Friday, August 10, 2007
For some reason I get incredibly nervous doing phone interviews, but I'm hoping that actually being in the KFAN studios for the show will calm my nerves a bit. Plus, Doogie and I go so far back that I knew him when he was just "Darren." He used to come over to my old house in St. Paul, immediately sit down at the kitchen table, and tell my mom to make him a sandwich. Oddly, his calling her "Mrs. Gleeman" made the whole thing seem sort of charming back then.
Anyway, Doogie and I will be talking Twins on KFAN from 5:30 to 6:30 Sunday night and I'm told that we'll be joined at some point by the Official Twins Beat Writer of AG.com, LaVelle E. Neal III. It should be interesting one way or another, so feel free to listen and perhaps even call in. If it doesn't go so horribly that I immediately try to eliminate all evidence of the show existing, I'll try to get a copy of the audio to post here Monday.
The lineup has produced a pathetic 3.1 runs per game in the second half, which ranks dead last among all 30 major-league teams by a wide margin. Yesterday was the 11th time in 114 games (9.6 percent) that the Twins have been shut out and the 33rd time (28.9 percent) that they've been held to zero, one, or two runs, which is amazing given that they faced a starting pitcher, Kyle Davies, who came into the game with a 6.26 ERA in 240 career big-league innings.
Sadly, this season is starting to look an awful lot like 2005. Garza had an interesting quote following the loss, saying: "I shouldn't have given up that run or we'd still be playing." Probably true, although not in the spirit Garza meant it.
A St. Paul man, complaining of chronic pain, wanted to have his testicles removed. When conventional medical staff refused to do the job, he hired other "professionals" to take off his testicles, according to a search warrant affidavit filed Monday in Ramsey County District Court.The mere chance to pen an article that begins with a paragraph like that almost makes me want to go back to journalism school. Almost.
Tedeschi took advantage of the somewhat intimate setting by bantering with the audience and seemed to genuinely be having a good time on stage, asking the crowd where "Bob Zimmerman" grew up before she did a cover version of "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right" and laughing at the group of a couple dozen middle-aged fans who decided to storm the front row in order to dance. Oh, and she sounded absolutely spectacular.
Tedeschi's huge, soulful voice belting out song after song was made even more amazing by the fact that her girlish speaking voice is the complete opposite and she ended most songs with a mouse-like "thank you." Her band, which she informed the crowd was borrowed from husband Derek Trucks, sounded great too, and they did a long set that would have been even longer if the venue hadn't forced them off stage because of a curfew. It was as good as a live performance can get.
If you get a chance to see her live, I highly recommend it.
UPDATE: After taking a beating in last week's Link-O-Rama, Rotoworld football boss Gregg Rosenthal used my musical taste (once more or less accurately described as being identical a 17-year-old girl's) as a means to fire back via his own blog. I sense a WWE-style feud brewing and I'm fully prepared to fight to the death to protect the honor of both Tedeschi and AG.com. Especially since I'm roughly twice Mr. Pancake's size.
Yes we are Twins fans, but certainly not fans of the socialistic-left whacko leaning Star and Tribune. Sorry you feel it necessary to tout for the extreme left bias of this newspaper.That's the entire note, unaltered. I'm pretty sure it stands on its own just fine, so I'll leave it at that.
Once you're done here, check out my latest "Daily Dose" column over at Rotoworld.
Thursday, August 09, 2007
Twins Notes: Buscher, Watkins, Punto, Revere
As the boys over at Stick and Ball Guy's blog pointed out, Buscher's situation sounds an awful lot like when Alex Rios ended up with a staph infection after fouling a ball off his leg last season. Rios missed a month of action and clearly wasn't himself upon returning, so hopefully Buscher's recovery goes much more smoothly. The injury won't impact his long-term potential much, but it would have been nice to see if he could keep his breakout season going in the majors.
A 38th-round pick in 1998 who's now a 27-year-old veteran of 10 minor-league seasons, all of them in the Twins organization, Watkins is definitely someone to root for. However, he's a .249/.331/.336 hitter in over 800 minor-league games and has managed a slugging percentage above .400 exactly once in his entire career (and even that was for just 60 games). Watkins can play all over the field defensively, but he's not a strong defender and isn't even close to being a major league-caliber offensive player.
According to LEN3, the Twins explained the decision to call up Watkins by saying that Tolbert is "not mentally ready to handle things up here." That's a very Twins-like thing to say, but at this point they need guys who might be able to hit a little bit more than they need guys who're "mentally ready to handle things." I'm not sure what Nick Punto's mental state is like, but I know he can't hit, and with Jeff Cirillo out of the picture he's almost certain to resume starting at third base.
Among the 177 major-league hitters with enough playing time to qualify for the batting title this season, Punto ranks dead last in OPS. He also ranks dead last among all hitters in Value Over Replacement Player (VORP) at -17.4, meaning he's been 17.4 runs worse than a replacement-level hitter. In other words, the guy who Ron Gardenhire chooses to stick in front of the team's four best hitters has been the worst offensive player in baseball this season
Terry Ryan has done an awful job giving Gardenhire capable bats to work with all season, but there's still no excuse for batting Punto near the top of the lineup or starting Tyner against a southpaw. The combination of Ryan's inability to find even mediocre bats to provide some semblance of offensive depth and Gardenhire's insistence on making the worst possible use of the limited tools he's given will continue to hurt the Twins' ability to consistently score runs.
The lineup scored 11 times last night, managing more than five runs for the first time in 16 games, but it was in spite of the presence of Punto and Tyner. They combined to go 2-for-9 (.222), while the rest of the lineup went 17-for-34 (.500). Even with the one-game offensive explosion, the Twins rank dead last in baseball with an average of 3.3 runs per game since the All-Star break. Stuff like calling up Watkins, starting Tyner against lefties, and batting Punto near the top of the lineup are among the reasons why.
We've got to let it heal a little bit. But other than that, I feel good. We'll be ready for my next start. It happens most of the times. Right now it's way better than what it was a couple of weeks ago. It's a little sore. But we'll do some treatment, put some stuff on it and it'll be fine.Santana, who's now 22-5 in August during his career, hasn't lost to the Royals since 2003.
Revere has yet to hit a homer and has drawn a grand total of just six walks in 34 games, but he's batting .333/.381/.496 with four doubles, nine triples, and 15 steals while striking out just 13 times. Despite his slight build and pessimistic public scouting reports, the Twins insisted that they felt Revere could develop into an impact hitter, and so far at least they're looking right. For comparison, Denard Span hit .271/.355/.319 in 50 games at rookie-ball after signing as a first-round pick in 2002.
Once you're done here, check out my latest "Daily Dose" column over at Rotoworld.
Wednesday, August 08, 2007
Who Is ... Brian Buscher
After playing two seasons at a junior college in Florida, Brian Buscher transferred to the University of South Carolina in 2002, where he batted .323/.382/.575 as a junior. He followed that up by hitting .393/.453/.644 with 15 homers, 36 total extra-base hits, and a 32-to-24 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 67 games as a senior, which was good enough for the Giants to select him in the third round of the 2003 draft and hand him a $215,000 bonus.
Buscher signed quickly and reported to low Single-A, where he batted just .278/.318/.320 with zero homers, eight total extra-base hits, and a 25-to-10 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 54 games, showing none of the power or strike-zone control that he exhibited in college. Despite that, he moved up to high Single-A in 2004 and hit .292/.359/.408 with four homers, 25 total extra-base hits, and a 61-to-33 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 88 games, improving while continuing to show a lack of pop.
Buscher moved up to Double-A in 2005 and struggled in his first taste of the high minors, batting just .228/.304/.288 with one homer, 10 total extra-base hits, and a 36-to-20 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 64 games before earning a demotion back to high Single-A. He recovered to post comparable numbers to his first stint there, batting .282/.367/.422 with five homers, 18 total extra-base hits, and a 47-to-27 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 55 games.
Given a second shot at Double-A in 2006, Buscher again struggled, batting just .259/.321/.366 with seven homers, 33 total extra-base hits, and a 75-to-39 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 130 games. At that point Buscher was a 25-year-old who had yet to experience any kind of real success at any level in four pro seasons, so he understandably fell out of the Giants' long-term plans and was selected by the Twins in the minor-league phase of the Rule 5 draft in December.
I was actually in attendance at the Rule 5 draft while covering the Winter Meetings for NBCSports.com, yet can't remember a single person in Orlando even mentioning Buscher amidst all the talk of Josh Hamilton and searching for scouting reports on other prospects. And rightfully so, because Buscher was the 22nd player taken in the minor-league portion of the draft and before grabbing him the Twins first selected a different Giants prospect, right-hander Jesse Floyd.
Floyd has been mediocre at Double-A, posting a 4.89 ERA and 80-to-46 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 114 innings, but Buscher has come out of nowhere to force his way into the Twins' plans with a breakout year. Beginning the season at Double-A New Britain, Buscher hit .308/.391/.478 with seven homers, 27 total extra-base hits, and a 30-to-31 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 63 games, showing significant power and totaling more walks than strikeouts for the first time in his career.
With former first-round pick Matt Moses struggling mightily at Triple-A, the Twins demoted him to New Britain and promoted Buscher up to Rochester, where he took over for Moses as the starting third baseman. Finally past Double-A for the first time, the 26-year-old Buscher picked up right where he left off. In 35 games at Triple-A, he batted .313/.385/.530 with six homers, 13 total extra-base hits, and a 13-to-11 strikeout-to-walk ratio, again showing good power while totaling more walks than strikeouts.
Called up to Minnesota when the Twins sent Darnell McDonald down late last month, Buscher has struggled defensively while going 5-for-22 (.227) with two walks as a big leaguer. Because he was so bad prior to this season, it's difficult to get a feel for Buscher's potential. On one hand, his breakout looks like a fluke when compared with the rest of his career, which suggests that he's simply a 26-year-old who finally put together some good at-bats against minor-league pitching.
On the other hand, Buscher's sudden increase in power is even more impressive than it looks given the pitcher-friendly ballparks he played in and his strike-zone control has been tremendous. It's also worth noting that Buscher's monthly OPS totals are .919, .761, 1.013, and .892, so his emergence is truly the result of a breakout season rather than simply a product of an extended hot streak. Here's his combined hitting line between Double-A and Triple-A:
G PA AVG OBP SLG 2B HR BB SOThat's not huge power, but a .185 Isolated Power between a pair of pitcher-friendly leagues is plenty good, especially alongside a .309 batting average. Buscher totaled 40 extra-base hits while striking out in just 10 percent of his plate appearances, and drew 44 walks for a .389 on-base percentage. Add it all up and you get a strong all-around performance with no holes in it, although it's still just 98 games in a career full of ineptitude.
To get a feel for just how bad Buscher's track record was prior to this year, consider that Baseball Think Factory's ZiPS projection system gave him a .218/.274/.309 hitting line coming into the season. Nick Punto has hit .209/.298/.271 this year, which means that Buscher's minor-league resume was bad enough to cause a respected, in-depth projection system to essentially peg him as equal to Punto's execrable performance at the plate.
Other projection systems, like Baseball Prospectus' PECOTA, didn't even bother calculating a hitting line for Buscher. However, while the pre-2007 projections don't paint a pretty picture for Buscher's future, calculating a Major League Equivalency (MLE) for his performance between Double-A and Triple-A this season spits out a .282/.347/.437 hitting line, which is actually slightly above average for a big-league third baseman.
The good news is that Buscher's 2007 performance significantly improves his projection. The bad news is that, even with the sizable improvement, ZiPS still projects him to bat just .248/.308/.368 next season (ZiPS' official 2008 projections obviously aren't available yet, but I asked creator and friend of AG.com Dan Szymborski to run the up-to-date numbers for me). In other words, Buscher's breakout season radically changes the system's view of his future, but still can't overcome his track record.
I'm a big believer in the importance of a young player's minor-league track record when it comes to evaluating his potential, which is why I remain skeptical about Buscher. Prior to this season, everything he did as a pro suggested that he was incapable of being a quality hitter in the big leagues. Combined with what's considered to be mediocre defense at third base, that makes him an iffy choice as an everyday player.
With that said, there's reason to believe that Buscher's past struggles don't tell the whole story, or at least tell no more of the story than his success this season does. He put up good numbers against high-level competition in college and while perhaps not the best talent evaluators when it comes to developing young hitters, the Giants once thought enough of Buscher to take him with the 93rd overall pick. Plus, he adjusted his approach at the plate in an effort to improved his control of the strike zone.
There's no denying that his track record as a pro has been underwhelming prior to this season, but Buscher dealt with an assortment of injuries that no doubt slowed his progress along the way. Is he a 26-year-old who had a flukishly good 98 games against younger competition? Or is he a 26-year-old who's finally healthy and showing the promise that the Giants felt he had four years ago? Time will obviously tell and I probably wouldn't bet much on Buscher having a good career, but he has a chance.
Once you're done here, check out my latest "Daily Dose" column over at Rotoworld.
Monday, August 06, 2007
Notes From The Weekend
I've always believed in showing patience and trusting minor-league performances when it comes to young players, so I naturally felt the need to stick up for Baker when Twins fans, media members, and occasionally even the Twins began heaping a shocking amount of criticism on him following every poor outing. Plenty of young players struggle early in their career and plenty of good prospects don't pan out, but for some reason Baker seemed to get a shorter leash and more vitriol than most.
Ron Gardenhire was perfectly willing to skip Baker's turn in the rotation while saying that doing so with other pitchers could adversely impact their performance. Seemingly each time Baker gave up a hit, Dick Bremer and Bert Blyleven would treat the FSN viewing audience to talk of having to "keep the ball down," which was clearly one of the talking points that they'd been given by the team. And after every rough start, the comments section here would overflow with people calling for Baker to be traded.
Here's what I wrote about Baker shortly after making the through-30-starts comparison:
I've never really thought of Baker as more than a back-of-the-rotation starter, but the amazingly negative reaction he gets from many Twins fans has sort of forced me into a position of defending him to some degree. He now has ... the type of numbers that bode well for the future of a 25-year-old pitcher with an outstanding minor-league track record. For whatever reason many fans seemingly view him as a worthless bum, but he clearly doesn't deserve that level of vitriol. He deserves some patience.To their credit, the Twins showed "some patience" by sticking with Baker and he's responded by going 5-2 with a 3.13 ERA in nine starts since the loss to Milwaukee, including eight shutout innings against the Indians yesterday. Baker isn't that good, just like he wasn't that bad earlier in the season, but hopefully his nine-start stretch has shown that 25-year-old pitchers with strong minor-league track records and good secondary numbers in the majors shouldn't be given up on so quickly.
Perhaps the Twins' biggest weakness this season has been a lack of offensive depth, which is why it's odd to see Terry Ryan part with three veteran hitters after failing to acquire any help for the lineup prior to the trading deadline. Trading Castillo for two low-level prospects and allowing the Diamondbacks to claim Cirillo off waivers for nothing are the moves of a non-contending team looking to save money and clear playing time for youngsters. Except the Twins are now four games out of a playoff spot.
Not having Castillo and Ford won't hurt much, if at all. Ford hasn't been an effective hitter since 2004, batting .250/.320/.358 in 300 games since then, including .232/.301/.366 this season. Castillo is a bigger blow given that he was one of just four hitters on the team with a better-than-average on-base percentage, but his modest .302/.356/.352 overall hitting line wasn't hugely valuable and his mobility was disappearing as his legs continued to fall apart.
Replacing Ford is a non-issue, while the task of replacing Castillo will fall upon Alexi Casilla both now and in the future. A 22-year-old who was stolen from the Angels for J.C. Romero and looks an awful lot like a young Castillo in nearly every aspect of the game, I ranked Casilla as the team's No. 6 prospect heading into the season. He may struggle to match Castillo's OBP initially, but drove in the lone run in yesterday's 1-0 win with an extra-base hit and has already shown more range defensively.
If there's a dropoff from Castillo to Casilla at this point it figures to be minimal, which is what Ryan had in mind when he saved about $2 million by essentially dumping Castillo on the Mets. A similar thought process was likely involved in saving $500,000 by handing Cirillo to the Diamondbacks, but the Twins are less equipped to seamlessly replace him. Cirillo was far from great, but his .814 OPS against lefties ranked fourth on the team, behind only Torii Hunter, Michael Cuddyer, and Mike Redmond.
Just hours after Cirillo was removed from the roster, Nick Punto and his putrid .499 OPS against lefties started at third base against one of the league's best left-handers, C.C. Sabathia. The next day, with rookie southpaw Aaron Laffey on the mound, fellow rookie Brian Buscher got the start at third base despite being a left-handed hitter who arrived from Rochester on July 27. Cirillo capably filled a role that no other player on the roster can and losing him for nothing is curious at best.
When Mauer isn't behind the plate, Redmond has gone 13-for-29 (44.8 percent) throwing out runners, which would rank second to Mauer if Redmond had enough playing time to qualify for the leaderboard. While Mauer and Redmond have combined to throw out 29-of-59 (49.2 percent) stolen-base attempts, Chris Heintz went 0-for-8 in his brief stints with the team. Heintz, who was optioned back to Triple-A in late June, broke his hand and will be sidelined at Rochester for the next month.
Not only does Mauer throw out a tremendous percentage of would-be basestealers, he's so good that teams rarely even attempt to run against him. He's had a steal attempted against him once every 19 innings, compared to once every 12 innings for Redmond and once every seven innings for Heintz. Jason Kendall, who has the worst caught-stealing percentage among starting catchers at 16.1, has had a steal attempted against him once every nine innings, more than twice as often as Mauer.
Tyner has started 11 straight games as a corner outfielder despite being one of the least-powerful, worst-hitting outfielders in baseball over the past 50 years. Worse yet, he started back-to-back games against Sabathia and Laffey over the weekend while sporting a pathetic .256/.298/.264 career line versus southpaws. Tyner has now started 47 of the Twins' 110 games this season, including 14 starts at designated hitter and another 33 starts in an outfield corner.
While the team's lack of offense is largely forgiven when they win back-to-back games over a first-place team while scoring a total of four runs, Ryan and Gardenhire have set themselves up for all kinds of offensive struggles down the stretch. No capable bats have been added, several usable pieces have been discarded, and guys like Tyner and Punto continue to play regularly. Mediocre in the first half, the Twins' offense ranks dead last in the AL with an average of 3.2 runs per game since the All-Star break.
If the Twins come up just short of a playoff spot, some fans will be willing to write this season off as a rebuilding year. While that's true to some extent and planning for the future is crucial for low-payroll teams to remain competitive long term, the Twins are close enough to contending right now that a few relatively minor moves could have pushed them over the top. Ryan rarely seems willing or able to make those moves effectively, and his moves (and non-moves) over the past week have been odd.
Looking to put the ball in play rather than working deep counts was a good approach for a hitter who has no power and struggles to make contact. Unfortunately, he's back to old habits ... That tradeoff works for some, but for Punto it means letting hittable pitches go by. ... When you have the power to make pitchers pay for mistakes or possess the skills to make solid contact in unfavorable counts, then taking tons of pitches makes sense. When you're Punto, it just means that you've been reduced to coaxing walks in between making easy outs.Since then Punto has been even worse, batting .196/.220/.268, and when asked over the weekend about Punto's awful hitting Gardenhire said essentially the same stuff:
We'd like to see him get a little more confidence in his own ability to hit. He's taking so many pitches, he gets behind. It seems like he's up there with two strikes every at-bat. Just swing. Get up there and let it fly. Instead of trying to be so patient, swing the bat. And hopefully we'll get there. It's hard. It's not easy when you're struggling. But he's a big part of this team.He's "a big part of this team" because Ryan guaranteed him $4.2 million over the next two seasons and Gardenhire refuses to stop writing his name in the lineup, but it certainly doesn't have to be that way. Punto is a career .248/.318/.326 hitter in the midst of his worst season, yet he's racked up nearly 400 plate appearances and is on pace to bat over 550 times this season. Again, if the Twins come up just short of the postseason, the process that led to Punto batting so often will have played a huge part.
A switch-hitter who proved to be punchless from the left side of the plate, Kielty has hit .296/.379/.509 from the right side during his career, including .303/.367/.519 against lefties since 2004. Of course, if the Twins have no use for Cirillo's lefty mashing in their thin infield, it's unlikely that they'd see Kielty with much value in their outfield. As Oakland assistant general manager David Forst said upon letting Kielty go: "Bobby can play a role for someone, he can hit left-handed pitchers."
Once you're done here, check out my latest "Daily Dose" column over at Rotoworld.