Friday, February 09, 2007
Morneau and Mauer attended the Justin Timberlake concert at Xcel Energy Center. Mauer, impressed that Timberlake plays multiple instruments, gave the performance a thumbs up.Normally I'd say something pithy here, but as one of the world's only admitted (straight) male John Mayer fans, I probably don't have much room to comment. (Unfortunately I'm too much of a loser to attend his concert in St. Paul next week.) Meanwhile, Jason "NO IDEA" Williams of the St. Paul Pioneer Press--who's not to be confused in any way with the Official Twins Beat Writer of AG.com--got Mauer to reveal a few more details about his offseason, including the fact that he's no longer "dating Miss USA."
Mauer then sent shockwaves through the local dating scene when he explained his current status by saying simply: "I'm single. I'm young." Roughly translated, I believe that means something like: "Ladies, please take a number and I'll get to you as soon as possible." Since he's a Justin Timberlake fan, any woman who catches Mauer's eye before Valentine's Day next week can be pretty sure of what she's getting for a present.
UPDATE: Speaking of Williams, here's an interesting (and completely unsubstantiated) note from an anonymous commenter on the state of the Pioneer Press' Twins coverage:
You might not have Jason Williams to kick around much longer. Rumor has it that Gordon Wittenmyer is going to Chicago to cover the Cubs and that Williams might be getting a new job too. St. Paul is already advertising for one of the jobs.For all you journalism school graduates out there, start polishing up those resumes!
Bleszinski also wrote that Stewart "can be a really great leadoff hitter," but that's merely highly questionable at this point, while the premise that he still has the ability to be an asset on defense is downright absurd. Here's the scouting report I gave on Stewart's defense back in May:
Anything hit in the air to left field is an adventure, as Shannon Stewart tracks the ball like he's on skates with his eyes closed. And whether by ground or by air, once Stewart picks a hit up off the grass his rainbow throws to the cutoff man allow runners to consistently take extra bases.And that was written before a foot injury sidelined Stewart for all but nine of the Twins' final 120 games.
Way back in 2004--which might as well have been a different century in blog years--the Star Tribune ran a story on Twins bloggers that included a picture of John Bonnes, Ryan Maus, John Betzler, and Yours Truly. Interestingly, three-fourths of the people in the picture have given up regularly blogging. You'd think that some of the novelty involved in profiling bloggers would have worn off now that newspapers themselves almost all have bloggers, but I doubt it has.
I still expect the local media to do something about bloggers next month, just because that's what happens when spring training rolls around. The Washington Post got an early jump on the competition this week with a nice article on Nationals bloggers, including friend of AG.com Chris Needham. It stands out from cookie-cutter "meet the bloggers" pieces by focusing on how a diverse group of people are brought together through their intense passion for baseball (and writing).
Perhaps I've just been asked about writing from bed too many times, but I'm sick of the "look at the wacky bloggers" angle that's almost always played up in such articles. Instead, I think the interesting angles are the people behind the blogs, the people reading the blogs, and what about the current state of sports fandom makes blogs such a popular medium. There's a fascinating article to be written on the subject, but SI failed miserably and newspapers don't seem interested in anything beyond fluff.
Wednesday, February 07, 2007
Top 40 Minnesota Twins: #21 Gary Gaetti
GARY JOSEPH GAETTI | 3B | 1981-1990 | CAREER STATS
Starting at third base and batting seventh against the Rangers on September 20, 1981, Gaetti blasted a homer off knuckleballer Charlie Hough in his first major-league at-bat. He collected just four hits in his next 25 at-bats to finish his first stint in the majors with a .192 batting average, but emerged from spring training as the Opening Day third baseman on a 1982 team that also had rookie Kent Hrbek at first base (and later included rookies Frank Viola, Tom Brunansky, and Tim Laudner in big roles).
The Metrodome opened on April 6, 1982 and "The Rat" christened it in style, going 4-for-4 with two homers and four RBIs while narrowly missing a third homer off Seattle starter Floyd Bannister when he was thrown out at the plate trying to stretch a triple. He never looked back after that, beginning his rookie season 10-for-17 with six extra-base hits while starting the first 13 games at third base, with former Rookie of the Year John Castino sliding over to second base.
Despite the fast start, Gaetti batted just .230 with sub par plate discipline in 145 total games as a rookie, leading to a ghastly .280 on-base percentage. However, he quickly established himself as an excellent defensive third baseman and his 25 homers immediately became the most ever by a Twins third baseman not named Harmon Killebrew. Gaetti put together a similar sophomore campaign, hitting .245 with a .309 OBP while smacking 21 homers, but fell off a cliff in his third season.
After striking out 100-plus times in each of his first two seasons, Gaetti reportedly focused on making more contact at the plate in 1984. He succeeded, whiffing just 81 times while upping his batting average to .262, but still posted a measly .312 OBP thanks to only 44 walks and saw his power completely disappear. Despite playing all 162 games after hitting 46 homers over the previous two years, Gaetti went deep just five times in 588 at-bats for a pathetic .350 slugging percentage.
At the time it would have been concerning to see a 25-year-old slugger's power vanish, but 1984 simply sticks out like a sore thumb in the context of his now-completed career. In fact, Gaetti's 1985 season was nearly identical to his first two campaigns, as he batted .246 with a .301 OBP and 20 homers. At that point Gaetti was a 26-year-old with four seasons under his belt, three of them similar in their low-OBP, high-power mediocrity and one of them unique in its low-everything putridness.
What happened next is amazing, because seemingly out of nowhere Gaetti put together a three-year run that saw him become one of the best all-around third basemen in baseball. It started in 1986, with Gaetti batting .287/.347/.518 with 34 homers and 108 RBIs while winning his first of four straight Gold Gloves at third base. He followed that up by hitting .257/.303/.485 with 31 homers for a 1987 team that shocked the baseball world by winning the World Series.
Not only did Gaetti's 109 RBIs lead the team during the regular season, he homered in his first two postseason at-bats on the way to hitting .300/.348/.650 against Detroit to the ALCS MVP. He then hit .259/.333/.519 against St. Louis in the World Series, homering in Game 2 and driving in a total of four runs. Gaetti missed significant action in 1988 for the first time in his career, sitting out much of August with a knee injury, but batted .301/.353/.551 with 28 homers in 133 games for his best season.
Unfortunately, like Cinderella's ride turning back into a pumpkin at midnight, Gaetti quickly ceased being an offensive force in 1989 and turned right back into the out-machine he had been prior to 1986. In fact, Gaetti's OBP became worse than ever because his plate discipline mysteriously went from bad to awful while he was trying on glass slippers. He batted just .251/.286/.404 in 1989 and .229/.274/.376 in 1990, before becoming a free agent and signing a four-year deal with the Angels.
The Twins replaced Gaetti with a platoon of veteran Mike Pagliarulo and rookie Scott Leius, who batted a combined .282/.342/.395 in 628 plate appearances while Gaetti hit just .246/.293/.379 in 634 trips to the plate for his new team. Along with the 50-point boost in OBP, the Pagliarulo-Leius duo cost less than a million bucks, compared to Gaetti's $2.7 million, giving the Twins money to go after free agents like Chili Davis and Jack Morris on the way to their second World Series title.
Gaetti was a huge bust for the Angels, who released him in mid-1993 despite a year-plus remaining on his big contract. After latching on with the Royals, Gaetti resurrected his career when it appeared all but over, hitting .267/.323/.491 over parts of three years, including .261/.329/.518 with 35 homers and 96 RBIs in the strike-shortened 1995 season. That earned him a multi-year deal from the Cardinals and Gaetti continued his resurgence by hitting .274/.326/.473 with 23 homers and 80 RBIs in 1996.
He dropped off to .251/.305/.404 in 1997, but then pulled his career out of the dumpster yet again by batting .281/.356/.495 with 19 homers and 70 RBIs in 1998, helping push the Sammy Sosa-led Cubs to the playoffs after being acquired in August. Chicago handed Gaetti a starting job in 1999, but at 40 years old the magic was finally gone. He hit .204/.260/.339 in 113 games, went 0-for-10 in an ugly stint with the Red Sox in 2000, and called it a career after 20 seasons.
In The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract, Bill James suggested that Gaetti is one of the few players in baseball history who avoided the traditional effects of aging, which tend to include a loss of speed, batting average, and range defensively, and an increase in plate discipline. In ranking Gaetti the 34th-best third baseman of all time, James discussed how he bucked that trend completely, making up ground on superior third basemen who "all aged at a normal rate of speed." James also wrote:
Gaetti is odd in two respects ... his walk rate never improved at all, even an inch. [D]espite that, he aged at an exceptionally slow rate of speed. ... There is no reason for a player like Gaetti to last until he is 40 years old, and not much precedent for it.In other words, Gaetti was far from a Hall of Famer, but he's unique in that he never really got worse. Actually, that's not quite accurate. Gaetti did get worse, but always got better again eventually. After two mediocre years to begin his career, he fell of a cliff and then inexplicably pumped out a great three-year stretch. Then he went back to being mediocre, falling into sub par territory while being released by the Angels, and again bounced back with the Cardinals.
Even within his three-year stay in St. Louis there's a good year, followed by an awful year, followed by a good year. His second season with the Cardinals saw a 38-year-old Gaetti struggle to crack a .700 OPS, yet he bounced back with one of the best seasons of his entire career as a 39-year-old in 1998. Taken as a whole, Gaetti's career isn't especially intriguing. He hit for a low batting average and didn't walk much, played good defense while staying very healthy, and hit a bunch of homers.
What makes his career so odd and perhaps even downright fascinating is that there's seemingly no rhyme or reason to how the seasons were arranged. It's as if someone took 20 seasons, mixed them all together, randomly pulled them out one at a time, and arranged the new order into "Gary Gaetti." And if you don't believe me, look no further than the following graph, which shows the incredible year-to-year fluctuation in Gaetti's adjusted OPS+ totals:
Of course, the above graph and James' ranking take into account what Gaetti did in 10 seasons after leaving Minnesota, whereas all that matters here is what he did with the Twins. While the homers and postseason heroics are memorable, his all-around production was mediocre save for 1986-1988. During those seasons he was an elite player, but in the six surrounding years he was a replacement-level hitter, albeit one who rarely missed a game and played fantastic defense at third base.
When everything is taken into account, I suspect Gaetti's place in Twins history is somewhat overrated, although it's tough to say for sure given his unique career. Because of his defense, power, and durability he was a valuable player for a long time, but his inability to avoid making outs in bunches kept him from being a truly great player in more than a fraction of those seasons. On the other hand, he probably deserves some bonus points for that mustache.
TOP 25 ALL-TIME MINNESOTA TWINS RANKS:
Monday, February 05, 2007
Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2007: 5, 4, 3, 2, 1
Previous Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2007: 6-10, 11-15, 16-20, 21-25, 26-30, 31-35, 36-40
5. Anthony Swarzak | Starter | DOB: 9/85 | Throws: Right | Draft: 2004-2Selected in the second round of the 2004 draft out of a Florida high school, Anthony Swarzak debuted in the rookie-level Gulf Coast League and posted a 2.63 ERA with a 42-to-6 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 48 innings. Swarzak spent his first full season between low Single-A Beloit and high Single-A Fort Myers in 2005, combining to post a 3.89 ERA and 156-to-43 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 150.1 innings. A 6-foot-3 right-hander, Swarzak spent all of last season back at Fort Myers and put together a fantastic year.
Swarzak posted a 3.27 ERA and 131-to-60 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 145.2 innings, leading the Florida State League in strikeouts while finishing third in ERA. He was brilliant down the stretch, going 8-2 with a 1.65 ERA in his final 11 starts. Swarzak isn't a ground-ball pitcher, yet served up just eight homers to 613 batters last year and has given up a total of 19 long balls in 344 pro innings. Keeping the ball out of the stands will be crucial as he faces smaller ballparks and bigger hitters in the high minors.
His raw numbers aren't quite as impressive as some other top pitching prospects in the Twins' stacked system, but it's important to note that those hurlers were drafted out of college while Swarzak didn't turn 21 years old until September. He's not particularly close to being major league-ready, but the Twins have plenty of arms that are and Swarzak has tons of potential if he can improve his control while simply staying on course.
4. Kevin Slowey | Starter | DOB: 5/84 | Throws: Right | Draft: 2005-2A second-round pick out of Winthrop University in 2005, Kevin Slowey is the most extreme example of the Twins' penchant for drafting and developing control pitchers. Slowey walked a total of 41 batters in 342 college innings, handing out just 13 free passes while going 14-2 with a 2.18 ERA in his final season. He's continued to pump strikes as a pro, walking 30 batters in 220.2 innings, but what makes Slowey a great prospect is that he's also able to miss bats, racking up 235 strikeouts over that span.
After breezing through the low minors, Slowey began last season by putting up ridiculous numbers at high Single-A Fort Myers. In 89.1 innings spread over 14 starts, Slowey posted a 1.01 ERA and 99-to-9 strikeout-to-walk ratio while holding opponents to a .164 batting average. It'd be difficult for a pitcher to be any better than that, so the Twins smartly bumped him to Double-A at midseason, where he had a 3.19 ERA, 52-to-13 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and .223 opponent's batting average in 59.1 innings.
A lanky right-hander with a smooth delivery and pinpoint control, Slowey has drawn comparisons to Brad Radke. However, Slowey is a unique prospect in that he works almost exclusively with his fastball, so the comparison is ultimately inaccurate until he develops a world-class changeup to go along with it. Slowey should be at least an effective mid-rotation starter, perhaps by midseason, but I'm somewhat skeptical about his becoming much more than that without improved offspeed stuff.
3. Glen Perkins | Starter | DOB: 3/83 | Throws: Left | Draft: 2004-1The first of six straight pitchers the Twins drafted before the end of the third round in 2004, Glen Perkins went 22nd overall and led off a string of picks that also included fellow top-40 prospects Swarzak, Eduardo Morlan, Jay Rainville, Kyle Waldrop, and Matt Fox. A native Minnesotan who went 19-5 with a 2.87 ERA in two seasons at the University of Minnesota, Perkins climbed the organizational ladder very quickly after agreeing to a $1.4 million bonus.
Perkins dominated rookie-ball and two levels of Single-A to the tune of a 1.79 ERA in 115.1 innings, but struggled after making the jump to Double-A in mid-2005. He returned to New Britain last year, posting a 3.91 ERA and 131-to-45 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 117.1 innings before a promotion to Triple-A made him Rochester's ace for the playoffs. Perkins made his big-league debut in late September, tossing 5.2 innings with a 1.59 ERA out of the bullpen to earn a surprise spot on the postseason roster.
Despite success as a reliever last year, manager Ron Gardenhire has made it clear that he views Perkins strictly as a starter. He'll compete for a rotation spot in spring training and begin the year starting at Rochester if he fails to land the job. Whatever the case, Perkins figures to be in the Twins' rotation full time by the second half. He doesn't project as an ace, but as a left-hander with three solid pitches, including a low-90s fastball with good movement, Perkins has No. 2 starter potential.
2. Chris Parmelee | Right Field | DOB: 2/88 | Bats: Left | Draft: 2006-1The Twins used the 20th overall pick in last June's draft on Chris Parmelee, a left-handed high-school slugger from California who Baseball America rated as the second-best "pure hitter" in the class. Parmelee agreed to a $1.5 million bonus and reported to the rookie-level Gulf Coast League, where he hit .279/.369/.532 with eight homers and 19 total extra-base hits in 45 games. Those raw numbers are impressive on their own, but are jaw-droppingly good for the extremely pitcher-friendly GCL.
The GCL as a whole batted a measly .246/.322/.341 with one homer for every 83 at-bats in 2006, while Parmelee managed to go deep eight times in 154 at-bats all by himself. If you adjust the level of offense in the GCL to last year's AL averages (.275/.339/.437), Parmelee's hitting line comes out looking like .315/.390/.685. That doesn't mean a whole lot in the grand scheme of things, but does show the kind of massive power potential he possesses.
The Twins don't have the greatest track record when it comes to developing sluggers, but general manager Terry Ryan and scouting director Mike Radcliff have repeatedly said that they think Parmelee projects as a middle-of-the-order bat who will hit for significant power in the majors. He needs to keep the strikeouts in check and projecting much of anything for a teenager with no experience above rookie-ball is always iffy, but so far at least Parmelee is on the right track to stardom.
1. Matt Garza | Starter | DOB: 11/83 | Throws: Right | Draft: 2005-1After going 7-9 with a 6.41 ERA during his first two years at Fresno State University, Matt Garza posted a 3.07 ERA and 120-to-37 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 108.1 innings during his third season. The Twins grabbed the 6-foot-4 right-hander with the 25th overall pick in the 2005 draft, quickly signed him to a $1.35 million bonus, and watched as Garza posted a 3.57 ERA and 89-to-21 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 75.2 innings split between rookie-level Elizabethton and low Single-A Beloit in his pro debut.
Last year was Garza's first full season and he blitzed through Single-A, Double-A, and Triple-A while going 14-4 with a 1.99 ERA, 154-to-32 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and .179 opponent's batting average in 135.2 innings. He overpowered the competition at all three levels and was promoted to the majors in mid-August after an 11-strikeout effort. Toronto knocked him around for seven runs in his MLB debut, but Garza recovered to post a 4.75 ERA and 36-to-21 strikeout-to-walk ratio in his final 47.1 innings.
Garza's debut was disappointing, but he was a 22-year-old who started the year at Single-A and had already thrown a lot of innings by the time he arrived in Minnesota. He showed signs of simply being fatigued, telegraphing his offspeed pitches and displaying an overall lack of command, and because of that I don't think we've seen the "real" Garza yet. He narrowly retains "prospect" status by checking in right at the 50-inning cutoff for Rookie of the Year eligibility and there are few better pitching prospects.