Thursday, June 30, 2011

Nishioka's Struggles No Surprise

I'm going to quickly revisit something I wrote several months ago, shortly after the Twins' hasty exit from the playoffs last year. The entire piece can be found here. Here's the quote: 

"[...] re-upping with Hardy eats up a large portion of the off-season money the Twins have to spend, but as I've tried to lay out here, Hardy is the most important one to re-sign given his positional significance coupled with the potential difficulties of replacing him."

I wrote that on October 25th, 2010 and by now all of us are painfully familiar with what happened shortly thereafter. The Twins watched Orlando Hudson walk via free-agency. They traded Hardy to the Orioles for two less-than-mediocre relief "prospects", and they put all of their eggs into the Tsuyoshi Nishioka basket, paying the $5M posting fee to negotiate with the Japanese shortstop and ultimately signing him to a 3-year, $9M contract. Leading up to Spring Training, there was a lot of talk about how Yoshi would transition to Major League Baseball. Many of us bloggers actually managed to convince ourselves that a Nishioka-Casilla middle-infield battery would be pretty decent, at least defensively. Oh how I wish we had been right.

In February, I penned another piece that was inspired by something Phil Mackey had written about the number of Japanese players who had come over the the U.S. and had successful MLB careers. After reading that list I did some research, the results of which you can read here. At the risk of quoting myself too many times in my own piece, here was my conclusion. 

"I'm not trying to be Debbie Downer here, but the track record is undeniable. Aside from Ichiro, who possessed superior hitting and fielding skills prior to coming to the U.S., and Hideki Matsui, who was as great of a power hitter as Japan has ever seen, the overall crop of Japanese players has been disappointing. What's really scary to me is that some of these guys were .300+ hitters in Japan (K. Matsui, Iguchi, Iwamura) and couldn't crack .275 over here...Nishioka was only a .293 hitter in Japan (.287 career average before an unusually good 2010 seasons). Nishioka also didn't have much power in Japan (career .426 SLG%), though he is only 25, so he could develop that as he goes along. I hope it works out for young Nishi, but history suggests the road will be a tough one."

I also wrote (last self-quote, I promise):

"[...] aside from Ichiro, none of the players I covered won a Gold Glove in the U.S. despite the fact that a few of them won the award multiple times in Japan."

I know that Nishioka has only played in 19 Major League games for the Twins. I know this (sample-size alert!!). I also know that the bulk of those games have been after an extended absence due to a broken leg and that perhaps he is simply quite rusty from the long layoff. I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt for awhile. That said, history is not in Nishioka's favor and at some point, one runs out of excuses. What started out as an interesting departure from the norm for the Twins could prove to be one of their more ill-advised personnel decisions of the last decade. As Gleeman pointed out in his column today, JJ Hardy is hitting .307/.369/.547 with 11HRs and only 1 error in 50 games this season for the Orioles, while Nishioka has committed 6 errors in 19 total games (between 2B & SS) while hitting .197/.254/.242.

Nishioka deserves more time before being labeled a 'bust', probably the entirety of a season...but my hopes for him have never been high and he's done nothing so far to change my mind. Don't get me wrong, I love his attitude, I love that he really seems to care about what the fans think of him and I love his work ethic. That said, I fear that the Twins are blinded by the investment they've made in the 26-year-old to the point where they are probably unwilling to do the one thing that would help Nishioka out more than anything: send him down to Triple-A for awhile. A minor league assignment would take the pressure off of him and give him a chance to further-grasp the unique aspects of baseball on this side of the Pacific. If the Twins are going to make a move like that, the time would be now. If you wait any longer, you're too far into his contract. If you're Bill Smith and you decide that this season is a bust, why not try to develop him a little bit, re-tool the team in the off-season, and come back next year with guns blazing? It just makes sense.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Eight Steps Forward, Five Steps Back

After ripping off eight straight wins to climb back into the thick of the division race, the Twins lost the remaining two games in San Francisco and got swept at Miller Park (which, to be fair, has been the hardest place in baseball for road teams this season, with the Brewers owning a 29-11 record there). The previously sparkling pitching was nowhere to be found, by both the starters and the bullpen, and after scoring nine runs against the Giants last Tuesday night, the Twins proceeded to score that exact same number in the following five games. Frankly, they're lucky that the division deficit remains at nine games, as Cleveland and Detroit went 4-6 and 5-5 in their last ten, respectively.

The merry-go-round of injuries continues to spin as well, the latest casualty being Justin Morneau. To be honest, I think many of us thought he just had a minor wrist injury, and the fact that he was going to have neck surgery to fix a herniated disc caught me by surprise. Much like 2009 and 2010, it once again appears that Morneau is going to be on the DL for more time than he spends on the field. In addition, Delmon Young went to the DL with an ankle injury after getting it caught underneath the fence in left field, meaning that Rene Tosoni's latest stint at Rochester was a short-lived one. Denard Span is still having post-concussion symptoms that are eerily similar to Morneau's lingering problems, and there's no idea when he might be back, while Jason Kubel could return within a week. Jim Thome was back and contributed an RBI single in yesterday's game, but Mauer and Nishioka continue to struggle mightly after their return.

The Twins will limp back to Target Field for a series with the Dodgers, who haven't visited Minnesota since 2006. Off the field, the Dodgers are even more of a mess than they are on the field, having just filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, so hopefully that will have a demoralizing (rather than galvanizing) affect. Tonight's matchup will feature Nick Blackburn for the Twins, proud owner of a 3.15 ERA who has given up two earned runs or less in nine of his last ten starts. As odd as it sounds, Blackburn may be the pitcher the Twins would count on the most to right the ship at this point. Los Doyers counter with Chad Billingsley, who bounced back from a string of ugly outings with a one-run, six K performance against the Tigers in his last start. Billingsley can rack up the strikeouts at times but is also prone to issuing walks, so the Twins would be wise to adopt a patient approach. Tuesday's game will see Brian Duensing take on Ted Lilly in a lefty matchup, and Wednesday will feature Scott Baker, who took a step back in Milwaukee after his 10-strikeout gem versus the Rangers, and Dodgers rookie Rubby De La Rosa, who has a cannon for an arm but seems to have trouble finding the strike zone at points. Following the Dodgers series, the Twins will see the Brewers again, this time at Target Field.

This season has been quite the roller coaster, and although many fans aren't quite back to saying the Twins are out of it, the recent stretch of play has taken some of the luster out of what appeared to be a miraculous run back into the thick of the division race. Is "it" still "happening"? Is the glass half empty or half full? Nine games back with 86 to play looks more daunting than six or seven, but it's certainly better than 16.5. The Twins can no longer get back to .500 by the All-Star break, but this team has proven before that it truly isn't over until it's over and, at least eight steps forward and five steps back still equals three steps forward. The first step in going to be to snapping this five-game skid, and let's hope Blackburn is up to the task.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Random Twins Notes and a Word on Rivalries

It's tough to see the hometown team lose on a night in which the Indians and Tigers both won, but hey, there are gonna be bumps in the road and the Twins ran into a pitcher, in Vogelsong, who's been on a roll lately. The Twins didn't really help themselves out, committing three errors in the game and staying mostly silent at the plate, but Delmon Young and Michael Cuddyer continued their hot streaks with 2-hits each in the game. The Twins will have a tall task in the rubber match of the series this afternoon as they face two-time Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum. Lincecum has struggled of late so perhaps the Twins aren't getting the best version of him. The Twins will throw out left-hander Brian Duensing who has been pretty effective in June allowing only 5 earned runs over his last 16 innings of work. Duensing will need to continue to be on top of his game if the Twins are going to have a shot at winning this one.

Joe Nathan and Jim Thome are expected to be activated from the DL before the start of Friday's game against the Milwaukee Brewers. Nathan will likely be used as a set-up man right away, but it wouldn't surprise me one bit if he is the team's closer by season's end. Reports have been positive on Nathan especially concerning his velocity and control, both of which were concerns before he was placed on the DL. If he can prove effective, his presence could go a long way in improving the back-end of the Twins bullpen. As for Thome, it's hard to be that optimistic about the remainder of the season for him. Last year the Twins caught lightening in a bottle with Thome as he was healthy most of the season AND hit 25 dingers. This year has been the complete opposite as Thome has already seen the DL twice. I wouldn't be surprised if this is Thome's last season, and if he hits 7 or more homeruns to surpass the 600 mark, I can almost assure you this will be his last season. I'm rooting for the guy to stay healthy, but it's hard to know what to expect.

Justin Morneau and Denard Span both remain on the DL, but things are looking better for Morneau than they are for Span. Nick Nelson had a good piece yesterday on Span's situation and it doesn't sound good. In fact, it sounds a lot like Morneau's situation last season and at this point, Span and the Twins have no idea how long he is going to be out of the lineup. Morneau is supposed to have his soft cast removed tomorrow or Saturday and the thinking is that he might be able to resume baseball activities at some point shortly thereafter. I would guess that if Morneau's wrist is feeling better, he'll be put on some sort of rehab program that would last a week or so. Wrist injuries are notorious for sapping power hitters of their power, so there's no use in rushing Morneau back if his wrist isn't close to 100%.

Late last week I wrote a piece about realignment in baseball and how ridiculous the idea is. Today I was scanning my Facebook news feed when I came across the following exchange. It reminded me how great the rivalries in baseball are, especially among cross-town rivals, enjoy.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Realignment is Ridiculous

I was listening to Mike & Mike on ESPN radio this morning on my drive into work and they were talking about realignment in baseball and my blood started to boil. Greeny was floating his "idea" out there and it goes something like this:

* Get rid of divisions and instead have two 15-team leagues
* Every team in League A plays every team from League B for one 3 game series every year
* The rest of a team's games are spread out evenly against teams in their own league
* Have a rolling inter-league schedule to compensate for the odd number of teams in each league

His reason for realignment? "Fairness and equality." I'm sorry, but since when is "fairness" and "equality" the standard in professional sports?? And since when do we entertain the idea of altering divisions and leagues for the sake of a couple of teams who play in the AL East (Orioles & Blue Jays)?? This is ridiculous. First of all, baseball is INHERENTLY "unfair" because of the absence of a salary cap. Every individual ball club determines how much they want to spend on payroll. Realignment would only be a band-aid solution...and a bad one at that. Second, this isn't rec. league t-ball. This is pro sports, a land where fairness and equality don't matter. If you're a GM/Team President and you want your team to be better, bring in better scouts, pursue the bigger name free-agents, find a way to put butts in the seats; that is the name of the game afterall.

The Steinbrenners don't have more money than the other owners (ok, maybe they do, but all of the owners in baseball are multi-millionaires, billionaires, whatever), they simply choose to funnel more of their money into their baseball team and it pays off with winning ball clubs and world championships. If a team wants to go about it in a cheaper manner, they have the option of adopting a strategy similar to what the Tampa Bay Rays employ...advanced stats consultants, finding cutting edge methods to identify young talent, making savvy moves to bring in talent via free-agency and trades, etc. Just because the Orioles and Jays are stuck in a division that includes the Yankees and Red Sox doesn't mean we should try and fix it by realigning both leagues.

There really aren't many excuses for a low-payroll team in MLB. 1) You've got revenue-sharing in which large-market/high-payroll teams like the Yankees, Red Sox, Phillies, etc make payments to smaller market ball clubs. 2) The MLB draft favors teams who perform poorly and if you've got a team like the Royals who are near the bottom of the league every year, you can start to accumulate talent through the draft and build a ball club cheaply that way (as they have done). 3) Almost every team in baseball has some sort of TV deal these days which is another way to generate a lot of revenue. Blah, blah, blah.

I get tired of this "fairness" and "equality" BS. I remember when I was kid playing rec. league t-ball and my team would clearly lay a whupping on the other team and at the end of the game the coaches would say it was a "tie." I was beside myself, even at 6-years-old. In life as in baseball there are winners and losers...why our society feels the need the deny this reality is beyond me. If the Orioles and Jays want to compete in the AL East, I suggest they find creative ways to do so, either that or spend more money. It really is that simple. I don't care if it isn't fair, I don't care if it's not equal and I'm 100% against re-arranging the divisions in baseball so that teams like them have a better shot at making the playoffs.

/steps off soapbox
//resumes day

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Series Preview: Twins vs White Sox

I was trying to get this out before the game last night, but the weather did me a favor and gave me a little extra time and one less game to write about, being that the make-up game won't be played during this series. We haven't done one of these in a while, but with the the hated White Sox coming to town I figured it would be a good time to take stock of where these two teams stand. Both have disappointed so far this season after being pegged again as the two main contenders in the division, but each have shown signs of life as of late and are playing much better baseball. The Twins come in as winners of 8 of their last 10, and the White Sox have won 9 of 13 after suffering a 13-4 beatdown against the Jays on May 29th. The Twins have owned the Sox over the last few years, and courtesy of, I found out that the Twins are 26-7 against the White Sox since 2009. That's dominance.

What is perhaps most surprising about the Twins' recent run is that they've done it despite a revolving door of injuries. For a team that scored above five runs so few times even with a marginally healthy lineup earlier in the season, it's pretty impressive that they've averaged over five runs a game over this recent run with no Jason Kubel, no Joe Mauer, no Jim Thome, a completely ineffective (and recently DL'ed) Justin Morneau, and no Denard Span, who was put on the 7-day DL with symptoms from a mild concussion (now a word that strikes fear into the heart of Twins Territory). What's even better is that help should be on the way soon; Tsuyoshi Nishioka and Glen Perkins could be back as soon as today, and Mauer should be getting ever closer to his long-awaited return.

But perhaps the biggest contributor to the team's success has been the pitching. Over the last 14 days, the Twins rank second in the league in overall ERA, and their sparkling 1.45 bullpen ERA is the best mark in baseball. Only Matt Capps has allowed a run out of the bullpen in the month of June. For as much as the bullpen was maligned earlier in the season, they are finding a way to get it done recently. It's not perhaps as good as that underneath the surface, as the 3.80 FIP and 5.00 xFIP marks attest over that same span (as well as the .194 BABIP), but the biggest thing is that the patchwork relief corps is producing results on the field. The starting pitching has also been excellent, with Liriano flirting with a perfect game, Scott Baker twirling a complete-game gem against the Rangers, and Carl Pavano allowing only three runs in his last sixteen innings. Anthony Swarzak performed admirably in two spot starts, and despite his ugly outing in monsoon conditions on Friday, Brian Duensing's previous start before that had been eight solid innings against the Royals. Here's a look at how the pitching matchups stack up for this now rain-shortened series:

Game 1: Carl Pavano (3-5, 4.54 ERA/3.99 FIP) vs Gavin Floyd (6-5, 3.89 ERA/3.81 FIP)

With the rainout, Tuesday's starters were simply pushed to Wednesday. As I noted earlier, Pavano comes into this game off of a seven-inning start against the Indians in which he allowed only one run on seven hits and struck out three. After an atrocious stretch to open the season, Pavano has started to regain his 2010 form, keeping up a strong ground ball rate and limiting walks. His 3.48 K/9 is by far the lowest mark in the majors, but he's also managed to keep the free passes in check, with his 1.90 BB/9 rate also among the lowest in the league. Pavano doesn't have much of a split this season, but he's been slightly more effective versus lefties.

Gavin Floyd has been perhaps the best starter for the White Sox this year not named Philip Humber (whose .220 BABIP has to start catching up with him at some point). He's down almost a mile-and-a-half per hour on his average fastball velocity this season and his K/9 rate is down slightly from his last few seasons, but he's also posting the lowest BB/9 rate of his career. Floyd has struggled against the Twins in his career with a 5.27 ERA, particularly having trouble in starts in Minnesota, and has fared much better against right-handers than left-handers this season. Ordinarily this would work in the Twins' favor, but the current lineup is much more right-handed as of late in the absence of almost all their lefty mashers.

Game 2: Nick Blackburn (5-4, 3.47 ERA/4.60 FIP) vs Mark Buerhle (3.95 ERA/3.74 FIP)

Don't look for a lot of strikeouts in this one either, although to be fair Blackburn actually has the K/9 advantage in this matchup. Blackie's 4.99 K/9 mark is the highest of his career even if it's still below league average, and he's also inducing ground balls at a 52% clip, also a career high. He's leading Twins starters in ERA at 3.47 even if FIP hates his K/BB rate, and his xFIP is a very respectable 3.77. For the type of pitcher he is, he's doing everything he needs to do to be successful. In his last start against the Rangers he struck out six and induced 13 grounders versus only 7 fly balls, allowing four runs (two earned) on ten hits.

If there's one word to describe Mark Buerhle, it's consistency, and at this point you know basically what you're getting from him. Buerhle has never thrown less than 200 innings in a season in his entire career, and his recipe for success resembles Nick Blackburn's in a lot of ways. Both pitchers rely heavily on pitching to contact, although Blackburn has a better career ground ball rate (and significantly higher rate this season in particular). Buehrle's average fastball this season is 85.4(!) miles per hour, and he obviously needs to change speeds and have pinpoint control to be effective. In his last start, he earned the win against Oakland after going seven innings while striking out four and walking one.

Overall, both teams come into the series playing well. For the Twins, a big key for the pitchers will be to keep the ball in the yard, as the White Sox have homered in eleven straight games. Paul Konerko has been one of the AL's best hitters this season, Alexei Ramirez is leading AL shortstops in WAR with 3.0, and Carlos Quentin is showing a huge resurgence in his power with 17 home runs already. Pavano has been able to avoid the home run pretty well this season, allowing only seven, but Blackburn has been prone to the long ball, giving up a team-high 12 (tied with Scott Baker). In the game I saw on June 9th, Blackburn gave up two absolute moon shots to Josh Hamilton and Nelson Cruz, and the White Sox have similar ability to punish mistakes.

The Twins currently sit 10 games back behind the now-division-leading Tigers, and the White Sox sit 4.5 back. The Tigers and the Indians are currently playing each other, and with a few more wins the Twins have a chance to get their deficit down to single digits for the first time in quite a while. With another home series with the offensively-challenged Padres on the horizon, followed by the similarly-inept Giants, there's good reason to think the hot streak could continue. There's still obviously a long way to go, but with some key players soon to return from injury, the future is certainly looking brighter.

The Bat Shatters All-Star Team

As part of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance (BBA), each site gets the opportunity to vote on a few things every year and one of those things is the MLB All-Star game. My vote doesn't really count for anything more than any other person's but I think the BBA compiles all the votes from the blogs in the Alliance and, well, it gives people an idea of who the bloggers are voting for...I know, you're really excited right? I'll start with my National League picks, then do the American League, with a short blurb on why I made each selection. Enjoy.


C - Brian McCann - Atlanta Braves
With Buster Posey out of the picture for the rest of this season, this selection becomes a bit of a no-brainer, though there are certainly other catchers who are contending for the starting catcher spot in the NL (Miguel Montero, Chris Ianetta, Yadier Molina to name a few). McCann has a .303/.374/.491 hitting-line coming into play today, making him the best offensive catcher in the NL and though defensively he is not the best, the fact that he leads NL catchers in HRs and RBIs makes up the difference.

1B - Prince Fielder - Milwaukee Brewers
This was a tough one because two guys, Prince and Joey Votto, are both playing at a very high level for contending teams. I give the edge to Fielder though because the dude's been all-world so far this season. Coming into today, he already has 19HRs, 58RBIs and a .303/.416/.622 hitting line. Since the middle of May, the Brewers have been on a tear and a lot of the credit belongs to Fielder, who has done a great job of anchoring the Brewers offense. What I've always liked about Fielder is that he swings his hardest every time, he runs his hardest every time and you can just sense the intensity with which he plays the game. I like to see that in an athlete and he doesn't disappoint.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Don't Give Up on Kubes

I'm really digging the Twins winning ways lately and the hopeful Twins fan in me is starting to have dreams of this team winning 25 out of 30 games and getting back into the division race. The realistic fan in me knows that's not likely. In the likelier scenario that the Twins are still "out of it" at the end of June, they'll likely become sellers and I'm here to beg that they consider re-signing Jason Kubel. Here is my case:

We're all familiar with the ups and down of Jason Kubel's career with the Twins. Kubes destroyed Minor League pitching for 4 years before getting a shot at the Bigs in 2004. He didn't disappoint, hitting .300/.358/.433 as a 22-year-old in 23 games with the Twins. That fall, he endured a serious knee injury which kept him out of baseball for the entire 2005 season, and while he re-emerged with the Twins in 2006, the results were nothing like before. Kubel struggled for a couple of seasons in 2006 and 2007 before putting it all together in 2008. In '08, he hit .272/.335/.471 with 20HRs and 78RBIs while seeing part-time action in the outfield. In 2009, he had his 'breakout' hitting .300/.369/.539 with 28HRs and 103 RBIs. In a contract-year last season, he only managed a .249 batting-average, but did surpass the 20 homerun plateau for the 3rd straight season while driving in 92 runs.

Last off-season, the Twins picked up a $5.25M option on Kubel which was a pretty good deal for them and a pretty good deal for Kubel as well, considering how little he did in 2010 to help himself out. At the beginning of this year, while almost everything and everyone fell apart around him, Kubel was spectacular hitting .310/.355/.465 with 5HR and 30RBI before landing on the DL with a sprained left foot on June 2nd. As we get closer to July, talk around the interwebs has increased about the likelihood of the Twins being sellers, and Kubel's name gets mentioned often, along with the likes of Michael Cuddyer, Kevin Slowey and Delmon Young. Let's take a look at other left-handed power hitters over the last three years:

Click to enlarge (props to
The graph is pretty small, so if you don't feel like clicking on it, I'll let you know what it says. To produce the graph I sorted by OFers with a qualified # of at-bats over the last three years. Then I sorted it further by hitters against right-handed pitching and then sorted it from highest to lowest OPS. Over the last three years, Kubel has the 11th highest OPS (.883), the 11th highest batting average and the 8th most HRs against right-handers...among all of the outfielders in baseball. You won't find his name on the WAR leaderboards, but that's because his defense is so atrocious. If he was strictly in a DH role, his value would increase. Without Thome next year, the Twins will likely have an opening at DH, a role Kubel is familiar with and could probably excel in.

I'm not trying to make it sound like Kubel is a superstar player. He's not. What I am trying to say is that Kubel, as a left-handed hitter with power, possesses an offensive skill-set that is not all that common in MLB, and is not easily replaceable if they trade him or let him go. Kubel has had some injury problems over the years, but for the past three season he's been a consistent producer and a valuable part of the Twins lineup. For a reasonable amount of money, say $5-$7M per over 3-5 years (Kubes is only 29) you could have yourself a very capable DH who gives you some flexibility to play him in the field if someone goes down with an injury. With the salaries of Michael Cuddyer and Joe Nathan coming off the books at the end of the season, $5-7M/year is a reasonable amount of money to spend on a guy who can hit with power from the left side of the plate.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Game of Adjustments

I will be glad when the NBA Playoffs are over. I mean come on, how long have they been going on now? A month? Two months? It's almost mid-June for crying out loud. I have nothing against basketball, but what I do have a problem with is ESPN's CONSTANT "coverage" of every game. From the moment one game ends to the time the next one begins it's nothing but basketball. Hello, there are 10-15 Major League Baseball games every day that we could talk about!? There are other sports! But I digress. It was during this wall-to-wall NBA playoff coverage that something caught my ear and made me think for a second. For those who don't follow the NBA, LeBron James scored only 8 points for the Heat in last night's game, which I believe was a career-low for him in the post-season. Last night's performance has caused people to question all sorts of things about him including his greatness as a player, his focus, his intensity and, ultimately, his eventual legacy. That got me thinking, why have we gotten to a point where the big picture is no longer important? One game changes how some people are viewing LeBron James?

Player X goes through a bad streak (Adam Dunn for example) and sports talk radio hosts starting talking about benching the guy. Albert Pujols has a slow start to the season and people start asking "is this the end for Albert?" Joe Mauer has an injury and people start demanding that the 28-year-old catcher change positions (myself included on that one). Jose Bautista blossoms into a power hitter and people immediately begin to question his integrity with accusations of steroid use. What happened to patience? What happened to taking into account a guy's entire track-record as a player before making sweeping judgements?

Take Adam Dunn for example. He's had a miserable go of it with the White Sox so far this year. Coming into play tonight he's hitting .176/.314/.309, he's struck out 80 times already this season and he's only hit 5 homeruns. This for a guy whose career hitting line is .248/.378/.514. The fact is that Adam Dunn has been one of the most consistent hitters in all of baseball for the better part of the last decade. His yearly homerun totals since 2004? 46,40,40,40,40,38,38. His yearly RBI totals? 102,101,92,106,100,105,103. There are very few players in baseball that are as consistent and yet the local media here in Chicago have been questioning not only the contract that Dunn signed, but also Dunn's abilities as a baseball player. Rarely is it mentioned that the guy had an appendectomy 2 weeks into the season. Few people have considered that this guy played every day in the field for the last 8 seasons and is now being asked to fill a role in which all he does is hit (DH). Even fewer people talk about the fact that Dunn changed leagues in coming to the White Sox and is now regularly facing pitchers whom he's never seen before. To top it off, no one is talking about the fact that teams are now playing a shift on him when he is at the plate, which was rarely, if ever, done prior to this season.

People who've been around baseball often say that "baseball is a game of adjustments." From my vantage point Adam Dunn has had a lot to adjust to...but in today's world it seems like everyone expects Dunn to make a seamless transition. And he's hardly the first or last example of this. Pujols is an even better example. People are going to question a guy who in 10 season put up numbers good enough to make him worthy of the Hall of Fame? Come on. I get the whole "what have you done for me lately" sentiment, but enough with the knee-jerk reactions and hair-trigger analyses. I know I'm just spitting into the wind with all of this, but I have a lot more respect for writers and sports commentators who put less stock in the day-to-day (or week-to-week as it were) and focus on the bigger picture. I feel like a lot of today's commentary, whether it be on sports, the economy, politics, etc, is fueled by impatience and short-sightedness.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Random Twins Stuff

Well, I made it. My wife and I bought our first house and closed at the end of April and then spent every evening of the next three weeks sanding, taping, painting, and moving. It was exhausting, but now it's all done and I can get back to the things I love to do, like writing about the Twins. I was able to very passively follow the Twins while this was all going on and I was just as happy to have the distraction since the team was playing so poorly. Happily as I've transitioned back in normal life, the Twins have started playing better. Thank you for bearing with this blog and thanks to Matt for picking up some of the slack. In news unrelated to the Twins, our very own Matt Larson was recently on Jeopardy! and not only was he on Jeopardy!, he managed to win his first round by $1. Congratulations Matt!

I'm not one to even bother reporting "site news" normally, but this is a little different. TheBatShatters recently joined the Baseball Bloggers Alliance which is a grouping of 298 (currently) baseball blogs. It's a pretty cool group, and you can expect to see a post or two now and again related to the BBA. If you want to check out their webpage, you can find it here. Well-known Twins blogger Seth Stohs (SethSpeaks) is the president of the Twins chapter of the BBA.

Odd and kinda scary news out of Twins camp this afternoon. It appears that Denard Span is suffering from some sort of vertigo or something that will keep him from playing for at least the next few days. ESPN1500 is reporting that D-Span is headed back to the Twin Cities to meet with doctors to try to figure out what is going on. What's odd is that it's likely not a concussion as D-Span was checked out for that recently following a collision at home plate during the series with KC. Unfortunately it's just another in a long line of injuries for the Twins who will now have to figure out a way of getting around the loss of their lead-off man for at least a couple of games.

Tsuyoshi Nishioka has begun a rehab assignment with the Fort Myers Miracle this week and it's been reported that he has been doing a lot of work with Paul Molitor on avoiding collisions at 2nd base. I wish I could find it, but I saw a pretty cool video on how they're trying to teach Nishioka the art of the jump throw. Basically they're tossing a beach ball at him while he makes throws to first, pretty clever idea if you ask me. Teammate and Twins superstar Joe Mauer has also started a rehab assignment of sorts with the Miracle and while he's not eligible to come off the DL until June 12th, it looks like things are headed in a positive direction (finally!) for Joe and I would expect to see him back with the Major League ballclub within a couple of weeks.

After the final two games of the series with the Indians, the Twins will start a 10-game homestand against the Rangers, White Sox and Padres and, in fact, 19 out of their next 25 games following the Indians series will be at Target Field. For a road-weary team this has got to be good news and it is giving me hope that maybe this team can go on a little run. Coming into play they are 11.5 games out, but with a couple of more wins tonight and tomorrow night they could cut that lead down to 9.5 and then you consider that there are still about 100 games left of the season and well...ok, let's not get carried away. Go Twins!

Friday, June 3, 2011

Now is the Time to Play it Smart

At 18-37, the Twins are effectively out of the race for the AL Central crown...this is not new news. They're 15.5 games behind Cleveland coming into play today and the astronomical win-loss record they would have to put together from this point forward to win even 90 games is on the edge of ridiculous (for those that are curious, they'd have to go 72-35 from here on out). Everyone and their mom around the interwebs is talking about how the Twins are likely going to be sellers come the trade deadline and while I don't disagree with that sentiment, it can not be said emphatically enough that now is the time for the Twins to be smart and play their cards right.

When you're a "seller" that means a) things haven't gone well for you this year and b)you're not expecting them to get better quickly enough to contend. In terms of getting a good deal, that leaves you at a disadvantage. When you're a seller, you're essentially trying to dump salary or perhaps get a load of prospects in return for a more valuable Major Leaguer. The one thing the Twins absolutely need to keep in mind throughout the next two months is that they have both Michael Cuddyer and Joe Nathan's salaries coming off the books at the end of the season. That's $21,750,000 in salary between those two players alone. In addition to that, Jason Kubel, Matt Capps, and Jim Thome's salaries are also expiring at the end of the season, good for another $15,400,000 off the payroll number. In total, that's $37,150,000 in salary coming off the books at the end of the season, which is about 33% of the current payroll figure ($113M). Granted, yes, you would have to replace those guys, but aside from Kubes you can probably pretty easily replace that production at a fraction of the cost.

So what's the point I'm trying to make? What I'm trying to highlight here is the fact that the Twins don't absolutely NEED to be sellers. Sure, it would be nice to get a couple of prospects for Kubel or Slowey, there isn't much debating that the farm system is in need of an influx in talent...but it isn't worth trading either player unless you're getting something decent in return. The Twins will have enough flexibility with the payroll at the end of this season to make a lot of changes, they don't need to make bad deals now to preemptively try and patch up the holes on a terrible team. The people in the Twins' front office need to be both shrewd and smart right now because for as bad as things look, there is no reason to panic.

I don't think there is much debate that the middle infield is of utmost concern for this team going into next season. That said, considering the investment that the Twins have made in Tsuyoshi Nishioka, it's unlikely that they will be in the market for a 2nd basemen in the off-season. Here's one option that's intriguing:

Kelly Johnson - 2B - Diamondbacks - 29-years-old
Johnson has had somewhat of a down year so far this season, but he owns a career .794 OPS and is a solid defensive 2nd-baseman as well. Johnson has legitimate 20-25HR power and though he does strikeout a lot, he has managed a career .347 OBP. Johnson is set to make $5.85M this season, but could probably be had for $6-$8M per and would be an immediate upgrade over any of the options the Twins currently have at 2nd base.

As for Shortstop, the Twins clearly have a need there. Here are some of the better options:

Jose Reyes - SS - Mets - 27-years-old
Though this is likely a long-shot for the Twins, it's at least worth mentioning that a shortstop of Reyes' caliber will likely be on the market at the end of this season (provided he doesn't re-sign before the end of the year). Reyes has a solid .774 career OPS and while he's no gold-glove at shortstop, he would be light-years better than anything the Twins have, both offensively and defensively.

J.J. Hardy - SS - Orioles - 28-years-old
I find this scenario unlikely as well, considering that a) the Twins traded him away for two garbage relievers and b) there were rumblings that the coaching staff wasn't that impressed with Hardy. The Twins would have to be stupid not to consider this option, however, because the fact of the matter is that the Twins are getting schooled this season on the importance of middle-infield defense and Hardy, when healthy, is about as good as it gets at shortstop.

Rafael Furcal - SS - Dodgers - 33-years-old
While Furcal is an older option, his .285/.350/.410 hitting line would fit nicely into the Twins lineup. With Furcal, the question is always "can he stay healthy" as he has seen significant DL time in 3 out of the last 4 seasons. When he has been healthy he been a good producer offensively and his glove, well, it's been good enough (.965 career Fielding% at SS). The tricky thing with Furcal is that if he reaches 600 PAs this year (unlikely), his $12M option for 2012 become automatic. I can't see the Dodgers picking up a $12M option on him otherwise, so it's likely that Furcal will be a free-agent at the end of this season.

Other options include Yuniesky Betancourt, Ramon Santiago, and Jack Wilson, but to be completely frank, none of those options are much better than the middle-infield options the Twins have had this season.

Given that the Twins will likely have $20-$30M to spend during this coming off-season, using $8M-$10M of that money to fix their shortstop problem should be a no-brainer and they really couldn't go very wrong with any of the three options above. I would be ecstatic to have Reyes, but I find that to be so unlikely, it's not even worth getting excited about. The bottomline with all of this is that the Twins don't need to be aggressive sellers in the next two months and, in fact, they shouldn't make a deal unless they're getting quality in return. Bill Smith could go a long way in repairing his image with Twins fans if he makes patient, smart moves this year that end up paying off next year or down the road.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Future HOFer?: Miguel Tejada

I'm in agreement with what Matt wrote the other day, I have almost zero interest in writing about the Twins. When I do I find that what I write is mostly negative (or sarcastic) and that's just not healthy. This blog originally started out covering Major League Baseball in general and I have no problem with it reverting back to that for the time being. It's one thing when the team you love has a run of bad luck because of injuries or the like. That stuff happens from time to time and, well, you re-group, get healthy and try again next year. It's another thing when the front-office of your favorite team makes poor decision after poor decision and hamstrings what should otherwise be a good team...especially when that front-office has a brand-new stadium and over $100M at their disposal. Anyway, the bottomline is that I don't want to write yet another negative post about this team, so I'm going to continue my series on potential future Hall of Famers, players who are towards the end of their career who have borderline Hall of Fame numbers. Today's subject is a somewhat controversial one: Miguel Tejada.

Miguel Odalis Tejada was signed as an amateur free-agent by the Oakland Athletics in 1993 at the age of 21. Tejada had been playing in the Dominican Republic and was showing signs of being a special talent there. He quickly made his way through the Minor Leagues, though surprisingly he was not a very good fielder at the time, committing 70 errors in his first 182 Minor League games. His bat was there though, including a decent degree of patience, sporting a 142:246 K:BB ratio through his first 3 MiL seasons. Tejada was called up to the Bigs in August of 1997 and finished out that season with the A's, hitting .202/.240/.333 in 104 PAs (23 games). In 1998 he didn't make the team out of Spring Training, but was called up at the end of May and played the rest of the season at SS for the A's, hitting .233/.298/.384 while committing 26 errors in 526 chances.

The 1999 season was when things really got going for Tejada. He didn't smack the cover off the baseball or anything, but he played the full season at shortstop and his numbers finally started to resemble his MiL numbers. In 159 games at shortstop, Tejada hit .251/.325/.427 with 21HRs, 93Rs and 84RBIs. He also improved on defense committing 21 errors in 784 chances, good for a .973 fielding percentage. From 1999 to 2006, Tejada compiled 34.9 WAR (4.36 average) and won the MVP award for the 2002 season. During that year he played in all 162 games, he hit .308/.354/.508, he hit 34HRs, drove in 131, compiled 204 hits and crossed home plate 108 times. To be honest, he didn't deserve the MVP award that year, and it wasn't even close. Alex Rodriguez should have won the MVP award as he hit .300/.392/.623 in 2002 and drove in 142 runs (10.0 WAR!!!) for the Rangers. That said, the Rangers finished last in the AL West while the Athletics won 103 games and captured the division crown. Even Nomar Garciaparra was more deserving of the MVP award for Red Sox team that fell just short of the playoffs...but hey, winning is everything and in this case, Tejada has the A's success in 2002 to thank for his MVP award.

Tejada hasn't exactly been the same since the 2006 season. Where he was once a perennial .800+ OPS guy, he hasn't hit that mark since the 2006 season and through 50 games this year with the Giants, his OPS sits at a Twins-esque .520. At 37 years old, Tejada is clearly in the twilight of his career, though others will chalk his decline up to being a former steroid user. In 2005 Tejada was part of a panel that testified before Congress about steroids in baseball, it was later found that he lied under oath and in 2009, he was charged with lying to Congress, he pled guilty, and he was sentenced to one-year of probation. So Tejada is a known steroid-user, which will likely be a nail in the coffin for his HOF chances...unless some people change their mind. From a statistical stand-point, Tejada has the numbers...though he is a fringe candidate which likely means he won't get in. I guess it will all depend on how the "Steroid Era" is viewed 5-7 years from now when Tejada is eligible for the Hall. I'll leave you with a highlight of his offensive achievements (through 5/31/11) and let you decide.

2,077 Games
8,893 Plate-Appearances
8,145 At-Bats
1,202 Runs Scored
456 Doubles
2,326 Hits
301 Homeruns
1,272 RBIs
Career .286/.336/.458 hitting line
Career .971 Fielding% between SS and 3B
6-time All-Star
1 MVP Award
2 Silver Slugger Awards
29th Among Active Players with 41.0 accumulated WAR

One interesting side-note about Tejada. He's been to the playoffs 4 different times, all with Oakland, and every single one of those teams lost in the first round