Friday, September 03, 2010


One can make a pretty good argument that the winner of the AL Central is consistently the team with the most depth. When we prognosticate, we focus on starting pitching, the lineup and the bullpen, and that's as it should be - it's silly to award a division to the team with the best 26th guy. But year after year, it seems like the team that weathers the storms the best, whose bench and high minors guys fill the cracks that need filling, wins the AL Central.

I think that same thought every year, and it applies this year too. The Tigers fell off the map when their young guys stopped hitting. The White Sox have flailed for the last month, desperate for bullpen help and that extra bat that can play DH. Meanwhile the Twins have that extra bat (Jim Thome), the bullpen guy that saved the rotation (Brian Duensing) and a rookie that is becoming one of the more valuable Twins (Danny Valencia). And they've been fairly aggressive in adding depth this season with the acquisitions of relievers Matt Capps, Randy Flores and Brian Fuentes.

But the need for depth has been building lately, and in last night's 10-9 loss, the areas hit hardest were all on display.

Infield - About two months ago, I was gong to write a story on how exceptional the Twins infield defense has been. It would look silly now. The Twins lost last night largely on their inability to turn double plays - by my count they missed somewhere around 23 of them. JJ Hardy can't throw the ball to first base on the fly more than 50% of the time, and we'll let his bad wrist be his excuse. Hudson can't pivot, and we'll let his foot be his excuse. And Casilla is sometimes brilliant but mostly maddening and we'll let Nick Punto's hamstring be that excuse.

Meanwhile, Michael Cuddyer might as well add "catcher" to his resume, since he's being asked to field so many throws in the dirt. That said, it sure would be nice to have Justin Morneau's glove back at first base during this stretch, for two reasons. First, because he's pretty darn good at that sort of thing. And second, because he might be more willing to rip some of these guys a new piehole for consistently making him field that junk.

Power - Speaking of Morneau, as the Twins faces one of the premiere left-handed pitchers in the game last night, their top three left-handed sluggers (Morneau, Thome and Jason Kubel) were all hurt or mostly unavailable. The result? The Twins managed 15 hits - and they were all singles. This team is back to being The Piranhas, except that a good chunk of that feisty school of teeth are either hurt, gone or just plain slow.

Bullpen - But it's hard to rip the offense too much when they scored 9 runs in a game started by Justin Verlander. Last night's loss is mostly about the bullpen, and specifically about a strange reluctance the front office has shown all year.

It's fairly well documented exactly how much Jesse Crain and Matt Guerrier are being overused this year. I count Guerrier being used 18 times in the last 31 games and Crain being used 21 in the last 33 games, both of which tally to about 100 games per season pace. Sure enough, last night they were the guys on the hill blowing leads, but it's hard to blame them.

For that matter, it's hard to blame Ron Gardenhire too much, too. He's consistently lost options in the 'pen this year, whether it was moving Duensing to the rotation, Ron Mahay and Jose Mijares (and Pat Neshek) getting hurt or Alex Burnett sucking. Last night you could add Fuentes and Capps to the N/A list with various ailments. So when Scott Baker went down with an injury after just a few innings, even Jeff Manship's reliable (and durable and increasingly critical) arm wasn't enough.

Gardenhire was missing several bullets out of his six-shooter last night, and one needs to ask why that is when it's September 2nd. It continues a trend we have seen all year. For some reason, the Twins don't trust the relievers at AAA-Rochester, and sure as hell don't want to rely on them, despite impressive numbers. Instead, the front office has done just about everything they could do, including trading away top prospect Wilson Ramos, to not rely on them.

That changes tonight, as the Twins try to address a brand new deficit. Remember a couple of days ago we were wondering what the Twins might do with an extra healthy and effective starting pitcher? No more. As of 8:00 this morning, we have no idea who from the Twins will start tonight's game, but the answer appears to be: nobody. Or at least not a starting pitcher. Those maligned guys in Rochester's bullpen that we have been hesitant to trust with a 4-run lead are coming up to piece together a start against the AL West leading Texas Rangers.

Late update: Oops. It looks like Seth broke the news late last night that the starting pitcher will be Matt Fox, who has been starting and relieving in Rochester this year.

Goofy? Yep. Misguided? Maybe. But desperate times call for desperate measures. And even a team that has been relying all year on it's depth can eventually run empty.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

The Real Danny Valencia

So for two years, I’ve questioned Seth Stohs about his Valenciatic Crush. For two years I argued that he was overhyped. And then on Tuesday night I found myself tweeting this during a crucial at-bat:

Is it wrong to be thrilled Valencia is up in this position? If it is, I don't wanna be right.

Again, that was TUESDAY night, not last night. And Valencia rewarded my faith with a clutch hit, just like he did last night when he hit a walk-off single to lead the Twins to a 2-1 win over the Tigers.

So, was I wrong? Have I seen the light?

Well, pretty clearly, I was, because I didn’t expect this much success this soon. (Here are his minor league stats.) Last year in Rochester, Valencia has 37 strikeouts compared to 8 walks, and so I wouldn’t have anticipated much early success from someone who was having trouble reading pitches. I also wouldn’t have expected a 819 OPS in the majors from a guy who posted just a 720 OPS this year in AAA.

What worried me the most about Valencia was his age. He turns 26 years old this month, which is old for a prospect. (For instance, he's older than Delmon Young and about the same age as Alexi Casilla.) But we’ve explored that question on my blog before, and third baseman often end up being a little older, for whatever reason. Corey Koskie, for instance, also debuted as a 25-year-old, and that was a September cup of coffee.

But I was wrong about more than just his age. Valencia’s glovework isn’t at Koskie’s level, but it’s solid, and Ultimate Zone Rating is pegging him as having saved 5 runs over the average major league third baseman this year, and that’s in less than half a season.

He’s also already made adjustments at the plate. When he first came up, he was a dead pull hitter. He still is, but now he’s hitting it with authority, and at least using the center of the field effectively. That’s a real positive adjustment.

Finally, he just seems really happy to be here, soaking it in, having the right attitude. I’ve seen him signing autographs before the game, he is smiling in the dugout, he just doesn’t look like he’s taking this for granted. It’s good to see.

So who is Valencia? I’m still not convinced he’ll ever be an All-Star, but he could be Koskie, only right-handed and without the golden glovework. That would be fine with me and likely with the Twins since he could be around through at least 2016. I’m guessing that would be fine with Valencia too, because Koskie made about $26M over the course of his career.

Monday, August 30, 2010


There aren't too many one-name guys in sports, and Manny deserves that kind of cred. You know the drill - he can be scary, scary good, if only he can be motivated. You know, like in a pennant race. Or in a contract year. Or hitting in a tiny little ballpark that can inflate his numbers.

Uh, oh.

It's all right to be a bit concerned as Twins fans. When he joined the Dodgers two years ago with similar incentives, Manny hit about .400 with 17 HR in 187 AB. That's basically cross-pollinating Ted Williams with a roided up Mark McGwire. Which is scary as an opponent, and probably scarier as a media member.

Plus, he was clutch. In those two months with the Dodgers, he posted a 3.45 WPA. One way to think about that would be to say that he basically won 7 games all by himself over those two months. Another would be to compare it to the highest hitter's WPA on the Twins, which is Justin Morneau (still) with 2.69.

Think about that. Manny outdistanced Morneau by about 40% with 33% less time. He basically had twice the impact on a monthly basis - and Morneau was one of the leading candidates for MVP.

It's not silly to be worried about Manny's impact. Indeed, given his history, it would be silly to not be concerned.

For Elise

This was first published in 2002 on the first day of kindergarten. Today, Elise starts 8th grade and Riggs starts 5th grade. Good luck guys. I'm so proud of you both, and deeply in love.


He didn't feel the gush that everyone said he would feel the first time he held her in his arms. He frowned. "I've never been especially good about feeling emotions."

There was excitement to be sure. And a feeling of amazement. But mostly the infant seemed like an infinite puzzle to be pieced together. They had a job to do. She needed to eat. Sleep. Learn she was a part of a family.

She would cry from the moment he came home from work, and he would walk around the house with her, showing her the curtains, the flowers, the Kirby Pucket face-on-a-stick; anything to distract her from her exhaustion or hunger for five minutes and then five minutes more. "She was happy before you came home, honest."


Shortly after the colic passed, they watched her roll onto her back. Six eyes grew wide and looked at each other. She immediately began working on rolling the other way. And then crawling. And walking. And talking. Definitely talking.

And with each victory, came more self-assuredness.

Now they had a new job to do. Limits needed to be set and erased. Challenges needed to made and met. Illusions needed to be poked. Usually, the toughest part of the job was knowing when to hold a hand and when to turn away. When to watch out for her without watching her.

It was one of these times that he realized he felt the gush. He hadn't loved her at the hospital. He had fallen in love with her at home. And that was infinitely better.


Yesterday, his wife held her hand until she delivered her to her first kindergarten class - and then she turned away, and walked home.

He hadn't gone. He had gone to work, like he did everyday. It was no big deal. It certainly wasn't for his daughter. Just new friends to play with. A new adult to charm. New toys, and art projects and songs to sing. Not so very different than another activity hour at the community rec center.

But as he drove to work, he realized he knew better.

It was not so long ago. He remembers his kindergarten and Mrs. Manfred. First grade and Miss Oeschlager. His hurry to clear the next hurdle, face the next challenge, race to adulthood.

He sees it in her. She can't grow up fast enough. The blessed quandary about when to hold a hand or turn away will be less frequent now. And he wasn't there this morning because it WAS a big deal.

So on I-94, he found himself struggling to wipe underneath his glasses, as too few memories triggered too many emotions for his eyes to hold. There was sadness. And pride. And the gush. But mostly there was life's intense taste when one is lucky enough to get a full dose.

And he sighed. "I've never been especially good about feeling emotions."