Friday, March 31, 2006
Aaron Gleeman, the needlessly hurtful jerk who coined the nickname "Shecky Souhan" for Minneapolis Star Tribune columnist Jim Souhan, died Monday after being bludgeoned to death with a baseball bat by a group of men that included Souhan, Luis Rivas, and several members of Tony Batista's immediate family.No jury in the country could possibly convict him.
In other predictable news, the headline that made its way around on Thursday "Bonds Planning to Sue." Although the idea seemed to cause many folks much consternation, the analogy that kept running through my head was "Aaron Gleeman Planning Threeway with Jessica Alba and Elisha Cuthbert." It's pretty much the same deal: both are situations where the planning isn't the tough part, it's the execution that's tricky.I'm not sure if I should be proud or embarrassed about my longtime admiration of Jessica Alba and Elisha Cuthbert making it into the baseball-blogging lexicon. And for the record, I've been planning for that event all my life, so it must be pretty tough too.
I guess in the end what really matters is that it got the job done, which is odd considering Joey Gathright claimed afterward that he has a black belt in Tae Kwon Do. Revealing that information after you get knocked to the ground by a quasi-punch thrown by a stick figure is like telling someone you're an excellent driver after you back into a mailbox.
- Top 50 Prospects of 2006: 11-15
- Top 50 Prospects of 2006: 16-20
- Top 50 Prospects of 2006: 21-25
- Top 50 Prospects of 2006: 26-30
- Top 50 Prospects of 2006: 31-35
- Top 50 Prospects of 2006: 36-40
- Top 50 Prospects of 2006: 41-45
- Top 50 Prospects of 2006: 46-50
The final two installments, counting down the top 10 prospects, will come next week.
I'm generally in favor of coming down very hard on people who drive drunk, but certainly Liriano wouldn't be the first 22-year-old to make an out-of-character mistake. He seems remorseful and embarrassed, and I'm hopeful it's a one-time incident as opposed to a sign of a more serious problem. As for his status with the Twins, Terry Ryan indicated that it won't impact his spot on the roster one bit.
Earlier this week I said I wouldn't get upset about the Twins jerking Bartlett around until it actually happened and ... well, it's actually happened. As I wrote about the situation a couple days ago: "If the Twins begin the season with Tony Batista (career OBP of .298) and Castro (career OBP of .271) as the left side of their infield, they should never again be allowed to pretend that want to (or know how to) genuinely improve the offense. It's like someone making a New Year's resolution to lose weight by only eating at McDonald's."
What a pathetic mess.
Thursday, March 30, 2006
Meet the Pitching StaffWith Dennys Reyes being reassigned to minor-league camp yesterday, the Twins have essentially announced the pitching staff they will head north with (barring a last-minute trade). Here are the 11 men who will try to keep runs off the board to begin the season:
#1 Starter Johan Santana
As I've written here numerous times over the long offseason, I would have done everything in my power to trade Lohse this winter, either for a comparable hitter or some prospects. I won't go over my reasons for feeling that way again now, but because of that the above group is not quite the same 11 pitchers I would have chosen to begin the season.
However, if you simply handed me a list of pitchers who the Twins currently employ and asked me to choose an 11-man staff, that's the exact group I would take. Considering how often I disagree with Terry Ryan and Gardenhire when it comes to roster construction, that's pretty remarkable. It's also a really good pitching staff.
In contrast to years past, when guys like Joe Mays, Seth Greisinger, and Terry Mulholland were around, I don't see a single legitimate weak spot on the staff. Lohse may not be anything great as a starter, Matt Guerrier is unproven in a middle-relief spot, and Willie Eyre is far from a sure thing, but each of those 11 pitchers is perfectly capable of being an above-average performer in the role they are asked to fill. That's probably rarer than you think.
No team makes it through an entire season with just 11 pitchers, so guys like Reyes will come into play down the road. However, by pushing him aside initially the Twins have at least recognized that taking someone like Eyre because you think he will be an effective pitcher is more important than taking someone like Reyes because you know he throws with his left hand. I didn't trust the Twins to come to that conclusion, so I'm pleasantly surprised that they did.
Behind Johan Santana, the Twins' rotation is more about competence than dominance. Neither Brad Radke or Carlos Silva is quite what you're looking for in a #2 starter, but the Twins more than make up for that by not having a Mays-like disaster anywhere in the rotation (with a 5.65 ERA in 156 innings, he allowed 16.5 percent of the team's runs while pitching just 10.7 percent of the team's innings). Each of the five starters give the team a good chance to win every time they take the mound, which not many teams can honestly say.
When someone inevitably misses some starts, the team can call on Liriano to fill in and the rotation may actually improve because of the switch. And if a second replacement starter is needed -- which is fairly likely, at some point -- capable short-term fill-ins Boof Bonser, Ryan Glynn, and Glen Perkins are just a phone call away.
With that said, the beautiful thing about the pitching staff is that the bullpen is probably the strength. Joe Nathan is the relief corps equivalent to Santana, pitching brilliantly in two seasons with the Twins and establishing himself as one of baseball's elite closers. In Juan Rincon the Twins have an elite setup man as well, although Rincon's elbow problems are a huge question mark heading into the season. If healthy there isn't a better setup-closer combination in baseball.
If you look at most pitching staffs, the middle relievers are extremely iffy. With the Twins the middle innings will be given to Jesse Crain, Guerrier, and Eyre. I have major doubts about Crain's ability to fulfill his potential as a dominant late-inning reliever now that he's seemingly forgotten how to strike people out, but as a third reliever he's solid. Guerrier was excellent in a long-relief role last season and should be fine in shorter stints, while Eyre's minor-league track record since converting to the bullpen full-time is outstanding.
When it comes to organizational depth, the Twins are even deeper in capable relievers than they are in starters. If someone goes down or Liriano is moved into the rotation, guys like Reyes, Pat Neshek, Jason Miller, Beau Kemp, and Pete Munro are each good enough to have major-league jobs with other teams. Plus, Bonser, Glynn, and Perkins could fill in as well. And if J.D. Durbin ever gets things straightened out, he's another relief option.
This is a very good, deep staff. They have elite pitchers in Santana, Nathan, and Rincon, and have the major-league and minor-league depth in place to withstand injuries to anyone but Santana and Nathan. Liriano gives the team a chance for second-half improvements without having to add a veteran pitcher through midseason trade, and that luxury also opens the door for trading Lohse to improve the offense at some point.
If you're a Twins fan, the 11 pitchers heading north with the team are the reason to be optimistic for 2006. Below is a rough sketch of what the Twins' pitching numbers might look like in 2006. The projections here are fairly conservative and in some cases might even be pessimistic, but if you're trying to be objective that's a whole lot better than counting on Lohse to come up with 200 innings of 3.50 ERA pitching. Also, keep in mind that ERA does not account for all the runs a team allows.
Wednesday, March 29, 2006
Twins NotesOne of the lessons I've learned since appearing in Sports Illustrated last week is that the easiest way to become "famous" is to simply trick someone who is already famous into believing you're famous too. In other words, once you get one person with some clout believing it, the rest is easy.
In addition to e-mails from just about everyone I knew back in junior high, offers to do numerous radio shows across the country have been flowing in since last week. I almost always turn those down, because calling in to a show that I've never heard before to talk to people I can't see doesn't sound like fun to me (in fact, the few times I've done it has sort of freaked me out).
However, one offer that I just couldn't turn down is appearing on a prominent local television show. As usual I'll keep the details to myself until everything is set in stone later this week, but it should be pretty cool. I'm confident that my fame clock is at 14 minutes and ticking, because otherwise you guys are going to get sick of me pretty quickly.
With that little tease out of the way, here are some Twins notes ...
UPDATE: In order to keep Mulholland on the roster, the Diamondbacks will risk exposing both Koyie Hill and Luis Terrero on waivers, potentially losing two relatively valuable young players for absolutely nothing. See, it's not only the Twins who make odd roster decisions.
One knock I've heard against signing Durazo as a bench player is that he won't stand for not playing regularly, but I doubt that's the case now that he's had the rude awakening of only receiving a minor-league contract during the offseason and then being released during spring training. Another likely knock is that Sierra is a switch-hitter, whereas Durazo is a left-handed hitter. Normally that's an important consideration, except Durazo has been far better against lefties over the past three years:
AVG OBP SLG OPS
And if he doesn't, there'll be plenty of time to complain while we watch Castro and Punto eat up outs. Incidentally, if the Twins begin the season with Tony Batista (career OBP of .298) and Castro (career OBP of .271) as the left side of their infield, they should never again be allowed to pretend that want to (or know how to) genuinely improve the offense. It's like someone making a New Year's resolution to lose weight by only eating at McDonald's.
Batista, who had been struggling at the plate, had a rough day in the field. He booted a ball and had another skip past him for a double.And here's what Joe Christensen wrote about Batista's hitting in Monday's Minneapolis Star Tribune:
Twins third baseman Tony Batista went 0-for-4, lowering his average to .222 and his on-base percentage to .255.That's some quote from Gardenhire. I continue to be amazed that Terry Ryan (whom I assume is the "they" Gardenhire is referring to) is responsible for this entire situation. But hey, Batista might hit 25 homers!
UPDATE: The Twins cut Reyes this morning, meaning both Liriano and Eyre will make the Opening Day roster. Thanks for reading, Mr. Ryan. Oh, and tell Mr. Gardenhire that I also said not to make Liriano a LOOGY.
Tuesday, March 28, 2006
The All-Comparable TeamBaseball Prospectus has a projection system called PECOTA, which they use to publish statistical projections for hundreds of players each season. For example, this year they project Justin Morneau to hit .270/.336/.493 with 28 homers and 91 RBIs in 580 plate appearances, and they project Brad Radke to go 11-10 with a 4.21 ERA in 188 innings.
In addition to the basic projections, PECOTA also looks at each player in terms of a whole bunch of various factors. A player's numbers play a big role, with the typical stuff like plate discipline, power, strike-zone judgment, batting averages, and speed being accounted for. Along with that PECOTA also factors in stuff like height, weight, age, handedness, and defensive position to come up with a list of the 20 "most comparable players" in baseball history.
For instance, Johan Santana's most comparable player is Tom Seaver, which is about as good as it gets for a pitcher. In other words, through the age of 26 in each of their careers, Santana and Seaver are a good match. Last year at this time Santana's #1 comparable was Sandy Koufax (who has dropped all the way to #11 this time), so a lot can change because of just one season. I'm not sure how much actual value is found in these comparisons, but I do know that it's a lot of fun.
Radke's #1 comparable is Dennis Martinez (followed by Juan Marichal and Robin Roberts). Carlos Silva compares best to Larry Sorensen, while PECOTA matches Kyle Lohse with Stan Bahnsen and Scott Baker with Francisco Barrios (followed by Mike Mussina and Rick Aguilera). So in PECOTA-speak, the Twins' 2006 rotation consists of Seaver, Martinez, Sorensen, Bahnsen, and Barrios.
The guy many people would like to see in the 2006 rotation, Francisco Liriano, has Curt Simmons as his #1 comparable. That may not sound like much and it's admittedly a letdown, but Simmons did win 193 big-league games. Some interesting names in Liriano's top 20: Don Sutton, Jose Rijo, Robin Roberts, Ken Holtzman, Dwight Gooden, Dave Boswell, and Dontrelle Willis.
In the bullpen, Joe Nathan compares best to Tom Henke, whose 311 career saves rank 15th all time. Nathan also has Trevor Hoffman, who is second all time with 436 saves, as his #2 comparable. Juan Rincon's #1 match is Scott Williamson, which is sort of depressing given Rincon's elbow problems this spring and all the arm issues Williamson has struggled through. However, Rincon's top 10 also includes Dave Righetti, Gregg Olson, Tug McGraw, Duane Ward, and Mariano Rivera.
Switching over to the position players, Joe Mauer's comparables are predictably great. Joe Torre checks in at #1, with other catching greats Bill Freehan, Ted Simmons, Mike Scioscia, and Ivan Rodriguez also in the top 10. Interestingly, Mauer's top 10 also includes one very recognizable non-catcher: Kent Hrbek. And in case you're curious, PECOTA projects Mauer to hit .298/.360/.451 with 14 homers and 70 RBIs in 577 plate appearances.
Hrbek also fittingly appeared as Morneau's top comparable last year, but after a disappointing season PECOTA now has Carmelo Martinez at the top of Morneau's list. Martinez wasn't a bad player, posting a 108 OPS+ in nine big-league seasons, but Morneau's career will be huge bust if that's how he turns out. Of course, Morneau hit 22 homers in 2005 after bashing 19 homers in a half-season in 2004, while Martinez's career high was 21.
To make you feel a little better about Morneau possibly unleashing his power potential down the road, his top 10 also includes Richie Sexson, Paul Konerko, Mark Teixeira, Nate Colbert, and Mo Vaughn, each of whom have multiple seasons with at least 38 homers. Hrbek has dropped from Morneau's #1 comparable to off the list completely, which is due to Hrbek having the best season of his career at the age of 24, while Morneau struggled.
Jason Kubel's list is led by the immortal Jackie Brandt and is uninspiring throughout, but I'm guessing PECOTA has a tough time finding comparables for a guy who had a great age-22 season and then missed the entire next year. Another promising young Twins outfielder, Alex Romero, has current Tigers center fielder Curtis Granderson as his #1 comparable, but the best part is that Romero's top five also includes Carl Yastrzemski and Don Mattingly.
Torii Hunter has Derek Bell as his #1 comparable, which is really bad. Bell's performance fell off a cliff once he got on the wrong side of 30 and he played his last major-league game at the age of 32. Hunter turns 31 in July. Other interesting comparables among hitters: Jason Bartlett and Jerry Hairston Jr.; Tony Batista and Craig Paquette; Luis Castillo and Steve Sax; Michael Cuddyer and Doug Radar; Lew Ford and Alex Ochoa; Shannon Stewart and Harvey Kuenn; Rondell White and Lou Pinella.
Finally, here's what the Twins' likely Opening Day roster will look like based on each player's top PECOTA comparable:
Monday, March 27, 2006
Twins NotesBefore I get to today's batch of Twins notes, I want to thank everyone who offered their congratulations and support for my appearance in Sports Illustrated last week. The response was overwhelming, from the comments section here and the many individual e-mails I received to the numerous entries on other blogs and the personal notes from other writers. The whole experience was an amazing one.
One of the most interesting aspects was that people from my past came out of the woodwork. All sorts of family members, friends from way back in elementary school, and even people who rejected me for jobs got in contact with me. Sports Illustrated reaches a lot of different people in a lot of different places. The response from readers of this blog makes doing this worthwhile and reminded me that every once in a while it's nice to hear how many of you enjoy stopping by here each day.
With that over with, let's get back to normal ...
Despite what my "Free Johan Santana!" campaign a few years ago might have you believe, I'm not against Liriano beginning the year in the bullpen. In fact, I was never actually against Santana getting his feet wet as a reliever. I believe putting young starters in the bullpen is a great way to work them into the big leagues. However, in Santana's case his time as a reliever dragged on far too long. He had four seasons in the majors and was 25 years old by the time the Twins finally handed him a rotation spot for good. That was what I had a problem with.
There is no danger of that happening with Liriano, as the Twins have given every indication that he'll be a full-time member of the rotation by 2007 at the latest. With that said, I don't think using Liriano as a typical LOOGY is a very good plan. His future is without question in the rotation and there's a good chance that he'll be asked to start every fifth day during the second half. Because of that, is asking him to focus on short relief outings where he typically only faces left-handed hitters really all that smart?
I would love to see the Twins go without a traditional LOOGY, moving Matt Guerrier into a more prominent middle-relief role behind Juan Rincon and Jesse Crain, and sticking Liriano in Guerrier's old spot as a long reliever. That way Liriano gets his feet wet in low-pressure situations, but is also able to keep his stamina and arm ready for when he's asked to start while continuing to work on his full repertoire of pitches.
UPDATE: Tom Powers reports in the St. Paul Pioneer Press this morning that the Twins may take both Reyes and Liriano north, using Reyes as a LOOGY and Liriano in the long-relief role I described above. That's better than using Liriano only against lefties, but I'd much rather have Willie Eyre in the bullpen than Reyes.
Among the possible targets in the Angels' search for a left-handed hitting bench player are Baltimore utility player David Newhan, who is batting .429 in 16 games this spring, Minnesota outfielder Ruben Sierra, a veteran switch-hitter with power who is batting .389 in nine games, and Florida veteran infielder Lenny Harris, who is hitting .200 in 15 games.This was before Ruben Sierra suffered a leg injury that may force him to the disabled list to begin the season, but regardless of that I wonder in what sense the Angels were interested in him. The Twins have given no indication that they plan to cut Sierra, and in fact have been fairly consistent in talking about Sierra as if he was a near-lock for Opening Day roster before the injury.
Perhaps the writer was just throwing out names without any sort of information from the Angels, but it does make me curious. The idea that the Twins could have potentially traded Sierra for something of actual value before the season even began is fascinating to me. Remember, for all the talk of him being "a veteran switch-hitter with power," Sierra is 40 years old and hit .229/.265/.371 last year.
Padres minor league staffers are intrigued by Twins castoff Evan Meek, a right-hander signed last September who has one of the liveliest fastballs of any Padres prospect. Meek, whose fastball reached 98 mph last fall in San Diego's instructional league, is working out with Double-A Mobile in minor league camp.Of course, the part they conveniently leave out is that Evan Meek has a 5.66 ERA in 97 career minor-league innings and walked more batters (100) than he struck out (84) despite that "lively fastball." How hard you throw doesn't matter if you can't get the ball over the plate.