FHM recently revealed their annual list of the "Top 100 Sexiest Women in the World" and I'm proud that two former Official Fantasy Girl of AG.com title-holders and one current OFGoAG.com candidate rank second, third, and fourth, respectively. My baseball analysis may be stats-driven, but my taste in women apparently shows some pretty decent scouting skills.
For years now my favorite meal in the world has been "hunan chicken with carrots, baby corn, and extra rice" from Yangtze in St. Louis Park. I can say without even an ounce of hyperbole that I've ordered it 500 times. The other day they raised the price a couple dollars, informing me that the cost of rice had risen too high for them to stick with the old amount. That didn't bother me at all, especially after seeing a "Skyrocketing rice prices has Sam's Club limiting sales" headline on CNN.com.
However, the good people at Yangtze then informed me that even before the price increase the cost of each order had already included $5 to account for the seemingly minor "extra rice" part. So now, after ordering the exact same thing from the exact same restaurant multiple times per week for the past 7-8 years, I've come to the startling, highly disturbing realization that I've likely spent somewhere around $2,500 on white rice. If only Guinness had a category for carbohydrate-based stupidity.
Joe Posnanski of the Kansas City Star has long been my favorite newspaper sports columnist and like me the people who read his blog are big fans of Lori Loughlin (although sadly not enough to make her a first-ballot Pozcar winner).
With 45 percent of the vote and nearly four times as many votes as the second-place finisher, "Double Stitches" from Dan Olson is the winner:
With over 50 submissions the response to the contest was far beyond my expectations, so thank you to everyone who sent in a design. You'll notice that the new logo hasn't been added to the site yet, mostly because my extremely limited web-design skills guarantee that it'll take me a while to figure out how to actually make that happen.
Curmudgeonly, blog-hatingMinneapolis Star Tribune columnist Patrick Reussewrote the following tidbit about himself earlier this week:
Answer never changes when someone asks if he read a Bill Simmons column: "No. What newspaper is he with?"
Bill Simmons isn't with a newspaper, of course. Instead, he writes for a media outlet that people under the age of 50 actually read. One of the most rewarding aspects of blogging or creating a website like The Hardball Times is that your writing has to speak for itself and your audience has to seek you out. Unlike Reusse's column this blog isn't thrown onto someone's doorstep each morning along with a bunch of local news, advertisements, and coupons, so people read it solely because of the content.
There's something satisfying about that, even if it means old-school newspaper writers like Reusse are automatically dismissive of your work because it doesn't appear as ink on a page. Meanwhile, his column appears alongside the brilliant prose of Sid Hartman and Jim Souhan in a medium that sees its audience decline further each day. The shift has already begun to some degree and in a few years people may be dismissive of writers like Reusse because they work for a newspaper.
Gordon Edes of the Boston Globe established himself as one of the best, most respected baseball writers in the country during his 35 years in the newspaper business, but he'll apparently now have to cross Reusse off his list of readers. It if makes Edes feel any better about losing Reusse's respect, the "no, what newspaper is he with?" club has expanded pretty rapidly over the past year.
Speaking of Minnesota's elite group of local newspaper sports columnists, Charley Walters of the St. Paul Pioneer Presswrote this nugget the other day:
One longtime Twins fan is willing to bet that, at season's end, Twins rookie pitcher Nick Blackburn wil have a lower earned-run average than ex-Twins starter Johan Santana of the New York Mets.
That sentence is fascinating on a number of levels, beginning with the notion that the opinion of "one longtime Twins fan" is somehow noteworthy enough to deserve space in a newspaper. Walters gives no hint about who the "one longtime Twins fan" might be and that one sentence is the entire extent of the note, which is found in the middle of a lengthy column made up of similarly random tidbits such as "the Gophers are trying to close a deal to schedule a home football game with Texas in 2015."
As if Walters devoting column space to an anonymous, random thought from "one longtime Twins fan" isn't absurd enough--seriously, think about that for a moment--the Pioneer Press' editors failed to catch an obvious misspelling and "wil" made it to print, as if the newspaper is some lowly, unedited blog. Of course, as 10,000 Takes pointed out, the most amazing aspect might be that "there are actually people who pay money to have this kind of incredible sports insight 'dropped' on their doorstep each day."
He previously struck me as annoying because my first exposure came via the forgettable XFL, but after staying up into the wee hours listening to him call last Thursday's amazing 22-inning game and making a point to hear him work several times since then, Padres play-by-play man Matt Vasgersian is quickly becoming one of my favorite baseball announcers. He's extremely laid back, witty, smart, and has a great on-air rapport with partner Mark Grant.
If all my money wasn't currently tied up in rice, I'd pay a decent price to have him replace Dick Bremer.
Friend of AG.com and Rotoworld football guru Gregg Rosenthal passed along the following note while working on the annual Rotoworld Football Draft Guide: On passes that traveled at least 20 yards, Tarvaris Jackson went 4-of-36 with two touchdowns and four interceptions last season. Me opining repeatedly that Jackson "throws a nice deep ball" now seems sort of silly, but as Rosenthal pointed out: "Well, it looks nice and goes far. It just lands on the ground."
Twins Notes: Bonser, Gomez, Cuddyer, Thomas, and Krivsky
Boof Bonser turned in his fourth Quality Start in five outings this season by tossing six innings of two-run ball against the A's last night, but his record fell to 1-4 when the Twins once again failed to provide him with decent run support. After being shut out last night the lineup has produced a grand total of seven runs in Bonser's five starts and he also ranked second-to-last among AL starters in run support last year. In Bonser's last 35 starts, the Twins have scored more than four runs just 11 times.
Carlos Gomez had a memorable Twins debut--doubling, bunting for a single, walking, and stealing two bases on Opening Day--and hit .326 with five steals through his first 10 games. Unfortunately, he's been completely lost at the plate since, batting 6-for-44 (.136) with zero walks in 10 games. Gomez went 0-for-5 with four strikeouts Tuesday before mercifully receiving last night off, but his problems offensively shouldn't come as a surprise given his various projections heading into the season:
Gomez was handed an everyday job in the majors as a 22-year-old despite having a month's worth of experience at Triple-A and his minor-league track record suggested that he was anything but ready to thrive against big-league pitching. Sure enough, he's hitting .230/.247/.310 with a horrendous 24-to-2 strikeout-to-walk ratio through 20 games, underperforming even those modest projections and making him a .231/.272/.307 hitter in 78 career games once his time with the Mets last season is included.
He's drawn a total of eight non-intentional walks in 228 career plate appearances while striking out 51 times, which isn't the type of ratio that lends itself to being a quality leadoff man, especially when it accompanies a .272 on-base percentage. Nearly one-fourth of Gomez's career hits have come via bunts and he's unsuccessfully laid one down plenty, which leaves him as a .202 hitter with a measly .278 slugging percentage and 50 strikeouts in 203 plate appearances when he swings away.
That works out to a strikeout in 25 percent of his non-bunt plate appearances, which would've ranked as the eighth-highest strikeout rate among AL hitters last year. Even with the bunt attempts included, Gomez has whiffed in 22 percent of his career trips to the plate, which would've ranked 14th-worst among AL hitters last season. Gomez's speed makes him plenty exciting, but he's been rushed to the majors despite having huge holes in his game and has predictably been overmatched at the plate.
Gomez can wreak havoc once he reaches base, but that rarely happens because he has horrible plate discipline, struggles to make consistent contact, and possesses little power. He has loads of potential and has shown flashes of brilliance, but isn't an MLB-caliber hitter at this stage of his career, let alone an MLB-caliber leadoff man. Perhaps the Twins feel that he'll learn more in Minnesota than Rochester, but in the meantime he's burning through pre-free agency service time while dragging the lineup down.
Michael Cuddyer is scheduled to return from the disabled list Friday and figures to resume batting third in the lineup, which hopefully means that Ron Gardenhire will move Joe Mauer back into the No. 2 spot. Sliding Gomez to the bottom of the order while making Brendan Harris the leadoff man would also make sense given that Harris is hitting .297/.352/.406 this year and batted .286/.343/.434 last season. Of course, as Official Twins Beat Writer of AG.com LaVelle E. Neal IIIreports, it'll never happen:
Gardenhire said he's against moving Gomez from the leadoff spot, reasoning that he needs at-bats and he'll be better off down the road if he stays at the top of the order.
Gomez would still get plenty of plate appearances at the bottom of the lineup and staying at the top of the order won't help anyone involved if he doesn't actually perform well enough to warrant being there. Gardenhire views speed as having tremendous importance atop the lineup and regardless of what you think of that stance Gomez's wheels do have plenty of value, but Harris figures to get on base about 20 percent more often and that's far more important.
Had Cuddyer's finger injury been more serious it would have made sense for the Twins to pursue Frank Thomas after the future Hall of Famer was released by the Blue Jays earlier this week. Thomas would have provided an upgrade to the Twins' lineup, but with the team committed to playing Cuddyer, Delmon Young, and Jason Kubel nearly every game and Craig Monroe already around to take starts against left-handers away from Kubel there would've been limited work available.
Interestingly, Thomas is rumored to be negotiating a return to Oakland, where he'd presumably replace Mike Sweeney as the A's designated hitter. Sweeney revealed yesterday that he "had some talks with the Twins early in the offseason" and "was pretty excited about the possibility" of coming to Minnesota before "talks calmed down" and he signed with the A's for just $500,000. He then went 2-for-3 with a homer and two RBIs in the A's 3-0 victory last night, improving to .309/.391/.418 on the year.
Monroe was in the starting lineup Tuesday because of his previous success against A's starter Joe Blanton and went 3-for-4 with a homer, a double, and three RBIs to raise his OPS from .656 to .897. He was back in the lineup last night, but without Blanton to smack around went 0-for-3 with two strikeouts. Monroe costs nearly eight times as much as Sweeney, but when not facing Blanton this season he's 6-for-29 (.207) with 12 strikeouts and a .310 slugging percentage.
Mauer's durability is questioned by fans, media members, and self-proclaimed tough guys who sit with sore toes, but he's started 18 of the first 21 games, catching 158 of a possible 185 innings. He's on pace to catch 1,220 innings, which is noteworthy given that Jorge Posada led the AL by catching 1,111 innings last year. Even his limited rest hasn't been optimal, as Mauer has started four of the five games against lefties while two of Mike Redmond's three starts have come against righties.
While Gomez struggles, Jacoby Ellsburyhas been great for the Red Sox, hitting .308/.456/.538 in 20 games. Ellsbury was my preferred position player from the various Johan Santana trade rumors this winter, and including last season's playoffs has now hit .342 with a fantastic 23-to-24 strikeout-to-walk ratio while going 19-for-19 stealing bases in 64 career MLB games. On the other hand, my preferred pitcher from the Santana talks was Phil Hughes, and he's 0-3 with an 8.82 ERA for the Yankees.
Wayne Krivsky's underwhelming stint as Reds general manager ended yesterday, as Terry Ryan's former right-hand man was fired after two-plus years on the job. Cincinnati went 161-184 (.467) under Krivsky, who hired Dusty Baker as manager despite his being horribly miscast to lead a young team and too often filled the roster with players like Juan Castro after honing his love for veteran mediocrity in Minnesota. Krivsky is respected enough to land on his feet, but hopefully not back with the Twins.
A few weeks ago I asked people to submit designs for a new AG.com logo/header, because this site has long been overdue for a new look and Sony had sent me a bunch of video games to give away via some sort of contest. My only requirements were that the design couldn't involve a copyrighted image (such as the Twins' logo) and had to include "AaronGleeman.com." Amazingly, over 50 designs were submitted and I'd like to thank each person who took the time to send me something.
My seven favorites are shown below, but before you take a look please note that the images have been scaled down to fit the space and may appear somewhat blurry. They're all intended to be used atop the page as headers and would be bigger than what you see below, so to view full-sized versions of each design simply click on the image. Once you're finished looking at all seven designs, please take a moment to vote for your favorite in the poll at the bottom of the entry.
UPDATE: Polling is closed. Thanks for voting.
No. 1 - "Double Stitches" (Submitted by Dan Olson):
No. 2 - "New Ballpark" (Submitted by Joe Stahlmann):
No. 3 - "Lots of Baseballs" (Submitted by Jory Dyvig):
No. 4 - "AG.com Ball" (Submitted by Dan Olson):
No. 5 - "Women of AG.com" (Submitted by Tom Berrisford):
No. 6 - "Eyebrows" (Submitted by Robin Decaire): No. 7 - "Old School" (Submitted by Dan Olson):
Twins Notes: Liriano, Blackburn, Everett, and Morneau
Compared to his first post-surgery start versus the Royals on April 13, Francisco Liriano's stuff and results were both improved in Friday's second outing. However, he still flashed significantly decreased velocity while struggling to throw strikes against the Indians. His slider appeared to have a little more bite on it, but clearly trailed the 2006 version by several degrees of nastiness and his fastball was once again in the 88-92 range rather than the mid-90s heater that he worked with as a rookie.
Liriano had a career-high five walks in his first start and matched that total Friday, throwing just 47 of 88 pitches for strikes. He got Grady Sizemore to swing through a two-strike slider to lead off the game, but struck out just two of the next 21 batters and uncharacteristically induced more fly balls than grounders. Liriano showed Friday that he should be capable of pitching effectively once his command settles in, but he remains nowhere close to regaining the stuff that dominated the league in 2006.
With that said, even limited improvement can be viewed as a major positive at this point, even if Liriano didn't seem very pleased with his second outing. "I'm rushing too much with my fastball, trying to make a perfect pitch, and it's not working that way," Liriano said. "I've just got to calm down and get better, hit my spots with the fastball." Predictably, Ron Gardenhire had a slightly more optimistic view of Liriano's performance:
Frankie was better than last time. He's still not commanding his fastball and the strike zone in general. The arm's there, the velocity's there. He had some spurts where it really came out of his hand and it looked really good, but he was still missing the zone a little too much. It was a step forward. It's just about the fastball now, throwing it in the zone.
Gardenhire saying that "the velocity is there" seems odd given that Liriano frequently failed to crack 90 miles per hour, but at this point the Twins seem pleased that he's simply able to throw an MLB-caliber fastball even if it's not close to a Liriano-caliber fastball. "There's still enough jump on his fastball, enough life at the end, that he doesn't have to pitch to spots," pitching coach Rick Andersonsaid. "He just has to pitch to an area." Liriano's next start will come Thursday against the ever-patient A's.
Nick Blackburn turned in 7.2 scoreless innings Saturday against the Indians, continuing to make Baseball America look good and me look bad (shocking, I know). BApicking the 26-year-old Blackburn as the Twins' No. 1 prospect prior to the Johan Santana trade was criticized in this space, but he now has a 2.49 ERA and .681 opponent's OPS through four starts, locking himself into the rotation for the foreseeable future.
Blackburn racked up 11 strikeouts through his first two starts, which was completely out of character based on his minor-league track record, but has gotten into character by totaling one strikeout in two starts since. He's made up for the lack of missed bats by inducing 26 ground-ball outs over that stretch and has induced a grounder on 55.3 percent of his balls in play overall. Unlike some low-strikeout pitchers who experience immediate success, Blackburn hasn't gotten lucky on balls in play.
The defense behind him has actually converted balls in play into outs at a slightly below-average rate and because of that his .289 opponent's batting average is sub par. He's limited the damage of those hits by serving up zero homers and handing out just three walks in 103 plate appearances. Blackburn allowed eight hits Saturday against the Indians, but didn't issue a walk, kept the ball in the ballpark, and wriggled out of trouble repeatedly by coaxing four double plays.
It was an outing straight from the Carlos Silva tight-rope walking handbook. Blackburn issued just 19 free passes in 148.2 innings between Double-A and Triple-A last season, so his control is legitimately outstanding. A dozen strikeouts in 25.1 innings is also about what should be expected based on his track record. In other words, he'll keep pounding the strike zone and pitching to contact, which leaves Blackburn's ground-ball and home-run rates as the big variables.
Inducing 55 percent grounders all year would make him one of the most ground-ball heavy pitchers in baseball and give him a strong chance for continued success, but his ground-ball rate was 50 percent in the minors over the past two seasons and facing MLB hitters tends to equal more fly balls. It seems unlikely that Blackburn can continue to induce so many grounders and either way he'll eventually serve up some homers, but he's certainly been impressive enough to make me look silly thus far.
Adam Everett's defense has been one of this season's biggest disappointments. Long considered a Gold Glove-caliber shortstop who for years has ranked among the truly elite defensive players in all of baseball regardless of position, Everett was shaky from Opening Day on after signing a one-year deal with the Twins this winter. His range looked solid but unspectacular--perhaps due to the broken leg that sidelined him for three months last year--and his arm was both weak and erratic.
Everett's throwing problems now make sense after the Twins placed him on the disabled list Saturday afternoon with right shoulder tendinitis. Everett called the shoulder injury "a little shocking" because he's never experienced previous arm problems while starting for the Astros over the past five seasons, adding: "I don't feel like anybody's seen me really play yet because I don't feel like I've been 100 percent healthy, so maybe I can get back and show you guys that I can actually play the shortstop position."
With Everett heading the DL the Twins called up Brian Buscher from Triple-A to replace him on the roster, which is well deserved given that he was batting .345/.397/.586 in 15 games at Rochester this season after hitting a combined .309/.385/.493 in 103 games between Double-A and Triple-A last year. Buscher would normally be somewhat superfluous and highly unlikely to get significant playing time, because third base, first base, and designated hitter are all manned by left-handed hitters.
However, until Michael Cuddyer comes back from his dislocated finger Gardenhire will have the option of opening up the DH spot for Buscher by playing Kubel in right field and benching Denard Span. That alignment was suggested in this space when Cuddyer headed to the DL two weeks ago and seems like an obvious move to make for a team struggling to score runs, but not starting the light-hitting Span in right field to begin with once seemed plenty obvious too.
Swapping Everett for Buscher means that Nick Punto and Matt Tolbert will split time at shortstop for at least the rest of the month. Brendan Harris actually started 87 games at shortstop for the Rays last season, but the Twins have smartly realized that he was overmatched there and he's likely not even an option. Tolbert totaled 75 appearances at shortstop during four years in the minors, including just eight games last season, but apparently has the coaching staff convinced that he can handle the position.
In fact, Tolbert has surprisingly already startedthreegames at shortstop this month while Punto played third base. That's telling, because for all the talk among fans and the media about Punto's supposedly great defense, the Twins have been willing to stick him at the position where they typically start Mike Lamb and his poor defensive reputation while a rookie plays shortstop after starting just eight games there in the minors last season.
Either Gardenhire has some odd theory about infield defense that involves playing Punto at third base while the middle infield is manned by a pair of inferior gloves or he simply doesn't actually agree with the portrayal of Punto as a great defender. Whatever the case, Tolbert will likely see plenty of action at shortstop as long as he continues hitting well. Of course, Tolbert's bat figures to slow down soon given his .280/.345/.405 career hitting line in over 1,500 minor-league plate appearances.
Once Tolbert's bat comes crashing back down to earth the Twins may begin to more clearly see him as something less than an asset defensively at shortstop, in which case Punto would be in line for increased playing time. Punto, Tolbert, and Harris are the only middle infielders on the major-league roster and the only legitimate shortstop options at Triple-A right now are Alexi Casilla and Chris Basak (and Tommy Watkins, if you're really feeling generous defensively).
In case you're curious, Jason Bartlett is hitting just .210/.234/.242 in 17 games and has already made four errors--including a huge one against the Twins last week--as the Rays' starting shortstop.
Justin Morneau began the season 1-for-16 with zero extra-base hits and tons of grounders, which along with his powerless second half last year had people concerned. Since then he's 17-for-51 (.333) with five homers in 14 games. It's nice to see Morneau recover from a brief season-opening slump, but early power has never been a problem. From 2005-2007, Morneau slugged .554 with one homer per 15 at-bats in the first half, compared to .441 with one homer per 28 at-bats in the second half.