Baker (4.49/3.96/3.82), 0.85 GB/FB,10.2%, .323
Kevin Slowey (4.45/3.98/4.24), 0.56 GB/FB, 8.2%, .307
Nick Blackburn (5.42/5.07/4.46), 1.57 GB/FB, 13.5%, .305

Numbers for the Twins starting staff in 2010: (4.17/3.91/3.84), 1.28 GB/FB, 9.9%, .299, 3.91 SIERA

2011 Pitching Numbers for Twins Starters: (ERA/FIP/xFIP), GB/FB ratio, HR/FB%, BABIP

Francisco Liriano (5.00/4.53/4.41), 1.45 GB/FB, 10.2%, .286
Carl Pavano (4.71/4.08/4.30), 1.48 GB/FB, 7.8%, .302
Scott Baker (3.21/3.49/3.55) 0.77 GB/FB, 8.9%, .299
Brian Duensing (4.56/4.05/4.00), 1.16 GB/FB, 9.6%, .317
Nick Blackburn (4.36/4.76/4.17), 1.98 GB/FB, 14.3%, .310

Numbers for the Twins starting staff in 2011: (4.30/4.18/4.10), 1.30 GB/FB, 9.7%, .296, 4.14 SIERA

Quick Discussion:
The first thing that jumps out at me with these numbers is just how poorly the starting rotation has pitched in 2011 when compared to the 2010 numbers. Even though the HR/FB% is down this year and the GB/FB ratio is up slightly, all three pitching metrics (ERA, FIP, xFIP) are worse for the staff this year. The second thing that pops out to me is that the staff BABIP (batting average on balls in play) is actually better this year than last. This is probably due to the fact that 4 of the Twins starters this year are ground-ball-heavy pitchers compared to only 3 of the 5 in 2010. More ground-balls equals more outs. The main culprits for these year's poor pitching results are Liriano and Pavano, that much is fairly obvious. Both are having terrible seasons compared to 2010 while the bottom 3/5ths of the rotation is actually performing a little better than last year's 3, 4 and 5 starters.

Now, the fielding numbers.

Quick caveat here, I obviously don't have a complete season's worth of number for this year. As a work around to that I calculated how much of this season has been played so far (72.2%) and for the counting stats, I just made the statistical assumption that the Twins will continue at the pace they've been on.

The Whole Team 2010:
78 errors
.987 Fielding%
+54 DRS (Defensive Runs Saved)
30.7 UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating)
3.2 URZ/150

Middle Infield 2010:
34 errors
.979 Fielding%
+27 DRS
11.1/9.9 UZR/UZR150 for 2B
14.0/13.2 UZR/UZR150 for SS


The Whole Team 2011:
116 errors
.981 Fielding%
-19 DRS
3.1 UZR
-0.4 UZR/150

Middle Infield 2011:
40 errors
.975 Fielding%
-18 DRS
-0.8/-0.5 UZR/UZR150 for 2B so far in 2011
-9.4/-12.0 UZR/UZR150 for SS so far in 2011

The numbers really do speak for themselves. Of particular note is the "Defensive Runs Saved" stat. This stat is like WAR (Wins Above Replacement) for defenders. 0 is "average", anything above is good and a getting better, anything below is bad and getting worse. Last year's middle infield for the Twins had a +27 DRS mark which was Top 5 in MLB, this year's team is pretty much the complete opposite story, not only playing to a negative DRS number, but also playing to negative UZR numbers as well. For a team with so many ground-ball-heavy starting pitchers (4 of 5 starters have a GB/FB ratio north of 1.00)...a strong defensive middle-infield is a must and sadly, we've gotten to see first hand how much of a difference it can make.

To my original premise, as I've gone through this I've come to realize how difficult it would be to isolate the effect of poor middle-infield defense on pitching results. It's easy to see that this year's middle infield has been much worse than last year's, but how that ends up affecting the pitching?...well, that's hard to say. I feel confident in saying the two are correlated, of that I have no doubt, especially when the starting staff is as adept at inducing the ground-ball as this one has been. This is my plea to Bill Smith and the Twins...PLEASE get some middle-infield help this off-season...if you're going to keep the same pitchers, improving the middle-infield defense on this team should be, far and away, priority #1 this off-season.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Hospitals Suck

A couple of weeks back, I was in the car for a longer trip and got to thinking about how quickly life can change from being great, to being in turmoil. It was kind of a random thought path, but it stuck with me for a little bit...and then life decided to give me a real-life example. Last Sunday, my wife was feeling fine, we were enjoying some time with her brother and sister-in-law in Wrigleyville, walked around Wrigley Field during the Paul McCartney concert (a cool experience in and of itself), and returned home, went to bed, everything was good. On Monday morning she started feeling pain in her back and it got worse and worse, spreading to her shoulders and chest as well. Leslie has a pretty high pain tolerance and she was reduced to tears on Monday night by this mysterious pain. Monday night was a sleepless night for her and on Tuesday morning, we decided it was time to head to Urgent Care.

You would think that Urgent Care would be open 24 hours...this one was not, so while we got there at 7:20am, they didn't open 'till 8:00am and so we waited. They checked her out, ran some tests and came to the conclusion that they could not make a diagnosis there and sent us off to the ER. Upon arrival we were quickly situated (amazing for the ER) and more tests were done, plus a few hours of waiting in between. Then the heart doctor came in,...then the internal medicine doctor...more questions, more tests, more questions. After 4 hours in the ER (plus an hour an a half at Urgent Care), the heart doc finally felt that he had a lead on the cause of all this pain...pericarditis. Pericarditis is caused by a virus or bacteria that inflames the sac that contains the heart itself (the pericardium). Anyway, longish story shorter, my wife ended up spending two nights in the hospital for observation which wasn't pleasant in the least. Besides the circumstances of needing a hospital stay, being in the hospital sucks. For Leslie, she had Dilaudid and a comfortable-ish place to lay down. For family it is impossible to relax because a) you're freaked out about the person who's in the hospital and b) they don't provide many comfortable options for sitting/laying down in the room.

Needless to say I haven't had much interest in the Twins lately and upon seeing how they've played the last few days, I haven't missed much. I had half of a piece written on what kinds of moves the Twins might make in the off-season, but that remains unfinished. It's not very pleasant, but I like it when life adjusts your perspective and shows you what's important. It's been really easy to get frustrated with the Twins this season, but having gone through these past few days, it's doesn't matter to me as much. I guess what I'm saying is that I'm not as down about it. I'm still disappointed. I'm still fearful that Bill Smith will cripple this team somehow. But, I'm more willing to look for a silver lining, look toward the future, etc. Anyway, Leslie is back home now, there is still some pain, but she's doing better, which is a relief to me. My thanks to the Good Lord.