Monday, November 30, 2009

Around the division: Indians

The Cleveland Indians fell apart almost completely at the end of the season — 7-25 in September/October — and ended the season at 65-97. This wasn't the worst record in baseball (Washington lost 103) or even the worst in the American League (Baltimore lost 98, and Kansas City also lost 97), but it certainly wasn't good.

So naturally the organization:
  • is likely to make no significant player moves this offseason, and
  • replaced manager Eric Wedge with Manny Acta, who had himself been fired by those 103-loss Nationals in mid season.

Actually, the first is more explicable than it sounds. Cleveland, by the time of its collapse, had already done a pretty through job of exchanging its "today" players for "tomorrow" players. "Today" players being the guys who are on the roster for purposes of immediate contention but don't figure to be long-term foundation pieces. Maybe, like Casey Blake, they're getting onto the wrong side of 30; maybe, like Victor Martinez, they're going to become too expensive for the payroll.

So the challenge for Acta isn't so much 2010 and 2011 as 2012. He has the task of developing Justin Masterson into a top-of-the-rotation starter, the assignment of figuring out which of Lou Marston and Carlos Santana is the catcher of the future, the mission of picking the right place for Matt LaPorta (left field? first base?).

Then there are the reclamation projects. Is there any hope for Fausto Carmona? (Not unless he finds command of the strike zone.) Will Travis Hafner ever return to his 2004-06 levels of production? (He's going to be 33 and he's hit 21 homers the last two years combined, so no.) What's with Jhonny Peralta? (He's a good hitter for a shortstop and a mediocre one for a third baseman, so if Cleveland's sold on Asdrubal Cabrera as its shortstop, Peralta isn't helping them.) Can Grady Sizemore bounce back? (Yes. And he will.)

In most of these cases, the point isn't having these players help Cleveland contend. It's establishing enough value to exchange them, too, for players who will someday help Cleveland contend. (Sizemore and maybe Carmona are the exceptions.)

Wedge got canned because the Indians, who came oh-so-close to beating the eventual World Series champs in 2007, never really contended in either 2008 or 2009. Now CC Sabathia is in New York (by way of Milwaukee), Cliff Lee is in Philly, Martinez is in Boston and Acta is in Cleveland, with far lower expectations.

Kansas City isn't going to contend this year because there's little evidence the front office knows what it's doing and why it's doing it. Cleveland isn't going to contend either, but there is a discernible plan.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Poll stuff

Just 17 votes in last week's poll on who in the AL Central looks right now to be the chief threat to the Twins. Maybe it was the holiday; more likely, it was just an uninteresting question.

Anyway: Nine (52 percent) picked the Chicago White Sox; six (35 percent) the Detroit Tigers; two (11 percent) Cleveland Indians; zero (0 percent) the Kansas City Royals.

I'll finish the "series" around the division Monday with Cleveland.

Meanwhile ... the Hall of Fame ballots have been announced. This is the year the Veterans Committee considers managers, executives and umps; players will be next year. So no chance for Tony Oliva or Jim Kaat this time around. The Veterans Committee lists are here.

And this week the BBWAA ballot was released. That list is here.

The new poll concerns only the six players and managers on the ballots with Twins connections. Which, if any, should go in?

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Around the division: Tigers

This has been the winter of rumors for the Tigers.

During and immediately after the general manager meetings early this month, there was a definite Detroit emphasis to the rumor mill. Every day, a new player: First, pitcher Edwin Jackson (13-9. 3.62 in 214 innings) was said to be available. The next day, center fielder Curtis Granderson (30 homers in an otherwise disappointing stat line) was supposedly being shopped. Then a Miguel Cabrera to Boston rumor got started.

The national baseball media is running with this theme for an obvious reason. Detroit's attendance slid about 25 percent last season. The Michigan economy isn't getting better. The Tigers have one of the highest payrolls in MLB ($119 million-plus, according to

Adding one and one and one together, the conventional wisdom is that the Tigers need to shed payroll. And since the likes of Dontrelle Willis, Jeremy Bonderman and Magglio Ordonez are essentially untradeable — too much money, not enough production — the only way to drastically cut payroll is to dump the usable veterans.

I doubt a fire sale is brewing, however. That doesn't appear to be Mike Ilitch's style. The Detroit pizza magnate (Little Caesar's) has shown a willingness to lose money on his sports teams to win.

The Tigers didn't win enough last season. But the real salary problem is in the likes of Willis ($10 million to go 1-4, 7.49) and Ordonez (9 home runs for his $19 million), not in the guys who can actually play.

The Tigers will shed some money this winter. They're unlikely, for example, to re-sign Placido Polanco, and disappointing mid-summer pickups Jarrod Washburn (above) and Aubrey Huff are definitely not returning.

Perhaps the Tigers will trade Jackson or Granderson — or even Cabrera. But if those guys are moved, it will be in a baseball move, not just moving a contract off the books.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Around the division: Royals

The temptation when contemplating Kansas City is to swipe Bill Terry's line before the 1934 season, when the Giants skipper retorted when asked about the Dodgers, "Is Brooklyn still in the league?"

But the Dodgers made Terry pay for his wisecrack at the end of the season, sweeping the Giants to help the Gas House Gang Cardinals win the pennant.

And, for that matter, the Royals last season helped the Twins win the divisional title by sweeping the Tigers in mid September.

I'll sum up the Royals thusly: They have Zack Grienke (above), Joakim Soria and Billy Butler — a true ace starter, a top-flight closer, and a legitimate middle-of-the-order bat. Beyond that, not much. David DeJesus is an OK left fielder, and Alberto Callaspo is a pretty good hitter for a second baseman, and a pretty poor fielder for a second baseman. And those are their next two best players.

Worse: They have a management team that says one thing and does another. They talk about improving the on-base percentage, and everybody they bring in swings wildly at everything.

The latest case in point is Tug Hulett, an infielder who'll turn 27 in February, a .194 hitter in 75 major league plate appearances. The Royals cut him loose this month; the Boston Red Sox picked him up.

Why did the Red Sox claim him? Because Hulett has a .394 lifetime on-base percentage in the minors.

At 27, Hulett isn't going to become a star. Two other organizations have disposed of him. There's got to be a reason for that.

But if a front office says it wants to improve its OBP, and it's carrying infielders along the lines of Willie Bloomquist (.308 OBP) and Luis Hernandez (.284) and Yuniesky Betancourt (.274), you'd think .394 would get their attention.

It didn't. It doesn't. And as long as Dayton Moore (general manager) and Trey Hillman (manager) continue to operate this way, there's no need to take the Royals seriously.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

A Twins fan's thankful twelve

The Yankees won 103 games last year, which means they LOST 59 times. Joe Mauer hit .365, which means he made outs in 63.5 percent of his at-bats. You can always find something to gripe about, and I do so too often.

But today is Thanksgiving, and a day to be grateful for the good things we have. I could make a list trite and profound of such things in my life, but this is a baseball blog, so I'll stick to the diamond.

Twelve things for which this Twins fan gives thanks:
  1. That I get to watch Joe Mauer play on a daily basis.
  2. That everybody involved is making reassuring noises about Mauer's future in Minnesota.
  3. For 28 years of knowing tonight's game won't be rained out.
  4. For a future of fresh air and real grass.
  5. For Denard Span's consistently professional at-bats.
  6. For Michael Cuddyer's willingness to vacate his preferred position for the sake of the team.
  7. For Ozzie Guillen, who drew the venom from the Twins-White Sox rivalry without losing the competitiveness.
  8. For the energy and enthusiasm Carlos Gomez brought to the ball park every day the past two seasons.
  9. That the Twins were able to exchange Go-Go's unopened tool box for a quality shortstop.
  10. That the Twins' best player doesn't get stinkin' drunk during a crucial series.
  11. That Justin Morneau and Pat Neshek sound good to go.
  12. That spring training is just 87 days away.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Around the division: White Sox

The White Sox so far this offseason have had a theme, and that theme is infielders.

They have:
  • Traded two players handed infield jobs at the start of 2009 — Chris Getz (second base) and Josh Fields (third base) to Kansas City for veteran Mark Teahen. Teahen is to be their third baseman.
  • Said Gordon Beckham, who dislodged Fields and emerged as one of the American League's better rookies, would play second base.
  • Signed Omar Vizquel (photo above) to be a reserve infielder and mentor to incumbent shortstop Alexei Ramirez.
Taking them one at a time:

Off his track record with the Royals, Teahen is exactly the kind of guy Twins fans should want the White Sox to accumulate. He was not a particularly productive hitter for Kansas City, and he's not a sensational fielder either.

But ... I haven't given up on him as a hitter, and it may be he'll blossom. The White Sox' stadium is much more hitter friendly than the Kansas City park, and the Royals the past few years have shuttled Teahen from position to position.

Beckham sounded OK with moving to second base, although the general feeling is that he'd rather be the shortstop, the position he played as an amateur. And there's no shortage of people outside the Sox camp who think he should get that chance, Ramirez having had a rough season with the glove at short last year.

But even in his shortstop days, Beckham was viewed as a guy who would play his way off short sooner or later. "Alexei's better than Gordon at short," was GM Kenny Williams's six-word answer to the question of why not Beckham at short and Ramirez back at second, where he played in 2008.

Which is where Vizquel comes in, at least in theory. The 11-time Gold Glover spent last season playing a similar infield reserve role with the Texas Rangers — where part of his job was mentoring rookie shortstop Elvis Andrus.

It might be a good cop-bad cop routine for Ramirez, with manager Ozzie Guillen (himself no slouch of a shortstop glove) continuing to ride Ramirez hard and Vizquel patting him on the back.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

More thoughts about Mauer, catchers and the MVP

It is an unofficial part of the BBWAA's voting process for the awards, at least the major ones — somebody who casts a vote that leaves the rest of the baseball world puzzled writes a piece explaining/defending the vote.

Let us hope that Kezio Konishi writes such a piece — and that it's readable by those of us who don't read Japanese.

Konishi writes for Kyodo News in Japan, and he covers the Mariners — or perhaps what he covers is Ichiro Suzuki. In the rotation system the BBWAA uses to determine who votes for the awards, he was one of the two votes allotted to the Seattle chapter — and he cast his vote for Miguel Cabrera.

Now, I said this Tuesday: I'm not upset that Mauer didn't win a unanimous vote. He missed all of April, and if someone insists that a full season of Derek Jeter or Mark Teixeira is worth more to his team than five months of Mauer, I won't agree but I'm not going to write the guy off as hopeless.

But Cabrera? His bulk power numbers aren't much better than Mauer's ( 34 HR MC, 28 JM; 103 RBI MC, 98 JM); there's a difference in defensive value between a quality catcher and an OK first baseman; and, of course, Mauer didn't get stone drunk with the division title on the line.

This was just a stupid vote.

Konishi, you got some 'splaning to do.


Mauer is the sixth catcher to win an MVP award; it's the eighth to go to a catcher, Yogi Berra having won three of them.

The list: Mickey Cochrane, 1934; Berra in 1951, 1954 and 1955; Elston Howard in 1963; Thurman Munson in 1976; Ivan Rodriguez in 1999; and now Mauer.

Interesting list. Cochrane and Berra are in the Hall of Fame, of course; Rodriguez, still active, figures to join them. Those three are among the handful of players with a claim to the title of greatest catcher ever.

Howard and Munson aren't on that level. Howard might have been, but he was stuck behind Berra for about a third of his career — Howard's rookie season was Berra's third MVP year. He was the Yankees' first black player (Casey Stengel supposedly grumbled: "They finally get me one, and they get me the only one who can't run") and the first black to win the AL MVP Award.

I suspect that had Howard come up with another team, he'd be a Hall of Famer.

Munson is another matter. He died at age 32 — he was piloting a small plane in midseason 1979 and crashed — but, as Bill James has noted, his career was in a downhill spiral. He was having back problems — one of the banes of catchers — and his power had largely dried up. He'd have played longer had he lived — but the quality of that play was not going to be up to the standard he had set. And that quality wasn't truly as high as that of Berra, Cochrane, Rodriguez or Howard.

And now Mauer.


Which raises the point that the Yankees' many dynasties have been largely built on great outfielders (Ruth, DiMaggio, Mantle, Jackson) and great catchers (Schang, Dickey, Berra, Howard, Munson, Posada).

A quick ranking of Yankees catchers:

1) Berra.

2) Bill Dickey. A .313 lifetime average, albeit in a hitting-rich era. Quietly platooned for years. Credited with teaching Berra to catch.

3) Jorge Posada. Never a great glove behind the dish and getting worse with age, but a quality switch-hitter. Should have gotten more MVP consideration in 2003; he finished third (behind Alex Rodriguez and Carlos Delgado).

4) Howard. Could rank ahead of Posada, but Jorge has had more good years and more playing time.

5) Wally Schang. Why this man isn't in Cooperstown in a befuddlement. Caught for the A's in the final years of the $100,000 infield dynasty; two pennants there. Traded to Boston for the last season of that dynasty; total of three pennants, two World Series wins. Traded to the Yankees for the start of the first Ruth dynasty; three more pennants and another World Series win — that's six and two. Moved on again to the Browns, who didn't win, and then back to the A's where he backed up Cochrane for another pennant and World Series title. All told, seven pennants, three World Series titles.

And a productive switch-hitter to boot with a lifetime OBP of .393.

6) Munson.

Pretty rich crop there, made all the more impressive by the fact that of the bunch only Schang spent a significant part of his career elsewhere.

Monday, November 23, 2009


Well, it wasn't unanimous, but it was darn close.

I had figured that there would be a first-place vote or two for somebody else simply on the basis that Joe Mauer missed the first month of the season. That that vote went to Miguel Cabrera rather than one of the Yankees duo of Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira — that was a surprise.

Mauer's been the best player the the American League three of the past four seasons; this BBWAA vote is just catching up to that reality. They've had some help in maintaining their ignorance — people in and around the Twins organization have fed the writers' fascination with RBIs — and I also believe that the writers were waiting for a power surge. Had they given him the MVP with 13 homers in 2006, they'd have a difficult time not giving it to him when he had a big power year.

I fully expect a fresh wave of speculation to begin about Mauer and his contract status. My view is that this award doesn't change anything. I don't see Mauer and his agent, Ron Shapiro, using the trophy as a club.

There's been speculation about the status of talks. I suspect that speculation will continue right up to the press conference to announce a signing. The Twins are pretty close-lipped about contract talks, and Shapiro, unlike Scott Boras, isn't a self-serving leaker.

But one thing that should be noted is that the Twins have taken pains in recent weeks to say they're comfortable with going into Mauer's walk year without a contract. They weren't willing to do that with Santana, because Santana and his agent essentially told the Twins he wasn't going to re-sign; he wanted the bigger stage.

Mauer's only leaving if he decides he wants to leave. I see no reason to think that's the case.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Poll results

The predict-Mauer's-MVP-margin poll has closed, and we had a new record for participants (meaning, I think, that the new widget on the Free Press home page is drawing more readers).

The results: Seven (15 percent) said Mauer will get all the first-place votes; 21 (47 percent) said he'll win easily; 12 (27 percent) said he'll prevail in a close vote; and four (9 percent) said someone else will win.

For what it's worth, here's the prediction of Tyler Kepner:

The intrigue of the baseball awards is over now, because the only question about the M.V.P. awards to be announced next week is whether Joe Mauer and Albert Pujols will be unanimous. I’m guessing they will.

That's significant — to me at least — because Kepner's the New York Times guy who tweeted last summer after Mark Teixeira hit a late game-winning homer in Seattle that Teixeira had just wrapped up the MVP.

We'll find out (about Mauer) on Monday.

New poll up.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Thoughts on stealing home

May 18:

... Billy Martin, the Minnesota manager ... had two guys steal home — first Cesar Tovar, then Rod Carew — the first and second times in my career anyone had stolen home on me.

Both time (Mickey) Lolich took a big windup, and after the game, when a couple of reporters asked me, "How come you didn't get those guys?" I said, "Well, sir, there's not a helluva lot I can do without the ball."

Bill Freehan in his diary of the 1969 season, Behind the Mask


Chris Jaffe, in this excerpt from a soon-to-be-published book on managers, details the manic steals of home recorded by the Twins early in the 1969 season. He describes the steals as risky, low-percentage plays that Martin ceased after establishing a psychological advantage over the other teams in the American League.

I, on the other hand, believe that:
  • There are times when the steal of home is a better percentage play than the alternatives. Those moments are not commonplace, but they arise more frequently than the play is attempted.
  • The Twins would have continued to steal home frequently under Martin had opposing pitchers continued to employ the full windup with Carew or Tovar on third base.
  • That rash of steals of home in 1969 changed that detail of pitching, a change that persists today.

I have witnessed in person one straight steal of home. April 14, 1992, third inning, Paul Molitor on John Smiley.

It was, in retrospect, a perfect storm for a steal of home. A left-handed pitcher (meaning that his back was to the runner) with a slow delivery (my memory, which may be faulty on this detail, says Smiley used a full windup on the pitch) on the mound, with one of the most skilled baserunners of his generation spotting the opportunity.

It was still startling.

The play was not close. Even from the center field seats, it was obvious that Molitor had beaten the pitch to the plate.

As with Freehan 23 years earlier, there was nothing Brian Harper could do without the ball.

The batter on the play? Robin Yount.


The baserunning risk in the steal of home is obvious. Even for an outstanding catcher — a Pudge Rodriguez or Johnny Bench — it takes a bit more than a full second for the catcher to receive the pitch and get the ball to second base. That "pop time" — the space between the pop of the ball in the catcher mitt and the pop of the throw reaching the infielder's glove — is zero in a steal of home.

That disadvantage, in early 1969, was nullified by the fact that most pitchers used a full windup with a man on third (unless a man was also on first and second base was unoccupied). In addition — and this is a detail of the game that has shifted markedly in the intervening decades — windups have become more streamlined.

Pitchers in 1969 had leg kicks like this. OK, Juan Marichal was pretty unique. Jim Palmer also stuck his lead foot up like a Rockette. Nolan Ryan had a high leg kick. Big windups were the rule back then. Not so today. Few of today's pitchers lift their knee to belt-level or raise their hands above their heads. Simpler, less elaborate windups are quicker.

When the Twins made swiping home a matter of routine, it was against pitchers using those complex windups. By June, the league had caught on. Pitchers were routinely pitching out of the stretch with a man on third. The percentages had shifted.


Early in the 2009 season, Jacoby Ellsbury of the Red Sox stole home against the Yankees and Andy Pettitte. (As with the Molitor steal, a left-handed pitcher with a slow delivery.) Because it was Yankees-Red Sox and because the game was on ESPN (I know, that seems redundant), the play became a brief sensation.

Ron Gardenhire reportedly felt it necessary to explain to Denard Span why Span shouldn't try the play himself. When Span's on third, the hitter is likely to be someone like Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau or Jason Kubel; Gardenhire thinks it's better to let them hit.

But there are times ...

Let's say Span is on third with Kubel up, two outs, and Pettitte is pitching with a full windup.

Kubel's batting average against left-handed pitchers over the past three seasons is .238. That's the relevant number, because he's not plating Span with a fly ball or ground out. If there's a 33 percent chance that Span can steal home successfully, that's the better percentage play. If.

Here's another example, dredged from my memory bank.

There was a game in 2001, Twins at Boston, with Hideo Nomo pitching for the Red Sox. Checking Rotosheet, it had to have been April 26. Nomo was essentially a two-pitch pitcher — he had a fast ball that he generally threw up in the zone, and he had a wicked splitter that he threw in the dirt to get swinging strikes.

I remember three specific pitches during two different at-bats with Matt Lawton on third base and two outs, thinking: He's going to throw the splitter in the dirt. Give the batter the take sign and have Lawton steal.

My notion was that catcher Jason Varitek would have to make a clean scoop of the pitch in order to make the tag. Nomo, even from the stretch, had a notoriously slow delivery. And, finally, Nomo had the Twins hitters buffaloed.

The Twins, of course, did not attempt such a brazen play. Each of the three pitches was indeed a splitter in the dirt; on each pitch, Varitek merely blocked and smothered the ball.

It might have worked. Or maybe not. The at-bats involved left-handed hitters (one hitter, really, Doug Mientkiewicz), so Varitek would have easily seen Lawton coming; Nomo, a right-hander, might have seen Lawton start in time to change his pitch. Lawton was no Molitor in baserunning technique.

What I do know: Lawton reached third twice that night but never scored, and the Twins lost 2-0.

I'm convinced, in my own mind, that the steal of home is underused. But I'm also certain that it takes a certain level of managerial arrogance to prove it.

And even Billy Martin — whose managerial arrogance was probably unsurpassed — backed away from the play.

Friday, November 20, 2009

On the fringe of the roster

If you are addicted to SportsCenter, you know already that today is the start of the free agent season.

Which means that today the likes of Carl Pavano, Orlando Cabrera and Mike Redmond officially dropped off the Twins' 40-man roster.

The Twins added six players to the 40-man roster, which (at least for now) protects them from the Rule V draft next month. They're at 40 now, so if they want to take somebody in the Rule V draft — and they usually do — somebody's got to be cleared off it. And, for that matter, if they sign a free agent, somebody's got to be cleared off it.

Here's the press release by the Twins announcing the moves. Here's the current 40-man roster.

Few of the additions have much chance of setting foot in Target Field in 2010. Danny Valencia is in the third-base mix as of now. Rob Delaney, like Valencia, opened 2009 in Double A and was moved up to Triple A; in his case, however, there doesn't appear to be a job sitting there to be taken. Other than those two, the additions are just creeping into Double A.

Loek Van Mil, the 7-1 pitcher from the Netherlands, is the guy I'm pulling for. I have no idea if he's going to be a successful pitcher, if if he makes it to the Show, he'll be the tallest player in major league history.

Old Cy and new stats

The lede to the Associated Press story Thursday on Tim Lincecum's second straight Cy Young Award:

Talk about a freak — Tim Lincecum needed just 15 wins to bag another NL Cy Young Award. Yup, throw out those old baseball cards. Wins and losses don't mean much anymore when it comes time for voters to pick baseball's best pitchers. It's all about WHIP, FIP, BABIP and other lines of alphabet soup.

For the uninitiated — I'm sure there are some out there — WHIP is Walks and Hits per Inning Pitched (a staple of fantasy baseball for years, but Dick-n-Bert treat it on Twins broadcasts as if it were a completely novel concept); FIP is Fielding Independent Pitching, which attempts to remove the quality of the defense behind the pitcher from the stats; and BABIP is Batting Average on Balls in Play, which is normally stable from pitcher to pitcher. A markedly low BABIP is regarded by statheads as a sign of abnormal luck.

From the New York Times article on Zack Greinke's Cy Young win:

(Teammate Brian) Bannister introduced Greinke to FIP, or Fielding Independent Pitching, the statistic Greinke named Tuesday as his favorite. It is a formula that measures how well a pitcher performed, regardless of his fielders. According to, Greinke had the best FIP in the majors. “That’s pretty much how I pitch, to try to keep my FIP as low as possible,” Greinke said.

This strikes me as putting the cart before the horse. Throw strikes and keep the ball in the park, and your stats — whether they be traditional ones, such as ERA and strikeouts, or the sabermetric darlings, such as FIP and BABIP — will take care of themselves. All those numbers have the same purpose— to measure effectiveness. They're just doing it in different ways.

Bannister is a smart cookie. He understood why the stats suggested that his 3.87 ERA in 2007 overstated his effectiveness – and he didn't take it as a personal attack. It remains to be seen if his understanding of how the stats predict future struggles can help him avoid those problems; so far, the evidence is that they don't.

Greinke (and Lincecum), on the other hand, are both smart and talented. They would be the best pitchers in their leagues if nobody had ever heard of BABIP.

They just might not be recognized as such.


Greinke won his award with 16 wins; Lincecum with 15. These are historically low numbers for Cy Young winners.

Bill James has been hammering for decades at this theme: The Won-Loss stat in a given season is overrated. His analysis, repeated and echoed over the years, appears to have taken root.

I suspect that the tipping point may have been the 2005 AL Cy Young vote.

Bartolo Colon of Anaheim had a 21-8 record, but his ERA was 3.48 and he had just 157 strikeouts in 222 innings.

Johan Santana of the Twins was just 16-7 — with a 2.81 ERA and 238 Ks in 233 innings.

Colon won the Cy Young. Santana was third (behind Mariano Rivera) — and all through 2006, there was an obvious sense among baseball writers that they blew that vote. Yes, Colon had more wins, but Santana was better, and they knew it.

This year, there were obvious alternatives to Lincecum and Greinke. NL voters could have gone for Adam Wainwright (19-8, 2.63 in 233 innings) or his St. Louis teammate, Chris Carpenter (17-4, 2.24 in 192 innings).

With the 2005 mindset, Wainwright would have won.

In the AL, alternatives would have been Felix Hernandez (19-5, 2.49), or even Justin Verlander (19-9, 3.45) or CC Sabathia (19-8, 3.37).

Again, the 2005 mindset, valuing victories over all else, would have gone for King Felix. Which would certainly have been a better choice than Colon was in 2005.

But Greinke was better. The right guys won.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

40 years ago: Billy Martin

This happened sometime late in the 1987 season – maybe during September, maybe during the playoffs, maybe even during the World Series:

A fellow Free Presser, now retired, told me he had not so much as watched a Twins game since Billy Martin was fired as manager after the 1969 season. Eighteen years and a change of ownership had intervened, but he still held a grudge over Martin's firing.

I pointed out that Calvin Griffith was only the first of several owners/general managers to conclude that life was a whole lot better if Billy wasn't part of it, but he wasn't budging.


Chris Jaffe has a book coming out on managers, and The Hardball Times this week posted this excerpt on Billy Martin, with a heavy emphasis on Martin's debut season — his one year managing Minnesota.

Jaffe, in an e-mail asking for the link, implied that Martin's Twins connection might be a bit surprising to my readers. That made me chuckle.

Jaffe's probably a bit younger than me; to Twins fans of a certain age, Martin remains the best manager the Twins ever had. Better than Tom Kelly, who won two World Series; better than Ron Gardenhire, who has won five divisional titles in eight seasons with just one losing season; better than Sam Mele, who took the 1965 Twins to the seventh game of the World Series.

Jaffe's excerpt captures a good part of what captivated Twins fans that summer. It doesn't detail the problems that lead to Martin's firing that fall — the drunken fights, the insubordination.

The Twins have had two managers since 1987 — Kelly and Gardenhire. They fit the stability the Pohlads treasure in their businesses. Someone like Martin wouldn't get in the door in this operation. And the Twins are better off for that.


A sizable part of Jaffe's piece focuses on the steals of home employed by Martin in the first few weeks of the 1969 season. I have some different thoughts about that — but that's going to be a big hairy post that I simply don't have time for right now. Maybe this weekend.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Evaluating defense: Mauer vs. Laird

Joe Mauer won the AL Gold Glove at catcher last week. Silver Slugger also, not that that has anything to do with defense; it's "just" a coincidence that only two of the AL Gold Gloves (Placido Polanco and Adam Jones) didn't also win a silver bat trophy as the best hitter at the position.

OK, maybe it's NOT coincidence. Is Mauer another in a long line of Gold Glove winners who essentially won the award with his bat? Should the honor really have gone to Detroit's Gerald Laird?

A few statistical facts:
  • Laird and Mauer were each charged with nine passed balls. This didn't lead baseball — Miguel Oliva (Kansas City) had 10 — but it was close.
  • Laird threw out 42 of 101 base stealers, 40 percent, the best rate among regular catchers and nine more CS than any other catcher in baseball. Mauer threw out 19 of 72, 23 percent.
  • Laird caught 1,090-plus innings, third most in the AL; Mauer, 939, fourth.
  • Laird's catcher ERA — the team ERA with him behind the plate — was 4.23. Mauer's was 4.29.
All that appears to add up to the conclusion that Laird was the superior defensive catcher.

Now the counter case, which relies on putting these numbers into context:

Stolen bases
First point: Managers and coaches are probably more concerned, when figuring out whether to try to steal, with the skills involved. This is why you will often see them with stopwatch in hand — they're trying to recheck "pop time" — the time between when a pitch hits the catcher's mitt and the time the catcher's throw reaches the infielder.

Opposing teams tried to steal against Laird 0.83 times per nine innings. They tried to run against Mauer 0.7 times per nine innings. I suspect that managers respect Mauer's pop times more than they do Laird's.

Second point: Carl Pavano. For the season, which he split between the Twins and the Cleveland Indians, Pavano allowed 33 steals in 39 attempts. He simply does not hold runners well.

With the Twins, basestealers were 10 of 10 against Pavano, seven of seven against the battery of Pavano/Mauer. (Two came with Jose Morales behind the dish, one with Mike Redmond.)

Take Pavano out of Mauer's stats, and he's 19 of 66, 29 percent, a considerable improvement, but still short of Laird's 40 percent.

Passed balls
Wild pitches are deemed to be the pitcher's fault, passed balls the catcher's.

This distinction falls apart utterly when a knuckleball pitcher enters the mix. It becomes an official scorer's fiction that the pitcher is irrelevant to passed balls. (George Kottaras, a reserve catcher for the Red Sox, handled Tim Wakefield for most of the veteran's 129-plus innings; Kottaras had eight passed balls. I don't know if he can catch or not; it's just not a fair evaluation.)

Mauer had a knuckleballer, R.A. Dickey, on the staff for part of the season. I went through Dickey's appearances and found four passed balls charged to Twins catchers when he was pitching (64 innings) — one each for Morales and Redmond, two for Mauer.

Oddly enough, I found six or seven of Mauer's passed balls in those games. He had a few games, mostly blowouts, with more than one passed ball; and Dickey, of course, did most of his pitching in blowouts. Mauer's multiple PB games were generally followed by a day of rest — perhaps Ron Gardenhire took such games as a sign that Mauer needed a break.

Catchers ERA
Laird's CERA was roughly the same as the Tigers' team ERA (4.23 for Laird, 4.29 for the pitchers) — not much change. Mauer's was almost a quarter of a run lower than the team ERA (4.29 Mauer, 4.50 team.)

Advantage, Mauer.

Laird's a good defensive catcher. He has to be to stay in the lineup, considering his weakness at the plate. He wouldn't have been a terrible Gold Glove choice.

Mauer's better. And the other managers know it.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Uniform followup

* The Uniwatch blog sounds off on the new/old Twins uniforms. He applauds the new road look, loves the 1961 model, hates the other alternates and gives a mild thumbs up to the standard home whites.

* According to Marc Okkonen's book "Baseball Uniforms of the 20th Century," the Twins abandoned the blue lettering/red outline look after the 1971 season. So it's been 38 years.

* There is, apparently, a great deal of sentiment for going to the 1961 look as the standard home uniform.

Dave St. Peter, team president, quoted in the Star Tribune:

I suspect there will be a heavy dose of lobbying to make that our permanent home uniform. ... We don't think our uniforms are broken. We have to remember we won not one but two world championships wearing that home white uniform. We feel as though that remains one of the classiest uniforms in Major League Baseball.

What he DOESN't say is: We spent a lot of money putting that tweaked stylized script Twins over the scoreboard in the new park. If you think we're trashing that after one season, you're nuts.

Monday, November 16, 2009

What's new is what's old

The Twins on Monday unveiled their new uniforms.

They didn't see fit to model the standard home whites, probably because the only change is a very slight tweaking of the serifs on the "Twins" stylized script across the front of the jersey.

The Saturday throwback uniform, worn in the photo by Denard Span, is a replica of the 1961 uni -- most notable, the blue script "Twins" outlined in red, a reverse color pattern than they've used for a couple of decades.

The biggest change is the road gray, modeled here by Scott Baker. The pinstripes are gone. The block letter "Minnesota" is replaced with script, blue outlined in red. The stylized script "m" cap has been relegated to alternate use; the new road cap is a two-tone TC.

My reactions:
  • The change to the standard whites is so minor I wouldn't have noticed it without it being called to my attention, and I work with fonts.
  • The throwback is fine as a one-year wonder.
  • Everybody's standard home unis are more attractive than their standard road unis. This is no exception. Ditching the pinstripes on the road is for the best, but this design certainly doesn't stand out. (A co-worker complained that it looks like Cleveland's road uniform, and he's got a point.)
  • I dislike most two-tone caps, and especially blue crowns with red brims.
  • I have mixed emotions about the fading away of the "m" cap. Like most Twins fans, I prefer the TC logo. But the "m" was the cap for both the '87 and '91 World Series teams, and I will always think of it fondly as a result.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The awards season is here; why do we care?

The Gold Glove and Silver Slugger awards were announced last week; this week and next come the BBWAA honors.

The esteemed Aaron Gleeman (among others) has suggested repeatedly this season that we really shouldn't care one way or another who the writers (or, in the case of the Gold Gloves and Silver Sluggers, the managers and coaches) vote for. The stats, properly read, tell us that Joe Mauer (right) is the best player in the American League and that Zack Grienke is the best pitcher; no writer's poll is going to change that.

I have a certain sympathy with that view. The writers have their blind spots in these elections. They overvalue RBIs (MVP vote) and wins (Cy Young) and they have repeatedly failed utterly to account for context, especially park effects and defensive position. I have difficulty attaching a great deal of credibility to the 1987 MVP votes, for example; in both cases the award went to slugging corner outfielders (one on a last place team) over clearly superior defensive shortstops who played key offensive role on division winners.

That said, the stats have their blind spots too. I love the win shares stat, but it's essentially inaccessible during the season, nearly impossible to explain succinctly and mind-numbingly complex to figure out. And no other one stat— to my satisfaction, at least — convincingly ties defense, offense and position value together.

In the historical context, these votes matter. They provide a lasting record of how players are viewed in their time. If all we have are the stats, in a couple of decades we'll lose that.

By the stats, Mickey Mantle should have won almost every AL MVP award for a decade. That teammate Yogi Berra won three of them tells us something about Yogi, and maybe about Mantle, that is worth knowing today.


Here's the announcement schedule:

Monday, Rookies of the Year. My picks: Elvis Andrus of the Texas Rangers in the American League, J.A. Happ of the Philadelphia Phillies in the National. I have little conviction in either choice.

Tuesday, AL Cy Young. It should go to Zach Grienke of the Kansas City Royals; I view this one as an indication of whether the dinosaurs who believe that Wins are the pitching stat still dominate the electorate. If they do, CC Sabathia has a real shot.

Wednesday, Managers of the Year. There's a fairly good chance Ron Gardenhire will win the AL award; I'm inclined to pick Joe Girardi, although that may be tainted by a month of watching him handle that flawed pitching staff through the postseason. Girardi faced high expectations and met them; there's something to be said for that. In the National League, Jim Tracy (Colorado Rockies) is almost certain to win, but I'd argue for Tony La Russa (St. Louis Cardinals) if I only cared enough to argue.

Thursday: NL Cy Young. Should be Tim Lincecum of the San Francisco Giants.

Monday, Nov. 23: AL MVP. Mauer, please. And I'm confident he'll win.

Tuesday, Nov. 24: Albert Pujols of the Cardinals, no doubt about.


Poll results: There were 36 votes on the J.J.Hardy-Carlos Gomez trade. Nine (25 percent) think the Twins won the trade; 26 (72 percent) think was an even deal; one (2 percent) said the Brewers won the trade.

New poll up.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Contemplating Cabrera

The conventional wisdom in the wake of the J.J. Hardy trade was that this precluded the return of Orlando Cabrera.

Not so — at least to the extent that Ron Gardenhire has a say (and one assumes the manager has some significant input).

Gardy, quoted in Sid Hartman's column:

"I would like to have Cabrera back, and I told Billy (Smith, the Twins general manager) that. He's one guy that I would like to still make an effort to sign. You need good players, and Cabrera's one of them.''

Gardenhire said he could put Cabrera at second and Nick Punto at third.

Now, Cabrera hasn't played an inning at any position other than shortstop since 2000, and I have no idea if the idea of a position switch would fly with him.

That said, a switch makes a certain amount of sense. Cabrera, even by Gardenhire's assessment, struggled at shortstop last season. His range has diminished, and Gardenhire said he was surprised at how weak Cabrera's arm was.

Yet Gardy remains eager to have Cabrera in his middle infield.

And it occurs to me, in contemplating managerial enthusiasm for a shortstop in decline, that there are four skills involved in playing defense: Hands — the ability to catch the ball; Arm — the ability to throw it with speed and accuracy; Mobility — the ability to go get the ball; and Intelligence/Instinct — knowing where to go and what to do.

Different positions have different requirements for each of these skills. A second baseman has less need for arm than a shortstop — the throws are shorter — and can get away with more bobbles as well.

Cabrera, right now, has limited mobility and arm — and his hands, at least as a shortstop, may suffer because he's trying too hard to get rid of the ball quickly to make up for the arm.

What he's got that Gardenhire wants in his middle infield, then, is that intelligence/instinct.

Which is probably the defensive attribute that has won Derek Jeter four Gold Gloves. Managers, as a rule, can more readily excuse the occasional physical error (although Cabrera had too many of them) than the occasional mental error — and Gardenhire has seen too many of those from his middle infielders the past three years.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Gold Gloves and questions of defensive stats

The Gold Glove Awards came out this week —
American League honors Tuesday, National League on Wednesday — and they were, as always, accompanied by much wailing and gnashing of teeth.

Rob Neyer on
the AL awards: The voters made two excellent choices: Evan Longoria and Mark Buehrle. They made some defensible (pun intended) choices. And with (Derek) Jeter and (Torii) Hunter and (Placido) Polanco and especially (Adam) Jones, they just flat blew it, overlooking true excellence in favor of gaudy hitting stats or superficially impressive defensive performances. Well played, sirs. Again.

You can find, interested, similar criticism of the AL awards here and here; of the NL awards, here and here, with the first of the NL critiques far harsher than the latter. And if you make the effort, I'm sure you can easily find more.

Now ... The Gold Glove voting system is flawed. Badly flawed.

  • The electorate — managers and coaches — fill out a blank ballot with one name for each slot.
  • They do this at a time of year when many of them are preoccupied with preparing for the playoffs, getting into the playoffs or finding a new job for next year. (Really, how much effort do you suppose Ron Gardenhire put during the final days of the regular season into identifying the league's three best defensive outfielders?)
  • The totals are not announced; it is possible that Jeter got every vote at shortstop, and it is possible that he got 25 percent of the votes.
  • And, finally, the whole thing is run by a sporting goods company that would probably rather see the awards go to famous players than to obscure ones.

With all that lousy process involved, it's amazing they ever get anything right.

And yet ... to some degree, these ugly trophies reflect the conventional wisdom on the field — that Joe Mauer really is a better defensive catcher than Gerald Laird, that the aging Torii Hunter is still a wizard, that Derek Jeter is a great shortstop.

These are claims not supported by the newfangled defensive metrics. By the numbers, Franklin Gutierrez was far and away the best defensive outfielder in the league. By the numbers, Laird was better than Mauer behind the plate. By the numbers, Jeter has spent his career a below-average — and at times absolutely terrible — shortstop.

So we have a choice: Either the managers and coaches are absolute idiots about baseball, or there are things on defense we still haven't figured out how to measure.

I'll take the latter. Consider, for example, the plus-minus system designed by John Dewan. Carlos Gomez shines in this stat. In 2008, he was a plus 35 in center; last year, playing about half time, he was a plus 17. That seems right to me — even Hunter in his prime didn't cover the ground Go-Go does.

But Gomez makes mistakes. Not just the errors he's charged with. He misses cutoff men so often it became a running joke. He'll chase a fly ball to the wall so aggressively that the carom bounces past him. These things aren't charged as errors, and they don't get penalized in plus-minus — but they cost bases and they cost runs.

Hunter doesn't get to balls that Gomez does. But he doesn't make the mental mistakes Gomez does.

Jeter ... I don't think he's the best shortstop in the league. I think Elvis Andrus was; and if not him, Erick Aybar. But, as I wrote earlier this year, Andrus is a rookie, and most managers have seen him in a handful of games. His time will come, maybe as soon as next season.

Meanwhile, Jeter not only showed improved range this past season, he continues to be consistently in the right place at the right time. The Punto play in the playoffs, while it came too late to be a factor in the voting, is an example. How many shortstops would have just fired to first in a vain attempt to throw out Denard Span — or, short of that, eaten the ball? A lot. Maybe most. Jeter was aware that Punto might try to take the next base.

Spreading rumors

The Star Tribune, having opted not to send one of its baseball writers to the World Series, did send Joe Christensen to the general managers meetings in Chicago this week. I suppose two days in Chicago is cheaper than 10 days in Philly-NYC.

The GM meeting is a rumor mill; historically, trades and contracts are talked, but action comes about a month from now, at the winter meetings. But then, there have been some trades of significance already — Akinori Iwamura to Pittsburgh, Mark Teahen to the White Sox, J.J. Hardy to the Twins — so who knows? The GMs might surprise us.

Chatter gleaned from the Internets:

* The Tigers are said to be shopping Edwin Jackson. There is a difference between shopping him around and actually trading him, of course.

The motivation is said to be financial. He's arbitration-eligible, which means his salary is about to accelerate, and you may have heard that the Detroit economy isn't strong these days.

I wonder, however, if the Tigers aren't suspicious about his declining numbers as the season progressed. First half ERA: 2.52. Second half ERA: 5.07. Seven homers allowed through June; 20 from July on. Twenty-three extra base hits allowed in Oct./Sept.

If the Tigers trade Jackson, yeah, they'll shed a growing financial obligation. But it may also be a good baseball move.

* Carl Pavano's agent says the free agent starter would like to stay with the Twins. Pitching coach Rick Anderson is said to be enthusiastic about that idea. Usually, if the player wants to stay and the team wants him to stay, he's staying, but there may be a gap between what Pavano thinks he should be paid and what the Twins think.

I get a chuckle out of the defense that Pavano's 5.10 ERA in 2009 was inflated by his first start, in which he gave up nine runs while getting just three outs for Cleveland. Toss out that one, and his season ERA drops to 4.86 — which is still almost a half-run higher than the league average.

* Christensen also says the Twins may pursue Jarrod Washburn. That would be a mistake, especially with the planned outfield defense.

* The Red Sox reworked Tim Wakefield's contract and said the reason was to save money under the competitive balance tax. They were about 45 million short of being hit by the tax last season, so the speculation is rife that they're going to spend spend spend. Which may be the best possible news for Matt Holliday.

Housekeeping notes

I doubt that the contents of the rail to the right of these posts matter as much to you as to me, but I've rearranged things a bit.

The blog roll — one roll for most of the season — has been split up into three parts. Twins-oriented, general baseball, AL Central.

I'm comfortable with the first two. The AL Central roll, not so much. After spending some time on an evening off looking at blogs from around the division, I have tentatively concluded that:

a) The Twins fan base has created more intelligent blogs than the rest of the division put together (I could make a longer list than I did without feeling embarrassed) and

b) That can't be right.

So that list is a work in progress. The DiaTribe was the best from about a half-dozen Indians sites I visited, but its posts are even longer and more meandering than mine. That one was at least being updated. A lot of White Sox and Indians blogs appear to have curled up and gone to sleep when it was obvious that they were out of the race. That's not what I'm looking for. i want blogs whose masters are passionate enough about the team to have something to say even when it's a bad team.

So ... any suggestions for Cleveland, Kansas City and White Sox oriented blogs will be seriously considered. I want one or two for each AL Central team. Detroit, I think I have covered.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Boneheaded broadcasters

I received a couple of e-mails during the past few days from a reader in Japan. (Ain't the Internet grand?)

Chris Oleson is, according to his messages, a former MSU J-school student roughly my age (his time at MSU corresponds closely to mine at the University of Minnesota) now in Japan. As such, his exposure to the World Series came with Rick Sutcliffe.

Message one (slightly edited), under the subject line "Rick Sutcliffe is an idiot"):

I had to relate what Sutcliffe just said on the international World Series broadcast (I'm in Japan). He said that in the National League a good manager is worth 20 or 25 games because the job is so much more difficult since it [doesn't have] the dh. He then said that [Charlie] Manuel liked managingin the league because the job was more cerebral. I [nearly] choked on my popcorn.

Message two, subject line "Rick Sutcliffe is an idiot: Redux!"

In a later game he calculated that 65% of Jimmy Rollins' game is running the bases and stealing. I'm not much of a Rollins fan, but such "math" is indeed questionable.


Taking the second claim first: The Baseball Info Systems baserunning analysis I wrote about in a Sunday post says Rollins (photo above) added 15 bases to the Phillies as a basestealer — and zero as a baserunner. If that's two-thirds of what Rollins does for the Phillies, he's out of a job.

Of course, it isn't. He's a former MVP; he's won (and deserved) Gold Gloves. He didn't have a real good 2009, but he contributes more than 21 bases a season to the Phillies.

As for the notion that a National League manager can be worth 25 wins a season for his tactical acumen: That's about one a week. The Phillies won 93 games last season. Does Sutcliffe really believe that if (picking on a manager who gets a lot of grief from his team's fans) Trey Hillman were managing the Phillies they'd become a 68-win team?

Nonsense. The truth of the matter is that, in terms of tactical moves — when to bunt, when to pinch-hit, when to order a steal or hit-and-run — managers are pretty much interchangeable. The DH makes a difference in how often teams bunt, but the difference is that the bunt in automatic with pitchers in the NL. Indeed, as Bill James detailed back when Sutcliffe was pitching, there is more variation in the AL about when to bunt than there is in the NL.

Sufcliffe's forte as an announcer is the totally made up stat, delivered with Olympian emphasis and self-assurance and ludicrous to anybody with a functioning mind. He is, as an analyst, worse than useless; he peddles fiction and nonsense.


As long as I'm bleating about broadcasters making stuff up, here's a lovely nugget I've saved up from the Twins-Yankees playoff series. The glories of Skip Carey on TBS were such that I resorted for a time to turning the sound off on the TV and listening to the radio. That didn't last long, mainly because the radio description was about eight seconds ahead of the TV images.

Anyway, at one point Dan Gladden started in on Andy Pettitte and steroids. In Gladden's universe, Pettitte blamed it on tainted supplements.

Wrong! That's the excuse of Juan Rincon, J.C. Romero, David Ortiz and assorted others, including a few football players.

Pettitte, upon being implicated by Brian McNamee (once Roger Clemens' personal trainer), admitted injecting himself once with human growth hormone while dealing with an elbow injury. Then, by Pettitte's description, he thought better of it and abandoned that course of action.

There's a big difference between Ortiz's explanation and Pettitte's. And those differences aren't that difficult to find.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Free agent rankings

Here is the official list of the Type A and Type B free agents.

As noted in the Monday print column, Carl Pavano somehow is a Type B.

The significance of Type A and Type B, boiled down:

If a Type A free agent signs with another team, the team that lost him — assuming it offered arbitration — gets at least a supplemental first-round pick next June. In many cases, they also get the first round pick of the signing team. (It gets complicated; it depends on how good the signing team was and, in some cases, how many Type A free agents it has signed.)

If a Type B free agent signs with another team, the team that lost him — again assuming it offered arbitration — gets a supplemental first round pick.

Orlando Cabrera is a Type A free agent, but his contract specifically prohibits the Twins from offering arbitration.

Michael Cuddyer: Overrated and underappreciated

The Twins this weekend picked up Michael Cuddyer's option for the 2011 season. He'll get $10.5 million that season.

This was, among people who follow the Twins assiduously, regarded as an obvious move — and among outside analysts, regarded as a mistake.

From Seth Strohs: ... after a strong 32 home run season in which he carried the team for the final month of the year, this was an easy choice.

From Rob Neyer: Of course the problem is that Cuddyer has entered his decline phase. ... The Twins have a history of overspending on decent players while complaining about the high price of truly great players. ... if they're not able to keep Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer in the long term, their money mismanagement is simply going to drop them from contention.

From D.J. Short, via Circling the Bases: It seems counter to the way the Twins usually operate, since Cuddyer simply isn't worth that kind of money, especially with his below-average defense in right field.

From a purely stat viewpoint, Neyer's right. Cuddyer is not likely to hit as well in 2011 as he did in 2009. For that matter, I regard Cuddyer, in terms of production, to be essentially an average American League right fielder.

And, while not a critic of the move has mentioned it, in two years I think it likely that some of the wave of young outfielders in the lower reaches of the Twins farm system — Ben Revere, Aaron Hicks, Joe Benson, Rene Tosoni, Chris Parmelee, Angel Morales — will start washing ashore. Some of them will never make it, and some won't make it that soon, but somebody's going to need room made for him.

All that said, I would have been astounded had the Twins let that option lapse. Neyer knows — although he sometimes writes as if he doesn't — that there is more to this game than the numbers tell us.

Players aren't Strat-O-Matic cards. They are humans, and Cuddyer appears — at least from this distance — to be one of those humans with a knack of leading. He buys into the Twins approach, and he finds ways to get his mates to get with the program.

We don't know how to measure leadership or find it in the numbers. That doesn't mean it doesn't exist.

Neyer, and others, appear to assume that money was the reason Johan Santana was traded. I suspect — although I certainly wasn't in the room — that Santana and his agent made it obvious early in the 2007-0 postseason that he wanted to be in the New York or Boston market. Money was part of the equation. Length of contract was part of the equation. Ego was also part of it.

I doubt that committing $10.5 million to Cuddyer in 2011 will have any drag on the Twins ability to re-sign Mauer. To the contrary, dropping the option might have become an issue for Mauer. (It shouldn't, but it might have — again, he's human.)

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Twins best base runner

The weekly poll question is, of necessity, about opinion or prediction. There is little point in a blog poll that asks "Who holds the Twins record for home runs in a season." Those who don't know but can read the blog have immediate access to the definitive answer.

The baserunning question of the past week — Who is the best baserunner on the Twins — sounds like an opinion question. But there is now a factual answer, or at least an answer based on facts gleaned from play-by-play records of the games.

And the answer is not who you think he is, dear readers.

The 20 people who responded converged on two of the five choices offers. Eight apiece picked Joe Mauer or Denard Span — 40 percent for both. Three (15 percent) selected Alexi Casilla; one (5 percent) said Nick Punto (above). Carlos Gomez, traded during the week, got skunked.

But according to Baseball Info Systems, as published in the freshly-released Bill James Handbook 2010, it's Punto. Narrowly over Span, by a lot over Mauer.

Baserunning data traditionally have been limited to stolen bases and "implied" stats, such as triples and runs scored. The BIS analysis, in addition to stolen base rates, tracks how often each player goes first-to-third or second-to-home on singles and first to home on doubles, how often they move up an extra base, how often they get doubled off or thrown out, and even their tendency to ground into double plays.

Punto emerged this year with a net gain of 27 bases — 17 from baserunning, 10 from basestealing. Span's net gain was 24 bases (21 and 3), which, as I grasp the formula used to reach the final numbers, is close enough to be a virtual draw. The gap, even if precicely accurate, doesn't amount to a full run.

Casilla is +7 (-4 and +11) and Gomez is +9 (0 and 0). Both are held down by their part-time status; given their flaws as a baserunner (Casilla) and basestealer (Gomez), neither reaches the Punto/Span level.

And Mauer? A net deficit of a base (-3, +2). Which, for a catcher, is quite good. Mike Redmond, in a fraction of his playing time, was -14.

(Just picking a few other catchers out of the chart: Russell Martin, who has been known to hit at the top of the Dodger lineup, was -9; the World Series catchers, Jorge Posada of the Yankees and Carlos Ruiz of the Phillies, were -17 and -12, respectively; Yadier and Bengie, the flying Molina brothers, combined for a -43. Much-hyped rookie Matt Wieters — Mauer with power, as he was billed last year at this time — was -18 in half a season. Just 23, and he runs like a Molina.)

This is quite the change for Mauer, who was a +19 in the 2008 season. The system is a bit different, which might be part of it; but he's another year older now too, and there may have been a deliberate effort to avoid taking chances with him.

That Punto didn't rate with the respondents isn't overly surprising, considering that our final memory on him on the bases is of him getting trapped off third base in the concluding game of the playoff series with the Yankees. It probably doesn't help any to know that he was thrown out on the bases just once (other than caught stealings) during the regular season.

Fresh poll up.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Previewing the bench

Assuming that the Twins maintain a 12-man pitching staff again — which seems likely — that leaves room on the 25-man roster for a four-man bench.

For the sake of this exercise, let's assume that the projected lineup of the previous post is filled out with Danny Valencia at third base.

The likely group of reserves:

1) Jose Morales, catcher (above). Would replace Mike Redmond in the role. Regarded as a better hitter than receiver, had success as a pinch hitter(6 for 15 with three RBIs). Switch hitter, but a better hitter left-handed.

2) Brendan Harris, infielder. Hits well enough for middle infield, but his defense isn't. Right-handed hitter, most useful as a platoon player.

3) Open slot, outfielder. Position vacated by Friday's trade. A glove and legs — the priority here is somebody who can handle center field; will also be asked to be defensive sub for Delmon Young. Ideally would also throw well enough to play right, but that's optional.

4) Infield glove. Matt Tolbert or Alexi Casilla. Tolbert probably has the inside track on this job.

Of course, it's possible that Tolbert will be the third baseman, and even possible that Ron Gardenhire will opt to make that fourth bench slot a third catcher, which would free up Morales for pinch-hitting duties.

Running the bench has not been a Gardenhire strong suit. He generally has somebody – even with a short bench like this projected one — who's just rotting, without a useful role. He carried Luis Rodriguez for two years without any real purpose.

Previewing the 2010 lineup

J.J. Hardy (right) isn't the ideal No. 2 hitter. His career OBP is .323, and he has stolen all of five bases in 571 major league games.

But that's probably where he's going to hit for the Twins.

A reasonable projected lineup:

1) Denard Span, CF
2) J.J. Hardy, SS
3) Joe Mauer, C
4) Justin Morneau, 1B
5) Jason Kubel, DH
6) Michael Cuddyer, RF
7) Delmon Young LF
8) ?????, 3B or 2B
9) Nick Punto, 2B or 3B

Bill Smith, the Twins general manager, apparently said something during Friday's conference call about the Hardy-Gomez trade that suggested Joe Crede is a possibility for 2010 after all. I suppose there's a price tag at which it's worth it to go that route again.

In which case you can plug Crede into the eighth slot. And then Hardy has to hit second, as Young and Crede are even less qualified for the job than he is, and there's no way to justify moving Punto to a maximum plate appearance slot.

If not Crede, then who? Danny Valencia? Matt Tolbert? Brendan Harris? Alexi Casilla? They shouldn't hit second either.

If Hardy hits as he did in 2007-08, his thump will more than make up for his lack of walks. if he hits as he did last season, it's a problem.


Comments on the trade from around the blogosphere:

Rob Neyer: ... Between the money they won't be spending on (Mike) Cameron and the money they won't be spending on Hardy, the Brewers have gained a fair degree of payroll flexibility, which is the lifeblood of every financially challenged general manager.

And of course you have to love this deal for the Twins, who got a player they really wanted (for good reason) in exchange for a guy they didn't really want at all.

Seth Strohs: I LOVE it! What (a) great move! In essence, the Twins solved two problems with one move. First, it solves the SS situation for the next two years. ... the Twins will not bring back Orlando Cabrera, which is a huge positive, offensively and defensively. ... Secondly, the OF situation is set.

Aaron Gleeman (via Circling the Bases): Some trades just make sense and this is one of them.

Friday, November 6, 2009

The Gomez-Hardy trade, continued

Some questions raised by today's trade:

1) One I doubt I'll ever know the straight answer to: Did the Twins decide to trade Carlos Gomez (above) for a shortstop, or did they try shopping Delmon Young too?

They clearly weren't going to trade Young for J.J. Hardy, because the Brewers have Ryan Braun in left and Corey Hart in right. They needed a center fielder to stick in between them, not another corner outfielder.

I never decided firmly in my own mind who is better, Gomez or Young, although I leaned more often toward Gomez for the speed and defense. Neither man has mastered the strike zone or appears likely to; Young, at least superficially, appears more capable of hitting with the flail-at-everything approach.

2) What next for Orlando Cabrera?

The veteran is clearly in the nomad phase of his career. Now 35 — his birthday was this week — he was, by at least some defensive metrics, the worst defensive shortstop in the majors last season.

Somebody's going to sign him, but it won't be Minnesota.

3) Who's the reserve CF?

This trade means a regular outfield of Young-Denard Span-Cuddyer, with Jason Kubel probably wedging in some playing time in the corners when Joe Mauer DHs. (Side issue: Jose Morales, the switch-hitting heir apparent to Mike Redmond as the backup catcher, is regarded as a better hitter left-handed, so if they schedule Mauer's semi-days-off to coincide with Morales' strong side, it will be against right-handed pitchers — and they'll want to keep Kubel's bat in the lineup.)

There's no backup CF in that crew. The best options (for 2010) in the minors are Jason Pridie and Dustin Martin, neither of whom impressed in Triple A last season. The Twins generally prefer to fill such gaps in house, but this one might be an exception.


A few relevant pieces of information:

* Hardy, because the Brewers sent him to the minors for about three weeks, will not be eligible for free agency until after the 2011 season.

* Gomez is arbitration-eligible now, won't be eligible for free agency until 2013. His agent is Scott Boras.

* Hardy had a poor season at the plate, but his defensive metrics remain high.

* The Johan Santana trade now amounts to two years of Gomez, Jon Rauch, J.J. Hardy and whatever Delois Guerra amounts to. I think it's looking better.