Thursday, June 26, 2008

Comment Friday

Huzzah! A summer friday night in Minnesota. I'd like to dedicate today's comments column to the drunk Brewers fan who will accidentally pay me $11 for a $2 GameDay Program and Scorecard tonight because his eyes can't focus. Sir, enjoy that extra three second pause between any crucial stimulus and your response. It's like a little vacation!

And now, on to the comments....


Tricia said...
Love the 16 Candles reference. That's one of my favorite movies ever. I am also really starting to like Brian Buscher, small sample size or not.

You like Sixteen Candles references? All right. I knew you'd come around. This blog...this blog is happenin' I'm blowing your mind aren't I? I'm just getting warmed up. Grooowwwwllllll.....

John said...
It's worth noting that Buscher's pro career started at a relatively advanced age; he was already 22 when drafted. Not to say Buscher is his equal, but Corey Koskie's first full season was at age 27. Casey Blake didn't get his first real shot until age 29.

Very nice. I thought about comparing Buscher to Koskie but was under the impression that Koskie started his MLB career much earlier. They aren't dissimilar player in that they are both left-handed, fairly patient hitters. Let's call Buscher a poor man's Koskie, shall we? Because we haven't used that cliche yet.

(BTW, I just looked up Koskie's minor league stats. He had a similar jump in power, but it happened earlier, and he never really had Buscher's plate discipline in the minors.)

And bringing up Blake is partially brilliant and partially just cruel. But it makes me wonder if there's something about third base that allows players to start in the majors a bit later than other positions.

neckrolls said...
I think we sometimes put too much stock in a minor-league track record. A lot of baseball is mental, and it can take some people a while for the light to come on. Nick Blackburn is another one who was middling for awhile, but appeared to figure something out last year. Hopefully, the same sort of thing is also happening for Denard Span, and he'll turn out to be a productive player after all.

Well, I do put a lot of stock in a minor-league track record, but I would argue that Buscher's minor league record does demonstrate growth and some maintainable skills for the majors.

On Waiting and Outrage

Anonymous said...
John, I think it is just a matter of time before Span is brought up again. He will undoubtedly be the first to be called up if an OF lands on the DL. I will also not be surprised if the Twins were to send Gomez down if he goes into a prolonged slump, which appears to be the direction he is heading. Lately, he has not been the catalyst that he was earlier in the season.

I've thought the same thing about Gomez, and the stall pattern he is in makes me wonder if it wouldn't benefit him to spend some time in Rochester. But let's also note that Delmon Young didn't play in the Padres series. I'm not too surprised he was the odd man out in an NL park versus three right-handers, but I am a little surprised that he was the odd man out every night.

twayn said...
I think you have to also consider Bill Smith's mindset in the equation. Span has been in the organization since day one, while Young and Gomez are high-profile Smith acquisitions. As such, they are going to get every chance to prove themselves "at the major league level," as Bert likes to say (way too often). Smith does not have nearly the same vested interest in seeing Span succeed as a major league player as he does in seeing Young and Gomez succeed with the big club.

Well, it's not like Smith wasn't in the organization when they drafted and invested in Span, so there is some interest there. But I can't argue your point. It would be a much larger feather in Smith's cap if one of those guys turned a corner this year. I just wonder if they might not have more success turning that corner in AAA, and I suspect the Twins are debating the same thing, and have been for some time. The longer each one's development stalls, the more it makes sense to try something else.

ThatsRich said...
In addition to the contractual considerations you suggest, I think organization depth makes it clear that the pitcher is the right one to sacrifice.

TT said....
Where is that depth? The only pitcher at AAA that looks remotely read to step into the rotation is Liriano. And he isn't ready. Korecky may be able to step into the bullpen. But the reality is that the Twins vaunted pitching depth appears to be mostly anticipation, rather than anyone really ready for the major leagues.

If Span is going to be on the bench, I agree that the person to cut is the seventh bullpener, and I'd nominate Bass. I don't want Span on the bench, so I'd lean toward Gomez or Young, whichever the coaching staff thinks is more likely to regain confidence in Rochester.

I'll admit that I haven't really researched how the organizational depth is doing in Rochester. I don't think it's overwhelming. But I trust Rick Anderson to find someone else servicable to help out in the bullpen if need be.

Anonymous said...
Part of the problem is that the Twins' left-handed hitters as a group are much better than their right-handed hitters, so adding another lefty bat isn't as appealing as it otherwise would be.

Another fair point. I don't know if it changes anything for me, but it's becoming a little spooky, isn't it? This isn't a new problem this year, or even since Mauer and Morneau arrived. Jacque, Corey, AJ, Ortiz - it seems like we're trying to find someone to plug in between those guys every freaking year. I would love to hear someone from the Twins farm system try to explain this phenomenon.

curveball said....
If Span comes up, will he play? The Twins have to make a decision on him for 2009 especially. He's out of options and has to stay in 2009 or go elsewhere.

I also hadn't thought of that. Like the left-handed thing, I'm not sure it makes any difference right now. At the very least, I suspect they trust him to be a fourth outfielder. The question is whether he can be more than that, and he'll likely get a chance this year or next to show us.

As for next year, this just means the Twins won't re-sign Craig Monroe, and I don't think there are going to be any bitter tears over that. But I'll point out that the Monroe has had his moments, and if I hear one more indignant tirade about the money he's making, my temples might implode. Try out this exact change on the clue bus: before you gripe about the four million that they spent on Monroe (or the three they're spending on Lamb), you might want to gripe a bit about the $8 million dollars that they aren't spending on anyone. Good golly.

Notes from a Late Night Game

Josh's Thoughts said...
Like they did with Brandon Roy, I'm starting to get worried about the Wolves selecting either Mayo or Beasley and then trading him for a player lower on the board (a guy like Kevin Love) and then A) unload some salary and/or B) pick up a veteran role player as well. I hope that whoever they pick (as long as it's one of those two or Rose), I hope they keep them.

It was very quiet and very boring, but I'm excited about seeing what OJ Mayo can do. I just don't understand the argument that the Wolves "don't need" that position. The Wolves definitely need an outside threat to open up the inside game for Jefferson, and neither McCants or Foye showed that they can consistently play that role.

Would I have rather seen an impact center taken? Yep. But there wasn't one. There was a mediocre center. There were impact guys who might be able to occasionally play center (in fact, we have one of those already). But there wasn't an impact center.

Oh, and if you want to get to know Mayo a bit, check out this story by Chad Ford. It will get you excited.

(Late edit: I'm sick about this trade. Sick.)

Nick N said....
This is basically the reason I've been sticking up for Bonser all year long. His peripherals have been SOOO much better than his results. It strikes me that he's just been unbelievably unlucky. I really feel like he'd be fine if he got back into the rotation; the bullpen is not a particularly good fit for him.

He's become the single most puzzling and intriguing guy on the roster for me in the last 24 hours. And I don't believe it's just luck. But I can't figure out what is going on with him. This is just crazy.

Anonymous said...
Personally I would not describe the Marbury trade as the work of inspired, insightful masters of the trade. ... Imagine KG with Allen, and Gugliotta, and high number one pick, instead of a team cancer like Marbury. I'm sorry, but I really, really, really can't stand that guy.

Well, I won't blame the Wolves too much for that one. It's hard to look into someone's heart and determine if they're going to win or lose a battle with themselves. I really, really, really can't stand that guy either, but the difference is that I pity him, in the same way I would pity a fallen Greek hero in a cautionary myth.

The further we get from that break up, the more obvious it becomes that Marbury could have literally had it all. He was absolutely the perfect compliment to KG, and KG was the perfect compliment to him. KG needed someone selfish to play with him, someone who wanted the ball in the most crucial situations, and that was Steph. Steph needed someone who could take require attention and assist the offensive flow so Marbury didn't become a one-dimensional scorer, and that was KG. The fact that they liked each other so much wasn't just coincidence. It was fate gently nudging them to each other.

And ironically, Marbury's need to be "the man" on a team would have fared far better if he had stayed. It likely would have come to fruition during numerous playoff crunch time appearances, just like it did for Paul Pierce and (to a lesser extent) Ray Allen this year. And he would have been on a bigger stage, with more success than he ever actually achieved. And he threw that all away in a pique of jealousy. It honestly breaks my heart.

OK, that's it for this week. See you at the Metrodome this weekend. Hopefully on Monday we'll talking about twelve in a row.....

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Notes from a Late Night Game

The Bonnes Bar and Baseball Basement is at least 12 degress cooler than the rest of the house and sports some HD goodness, so let's just watch most of a Twins game and write a bit, shall we?

Brendan Harris
Two home runs in two games makes me wonder if he's starting a streak that could raise his stats back to the level we anticipated. If so, he's got a long way to go.

Last year Harris sported a .286/.343/.434 line. This year, even after the two home runs, he's giving up 30 points in average and on-base percentage and 60 points of power. My perception is that he's struggled a bit all year, but he had a decent April, slid a little in May, and fell off the table for the first couple weeks of June. A week ago his slugging percentage was under .300. that's the kind of "production" that could have lead to him never being heard from again if Punto had just been healthy.

For the record, he never faced that kind of adversity last year. But he does have a history of bunching home runs together. Last year, of his twelve home runs, he hit six in a 3 week span around early June, and another four in 10 days in September.

The Gardy Move
I was a little surprised that Ron Gardenhire pulled Glen Perkins after five innings, but maybe I shouldn't have been. Perkins had thrown 91 pitches, and threw as many balls as strikes in the bottom of the fifth. Gardy removed him for pinch hitter Mike Lamb because it was Perkins turn to bat, and there were runners on first and second base with one out. He was looking to bust the game open.

But the Twins were already ahead 5-3. The move meant that the bullpen would need to hold the lead for four innings instead of just three. And it wasn't that great of a scoring opportunity.

In the short term, the move didn't work, but it did long term. Lamb grounded to first, moving the runners, which is precisely what Perkins probably would have tried to do with a bunt. But the Twins did pick up two more runs that inning (see below) and Brian Bass shut down the Padres in the sixth and seventh inning.

I'm not being critical. I just find it intersesting how Gardy played that situation. At best I would've considered it borderline aggressive, and the truth is that I really expected him to just let Perkins bunt those players over.

The Big Hit
The big hit that inning was by Carlos Gomez, and I must admit I wasn't optimistic about his chances. Here's Gomez, who hasn't improved a lick in his plate discipline since early May, facing Greg Maddux, who can toy with far more disciplined hitters.

Gomez didn't have a particularly good at-bat, but I seem to remember him laying off at least one pitch (I think it was the first one) that was down and away. He earned another ball when he didn't swing at a pitch that was near his elbow (that had already been hit once tonight). I'm pretty sure the two foul balls he hit were borderline balls, so no credit for those.

But Maddux messed up on that 2-2 ball that Gomez pulled on the ground into left field. Frankly, it looks like the control artist missed his spot inside, left the ball out over the plate, and Gomez was aggressive and skilled enough to take advantage. Sometimes that's all hitter needs.

Bonser's Ninth
I'm looking at Bonser's last five relief outings and it just doesn't make sense. He's pitched six innings which means he got eighteeen outs. Seven of them were strikouts, which is good. Another eight were ground outs, which is a really good sign. Only three were fly ball outs. What's more, he's only walked a single batter in those outings. All of those are great signs.

But in those six innings, he's given up eighteen hits?!? Are you kidding me? Eighteen? How do you get 85% or your outs from strikeouts and ground balls and still give up that many hits?

Last nigth he got two strikeouts, one ground ball out, one ground ball that was an error, and one ground ball that was a single. Which means he was a dribbler short of giving up another run. Goofy.

The Wolves Game
They make draft maneuvering sound like chess, but for the Wolves, it's really more of a child's board game.

And it's simpler than that, because the Wolves don't need to make a move. If they do nothing more than stand pat, they're going to either end up with Michael Beasley or OJ Mayo, and both would be outstanding additions to this team. Instead, Wolves fans are having the snot scared out of them amid speculation the Wolves are actively looking to move down in the draft.

There used to be a time that the Wolves looked like masters of the game with their early draft picks. They picked KG up as the fifth pick, and people still don't recognize just how inspipred that was. They also maneuvered their way into the Stephon Marbury pick, which was equally insightful. Even Wally Sczerbiak, who I believed they drafted sixth overall, ended up being a solid move. Those were the ony low picks they had for most of KG's time here, thanks to all the "skip a turn" cards we gathered from Joe Smith's contract.

But lately, the game has been a little trickier. Last year's pick, Corey Brewer, is going to need to start scoring to be anywhere near the pick they invested in him. And the last time the Wolves moved down in the draft they essentially chose Randy Foye over Brandon Roy. With Roy's play the last two years, that now looks disasterous. Given that history and that they are guaranteed a difference maker by standing pat, you would think they would sit tight with the cards they have.

Instead, every early rumor had them looking to trade down with this pick, and every sound bite muttered by TWolves management for the last 48 hours sounds like they're preparing their fan base for that move. If they turn this pick into anything less than additional lottery picks in future years, it will be (probably correctly) judged a mistake.

My biggest fear is that they move down not for additional lottery picks or for a veteran role player, but to shed the contract of Antoine Walker, Troy Hudson or Marko Jaric. While nobody doubts the debilitating effect these types of contracts have in the NBA, that additional salary space doesn't buy the Wolves much this year (because they're still going to have a lot of salary) or in future years (because so much cash comes off the books already).

All it would really do is save owner Glen Taylor some money. If that means costing the Wolves Beasley or Mayo, fans have the right to skip over "dissappointed" and advance directly to "betrayed".

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

On Waiting and Outrage

If Denard Span isn’t outraged, he probably should be. And maybe we should be too. Instead, we all wait.

There was “Free Johan”. And “Free Morneau”. And even “Free Kielty” (much as we might like to forget it). And earlier this year there was “Free Kubel”. All of them had three ingredients:

1. An obvious need,
2. A player who looks like a great fit and
3. A frustratingly slow reaction by the Twins.

There is a perception nationally that the Twins are hesitant to trust young players and too enamored with veterans, and I believe it is largely based on those campaigns. The reality is that there aren’t many teams that consistently turn over as many roster spots to players from their farm system as often as the Twins do, and far less that consistently have had success doing so. But the long-term success doesn’t stick with us as long as the frustration of watching Johan in the bullpen or Morneau waiting for Mientkiewicz to get injured.

Also, a good chunk of us baseball wonks classify ourselves as prospect hounds, roto players, or hard core fans, and for various reasons each of those three groups love the quick fix. And, frankly grumbling can be so much more entertaining. We don’t stay up late to watch David Letterman so he can tell us how great everything is.

This week we’re seeing signs of a new campaign, and all the same macro ingredients are there. Three of the four worst Twins everyday hitters are playing in the outfield. And Denard Span, the hottest AAA prospect for the Twins, just happens to play outfield. And yet, nothing.

Nobody within the Twins denies that he should be here. It’s damn hard to argue against a guy who had an impressive spring training, is a first round pick, and is posting a ridiculous .450 on-base percentage at Rochester. (How silly is that OBP? The highest OBP a Twins has ever put up over a full season is .449 by Rod Carew in that magical 1977 season).

The problem is that nobody is sure exactly how you squeeze him on this roster. On Monday Jim Souhan suggested getting rid of Mike Lamb to make room, but Lamb fills a role that this team has lacked for the last couple of years, even if he is overpaid for it: left-handed pinch hitter. The Twins aren’t going to give that up any time soon (and shouldn’t).

Another option would be to reduce the number of arms in the Twins bullpen. That means losing Brian Bass or Boof Bonser to another organization. That’s not a terribly tough pill to swallow if the Twins had last year’s bullpen, but this year it’s hard to reduce the organization’s depth in relievers.

Both of those solutions also ignore the problem of finding Span at-bats once he gets here. If he’s going to take at-bats from an outfielder, why not send one of them down? Delmon Young and Carlos Gomez should both have options, so the Twins don’t risk losing either one, and both have recently stalled in their development at the major leagues. But both are also very young raw players that the Twins knew would struggle. Plus they would replace them with another young, fairly raw player and they would be doing so during a pennant race when they’re just a couple of games out of first place.

And so they (and Denard) wait. And we wait too, because we’re not quite sure we believe. Span is harder to believe in because we’ve fought so hard to counter-balance the expectations heaped upon a first round pick that just wasn’t performing. For five years he struggled and for five years we tried to tell everyone that this was another draft failure. And that makes it a little harder to embrace the statistical changes we see this year. And saw this spring. And last fall.

And so we all wait. The Twins wait to see if a spot opens up due to injury or incompetence or even petulance. And we wait to get outraged and start our “Free Span” campaign.

And Denard waits for both.

Sunday, June 22, 2008


How do you trap someone who is determined not to get bushwhacked? Well, you start with a fairly obvious trap. Then you devise the second trap, the one they put themselves into when they are smugly avoiding the obvious trap.
That’s the one I fell into. It started with an IM last week: What do you think of Buscher?

And suddenly I had visions of chin-ups with Jake Ryan:

TG: I don’t.
JR: Would you ever go out with her?
TG: Depends on how much you paid me.
JR: She’s not ugly.
TG: There’s nothin’ there, man. It’s not ugly. It’s just … void.

See, I was avoiding the obvious trap. For one-hundred years sportswriters and fans have put their faith in “the guy from the farm team”. And sometimes that worked out, which made them excited about the next guy who was called up. And sometimes it didn’t, which made them suspicious about the next guy who was called up.

And then the stats guys came along and tried to demonstrate that there were better methods for evaluating call-ups then how the guy before him did. Even if you had never seen them play before, these call-ups had been playing baseball for years, and looking at their stat lines could give us a feel for what the player might do in the big leagues.

Ignoring that history was a trap. Desperate for information, we often make snap judgments, like deciding a guy was "for real" based on 34 at-bats. That’s exactly how many at-bats Buscher has so far this season, and he’s hitting .353 with 12 RBI in 10 games. Concluding that he’s going to be successful based on that is falling into the obvious trap.

Because Buscher also has 1524 at-bats in the minors. In those at-bats, he’s hit .287, and had just 32 home runs over 5 seasons. And as a 27-year-old, he has been old for most of those leagues. In fact, he’s depressingly old to be breaking into the majors.

And so even though he’s been on the radar for the last two years, I haven’t paid much attention to him. I thought I knew Buscher. He wasn’t ugly. There’s just nothing there. And last year’s introduction to the majors, in which he hit .244 with very little power seemed to confirm it. I saw a void.

I’m wondering if I didn’t fall into a trap. Maybe I made up my mind a little too early. Or maybe I was looking for the star prospect instead of the reasonably priced fill-in. But whatever it was that bushwhacked me, it appears that Buscher isn’t who I though he was at all. And his minor league stats seem to show that:

In 2006, Buscher was what I thought he was – a failed third round college pick with the San Francisco Giants. He wasn’t hitting for average, in part because he wasn’t particularly good at controlling the strike zone. And he wasn’t hitting for any power at third base, which is almost mandatory there.

That’s when the Twin picked him up in the Rule 5 Minor League Draft. And in 2007, as a 26-year-old in AA and AAA, there were some real changes. He started hitting for a much higher average, and that’s not the only sign that he started learning how to hit. He also started drawing more walks than strikeouts, when he had previously struck out almost twice as much.

And finally (and for the Twins, most importantly), he started hitting for real power. To give that .500 slugging percentage some context, Justin Morneau is slugging .486 this year. And it’s not just because Buscher was hitting for a higher average – his “isolated power” number nearly doubled.

Which is not to suggest that we have another Morneau in the order. Buscher is 27 years old, and the ceiling for a 27-year-old prospect is that of a league average starter. But the good news is that the Twins would kill right now for a league average third baseman. And the other good news is that the Twins have their own history of a late bloomer manning third base for a couple of years. You can still see him on most Twins games. Or, at least after most Twins games.

It's Ron Coomer. He didn’t make his major league debut until he was 28 years old, but played third base for the Twins full-time for four years. He and Buscher aren’t terribly similar in their styles, but he’s a good example of how an older prospect with some power can carve out a useful major league career. Coomer only slugged over .500 in the majors once, and that was the year he was protected against right-handed pitchers. But he murdered southpaws, and ended up with 449 career RBI and an All-Star appearance.

Could we expect the same for Buscher? “Expect” is a little strong, but it’s not out of the question. Buscher’s minor league track record suggests that he won’t hit for this high of an average, but could hit for slightly better power. Best of all, the plate discipline we’re seeing is real. Also, what few stats I can find suggest he doesn’t struggle too much against left-handers, and he may get a chance to show that since Matt Macri was sent down yesterday.

At the very least, it looks like he’s worth giving a looksie. If we're a little lucky, maybe some of the teams in the AL Central will join me in being bushwhacked.
Sorry I've been away for awhile. I don't even have an excuse. Just too much time doing other stuff. We'll see if I can't make it up to you this week. - John