Friday, August 03, 2007
If not for the tragic bridge collapse producing all kinds of horrific photos, that would easily qualify as the most depressing picture of the week.
Johan Santana: 6/1Ramon Ortiz is strangely absent from Daulerio's calculations, but he's obviously no worse than 2-to-1.
Only 13 percent get over 100,000 visitors per month, while AG.com is typically right around the 100,000 mark. Nearly one-fourth of bloggers responded that "it hasn't" when asked "how has blogging changed your life?" Obviously that's not the case with me. Over 80 percent said that their employers aren't aware of their blog, which is also obviously not the case with me. I recently purchased my first home, but only 30 percent are homeowners. And lastly, 56 percent are college graduates, while I'm a lowly dropout.
Anyway, the whole study is worth reading.
My favorite AG.com-producing search this week was for the phrase "Marney Gellner big ass," for which AG.com is inexplicably the No. 9 result on Yahoo. Seriously, click that link and see for yourself. Aside from the boring stuff like "Twins blog" or "Aaron Gleeman," perhaps the most plentiful search-engine query in the history of AG.com is "Jennifer Aniston's butt," which is a topic (the search, not her butt) that long-time readers of this site will surely recognize.
To this day AG.com remains the No. 5 result for "Jennifer Aniston's butt" on Google, which might be the accomplishment that I'm most proud of. Anyway, Gellner is the sideline reporter for Twins games and I happen to find her attractive. However, I can't imagine that her following has grown to Erin Andrews levels, which is why I'm amused by the fact that someone, somewhere, used a computer to search for "Marney Gellner big ass" and arrived here, only to be tremendously disappointed on every level.
Once you're done here, check out my latest "Daily Dose" column over at Rotoworld.
Thursday, August 02, 2007
I'm never quite sure what to say at times like this, because all I really do here is write about baseball and every once in a while there's a sad reminder of how little that can matter. This time hits home a little harder than usual because it involved people heading to the Metrodome to watch the Twins and it all took place just a few blocks from where I lived for about two years. My thoughts are with everyone involved, as well as their friends and family.
Once you're done here, check out my latest "Daily Dose" column over at Rotoworld.
Wednesday, August 01, 2007
Today marks the fifth anniversary of this blog, which I started way back on August 1, 2002. The subject of my very first entry was the high pitch counts being racked up by A.J. Burnett. I wrote that I was "worried about his future" and added that "the way he's being treated makes me think he's in line for some arm troubles." As the subject of my debut blog entry, it's interesting that a look at Burnett's career since then shows just how much can change in five years.
Burnett did end up with "arm troubles" soon after that, missing nearly all of the 2003 season following Tommy John elbow surgery. He bounced back strong enough to put together a 200-inning season in 2005, which earned him a five-year, $55 million contract from the Blue Jays the following winter. More arm troubles limited Burnett to just 21 starts in his first season in Toronto and after making just 15 starts this season he's been shut down again, this time with a shoulder injury.
In the time I've been writing this blog, Burnett has blown out his elbow, returned to continue his career, signed a massive long-term contract with a new team in a new league, and is now injured again after a second team let him pile up a heavy workload. Oh, and he's also 30 years old, whereas the basis of my debut entry was that "there's just no way that a 25-year-old pitcher in his second full season in the majors should be allowed to consistently throw that many pitches, start after start after start."
That initial entry about Burnett was written for an audience that literally didn't exist and it's entirely possible that it was read by zero people within the 24 hours after it was posted, which is another example of how much things can change in five years. Back then, I was an aspiring writer who had just finished his first year of college. I hadn't even been accepted into journalism school yet and had experienced just one of what would eventually become multiple rejections from the Minnesota Daily.
And now? Well, I dropped out of school to become a full-time writer, recently purchased my first home, and can force the thousands of people who come to this blog every day to read about a five-year-old entry that no one saw at the time. And if all that doesn't convince you of how much things can change in five years, consider that my second ever blog entry was about David Ortiz winning AL Player of the Month honors after hitting .380/.462/.772 with eight homers ... for the Twins.
Not only were things a whole lot different five years ago, plenty has changed since five days ago too. When I left for St. Louis to attend the 37th annual SABR convention last week, the Twins were losers of five straight games, Jason Tyner was homerless in 1,216 career at-bats for what was by far the longest active homerless streak in baseball, Luis Castillo was hobbling around the Metrodome, and Kevin Garnett was preparing for another miserable season with the Timberwolves.
As you probably gathered from the overall theme of the pictures that I posted here yesterday, I tend to lose touch with current events during my yearly trek to the SABR convention. Checking my BlackBerry between drinks was basically my only source of news for 96 hours. In fact, I learned of Tyner's home run via an excited phone call that I received while in a bar Saturday afternoon, relaying the message to a group of equally stunned SABR members.
Thanks in part to Tyner's first career homer, the Twins went into Cleveland and took two out of three games from the Indians, which seemed almost impossible when I last saw them getting swept by the Blue Jays. As if all that weren't more than enough for me to miss while in St. Louis, the surprising news kept rolling in after I arrived back in Minnesota on Sunday night following a miserable nine-hour stint in the St. Louis airport thanks to Northwest Airlines canceling my morning flight.
My body spent Monday ridding itself of various intoxicants while trying to catch up on sleep. Once I woke up, I began working on a picture-filled write-up of the convention, which is a yearly tradition. As I did, news broke that the Twins had traded Castillo to the Mets for a pair of minor leaguers. A third-place team trading a pending free agent is certainly never beyond the realm of possibility, but prior to leaving I hadn't heard or seen a whole lot of talk suggesting that Castillo was likely to be dealt.
If anything, I returned to Minnesota assuming that the Twins were in "buy" mode following the series win in Cleveland. In fact, part of the reason why I decided not to put the convention recap on hold in order to discuss the Castillo trade here yesterday is that Terry Ryan seemed likely to have several follow-up moves planned before the trading deadline. After all, whether they were buyers or sellers, why would the Twins stop at simply trading Castillo?
As I tried to make sense of the Twins' plans while finishing my write-up of the convention, the news broke that the Timberwolves were on the verge of trading Garnett to the Celtics. Things weren't quite official as I posted my convention recap in the wee hours Monday night, so I decided that, much like with the Castillo trade, breaking down the Garnett deal could probably wait another day. Except now it's "another day" and ... well, I'm still not sure what to think.
Not only does Tyner still have his homer, the Twins followed up their series win against the Indians with back-to-back victories over the Royals, and Ryan's moves did stop at simply trading Castillo. Beyond that, I watched Garnett hold up a Celtics jersey while being introduced to the Boston media yesterday afternoon. When it's mid-February and I'm desperately searching for something mildly interesting to write about, I'll remember the time when I left for 96 hours and all hell broke loose.
Ryan's decision-making leading up to the trading deadline is a subject that figures to work its way into plenty of conversations down the stretch, so I'll hold off on a full-fledged analysis of the Castillo deal (and various non-deals) for now and instead focus on the Garnett trade. With the Timberwolves falling apart in recent years, it became popular to criticize Garnett for the things that he didn't do, while placing much of the blame for the team's struggles on his shoulders.
That's unfortunate, because he's perhaps the greatest athlete in the history of Minnesota sports and would have left with a significantly different legacy had Kevin McHale and the Timberwolves been able to surround him with championship-caliber talent for more than a handful of his dozen seasons. In fact, had McHale and company not failed so miserably at their jobs, Garnett wouldn't have left, period. Not for one moment was Garnett anything close to the Timberwolves' problem.
Because of that, it was incredibly sad to see him holding up that Celtics jersey alongside Paul Pierce and Ray Allen yesterday. Garnett deserved better during his time in Minnesota and after watching his emotional press conference, I'm convinced that leaving was simply the last resort for a frustrated, beaten down man. As a Garnett fan who tired of McHale's team-wrecking tactics long ago, on some level I'm happy to see him in what has a chance to be a very good situation in Boston.
It's almost impossible for a team to make a "good" trade while dealing away an inner-circle Hall of Famer in the prime of his career, and anything less than building a perennial contender around Garnett qualifies as a massive failure on the organization's part. With that said, given the fact that they failed miserably in building around him and then waited until their bargaining power disappeared before dealing him, the Timberwolves did relatively well to get the package they received in return.
The centerpiece of the deal is clearly Al Jefferson, who at 22 years old is one of the NBA's best young players. While he'll never completely fill Garnett's gigantic shoes, Jefferson can immediately step into his spot in the lineup while taking over as the team's best player. A borderline All-Star while averaging 16 points and 11 rebounds last season, Jefferson has a chance to develop into one of the league's premiere big men and gives the Timberwolves a new star to build around.
Jefferson is now the biggest piece in the Timberwolves' long-term puzzle, but the key to the trade may end up being Gerald Green. Along with Danny Granger, Green is a player I wanted the Timberwolves to draft with their first-round pick back in 2005 (they took Rashad McCants instead). At just 21 years old he's extremely raw and has a long way to go before becoming an impact player, but Green has a chance to become a big-time scorer to compliment Jefferson's inside presence.
I have high hopes for both Jefferson and Green, which is why I think that McHale did reasonably well to build the package for Garnett around them. However, I'm far less enthused with the rest of the return. Like Jefferson and Green, Sebastian Telfair is a former high-school draftee, but he's regressed as a player while wearing out his welcome in both Portland and Boston thanks to lackluster play on the court and problems off it.
Stephon Marbury's cousin and a "star" since junior high, Telfair is a lightning-quick point guard with outstanding ball-handling skills who hasn't shown that he can shoot or pass well enough to be an NBA-caliber starter. Of course, for all the disappointment associated with his career, Telfair turned 22 years old in June. In other words, there's still plenty of upside there and, like the 22-year-old Jefferson and 21-year-old Green, he's someone the Timberwolves could potentially build around for a long time.
The fourth young player included in the trade is 24-year-old Ryan Gomes, who has far less long-term potential than Jefferson, Green, and Telfair. A second-round pick in 2005, Gomes is an undersized power forward in the Craig Smith mold who, like Smith with the Timberwolves, emerged as a solid role player for the Celtics while averaging a dozen points and six rebounds per game last season. He gives the team some much-needed frontcourt depth.
Much is being made of the two first-round draft picks that the Timberwolves received along with Jefferson, Green, Telfair, Gomes, and Theo Ratliff, but the picks aren't as valuable as they initially appear. One pick is the Celtics' first rounder in 2009, but with Garnett in the fold they don't figure to be in the lottery again anytime soon. The other pick is one of the Timberwolves' future first rounders that was originally sent to the Celtics in the misguided Wally Szczerbiak-for-Ricky Davis trade.
Unlike the Celtics, there's a very good chance that the Timberwolves will be back in the lottery. However, they couldn't have lost the pick to the Celtics until two years after they traded a future first-round pick to the Clippers (which hasn't happened yet) and the selection was "protected" anyway, which means that it likely wasn't going to be a top-five pick regardless of how horrible the team finished. In other words, not all "first-round picks" are created equal.
All of which isn't to say that the pair of first-round picks won't help the rebuilding effort, because they definitely will regardless of whether they're mid-rounders or lottery picks. Ratliff is the fifth and final player the Celtics sent along for Garnett, and his $11 million contract coming off the books following this season will also help by clearing significant cap space. Add it all up and here's the young core that the post-Garnett Timberwolves are now building around:
BIGS: Al Jefferson (23), Craig Smith (23), Ryan Gomes (24)Aside from Jefferson there's no sure-thing star in that group, but there's plenty of depth and long-term upside if the coaching staff can develop guys like Green, Telfair, Corey Brewer, and Randy Foye. Plus, I suppose it's possible that McHale could add another building block or two by dealing away some combination of Davis, Mark Blount, Juwon Howard, Trenton Hassell, and Marko Jaric, although I wouldn't count on it.
I'm sad to see Garnett go and may never get over the fact that his prime was wasted by McHale, but for the first time in a long time there's some reason to be optimistic about the team's long-term outlook. The good news is that the Timberwolves suddenly have one of the NBA's better young cores. The bad news is that they're still several years and at least one major piece away from being contenders, and McHale is still the person in change of getting them there.
Good luck in Boston, KG.
Once you're done here, check out my latest "Daily Dose" column over at Rotoworld.
Tuesday, July 31, 2007
2007 SABR Convention Recap
As I boarded a Wednesday morning flight to St. Louis for the 37th annual Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) convention last week, the man seated next to me asked, "Are you going to SABR?" I later learned that he was traveling to his first convention (it was my fourth straight), but he was right to assume that a gray polo shirt, khaki cargo shorts, and a Twins hat might as well be the uniform for SABR convention goers.
In fact, after arriving at the St. Louis airport I waited around for Vinay Kumar's flight from San Diego to land and soon learned that he was sporting the exact same look, right down to the color of his shirt, except his was a Padres hat. As a wise man once said, we looked like brothers from a different mother. Within seconds of arriving at the Adam's Mark hotel, we spotted Joe Dimino, who along with Kumar is one of my oldest "online friends."
We'd all been friends for several years already when I finally met them in person back in 2004 while attending my first SABR convention in Cincinnati. For many people the annual SABR convention is about stuff like research presentations and committee meetings, but for me it's always been about simply hanging out with the many friends I've made over the years through this blog, The Hardball Times, Baseball Think Factory, and various Diamond-Mind leagues.
For instance, Kumar lives in California and Dimino lives in Illinois, so the annual SABR convention is our only chance to see each other in person. However, between near-daily conversations online and spending 96 straight hours together in a random city every 12 months, I'd probably consider them two of my closest friends. Hell, I ran The Hardball Times together with Dave Studenmund for several years, yet didn't meet my business partner until last Thursday in St. Louis.
Of course, the SABR convention isn't solely about hanging out with friends. Sitting through interesting, well-done research presentations in between all the hanging out can be fun too. Despite being a White Sox fan who has the same name as a famous mobster, Jack Bauer look-a-like Anthony Giacalone is one of my favorite people and always does a fantastic job presenting. He did double duty this year by turning in a pair of outstanding, energetic presentations about Cardinals history.
Frequent AG.com commenter Chris Jaffe shared enlightening research on the now-extinct practice of leveraging starting pitchers, keeping the Saturday afternoon audience on their toes by shouting out "aha!" whenever he got to an especially interesting point. Perhaps my favorite two presentations of the weekend came back-to-back later that afternoon, when Mark Armour and Adrian Burgos took two different yet equally intriguing looks at integration and diversity in baseball.
BTF regular Jon Daly (who also shares a name with someone famous), opened my eyes to the great career of former Cardinals manager Billy Southworth and broke from his mild-mannered persona to have the best mid-presentation line of the convention. About halfway through a scheduled 30-minute talk, Daly looked toward the person timing him and asked, "Am I running out of time?" The clock wasn't even close to running out, but that didn't stop Daly from saying:
I gave this presentation at our local chapter meeting last month and had a bandage on my chin. I told them that while I was shaving, I had been thinking about my presentation and cut my face. Some guy in the back stood up and said, "Why don't you think about your face and cut your presentation."I suppose that's probably one of those "you had to be there" moments, but you'll just have to trust me that coming from Daly in the middle of a presentation at a SABR convention, it was damn funny. Keynote speaker Joe Garagiola provided a lot more than one joke during Saturday's awards luncheon, regaling the audience with funny anecdotes from his playing days (which I later learned were almost all pulled directly from his new book, Just Play Ball).
I was lucky enough to sit at a star-studded table for the luncheon, with Baseball-Reference.com creator Sean Forman, ESPN.com's Gary Gillette, Baseball Info Solutions president Steve Moyer, Maple Street Press president Jim Walsh, and Basketball-Reference.com's Justin Kubatko joining me. While the average baseball fan may not know him by name, Forman at a SABR convention is not totally unlike William Shatner at a Star Trek convention.
Forman and Kubatko had a booth in the vendor's room, where they spent the weekend showing off B-R.com to what was a shocking number of people who had never used the indispensable site before. It was amusing to see people gawk at the screen when they saw the ridiculous amount of information that's available there. I've used B-R.com on a near-daily basis for about five years, so watching people see it for the first time was like watching someone's reaction to their first drink of water.
Walsh has employed me several times in the past, so it was great to speak to him at length and in person. His company, Maple Street Press, puts out well-done, upscale publications and has recently begun to expand their offerings far beyond the Red Sox and Notre Dame football annuals that I once worked on. The chicken wasn't great, but between Garagiola's speech, the company, and THT's Jeff Sackmann winning an award, it was a great way to spend an afternoon.
Another highlight was Friday's panel featuring ex-Cardinals Al Hrabosky, Ricky Horton, Ted Savage, and George Altman. One of the Cardinals' television announcers, Hrabosky is a known personality, but Horton, Savage, and Altman were also very entertaining. They told stories from their playing days, some of which sounded suspiciously apocryphal. Normally that type of thing just comes with the territory when former players get together, but the audience at a SABR convention is a little different.
For instance, both Altman and Savage claimed to have had tons of success against Sandy Koufax, and the words were barely out of their mouths when cell phones all around me began to punch up B-R.com in search of evidence. In reality, they hit .190/.190/.357 and .240/.240/.400 against Koufax, which probably isn't what they meant. Similarly, I won't blame Savage for using poetic license in saying that he "killed lefties" during a career that saw him hit .244/.340/.401 against them.
Of course, as always most of the real highlights came away from the convention. One of my favorite moments came at Mike Shannon's restaurant at around 10:30 Wednesday night, when I bet Dimino that he couldn't consume a 24-ounce steak after eating and drinking all day. If he ate the whole thing, we'd pay for it. If he didn't, he'd be on the hook for $45. Dimino weighs about 150 pounds soaking wet, but got through the steak with little problem and even had some calamari off Kumar's plate.
Unfortunately for him, the night didn't end there. After eating, Dimino joined me, Kumar, Giacalone, Mike McCullough, and Ben Jacobs for a mile-long walk to a hole-in-the-wall bar where an unusually large number of tattooed people danced to loud hip-hop music and drank one-dollar cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon beer. Despite the odd scene, once there Dimino proceeded to slump up against the wall for a nap while continuously rubbing his distended belly.
Perhaps most amazingly, the fact that one member of his party was in a food coma a few feet away didn't stop McCullough (better known as "DeJesus Freak") from spending about an hour chatting up one of the cutest women in the bar while wearing a vintage Chicago Federals hat. If you really think about that sentence, it's pretty spectacular. At some point we woke Dimino up and walked back to the hotel, but not before Jacobs used the power of PBR to climb a traffic light.
The next night, while about 15 of us ate a restaurant called Caleco's that was across the street from the hotel, a different woman sent over a drink for McCullough. Not known as a ladies man coming into the convention, McCullough had the entire group buzzing until he ruined things by informing us that the drink-buying woman was someone he already knew. Of course, approximately 18 percent of SABR convention goers don't actually know a woman, so it remained somewhat impressive.
We returned to Caleco's enough that the female bartenders came to know us, saying things like "wow, you guys are really on a mission tonight" as we rushed to consume eight drinks in the hour before the bar closed. Bradley, the bartender at a hotel bar called A.J.'s, was significantly less impressed by our drinking skills, kicking one of us (who shall remain nameless, I suppose) out of the bar for falling asleep mid-drink, but came around once we included him in our round of Jagermeister shots.
The hotel also had Players Sports Bar, where a group of about 10 were gathered on Friday afternoon when Rob Neyer walked by and poked his head in. Neyer seems like a quiet guy and I admire him a great deal, so I've tried my best to leave him alone at past SABR conventions (although anyone who read my convention recap last year knows that hasn't always worked so well). This time, however, the handful of drinks I had already consumed motivated me to yell out, "Hey Rob!"
He heard me, looked right at the group, gave one of those half-hearted waves you give when someone you have no interest in talking to makes eye contact from across the street, and immediately began walking in the other direction. As much as I'd love to hang out with Neyer and as much fun as I find our little group of degenerates, my guess is that his fleeing upon seeing us was probably for the best. After unsuccessfully trying to convince Neyer to join us in the bar, we headed to Shannon's restaurant again.
Somewhere along the way we learned that it was the last place Josh Hancock drank before his fatal car crash, but that didn't stop us from preparing for that night's Cardinals-Brewers game by downing a few more rounds. The actual game was horrible, in part because of the 12-2 score and in part because of a 40-minute rain delay. Beyond that, our seats in the left-field corner were partially obstructed and the combination of rain and humidity made it feel like approximately 500 degrees where we sat.
The overhang above shielded us for the most part, but apparently funneled all of the water into one spot, which happened to be where Jaffe was sitting. After several gallons of water were dumped on him, Studenmund heroically attempted to shield Jaffe with the help of an empty beer cup, but sacrificed himself in the process. As I reminded everyone at the time, none of this ever would have happened at the Metrodome.
You haven't lived until you've taken in a blowout, rain-delayed game in the corner of a ballpark with dozens of drunk, sweaty SABR members. As one of the drunkest and sweatiest SABR members I didn't feel particularly bad for myself, but Paul Brewer's nine-year-old daughter got a pretty raw deal. Most likely thinking that the group she'd be sitting with would be as nice and mild-mannered as her father, she instead got seated directly behind me and right next to Matt Rauseo.
Rauseo, a stereotypical East Coaster whose "Mister High Standards" nickname I coined at the 2005 SABR convention in Toronto, unleashed a high-volume swear word about as often as the Brewers crossed the plate. Each time he did so, the group would let out a collective "woah!" and Jacobs almost had him convinced that he should pay the little girl $50 for her misery. While I have no memory of it, I'm told that several hours later I nearly agreed to an MMA-style fight against Rauseo for $1,000.
While at the game we gambled on where the ball would be placed between innings, with McCullough eventually winning over $100 when it was finally rolled up on the mound about halfway through the game. We also took over the hotel's "media room" one night, playing cash-game poker that began with no-limit hold 'em, shifted to H.O.R.S.E., and finally became drunken, high-stakes, four-handed Indian poker in someone's hotel room. Oh, and at some point I coin-flipped Dimino for $20. And lost.
With the convention more or less over, Saturday night reminded me of the final night of summer camp. Because they had early-morning flights, Kumar and Jacobs did the responsible thing by leaving Caleco's at a relatively reasonable hour and headed back to their respective hotel rooms for some much-needed sleep. After the rest of us closed the bar, we made our way back to the hotel with enough alcohol to kill an elephant.
The plan was to bust into Kumar's hotel room and wake him up, because that's the sort of thing that a bunch of drunken idiots do to a friend who has decided that he should get some sleep before a pre-dawn cross-country flight. Much to our disappointment, when we got to the room we found Kumar, wide awake, drinking beer with McCullough. Naturally, we joined them and woke Jacobs up, so he could too. Kumar left for the airport at around 4:30 and things broke up for good soon after that.
Drunken hugs and talk of seeing people again at next year's convention in Cleveland eventually gave way to everyone stumbling back to their rooms. My flight back to Minnesota was originally set for 10:30 Sunday morning, but was one of several hundred flights canceled by Northwest Airlines. I spent the next nine hours at the St. Louis airport, unsuccessfully trying to stand-by my way onto three flights before finally boarding one that took off at 8:15.
Despite nine excruciating hours of airport food eating, iPod listening, gate changing, people watching, small-talk making, and "sorry sir, the flight is totally full" hearing, attending my fourth straight SABR convention was another amazingly good time and continues to be something that I plan to do every single year. In fact, while my liver might feel differently, I'm already counting down the days to SABR38 in Cleveland.
Once you're done here, check out my latest "Daily Dose" column over at Rotoworld.