Friday, August 18, 2006
The iPod Shuffle (One Year Later)I spent much of this week discussing and planning for my future, which was both exciting and tedious. I'm happy to announce that the contract negotiations I talked briefly about yesterday have ended, with me signing the first official employment contract of my life yesterday morning. If you ignore the salaries involved, my deal is identical to the extension Mike Redmond signed with the Twins last month.
Crazy, I know.
I don't want this to become another tease, because I did enough of that yesterday and won't be able to reveal any meaningful details until next week. However, while going through this experience, it struck me how much my life has changed in a short time. I guess it's only natural to think back on what you were doing a couple years ago when making a multi-year commitment for the first time.
As recently as 18 months ago I was a journalism student at the University of Minnesota. I spent way too much time getting rejected on a regular basis by the Minnesota Daily and way too little time on my actual studies, choosing instead to focus on this blog while taking on as many freelance and part-time writing opportunities as possible.
As recently as 12 months ago I was deciding to quit school. What started as taking time away from studying to write had turned into taking time away from writing to study, so I decided to make a go of this writing thing full time. It was a little scary at first, because I had no clue what the future held and many people I trust told me it was a bad decision.
Now, as another school year is set to begin without me, I can proudly say that it was without question the best decision I've ever made. I'm still met with skeptics whenever the topic of my having left school comes up, whether the conversation takes place here or at a family gathering. That may never change, and some part of me hopes it doesn't.
I'm a 23-year-old full-time writer with a guaranteed multi-year contract that allows me to make more money than I ever expected to make and reach a larger audience than I ever expected to have. And if that sounds like bragging ... well, I suppose it is. I took chance, going with my gut and my heart over conventional wisdom and cliched advice, and chose to pursue a dream rather than a degree.
As Amir Vahedi once said: "In order to live, you must be willing to die."
While thinking about how much my life has changed in the past year, I also wondered if my musical taste has changed too. Those of you who were around back on March 24, 2005 may remember that I put my iPod on shuffle and fearlessly revealed the first 40 songs that popped up. Here's what I wrote at the time:
Keep in mind now that this sort of exercise can really only lead to you guys mocking me for my musical taste (or lack of), so it takes some guts to do it. Music is one of those things where you're bound to say you like a song that someone else thinks is complete crap. And I also fully admit to liking a wide variety of complete crap.As I quickly found out, that was a major understatement. This was all done prior to my opening up a comments section here, so instead of everyone teaming up to mock me in public, I simply received dozens of e-mails full of "snide remarks and pithy comments." I also had a number of great songs recommended to me in those e-mails, which made the whole thing worthwhile.
Since I've never been shy about opening myself up to criticism and mockery here, I figure now's a good time to shuffle up the iPod again. Plus, it's probably only fair after bragging about my contract for a couple hundred words above. Gotta balance the scales, after all. Here then is the August 2006 edition of the iPod shuffle (expanded to 50 songs, just because I feel like it):
1. Al Green, "Tired of Being Alone"
2. Gnarls Barkley, "Crazy"
3. Wheetus, "Teenage Dirtbag"
4. Nas, "One Mic"
5. Jimi Hendrix, "Voodoo Child"
6. Mike Doughty, "Lisa Ling and Lucy Liu"
7. Anthony Hamilton, "Float"
8. Social Distortion, "Reach for the Sky"
9. Stevie Wonder, "Living For the City"
10. Alexi Murdoch, "Orange Sky"
11. Dashboard Confessional, "The Brilliant Dance"
12. John Legend, "Refuge"
13. Susan Tedeschi, "Alone"
14. Rage Against the Machine, "Bulls on Parade"
15. Van Morrison, "Sweet Thing"
16. Chris Whitley, "Big Sky Country"
17. Spencer Davis Group, "Gimme Some Lovin'"
18. Sam Cooke, "A Change is Gonna Come"
19. Stone Temple Pilots, "Plush"
20. D'Angelo, "Devil's Pie"
21. Stereophonics, "Handbags & Gladrags"
22. Smashing Pumpkins, "Bullet With Butterfly Wings"
23. Kanye West, "All Falls Down"
24. Alice Cooper, "I'm Eighteen"
25. Led Zeppelin, "Traveling Riverside Blues"
26. Tupac Shakur, "Thugz Mansion"
27. John Mayer, "Love Song for No One"
28. Nine Inch Nails, "Hurt"
29. Eric Clapton, "Wonderful Tonight"
30. Queens of the Stone Age, "No One Knows"
31. Green Day, "When I Come Around"
32. Smokey Robinson, "Cruisin"
33. Allman Brothers, "Whipping Post"
34. James Brown, "Super Bad"
35. Gorillaz, "Feel Good Inc."
36. Counting Crows, "Rain King"
37. Pearl Jam, "Better Man"
38. Notorious B.I.G., "Hypnotize"
39. Jason Mraz, "You and I Both"
40. Ben Harper, "Steal My Kisses"
41. Strokes, "Last Night"
42. Jonny Lang, "Breakin' Me"
43. Three Doors Down, "Be Like That"
44. Howie Day, "Collide"
45. Geto Boys, "Damn it Feels Good to be a Gangster"
46. Black Crowes, "Jealous Again"
47. Public Enemy, "911 is a Joke"
48. Billy Joel, "Rosalinda's Eyes"
49. Blind Melon, "No Rain"
50. Marvin Gaye, "Mercy Mercy Me"
What do you think? Better or worse than last year's version? As I did last year, I challenge any of my fellow bloggers who are reading this to open yourself up to the same mockery and post your own iPod shuffle. I'll even link to it.
Thursday, August 17, 2006
No, I'm Not DeadBefore I get to the usual assortment of Twins-related notes, I'd like to apologize for the lack of a new entry in this space yesterday. I rarely take a day off and almost never do so without an explanation of some kind first, which is probably why some of you wondered if I had finally been tracked down by Luis Rivas or went driving with Koren Robinson.
I'm still alive, but needed some time off after spending most of the past two days in relatively intense contract negotiations that included fun stuff like conference calls and lawyers. I can't quite spill the beans just yet, but hopefully within the next week I can reveal all the details. For now, suffice it to say that I'm very excited about the opportunity and what the future holds.
With that unique apologetic tease out of the way, here are some Twins notes ...
Santana improved to 5-0 with a 3.50 ERA since the All-Star break, which gives him a remarkable 35-3 record and 2.12 ERA in the second half since 2003. Santana is also 12-0 over his last 19 home starts and 18-1 in August since 2002. And last but not least, Santana improved his historic career winning percentage to .709 (73-30).
"I've been dealing with a blister and a split nail for at least three weeks now," Santana said.It may seem like a minor problem, but blisters can actually have a huge impact on pitchers and have been known to linger for months (and occasionally even seasons) at a time.
Plus, word is that he's been yelling "I got it!" really loud on infield pop ups.
At the time of his first home run of the season Monday, Willie Bloomquist had gone 418 at-bats without a homer. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, that was the fourth-longest current homerless streak among non-pitchers in the majors, behind Jason Tyner (948), Joey Gathright (525) and Luis Ordaz (440).Not only has Jason Tyner now gone 952 at-bats without a homer in the big leagues, he managed a grand total of two homers in 3,063 minor-league at-bats. I don't know for certain, but I'd bet on neither of them actually going over a fence.
UPDATE: According to eyewitnesses, both of Tyner's professional homers did indeed go over a fence. Amazing. Also, Tyner reportedly claims to have never hit an inside-the-park homer in his life and was thrown out at the plate in an attempt to do so at Rochester.
Some confusion between the Twins coaching staff and the trainers had led to a few reports that Francisco Liriano might be playing catch Tuesday. That was not the case, as Liriano will not be able to do any sort of throwing until he undergoes a medical evaluation this weekend to test the strength of his shoulder and see if the pain has diminished.One problem with covering a baseball team is that you're really only as informed as the teams wants (or is able) to make you. It's a shame, because I liked the version about Liriano being scheduled to throw yesterday a whole lot better.
The Giants came to regret trading Single-A pitcher Francisco Liriano ... But the Padres, too, should have regrets, said their former international scouting supervisor, Bill Clark, who recalled that Padres scout Bill Bryk urged the club to work out Liriano after staging a private workout with him in the summer of 2000.The Twins have some similar sob stories, including one about Miguel Cabrera, but it's still nice to read. Hopefully Liriano can bounce back from his current arm problems and make quite a few teams sorry they ever let him go.
Twins manager Ron Gardenhire has changed his diet after missing four games from July 31 through Aug. 3 with an intestinal virus that cost him "16 to 17 pounds."And to think, I've been wasting eight months on diets and elliptical machines.
Tuesday, August 15, 2006
It has never been a common offensive weapon, but there was a time stealing home wasn't such a rarity. Ty Cobb pulled it off 54 times in his career. Jackie Robinson famously, and controversially, did it in Game 1 of the 1955 World Series, maybe or maybe not beating the tag by the Yankees' Yogi Berra. Rod Carew had a field day in 1969, stealing home seven times.A sidebar to the article listing "the most audacious home invasions since 1900" includes this one:
CESAR TOVAR, ROD CAREW, TWINS (May 18, 1969)Sure enough, I headed over to Retrosheet to look at the boxscore for the game in question and found the following play-by-play listed:
TWINS 3RD: Tovar singled; Lolich balked [Tovar to second]; Tovar stole third; Carew walked; Tovar stole home and Carew stole second; Carew stole third; Carew stole home; Killebrew struck out; Oliva popped to third; Cardenas walked; Mitterwald made an out to left; 2 R, 1 H, 0 E, 1 LOB. Tigers 2, Twins 2.Amazingly, all that running was for naught, as Mickey Lolich recovered to pitch a complete game and the Tigers won 8-2.
Jacque Jones and Angel Pagan both failed to hit cutoff men during Thursday's loss in Milwaukee. Do the Cubs have to give their outfielders a refresher course on the fundamentals?It's interesting that Jacque Jones' problems making consistent throws from the outfield and inability to hit left-handers have suddenly become noteworthy issues, because they were rarely mentioned while he was in Minnesota. The Chicago media is far from perfect, but they deserve credit for viewing someone like Jones with a far more critical eye than anyone covering the Twins ever did.
A Cubs fan who read up on Jones' press clippings this offseason was probably shocked to see him bouncing and air-mailing throws all over the place or hitting .186 against southpaws. Meanwhile, he's just doing what he's always done, which also includes hitting .311/.350/.543 against righties. That showing the same flaws in Chicago gets far more attention than in Minnesota is revealing.
Harmon Killebrew 11I'm not sure what to do with this information, exactly, but I find it oddly fascinating.
Francisco Liriano's throwing session Tuesday will consist of light tosses from 60 feet, with a chance he'll back out to 90 feet. Twins pitching coach Rick Anderson said the session will last for just a few minutes as they check to see whether there's any pain in Liriano's elbow.Here's what Twins beat writer Gordon Wittenmyer reported about Liriano's status in Monday's St. Paul Pioneer Press:
Despite a report that injured rookie Francisco Liriano could begin playing catch as soon as Tuesday, the medical staff said that the all-star pitcher is to remain completely shut down from all throwing until his status is re-evaluated next weekend before the team heads on the road.LEN3 reported that Liriano will throw today and quasi-quotes pitching coach Rick Anderson saying that the session with last "just a few minutes." Meanwhile, Wittenmyer reports that the team medical staff said Liriano will not throw today and instead will "remain completely shutdown" until at least the weekend.
Two reports about the exact same story published in competing newspapers on the very same day, yet they contain completely contradictory information. And they say bloggers don't always provide the most reliable information.
Gordon: That's exactly why I think this team has a chance--heart. As in, a heart of the batting order that the Twins haven't had since Kirby Puckett and Kent Hrbek. Justin Morneau alone provides the kind of legitimate power and run production that make this lineup formidable enough to win on nights it doesn't get its best pitching. That's the difference between this team and those three-peat division winners.While doing a "chat session" on the Pioneer Press' website, Williams once famously responded to criticism by telling a reader: "You have no idea what I do. NO IDEA." Upon further reflection, I've come to realize that I do have a pretty good idea of what Williams "does." The difficult part, for me at least, is figuring out how a major newspaper allows him to do it.
Incidentally, I'd comment on Wittenmyer's brilliant "Look, Bill James" catch-phrase, except I can't quite figure out if he was attempting to insult Williams, James, or both. Keep up the great work, guys!
If you take out Parmelee's numbers, the rest of the GCL Twins have hit 15 homers in 1,370 at-bats (one every 91 at-bats) and the entire league has 228 homers in 19,369 at-bats (one every 85 at-bats). Perhaps the Twins won't have to wait another 19 years for the next 30-homer hitter.
Monday, August 14, 2006
Notes From the WeekendLast Wednesday night, Justin Morneau become the first Twins hitter since 1987 to have a 30-homer season, smacking a game-winning blast off Tigers reliever Joel Zumaya. The dramatic win propelled the Twins to the top of the Wild Card standings, a half-game ahead of the White Sox and 1.5 games ahead of the Red Sox.
After being able to look down at only the Royals in the league standings earlier this season, the Twins took two out of three games on the road from arguably baseball's best team to put themselves into the driver's seat for a postseason spot. It was one of the most amazing in-season turnarounds in recent memory, with a pathetic 25-33 start followed by a startling 42-13 run.
Having worked all that time just to dig themselves out of an early-season hole, what did the Twins do once they climbed out? They welcomed the free-falling Blue Jays to the Metrodome for a four-game series and proceeded to lose the first three games by a combined score of 16-1. Brad Radke and Jason Tyner helped avert disaster with a win yesterday afternoon, but the damage had been done.
While the Twins were losing three out of four home games to a team that came into the series 15-20 since June 1, the White Sox pulled off a three-game sweep of the Tigers and the Red Sox bashed their way to a three-game sweep of the Orioles. In the span of four measly days, the Twins went from leading the Wild Card race to looking up at three teams in the standings:
WILD CARD W L WIN% GBHere are some notes from a weekend the Twins will probably look back on in disgust should they fall a game or two short of the playoffs ...
While hitting into double plays hasn't seemed like nearly as big an issue this season, the Twins have been just as bad when it comes to doing so:
YEAR DP/G DP%As difficult as it may be to believe, the Twins have actually hit into about 15 percent more double plays per game this season. However, you can't hit into a double play unless there's at least one runner on base, which is why looking at raw double-play totals is often misleading. An increase in double plays may simply mean an increase in baserunners, which is certainly the case with the Twins this season.
With that said, the Twins have still managed to hit into a double play 16.6 percent of the time in what Baseball Prospectus calls a "double-play opportunity." That's the worst percentage in baseball by a relatively large margin and the Twins also ranked dead last in 2005. Why do the Twins hit into so many double plays? There are two main reasons.
With little in the way of home-run power, the Twins' offense is built upon hitting singles. That's been the case for a while now, but has become especially true this season with Luis Castillo, Nick Punto, Jason Bartlett, Jason Tyner, and Joe Mauer taking prominent roles in the lineup. The Twins rank 28th among MLB teams in homers, but lead baseball in singles.
In fact, the Twins have at least 10 percent more singles than 20 of the other 29 teams. Along with a fair number of walks, that leads to a ton of runners standing on first base. And since that situation is what typically leads to a double play, it puts the Twins at constant risk of hitting into one. Of course, that doesn't explain why they comply so often.
With so many singles-hitting speedsters, you'd expect the Twins to avoid double plays much of the time. While that certainly helps, a more important factor is that the team hits the ball on the ground a huge percentage of the time. Along with leading baseball in singles, the Twins have also led MLB in ground ball-to-fly ball ratio for the past two seasons.
Add it all up and the Twins have built sort of a "perfect storm" for hitting into double plays. They hit tons of singles, draw a decent number of walks, don't often clear those runners off the bases with homers, and put the ball on the ground more than any other team. Throw in some bad baserunning and it's no wonder they're hitting into 1.33 double plays per game.
DP%Mauer's double-play percentage of 18.1 is still poor, but nowhere near the worst on the team. That distinction falls to Jason Kubel at 32.6 percent, and Mauer isn't among the seven Twins hitters who have hit into a double play over 20 percent of the time. The most surprising member of that group is Tyner, whose incredible speed should seemingly keep him from being doubled up that often.
The bottom of the list is filled with fast guys like Castillo, Bartlett, and Punto, along with the fly-ball heavy Morneau. Even more than Tyner having one of the worst double-play percentages on the team, Michael Cuddyer having one of the best is shocking. Cuddyer hit into a double play 25 percent of the time last season, but has cut that number all the way to 8.8 percent this year.
Garza failed to record another strikeout, nine of the next 15 batters reached base, and two of them hit the ball over the fence. Once the dust settled, Garza left with his tail between his legs and the following pitching line:
IP H R ER BB SO HR PITThat's obviously an ugly debut, but there were still several positive things to be taken from the game. For one thing, his fastball was electric and his breaking stuff, while not thrown particularly often or with much consistency, was plenty impressive at times. In other words, Garza looked great on individual pitches, but the collective effort was very uneven and shaky.
He looked incredibly nervous nearly the entire time, so much so that his actual delivery to the plate seemed out of whack. Garza appeared to be telegraphing his off-speed pitches by slowing down his delivery and changing his arm angle, which is surely why he had so much trouble finishing off at-bats once he got ahead in the count.
Garza threw 10 first-pitch strikes and managed to get two-strike counts on eight hitters. Unfortunately, the Blue Jays had little problem making solid contract even after falling behind in the count and Garza was able to get the all-important third strike just one-fourth of the time. Interestingly, he threw just 15 balls out of 62 total pitches, yet walked Eric Hinske on four straight pitches leading off the third inning.
I expected more from Garza, but his debut was probably what should have been expected from a 22-year-old pitcher who was at Single-A a couple months ago. He flashed electric stuff, but showed a lot of nerves, some inconsistent mechanics, and the inability to finish off major-league hitters. Given a chance to settle in and work with pitching coach Rick Anderson, I expect Garza to improve quickly.
I haven't seen enough of post-injury Hunter to say exactly how far he's dropped, but it's clear that he's no longer able to make many of the plays he used to make on a fairly routine basis. Hunter returned from the DL before his latest foot injury had healed and last year's broken ankle has continued to give him problems, so perhaps an offseason of rest will restore some of his lost range.
However, that's not going to help the Twins down the stretch and it's yet another mark against bringing Hunter back for $12 million in 2007. The notion of Hunter as "the face of the Twins" was silly to begin with and surely expired a while back, and those in favor of picking up his 2007 option won't have much else to cling to if he's no longer one of the team's top hitters or an elite defensive center fielder.
After a decade of marveling at Hunter's defense, it's difficult to watch him limp around right now. It's shocking to see him not come up with the catch when he dives for a ball or not get there in time to cut a ball off in the gap, and I can't remember ever seeing him give up on this many deep fly balls in order to play them off the fence.
For the past four days, Brad Radke washed his hair with his left hand and avoided throwing a baseball with his right. "Sometimes I make a sudden movement with my right arm," he said, "and it brings me to my knees."After shutting the Blue Jays out for seven innings to help the Twins avoid a sweep, Radke is now 8-2 with a 2.66 ERA in 15 starts since late May.