Friday, December 22, 2006
AG.com was a little light on content this week, with just two entries prior to this one, but I'm hopeful that you'll excuse my lack of daily content for two reasons. First, several of my favorite bloggers have already taken off for the rest of the year due to the ongoing and upcoming holidays, which hopefully makes my taking Tuesday and Thursday off slightly more forgivable. Beyond that, this week has simply been a weird one for me.
The week started with my being mentioned and quoted (sort of) in a Bill Simmons column over at ESPN.com, under what can best be described as odd circumstances. Then, as if that hadn't already made my month, a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer stopped by the house Monday afternoon to interview me for several hours. Seriously. A couple days later the pitcher whom I've watched start more games than any other retired after a dozen seasons in Minnesota. All of that, and it's not even Christmas yet.
This probably isn't the last AG.com blog entry of 2006, since I'm sure I'll be back blogging at some point next week, but at the very least these links will have to hold you over until Tuesday ...
I'm pretty sure that's exactly what Al Gore had in mind when he invented the internet.
Now, the good news is that hanging out with Hilton typically leads to being pictured drunk and without various articles of clothing (see: Spears, Britney). On the other hand, the bad news is that hanging out with Hilton almost can't help but lead to fewer and fewer people actually wanting to see you pictured drunk and without various articles of clothing (see: Spears, Britney). I think Cuthbert is at the start of a Dale Murphy-like decline and things could get ugly for her in 2007. It was fun while it lasted, though.
LEADERS PCT TRAILERS PCTJoe Nathan leading all closers with 47 percent of his innings ending 1-2-3 probably doesn't surprise anyone who watched him flawlessly slam the door on late leads so many times last season, but it's always interesting to see something you've observed laid out in actual numbers. I'd love to see what Eddie Guardado's 1-2-3 percentage was from his days as Twins closer, because the perception was that he often had to wriggle out of jams to get his saves.
I clicked the link, as I usually do when I see a new commenter, and discovered the blog of someone who appears to be my soulmate. OK, that's a massive overstatement and I don't mean to sound so stalkerish, so instead I'll just say that the blog is written by an attractive-looking college-aged girl who apparently reads (and comments on) this blog, describes herself as an "avid fan of Minnesota Twins baseball," and appears from her writing to have a good sense of humor and a similar taste in music.
I bring this up not because I'm trolling for dates in the comments section of my own blog--although I'm not completely opposed to that, in theory--but because it never ceases to amaze me the wide array of people who read this site. I've met many of you and the majority look like older/younger/fatter/skinnier versions of me. You know, guys. Yet for every thousand of us, there are apparently a few Shelleys too. I knew being brave enough to admit to being a big John Mayer fan would pay dividends at some point.
Much like the contract that originally brought White to Minnesota last offseason, it's a complicated, incentive-laden deal that limits the Twins' risk and potentially gives them a solid hitter at a bargain price. I liked bringing White in last winter and, even after a disappointing season, I approve of the decision to bring him back. That's not something I expected to be saying in July or even September, but given the current market and the way he played down the stretch it seems like a relative no-brainer.
The Twins have essentially committed to paying White $3 million in 2007, which isn't the type of money that buys much in terms of viable corner-outfield bats. Guys like David Dellucci, Jay Payton, and Frank Catalanotto all received multi-year deals and most one-year signees got significantly more than White. Of course, some would question whether White himself is a viable corner-outfield bat after hitting a measly .246/.276/.365 last season, but a look at his overall totals doesn't tell the whole story.
Whether because of shoulder problems or something else, White was a complete mess in the first half. However, he came back from a two-week demotion to Triple-A hitting like the Twins expected him to from the start, batting .321/.354/.538 in 45 second-half games. White hit a combined .289/.341/.476 in the previous three years coming into 2006, so I'm inclined to believe the guy we saw in the second half is closer to what the Twins will get in 2007 than the guy who hit a homerless .182 in the first half.
White prefers to play left field rather than designated hitter, which shouldn't be a problem given Jason Kubel's knee issues. He has one of the few throwing arms that could give Shannon Stewart a run for the "worst in baseball" title, but White has more than enough range for the position and likely grades out as above average overall. Given Kubel's health situation and the Twins' lack of power and outfield depth--Jason Tyner and Lew Ford are the current backups--it's a move that was begging to be made.
One, cut a hole in a box. Two, put your junk in that box. Three, make her open the box.
Before someone inevitably accuses me of giving my blog audience less than a full effort, I want to make it clear that I wrote the Radke piece solely for this site and only agreed to have it run on NBCSports.com when my editor read it here, liked it, and asked if he could use it as well. I'm not one to turn down a byline and Radke deserves the added attention, so I agreed.
The biggest change of the year, however, is that our co-founder and spiritual leader, Aaron Gleeman, is no longer involved with the site. Aaron has parlayed his baseball-writing-from-bed habit into a full-time gig at NBCSports.com, covering football, baseball and who knows, maybe curling too. Aaron had the vision and set the tone for THT early on, and although he didn't contribute many articles the past year he was still editing the site. Alas, Aaron will have to give up any involvement with THT at all, due to the demands on his time from people who actually pay him.Way back in 2003, Matthew Namee (who was then Bill James' assistant) and I were chatting one day when we decided it'd be a good idea to create a website featuring baseball analysis from a lineup of columnists that included the two of us and some of our favorite online writers. Namee eventually left the site, at which point Studeman stepped in as my co-owner, and in the years since I'm proud to say that THT has thrived while developing into far more than I ever could have imagined.
I'm sad to leave the site at a time when it's flourishing--THT's third book was released earlier this month and readership continues to rise--but I'm confident that the leadership that remains in place will keep it headed in the right direction. In a perfect world I'd still be writing for and leading THT, because it was incredibly rewarding and a lot of fun, but the opportunities presented to me at both RotoWorld.com and NBCSports.com were too good for me to pass up at this stage in my life.
I'll continue to support THT in any way that I can and I'll continue to make it my first stop each morning in my never-ending search for good online baseball writing. It's a tremendous site featuring the work of talented writers who're also baseball nuts and great guys, and co-creating it years ago is one of the my biggest accomplishments. My hope is that one day someone will look at the success THT is having and compare my exit to Shelley Long leaving Cheers or David Caruso leaving NYPD Blue.
Wednesday, December 20, 2006
Brad Radke officially announced his retirement yesterday afternoon, calling it quits after a dozen major-league seasons, all of them in Minnesota. Radke peaked as a 24-year-old in 1997, winning 20 games for a horrible Twins team while finishing third in the AL Cy Young balloting behind Roger Clemens and Randy Johnson. He never won more than 15 games in a season after that, but remained one of the most consistent, durable, and underrated pitchers in baseball for the next decade.
I'll have a lot more to say about Radke's place in Twins history once I get to his profile in my ongoing Top 40 Minnesota Twins series, so for now I'll simply say that he was without question among the best and longest-tenured pitchers in team history. Radke wasn't a great pitcher, but was safely in the "very good" category for nearly his entire career and would have won significantly more games if he hadn't gotten his start pitching in one of the least-successful periods in franchise history.
As it is, Radke finishes with a solid career record of 148-139 (.516 winning percentage) in 378 games, all but one of them starts, and logged a total of 2,451 innings with a 4.22 ERA. Among active big-league pitchers, Radke ranks 14th in innings and starts, 16th in wins, and 25th in strikeouts. He also went 2-3 with a 3.60 ERA in six playoff starts, including 2-0 with a 1.54 ERA in a first-round matchup against the A's in 2002, helping the Twins advance to the ALCS in their first postseason appearance since 1991.
Radke's career ends on the sour note of being forced to retire due to a severe shoulder injury that he somehow pitched through for much of last season. It's possible that Radke would have retired anyway, having talked about doing so for years, but the injury forced his hand and in many ways lessened the impact of his announcement. The Twins danced around the subject, saying they'd love to have Radke back, but it was inevitable that he was done from the moment he left the Oakland mound in October.
My final memory of Radke will be of him sitting alone in a visitor's dugout, sullen and teary-eyed, as the Twins' season came to a sudden, disappointing end and the notion of his career being over perhaps truly sunk in for the first time. After battling through a painful season and helping the Twins win their fourth division title in five years despite an awful start, Radke's shoulder let him down in his final game, showing that Hollywood endings aren't always easy to come by.
However, that won't be my lasting memory of Radke. I'll remember his long, lanky frame in an effortless delivery that ended with changeup after changeup easing out of his right hand and freezing hitters who had been planning to tee off on his mediocre fastball. I'll remember the first-inning struggles that so often turned into late-inning success. I'll remember his painting the corners like few others in baseball history have.
I'll remember his odd ticks on the mound, which included blowing on his hands, raising and extending his arm between pitches, and constantly adjusting his uniform at the shoulder. I'll remember a guy who could be penciled in for 200 innings of quality pitching every year for a decade, took less money to stay in Minnesota, and was incredibly well-respected among teammates despite rarely making a public show of leadership.
I'll remember Radke as the bridge between the Kirby Puckett-Kent Hrbek-Tom Kelly Twins and the Johan Santana-Joe Mauer-Justin Morneau-Torii Hunter Twins. After World Series titles in 1987 and 1991, the Twins went through some incredibly lean years in the late 1990s and early 2000s, often with Radke as one of their few standout players. After surviving that, he was the link to and oft-overlooked contributor on a team that has emerged as one of the most successful in Twins history.
In fact, in many ways the Twins' current approach to pitching is based on finding the next Radke. More than any other organization, the Twins acquire and develop pitchers who throw strikes and change speeds without the benefit of an overpowering fastball, a combination for which Radke is the prototype. Radke's 1.63 walks per nine innings is the lowest total among active pitchers, safely ahead of control artists like Jon Lieber (1.71), Greg Maddux (1.84), and David Wells (1.86).
His walk rate ranked among the AL's top half-dozen every season but one from 1995 to 2006, including a league-leading 1.04 walks per nine innings in 2001 and seven other top-three finishes. If ever there was an example of why pitching is more important than throwing hard, Radke is it. His fastball often struggled to creep past 90 miles per hour, but Radke thrived anyway by relentlessly pumping strikes that were seemingly just off the plate and keeping hitters off balance with a world-class changeup.
Drafted in the eighth round four months before the Twins became champions in 1991, Radke was the Opening Day starter in nine of his 12 seasons, giving way to Scott Erickson in 1995, Bob Tewksbury in 1998, and Johan Santana in 2006. He retires with the third-most wins in team history, behind only Jim Kaat and Bert Blyleven, and only Kaat started more games in a Twins uniform. He'll be missed, but with $60 million, a dozen years of memories, and a loving family, Radke will be just fine.
Monday, December 18, 2006
Brush With Greatness
After uncharacteristically being away from the computer for a couple hours Friday afternoon, I signed back online to find several dozen confusing, relatively urgent-looking e-mails waiting for me. It turns out that Bill Simmons mentioned me in one of his columns over at ESPN.com. That's enough to warrant a slew of e-mails by itself, since I'm a huge fan of Simmons and have made my admiration of him very clear here over the years, but there was more behind my e-mailbox being full.
Simmons' piece Friday was a "mailbag" column, where his readers send him random e-mails that he publishes and then responds to. Apparently one of the e-mailers decided to take something that I wrote in one of my RotoWorld columns last week and pass it off as his own thought, leading to this question-and-answer exchange in Simmons' article:
Q: Some day, someone may very well write a riveting book about the mess that is the Oakland Raiders in Art Shell's second stint as head coach. If that day comes--and the sooner the better I say, so someone get David Halberstam on the phone--my suggestion is that the first chapter begins with this quote, which came out of Shell's mouth earlier this week: "We're doing the right things out on the practice field, but then taking it to the game has been a problem for us."Simmons went on to name his top seven "sports books that need to be written," listing "It Worked So Well In Practice: The Art Shell Story" in the No. 3 spot. Those of you who read my "Daily Dose" column Wednesday will recognize that title and the entire Shell passage quoted above, because they were lifted word-for-word from me. Apparently "Jon S." passed it off as his, Simmons published it, and then someone who read Simmons' article noticed the plagiarism and sent him a link to my article.
From start to finish, the whole thing went on while I was away from the computer, which is why the many e-mails I found upon my return were initially so confusing. It's odd having a quasi-incident you're tangentially involved with start and end before you even knew it existed. In a way I feel sort of robbed, because I'm curious about how I would have reacted if, say, I stumbled across the plagiarism before Simmons had been tipped off to it. It's possible I missed out on having a hissy-fit, which is a shame.
The moral of the story--if there is one, which is doubtful--is that Simmons acted very quickly to issue a correction of sorts within his column and even went the extra mile by sending me a personal e-mail to explain the situation. As I told Bill (we're such close friends now that I feel comfortable calling him by his first name), I'm honored to have been mentioned in his columns, regardless of the circumstances that got me there.
Actually, I somehow managed to coax three e-mail responses out of Simmons, which was quite a thrill for me. We talked about Kevin Garnett, Allen Iverson, Marko Jaric, Jim Peterson, The Godfather, last year's Timberwolves-Celtics trade, and the Sports Illustrated article that featured both of us. In fact, I "introduced" myself to Simmons by saying, "I'm the guy writing from bed with the Boston Terrier on his lap in the Sports Illustrated article about you."
I always knew being profiled in the world's most influential sports magazine would come in handy some day. At one point in our e-mail exchange Simmons called what I wrote about Shell "really funny, excellent work," which makes me want to get plagiarized more often. Hell, now that I've managed to exchange e-mails with one of the best and most famous sportswriters in the world, the next step is to work being plagiarized into a date with Keeley Hazell. Let's see "Jon. S" make that happen.
My latest video appearance is on NBCSports.com's "Baseball Fantasy Fix" show, which is scheduled to air each Friday throughout the offseason. The show is hosted by my RotoWorld colleague Gregg Rosenthal and Tiffany Simons, who've hosted the "Football Fantasy Fix" show throughout the NFL season. Since Gregg and Tiffany shoot the show on the East Coast and I'm in Minnesota, the plan is for them to throw it to me for one segment each week.
I'd encourage everyone to watch the first episode and, as always, feel free to offer up (constructive) comments and/or (realistic) suggestions. Also, if you missed my video report last week on Daisuke Matsuzaka signing with the Red Sox, please check that out as well. If nothing else, all this appearing on video stuff has me shaving a lot more regularly, which makes my grandma very happy. And really, if you think about it, that's the goal.