Friday, June 16, 2006
Twins NotesSome notes I typed up while watching the Twins inexplicably sweep the Red Sox ...
Terry Ryan moved quickly to part ways with Castro once Bartlett was called up, which leads me to believe that Ron Gardenhire was behind Castro starting in the first place. I imagine Gardenhire asked Ryan to send Bartlett down this spring, but once it became painfully obvious that Castro was hurting the team and Bartlett was deserving of another chance, Ryan ended the charade.
That Ryan looked to deal Castro immediately and found a trade partner in former assistant Wayne Krivsky also suggests that perhaps Krivsky was behind signing Castro two years ago. That's just speculation, of course, but while I place all of the blame for signing Tony Batista on Ryan's shoulders it seems obvious that he wasn't entirely responsible for how the shortstop situation played out.
Castro and Batista have flaws that are easy to spot, combining to hit a pathetic .234/.279/.350 while playing 50 games apiece. However, their shoddy work defensively is what really made them useless players. If Castro's defense was anywhere close to as good as his long-expired reputation, he would have been a fine short-term fix at the position. Instead, the Twins had two no-range infielders who turned grounder after grounder into "singles."
If Gardenhire does the right thing and moves Shannon Stewart to designated hitter full time once he returns from the disabled list later this month, the Twins will have gone from being a horrendous defensive team to an average one. Knowing Gardenhire Terry Tiffee will probably get far too much action at third base and Stewart will be right back to clumsily moving in the general direction of fly balls.
Explained that way it may not seem like a particularly noteworthy decision, but given Gardenhire's previous handling of Nathan it is. Nathan was somewhat shaky and needed an awful lot of pitches to record six outs, but he got the job done in what was one of the more difficult save chances you'll see. With Juan Rincon already out of the game and the tying run at the plate with no outs, there may not have been a save to convert had Nathan been held back for the ninth inning.
The slow start can certainly be excused given that Kubel is a rookie who missed all of last season with a severe knee injury, and the power he's showing is a pleasant surprise. Kubel has long been one of baseball's top hitting prospects, but that was based more on big batting averages and gap power than home runs. That he's now hitting .291 and slugging .506 is great to see.
OPS PA YEARIn other words, White has been the least productive designated hitter in baseball history, and it's not even close. Interestingly, the seasons listed above were the swan songs for both Pat Putnam and Lee Stanton, and Glenn Adams was done after 73 more horrible plate appearances the following year. Deron Johnson somehow received 621 plate appearances the next season, but hit .239/.300/.388 and then retired after hitting .132 in 1976.
His style is kind of unique. He has a huge body, but he doesn't hit like other huge guys. He looks like he is a very smart player and very much understands what he has to do. I assume that is also why he is playing catcher.The beat writers in Seattle must love Suzuki, because you can always count on him for a good, non-cliched quote.
Nasty. Everything nasty. What I hear is he throws a nasty slider, a nasty changeup, a nasty fastball, a nasty everything. We just went over there to just try and hit the ball. Even that ball he threw for a walk to Brian Roberts was nasty.I've been trying to think of a nickname for Liriano, since it seems like he needs one. I haven't come up with a good one yet, but I like the sound of "The Nasty Boys" for Liriano and Johan Santana. As in, the Twins are 14-5 (.737) when The Nasty Boys start this year, but just 17-29 (.370) with everyone else on the mound. Sadly, the nickname has already been taken by Rob Dibble, Norm Charlton, and Randy Myers.
Twins President David St. Peter accompanied the club on its recent trip to Seattle and reiterated that team officials want their new ballpark to have nearly identical dimensions to that of the Mariners' Safeco Field, which they consider a "fair" park for players.That's music to my ears, and 2010 can't come soon enough after watching David Ortiz's would-be homer drop for a "single" after smacking into a speaker attached to the Metrodome roof last night. Luckily the game was on ESPN, so a national audience got to see what a joke of a ballpark the Twins play in.
Here's what Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel had to say about the rumor:
You know a trade rumor is absurd when the general managers involved feel compelled to apologize to each other.Well, I'm glad that's settled.
Thursday, June 15, 2006
Twins 8, Red Sox 1
The source of Radke's turnaround is pretty easy to spot. After serving up 10 long balls in his first 26.1 innings, Radke has now given up just five homers in the 54 innings since then. If Radke continues to pitch well and the Twins continue to sit below .500, it'll be interesting to see if any talk about him waiving his no-trade clause pops up around the trading deadline.
Radke has talked about calling it quits and I'd certainly like to see him retire having played his entire career in Minnesota. On the other hand, the chance to finish with a contender might be appealing and cashing Radke in for prospects would help the Twins. After seeing Radke last night and previously pursuing him as a free agent, the Red Sox would probably be among several teams interested.
He's still not walking much and remains very inconsistent against left-handed pitching, but the power has been extremely impressive. Perhaps just as importantly, Morneau is showing the all-around hitting skills that allowed him to post big batting averages in the minors after looking like an all-or-nothing slugger far too often with the Twins.
New hitting coach Joe Vavra appears to have convinced the previously pull-happy Morneau to use the whole field without sacrificing his power, which is something the Twins have struggled to instill in their hitters for about two decades. Last night's grand slam gives Morneau 15 homers and 51 RBIs, putting him on pace for a 35-homer, 130-RBI season.
For many teams that type of production wouldn't be particularly out of the ordinary, but the Twins haven't had someone with 30 homers since 1987 and their last 120-RBI campaign came when Kirby Puckett knocked in 121 runs way back in 1988. In fact, over the past 10 years the Twins had just four 100-RBI seasons. Morneau is already halfway there with 98 games to play.
At some point I expect those four hitters to line up back-to-back-to-back-to-back in the Twins' batting order, either at 2-3-4-5 or 3-4-5-6. Cuddyer is the oldest of the bunch at 27, meaning the core of a quality lineup is in place for years to come. If Jason Bartlett can establish himself at shortstop, that would give the team five 27-and-under starters to build around and lessen the need for Terry Ryan to go after more mediocre veterans.
Torii Hunter continued his infuriating trend of letting a struggling pitcher off the hook. Matt Clement walked Mauer, Cuddyer, and Morneau to load the bases with one out in the third inning, but Hunter hacked at the first pitch he saw and bounced into a rally-killing double play. While the Twins' young hitters thrive, Hunter is down to .257/.335/.414 and has hit into a team-high nine double plays.
He's only had a total of 102 plate appearances, but so far at least it looks like Punto has successfully changed his hitting style for the better. After striking out in 20 percent of his trips to the plate last year Punto has whiffed just 11 percent of the time this season. In the process he's hit .304/.396/.380 with an 11-to-14 strikeout-to-walk ratio while doing a better impression of Luis Castillo than Castillo himself.
Ortiz looked highly amused when it was over and the Twins dugout exploded, basically giving the kid a standing ovation. FSN, which has a policy of not showing people who disrupt play, showed a replay afterward much to the delight of announcers Dick Bremer and Bert Blyleven. The batboy probably earned himself a ridiculous amount in tips and rightfully seemed pretty proud of himself afterward.
Meanwhile, White looks finished. He's had maybe one good stretch all season and has been reduced to playing once a week at this point. Plus, even if the Twins felt the need to keep White they can only use him for another 200 plate appearances until his option for 2007 kicks in. Cut bait now, let White try to latch on with another team, and get on with trying to figure out who'll be in next year's lineup.
Upon seeing Dennys Reyes, presumably for the first time: "This Reyes guy is kind of pudgy."
Upon hearing that Lohse was warming up in the bullpen to relieve Reyes: "Lohse? Yuck."
Wednesday, June 14, 2006
Bartlett Up, Batista OutThe final image I'll have of Tony Batista in a Twins uniform is him excitedly teaming up with Michael Cuddyer to dump a bucket of Gatorade on Jason Kubel following Kubel's walk-off grand slam against the Red Sox. In fact, it sounds likely (and somewhat sad) that Batista was told of the Twins' plan to designate him for assignment just moments later, making him perhaps the last person to know.
After going 1-for-4 with a single last night in the 185th game of his Triple-A career, the Twins finally decided that it's time to give Jason Bartlett another chance in the big leagues. Bartlett is expected to join the team in time for tonight's game against the Red Sox and Batista is being let go to make room on the roster.
The natural reaction is to praise the Twins for calling Bartlett up and cutting bait on Batista, because both moves are good ones. However, this isn't a team simply making two good decisions. This is a team making two good decisions that are only possible because of worse decisions that came first. This is a team attempting to fix mistakes.
Bartlett should have been up a long time ago and Batista never should have been signed in the first place, and that it took falling completely out of the playoff picture in mid-June for the Twins to realize that is pathetic. While making both moves now is certainly better late than never, another cliche is just as true: It's too little, too late.
The Twins wasted $1 million and bypassed numerous other third-base options to secure Batista's services this winter, and then watched as he hit .236/.303/.388 with horrible defense in 50 games. The day after Batista signed I called the move "an unqualified disaster" and despite hearing a seemingly endless stream of rose-colored arguments to the contrary all offseason that's exactly what it turned out to be.
I can't even begin to imagine how many words were wasted by people defending the Batista signing in the comments section here and at any number of other locations, but in some twisted way it pleases me that things turned out the way they did. Now perhaps a few more people can begin to see that when something looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it's a duck even if Terry Ryan tells you otherwise.
Unfortunately, Ryan's misguided pursuit of Batista leaves no viable alternatives. Platooning Terry Tiffee and Luis Rodriguez will almost certainly be an improvement over Batista, but won't stop the Twins from having one of the least-productive third-base situations in baseball. And come November the team will once again be looking for a starter at the position.
As for Bartlett ... well, this is where the Twins should have been with him last June. Instead of showing some patience with him last season and potentially having him established as the starting shortstop heading into this year, now the team will try to work him into the mix in preparation for 2007. And why? So he could hit .300 for a third straight season at Rochester while Juan Castro dragged the team down for a second year.
Within the Twins' online community the arguments about Bartlett have been almost as plentiful and heated as the arguments about Batista. As is the case in such situations, both sides have taken on an exaggerated view of the other side's stance. In particular, the pro-Bartlett faction has been met with cries that Bartlett won't turn the Twins' season around and may not be a huge upgrade over Castro.
Both of those things are true, of course. The Twins are far beyond needing whatever help a rookie shortstop can provide and there's a good chance that Bartlett will not become anything more than a moderately useful player. However, given the Twins' dearth of other options over the past two seasons it's mind-boggling to me that they've been so unwilling to at least find out.
Now, instead of finding out what they had in Bartlett last season, they've delayed things by a year for no good reason. Bartlett went to Triple-A and did what he always does, knocking around International League pitching. Castro stayed at shortstop and did what he always does, being one of the league's worst players. And in the process the Twins fell completely out of contention.
Here are Bartlett's career numbers at Rochester:
G AVG OBP SLG HR XBH BB SOWhatever you think of Bartlett, there's just no way a relatively young player who performs that well at Triple-A should have been left there for nearly 200 games spread over three years. Whether it's making him the starting shortstop, using him as a utility man or even trading him, anything would have been better than letting Bartlett rack up 800 plate appearances in Rochester, New York.
Last night's moves are a definite step in the right direction, but as I said last month this is all ultimately as meaningless as shuffling deck chairs on the Titanic until the Twins address the organizational issues that have led to these mistakes in the first place. The ability to stop sticking with and acquiring sub par veterans at the expense of jerking young players around is what can save the Twins, and that's not something Bartlett can help them with.
Now, let's see if Ron Gardenhire actually plays him.
Lost in the Bartlett-Batista news is that last night's Johan Santana-Curt Schilling matchup lived up to the hype, with both aces turning in dominant performances. In fact, Santana was as good as I've ever seen him, beginning the game with five straight strikeouts and ending up with the following pitching line:
IP H R ER BB SO HR PITAs fun as it was to watch Santana, it was equally frustrating to see the Twins run themselves out of an inning and then bunt themselves out of an inning. The go-ahead run was thrown out at third base in both instances--with the second time being the game-winning run--and only a Cuddyer homer off Schilling saved Santana from picking up a 1-0 loss.
I should probably write something about how it's a shame that Santana ended up with a no-decision after pitching so well and how having too many games like last night's may rob him of yet another Cy Young Award. To be honest though, the Twins' lack of run support for Santana over the past two years has made me sick of saying that.
It's sad that something completely beyond Santana's control may end up keeping him from what will probably be three straight deserved Cy Youngs, and down the road it'll be even worse if that ends up keeping him out of the Hall of Fame. Last year Santana's run support ranked 59th among 80 MLB starters who qualified for the ERA title, and this year it ranks 76th.
Incidentally, Dennys Reyes was last night's "winner" despite throwing exactly four pitches and getting a grand total of one out. As Joe Morgan would tell you, some pitchers just know how to win.
Oh, and since returning from Triple-A and being put into the lineup for good on May 29, Kubel is hitting .353 (18-for-51) with three homers and 11 RBIs.
Tuesday, June 13, 2006
Two MillionAt some point today, perhaps even while you're reading this, AaronGleeman.com will pass the two-million mark for total visitors. To check which visitor you are, take a peek to your left and note the black-and-white number posted above the words "Visitors Since 8/1/2002" at the top of the sidebar. And if you're magic No. 2,000,000 ... sorry, I don't have a prize.
Back in the old days I used to obsess over the site's visitor totals and constantly discuss them here, but somewhere along the line it stopped being so important. In fact, my focus on how many people read this blog has been inversely related to the actual number. For some reason it seemed far more crucial to know whether 15 or 20 people read this site on a Monday in 2002 as opposed to whether 3,000 or 4,000 people stopped by here yesterday (if you're curious, it was 3,895).
It took 30 months to reach 1,000,000 visitors, but just 17 months to go from 1,000,000 to 2,000,000. And if the current pace continues, AG.com will crack 3,000,000 visitors sometime next July. Because talking about this sort of stuff apparently either bores or infuriates many people I'll stop now, but I just wanted to thank everyone who stops by here every day.
Whether you're a glutton for punishment who argues in the comments section, one of the angry souls who send me nasty e-mails, someone who complains about my links to pictures of girls, or simply a reader who stops by on occasion without saying a word, your continued support and readership means a great deal to me. While I had absolutely no idea at the time, starting up this blog four years ago was one of the best decisions I've ever made.
Today's entry is brief and decidedly non-baseball in part due to the visitor milestone, but also because the Twins' off day leaves me without a game to discuss and I spent last night working on a freelance article about Johan Santana. Feel free to make up for my lack of words with some quality chatter in the comments section, and if you haven't already please check out yesterday's entry The Joe Mauer Show.
Monday, June 12, 2006
The Joe Mauer ShowCan Joe Mauer hit .400?
That's suddenly a very popular question among Twins fans. Actually, if you've watched Mauer over the past month you might think .400 is selling him short. You see, when Mauer woke up in Milwaukee on the morning of May 19, he was hitting .307. He went 3-for-5 against the Brewers that night, beginning the following incredible stretch (H = hits; BB = walks; OB = times on base):
DATE H BB OB DATE H BB OB
Mauer reached base safely in all but one of those 20 games and got on base at least twice in all but three of them. He reached base at least three times in nine of the 20 games, got on base at least four times in six games, and even had a four-hit, one-walk game on May 20. Mauer went 1-for-4 yesterday, and in doing so snapped a streak of five straight games of getting on base at least four times.
On June 6 he had four hits. On June 7 he had two hits and two walks. On June 8 he had three hits and a walk. On June 9 he had three hits and a walk. On June 10 he had two hits and two walks. At first glance that appears to be a fairly impressive accomplishment, but it's a lot more than that. In fact, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported that Mauer was the first player in the history of baseball to reach base at least four times in five straight games.
By going 2-for-3 with two walks against the Orioles Saturday, Mauer reportedly broke a four-way tie with Barry Bonds (2001), Babe Ruth (1930), and Milt Stock (1925). Further research shows that Mauer likely only tied the MLB record and the presence of Stock made that somewhat odd company anyway--it's like bragging that the only three women you've dated are Jessica Alba, Elisha Cuthbert, and Star Jones--but it's still an amazing feat.
Mauer is hitting .386/.448/.538 on the year, including .391 against righties and .375 against lefties. So, can he hit .400? While the technical answer is yes, the real answer is no. Batting .386 on June 12 is spectacular in any other context except in regard to batting .400 for an entire season. In that context it just means that as good as Mauer was for the first six weeks and as extraordinary as he's been over the past three weeks, he's still not even there. And that's with 100 games left to play.
It would be fun to watch him chase a .400 batting average deep into the season, but even that seems unlikely. Why? Because catchers just don't do that. In the entire history of baseball only two catchers have won a batting title and no catcher has ever hit above .370 while coming to the plate at least 500 times in a season. In fact, only two catchers in the sport's history--Mike Piazza in 1997 and Mickey Cochrane in 1930--have managed to hit above .350.
However, even with a .400 batting average being a relative pipe dream, Mauer has a chance to put together one of the great catching seasons of all time. Here's where his current pace ranks among the all-time single-season catching leaders in batting average and on-base percentage:
YEAR AVG YEAR OBP
Despite the old-time catchers holding a potential advantage in the comparison, Mauer is still blowing away the rest of the competition in batting average and sits slightly behind two of Cochrane's seasons for the top spot in on-base percentage. And while Mauer's home-run power is limited at this stage in his career, his .538 slugging percentage ranks tied with Carlton Fisk's 1972 season for 30th all time among catchers.
In addition to all of that (plus great sideburns and a girlfriend who looks like this), Mauer's pace of 211 hits would break Joe Torre's record of 203 from 1970 and his pace of 45 doubles would rank second only to Ivan Rodriguez's record 47 two-baggers in 1996. Add it all up and here's where Mauer's current pace ranks among the all-time single-season catching leaders in OPS and Runs Created:
YEAR OPS YEAR RC
If not for the Twins' horrible record and the voters' tendency to discount great seasons from players on losing teams, Mauer would be one of the early favorites for AL MVP. In fact, if you're more interested in who has actually been the most valuable player rather than who the voters will end up giving the award to, Mauer is probably your guy. Here's where he ranks among AL players in Value Over Replacement Player and Runs Created Above Average:
Neither stat takes defensive contributions into account, which is why both lists are dominated by first basemen, designated hitters, and corner outfielders. Once a rough estimate of defensive value is thrown in--advanced defensive metrics are iffy enough without trying to use them midseason--guys like Travis Hafner, Jim Thome, Jason Giambi, and Manny Ramirez would slide down the rankings.
That leaves fellow up-the-middle defenders Grady Sizemore, Miguel Tejada, and Vernon Wells as Mauer's primary early-season competition. And sure enough Wins Above Replacement Player, which attempts to combine both offense and defense, has Mauer's 4.2 WARP leading the league just ahead of Sizemore (4.1), Hafner (3.8), and Tejada (3.6).
Let's recap, shall we? Mauer just completed one of the greatest weeks of all time, is hitting over .500 during his last 20 games and .386 overall, is on pace to turn in one of the top handful of seasons by a catcher in baseball history while becoming the first catcher in over 60 years to win a batting title, and has arguably been the most valuable player in the league thus far. Oh, and here's the kicker: Mauer turned 23 years old in April.