Friday, July 11, 2008
We hope you can cover/attend this Captain Morgan All-Star event on Sunday night, hosted by Maria Menounos. We are confirming additional talent as we speak and will keep you updated. Media RSVP for this event is required to attend.How exciting! What boy doesn't grow up dreaming of hanging with "NFL player Keith Bulluck"? Plus, Maria Menounos looks like this. Tragically, my dreams were destroyed with the invitation's final line:
Where: STKSorry Keith, it just wasn't meant to be.
My initial plan was obviously to shave the beard already, but the reviews have been so encouraging that it made me reconsider. For instance, when she saw me last month Will Young's lovely wife reportedly said afterward: "It looks horrible!"
You should click on the picture to see the full-sized version. Trust me. Dial is wearing a Mets hat, has a beer in his hand, and appears to be intoxicated, which is a slightly less shocking combination than, say, Keeley Hazell being photographed sans clothing. Rosenthal looks to be approximately 40 inches tall and has sun glasses hanging from his shirt, like he's posing for some department store's summer catalog. Keri apparently can't bear to watch. And the guy in the Durham Bulls hat ... well, who knows.
I'm not quite sure exactly what my point is, but it seemed pretty interesting to me.
Wolfson (to me): If Gomez gets moved out of the leadoff spot, what would you do with the rest of the lineup?That was it, but as a longtime Barreiro fan whose enjoyment of his show gets put to the test whenever he talks about Mauer or Kevin Garnett, it seemed like a fitting introduction.
That might be the internet version of "hey look, someone wrote gullible on the ceiling!"
Once you're done here, check out my latest "Daily Dose" column over at Rotoworld.
Thursday, July 10, 2008
There's no way I'm writing about that, especially after this. Let's try to wipe the Red Sox series from our collective memory, come back tomorrow for some links to pictures of pretty girls and funny videos, and hope the Twins can get back on their feet heading into the All-Star break. Oh, and can we all agree to mock anyone who talks about "momentum" as if it's meaningful over the course of 162 games? Swept by Chicago. Win 19 of 23. Swept by Boston. Yeah, momentum.
Note: No comments section today, because what would be the point of that, really?
Wednesday, July 09, 2008
Two Losses, No Nathan
Whenever someone who doesn't watch the Twins on a regular basis suggests that Ron Gardenhire is one of the best managers in baseball, you'll typically see me point to this type of decision-making in response. Calling upon Brian Bass as the first reliever out of the bullpen in the eighth inning of a 0-0 game at Fenway Park is all sorts of wrong. That's a spot crying out for the team's best reliever, except Gardenhire would never actually use Joe Nathan there given that it wasn't a "save situation."
Tied at 0-0 in the eighth inning on the road is an incredibly crucial, game-changing situation and using Nathan there makes more sense than holding him back for a "save situation" that a) may never arrive, and b) has more margin for error even if it does materialize. If not for the fact that the accumulation of a statistic has somehow defined bullpen usage, would anyone think that closing out a lead of 1-3 runs in the ninth inning is more important than coming into a 0-0 game in the eighth inning? They shouldn't.
Instead of using the team's best reliever in a spot that couldn't get much more important Monday night, Gardenhire called on the team's worst reliever. And not only is Bass the Twins' worst reliever, he's been used all season in a mop-up role reserved for such a player and because of that has rarely been asked to pitch in spots anywhere near as important as the eighth inning of a 0-0 game at Fenway Park. Here's a look at the bullpen's Leverage Index averages:
LIIf you're unfamiliar with Leverage Index, the short version is that the higher a reliever's number gets the more crucial his appearances have been. Nathan has the highest LI on the Twins (and sixth-highest in the AL) because he typically either pitches with a small lead or doesn't pitch at all. Before his injury Pat Neshek ranked second in LI because while Nathan was being held back for save chances, Gardenhire was able to plug him into key spots without worrying about the accumulation of a statistic.
Bass is at the opposite end of the spectrum. His LI ranks behind Nathan, Neshek, Dennys Reyes, Matt Guerrier, Jesse Crain, Juan Rincon, and Bobby Korecky. Only Craig Breslow (who's been used as a second left-hander since being claimed off waivers mid-year) and Boof Bonser (who's in the bullpen thanks to being demoted from the rotation) have worked in lower-leverage spots than Bass. In fact, as of Monday no reliever in the entire league with at least 30 innings had a lower LI than Bass. Seriously.
Bass is the worst pitcher in the bullpen and has appeared almost exclusively in mop-up situations this season, to the point that his LI was the lowest in the entire league. Yet there he was, facing the heart of the Red Sox's lineup--Dustin Pedroia, J.D. Drew, Manny Ramirez, Mike Lowell--in the eighth inning of a 0-0 game on the road. Crain was brought into the game after Bass coughed up what proved to be the game-winning run and Nathan never even took the mound in a 1-0 loss.
Facing the Red Sox again last night, the Twins held leads of 4-2 in the seventh inning and 5-2 in the eighth inning. Gardenhire brought in Reyes and then Guerrier, which was to be expected given that they rank second and third behind Nathan for the highest LI on the team if you set Neshek aside due to his season-ending injury. LI shows that Reyes and Guerrier are the setup men Gardenhire calls upon to pitch in the tightest spots, and rightfully so given that they've been the best non-Nathan relievers.
Unfortunately, Reyes served up a double to Jacoby Ellsbury leading off the eighth inning and Guerrier allowed that run and three others to score after relieving him, as the Red Sox took a 6-5 lead that held up for the victory. Two games in two nights lost in the eighth inning. One by Bass. One by Reyes and Guerrier. And both while the team's best, highest-paid reliever watched from the bullpen, unused, while being held back for a "save situation" that never arrived.
Nathan hasn't thrown 20 pitches in an outing since May 22 and has done so a total of seven times all season. By comparison, Guerrier has thrown 20-plus pitches 16 times, including last night, and Crain has done so 12 times despite coming off shoulder surgery. Guerrier has thrown 30 or more pitches eight times, whereas Nathan has yet to go past 26 pitches. Nathan is on pace to log a career-low 66 innings, while Bass and Guerrier are on pace for 99 and 79 innings, respectively.
As usual Nathan has been amazing, posting a 1.23 ERA while converting 25-of-27 save chances, but he's appeared in just 10 of the team's 53 games when a save chance wasn't available. Why is his workload so minimal? Why are second- and third-tier relievers regularly given opportunities to lose games in the late innings while he goes unused? Because Gardenhire, like most managers, let's the "save" determine his bullpen usage instead of simply using his best reliever in the most crucial spots.
It wasn't so long ago that the best relievers in baseball regularly logged 100 or even 120 innings per year, but now elite relievers like Nathan rarely pitch even 75 innings. As the Twins have seen over the past two nights, those "extra" innings trickle down to the bullpen's lesser options and can lead to tough losses occurring without the best reliever on the team even seeing any action. That's the way modern bullpens are deployed, so the Twins aren't alone, but that doesn't make it any less of a mistake.
Expecting Gardenhire to give Nathan the same type of workload that elite relievers had in the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, and early 1980s is beyond wishful thinking given that only a handful of managers in all of baseball have tried that over the past decade. Plus, allowing Nathan to throw 100 or 120 innings per season would probably be a mistake anyway. However, there's nothing to suggest that he's incapable of perhaps occasionally throwing 25 pitches or maybe entering a key game in a non-save situation.
When a game is tied at 0-0 in the late innings, why wouldn't the team's best reliever be the first one out of the bullpen? When a three-run lead is slipping away in the eighth inning, why wouldn't the team's closer be brought in to put out the fire? When a great setup man goes down with a season-ending injury, why wouldn't the overpowering bullpen stud with a 1.86 ERA in five seasons with the team be allowed to throw more than three innings per week? Nathan is an extraordinary reliever. Use him.
Once you're done here, check out my latest "Daily Dose" column over at Rotoworld.
Monday, July 07, 2008
It's been a long time since the Twins had one of the league's highest-scoring offenses. Way back in 1992--when the Twins were reigning World Series champs and the person whose blog you're reading was nine years old--a lineup featuring Kirby Puckett, Shane Mack, Chili Davis, Chuck Knoblauch, Kent Hrbek, and Brian Harper ranked third among AL teams in scoring. In the 15 seasons since then, here are the Twins' year-by-year ranks in AL offense: 11, 6, 10, 8, 10, 11, 14, 13, 8, 9, 6, 10, 14, 8, 12.
That's a whole bunch of horrible, with a little mediocre mixed in. On average, the Twins have been the 10th-best offense in the league over the past 15 seasons and failed to produce one of the AL's top five offenses even once during that span. That didn't figure to change much this season, as a lineup that ranked 12th in scoring last year lost one of its best hitters in Torii Hunter. Except it's early July and the Twins rank third in scoring and are one big game from passing the Red Sox for second place.
Glancing at the Twins' team-wide hitting numbers, it's tough to see how they're scoring so many runs. If this were 1988 and we didn't know better, the fact that they rank third in batting average would explain how they rank third in scoring. Instead, this is 2008 and despite what Dick Bremer would have you believe there's a decade-plus worth of studies to show that batting average takes a clear backseat to several other stats when it comes to correlating with runs.
In other words, when the Twins rank eighth in on-base percentage and eighth in slugging percentage, scoring the third-most runs in the league seemingly doesn't make much sense. They also rank 11th in walks and dead last in homers, so even with the league's third-best batting average the Twins have been below average at both getting on base and accumulating bases. Based on the lineup's overall numbers, the Twins should rank right in the middle of the AL pack in scoring.
So how do they rank near the top? Believe it or not, there's a relatively simple explanation. While the Twins rank just eighth in on-base percentage and eighth in slugging percentage overall, they lead the league in both on-base percentage and slugging percentage with runners in scoring position. In fact, they lead all of baseball in both categories while also posting the majors' highest batting average with runners in scoring position by an amazing 30 points.
AL TEAMS WITH RUNNERS IN SCORING POSITIONNo team in baseball has been as good as the Twins with RISP and it's not particularly close. No other team in the league has hit above .280 with RISP and the AL as a whole has batted .269 in those spots, yet the Twins are at .318. Their OBP with RISP is 10 percent better than the AL average and their SLG with RISP is 15 percent better than the AL average. Mediocre overall and amazing with RISP is a decent recipe for a high-scoring offense, and the Twins have been cooking with it all season.
At the most basic level, offense is about getting runners on base and driving them home, which is why a lineup that ranks eighth in both OBP and SLG typically tends to rank somewhere around eighth in runs. However, if that same lineup fares exceptionally well at driving runners in once they reach base, that goes a long way towards making up for having a modest number of runners to begin with. Think of scoring runs like buying lottery tickets.
If each ticket has an equal chance of winning, then the person who buys the most tickets has the best odds of winning. However, if certain people somehow have significantly better odds of winning with each ticket they buy, then they can have the best chance of winning without buying the most tickets. So far the Twins have purchased an average amount of lottery tickets, but their numbers have been called far more often than everyone else and they've been able to cash them in at a very high rate.
Here's where things get tricky. Twins fans would love to believe that the lineup's excellent performance with RISP is by design. Perhaps it's an organization-wide philosophy that stresses hitting in key spots or perhaps hitting coach Joe Vavra has simply convinced everyone to take a smarter approach at the plate when there are runners to be driven in. Whatever the case, it'd be nice if hitting .318/.389/.469 with RISP was a skill in the sense that it could be repeated over the long haul.
Unfortunately, baseball history and Twins history suggest that's usually not the case. Calling what the Twins have done with RISP thus far "luck" is misleading, because that carries a negative connotation for many people. However, posting mediocre overall numbers while performing exceptionally well with RISP is typically not something that can be sustained over time, whether you want to call that "luck" or something else. Put another way: What they've done with RISP is amazing, but unlikely to continue.
It'd be nice to believe that the Twins' lineup possesses the ability to raise its collective game to a much higher level in key spots and it's certainly possible that they'll continue to do so for the remainder of the season, but betting against it would be the smart play. Among AL teams, the Twins failed to post a top five OPS with RISP in any of the previous eight seasons, often finishing near the bottom of the league in that category.
What they've already done obviously can't be taken away--and it's been a whole lot of fun to watch--but if the Twins continue to rank in the middle of the pack in both OBP and SLG going forward they're highly unlikely to finish with one of the league's top three offenses. Those are the facts and that's simply how baseball tends to work, whether Twins fans want to hear it or not. Of course, none of that means the Twins' offense is going to fall apart.
If they continue to be mediocre in OBP and SLG the offense will likely decline in the second half, but there's nothing that says the lineup has to continue at its current rate. In other words, the Twins can make up for some of the likely drop in RISP magic that lies ahead by simply hitting better overall. Get more runners on base or hit for more power and you no longer have to count on an unsustainably great performance with RISP to score runs. Buy more lottery tickets and you don't have to get as lucky.
Much like they did in 2006 by replacing Juan Castro and Tony Batista with Jason Bartlett and Nick Punto, the Twins have adjusted their infield on the fly again this year by adding Alexi Casilla and Brian Buscher to the mix. Casilla has added a much-needed on-base threat and surprising pop to the top of the lineup, hitting .320/.364/.450 in 45 games. Buscher has taken advantage of Mike Lamb's horrible play by replacing him as a the regular third baseman while hitting .333/.361/.424 in 19 games.
Casilla and Buscher aren't likely to continue batting .330 together all year, but have a chance to provide upgrades over what the Twins got for the first two months. Similarly, Delmon Young has gotten on track after a brutal start, hitting .314/.361/.494 over his past 40 games. Jason Kubel has emerged as a third left-handed impact bat alongside Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau in the middle of the lineup, hitting .304/.391/.558 over his past 42 games and .276/.338/.481 in 174 games dating back to last year.
Toss in the usual outstanding production from Mauer and Morneau, and the lineup as a whole is much different and more potent than the group that ranked as the AL's second-worst in April. It's unlikely that the Twins can continue to put up such amazing numbers with runners in scoring position, but it's also unlikely that they'll need to in order to finish the season with one of the best offenses that they've had since 1992. Pitching and defense have been great and all, but hitting is nice too. Who knew.
Once you're done here, check out my latest "Daily Dose" column over at Rotoworld.