Not a whole lot to talk about today, with the Twins being off yesterday. I have a new article at The Hardball Times with some Twins-related stuff in it (which I'll link to at the end of this entry) and here are a few other things heading into the weekend ...
Those of you who have been around for a while may remember that I participated in the "NFL Expert Picks" over at Seth Speaks last season. I beat some tough competition to finish in first place, picking 69% of the winners over the course of the entire season.
I'm defending my title this year against an even tougher group of "experts" like John "Twins Geek" Bonnes, Ben Jacobs from The Hardball Times, and several other bloggers, including Seth Stohs, who is running the whole thing. I'm off to a good start thus far, having correctly picked last night's New England-Indianapolis game (although it was a lot closer than I thought it would be).
For all you ever wanted to know about the competition (and more), click here.
Meanwhile, a big part of why the Patriots were able to get me off to a 1-0 start this year is Edgerrin James, who fumbled twice last night, including once on the one-yard line in the fourth quarter. I was rooting for the Patriots, both because I like them and because I wanted to get the pick right, but I wasn't too happy when James coughed up the football.
You see, I'm in the Baseball Think Factory fantasy football league and James was my first-round pick. My team is absolutely horrendous, mostly because my team was awful last year and it's a keeper league. Still, it's early in the season and I'm naive enough to be optimistic, so those fumbles hurt (the league's scoring gives a -2 for each fumble lost).
Here's my squad (which has a name that is probably a little too "inside" for anyone outside the league to fully appreciate):
QB Jeff Garcia
QB Jake Plummer
QB Kurt Warner
RB Edgerrin James
RB Brian Westbrook
RB Curtis Martin
RB Emmitt Smith
RB William Green
WR Laveraneus Coles
WR Darrell Jackson
WR Charles Rogers
WR Roy Williams
WR Josh Reed
TE Jeremy Shockey
K Ryan Longwell
D Minnesota Vikings
I told you the team was awful. We start one QB, two RB, two WR, one TE, one K and one D each week. I'll make sure to keep you posted on all my football activities, although if things go like they did last year, you may stop hearing about the fantasy league and constantly be updated on how well my game picks are going. We'll see.
Here's a little truth in advertising lesson for all you fellow college students looking for some decent, cheap, microwavable food ...
Now, to be fair, it actually tasted pretty good. That said, it looked nothing like what was pictured. In fact, it looked like someone ate what was on the box and then threw it up.
There's a new Twins blog started by a long-time reader and frequent e-mailer of this blog and it's really good. Go head over to the "Stick and Ball Guy" and tell him I said hello. Also, notice how it is yet another blog that is far more aesthetically pleasing than this one.
And, as promised, here's a link to my newest article at The Hardball Times ...
Learning to Swim: The Beginnings of a Poker Player?
I am one of those people who has to get into everything full throttle. I can't just be a baseball fan, I had to become completely obsessed with the sport, read and think about it all day, watch as many games as humanly possible, and force people to read my thoughts on the subject.
When I was younger, I couldn't just collect baseball cards like every other kid I knew, I had to have the biggest collection, make it into a business, and travel across the country setting up shop at various "card shows" in malls, hotels and convention centers.
I can't just sit down and play one game of Madden 2005 on PlayStation 2, I have to set up a team from scratch, make a new playbook, and go through an entire season. Or, ever since they invented "franchise mode," a dozen seasons.
I can't just buy a DVD that I like, I have to convince myself that I am in need of a DVD collection, complete with movies I'll probably never even watch, all because they were half-off when I was going through my "MUST BUY DVDS!" phase and ... well, it seemed like a good idea at the time.
I could go on and on with examples, but basically all you need to know is that I have what I think is called an addictive personality, among other things. Now, luckily I haven't become addicted to drugs or alcohol or anything like that, choosing instead to go with baseball (and food).
However, there's a new addiction in my life and it's poker. At this point, poker is second on the list of things that take up my time, behind only baseball. Although, with school starting, that should change quickly (sorry, I had to put that in there because I know my mom reads this). I've noticed that I am now at the stage with poker that I was maybe 6-7 years ago with baseball.
I'm fascinated by it in every way and I desperately search for any new information I can find about it. I'm reading poker blogs and poker message boards, I'm watching it on TV and talking about it with friends, I'm buying books and playing online, and, of course, I'm madly in love with Shana Hiatt.
And while I'm fairly confident that I'm knowledgeable about the subject, I'm incredibly aware that whatever knowledge I do have has only scratched the surface. In other words, if poker were baseball, I'd just now be at the point where I discovered that batting average and RBIs weren't the best ways to judge a hitter.
Like a few million other people, I first got hooked on poker while watching the World Series of Poker on ESPN last year. I had always enjoyed playing cards before, but watching Chris Moneymaker and Sammy Farha brought it to a whole new level. For a while, I was content with simply watching other people play, and I quickly discovered that not only was the WSOP on ESPN, poker was also being shown on places like the Travel Channel and Bravo.
Then this summer, while waiting for new episodes of the WSOP to begin, I really started to immerse myself in the online poker scene, reading blogs and message boards. Soon I convinced myself that it was time to try playing a little bit online, so I signed up for an account, deposited a little cash (a "little" cash being the only kind of cash I have) and began playing.
I kept hearing about all of these "fish" that were playing poker online, basically handing out money to experienced players, but I couldn't quite figure out who they were talking about or how you could spot them. And to quote Mike McD: "If you can't spot the sucker in the first half hour at the table, then you ARE the sucker."
And I definitely was. If ever there was a fish, I was it. I was playing way too many hands, chasing inside straight draws, calling re-raises with bottom pair, playing every starting hand the same regardless of my position at the table, and going all-in immediately with any sort of high pocket-pair. I was exactly the sort of player experienced guys dream of -- new to the game, inexperienced, excited about playing, and completely overmatched.
Thankfully, the beauty of poker is that you can get better simply by playing. In fact, that's the only way to get better. Sure, you can learn by watching the pros on TV or by reading book after book, but you won't become anything more than a slightly smaller fish without playing tons of hands. So that's what I did. It hurt for a while, because I couldn't figure out why I kept losing. I figured I was just unlucky, but the fact was that I had no idea what I was doing.
Now it's a few months later and, while I still don't know what I'm doing compared to a lot of people, I think I can safely say I've advanced past the "fish" portion of my playing days. Not only am I winning, but I know why I'm winning, which is perhaps even more important. I no longer need to catch great cards to avoid losing all my money and I can actually see the weaknesses in other players. I'm playing suited connectors, figuring outs, check-raising, and slow-playing when I flop a set. In other words, I'm good enough now that I can do a pretty good job pretending to be a real poker player.
While most people thrive in limit games, grinding out wins as fish come and go at a ring-game table, I actually do far better in small, no-limit "Sit and Go" tournaments. I've found that I need to be able to put some force behind my bets in order to be effective, whereas even the biggest raise in a limit game is likely to be called by someone if they've got something they think they can win with. But if I put someone on a marginal hand and come out firing with a bet that would take a huge chunk out of their stack, they'll probably fold.
Like most players who sense improvement in their game, I moved way too fast. I began playing $5 S&G tourneys and did well, so I jumped all the way up to $20 S&Gs. While I didn't lose my shirt there, I struggled just to break even, so I eventually took a step back down to $10 S&Gs, where you can absolutely see a difference in the type of play and quality of player.
You won't get rich playing $10 S&Gs (the winner gets $50, second gets $30, third gets $20), but you won't go broke either. In the last two weeks, I've had stretches where I've finished in the money in five straight S&Gs and another stretch where I cashed in seven out of 10.
While I'll always have dreams of seeing myself on ESPN slow-playing the nut flush against Gus Hanson some day, I'm resigned to the fact that, while I may eventually become a good poker player, I'll probably never become that good a poker player. Instead, I've set a slightly smaller goal: I want to finish in the money in The Second Annual SABR Convention Poker Invitational. By the time I find myself in Toronto for the 2005 convention, I'll have had a year to stew about Joe Dimino pairing both his ace and his six to take down my pocket eights.
Exactly one year ago today, this blog moved from its old home on "blogspot" to AaronGleeman.com. I actually didn't realize it was the one-year anniversary until I stumbled across the entry announcing the move while looking for something else in my archives.
The other thing I noticed is that, on that same day this blog made the move to AaronGleeman.com, the Twins and White Sox were tied atop the American League Central at 76-66 (and the Royals were just three games back at 73-69).
What a difference a year makes, huh? The Twins are now sitting alone atop the division at 78-60, 8.5 games ahead of Chicago, with Cleveland in third place. The Royals are 21.5 games worse than they were at this point last season, and 28.5 games behind the Twins.
Whereas last year I was breaking down the remaining schedules and hypothesizing that the Twins had a huge advantage and would draft behind the White Sox until the final two weeks of the season and then surge ahead (which was pretty accurate), this time around I'm more interested in postseason matchups and playoff pitching rotations.
Speaking of which ...
There's still a lot of time left before the playoffs and the Twins' first-round opponent is far from settled. The way things look right now, the Twins will be playing the winner of the American League East in the first round, which doesn't sound very appealing.
But when the choice comes down to New York, Boston or Oakland (or Anaheim, I suppose), there really isn't an appealing option. It's like if I asked if you'd rather I punch you in the face, elbow you in the side of the head, or knee you in the stomach? There's probably one you'd take over the others (I'd go for the knee to the stomach, myself), but it's not like you'll be looking forward to any of them.
The one thing the Twins appear to have on their side is the scheduling for the opening round. According to everything I've read on the subject, it looks like the Twins will be able to go to a three-man rotation for their first series, rather than relying on four starters.
For some teams that's not a big deal, but when you're the Twins and you've got Johan Santana, Brad Radke and a bunch of guys who make you get the bullpen up and running during the pre-game show, it matters a whole lot. So, instead of counting on two very iffy starters, they'll simply need one, which means things could set up as follows ...
GAME 1 Johan Santana
GAME 2 Brad Radke
GAME 3 [Fill in the blank]
GAME 4 Johan Santana
GAME 5 Brad Radke
You can flip-flop Santana and Radke if you like; I'm not sure who the Twins will actually trot our there for the first game. Regardless, I would guess that there isn't a team in baseball that would benefit more from having to use only three starters than the Twins, and I feel damn good about their chances of winning three out of five games with Santana and Radke going a total of four times.
The Twins are 36-23 (.610) in games Santana and Radke start, including 20-9 when Santana is on the hill. When anyone else goes for them, they are 42-37 (.532). That gap is big, but it isn't quite as big as I would have guessed, and the Twins are amazingly still an above-.500 team with Carlos Silva, Kyle Lohse, Terry Mulholland, Seth Greisinger and Matt Guerrier on the mound.
Of course, a lot of that win-loss record stuff is dependent on the amount of runs the lineup scores, and as I've discussed here in the past, both Santana and Radke have been on the short end of the stick in that area this season. Of the 41 American League pitchers who qualify for the ERA title, Santana and Radke rank 29th and 31st in run support, respectively.
If you ignore wins and losses, you can really get a feel for just how much better Santana and Radke have been than their rotation-mates ...
The Twins' non-Santana/Radke starters have averaged nearly an inning less per start and have given up nearly two more runs per nine innings. They've also surrendered a .313 batting average against, compared to just .235 from Santana and Radke, and their combined strikeout-to-walk ratio is 66% worse than Minnesota's 1-2 punch.
In other words, if ever there was a "Spahn and Sain and Pray for Rain" situation, this is it. You wanna know how scary the Twins' rotation is after the front two? I would actually start Mulholland in Game 3 of a postseason series right now and hope that he can go five innings and turn it over to the bullpen without giving away the game.
Actually, an idea I pitched to my uncle the other day (he didn't think much of it) was that, depending on whether or not Santana and Radke can each pitch very deep into their starts, the Twins could potentially make Game 3 a "bullpen game." In other words, if the relievers are barely needed in the first two games of the series, perhaps Ron Gardenhire could unload the bullpen in Game 3, pitching 4-5 different guys 1-2 innings each.
There are a few different ways you could do it. One is that you start Mulholland and leave him in until the first sign of trouble. This has the added benefit of the other team likely putting all of its right-handed batters in the lineup, not to mention the fact that it's possible Mulholland could cruise through 5-6 innings without any trouble.
If he does get into a little trouble, then you start bringing in right-handed relievers in bunches. Grant Balfour for an inning or two, Jesse Crain for an inning or two. Then if you can get deep into the game, you go with Juan Rincon and Joe Nathan, with J.C. Romero coming in when the opposing manager decides to use whatever lefties he didn't start against Mulholland.
The other option involving a starter is to do the exact opposite and start either Lohse or Silva, at which point the other team's lineup is likely loaded up with left-handed batters. Then, at the first sign of trouble, you can bring Romero and Mulholland into the game to face mostly lefties.
The third and final option is to just give up on all the lefty/righty stuff and just completely blow the bullpen out. Something like ...
And, of course, if at some point the game gets out of hand, Joe Roa and Mulholland are available to eat innings. Would the Twins ever try anything like this? Of course not. Hell, I'm not even sure I'd try it in anything other than one of my Diamond-Mind leagues. Still, this is the sort of stuff I think about.
Michael Cuddyer's game-winning homer last night came in his 503rd career at-bat, giving him what is essentially one full season's worth of playing time during his four years in the majors. The fact that it has taken him into September of his fourth stint with the team to amass a season's worth of playing time (actually, slightly less than a season's worth) is frustrating, because I think he deserved a chance to play regularly a long time ago. That said, he has not done well.
Here are his career totals ...
AB PA AVG OBP SLG 2B 3B HR BB SO
503 564 .249 .321 .419 27 4 17 54 119
Now, those aren't horrible numbers, particularly if he's playing an infield spot, but they are nowhere near the level of production I expected out of him. Hell, .249/.321/.419 is only about 7% better than the offense Luis Rivas has provided during his career (.261/.306/.384).
While my expectations of Cuddyer have definitely been lowered, I still believe he needs to be given a chance to play regularly for more than a week or two at time, which, despite all his time in the majors, is something that has yet to happen.
His Isolated Power (slugging percentage minus batting average) is simply average, at .170, whereas it was extremely good throughout his minor league career. He had an IsoP of .233 in 139 career Triple-A games and an IsoP of .259 in 141 Double-A games. Given those numbers, I would have expected something a little closer to .200 in the majors.
His walk rate has been similar to what he did in the minors, but the big decline, along with the power, has come in his batting average. A career .308 hitter at Triple-A and .301 at Double-A, Cuddyer has hit just .249 in the majors.
Even if his power only improves a little bit (say up to a .175 IsoP), he can become a very solid player if he can simply get his average north of .270. Given his other rates, a .270 batting average would make him something along the lines of a .270/.345/.445 hitter.
In a corner outfield spot, that's nothing more than average, but it's damn good hitting at second base, which is why I'll continue to complain about his lack of playing time and continue to pray he's starting at second on Opening Day next season.
Terry Tiffee has burst onto the scene and become a fan favorite in just a few games. Tiffee, who has been subbing for an injured Corey Koskie at third base, went 2-for-2 with a big hit in his major league debut and then hit a walk-off homer at the Dome last weekend.
While I'm not complaining about Tiffee's hitting thus far, I think it's time for a voice of reason when it comes to future expectations. Regardless of how many game-winning hits he can cram into his first week with the team or whether or not he can maintain a .300 batting average for two weeks, the fact is that there isn't much in Tiffee's track record that suggests he has star potential.
I love the .300 batting averages and the increases in Isolated Power, but the thing that sticks out about Tiffee when I look at his stats is the fact that he barely walks. And if there's something the Twins don't need more of, it's hackers.
With his walk rate, Tiffee is likely going to need to hit at least .290 in order to be an average offensive player at third base, where the average major leaguer has hit .274/.344/.455. If he hits .280, his lack of walks would put his on-base percentage somewhere around .320-.330. And, if his power is closer to his pre-2004 levels, his slugging percentage would check in at around .430. I don't know about you, but I can't get excited about a guy who'll struggle to post a .750 OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage) unless he hits .300.
An intriguing role player? Absolutely. A future star? I doubt it. Someone Twins fans should count on replacing Koskie at third base next season? No way.
Yeah, it's small, but it's mine. You'll notice that there's a TV, VCR, phone, answering machine, PlayStation2, printer and alarm clock, all within about three feet. I'm expecting some sort of an electrical fire within the week. My bed is right there too, so I'm calling this area "The Entertainment Center."
My dog, the lovely and talented Samantha Gleeman, was not very happy about the move, mostly because she no longer has someone to sit around and do absolutely nothing with all day.
UPDATE: I slept very well in my first night here, but I had a very strange dream involving myself, Jessica Biel and my old basketball coach. (And no, it wasn't that kind of dream.) Any of you psychology majors wanna take a crack at this one?
I did a mini-move on Saturday, checking in, getting my keys, and bringing a couple small boxes and some clothes to my room. The real, big move occurs today, perhaps as you're reading this, and involves not only me, but my mom and dad. Should be a fun afternoon all around, and if you've been around long enough to have read about my past move-ins, you'll know just how high my level of sarcasm can soar.
Anyway, since I'm still packing and unpacking, you'll have to forgive the fact that I'm also still in slacker mode when it comes to my writing. Instead of my usual two articles, I only have one again today. Now, some might say one article per day is plenty (especially when I'm doing the writing), but I guess that's another issue altogether.
Oh, and one little note: For anyone who has e-mailed me over the past week or so and hasn't heard back from me yet, give me a little more time. Once I'm settled into the dorm I hope to get caught up on my e-mails. Sorry in advance for the delay.
I'll be back tomorrow with all you ever wanted to know about moving into a dorm at the University of Minnesota. Until then, check this out ...