Thursday, May 31, 2007

Results

This blog, I freely admit, was fueled in large part on disgust for most of its first year. I was disgusted by the gloss that accompanied most local baseball coverage, the lack of analysis, the apathy towards detail. The coverage focused more on a story than the beauty of the details of the game. That drove me crazy. The beauty of the details of the game WERE the story. Details could be entertaining.

That is no longer an issue. First of all, the dailies coverage has improved about 400% over their coverage in 2002. But mostly, there is just a ton of independent coverage. Over at MNGameDay.com, you can find several dozen takes every day on almost any conceivable issue. It used to be that the Twins could sign a lower-tier free agent and there wouldn’t even be a not in the paper. Now, Seth will write 500 words on it, and he’ll only be the first of a half dozen to document and give me the history of this guy. And, as I wrote last Friday, there’s been a revolution around entertaining baseball writing too, especially with the Twins.

Instead, I now find myself being annoyed by the same people I originally felt were leading the baseball writing revolution. Too often, the sabremetric crowd seems to be forgetting the golden rule of true baseball research. It isn’t about "Bunting is stupid". It isn’t TINSTAAPP (“There is no such thing as a pitching prospect.”) It isn’t even “OBP is God”. It simply is: “There is ALWAYS something more we can learn about this beautiful game.” Which is a fine rule, until you examine it closely enough to come across its logical corrolary: "There is a hell of a lot we don't know, or are just plain wrong about."

That's an especially hard corollary for a group that finds itself evangelizing as the sabremetric crowd. For a while, that evangelizing was seen as nearly a moral imperative, but it turns out that evangelizing requires more than a great truth, it involves compelling rhetoric. It also means staying on message, even if the message becomes a two-dimensional version of a mutli-dimensional truth.

The latest example of all this that is driving me nuts is the coverage of the Twins starting rotation. The views aren't driven by analysis, they're driven by philosophy. And this is by someone who wrote back in February that signing all of Silva, Ponson and Ortiz was probably a mistake. But what we want to be true isn't necessarily be true, so let's analyze some of the statements:

Scott Baker, Glen Perkins, Kevin Slowey and Matt Garza were all ready to fill three spots in the rotation.

Um, really? Which one of these guys, exactly has shown you that so far? Perkins has been mediocre as a bullpen guy. Baker version 3.0 is doing a pretty good impression of Baker 2.0. Garza continues to struggle with control of anything off-speed. And Slowey has less than a year of experience in AAA. Hell, just a couple of weeks ago (six weeks into the season, we were worried that even Boof Bonser might be a problem.

Listen, I'm as jazzed about the 2008 rotation as anyone, but can you blame the Twins for not trusting these guys for 2007 last December? And has anyone done anything to to change your mind about them?

The Twins could've spent the $8+ million the spent on Carley Portiz to improve their team in a better way.

Let's not forget that more than 1/2 of that money was spend on Carlos Silva, who has given up three runs or less in eight of his ten starts. It's also worth noting the order in which they signed these guys, because Ortiz was the first one they had to make a decision on. With three holes in the starting rotation and an unknown offseason looming, the Twins would've taken an enormous risk by not signing him.

But most of all, the key here isn't the $8 million - it's the fact that the Twins only needed to commit one year to these guys. Finding an impact player that will sign a one-year contract means one of two things - they're old or they're unhealthy. Don't believe me? Check out the top one year contracts from this offseason:


Pos Player              Signed By    Age Dollars
SP Andy Pettitte, SP NY Yankees 34 $16,000,000
LF Barry Bonds, LF San Francisco 42 $16,000,000
SP Tom Glavine, SP NY Mets 40 $10,500,000
SP Greg Maddux, SP San Diego 40 $10,000,000
DH Mike Piazza, DH Oakland 38 $8,500,000
RF Moises Alou, RF NY Mets 40 $8,500,000
SP Randy Wolf, SP LA Dodgers 30 $8,000,000
LF Luis Gonzalez, LF LA Dodgers 39 $7,350,000
1B Shea Hillenbrand, 1B LA Angels 31 $6,500,000
RP Eric Gagne, RP Texas 31 $6,000,000
CF Kenny Lofton, CF Texas 39 $6,000,000
RF Jose Guillen, RF Seattle 30 $5,500,000
3B Pedro Feliz, 3B San Francisco 31 $5,100,000
RP Octavio Dotel, RP Kansas City 33 $5,000,000
RP Keith Foulke, RP Cleveland 34 $5,000,000
RP Joe Borowski, RP Cleveland 35 $4,250,000
SP Joel Pineiro, SP Boston 28 $4,000,000
SP Kip Wells, SP St. Louis 29 $4,000,000
1B Sean Casey, 1B Detroit 32 $4,000,000
2B Jose Valentin, 2B NY Mets 37 $3,800,000
RP LaTroy Hawkins, RP Colorado 34 $3,500,000
RP Rbrto Hernandez, RP Cleveland 42 $3,500,000
2B Marcus Giles, 2B San Diego 28 $3,200,000
LF Rondell White, LF Minnesota 34 $2,750,000


So which of the names above do you think would turn the Twins offense around?
- I suppose a case could be made for Piazza, though when a guy is out for two months because he dove back to first base, it isn't a great isng.
- Alou's nagging injuries mean he has about as many at-bats as Joe Mauer right now.
- It's doubtful, given the choice, that Gonzalez would leave the West Coast.
- Guillen is a head case, was terrible last year and started slow this year.
- Feliz's career on-base percentage is .289. Blink. Blink.

The Twins chose to make sure they had plenty of depth, and frankly, that looks like a pretty good idea right about now. It's allowed them to move underperforming starters to a depleted bullpen. It's given them a second lefty in the bullpen when their primary left-hander faltered. It's allowed them to give some of their better prospects some extra time in the minors to work on aspects they'll need to master to be successful at the major league level. And, cynically, it's saved them several million dollars in future salaries, by delaying arbitration and free agency.

There are all kinds of small moves that I second-guessed, and I've been right about as often as I was wrong. So, frankly, have the Twins. But both of us will evaluate them based on the results, not on the philosophy. It would be nice if others would join us.

9 comments:

KEN said...

I couldn't agree more. With everything. To read some of the Twins blogosphere you'd think Ryan and Gardy had never gotten results and couldn't be trusted with any decisions.

Thanks, once again, for articulating excatly what I was feeling.

Anonymous said...

gyujjhg

Patthew said...

As I'm assuming this is an open letter to..oh..we'll call him Schmaaron Schmeeman.

Bruce said...

This is another example of why I anticipate your thoughts. PROPS.
Ken, I agree too.

Anonymous said...

Question: Why didn't the Twins try and send Ponson to the minors and use him as insurance? It might have given him time to get straightened out if in fact his injured elbow really was a problem.

Anonymous said...

I don't know, Geek. It seems to me that the philosophical argument on the Twins part is the stronger argument. Their apparent philosophy is that they didn't want to spend a ton on a free agent pitcher or two when Liriano and the youngsters will be there in 2008. So, they decided to fill with a couple of has beens (Ponson and Ortiz) and roll the dice with Silva. So far the RESULTS have been crapping out with Ponson and Ortiz and a good (so far) result with Silva.

So, go ahead and focus on results all you want, but the Twins are clearly focusing on their philosophy.

--SBG

John said...

SBG - I think you and I are using the word "philosophy" differently. But maybe more importantly, I'm not saying that the Twins actions aren't a result of a differing philosophpy. In fact, I believe it is. And, in fact, that might be what people are really railing against, rather than the results of that philosophy.

What I'm really against isn't the philosophy, because, frankly I agree that most major league orgs don't trust their youth enough. I even believe that the Twins don't trust their youth enough. What I'm saying is that beyond that simple philsophy, there are plenty of positive results associated with how the Twins handled this, and maybe it should cause us to refine that philosophy.

This isn't a radical departure from some of the sabremetric standards either, by the way. TINSTAAP is one example. And Billy Beane was praised for having an in-season philosophy of "Spend the first two months evealuating what you have, the next two months acquiring what you need, and the last two months making a run."

Also, two other responses -
1. I'm not afraid to challenge Ryan and Gardy for their decisions, but you have to admit their success should probably make us at least take a second to think before we get to worked up.

2. And no, this isn't directed specifically towards Aaron, though I feel like he sometimes falls into this trap. That's fine, I have my own traps. But I REALLY dislike parrots who don't think things through and still feel superior because it's based on some sabr stuff they heard.

ubelmann said...

The latest example of all this that is driving me nuts is the coverage of the Twins starting rotation. The views aren't driven by analysis, they're driven by philosophy.

You might want to be careful with your sweeping generalities. No one has done any analysis of the situation? No one has put any real thought into their opinions?

What I'm saying is that beyond that simple philsophy, there are plenty of positive results associated with how the Twins handled this, and maybe it should cause us to refine that philosophy.

Which of those positive results would we be missing if the Twins had signed a replacement level starter for the minimum rather than signing a replacement-level starter for $3M?

And the "can't buy a veteran slugger for $X millions" is a rather specious argument. If you can't find something to do with extra money, you aren't trying hard enough. Increase the budget for international free agents and try to catch the next Miguel Cabrera or Felix Hernandez. Increase the scouting budget to make even better judgements on which players to choose, whether it be in drafts or in trades. Hire really smart people to collect data on defense and measure more precisely which players are good defenders and how much that is worth.

There are (conservatively) dozens of things that a major league organization could spend extra millions of dollars on, many of which, I would argue, are better than spending on a replacement level pitcher who can be replaced at the minimum.

Anonymous said...

A few different ways that you can digest this argument piece:

One, can there be a comparison to other teams that might have done a worse job during the offseason. Especially with resources to commit more money.

The New York Yankees went and just committed a full season $22 million dollar gamble on Clemens in part because they decided to trade Randy Johnson. Johnson might not be the Johnson of old, but he's certainly better than most of the eleven plus starters they have plugged in. Because they had traded for Bobby A last year when they had OF hell they needed to trade one of three contracts (Bobby A, Jason G, and Gary S). The Yankees are struggling in part because they picked the wrong one.

Now look at the Twins. They went and made what was a good pickup of Jeff C. Okay he's not much of a bat, but with injuries to three IF's it's allowed time for Punto to rest or play the other spots. They went and did the gamble on Sylvia, Ortiz, and Ponson because they knew they had a bunch of young arms to throw in if they failed. More importantly it might have served as a wake up call that we won't hand you the job and you have to earn it. Gaza didn't get that message.

Two, as for the scouting budget. I do believe the Twins are very good at scouting and have the resouces they want.

Three, just lets make this clear. The discussion on the eight million is money the Twins decided to spend on their payroll this year and how they used it. One thing that drove the Twins to want to stablize their pitching this year was last August when we had to make the two month run we had Santana, an injured Radke, an injured Liranio, Gaza, Baker, Sylvia, Bosner and fans thinking the season was doomed. Just to try to stablize the entire rotation a bit was a major priority especially given the fact when these decisions were made no Radke and no Liranio were a given.

Four, not mentioned in this debate was the outrageous price some teams were paying for pitchers with more than one year. SF got their revenge on the Twins by signing Zito to such an outragoues contract we won't be able to keep Sanatan or destroy the team. But $55 million for Meche and I don't remember the price for Lilly. Even if you could offer $32 million for a starter for four years what could you've gotten?

Five, one factor that played in the Sylvia decision was I do believe the Twins had an option if you look at the price of the market was reasonable. Since the Sylvia decision looks good than the discussion is focused on just $4 million for two pitching spots.

Six interesting discussion you started Twins Geek.

Walter Hanson
Minneapolis, MN