Monday, August 31, 2009

Why the trade deadline is overrated

Each of the three teams that thought a month ago it had a legit shot at the AL Central title made deals just before the July 31 trading deadline. Two made waiver deals for significant veterans shortly after the trading deadline.

Here's how the players involved have fared thus far:

Detroit: Added LHS Jarrod Washburn (right) from Seattle. With the Tigers, he's 1-2 in six starts, ERA of 6.81. The Tigers have managed to win four of the six starts. Run support is wonderful.

Minnesota: SS Orlando Cabrera came from Oakland before the deadline; RSH Carl Pavano came in a waiver deal form Cleveland shortly after.

Cabrera is hitting .259 with a .289 on-base percentage since joining the Twins; he ended Monday game with one hit in his last 14 at-bats. As was said here when the Twins traded for him, he really doesn't belong at the top of the order.

Pavano has made five starts for the Twins, going 2-2 with a 4.06 ERA. The Twins won three of those five starts, scoring an average of 10 runs in the three.

Chicago: RHS Jake Peavy OKd leaving San Diego literally seconds before the deadline. The Sox then landed OF Alex Rios from Toronto on waivers in August.

Peavy was injured at the time of the trade and has yet to throw a major league pitch for the White Sox; his rehab assignment was extended when he took a liner off his pitching elbow. The Chicago Tribune reported late Monday that the Sox didn't yet know when he would try to pitch again.

Rios has played in 15 games with the Sox, going 10 for 56, a dismal .179 batting average.

What's more, picking him up probably put Chciago in a bit of a financial bind. According to USA Today last week, White Sox GM Kenny Williams cleared the Peavy deal and its financial implications with ownership first, but didn't with Rios, because he figured there was no way Toronto would just let the outfielder go. But the Blue Jays were delighted to dump the $59.7 million guaranteed Rios on the White Sox.

Conclusions: None of them are stellar.

The Twins fared better with their pickups, at least in August, but Pavano's wins came with lots of run support; the Twins probably would have won those games without him. Cabrera isn't helping the lineup in the No. 2 slot.

Detroit's not getting much out of Washburn other than innings; again, the wins came because the bats came alive.

The White Sox would have been better off sitting on their hands — certainly so far, but perhaps over the long run, considering how much money they now have tied up in Peavy and Rios.

No Penny, no Harden, no nothing

After all that speculation, the Twins didn't make a deal for Rich Harden and didn't put in a claim on Brad Penny, who became a free agent and is almost certainly headed to the easier National League.

This leaves the Twins with a rotation of Scott Baker (good), Carl Pavano (less good), Nick Blackburn (mediocre), Brian Duensing (effective beyond reason so far) and a grab bag of minor leaguers, bullpen arms and perhaps injury returnees. Last week the grab bag meant Armando Gabino; on Tuesday, it means Jeff Manship. Next week, who knows?

And you know what? I'm not broken hearted over this. Penny has a 5.61 ERA with the Red Sox for a reason, and it follows a 6.28 ERA last year for the Dodgers. He may not be any real improvement over Gabino or Manship.

Harden's a much better pitcher, but the question with him isn't if he'll get hurt, it's when. He's had seven DL stints since 2005. A pitcher acquired now figures to make six regular season starts, max; Harden, even assuming he makes all six starts, would hardly have meant six guaranteed wins, any more than the grab bag approach means six guaranteed losses. (The Twins did, after all, win Gabino's one start.)

We don't know exactly what the Cubs wanted for Harden, but it was always assumed to be a steep asking price, and thus always seemed a long shot to happen. The Twins at this moment — after the Tigers' Monday loss, before the start of the Twins-White Sox game — are four games out. That's a big margin to overcome on the basis of one rotation slot's six starts. Had the Twins won a couple more of those eminently winnable games since the All-Star break, giving up key prospects for Harden trade have been justifiable.

If the Twins are going to make up those four games on the Tigers, they're going to need somebody to step up the way Baker and Duensing have. Tonight is Blackburn's next chance to start being that somebody.

Bunto Punto, part II

Having ripped Nick Punto earlier this month for failing to get bunts down, it is only fair to take note of the beautiful squeeze bunt he laid down Sunday. (The photo above is of Brendan Harris scoring on Punto's bunt.)

That was the time and place to utilize the sac bunt.

Not in the third inning, when you're down a run, playing a team with the sluggers the Rangers have. Not when the top of the order's up with a man in scoring position.

Dick 'n' Bert were vocally unhappy that Denard Span didn't bunt Punto from second to third. I was unhappy that Gardy was ordering the bunt to start with. Build an inning. Don't throw away Span's at-bat (batting average .308) and leave the job to Alexi Casilla (batting average .197).


I was also disappointed by ESPN and KEYC, neither of which aired highlights of the most memorable play of the game — Mike Redmond's triple. Yeah, it didn't matter — he neither scored nor drove in a run — but man, it was funny.

And lord only knows what Marlon Byrd was trying to accomplish with that slide while pursuing the ball.


From Phil Rogers, Chicago Tribune: "It's not a done deal that (Rich) Harden is going to the Twins, although it seems certain he's not coming back to the Cubs." He believes the Twins should and will get Harden.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Notes, quotes and comments

"I was looking at the Little League [World Series] game this morning [on television], and they were playing better than we did. It was more fun."

White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen after the Sox lost 10-0 Saturday to the Yankees. it was one of the kinder things he said about his team.

* Jake Peavy didn't make it though the fourth inning of his most recent rehab start. Meanwhile, Clayton Richard, pulled from the White Sox rotation and dealt to San Diego as part of the Peavy deal, is 3-1 for the Padres. (He really isn't pitching very well, however.)

* Matthew Pouliot of the Circling the Bases blog ranks the Twins 12th in current talent generated by its organization. This is a different concept than the Young Talent Inventory I wrote about here earlier in the week. This is about players the Twins originally signed.

* One mildly amusing sidelight to the idea that the Twins may import Brad Penny to be a teammate of Carl Pavano's (at least for a month) is that both pitchers were (at different times) romantically involved with actress Alyssa Milano. Locker rooms being what they are ...

* Phil Rogers of the Chicago Tribune speculates Joe Crede is contemplating retirement after his recurrence of back problems.

*Poll results: Twenty-two people responded to the question about which free-agents-to-be the Twins should try to retain.

Ten (45 percent) said Orlando Cabrera; nine (40 percent) Carl Pavano; seven (31 percent) none of them; two (9 percent) Crede; and 1 (4 percent) Mike Redmond.

New poll up.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Reshaping the pitching staff

It's a rather un-Twinslike flurry of activity.

First it was Jon Rauch, acquired from Arizona Friday.

Then it was Ron Mahay, whose signing is to be announced today. Armando Gabino has already been returned to Triple A Rochester to make room for the veteran lefty reliever.

And in the next day or so, the Twins will find out if they landed Brad Penny or Rich Harden.

Harden (above) is the biggest name and the biggest risk. I'm surprised he cleared waivers in the National League, but the most recent informed speculation has the Twins winning the claim on him.

If so — waiver claims are supposed to be confidential, and there's generally a lot more smoke than visible flame — now comes a day or two of high-stakes poker. Harden figures to be a Type-A free agent, meaning that the Cubs would argue that they can hang on to him and get two high draft picks should he sign elsewhere this winter.

But that assumes that (a) they're willing to offer arbitration to the brittle but talented right-handed starter and (b) that Cubs don't suffer the same fate that befell the Toronto Blue Jays last winter. They lost Type-A free agent A.J. Burnett to the Yankees and only got a third-round pick in compensation, because the Yankees' first-rounder went to Anaheim for Mark Teixiera and their second-rounder to Milwaukee for CC Sabathia.

So there are risks involved for the Cubs in holding on to Harden, although in his case arbitration is probably less risky than a multi-year deal, and the odds of such a triple-strike signing of Type A's recurring are rather slim.

For their part, the Twins are unlikely to be willing to surrender somebody like Ben Revere for a five-week rental, and his lengthy injury history argues against a multi-year deal.

My guess is that nothing will happen on this front. One Internet piece of speculation says the Twins have already dropped their interest in Harden because Friday's Scott Kazmir deal set the prospect price too high. Which may be true, or may be imaginary. It may be imaginary now and be true by the time Monday's deadline arrives.

Meanwhile, Brian Duensing is making the need for another starter a bit less acute. That's three starts, totalling 17 innings, with a 2.65 ERA. Of course, there's really no reason to believe he's actually that good.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Twins add Jon Rauch

The Twins on Friday afternoon traded the ever-popular player to be named later to Arizona for Jon Rauch, a right-handed reliever who is the tallest player in major league history (he's 6-foot-11) and a decent middle man. 

That's something the Twins have needed for the past two years. It's not that we should expect him to take over eighth inning duties from Matt Guerrier and Jose Mijares, but that he'll keep them out of the seventh or sixth innings.  

The Twins also shipped minor-leaguer Yohan Pino to Cleveland as the PNL in the Carl Pavano trade. He had a pretty decent season this year, split between Double A and Triple A, pitching mostly in relief, but he was repeating Double A and is said to have a mediocre fast ball. Lack of velocity didn't keep him from boosting his K rate this year. 

 I like Pino's stats, but the Twins really needed an established starter, and Pino isn't a really prime prospect. 

Collecting B(r)ad Penny

I don't know which is the more daunting:

* The prospect of facing the Yankees in the first round of the playoffs with a rotation of Scott Baker, Carl Pavano, Nick Blackburn and Brian Duensing; or

* The projected starters for Minnesota in next week's series against the Chicago White Sox: TBA on Monday, Blackburn on Tuesday, Duensing on Wednesday.

As the postseason roster deadline draws steadily nearer — a player has to be on the 40-man roster before Sept. 1 to be eligible — the Twins are said to be scrambling for pitching help.

And the machinations are fascinating. Brad Penny — shown above — no longer fits on the Red Sox roster, and is on release waivers. The Twins appear to be in prime position to claim him, and the 5.61 ERA doesn't accurately reflect how well he's pitched. His walk to strikeout ratio is fine, the strikeout rate is good enough. He's no star, but he can help.

ESPN's report is focused on National League teams, with Buster Olney suggesting that there will be little interest in assuming the remainder of Penny's contract. It would probably cost the Twins about $200,000 per start to claim Penny, but the general consensus is that Penny's more interested in returning to the easier National league, so if the Twins want him, they'll have to pay.

Still, there's a notion that Penny assured the Red Sox he won't sign with an AL contender, and despite Joe Christensen's suggestion (the first link) that Penny won't want to walk away from his current deal, there's no guarantee he'll accept an AL waiver claim.

Another rumor concerns the Twins and Rich Harden of the Chicago Cubs. A Harden deal will be tougher to pull off for two reasons:

1) National League teams have priority on him in trade waivers, and Harden is said to have been claimed by at least one NL club. In which case, the Twins can't get him, period.

2) Harden is a Type A free agent-to-be, meaning that the Cubs might be unwilling to move him for less than the equivalent of the draft picks they could get if he signs elsewhere this winter. (It's also possible the Cubs just want to shed the remainder of his salary; they are, after all, in bankruptcy court, even if that's largely a formality to clear the decks for the pending franchise sale.)

My guesses: If Harden goes anywhere, it will be to the Colorado Rockies. And the Twins will ante up for Penny. But by the time we know on the last, the White Sox series will be under way.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Silly phrase of the day

(and it didn't come from John Gordon)

From Thursday's USA Today team notes:

"OF Denard Span, getting a chance to hit leadoff, was hitting .469 in his last eight games through Tuesday ..."

He hasn't had an at-bat all season any other place in the lineup.

How much can you harvest?

Jim Souhan of the Star Tribune this week provided a lengthy critique of the Twins scouting and player development operations. As he sees it, the farm system is at the root of the major league team's current plight:

Their numerous call-ups haven't helped, and scouts from other organizations have privately said the Twins would have been hard-pressed to make a deal at the trading deadline because they don't have much big-league ready, front-line talent in the minors.

True enough. But he understates an underlying truth behind that sentence:

The Twins' top-line talent was already in the major leagues.

The problem isn't that the system has failed to produce major league talent — it's that the talent that has had some major league success regressed. Alexi Casilla. Francisco Liriano. Jesse Crain. Or it got hurt. Pat Neshek. Boof Bonser.

The problem isn't that when they needed a 10th starter it was Armando Gabino. It's that they needed a 10th starter, period.

The problem isn't that Kevin Slowey (drafted in 2005) and Glen Perkins ('04)— weren't in Rochester to be called up when injuries and ineffectiveness crippled the starting rotation. The problem is that Slowey was one of the injured and Perkins one of the ineffective.

Yes, there have been failed draft picks. Everybody has 'em. The Twins took Matt Moses in the first round in 2003, and wish now they hadn't. They also took Scott Baker in the second round that year. There are a lot of teams that wish they'd taken him earlier.

The Bill James Handbook annually ranks organizations by the amount of young major league talent. It's a formula that weights age and accomplishment; Joe Mauer is accomplished but not all that young anymore. The Twins this spring ranked No. 1 in young talent. From James' essay:

The Twins have not a single player in the top 25, but they have six players in the top 50, eight in the top 120, and 10 in the op 150. The average team has five in the top 150; the Twins have 10 ... the Twins rank seven in the majors in young pitching talent, and first in non-pitching talent.

I expect the Twins to fall off in that ranking next winter. The young talent is a bit older, and a lot of it looks less impressive now.

But that's not the farm system's fault.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009


The word Tuesday night about Joe Crede's back, twice surgically repaired, was vague but ominous: There have been post-surgical changes.

What those changes are isn't specified, but they can't be good. He wouldn't have gotten the MRI Tuesday had his back been flexible and pain free.

So: He's hurting, and the MRI indicates that the back structure is different than it was after the surgery.

I'm not surprised. As a man who has had a herniated disk, I have kept an eye on Crede, and I believed much of the season that his flexibility was limited. It was most noticeable on ground balls to his backhand side — he was frequently a tick late, and displaying body language that suggested he knew he should have reached the ball. That's the move, defensively, that puts the most twist on the back.

At risk of jumping to conclusions, I assume he's done for the season, maybe even done for his career.

The Twins, as I wrote in the Monday print column soon after Crede signed, have options. The Brian Buscher-Brendan Harris platoon the Twins used at third in the second half of 2008 figured last winter to be just as productive offensively as Crede — and, given how poorly Crede hit, might have been better at the dish.

As Plan Bs go, Buscher and Brendan isn't Bad.

But there's a Plan C that might tempt the Twins. Danny Valencia is supposed to inherit the third base job next spring. They might chose to hasten that timeline.

But I think Harris/Buscher makes more sense. Alexi Casilla appears to have secured the second base job (at least until his next brain cramp); combined with the presence of Orlando Cabrera at short, that makes Nick Punto the utility man, and makes it easy to use Harris and Buscher and, yes, Punto to cover third. Harris against left-handed starters, Buscher agaisnt right-handed starters, Punto for defense.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Taking care of their investment

Last year, with a playoff berth possibly at stake for the New York Mets, Johan Santana demanded the ball for the final game of the schedule. On short rest, he threw a three-hit shutout. The Mets missed the postseason anyway — and three days later, he had knee surgery.

Santana was scheduled to pitch today for the Mets. He won't. His elbow hurts.

He's to be examined today, and the Mets are bracing for bad news.

The sidebar to this story shows why. Since he had a 120-pitch outing in his 10th start of the season — you paying attention, Mr. Blyleven? — Santana's fastball has slowed considerably. In his first 10 starts, 73 percent of his fastballs were at least 90 mph; in the 15 starts since, just 53 percent reached 90.

The strikeouts are down, the home runs and ERA up.

Santana, by the way, has had three starts of 120 or more pitches in his two season with the Mets. That doesn't sound like much, but that's two more than he had in his entire tenure with the Twins.

The Mets invested $137.5 million in that talented left arm. Of course, the Mets ownership also invested large sums with Bernie Madoff — the Wilpon family is rumored to have lost $750 million in the notorious scam — and the whispers out of Queens suggest that one reason the general manager and manager are still on the job is that the ownership can't afford to replace them.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Notes from the division

It's a division race nobody can take control of.

The first-place Detroit Tigers have now lost 10 straight road series. And now they go to Anaheim to face the Angels.

The second-place Chicago White Sox today begin what could be a killer road trip — Yankees, Red Sox, Twins. Ten games that Mark Buehrle says could be "make or break."

The third-place Twins? Three games against the kiddie-corps Baltimore Orioles. You may not recognize a lot of the names on this roster, but they are young, (I think there are seven rookies on the active roster, and just six players 30 or older), talented, and just took two of three from the White Sox.

Yes, the Twins are 4.5 games out, and their weekend sweep was against a decidedly unimpressive Kansas City bunch. But they ain't out of this thing yet.

* The Twins sent Anthony Swarzak and his 6.25 ERA back to Triple A. Newcomer Armando Gabino, who spent most of this season in the Rochester bullpen, is to start Tuesday. Good luck with that.

* Buehrle (after Sunday's loss, photo above) since his perfect game on July 23: 0-4, 5.85.

* When the White Sox traded for Jake Peavy just before the deadline, they held out the notion that he'd be ready to roll for this road trip. Not gonna happen.

* He's no Peavy, but there's chatter that Boof Bonser might pitch in September.

More on what ails the Royals

Elaborating on the Monday print column:

I was probably generous to the Royals in suggesting that luck was a factor in their years in the wilderness compared to the Twins.

Management makes its own luck. Was there a Joe Mauer in the 2005 draft? Probably not — but after the Royals took 3B Alex Gordon with the No. 2 overall pick, the Nationals took 3B Ryan Zimmerman (fourth) and the Brewers took 3B Ryan Braun (fifth). Braun, of course, has since moved to left field, but there's a couple of All-Stars K.C. passed up.

Then there's Troy Tulowitzki (seventh overall to Colorado,) Ricky Romero (sixth to Toronto), Andrew McCutcheon (11th, Pittsburgh) ... the Twins took Matt Garza 24th, which is, of course, a whole 'nother story itself.

Eyeballing the first round, I see at least 10 players taken after Gordon who have clearly established themselves as better major league players. (And a number of out-and-out busts as well. C.J. Henry, anybody? Brandon Snyder?)

The Royals made the conventional choice in taking Gordon. The Twins made a slightly unconventional choice in taking Mauer over Mark Prior (and Mark Teixiera) in 2001. But the Twins have done their best work in the upper rounds of the draft when defying the conventional wisdom. The Royals really haven't done any best work in the upper rounds of the draft (other than taking Zack Grienke in 2002).

Further deepening the Royals-Twins comparison: The Mike Jacobs fiasco is worth considering. Last winter, Kansas City had on hand for first base Billy Butler (above), then 22, who appeared hopeless defensively, and Kila Ka'aihue, a 24-year-old who had raked the upper leaves of the minor leagues (a combined OPS of 1.085 in Double A and Triple A.) Two young hitters with defensive shortcomings.

The Royals eyed those options and traded a decent middle relief arm (Leo Nunez) to Florida for Jacobs, an older hitter (now 28) with defensive shortcomings and a $3 million-plus contract.

Butler has taken over first now; he's worked on his fielding — not that he's threatening Carlos Pena or Teixiera for a Gold Glove. Jacobs is a part-time DH with a miserable OBP (.305) and slugging percentage (.422). Nunez is closing for Florida. Ka'aihue? He's in Triple A amassing a .400 OPB.

This, as my brother would say, is dumb with a capital M. If you have Butler and Ka'aihue, you don't need Jacobs. But everybody in baseball can use an arm like Nunez, and everybody can use an extra $3 million in the budget.

Then there's the manager. Joe Posnanski is an unabashed Ron Gardenhire admirer — has written often that Gardy is the best manager in the game — and that admiration is only understandable in the context of the silly decisions he's watched Royals managers make over the years. Here's a Posnanski post on one such.

And as long as I'm linking to blogs complaining about the Royals — consider this piece of bitterness from Rany Jazayerli, although I should warn you that there's a semi-edited obscenity involved.

There's no disgrace in being bad for a few years. Being relentlessly bad for as long as the Royals have ... that's another matter. That the Royals stand here today, with ONE player under 25 on the roster and headed to a sixth 100-loss season in nine years ... well, that may deserve an obscenity to describe it.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

What a relief(?)

Saturday's game was essentially a bullpen game for the Twins. Brian Duensing wasn't quite as good as his line score suggests — those two HBPs added to the stress — but five innings of two-run ball is good enough for a spot start. (That's two decent spot starts for Duensing, albeit against light-hitting lineups; maybe it's time to put him in the rotation and see what happens.)

But then we saw Bobby Keppel and Jesse Crain, each of whom had trouble throwing strikes. Twelve strikes of 24 pitches for Keppel, eight strikes in 15 pitches for Crain. They combined to pitch one inning of four runs, granting that the runs charged to Crain scored while Jose Mijares got out of the bases-loaded mess Crain left him.

Keppel's ERA in July was 6.75. His ERA in August is also 6.75. There's a trend here. Ron Coomer kept assuring us Saturday that Keppel's two-seam fastball is a "weapon." But if he can't throw strikes with it, it's a gun pointed backwards.

And Crain ... Dick Bremer said he's pitched well since his return from rochester. Then FSN put up the numbers, which showed Crain with a 4.40 ERA since his return, and Bremer started amending his earlier statement.

Crain did enter Saturday's game with an August ERA of 3.00 (nine innings). Now it's 4.82.

Of course, if Gomez catches that popup, only one run gets charged to Crain ... but that would be more a credit to Mijares' work than Crain's.

Two basic conclusions, neither new: 1) The Twins have Matt Guerrier and Jose Mijares in front of Joe Nathan, and everybody else in the bullpen is suspect and

2) The easiest way to win a baseball game is often to let the other team lose it. Both teams tried hard to lose that one, but the Royals are "better" at that.

Poll results:

Twenty votes in the question of current interest in the Twins:

10 (50 percent) are interested now strictly for Mauer and Morneau; seven (35 percent) are interested in the season to the end no matter what; two (10 percent) still hold out hope for the postseason; and one (5 percent) says bring on football.

Ah, the wonders of a self-selecting audience.

New poll up.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Notes and comment

A rather self-destructive win for the Twins Friday: Yeah, any win helps — and Nick Blackburn may have righted his ship — but 53 pitches from Joe Nathan is not good.

*One reason the Detroit Tigers enter Saturday with a 3.5 game lead in the AL Central — they can win pitchers duels. The Tigers have 13 wins when scoring three runs or less, the most recent being Friday's 3-2 win over Oakland. (The Twins have nine.)

* The long awaited sale of the Chicago Cubs to the Ricketts family is virtually complete. The biggest hurdle now might be the fact that the Tribune Company, which is selling the team and ball park, is in bankruptcy.

* Dumb idea connected with the sale: A Tribune writer suggests that one of the first things the Ricketts should do is lower beer prices at Wrigley. Uh, no. They have too many problems with drunks there now.

* Cliff Lee career ERA pitching in the American League: 4.01. ERA since being traded to the Phillies: 0.82.

* Speaking of pitchers fleeing the Big Boy League for the Quadruple A National League: John Smoltz, released by the Boston Red Sox, signed this week with the St. Louis Cardinals, who will deploy him in the starting rotation.

If there's any place the aging Smoltz can regain his Hall-of-Fame form, it would figure to the St. Louis; Tony LaRussa and Dave Duncan have quite the track record with seemingly washed up pitchers. I still think he's best suited for relief work.

*What is it with the Twins and inner ear infections this season? First Denard Span, now Justin Morneau and even third base coach Scott Ullger.

Friday, August 21, 2009

A glimpse of the past

A recent change in TV service in my household brought ESPN Classic into my orbit, and I spent a little time this afternoon watching a rebroadcast of a 1976 Yankees-Tigers game started by Mark "The Bird" Fidrych. As I understand it, this is a fairly frequently shown game, but this was my first exposure to it in some time.

The Bird was always interesting, of course, but there were other things in the game that got my attention — things that reveal some of the subtle changes, changes that we didn't even notice when they happened — or noticed and then quickly forgot.


*Photographers standing in foul territory during play. I seem to recall noticing when the Twins moved to the Dome in 1982 that they had specific wells for newspaper photographers, which suggests to me that they had access to the field in the old Met.

* The home plate umpire was using the old balloon chest protector.

* The game was played at a crisp pace. Batters didn't back out nearly as often, or for as long, as they do now. Nor were they taking as many pitches, or fouling off as many, as they do today.

* I knew Rusty Staub used a heavy bat. I had forgotten how much he choked up on it. Nobody today does that. (Nick Punto probably should.)

* Bob Prince, the ABC announcer, marveled at the turnout at (now demolished) Tiger Stadium, noting that the Tigers averaged about 18,000 a game normally but had probably 55,000 at this game. Indeed,the Tigers that year — with Fidrych capturing the imagination of the city, and indeed a generation of fans across the nation — drew a bit over 18,000 per game for the season, or less than 1.5 million. That was eighth highest in MLB. This year, 22 teams have already drawn more fans. (The Twins in 1976 drew less than 9,000 per game.)

* Prince himself (photo above) was terrible. He constantly misidentified players, once said (after the Tigers had gone out in order) that the Yankees had gone out in order and generally was an embarrassment. He had been a legendary announcer for the Pittsburgh Pirates — one of the game's greatest radio broadcasters — but man, he was awful that night.

(Sort like listening today to John Gordon. Tonight Gordo was talking just before the first pitch about how cool it is in Kansas City — "In the dugout, Gardy's even wearing a jacket." Ron Gardenhire always wears a jacket. Gordon's apparently never noticed.)

*Prince spoke at one point of Branch Rickey, who ran the Pirates for about a decade while Prince was there. As was typical of people who worked for Rickey, Prince called him "Mr. Rickey" on every reference.

*The Yankees pitcher was Ken Holtzman, a more significant pitcher than Fidrych (but not a cultural phenomenon like The Bird). Holtzman had been a rotation anchor for the Mustache Gang A's, winners of three straight World Series in the early 1970s; he won 174 games in a 15-year career — and I could not recall the image of him on the hill.

Now I do, at least what he looked like in his last good season. An odd motion — a left-hander, he didn't step directly toward home but off toward first base, then he slingshot the pitch with high-sidearm/low three-quarters delivery. By current standards, he had mediocre velocity — mid 80s or thereabouts.

But looking at his stats, I suspect he was pitching hurt in 1976. Pitching a lot, but pitching hurt — 246 innings, but only 66 strikeouts, less than half the Ks of the previous season. He went 14-11, 3.65 for Baltimore and the Yankees (he came to New York in a trade that brought the Orioles, among others, longtime mainstays Rick Dempsey and Scott McGregor) but didn't pitch at all for the Yankees in the postseason.

It was more than nostalgic to reacquaint myself with Holtzman and Prince, The Bird and Staub, Tiger Stadium and balloon protectors. It was a reminder of how the game has changed in the past three decades.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Why Pudge won't budge

Ivan Rodriguez is clearly in the nomad stage of his career. He was traded in midseason last year (Detroit to Yankees), after which he went deep into spring training before finding a team to sign with (Houston). And he was traded again this week, this time to his original team, the Texas Rangers.

If you take Pudge's career at face value, he has a real strong case for the title of greatest catcher ever. A lifetime .300 hitter with more than 300 home runs; 13 Gold Gloves; an MVP Award (1999); 14 All-Star teams ...

But this isn't so much about where he ranks among the all time greats, but about what he is now — which is a backup.

Consider this paragraph from the Fort Worth paper's game story from Wednesday's game with the Twins:

Despite (Rodriguez's) exploits Wednesday, Taylor Teagarden is still the No. 1 catcher. Rodriguez will be back on the bench for today’s series finale. (Manager Ron) Washington started him with Kevin Millwood because Millwood calls his own pitches and is a veteran.

What an indictment. Pudge has caught more than 2,200 major league games — more than anybody in history. Teagarden is a rookie with 51 games caught. But the Rangers trust Teagarden's calls more.

Rodriguez is not the first great catcher to decide it's worth it to hang on as a No. 2. Gary Carter stuck around for four years as a reserve, Ted Simmons for three years. I suspect the writers held their hang-around years against them when the Hall of Fame balloting rolled around for each (Carter eventually got in, Simmons not).

I wonder if Rodriguez has his eye on what would be a unique accomplishment: 3,000 hits. Nobody who spent the bulk of his career as a catcher ever reached that milestone. (Craig Biggio was a catcher for four seasons at the start of his career, 428 games total.) Pudge needs 310 hits to get there. It won't be easy, but he's "only" 37.

A hard-used 37.

Slump or hot streak?

Today's post is inspired by comments made by co-workers ...

Delmon Young (left) has had a miserable season. There's no other way to put it — .269 batting average, .288 on-base percentage, .383 slugging average isn't good for a middle infielder these days (but would have been perfectly acceptable in the 1960s), and he's a corner outfielder.

He's "hot" now, or so we are told. Well, in one respect.

He's hitting, in August, .269 and reaching base at a .296 clip — no real change there. But his slugging average this month is .558. Four of his seven homers have come this month; seven of his 17 extra-base hits have come this month.

He had two extra-base hits in April and zero in May. Zero.


A co-worker mentioned Joe Mauer's long "slump." After all, his batting average dropped some 70 points from its peak in the .420s, and 70-point drops are generally associated with slumps.

So I checked it out. After a 4-for-4 game on June 16, Mauer was hitting .429. After going 0-for-5 on Aug. 1, he was hitting .353 — a 76-point drop-off. In that time, he had 144 at-bats and 39 hits, a .271 average — but with 16 walks and five home runs. In July itself, he hit .309 — 29 hits in 94 at-bats.

A Joe Mauer slump (at least this year) is better than a Delmon Young hot streak.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Something(s) to play for

As the Twins slide further out of contention — and, Tuesday's win over Texas notwithstanding, they assuredly will — there will be repeated references to "meaningless" games, that the team has "nothing to play for."

Whadda buncha baloney.

Joe Mauer and (to a lesser extent) Justin Morneau are playing for history, for the dabs of bold-face ink in the stat books that will illuminate their superiority to future generations.

Orlando Cabrera, Joe Crede and Carl Pavano, veterans on one-year deals, are playing for their next contracts.

Jeff Manship, Anthony Swarzak, Phil Humber and Brian Duensing are pitching to establish themselves as major leaguers. Jesse Crain is pitching to establish that he shouldn't be pushed aside. Nick Blackburn is pitching to find what worked in the first half, to fix what's gone sour in the second half.

Carlos Gomez and Delmon Young, Alexi Casilla and Brendan Harris and Nick Punto — all have next season's playing time at stake.

These are "me" goals rather than "we" goals. But they are real goals, with real pressures on the players involved — in some ways, there is more pressure on Casilla this September than there was last September, because his future may be at stake.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Quotes, notes and comment

"The way Kenny (Williams) built this ballclub, there's no doubt we're better than .500. Look at our lineup, look at our pitching staff. Don't look at our defense, please. Don't look at that one, we're horrible. But if you look at the team and say this is a .500 team, you have to be wrong."
— White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen after his boss, GM Kenny Williams, called the team "underachievers."

* Joe Mauer — who homered, doubled, singled and stole a base in Monday's loss — is hitting .380. Three-freaking-eighty.

He leads the AL in batting average by 20 points (.380 to Ichrio's .360). He leads in on-base percentage by 22 points (.446 to Kevin Youkilis' .424). He leads in slugging percentage by a ridiculous 58 points (.637 to Kendry Morales's .579).

And he's a catcher.

* In one of his all-too-frequent throwaway lines that begs for detail and sourcing, Peter Gammons offers this on the Texas Rangers: "(the) crumbling of Tom Hicks' financial empire ... is so bad that the Arlington grounds crew can't afford to water the playing field in equator weather."

* The Detroit Tigers added Aubrey Huff. Last year, Huff hit .304 with 32 homers for Baltimore; this year, .253 with 13 homers. You pays yer money, you takes yer chances.

* Speaking of taking yer chances ... the Twins, after Francisco Liriano added another short start, put the lefty on the DL (with a dead arm, inflamed ERA and bruised ego) and have turned again to Phil Humber, whose ERA in Triple A is 5.28.

The price of promise

It went down to the deadline Monday, but the Minnesota Twins signed their first-round draft choice, Kyle Gibson (right).

The gut reaction is to be relieved that the Twins got it done.

They've had, in the distant past — in the Griffith era particularly — cases where they failed to sign their first-rounder. Among the notable cases: Tim Belcher (1983 — he went on to win 146 games in his career) and Jason Varitek (1993 — still playing, a three-time All-Star catcher).

They've also had a lot of first-round picks in the past decade that in retrospect they probably would have preferred not to sign. B.J. Garbe (1999); Ryan Mills (1998); Adam Johnson (2000); Matt Moses (2003) — all well regarded prospects, all busts.

Now they've committed more than $1.8 million to a hurler who suffered a stress fracture in his forearm pitching college ball. And one has to wonder about his durability.

And hope it works out.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

How can this be?

Here's a tangent I didn't follow for Monday's print column:

Denard Span (left) isn't the best leadoff hitter in baseball — there's Ichiro, and Derek Jeter, and Chone Figgins, each of whom have slightly better stats this season than Span, plus longer track records — but he's in the discussion.

And yet the Twins are just seventh in the American League in runs scored by their No. 1 hitter (79).

I find this inexplicable. Span's on-base percentage is .383, which is 15th best in the league; he has, behind him, Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau. He should be among the league leaders in runs scored. He's only tied for 23rd.

Mauer, who missed an entire month, has scored more runs. Michael Cuddyer, with an OPB 41 points lower than Span's, who generally has the unproductive likes of Joe Crede and Delmon Young behind him, has scored the same amount of runs as Span.

The Twins lead the league in runs scored by their No. 3 hitter (generally Mauer or Morneau; each of them has scored 39 runs from the three-hole); they're third in runs scored by the No. 4 and 5 hitters (Morneau, Jason Kubel and Cuddyer).

But the sixth hitters — mostly Cuddyer and Crede — have just 54 runs, 11th in the 14-team league. That makes sense; Crede has a low OBP, and there's not much at the tail end of the lineup to drive him in when he does reach base.

But then they're second in runs scored by the No. 7 hitter, and explain that one. Their No. 5 hitters have scored 65 runs, the No. 6 hitters 54, and No. 7 hitters 62. It's split up so many ways ... Young has 16, Carlos Gomez 11, Crede 11. Then you have a handful from the likes of Brendan Harris, Cuddyer, Brian Buscher, Mike Redmond, yada yada yada. And you have to wonder — who's driving in these guys? Nick Punto?

No surprise here — the Twins are also near the bottom in runs scored by the No. 2 and No. 9 hitters. Alexi Casilla and Nick Punto bear that responsibility. Mauer has 29 runs out of the No. 2 hole; that's 43 percent of the runs the Twins have gotten from that lineup spot.

Wild thing and poll result

The Twins, with all their pitching problems, continue to exhibit the best control in baseball.

Entering Sunday's play, the Twins had walked just 323 batters, the fewest in baseball. Their 31 wild pitches were in the bottom third.

Then there's A.J. Burnett (right), the Yankees' $82.5 million man.

Burnett has had four games with three wild pitches this season. (Two of them have come against the Twins; the Yankees, of course, won both games.) He could easily have had a fourth wild pitch in his last start, but a fast ball that eluded Jorge Posada hit the home-plate up smack in the chest protector.

He leads the AL in walks (73) and wild pitches (17) and tied for second in hit batters. He's also 15th in ERA.

Call him the anti-Twin.

Poll results: Thirteen voted in the "who to lop from the rotation" question, with multiple answers permitted.

Six wanted Francisco Liriano out; six wanted Glen Perkins out (the question was posted before Perkins went on the DL); four wanted Anthony Swarzak to sit down; and three clicked on "why stop there," probably with Nick Blackburn in mind.

New poll up

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Best player in baseball, Part III

The great Joe Posnanski chimes in on Joe Mauer's overwhelming case (in mid-August, at least) for AL MVP.

These Joes stick together.

The best player in baseball, Part II

Rob Neyer on the AL MVP race:

Frankly, I'm worried that the baseball writers are already conspiring to rob Joe Mauer -- for the third time -- of an award that should rightly be his.

"Conspiring" might be an overstatement. Looking for an excuse to give it to somebody else, maybe.

Mauer's MVP case would be helped greatly if the pitching staff would contribute more than one quality start a week, if the middle infielders and the third outfielder would play just average ball. Then the Twins would be seriously in the hunt.

Mauer's the best player in the league. But MVPs traditionally have to win games, and Mauer's team is below .500.

Friday, August 14, 2009

The best player in baseball

Joe Mauer (right) entered Friday's game with a .370 batting average. He went 3-for-3 with two walks.

He leads the league in batting average (.375). He leads the league in on-base percentage (.444). He leads the league in slugging percentage (.622). None of these categories are particularly close.

He has 72 RBIs, which (as of the moment of writing) was tied for 12th in the American League. This despite missing a full month of the season.

* The Twins on Friday collected just their fourth win of August. Friday's win was 11-0. Their other wins this month have been by scores of 10-1, 11-0 and 7-1. Laughers all.

Three of their seven losses this month have been by one run; another loss, by two runs, was tied in the eighth inning. (The other three have been blowouts.)

Joe Nathan has pitched twice in August. He hasn't had a save opportunity since July 29.

The Twins simply aren't winning close games right now.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Bunto Punto

Or, why Nicky can't bunt ...

Thursday was the second time this week that Nick Punto flat out failed to get a sacrifice bunt down.

It's not like he's been terrible all season at it; he has eight "sacrifice hits" — that's the offical term for a sac bunt — on the season, tied for sixth most in the American League. (Also among the six hitters with eight sac bunts is Denard Span.)

Thursday's problems came in the sixth inning. Joe Crede walked on four pitches. Mike Redmond walked on five pitches, with a pitching change tossed in after the first two balls. Up come Punto — foul bunt, swinging foul, foul bunt for strike three.

Then Denard Span walked (on four pitches), leading the TV boys to absolve Punto's failure. (And then Orlando Cabrera fell behind 0-2, prompting Bert Blyeleven to proclaim that that doesn't matter — which, of course, it does; in at-bats that start 0-2, Cabrera this year is hitting .232 — and Cabrera bounded into a double play. But that's another rant.)

The other failure came Sunday, in the finale of the Tigers series. With the score tied in the eighth, Redmond led off with a single. Carlos Gomez pinch ran. Punto failed to get his bunt down and wound up flying out to right. Gomez advanced to second when the next batter (Jason Kubel) grounded out, but got no further.

So really, Punto's bunting problems this week didn't cost the team runs. But it cost the team opportunities to score.

And, let's face it — if you're a .200-hitting middle infielder with no power, you better get every bunt down.

It's about the tools

Baseball America's annual "best tools" edition popped up in my mailbox today, and it's not particularly encouraging for Twins fans. (The online version is subscription only.) The magazine polls managers to rank the best players in each league. They do top three in the major leagues and a No. 1 in the minors.

I always have some doubts and quibbles about these lists, but they represent a sort of consensus view from inside the sport and thus are informative.

The Twins problem isn't on the major league team. It's the lack of winners in the minors, particularly in the upper reaches.

Here's the Twins system:

Minnesota (American League): Joe Mauer (above) is best hitter and best defensive catcher. He's also the No.2 guy in strike zone judgment (behind Bobby Abreu of the Angels) and the No. 3 "most exciting player." Pretty good haul.

Justin Morneau is No.1 in best power. Orlando Cabrera is No. 2 hit-and-run artist. Joe Nathan is No. 2 reliever.

And ... just to twist the knife on the much lamented Delmon Young trade ... Jason Bartlett is best defensive shortstop. (What's really impressive to me here is that Elvis Andrus, the Rangers rookie, is No. 2, even though the league had only seen him for about four months when the poll was taken.)

Rochester (Triple A, International League): One winner: Drew Butera is best defensive catcher.

New Britain (Double A, Eastern League): Nobody.

Fort Myers (High A, Florida State League): Ben Revere is best batting prospect, fastest baserunner and most exciting player. David Bromberg is best pitching prospect.

Beloit (Low A, Midwest League): Brad Tippett has the best control.

BA didn't rate the players in the short season leagues.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Radio, radio

I was stuck with the radio "description" of the early part of Tuesday's Twins-Royals fiasco. I really don't know which was worse: Nick Blackburn's pitching, or John Gordon-Dan Gladden in the booth.

Gladden's silly evaluation of Mike Jacobs (a true one-tool player — he hits an occasional long ball but can't run, field, throw or hit for average, plus he has lousy strike zone judgment, but Gladden likes him anyway and can't figure out why he's been relegated to part-time play) and Gladden-Gordon's joint misevaluation of the Marlins' home stadium (they think it's a bandbox, and it's actually one of the toughest home run parks in the National League) were bad enough. Ignorance on parade.

But in the second inning a real live professional tour golfer showed up, and as long as Hunter Mahan stuck around, whatever happened on the field was going to be classified information to their listeners.

Even after Mahan left — apparently to go distract the TV boys from their jobs — Gordo was so enthralled by the encounter that he called Delmon Young "Michael" and had Mitch Meier playing two outfield positions simultaneously for Kansas City.

I wish someone would hire Gordon to broadcast golf. It would be good for him — he clearly cares more about golf than about baseball — and it would be good for those of us who listen to the Twins on the radio.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Big bucks on the South Side

First it was Jake Peavy. Now it's Alex Rios.

The Chicago White Sox on Monday landed a very pricey outfielder on a long term deal — as in $59.7 million over the next five years. They got Rios for nothing — or more precisely, the Toronto Blue Jays handed his contract off and figured they were better off with the (almost) $12 million a year.

This follows the Sox's shipping four pitching prospects to San Diego just before the trading deadline for the crippled Peavy, who is to be paid $48 million for 2010-12 with a $22 million option(and $4 million buyout) for 2013.

Rios has been a right fielder for most of his tenure in Toronto, but that was largely because the Jays had Vernon Wells in center. When Wells was injured — and he has missed considerable time the past four seasons — Rios generally shifted to center. And that should be what he does for the Sox, although Ozzie Gullen does seem to like Scott Podsednik more than I think is warranted.

The Peavy and Rios moves mark major financial commitments down the road. One assumes the Sox will let Jim Thome and Jermaine Dye walk after this season, but still ... assuming that the White Sox have a $100 million payroll each of the next three years, Peavy and Rios figure to account for almost 25 percent of it.

Most organizations treasure financial flexibility. The White Sox just burned much of theirs.

On Tommy John surgery

The Monday print column — on what the Twins should do with Francisco Liriano (above) — isn't quite what I expected to write on the topic.

I expected — wanted — to marshall more facts, to be able to confidently assert that pitchers who've had the surgery fare better in relief than as starters.

But it's a slippery topic, albeit an important one.

It's important in part because so many pitchers have had the procedure. The Twins this season alone have used at least five pitchers — Luis Ayala, Sean Henn, Phil Humber, Liriano and Carl Pavano — who've under gone the ligament-replacement surgery popularly known as "Tommy John surgery." And then there's Pat Neshek, rehabbing from the surgery (and expected back next season) and Bobby Korecky (lopped from the 40-man roster just before spring training to make room for Ayala).

Obviously, knowing what to expect from TJ pitchers would be of value.

But deriving sound answers isn't easy. A few points:

1) A reliable list of pitchers who've had the surgery isn't readily available. Wikipedia has a couple of lists — the link is to the longer of the two — and I know of pitchers who've had the surgery and aren't on the list, and I doubt that some listed have had the surgery. (I can't, for example, find a gap in the records of either David Wells or Kenny Rogers that would be attributed to ligament replacement, but Wikipedia claims both had had it.)

2) Not all patients have the surgery under the same conditions. There's a difference between the surgery for Andy Ashby — who had the surgery at age 36 with 98 career wins under his belt and appeared in two major league games after it — and the same procedure for Liriano, who was about 23 when he had the surgery. Ashby had had his career; Liriano's was just getting started.

On a different level, consider the complexities of former Twin Grant Balfour. He made a splash in the Minnesota bullpen in 2004, then had not only TJ surgery on his elbow but surgeries on his rotator cuff and labrum. It took him four years and four organizations to make it back from all that. How much was elbow and how much the shoulder?

3) Defining success. A 2008 study said 83 percent of patients returned to at least the same level of competition, but that sounds better than the reality. Ashby returned to the major leagues after his surgery, but it was pretty meaningless. Joe Mays spent part of a season in the Twins rotation, but wasn't competent. Their surgeries were undoubtedly medical successes, but I would rate them as athletic failures.

And so I wind up reluctantly relying, still, on anecdotal evidence. And the anecdotal evidence conflicts. John Smoltz spent years in the pen before returning to the rotation; Josh Johnson of the Florida Marlins went right back into the rotation and is better than before.

Still I have a few opinions — the opinions of a fairly well-read amateur on the subject, opinions subject to change as evidence emerges:

1) For all the chatter about pitchers coming back from Tommy John with improved velocity, it's fairly rare. Most TJ pitchers experience decreased velocity. When it happens, it's a combination of a newly full-strength elbow and better conditioning through rigorous rehab.

2) If a pitcher has a choice, it's probably best to avoid Tommy John surgery — and that's particularly the case for pitchers with high-velocity fast balls.

3) Experienced pitchers appear to recover better, athletically, than young ones, perhaps because they're better able to cope with diminished stuff.

4) Relief work is the better post-surgery role.

5) There are obvious exceptions to all these opinion. There is no one-size-fits-all template.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Quotes, notes and comments

"I would challenge [Gardenhire] to sit down and watch the replays. Because he was wrong. ... I'm going to invite him to my umpire school. If he wants to learn what a balk is, he can come down in January to umpire school and we'll teach him."
— umpire Hunter Wendelstedt after Friday's game

“If he’ll agree to take the classes again, I’ll go with him.”
—Ron Gardenhire, the next day

Comment: AP in the past two weeks has moved at least three photos of young Wendelstedt ejecting players or managers (the one above is from last Sunday, when he ejected Baltimore catcher Greg Zaun). I suspect that indicates a problem.

In the first link, Wendelstedt claims he and the rest of his crew spent an hour reviewing replays and got every call right with the possible exception of a fan interference they didn't call and didn't have a replay of. If so, they were watching the wrong game.

* Carl Pavano's Twins debut couldn't have gone much better. And yet: I keep seeing him described as a "sinkerballer," but he had more air outs (nine) than ground outs (seven). Comerica's a good park in which to throw fly balls, but I don't know that that's what he was trying to do Saturday.

Regardless, it was startling to see a Twins starter throwing strikes and working fast. We haven't seen a lot of that recently.

*NUN update: New Ulm native Jamie Hoffmann remains in Triple A for the Dodgers; the outfielder, who had a brief stint with the big club during Manny Ramirez' suspension, is hitting .282/.373/.463 for Albuquerque, which isn't very good for that hitter-happy environment.

* A New York columnist thinks Johan Santana would be happier if he were still with the Twins. Maybe ... but I don't see anything here that says Santana thinks that.

* Jose Mauer is back in the lead in the batting title race, four points ahead of Ichiro Suzuki. More impressive — and this is a sabermetric stat you may not be familiar with — he is far ahead of everybody else in the AL in RC/27. That's runs created per 27 outs, or how many runs a lineup made up of nine Joe Mauers would score in an average game. Mauer is at 9.94 RC/27; the next best in the AL is Kevin Youkilis of Boston at 8.68. (Mauer does trail Albert Pujols, 10.28.)

The Twins have three of the top eight in the AL (Justin Morneau is fifth, 7.86; Jason Kubel is eighth, 7.46). The surprise guy in the AL top 10 — Jason Bartlett, fourth at 8.17.

* Poll results: We had 18 votes on "who's now the strongest team in the AL Central?" The Tigers seem to have you convinced: 13 (72 percent) picked Detroit, four the Twins (22 percent), one the White Sox (5 percent).

New poll up.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Talking John Smoltz

On Thursday, John Smoltz made the 474th (regular season) start of his illustrious career. It wasn't one of the better ones — he got 10 outs and surrendered nine hits, four walks and eight runs (box score here).

That raised his ERA to 8.32. And on Friday the Boston Red Sox designated him for assignment — cut him from the roster and giving themselves 10 days to dispose of his contract.

On the face of it, it would seem silly to contemplate the Twins adding Smoltz to their roster, pedigree or no. The man's 42 years old, and 8.32 is 8.32.

But ... 40 major league innings this year, 33 strikeouts and nine walks. There are pitches left in that arm. Not 100 pitches every fifth day, but he can help in the bullpen.

Matthew Pouliot of the Circling the Bases blog sums up Smoltz' stuff thusly: an average fast ball that requires too much effort (damaging his command) and an extremely effective slider.

The recipe for an effective short reliever: Command of one above-average pitch and the right stuff inside. Smoltz has the pitch, and we know he has the latter.

We don't know if Smoltz is ready to hang 'em up. Nor do we know for sure that the Red Sox are done with him. There is speculation that the Red Sox — assuming Smoltz passes through waivers — want him to return to their minors, transition to the bullpen and waive his bonus for days on the major league roster. That last may not fly with the players union.

Nor do we know that the Mike Jackson-Larry Andersen model — a reliever who relies on his slider almost exclusively — will work physically with Smoltz' arm. Maybe he can't throw 14 sliders out of 15 pitches every other day.

What he do know is he's available, and the Twins need pitching help. They need pitching help so badly even an 8.32 ERA looks good — at least when it's attached to John Smoltz.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Twins trade for Pavano

The Twins today got veteran starter Carl Pavano from Cleveland for the ever-popular player to be named later.

R.A. Dickey was optioned to Triple A Rochester to make room on the 25-man roster; Boof Bonser was moved to the 60-day DL to clear space on the 40-man roster. News story on the moves here.

Pavano's career has been a real roller coaster. As a minor leaguer he was part of the package the Expos got for Pedro Martinez. While with Montreal, he gave up Mark McGwire's 70th home run of the 1998 season. He was one of the rotation anchors for Florida's 2003 World Series champs, won 18 games for the Marlins in 2004, then signed a big contract with the Yankees, for whom he barely pitched (2005-2008, a total of 145 2/3 innings). One of the tabs called him "American Idle."

With Cleveland this year: 9-8 (for a 46-62 team) with a 5.37 ERA — and, on the plus side, 6.3 strikeouts per 9 innings and 3.83 strikeouts per walk.

He's not a great pitcher, but he gives the Twins a reasonable alternative to trotting Francisco Liriano or Glen Perkins out every fifth game. My guess is that Liriano is more on the edge of losing his rotation spot than Perkins is.

Losing two of three to Cleveland

This was the lead to the Star Tribune's game story after Tuesday's Twins-Indians game:

Hard to say what the Twins enjoyed more Tuesday night: Padding their statistics or browsing a schedule that shows 11 more games against this dismantled Cleveland squad.

Now's it's down to nine games, and on Wednesday and Thursday the Twins combined to score two runs against this dismantled Cleveland squad.

I shouldn't ridicule Joe Christensen (much) for assuming that the Indians would be easy pickings the rest of the way, but baseball is weird that way. Somewhere in my voluminous baseball library is a description of Sparky Anderson fretting when taking his powerhouse Cincinnati Reds of the early '70s into San Diego to face the lowly Padres; the Reds were a good bet to win 100 games in any given season, and the Padres an equally good bet to lose 100, but the Padres had a pair of good pitchers in Clay Kirby and Randy Jones, and if Kirby and Jones had good games, the Reds could lose two of three.

Department of the second-guess: Given that it was time for Joe Mauer to get a day off behind the plate – a day game after a night game and all that — it was a curious bit of timing on the art of Ron Gardenhire.

Mike Redmond (above) has extreme platoon splits — always has. This year, he's hitting .382 vs. lefties, .181 vs. righties. OK, that's not a lot of at-bats. For the last three seasons, Redmond is .350 vs. lefties, .28o vs. righties, with even steeper dropoffs in power. For his career, Redmond is at .326 vs. lefties, .269 vs. righties.

The point being: If you're going to face a lefty and a righty, and you're to play Redmond in one of those two games, it's best to use him against the left-landed starter.

Yet he sat Wednesday against lefty Aaron Laffey and started Thursday against righty Fausto Carmona. Left-handed hitters are hitting .313 against Carmona this year; righties, .230.

Now, it may be that Gardenhire didn't decide Mauer needed a break until Wednesday, when he was charged with a pair of passed balls. The fact remains that he used Redmond in the game in which he would be at the greatest disadvantage — and the following facts are that:

* Redmond went 0-for-4;

* He knows he's in trouble at the plate against Carmona;

*He was at the center of the second-inning failure to capitalize on a first-and-third, no-out situation, fingered by Gardenhire as the key to the loss.

It's tempting here to suggest that were the switch-hitting Jose Morales the backup catcher, the Twins might have won the game. On the other hand, there's no guarantee that Morales would have made the catch-and-tag play at the plate in the seventh inning that kept it a one-run game.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Two left-handed pitchers

By the time I returned to Mankato from a mission to my parents Wednesday, the Twins game was essentially over.

Francisco Liriano ( left) was having his customary problems commanding his fast ball.

Aaron Laffey (right) was getting grounder after grounder.

Laffey is a pitcher to keep an eye on. My print column a couple of weeks ago about Mark Buehrle put the White Sox lefty in the Tommy John family of pitchers — fairly low strikeout rates, very low walk rate, lots of grounders, lots of base hits, holds runners well, keeps the ball in the park. Laffey fits that profile even better than does Burhrle, with the exception of the walks. He's walked 29 hitters in 65-plus innings this year, and that's too many.

But time's on his side; he's just 24, and as noted in the Buehrle column, members of this family seldom peak young. I think that's a maturity factor — it takes time to master the nuances and to be patient with the approach. Two singles to start an inning might lead an inexperienced pitcher to panic; the older guy's been there and done that.

Cleveland's had Laffey up and down for three seasons — 40 games, 34 starts, 208-plus innings — and he's gone 14-12 with a 4.10 ERA.

He's a better bet going forward than Nick Blackburn or Glen Perkins, the Twins low-strikeout starters.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Quotes, notes and comment

* It's easy to forget now that the Twins' decision in 2001 to draft Joe Mauer with the first pick in that year's draft was criticized in many quarters. The guy who "should" have gone 1-1 was Mark Prior, that year's greatest college pitcher ever.

The San Diego Padres this week released Prior, who hasn't appeared in a major league game since 2006.

* Some blame Dusty Baker, who managed Prior during the pitcher's tenure with the Chicago Cubs, for the string of injuries that have bedeviled Prior since 2003, Prior's one good year. In September and October of that season, Prior's pitch counts were 131, 129, 110, 124, 131, 133, 133 (again), 116 and 119. In contrast, Johan Santana's career high is 125. He did that once.

Last season, Edinson Volquez (pictured above) had a big season pitching for Baker in Cincinnati. On Monday, he had Tommy John surgery — out the rest of this year, probably out all of 2010 as well.

Blame Baker, right? Maybe, but in terms of his pitch counts, Baker was far more careful in his use of Volquez than he was with Prior.

This link provides a series of links to a variety of views on why Volquez got hurt. To me, it's easy: He's a young pitcher. Young pitchers pitching well get hurt. That they're more likely to get hurt when managed by Baker or Tommy Lasorda than by Tom Kelly or Jim Leyland is probably not coincidential.

* The Twins win on Tuesday; the Tigers (and Jarrod Washburn) lose; and despite the weekend-long disaster against the Angels, the Twins are just 2.5 games behind the Tigers.

* La Velle Neal, in this Star-Trib blog entry about Scott Baker, makes a worthwhile point about Baker and foul balls. But he also comments on the stuggles of the Twins rotation:

Baker was supposed to lead the rotation, and the adjustments he needs to make aren’t as serious as Francisco Liriano’s. I’m surprised that Nick Blackburn has gone haywire lately. And that Glen Perkins seems to be in such a mess. Rookie Anthony Swarzak is young and talented and learning.

This may be the basis of a future Monday print column, but just in case I go in a different direction before then: Nothing surprising about Blackburn and Perkins, really. Neither gets enough strikeouts. Blackburn is striking out fewer than four men per nine innings this year; Perkins is just over four K/9. It is beastly difficult to succeed in the modern game with fewer than five strikeouts per nine innings.