Friday, January 27, 2006
Seven Players, No HopeI had the usual Link-O-Rama entry ready for today, but everything gets put on hold when the Wolves make a horrible trade. I have been very critical of Kevin McHale in the past, both for his inability to surround Kevin Garnett with talent and his maddening tendency to award mediocre players with long-term contracts worth way too much money. Yesterday's seven-player swap with the Celtics cements my view of McHale as, at the very least, the wrong man to rebuild the team back into a contender.
Since advancing to the conference finals, the Wolves' problems have boiled down to a simple lack of top-line talent. Garnett is an elite player and Wally Szczerbiak is a capable second or third option, but the rest of the roster has been filled with role players forced into too-big roles. A team that counts Marko Jaric, Eddie Griffin, Trenton Hassell and Troy Hudson among its six best players isn't going anywhere unless it has two superstars leading the way, and Szczerbiak fell well short of that.
All of which makes yesterday's trade such a disaster. Rather than trying to acquire draft picks to help provide the roster with some much-needed long-term potential or finding a way to trade a couple of those spare parts for another Szczerbiak-like borderline star, McHale chose to unload one of two players on the entire team who have performed at a high level.
As I showed here last week, take a look at how Garnett and Szczerbiak stuck out from the rest of the team when it comes to True Shooting Percentage (a measure of offensive efficiency that goes beyond field goal percentage by accounting for free throws and three-pointers):
Wally Szczerbiak 60.8
To make matters worse, for the privilege of essentially swapping Szczerbiak for Ricky Davis (at best a push, and likely a downgrade), McHale gave up a future first-round pick and the cap room that comes along with Michael Olowokandi's expiring contract, and took on Mark Blount's bloated long-term deal. Blount will fit right in with Hudson, Jaric, Hassell, and Mark Madsen on the Wolves' roster full of overpaid players, and the lack of a first rounder is certainly something the Wolves are used to.
A combination of the Joe Smith debacle, including first-round picks in trades, and McHale's inability to find talent in the draft of late leaves the team with a future that doesn't look much better than the present. Next year's first-round pick (lottery protected) is already property of the Clippers thanks to the misguided Sam Cassell-for-Jaric swap and McHale used the only two first rounders he's had this decade on Ndudi Ebi (since cut) and Rashad McCants (a poor pick bound for a mediocre career).
There is no light at the end of this tunnel. Garnett turns 30 years old in May, the team has no hope for any meaningful salary cap room to pursue free agents, and McCants represents the best (and perhaps only) long-term building block the Wolves have. It doesn't get much worse than that, which is why a trade like yesterday's that fails to make things better now or in the future is maddening.
Davis is the type of player the Wolves should have been trying to add, but doing so at the expense of losing Szczerbiak makes absolutely no sense. Marcus Banks was one of my favorite college players while at UNLV and is one hell of an athlete, but he's shown little ability to be a quality NBA point guard. Blount is a stiff center who rebounds like a guard, and Justin Reed is Ronald Dupree without the cool-sounding name.
With each forfeited draft pick, botched trade, and uninspired free-agent decision McHale and the Wolves move one step closer to wasting the career of one of the greatest big men in NBA history. I see no way for the team to provide Garnett with a championship-caliber supporting cast in the next three years, and even if a minor miracle allows them to get their act together to do so soon after that, it'll be just in time for his decline.
The Wolves are a train bound for nowhere, and they're heading there fast.
UPDATE: John Hollinger, who is my favorite basketball writer, opines on ESPN.com that the trade is "slightly in favor of Minnesota." He makes some fair points, but the fact that Davis' defense is better than Szczerbiak's likely doesn't offset the offensive dropoff for a team that was already doing well defensively while struggling to score.
The Wolves are well past the point of "slightly in favor" doing them any good regardless of if it's true, and Szczerbiak has a significant edge in Hollinger's all-encompassing pet stat, Player Efficiency Rating:
TS% AST% REB% TO% PER
Wednesday, January 25, 2006
Top 40 Minnesota Twins: #39 Scott Erickson
SCOTT GAVIN ERICKSON | SP | 1990-1995 | CAREER STATS
Erickson's big-league debut came against the Rangers on June 25, 1990, and he picked up a win with six innings of four-hit, one-run ball. His first hit allowed was a first-inning single to Rafael Palmeiro, and a 31-year-old Julio Franco was playing second base and batting second for Texas that day. Kirby Puckett and Shane Mack provided Erickson's run support, as each homered in the Twins' 9-1 win at the Metrodome.
Despite finishing 8-4 with a 2.87 ERA in 113 innings during his rookie year, including 5-0 with a 1.35 ERA in September, Erickson failed to garner even one vote for Rookie of the Year. He made up for that in his second season, helping to lead the Twins into the postseason by going 20-8 with a 3.18 ERA in 204 innings. Erickson led the league in wins and finished second to Roger Clemens in the Cy Young balloting, but struggled in the ALCS and World Series as rotation-mate Jack Morris stole the show.
At just 23 years old Erickson was a 20-game winner with a championship and had a 28-12 record with a 3.07 ERA. Unfortunately, it was all downhill from there. He had a solid 1992 season, going 13-12 with a 3.40 ERA in 212 innings as the Twins narrowly missed the playoffs. Then, as was the case with the entire team, things began to fall apart in 1993. The Twins fell to 71-91 and Erickson won just eight games while leading the league in losses (19), hits allowed (266), and runs allowed (138).
Improbably, in his fifth start of the 1994 season Erickson threw a no-hitter against the Brewers at the Metrodome. Puckett and Chuck Knoblauch combined for seven hits and Kent Hrbek launched a homer, as Erickson became the third pitcher in team history to toss a no-hitter. Sadly, that was just about the lone bright spot that year. Erickson finished 8-11 with a 5.44 ERA in 144 innings for a fourth-place team, and the season ended when the players went on strike with nearly two months left to play.
The strike continued into the 1995 season, and when Erickson finally got back on the mound in late April he was a mess. After going 4-6 with a 5.95 ERA in his first 15 starts, the last-place Twins traded Erickson, still only 27, to the Orioles for prospects Scott Klingenbeck and Kimera Bartee. He never found the success from his first few seasons, but Erickson became an innings eater for Baltimore, throwing 220 or more innings in four straight seasons before arm injuries eventually did him in.
Erickson's last effective season was 1999, when he won 15 games for the Orioles, yet he managed to stick around long enough to go 1-4 with a 6.02 ERA for the Dodgers in 2005. While fighting through injuries and spending more time on the disabled list than on the field from 2000-2005, Erickson went 12-28 with a hideous 6.39 ERA. Meanwhile, like many of the prospects dealt for in the mid-90s, Klingenbeck and Bartee were complete flops who combined for one win and zero hits as Twins.
In many ways, Erickson's career with the Twins mirrored the entire team's story during the 1990s. He peaked in 1991 as the most effective pitcher on a championship team at 22 years old, but that success was short-lived (with sub par strikeout rates and strikeout-to-walk ratios foreshadowing the decline). Even the players the Twins received in return for Erickson were among the many prospects who turned out to be busts as the team failed to return to respectability throughout the last half of the decade.
Like the Twins, when Erickson was good he was very good. An extreme ground-ball pitcher who wore black shoes with black socks, a black glove, and an intimidating stare, Erickson was a lot of fun to watch (and not just for the ladies). And like the Twins, when Erickson was bad he was very bad. When the sinker wasn't sinking, the right elbow was barking, and those grounders were finding holes and skipping through the infield turf, things got ugly.
Had you told someone in 1991 that Erickson would win 61 games in a Twins uniform they never would have believed you, but he ended up staying in Minnesota for just six seasons and split them evenly between three very good years and three bad ones. The end result is a Twins career that could have been a lot better, but that still makes him one of the dozen or so most successful pitchers in team history.
TOP 25 ALL-TIME MINNESOTA TWINS RANKS:
... won 142 games in the majors, yet is probably best-known for marrying Lisa Guerrero.
... led the NCAA with 173 innings in 1988 and set a University of Arizona record with 18 wins.
... was Baltimore's starter when Cal Ripken Jr. tied Lou Gehrig's record for consecutive games played on September 5, 1995, and threw a shutout.
... once beat the Twins nine straight times after they traded him.
... had a 12-game winning streak from April 21, 1991 to June 24, 1991.
... tied Frank Viola for the team-record with a 30.1-inning scoreless streak in 1991.
... was the starting pitcher when the Twins turned two triple plays on July 17, 1990.
... was the starting pitcher in the September 27, 1996 game when Roberto Alomar spit on umpire John Hirschbeck.
... had a cameo on Baltimore-based Homicide: Life on the Street with teammate Armando Benitez.
... made over $40 million in salary during his career, but only 10% of it came from the Twins.
Tuesday, January 24, 2006
Top 40 Minnesota Twins: #40 Randy Bush
ROBERT RANDALL BUSH | RF/LF/1B/DH | 1982-1993 | CAREER STATS
With the Twins trailing by one run in the bottom of the ninth, Bush pinch-hit for catcher Sal Butera leading off the inning and struck out against Hall of Famer Rollie Fingers. He recovered from that rough first at-bat to hit a respectable .244/.305/.412 in 55 games as a 23-year-old rookie and never went back to the minor leagues.
A left-handed hitter, Bush immediately took on what would become a career-long role as a platoon player and bench bat. He never received 500 plate appearances in a season, but typically came to the plate 350-450 times and put up solid numbers. His career splits are extreme -- .255/.338/.422 against righties, compared to .152/.250/.232 against lefties -- and the most amazing thing is that Bush had an absurdly low grand total of 118 plate appearances against southpaws in 12 major-league seasons.
Had Bush's career started in 2002, instead of 1982, Ron Gardenhire would play him every day and stubbornly watch him struggle against lefties. Instead, under managers Billy Gardner and Tom Kelly Bush was able to thrive in a role that magnified his strengths and downplayed his weaknesses. The fact that he averaged fewer than 10 plate appearances per season against lefties is remarkable considering he came to the plate nearly 3,500 times, and shows how valuable a fairly run-of-the-mill player can be when used optimally.
Bush enjoyed hitting in the Metrodome (.796 home OPS, .699 road OPS) and his numbers rose in key spots. He posted a .711 OPS with the bases empty, but stepped it up to .798 with runners on base and .801 with runners in scoring position. Bush played right field most often during his career, but also spent substantial time at designated hitter, left field, and first base. He typically hit second, fifth or sixth in the Twins' batting order, but logged over 100 plate appearances in each the lineup's nine spots.
It's difficult to identify the best season of Bush's career because he was so consistent with both his performance and playing time. His best overall production likely came in 1988, when he received a career-high 466 plate appearances and hit .261/.365/.434 with 14 homers, 51 RBIs, and 51 runs scored for a 121 OPS+. His most effective year was without question 1991, when at 32 years old Bush batted .303/.401/.485 for a 140 OPS+ in 192 plate appearances as a pinch-hitter and occasional starter.
The best game of Bush's career came on May 20, 1989, when he batted cleanup and went 3-for-4 with two homers and a team-record eight RBIs in a 19-3 win over the Rangers. He was a member of both the 1987 and 1991 World Series winners and came up with a key two-run double against starter Danny Cox in the Twins' Game 2 win over the Cardinals, but hit just .227/.308/.364 in 11 postseason games. Interestingly, Bush had both his last productive season and his most effective season in 1991, and retired after hitting .156 in 1993.
Bush's career spanned a dozen seasons, all with the Twins, and he finished with a .251/.334/.413 hitting line in 3,480 plate appearances. Those numbers aren't particularly impressive on the surface, but in the context of the low-offense era Bush played in they were solid. Bush's career OPS+ was 102, which means he was an above-average hitter over the course of his career, and he appears quite a bit on the Twins' all-time leaderboard.
TOP 25 ALL-TIME MINNESOTA TWINS RANKS:
... broke up Jim Clancy's perfect game with a ninth-inning leadoff single on September 28, 1982.
... is tied with Dave May for the all-time lead in homers among players born in Delaware.
... led the league with 13 pinch-hits in 1991.
... ranked fifth in the league with 10 intentional walks in 1988.
... became a free agent and re-signed with the Twins three times.
... was paid a career-high $550,000 in 1989.
... hit .369 with a .764 slugging percentage in one season at the University of New Orleans.
... served as head coach of his alma mater from 2000-2003.
Monday, January 23, 2006
Top 40 Minnesota Twins: IntroI've long wanted to incorporate more Twins history here, rather than always focusing on trade rumors and Ron Gardenhire's nightly lineup construction. However, that's difficult because I can't talk about the time I saw Jim Kaat toss a shutout against the Yankees or what a joy it was to watch Rod Carew lay a bunt down the third-base line. By the time I was old enough to be a baseball fan, 30 years of the team's history was already in the books.
With that said, over the weekend I began working on an ongoing series of entries devoted to Twins history based on an idea I stumbled across while reading one of my favorite blogs. Over at his great Angels/Dodgers Double Play Blog, Rob McMillin is counting down the "Top 40 Dodgers of All Time." He is also participating in a countdown of the "100 Greatest Angels" over at another good blog, Halos Heaven.
The idea of ranking and discussing the greatest players in team history seems like an interesting yet simple way to take a stroll through Twins history. Plus, it'll give me a long-term topic to write about whenever I can't think of something more timely (I'll devote one day to each player). Before I officially kick off the countdown tomorrow with the 40th-best player in Twins history, here are a few notes and ground rules:
The Twins have had more than their share of great players since 1961, but you'd be surprised by how steep the dropoff is once you get past about 50 names. Consider that Luis Rivas safely made the cut for the 150 players I looked at closely, as did immortals like Frankie Rodriguez, Scott Leius, Rich Becker, Danny Thompson, Tim Laudner, and Pat Meares.
That's something to think about in the context of these rankings, and a big part of why I chose to do a top 40 rather than a top 50 or top 100. Not only do the resumes get thoroughly unimpressive once you get past around 30 or so, no one in the 41-100 range played long enough or well enough for the Twins to really separate themselves from the rest of the pack.
UPDATE: As the list progresses, I'll update this entry with links to each profile.
#23 Cesar Tovar
#24 Shane Mack
#25 Brian Harper
#26 Eddie Guardado
#27 Larry Hisle
#28 Tom Brunansky
#29 Kevin Tapani
#30 Jacque Jones
#31 Butch Wynegar
#32 Al Worthington
#33 Greg Gagne
#34 Matt Lawton
#35 Steve Braun
#36 Dave Boswell
#37 Jimmie Hall
#38 Eric Milton
#39 Scott Erickson
#40 Randy Bush