Friday, May 26, 2006

Back Up Backstops

by Twins Geek

The following is in the Dugout Splinters this weekend. It's also the only post this week, since John will be unable to access the internet again until June 3rd.

It’s becoming a weekly tradition. The Ron Gardenhire Show starts, and so does the berating of the manager for how he uses his catchers. There are two complaints from callers, and they are completely at odds with each other.

Lars from Mendota wants to know why Joe Mauer wasn’t in the lineup last night. Ron patiently explains again that catchers often don’t catch a night game followed by a day game, because otherwise, they break. Then Jorgi calls from Warroad and wants to know if Mike Redmond can see more playing time, because he’s swinging the bat pretty good, donchaknow. Ron praises Redmond’s production and says how much the Twins value him and how he loves Redmond’s makeup. He also tactfully refrains from mentioning the career total of twelve home runs in nine major league seasons.

Obviously, both callers are missing the bigger picture concerning Mauer’s health and Redmond’s career. But this weekend, when you’re watching Mike Redmond bat from the #3 spot, you might ask yourself, why isn’t the Twins most professional hitter in the lineup at designated hitter?

There is a reason. If Redmond gets hurt, Mauer would have to move from designated hitter to catcher. In the American League, when a player is moved from DH to the field, the team loses their DH, so the pitcher must bat in his place. Which is, obviously, not something a manager wants to deal with. But for a 162-game season, does that strategy make sense?

Consider that Mike Redmond will start about 30 games this year. If Mauer was allowed to DH for a chunk of those, he get about 100 more at-bats that would otherwise be taken by Rondell White. That’s 100 at-bats over the course of a season where Mauer is still batting third while Redmond is essentially replacing White in the batting order. That’s the upside.

The downside? If Redmond gets hurt, the manager might need to make a double-switch, or pinch hit for a reliever, or pull his starting pitcher an inning early, or even (gasp) allow a pitcher to bat. This will affect two to three at-bats. In short, the manager would have to, um, manage for about half a game. One would think Gardenhire, who played in the National League, might relish that opportunity.

For most teams, this strategy isn’t a good idea, because for most teams, replacing their designated hitter with their catcher doesn’t make any sense. But until White is straightened out or replaced, it’s worth considering for the Twins. Even if it does make Lars and Jorge feel justified in their tirades.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Dugout Splinters

by Twins Geek

From this weekend's Dugout Splinters in GameDay

Seattle - What’s Working

The Meeting A week ago, the buzzards were circling. There was open speculation in the Seattle Times that General Manager Bill Bavasi or Manager Mike Hargrove would soon be fired. The Mariners had just been swept by division foe Oakland, and so a 57-minute closed door meeting was called. Pitcher Jamie Moyer called it “one of the best I've ever been in on”, and judging by the results, he’s right. The Mariners won four straight games after the meeting, and have gone 5-2 since.

The Icon Right-fielder Ichiro Suzuki continues to be the most recognizable Mariner, so it’s easy to forget that the Mariners were a pretty successful team before he arrived. In 2000, when Jay “Bone” Buhner was still playing right field for the Mariners, they finished 91-71 and lost to the Yankees in the playoffs. In Ichiro’s first year, the Mariners improved to 116 wins, but still lost to the Yankees in the first round of the playoffs.

The debate rages on as to whether Ichiro is overrated. On the one hand, there aren’t too many teams that couldn’t use a leadoff hitter with a career on-base percentage (OBP) of .377 and an average of 38 stolen bases per season. On the other hand, to compare Suzuki to the premier players in the league like Alex Rodriguez or Manny Ramirez ignores the power of, um, power.

So he’s great, but not elite, unless you’re talking about his entertainment value. The free swinging, slap hitting, remarkable speed, and the cannon arm are each worth the price of admission. His 2001 MVP award may not accurately reflect his contribution that year, but you can’t blame voters for getting carried away a bit when they first saw his game. He’s a hell of a lot of fun to watch.

The New Import This offseason, the Mariners signed Kenji Johjima, who was regarded as the best catcher (and one of the best power hitters) in Japan to a three-year contract. Not too surprisingly, his 30 home run seasons haven’t translated in the majors (especially playing in spacious Safeco park) but hitting .275 with five home runs has earned him rookie-of-the-year attention. However, he’s recently started to be criticized for the performance of the Mariners pitching staff. In particular, scouts are wondering if he’s calling for enough fastballs, a pitch which is used less often in Japan.

Breakthrough Want to see the numerical progression for a breakthrough player? It’s 2, 8, 23, 29, 36, 51, 54, 76, 82. That’s the percentage of fantasy baseball owners on that started Jose Lopez on their squad each week since the beginning of the year. The 23-year-old, after a couple of years of part time duty, is blossoming the way Twins fans hoped Luis Rivas would. He’s hitting .302 (previous career average was .239) and has already hit seven home runs (which doubles his career output). He’s a rare success story for a franchise that has bought what little success it’s had.

Minnesota - I Don’t Know is on Third

So, let me get this straight. Tony Batista, a 32-year-old free swinger who last played in the majors in 2004 when he slugged .455, returns to the big leagues and slugs .404, and fans are disappointed? Who did they think we were getting, Roy Hobbs?

But it isn’t the fans’ expectations that are the problem, it’s the team’s. One can argue that based on the timing of the signing, the amount of the contract, and the inclusion of a spring training out-clause, that the Twins recognized that he was a gamble and a temporary solution at best.

One could also argue that at some point those expectations changed, because they left themselves without any sort of backup plan. How else does one explain passing on Corey Koskie when the Blue Jays were willing to ship him and $7+ million for a bucket of warm spit? How else do you explain the Twins refusing to have Michael Cuddyer (who, by the way, leads the team in slugging at .566) spend any time at third base during spring training, despite starting there last year?

Which leaves the backup options of Luis Rodriguez (.379 career slugging %), Terry Tiffee (slugging .379 in AAA ), and Glenn Williams (slugging .337 in AAA). Unless fans are ready to embrace Matt Moses, the 2003 first round draft pick who is playing in AA-New Britain, they had better start rooting for Batista to defy any sort of reasonable destiny - or adjust their expectations.

Links of the Day for 5/25/06

by Intern Snarky

The Twins stadium bill is expected to be signed Friday at the Metrodome. Is it just me or does this seem a little like using your girl/boyfriend's phone to ask someone else out?

On June 1st, a number of "Greet Machiners" are holding a New Ballpark Celebration at Summit Brewing. There will be free root beer for the kids and there will be a special guest appearance by TC bear! They had me at free beer.

The mood about the new ball park seems to be less than enthusiastic in the rest of the blogosphere. Recent postings by Frightwig, Maury Brown , John Brattain and Brian Broawski provide some evidence of this malcontent. Where's the contrarian bias when we need it?

Kelly Thesier wrote an article about how Torrii is abandoning his free-swinging ways this season. I, for one, am not getting my hopes up. This reminds me an awful lot of some talk last year about another free-swinger (Jacque Jones), and we know how that turned out.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Trading Up

by Twins Geek

The following is from the Dugout Splinters in GameDay for the current series against Cleveland.

They were officially roster moves, but they might be better evaluated as trades. Try it. Imagine the Twins trading Carlos Silva for a young left-handed fireballer who nearly everyone agreed could be the next Johan Santana. Or that the Twins had traded Kyle Lohse for a 24-year-old right-hander who was dominating AAA in both ERA and strikeouts. Both would be both be viewed as phenomenal trades, to the point of being unrealistic, because no major league GM would likely touch the other half of those deals.

It’s probably a good idea to lower expectations a little, especially for Boof Bonser. It was a great first start, but Bonser is not the prospect that Liriano is. In some ways, Bonser is a star that has fallen and is rising again. He was highly prized in the Giants farm system, and was a top 50 prospect as a 20-year-old. In fact, he first reached AAA as a 21-year-old in 2003. It took him three years to graduate to the majors, though in most organizations last year’s performance (including leading the AAA International League in strikeouts) would have earned him a ticket to the majors earlier. His ceiling is the pitcher we hoped Lohse could become – a solid #3 starter who has a couple years where he performs at a higher level.

Francisco Liriano is totally different. He was available because he had been hurt a lot during his career with the Giants. In fact, from 2001 through 2003, he pitched a total of 159 innings for the Giants. Right now, that’s the only thing that looks like it can stop him from stardom. His first year with the Twins, he raced through High A ball and into AA ball. His second year, he sped from AA through AAA to the majors. And this year he overcame expectations that he would start the year in AAA, dominated in the bullpen, and is now replacing the Twins #3 starter in the rotation. And throughout that professional career, he’s struck out more than a batter per inning. Every time. This guy can be a monster.

If Liriano, Bonser and Scott Baker pan out, the Twins are going to face a new challenge – they might need to learn how to spend money on hitters. Even during their recent run of division championships, the first priority for payroll was starting pitching. Whether it has been agreeing to long term, big dollar contracts with Brad Radke, Eric Milton and Joe Mays or taking on ludicrous big money contracts like that of Rick Reed, Terry Ryan has never shied away from earmarking up to 50% of his payroll for five starting pitchers.

Having all that money available to spend on hitting may not be great news. For all of Ryan’s strengths, he hasn’t had much success in identifying high value offensive players. The Twins have given into the temptation to sign their own mediocrities like Cristian Guzman, Doug Mientkiewicz, and Jacque Jones to multi-year contracts. They’ve never been rumored to be chasing any of the real impact players that might be available in an offseason. Their chosen free agents, whether it has been Juan Castro, Tony Batista or Rondell White, just haven’t produced.

The money will come in handy for paying some of the Twins better young players. Joe Mauer starts getting legitimately expensive next year, in his first year of arbitration. Michael Cuddyer’s production will cost the Twins a couple million dollars extra next year, and if things break right for Justin Morneau, he’ll get a few million dollars raise.

That’s a nice core, especially if Jason Kubel starts to show he belongs this week. It would also be nice if they could shake their man-crush over Castro and give Jason Bartlett a chance to claim shortstop through the end of the decade. But for the Twins to challenge for a division title again, they’re going to have to fill holes like they attempted to do this offseason, only they’re going to need to do a better job. That’s going to require a different financial philosophy and a different mindset than they displayed in the first half of this decade. That’s a trade they might struggle to make.

Links of the Day for 5/23/06

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Finally, a weekend of happiness and light for me to find links about (well, aside from Jessie Crain’s meltdown, but that’s a trivial thing). As, I’m sure, you all know, the Twins are getting a new park. And it’s going to have grass and public transportation, and revenue and everything a real major league team that doesn’t get threatened with contraction or moving has. Of course, maybe the problem with the Twins franchise wasn’t the lack of a stadium. Maybe, just maybe, the problem with the Twins franchise was the system itself. Maybe, a system more like the English Premiership is the answer, as DM suggests over at the Nats Blog. (And here are the links for the second, third and fourth parts of the essay).

The stadium wasn’t the only happy news this weekend. First off, it seems that giving talented youngsters an opportunity when the veterans, to put it nicely, suck, can pay off. Secondly, the Twins offense had a big weekend, scoring 26 runs in the series, moving them up to eighth in the American League. Color me surprised (and mad because I had to erase a decent joke about the ineptitude of the Twins offense after I checked the stats). They’re still nowhere near an elite offensive team, partly due to the twin black holes of suck on the left side of the infield and partly due to their lack of plate discipline. Don’t be fooled, however, the next time that Mauer or Castillo ground out on the first pitch. It isn’t due to a lack of discipline. In fact, as Neutrino Boi, whom you might recognize as a frequent Batgirl commentator and member of the Twins Batcave, suggests, it’s much more likely that they just missed a good pitch.

Finally, did you see Bond’s get one step closer to Willie Mays with his 616th Home Run? Well, that’s where he should be, according to fellow Georgetown Alumnus (I became one on Saturday) Patrick Hubry. Hubry has an interesting analysis of where Bonds would be if he had stayed clean. And, surprisingly enough (it is on it uses stats, science and is a well thought out piece. For another perspective, check out Tomato Nation and Sarah Bunting’s piece on why people are having such a hard time dealing with Bonds’ pursuit of the Babe (and it’s not all about steroids).

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Links of the Day for 5/22/06

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  • First things first: the Twins new ballpark is finally a reality. Whether today’s pre-dawn vote in the State Senate will become a major issue in this fall’s elections remains to be seen (and Intern Sam would like to be the first to predict that it won’t, particularly given the way the Senate vote count reads,) but the Twins will have a new park in the Warehouse District in time for Opening Day 2010. The organization is predictably ecstatic, and in the early innings of today’s game in Milwaukee, you would hardly have known that the debut of a much-heralded Twins prospect was underway, what with all the ballpark talk.

  • While appearing on the Sunday afternoon Twins TV broadcast, Jerry Bell mentioned that all the drawings and sketches displayed of the new ballpark are merely preliminary, and that the actual look and specific design elements of the park are yet to be finished. So what will the park look like? Well, you can see a sampling of other sports facilities designed by HOK architects right here.

  • No link here, but just a thought: what with the large amount of public financing being poured into the ballpark, does anyone else think it wouldn’t be out of line for Twins fans to mount a campaign to pressure the team to name the place Puckett Park rather than selling naming rights? Sounds like a job for the Blog Army – who wants to start?

  • Two Twins rookie pitchers took their first major league swings this weekend, in Milwaukee, and the results were more than anyone could have hoped for. Francisco Liriano blooped an RBI single in his first AB on Friday, and Boof Bonser (whose birth name, it turns out, was John) singled and scored a run in his first plate appearance Sunday afternoon.

  • Nearly lost in all the weekend excitement was the ominous news that Shannon Stewart’s foot injury has flared up again, and he is likely to be placed on the DL. Of course, this shouldn’t be a big deal, since the Twins have the hot-hitting Luis Castillo on the roster, and if he isn’t a prototypical leadoff man, who is? But of course, that would require Ron Gardenhire to begin batting Castillo in the leadoff spot, a concept to which Gardy seems positively allergic.

  • Twins fans know we can always count on BatGirl for the really exclusive inside scoops, and this week was no exception, as Anne somehow came up with the closely guarded surveillance photos of Kyle Lohse’s reaction to being demoted to the minors.

  • Jason Williams likes what he sees from the youth movement on the mound, and says that the Twins should continue to make moves to see what they have stockpiled for the future, even if it means abandoning any hope of reaching the playoffs this year. Gordon Wittenmeyer couldn’t disagree more, and says the team can’t afford to rush its future core players to the majors, even if the alternative is the unpleasant reality of watching Tony Batista flail away like a possessed lumberjack for an entire season.

  • Friday night’s Cards-Royals game in Kansas City was interrupted by a streaker. Nothing terribly unusual there, of course, except for one thing: the interloper was apparently taken down immediately by… well, who would you think? Security? Nah. Bullpen pitchers? Uh-uh. Royals’ batboy? Now you’re talking…

  • And while we’re on the subject of the boys in baby blue, Doug Mientkiewicz’s infant son is apparently named Steel. We kid you not. Apparently, Child Protective Services aren’t what they should be down Kansas City way. Asked what he could possibly have been thinking, Dougie Baseball shrugged and mumbled something about the world being rough, and his son needing to “get tough or die.” There is apparently no truth to the rumor that A.J. Pierzynski is planning to name his firstborn Zinc in solidarity with his former teammate.

  • Speaking of everyone’s favorite instigator, you must have seen the video by now, right? No? What exactly have you been doing all weekend? Okay, well, here it is. Barrett and Pierzynski both played in Sunday’s game, and reports suggest that Pierzynski will likely not face suspension, Barrett definitely will, and several other players will almost certainly serve at least a game or two.