Thursday, November 13, 2008

Comments Friday

Time for a Phone-It-In Friday Comments story. Today’s replies are brought to you by America’s Dishwasher Retailers, who invite you to feel the frustration of paying and extra $150 to get the appliance delivered and installed. Oh, and of paying and extra $80 to have a ‘stainless steel’ (i.e. silver) finish instead of black or white. Enjoy!

On AFL Arms

Anonymous said...
Glad to have you back, John. Congrats to you and TVOR on the Phillies' championship

Thanks. The Twins Geek Observatory was full of wine and revelry that night, but I think my favorite part was the next morning. That’s when I used this wonderful internet thing to tune into 610 WIP, Philly’s sports station, and listened to their morning show. It was every bit as cathartic as I hoped it would be. Two stories from it:

1. Pennsylvania Governor (and former Mayor of Philadelphia) Ed Rendell called in. Radio host Angelo Cataldi asked him about a statement from the Philly school district which said that "Students are expected to report to school tomorrow for school like any other day" (and miss the parade at 12:00) and whether he supported that. Rendell said as a lawyer he would parse that sentence very carefully. He noted that the district said the students are to report - it didn't say that they were expected to stay. I love that their governor basically told the kids to cut school.

2. And then, later, Cataldi, was talking to a Phils fan living in Tampa Bay. The fan was pumped because he was going to have the opportunity to taunt a Tampa Bay sports radio talk show host later that day. And Cataldi, in true Philly fashion, completely shared his joy. I’m paraphrasing Cataldi’s quote, but it went something like this:

"Isn't it great that amidst all this joy, we can still have a little venom? You know what I was most proud of? Booing Selig. How great is it that in the midst of the celebration, we could take a little break and let Selig know what we thought of him? Only in Philly."

I love that city.

TT said...
I think it was clear these guys aren't ready to be immediate help. If the Twins thought they were close, they would have been called up last fall along with Mijares.

None of them had just one bad outing, but Lahey gave up 5 hits and his only run in his first two games. He only gave up 4 hits over the remainder of the season. He looks like he is closest to being ready. Which shouldn't surprise anyone since he was the one at AAA last year. Often it is a lot more informative to watch how the Twins move players rather than looking at their stats.

Of course, Delaney is every college player's fantasy. A guy who didn't even get drafted who looks like he might play in the major leagues.

I think I’m pretty good at giving the Twins the benefit of the doubt, but it will be a long, long time before I get a “They must know best!” rubber stamp made. And frankly, I’m STILL of the opinion that these guys should have been given some chance to help out the bullpen, just as I’m of the opinion that the Gardy should have used Mijares at least once in the 12 days he was on the roster at the beginning of September. BTW, during those 12 games, the Twins lost six games, and four of them were lost by the bullpen.

(Sidebar – I’m becoming more and more convinced that the biggest danger to the Twins bullpen isn’t that they won’t get some help. It’s that they won’t find room for guys that could help because of the existing guys that are already there. Seriously. Nathan, Mijares, Guerrier, Crain, Breslow and Bonser are all going to be back. That’s six guys. Barring an injury, how is Gardy going to make room in that group for a stud in AAA. It won’t happen before mid-June, right? Right?)

On the other hand, to prove your point that I know very little about these guys, I wasn’t aware that Delaney wasn’t drafted. I was also surprised about something I heard on Seth’s excellent podcast (which I’ve been listening to religously). A week-and-a-half ago he had the voice of the New Britain Rock Cats on, and he talked about how Delaney was very good but not really eye-opening. That’s bizarre for a guy that struck out a guy per inning, posted a 1.05 ERA, and had a WHIP of .79.

You notice guys like that. So maybe there is something deceptive about Delaney that makes him more effective than we think he would be.

Nick N. said...
Also, it's worth noting that Jose Mijares is doing very well in the Venezuelan Winter League. In eight appearances for the Tigres de Aragua, he has posted a 0.00 ERA and 10/2 K/BB ratio with five hits allowed over 7 2/3 innings. Lahey, Delaney and Slama are all candidates to help the team at some point next year, but Mijares is the guy who could be there from the very start.

I am excited about Mijares. Those are exactly the kind of stats I thought I’d see from Slama and Delaney. I’m not giving up on them by any means. I just expected (and hoped) for more.


On Bad Things Come in Threes

Anonymous said...
Personally, I consider our diminished chances of trading for Garrett Atkins GOOD news. This guy is headed downhill fast (check his 2007 and 2008 hitting lines), will be 29 next season, and will be overpaid for his production. I say platoon Buscher and Harris at third and use our limited trading chips to acquire Hardy or Escobar.

Aaron Gleeman had a nice analysis on this which I have yet to really dive into, but in general, I agree with the sentiment. Of the third basemen who are out there, the one that interests me the least is Atkins. Beltre is a clear upgrade. Blake would be fine, because all he costs is money. And even Kouzmanoff is a little intriguing because he would be leaving cavernous Petco Park.

Jack Ungerleider said...
What if there isn't a big trade or free agent signing? What if the money is plowed back into the organization in the form of multiyear deals for the guys who deserve them? How much gnashing of teeth and rending of Bill Smith's garments will there be?

I'd rather roll the dice with the group we have then pay too much (either in salary or traded players) for someone who might be great but might not.

The way multi-year deals are usually structured, it doesn’t provide more money up front. The benefit for the player isn’t getting money now – it’s getting guaranteed money later. Last year’s Morneau and Cuddyer deals were the exception with good sized signing bonuses up front. And really, what does that accomplish? Spending $10M to tie up Morneau for 5 years just means saving $2 million each of the next five years. Is that really going to make a difference?

I’m not saying the money needs to be just thrown away. And I’m all for doing things like plowing money into signing bonuses for the draft. But $30M is a LOT of money. They can do all that and still get a big name. The trick is getting the big name that doesn’t require a long-term deal.


On I Don't Know is on Third

BeefMaster said...
One quibble with your chart - three of the four players the Twins are pursuing (everyone but Blake) are in extreme hitter's or pitcher's parks, making total OPS a bit of a misleading stat to use to compare them. Their road OPSes are a different story:

Atkins: .661
Beltre: .862
Kouzmanoff: .803

That puts Cuddyer's worst-case as a bit better than Atkins last year, his moderate projections right around Kouzmanoff, and his best case about even with Beltre.

Hey! It’s BeefMaster! My favorite moniker!

I tried to find a place to mention the extreme parks these guys almost all played in, but couldn’t figure a way without adding a very dry paragraph to the story. I like your method of looking at road stats. I’d rank them exactly the same way you do.

Anonymous said...
The question I have is why he hasn't been the starter at 2B. In 2004, he played 327.1 innings there, and his partial deafness would likely affect him less there. The only issue then is if Casilla can transition to short.

Honestly, it’s like you’re trying to bait me. I wrote in support of this roughly a dozen time three years ago. Are you trying to make me lose all credibility? Because I’ll do it. I swear, I’ll do it!

Jack Ungerleider said...
The Twins and Mets share a similar problem when it comes to the third base position. When I followed the Mets it seemed like they were always looking for a third baseman. During the NL Pennant run of 1973 they relied on Wayne Garrett. Good with the glove okay with the stick. (Sort of like Harris on the Twins.) They also played some once and future outfielders at the position. The team finally found an answer in converted outfielder Howard Johnson, who had started his career as an infielder then moved to the outfield, then back. (Sound familiar.) He was a mainstay of the Mid 80s success.

So John, and you other stat hounds, I'd love to see a career arc comparison of Cuddy to HoJo. Maybe the confidence gained as a successful right fielder will translate to confidence at third base.

Jack, you’re killing me. It’s 11:30, The Voice of Reason has been waiting patiently in bed for me for an hour, we’re approaching 2000 words, and you want me to compare Howard Johnson to Michael Cuddyer. Are you trying to make me lose my marriage? Because I’ll do it. I swear, I’ll do it!

Anonymous said...
"Right on". We keep reading about how bad Cuddyer is with the glove and have players fill the position who are not any better. Worse yet, we want to trade for players that might not even be as good. A quick thought: Span covered so much more ground and made such a difference that even hacks could visually notice either on tv or in person the massive improvement in RF. Mistakes in the infield are a base, poor coverage and mistakes in the outfield are runs.

Can Cuddyer play 3B as well as Beltre? No, but he is on our team now and is a popular player by all accounts. No more Batista or Lamb.

I don’t have a problem with Cuddy’s defense in right field, and I feel like Span’s defense is wasted there. If they insist on keeping Span in a corner outfield spot, he should be switching with Young to get Delmon back to right field and utlize Span’s range in the Metrodome’s enormous left outfield.

(And I am not proposing that at all. There is a simple and obvious answer to the perceived problem of the ”glut” of outfielders that doesn’t involve moving Cuddyer, and I think I’ll be writing about that early next week. So join me then. Have a great weekend.)

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

I Don't Know is on Third

Let's start by admitting that I have no credibility on this subject whatsoever. And that's saying something, because I'm going to broach a topic which, all by itself, seems to lack any credibility. And a subject which I have resisted writing about for almost three years, in part because I prattled endlessly about it before that.

And I did that because when one talks about this topic, people assume you are crazy. So, in the immortal words of our fellow Minnesotan (and I assume, Twins fan) Prince, let's go crazy. In fact, let's get nuts. If you are so incline, we could even look 4 the purple banana 'til they put us in the truck.

(God help me - that song is in my head now. Along with visions of a Russian discotech and a LOT of vodka shots. I love tangents, but even I'm not ready for that story just yet. Let's get back to the main topic. We've put it off long enough...)

So why the hell aren't we more seriously considering playing Michael Cuddyer at third base?

It's not like he just dabbled there. In 2005, the year before he broke though, he was the starting third baseman, leading the team in at-bats at the hot corner. The year before, it was the position where he had the most at-bats, too, filling in for the injure Koskie. So how is this never considered and option?

(And do we remember who replaced Cuddyer when he was moved away from third base? Would you believe Tony Effin Batista?)

Now this is the point in these statistical blogs where the writer puts up a table comparing Cuddyer to the rest of the third baseman in the major leagues. The problem with such a table is the same problem we have proposing anything about Cuddyer right now - we have no idea what kind of player he is. And I think we can safely say that has been true for the last seven years.

(Here's a nice little sidebar Twins debate you can have at the bar next time: Has any Twin defied expectations, both positive and negative, more consistently than Cuddyer?

He came in as a rookie and looked like a key playoff addition. But he had a mostly negative impact, primarily because of his fielding. Then, as we waited for him to blossom, he was either terrible or hurt until he was benched. Then, once he was benched, he became a stud corner outfielder. Then he signed a guaranteed deal - and had a lost season.

Maybe David Ortiz could rival that, but he wasn't around as long as Cuddyer. Todd Walker? No, he was enigmatic enough, but it seems like he had at least a couple of seasons where he did mostly what we thought he would. Ron Davis? Maybe, because he was either much better or worse than you thought he would be. Shane Mack was much better than we expected and then suddenly much worse, so he might make the top 5.

The one name who I think can give Cuddy a run for his money is Latroy Hawkins. He was alternately terrible or wonderful, but never when you thought he would be.)

So let's get around that little inconsistency thing by adding a whole bunch of Cuddyer's seasons to the table, along with how he hit when he played third base and last year's PECOTA projection for 2009. And finally, we'll highlight the other third baseman that the Twins are reportedly consdering trying to acquire. It's on the left there.

At his best, Cuddyer would be an all-star quality offensive producer at third base. At his worst, he's still put up numbers better than Kouzmanoff (and he's just two years older than Kouzmanoff, too.) And in the middle, he's the offensive equal, if not better, than most of the guys the Twins are reportedly pursuing. Finally, it's worth noting that he didn't put up numbers much different at 3B than he did at his other positions in 2004 and 2005.

Now, I'm talking offense, obviously. His defense was not exceptional, and maybe a little below passable. But before we start being too critical, let's not forget who the Twins have started at third base since Cuddy gave up the job. Tony Batista, Brian Buscher, Brendon Harris and Mike Lamb aren't going to make anyone forget about Brooks Robinson.

This isn't the sort of move that a team forces upon a team leader like Cuddyer. But it is the kind of move that a team leader, a true team leader, might volunteer for if he thinks it could help the team. Not publicly, but maybe quietly, in the fall, so he can get a sense of whether he needs to put in some time during the offseason.

And if that move garners some public adulation down the road, or a nicer contract in 2011 from teams desperate for a decent third baseman, all the better for the unselfish player. After all, he was the one who volunteered for something a little crazy. He's the one who got nuts. Because he thought he better live now before the grim reaper came knocking on his door.

So go on Cuddy. Are you gonna let the elevator bring you down?

And if it also happens to help some of us regain some lost credibility, all the better.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Bad Things Come in Threes

Usually, I have a fairly sunny disposition. I tend to look on the bright side, or at least downplay the downside of news. But not today. Maybe it's the weather, or the fact that I just got back from Disney World, or the harsh reality of rejoining the real world. Whatever is was, I'm looking at three fairly big stories in the world of MLB, and I can't help but think that none of them are good news for our hometown nine.

1. Pat Neshek is getting an MRI
Commence gnashing of teeth and rending of garments. It's becoming a basic tennant of my baseball philosophy that very successful relievers are undervalued by both traditionalists and statisticians, but this isn't the time to vent over that. Still, it's fair to say that the best wishes I can send to Neshek aren't purely magnanimous - losing him would hurt my favorit team a lot.

The temptation is to say that Neshek should've just had Tommy John surgery back in May when this thing was diagnosed. In fact, there is no shortage of people who have been saying that since May. But it should be really, really hard to be too critical of pursuing a less invasive procedure over a surgical one. People don't always bounce back from TJ surgery, and the percentage that don't regain their full effectiveness is higher than most fans want to admit. And in the case of a side-armer, exhaustng other options is probably especially prudent.

Good luck Pat.

2. Rockies trade Matt Holliday
Rumor had it that the Rockies wanted to trade Holliday away before considering trading 3B Garret Atkins, in whom the Twins have interest. So that's the good news. But it's offset by a pair of bad news.

First, they received a pretty good haul for Holliday, which sets the bar a little high. Atkins isn't as valuable as Holliday, but also isn't too terribly different. The Rockies got back Carlos Gonzalez, a center fielder with enormous upside whose first exposure to the majors resulted in stats that are reminiscent of Carlos Gomez. They also received starting pitcher Greg Smith, who posted a 4.15 ERA (albeit with a 7-16 record) last year. He profiles as a decent #3 pitcher who relies more on control than power, similar to Nick Blackburn.

And on top of all that, they got Huston Street, the A's closer who struggled last year but still seems like a capable reliever. That's a lot more than the Twins will (or should) consider for acquring just about any third baseman, let alone Garret Atkins.

And not only did they get a lot, but they got exactly what the Twins could most likely offer. They picked up a center fielder, a starting pitcher, and they may have even replaced their departing closer. The Rockies might still trade Atkins, but it no longer appears that they need to trade Atkins. For the Twins, that's unfortunate.

3. The Marlins dump some more salary.
The Marlins traded a couple of players to the Nationals for some minor leaguers - blah, blah, blah. I should probably detail the players the Marlins lost and the prospects they got back, but the truth is I (and most Twins fans) shouldn't really care. What I (and most Twins fans) should care about is the name that is missing from the transaction wire.

That name is "Dan Uggla", who plays second base for the Marlins, is right-handed, has hit 90 homeruns in his three-year career, and is about to get very expensive. So expensive that there were plenty of rumors that the Marlins might need to trade him this season if they couldn't dump enough salary. Those are rumors which the Marlins denied, saying that they would trade some other names.

This trade is their second salary dumping trade this offseason that involved some of those other names. It appears they are doing exactly what they said they were going to do, and that includes keeping Uggla. And at the very least, like the Rockies, it appears they certainly don't need to make a trade.

So there we have it. Three downers to start out your week. Kinda like the rain, sleet and cold that a good chunk of our readers are experiencing this morning too. Let's hope for sunnier days ahead.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

AFL Arms

OK - and we're back. Apparently a Phillies World Series victory is enough to make me black out for a week and a half. We'll try and get back up and running hear slowly as we start to digest some of the lastest offseason news. But first, I wanted to check in on some of our boys in Arizona.....

The Twins biggest problem last year was their bullpen, and you would think it would be the most talked about offseason topic. It hasn't been, and there are some very good and bad reasons for that.
The worst is that it's a hard topic. Even those of us who follow baseball obsessively can only name a few middle relief free agents, and judging which of those are truly desirable (as opposed to who had the best stats) is even more guesswork. It's also hard to make it interesting to baseball fans, let alone the casual Minnesota sports fan.

A better reason was that the Twins should return a fair amount of the arms they had available last year. Joe Nathan and Jesse Crain are under contract, Craig Breslow and Jose Mijares are completely under the Twins control, and the Twins can (and probably will) keep Matt Guerrier if they offer him arbitration. Add the recovering Pat Neshek to that group and you have your six guys. But that's not terribly encouraging to the Twins fans who saw that group lose so many games last year.

But there was another good reason, too, and that's why I was interested in what is going on in Arizona. The Twins looked towards the end of last year like they had some bullpen reinforcements coming up through the minors, and they sent several of them to play in the Arizona Fall League this year.

The AFL is an interesting league. It's often thought of as being almost a "4A" league, but that isn't really true - the level of play in AAA is higher than it is in the AFL. But many highly touted prospects are featured there, so the talent level is high, if not the level of play. It's also heavy on offense, since teams are more likely to extend the season of some of the better hitting prospects while playing it cautious with some of their pitching prospects. It's almost an ideal situation for a team to get a sense if some of their prospective bullpen arms are ready to face a higher level.

Unfortunately for the Twins, there hasn't been much evidence that they are. The Twins sent three relievers to pitch for the Phoenix Devil Dogs, one from each of their three highest minor league levels. And none of them are posting particularly good numbers.

Tim Lahey - Lahey spent most of last year in AAA-Rochester, though he saw a little time on other team's major league rosters (but not any games) as a Rule 5 draft pick. He's a converted catcher that supposedly throws in the 90s and gets a lot of ground balls. Early with Rochester he was lights out, but he ended up having a pretty mediocre year.

In the AFL, the good news is that this right-hander has just a 1.04 ERA. That bad news is that the rest of his numbers are pretty underwhelming, and with just 8.2 inning pitched, those are the ones you are more likey to trust. The really bad news is that he's doing the best of the Twins trio of bullpen arms.

Rob Delaney - Delaney ended the year in AA-New Britain after a midseason promotion, and there were a fair amount of Twins fans hoping he would be promoted even higher than that. He looked like the best bullpen arm of this bunch, combining a dominant stikeout rate (83K in 81 IP) with solid control (just 16 walks).

But his AFL numbers are fairly ugly. The ugliest is the 8.10 ERA, but really, the underlying numbers don't look to good either - 9 hits in 6.2 IP with 6 K and 3 BB. On the other hand, he's been in 7 games and had 5 holds, so maybe this is just a couple of bad outings. Still, it's not going to be the kind of performance to ease worried minds in the front office.

Anthony Slama - Slama ended up being the closer in High A-Fort Myers after Delaney left, and the best adjective I heard to describe his numbers was "video-game stats". Consider: 71 innings pitched, 110 strikeouts, a 1.01 ERA and 0 home runs. That's damn close to a perfect season. At any level.

His AFL season hasn't been as perfect. It's only 6.1 IP, but he's given up 8 hits, only struck out 6, walked four and has a 1.89 WHIP (Walk + Hits/Innings Pitched). His WHIP in Fort Myers was half of that - .94. Again, this isn't the end of the world, but it's not going to convince decision makers that one of these guys will be laying in the weeks, ready to contribute.

All of which likely means that the Twins are going to be in the market for some relief help this offseason, and that they probably should be. In fact, it should probably be their top priority. Which likely means I'm going to need to start researching a hard topic - free agent middle relievers.

Sigh. Sounds like I picked the wrong week to stop blacking out.