Friday, January 05, 2007
There was no yelling, no anger. Gardenhire had just one question for the slumping first baseman: "How good do you want to be?"Perhaps I missed the details somewhere, but that's the first I've heard about the focus of Gardenhire's talk being Morneau's off-field habits and I find it interesting that it took a non-Minnesota reporter to reveal that. Olney also reveals that Morneau has been living with "a Minnesota girl" named Krista Martin during the offseason, which is intriguing if only because it contradicts the stuff about living with Joe Mauer supposedly helping Morneau realize his potential.
Forty-four percent of Minnesota adults have a two-year or four-year degree; the national average is 37 percent.Being in the majority is always good, right?
One of the best decisions KFAN ever made (besides giving friend of AG.com Doogie Wolfson more airtime) was breaking up the Chad Hartman-Barreiro duo and giving Barreiro his own show. Of course, I say that as someone who probably listened to KFAN for a total of 30 minutes in 2006, although that has more to do with the presence of Sirius satellite radio and my not having to actually drive to work. All of which is why I'm happy to have finally discovered Barreiro's blog.
My group of sports-obsessed friends spent much of our time playing driveway basketball or preparing for fantasy drafts, but Darren was always a little more obsessed than most (which is probably what they'd say about me too). When my mom was yelling at him for eating too much of our food, it never occurred to me that he'd be on TV some day, reading NBA scores off a teleprompter while wearing a suit, but it doesn't surprise me one bit that he's found a way to turn his passion for sports into a career.
Sometimes she'll show me the article and excitedly say, "This guy is working at a newspaper and only makes $24,000 a year!" Other times she'll show me the article and sadly offer up, "This girl is only two years out of college and she's already a manager at a big company." If you've ever wondered about why I am the way I am ... well, there's a little glimpse into one of the reasons. Anyway, I bring this up today because my mom showed me the latest "How I Got That Job" and I actually recognized the person.
The newspaper often profiles people who are recent college graduates, so it wouldn't be particularly noteworthy if I recognized someone from my days back at the University of Minnesota, but I actually recognized Ross Pfund from the comments section of this blog. Well, that's not quite true. I recognize him because he introduced himself to me at a Batgirl-sponsored get-together last season, but that introduction came because he's a frequent reader and commenter here.
Say what you will about the level of discourse that goes on in the comments section here, but at least I know that one of you has a good job.
Actually, even something seemingly innocuous like "Michael Andballguy" would be pretty good, which is what happens when you have such an unusual last name. If asked--and they'll surely be seeking my opinion on the matter--I would vote for "Andy Andballguy" or "Guy Andballguy," if only because "Boof Andballguy" sounds sort of dirty.
Cut loose by Tampa Bay, Rivas has had to settle for another minor-league deal this offseason, this time with a team that has no real need for a second baseman (and definitely has no need for a bad second baseman). In other words, it's possible he could go from being a five-year starter with a winning team to not playing in the majors ever again. The open market really is a beautiful thing. If you're wondering, Rivas got 2,056 plate appearances and about $4 million from the Twins.
On the other hand, I think not nearly enough people remember how horrible the Gophers' football program was before Mason arrived. Prior to Mason, the last time the Gophers won as many as seven games in a season was way back in 1977, when they went 7-5 and lost to Maryland in a mid-December bowl game. From 1978 to 1996, the Gophers finished .500-or-better exactly six times, and they were 16-39 in the five seasons directly before Mason was hired.
The Gophers went 64-46 in a decade under Mason, won seven-plus games in half of his 10 seasons, and finished .500-or-better in six of them. Many of those wins came courtesy of Mason's ridiculously easy non-conference scheduling and the Gophers went just 32-48 in the Big Ten, so the turnaround isn't nearly as impressive as it appears. Still, Mason took a horrendous program that had experienced decades of losing and at least made it respectable.
Finishing 7-5 or 6-7 and losing unimportant bowl games may seem really bad to fans now, but those same people would have been thrilled with that result under Jim Wacker, John Gutekunst or Joe Salem. It's certainly debatable whether that's worth keeping Mason around for in the face of some ugly losses and little progress, but I suspect it's going to be a lot more difficult to sustain his modest success than most fans seem to think.
The Gophers won 38 games in Mason's final five seasons, including three bowl games, and went 18-22 in the Big Ten. Even before knowing who they end up replacing him with--it's not a pretty list of candidates, so far--I'd probably bet against the team topping those totals over the next five years. The grass is always greener, but the lawn was a complete mess before Mason showed up.
Thursday, January 04, 2007
ZiPS Projects the Twins: Hitters
The recent moves to bring in Jeff Cirillo and re-sign Rondell White give the Twins a full compliment of position players for 2007, meaning they're probably finished acquiring hitters barring an unexpected trade. This offseason has been amazingly uneventful, even for the Twins' standards, which leaves the lineup looking an awful lot like the one that ranked eighth in the league with 801 runs last year. Here's how Baseball Think Factory's ZiPS projection system pegs the Twins' hitters for 2007:
C Joe Mauer .313 AVG .398 OBP .465 SLGLike most projection systems, ZiPS is based largely on a player's performance track record and age--with adjustments for ballparks and various other things thrown into the mix--so it paints the numbers above with some pretty wide strokes. For instance, ZiPS sees that White hit a pathetic .246/.276/.365 last season, not that he was a complete disaster with a .182 first-half batting average before emerging as one of the team's best hitters with a .321/.354/.538 second half.
ZiPS also sees Nick Punto's relative breakout in 2006 as a fluke of sorts, because it doesn't match up with the rest of his track record. In reality, Punto made some major changes to his approach at the plate last spring, which seemingly led to his improved numbers. White's second-half surge and Punto's adjustments are the type of things to take into account when looking over any projections, but for the most part ZiPS gives a good baseline for what to expect from the offense in 2007.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, Jason Kubel's solid projection becomes even more impressive when you consider that his track record includes missing all of 2005 and hitting just .241/.279/.386 last year. That Kubel projects to do so well after essentially two lost seasons shows how strong his minor-league resume was prior to the devastating knee injury. Some Twins fans have been quick to give up on Kubel, but I remain convinced that he'll be the team's third-best hitter for the rest of the decade.
While the core group remains the same from last season, there are a few important changes. Punto and Jason Bartlett will have their jobs on Opening Day, which means the Twins won't have to suffer through 50 games of Tony Batista and Juan Castro before fixing their mistakes. Even if Punto's numbers decline--and I'm skeptical that he can repeat last year's performance, for several reasons--the left side of the infield almost can't help but be better than it was for the first third of last season.
Similarly, White was the worst hitter in baseball during the first half of last season, but the odds are against him being completely useless for three months again. He may not repeat his second-half numbers for an entire season, but I'd put an awful lot of money on White topping his ZiPS projection. In other words, Bartlett, Punto, and White are the same names from last year, but there's plenty of reason to believe they'll collectively have a much bigger impact this time around.
Kubel is also technically a name from last season, but he still represents the Twins' best chance to "add" someone new this year. Kubel hit well for a brief stretch last season, but for the most part problems with both knees made him a painful-to-watch shell of the player he can be. There's no guarantee that his knees will be healthy for 2007, but the possibility exists and a healthy Kubel would provide a major boost to the Twins' lineup.
Unfortunately, the uncertainty surrounding Kubel's health shines a light on one of the Twins' biggest weaknesses. Depth is normally one of the team's strong suits and last year showed once again why you need plenty of backup options, yet the Twins have almost zero position-player depth beyond Cirillo. I feel confident in Cirillo's ability to step into the lineup for Punto or Luis Castillo (with Punto sliding over to second base) and he could even serve as a passable designated hitter if White or Kubel are out.
However, what happens if multiple injuries strike? What happens if Kubel's knees and Castillo's legs start acting up again? What happens if Punto comes crashing back down to earth and White's shoulder problems become an issue once more? The way things stand now, multiple injuries under just about any scenario would mean significant playing time for guys like Jason Tyner, Lew Ford, Alejandro Machado, Luis Rodriguez or Alexi Casilla.
That group is filled with capable defensive players and some decent on-base skills, and I like Casilla plenty over the long haul, but you'd be hard-pressed to find a fivesome of hitters with less power and there isn't a player in the bunch who I'd want to see playing every day in 2007. The second tier of cavalry involves guys like Ken Harvey and Josh Rabe, which is the same result in a slightly different package. Both guys have their uses, but you don't want either of them playing regularly.
There's plenty to be optimistic about within those ZiPS projections, particularly if you think White and Punto have good chances to out-perform their respective numbers. Even if they don't and those ZiPS projections are right on the money for each and every player, the Twins will essentially be average or better at seven of nine positions, with the league's top-hitting catcher and a stud at first base. That's the recipe for a solid offense.
With that said, a couple injuries or rough performances would seemingly cause the entire house of cards to come crashing down. Barring some last-minute additions, the Twins have less position-player depth on the bench and at Triple-A than they've had in at least five years. That'd be a concern for any team, but it's especially troubling for a group that includes guys like Kubel, White, Castillo, Punto, and Torii Hunter, all of whom carry various question marks into 2007.
If Kubel, White, Punto and the rest of the Twins' lineup stays healthy and productive enough for Cirillo to take on most of the backup duties, the offense has a chance to be improved over last season even if Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau show themselves to be slightly more mortal. If injuries strike as many hitters as they did last season--when Shannon Stewart, White, Kubel, Hunter, and Castillo all went down--things could get ugly in a hurry.
With about six weeks remaining until pitchers and catchers report for spring training, it seems clear that the Twins could really use a solid fourth outfielder who can hit. Ford circa 2004 would be perfect for that role, but Ford circa 2005 and 2006 was not, and last year's fun with Batista, Phil Nevin, and Ruben Sierra suggests that Terry Ryan may not have perfected his time machine yet. Of course, yesterday's signing of Sidney Ponson could signal that Ryan has done enough tinkering to try time travel again.
Wednesday, January 03, 2007
State of the Gleeman Address
Old man take a look at my life
- Neil Young, Old ManToday is my 24th birthday and this is my first blog entry of 2007, so now seems like as good a time as any for a State of the Union-type address. I realize many of you are bored by the inner workings of this blog and my life in general, but it's my birthday and the subject obviously fascinates me, so humor me. In other words, I allowed 2006 to come and go with little attention Friday--in part because I couldn't think of an appropriate way to celebrate it blog-style--but reconsidered that stance over the weekend.
I described 2006 as "the best year of my life," which in retrospect certainly seems to warrant more than one paragraph at the bottom of a Link-O-Rama entry. To see why 2006 was such a good year for me, just look back at what I wrote a year ago at this time while recapping 2005. I'll save you the details, since this recap of 2006 is tedious enough, but mainly I talked about how I "finished up with college" and "received several great writing opportunities that allow me to actually do this stuff for a living."
That's a description of what happened to me in 2005--my age-22 season, if you prefer--and in many ways it was a description of my rookie year as a professional writer. That made 2006 my sophomore, age-23 season and I'll admit to having quite a bit of fear about a sophomore slump. After all, the decision to drop out of school is a big one and not something many people agree with. Despite that, and much like Ryan Howard, my second year went much better than I ever could have imagined.
The decision to leave school was a scary one, but something I felt good about from the moment I made it. Because of the writing opportunities that were coming my way while still in school, I felt that putting college aside to pursue a writing career full time was the best move to make. That decision carried an awful lot of risk, both financially and personally, because there's not much to fall back on as a college drop-out and the vast majority of the world thinks you're nuts.
In fact, my aunt is perhaps the only person in my life who deemed quitting school a sound decision, which is ironic given her degrees from Cornell and position as Distinguished Professor of English and Comparative Literature at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She saw that, for whatever reason, college wasn't for me. She also convinced my mom that leaving school wasn't a downright awful move, which qualified as approval given the assortment of bewilderment I got from everyone else in my life.
In other words, I had a lot riding on these last 12 months. The year began with me starting a weight-loss plan and being featured in Sports Illustrated, and shortly after that I took a full-time position as Senior Baseball Editor at RotoWorld.com. As Opening Day approached, I was featured on the nightly news by the local ABC affiliate and profiled on Rosen's Sports Sunday. Later, as the Twins made their playoff push, I joined the staff at NBCSports.com by signing a multi-year contract.
Along the way I lost 90 pounds, started my on-air career, covered the Winter Meetings from Orlando, interviewed Ron Gardenhire, got mentioned in a Bill Simmons column, and watched as over 900,000 visitors stopped by AG.com to check out whatever I had left to say after pumping out content elsewhere. I also got business cards and a Blackberry, learned how to use an expense account, and took business trips to New York, Connecticut, and Florida (with one to Texas coming up in a couple weeks).
The year was also filled with sadness when my six-year-old Boston Terrier, Samantha, died from a brain tumor in May. Watching her deteriorate physically was by far the most difficult emotional experience I've ever gone through and it still makes me sad when I think back to what a wonderful, sweet dog she was. It can't compare to losing Sammi, but giving up my involvement in The Hardball Times--which I co-created back in 2004--was an unfortunate result of my contract with NBCSports.com.
Despite some sadness and less-than-ideal choices that I had to make, it was really one hell of a year and was made even better by the fact that I had no clue what to expect from life as 2006 began. The entry you're reading now is about how well things went in 2006 and how excited I am about what's ahead in 2007, but it could just as easily have been about what a mistake I made dropping out of school and how dim my prospects look heading into 2007.
I grew up a lot in 2006, joining the working world, taking advantage of all kinds of amazing experiences, and making some important decisions. I also learned that one of the best things a person can do in life is trust themselves and be willing to take some chances. I was thisclose to remaining in school, grinding out a degree while being miserable, and passing up tons of great opportunities. Instead, I took a risk, pursued my dreams above all else, and watched as things played out perfectly.
As I've said many times in the past, none of this would have been possible without this blog and the people who read it. This is where my journey started, this is where I smoothed out many of the rough edges in my writing, and this is where I made my name. Throughout all the wonderful things that happened to me in 2006, one of the most rewarding is that the readership here was at an all-time high despite my writing and time being stretched thin between various other places.
It took 30 months for AG.com to reach 1,000,000 visitors and another 17 months to go from one million to two million served, but 925,000 people visited this blog in 2006 alone. That's astonishing to me on a number of levels, not the least of which is that I remember the days when the readership was in single digits and most of those were family members. The traffic here passed the point of shocking me several digits ago and whenever I think you'll start getting sick of me, it seems to rise even further.
It would be expecting an awful lot for 2007 to be as good for me as 2006 was, but there are enough exciting opportunities on the horizon to make me think it's possible. Whatever happens over the next 12 months, I want to thank you all for the support you've given me over these last 12 months. From my family and friends to those of you who only know me through my writing, I want you to know that I truly appreciate the role you played in making 2006 such a wonderful year for me.