Thursday, August 17, 2006

Reminder for Sunday's Game

Powered by Twins Geek

Lots of stuff below, but just a quick reminder that there's a great even on Sunday for the Twins game for Tix for Tots. My family will be there, and it'd be fun to meet you and your family as we jointly fill our faces, watch our kids get bamboozled by majicians, and walk on the dome floor in front of 30,000+ people for the first pitch. It's not too late, and you can get the info at Hope to see you there.


On First Looks and Budget Books

Powered by Twins Geek

This year in Rochester, Jason Bartlett was hitting. .303. Last year in Rochester, he hit .332. In 2004 in Rochester, he hit also hit .332. And in 2003, in AA-New Britain, he hit .296. So, is it a huge surprise that in his major league career, Jason Bartlett is hitting .293?

Maybe a little. After all, prior to his callup on June 14th, Bartlett had only hit .233. In his first callup, he had just one hit in twelve at-bats. He also looked like a 14-year-old. And he made a couple of errors his first time in the field. Sure, we had hopes for him, but they weren’t high hopes. Such is the power of first impressions.

It’s amazing how much has changed in two months. He’s hitting .363, a high enough average that I receive emails asking whether he could challenge Joe Mauer for the batting title. (FYI – He can’t. He would need about 300 more plate appearances over the last 42 games to qualify.) And his defense is largely credited for improving the fortunes of the pitching staff since June. And now the 14-year-old looks like Johnny Depp.

None of this should be a huge surprise if we had look at more than just the 236 at-bats he received while facing the pressure of unseating well-liked veteran Juan Castro. Players have histories that extend beyond their first cup of coffee. It’s a trap we all fall into as we focus on the impact of that day’s game.

Most amazing is that we were blind to the defense. When there is resistance to a lineup change for the Twins, the first reason given always seems to be “they need to work on their defense”. But beyond his initial case of the yips, any grown person with functioning eyeballs could see that Bartlett’s range far exceeded that of other veterans on the club.

This last week has highlighted just how ludicrous that argument was. A ball deep into the hole; Bartlett dives, grabs, and throws out the runner. A ball right up the middle; Bartlett knocks it down. A slow roller to the left side is cut off by the third baseman, who can afford to play shallower because of the range of Bartlett behind him. How did we question this kids’ defense? After all, when he was traded to the Twins, he was a utility infielder whose path to the majors relied on his defense. Honestly, what were we thinking?

That first impression cost the Twins plenty, both last year and for the first two months this year. However, they also gained something with those delays. In fact, they may have gained several million somethings. To see how, one needs to examine how a player’s compensation works at the beginning of his major league career.

For the first three years of a player’s career, their team can pay them any amount they want, above the major league minimum. Usually they’ll make around $400,000. For the next three years, they’re arbitration-eligible, and make much more money, starting at seven figures for any player who receives regular playing time.

There is one loophole that allows some players to receive that big money a year earlier. Every year, the top 17% of two-year players (in service time), who are called “Super 2” players, get to go to arbitration a year earlier. The cutoff in service time varies every year, but it usually falls between 130 and 140 games played beyond two years. Torii Hunter received his highly paid contract in part because he was a Super 2. Michael Cuddyer’s Super 2 status cost the Twins about $900,000 this year. Next year, Morneau will qualify as a Super 2 player and will cost the Twins a lot more than that.

Coming into the year, Bartlett had played 148 games. If he had been with the Twins from the beginning of the year, and played two full seasons, he would have undoubtedly been a Super 2. Because he spent two months in Rochester, he’ll finish this season with about one year and 85 games. Which means that even after this year, he’ll still be two full years away from arbitration. That could save the Twins a couple of million dollars in 2008. And 2009. And 2010.

There’s no evidence that the Twins took this into consideration. In fact, it was reported that they offered to put Bartlett on the disabled list to begin the season, which would have extended his service time. And even if they did play games with his service time, they wouldn’t be the first team to do so. The Indians just called up the promising Andy Marte shortly after his chance to join the Super 2 players passed. Super prospect BJ Upton was called up to join the Devil Rays when his service time this year could no longer reach 130 games.

But it is interesting that all the misperceptions, whether they were about defense or offense or leadership, cost the Twins two months this year, but likely gained them millions in the future.

Mini-mini rant

Powered by Twins Geek

Seriously, I love Torii as much as anyone. And I still think he can provide a lot to this team. But he can't play center field anymore thsi year. He just can't. It's obvious, and has been for a week. I don't know if you DH him, or rest him, or start him in left field or start him in right field, but you DON'T start him in center field any more than you start Jason Kubel in center field. Get over it.

Links of the Day for 8/18/06

Powered by Intern Sharkey

This Friday’s links compiled while chatting it up with Greg Anderson

  • The Twins fell to Cleveland in the series finale on Thursday, 3-2. Paul Byrd went the Distance (but not for speed), peddling his mid-80s slop through nine full innings of two-run ball. Twins starter Matt Garza took a large step forward, going five innings with five strikeouts and allowing three runs. His fourth and fifth innings were especially encouraging, as he retired eight of the last nine hitters he faced, with three strikeouts.

  • The first two runs allowed by Garza came after Torii Hunter failed to cut off a Hector Luna drive to left-center, allowing it to roll to the wall for an RBI triple. Inglett followed with a sac fly to score the second Cleveland run. In this article, Hunter tells LEN3 that his left foot is causing him to run flat-footed. Somehow, I have a feeling these things are related.

  • The White Sox avoided a sweep yesterday, squeezing out a 5-4 win over suddenly feisty Kansas City. The wild card gap is back to two, although I would propose that after three days of playing Cleveland while the Sox took on KC, making up a game in the standings was a victory for the Twins. Elsewhere in the junior circuit, Baltimore crushed New York, shrinking the Yankee lead over Boston to 1.5 games going into a five game set this weekend.

  • Speaking of this weekend, as you may have heard, the Champs are coming to town. Two out of three would be huge. ESPN lists the starters as Bonsor v. Garcia, Radke v. Garland, and El Presidente v. Vasquez. Of course, if any of the three Chicago starters is unable to go, the White Sox surely have a replacement in mind.

  • And finally, Kevin Brown to neighbor: stay off my lawn. My favorite part: “Haws said he plans to buy a mulching mower.” Words to live by, my friends.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

MVP – Mostly Vacuous Positions

Powered by Twins Geek

Justin Morneau’s monster year is earning calls by local sportswriters and sports talk show hosts to recognize him as the Twins’ Most Valuable Player this year. Or is it?

These pleas almost all start by chastising the overwhelming attention paid to Joe Mauer. It becomes apparent that praising Morneau is popular in part because it’s a great angle for a story, made more so because it allows commentators to gently jab our hometown sports idolatry.

That’s a shame, because the question of which player is more valuable can open up a bevy of great baseball debates. The most obvious is the relative merits of getting on base versus power. Debating that might lead us to recognize great angles for additional stories, such as the realization that Morneau is also getting on base (.370 on-base percentage) while Mauer is also hitting for power (.522 slugging percentage).

Or, one could question how valuable RBI statistics really are. Or, one might explore the impact of fielding when comparing the value of a catcher to a first baseman. Or, one might ask why opposing teams have been so much more willing to intentionally walk Mauer (15 IBB) than Morneau (5 IBB).

But maybe most importantly, it could become a launching point for a national campaign to have both players recognized for the incredible years that they’re having. And maybe lead to some American League MVP award chatter.

It’s Easy to Grin

Powered by Twins Geek

lt's easy to grin,
when your ship comes in,
and you've got the stock market beat.
But the man worthwhile
is the man who can smile
when his shorts are too tight in the seat.
- Judge Smails

There’s nothing like scoring a single run over three games to make fans wonder about their favorite team. That’s especially true for Twins fans, who have obsessed about their lack of offensive firepower since Tom Brunansky was traded for Tommy Herr. We’re probably especially sensitive right now, since the trading deadline passed, leaving nothing more than rumors about unreasonable demands for big bats.

Also, looking at the lineups this weekend, it’s easy to find room for improvement. On many nights, the Twins string together Jason Tyner, Jason Bartlett, Luis Castillo and Nick Punto, and that foursome would be lucky to hit fifteen home runs in a year, combined. One could also make a pretty good argument that three of those four players are playing way over their head. If it pleases the court, I’d like to submit the following as Evidence A: As Jason Bartlett strode to the plate on Sunday, my wife turned to me and said “Hold it – the scoreboard says he’s hitting .356? Is that right?”

A more obvious deficiency is the “production” the Twins have received from their designated hitter over the last two years. Last year, the designated hitters for the Twins hit just .254. This year, all designated hitters combined have just five home runs. There isn’t another American League team with less than eleven. Heck, there’s a National League team who nearly has that many from their designated hitter (the Phillies, with three home runs).

But there’s a problem with picking apart the individual pieces of the lineup. At the beginning of June, the Twins added Bartlett, Punto and Jason Kubel to the everyday lineup. About that time, Justin Morneau started hitting with power, and Michael Cuddyer staked out the fourth spot in the lineup. So, how has the Twins revamped lineup performed since June 1st?

Runs from 6/1 - 8/10
357 Chicago Sox
339 Minnesota
334 Boston
331 Detroit
328 Texas
327 LA Angels
323 Cleveland
322 Kansas City
310 NY Yankees
310 Toronto
284 Tampa Bay
283 Baltimore
278 Seattle
270 Oakland

The problem with picking apart this lineup, is that for all of its faults, it’s working. One can argue that given their history, this group can’t hit like this forever, but after two-and-a-half months, maybe a little faith is in order. Or at least enough faith to carry fans through an impotent three-game stretch against Toronto.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Waiting for a Sign

Powered by Twins Geek

It’s true that a major league team can never have enough pitching. It’s also no fun to repeatedly harp on a weakness, because it not only becomes monotonous, but also often obscures a subtle truth. And finally, Cleveland’s disappointing season can’t be boiled down to a single problem.

(OK, the caveats are done. Time to get to the rant.)

What cosmic sign needs to take place before Cleveland’s management addresses their chronic lack of pitching? This has been an ongoing question for at least a decade, going back to when the Tribe was a dynasty that could slug the AL Central into submission, and inevitably exited the playoffs early. More recently, despite having plenty of money to spend, they’ve failed to land any difference-making arms in the offseason. Their second biggest free agent signing was released prior to the All-Star break, for chrissakes.

And now, with the passing of the trade deadline, we find yet again that pitching just doesn’t seem to be a priority for General Manager Mark Shapiro. Shapiro wisely cut bait on 2006 and traded away five regulars from his team. Let’s count how many pitchers he acquired, shall we?

Am I taking crazy pills, or did Shapiro make five trades and end up acquiring zero pitchers? In fact, he even traded away a pitcher. All those deals and his team nets a loss of an arm?

When one looks at the Indians lineup this offseason, it’s going to be hard not to fall in love with them, just like prognosticators did the last two years. Their youth, talent, and affordability all scream “UPSIDE!” What’s more, it looks like they’ll add two more talented players next year, with the call-up of Andy Marte and the acquisition of Shin-Soo Choo. The field is filled with shiny newish ballplayers who generate excitement in baseball people.

But it looks like Cleveland’s pitching next year is going to be awfully similar to what they’re trotting out this year. That isn’t terrible, but a team that is ninth in the American League in pitching isn’t a team that can be taken seriously as a division champion, let alone as a pennant contender. And that’s not the bad news for their loyal fan base.

The bad news is that Shapiro either doesn’t recognize this, or doesn’t think he can fix it, or just can’t help himself when he sees that promising infielder in another organization. The bad news it that this is a problem that has been ignored for years, was just ignored again last month, and likely won’t fix itself in the offseason.

But hey, Mark, don’t feel like you have to rush things on our account. It can probably wait until 2012 or so.

Links of the Day for 8/15/06

Powered by Intern Thomas

There’s a lot of praise out there for Brad Radke today, as there should be. Pitching with a bum shoulder, he threw seven shut out innings, preventing the Blue Jays from sweeping the Twins at home. By doing so, he kept Minnesotans focused on baseball (like a lot of Minnesotans, I have the Vikings’ preseason game on in the background—I have to say I kind of like the new uniforms, and the Vikings don’t look half bad either) and prevented some from making rash decisions. All in all, the man was dealing, and thanks to him, the Twins are only 2.5 games back with more than enough time to make it up.

More vexing than the poor pitching by the Twins’ other starters this series, however, was the complete lack of offense. By hitting into double play after double play, the Twins managed to fail to do something that they had done the entirety of the franchise’s entire time in Minnesota—score more than one run in three consecutive home games. Not really something you’d expect from a team with a player that the Killer thinks can join him in the exclusive “Twins’ 40 Home Run Club” and one that still has the best home record in baseball.

Despite the awful hitting this weekend, it is not time for football just yet, thanks to Radke. Instead, it’s still baseball season, Johan is pitching against the Offensive Cartoons at the Dome, Batgirl is back and the Franchise might be soon. So instead of pondering whether or not you like the new design of the Vikings’ jersey, take a peek at a very literary Quick Links and thank your lucky stars that the Twins are still in the thick of a pennant race and we don’t have to leave Twins’ Territory quite yet.

  • I have a feeling that Torii’s glove really got it good after it wasn’t able to come up with that ball in the first inning of Matt Garza’s debut.

  • You might not be able to see Liriano pitch just yet, but you can read about him and his journey to the big leagues.

  • Play fantasy baseball? Know someone who does and wonder what it’s all about? Then make sure you check out Fantasyland by Sam Walker.

  • One last recommendation, in honor of Batgirl being back and because I just finished reading the book myself. Trust me when I say that you owe it to yourself to pick up a copy of Shadow Thieves by BG’s close personal friend, Anne Ursu. I promise that you’ll enjoy it (as will anyone you know who enjoys a great book).

One Memorable Sunday

Powered by Twins Geek

Saturday’s pre-game get-together at the Town Hall Brewer was nice, with about 20-30 Twins fans showing up, all of whom were treated to appetizers, GameDays and a round of beers by the GD owners. Thanks to all for showing up and talking baseball. I’m looking forward to doing that again….

And, in fact, there’s another event this weekend that you may be interested in, especially if you have kids. It’s not only an opportunity to spend some solid baseball/family time together, but it’s providing a unique opportunity that might impress the heck out of your kids.

Tix for Tots is a non-profit with a mission that sounds simple, but isn’t. The idea is to take tickets that would otherwise go unsold to various events – sports, theater, etc – and distribute them to kids who would otherwise not be able to attend events. That includes asking all kinds of organizations for their unused tickets, getting them ahead of time, and distributing them to various non-profits. You can imagine just how labor intensive this can be, given the short turn-around time on unused tickets. The Voice of Reason and I have been involved with this charity more or less since its inception, and the founding couple are friends of ours.

THIS SUNDAY (the 20th), they’re having a special fund–raising event at the Metrodome, with proceeds going to the charity. Basically, you buy a ticket and get:
  • a picnic lunch donated by Bonn Appetit,

  • kids entertainment (magician, clown, face painting...)

  • a silent auction

  • and get to participate in a pregame parade to the Metrodome field for a ceremony and the first pitch.
It’s one thing to run the bases (which I also assume your kids can also do after the game, since it’s Sunday). It’s another thing entirely to be on the field with 35,000 people in the stands waiting for the Twins to wipe out the White Sox. Needless to say, the Voice of Reason and our brood have already bought tickets.

The only caveat I’ll give is that the tix are pricey - $25 for adults and $15 for kids 2-14 years old. And they’re more if you buy them the day of the game, so go to for details on how you can buy them early. But, as I said, it's a also great cause.

TVOR, the kids, and I hope to see you there.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Links of the Day for 8/14/06

Powered by Intern Sam

Well, there it is. The home nine dropped three of four to Toronto over the weekend, and to hear some Twins fans tell it, you’d think that the sky had fallen. The reality is that this series will likely have very little to do with whether the team can hang on in what is sure to be an ultra-competitive wild card stretch run. (After all, the Twins currently sit a relatively paltry 2½ games behind the White Sox for the wild card lead, with twelve games left to play against the other contenders. They also continue to have the most favorable overall schedule among the teams gunning for the last playoff spot.)

  • In what has become one of Intern Sam’s favorite features in the local media, PiPress beat writers Jason Williams and Gordon Wittenmeyer debate the Liriano-less future, and what it portends for Minnesota…

  • Even with a nice 3-1 start to their road trip, the Blue Jays are still under a fair amount of scrutiny, thanks to their (understandable) inability to keep pace with the free-spending Yankees and Red Sox, and their (less understandable) inability to keep their clubhouse problems in the clubhouse.

    Ever since Shea Hillenbrand was dispatched to San Francisco with extreme prejudice, speculation has been rampant that Jays manager John Gibbons isn’t handling his team well and could lose his job over it sooner rather than later. But Toronto sportswriter Geoff Baker says that it just doesn’t make any sense to make Gibbons take the fall now.

  • Apparently, Matt Garza is operating with something less than 20/20 vision, due to his rather ill-advised decision to lean into a high inside paintball shot back in high school. Garza was actually blind in his right eye for nearly a year after the accident, during which time he continued to pitch high school ball. Lens replacement surgery corrected much of the damage, but Garza’s depth perception in the eye is still nearly non-existant. The Twins, by the way, still plan to start Garza this Thursday against Cleveland, and are even considering going with a 13-man pitching staff for the balance of the season.

  • Over at City Pages, G.R. Anderson is about ready to admit that he may have been wrong to suggest that the Twins bench Justin Morneau…

  • It’s officially time for all baseball fans to begin paying attention to their team’s minor league system. Rosters expand on September 1, and it’s always nice to know who’s earned a call-up, and whose career prospects have taken a dive. (Here’s a hint: Dave Gassner and Glen Perkins, respectively.) It’s also nice to know that Erubiel Durazo is no longer a threat to bring his extended run of offensive mediocrity to the Dome, where we’ve had quite enough of such things lately. For all the news that matters on the minors, Roger over at TwinkieTown has you covered…

  • Kevin Costner returned to Dyersville, Iowa this weekend for the first time since filming wrapped on Field of Dreams. As most Midwest baseball fans know, the site and its famous cornfield-ringed ballfield are a major tourist attraction these days.

    Costner’s appearance was sponsored by Netflix, and the actor apparently pitched batting practice to a big group of kids, and played a set with his band (yes, Kevin Costner has a band) before settling in to watch the flick with a cozy crowd of 5,000.

    The most surreal part of the Field of Dreams movie site has always been the fact that it is actually owned by not one, but two landowners, and they do not like each other even a little bit. Naturally, this came into play during Costner’s visit. “The Lansing family, which owns the farmhouse, right field and most of the infield, elected not to take part in the event. So officials closed off their property, forcing moviegoers to plant their folding chairs in left and center field.” The Lansings also reportedly threatened to have James Earl Jones killed if anyone in the crowd tried to run the bases.

  • Finally, Rick Shefcik has a nice roundup of new baseball books to add to your summer reading list – tops on the list may be an outstanding new biography of Roberto Clemente by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist David Maraniss.

Court Saves MLB from Itself

Powered by Intern Snarkey

It's nice to hear a story involving baseball and the law without the word BALCO printed anywhere in it. Major league baseball has lost its court case against CDM Fantasy Sports. This means that people like me can continue to loose in fantasy baseball in a wide variety of small fantasy leagues.

MLB argued that fantasy leagues that profit using MLB baseball players' names and statistics without a MLB granted license are operating an infringement of copyright. Go to this link for more details on this decision.

I'm certainly no lawyer, but this case again makes the MLB look like Mr. Burns. I don't understand why they would alienate all of the fans who's demand for MLB's product is only increased by fantasy baseball so they can squeeze out a couple million more bucks. People may tune into a game to watch how their fantasy players are doing and they get hooked in the drama that makes this game so great.