Friday, February 18, 2005
Link-O-RamaYou want links? Well, I've got links ...
MIN FGM FGA PTS REB BLKWow. In 20 total starts for Portland, Przybilla is averaging 10.6 rebounds, 1.9 blocks, and 8.6 points on 64.4% shooting, while playing 30.3 minutes per game. I hate to say this, since Przybilla broke everyone in Minnesota's heart and all, but the Timberwolves sure could use a guy who rebounds and shot blocks like that.
Incidentally, I learned a lot about the fleeting nature of loyalty from Przybilla. Seriously. The 2000 NBA Draft was held at Target Center in Minneapolis and I was in attendance (for future reference, NBA drafts aren't particularly exciting live). Przybilla was expected to be a high first-round pick, and so footage of him was included in the various montages that were played on the scoreboard. Each time he was shown, he was booed.
Then, when he was taken with the ninth pick and stepped up on stage to shake hands with David Stern, he was booed to the point that Stern looked embarrassed for him. Later, when he was doing an interview on a side stage with Craig Sager from TNT, he was booed to the point that you'd have thought Adolph Hitler had just been taken with the 10th pick and then sent to Denver in a three-team trade. And all of this came just a couple months after 13,000 people in Williams Arena cheered like maniacs for Przybilla on a regular basis. I actually wrote about this situation in some depth a little while back.
I talked in the past about how people enjoy blogs because they can cover things that don't easily fit in the newspaper, so it's only natural to have the guy who actually writes the newspaper articles start up a blog with all that extra stuff. It was only a matter of time. If the Official Twins Beat Writer of AG.com, La Velle E. Neal, were to write a blog like this, I would read every Jacque Jones-loving word.
Today at The Hardball Times:
- Bridging The Gap To Greatness (by John Brattain)
Thursday, February 17, 2005
All Olney, All The TimeSo I'm sitting in my "Magazine Editing and Production" class yesterday afternoon, listening to a guest speaker from the Minneapolis Star Tribune talk to us about developing story ideas. She asks a guy in the front row what sort of stuff he reads and he tells her he likes Sports Illustrated and ESPN Magazine. Hearing that he likes sports writing, she immediately says to him, "Have you heard of a baseball writer named Buster Olney? He has written for the New York Times and ESPN ... he's a really outstanding writer ... fantastic."
I wasn't sure whether to start laughing, throw up, or get up from my seat to look for the hidden camera crew from Punk'd. Yes, the very day I was, I don't know, let's say "very critical" of Olney's ESPN.com work in this space, I was told by someone brought in to teach me about journalism that Olney is "a really outstanding writer" and "fantastic." It was a surreal experience.
Actually though, I can see why people enjoy Olney's work. He is, stylistically at least, a fine writer, and his reporting skills are clearly excellent. Where he gets in trouble is when he injects his opinions and biases into his pieces, or more simply when he tries to be an analyst instead of a reporter. However, someone with just a passing knowledge of baseball (the guest speaker who sang Olney's praises, for instance), won't necessarily notice things that go beyond his writing and reporting skills.
Continuing on the now two-day-old theme that has somehow overtaken this blog, after I got home from class yesterday I had several e-mails from readers telling me to check out Olney's latest article at ESPN.com. I broke my "No Olney" rule for the second day in a row and read his "Around the National League" article that is a companion piece to his "Around the American League" article that I discussed yesterday.
In it, Olney writes the following about the St. Louis Cardinals (I've put the notable section in bold):
But Albert Pujols complained during the offseason about nagging injuries, Jim Edmonds turns 41 this season, and Edgar Renteria -- an underrated member of this attack -- is gone. It's possible the Cardinals won't be able to support the pitching the way they did last year.In reality, Jim Edmonds was born on June 27, 1970, which means he turns 35 years old in about four months. So Olney was only off by six years.
Wait, there's more. On the New York Mets, Olney writes:
Beltran already has five seasons of 100 or more runs, five seasons of 100 or more RBI, five seasons of 20 or more homers, five seasons of 27 or more stolen bases. And he's just 26 years old.The only problem, of course, is that Carlos Beltran was born on April 24, 1977, which means he is currently 27 years old and will be turning 28 in approximately two months.
Olney also got Alex Rodriguez's age wrong in the American League version of the article, although ESPN.com appears to have corrected the mistake. Actually, considering how quickly ESPN.com got rid of the link to this blog the other day, I'm guessing someone over there will eventually notice Olney's latest batch of mistakes and fix those as well. And yes, this qualifies as nit-picking, but sometimes it's just too damn hard not to.
Today at The Hardball Times:
- An In-Depth Look at Dodger Stadium's Effects (by Tom Meagher)
Wednesday, February 16, 2005
Fun with ESPN.com
Neel's article also included this silly quote from the man who traded for Mientkiewicz this offseason, Omar Minaya:
Minaya figures first base is undervalued in the market place and in the minds of the average fan. "People take the position for granted," he said. He looks at a guy like J.T. Snow of the Giants, a smooth, graceful glove who "saves the Giants 10 games a year," and he anticipates something similar for his club with Mientkiewicz.If J.T. Snow or Mientkiewicz could save "10 games a year" with their gloves, they would be the most valuable defensive players in baseball history. Unless Minaya is talking about what would happen if the Giants and Mets played without anyone at first base, in which case that 10-game estimate is really conservative.
Incidentally, I just grabbed Mientkiewicz for $5 in one of my Diamond-Mind keeper leagues (with a $400 team salary cap). We replay the season that just ended and he had almost zero value in 2004, but I'm hoping Mientkiewicz can turn things around with the Mets -- something along the lines of .280/.370/.425 or so. I also have Justin Morneau on that same team, so I'm hoping the two of them can coexist in the imaginary clubhouse. Known team-chemistry experts Jeff Weaver, Jose Mesa, and Julian Tavarez are also on the team, so hopefully they can help keep the peace.
Oh, and here's a little trivia for you: Mientkiewicz and Derek Jeter have been awarded the same number of Gold Gloves in their careers, one. Hell of an award, that Gold Glove.
From 2000 through 2004, the Athletics won nearly two-thirds of their games when Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder or Barry Zito started; when anybody else started, the Athletics' winning percentage was under .530. Now Hudson and Mulder are gone, replaced by talented young pitchers who don't have much of a track record in the majors. Unless one or two out of the trio of Danny Haren, Dan Meyer and Joe Blanton repeat the instant success that characterized the Big Three, Oakland will struggle to reach 90 victories.Here's the thing ... Olney discovered that ridiculously misleading "stat" about Oakland's winning percentages months ago and has been using it incessantly in his columns every since. For instance, here's a passage from an article Olney wrote in September:
Cheap and young pitching is the root of Oakland's success. From the beginning of 2000 through games played Tuesday night, the Athletics' record when Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder and Barry Zito has started is an incredible 297-156, 141 games over .500, for a winning percentage of .656. When anybody else has pitched, the Athletics' record is 179-159 -- a little better than .500 per season over a five-year span.And then here's what he wrote when the A's traded Tim Hudson to the Braves earlier this offseason:
From 2000-2004, the Athletics won about 65 percent of the games started by Hudson, Mulder and Zito, and when anybody else has pitched, their winning percentage is about .530.There are more examples of his re-wording the same misleading information over the past few months too, I'm sure. And why is it misleading? First and foremost, ask yourself why it is noteworthy that a team's winning percentage is significantly worse when their three best starting pitchers aren't on the mound? In other, equally startling news, Caddyshack II had some problems without Bill Murray and Rodney Dangerfield, and the sequel to Dumb and Dumber had trouble without Jim Carrey. (And yes, there was a sequel to Dumb and Dumber.)
Beyond that, Olney acts as if Oakland's .530 winning percentage when Hudson, Mark Mulder, and Barry Zito weren't pitching is a poor record and something to be concerned about. The fact is, a .530 winning percentage over a span of five years is damn good. For instance, over that same span the Minnesota Twins had a .531 winning percentage. The Anaheim Angels -- the team Olney often pumps up at the expense of the A's -- had a .525 winning percentage during that time. And we're supposed to see the A's .530 winning percentage without their three best pitchers as a negative thing?
Of course, I just checked the article out again so I could write about it for today and it appears as though the link to my entry about Morgan has magically disappeared. Oh well, it was fun while it lasted. For those of you wondering, here is what it originally said (thankfully I'm vain, so I saved it):
7. "Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game" by Michael LewisSince they took it down about a day after it was originally published, I'm guessing someone screwed up. Hopefully Merron didn't get into too much trouble, since he was kind enough to send about 5,000 visitors my way on Monday.
In the short time he's been blogging, John has already posted top 20 prospect lists for two teams, discussed his philosophy for judging talent, and posted pictures of Beavis and Butthead and Popeye. For those of us who are simply fans of John's writing and don't care where we have to go to get it, his move from ESPN.com to his very own blog is wonderful news. Head over there and make sure to bookmark it, because it has already joined the ranks of must-read baseball blogs.
Today at The Hardball Times:
- Top 50 Prospects: Year in Review (1-10) (by Aaron Gleeman)
- Defensive Regression Analysis: Part Three (by Michael Humphreys)
Tuesday, February 15, 2005
Four More Years!I don't have a lot of "inside" Twins sources, but one of the few I do have sent me an early morning e-mail yesterday telling me that the Twins and Johan Santana had agreed to terms on a four-year contract. His thought was that as the driver of the Santana bandwagon over the past few seasons, I should get a nice scoop and post the information here before it was reported on by the mainstream media. It was a very nice gesture and a great idea. Unfortunately, I slept through it.
I didn't have class until 2:30 yesterday afternoon, so I stayed up late playing poker Sunday night and then slept in. I woke up around noon, turned on my laptop, and logged in to check my e-mail. After reading the note from my charitable source, I smiled for a minute and then started to write up a little "breaking news" column for this blog. Before I did, I figured I should check out places like ESPN.com and MLB.com first, just to make sure the story hadn't already been broken. Sadly, the front page of MLB.com read "Santana, Twins agree on four-year deal" in big, bold print, and there was a giant picture of Johan accompanying it. So much for my scoop.
As for the signing (you didn't think I was going to talk about myself for more than two paragraphs, did you?), there are two basic ways to look at it. The most simplistic way is to see that Santana will be in Minnesota for the next four years, through the 2008 season. There isn't much to dislike when you view it that way, obviously. The other, more complicated way to look at the signing is to examine the specifics of the contract and what they mean to the future of the Twins.
Santana's deal is reportedly worth a total of $40 million and according to La Velle E. Neal's article in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the contract breaks down as follows:
YEAR $MIL$The math majors among us probably realize that those numbers add up to only $39.25 million, so I assume Santana has an extra hundred-thousand or so coming his way in at least a couple of those years. But assuming that is more or less the correct breakdown of the contract, I think it is pretty interesting for a number of reasons.
The $5 million Santana will get in 2005 is the amount the Twins offered him in arbitration, while Santana countered with a proposal for $6.8 million. That means the Twins essentially "won" the arbitration battle as part of the new contract (and didn't have to insult Santana in front of an audience to do so). Paying Santana $5 million instead of $6.8 million (or whatever the compromise would have been) gives the team some immediate payroll breathing room. Whether that means Terry Ryan was feeling pressure to get the team to Opening Day under budget or this now gives him some money to play with is unclear, but obviously saving the money for this season was important to the Twins.
The $9 million Santana will get in 2006, his final arbitration-eligible season, compares favorably to what other quality starters (Kevin Millwood, Javier Vazquez, etc.) have received recently for their final arbitration-eligible years. The important part of the deal comes after 2006, which is when Santana would have become a free agent. Instead, the Twins will retain his rights by paying a combined $25.25 million for his first two free-agent seasons. Considering the contracts given to free agents Carl Pavano, Kris Benson, Derek Lowe, Russ Ortiz, Jaret Wright, and Eric Milton this offseason, there is no doubt that a healthy Santana would fetch more than $12.5 million a year as a free agent.
Of course, his remaining "a healthy Santana" is obviously one of the biggest keys to this entire contract. The Twins won the player lottery with Santana through a combination of luck and skill. They identified a young player with great potential in another team's organization, snatched him up in the Rule 5 draft, developed and refined his skills, and sacrificed a roster spot and innings to keep him. It went about as well as could possibly have been imagined, as something clicked for Santana down in the minors in 2002 (a "click" most likely tied to perfecting his changeup) and he blossomed into an elite pitcher. With that said, none of that will help the Twins any if he comes up lame in the next couple years.
For a small-market team like the Twins, committing a huge chunk of the payroll to a single player is very dangerous, regardless of how great that player is. If Santana, who had his elbow cleaned out following the 2003 playoffs, misses one season over the life of the deal, he will not only leave the Twins with a gaping hole in the starting rotation, he will wipe away as much as 20% of their total payroll. However, while this signing has a great deal of risk involved, I just don't see any way the Twins could have passed it up.
The alternative would have been to take Santana to arbitration for two years and then, if he remained healthy, try to sign him to a long-term contract either right before he became a free agent or after he hit the open market. While that is less risky in the sense that the team wouldn't be committing guaranteed millions years in advance, it is incredibly risky in the sense that Santana could pitch two more years and then bolt via free agency.
Whether or not a contract given to a star player is a "good" deal is almost always dependent on the terms of the contract. In other words, locking someone like Santana up for the future is never a bad thing by itself, but it might be if the Twins agreed to pay him $50 million a year for 15 seasons. The terms of this deal are very agreeable for the Twins. The $15 million they will pay him for his final two arbitration-eligible seasons will likely save the team money, and the cost of his first two years of free agency, while expensive and risky, are reasonable even in today's market.
The comparison most easily made between Santana's new deal and a recent contract signed by another starting pitcher is the contract Toronto gave Roy Halladay last offseason. Like Santana, Halladay was coming off a season in which he won the American League Cy Young and he had two seasons of arbitration eligibility remaining before he became a free agent. While Santana went 20-6 with a 2.61 ERA last season and is about to enter his age-26 season, Halladay went 22-7 with a 3.25 ERA in 2003 and was entering his age-27 season.
Halladay received a four-year deal worth $42 million, while Santana's is a four-year deal worth approximately $40 million. Here is how the year-by-year breakdowns compare (in millions):
Year1 Year2 Year3 Year4The good news is that the two contracts are very similar and it could be argued that the terms of Santana's deal are more beneficial to the Twins than the terms of Halladay's deal. The bad news is that Halladay had problems with his shoulder last year and made just 21 starts, going 8-8 with a 4.20 ERA.
Today at The Hardball Times:
- The Williams-Santo Cubs: 1966-1969 (by Steve Treder)
- Defensive Regression Analysis: Part Two (by Michael Humphreys)
Monday, February 14, 2005
State of the Twins: OutfieldersThough we're still about six weeks away from Opening Day, the Minnesota Twins' roster is just about set for the 2005 season. They lost a few of their free agents, re-signed the most important one, took care of all their arbitration-eligible guys, and recently handed out their non-roster invites for spring training.
Over the last week or so, I've been taking an early, position-by-position look at the state of the Twins heading into 2005, with the help of three player projection/forecasting systems -- Tangotiger's Marcels, Baseball Prospectus' PECOTAs, and Baseball Think Factory's ZiPS. (Hat tip to Tom Meagher over at The Fourth Outfielder for the inspiration for the idea.)
I already covered the catchers, corner infielders, and middle infielders, so today let's take a look at the outfielders ...
TORII HUNTER | CF | AGE: 29 SHANNON STEWART | LF | AGE: 31The Twins continue to have an impressive amount of outfield depth, despite moving Michael Cuddyer to the infield full time, trading away guys like Bobby Kielty and Dustan Mohr in recent years, and being without Jason Kubel because of his season-ending knee injury. Minnesota still has four legitimate starting outfielders, three of whom could play center field on an everyday basis (and one of whom has four straight Gold Gloves and is considered one of the best defensive players in baseball).
On a team without Torii Hunter, Jacque Jones would a starting centerfielder and people would be talking about how good his defense is out there. On a team without Hunter and Jones, Lew Ford would be a starting centerfielder and people would be talking about what an outstanding all-around player he is. With the Twins, Hunter patrols center field and Jones has flanked him for years, first in left field and now in right field. Ford is also pushed to a corner spot, although perhaps the most maddening part of Minnesota's outfield situation is that Ford may not even play much defense at all in 2005.
Ford played all over the outfield last year, logging 680 innings in left, 415 innings in center, and 85 innings in right. He played solid defense in all three spots and was the team's most productive offensive player, all despite not even starting the season in the big leagues. However, during the rare times Shannon Stewart was healthy, Ford was shifted to designated hitter. The move was apparently made because Stewart said he wanted to play defense, despite the very obvious fact that Ford is a superior outfielder.
Assuming Stewart is healthy now, Ford may be the team's DH from the outset in 2005. That would weaken what has the potential to be an incredible defensive outfield, and I worry that it would also give Ron Gardenhire reason to toy with Ford's playing time. As an outfielder last year -- whether subbing for Hunter in center or Stewart in left -- Ford was needed in the lineup on an everyday basis. As a DH this season, he would have to have to fight Matthew LeCroy and Eric Munson for playing time. That is a battle Ford should win, but when it comes down to what's going on in Gardenhire's head as he writes out the lineup card each day, you never know what will happen.
Ford deserves to play every day, which is probably more than can be said for Jones, who has batted just .241/.299/.350 against left-handed pitching over the past three seasons, and is definitely more than can be said for LeCroy or Munson. After needing an early season injury to Hunter just to get to the big leagues, Ford ended up leading the Twins in games played (154), hits (170), total bases (254), on-base percentage (.381), walks (67), and runs scored (89), while ranking second on the team in batting average (.299), doubles (31), and stolen bases (20), and third in RBIs (72) and OPS (.827).
And while a lot of Twins fans seem to be skeptical about Ford's chances of repeating that sort of performance in the future, his track record says he is more than capable. Not only did Ford knock around major-league pitching to the tune of .329/.402/.575 in a 34-game stint with the Twins in 2003, his overall numbers in the majors match up very well with his numbers in the minors:
LEVEL G AVG OBP SLG OPSFord has been consistently productive regardless of where he has played, and while his minor-league numbers show that he might have been playing at the peak of his abilities in 2004, they also suggest that he is capable of similar numbers in 2005. Yet while Ford's offensive production was the best on the team last year and his average projection of .297/.373/.453 for 2005 is better than the projections of Hunter, Stewart, and Jones, the Twins and their fans often talk as if Ford is nothing more than a fourth outfielder.
The lack of respect Ford gets is a little disturbing, but it is certainly not unexpected for a player who didn't get his first chance in the majors until he was 26 and then only got to play regularly because of injuries. For some reason it is difficult for people to keep from thinking of Ford the way they did before he turned in an excellent 2004 season. But the fact is that plenty of people (myself included) were calling for Ford to get a chance before last season and there is little in his track record that suggests he isn't a solid everyday outfielder in the major leagues.
A full season of a Ford-Hunter-Jones outfield would be one of the best in recent memory, and while a Stewart-Hunter-Jones outfield is still plenty good, limiting Ford to only hitting so that Stewart can see more time in left field is a huge waste of resources. The only thing worse, of course, would be limiting Ford's trips to the plate too.
While Ford's average projection is fairly optimistic, I think the average projections for Hunter (.271/.330/.480), Stewart (.295/.364/.437), and Jones (.278/.327/.455) are very doable. Hunter's is basically an exact replica of what he did in 2004 (.271/.330/.475), while Jones' is predicting a slight comeback from what was the worst season of his six-year career. Stewart's projection would actually be a step down from the numbers he put up in limited action last season and would also be below his established norms, so I'd probably go with the "over" on that one. If each of the four outfielders more or less match their average projections, I'd be a very satisfied Twins fan and the team's lineup would be in good shape.
After the four main guys, the Twins have a less-than-inspiring group of potential backups. The best of the bunch is Michael Restovich, a hulking former second-round pick who was once considered a solid prospect. Restovich's development stagnated a while back and he has spent the past three seasons at Triple-A, where his numbers declined each year. He has a good chance of sticking with the Twins in 2005, not because he has earned it, but because he is out of options and the team would have to risk losing him to send him back to the minors. To his credit, Restovich has played well when given a chance with the Twins, hitting .274/.364/.442 in 129 plate appearances spread over three seasons. He would be a perfect platoon partner for Jones if such a thing could actually exist in Gardenhire's world.
The bottom of the outfield barrel consists of Michael Ryan, Armando Rios, Jason Tyner, and Todd Dunwoody. I discussed Tyner and Dunwoody when I covered the team's non-roster invitees for spring training and the nicest thing I had to say about either of them was that "if a team asked for a fifth outfielder from Central Casting, Tyner would be high up on the list of guys they sent." Ryan won a spot on last year's team as a pinch-hitter based on his Roy Hobbs-like performance in a 27-game stint in 2003, but he hit just .239/.280/.296 in limited action, lost his job when he went down with an injury, and then hit .211 in 50 games at Triple-A.
Rios is the most intriguing of the bunch, which isn't saying a whole lot. He was once a very good platoon outfielder for the Giants, hitting .279/.361/.499 in 815 plate appearances from 1998-2001. He then hit just .264/.319/.332 with Pittsburgh in 2002 and .212/.245/.298 with the White Sox in 2003, which is why he didn't play in the majors last season and was available to the Twins for a minor-league contract in February. Rios' name was also mentioned in connection with the ongoing steroid scandal, which probably didn't help his job search any.
He'll be 33 years old in 2005 and hasn't had success in the majors since before the Twins started winning division titles, so I'm not holding out much hope. Still, Rios has actually had success in the majors, which gives him a leg up on the rest of the group, and he has done well at Triple-A over the past couple years.
Today at The Hardball Times:
- Defensive Regression Analysis (by Michael Humphreys)
- The Best and Worst Teams of the Trade: Revisted (by Studes)