Tuesday, August 31, 2010

A blog maintenance day

Rather than cudgel what remains of my brains for a fresh post this morning, I spent my "blog time" on other aspects of it.

Some of what I did is meaningless for you (but not for me). Some of it is obvious — I've set up a magic number watch that is probably pretty difficult to miss — and some isn't.

A quick tour of what matters to you, Dear Reader:

Magic number: Don't expect to see this updated within minutes of a game. It might happen that quickly, but more likely not, since I work more nights than not. It should reflect the magic number as of that morning at the very least.

Search: I've added a "Search the blog" function; you'll find it under the blog archives. I've tried a few searches and don't think it's perfect, but it's better than nothing.

Newsbobber: I have a number of other Twins-oriented blogs listed on the siderail. This isn't a blog, but a list of blogs with links. If you're looking for more Twins to read, check some of them out.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Notes, quotes and comment

For those readers who care about the Milwaukee Brewers — there are some — I offer this amusing link.


Bob Feller (pictured above) is one of my favorite figures in baseball history -- a legendary fireballing pitcher and war hero, a man of blunt opinion who knows what he's accomplished, a man of standards not afraid to call out those he think has violated those standards. He is, I'm sure, as flawed as any other human, but ... well, our beagle is named Feller in his honor.

Rapid Robert, now 91, is fighting leukemia. The disease had better not dig in too deeply on him.


Manny Ramirez is to join the Chicago White Sox on Tuesday, and he is expected to cut his dreadlocks in accordance with rules laid down by owner Jerry Reinsdorf.

Yeah. We'll see how that goes.

Here's Ozzie Guillen on Manny and the hair rule:

"If Jerry has any problem with his hair or the way he wears his uniform, they got to go directly to him. That's not my department. Guys can go out there buck naked, and if they win games for me, I'm happy."

Uh, don't give Ramirez any ideas.

The glass half-full road trip

The Twins have a an off day today. They need one. So do I.

There was a lot to grouse about on this just finished road trip.

The most important: The defense was in can't-make-a-play mode too often for a suddenly anemic offense. The first game of the trip and the last were winnable games lost because the fielders — while not being charged with errors —failed to get outs that were there.

I'm sure Ron Gardenhire has noticed this stuff all season, but he got a bit vocal about it after Sunday's loss, citing the seventh inning fly ball Delmon Young played into a single (photo) and the potential double play Orlando Hudson couldn't turn.

The anemic offense part of the trip is another item. The Twins scored one run in each of the last two games of the trip. They scored 20 runs in the seven games — 2.85 per game. In that light, 3-4 (with three one-run losses) is better than they deserved.

Despite their impressive record with Justin Morneau sidelined, they really need Morneau back. But from what is publicly known, he has yet to have a symptom-free day, which means his return is hardly imminent.

On the other hand:

  • Nick Blackburn is showing signs of being a useful starter again.
  • The Twins appear to have deepened their bullpen and fixed their sudden shortage of left-handed arms.
  • They only lost a half-game in the standings to the Chicago White Sox.

Glass half-full, glass half-empty.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Blackburn the bat-dodger?

The third man to face Nick Blackburn on Saturday doubled. The batter after that singled.

And I thought: Uh oh, Line Drive Nick is back.

After that, brilliance. As in 21 straight outs.

The Seattle ballpark is notably kind to pitchers, and the Seattle lineup is the soft butter of baseball. When Blackburn and Brian Fuentes finished being hot knives, the only man in the Mariner lineup with a batting average above .250 was Ichiro.

But Texas is a hitter's park and a quality lineup, and Blackburn fared well there in his previous start.

Supposedly he is armed with a change-up now. Something, as least in these few innings, is different; he's had 11 strikeouts in 17.6 innings. That's not a great rate, but one can survive with it — if he can sustain it.


I agreed wholeheartedly with the decision to bring Fuentes in for the last out. Russell Branyan is a dangerous left-handed power hitter; he was the man with the double in the first inning; it was a 1-0 game; he struggles against lefties; and Fuentes, as noted in previous post, destroys lefties. If the Twins had a big lead, if they weren't in a reasonably close race, yeah, let Blackburn face him. But this was the time for the new bullpen toy,

It says a lot about the Seattle roster that their manager saw no better alternative than letting Branyan flail and fail.


Poll results: Just 32 opinions voiced on which team will have the best record in the American League. The Yankees got 14 votes (44 percent); the Rays 11 (34 percent); the Twins 6 (19 percent) and the Rangers 1 (3 percent).

New poll up.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Brian Fuentes, Manny Ramirez and waivers

Now that I've had a few hours to sleep on the Brian Fuentes trade, I realize that what makes the deal a surprise is that the lefty made it to the Twins on waivers.

For those unfamiliar with the waiver process: When Anaheim put him on waivers, the other 29 major league teams had something like 47 hours to claim him. Had nobody claimed him, the Angels had the right to trade him to any of the 29 teams. Claims go in reverse order of the standings, league first — in this case, all 13 other American League teams would have had to pass on him before a National League team could claim him.

The Twins are ahead of the Chicago White Sox in the standings; therefore, the Sox had an earlier shot at Fuentes. The Sox also have bullpen problems, with both J.J. Putz and Matt Thornton — their most useful relievers this season — on the disabled list. And, of course, they know that the Twins have injury problems in their bullpen, so claiming Fuentes would have at least blocked the Twins.

Heads they win, tails they win.

But they opted not to flip the coin.

I suspect they passed on Fuentes because of their Manny Ramirez maneuvering. The Sox are reported to have won the waiver rights to the slugger (meaning that the entire National League passed on him) and may fear that the Dodgers will simply dump the $4 million remainder of Man-Ram's contract on them. (As happened last August, when White Sox general manager Kenny Williams put in a claim on Alex Rios and was startled when the Blue Jays said "Great, you got him," and walked away rather than negotiating a trade and paying a chunk of Rio's salary.)

Claiming Ramirez isn't as risky as claiming Rios; Rios has years yet to run on his overpriced contract, Ramirez weeks. But Williams claims things are tight enough that he's checking the walk-up sales for each game to see how much he has available.

That may be posturing. It appears to be a complicated three-way negotiation, with Ramirez (and agent Scott Boras) wanting a contract extension in return for waiving his no-trade rights, the Dodgers and Sox dickering over prospects and who's paying off Manny, and the Dodgers (4.5 games out in the wild card race) weighing their own status (contender or pretender).

The Sox want Manny; they probably wanted Fuentes; they may not be able to afford both.

My guess is that they picked the wrong one to pursue.

Late night: Twins 6, Mariners 3 (LOOGYs on my mind)

Game story here.

Box score here.

On a day when the Twins picked up a left-handed reliever with a distinguished resume (Brian Fuentes) , they also debuted another veteran Lefty One-Out GuY (LOOGY).

And Randy Flores wasn't impressive, although it wasn't all his fault, and there was some good mixed in.

The box score shows Flores faced five batters, allowing two hits and a walk while getting one out.

It went this way: Flores relieved Scott Baker in the seventh with two on and two out. He broke Ichiro Suzuki's (left-handed hitter) bat; the dribbler went for an infield single, loading the bases. I can't blame Flores for that hit. Then he got Chone Figgins (switch-hitter) to ground to shortstop. The inherited runners were stranded.

That's good. But then he opened the eighth. Russell Braynan (left-handed hitter) singled. Jose Lopez (right-handed) hit a grounder that Michael Cuddyer kicked away; two one, no out. Casey Kochman walked, loading the bases. Flores out, Matt Guerrier in, to get a foul out and a double play (photo above).

Give Flores credit for getting out of the seventh-inning jam. Note that the error worsened his eight-inning predicament, and that Ichiro's single was a scratch hit.

But: He failed to retire any of the three lefties he faced. He threw a first-pitch strike to just one of the five batters. He threw 23 pitches, just 12 for strikes. He couldn't finish off the strikeout-prone Branyan when he was ahead 0-2.

One game, but it illustrates his flaws.


Fuentes is to join the Twins today (Saturday). Glen Perkins has been optioned back to Rochester, to be recalled after the Red Wings finish their miserable season and the major league rosters expand.

Fuentes is overqualified for the LOOGY role, but he figures to be devastating in it. Lefties are hitting .132/.209/.158 against him. He's been stung by the long ball by right-handers this year, and he really wasn't as effective in his (almost) two seasons in Anaheim as he was in Colorado.

One could make a argument for him as the closer over Matt Capps. But the plan is for Fuentes and Jesse Crain to set up Capps — pushing Guerrier and Jon Rauch into sixth and seventh inning duties.

This is now a very deep bullpen — especially if Jose Mijares returns, which would turn Flores into a third (or even fourth) lefty.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Twins add Brian Fuentes

The Twins lefty relief acquisition du jour is a step up — at least — from Randy Flores.

Brian Fuentes, acquired Friday for a player to be named later, may not be as good as his four All-Star selections suggest, but he's a quality left-handed bullpen arm with lots of ninth-inning experience. Last season he had 48 saves for Anaheim.

I'll post more on him later, perhaps when I post the late-night update on the Twins game in Seattle, which is almost certain to end after our press start.

Stephen Strasburg the inevitable

The Washington wonderkind has a torn UCL and is to have Tommy John surgery.

This is to be expected. Pitchers get hurt. Young pitchers doing things even other major league pitchers cannot do, get hurt even more often. Major arm injuries are a lot more common than Hall-of-Fame careers for 22-year-old superstar pitchers.

There is, I theorize, a genetic limit to what ligaments and tondons can tolerate, and 90 mph changeups exceed that limit.

More specifically, there are reasons to believe that Strasburg's delivery is part of the problem.

Meanwhile, I look forward to seeing what the critics of his workload — and specifically Rob Dibble and Sen. Jim Bunning — have to say about this.

Contemplating Randy Flores

This might be the best selling point for Randy Flores, the newest member of the Twins bullpen:

He was a LOOGY for a World Series winning team. A team managed, no less, by Tony LaRussa, who pioneered the current managerial obsession with LOOGYs.

Flores racked up an ERA of 5.62 that year (2006) for the Cardinals. But he is likely more remembered there for his work in the postseason: Six scoreless innings in seven appearances, including the win in Game 7 of the NLCS.

Shades of Dan Schatzeder of the 1987 Twins — 6.39 ERA during the regular season for the Twins, winning pitcher in Game 6 of the World Series.

Flores isn't a great pitcher. He's not even particularly good against left-handed hitters. (See that photo above? That's Garrett Jones, once a member of the Twins and a left-handed hitter, running out a home run earlier this month against Flores.)

Flores, as viewed from the stats, may not be worth adding. The Rockies dumped him for a reason. The argument for him, as voiced by manager Ron Gardenhire, is traditional scouting (and perhaps a bit of wishful thinking):

He knows how to pitch. I've watched video of him today already; he can locate. He can pitch inside on lefties, and he can spin it. He knows what he's doing.

Ron Mahay is done for the season (the Twins put him on the 60-day DL to make room for Flores on the 40-man roster). The prognosis for Jose Mijares is uncertain. Glen Perkins isn't a proven option against lefties. There's no southpaw in the minor league system capable/deserving of the chance.

So Flores it is.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

One, two strikes yer out

So ... Wednesday morning I post about Denard Span's decline this season in hitting with two strikes. Wednesday evening Span came up with two on and doubled on a 3-2 pitch, leading a blog-reading colleague to tease me. I can't hit with two strikes? In your face, Edward Thoma!

Which is fine. If Mr. Span goes 10-for-10 in two-strike at-bats, it won't change reality. The reality is that the average American League hitter is worse with two strikes than Nick Punto in a bad season. That doesn't predetermine the result of any specific at-bat.

The verbal jabs turned to a more serious chat about two-strikes. And in passing, I suggested that perhaps a hitter who can consistently hit .250 with two strikes is Hall of Fame material.

So I turned to that marvelous resource, Baseball Reference, and cherry-picked some recent HoFers, some guys who are destined for the Hall, and some who aren't. I couldn't go too far back; BR doesn't have the data for Rod Carew.

Anyway, here's what I found (career split lines first, two-strike split lines second):

Albert Pujols: .333/.428/.629; .271/.336/.490

A.J. Pierzynski: .283/.323/.423; .208/.244/.290

Joe Mauer: .327/.409/.489; .259/.310/.367

Derek Jeter: .315/385/.455; .232/.323/.325

Alex Rodriguez: .303/.387/.571; .222/.310/.389

Barry Bonds: .298/.444/.607; .210/.353/.426

Wade Boggs: .328/.415/.443; .261/.330/.335

Delmon Young: .294/.325/.432; .211/.237/.286

Michael Cuddyer: .270/.343/.452; .215/.271/.336

Josh Hamilton: .309/.369/.543; .209/.288/.357

See a trend there? Everybody declines sharply with two strikes, but the really great players can still do SOMETHING. Boggs hit .261; Bonds drew enough walks to have a .353 OPB; Pujols still slugs almost .500. Your run-of-the mill regulars are .200 singles hitters.

Oh, yeah. The photo is of Tony Gwynn, and I've held his stats back. His astounding stats.

Tony Gwynn: .338/.388/.459; .302/.341/.401.

Even with two strikes, the man still was a .300 hitter.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Contemplating Denard Span

Check out the averages in Tuesday's starting lineup for the Twins.

Only Drew Butera — who is not a regular and is also not a bona fide major league hitter — had a lower on-base percentage than Denard Span. (Butera was also the only one with a lower slugging percentage, although nobody expects Span to hit for power).

When your leadoff hitter has the lowest OPB of your regulars in late August, something is wrong.

Dick Bremer has noted repeatedly Span's problems on the road. I'm noticing something else — his decline (to roughly league average) with two strikes on him.

Two strikes is a tough time to hit. This year, American League hitters with two strikes — 0-2, 1-2, 2-2, 3-2 — are hitting .186/.259/.279/. Last year, they hit .190/.262/.289.

There is no such thing as a good two-strike hitter. I put that in italics to emphasize the point. Joe Mauer is a career .327 hitter and a notoriously patient hitter. In his career, with two strikes, he hits .259.

Back to Span. Last season, he had 300 plate appearances that reached two strikes — 44.3 percent of his plate appearances (which is considerably less than the league average). In those 300 PA, he went .235/.333/.323 — strong numbers for two strikes.

This year: .193/.266/.249 — and more than 46 percent of his plate appearances (the league average this season is 47.9 percent) are reaching two strikes.

He's getting to two strikes more often, and hitting worse when he gets there. (With less than two strikes, he's hitting .333.)

That's not the sum and total of his decline this season — his baserunning and defense are different issues — but it's a significant part.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Nick-picking: Is Blackburn back?

(But first: There is a downside to keeping your eye on the ball.)

A very nice job turned in Monday night by Nick Blackburn, better than I anticipated: Seven innings and three runs, eight baserunners allowed, five strikeouts.

Rich Harden deserves credit for his fine start for Texas — 6.2 no-hit innings — but had the Twins defense done its job, Harden wouldn't even have left with a lead.

Ron Gardenhire grumbled about Orlando Hudson playing Josh Hamilton too deep in the first inning, allowing an infield hit that set up Daniel Murphy's two-run triple. I thought Denard Span probably should have caught Murphy's deep fly. Either way, those runs were preventable. The third run on Blackburn came when J.J. Hardy bounced his throw to first base on what appeared to be an easy double play. (Hardy's throwing suggests that his wrist is a real hindrance.)

All the runs were earned, but they were preventable. Not that preventing them would have gotten the Twins a win.

That game might be about as well as Blackburn can pitch. He threw strikes, got ground balls, even struck out Vlad Guerrero looking. It would be a good time for him to go on one of his streaks of good starts. But then, it always is a good time to pitch well.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Around the division: Chicago White Sox

While the first-place Twins were playing the disappointing but still dangerous Angels this weekend, the second-place White Sox had a three-game set in Kansas City.

In theory, this was a chance for the Sox to make up some ground. Instead, they slid a game further back — and did it in excruciating fashion, as all three games went extra innings, with a backdrop of bad blood toward one of the umpires and frustration with the TV rules.

The saga begins with Friday night, when the game began despite the expectation of drenching rain. The rain came, and stayed, and washed out what little had been accomplished.

The crew chief, and hence the man responsible for calling the game, was Joe West. The Sox had a run-in with West in May, and in the wake of Friday's rainout weren't happy with the decision to start the game to begin with.


  • Generally speaking, it's not the umpires' decision until the game starts. Up to then, it's usually the home team's call. (There are exceptions, and maybe this was one.)
  • If Ozzie Guillen expected heavy rain, he didn't have to start Edwin Jackson. He could have deployed one of his middle relievers.
  • Jackson threw just seven pitches before the game was called. Seven! Sure, he warmed up beforehand but still ... this is a guy who threw 147 pitches earlier this season to get a no-hitter, and now he's burned for five days by a seven-pitch outing?

My take: Ozzie messed this one up.

Saturday: Because Fox has an exclusive TV window on Saturday, the rain-out was rescheduled as a nighttime double-header. First game started after 6 p.m. It went extra innings, with the Royals winning. The second game went extra innings, with the Sox winning (and Tony Pena, normally a middle reliever, going seven innings for Ozzie).

All kinds of deliciousness for me in this mess of a series.

Oh, one more thing about the Sox: Ace lefty reliever Matt Thornton hasn't thrown a pitch since Jim Thome's homer last week and may be headed to the disabled list.

Contemplating Lou Piniella

Citing pressing family issues --specifically the grave illness of his mother -- Lou Piniella walked away from his job managing the Chicago Cubs on Sunday.

This was about 40 games earlier than planned, and (at risk of being overly brutal) about 120 games too late. But these Cubs — overpaid, oversensitive and emphatically unproductive — may be impossible to manage anyway. Pity the fool who lands this supposedly plum job for 2011.

The general consensus on Piniella's managerial career is that it's Hall of Fame worthy. I'm not so sure about that. Yes, he's 14th on the career wins list, he guided the 1990 Reds to a surprising World Series win and even his record with the Cubs is probably better than I give him credit for.

But I suspect that too many of his teams were working against him and his decisions. His Seattle Mariners teams may have done less with more than any club in history. Ken Griffey Jr., Randy Johnson, Alex Rodriguez and Edgar Martinez were all together at one point, all at the top (or close to it) of their games, and they added up to what?

But then, he may be managing's Richie Ashburn. Ashburn's star was dimmed by being a 1950s center fielder, which means he was a peer of Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle and Duke Snider. Piniella's managerial career may simply appear to be less impressive to me because it coincides with those of Tony LaRussa, Bobby Cox and Joe Torre.

It appears to me that the irony of the Cubs over the past decade is that when they had a stable of power pitchers, they had a manager (Dusty Baker) who handled the staff as if it were comprised of the sinker-slider types he succeeded with in San Francisco. And after the big fastballs vanished in the inevitable injuries, the Cubs hired Piniella, who loves power pitchers and ended with with rotations featuring pitch-to-contact guys.

If Wrigley was the right place for Sweet Lou, he got there at the wrong time.

More on pitches per out

Continuing a topic from the Monday print column:

I drew up three groups of pitchers, using the season stats entering Friday's play:

1) The six pitchers who have started the most games for the Twins (no innings requirements)

2) The ten pitchers with the highest strikeout/nine innings rate (120 innings minimum)

3) The five pitchers with the lowest K/9 rate (120 innings minimum).

Francisco Liriano (pictured) is in both (1) and (2), so we've got 20 pitchers total.

Twins group (ordered by K/9 rate)

Liriano: 9.81 K/9, 454 outs, 2,387 pitches, 5.25 pitches per out
Scott Baker: 7.53, 432, 2,236, 5.18
Kevin Slowey: 6.57, 403, 2,181, 5.41
Carl Pavano: 5.71, 522, 2,451, 4.70
Brian Duensing: 5.12, 253, 1,157, 4.57
Nick Blackburn: 3.03, 312, 1,585, 5.08

High strikeout group (excluding Liriano, who would be third)

Brandon Morrow: 10.48 K/9, 394 outs, 2,250 pitches, 5.71 pitches per out
Jered Weaver: 9.96, 504, 2,871, 5.70
Yovani Gallardo: 9.78, 428, 2473, 5.78
Tim Lincecum: 9.55, 478, 2,643, 5.53
Jonathan Sanchez: 9.35, 436, 2,482, 5.69
Clayton Kershaw: 9.32, 472, 2,645, 5.60
Cole Hamels: 9.17, 477, 2,585, 5.42
Jon Lester: 9.17, 489, 2,612, 5.34
Mat Latos: 9.08, 428, 2,242, 5.23

Low strikeout

Livan Hernandez: 4.59 K/9, 494 outs, 2,485 pitches, 5.03 pitches per out
Bronson Arroyo: 4.57, 502, 2,513, 5.01
Kyle Kendrick: 4.51, 413, 2,152, 5.21
Paul Maholm: 4.37, 439, 2,420, 5.51
Mark Buehrle: 3.82, 481, 2,445, 5.08

Any great insights here?

1) The Twins pitchers, with the exception of Slowey, tend to put hitters away quickly. Duensing (in very limited innings) and Pavano (who got the most outs of these 20 pitchers) are the two most efficient in the pools. What separates Slowey from the others? My guess is (a) nibbling when he's ahead in the count and (b) foul balls.

2) Three of the five low-strikeout starters have at least 160 innings pitched; only two of the 10 high-strikeout pitchers are there.

3) The high-strikeout group is young; I don't think there's a 30-year-old listed. There are a bunch of guys in this group who could win a Cy Young in a given year and nobody would be too surprised. And there are three guys in their first full season in a rotation.

4) Doing just five of the low-strikeout guys (and setting the innings limit at roughly the ERA qualifying point) probably makes that group look better. Most pitchers with strikeout rates that low lose their jobs in a hurry. These guys have done well enough to keep their jobs, and none of the five is really in jeopardy. They are the definition of innings-eaters.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Sunday morning: Pitchers goin' down

A number of pitching injuries from Saturday to discuss today.

The big one nationally is Stephen Strasburg (pictured), but being a Twins parochial I'll save the budding superstar for later.

A week ago today Ron Gardenhire pulled Kevin Slowey from a no-hitter in an attempt to avoid an arm injury. Saturday Slowey struggled to get outs — or even to keep the ball in the park — and reported a problem in his right triceps.

The prognosis isn't in, but he's out: 15-day DL for Slowey, and Nick Blackburn is back to the rotation.

Blackburn is not as talented as Slowey, but he does have a track record, and the reports on him in Triple A have been positive. He's rediscovered his sinker, we are told. Maybe so.

I regard Blackburn as a downgrade from Slowey, but not necessarily a massive one.

Ron Mahay is a less important piece of the puzzle, but a less-easily replaced one. With the earlier injury to Jose Mijares, the veteran LOOGY had become the Twins' top left-handed bullpen option.

But on Saturday Mahay injured his right shoulder when he fell while pursuing a ground ball. He's also already on the 15-day DL, with Anthony Slama recalled to fill his roster space. But Slama's right-handed. So is everybody else in the Minnesota bullpen, with the exception of Glen Perkins. And Perkins has not, in the past, demonstrated the skill set of a lefty-killer.

At least Mahay's injury is to his non-pitching arm.

OK, on to Strasburg. He threw one of those otherworldly pitches of his Saturday -- a 90-mph changeup? Really? -- grimaced and looked at his elbow. Out of the game he went, and let the speculation begin.

As with Slowey and Mahay, the specifics of the injury are unclear.

What I do know: It's not just amateur analysts (such as moi) suspicious of Strasburg's delivery. Don Cooper, the White Sox pitching coach -- who knows a thing or two about keeping pitchers healthy -- said a month ago he sees trouble ahead for the Washington pitcher.

I don't wish injuries on anybody, so I hope I'm wrong. But if he's having arm miseries when being babied along, this is not going to end well.

Poll stuff: Last week's question was about pulling Slowey from his no-hit bid. We had 57 responses, which I believe is the record for this blog. (Feel free to be either impressed or unimpressed.)

Fifty (87 percent) agreed with pulling him. Seven (13 percent) did not.

New poll up.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Duensing impressing

Brian Duensing had yet another superb start Friday night — eight innings, seven hits, no walks, six strikeouts, one run.

The assumption here has been that in the playoffs, the lefty will return to the bullpen, where he has also been effective. His run as a starter — since replacing Nick Blackburn in the rotation, he's 4-0, 2.18 — might be changing that.

It also should be noted, however, that most of those starts have come against rather weak lineups. Cleveland, Kansas City, Baltimore, Oakland — even the Angels have struggled to score runs this season. The best team he's faced so far, Tampa Bay, is also the one that gave him the most trouble (three runs in six innings).

After Duensing's three-hit shutout against Oakland in his previous start, Ron Gardenhire pulled the Johan Santana comparison. Yes, like Santana in 2003, Duensing started the season in the bullpen, then shifted to the rotation. Santana quickly became the Twins best starter and earned his first Cy Young Award the following season.

Duensing is no Santana. Santana was — and even in decline, remains — harder to hit. Duensing is striking out a bit more than five men per nine innings. Santana fanned more than a batter per inning every season in the Twins rotation, and even now is around 6.5 K/9.

It's no rap on Duensing to say he doesn't match Santana at his best. The question for the Twins as October nears is which four starters give them their best shot at advancing through the postseason. They have several more weeks to determine that.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Splitting the difference

Baseball stats always tell us something about what has happened. Using such history to foretell the future — or even to evaluate the present — is tricky.

Remember the gloom and doom earlier this season about the Twins and their lack of success with the bases loaded? Even LaVelle Neal, who really ought to know better, was reading something significant into 65 at-bats.

I thought of that Thursday night when Jason Kubel came up with the bases loaded in the eighth inning. Actually, I thought of a lot of stat splits, because FSN put up a graphic with Kubel's bases-loaded splits, which are impressive. (But they never put up a graphic with his numbers against left-handed pitching, which are considerably less impressive.)


* Twins with the bases loaded this year: 138 plate appearances, 117 official at-bats: .291/.319/.444. That is by far their lowest on-base percentage of any bases occupied split, probably because pitchers really don't want to walk a run in, but it's also one of the highest slugging percentages, probably for the same reason.

(Numbers come from Baseball Reference's team splits page. At the time I was writing this, the page had not been updated with Thursday's results.)

One hundred-seventeen at-bats, 138 plate appearances — these are still small sample sizes. The Twins have been less productive with the bases loaded than when the bases aren't loaded — but not so drastically so that everybody's noticing.

* Jason Kubel with the bases loaded this year: 22 PA, 17 AB, .353/.409/.765, 21 RBIs.

* Kubel, bases loaded, career: 76 PA, 62 AB, .403/.395/.839. Note that his on-base percentage is lower than his batting average — his nine sac flies drive the OPB down. And that's the kind of anomaly one gets with such small sample sizes.

* Kubel versus left-handed pitchers, career: 555 PA, 489 AB, .231/.310/.352. Not quite a full season's worth of chances — in his entire major league career.

* Kubel versus LHP, 2010: 147 PA, 127 AB, .209/.299/.339. Not good. Also not, in and of itself, proof of anything — but combined with his career track record, still suggestive.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Leaping over the White Sox

Ten games ago, the Twins trailed the White Sox by two games in the standings.

This morning the Twins lead by five games. If they can complete the sweep tonight, it will be six games; even if Chicago salvages this one, a four-game lead looks pretty good from here.

The magic number is 38.


No retaliation Wednesday night. I wasn't pleased on Tuesday with Delmon Young's high forearm on A.J. Pierzynski when Young was thrown out at home, and thought it likely that there's be some brushbacks the next day. Didn't happen.

There was some gum flapping preceding that play. In the series last week against Chicago, Glen Perkins hit Carlos Quentin with a pitch, and Ozzie Guillen at least pretended to believe Perkins was throwing at "Q." But Quentin leads the league in HBP for a reason, which is that he stands on top of home plate and dives.

Before the series started, Juan Nieves, the White Sox bullpen coach, told a radio station that he's thought of urging his pitchers to punk a few Twins and see if they can start a fight. (He named Mauer specifically.)

If that's on the agenda now that the Sox are on the verge of sinking, putting it out in public in advance is really bad strategy.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Guillen and Thome, Part II

Ozzie Guillen had a pregame rant Wednesday on the subject of Jim Thome not being with the White Sox.

As I said, or at least implied, in the previous post, I agreed with the intent of making the White Sox roster more versatile. Thome is a one-dimensional player. It's a mighty important dimension, however.

A few Ozzie points I wanted to comment on specifically:

* He cites the White Sox' record in interleague play. Yes, the Sox had a very good run against the National League. I'm inclined, however, to assign the credit at least as much to the incredibly soft schedule the Sox (and Tigers) had, especially as compared to the Twins.

* He specifically says that the Thome he saw the past few years couldn't have hit Thornton's fastball as he did last night.

* He suggests that White Sox fans ought to miss Jermaine Dye at least as much as Thome. But: Dye is out of baseball, as a right-handed hitter he wouldn't fill the left-handed power void and there doesn't seem much cause to second-guess the Sox for not bringing him back.

I don't know if he's reopening the notion that Dye didn't get an offer he liked because he's black. Thome accepted a $1.5 million (with incentives) deal from the Twins; supposedly Dye turned down some offers as too low for a player of his stature. If so, Dye violated a bit of Jim Leyland wisdom offered several years ago to a journeyman player on a hot streak: Don't price yourself out of the game.

Where Ozzie (and I) went wrong on Thome

The common off-day angle on this Twins-White Sox series was Jim Thome. It was a story that more or less wrote itself:

  • Thome had played for the White Sox (2006-2009);
  • The Sox toyed with bringing him back as a free agent during the winter and chose not to, with manager Ozzie Guillen explaining that there wouldn't be sufficient at-bats for him;
  • The Twins signed him to a low-priced one-year deal with no commitment on playing time;
  • He has mashed with Minnesota (17 homers, .593 slugging percentage in 253 plateappearances);
  • The White Sox are believed to be looking now for left-handed power.

Conclusion: The White Sox screwed up.

Maybe so. I wasn't enthused about the Thome signing at the time myself. I was concerned about how his inability to play in the field would thin the bench and reckoned that the White Sox had concluded that age had eroded his hitting.

Guillen, for political reasons, was never going to say anything like We think Thome can't hit lefties or a good fastball anymore. But that was likely part of their thinking when they shipped him to the Dodgers last August, and even more so this winter.

Thome is a one-dimensional player. He can't run and he hasn't played in the field in years. He has to hit to help a team.

He has helped the Twins.

Tuesday's 10th-inning game-winning home run came off a hard-throwing lefty-handed reliever (Matt Thornton) — exactly the kind of guy I figured would eat Thome up. He had two singles earlier in the game against John Danks, a left-handed starter. Thome's playing time against southpaws has been limited, but in his first 60 plate appearances against lefties (56 at-bats) he hit four homers and slugged .500. Lot of strikeouts, few walks — but he hasn't been Jacque Jones helpless against southpaws.

I don't know how well Ron Gardenhire would be doing at juggling playing time if Justin Morneau had remained healthy. He had turned to playing Michael Cuddyer at third base in order to get Thome, Jason Kubel, Delmon Young and Cuddyer all in the lineup at once, and I didn't think it was helping. The defense suffered, and Cuddyer wasn't hitting.

Guillen, meanwhile, isn't backing down on his preference to have players who can play in the field and run a bit. And it isn't like the White Sox have lost all their power.

Here's Guillen after the game on the Thome homer:

''I will take that matchup again, Maybe Thome will hit a home run again. He's hit about 600 home runs. Jim Thome is a home-run hitter, he's a very strong man, he's been doing it for a lot of years. If [center fielder Denard] Span hit that home run in that inning, then I would be crying here. But Jim Thome hit it, you go shower and go and get it [tonight].''

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Ex-Twins watch: Don Cooper

Don Cooper was a forgettable pitcher (1-6, 5.14 in 70 innings) on some essentially forgettable Twins teams (1981-82). If you actually remember him with those Twins teams, you have a better memory than me.

What makes "Coop" interesting is what he's done since his brief pitching career ended.

He's the pitching coach for the Chicago White Sox, a job he's held since July 2002. And in his tenure, the Sox have had a remarkable record for durable starting rotations.

From 2005-2008 — a four season span — the Sox got at least 150 starts out of their first five starters of the season each year. Not impressed? The rest of the majors had, combined, ZERO such seasons.

They missed last year -- Bartolo Colon broke down and Jose Contreras flopped, and they settled for 128, which is still well above average.

They've gotten 110 so far this season, but Jake Peavy isn't making any more starts, and they won't get to 150 without him.

Still, it's a strong record for durability. A lot of people deserve credit for it, not least of them the pitchers themselves (especially Mark Buehrle, the common thread through those seasons). Cooper didn't do this on his own. But he sure played a role.

Monday, August 16, 2010

More on defensive stats

The Monday print column discusses the difficulty of defensive stats. In it I promised links to two pieces, one a critique of the newfangled formulas, the other a defense.

For Tim Marchman's critique, click here.

For Joe Posnanski's take, click here.

If you read them carefully, I think you'll find they agree on a lot. The difference is one of attitude. Posnanski acknowledges that the numbers aren't perfect, but he's still willing to put more weight on them than Marchman will; Marchman knows the numbers are advancing closer to something resembling the truth, but isn't willing to drive his truck over their bridge.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Pulling Slowey and other poll stuff

Kevin Slowey missed a start with elbow tendinitis. His strike-to-ball ratio Sunday wasn't its usual 2-1; it was more like 3-2. He wasn't getting ahead of hitters in his usual fashion.

And yet he had a no-hitter after seven innings.

I saw little of Slowey's outing (listened on the radio while doing yardwork), but I came in to see him pitch the seventh. I saw a pitcher laboring.

This is not an easy call for a manager. Ron Gardenhire opted to pull Slowey after 106 pitches, and as much as I would love to see Slowey get a no-hitter, I think it was the right call.

Heck, when even Bert "pitch until your arm falls off" Blyleven doesn't argue with the decision to pull a pitcher, it's probably pretty obvious.

What do YOU think? That's this week's poll question.


Last week's poll concerned second base in 2011. We had 40 votes.

Nineteen (47 percent) want Alexi Casilla to get the first crack at the job. Thirteen (33 percent) want Orlando Hudson re-signed. Eight (20 percent) want a third option.

Ex-Twins watch: Craig Breslow and Steve Tolleson

I wasn't thrilled when the Twins tossed Craig Breslow aside in May of 2009, and nothing that has transpired since suggests to me that discarding him was the right move.

When the Twins waived him, Breslow had a 6.28 ERA in a bit more than 14 innings. He went to Oakland and ran off a 2.60 ERA in 55-plus innings — this while the Twins were cycling though lefty relievers.

And this season? He entered Saturday's game with a 3.12 ERA in 52 IP. His splits still suggest, as they did with the Twins in 2008, that he's overqualified for the LOOGY role.

In the wake of Jose Mijares' injury, the loss of Breslow continues to sting.

Yes, Breslow gave up a run Saturday, but that was in part because his infield failed to get the out at third base when Denard Span decided to go from second to third on a grounder to short.

And the shortstop involved in that play? Steve Tolleson spent years in the Twins farm system — they drafted him in the fifth round in 2005 — before he was waived to make room on the 40-man roster when the Twins signed Jim Thome.

With the Twins he was generally a second baseman; the A's used him mainly at shortstop in Triple A Sacramento this year (54 games at short, 13 at third, just five at second), where he hit .332. (Last year he hit .266 between Double A and Triple A for the Twins; this illustrates the difference between the Pacific Coast League and the International/Eastern Leagues.)

I don't know if the Twins underestimated Tolleson's defense or if the A's are overestimating it, but I do know that the Twins had a few years to evaluate him. Nor do I know if he's going to get serious playing time at short in Oakland; Cliff Pennington has been the regular there, and he's hardly emerged as a star. I suspect that neither is the answer to the shortstop question.

(Tolleson is the on-deck hitter in the photo above.)

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Pennant chase daze

It's been more than a month since Justin Morneau took a knee to the head while breaking up a double play, and the concussion's effects linger. He'll be back when he's back. Unless he isn't.

He's had concussions before, and while much is unknown about these brain injuries, one concussion is thought to make the next all the more likely, and there is doubtless some cumulative effect as well.

Under those circumstances, a batting helmet — even the newfangled helmets the major leaguers are resisting on the basis of their dorky appearance — may not be sufficient protection from a fastball to the noggin. Or a shortstop's knee in the temple, as in Morneau's early-July injury.

So the Twins will stick for the foreseeable future with Michael Cuddyer at first, as they did last season down the stretch, and the heedless will deride Morneau as soft.

Which he isn't. Even if he were, so what? We each get one brain to play with per lifetime and no more.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Inelegant effectiveness

It wasn't elegant, but it was effective.

Francisco Liriano didn't make it through six innings. He allowed seven hits (to be sure, two of them didn't get out of the infield), walked two, hit two. He got 17 outs while allowing 11 baserunners.

Three times the White Sox loaded the bases. But only once did they score.

Inelegant pitching? Absolutely. But a good sight for Twins fans anyway, to see Liriano — who last year essentially admitted that he had trouble keeping his composure — wriggle out of jams.

This was an inelegant series. The losing team in all three games did things to embarrass themselves. Getting picked off; failing to turn pick offs into outs; committing balks.

But Twins fans will take the result — two out of three in the White Sox's home park and a return to first place in the AL Central.

Inelegant but eloquent: The Sox Machine blog (a link to which sits on my siderail) is two blogs in one. Sox Machine talks about issues involving the White Sox; State of the Sox does game recaps.

The recap for Thursday's game has no words, just this picture.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

What we knees to know

Twins knees to know: Jose Mijares goes on the 15-day disabled list with his knee injury. I've seen nothing on whether he needs surgery or how long he's expected to be out, but he's clearly not going to pitch for a couple of weeks at least.

Jeff Manship got the callup. What I expect: Manship takes the long-man role. Glen Perkins, who figured to inherit that burden (all this is assuming that Kevin Slowey's elbow is not going to keep him from starting this weekend) will become the second lefty in the bullpen, with Ron Mahay assuming Mijares' spot as the primary LOOGY.

I can hear you groaning about that. But lefties are only hitting .230/.250/.295 against Mahay. The damage has come from right-handed hitters. He's actually been more effective than Mijares against lefties.

And that said, if Mijares is out for the year, I would expect the Twins to scour the waiver wire for a lefty reliever, because off last night, it's difficult to have much faith in Perkins.

Famous knees to know: He hasn't said so explicitly, but I assume that Chipper Jones' playing days came to an end Wednesday night when he blew out his ACL. (Photo above)

Bill James did an elaborate age-to-age comparison between Jones and Eddie Mathews (it's in the 2010 edition of the Bill James Gold Mine) and concluded that Jones was slightly superior to Mathews — who was a great player.

No question in my mind that Chipper's going to the Hall of Fame.

The Cuddyer Principle in effect

Michael Cuddyer may hit better when playing first base, but he had a rough game there Wednesday.

Early on, broadcaster Bert Blyleven relayed to viewers the idea at Cuddyer not only plays multiple positions, he plays them all well.

No. He plays them passably — which is not an indictment. It's praise. There are a lot of nuances to major league baseball, even at the simplest positions (such as first base); for a player to start games at five different positions without embarrassing himself totally at any is an accomplishment.

But the Cuddyer Principle — that you can get by for while with an out-of-position player before he demonstrates that he's out of position — is still true.

Chicago's third run (third inning) was set up with Cuddyer couldn't handle a throw. Alexi Ramirez advanced to second on the error and scored on the following batter's single.

A key piece of Chicago's three-run fifth inning — an outburst that drove Glen Perkins from the mound and essentially buried the Twins chances — was Cuddyer's inability to turn a pickoff of Juan Pierre into an out. Pierre took off for second, Cuddyer made a weak throw, and Pierre was credited with a stolen base. (Photo above)

No error charged, but still a missed out. That led directly to Pierre's run, and indirectly to another run later in the inning.

Perkins wasn't great, but his defense —not limited to Cuddyer — did him no favors.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Contemplating Michael Cuddyer

Earlier this season, when Michael Cuddyer was playing some at third base, I suggested that the stress of playing the more difficult defensive position was sapping his bat.

Here, according to Baseball Reference, are Cuddyer's career averages by defensive position, listed in order of plate appearances (at least 100 plate appearances):

RF (2,411 plate appearances): BA .269/ OBP .343/ SLG .446
3B (610): .261/.327/.430
1B (424): .296/.368/.522
2B (184): .248/.330/.429

He's got a bit more than 100 other plate appearances scattered about left field, center field, DH, and pinch-hitting, not enough to put any weight at all on.

A similar pattern is to be seen in this season's splits for him.

Even if these splits would hold up over time — Cuddyer hasn't had even the equivalent of a full season at first base — I wouldn't bench a healthy Justin Morneau to give the first base job to him. But the numbers do suggest that he's best at first base — and that his offense gets better when he has less to do defensively.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The sinking Mariners

Don Wakamatsu was fired Monday as manager of the Seattle Mariners. He wasn't a completely innocent bystander in the M's implosion, but their 42-70 record when he was fired wasn't all his doing either.

He got the job for the 2009 season, part of a new regime that featured Jack Zduiencik as the general manager. Zduiencik had been the scouting director of the Milwaukee Brewers, and he had a distinctive style in that job. He focused on bats.

Prince Fielder was too fat and too slow for most teams; Zduiencik took him in the first round. Rickie Weeks was an amateur second baseman, and there's a long-standing scouting rule about not signing amateur second basemen, because a player with the athletic ability to play infield in the majors is going to be a shortstop in high school or college. Zduiencik took Weeks with the second overall pick. Matt LaPorta was a man without an obvious position; Zduiencik took him in the first round.

Then he came to Seattle and — surprise — reshaped a bad team around defense.

The M's already had Ichiro Suzuki. Zduiencik traded for Franklin Gutierrez, a bit player in Cleveland; Wakamatsu installed Gutierrez in center; Gutierrez quickly established himself as an eye-popping defender. At times the M's played three legit center fielders in their outfield. They made a midseason trade for a legitimately outstanding defensive shortstop. The sophisticated defensive metrics were off the charts.

Seattle was last in the league in runs scored, batting average, walks drawn and on-base percentage. They had just two pitchers work more than 100 innings. And they won 85 games. Eighty-five wins off Felix Hernandez and defense.

Zduiencik doubled down on this strategy. His corner infielders, Russell Branyan and Adrian Beltre, left as free agents; he replaced their 39 homers with a second leadoff man (Chone Figgins) and good-glove, weak-stick first baseman (Casey Kotchman). He traded a handful of prospects for Cliff Lee. He exchanged high-cost disappointment Carlos Silva for high-cost disappointment Milton Bradley.

And somebody — maybe Zduiencik, maybe the ownership, maybe even Wakamatsu — decided to bring back aging legend Ken Griffey Jr.

There was Internet chatter about how brilliant Zduiencik is, praise for his grasp of defensive metrics, how Silva for Bradley was a no-lose proposition. The M's were a trendy pick to win the division.

And it all went to hell.

The offense is even worse than in 2009. Lee has been shipped off for a different handful of prospects. The pitching staff, with Lee gone, is back to being King Felix and a cast of thousands. Bradley was a pain, and Silva is 10-5 with the Cubs.

Griffey might have been the key. He was there because he was Ken Griffey Jr., and that helped sell tickets in '09. He was expected to be a good influence on the troubled Bradley. More than that, he was supposed to contribute something as a DH. He hadn't been great in 2009, but he had his moments.

But he was toast, and Wakamatsu was in an impossible position. Griffey, as it turned out, held more respect in the clubhouse than the manager did. When Wakamatsu benched Griffey, and the superstar retired, the rest of the team turned on the manager. Bradley acted up. Figgins, long seen as a class act, rebelled. Wakamatsu's superiors — Zduiencik or the people above the GM — were unwilling to take the heat for ending Griffey's career.

Now Wakamatsu is gone, and the same people who were so impressed by Zduiencik's reshaping of the M's are jeering his missteps.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Twins go to Chicago tied for first

Sometimes, as the saying goes, it's not who you play but when you play 'em.

The White Sox had to play the Baltimore Orioles in the O's first week under new manager Buck Showalter. For whatever reason, Buck's Birds are 6-1 — 3-1 against Chicago — and the upshot of that is that the White Sox have fallen into a tie with the Twins going into this three-game series in Chicago.

It's mid-August, and the Twins and Chisox have more head-to-head series after this one.

But it's worth knowing: The Twins have just one season-closing series left with an East Division team (Toronto). The White Sox have three games later this month with Baltimore (who may well have regressed by then), three with the Yankees, and seven in September with the Boston Red Sox.

Twins fans should hope that the Red Sox are still contending then and not just playing out the string.

Perkins and other pieces of the pitching puzzle

Glen Perkins — he of the 18-11, 4.73 career mark (one good, the other bad) — is apparently going to get the ball for one of the games this week in Chicago. Kevin Slowey reports some soreness in the back of his elbow, so it's time to go to Plan C — Plan B, Brian Duensing in the rotation, being already in effect.

Perkins' Triple-A numbers this year are not impressive -- 4-9, 6.08 -- but he's been getting better results of late, or so we are told.

I was initally surprised that it's Perkins getting the callup. I would have expected Jeff Manship or even former Plan A Nick Blackburn to be Plan C, with Perkins no higher than Plan D. For one thing, Perkins is so close to arbitration eligibility that merely recalling him damages his trade value.

But then I started working though the roster. And it started to make sense.

This appears to be the idea: Alexi Casilla is supposedly not going to miss a lot of time with his newly bum ankle. To activate Orlando Hudson on Sunday, the Twins sent down Anthony Slama, who, in his brief stint in the majors, pitched more like the guy scouts were leery of than the guy who dominated minor league hitters. (Moral: A funky delivery and mediocre stuff only goes so far without command.) So Trevor Plouffe remains on the roster as an infield reserve.

Off day today. Scott Baker pitches Tuesday. Assuming Casilla is ready to go by Wednesday, Plouffe returns to the minors and Perkins is recalled for the start. Then he moves to the bullpen to be the long man/third lefty, with Slowey returning to his rotation spot without going on the disabled list.

Lots of moving pieces in that scenario, which depends upon accurate prognoses on Casilla and Slowey. But in the end, Perkins would be recalled up not to be in the rotation, but for what he offers the bullpen.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Notes on a Saturday

I may be in the minority, but I liked the old-time replica uniforms the Twins wore Saturday. But then, the history of segregated baseball fascinates me, and while the St. Paul Gophers are a small footnote in the history of Black ball, remembering that they existed is worth our while.


At this writing, it's unclear how badly Alexi Casilla is injured. The Twins intend to activate Orlando Hudson; if it were my call, I'd put Casilla on the disabled list and keep Trevor Plouffe (above) around until the next infielder (be it Nick Punto or Casilla) is ready to return. This constant dragging around a bench player who isn't able to play is ridiculous.


Poll results: The question of whether the Twins will regret trading Wilson Ramos drew 49 responses.

Twenty eight — 57 percent — said it's worth it if Matt Capps helps in October. Thirteen — 27 percent — said Ramos is overhyped. Eight — 16 percent — said Ramos is going to be a star.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Twins sign Wimmers and local minor league notes

The deadline isn't particularly close, but Alex Wimmers signed Friday and is to report to Fort Myers to pitch for the Miracle, the Twins High-A team.

The right-hander out of Ohio State is viewed as a prototypical Twins pitcher — a strike-throwing machine, albeit with better stuff than a Nick Blackburn. (The better stuff is why he went 21st overall.)

According to Baseball America, the Twins have now signed their first 10 picks.

* The Twins' 16th-rounder, former MoonDog Clint Dempster, threw six shutout innings the other day Beloit (Low-A). The lefty is 2-2 for the Snappers with 4.00 era — and 14 walks in 18 innings.

I'm going to guess that fastball command is a priority for him.

* Mark Dolenc, a former MSU standout, is hitting .259/.305/.350 for New Britain, the Twins Double A affiliate. The Twins have a number of well-regarded outfield prospects there, including Ben Revere and Joe Benson, but Dolenc's getting plenty of playing time.

*The NUN, New Ulm Native Jamie Hoffmann, has spent the season at Albuquerque, the Dodgers' Triple A affiliate, and has a deceptively good .318/.377/.435 line. (It's a notoriously good place to hit.) He remains off the 40-man roster.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Ex-Twins watch: Potentially serious injuries

Those of us who (sarcastically) figured that you couldn't hurt Carlos Gomez by hitting him in the head were wrong.

Go-Go took a pitch in the helmet Monday night, sat out two games, had tests on Thursday and now has gone on the disabled list with a concussion.

As far as I know, he doesn't have the concussion history of Justin Morneau (who has missed almost a month now) or Corey Koskie (whose career was derailed by post-concussion syndrome), but brain injuries are brain injuries. This might take a while, or he might be ready to go-go again before the DL stint expires.

It has not been a good season for Gomez, whose 2010 stat line looks a lot like last season's. I still root for the kid, but he's clearly as exasperating a talent in Milwaukee as he was with the Twins.


Another Carlos with a Minnesota background is on the DL. Carlos Silva left Sunday's start with shortness of breath and heart symptoms. He is to have cardiac catheterization on Monday.

Silva has had a good season, although the stats have been deteriorating of late. The Cubs have many problems, but Silva hadn't been one of them. Until now.

Rays following the Twins template

The Twins got a break on Thursday and escaped St. Petersburg, Fla., with a split of the four-game series. I'll take it.

The Rays are a very good team indeed, a squad with many of the strengths of the first edition of the Gardenhire-era Twins, only turned up a notch.

They are not a particularly good hitting club -- they've been no-hit twice this season already and been victimized in consecutive years by perfect games. Yes, they are fourth in the American League in runs scored, but seven AL teams have better OPS.

Their strengths are in their pitching -- they have the AL's lowest ERA, the most strikeouts, and the third fewest walks -- and their defense, which is rooted in their team speed.

That's essentially what the Twins of the Hunter-Santana-Koskie-Radke era. But the Rays do it better than those Twins did.

And the current Twins squad is nothing like that. The defensive limitations of the Twins outfield never seemed more obvious than on Wednesday night, when Delmon Young and Denard Span repeatedly turned fly balls into doubles. This Twins squad is rooted in its offensive capabilities, not in its power arms and certainly not in its defensive range.

The Rays are certainly a fun team to watch. It's too bad so few do.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Gardenhire's iron men

Day game after a night game, and Drew Butera had caught four in a row. But Joe Mauer's shoulder is still bothering him, and the Tampa Bay Rays run the bases too aggressively for Ron Gardenhire to tolerate having Jose Morales catch, so Butera started Thursday's nooner. (Actually, 11 a.m. in Florida.)

Which fits the ethos of the backup catcher. The criteria of resting the catcher doesn't apply to him. His father, Sal, knew about that. In 1981 the elder Butera caught 25 games in 28 days when the Twins were shorthanded behind the dish. In that span, his only days off came when the team didn't play.

So it wasn't overly surprising that the younger Butera caught Thursday. He even had an RBI double.

What DID surprise me was that Gardy brought in Jesse Crain to pitch for the fourth game in a row. Gardenhire loves to ride hot hands in the bullpen, and annually is at least among the leaders in using pitchers on back-to-back days, but four in a row was pushing it.

He had an almost-equally hot Ron Mahay warming up at the same time but brought in Crain with the bases loaded (two out) to face the switch hitting Willy Aybar. Aybar for his career is better from the left side, so that wasn't the point of bringing the righty.

Crain walked Aybar to force in a run. Then Mahay entered and perhaps demonstrated why Gardenhire has been reluctant to use him in game situations; pinch-hitter Jason Bartlett hit a grand slam to tie the game.

The Twins wound up winning anyway, with a little help from the bizarrities of Tropicana Field.

I will be very surprised if Crain pitches Friday. Or Saturday.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

On Number 4

As a copy editor who makes his share of on-deadline mistakes (and perhaps other people's share as well), I should be loathe to jeer at somebody else's.

That said ... during my dinner break Wednesday evening I was pursuing how the metro papers handled the Brett Favre story, and was struck by this phrasing in a Pioneer Press story bearing the byline of John Shipley, who has spent much of this season covering the Twins:

... only the latest in a long line of hemming and hawing from Minnesota's favorite No. 4 (sorry, Drew Butera).

You probably know the problem with that. Drew Butera wears No. 41.

According to this compilation of Twins jersey numbers -- which is up-to-date enough to have Alexi Casilla wearing No. 12 this year (having yielded his old 25 to Jim Thome) -- no Twin has worn No. 4 since the immortal Augie Ojeda in 2004.

I'm not sure why there've been no 4's since then. It's not like they're expecting to retire the number as soon as Ojeda gets elected to the Hall of Fame or something, and it's a pretty good number to have vacant for so long. But Paul Molitor is working in the system, and I've seen him in uniform during spring training, so that's probably the reason.

Molitor and Favre. No. 4 seems to have a pretty strong Minnesota-Wisconsin connection, doesn't it?

Contemplating Ron Mahay

Ron Mahay may (hey!) be the very definition of a fringe player. He's:
  • 39 years old;
  • A LOOGY who has never pitched more than 67 major-league innings in a season;
  • Has a career record of 26-13, 3 saves in 14 years;
  • Not even a member of the players union. (He's persona non grata because he was a replacement player in the 1994 spring training during the players strike. Sixteen years ago —when he was an outfielder.)
  • In his 15 major league seasons — 14 as a pitcher, one as an outfielder — he's had (according to Baseball Reference) 11 uniform numbers.

Fifteen years is a long time to hang around the fringes of major league rosters. Fifteen-year players are usually guys who were regulars, if not stars, at some point. Mahay never has been, never will be.

He just keeps on hanging on.

The Twins have a 12-man pitching staff. Mahay is either the 11th or 12 guy — him or Anthony Slama — and while there are followers who speculate that Mahay could be sacrificed for bring up Glen Perkins or if a pitcher is brought in on a waiver claim, my belief is that he's staying.

The stat line is sound enough: 36 games, 32 IP, 3.38 ERA, 6 BB, 24 K. More important — perhaps — left-handed hitters are .237/.246/.305 against him so far this season.

He hasn't been deployed in high-leverage situations, to be sure. But he's been charged with all of three earned runs in his last 21 outings, a total of 18.1 innings, and at some point the Greg McMichael Rule — if you get outs, they'll find a role for you — has to kick in.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Ozzie, race and economics

Ozzie Guillen last weekend unloaded an Ozzie rant, which is to say it was in more or less equal parts bombastic, profane, self-serving and wise.

This one touched on race — specifically the notion that professional baseball exploits Latin players:

"Don't take this wrong, but they take advantage of us. We bring a Japanese player and they are very good and they bring all these privileges to them. We bring a Dominican kid, (bleep) you, go to the minor leagues, good luck. Good luck. And it's always going to be like that. It's never going to change. But that's the way it is."

Guillen has a knack for mixing up his pronouns — in one sentence "us" is Latin players, in the next "we" is major league baseball, and "they" refers to both the teams and the Asian players.

But the argument is clear. It's largely factually correct. It includes some misinterpretation of those facts.

Gullen's off-the-cuff monologue — I wish I could find a complete transcript of the 25-minute session — appears to have had three main points:

1) Not enough has been done to teach immature Latin players of the problems with steroids and other performance enhancers.

Guillen here muddied the waters by claiming that he is the only one doing anything about it; I don't have to accept that claim to note that almost all the positive PED tests popping up now involve Latin players in the low minors. There is a problem there, and it has not been fixed.

2) Asian players get preferential treatment and more help handling the language barrier, including interpreters.

The interpreter part, I think, is the result of market forces.

Players such as Ichiro and the Matsuis and Dice-K were already stars in Japan. They came to American ball for the money and the challenge, but it was their choice. They had options. They go straight to the major leagues because they're older, mature, ready to do that. Some hired their own interpreters; some had an interpreter provided as part of their contract.

The typical Latin signee is young — 16, 17, probably no more than 18 — and has few if any alternative routes to a better life than baseball.

Baseball teams (and other employers) have always exploited players who lack leverage — the young and uneducated. As Guillen said, that's never going to change.

I do think that teams have done a better job of providing structured English and acclimation classes to their young Latin players. Some learn the language fairly easily (Johan Santana); some don't (Cristian Guzman). It doesn't seem particularly practical to hire individual interpreters for each Latin player.

So, yeah, the Asian player and the Latin player face similar language barriers, and they tend to deal with it in different ways. They reach the majors, if they do, in different ways. Those differences are partially individual, partially structural — but probably not racial.

3) These young and uneducated players are force-fed into an unfamiliar culture and often dumped at an early age — an age at which American collegians are just entering pro ball.

Factually true, and rooted in the youth of the Latin signees — which in turn in rooted in the far less-formal baseball training systems in their homelands.

American kids have Little League, high school ball, VFW ball, Legion ball, college, amateur town ball — all of which provide structured training for those athletes talented enough for pro ball. The Dominican Republic does not. The baseball structure there is whatever the major league teams have put into place.

So the teams sign young athletes to get them under their control —why would the Red Sox spend their resources to train a player for the White Sox? — but too young to know for sure that they're going to emerge.

A U.S. collegian enters older and more mature. He is a safer wager — and often a more expensive one, because he has more options. And when teams have invested more money in a player, they have reason to take care of that investment.

One other point to consider in all this: It is highly unlikely that Ozzie Guillen is the only Latino in baseball who believes that the deck is stacked against players of his background. If his voice is the one being heard, it's because he is loud by nature, and because he is secure enough in his position and accomplishments to speak up.