Saturday, March 13, 2010

TwinsCentric Blog: There's Always Room for Punto

Hi gang, I just realized I never put a link here. Thursday's post was over at the TwinsCentric Blog at It's called There's Always Room for Punto.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Nathan News: Magic 8 Ball Edition

Here's a quick Twins Geek post at the TwinsCentric blog concerning the news that Nathan has a significant tear of the ulnar ligament in his elbow.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Catching Up

Hey gang, let's use today's post to catch up on some stuff.

TwinsCentric Viewing Party
I gotta jump on this first, because I keep forgetting to talk about it.

This Saturday, starting at noon, is the TwinsCentric viewing party at Major's in Apple Valley (map). I'll be there rooting for the Twins and The Voice of Reason will be there rooting for the Phillies. More importantly, Nick Nelson, Seth Stohs and Parker Hageman will be there along with a litany of other characters. We're expecting a good-sized crowd, and we'll watch the spring training game in a section just for the blogger faithful. We'll have two-for-one appetizers and $2 pints and door prizes that include tickets to Target Field, Maple Street Press Twins Annuals and various other prizes we'll announce throughout the week.

I can't state this strongly enough - I am absolutely giddy about this. I've been waiting since October for a good baseball get-together. We've had a long (and eventful) offseason to catch up. I would like nothing better than to plant my butt on a bar stool and talk baseball for 12 hours. Everything is in play. I'm ruling nothing out. So please, figure out a way to join us.

Contract for Slowey
One thing I overlooked in yesterday's story about the Nick Blackburn contract is that Kevin Slowey in in a very similar position. He enters the season with just one year before arbitration, which puts him in the sweet spot for this kind of a deal. Plus, just looking at peripheral stats like K/9 or H/9, he's at least as promising a candidate as Blackburn.

Oh - except for that "two-screws-in-his-wrist" thing. Slowey underwent surgery last year to fix a wrist problem that has bothered him since September of 2008 and there are no guarantees for him. But if he looks good in spring training, or performs well early in the year, I wouldn't be shocked to see the Twins offer him a similar deal.

And strangely enough, even though he has been nowhere near as reliable as Blackburn has been, I'd be a lot more supportive than I was yesterday. That's strange (and some would say misguided), but true.

Comment of the Day
Wow. You guys blew me away with all the comments and debate yesterday. Good job by you. It was tough to pick a favorite...

...but I'm going to go with JK:

Blackburn needs to produce 6 WAR in 2011, 12, 13 for this to be a breakeven deal. He's probably got a range of 3 to 9 WAR for that time period. Worst case they overspend by $7M. Best case they save $7M.

I'm not crazy about the WAR reference because it means nothing to 97% of all people, but I like the overall attack plan. The way to support this deal, I think, is on a purely financial basis. Show me why it's important that the Twins save that money. This is a step in that direction.

Poor Span
There were other good comments too, several of which wondered why Denard Span hasn't received a similar deal. And the answer is: because Denard is screwed by his service time. According to Cot's Baseball Contracts, he only has one year and 111 days of service time, which means that he's not going to be arbitration-eligible until 2012. So the Twins have at least one more offseason to make any kind of strong push for a long-term deal with him. I'm betting it gets done, and I bet it is a pretty long deal. Which makes me happy.

Other Comment of the Day
I forgot to pick my favorite comment about my Vegas Over/Under story on Friday. It comes from neckrolls:

The new PECOTA definitely has some kinks to work out. On the Twins' depth chart, Jeff Manship is counted twice. That explains why every other team is projected to throw 1457 IP (reasonably close to last year's MLB average of 1442 IP), but the Twins are projected to throw 1497.

Take away the extra 40 IP of Manship, and the Twins' depth chart starts to make more sense.
That extra 40 IP from Manship is projected at a 5.22 ERA, resulting in about 23 extra ER. Subtract those 23 R from the Twins present total of 801 RA (a preposterous number - the Twins haven't come within 35 R of 800 allowed in the Gardy era) and you get 778 RA to go with 796 RS. That differential gives you a first-order pythagorean record of 83-79 - right in line with Vegas.

I'll take the over.

Love it. First, I had heard rumblings that PECOTA was a bit messed up and that BP was trying to fix it and I love that this verifies that. I love that there are specific errors documented, and I love the historical reference as proof. And I love the word "preposterous," which I don't use nearly enough. I love this comment. I love it so much I'd see it twice in the same weekend, even though we just met.

Target Field Accessibility
There's a relatively new Twins blog called Two Men On with a slightly different focus - the accessibility of Target Field. It sounds like the the bloggers - Sam and Michael, who are teenagers and both use wheelchairs - have a tour of the ballpark coming up and want everyone's list of desired amenities. For those of you interested in providing your list, swing by and offer up your ideas.

The Nathan Injury
I'll be honest - I don't want to talk about this until we know something. Not because it's disrespectful, but just because I'm lazy, and this is a monster topic. Stay tuned.

I'll be on KFAN's The Powertrip show this morning at 7:20 AM. You can listen in at 1130 AM or you can stream it.

Seth's Prospect Handbook
Last but not least I wanted to mention that Seth's Minnesota Twins 2010 Prospect Handbook is out and available. Seth has really stepped up the variety, content and look of this compared to last year's thorough offering, and I can testify that it damn near killed him. This is the sort of gem that doesn't last for long. Buy it while you can here.

Well, that's more than enough for a weeknight. Good night folks.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Twins Risk Getting (Black)-Burned

Minnesota Twins announce they have come to an agreement with RHP Nick Blackburn on a 4-year, $14 million contract with an option for 2014.

Sometimes you need to make a move for more than just financial reasons. Sometimes you do it to avoid risk, or to put your team in a position to compete. Sometimes you do it to go that extra mile, or to signal to the league or your fan base that things have changed. And sometimes you do it because you just plain like a player and what he's done.

This should NOT have been one of those times.

I think it's fair to say, among the sabremetric set, I'm one of Blackburn's biggest believers. His critics throw the word "lucky" around a lot. They point to his low strikeout ratio, his high hit rate, and his mediocre groundball percentage. They look at his 4ish ERA and claim it will almost undoubtedly move the wrong way. They emphatically state that his luck is going to end.

And to that I say: so what? All of our luck is going to end. If he was lucky last year, and he was lucky the year before, who is to say that he won't be lucky again next year, and the next year, and the next?

The game is a game. There are infinite ways to play and win. We get so caught up in our own ability to identify the prototypical high upside power pitcher that we don't appreciate a guy who gets it done any other way. And Blackburn has unquestionably gotten the job done over the last two years, legitimately being the Twins best starting pitcher over that stretch. We should be celebrating this, not dreading the end of it.

So, to recap - I'm a Blackburn bobo. And I still don't like this deal.

To understand why, we need to understand the other option the Twins had. Blackburn is under their control for the next four years, regardless of whether they signed this deal or not. This year they could pay him whatever they wished. For each of the next three years, the Twins could have decided whether to offer arbitration to Blackburn, and then he would have been paid fair market value for a pitcher with his tenure and performance.

So one could take a look at what other pitchers with Blackburn's tenure and performance are making and have a pretty good idea, right now, what the Twins would have to pay Blackburn if they continued to retain him. The future would look something like this:

2010: $.7M
2011: ~$3M
2012: ~$6M
2013: ~$8M

And while we don't have a year-by-year breakdown of Blackburn's contract, a pretty good guess is that is looks like this:

2010: $.7M
2011: ~$2.8M
2012: ~$4.5M
2013: ~$6M

Which gets us back to why you do a deal like this. It has nothing to do with the guy, or the position your team is in, or sending signals to anyone. It only has to do with one thing: money.

Assuming the Twins were going to pay Blackburn for at least the next two years, they are risking about $10 million to potentially save about $4 million. I just don't think you can do that with a low strikeout pitcher. There's too much evidence that they aren't effective for a very long time.

And the Twins should KNOW this. They've done it twice recently. The first time was disastrous and the second time worked out better because the contract was shorter.

The shorter contract was with Carlos Silva, who agreed to a two-year deal with a third year option. Silva was great the first year and terrible the second year. The third-year option for $4 million was cheap enough that the Twins picked it up, Silva ate 200 innings with a 4.19 ERA and then signed his current deal with the Mariners. That worked out because the option year was just three years out.

But Blackburn's option year is five years out, which brings us to our second example: Joe Mays. Mays also had a low strikeout rate, a high hit rate, but had an incredible year in 2001, posting a 3.16 ERA over 232(!) innings. The Twins also signed him to a four-year deal with a fifth-year option for $20 million. (It was more than Blackburn's because Mays was already arbitration-eligible.)

Over the next four years, Mays pitched less than 400 innings, and posted a 5.81 ERA .

Mays' problems weren't necessarily related to his strikeout rate, as he struggled with injuries which included a reconstructive elbow surgery. But that's the point - there are already plenty of risks with young arms to worry about.

Given all those risks, there needs to be a compelling reason to sign a contract like this. And there just isn't one, just like there wasn't back on January 17th, 2002. I can practically copy and paste the conclusion:

I’m a Twins fan, and I hope I’m wrong about this. I hope Nick has a long and prosperous career. I hope executives in baseball circles laud Bill Smith for years to come. I even hope Jim Pohlad saves millions of dollars over the life of this contract. But from an impartial observer this looks like a $14M gamble on a somewhat questionable commodity that the Twins didn’t need to do.