Thursday, March 02, 2006
Top 40 Minnesota Twins: #32 Al Worthington
ALLAN FULTON WORTHINGTON | RP | 1964-1969 | CAREER STATS
He spent the next two seasons bouncing back and forth between the rotation and the bullpen, and then posted a 3.68 ERA in 73.1 innings when the Giants decided to use him almost exclusively as a reliever in 1959. Just before the start of the 1960 season San Francisco shipped the 31-year-old Worthington to Boston for light-hitting first baseman Jim Marshall (not to be confused with the other, harder-hitting guy with the same name).
Worthington struggled with the Red Sox and was traded to the White Sox in September. He lasted only four games with Chicago before leaving the White Sox because he claimed they stole signs from other teams and he was morally opposed to that. As you might expect, the White Sox decided he could use some time in the minors. Worthington threw a no-hitter while pitching for San Diego of the Pacific Coast League in 1961 and then went 15-4 with a 2.94 ERA pitching for Indianapolis of the American Association in 1962.
A New York Times article from September of 1962 reported that Mets scout and Hall of Famer Rogers Hornsby had identified Worthington as the minor leaguer most deserving of a shot in the majors the next season, and the Mets purchased his contract. Sure enough, Worthington returned to the majors in 1963, but it wasn't with New York. The Reds snatched him up in the Rule 5 draft and watched as Worthington went 4-4 with 10 saves and a 2.99 ERA in 81.1 innings out of their bullpen.
In a series of events that essentially summed up Worthington's career to that point, he got off to a slow start in 1964 and the Reds gave up on him after seven bad innings. They first sent him down to Triple-A and then sold his contract to the Twins in June. Worthington was 35 years old and had been deemed washed up by seemingly every other team in baseball, but he immediately stepped in as the Twins' relief ace.
Worthington made his Twins debut relieving starter Dick Stigman against the sign-stealing White Sox on June 28, 1964, coming into a tie game with one out and the bases loaded in the sixth inning, getting out of the jam unscathed, and then tossing three more scoreless innings to pick up the win when Zoilo Versalles, Harmon Killebrew, and Bob Allison each homered off Chicago reliever Eddie Fisher late in the game.
Despite not joining the Twins until three months into the season, Worthington tossed 72.1 innings with a 1.37 ERA and team-leading 14 saves. That remains the lowest ERA ever by a Twins pitcher who threw at least 50 innings, with Joe Nathan's 1.62 ERA in 2004 ranking second. Worthington followed that up by going 10-7 with 21 saves and a 2.13 ERA in 80.1 innings to help lead the team to the World Series in 1965, and pitched four scoreless innings in two appearances against the Dodgers.
Worthington continued to be one of baseball's top relievers from 1966 to 1968, posting ERAs of 2.46, 2.84, and 2.71 while saving 16, 16, and 18 games. He gave up ninth-inning duties in 1969, stepping aside in favor of Ron Perranoski at the age of 40 and serving as a middle reliever in what would be his final season. Worthington retired with a 2.62 ERA, 37 wins, and 88 saves in 473.1 career innings with the Twins, including this remarkable five-year run as closer:
YEAR G IP ERA SV GF
The Twins have had their fair share of top closers since 1961, from Perranoski, Mike Marshall, and Jeff Reardon to Rick Aguilera, Eddie Guardado, and Nathan. Worthington leads off that list, and the remarkable way in which he ended up closing games in Minnesota is one of the more interesting career paths in team history.
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Wednesday, March 01, 2006
Eyre isn't a lefty, although his older brother Scott Eyre is. Instead, he's a 27-year-old righty who has been in the Twins organization since being drafted in the 23rd round back in 1999. Last season he went 10-3 with a 2.72 ERA in 56 relief appearances at Triple-A Rochester. Those numbers are good enough to merit considering for a spot on their own, but the two things that make Eyre really intriguing are that he struck out 74 batters in 82.2 innings and had a ground ball-to-fly ball ratio of 2.78-to-1.
The combination of strikeouts and grounders is a great one for pitchers, and it's particularly valuable for a guy who might be asked to come into a lot of jams with men on base. The Twins have shown a willingness to give unknown right-handed relievers a shot over the past few years -- Guerrier, Tony Fiore, Joe Roa -- and it's worked out pretty well. I'd like to see Eyre join that list in 2006. As Gardenhire said, he "probably deserves a look."
The other day on his ESPN.com blog Buster Olney ran a chart of the Productive Outs leaders from last season. Productive Outs has more or less been proven to be a junk stat with no correlation to actual run scoring, and Olney quickly stopped touting it after an initial love affair. With that said, the Twins ranked second in the league with 184 Productive Outs, trailing only the Angels' 187. In other words, they moved plenty of runners over.
The Twins also ranked fourth in stolen bases and fifth in sacrifices, both of which typically fall under the category of "little things." What they didn't do enough of was avoiding outs, productive or otherwise, and hitting the ball into the gaps and over the fence. The Twins were 10th in on-base percentage, 12th in doubles, and 12th in homers, which is why I'm a whole lot more concerned about the "big things" this season.
When Castillo first signed with the Marlins, in 1992, he was strictly a righthanded hitter.The information about Castillo's switch-hitting roots is very interesting. However, following it up by saying that "Castillo is a career .293 hitter, including .287 from the left side" is simply misleading the reader. While technically correct, it would seem fairly important to point out that Castillo has the following career splits:
AVG OBP SLG OPS
This is the sort of stuff that we apparently need blogs and other non-mainstream outlets to tell us, although I'm really not sure why it has to be that way. Incidentally, I'd love to see someone ask Castillo about his extreme splits and question him about whether or not he'd have been better off sticking to hitting right-handed all the time.
I think that picture probably speaks for itself.
Tuesday, February 28, 2006
Batista Likes God, Making OutsSunday's Minneapolis Star Tribune contained an interesting article about Tony Batista by Joe Christensen that was prominently displayed on the front page of the sports section. From the corny headline ("Batista has faith in his game") to Batista's reason for being in Minnesota ("God brought me here"), there are all sorts of tidbits that make for amusing blog-fodder.
Here's the sub-headline that more or less sets up what the whole article is about:
A little eccentric and very religious, new Twins third baseman Tony Batista is coming back from Japan to show the major leagues that he still has the skills that made him a two-time All-Star -- and to spread the word of the Lord.Here's how Christensen describes Batista's role on the team:
Batista's track record earned him another starting job. Manager Ron Gardenhire said third base is not an open competition. Batista is pretty much slated to bat seventh in the batting order.There was a time this offseason when people would defend the Batista signing by claiming that he was really just sort of a spare part to be evaluated for a larger role, but from the outset it was fairly clear to me that he had the third-base job all but locked up. Now we learn that he will likely bat seventh, which is better than him batting fourth and not as good as him not batting at all.
As for "Batista produc[ing] anything close to" 30.4 homers and 98.1 RBIs from the bottom of the Twins' lineup ... well, that would be very impressive. However, it is nearly impossible. The reason Batista has been able to rack up those gaudy RBI totals over the years is that he typically bats in the middle of the lineup. Batting near the bottom of a Twins lineup that figures to be average at best in 2006 will not provide nearly the number of RBI chances Batista is used to.
Only one major-league team got as many as 90 RBIs from the seventh spot in their lineup in 2005, and that is with combining the contributions of every player who hit there throughout the season. Only seven teams had 80 or more RBIs from #7 hitters. Even if Batista plays all 162 games and takes every plate appearance available to the seventh place in the lineup, he'll have a tough time cracking 75 RBIs. All of which is why context is so important and why someone as bad as Batista being a "proven RBI man" is so misguided.
Christensen talked to a Japanese newspaper reporter about Batista's time in Japan:
According to Gaku Tashiro, a reporter from the Japanese daily Sankei Sports, Batista's contract was the biggest a Japanese team had ever given to a foreign player with no experience playing there.Whether or not the team truly has "a good third base prospect" who they wanted to give a shot to, the fact that they were willing to release Batista one year into a contract that was "the biggest a Japanese team had ever given to a foreign player with no experience playing there" is a pretty big sign that something else was up. Last I checked it would have been possible to get both Batista and a young third-base prospect into the lineup at the same time.
Also, we can now add Gaku Tashiro to the list of people who have seen Batista play since he was last in the major leagues and have come away from the experience questioning his defense at third base. The list already included fans from the Dominican Republic and a Twins scout. Needless to say that if Batista is a butcher in the field and insists on making an out at the plate 70% of the time, I may have to be put on suicide watch.
After noting that Batista "came to camp about 10 or 15 pounds over his ideal playing weight," Christensen then delves deep into all of the religious stuff:
"This is a guy you want to have on your team," Orioles All-Star third baseman Melvin Mora said in a telephone interview. "This is a guy who is always talking about Jesus. All of the people are going to love him in Minnesota."This may come as a shock to Batista and Melvin Mora, but there is a large segment of the population that probably isn't all that thrilled when someone they work with on a daily basis "is always talking about Jesus."
There's a lot more:
If anyone thought Batista would shrivel from his Japanese experience, they were mistaken. Like anything in his deeply spiritual life, he speaks of it now as part of God's divine plan.If coming to Minnesota and spending a season with the Twins is indeed part of "God's divine plan," then I assume that means having Batista make me miserable for a year while hurting my favorite team's playoff chances is also part of the same plan. That's an odd sort of relationship, like saying that someone dropping an anvil off a skyscraper is part of a plan and a person on the sidewalk below being crushed to death by an anvil falling from the sky is within the same plan.
Also, it's astounding that Batista was able to do all the "work" he needed to do in the entire country of Japan in one season, yet needs the same amount of time to do that work in Minnesota. Or perhaps he'll have completed his work in Minnesota within a few months, and God's divine plan can include Terry Ryan cutting him in June.
I'm sure some of you reading this are upset with the anti-religion tone of today's entry, but I actually have no problem with religion and commend Batista for the acts of charity that he has completed in the name of his beliefs over the years. However, I have a problem with religious people who won't stop talking about their beliefs in public and won't stop pushing their beliefs on other people. (It's essentially the same stance I have on the WNBA.)
I also question why Batista's propensity to push his religious beliefs upon teammates is being spun as such a positive thing. Let's say, just for an example, that Rondell White is an Atheist. He is joining the team and meeting his new teammates for the first time, just like Batista. If White were constantly bringing up Atheism and pushing those beliefs on his new teammates, would it be treated the same way by Christensen?
I doubt it, and you can sub Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Mormonism or any number of other religions in and ask the same question. Whatever the case, I think the answer will be the same and it'll be a lot different than the way Batista's belief in Christianity is being covered. (Interestingly, on the same day that the Batista article ran, the front page of the Star Tribune featured an article under the headline of "Bringing God to the job." It also focused on Christianity.)
I'm glad that Batista has found something in life that makes him happy and it's wonderful that one aspect of that thing is to donate money to worthy causes. I'm just fine with him going to church every day or believing his life is being run by God. What I'm not fine with is when those things begin to impact the people around him, who may not be interested in the religion Batista has chosen to make a big part of his life also becoming a part of their lives.
Monday, February 27, 2006
Top 40 Minnesota Twins: #33 Greg Gagne
GREGORY CHRISTOPHER GAGNE | SS | 1983-1992 | CAREER STATS
Gagne hit poorly at Double-A in 1982, but bounced back by hitting .255/.323/.462 with 17 homers in 119 games at Triple-A in 1983. He came up as an injury replacement for a week in June and then received a late-season call up, but hit just .111 in 27 at-bats and found himself at Triple-A again in 1984. Gagne put together another good season there, hitting .280/.374/.441 with nine homers in 70 games, and once again got to sit on the bench when rosters expanded in September.
Tired of trotting out guys like Ron Washington, Houston Jimenez, and Lenny Faedo, the Twins turned to the 23-year-old Gagne as their starting shortstop in 1985. He hit just .225/.279/.317 with two homers in 114 games as a rookie and was benched quite a bit in favor of Smalley, who had returned to the team in a trade with the White Sox that offseason. Then, with Smalley's defensive ability almost non-existent because of back problems, the Twins turned to Gagne on a full-time basis in 1986.
He came up with a solid sophomore season, hitting .250/.301/.398 with 12 homers in 156 games to rank 11th among all major-league shortstops in Value Over Replacement Player. In the second-to-last game of the season, Gagne hit inside-the-park homers in each of his first two at-bats against Chicago starter Floyd Bannister, and then smacked a triple off reliever Gene Nelson in his third at-bat to come 90 feet short of an all-time record.
After making a league-worst 26 errors in 1986, Gagne set a team record with a 47-game errorless streak in 1987. He also hit .265/.310/.430 with 10 homers in 137 games as the Twins defeated the Tigers in the ALCS (pictured above) and beat the Cardinals in the World Series. Gagne hit just .229 in 12 postseason games, but smacked three homers and four doubles, drove in six runs, and scored 10 times. His biggest hit was a sixth-inning single that drove Tom Brunansky in as the go-ahead (and eventual winning) run in Game 7 of the World Series.
Gagne had three fairly mediocre years from 1988-1990, and then hit .265/.310/.395 as the Twins once again won the World Series in 1991. This time Gagne hit just .195 in 12 postseason games and had just one homer, but it was a big one. With the Twins clinging to a 1-0 lead in the fifth inning of Game 1 against Atlanta, Gagne launched a three-run homer off Charlie Leibrandt that provided all the breathing room Jack Morris needed in a 5-2 win.
After hitting .246/.280/.346 in 1992, Gagne became a free agent and signed a three-year deal with Kansas City. He gave the Royals three solid years and then finished up his 15-year career with two seasons in Los Angeles playing for the Dodgers. Gagne retired at 35 years old and was a starting shortstop in the major leagues from the moment the Twins handed him the job in 1985 to the moment he hung up the spikes in 1997.
Researching these rankings has changed my opinion of Gagne's career more than any other Twins player. My only real memories of him in a Minnesota uniform were from 1991 and 1992, and my primary experience seeing him play came after he left the Twins for the Royals and Dodgers. By that point Gagne was on the downside of his career and shortstops were starting to put up numbers that made his hitting with the Twins look pathetic.
However, if you take a closer look back at Gagne's decade with the Twins you can discover a player who was more valuable than his paltry .292 on-base percentage and .677 OPS suggest. Perhaps the biggest key to seeing Gagne's value is in understanding the differences between baseball today and baseball in the 1980s. Not only is offense in general up since then, guys like Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Miguel Tejada, and Nomar Garciaparra have revolutionized the way we look at shortstops.
Meanwhile, during Gagne's time with the Twins the average shortstop hit a measly .252/.309/.346. Since 2000, the average shortstop has hit .268/.325/.400. That may not seem like a huge difference, but it is. For overall offensive production, that's a gap of about 10 percent. If you take Gagne's career numbers with the Twins and add 10 percent to them, and you get something along the lines of .275/.320/.425.
He still doesn't exactly light up a statsheet, but those adjusted numbers are a lot more palatable to a fan today than Gagne's raw numbers are. Add in a high level of durability and very good defense at an up-the-middle spot for eight full seasons, and what you get is a solid player at a key position who was a starter on both World Series winners, came up with some big hits in the postseason, and played 1,140 games in Minnesota.
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