Friday, June 09, 2006
Twins catcher Joe Mauer and 2005 Miss USA and former Miss North Carolina Chelsea Cooley have begun dating on a semi-regular basis.Thanks to the wonderful world of the internet, I was able to find several billion pictures of Chelsea Cooley within about five seconds of reading that. Here's my favorite:
Beats the hell out of those Highland Park girls, huh Joe?
Incidentally, after going 9-for-12 in the three-game series against Seattle, including 3-for-4 yesterday, Mauer is now leading all of baseball with a .379 batting average. He hit .319 in April, .386 in May, and is batting an even .500 (14-for-28) so far in June. He's also hitting .382 against righties and .373 against lefties. All of that has nothing whatsoever to do with a Link-O-Rama entry, but so what?
Not only am I surprised by the move, I think it's a mistake. Lohse isn't part of the team's future and is unlikely to increase his trade value pitching out of the bullpen any more than he would have dominating Triple-A hitters. Beyond that, the decision is a slap in the face to Pat Neshek, who has a 1.71 ERA with a 69-to-11 strikeout-to-walk ratio and .183 opponent's batting average in 42 innings at Triple-A.
Neshek is incredibly deserving of a shot and would be a perfect replacement for Guerrier over the two months that he's expected to miss, while Lohse is about as far from deserving of another chance with the Twins as someone can get. But hey, no one ever accused the Twins of treating their prospects particularly well and sticking with a mediocre veteran well past his usefulness is par for the course.
Watching old footage of Gracie using Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu to submit opponent after opponent--many of whom outweighed him by 50 or even 100 pounds--is incredible and really shows how much more there is to MMA fighting than being able to knock people out. Gracie returned to the UFC last month after a decade-long absence and was dominated by another all-time great fighter, Matt Hughes.
I don't know nearly enough about MMA fighting to say whether Hughes' win showed how far the sport has come since the days when Gracie was a champion or that at 40 years old Gracie is well past his prime. What I do know is that it was extremely compelling to watch.
Leyland thinks the Internet promotes invasions of privacy, and he has no interest in learning how to use it or a personal computer. Asked if he knew what the word "google" means, he said, "I have no idea ... google, goggle."At this point someone having no interest in using a computer is like someone 50 years ago refusing to use a telephone. Hell, even my grandparents are online now and they don't even manage a first-place team (although I guess soon enough Leyland won't either).
Thursday, June 08, 2006
Hall is 26 years old, makes close to the minimum salary, can play anywhere defensively, and is hitting .264/.317/.582. Koskie is hitting .270/.353/.509 in 51 games while platooning at third base. It's laughable that anyone--from Ryan all the way down to Hartman--thinks that the Twins can get either of those guys for a pitcher who had an 8.92 ERA and is now making $4 million to pitch at Triple-A.
Why not ask for Prince Fielder? The sad part is that the same people trying to shoot the moon in a trade for Lohse now were the ones who didn't think it was a good idea to deal him when he actually had some value. If Ryan can get anything close to Hall or Koskie for Lohse, don't you think he would have jumped at the chance about a month ago?
One reason the Twins are having trouble scoring runs is that two of their better hitters, veterans Shannon Stewart and Ruben Sierra, are on the disabled list.Yes, not having Ruben Sierra has surely killed the offense. Any time you lose a 40-year-old who batted .229/.265/.371 in the previous season it's understandable that runs would be tough to come by. After all, it'd be crazy to wonder whether a team thinking that guys like Sierra had significant value in the first place might indirectly be responsible for poor offense. Crazy, I tell you.
I have no real inside information beyond a few choice pieces of gossip, but I'd be shocked if Lohse pitches for the Twins again. He has a 1.50 ERA and has held opponents to a .176 batting average in four starts at Rochester, but a 12-to-6 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 24 innings at Triple-A isn't particularly impressive.
"Bobby Cuellar," Liriano said. "He's the man."Back when Johan Santana was at Triple-A Cuellar is said to have taught him what is now arguably baseball's best changeup, which almost immediately led to Santana becoming an elite pitcher. Setting aside the fact that the Twins somehow let Cuellar leave the organization, why exactly isn't he a pitching coach somewhere? And when is he eligible for the Twins Hall of Fame?
Gardenhire ordered a sacrifice bunt from Cuddyer in the eighth inning. He said it wasn't a reflection of Cuddyer's skid as much as the tight nature of the games the Twins play with the A's in Oakland's ballpark.I complain about the lack of a critical eye that is applied to the Twins by the local media and some people take that to mean that I want a column ripping the team every day. The truth is that I'd gladly settle for situations like the one above, where a writer simply applies a bit of skepticism and objectivity to something a member of the organization says. As my praise of Reusse and ongoing support of LEN3 should attest to, I have a great deal of respect for beat writers who do their job well.
What I don't respect is someone who thinks their job is collecting a bunch of cliche-filled quotes after each game and allowing the Twins to use the newspaper as a daily press release. As St. Paul Pioneer Press Twins beat writer Jason Williams once said in between passing along his weekly note about Juan Castro not hurting the team offensively: "You have no idea what I do. NO IDEA."
Player to watchIn the history of mankind, how many sentences have been written that are less accurate than "Nobody questions Juan Castro's glove, and his bat hasn't been bad, either"? A half-dozen? Ten, at the most? I can't fathom that someone who writes such a statement--in this case a person named Justice B. Hill--could possibly have watched the Twins play this season, but presumably that's a major part of his/her job with MLB.com.
Ignoring the silliness about Castro's increasingly sloppy defense, he's hitting .238/.262/.315 for a .577 OPS that ranks fourth-worst in the entire AL behind only Juan Uribe (.561), Joey Gathright (.545), and Rondell White (.436). In other words, out of the 110 AL players with at least 150 plate appearances 106 of them have hit better than Castro, about whom a professional journalist just wrote "his bat hasn't been bad." Wonders never cease, although my reading the Twins' website does.
[White Sox general manager Ken] Williams, who has made a career out of flying under the radar, reportedly has inquired about the availability of Minnesota Twins center fielder Torii Hunter, but the current asking price is way too high.In doing my Rotoworld gig this morning, I noticed that a similar note popped up in several Chicago newspapers.
Mauer's big numbers have received a surprising lack of attention and I'm shamefully guilty of being part of that, but the nice thing is that if he keeps hitting like this for much longer there's no doubt that the media will eventually swarm. Between watching Santana and Liriano take the mound two times a week and reading about Mauer chasing the batting title, perhaps I can learn to let all of the Twins' problems sort of glide by.
Wednesday, June 07, 2006
The Twins' DraftUnder Terry Ryan the Twins have been one of the most pitching-heavy teams when it comes to the draft, with the most extreme example being when the team took 14 pitchers with its first 17 picks in 2004. However, with the team in the midst of a third straight season with one of the league's worst offenses, Ryan and scouting director Mike Radcliff drastically changed their draft-day approach yesterday.
Not only didn't the Twins use the majority of their picks on pitchers, they actually took hitters with 14 of their 19 day-one selections. It remains to be seen whether or not the picks were good ones, but I'm pleased that steps are finally being taken to address the organization's lack of hitting. Unfortunately for the big-league lineup, no one drafted yesterday will make an impact in the majors for at least a couple seasons.
In fact, since only six of the hitters were of the college variety most of them have little chance of playing more than a few games at the Metrodome. It's impossible to argue with the Twins' results when it comes to finding talented pitchers in the draft over the years, but in the long run they may have been better off adopting a more balanced approach somewhere along the way rather than waiting until now to completely change their focus.
With their first pick and the 20th overall, the Twins took high-school slugger Chris Parmelee. Baseball America ranked Parmelee as this year's second-best "pure hitter" among high schoolers and also gave him the nod as the owner of the "best strike-zone judgment" among prep hitters. MLB.com reports that Parmelee's "smooth left-handed swing provides line drives now and presents the kind of power scouts like." In other words, he's the hitter "with middle-of-the-order potential" who I was hoping for.
In the second round the Twins nabbed Joe Benson, a high-school catcher who is expected to become an outfielder in the pros. MLB.com described Benson as having "a power-speed combination that excites scouts" and deemed him "raw, but projectable." While the Twins will have to cough up enough bonus money to convince Parmelee to skip playing college baseball, they'll have to talk Benson into not playing baseball and/or football at Purdue.
The Twins went back to pitching in the third round, taking high-school lefty Tyler Robertson. At 6-foot-5, BA says "some describe his delivery as funky, others as ugly" and adds:
After he begins his windup, Robertson's left arm, in the words of one scout, plunges straight down. He then brings the arm back up and goes to the plate. While he repeats the arm action, it's hard for scouts to project Robertson improving his stuff much. Overhauling his mechanics could cost him development time, but with his size and resume it might be worth it.Interestingly, both Parmelee and Robertson are signed to play college ball at Cal-State Fullerton.
In the fourth round the Twins dipped into the college ranks for the first time, selecting Georgia Tech first baseman Whit Robbins. Robbins led what was a very good team in just about every offensive category, hitting .358/.474/.603 with 12 homers, 32 total extra-base hits, and a 37-to-41 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 62 games.
A left-handed swinger like seemingly every decent hitting prospect the Twins have, BA says Robbins "generates good bat speed" and "has a sound approach, with good pitch recognition and plate discipline." There's also apparently some hope that he can play third base or left field in the pros, rather than being stuck at first base.
With their second fourth-round pick the Twins selected another college hitter, infielder Garrett Olson from Division II Franklyn Pierce College. BA reports that Olson was athletic enough to play shortstop this season, but that "most scouts see him at second base or third base." Playing in a conference that uses wood bats, Olson hit .367/.425/.663 with 14 homers, 38 total extra-base hits, and a 24-to-20 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 59 games.
The fifth-round pick was high-school outfielder Devin Shephard, who MLB.com describes as "built like a football player" and possessing "good power potential with a strong throwing arm as a corner outfielder." On the other hand, BA reports that "to his detractors ... he's a showcase and batting-practice player who doesn't carry his tools into games."
The Twins went back to college in the sixth round, taking Nebraska catcher Jeff Christy. BA calls Christy "one of the better defensive catchers in the college game" and he better be, because his hitting numbers are ugly. After batting just .232 with a .277 slugging percentage in 2005, Christy improved to a still-modest .284/.345/.468 with eight homers, 20 total extra-base hits, and a 35-to-17 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 56 games. Those aren't the type of metal-bat performances that translate well in the pros.
Most of the remaining picks were from high schools or small colleges, but there are a few other guys worth noting. In addition to having a name that sounds like the guy who was fired from American Idol, eighth rounder Brian Dinkleman is a second baseman who won the NAIA Player of the Year Award this season. Ninth rounder Sean Land is a 6-foot-5 lefty from the University of Kansas, but struggled with a 5.56 ERA and 55-to-35 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 87.1 innings.
Steve Singleton is an interesting pick in the 11th round. A shortstop at the University of San Diego, he hit .363/.412/.510 with five homers, 24 total extra-base hits, and a 16-to-17 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 58 games. Aaron Senne was the first of two Minnesotans drafted by the Twins, and BA calls the Rochester Mayo product "Minnesota's top high school prospect." Of course, that label means a lot more in some years.
Last but not least, the Twins took Notre Dame right-hander Jeff Manship in the 14th round. Manship is an interesting pick because he missed the entire 2004 season after undergoing Tommy John elbow surgery. BA says he was "one of the most coveted recruits in the 2003 high school class" prior to the injury and MLB.com reports that he "relies on a plus, plus curve."
Manship's numbers were outstanding this year, as he went 9-2 with a 3.26 ERA and 111-to-28 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 94 innings, holding opponents to a .223 batting average. Of course, as with most college stats those numbers need to be taken with a grain of salt. Why? Because Notre Dame had a team ERA of 3.52 and among the 10 pitchers with at least 25 innings he ranked just fifth in ERA.
All in all, I think the Twins did a solid job. I'm happy that the team took some chances on guys whose calling card is their bat, because the organization has lacked power-hitting prospects for the better part of two decades. I also think the Twins struck a good balance between high-risk, high-reward types (Parmelee, Benson, Robertson, Shepherd, Manship) and low-risk, quick-impact types (Robbins, Olson, Singleton).
The main criticism I have is that the team again failed to address its longstanding lack of major league-ready middle-infield depth, which could have been solved by picking one or two college shortstops early. In addition to that, many of the high-school picks placed too much emphasis on speed and tools for my tastes, and I would have liked to see a few more accomplished college hitters picked in general.
In the end the overall quality of the draft hinges largely on whether Parmelee can develop into a big-league slugger and whether the Twins can sign some of the college-bound players and convert their athleticism into baseball skills. I'd be shocked if Christy ends up as anything more than a wasted sixth-round pick and I'd bet on Robbins being the first 2006 draftee to play in the majors.
Tuesday, June 06, 2006
One-Third WPA UpdateThe Twins are slightly past the one-third point of the season, but yesterday's off day provides an opportunity to catch up with the Win Probability Added totals. If you're not familiar with WPA, check out my layman's explanation of the stat from earlier this season. The short version is that WPA is the combined contribution made to increasing or decreasing the Twins' chances of winning each game.
The long version is really complicated, which is why I'll refer you to an old explanation rather than go over it again today. Each 50.0 points of WPA is worth one win above or below .500. In other words, someone with a 100.0 WPA has pushed the team from winning 81 games to winning 83 games, while someone with a -100.0 WPA has dragged the team from 81 wins to 79 wins.
Here are the Twins' totals through 56 games:
Joe Nathan 165.5 Ruben Sierra -3.7
The rest of Twins' leaders are no surprise. Johan Santana (149.5) and Joe Mauer (103.9) give the team a total of three players with over 100.0 WPA, while Francisco Liriano narrowly misses that mark at 95.0. Interestingly, Liriano's total includes positive contributions as a starter (71.2), reliever (16.2), and hitter (7.3). Yes, that bloop single down the left-field line in Milwaukee was worth quite a bit.
Shannon Stewart ranks sixth with a 70.6 WPA despite missing 21 of the 56 games and hitting a relatively modest .298/.355/.376. How is that possible? Stewart's impressive WPA reflects his .464 batting average with runners in scoring position and .444 batting average in "close and late" situations. In other words, he came up big in a number of crucial spots before going on the disabled list.
Even more extreme than Stewart's clutch hitting-fueled WPA, Justin Morneau's 24.4 WPA is due almost entirely to two swings--the game-winning single against Mariano Rivera and the go-ahead homer against Kirk Saarloos. Aside from his performance in those two games, Morneau's WPA is a pathetic -48.6.
Speaking of pathetic, Rondell White's -196.3 WPA means he's pushed the Twins nearly four games below .500 all by himself. In other words, if the team had replaced White with an "average" hitter in his 175 plate appearances they'd go from 25-31 to 29-27. Of course, finding an average hitter has been tough for the Twins, as nine of the 14 players with at least 25 at-bats have dragged the team down.
Of particular note among the negative-WPA hitters is Luis Castillo, who was arguably the Twins' MVP through 18 games. As recently as May 13 Castillo was hitting .357 with a 49.7 WPA that ranked among the team leaders. Since then he's batted .213 while racking up a startlingly bad -80.0 WPA (including -30.1 already in June). In less than a month Castillo went from hitting .357/.408/.478 to .294/.357/.376, and did so while flashing sloppy defense, poor hustle, and a shocking inability to lay down bunts.
White's horrendous season and Castillo's sudden collapse have been unexpected, but Tony Batista and Juan Castro combining for -160.8 WPA should surprise no one who reads this blog regularly. Add in sub par defense--which WPA doesn't account for--and the two starters on the left side of the infield have likely cost the Twins about five wins below .500. All of which is why I have little sympathy for Terry Ryan or Ron Gardenhire when it comes to the Twins' struggles.
As a group, the Twins' hitters have produced a dreadful -294.4 WPA. If you take Mauer and Stewart out of the mix that number plummets to -448.9. Put another way, the non-Mauer, non-Stewart portion of the Twins' offense has dragged the team nine wins below .500 in just 56 games. And here's a non-WPA stat to chew on: After hitting .259/.323/.391 last season, the Twins have hit .265/.324/.390 this year.
Not to be outdone, the non-Santana, non-Liriano portion of the rotation has somehow been even worse at -478.3 WPA. Santana's four rotation-mates at the beginning of the season have produced WPAs of -160.0 (Carlos Silva), -136.5 (Kyle Lohse), -123.0 (Brad Radke), and -72.8 (Scott Baker). Silva made up for some of that by posting a 30.4 WPA in five appearances out of the bullpen, although at -129.6 overall it's tough to notice.
Actually, the Twins' bullpen has been by far the team's biggest strength. In addition to Nathan leading the team with a 165.5 WPA, Juan Rincon (86.6) and Matt Guerrier (35.9) have also been excellent. Liriano contributed 16.2 WPA in 12 relief appearances before moving to the rotation, and even Willie Eyre (4.6) and Dennys Reyes (2.3) haven't hurt the team.
Unfortunately the same can't be said for Jesse Crain, who is the only pitcher to post a negative WPA as a reliever. Crain has produced a -89.5 WPA in 24 appearances, while the rest of the bullpen has come up with a 341.5 WPA in 105 appearances. In fact, take out Crain's ugly 6.66 ERA in 24.1 innings and the rest of the relievers have gone 6-0 with a 2.86 ERA in 138.1 innings of work.
Factoring in some rough estimates for positional adjustments offensively, defensive value, and considerations for playing time, here's what a WPA-based ranking of the 27 players who have appeared regularly in a Twins uniform through one-third of the season might look like:
1. Joe Mauer 11. Michael Cuddyer 21. Scott BakerRemember, don't shoot the messenger. It's just a fun little stat.
UPDATE: Will Young, who tracks WPA with the added wrinkle of making subjective adjustments based on things like defense and baserunning, has posted his totals through 56 games. For the most part they're in line with the purely numbers-based calculations shown above, but there are some differences (like Stewart and Castillo dropping a ton because of poor defense).
Monday, June 05, 2006
Top 40 Minnesota Twins: #24 Shane Mack
SHANE LEE MACK | LF/CF/RF | 1990-1994 | CAREER STATS
I really believe that Shane Mack is going to be one of the greatest UCLA players of all time. He reminds me so much of Jackie Robinson, but his fire is inside, not outside like Jackie. He's not flashy like Jackie was. He just does the job and produces.Adams was right. After hitting .306 as a freshman Mack emerged as one of the elite players in college baseball, hitting a conference-best .419 as a sophomore and .352 as a junior. Mack was a first-team All-American in both seasons, and leading up to the 1984 draft there was heavy debate over whether Mack or USC slugger Mark McGwire should be the first player chosen.
Under the headline "Mack or McGwire Could Be Chosen No. 1" in a June 4, 1984 Los Angeles Times article, Dodgers scouting director Ben Wade said, "You've got two of the best in the country over at USC and UCLA." The next day the newspaper described Mack as "the finest all-around player in college baseball" and "at or near the top of virtually every major-league club's scouting list."
The Mets surprised everyone by taking high-school outfielder Shawn Abner with the first selection, which turned out horribly. McGwire dropped to the A's with the 10th pick, while the Padres were thrilled when Mack fell into their laps 11th overall. After playing for the United States' silver medal-winning team in the 1984 summer Olympics, Mack bypassed his final year of eligibility and began his pro career in 1985.
Mack spent the bulk of his first two years at Double-A, hitting .260/.325/.370 in 1985 and .281/.318/.451 while repeating the level in 1986. He moved up to Triple-A to finish the 1986 season, hitting .362 in 19 games at hitter-friendly Las Vegas. Mack stayed there in 1987 and hit .333 with five homers while going 13-for-13 stealing bases in 39 games. When a torn biceps tendon forced Steve Garvey to the disabled list in late May, San Diego called Mack up.
Debuting on May 25, 1987, Mack went 0-for-2 with two walks starting in right field. He stayed with San Diego all season and saw regular playing time against left-handed pitching, hitting .239/.299/.361 in 105 games. Interestingly, after debuting in right field Mack played almost exclusively center field, as it quickly became apparent that he was a better defender there than incumbent Stan Jefferson.
Mack began the 1988 season back at Triple-A and spent the year shuttling between San Diego and Las Vegas. He hit just .244/.336/.269 in 56 games with the Padres, but once again tore up the Pacific Coast League with a .347 batting average and 10 homers in 55 games. Mack was back at Triple-A once again in 1989 when an elbow injury cut his season short after just 24 games.
That offseason the Padres left the 26-year-old Mack off their 40-man roster and the Twins snatched him up in the Rule 5 draft. Mack made the Opening Day roster, but played sparingly early on, getting just 18 at-bats in April, 33 in May, and 39 in June. In mid-July, with Mack hitting over .300 and the Twins playing under .500, manager Tom Kelly finally gave him a shot as an everyday player.
Splitting time between all three outfield spots, Mack responded by hitting .306 in July before slumping in August, and then finished the year by batting .432 (38-for-88) with 17 RBIs and six steals between September and October. Overall he hit .326/.392/.460 with eight homers, 44 RBIs, and 50 runs scored in 353 plate appearances after entering the season as a career .241/.312/.331 hitter.
Kelly was still somewhat hesitant to make Mack an everyday player in 1991, but he started 61 times alongside Kirby Puckett in right field while also getting 16 starts subbing for Puckett in center field and 38 starts playing left field in place of Dan Gladden. Mack had a huge year, hitting .310/.363/.529 with 18 homers in 143 games to rank among the league's top 10 in slugging percentage and OPS.
Thanks in large part to Mack the Twins went from worst to first, winning the AL West with a league-best 95-67 record after finishing dead last at 74-88 the previous season. Mack hit .333 with three RBIs and four runs scored in the five-game ALCS win over Toronto, but then went 0-for-15 with seven strikeouts in the first four games of the World Series against Atlanta.
After pulling Mack in a Game 3 double-switch--leading to closer Rick Aguilera pinch-hitting in the 12th inning--Kelly gave designated hitter Chili Davis the Game 5 start in right field despite Davis seeing a total of three innings defensively during the season. Back at home and playing under AL rules, Mack returned to the lineup for Game 6 and went 2-for-4 with a first-inning RBI single. He went 1-for-4 in the Twins' dramatic Game 7 win.
For the first time in his career Mack was given a chance to be a true everyday player in 1992. Starting 150 games and playing primarily left field, Mack hit .315/.394/.467 with 16 homers and 26 steals to rank among the AL's top 10 in batting average, on-base percentage, and runs. He fell to .276/.335/.412 in 1993 and missed the first month of the 1994 season with shoulder problems, but bounced back to hit .333/.402/.564 to rank among the league leaders in batting average and slugging percentage.
A pending free agent when the players' strike ended the 1994 season early and canceled the World Series, Mack decided to take a guaranteed payday in Japan once the work stoppage dragged on well into the offseason. In January of 1995 he signed what was then "the biggest contract in the history of Japanese baseball," agreeing to a two-year deal with the Yomiuri Giants worth $8.1 million.
In retrospect it's easy to question his decision, but Mack was already 31 years old when he became a free agent for the first time, the strike continued into the 1995 season, and that was incredible money for a non-superstar back then. Only eight AL players made over $5 million in 1994 and the highest-paid player in all of baseball was Bobby Bonilla at $6.3 million.
Mack hit .284/.356/.463 during two seasons in Japan, and then returned to MLB with the Red Sox in 1997. After hitting .313/.368/.438 in 60 games for Boston, Mack signed with Oakland for 1998. Mack played just three games for the A's before being traded to the Royals in April for Mike Macfarlane, and then hit .280/.345/.449 in 66 games with Kansas City in what was his final season.
It's easy for Mack to get lost in the long shadows of stars like Puckett, Aguilera, Kent Hrbek, Jack Morris, Chuck Knoblauch, and the rest of the 1991 championship team, but for five years he was one of the best, most underrated players in baseball. A tremendous athlete who covered tons of ground defensively wherever the Twins put him in the outfield, Mack hit for huge batting averages with great speed and had overlooked power.
Among hitters with at least 500 games in a Twins uniform only three have topped Mack's 130 adjusted OPS+, and he also ranks among the team's all-time leaders in Runs Created Above Average:
TOP 25 ALL-TIME MINNESOTA TWINS RANKS: