Thursday, July 19, 2007

A Shift Instead of a Reversal

72 hours ago, there was no question the Twins should be working towards this year's postseason. They were six games back (five of the wild card) with 70 games left in the season. And thirty of those games were versus Detroit, Cleveland and or some random opponent while Detroit played Cleveland.

After a three-game sweep, the temptation is to think that everything has changed. The reality is that not much has. The lead is now nine games (seven behind the wild card), but there are 67 games left, and 27 where they essentially control their rivals ability to win.

And it's not like the Tigers dominated the Twins. The Tigers eeked out three wins, partly because the Twins played some bad baseball and partly because they caught some bad breaks. And it included three quality starts by Twins pitchers, extending their streak of quality starts to seven, which bodes well for the second half of the season.

The offense, as it has all season, needs some more firepower, but that wait appears to be nearly over. Not that anything is likely to happen in the next couple of days. History suggests that a trade like that doesn't happen until shortly before the trade deadline, and it has nothing to do with Terry Ryan's predilection for patience. Either a trade deadline produces a flurry of deals or very few, but either way, there are precious trades involving buyers and sellers prior to the day of the 31st.

Which brings us to the one change that likely has happened. Prior to this series, Ryan probably would have pulled the trigger on an available deal earlier if it was there. Now, I'm not sure that is true. He may wait until the deadline gets a little closer before committing one way or the other.

Given the Twins upcoming schedule that would seem prudent. The Twins have three games this weekend versus an Angels team that looked far superior than the Twins a month ago. And after a series in Toronto, they'll face Cleveland on the road for three more games. That series concludes about 48 hours before the trade deadline, which should provide plenty of time to make a trade, be it as a buyer or seller.

Think that might be cutting it a little close? Well, consider how much has changed in the last 72 hours.

Mea Culpa...

So last (Monday) night, the game ended, and The Voice of Reason attempted to have a conversation with me. Poor choice. I was crabby. Very crabby. I had blown off about a half-dozen things I should have done to watch Matt Garza pitch, and instead had watched 25 salmon swimming upstream. I wasn't furious with the Twins - ok, I was - I was furious with myself for spending several hours watching that dreck.

So tonight, we did someting else. We ran the Torchlight 5K. We drank free Michelob by the river. And we visited with friends, expected and unexpected, old and new. And I found out from various passers-by that if last night made me crabby, tonight might have made me go on a three-state killing spree.

Instead, it made me look forward to tomorrow's game. Never fear Twins Territory. I'll be there, and I'll be wearing the powder blue, and that means a win. It always means a win. And if it doesn't...Well, then I'll be back on Friday talking about exactly what the 'selling' options are for this team.

That is, if I'm not on that three-state killing spree....

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Tigers 1, Twins 0

I should be doing about a million different things, and none of them are going away. But I'll be damned if I'm not going to sit down and watch Matt Garza pitch against the division-leading Tigers. I'm hoping while I do so, some random thoughs might entertain you....

Southpaw Struggles
AAAARRRRGGGHHHHH! Well, this not the way I wanted to start this game, but I gott ask...

Why the HELL is Jason Tyler in this game versus a left-handed pitcher?!?

I should clarify - I'm not a Tyner-hater. In fact, I think Tyner is valuable asset, and think much of the criticism towards him is a bad habit, carryover from his days with the Devil Rays. The fact it that for the last few years Tyner has been very valuable provided you understand:

1) he's in the game to get on-base, not hit for power and

This isn't debatable, by the way. He's never hit lefties. Not this year, not last year, not any year. He makes Jacque Jones look like a lefty-masher. I don't think I even really need to show any stats, but let's take a minute and check out his splits over on for the last three years. Versus right-handers he's had 210 at-bats and an OPS of 744. That's respectable. Versus left-handers he's only had 64 at-bats (a sign the Twins have used him intelligently) and and OPS of 584. That's brutal.

That's crazy. Gardenhire has to know this. Why in gawd's name would he do this? Are Kubel and Ford hurt? Are they palying with their roster to see if they can afford to let Ford go when Rondell White returns? Or maybe.....

That's it. Tyner has faced Robertson nine times and has four hits off of him. He'a also walked once. Gardy's basing it on his history against Robertson. OK. That's better than defendable. Maybe as far as inspired.

Of course, Lew Ford has good numbers against him, too....

Another Name to Consider
Over at espn.gom, Keith Law evaluates buyers and sellers and throws out a name for the Twins that I haven't thought of for awhile - Scott Hatteberg.

It's an intersting thought. Hatteberg is the type of guy I think the Twins will get - a second-tier first base/DH type. And Hatteberg is with the Reds, who the Twins certainly aren't afraid to trade with. But he's also left-handed, and really isn't any use aginst left-handed pitchers. I'd love to see him on the Twins, but as lefty bench pop, ala the role held right now by Garret Jones.

For the record, I think the Twins are going to find that right-handed pop somewhere before the deadline, and I don't think it's going to cost much. I'd like to crunch the numbers, but it seems like there aren't nearly as many teams looking for that as there used to be, and there are several that could be available. That's a story for another time.

Bartlett Bobbling
The Twins let in the leading run in the sixth but just plain booting the ball around, and it started with another bobble by Jason Bartlett. This was just plain a take-your-damn-eye-off-the-ball fumble.

For years I thought the criticism of Bartlett's defense was unfair, and was more about parroting a manager's excuse for playing his veteran than any objective analysis.

This year is different. This year Bartlett's defense just plain sucks. He still has the range which is going to make him a defensive asset, but his concentration is for crap. I can hardly wait to see the defensive metrics for him at the end of this year. If they aren't bad, I'm going to doubt their validity.

Little Frickin Punto, Tiny Superzero
Well, THAT was one brutal at-bat. In the eighth inning, with the lead-off (and tying) baserunner on first, Punto failed in two attempts to lay down a bunt, kept himself in the hole by fouling off high pitches, and then tried to inside-out swing on a ball that was directly over the plate.

Their reliever had trouble throwing a strike and seemingly couldn't throw anything over the outer half of the plate, and yet Punto keeps flicking those wrists. Pick to click, my butt.

Well, I'm a moron. I can't believe I spent tonight watching this game thinking I was going to enjoy it. I su

ppose this will be painted in Detroit as a Nate Robertson stepping up, but from where I sit, it feels like the Twins spent the night swimming upstream. It was Pitching 101 - just inner-half, outer-half pitching - but the Twins kept guessing wrong. Add to that some poor fundamentals - errors in the field, swinging at ball four in the dirt, failing to lay down bunts - and the Twins lost this game because they played worse.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Unbalanced Analysis

It's almost a rite of every baseball season.

Every year, usually in the second half of the season, there is an article in the daily paper telling fans exactly how good their team needs to be to finish in first place. It usually involves a few different assumptions about how the first place team will play, and then lists the records the hometown nine will need to post to pass them.

The conclusion is usually pessimistic. For instance, if the Tigers continue to play baseball at their current pace, they’ll win about 97 games. For the Twins to win 98, they would need to roll through a 48-22 record for the rest of the year, which is darn near impossible. Even if the Tigers just play .500 baseball, the Twins would need to finish 42-28, which is a tall enough order. It doesn’t matter if the team is nine games back or four games back, this analysis almost always proves the hill is going to be too steep to climb. Worse, it’s objective, even mathematical.
And often it’s wrong. Instead, we sit back and watch a great pennant race and wonder how the winning team overcame the odds. But we never doubt the analysis.

Maybe we should. I remember these stories from my childhood, too, and there’s an important difference between pennant races then and pennant races now. It’s the schedule. Baseball used to have a balanced schedule, where each team played each other the same amount of times, which was nice and even and made the mathematicians (and those with a hypersensitive sense of fair) very happy. We often hear the downside of the unbalanced schedule (cue Sid!) but it allows a team to play teams in its own division a half dozen more times per year. And that makes it a lot easier to make up ground in a pennant race.

For instance, this year the Twins still have thirteen games left against Cleveland, which are as many games as they played Cleveland the entire year prior to unbalanced schedule. They also have nine games against Detroit, and Cleveland and Detroit have eight games against each other. Add all that up, and you end up with thirty games left on the schedule where the Twins not only control their own destiny, but the destiny of one of the teams in front of them. That’s almost half of the Twins remaining games.

So the next time you see this story, or hear this point on your favorite sports radio station, don’t be afraid to ask what happens if the Twins sweep one of the series versus their opponents. Because it’s pretty likely a series against them will be coming up soon.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Young, Stupid and ... Changed?

Last September, the Tigers were struggling to score runs, and their DH was contributing to the problem. Dmitri Young was finishing off a sub-standard year, filled with legal and personal distractions, and he found himself in a 3 for 23 slump. And then he was not only released, but released during a rain delay.

It was a confounding move to make in the middle of a pennant race. The Tigers didn’t need the roster spot. They were likely going to the playoffs, and despite Young's slump, he had been one of their better hitters lately. And yet the Tigers
insisted the move was performance related:

"He's been struggling," [Dave] Dombrowski said. "I mean, you can see he's been struggling for an extended period at this point. We tried to get him out of it from a
performance perspective, but it just hasn't happened."

Added [Jim] Leyland: "We just didn't think the performance was up to snuff. Period."

Except that Young had been hitting .292 with an 835 OPS since he had rejoined the team. He had rejoined the team from an injured quadriceps, but apparently had also used the time to deal with alchoholism and depression, attending a rehabilitation facility in California for 30 days. That made some wonder whether a relapse might have prompted the release, but no smoking gun was ever discovered. Instead the additional digging turned up a few sour grapes in the clubhouse:
...a team source indicated that Young had become a distraction in the clubhouse
soon after he returned from the disabled list in July. There was support for
Young in his effort to overcome alcoholism and depression, but his state of mind
and dealing with his issues were preoccupying him by others' observations,
putting much of his focus on himself, rather than the team.

The Detroit News quoted a source that went a little further than that, calling Young "a growing cancer, someone who cared too much about himself, and not enough about the team."

Young has a slightly different explanation. He was dealing with some ugly legal issues at the time, and thinks the Tigers were afraid they would become a distraction, and that legal requirements would limit his ability to participate in the playoffs. Young had been charged with misdemeanor domestic assault for allegedly chocking a 21-year-old girlfriend in a hotel room.

That's the incident that one finds running like a thread through a miserable 2006 seaason. It took place in April with a girlfriend he had for a couple of years. The press got a hold of it in May, shortly after he had missed a few games due to the quadriceps injury. He played shortly thereafter, but was then put on the 15 day DL.

He missed a court date for the charge, which meant Young's lawyers needed to tell the court where he was. Shortly after that it was revealed that he had been at the rehab facility. He finally returned from the DL in July.

He was released in early September. In late September he was sentenced to one year probation for the domestic assault charge. He was also, at some point, told that he would need to stay in Detroit for 30 days and take breathalyzer tests, which likely he meant he couldn't have played on the road in the playoffs. Oh, and to top it all off, he was going through a divorce at the time, too.

Over the offseason, Young found an additional cause to some of his problems. In November,
he was diagnosed with Type-2 diabetes.

In fact, he spent four days in the Cleveland Clinic in Fort Lauderdale,
Fla., that month. Three of those days, he said, were spent in the intensive care
unit. His blood sugar level was at 893. The doctors told Young he should have
been dead.

Young said before the diagnosis, he would have mood swings, vision
problems, had problems losing weight and was constantly going to the bathroom.

"I was actually relieved [about the diagnosis] because it answered pretty
much every question that I had -- my mood swings, the inability to lose weight,"
Young said. "I don't have the spots anymore, but I had a lot of spots from the

He contemplated retirement, but was instead brought to spring training by Jim Bowden, GM of the Washington Nationals. Bowden was the GM of the Reds when Young was in their system, and calls Young "a very good kid" who is "extremely apologetic for the mistakes he has made in his life". Bowden also made sure that Young understood there would be a zero-tolerance policy.

Young was supposed to be a longshot to even make the roster - a backup to a backup. Instead, he's playing full time, hitting .337 and slugging .900. He's also right-handed, he's on a club going nowhere, and he's cheap, with a salary of just $500,000 this year. He is, from a purely on-the-field and business standpoint, a perfect fit for the Twins.

The Twins will need to judge for themselves whether 2006 was an aberation, a year that just sprialed out of control for a "good kid". Or possibly whether the diabetes diagnosis has led to a more structured life, one where personal demons might be easier controlled. Their answers, likely being gathered in private, will probably detemine if we find him in a Twins uniform in August.