UPDATE: This amazing clip of O.J. Simpson's lawyer holding a press conference comes courtesy of NBCSports.com's Matt Casey and is a late addition to Link-O-Rama, because there's absolutely no way that I could end the week without first encouraging everyone to watch something so extraordinary:
"Nice work dude, up high!"
Over at his Minneapolis Star Tribune blog, Joe Christensennoted yesterday that his wife is "on the Cubs bandwagon now" and sang "Go Cubs, Go!" as the "scores were flashing on the television" at home. On a note that I can only assume is related, I was walking to a restaurant in downtown Hopkins earlier this week while wearing the "TC" Twins hat that's on my head approximately 97.4 percent of the time when I'm out in public.
All of sudden some random guy who was walking about 40 feet behind me shouted, "Hey man, don't you know this isn't Twins territory any more?!" It was the middle of the afternoon, so the whole thing didn't strike me as the impetus for a mugging or anything, so I calmly yelled back, "Oh yeah, who's territory is it then?" His answer? "The Cubs, of course!" Fortunately he left it at that and there was no singing involved, but this could be the start of a disturbing trend.
Sherri Nichols once observed that a catcher's defensive reputation is inversely proportional to their offensive abilities, which is a fancy way of saying that the better a catcher hits the worse people perceive his defense to be. The opposite is also very much true, and that seems to have extended to Punto despite the fact that he's not even a catcher.
No one in the mainstream media seems able to discuss Punto's offensive struggles without noting his defense, and the praise heaped on his glove has increased just as steadily as his batting average has dipped. At .290 he was a good defender, at .250 he was great, and at .199 he's "spectacular."
Eliason notes that "he ain't the second coming of Brooks Robinson or Bill Mazeroski," but someone may want to tell Official Twins Beat Writer of AG.com LaVelle E. Neal III.
Not only does Seth Stohs do a great job filling a unique niche in the Twins blogosphere while being perhaps the nicest person in the snark-filled history of blogging, we learned yesterday that he craves McNuggets (and Kendra Wilkinson) and would make a perfect platoon partner for Brian Buscher at third base next season. If you think that Ron Gardenhire not giving Buscher and Alexi Casilla playing time down the stretch is a mistake, imagine being the coach who kept a .938 OPS on the bench.
As someone whose job allows him to spend half the year writing about baseball and half the year writing about football, I found it amusing when SI.com football scribe and fellow NBC Sports employee Peter King used a recent column to inform everyone that Derek Jeter is "the best player of my lifetime." If you're curious, King was born in 1957, although oddly that really doesn't make the statement any more or less crazy.
I'm seriously reconsidering this whole blogging thing now that Jay Mariottihas joined in. The way things are going, it's seemingly only a matter of time before the Star Tribune asks Patrick Reusse to start blogging, at which point he'll be obligated to sell his home and begin living on the street like the rest of us lowly bloggers.
Artie Langesits down with Sports Illustrated to talk about loving the Yankees, hating Bob Costas, gambling on sports, mentioning Rick Burleson during sex, listening to O.J. Simpson, and working with Howard Stern, among other topics. "Fiyah!"
The Jim Souhan Sheckyism of the Week:
And the available quarterback who might be the best fit for this team, Kelly Holcomb, hasn't even officially risen to No. 2 on the depth chart. Holcomb must feel like the guy who got bumped from "American Idol" by William Hung.
I've never seen even one second of the show, but about half of the dozen or so people who e-mailed me about the above quote pointed out that no one actually "got bumped from American Idol by William Hung." You know, as if that were the main issue.
Terry Ryan's 13-season career as Twins general manager has been covered in great depth all over the place, including here, but over at his Star Tribune blog LEN3 provides a unique glimpse into what it was like for an outsider to deal with Ryan on a day-to-day basis. His conclusion? "You want Terry Ryan to be your next-door neighbor" and "my career is better off for dealing with him."
Outgoing GM Terry Ryan will not have an office at the Metrodome but instead will be working out of his home as he pursues his scouting duties as an adviser.
A little advice for Ryan from someone who very much enjoys working from home: If you plan to do even a fraction of your work while in bed or on a couch, don't let that fact slip when speaking to someone in the media. As nearly every article that's ever been written about me shows, professional writers are for some reason absolutely fascinated by the notion that you don't have to be at a desk to work. If you like looking over scouting reports while lounging anywhere, make it your little secret.
By completing a three-game sweep of the Rangers, the Twins must now go 7-3 against the White Sox, Tigers, and Red Sox to finish with their seventh straight winning season. Going 6-4 over the final 10 games would let them avoid their first losing season since 2000, when they went 69-93 as the AL's worst team. Matt Lawton was the Twins' lone All-Star that year, David Ortiz was the regular designated hitter, and a 24-year-old Torii Hunter spent 55 games at Triple-A following a midseason demotion.
1. Todd Walker, 2B 2. Cristian Guzman, SS 3. Matt Lawton, RF 4. Butch Huskey, DH 5. Corey Koskie, 3B 6. Ron Coomer, 1B 7. Jacque Jones, LF 8. Matthew LeCroy, C 9. Torii Hunter, CF
Hunter hit ninth while Butch Huskey batted cleanup, Matthew LeCroy started behind the plate, Denny Hocking replaced Corey Koskie defensively, Brad Radke gave up six runs to take the loss, and Johan Santana followed Bob Wells and Hector Carrasco out of the bullpen with a scoreless ninth inning as the mop-up man. Oh, and I was nearing the end of my junior year of high school. There's really no difference between 80-82 or 82-80, but it'd be nice to stay as far away from that 2000 team as possible.
Part of my motivation for starting this blog in 2002 was being frustrated by reading things about the Twins that either lacked or contradicted evidence. The local coverage has gotten significantly better over the past five years, but there are still plenty of instances where someone's opinion is treated like fact without any examination. For example, someone apparently floated the idea that Justin Morneau's lack of power in the second half is due to participating in the Home Run Derby during the All-Star break.
That's an intriguing thought and an idea that's certainly worth examining, which is why it made sense for the Minneapolis Star Tribune and MLB.com to report on it. Unfortunately, no one actually examined the issue and MLB.com's Kelly Thesier instead chose to imply that it was simply a fact while writing that "a lot of his second-half woes are traced back to taking part in the Home Run Derby." In a different MLB.com article, Leslie Parkerwrote:
Justin Morneau at least partly blames his participation in the Home Run Derby for his second half offensive slump, and his manager does not disagree. Morneau is batting just .254 in the second half, compared to .295 in the first half. He's only hit six home runs post-All Star break, whereas he had 24 before.
Parker's version at least treats the suggestion as speculation rather than fact, but the quoted numbers are rigged to support the idea anyway. Meanwhile, as Ubelmannpoints out, the Home Run Derby didn't hurt Morneau when he homered four times in the first 11 games following the break. Either he had some sort of delayed reaction that didn't kick in for three weeks or his power has simply declined in the second half like it did last season (when, incidentally, he didn't participate in the Home Run Derby).
The one positive thing about Morneau's second-half struggles is that they might make it easier for the Twins to lock him up to a long-term contract after failing to do so this winter. Here's what Morneau had to say regarding that possibility when asked about it this week:
I'm still open to it, if it makes sense. But who knows? If we don't sign Torii back, and it doesn't look like Johan is coming back--obviously, I want to be here, but it's a question of how much is in the budget. Radke is one of the only guys who stayed.
I think after how I did [in 2005], they were waiting for me to prove I could do it again. I would love to do a five- or six-year deal that goes until I'm 33 or 34. So, do I want it to happen? Yeah. But I don't want to get my hopes up.
Of course, Morneau also made the most important point when he said, "I'm going to be here through 2010 no matter what."
Much has been made of this season being Hunter's best, especially now that he's established a new career-high in RBIs, but it's worth noting that so far at least his numbers are nearly identical to his totals from 2002:
YEAR G PA AVG OBP SLG 2B HR SB 2002 148 604 .289 .334 .524 37 29 23 2007 149 607 .291 .336 .520 43 28 17
There are still two weeks left on the schedule, so Hunter will continue to add to his counting stats, but on a rate basis he's been almost exactly as effective as he was in 2002. All of which is to say that he's been extremely good. Interestingly, Hunter signed what turned out to be a five-year contract extension following that 2002 season. I'm not a believer in players being able to adjust their level of performance based on when they hit the open market, so I'm not suggesting that Hunter has done that.
With that said, the similarities between the seasons are striking given that they came five years apart. When the Twins signed Hunter back in 2002, they did so following what was then the best season of his career and failed to receive that level of performance again until this season. Now they're again in position to potentially sign him to a long-term deal following another career-best season. For Hunter the timing has been perfect, but it's tough for the Twins to pay for his best if they don't always get it.
Last week in this space I noted that no one in the local media seems able to discuss Nick Punto's struggles offensively without also talking about his defense, with the praise for his glove increasing as his batting average declines. A good example of this comes from Official Twins Beat Writer of AG.com LaVelle E. Neal III, who makes sure to praise Punto's defense with nearly every mention of him in the Star Tribune and seemingly increases the level of praise each time.
Within the past week LEN3 has described Punto's defense as "spectacular" and "tremendous" while suggesting that he "could make a tidy sum selling DVDs on how to field the position." While I recognize that Punto is a good defensive player, the idea that he's suddenly some sort of cross between Brooks Robinson, Ozzie Smith, and Frank White is laughable and can traced directly to his historically awful season offensively.
If Punto was hitting .275 his defense wouldn't be mentioned in every note about him and when it was discussed you can be sure that the descriptions would be less flowery. FSN announcers Dick Bremer and Bert Blyleven constantly mentioning and exaggerating Punto's defensive ability is expected, because they've shown little ability to do anything but spout whatever company line they've been given most recently, but for LEN3 and other media members it's disappointing.
Punto is a good defensive player, but constantly suggesting that he's "spectacular" or "tremendous" or "could make a tidy sum selling DVDs on how to field" is stretching things quite a bit and attaching exaggerated praise for his defense with every mention of his offense is applying a disingenuous spin. How many other players are guaranteed an exaggerated mention of something they do well alongside each mention of something they struggle with?
On a related note, LEN3 recently wrote a lengthy article about the Twins' "season-long breakdown in fundamentals." The piece was well done and I'm glad to see the topic finally addressed given the Twins' long-expired and oft-stated reputation for "doing the little things." With that said, it's odd that Punto's repeated inability to lay down sacrifice bunts was left out of the article when fundamental miscues by a handful of other players were mentioned. The article also included this excerpt:
Overall, the Twins ranked 12th in the American League in runs.
"[Gardenhire] realizes that to be a winner, it's the little things that count," bench coach Steve Liddle said. "And we haven't done a good job of doing the little things. And that comes from having younger players and maybe having to rush a couple of guys along. Overall, he takes it personally, and it eats at him like cancer."
First, it's noteworthy that Steve Liddle places the blame on "younger players and maybe having to rush a couple of guys along." In reality, the team's lone position player under the age of 24 is Alexi Casilla, who's played all of 50 games. While it's true that Casilla was perhaps rushed to the majors and has made a number of fundamental mistakes over the past six weeks, the team is filled with veterans (like Punto) who have done the same all season. As usual though, youth gets called out.
Beyond that, I found it amusing that Liddle's quote about "doing the little things" came directly after the note about the Twins' offense ranking 12th in runs. When you look at the top offenses in the league and see the Yankees, Red Sox, and Tigers with 150-200 more runs than the Twins, do you really think it's because of "little things" rather than the fact that those teams have hit 38, 52, and 78 percent more homers than the Twins? It'd be refreshing to hear someone talk about "the big things" once in a while.
With a homer last night, Jason Kubel is now hitting .298/.373/.503 since the All-Star break, which is good for an .876 OPS in the second half that leads the team by 80 points (Hunter ranks second at .796 and the team as a whole is at .709). Kubel has hit .343/.419/.552 since August 1, but Gardenhire's season-long refusal to simply stick him in the lineup every day means that he's started only 31 of a possible 46 games over that span.
During that 46-game stretch, Jason Tyner (25) and Rondell White (17) have combined for 52 starts between left field and designated hitter, and Punto has been in the starting lineup 35 times. Kubel is hitting .279/.342/.487 since May 10 and has remained healthy all season, yet he's going to end up coming to the plate fewer than 500 times for a team that ranks 12th in the league in scoring and will likely give about 550 plate appearances to the worst hitter in baseball.
Gardenhire ... wasn't kept in the loop about Ryan's decision to step down after 13 years and suddenly must build a working relationship with new GM Bill Smith. Ryan has spent the past several months discussing with Twins ownership a change of his role. Gardenhire wasn't informed of Ryan's decision to become a senior adviser until after the team's charter flight landed Wednesday night from Kansas City. "I was as shocked as anybody," Gardenhire said.
It seems odd that Gardenhire wasn't in on Ryan's plans, given how closely the two work together. But Ryan was so concerned about news of his intentions leaking out that he kept it quiet among selected members of the organization.
The same article also included Hunter talking about Ryan being "the face of the franchise," which is amusing for reasons that I've discussed here in the past.
After using him 74 times in 149 games, including 24 times when the margin was at least four runs, the Twins have shut downPat Neshek. Talk of Neshek tiring and losing velocity started weeks ago, but Gardenhire continued to use him constantly and often needlessly put him into games that were already decided one way or another. Giving Neshek rest now beats letting him reach 80 appearances, but the damage may already be done and lessening his workload a month ago would have been smart.
One of the few positives that comes along with being out of the playoff picture long before the end of the season is that the final portion of the schedule can be used to look at young players in preparation for next year. In Alexi Casilla and Brian Buscher, the Twins have a pair of infield prospects who could emerge with prominent roles in 2008 and beyond, so giving them playing time now figures to pay off down the road while helping the team evaluate their potential.
Instead, Ron Gardenhire continues to write 29-year-old Nick Punto's name into the lineup nearly every day. There's certainly no rule saying that teams must stop playing veterans once they fall out of contention, but given Punto's horrendous play this season and the presence of young talent it seems like a natural thing to do. Punto has been the single worst hitter in all of baseball at .205/.290/.262 overall, including .194/.250/.244 in the second half, yet has started 30 of the past 36 games.
Casilla has struggled at the plate while being very prone to mistakes and Buscher has looked rough defensively at third base, but why not give them some low-pressure playing time over a guy who turns 30 years old soon and is now a .244/.314/.320 hitter in 1,672 career plate appearances spread over seven big-league seasons? The answer, or at least Gardenhire's answer, is that Punto needs plenty of work to prepare for starting again next season. Seriously.
According to Official Twins Beat Writer of AG.com LaVelle E. Neal III, Gardenhire has "practically named Punto the starting second baseman in 2008." Here's a quote from Gardenhire:
We already know what we've got with Nick. We know we've got a player. And [Casilla] has all the tools in the world. Nothing's a given. You have to go out and play. But if we were to start right now I would say Nick would have a head up on him, believe me there.
I know what he can do, catch the ball and make all the plays. So he's got a lead going into spring training, as far as I'm concerned. I hope he comes out and has a good spring. I like him in my lineup, somewhere. He makes things exciting. But he's got to play. Got to come back and rebound, we all know that.
If Gardenhire actually "knew what he had in Punto," he'd stop playing him every day. Instead, Punto already has over 500 plate appearances with two weeks left to play despite ranking dead last among all MLB hitters in batting average, slugging percentage, and OPS (and 161st out of 166 in on-base percentage). When viewed alongside the rest of his minor-league and major-league track record, Punto hitting .290/.352/.373 last season is a clear fluke.
He batted .256/.352/.321 in 1,185 plate appearances at Triple-A and has hit .224/.299/.304 in 1,158 plate appearances in the majors surrounding his fluke 2006 season. Yet surely in Gardenhire's mind Punto's 2006 season represents his true ability and the other nine years of his career are the fluke. Perhaps the most amazing thing is that Punto's fluke season wasn't even all that great, yet Gardenhire is willing to stick with him through historic ineptitude because of it.
Similarly, Luis Rodriguez has gotten regular playing time since returning from a demotion to Triple-A, starting nine of 15 September games. At 27 years old, Rodriguez has hit .245/.311/.345 in 491 plate appearances in the majors and .273/.354/.356 in 3,415 plate appearances in the minors. Toss in what is at best passable defense at second base and the inability to handle shortstop, and it's unclear why he's playing. Over those same 15 September games, Casilla and Buscher have six starts each.
I don't blame Gardenhire and the Twins for being unsure of what they have in Casilla and Buscher, but they're not going to learn much by keeping them on the bench and now is a rare opportunity to give them playing time in a situation where mistakes can be tolerated. Why not give Casilla and Buscher even a fraction of the patience that has inexplicably been provided to Punto? Why not let them play through struggles in a low-pressure time when Punto is allowed to play through struggles all season?
Letting Casilla and Buscher rot on the bench and perhaps head back to Triple-A next season won't ruin the Twins, and neither will handing Punto a starting job again. However, the team's handling of the situation provides a perfect example of an organizational weakness that has been prevalent for years. Casilla and Buscher deserve a chance to play, yet they sit even when the games mean nothing. Punto deserves a seat on the bench, yet he plays every day whether it's April or September. Or 2008.
Is Cash Warren the world's craziest human? Youdecide.
One day I'd love to see someone involved with the Twins--from the general manager or manager to the television announcers or players--say something like this about evaluating defense:
Errors should not be the criteria. Fielding percentage is one of the worst averages there is. It doesn't tell you anything about range, positioning.
Somewhere, Dick Bremer has a confused look on his face. As for which AL manager said that, here's a hint: He works for the general manager who said this about trusting minor-league track records:
There's a lot of players out there who if they're given an opportunity, they are major league players. ... Players ... who've been around so long, people have a tendency of focusing on the things they can't do well instead of focusing on what they do well enough to be major league players.
I don't know why that is. You'll hear people say, that guy doesn't do this and doesn't do that well and it may be two or three things, but there's about seven things they do really well. ... So I think you have to look at what they've done and the track record is the best indicator of what they're going to do.
During an appearance Wednesday on "The Ellen DeGeneres Show," Anderson declined to identify her new mystery man, but there's scuttlebutt in the poker world that she's been seeing 29-year-old Antonio "The Magician" Esfandiari.
"I paid off a poker debt with sexual favors, and I fell in love," Anderson told DeGeneres. "It's so romantic. It's romance." ... Anderson ... claims she lost $250,000 in a poker game and was offered an "Indecent Proposal"-like out to clear the debt.
After hearing her appearance on Adam Carolla's radio show last week, I'm almost willing to overlook the fact that she's dating Macaulay Culkin and consider adding Mila Kunis as an Official Fantasy Girl of AG.com candidate. In what I've decided to take as some sort of sign, Kunis and former OFGoAG.com Elisha Cuthbert apparently once did a photoshoot for Maxim together.
On a note that seems to be mostly unrelated, Michael Rand of the Minneapolis Star Tribunestopped byNick Nelson's journalism-school class to talk about blogging. In the span of just a couple years the journalism school has gone from barely knowing what blogs are to bringing in people to speak about them, which is amazing to someone who blogged throughout his four years on campus.
Sort of like Candyman or Bettlejuice, but with an odd twist, if you say Sarah Silverman's name three times she apparently appears, even at the airport.
The world's most distinguished sports publication no longer employs someone who's known solely because she once got on television by wearing a revealing outfit at a college football game. Sadly, they still have Rick Reilly.
I was shocked to see Value Over Replacement Player (VORP) quoted in an article about the Twins on MLB.com last week, because that's about as far as you can get from the usual level of insight that beat writer Kelly Thesier has provided over the past two seasons. It all made a little more sense once I noticed that the article was penned by a fill-in reporter named Conor Nicholl, rather than Thesier. Don't be a stranger, Conor. Please.
The guy from this video is either a complete idiot or a comedic genius, but I'm not willing to watch the most-annoying cast in Real World history enough to find out which.
Scott Van Pelt has done the seemingly impossible by being very likable and a fixture on ESPN.
Bill Madden of the New York Daily News opines that "Ryan's departure spells doom in Minnesota," which is exactly what you'd expect a New York newspaper columnist to think and write about a situation that he's likely not all that familiar with.
Sid Hartman Quote of the Week:
Getting back to the Vikings ... the receivers, headed by free-agent acquisition Bobby Wade, will match any other receivers in the NFC North.
Roy Williams, Calvin Johnson, Mike Furrey, and Shaun McDonald say hello. And so do Donald Driver, Greg Jennings, and James Jones.