Thursday, November 23, 2006
Since the fact that most of you seem to read this site from work means that no one actually stops here on holidays and weekends (relatively speaking, of course) and I could use a little time off, I'm skipping out until Monday. I'll have at least one legitimately big announcement to make early next week, so until then feel free to hang out and speculate in the comments section, eat a lot of turkey, and read my latest column over at NBCSports.com.
Oh, and since it's Thanksgiving and all ... thanks again.
Wednesday, November 22, 2006
MVP! MVP! MVP?
Yesterday afternoon I got an instant message from someone whose job allows them to know such things before everyone else, telling me that Justin Morneau was about to be named the American League MVP in a couple hours. I was certainly very surprised, but after getting over that initial shock and later seeing the official announcement that he'd indeed won the award, my reaction was more or less: "Oh well, that's nice at least."
As I've written here any number of times in any number of ways over the past couple months, I don't think Morneau was even the most valuable player on the Twins in 2006, let alone anything close to the most valuable player in the entire AL. In fact, I think he was the third-most valuable player on the team and, at best, the 10th-most valuable player in the league. I would have voted for Derek Jeter and if given a choice, I personally would have liked Joe Mauer or Johan Santana to win the award.
With that said, I'm certainly not upset that Morneau won. If the voters were going to give the award to someone who clearly wasn't the actual MVP, I'm happy that the pick at least comes from my favorite team. Plus, I came to the conclusion several years ago--somewhere between Miguel Tejada stealing the AL MVP from Alex Rodriguez in 2002 and Bartolo Colon robbing Santana of the AL Cy Young in 2005--that it was pointless to get worked up over the opinions of 28 newspaper beat reporters.
Santana became just the eighth pitcher of all time to win the MLB "triple crown" by leading both leagues in wins, ERA, and strikeouts, yet was totally absent on seven ballots. Similarly, five of the 28 people deemed worthy of determining who receives the league's most important award didn't think the only catcher in baseball history to lead MLB in batting average was among the AL's top 10 players, leaving Mauer completely off their ballot.
The single most ridiculous of those five Mauer-less ballots without question comes from Joe Cowley, who covers the White Sox for the Chicago Sun-Times. Cowley somehow couldn't find a place for the MLB batting champion on his ballot, but did see fit to include a different catcher: Chicago's own A.J. Pierzynski (whom Cowley no doubt relied upon for juicy quotes throughout the season). For those of you wondering, here's how the two catchers compare:
G PA AVG OBP SLG OPS RUN RBIMauer beat Pierzynski by 52 points in batting average, 96 points in on-base percentage, and 71 points in slugging percentage, all while coming to the plate 65 more times. Mauer also caught the league's second-best pitching staff and threw out 38 percent of would-be basestealers, while Pierzynski caught a staff that surrendered 111 more runs and threw out just 22 percent of basestealers. Faced with that overwhelming evidence, Cowley gave Pierzynski a 10th-place vote and left Mauer off his ballot.
John Hickey of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer also left Mauer off his ballot, yet found room for Mariners left fielder Raul Ibanez, whose OPS was 67 points lower than Mauer's without even accounting for the massive difference in their defensive value. Joe Roderick, who covers the A's for the Contra Costa Times, left Mauer off his ballot while giving a second-place vote to Oakland's Frank Thomas and a 10th-place vote to Tejada, who won his aforementioned 2002 AL MVP with the A's.
Even Jason Williams, who covered Mauer all season for the St. Paul Pioneer Press, narrowly found room for him on his ballot with a 10th-place vote. Among the nine players Williams deemed more valuable than Mauer were four designated hitters. That's right, one of two Twins beat writers given a vote for AL MVP felt that four guys who didn't even play defense were more valuable than a Gold Glove-caliber catcher who batted .347. For better or worse, these are the people who made Morneau MVP.
It couldn't be any clearer to me that Morneau is far from deserving of the AL MVP, but it's just as clear that a large percentage of the baseball-watching population--including the actual decision-makers in this case--don't see things the same way. That used to upset and frustrate me a great deal--to the point that today's entry once would have focused on laying out the case against Morneau--but these days it just means I don't pay a whole lot of attention to season-ending awards.
I wholeheartedly congratulate Morneau on a tremendous season that Twins fans will remember for a long time, but offer significantly less congratulations for being deemed the most valuable player in the league by 28 people who're paid to report on AL teams for local newspapers. After looking at some of the odd, biased, and downright illogical choices on their ballots, I tend not to trust or even value their reality. In my reality, Morneau took a relatively clear backseat to both Mauer and Santana in 2006.
If that makes me a bad Twins fan and a horrible person, so be it. Of course, I'll still take it.
Tuesday, November 21, 2006
Countdown to Complain
The American League MVP gets handed out this afternoon. I expect Derek Jeter to win with relative ease, Justin Morneau to finish significantly higher than he should, and Joe Mauer and Johan Santana to get about one-tenth of the votes they deserve. In fact, I'm guessing the best pitcher in baseball and the only catcher in baseball history to lead both leagues in batting average will finish no higher than sixth in the balloting, if that. I hope I'm wrong, of course, but I doubt it.
After all, a bunch of writers determined that Carlos Beltran was the fourth-most valuable player in the National League, which might be intriguing if it weren't so predictably silly. As discussed here last week, Mauer and Santana each have strong cases for being the league's best player. In Mauer's case, his season was nearly identical to Jeter's offensively and they each play an up-the-middle defensive position, yet somehow Mauer is ignored while Jeter will be at or near the top of every ballot.
Hell, my NBCSports.com colleague, Mike Chiappetta, examined the AL MVP candidates and named Jeter as his preferred choice, all without so much as even mentioning Mauer's name. Chiappetta is a smart guy with a relatively open mind who's actually discussed the MVP candidates with me on several occasions, so if he can't see the lack of logic in completely ignoring Mauer while handing the award to Jeter, I have zero hope for a bunch of newspaper beat reporters being able to.
While we wait to see just how little respect Mauer and Santana receive from the voters today, check out my latest work over at NBCSports.com (they should be posting another of my columns later today, at which point I'll add a link to it here):
UPDATE: A source tells me Morneau won the award, narrowly beating Jeter. Should be official relatively shortly.
UPDATE #2: Confirmed. Not that I'm necessarily complaining, obviously, but I think the AL MVP was just given to the third-best player on his own team. As expected, the two most valuable players on the Twins finished a distant sixth and seventh in the voting, receiving one measly first-place vote between them.
Monday, November 20, 2006
Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2007: 40, 39, 38, 37, 36
40. Matt Fox | Starter | DOB: 12/82 | Throws: Right | Draft: 2004-1After losing Eddie Guardado to free agency, the Twins received the 35th overall pick in the 2004 draft as compensation and used it to select Matt Fox, who went 14-2 with a 1.85 ERA in his final season at the University of Central Florida. Fox signed quickly for $950,000 and made his pro debut at Elizabethton of the rookie-level Appalachian League, where he struck out 32 batters in 26.2 innings but served up six homers on the way to a 5.40 ERA.
Expected to move up to Single-A, Fox instead missed all of the 2005 season after undergoing labrum and rotator-cuff surgery. Those injuries can be death to a young pitcher's career, far more so than even Tommy John surgery, but Fox bounced back by returning to Elizabethton in the second half of last season. Pitching almost exclusively as a reliever, Fox posted a 3.79 ERA and 46-to-13 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 40.1 innings while holding opponents to a .216 batting average and coughing up a lone homer.
Fox turns 24 years old next month despite never having thrown an inning above rookie-ball and health issues will always be there, but his showing last season is enough to put him back on the prospect map. It's unclear whether the Twins plan to keep him in the bullpen or were simply letting him work his way back slowly with some relief work. He profiles as a middle-of-the-rotation starter thanks to what are considered solid off-speed pitches, but may also fit as a late-inning setup man if needed.
39. Loek Van Mil | Starter | DOB: 9/85 | Throws: Right | Sign: NetherlandsLoek Van Mil has appeared in just 10 professional games while throwing a total of 43.2 unspectacular innings, but he's one of the better known Twins prospects thanks to being profiled by Minneapolis Star Tribune columnist Patrick Reusse back in March. A 7-foot-1 right-hander named "Ludovicus" who was signed out of the Netherlands, Van Mil sounds like a character from a bad baseball movie. However, his spot in these rankings is not based on a cool-sounding name or an intriguing story: He can pitch.
Van Mil's pro debut was a mixed bag, as he posted a 3.30 ERA in the rookie-level Gulf Coast League and served up just three homers in 43.2 innings, but allowed opponents to hit .290 against him and struck out just 24 batters. While those numbers would be decent from most 21-year-old pitchers in their first minor-league season, they're downright encouraging given Van Mil's unique circumstances and significant potential for improvement.
Van Mil remains a major project who has a long way to go before he can become the tallest pitcher in big-league history, but he throws in the low 90s, has reasonable control even at an extremely early stage in his development, and finished last season with 13 straight scoreless innings. This time last year he was far more curiosity than prospect, but after a season holding his own in the GCL he's legitimately someone to watch in 2007.
38. Steven Tolleson | Second Base | DOB: 11/83 | Bats: Right | Draft: 2005-5The son of former major leaguer Wayne Tolleson, Steven Tolleson played three seasons at the University of South Carolina and was taken by the Twins in the fifth round of the 2005 draft. He signed quickly and batted .321/.457/.571 at rookie-ball, but then hit just .176 after moving up to low Single-A to end his debut season. Tolleson went back to Beloit to begin 2006, batted .287/.390/.392 in 42 games there, and was given a mid-year promotion to high Single-A.
He continued to hold his own at Fort Myers, batting .268/.353/.408 to give him a combined hitting line of .277/.369/.396 in his first full season in the minors. Tolleson doesn't have much power, homering just 11 times in 494 pro at-bats, but combines good strike-zone judgment and decent contact skills with excellent plate discipline. In 145 career minor-league games, Tolleson has an 85-to-77 strikeout-to-walk ratio and a .368 on-base percentage.
A middle infielder in college, Tolleson has moved around the diamond as a pro, seeing significant action at second base, shortstop, and third base last season. His defensively versatility and modest offensive capabilities mean he profiles more as a utility man than an everyday player at this point, although that's a somewhat meaningless label in a minor-league system that has rarely been deep in talented young infielders.
37. J.D. Durbin | Starter | DOB: 2/82 | Throws: Right | Draft: 2000-2Taken in the second round of the 2000 draft, J.D. Durbin emerged as one of the Twins' top prospects after going 13-4 with a 3.19 ERA at low Single-A in 2002 and following it up by going 15-5 with a 3.12 ERA between high Single-A and Double-A in 2003. Unfortunately, injuries and mediocre pitching have sent Durbin tumbling down the prospect rankings ever since. Despite not yet turning 25 years old, the man who famously refers to himself as the "Real Deal" is now facing a major crossroad in his career.
Durbin missed the second half of last season with a nerve problem in his right biceps and is out of minor-league options, meaning he'll have to either make the Twins out of spring training or clear waivers before being sent back to the minors in order to remain in the organization. When combined with back-to-back shaky seasons at Triple-A, Durbin was certainly far from a no-brainer to include in these rankings. After all, there's a decent chance he may not even be Twins property in a few months.
With that said, he's still young and still has the type of stuff that suggests he can succeed in the big leagues. Durbin's control let him down at Triple-A, with 117 walks in 228 career innings at Rochester, but he also managed 209 strikeouts and a 3.58 ERA while serving up just 15 homers over that same span. Given a chance to pitch one inning at a time, Durbin could still emerge as a late-inning reliever, following the same rotation-to-bullpen path Joe Nathan, Juan Rincon, and Matt Guerrier once took.
36. Garrett Guzman | Left Field | DOB: 2/83 | Bats: Left | Draft: 2001-10Taken in the 10th round of the 2001 draft out of a Nevada high school, Garrett Guzman hit well in rookie-ball before batting .282/.343/.399 at low Single-A in 2003 and .269/.321/.385 at high Single-A in 2004. Poised to get his first crack at Double-A in 2005, Guzman instead broke his neck in a spring car accident and missed the entire season. Facing a year of lost development as a result of a potentially career-ending injury, Guzman bounced back with a solid season between high Single-A and Double-A.
Guzman's raw numbers weren't overly impressive in 2006, but they get a lot better once you adjust for both the Florida State League and Eastern League being extremely pitcher-friendly. Placed in a neutral hitting environment--defined for these purposes as matching the overall level of offense in the major leagues--Guzman's numbers work out to .297/.332/.477 at high Single-A and .300/.349/.513 at Double-A. While not what future superstars are made of, those are solid hitting lines for a 23-year-old.
He has lots of room to improve when it comes to plate discipline, walking just 33 times in 129 games last season, but also makes excellent contact at the plate. He's struck out in 12 percent of his career at-bats, including just 58 whiffs in 481 at-bats last year, which is a style that matches up well with his line-drive stroke. He'll be limited to left field, first base or designated hitter defensively, which means his bat will have to carry him, but I like Guzman's chances of developing into a productive big leaguer.