Friday, February 24, 2006
MIN FGM-A 3PM-A FTM-A AST TO PTSThe only thing that doesn't belong is the fact that those numbers are from an NBA game.
Shortly after the end of his senior year at the University of Minnesota I wrote that "Kevin Burleson was so bad this season that it is almost beyond words." A few months ago, after hearing that he made an NBA team, I compared Burleson to Adolph Hitler in a roundabout way. That was a poor choice on my part, because I certainly didn't mean to make light of what Hitler did. Plus, I'm pretty sure Hitler would shoot better than 21.3 percent if some NBA team was silly enough to give him a roster spot.
1. I have very good reasons for doing things the way I do them.I can say from personal experience -- having edited and published James' work multiple times on The Hardball Times website and in The Hardball Times Baseball Annual 2006 -- that it's true. I suppose it's sort of like being a record producer and wanting to fix a track where The Beatles sounded less than perfect. In normal circumstances it would be a good idea, but are you really in any position to say what The Beatles should sound like?
Thursday, February 23, 2006
Ask and You Shall ReceiveLast Friday I wrote about Peter Gammons and Jayson Stark becoming bloggers at ESPN.com. I said mostly good things about it, like "I'm glad they're willing to take what is a pretty large leap for a major media outlet." I also laid out my one criticism, which was that "as far as I can tell none of the dozen or so blogs ESPN.com hosts actually link to other blogs." Then, in one of my many convoluted analogies, I wrote:
Right now ESPN.com is like a high-school jock who has the guts to join the drama club because he truly loves acting, but still makes jokes about the "losers" in the club to his buddies on the football team. You're either in or you're out, and if you're in then you can't be too good for the club when it suits your needs. I'm proud of ESPN.com, but it'll be even better when they really make the jump.Much to my surprise, Stark not only linked to an actual blog yesterday, it was this blog. In fact, he responded directly to what I had written:
Memo to fellow blogsmith Aaron Gleeman: I've never called you a loser, pal. We live in a media world now with virtually no limits, and that (we're pretty sure) is a great thing. Thanks to the blogosphere, we get to read all kinds of new voices who actually spend way too much of their lives devoting way too much creative thought to baseball, for little or zero compensation. Aaron Gleeman is one of those voices. Now that I've plunged into the futuristic dimensions of blog-o-space, I feel a newfound bond with my fellow bloggers. All 8.7 billion of you.Aw, shucks. Thanks, Jayson.
Of course, for some reason I feel the need to point out that the link Stark provided was simply to AaronGleeman.com, rather than the specific entry he was responding to. So people clicked on it expecting to find something about him calling me a loser, and instead went to my review of The Mind of Bill James (the most recent entry). But I suppose that's picking nits.
I appreciate Stark's link, and even more than that I appreciate that he deemed my criticism important enough to respond to. Now that I'm reading and linking to the ESPN.com blogs and they're reading and linking to my blog, I can truly welcome Gammons and Stark to the blogging community. (Whatever the hell that means.)
To slightly modify one of my favorite quotes from Seinfeld: "We're all winners!"
I had an odd experience Tuesday night, and this blog is always as good a place as any for an odd experience. At around 9:45 I was doing a "chat" that is supposed to be published on another website in a couple weeks. We were about an hour into it, so I was essentially typing like a madman and trying my best to say intelligent things really quickly.
The phone rang and I could hear my mom, who was dead asleep, fumbling around trying to answer it. She eventually did and it was clearly not someone she knew, because I heard stuff like "okay" and "uh huh" instead of some sort of high-pitched greeting. Then I heard my mom say, "Hold on one second," and she came into my room.
She told me, "There's someone claiming to be a relative of a Twins player and they want to talk to you about writing something about him." Now, this isn't the sort of thing that makes sense to a person the first time they hear it, but it was tough to get clarification given that a) my mom was holding the receiver of the phone with her hand so that we couldn't be heard, and b) she was still like 94.8% asleep.
So I said, "Tell them to call me back in a little bit or e-mail me, because I'm still doing this chat." My mom relayed that message, at which point the woman at the other end of the line apparently said, "No, I'll just contact the newspaper" and then hung up.
In retrospect I should have dropped everything and taken the call, but I was too surprised to think clearly and certainly didn't expect the person to react like that to the idea of calling me back. I mean, if you call someone at 9:45 on a Tuesday night, can you really expect to have their full attention immediately?
At this point my curiosity is damn near killing me. First and foremost, I wonder who the person was and which player they were claiming to be related to. Beyond that, I wonder how it is that they got my phone number (since it's not listed in the phone book under my name), why they were so against calling me back, and what exactly they wanted to talk to me about.
"They want to talk to you about writing something about him" could be taken any number of ways. Is it Tony Batista's wife, wanting to yell at me for "writing something about him" that was negative? Is it Johan Santana's mom, wanting to thank me for "writing something about him" that was positive? Could it have been Francisco Liriano's sister hoping to convince me to "write something about him" to promote his case for the fifth-starter job?
The possibilities are endless, especially given the fact that I'm now kicking myself for having declined the call.
Wednesday, February 22, 2006
Book Review: The Mind of Bill JamesOne of the perks that comes along with writing for an audience is getting free books. Publishers contact me and ask if they can send a copy, and since I've never been one to turn down a book about baseball I find that question impossible to say no to. So they arrive in the mail, usually with a little note or some information about the book. The idea is that I'll read it, enjoy it, and write a review that spurs some of my audience to go out and buy copies for themselves. The other option is that I'll read it, not enjoy it, and tell no one of its existence.
It's a good little system, and I'm certainly not going to complain given the ridiculous amount of money I've spent on baseball books throughout my life. Anyway, I bring this up in the interest of full disclosure and to segue into the fact that I currently have no fewer than two dozen books lying around my room, unread. It's partly due to my being a lot busier now than I used to be and partly due to some of the books having less-than-enthralling subjects, but mostly due to simply not being able to keep up when a new batch is always on the way.
Last week I got a package in the mail and found this inside:
That's right, a Bill James bobblehead doll.
The package also contained an "advance copy" of Scott Gray's soon-to-be-released book, The Mind of Bill James. I first heard that Gray was penning a biography of James several months ago, and I've been looking forward to reading it ever since. Plus, even if I hadn't been the bobblehead certainly would have piqued my interest. And so with a couple dozen unread books surrounding me and a few writing deadlines of my own on the horizon, I got into bed one night and read through The Mind of Bill James in one sitting (or one lying, I suppose).
I suspect that it would be difficult for someone to write a book about James that I wouldn't enjoy, and Gray's version was a very good read. It was also quite a bit different than what I expected. I anticipated a book about James' upbringing and early days—you know, the typical biography stuff—and while that's certainly covered in the book, it's not the focus. Instead, Gray paints that information with broad strokes and chooses to focus on James' writing. In many ways, The Mind of Bill James is not so much a biography as it is a tour of James' work.
For someone who is only marginally familiar with James, the book is an excellent primer. It introduces you to why he's an important figure and takes you through some of the many highlights of his work. In that sense Gray was working with a secret weapon, because it's almost impossible to avoid falling in love with James' writing once you stumble across it. For someone like me, who has read just about everything there is to read by or about James, the book is more like a refresher course.
For instance, in a chapter about James' time in the Army during the Vietnam War, Gray quotes this passage about Red Sox second baseman Marty Barrett from an edition of The Bill James Baseball Abstract:
In the military, drill sergeants and other power mongers will set up little tests for you, make you do some stupid, irrational and painful thing just to find out how you react to it. If you pass their little test, then they'll always think you're OK, regardless of whether you're worth a hoot or not, because they have reached a prior conclusion that this is the moment at which they're going to find out about you.While it was wonderful to rediscover the hearty supply of James' writing that is quoted liberally throughout the book, in some ways I would have preferred a more in-depth look at his life, including his pre-fame days, his family, his everyday experiences, and his substantial quirks. Here's an excerpt from one of my favorite passages in the book, which deals with several of those things all at once:
I guess we look for personal tics in people who are smarter than we are. It's silly to see Einstein's not knowing his own phone number or not wearing socks as defining characteristics. But if you want to riff on the absent-minded-professor motiff, Bill mixes frugality and disorganization like a true genius. Rob Neyer says that when he was Bill's assistant, "For bookshelves, he had me buy long planks from the Oskaloosa lumber yard and a big pile of bricks from a Topeka brick seller.As a long-time James fan and someone whose entire view of baseball was heavily shaped by his writing, that's the sort of stuff I enjoyed most about the book. However, I can see where Gray faced a dilemma. James is a unique subject in that most people likely know almost nothing about him, while some people know almost everything about him. If you're looking to appeal to a large audience and many of them are unfamiliar with James, it would be difficult to interest them with details of his childhood and path to success.
What Gray has done instead, it seems, is focus on making you interested in James' life by first showing you the brilliance of his work, and only then adding in the outside details once you're hooked. It makes the book unique compared to other biographies, in that part of Gray's effort is going toward almost selling James as a worthy subject. And he certainly is, which is what makes the book a must-read for more than just baseball fans. The Mind of Bill James is a well-done look at a fascinating personality, a one-of-a-kind writer, a ridiculously brilliant thinker, and a self-made success.
Tuesday, February 21, 2006
Those are pretty optimistic numbers (Sickels is a Twins fan, after all), although he does put a slight damper on things by predicting "a major injury down the line ... that forces him to move to another position (probably first base) around age 30." Of course, by that time Mauer will have had 10 seasons behind the plate, which is a whole career for all but a couple dozen catchers in baseball history.
Anyway, I've been oddly fascinated by Sickels' previous career projections -- Prince Fielder, David Wright, Felix Hernandez, Jeff Francoeur, Delmon Young, Ryan Howard, Mark Teixeira -- and the Mauer one is certainly of added interest to anyone reading this blog. Sickels also looked into his crystal ball for Jason Kubel and Francisco Liriano earlier this offseason, but the results weren't quite as pretty.
Well, now we can add Twins scout Joe McIlvaine to the list of people who weren't exactly awed by Batista's play this winter. Patrick Reusse's column in yesterday's Minneapolis Star Tribune included the following from McIlvaine:
Batista was a little too heavy when I saw him. He still has the hands to play third, although range is an issue -- and, on turf, that might show up more.When told that Batista has reportedly lost some weight since he saw him last month, McIlvaine said, "He could stand to lose some more." Reusse also added that "the review from [Japan] was Batista was fat and disinterested."
To recap, the Twins have all but handed the third-base job to a 32-year-old who was let go by the Japanese League team he played for last season, had a .272 on-base percentage in his last big-league campaign, and can't be bothered to get in shape in preparation for what might be his last real chance in the major leagues.
- The First Free Agent Signing
- The Three Trades of 1979
- After the 1975 Twins
- The 1975 Twins
It's all really good, unique stuff and is exactly what makes the Twins blogosphere so great. Seriously, go read those four entries and then tell me the last time you've seen something like that printed in either of the Twin Cities' newspapers or on the Twins' official website.
If Radke does retire after this season, the Twins should be in decent shape to handle it. The best-case scenario has Baker beginning the year in the rotation and pitching well, Liriano replacing Lohse as the fifth starter sometime around midseason, and Glen Perkins being ready to step in for Radke next spring. A rotation of Johan Santana-Carlos Silva-Liriano-Baker-Perkins in 2007 and beyond is pretty exciting (and cheap).
Monday, February 20, 2006
Top 40 Minnesota Twins: #34 Matt Lawton
MATTHEW LAWTON III | LF/CF/RF | 1995-2001 | CAREER STATS
He struck out in that at-bat against Mike Christopher, but picked up his first hit against submarining southpaw reliever Mike Myers the next day and ended up starting quite a bit down the stretch. Lawton hit an impressive .317/.414/.467 in 21 games as a 23-year-old, and smacked his first career homer against 245-game winner Dennis Martinez and the Indians on September 28, 1995. Martinez also hit Kirby Puckett with a pitch in that game, and it was the last Puckett played.
Lawton began 1996 as the everyday right fielder, but was sent down to Triple-A after hitting just .205 in April. He returned in late June, but was sent back to Salt Lake with a .231 batting average in mid-July. After hitting .297/.377/.481 in 53 total games at Triple-A, Lawton was called up again in early August and this time stayed for the rest of the year. He finished with a .258/.339/.365 hitting line in 79 games, batting .294 in the last two months of the season to earn the team's confidence heading into 1997.
With his days in the minor leagues behind him for good, Lawton split time between all three outfield spots in 1997 and hit .248/.366/.415 in 142 games. It was a modest season even for a 25-year-old, but Lawton was actually one of only three Twins regulars with an adjusted OPS+ above league-average (along with Paul Molitor and Chuck Knoblauch). As you might expect from a team with that little offense, the Twins finished 68-94
The Twins continued to struggle in 1998, going 70-92, but Lawton had his first big year. He played primarily right field and also filled in as the center fielder when Otis Nixon had his jaw broken by Felix Martinez, hitting .278/.387/.478 with 21 homers, 36 doubles, 86 walks, and 16 steals in 152 games. Lawton won the team MVP award and led the Twins in nearly every offensive category, including on-base percentage, slugging percentage, homers, total bases, walks, runs scored, and RBIs.
Lawton got off to a slow start in 1999 and was hitting just .262/.345/.406 when he was hit in the face by a Dennys Reyes pitch on June 8. A fractured right eye socket sent him to the disabled list for over a month. He returned in mid-July and continued to get on base at a good clip through the end of the year, but his power disappeared. Lawton hit five homers with a .406 slugging percentage prior to the injury, but managed just two homers and a pitiful .299 slugging percentage after coming back.
Lawton came back strong in 2000, bouncing back from what could have been a very serious injury to put together arguably his best season. He hit .305/.405/.460 with 13 homers, 44 doubles, 91 walks, and 23 steals in 156 games, making his first All-Star team and winning his second team MVP. The Twins continued to stink, winning just 69 games, but unlike several of the team's "All-Stars" during that period of losing Lawton was actually somewhat deserving with a .330 first-half batting average.
The 2000 season showed Lawton at his very best -- taking a ridiculous number of pitches, working long counts, drawing walks in bunches, lacing singles and doubles all over the Metrodome from that goofy batting stance, and stealing bases at an efficient rate. He did just about everything a hitter could possibly do besides hit for big power, and even batted .294 against lefties and .326 with runners on base.
After eight straight losing seasons the Twins got off to a 14-3 start in 2001 and carried a 55-32 record and five-game division lead over the Indians into the All-Star break. The Twins won the first game of the second half and promptly went in the tank, losing 13 of their next 17 to fall into a tie with Cleveland atop the AL Central. On July 30, with the division slipping away, the Twins traded Lawton to the Mets for Rick Reed.
It was a controversial move at the time, in part because Reed was a 36-year-old former replacement player making $7 million and in part because Lawton was the best hitter on a team that was fairly short on offense to begin with. Lawton was hitting .293/.396/.439 at the time of the trade, while Reed was 8-6 with a 3.48 ERA for New York. After the move, Brian Buchanan and Dustan Mohr replaced Lawton in right field, Reed went 4-6 with a 5.19 ERA in 12 starts, and the Twins went 25-32 to fall out of contention.
It wasn't so much that picking up a good starting pitcher was a bad move (although certainly you could argue about Reed being the right guy), but rather that in order to get Reed the Twins had to take from an area that was far from a strength. That's typically not how contending teams bolster themselves for the stretch run, and there was speculation that Terry Ryan intended to swing a second deal for a hitter to replace Lawton (Dmitri Young, Shannon Stewart) that fell through.
Reed went 15-7 with a 3.78 ERA in 2002 as the Twins made the postseason for the first time since 1991, and then was a complete mess in 2003 because of back problems. Meanwhile, Lawton hit just .246/.352/.366 for the Mets in 2001 and was traded to Cleveland for Roberto Alomar during the offseason. He spent three mediocre seasons with the Indians while struggling through shoulder injuries, split last year between the Cubs, Pirates, and Yankees, and signed with the Mariners as a bench bat for 2006 (after he serves a 10-game suspension for steroid use).
Lawton's strengths as a player (drawing walks, getting on base, efficient baserunning) tend to be overlooked and his Twins career seems to be underrated given how productive he was. He had three very good years in Minnesota and another season that was pretty good, all before his 30th birthday. Here's what I wrote about Lawton back in 2003:
I always had a soft spot for "Matty Law" and I'm not sure why. I guess he was just a very solid all-around player who had a lot of nice moments as a Twin. Lawton and Brad Radke were sort of like the bridge from the Kirby Puckett/Chuck Knoblauch Twins to the current group.And as any Twins fan can tell you, it was a long bridge.
TOP 25 ALL-TIME MINNESOTA TWINS RANKS: