Saturday, November 07, 2009

Letting Go of Go-Go

See that picture on the right? That's how I think I'll always remember Carlos Gomez's tenure with the Twins. I loved the joy he played with, and was extremely optimistic about his potential. I constantly grumbled that the Twins were going to ruin the kid by not sending him to Rochester to play every day. The joy and athleticism he shows in that picture captures everything good about Gomez for me.

And I'm saying this because I've just reread the story that you're about to read and it sounds like I'm anti-Gomez. I'm not. I liked him.

But he wasn't any good.


We bloggers and stats guys have enough to overcome. So how about we quit actively trying to look like morons?

In the joyous wake of the trade which sent Carlos Gomez to the Brewers for JJ Hardy, several otherwise sane and intelligent writers tried to point out that Gomez was undervalued because of his defense. Maybe that's true, and maybe it's not, but when it's carried it to the point where it's stated that Gomez had any present-value at all to a baseball team, it's officially gone too far.

Gomez is a very good, maybe even elite, center field defender. If you're looking for a statistic to try and measure it, Ultimate Zone Rating isn't a bad one, and his UZR states that he saves about 15 runs over an average center fielder every 150 games in his career.

But you can also measure offensive futility using stats, and OPS is a nice short-hand (and intuitive) way to do so. Here are the center fielders in the majors with 300 or more at-bats last year, sorted by OPS. See if you can find Gomez on the list. (Hint, scroll down):

Carlos Beltran NYM 0.915
Torii Hunter LAA 0.873
Matt Kemp LAD 0.842
Angel Pagan NYM 0.837
Andrew McCutchen PIT 0.836
Marlon Byrd TEX 0.808
Denard Span MIN 0.807
Shane Victorino PHI 0.803
Kosuke Fukudome CHC 0.796
Mike Cameron MIL 0.795
Adam Jones BAL 0.792
Cody Ross FLA 0.790
Grady Sizemore CLE 0.788
Nate McLouth ATL/PIT 0.788
Rajai Davis OAK 0.784
Curtis Granderson DET 0.780
Jacoby Ellsbury BOS 0.770
Dexter Fowler COL 0.770
Franklin Gutierrez SEA 0.764
Willie Harris WAS 0.757
Nyjer Morgan WAS/PIT 0.757
Melky Cabrera NYY 0.752
Josh Hamilton TEX 0.741
Michael Bourn HOU 0.738
Aaron Rowand SFO 0.738
Colby Rasmus STL 0.714
Vernon Wells TOR 0.711
Chris Young ARI 0.711
Gary Matthews Jr. LAA 0.697
Tony Gwynn SDG 0.693
Alex Rios CHW/TOR 0.691
B.J. Upton TAM 0.686
Rick Ankiel STL 0.672
Mitch Maier KAN 0.665
Carlos Gomez MIN 0.623
Willy Taveras CIN 0.559

Gomez wasn't just bad at that plate. He was awful. Eye-watering. Breathtaking. His badness approached "evil".

And how much did his defense make up? Not much. A bump in OPS of 4 to 5 points is generally worth a single run over 500 or so at-bats. So let's add a column which points out just how many runs better or worse each of these guys was over Gomez:

Carlos Beltran NYM 0.915 +65
Torii Hunter LAA 0.873 +56
Matt Kemp LAD 0.842 +49
Angel Pagan NYM 0.837 +48
Andrew McCutchen PIT 0.836 +47
Marlon Byrd TEX 0.808 +41
Denard Span MIN 0.807 +41
Shane Victorino PHI 0.803 +40
Kosuke Fukudome CHC 0.796 +38
Mike Cameron MIL 0.795 +38
Adam Jones BAL 0.792 +38
Cody Ross FLA 0.790 +37
Grady Sizemore CLE 0.788 +37
Nate McLouth ATL/PIT 0.788 +37
Rajai Davis OAK 0.784 +36
Curtis Granderson DET 0.780 +35
Jacoby Ellsbury BOS 0.770 +33
Dexter Fowler COL 0.770 +33
Franklin Gutierrez SEA 0.764 +31
Willie Harris WAS 0.757 +30
Nyjer Morgan WAS/PIT 0.757 +30
Melky Cabrera NYY 0.752 +29
Josh Hamilton TEX 0.741 +26
Michael Bourn HOU 0.738 +26
Aaron Rowand SFO 0.738 +26
Colby Rasmus STL 0.714 +20
Vernon Wells TOR 0.711 +20
Chris Young ARI 0.711 +20
Gary Matthews Jr. LAA 0.697 +16
Tony Gwynn SDG 0.693 +16
Alex Rios CHW/TOR 0.691 +15
B.J. Upton TAM 0.686 +14
Rick Ankiel STL 0.672 +11
Mitch Maier KAN 0.665 +9
Carlos Gomez MIN 0.623 +0
Willy Taveras CIN 0.559 -14

So those 15 runs that he makes up defensively still leave him towards the bottom of the list. He was nowhere near average. He was bad. As in, not good. Beyond shaky. Poor. Inferior. Deficient. Lacking. Flawed. Substandard. Occasionally dreadful. Frequently appalling. Approaching abysmal.

To be fair, when a lot of people praised Gomez's value, their point wasn't really that Gomez was good. It was really:

1) "Hey, we've got these great defensive metrics that I want to show you!" I'm glad we have these defensive metrics. They're a step in the right direction. But a position player's defensive value is almost always dwarfed by the value of their offensive performance. Just because we can measure it now doesn't make it more important than it was a couple of years ago. Just clearer.

2) "Delmon Young is terrible." Which has absolutely been true. I'd love nothing more than to see the Twins bring in a veteran backup that can show Young how to conduct himself on and (maybe more imporantly) off the field. And, even better, threaten to take Young's job if he doesn't straighten out.

But that's far different than saying Carlos Gomez had any present-day value whatsoever. He was never part of the solution. He was always part of the problem. To argue anything else makes us look stupid.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Silver Linings

The gray cloud of not acquiring Akinori Iwamura has all kind of silver linings which I’d love to dive into today.

Geek Chorus: Actually, you would have loved to dive into them yesterday, but you were too lazy to finish the column.

Yes. Yes, I was. And that was the Geek Chorus, whose job it is to keep me honest. So honestly, while I'm disappointed to not get Iwamura, there are plenty of positive signs to come out that little episode. Like:

Silver Lining #1: The Twins are interested in upgrading at second base.

Geek Chorus: Uh, doi?

"Doi?" You're going with "Doi?" Nicely done. Very retro.

For most of the nation, this is a "Doi." But those folks don’t root for the Twins, who could trot out at least two reasons to not upgrade:

1) Nick Punto played competently there down the stretch and
2) Alexi Casilla is out of options

The Twins might still mention either or both of those reasons later this offseason, just as Bill Smith did in his interview with TwinsCentric for the Offseason GM Handbook two weeks ago. But neither stopped the Twins from trying to acquire a competent replacement who was going to cost them just short of $5 million next year.

Geek Chorus: Provided it didn’t cost them a B-level prospect – god forbid.

Yeah, the hoarding mentality remains annoying, but there are a slew of free agent second basemen who don’t cost them a B-level prospect, too. Which brings us to…

Silver Lining #2: As good a fit as Iwamura was to plug the vacancy at second base, there are at least a half dozen better fits who will be available this offseason.

When we ranked the free agent second basemen in terms of desirability, Iwamura ranked 6th in guaranteed money, behind Freddy Sanchez, Felipe Lopez, Orlando Hudson, Placido Polanco, and Adam Kennedy. And that list doesn’t include Chone Figgins and Mark Derosa, because they were in the list of third baseman. And doesn’t include potential trade targets like Dan Uggla.

Geek Chorus: Ooh. Dan Uggla. Dan Uggla. The most beautiful sound I ever heard. Dan Uggla. All the most beautiful sounds in the world in two single words - Dan Uggla, Dan Uggla, Dan Uggla, Dan Uggla! I just....

We'll interrupt the Bernstein musical in progress because it's creeping me out a little bit. But the Geek Chorus has a point. I may be guilty of a Polanco Crush, but that's only because Uggla is the girl who is way too far out of the Twins' league to be crushing on. He is Caroline Mulford to Polanco's Molly Ringwald.

Geek Chorus: Now who is the creepy one?

We'll move on.

Silver Lining #3: The Twins recognize that Brian Buscher is not the answer.

Geek Chorus: Unless the question is "Who can strike out more often than Delmon Young?"

Yeah, how about that? Last year at this time Buscher was being touted as two-thirds of the answer at third base because of how he hit lefties. But last year, he not only posted a .235 batting average and a 676 OPS, but he struck out 35 times in 136 at-bats, which was the worst ratio on the team.

Geek Chorus: Careful. This is where one of your more anal-retentive readers points out to you that at-bats are not synonymous with plate appearances.

Super. And this is where I point out that when you're splitting hairs so your boy comes out slightly ahead of Young and Carlos Gomez in flailing futility, you've already conceded the point.

Buscher needs to find a nice non-competitive team that can give him some time playing consistently against right-handers. Maybe there is still time for him to find his way out of the wilderness and into the promised land.

Geek Chorus: Let my people go. (Oh. I guess we did.)

Silver Lining #4: There is a decent chance the Twins think Mike Redmond is coming back as a player.

Why, of all the moves the Twins could have made to the 40-man roster, did the Twins drop Buscher, their main option as a bench bat last year? It's not like there weren't other candidates. Deibinson Romero is a 23-year-old third baseman who is still struggling at High A ball. Trevor Plouffe is a 23-year-old shortstop at AAA who has struggled offensively at every step in his major league career. Is 28-year-old Justin Huber more likely to have a productive role next year than Buscher?

Well, Smith mentioned last month that there is another left-handed bat available:

"Buscher was essentially a left-handed pinch hitter if we needed it. We had pretty good balance. [Jose] Morales was another guy. When he was up for September, he was a switch-hitter, but he’s a better left-handed hitter."

Geek Chorus: So Morales replaces Buscher on the bench, and you think that means Redmond must be coming back as backup catcher? That's a stretch. It might mean just as easily that Redmond is NOT coming back. Can the roster support both Redmond and Morales?

Let's see - five bench spots belong to Brendan Harris, Gomez or Young, Casilla or Tolbert, the backup catcher and...yeah, I think there's room for one more. I'm going with it.

Geek Chorus: Well, I'm withholding my endorsement.

Maybe I should modify #4 to read that it looks like Morales is in the Twins' plans next year. That, by itself, isn't especially good news. Morales' minor league history isn't especially promising. But he had a hot start, cooled considerably, and could end up thrust into a role which he's not ready for...

Geek Chorus: Much like Brian Buscher.


Thanks for stopping by, and make sure to stop by where our first book is now available. We'll see you on Monday.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

We Have a Book!

We have books.

Real, live, turn-the-page, display-it-in-your-collection-of-baseball-stuff books. That's it, over on the right. It's TwinsCentric's first REAL book, and I can pretty much guarantee it won't be the last, because meeting tomorrow night to plan our first Minnesota Twins Annual.

But that's tomorrow and today is today, and you can get our first printing of our first book today by clicking here, or following the link from Thanks so much for you support and feedback. We really are having a lot of fun writing these.

And I'm having a lot of fun writing a story about the silver linings of Tuesday's Akinori Iwamura fiasco, but it's not ready for publication. Stop by tomorrow and we'll go over them all, including what it might mean for Red Dog's future with the Twins.

Provided I finish writing it. And after I buy about a dozen of these books.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Buscher and Rage and Nothing

You'll see this later, but I can't wait much longer to spit it out: DAMN! Damn, damn, DAMN!!!!

One of the early signs that this blog was going to turn from technical experiment to tragic little obsession took place on January 31, 2002. On that date, the Twins had signed relief pitcher David Lee to a contract - and there was no mention of it in the local papers.

I whipped myself into a self-righteous rage. That was a significant signing, or at the very least a signing with some delicious implications. How could their be no coverage? So I sat down and wrote 400 words comparing Terry Ryan to a Pyrolobus fumarii and this blog (with a few notable breaks) has been dedicated to exploring Twins minutia ever since.

Which bring us to yesterday's minutia, and the infinite implications it represents:

Minnesota Twins outright Brian Buscher to AAA-Rochester.

Implication #1: DAMN! Dammity-damn-damn, dammit!! It looks like the Twins just missed trading for Akinori Iwamura. And it was close enough that they made a roster move to clear space for him.

I guess we're skipping straight to dessert, or what looked an awful lot like dessert, until it was snatched away by Pirates GM Neal Huntington.

The compelling aspect about the Buscher roster move was the timing. The Twins have plenty of time to make their 40-man roster decisions, and the most obvious reason to clear a spot now is to open a space for a new player in a trade. So what kind of players are traded within days of the end of the World Series?

A specific kind of player is usually traded at that time. It's a player who has an option that a team can pick up, but whose option the team doesn't WANT to pick up, because they don't need that player.

(For instance, the Chicago White Sox has a $12 million option on Jermaine Dye for 2010 that they're unlikely to exercise. But that doesn't mean that nobody else would be willing to pay $12 million to Dye for 2010. So rather than just let him walk as a free agent, you can bet that White Sox GM Kenny Williams was on the phone this week asking other GMS if they wanted to trade for Dye.)

That kind of player was traded today when Iwamura was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates today. We wrote up Iwamura in the TwinsCentric Offseason GM Handbook. We said:

Akinori Iwamura*:
Tampa Bay Rays
Age: 30 (DOB: 2/9/79) | 2009 Salary: $3.25M
2009 Stats: .290/.355/.390, 1 HR, 22 RBI
The Rays have a $4.25 club option for Iwamura, but it’s quite feasible that they could buy that out for $250K given that they already have a strong starting infield unit with Ben Zobrist, Jason Bartlett and Evan Longoria. If Iwamura hits free agency, he’d be someone the Twins would need to take a long hard look at. He was limited to only 54 games in 2009 by injury, which might make him an even better bargain.
Estimated Contract: 2 years, $8M

We were right that he was going to be available, but we didn't anticipate the Rays would trade that option rather than just not exercise it.

Before I heard that Buscher had been outrighted, I had heard from both local and national sources that the Twins were in final talks over Iwamura. Now, I hear stuff like this all the time, but the Buscher roster moves raises those rumors to another level.

I'll stop short of saying there is NO reason to make that roster move at this time if the Twins were not expecting to acquire a player, because there could be something personal going on with Buscher that we don't know about. But the timing of it is exceptionally strange. Usually the timing for this kind of move points to a second move.

So - damn. Iwamura has a career OBP of .354 and plays league average defense at second base, which are two thing the Twins didn't do in 2009. He's been a leadoff hitter for most of his MLB career, which would've played nice at #2 in the order, though he does bat left-handed.

So he's not an exceptional player, but he's a clear upgrade over what the Twins trotted out at second base last year. Losing him isn't going to cripple the offseason plans, and there are plenty of other, more positive implications to this move. But it looks like the Twins missed out on someone they wanted, and someone who would have made lots of sense.

Which brings us back to that entry from 2002. David Lee never played in a game with the Twins that year. He was sent to AAA a couple weeks before the Twins broke camp. All of that outrage and fine literary effort was ultimately for nothing. Like, it seems, this latest one.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

It sounds like a couple of teams held onto their potential free agents this weekend, and that's both good news and bad news for our Twins. We'll start with the (kinda) bad news...

Freddy Sanchez signs a 2-year, $12 million contract with the San Franciso Giants.

First, lets see what the TwinsCentric Offseason GM Handbook had to say about Sanchez...

Freddy Sanchez*
San Francisco Giants
Age: 31 (DOB: 12/21/77) | 2009 Salary: $6.1M
2009 Stats: .293/.326/.416, 7 HR, 41 RBI
A .300 career hitter, Sanchez would be a nice acquisition for the Twins. The Giants say they won’t activate his 2010 option, but are interested in signing a multi-year deal with him before he hits the free agent market.
Estimated Contract: 3 years, $21M

You'll remember there was a fair amount of interest around here in Sanchez prior to the trade deadline, or prior to him fighting through knee problems prior to the deadline. He ended up getting traded to the Giants, did them almost no good because of said knee injuries. So the Giants didn't activate their option and did get him to sign a multi-year deal instead. Nice job by them.

But there's plenty of silver-lining surrounding this cloud. First, Sanchez signed for less than we had predicted, which is a good sign for the market. Second, even though Sanchez isn't on the supply-side any more, the Giants aren't on the demand-side any more either. Whether or not they signed Sanchez, they were going to sign somebody, so it doesn't change the overall complexion of a plentiful second baseman market.

The next news was about the third baseman market:

Geoff Blum signs a 1-year contract for 1.5 million with the Houston Astros.

Significant? Probably not. Or at least hopefully not. Blum was the at the bottom of the list of free agent third basemen in the Handbook:

Geoff Blum
Houston Astros

: 30 (DOB: 4/26/73) | 2009 Salary: $1.1M
2009 Stats
: .247/.314/.367, 10 HR, 49 RBI
Blum would not be a big-name signing. Most would probably not know that Blum has played in 109 or more games each of the past 10 seasons. Although he has played nearly every position on the diamond, he has been the Astros’ primary third baseman the past two years. However, his career OPS is .700, and it has not been higher than .705 since 2002.

Estimated Contract: 1 years, $1M

I'm putting this in the category of "good news" just because Blum strikes me as exactly the kind of guy the Twins might have settled for at the last minute in a Tony-Batitst-ICK kinda way. He's bad enough that I would consider Brendan Harris a better overall fit as an every day third baseman. And that's a fragment of a sentence that makes me feel unclean.


I hope to have some very exciting news regarding the hard copy of the TwinsCentric Offseason GM Handbook by the middle of this week. Thanks everyone, for your patience.

I'll also be at the Taste of the NFL tonight. If anyone has any advice about the event, I'd love to hear it. And I'd love to talk a little Twins with you if you happen to be there too.