Friday, September 24, 2010


Ever wonder what a 800-word death rattle sounds like? This.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

MVP Countdown

In a philosophy class we had a debate about cause and effect. The teacher told a story that went like this: a man is pushed off of a very tall building by Mark Buehrle. Midway down, as he passes a window, he is shot in the head by Hawk Harrelson. When the man hits the ground, he is pronounced dead. Who killed him?

The answer, of course, is AJ Pierzynski, because his evil knows not the limitations of time and space. But it’s the debate that is important. Who is most responsible for the ultimate outcome?

MVP debates are a little like that. You can evaluate the cause and effect any number of ways. If Cuddyer can’t play first base, does Thome have the impact he did? Are the dozen leads that Liriano handed over to the bullpen worth more than the 50 Jesse Crain helped preserve?

Recently I turned in my votes for the top 10 Twins MVPs. But I thought I’d go through my ballot with one of each player’s bigger games and some thoughts added.

#10 – Danny Valencia

9/1 vs. Tigers – In the bottom of the 10th, Valencia singles to drive in Michael Cuddyer and win the game 2-1

He’s hitting, he’s hitting in the clutch and his defense has been much, much better than advertised. Plus, he has signed my kid’s scorecard before a Twins game. Twice. Sucking up to the judge’s kid is always a very solid strategy, just like dancing with the hot bridesmaid’s niece. Heady ballplayer, that Valencia.

#9 – Michael Cuddyer
8/31 vs. Mariners – Cuddyer has two hits, two RBI, a run and draws a bases loaded walk that brings in the tying run in a 4-3 Twins victory.

His offense has been bad, and his defense is nowhere near Morneau’s standard. Of course, he’s also played out of position and been out there just about every damn day….

You know what – I’m not going to take a lot of crap about this pick. I can’t statistically quantify what a manager of a baseball team does to help it win, and I don’t sweat that. Why should I worry about statistically quantifying what a leader in the locker room brings? This is the manager’s choice for MVP, and he sees a hell of a lot more of that stuff than any of us do. And there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence to suggest that there is something going on behind the curtain. So Cuddy makes the list, and I’m not going to apologize for it.

#8 – Jim Thome
8/17 vs White Sox – After the White Sox grab a 6-5 lead in the top of the tenth inning, Thome hits a two run home run in the bottom of the tenth off left-hander Matt Thornton to give the Twins a 7-6 win.

9/6 vs Royals – The Flag Pole game.

What can be said that hasn’t been said? He’s the only guy that gets two big games on this list because signature moments follow this guy like crazy follows Mike Tyson. Gawd, but I’m looking forward to seeing what he is capable of in the playoffs.

#7 – Justin Morneau

6/4 vs. Milwaukee – Morneau homered to give the Twins an early lead, and then led off the eleventh inning with a double and eventually scored the winning run.

Ladies and Gentlemen, here is your leader in Win Probability Added (easily my favorite stat for evaluating an MVP) for the Twins hitters. That’s how big of a monster Morneau was in the first half of the season – that three months after he quit playing, only now is Mauer close to Morneau’s impact.

I’m going to say it – what the hell is going on with his head? Either we don’t want to pry, or everyone is keeping it awfully close to the vest, but how do we not know specifically what the deal is here? The day after this happened, we thought he might be out a couple of days. Instead it’s three months, going on eight? Is it asking too much for an explanation with some specifics?

#6 – Jesse Crain

9/14 vs. White Sox – Holding a slim 4-3 lead and with the bases loaded and one out, Crain strikes out Paul Konerko and Manny Ramirez. The Twins win the game and drop the Sox seven games back, essentially ending the pennant race.

Basically, I’d accept anyone above and including this spot being the MVP. It’s that close. It’s personal preference. Any other year, he’s in the top five, but this year is just too loaded. It’s not a knock, Jesse. You’re The Wizard of Oz in 1939.

#5 – Delmon Young
7/18 vs White Sox – Twins come back by scoring four runs in the bottom of the ninth to win 7-6. Young has two hits, including a home run and the game winning single.

If the season ended at the end of June, Morneau would have been MVP. If it ended at the end of July, it would have been Delmon. His slump in August and the fact that I grit my teeth on any ball hit to left field is why he’s fifth on this list.

#4 – Brian Duensing
8/14 vs. Oakland – Duensing throws a complete game, three-hit shutout.

All he has done is everything the team has asked him to do. I feel like he’s been overlooked in this discussion. He was the best reliever in the first half of the year and a suitable replacement for Cliff Lee in the second half. I don’t know how he’s not winning this thing.

(And if you’re looking for futher proof, this is the guy that leads all Twins in WPA.)

#3 – Francisco Liriano
4/27 vs. Tigers – Liriano outduels Justin Verlander, pitching eight innings, giving up just four hits and no runs.

Remember this winter, when we got all excited about what Liriano was doing in the Dominican? He lived up to, and surpassed, the hype. What’s more he seems to be growing both as a pitcher and a professional in each start. Let’s give him the rest he needs and see how far he takes us. I think it will be pretty far.

#2 – Carl Pavano
7/17 vs. White Sox – Pavano throws a complete game in a 3-2 win over the White Sox and veteran Mark Buehrle.

Why Pavano over Liriano? Mostly to drive Nick Nelson crazy. But also because I would just rather have the extra 28 extra innings that Pavano provided than the four fewer runs that is the difference between their ERAs. I have no problem going the other way. For what it’s worth, Liriano has the better WPA score.

#1 – Joe Mauer
6/17 vs. Phillies – After trailing 9-4 entering the ninth inning, the Twins tie the game up on a two-out home run by Mauer. The Twins eventually win the game in eleven innings.

I cringe about making the default choice, but I despise people choosing the wrong guy just to be different. As recently as a week or so ago, I was touting others over Mauer, but upon reflection, he’s done it all. He’s hit like a fiend, been a difference maker in games (+2.58 WPA) and also brings the defense at a demanding position. It isn’t sexy, but Mauer is the team MVP.


I had tickets for today's game and so I'll admit - I was hoping the Twins would wait a day to clinch this thing. But the Twins did what the Twins have done recently - outlast inferior teams - and rode an eighth inning comeback to win adn drive the magic number down to one last night. Then the White Sox did what they have done recently - lose - and the AL Central was clinched. It's an event worthy of a couple of rushed notes.

Once again, depth proved to be the difference in the AL Central this year. The White Sox sprung leaks, were effective at filling them for a while, but ultimately were done when they couldn't effectively address their bullpen or lack of power. The Twins suffered injury after injury, including losing the leading candidate for AL MVP for the season, and still kept beating teams into submission.

You want an MVP? How about Bill Smith? You read that correctly. Bill Smith - the GM of the Twins. Just look at the roll he and his management have been on.

Last year during and after the trade deadline, they acquired Carl Pavano ('nuff said), Orlando Cabrera (who was the Twins second biggest contributor over the last two months of last season with clutch hits) and Jon Rauch and Ron Mahay (who ended up being bullpen fixtures for the next 1.5 years.

In the offseason, he acquired the depth that delivered another division despite an enormous amount of adversity. When Morneau went down, there was Thome. When the the rotation struggled, there was Duensing, because he had been pushed out of the rotation by re-sigining Pavano. And Smith brought in two middle infielders to bolster a core of Nick Punto, Matt Tolbert, Alexi Casilla and Brendan Harris. Without that depth, the middle infield is an issue all year because EVERY ONE of those guys spent time on the DL (except Harris, who was demoted and never recalled.)

And then, during the season, you have all the moves to bolster the bullpen. You can even throw in the fact that the Twins DIDN'T trade for Cliff Lee, who appears to be mortal.

I've had issues with individual moves (Capps-Ramos, cough, cough) but every one has 0 for 4 days. On the whole, it's been a remarkable run for Smith and his team.
As I walked the dog last night, the Twins had won and the White Sox looked like they were going to mail in their eighth straight loss. (By the way, how awesome is it that Mark Buehrle's "L" crowned the Twins champs?) I came home detemined to go out and watch the clinch with some friends I knew who were at the game, but it was going to be a tough sell to The Voice of Reason. So I walk in the back door - and she is literally shoulder deep in half-baked cookies.

(Don't ask.)

TG: So, I'm thinking maybe we should join Bob, Kris & Than downtown to clinch.
TVOR: Have fun.
TG: No, I think WE should join...
TVOR: There is no way. Since 3:20 today I've been running around from school to dinner to piano practice to soccer practice to PTA and now I'm elbow deep in cookies so The Boy can....
TG: I'll get the kids up and to school in morning. You can sleep in.

So we told the kids (who were already in bed) that they were on their own. (Reaction: Eye roll from The Chatty Chatty Teen and exultation from The Boy.) We met the gang at MacKenzie's (awesome beer selection on on tap) and asked the bartender if he had Miller High Life - The Champagne of Beers. He not only did, he volunteered to put four tallboys on ice for us to chill until the White Sox completed their meltdown.

Yeah, we took him up on that offer.

We joined the rest of the bar in cheering every insurance run and every out - especially AJ's K. Then we watched former Twin Craig Breslow close out the game for our Twins and...

Thanks everyone for a great year. I can hardly wait another two weeks for the real season to begin.