Thursday, April 09, 2009

GameDay Chatter: Learning from Tithonus

During the 2009 season, the Twins Radio Network is going extend their broadcasting after each Sunday game to include a couple of hours or Twins sports talk with Jack Morris and Chris Atteberry. And yes, this means your Sunday's are completely shot to hell.

This show is going to include a weekly 'rant' by a GameDay writer/blogger called 'GameDay Chatter'. You'll find this week's below. If you're interested in hearing the audio, or talking with Morris or Atteberry about it, be sure to tune in on Sunday.

You would think we woulda learned something from Tithonus.

Tithonus is the greek dude who was granted immortality. Turns out he shoulda asked for perpetual youth. Important difference. Instead, he grew older and older, but couldn't die. Eventually he was turned into a cicada, constantly shrieking for the sweet release of death. Fun story.

For a more upbeat version we could turn to the movie Groundhog Day. The one where Bill Murray is trapped within the same day over and over, awakening to Sonny and Cher, dealing with the overly friendly insurance salesman who sure as heckfire remembers him, and getting snowbound in Puxatawny. That one ended happier, as the gods granted Murray his release.

And the gods have similarly favored us in our imminent release from the Metrodome. Where it's always 70 and - teflon. Where it never rains, but we never see the sun. A climate-controlled mausoleum, where, you'll recall, baseball nearly went to die. From a disease called "contraction".

So can somebody PLEASE explain to me why, on the verge of gaining our outdoor stadium, so many of us have an obsessive need to point out how cold the weather can be in the first week of April? As if they figured out something the rest of us don't know? We're Minnesotans. We get it. It gets cold and hot and cold again. They're called "seasons". Some of us actually embrace them.

Listen, if we wanted the weather to always be 70 and drab, why the heckfire would we live here? If you miss the dome's "weather", I've got the perfect remedy for you - stay home. And since you won't need those tickets to the new ballpark, send them my way. You can even slide them under the door, lest opening it subject you to carcinogenic sun rays that might compromise your quest for immortality.

I'll be outside. Acting like a perpetual youth.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

The Five Basic Questions - 4/9/09

Sample size, shmample shmize. We've had three whole games, so let's wrap up the series prematurely while prematurely evaluating the 2009 season with The Five Basic Questions:

1. What's Most Promising?
No question, it's the performance of the top of the lineup. Last year the Twins discovered their leadoff hitter for the next five years, and this year it looks like they've found their #2 hitter.
Denard Span seems to have shaken off the lingering doubts that haunted him during spring training and has become THE indispensable outfielder. Seriously, who do you replace him with at the top of the order right now? More about that dilemna later....

And we're starting to see Alexi Casilla develop into a quality #2 hitter. He had a workmanlike spring training, battles at the top of the order, and has a quiet confidence about being able to put a bat on the ball. If Mauer comes back, the top six spots in this lineup become officially scary.

2. What's Most Worrisome?
The Twins have played three games and not one of them has been a quality start, and their Opening Day pitcher is already on the DL. The Twins rotation is the key difference between this team and the rest of the division. There are other teams with better offenses. There are other teams with better bullpens. But there isn't an AL Central team that should be able to compete with the Twins in terms of providing a quality start day in and day out. And the starting staff hasn't delivered.

Oh, and that's at home, against a team that finished last in the weakest AL division. Two come-from-behind wins are papering over the fact that this team could have started 0 for 3.

2. What's Most Unexpected?
I think we assumed we were gonna see four outfielders fighting for three spots, or five outfielders fighting for four spots. Instead, it looks like its going to be three outfielders for two spots.

And for the record, I think Gardenhire is right. How often can Gardy sit down his only leadoff guy? And how often is he going to sit down Cuddyer while Mauer is out? Not as long as Cuddyer does enough to hold down the #3 spot.

That leaves Young and Gomez sitting out against right-handers and Kubel or Gomez sitting out against most left-handers. If I had odds, I'd put money on Gomez being the odd man out tomorrow. And I wouldn't be shocked if we get through Chicago with either Span or Cuddyer (or both) having played every game.

4. Where Is This Team Right Now?
Keeping their head above water, but certainly not elite. The striking thing about this series is how similar these teams looked. They had similar rotations, lineups, defense and middle relievers. The biggest difference was the closer, and that's why the Twins are leading two games to one instead of losing two games to one.

I suppose that doesn't bode terribly well for the future. But in truth, Seattle looked a lot better than most people probably thing they're going to be. They've made some good personnel moves, they seem to play smart baseball, and the manager uses the bullpen effectively. I'm really surprised that a management team that put this team together dropped the ball on getting an effective left-handed reliever. That's a pretty big oversight, especially against the Twins.

5. What's Next?
This series would feel a lot better with a 3-1 series win than with a 2-2 split. Looking at most Twins career numbers against Washburn can make a guy pretty pessimistic. (For that info, check out But I'm also more comfortable with a left-hander like Perkins facing the meat of that Mariners order. If Perkins can deliver that elusive first quality start, the Twins should find a way to win this game.

And after that, the Twins get to visit Chicago. I expect the White Sox to struggle a little this year, though probably less than people expect. Even so, the White Sox will be favorites in two games of that series, just because of the pitching matchups. So a win tomorrow sets up the Twins with a very good chance of returning home next week as a winning team. A loss makes that an uphill climb.

No, I Mean What's Next for the Site?
Oh. I'll be back on Friday with a GameDay Chatter rant for the Twins Radio Network. And tonight at 10:00, be sure to listen to where Seth Stohs and I will wrap up this first series and preview the White Sox. And finally, if you want to try your hand at getting twittered, sign up at\twinsgeek for Twins tweets that can be sent directly to your cellular phone. See you tomorrow.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Palmer and Thorn and Denard's Decision

There could be a ton of great stuff to cover tonight, so let's lighting round through them quickly before we get to something that I've been meaning to study for several years.

Michael Cuddyer batting third - Until Joe Mauer comes back, the Twins are going to need to piece together the middle of the order, and I'm not sure how much it usually matter one batter versus another. But it mattered tonight.

Cuddyer got the lone RBI, but he also left a couple of other scoring chances on the field, and he looked overmatched. That can happen for right-handed hitters facing King Felix. So the logical question is "Why was a right-handed hitter batting third?"

It isn't because Gardy didn't want to bat two left-handers next to each other, because two lefties still did end up batting next to each other, in the fourth and fifth spots. It wasn't because Gardy wanted to guard against a late left-handed reliever being used, becaue Seattle's bullpen doesn't have a left-handed reliever.

It's a puzzling choice. On the other hand, it would make perfect sense tonight against the left-handed Erik Bedard, especially because Cuddyer has hit Bedard (3 for 12) better than either Delmon Young (2-15) or Joe Crede (o-11). Don't be shocked if it's Mike Redmond (2 for 5).

The Bullpen Meltdown - Like the Twins this offseason, I think I'm just going to ignore this for a little while. Let's leave it at this: Nice job, guys.

Sitting Delmon Young - In general, I like Gardenhire's approach to this. He's going to play them all and let it sort itself out. And I think it will. After all, let's not forget that there's a reason why none of them are above this little competition. They all could be capable starters, but they all also have their flaws.

Tonight I thought Gardy's choices made the team better. I'm not crazy about penciling Gomez's name above line 8 in my scorecard, but I need to admit the outfield defense really did shine. Gomez made a catch that Span probably doesn't make in center. And Span made three catches tonight that Young doesn't make in left. Of course, I wonder if he really should have made all three of those, so let's move onto our next topic. But first, a little shout out to AT&T....

My Tweeting - I'd like to give a shout out to AT&T, whose 3G network apparently couldn't handle 50,000 people in the area of the dome. So I couldn't shoot out a blog post or a single tweet. Nice job guys.

Denard's Foul Catch - The Mariners scored their first run tonight on a play one seldom sees. With Adrian Beltre on third base and one outs, Jose Lopez hit a fairly deep fly ball to left field that was going to be about 25 feet into foul territory. Span chose to catch it, Beltre tagged up and came home, and the throw from Span wasn't particularly close. Mariners led 1 to 0.

I winced a little, suspecting that "The Book" would say that ball should've been allowed to drop. I think it was obvious to most that by catching it, Span was conceding the run, and Span is heady enough that I suspect he knew the same thing. It was the leading run, so that's bad. But it's also early in the game, so that's good. So I wanted to research what various baseball mathematical models would say about the decision.

First, let's check out Palmer and Thorn's Expected Run Matrix. It's a neat grid that shows, given a certain number of outs and people on base, the average number of runs that should score that inning, based on 75 years of major league games. It was published in The Hidden Game of Baseball by Pete Palmer and John Thorn. It looks like this, and I've bolded the appropriate squares:

OUTSNone1st2nd3rd1st & 2nd1st & 3rd2nd & 3rdFull
0 Outs0.4540.7831.0681.2771.381.6391.9462.254
1 Out0.2490.4780.6990.8970.8881.0881.3711.546
2 Outs0.0950.2090.3480.3820.4570.4940.6610.798

- With a runner on 3rd and one out, one would expect to give up .897 runs. That's the situation if Span doesn't catch the ball.
- With two outs and nobody on, one would expect to give up just .095 runs, but of course a run has also scored, so that's 1.095 runs. That's the situation if Span caught the ball.
- By catching the ball, on average, Span gave up an extra tenth of a run.

So according to Palmer and Thorn, it's fairly close, but the smart move is generally to let the ball drop. Considering Lopez isn't an especially dangerous hitter, and the count would be 1-2, and Francisco Liriano was on the mound, I think the context supports that idea too.

But before we move on, I want to check one other model. has a beautiful method for tracking the outcomes of a game called Win Probability. The idea is similar to the one above. For just about every conceivable situation and find the probability of a team winning that game, based on what has happened historically in that situation.

From yesterday's game graph, it looks like the Twins chances of winning that game decreased from 45.3% to 43.2% with that catch. If it was a smart move (and it would have been if the game was later and the Twins held a decent lead) you would have seen the probability increase.

So, it's like we thought at the time. Probably not a good move, but not particularly damaging or stupid either. Which bring me to my next shout out....

Bridge Work on 35W last night at 10:00 - It's nice to know that a little thing like 50,000 fans in cars doesn't stop MNDOT from reducing the major artery from downtown to just one lane. Way to play through adversity guys. Nice job. If you really want to impress me, you should do the same thing tomorrow during rush hour. You know,if it's convenient for you.

Podcast - Which reminds me, if you would like to hear my live reaction to MNDOT's decision, or the 'shout out' I gave to the bassbowl determined to halt any thought of merging, you'll want to check out Seth Stoh's and my podcast last night at And join me tonight, too, while I break down the Bedard/Blackburn duel.

Opening Day 2009!

Last year for opening series, I wrote this in GameDay’s Dugout Splinters:

If you were a Yankees fan who wanted to win a World Series, you could just sit back and wait for the top free agent to hit the market and demand your team sign him. And, I suppose, if you wanted to be a successful parent, you could just adopt a 17-year-old National Merit Scholar.

But Twins fans are like the rest of us parents. We understand that it is infinitely more rewarding to see success come from someone in whom we’ve invested some time.

It still holds true, and so we're going to look at 12 reasons to watch this year, no matter what happens. But this year, in preparation of developing a Twitterholic dependency, I’m gonna try to capture these 12 players twitter-style, in 140 characters or less.

We’ll go with the first seven right now and I’ll release the last five exclusively through the new Twitter account gradually before today’s game. (Sign up!) So which 12 stories am I most interested in following? Starting at #12...

12 Cuddyer-I don't believe 2006 was a fluke. Slug the inside stuff and bloop the outside stuff big fella. That’s all I’m looking for.

11 DYoung-Spring: 65 AB, 0BB, 10K. Pulling the ball is easy. Identifying which pitch to pull is not. Adversity is coming for this guy. Wince.

10 PHumber-His numbers from the 2nd half of AAA suggest he can be very valuable. But will he overcome the learning curve fast enough?

9 RADickey-Knuckleballers stats are often much better indoors. Lets turn on those blowers behind home plate and see what happens.

8 Kubel-I know he’s a breakout candidate, but can he hit LHs? Gardy still hasn’t given him even 100 AB against them, and he hasn’t deserved them.

7 Slowey-Everyone's favorite breakout pitcher, but didn't he breakout last year? 160IP, 123K, 24BB, 3.99ERA. Shame on us for not noticing.

6 Crain-Spring: 8K, 1BB, 10IP. I don’t totally trust him for the 8th, but I'm looking forward to seeing him. Could have a HUGE impact.

Again, I’d love to have you follow me all baseball season in Tweeter, especially because with the new GameDay/Twins partnership, I should have significantly more access. Tomorrow I'll tweet the second half of this list, and I’ll be tweeting throughout the home opener, too. And if you don’t want to sign up for Twitter for whatever reason, notice that my tweets are also displayed over on the right-hand side.

But wait! There's more! Because Seth Stohs and I are also going to be podcasting weeknights after Twins games too. We’re starting tonight at 10:00 at Stop by and listen or download it to your ipod. We would love to know what you think.
And finally, GameDay will be providing online updates for the Dugout Splinters that you can find in every Twins Official Scorecard (sold for just $1!). You can find them before every Twins home game at I just posted the pitching probables for what should be a doozy tonight at the dome.