Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Notes from Beating the Yankees

For the first time today, Twins fans could see the 2008 Twins on TV this afternoon, and thanks to TIVO, I was able to watch a little. So it's time for a few random notes....

Defense 1.0
One of the things that was supposed to excite Twins fans about Carlos Gomez was the defense he would bring to center field. That was not in evidence today. In the second inning, Gomez failed to reach one ball over his head, failed to reach another that looked like he might have got if he had read it earlier. Then he threw a ball (supposedly) home, meaning it was thirty feet up the first base line. Apparently, I missed another throw later that was similarly bad.

According to Baseball Prospectus defensive ratings, he wasn't particularly good last year either, ssaving just one run in his 35 games in left and right field. Now, to be fair, they also said he was quite a bit better than average in cetner field in AAA and AA over the last two years.

I don't particularly trust defensive metrics, and my judgement of whether those balls were catchable might not be terribly fair. Certainly, both were tagged hard, and right at him, and might have been hard to read. It appears that Gomez has the physical tools, namely speed and a strong arm, to play center field at a very high level. But my first impression is that he doesn't read hits very early, and he certainly didn't show that he has tamed that cannon on his shoulder. I hope my first impressions are wrong.

Lineup Gabbin
Manager Ron Gardenhire was asked by ESPN's announcers how he might like to bunch his big hitters in the regular season. He replied:

2nd - Joe Mauer
3rd - Michael Cuddyer
4th - Justin Morneau
5th - Delmon Young
6th - Mike Lamb

Bravo - Joe Mauer batting second. He's left-handed, he can get on base, he can take pitches, he can move runners around the bases, either by hitting or with his patience. I'm very excited to see what he could do in that slot for a full year.

Bravo - Cuddyer batting third and Delmon Young batting fifth. Batting between Mauer and Morneau requires enough power to move Mauer around the bases and enough on-base percentage to set the table for Morneau. Cuddyer is far from the perfect #3 hitter, but he's got some power and his on-base percentage last year was .356. Delmon Young's, on the other hand, was just .316. Young might be the long term answer, but I'd take Cuddyer right now.

Boo - Mike Lamb batting sixth. OK, this is a half-hearted boo, but I think I'd rather see Jason Kubel there. The truth is that statistically, they're very similar. Lamb had better overall stats, but he also played less and was more protected than Kubel against lefties (and that's saying something, because Kubel only faced southpaws 72 times last year). Plus, Kubel hit significantly better towards the end of last year while Lamb was a bit worse. I suspect Kubel will have a chance to gain that spot as the year goes on.

Defensive Worries 2.0
Lost in the concerns about Gomez's misplays were the nonplays that Brendan Harris made at second base. The three-run second innning could have ended with after the first run had he made a play on a ground ball between him and second base. And later in the game he failed to come up with another ball that was to his left, even though it appeared he was playing in shallow right field.

I've been a fan of the Twins acquiring Harris, and am still hopeful that he'll be able to win the second base job, but it's worth noting just how poorly he was ranked last year defensively. BP estimated he cost his team 24 runs between his time at shortstop and second base, including 12 runs in just 46 games at second. Yikes. That's bad.

Just how bad? You might remember from last week that over 500 at-bats, a 10 point change in OPS is worth about two runs. So Harris, who had a very respectable 777 OPS last year, gave back about 120 points of that with his defense. That's not as bad as Nick Punto, but it's worse overall (quite a bit worse, actually) than Jason Tyner.

In that context, Harris' defense will definitely be worth paying attention to this year. I've always felt like the Metrodome was relatively forgiving to second basemen, because the turf is fast and smooth, which allows second basemen to play in shallow right field when nobody is on base. But I would think that would have been the case for Harris in the Devil Rays' tin can of a ballpark, too.

Monday, March 03, 2008

March 4th

If you're pining for Joe Nathan to sign that long term extension, and if you're a little obsessive about dates, today is your day. It was March 4th, 2004 when Nathan signed his first multi-year deal with the Twins, the same offseason he was traded.

That deal didn't last the full two years, because he signed his current contract one year later. In fact, exactly one year later, on March 4, 2005. That's also the day the Twins announced another multi-year deal with Juan Rincon.

And the Twins weren't finished there. They also waited until spring training to sign another of their relievers to a long-term extension in 2007. That was Jesse Crain, who they signed to a three-year deal, though it wasn't on March 4th. It was a week earlier, on the 27th of February.

Considering that both sides seem to want a deal, I'm a little surprised we haven't seen a deal get done. Three weeks ago, it sure seemed like we found some common ground:

"From Nathan’s standpoint, he has a choice. He can pitch for $6 million next year and then test the market. The closer market has exploded lately, including a $46 million, four-year contract to the 32-year-old Francisco Cordero. If Nathan pitches well this year, the 34-year-old can likely expect at least a three-year deal. That would probably come in around $40 million, which means he’ll make $46M over the next four years. Or he can take less money now, and have that money in hand, whether or not his arm falls off in 2008.

Does that leave the two sides enough common ground? Maybe. How about a deal that rips up the last year on his contract and gives Nathan a $6 million signing bonus, along with salaries over the next four years of $7M, $8M, $9M, and $10M. That brings the total to $40 million over the next four years.

That gives Nathan his big payday a year early at 85% of its value. It gives the Twins a premier closer attached to a very desirable contract that they can move if the team goes south. Nathan gives up $6M, but becomes wealthy beyond his dreams, and the Twins take on all the injury risk."

We can debate the particulars - for instance, maybe another million per year and only a $4M bonus - but I honestly can't figure out which side would be messing with a deal like that. Maybe Nathan wants a no-trade clause, or a fifth year. Or maybe the Twins want an option year, or want to make sure that Nathan's velocity improves again this spring, like it seemingly needs to do every spring.

Or maybe one of the sides isn't as serious as we might think. In which case, maybe this year March 4th will be known for yet one more contract extension to a reliever - for Pat Neshek.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Watching the Lineups

Spring training games, especially early spring training games, are sort of a mixed blessing. On the one hand, for those of us who just love to talk baseball or at least listen to baseball talk, we finally have a two hour outlet. On the other hand, much as we may wish differently, that’s almost all that listening to spring training games is good for. I’m not going to get a great sense of Carlos Gomez strike zone judgment or Brendan Harris’ range from the radio broadcast.

And, of course, performance counts for next to nothing, especially this early. If you REALLY want to track these guys, wait until early next week and then print off their statistics. Then, do it again the last week of March and subtract the first list from it. That’s closer to what coaches perceive as each player’s performance. One of the traps of spring training is to give any credence to these first two weeks of stats, when players are as likely to face a AA player as a major leaguer.

Right now, about the only thing that means anything are the lineups. Generally, the more serious a coaching staff is about a player, the more likely they are to play early in a game, for at least two reasons. First, because that way they can make sure they get their reps in, even if the game is rained out or game situations force a lineup adjustment. But mostly it’s because they are more likely to face major leaugers early in a game.

So, let’s look at some box scores, focusin on things that look a little different than I would have thought, and see if it gives us any hints about what the Twins are thinking.

Center Field
Jason Pridie has yet to start a game in center field this spring. In fact, he has yet to start a game at any position. He’s played in each game this spring, but it’s always been as a backup outfielder, twice for Carlos Gomez in center field and twice for Michael Cuddyer in right field.

I think most of us assumed that the battle for center field this spring would be between Pridie and Gomez, with Denard Span having only an outside chance. Instead, Span and Gomez have each had two starts, and Pridie has zero. For now, it looks like he’s pretty clearly the third choice, and may be thought of as a candidate for fifth outfielder instead of center fielder.

The problem, of course, is that if Gomez or Span makes the team, the Twins already have five outfielders without Pridie. To keep Pridie and a twelfth pitcher means the only other bench players are Mike Redmond and Nick Punto. That doesn’t sound very Gardenhirish.

Second Base
Four games, three candidates, so you know that one of them has two starts so far. And that person is…sigh.

It’s Punto, of course. Now, before we start getting all apocalyptic, understand that both Brendan Harris and Alexi Casilla have also received two starts, it’s just that their second was at shortstop. I still refuse to believe that Nick Punto is going to be the starting second baseman on this team, and again, I like him. I think he’s going to bounce back fairly strong. But I just can’t picture the coaching staff voluntarily subjecting themselves to that again.

The Rotation
I guess I wasn’t too surprised to see Randy Keisler penciled in for a start, since I suspect he's just keeping it warm for Francisco Liriano. But why isn’t Kevin Slowey starting games? His only appearance thus far has been after Boof Bonser on Friday.

The person starting in his place is today’s starter, Glen Perkins. Perkins has already made an appearance this year, and it wasn’t as a starter, and he got shelled, so this likely doesn’t mean anything. But I’m still puzzled by why Slowey wasn’t the default choice.

For now we’ll just file it away for future reference as we peruse those box scores. If you're like me and can't listen to the games live (thank god for archived games on GameDay Audio), that's about all you're likely to get. But at this point in the spring, that isn't bad.

Twins Round Table
In case you're interested, I found a little time (very little, unfortunately) to participate in a round table with Sky at and Nick from I come off sounding like Sid Hartman without the throat clearing, but it's still fun to read.