Thursday, September 06, 2007

Question the Easy

It seems I can't hear a summary of the Twins system without It. Corporate media, bloggers, sports radio all have to mention It. It has gone from symbolic to distraction to bad habit. And it's long past time to start the pendulum swing the other direction on It.

I'm talking about the signing of Ramon Ortiz and Sidney Ponson for a combined $4 million dollars. It's the default criticism of the franchise these days, and it breaks my heart to say that it's parroted among blogs and baseball sites where one hopes for some real analysis. Instead of being viewed as what it was - a low-cost, early season gamble to insure against too much reliance on young pitching - it's become the #1 reason that the Twins aren't returning to the playoffs for the fifth time in six years.

So let's touch touch ground again quickly, shall we?

1) If you want to rip those signings, you must include Silva in the triumverate. He was every bit the gamble, and maybe a bigger one considering his salary and his dismal 2006. In spring training, he was the one which drew the most concern.

Nobody, including the Twins, expected all three to pitch 30+ games each. If one paid out, they broke even on the combined $8M they paid them. If two paid out, they were ahead. Silva justified that salary all by himself.

2) The signings were abll about depth, which just happened to be THE key area that bit the Twins in the butt this year. Unfortunately, the Twins just invested in depth on the wrong side of the ball.

But last offseason, that seemed ludicrous. The Twins had every regular starter returning and had one of the top offenses in the American League after the All-Star break. On the other hand, the pitching had lost two of their top pitchers and was legitimately looking at three gaping holes behind Johan Santana and (ironically) Boof Bonser.

3) I have yet to see someone show me exactly how the $4M they spent on those two guys would’ve improved the offense this year. (And PLEASE don't throw a diamond-in-the-rough name at me like Dmitri Young. Young was only still in the league because Jim Bowden knew him, and Bowden brought him into camp the same way the Twins brought in Ken Harvey - as a 3rd option if everything went wrong.)

4) There’s now plenty of evidence that the $3M they threw at Ortiz wouldn’t have been spent otherwise – that Ryan stretched the budget just to make sure. In fact, while I have trouble identifying how the Ortiz deal hurt the club considerably this year, it's legacy might be more significant in the future. It may have hurt their draft strategy this year (though certainly nobody from the Twins would fess up to that) and it likely gave Ryan another hurdle when looking for an impact bat at the trade deadline.

5) Oh, and let’s not forget that the problem this year hasn’t been the starting pitching. In fact, it can be argued that the development Scott Baker and Matt Garza have shown is a result of starting the season in the minors. God knows making the team out of spring training hasn’t helped Boof.

It's similar to the criticism the Twins face to this day for keeping Johan Santana in the bullpen (a move I was highly critical of, by the way). It's easy to get lathered up about what this team might have done in 2002 if he was in the rotation. But then you realize you're criticizing an organization for how it developed a multiple Cy Young Award winner. And that just makes you sound kinda, you know, stupid.

The Ortiz/Ponson criticism is starting to become an embarrassment to the blogger community. It’s everything that we used to criticize corporate media for. It’s bad enough that we keep ripping a gamble that everyone knew was a gamble because it didn’t work out. It’s downright ridiculous that we keep attributing an entire season of failure to a dozen bad starts in April and a couple of million dollars that probably would not have been spent otherwise.

We do it in part because it's something that we could have predicted. Great. Pat yourself on the back for successfully reading a career statistical chart. So did the rest of the league - that's why those guys were so cheap.

But mostly we do It because it's easy and because we've heard it so much. Let's quit taking the easy way out. We're better than that.

31 comments:

Kyle Eliason said...

I think the Ortiz/Ponson criticism resinates because it's the latest in a continuing trend of the Twins not trusting their young players... Rogers over Santana, Castro over Bartlett (or anyone with a pulse), ect.

I'm not saying that young talent is always going to come through, but with the Twins payroll being what it is (for whatever reasons), this is an organization that needs to fill line-up spots with young players under the indentured servitude of their first three (or Super Two) years in the league and the minimum salary that goes along with it.

Silva is the one instance where things worked out. Getting 200 innings of league average pitching was well worth the money.

However, I can't think of another success story and the deals for Batista, Castro, and Ortiz were just plain stupid from the get go.

Anonymous said...

John, it seems to me that you've spent an awful lot of time, space and energy lately criticizing other bloggers for "taking the easy way out" in their analysis of the team. Instead of repeatedly writing about that, how about, you know, actually doing some analysis yourself?

Anonymous said...

John, it seems to me that you've spent an awful lot of time, space and energy lately criticizing other bloggers

I haven't noticed that. In fact, he seems to be doing a pretty good job of analysis right here. But you certainly make the case for adding "thin-skinned" to the criticism of the blogger community.


Rogers over Santana, Castro over Bartlett (or anyone with a pulse), ect.

Or Stewart over Kielty or Pierzynski over Mauer. Oh wait, maybe there isn't a pattern there. I think the the real pattern is the Twins developing young players and giving them a chance once they are ready, rather than when they first hit the prospect radar screen.

The other pattern is the Twins making correct evaluations of young players. Restovich wasn't a major league player. Nakamura wasn't the next great setup guy. They goofed on Kevin Cameron, but was he on anyone's list of big mistakes when he was left exposed to the rule 5 draft last year?

You can talk about the young pitchers, but which ones? Baker was certainly not on the short list for a rotation spot this spring. Garza was and his struggles to start at AAA were a clear indication he wasn't really ready quite yet. Slowey was and he didn't do so well when he was called up even after pitching well at AAA.

I think Geek hit the nail on the head with the depth issue. The Twins made pitching depth their priority in the off-season. And where they really got hurt was their lack of depth elsewhere. Punto stayed out at third because there was no one else. Tyner was out in left field too often because White was hurt, Kubel was hurting and there was no one else. Heintz is fine as a stopgap, but Mauer has been out a lot more than that.

That said, part of the problem is Gardy. When it became obvious Castillo's legs were not up to playing every day, Rodriguez should have been out there regularly giving him a break. But Gardy is really not that good at managing for a winning season rather than winning the game in front of him. Some of the reason the Twins have no depth is Gardy doesn't develop depth.

Anonymous said...

Brilliant article. Original, convincing thoughts.
-ossieO

Glynn said...

Great Post, nice to see someone taking issue with the conventional explanation for the Twins' failures this year. People tend to forget the entire roster of Twins hitters, from starters to bench players, underachieved this year, whith the possible exceptions of Hunter and Morneau (and both of these guys had their issues down the stretch).

John said...

Kyle,

That's one of the reasons I tried to give - that it upsets people more in a symbolic manner than in any kind of objective sense. And you can certainly find numerous examples of it over the last few years.

On the other hand, I look at that criticism and wonder if it isn’t an extreme viewpoint. How is it that the Twins, of all teams, come under criticism for not trusting their youth enough? It would be somewhat interesting to run the numbers, and maybe more interesting to try and determine what numbers to run.

Has any successful team in this decade, other than maybe Oakland, filled more of their roster spots with young players? When is the last time the Twins got 40 starts from some veteran free agent starters? Or 500 at-bats from a new free agent position player? Their bullpen is almost completely ‘homegrown’ other than Reyes. I mean, good lord – all this team does is trust youth, pickup longshot veterans and keep their own guys. Off the top of my head the only exceptions I can think of are Shannon Stewart and Rick Reed.

Maybe what is confusing is the word “successful” in that first sentence. There are plenty of other teams that are willing to hand their minor leaguers big numbers of MLB at-bats, and we roto owners can certainly name them. But it’s easy for teams that have no chance of contending to do so.

Not for a contending team. Off the top of my head, of the AL playoff contenders, the only other one that I can think of that hasn’t thrown insane money at big time free agents is Cleveland.

I think we might want to entertain the possibility (and I admit I’m not giving this any full blown analysis) that the Twins are one of the BEST teams at developing and trusting their youth, especially given their annoying habit of trying like hell to win a division every year. Our criticism of that might have more to do with increased expectations and a history of obsession with the minor leagues than it does by objectively comparing them to any of the other 30 MLB franchises.

(Oh, and to anonymous, you might want to reread the story. "Analysis" doesn't mean "show me a statistic".)

BD said...

I agree that griping about Ortiz & Ponson is too easy.

"It didn't work" is a pretty common fan complaint, though - visit any team's fan board after a loss in football & you'll see post after post griping about playcalling where the substance of the gripe is no more sophisticated than 'it didn't work.'

The ONE aspect of standing pat on offense that can be looked back on is this:

A lot of guys had "career" years last year (and the offense still wasn't good enough to get out of the 1st round).

How sound was it to assume they'd perform the same way again?

How sound was it to forget that quite a few of them were members of the 2005 Twins team that couldn't score runs to save its life?

With HINDSIGHT (granted), it's not all that surprising that the offense regressed some this year.

Anonymous said...

I agree with your argument that the Ponson/Ortiz signings have received an unfair amount responsibility for the failings of the team this year, but the specific points you use to defend that position just don't add up for me.

1) Silva can not, and should not, be lumped in with the other two. Silva had been better than league average 2 of the last 3 seasons (and by a sizable margin in 2005) and was just 28. Ponson hadn't had a good year since 2003, and was 30 years old, while Ortiz was perhaps the worst signing of the 3, as he hadn't been good since 2002, and was 34 years old.

2)What BD said. Especially Punto-how could they possibly expect him not to revert back to his career averages.

3&4)Then keep it in Uncle Carl's checking account. Don't spend money just to spend money. Save it for contract extensions, or draft bonuses, or god forbid the Twins community fund. Just because it might not have made a difference this year doesn't change the fact that it was a bad decision.

5)Correlation does not equal causality. Of course we can't know for sure if the extra time in the minors is the reason for the success of Garza and Baker or just a coincidence, but to say that Bonser's struggles are due to coming north out of ST is silly. Boof started the year off strong, and faltered after 2 solid months; it would seem like the opposite should be true if his poor year were a result of starting the year off in the majors.

Again, I agree overall, just not with your specific arguments.

Anonymous said...

Silva was lumped in with the other two. In fact, there was widespread dismay in the blogsphere that he was in the rotation at all.

How sound was it to assume they'd perform the same way again?

I am not sure that was the expectation. I think, given his age, it was not unrealistic to think that Kubel would do better. While some falloff was anticipated, I don't think it was unrealistic to expect better years than the Twins actually got thie year from Mauer, Cuddyer, Morneau and Punto. Not to mention White and Cirillo. Hunter, Redmond, Tyner and Bartlett are really the only hitters that produced near the level you would have anticipated. And two of those are backups who saw too much playing time.

Especially Punto-how could they possibly expect him not to revert back to his career averages.

That isn't what happened. His career numbers up until last year were more in the .240 range, than the .199. And there is every reason to think a player who got regular playing at age 28 would do better than they had off the bench earlier in their career.

Was there a reason to expect a dramatic fall-off from Cuddyer. He is only a year younger than Punto.

Just because it might not have made a difference this year doesn't change the fact that it was a bad decision.

But that wasn't the point Geek made. The point he made was that the money spent on Ortiz and Ponson had nothing to do with the Twins failure. He wasn't expressing an opinion on Pohlad's bank account.

For someone who is criticizing someone elses analysis, you sure aren't doing much yourself except repeating the same old tired complaints.

Nick N. said...

I just think you're attacking a viewpoint that doesn't widely exist. I read plenty of blogs, and while I see a lot of criticism of the Ortiz/Ponson signings (and rightfully so), I don't think I've seen anyone blame the team's entire disappointing season on them. The Twins came into the season without legitimate backup plans in place for their positions of weakness (DH and 3B), and the general manager stood pat and missed NUMEROUS opportunities to improve the offense with even minor moves. And of course, several players have simply underperformed. Ortiz and Ponson were bad moves, but they were just the tip of the iceberg in what has proven to be a very forgettable season for Mr. Terry Ryan.

Anonymous said...

I don't disagree that Silva was lumped in with the other two at the beginning of the season. I'm saying that he shouldn't have been, and take issue with the Geek's assertion that Silva was perhaps the largest "gamble" of the 3.

I agree that no one should have expected the Twins' hitters to put up the same kinds of numbers they did last year. Thats the point. When the Geek says that coming into the season in was "ludicrous" to think that offensive depth was going to be a problem, or rather the problem, he ignores the fact that even though the Twins had one of the top post ASB offenses in the AL, that type of production could not be expected to continue if only because of the outstanding years put together by Mauer and Morneau, and a lesser extent Cuddyer.

Punto only drives home this point. When a guy has a career year (which 2006 certainly was) yet still posts an OPS+ of only 90 (making him worse than league average even in a career year) should make it painfully clear he has no business being counted on to be the starting 3b. There is no way they should have expected him to continue to hit like he did in 06; everything about his previous seasons indicated that 06 was a fluke. Oh, and I wouldn't call Cuddyer's stats a dramatic fall off save his slugging, which has reverted back to his career norms.

With regards to Ortiz's 3 million being spent elsewhere - I can't say who might have made a difference, maybe no one. I'm not knowledgeable enough about last year's FA class to know. My point is that spending that 3 million on a player you know to be mediocre doesn't make any sense, especially when Terry Ryan had to go over budget to do it.

Anonymous said...

I don't think I've seen anyone blame the team's entire disappointing season on them.

I do. In fact virtually every criticism talks about how that money should have been spent differently.

The Twins came into the season without legitimate backup plans in place for their positions of weakness (DH and 3B),

But those weren't positions of weakness going into the season. The positions of weakness were all four spots in the rotation after Santana.

The Twins had Rondell White and Nick Punto coming off strong last halves of the previous season. And they had Kubel of the sore knees to split the DH/LF duties with White.

missed NUMEROUS opportunities

There is a difference between imagination and real opportunities.

Anonymous said...

here is no way they should have expected him to continue to hit like he did in 06; everything about his previous seasons indicated that 06 was a fluke. Oh, and I wouldn't call Cuddyer's stats a dramatic fall off

So what was it about Punto's break out last year that made it obvious he was going to have the worst year of his career this year, but that wasn't obvious about Cuddyer? In fact, it didn't happen with Cuddyer. I think this the silliest part of the blogsphere's critique is that, awful as he was, Nick Punto was a major source of the Twins problems this year.

Anonymous said...

No one expected Punto to have one of the worst seasons ever by a player...ever...in the history of baseball...ever, but by merely glancing at what they (Punto and Cuddyer) had done in the minors and majors up to this point should give a clue as to what to expect from each. Seriously, look at Punto's minor league stats and tell me what makes you think 2006 wasn't a fluke.

Anonymous said...

Punto

1999 - .304 (A) 21
2002 - .271 (AAA) 24
2003 - .315 (AAA) 25

He was never a good offensive player but those numbers do not look that far off what he did last year.

Anonymous said...

Punto posted an incredibly flukey .345 BA/BIP in '06. Should there have been any doubt that he was going to return to pre-'06 norms?

Nick N. said...

I do. In fact virtually every criticism talks about how that money should have been spent differently.

Specific examples, please? I've certainly never made that argument, and I don't recall ever reading such an argument from a blog I read and respect.

But those weren't positions of weakness going into the season. The positions of weakness were all four spots in the rotation after Santana.

If you felt fully confident that Nick Punto would repeat his numbers from last year and Rondell White would remain healthy all year and produce like he did in the second half, you were a fool. Certainly there was a chance that both things could happen, but to enter the season with no backup plan in case either should fail was foolhardy.

There is a difference between imagination and real opportunities.

Yeah, I guess I'm just imagining that Jack Cust, Jack Hannahan, Wily Mo Pena, and many others were had for essentially nothing this season. Silly me.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I guess I'm just imagining that Jack Cust, Jack Hannahan, Wily Mo Pena, and many others were had for essentially nothing this season. Silly me.

You are assuming that they were available to the Twins "for nothing". Pena, for instance, is making close to $2 million per year. And that's for a guy who was hitting .218 with a OBP under .300 and a SLG under .400.

You can point to all sorts of players like Cust that someone took a flyer on and say "Hey why didn't we get him?" But then if White had stayed healthy you might have been saying the same thing about him. So yes, I think you are imagining a lot. Its just playing "what if" with 20-20 hindsight.

incredibly flukey .345 BA/BIP in '06.

And based on that Terry Ryan should have brought in another Tony Batista, beyond Jeff Cirillo, as insurance?


I've certainly never made that argument

So how would you have paid for those "backup plans" at 3B and DH you criticize the Twins for not having?

To enter the season with no backup plan in case either should fail was foolhardy.

What was Jeff Cirillo?

Anonymous said...

And just to add to the imaginary moves, why was Detroit going to trade Jack Hannahan to the Twins to help them in the division? The answer is they weren't. So what you are left with is "what if the Twins got Jack Cust instead of Oakland?" A question a lot of fans could ask about their favorite team.

Nick N. said...

You are assuming that they were available to the Twins "for nothing". Pena, for instance, is making close to $2 million per year. And that's for a guy who was hitting .218 with a OBP under .300 and a SLG under .400.

Yes, let's judge a 25-year-old player on less than 200 major-league at-bats this season. That's the type of thinking that leads people to believe that Jason Kubel is a lost cause. I'm not even the hugest Pena fan, but there's no denying that he has a lot of power potential, and he was gotten for essentially nothing by Washington. You're telling me that he's a less viable option in the DH spot than Rondell White?

And the fact that Pena's "close to $2 million" salary makes him unaffordable to the Twins is the exact reason that the Ortiz contract was horrible. Is it really smarter to hand over $3 million to a veteran starter who is almost guaranteed to post a 5.50+ ERA, than giving less than $2 million to a young right-handed hitter who has the potential to be a legitimate slugger in this league?

What was Jeff Cirillo?

If Ryan viewed Cirillo as a guy who could step in full-time in the event that Punto should fail, then it was poor planning on the part of the general manager. By his own admission, Cirillo was not physically able to be a full-time player.

And just to add to the imaginary moves, why was Detroit going to trade Jack Hannahan to the Twins to help them in the division? The answer is they weren't. So what you are left with is "what if the Twins got Jack Cust instead of Oakland?" A question a lot of fans could ask about their favorite team.

I didn't necessarily mean to insinuate that Hannahan was explicitly available to the Twins, just that he is the type of cheap player that can easily be had for nothing. Jack Cust is a guy that many Twins fans were yearning for before the A's grabbed him. Ditto Hannahan and Pena. There are also plenty of examples of similar players that have not yet been traded. Joe Dillon is a AAAA player in the Brewers system who could probably be had for very little. Another example of a blocked Triple-A slugger is Chris Carter, who was recently traded from Arizona's system to Boston's. I can keep going. If Ryan would be the least bit proactive, he would find that there are many cheaply available players like this that would potentially provide an immediate upgrade to the Twins' major-league roster.

Anonymous said...

Yes, let's judge a 25-year-old player on less than 200 major-league at-bats this season.

Yes, lets. We are talking about help this season aren't we? And Pena has five previous seasons he can be judged by as well.

Cirillo was not physically able to be a full-time player.

So you are back to arguing that the Twins should have found an inexpensive, capable, full-time third baseman to backup Punto. And the same to backup White/Kubel at dh. And to be clear, Cirillo played 274 innings last year at third base for Milwaukie, which is almost 3 times as many as he played for the Twins.

Another example of a blocked Triple-A slugger

Ok. So the argument is that the Twins should have made a deal for a AAA slugger? You might not remember, but Joe Dillon actually played in the Twins system a few years ago.

If Ryan would be the least bit proactive, he would find that there are many cheaply available players like this that would potentially provide an immediate upgrade to the Twins' major-league roster.

I don't think that is true. There is a reason those players are "blocked" and "available" and still in the minor leagues. Again, this is more fanatizing about what might happen, rather than what is likely to happen.

Its easy to say I should have drawn to the inside straight after the flush is busted.

WinTwins57 said...

I agree with you John. Who's to say that the extra time spent in Rochester didn't help our young guys. I've thought that from the beginning. Baker and Garza not only needed minor league innings to work on their weaknesses, I think they needed some time and a reality check to decide if this is what they really wanted. Baker, especially, needed to realize that he wanted to come up and pitch the way we know he can. Garza needed to realize that people with better attitudes were getting called up and he'd better figure out how he was going to respond. The time that Ponson and Ortiz gave us early this year helped, in my opinion. I'd never blame those acquisitions for the downfall of this season. There are just too many other pieces to that puzzle!

Nick N. said...

Yes, lets. We are talking about help this season aren't we? And Pena has five previous seasons he can be judged by as well.

We're talking about offensive help in general, this season and beyond. Pena is still young and relatively cheap; he wouldn't be a one-year rental. And yeah, we have five previous seasons to judge him by. Like last year, when he hit .301/.349/.489 in 84 games with Boston. In fact, he has a career .469 slugging percentage in the majors. And he's only 25. The kid has a lot of power potential, at least enough to warrant a shot with a team like the Twins that can seemingly hit nothing but singles.

Ok. So the argument is that the Twins should have made a deal for a AAA slugger? You might not remember, but Joe Dillon actually played in the Twins system a few years ago.

No, the argument is that the Twins should have made a deal for anyone. It's not going to do them any good to have a bunch of solid pitching prospects backed up in their minor-league system while their offense continues to struggle. The typical blocked Triple-A slugger is just an example of a player that could be attained for very little and would provide an immediate upgrade for the Twins. It's not that hard to find mediocre hitters in this league, but Ryan has been unable to supplement the beef of his lineup with even mediocrity.

Anonymous said...

No, the argument is that the Twins should have made a deal for anyone.

Well they did. Darnell McDonald even played some at the major league level.

It's not that hard to find mediocre hitters in this league,

Well yes, it is hard to find players who can be mediocre hitters against big league pitching. Which is why it is so difficult to come up with a list of players who are actually available.

The kid (Willie Mo Pena) has a lot of power potential

Sure he does, if he every learns to hit the ball. But he hasn't in six major league seasons and he sure isn't ready to help the Twins this year. And, at close to $2 million per year, he isn't that cheap.

We have worn this out.

Anonymous said...

I have to say, any Twins' blogs I frequent haven't mentioned Ortiz or Ponson in months. Currently, it's Gardy being blamed, and most are asking for his head on a platter.

Sure, Punto is having a horrible season, but Gardy is the one playing him everyday.

Barry said...

anonymus-- I don't know what you don't understand about nick n.'s arguments. Look at the combined stats of the players the Twins have played at DH this year--it wouldn't take much for a player to qualify as an upgrade.

Anonymous said...

Better than Kubel, Mauer, Redmond and Cirillo? I doubt it. And those are the four players who have had the most games at DH. They have 83 games between them. You can add 11 games for Morneau and Hunter.

I guess you are talking about replacing the 15 appearances by Tyner, 11 by White, 10 by Jones, 2 by Rabe and 2 by Rodriguez.

In short, the whole idea that the DH spot has been a black holes is mostly mythology.

Nick N. said...

In short, the whole idea that the DH spot has been a black holes is mostly mythology.

Why don't you look up the numbers before you say something this stupid? The Twins' DH position has collectively hit .267/.342/.376 with six home runs. That's bad, and you cannot deny it. It's a .718 OPS, which compares very poorly to the .789 OPS that AL designated hitters as a whole have posted.

Anonymous said...

The Twins' DH position

I think this is the kind of banal analysis that comes from not looking at the details. Its absolutely true that White, Jones, Rodriguez and Rabe were terrible and that the "position" averages are low as result. So what? You don't need a full time DH to replace just those at bats. The fact is the Twins mostly had good hitters in the DH spot, whether they produced there or not. It was not a "black hole".

drake33 said...

nick n. (going back a couple of days ago, i'm sorry. i haven't checked in here in a while),

I heard about the ortiz/ponson signing last night on wcco by Mike Max. i hear about it almost every 3rd day by jeff dubay of kfan. and i've heard it on occasion by the morning show and Twins post-game show on am1500 (sorry, i don't remember their names).

its all over the radio. people repeat it. i haven't "seen" it in the blogosphere lately either, but it's definitely out there.

John Sharkey, Esq. said...

Well, it sounds like we'll have a new guy running the show, regardless. . .it'll be interesting to see what Ryan's legacy ends up being.