Friday, March 24, 2006
My 15 MinutesThis week's Sports Illustrated has a lengthy article about "How the Web is Changing Sports Coverage."
The piece, which centers around the culture and growing popularity of online sportswriting, focuses largely on Bill Simmons of ESPN.com and to a lesser extent Will Leitch of DeadSpin.com, who are two of my favorite writers. In fact Simmons, who is pictured below at the beginning of the article, is my singular favorite writer.
Alongside the main story, as sort of companion piece, is a half-page article and accompanying photo that looks like this:
Here's a closer look (the SI.com link to the story requires a magazine subscription to view it, so I hope Sports Illustrated doesn't mind me quoting it too much):
Cyberscribe: How a Twins nut and wannabe journalist found his nicheI've tried to cut back on the amount of self-promotion that goes on here (really, I have), but hopefully you'll forgive my indulgence this time. Sports Illustrated is the only magazine I subscribe to and read each week, the evolving world of online sportswriting is perhaps my favorite topic of discussion aside from the Twins, and as I've written here many times Simmons is the writer whose work and career path I admire most.
To be featured in an article about "how the web is changing sports coverage" in Sports Illustrated, with my picture next to a picture of Simmons, is without question one of the proudest moments of my life. For the writer to say that I "might be the most prolific baseball writer working today" is just icing on the cake. Plus, having my dog in the picture takes some of the focus away from my many chins (in my defense, the picture was taken about 35 pounds ago).
The main article, written by Chris Ballard, contains some of the stereotyping of online writers that gets tiring, but I commend a mainstream print outlet as influential as Sports Illustrated for running it. I want to thank the writer of the "Cyberscribe" piece, Albert Chen, for turning our conversations into a fair, well-written piece. I'd also like to thank Steve Wewerka, the SI photographer who managed to get my doofus of a dog (and her doofus of an owner) pictured in one of the world's most-read magazines.
Now, if you'll excuse me I have to find one of the few copies in the state of Minnesota that my mom and grandma haven't already snatched up and send it to the good people at the Minnesota Daily.
Thursday, March 23, 2006
1) The organization focuses on finding pitchers and position players with athletic ability in the draft. That naturally leaves the big-league team lacking when it comes to power hitters, who are often unathletic and defensively challenged.
2) The organizational hitting philosophies seem to stress things like making contact and hitting to the opposite field, and in some instances appear to actually discourage players (David Ortiz, Michael Restovich) from trying to hit for power. Ortiz's situation is the example that is brought up the most. He was asked to alter his natural approach at the plate while with the Twins and once he got to Boston, where he was able to let loose and try to become a full-blown slugger, that's exactly what he did.
3) The coaching for hitters at the major-league level has been, in my opinion, lacking. You can argue about what percentage of the blame should go to Tom Kelly, Ron Gardenhire or Scott Ullger, but the point is that at the end of the day there's plenty go around. The Twins simply haven't developed their young hitters very well. Either those young hitters weren't particularly promising to begin with (in which case the drafting is to blame) or the team simply did a poor job bringing them along.
4) The Twins' small payroll and lack of involvement in the free-agent market makes their struggles developing homegrown power-hitters even more damning. While other teams can bring in veteran power-hitters via free agency like Manny Ramirez, Jim Thome, Carlos Delgado, Vladimir Guerrero, Jason Giambi, Richie Sexson, Troy Glaus, Jeff Kent, and Miguel Tejada, that's just never a legitimate option for the Twins.
Twins fans often get defensive when the team's lack of power is brought up in a negative light, and that's understandable. Certainly the team has shown that you can be successful focusing on things other than home runs. As Terry Ryan said in the article, "I hear that stuff. But who cares? All I care about is winning."
However, I think it's obvious that the lack of big-time hitters in the middle of the lineup have hurt, particularly since baseball's overall levels of offense began to rise in 1994. Since then the Twins have won just 48 percent of their games while having more losing seasons (seven) than winning ones (five). Some of that has changed in recent years, of course, but there's little doubt that over the past few seasons one of the team's biggest weaknesses has been in producing offense.
I'm hopeful that Justin Morneau will top 30 homers in 2006 to snap the streak, but similar hopes have previously been pinned on Ortiz, Torii Hunter, Michael Cuddyer, Jacque Jones, Marty Cordova, Matthew LeCroy, and even Morneau himself. Morneau is still dealing with the same issues that kept those guys (and everyone else) from hitting 30 homers, so it's far from a sure thing.
The column was written by a then-student named Randy Johnson, who is now at least 35 years old and I believe is an editor of some sort at the Pioneer Press. A few of the highlights:
Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the Metrodome, the Boy Blunder has struck again. ... Late Monday night, [general manager Andy] MacPhail dealt Viola, the heroic MVP of the 1987 World Series and 1988 American League Cy Young Award winner, to the New York Mets for four pitchers and an infielder. One of those is part time starter, part time reliever Rick Aguilera. Another is rookie David West, he of the 7.40 ERA.It's fun to look back with 20-20 hindsight and see just how incredibly wrong Johnson was about the trade, especially since not enough writers (myself included) get called out when one of their strongly-worded opinions looks really silly years later. It's particularly amusing in this case because he acted like quite a jerk in giving his opinion of the move, calling Andy MacPhail "Boy Blunder" and more or less saying he was stupid. Of course, I still think the Twins should have kept Bobby Kielty.
The move also makes Scott Hatteberg Cincinnati's starting first baseman, which is exactly the sort of scenario I had in mind when I criticized Krivsky for signing Hatteberg last month. The Reds dealt from a strength to address a major weakness, but Arroyo isn't going to help them do much aside from chase a .500 record and Pena is arguably the team's second most valuable long-term property behind Adam Dunn.
Krivsky was clearly seeking a competent, relatively young, fairly inexpensive starting pitcher for Pena, and I'm curious about whether or not Kyle Lohse would have gotten the job done. I would have dealt Lohse for Pena without thinking twice, and would have been willing to toss in a mid-level pitching prospect like Boof Bonser or J.D. Durbin to get the trade done. Pena has all sorts of flaws, which is why I suspect Ryan wasn't interested, but he's 24 years old and has 45 homers in his last 647 at-bats.
If Hunter is worth $12 million for a season, it's definitely not to a team with a $65 million payroll. Span is a former first-round pick who hit .307/.377/.369 between Single-A and Double-A last year and is considered a very good defensive center fielder. Even in a down year Ford batted .264/.338/.377 and played solid defense in place of Hunter. If one of them can give the Twins 75 percent of Hunter for about three percent of the price, they would suddenly have $10 million to address other issues.
Using Diamond-Mind's own projections, the Twins won an average of 92 games per season, advancing to the playoffs 61 percent of the time. Using Baseball Prospectus' PECOTA projections, the Twins averaged 85 wins per season and advanced to the playoffs 46 percent of the time. Using Baseball Think Factory's ZiPS projections, the Twins averaged 85 wins per season and advanced to the playoffs 38 percent of the time.
Stuff like this is to be taken with a gigantic grain of salt because of various factors like injuries and playing time distribution, but it's still nice to see. It's interesting that a year after many in the mainstream media made the Twins a trendy World Series pick, the same people have basically written the team off completely. While I don't think the Twins are the favorites to win the division, I do think their chances of making the postseason are a lot higher than most people seem to believe.
Like I said when helping to preview the American League Central over at Baseball Analysts last month, I give the Twins at least a 25-percent chance of winning the division. Add in the possibility that they could take the Wild Card instead -- which is less likely than in the past, given the overall strength of the division -- and they probably have at least a one-in-three shot at the postseason. That's a lower chance than I think should be, but it's still not bad.
Wednesday, March 22, 2006
Top 40 Minnesota Twins: #29 Kevin Tapani
KEVIN RAY TAPANI | SP | 1989-1995 | CAREER STATS
I just signed up for school at CMU and had planned on being an ordinary student. When I went to orientation, I found out that Dan McReynolds was the Dodger scout in the Midwest and he told me they were going to hold a tryout camp. While at the Dodger camp, coach Keilitz was sitting in the stands and he came down to me and said, "I see that you're enrolled here. Would you be interested in coming out for the team?"Not only did Tapani go from being an unrecruited, last-minute walk-on to being the team's ace, after four years at CMU he was taken by the A's in the second round of the 1986 draft. Tapani went 6-1 with a 2.48 ERA in 11 starts at Single-A in his pro debut and then went 10-7 with a 3.76 ERA in 24 starts at Single-A in his second year.
In December of 1987 Tapani was part of a massive three-team trade between the A's, Dodgers, and Mets that saw Bob Welch, Alfredo Griffin, Jay Howell, and Jesse Orosco each change teams. Tapani went from Oakland to New York in the deal, joining an organization that had a major-league starting rotation packed with young, established pitchers in Dwight Gooden, David Cone, Ron Darling, and Sid Fernandez.
With so many young starters ahead of him, the Mets moved Tapani to the bullpen and sent him to Double-A in 1988. He pitched well as a reliever, posting a 2.74 ERA in 62.1 innings, and returned to the starting rotation at Triple-A the next year. After posting a 3.47 ERA in 17 starts there, the Mets called Tapani up to the majors in early July. He made his big-league debut on the Fourth of July, tossing 4.1 innings against the Astros after starter Bob Ojeda was knocked out of the game in the first inning.
Tapani appeared in two more games over the next two weeks, both as a reliever. Then on July 31 he was traded again, this time going to Minnesota along with Rick Aguilera, David West, Tim Drummond, and Jack Savage for Frank Viola. It was a controversial move at the time, because Viola was incredibly popular in Minnesota, was the reigning Cy Young Award winner thanks to going 24-7 in 1988, and was instrumental in the Twins' World Series victory in 1987.
An August 2, 1989 article about the trade in the Washington Post contained a moment of candor that would be startling to see today:
"Anytime you deal you a guy who has done all Frankie has done for us, it's tough," Twins General Manager Andy MacPhail said. "But the velocity of his fastball was diminishing."Surely the Mets were thrilled to hear that after the move was made, although they were probably more than happy to have the first pitcher in baseball history to be traded the season after winning the Cy Young Award. Viola was only 29 years old at the time and in fact still had plenty of gas left in the tank, diminishing fastball velocity or not, going 38-32 with a 3.31 ERA in three years with the Mets before becoming a free agent.
An August 1, 1989 article in the New York Times suggested that "although they lost a Cy Young Award winner in Viola, the Twins seemed to believe the trade would eventually benefit them." Sure enough, despite Viola's continued success the trade is one of the greatest in Twins history. West, Drummond, and Savage never amounted to much in Minnesota, but Tapani and Aguilera became outstanding pitchers and key members of the staff that helped lead the Twins to another World Series title in 1991.
After acquiring him from the Mets, the Twins sent Tapani back to Triple-A, where he went 4-2 with a 2.20 ERA in six starts. He was called back when rosters expanded in September and made five starts down the stretch, winning his first two games in a Twins uniform and posting a 3.86 ERA. His days in the minors over, Tapani began the 1990 season in the rotation. The Twins struggled, going 74-88 to finish last in the AL West, but Tapani was one of the few bright spots. He made 28 starts, going 12-8 with a 4.07 ERA while leading the team in wins and strikeouts.
It all came together for Tapani in 1991, as he won 16 games with a 2.99 ERA in 244 innings to rank among the league's top 10 in all three categories and finished seventh in the Cy Young balloting. The amazing thing is that Tapani went 0-6 with a 5.35 ERA in May, which means over the rest of the season he was 16-3 with a 2.54 ERA. Surprisingly, Tapani struggled in the postseason, going 1-2 with a 6.11 ERA in four starts. He did come up big against Tom Glavine in Game 2 of the World Series, holding Atlanta to two runs over eight innings before turning things over to Aguilera for the save.
Tapani was never again as good as he was in 1991, but over the next three seasons he was a dependable innings eater who ranked among the league's top 10 in wins in both 1992 (16) and the strike-shortened 1994 season (11). Tapani went 39-33 with a 4.31 ERA over the three-year span, leading the Twins in wins each year. He had a .541 winning percentage from 1992-1994, whereas the Twins won at just a .479 clip when Tapani didn't figure in the decision.
After the strike was settled in 1995, Tapani got off to a brutal start, going 6-11 with a 4.92 ERA. On July 31, with the Twins holding baseball's worst record at 30-56 and Tapani just months away from free agency, they traded him and reliever Mark Guthrie to the Dodgers for Ron Coomer, Greg Hansell, Jose Parra, and Chris Latham. In contrast to snagging both Tapani and Aguilera in the haul for Viola, only Coomer provided any sort of usefulness to the Twins from the Tapani trade.
Meanwhile, Tapani struggled in a half-season with the Dodgers and then signed a one-year deal with the White Sox that winter, going 13-10 with a 4.59 ERA in 1996. He stayed in Chicago for the final five seasons of his career, going 51-50 with a 4.66 ERA with the Cubs. Tapani won a career-high 19 games despite a sub par 4.85 ERA in 1998, thanks in large part to the run support he received from Sammy Sosa's 66-homer, 158-RBI season.
Tapani is a somewhat underrated figure in Twins history, because unlike many of the team's top pitchers his best years came in a hitter-friendly era. That hurts his raw totals, especially when compared to guys who pitched in the low-offense 1960s and 1970s. Tapani's 75-63 record with the Twins was outstanding considering how horrible some of the teams he played on were, he was incredibly durable, his peak season was one of the greatest in team history, and his 4.06 ERA was better than it looks.
TOP 25 ALL-TIME MINNESOTA TWINS RANKS:
Tuesday, March 21, 2006
I'm not sure I completely agree with that, but I'm still happy to announce that I now have a "real job" that does in fact cover my health insurance. About a month ago I agreed to become a full-time employee of Rotoworld. I didn't think to announce anything about it here (until today), because for the most part nothing really changes. I've been working "part-time" for Rotoworld for quite a while now and moving to "full-time" will simply increase my workload and responsibilities.
The job has three main tasks. First, I will continue to write for Rotoworld.com -- and by extension FoxSports.com and USAToday.com -- producing both columns and news blurbs. In addition to that I will now be in charge of Rotoworld's baseball content, which involves boring stuff like scheduling, editing, and yelling at people when they miss a due date. And last but not least I will also be in charge of the baseball content in Fantasy Sports Monthly, a new magazine that is published by Beckett.
For all of that I've been handed the title of "Senior Baseball Editor," which means I could probably have business cards printed up and for the first time in my life not feel completely ridiculous about doing so. Aside from my time being stretched even more than it has been over the past year or so, not much will change for any of you. I'll still post here nearly every day and my involvement at The Hardball Times will continue (and continue to be somewhat sporadic).
In addition to the sudden barrage of Aaron Gleeman articles, THT is going to be jammed with great content for the next few weeks. We kicked off our annual "Five Questions" preseason previews for all 30 teams yesterday with the Royals and Pirates, and previews for multiple teams are scheduled to run each day until the season begins. Today there are a total of five new articles at THT, so if you don't already stop by on a daily basis you really should start.
Monday, March 20, 2006
Top 40 Minnesota Twins: #30 Jacque Jones
JACQUE DEWAYNE JONES | LF/CF/RF | 1999-2005 | CAREER STATS
His seven-year career with the Twins began with an 0-for-4 against the Reds on June 9, 1999, and the rest of the story has been told and re-told here many times. Many of his totals -- 132 homers, 476 RBIs, 189 doubles, 974 hits, 492 runs -- rank among the top dozen in Twins history, which would make it seem as though I've been overly critical of him over the years. That may be true, but there are some other factors to consider.
It's important to remember that Jones played for the Twins in a high-offense era, at a key position for offense. All of which makes his raw stats look better than they really are when compared to hitters from the 60s, 70s, and 80s or guys who hit well and played premium defensive positions. Another factor in my criticisms of Jones is that because of the weaknesses in his game he could have been a more valuable player for the Twins if only he'd have been utilized differently in a couple key areas.
Jones' biggest strength as a player was always his ability to hit right-handed pitching, but Ron Gardenhire wiped away much of that value by refusing to platoon Jones against left-handed pitchers. The end result is a relatively mediocre career line of .279/.327/.455, which can be broken down as follows:
AVG OBP SLG OPS
Jones' time in Minnesota is a prime example of how not to get the most out of your players by not putting them in a position to succeed and maximize their talent. While Gardenhire is at fault in that regard, the other major circumstance that could have added to Jones' value with the Twins really can't be pinned on anyone. Well, maybe Torii Hunter and whichever scout recommended that the Twins draft him back in 1993.
In most organizations Jones would have spent the last seven years patrolling center field, where his defense would have been more important and his offense would have been more valuable. However, with Hunter around Jones shifted first to left field and then to right field. His defense in both places was excellent, but his offense was nothing special for a corner outfielder. Interestingly, Jones' hitting and Hunter's hitting have been eerily similar:
PA AVG OBP SLG OPS+
If Jones were drafted by a team that didn't have a elite center fielder and played for a manager who knew the value of platooning, he would've been a superior player to the one the Twins got. Of course, in ranking his place in Twins history those points are little more than sidebars. Instead of being a platoon center fielder in a fantasy world, Jones was a good defensive corner outfielder who put up slugging percentage-heavy numbers that made him almost exactly average for the position.
Take all of that and multiple it by seven seasons and nearly 1,000 games and what you get is a very solid player. In fact, I might go so far as to say that if Jones played in an earlier era that I was not around to see, I would view his Twins career in a more positive manner. In other words, if I didn't have such vivid memories of Jones' flaws and the ways in which the Twins failed to utilize him in ideal situations, what I'd be left with is a decent hitter and quality defender who was durable and productive.
Instead, I see the wild swings and helplessness against lefties, the throws from the outfield that were either air-mailed past the catcher or launched directly into the turf, the struggles in the postseason and short peak, and an overall lack of improvement that seemed to symbolize Twins hitters over the past decade. I see what could have been with Jones, rather than what actually was. And what actually was ... well, it was pretty good for quite a while.
TOP 25 ALL-TIME MINNESOTA TWINS RANKS: