Saturday, July 07, 2007

The Return of Bat Girl! (Kinda. Not really.)

I just received a postcard in the mail telling me that Anne Ursu (aka Bat Girl) will be reading from her new book (The Siren Song) at Red Balloon Bookshop on Saturday July 14th and 2:00. Might be a good opportunity for some of her fans to stop and support her a bit.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Mini-apolis Menus: Pizza Luce

by The Chatty Chatty Princess™ and The Boy™
4 Stars (out of 5)

(Editors note: The kids are apparently ready to hit the big time, and have decided to start their literary careers as restaurant reviewers. Hey, if Moskowitz can do it.... Anyhoo this is the first, possibly in a series of resaturant reviews by the kids.)

We thought Pizza Luce was a four stars, and we though so because....
1. the place had outside and inside tables

2. a lot of houses nearby (friendly little neighborhood) and a lot of people don't need to go as far

3. food was decent

4. service was good (nice people, too)

5. reasonably priced

6. A LOT OF FUN!!!

(Another editor's note: Personally, I think the giddy review had more to do with the free ice cream, giant pieces of 'za and Buddy's soda flavors. But maybe they just rounded out the top ten. We'll see you next time on Mini-apolis Menus)

New York Minute

A great game yesterday, highlighted by a blast from a guy that the Twins desperately need to heat up. Like most fans, I'm sick of talking about last year, but the parallel between Kubel's blast to save the Yankees series yesterday and Kubel's blast last year to beat the Red Sox is a little spooky. That moment is what many Twins fans consider the start of last year's remarkable second half run. It isn't (it's actually a week earlier) but I'm willing to let it ride if it means a little momentum.

Meanwhile, it's sometimes fun to see what's happening over in the other dugout, just so it helps to regain some perspective. For instance, the NY Daily News didn't think Santana was awesome as much as it thought Mussina was bad. The NY Times (and Mussina) thinks he just threw two too many pitches. Newsday looked at the larger picture, and saw this loss as just another example of the Yankees backtracking. While the New York Post gave credit to Santana - and the wind. And really, for a Twins fan, they're all enjoyable reading.

But here's what is not. John Harper of the New York Daily News takes up a longstanding Yankees tradition - openly plotting how they'll steal another team's players. And after yesterday's loss to the best pitcher in baseball, you can guess who he's got his eye on. (Though it's worth noting that he eyes, and quotes, Hunter too.)

Among the depressing insights...

- He calls Santana the $200 million question, which is a number the media here has been slow to embrace, mostly because it's almost unbelievable. Um, they believe it in New York.

- He says "industry sources" say that Santana's agent is throwing around a $25 million per year price tag. Holy cow.

- Something I never thought of. This one makes me really weary. I'll let him say it:

Or, to put it another way: how much do you think the Yankees would pay to
have the best pitcher in baseball take the mound on Opening Day as they christen
their sparkling new ballpark in 2009?

Especially if they continue sliding backward as they have this season -
and Alex Rodriguez is in Anaheim or Chicago, having opted out of his contract
after this season?

That's really a tripleshot of bad news - all the new revenue the Yankees are going to see + the pressure to justify the prices in the new ballpark + the possibility of gaining payroll with A-Rod's contract off the books.

Hmm. Maybe it's not so fun to see what's happening in the other dugout.

Monday, July 02, 2007

So, what's wrong with the Yankees?

The answer used to be simple - their pitching. And when the injuries came this spring, that looked to be the easy answer again. But those guys have mostly healed, Clemens is pitching well, and the bullpen doesn't seem to be the sore spot it once was. So, what's wrong with the Yankees?

When I research a question like that, there's a certain progression I go through - team stats, individual stats, and then news accounts. This time, I didn't get very far, because the team stats were pretty telling:

Runs scored - 415 (5th best in the American League)
Runs against - 368 (6th best in the American League)

You'll notice that prior to last night's game, the Yankees had outscored their opponents by 47 runs, and yet they came into the game four games under .500 at 37-41. That's not supposed to happen. Teams that outscore opponents are supposed to be better than .500 and vice versa. In fact, many of you know that there's a formula popularized by Bill James that converts runs scored and runs against into a record. He called it The Pythagorean Theorem, and it looks like this:

(Runs Scored)^2
Winning Pct = -------------------------------------
(Runs Scored)^2 + (Runs Against)^2

The Yankees then, should have a winning percentage of (415)^2/(415^2 + 368^2) which equals a 56% winning percentage, which translates to a 44-34 record. That's seven games better than their actual record, and would put them just 1.5 games out of the wild card race.

There are a fair amount of statheads that attribute those seven games to 'luck'. That may be true, but that's not what the studies say, or at least none that I've read. All I've seen is that we haven't been able to identify the difference between actual record and pythagorean (expected) record, which is different than saying it must be luck.

Not that it isn't a compelling conclusion. For instance, a study has shown that a team that outperforms their expected record is no more likely to outperform it than a team that underperformed it. So the rest of the league can't count on the Yankees to continue to outscore their opponents, but still be below .500.

There is also a belief that a team's expected record is better indicator of future success than its actual record. This is used all the time in sabremetric analysis, and will likely lead someone to say the same thing this week about the Yankees. But I wonder if its true. Let's find out.

Later this week. Right now I gotta talk about last night's game....

Melting Under Bright Lights
There are sports commentators who constantly evaluate character or poise in sports, and I'm often critical of them, because to me that's a well they go to too often. If you're going to earn a paycheck based on your analysis of some games, then learn something about the god damn game. Character and poise are too often a crutch for someone that doesn't want to do any real work.

So I'm just cringing about tomorrow. Partly because it's all going to be critical, partly because I've heard it all before, and partly because it's going to more intangible, lazy coverage.

But mostly I'm going to cringe because this time it's going to be true. I don't know where this aw-shucks attitude comes from when playing the Yankees, but I'm ready for someone to kick this team in the ass and tell them they're better than this over-aged excuse of a ballclub.

You don't out-finesse Yankees batters. You bare some frickin' fangs and go for the throat. Boof Bonser wasn't afraid to do just that early in the game, like when he was brushing back Johnny Damon. And then he fell in love with his offspeed stuff, and then Juan Rincon nibbles away at the edges and the bleeding doesn't truly stop until Garza and his little buzz cut and FU attitude started challenging these guys.

And the hitters don't get a free pass either. The philosophy is slightly different, the aggressions a little more controlled, but it still needs to be there. How about some attempts to hit the ball where it's pitched? Or making the 44-year-old man field some bunts? Or making Jorge Posada, who has been a defensive liability all year (only 15 caught stealing in 74 attempts) throw a runner out on the basepaths?

For once, I'm going to agree with the pundits. This team is too starstruck and too damn timid. If they don't stop screwing around, they're going to find themselves staying close enough to not embarass themselves, but still be eliminated by the fourth week of September.

And judging by what I've seen, they'll likely respond to it by passionately shrugging their shoulders.

The Hot Corner
The opening lineup caught my eye because Jeff Cirillo (who has recently struggled against right-handers) was in the lineup instead of Nick Punto (who I thought hit right-handers). But looking at the stats, there were plenty of reasons to play things that way.

First, I'm just plain wrong about Punto. He isn't hitting either hand this year, and he hasn't historically been significantly better versus either side of the plate. Cirillo is better versus southpaws, but he's still outhitting Punto this year.

Combine that with the fact that Cirillo entered the game hitting over .300 versus Clemens, and the fact that he's a veteran playing on a big stage, it made total sense.

And then he blew an easy ground ball that allowed two runs to score because he didn't take the extra step to get in front of it. GRRRRRRrrrrrrr.........

First Pitch
You're going to be very old someday, and you're going to be taking in a ballgame with your grandkids, and they're going to ask you about what that regular person is doing on the mound before the game begins. And you're going to say "Well, that's the first pitch, where an honored person gets to sort of start the ball game."

This is all going to happen, provided you lay of the Cheetos a bit, tubby. But what you don't know is whether these next four words are going to come out and lead to a story you can tell your grandkids about. And those four words are:

"I did that once."

Right now, those words and the story that goes with it, would cost you about $265. And the money you gave wouldn't be going into Carl's overstuffed wallet, but will support homeless youth services throughout the state of Minnesota. To bid on this and support Lutheran Social Serives of Minnesota, click on the URL below.

And HURRY. The bidding for this (literally) once-in-a-lifetime chance ends Saturday.

This opportunity to help raise money to support homeless youth services throughout the state of Minnesota. If people have questions, they can email as well. We are sell discounted tickets Upper Club Tickets, as well. Tickets are $15 instead of the $19 face value. LSS receives $5 from each of the tickets sold.

What's Next for Torii (and the Twins)?

It’s easy to talk about his leadership, production and intangibles, but both his and the Twins future can be found in the dollars and cents of his next contract.

ITCS (It’s the Contract, Stupid)
In 2001, they surprised the league, and staked the Twins to first place at the All-Star break. Minky, Luis, Guzy and the Canadian – the Infield of Nations. Matty, Jacque and Torii – the Soul Patrol. Add AJ and Papi and you had a core lineup that was young, talented and here to stay.

Six years later there’s only one left. For some, that longevity is reason enough to believe the Twins will re-sign Torii Hunter. For others he’s “the face of the franchise.” Or maybe it’s his defense. Or his offense. Or his leadership.

They’re all good enough reasons, but look at that list of players above, and tell me which trait the rest of them lacked. Dougie was the face of the franchise and a gold glover. Koskie was the team leader. Ortiz certainly provided offense. And Lawton had as much longevity as anyone would require.

Hunter provides some of all of the above, but he’s also still around for a much more practical reason – his contract. In April of 2002, Hunter hit nine home runs, pacing the 26-year-old to a year in which he hit .289 with 29 home runs, and a On-base Plus Slugging percentage (OPS) of 858. That led to a new long-term contract, a deal which ultimately paid him $44 million over five years. More than any other reason, that contract is what kept him in Minnesota.

And so, if you’re trying to figure out what happens next, that’s where you start. Not with a discussion of intangibles, or fond memories, or even with an appeal to Carl’s philanthropy. But with dollars and cents.

The Cost of Torii
Torii’s previous contract will have one thing in common with his next one – really good timing. Hunter’s last deal was signed immediately after what looked to be his career year. That is, until we get to 2007. Whether it is because he has made an adjustment or is smelling the money, Hunter is on pace to obliterate every offensive number he’s ever put up. More importantly, he’s on pace to outperform several centerfielders who have recently had enormous paydays. Let’s compare Hunter’s projected stats (as of press time) to the years some other centerfielders had just before they signed big contracts:

It is almost spooky how close Hunter’s projected totals are to Vernon Wells contract push last year. With Hunter being four years older, he won’t be able to receive a seven-year deal, but five years seems very achievable. And so does $15-16 million dollars per year. If the Twins don’t want to pay him that, recent history shows that somebody else certainly will.

Could there be a ‘hometown discount’? Sure, but that raises its own issue. If Hunter accepts a deal for $70 million over 5 years, or about $14 million per year, he’ll be doing so because he wants to stay in Minnesota. Which means he’s going to want assurances that he won’t be traded, in the form of a no-trade clause. That’s something the Twins have been hesitant to include in most deals. There are compromise positions (such as a trade ‘kicker’ that elevates Hunter’s salary if he’s traded) but that’s yet one more obstacle to overcome before a deal can be made.

And, maybe more importantly, the hometown discount will likely only save the Twins a couple of million dollars per year. That’s not likely to make much of a difference for a low-revenue club like the Twins. The real question is whether they can afford to commit that much money to one player.

What the Twins Can Afford
So we know that Hunter is going to have enough money to purchase his own small country. But will he be with the Twins? And if not, where does that leave our favorite team? The answers can be found in the Twins payroll level.

The Twins are spending in the neighborhood of $70 million this year, about a $10 million raise over what they spent last year. The Twins haven’t announced their salary level for next year, but it’s reasonable to assume that they would bump the payroll another $10 million in anticipation of the new ballpark. If so, the payroll would be $80 million.

Adding up guaranteed and estimated salaries of the projected roster, the Twins payroll should be around $58 million next year without Hunter’s salary. That leaves about $22 million, which should be enough to sign Hunter and add another couple of lower cost players to the roster.

And if the Twins, for whatever reason, can’t sign Hunter, things aren’t all that bleak. They still have $22 million to spend. That should be enough to sign a decent replacement, at least for the short term. And possibly add some other high impact players, too.

Fast Forward
So Hunter will be well taken care of, and so will the Twins. Does that bode well for a long-term union?

Unfortunately, after next year, the payroll picture gets cloudier and a lot bleaker. For instance, even assuming another $10 million bump, the Twins likely can’t afford Hunter AND Johan Santana and Joe Nathan, who will be free agents after next year. The payroll picture gets even fuzzier the year after that, when Michael Cuddyer could become a free agent.

Of course, there’s no guarantee that the Twins will be able to sign any of those players whether they sign Hunter or not. In fact, you could make a case that signing Hunter might help sign those players.

Or his money might also push some of them off the roster. Which brings us back to where we started – the impact of a contract. Hunter’s new deal, which will likely be with the Twins, could very well have the same effect as his old contract - keeping him on the roster while others move on.