Saturday, April 30, 2011

Alexi Casilla, scapegoat

Five plays comprised the Kansas City Royals' game-winning rally on Friday, five plays that resulted in two runs in the bottom of the eighth inning.
Alexi Casilla had a
difficult eighth inning
on Friday.

Alexi Casilla was involved in three of the five, and when the game was over FSN studio analyst Ron Coomer heaped the blame on the Twins' beleaguered shortstop.

Let's break the rally down:

Alex Burnett struck out the leadoff man, then (PLAY 1) allowed a double to Wilson Betemit. Then came Casilla's troubles.

PLAY 2: Kila Ka'aihue hit a sharp grounder at base-runner Betemit, who broke for third. Casilla let the grounder kick off his glove. It was ruled a hit, which is sloppy official scoring by any standard; it should have been an error. Hit or error, the Royals now had the tying run on third and the go-ahead run on first.

Comment: This is the easiest play to criticize Casilla on, and as a physical error the one Coomer was least willing to rap him for. I assume that, because Casilla was headed toward second, his play would have been to first base, conceding third to Betemit. That would have left the Royals with two outs and a man on third.

PLAY 3: Kansas City pinch-ran the speedy Jerry Dyson for the plodding Ka'aihue. On the first pitch to Brayan Pena, Dyson stole second. Drew Butera's throw was well to the first base side of second base (behind the sliding runner) and went into center field. Betemit scored and Dyson advanced to third on the Butera error.

Comment: Casilla was the man covering second on the steal attempt, and he held at second as the ball sailed though. Coomer's criticism was that Casilla should have left the bag to try to keep the ball in the infield. Watching the play unfold, I expected Butera's throw to hit Dyson, and if that happened, there was no telling where it would go. (And, obviously, in an alternative universe in which Casilla makes the Ka'aihue play, there is no steal and no error,) The throw was errant enough that I'm not sure Casilla could have kept it in the infield anyway.

PLAY 4: With Dyson on third, Burnett walked Pena (Burnett was up 0-2 in the count and lost him).

PLAY 5: Alcides Escobar hit a looper between third and short. Casilla dashed over and back to catch the ball, but his momentum was carrying him away from home plate, and Dyson tagged up and dashed home. Casilla threw, third baseman Danny Valencia tried to cut it off, the ball went well up the first base line, and there was no play on Dyson.

Comment: There was nothing wrong with the catch, and while I can't prove it, I doubt that the slower J.J. Hardy would have gotten to the ball (assuming that Hardy were healthy enough to play, which he isn't). Coomer's complaint is that Casilla didn't immediately plant, pivot and throw home. (The catch was good; a throw, against Casilla's body, strong and accurate enough to catch Dyson would have been even more impressive.) Coomer sees this play, and the stolen base play, as further examples of Casilla's pattern of mental errors, that he wasn't adequately aware of the game situation.

And that's certainly possible. Casilla's problems over the years have generally been from the neck up. In this inning, however, the mental errors, if any, arose directly from the physical mistake on Ka'aihue's grounder.

Target Field aesethics, year two

The "Twins Tower" to the right of the right field
video board is much more effective from a distance.
A couple of notes about the look of the second season of Target Field now that I've made two trips:

*My Opening Day seats were in the right field seats, and as you can see from the accompanying photo my wife took during the pre-game introductions, the new "Twins Tower" loses something up close. It's much better from a distance, as seen from the other photo, made Thursday from Section 319 when Rene Tosoni came to the plate for his first major-league at-bat.

*Remember the flap late last season when Target Center put up a large billboard for a Fargo-based health services company? And how FSN immediately changed its standard "look at the stadium" shot from the view of the Minneapolis skyline from behind home plate to the view from the outfield?

The Twins probably aren't any happier with the billboard, but they're no longer publicly whining about having their audience hijacked. FSN is showing its skyline shot again -- and, probably no coincidence, has a sponsor for in-game injury-health reports: The same Fargo-based health services company whose name and logo "graces" the Target Center billboard.

Money, as the song says, changes everything.

Friday, April 29, 2011

The continuing pitching staff shuffle

... to Alex Burnett
From Eric Hacker ...
.. to Anthony Swarzak ...

After playing just two games in five days, the Twins bullpen figured to be well rested. After playing three games in two days -- three games in which the three starters pitched about 12 of the 27 innings -- the bullpen is shot.

Eric Hacker was supposed to start the second game Thursday, but he had to pick up the mess left Wednesday by Francisco Liriano. He got shipped back to Rochester so that Anthony Swarzak could make that Thursday start, which seems harsh, but Hacker was probably going back to Triple A when Kevin Slowey came off the DL soon anyway.

Swarzak was probably still wet from his post-game shower when the Twins sent him back to Rochester and recalled Alex Burnett to get a fresher arm in the bullpen. Which raised the question in my mind: Why not Slowey?

The answer came today from Ron Gardenhire: The leash on Liriano is pretty short. He said on Reusse and Mackey today that he and pitching coach Rick Anderson are examining their options with Liriano. The preferred one, of course, is to straighten Liriano out. But Slowey is being stretched out now with an eye to returning him to the rotation in Liriano's stead, and Gardenhire implied that would happen if Liriano flounders in his next start.

Let's examine that notion. Somebody gets sent to Rochester when Slowey is activated, probably either Burnett or Dusty Hughes (7.84 ERA so far, with 19 baserunners in 10.1 innings). Moving Liriano to the bullpen suggests the demotee should be Hughes, since the Twins appear reluctant to devote the majority of the bullpen jobs to lefties.

Here's the problem: This would devote two of the seven bullpen slots to recovery projects (Liriano and Joe Nathan) and another to Burnett, who has not earned a key role in his previous major league stints.

That''s a lot of arms for the manager to try to avoid using in game situations. Nathan's been effective in his two most recent outings, but is he really ready for key outs? I have my doubts.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

A cold afternoon at the ball park

With the confluence Thursday of a furlough day for me, a Twin Cities meeting for my wife and a noon Twins game with available tickets, I went.

Brrr. And. as a Twins fan, Grrr.

Taking the tarp off the
field on a cold, damp day.
I don't mind confessing that I didn't make it though the whole fiasco. For that matter, most of the people in my section -- section 319, with an excellent view down the right field foul line -- didn't make it through all nine innings (although it's quite possible that some of them either took shelter in the nearby Twins Pub or under the radiant heaters).

A few thoughts:

Jim Hoey impressed me more than his line score would suggest. He was lit up for three runs when the Twins tried to get eight outs from him, but he was very good for the first time through the order. (Ben Zobrist's three-run homer was immediately preceeded by a hit-and-run single on which I'm sure Matt Joyce broke his bat.)

Jose Mijares was not good. He got just two outs and needed 37 pitches to do so. (In comparison, Hoey got his eight outs on 44 pitches.) And the less said about Nick Blackburn, the better. Like Liriano the night before, Blackburn couldn't or wouldn't throw strikes.

The Rays abused the battery of Blackburn and Steve Holm on the bases. It's a very fast team -- at least three men in their lineup for the nooner are faster than anybody the Twins have (B.J. Upton, Sam Fuld and Sean Rodriguez) -- and Holm's arm doesn't impress me.

Rene Tosoni was probably the only Twins player who could be happy with that game. Two hits in his major league debut.

The unwatchable Francisco Liriano

Another lousy start for the Twins most talented starter.
Remember the furor just before spring training when the Twins and Liriano did a one-year contract and there was suddenly chatter about trading the left-hander?

I think the market would be considerably lower today.

Wednesday was Liriano's fifth start, and really, none of them have been effective. He's 1-4 with a 9.13 ERA , and the one win came in a game in which he allowed five hits and five walks in 6.1 innings.

In 23.2 innings — less than five innings per start — Liriano has 18 walks, 18 strikeouts and, it appears, no clue.

I have no idea how he can turn this season around. I do know that it is going to beastly difficult for the Twins to do much in 2011 if he's going to pitch as if it were 2009 again.


A small piece of broadcast idiocy last night: The Rays had a 7-1 lead and put a runner in motion, and Bert Blyleven started complaining about them stealing bases with a six-run lead. (Let the record show that the only actual steal attempt by the Rays came in the first inning; my issues isn't with what the Rays did, but with what Blyleven said.)

The "unwritten rule" is that you don't steal bases with a big lead, and there are good reasons to follow that rule, not the least of which is the enhanced possibility of injury.

But ... hey, are the Twins giving up? Are they going to stop trying to score runs? No. Then why should the Rays stop playing their game? Teams have overcome six-run deficits in the past, and the Rays have a bullpen in which Kyle Farnsworth plays a key role. If I were Joe Maddon, I'd not treat a 7-1 lead as sufficient either.

It's the major leagues, and if the Twins share Blyleven's consternation about the Rays trying to tack on runs, they know what to do about it: Stop walking people and start holding some runners on.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Rain, rain, go away ...

A commenter on Tuesday inquires: Do you see any late-season consequences to having so many games rained out without being immediately made up?

Answer: I don't think it's that many right now.

Tuesday was the third postponement of the young season, but that's to be made up on Thursday evening, so that won't be a problem later in the year. It does jam up the starting rotation a bit, and I assume that if the Twins can get through the Tampa Bay series without dipping into the Eric Hacker well that he'll pick up a start this weekend.

The one that irritates is the first one, in New York. The Twins were, at least on paper, in the better position for that game in terms of pitching; it was the Yankees fifth starter (Freddie Garcia) scheduled, and fearsome late inning relievers Rafael Soriano and Mariano Rivera were probably both unavailable.

That game has yet to be rescheduled. The Twins had only the one trip to New York scheduled (and why a one-trip series got put in the worst weather week is one of those mysteries known only to the schedule maker), and the teams have relatively few mutual off days. There's no available makeup date that isn't quite inconvenient for one or the other. One date would have the Twins interrupting a homestand to fly to and from NYC; another would fall on a Yankee travel day to the West Coast. My guess is that it will be the Twins inconvenienced.

The other one, Friday against Cleveland, isn't a bad deal for the Twins, at least on paper. Had that game been played — or Tuesday's,  for that matter — the Twins wouldn't have had Joe Mauer or Tsuyoshi Nishioka or Kevin Slowey available. The Friday game would also have been without Delmon Young.

We don't know who'll be hurt or slumping when the games are played, but those are some fairly significant people out now.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Yankees eat some Humber pie

Two former Twins: catcher A.J. Pierzynski and
pitcher Phil Humber.
Monday offered one of those confluences that tend to plague me: A night off work for me fell on a night off for the Twins.

So I watched the ESPN broadcast of the White Sox-Yankees, secure in the knowledge that one of them had to lose (and tormented by the fact that one had to win).

It's  been well over 12 hours since the final out, and I still can't quite get my brain around the notion that Phil Humber — sour fruit of the Johan Santana trade, he of a 6.10 ERA in 20 scant innings with the Twins — no-hit the Yankees into the seventh inning. Nor can I credit the fact that after four starts with the Sox that he is 2-2 with a 3.20 ERA.

Can he keep this up? I have my doubts, but I'm the guy who greeted the spring training news that he would step into the Sox rotation for the recovering Jake Peavy by referring to him as "throwing batting practice."

As unlikely as I find the notion of Phil Humber getting outs, his performance may not have been the biggest surprise of the game for me. The Yankees made two uncharacteristic defensive mistakes, each of which led to Chicago runs. (And since the game ended 2-0, those miscues, neither of them an error, lost the game.)

One: Center fielder Curtis Granderson made an overly aggressive dive attempt on a leadoff single and turned it into a double. Two ground balls later, the Sox had their first run in something like 28 innings.

Two: In the ninth inning, Alexi Ramirez hits a little pop-up over the pitcher's mound. Rafael Soriano does what he's trained to do: Point to it and get out of the infielders' way. (Major league teams don't want their pitchers trying to backpedal up and down the mound; that's a good route to ankle injuries.) Only Derek Jeter never got there. Base hit.

The ESPN boys immediately blamed Soriano, I assume because the broadcast rights contract requires that nobody ever criticize Jeter for anything. (Rick Sutcliffe spent much of an inning earlier denouncing a new book that is apparently critical of Jeter's "leadership" on the basis that Jeter had nothing to do with the book, as if that has any relevance to the truth or falsity of the content.)

It's just one game and two plays, but it sure didn't look like the Yankees who won the World Series in 2009 by playing it safe on defense and letting the other team make the mistakes — and knowing that the thunder in their lineup was sure to generate runs.

Jamie Hoffmann, Jason Repko and the "ideal" backup outfielder

The NUN -- that's "New Ulm Native" -- Jamie Hoffmann had just four days in The Show before being shipped back to Triple A. One pinch-hit appearance, one start in left field, 0-for-4. Called up on April 11, optioned back out on the 15th.

Like Jamie Hoffmann,
Jason Repko came up
though the Dodgers
farm system.
I suspect one reason his career isn't getting much traction is that he hits right-handed. And when one ponders the makeup of most major league benches, that's a bit of a drawback.

Every team has, or at least needs, a fourth or fifth outfielder capable of filling in at center field for a few days. That player, as a rule, will be fast but not a particularly powerful hitter. (Someone like Willie Mays would be the ideal fourth outfielder, but nobody has three outfielders good enough to force a Mays to the bench.)

The Twins' fourth outfielder, strictly speaking, is Jason Kubel, but he's not a CF candidate. Jason Repko is the backup CF, and he's right-handed, which makes him an exception to the general rule. Lefties and switch-hitters get the edge in this competition because most pitchers are right-handed and, when dealing with marginal talents, the platoon advantage matters. Repko fits the need because the Twins regular lineup is so left-handed.

Hoffmann, in contrast, is blocked by Tony Gwynn Jr., who can't hit like daddy did (few do) but is a very good defensive outfielder and hits left-handed. Last spring, as a Rule V player with the Yankees, Hoffmann lost out to a pair of veterans in Randy Winn (left-handed) and Marcus Thames (right-handed), but the job of second center fielder was filled by Brett Gardner (left-handed), the regular left fielder.

The game has a bias for left-handed players. Hoffmann, so far, has been handicapped by being a righty.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Duh. Winning.

A bonehead play from a player with a record for
making bonehead plays.
Assorted notes and comments from a modest three-game winning streak (may it grow longer):

* Alexi Casilla should have been wearing a dunce cap rather than a batting helmet when he got thrown out at home in the third inning Sunday. There's a base coach out there for a reason, kid. Use him. (On the other hand, Steve Liddle's indecisive and late stop sign for Justin Morneau later in the inning wasn't great either.)

*Joe Nathan had a solid 1-2-3 inning to wrap up Saturday's blowout win, complete with two strikeouts and what at least one observer called his best slider of the season for the final pitch.

Somebody asked Ron Gardenhire if sending Nathan to the minors is a possibility, and Gardy said no, Nathan will have to get his innings in the majors.

I'm not sure if the roster rules would allow a demotion. It will be interesting to see how Nathan gets work, though. There's an obvious (and merited) reluctance to use him in game situations, but if he's going to be of use this year he's got to get a regular diet of work.

* Michael Cuddyer is apparently to get fairly regular work at second base for a while. Such an arrangement does make it easier to get Jim Thome in the lineup, and Cuddyer probably isn't a lot worse at the keystone than Luke Hughes, but it's difficult to imagine Gardenhire being happy with what it does to the defense. Of course, since Jim Thome won't play more than three games in a row, Hughes and Matt Tolbert are going to get some action.

* Jason Kubel's game-winning double Sunday came off a left-hander. Let the record show that at this point he has had 28 plate appearances against southpaws, 26 official at-bars, with slash stats of .269/.321/346, which isn't Jacque Jones helpless but still isn't good. Those numbers aren't far off from his career slash stats against lefties (.237/.313/.352).

* A Twins blog griped that Glen Perkins "almost blew" Sunday's game. That's an overly harsh assessment, and I think it stems from a continued fan base mistrust of Perkins. True, the four-pitch walk to Carlos Santana wasn't ideal,  but the following single was a mere popup that Jason Repko lost in the sun. That should have been the second out. It really wasn't a bad outing for Perkins.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Pic of the week

Pitcher Shaun Marcum of the Brewers fields
a comebacker from Phillies pitcher Joe Blanton
during Monday's game.
No deep thoughts about this one.  I just love the expression.

Happy Easter to all.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

A useful rainout

A reprieve from the good god Jupiter Pluvius helped us weather the seventh day of the second half of the season. We were down, and the Giants, clodhoppered and merciless, were anxious to kick us right in our pitching staff, which hurt the most. A brief but violent thunderstorm presented the Cincinnati front office with a chance to cancel the July 11 game. A sellout crowd was advised at six o'clock that there would be no game. At eight o'clock the skies cleared, the moon shone, and the Giants screamed.
-- "Pennant Race," by Jim Brosnan

Even in the rain, a trip to Target Field is
worth commemorating with a self portrait.
Friday's rainout was legitimate, and it was legitimately to the Twins advantage, or so it would appear.

Had they played Friday, the Twins would again have been without Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau, Delmon Young and Tsuyoshi Nishioka. There's no guarantee they will all be in the lineup when the game is played (either in July or September), but the odds are pretty good.

There's another factor here: Right now, Cleveland is 13-6, leading the division, and feeling pretty good about themselves. The Twins are 7-12 and filling the basement.

In the fullness of time, these relative positions are not likely to maintain themselves. Manny Acta, the Cleveland manager, has it right: The title chase still runs through Minnesota.

The weather-induced pause gives an opportunity to reflect on the Twins just-completed 3-5 road trip, and specifically to wonder if there isn't a silver lining to it.

Joe Nathan blew two leads in St. Petersburg, Fla., early in the trip. Imagine he'd protected one of those leads. He's still be the closer — even with diminished stuff. 

The Twins may well be better off having had that reality check on Nathan. Now they know, and he knows (which is just as important), that they're better off not entrusting key innings to him.

By the time this game is actually played, that too may change.

Friday, April 22, 2011

That eighth inning of relief

Glen Perkins: Three
holds on the season.
The way things have gone for the Twins in the first three weeks of the season, it's probably unseemly to carp about anything in Thursday's 3-1 win against Baltimore.

Still, there were problems in the set-up work.

Scott Baker went seven innings (105 pitches) and left with a 3-0 lead. Jose Mijares retired one man, walked the next, threw ball one to the third and got a popup. Six balls, six strikes -- which is part of why Mijares remains pigeonholed in the LOOGY role.

In came Jim Hoey. He face two right-handed hitters and threw five pitches, all of them (according to the feed) fastballs around 94 mph. Three of them were called balls, the other two became a double and a single. In Hoey's previous outing, also against Baltimore (his old team), he threw some offspeed pitches. On Thursday it was all hard stuff, and he either missed with it or got hit.

With another lefty coming up, Glen Perkins got the call, and got the inning-ending out on one pitch.

It was a ragged inning. The job got done, but the flaws in Mijares and Hoey were exposed. Perkins, on the other hand, continues to impress.


As you may recall, I posted to this blog before the home opener from the right-field stands but quickly ran into problems with Target Field's "Twi-Fi." The Pioneer Press' tech writer has a piece here on the challenges in the system. As I suspected, it was overwhelmed at the opener, and it's apparently getting better but remains a work in progress.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

High finance and low lifes

Bud Selig and Frank McCourt, 2006:
Don't look at him with the naked eye!
No matter what happened Wednesday on the playing fields of Major League Baseball, the biggest drama happened behind closed doors when Commissioner Bud Selig essentially seized control of the Los Angeles  Dodgers.

Any MLB franchise is valuable, financially and otherwise, but some are more so than others. I am, of course, devoted to the Twins; I honor and respect the histories and traditions of the teams in Pittsburgh and St. Louis, Detroit and elsewhere; but there is no doubt that (despite the best efforts of the Bostons, Chicagos and Philadelphias) that the cornerstone teams of baseball are the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers -- the dominant teams in the nation's largest metro areas, one on the East Coast, the other on the West Coast, one in the American League, the other in the National.

And now the Dodgers are effectively in receivership. It's a complex and tawdry tale, which can perhaps be summed up thusly: Frank and Jamie McCourt, the married/divorced couple who took the Dodgers off News Corp's hands, looted the operation.

In recent days it was reported that Frank McCourt borrowed $30 million from Fox -- News Corp again -- to meet payroll. This on top of some $430 million in long-term debt with which the McCourts saddled the operation.

Selig has repeatedly this spring blocked Frank McCourt -- who has continued to operate the Dodgers single-handedly despite a court ruling that the team is community property -- from tying up the lucrative television rights with News Corp. McCourt, without question, needs capital; Selig pretty clearly regrets ever letting these clowns in to the ownership club and wants to force both Frank and Jamie out; and News Corp is eying a potential killling.

I don't think Selig is afraid that Fox wants to own the Dodgers again; News Corp has been there and done that. I think he fears that McCourt's immediate financial desperation will lead to a too-cheap long term TV contract that will make the Dodgers a less attractive property. Fox doesn't need to buy the cow if it can get the milk for free.

This fiasco isn't over yet. McCourt apparently intends to fight this out, although he is surrounded by problems, each of which might be enough to topple him -- not the least which is a reported IRS investigation into the financial manipulations by which he and his (ex-)wife pulled some $100 million out of the operation for personal use without paying a dime in taxes.

Meanwhile, we'll see how long it take Selig to do unto the Wilpons and the Mets as he has to the McCourts. One key difference, I fear: He likes the Wilpons and doesn't much care for the McCourts.

I offer this link if you're interested in the sordid details: Dodger Divorce is a first-rate blog run by a University of Minnesota law student that has been on top of the McCourt divorce saga from the get-go.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

What next for Joe Nathan?

Joe Nathan blew two
save opportunities in
three days last week
and is no longer the
Twins closer.
If there was any doubt concerning the wisdom of pulling Joe Nathan from the closer's role, Nathan removed it with his performance Tuesday night.

Called upon to mop up an already lost game, he worked one inning, allowing three runs on two hits, one walk. He faced six batters and threw a first-pitch strike to five of them, but still was only 50-50 balls and strikes (11 strikes, 11 balls).

Which tells us that (a) he could get ahead of hitters but (b) could not put them away.

That his fastball in generally clocked at 90-92 mph these days rather than the 94-96 of his heyday is only part of the problem. Pitchers can be effective with that velocity, or even with less. It's the command, or lack of it.

And it's the all-too-similar velocities of the fastball and slider — the feed had his slider consistently at 88 mph, the fastball at 90.

I don't know where the Twins go from here with Nathan. Clearly they cannot use him in game situations, and just as clearly he has to pitch if he's going to regain enough ability to help the team. The optimism that accompanied his three straight shutout appearances is gone. The reality — that this is still a rehab season for him — is setting in.

The Twins have to pay him for this season no matter what. After Tuesday's game, it seems possible they will be better off eating the contract, cutting him loose and turning to somebody else.

That decision, if it comes, is unlikely to come quickly or easily.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Notes, quotes and comment (catcher division)

A s a general thing, backup catchers aren't asked to win games so much as they are expected to avoid losing them. 

Steve Holm takes that concept a bit further:
"I think most people are realistic in knowing that no team has someone who's going to replace Joe Mauer," Holm said. "It's not like I'm trying to actually do that. ... You don't try to duplicate that.
"Like the old adage, you don't want to be noticed. You just want to do your job, and at the end of the day, don't do anything noticeable."
The first part, about not trying to replace Mauer, is eminently sensible. The part about not doing anything noticeable ... well, that might be part of why Holm's spent so much time in the minors. Drew Butera, after all, had three RBIs Monday night, which is certainly noticeable.
We're more than a week from this becoming an issue, but I'm wondering what Holm's option status is. My assumption with a 31-year-old player with his tenure in the minors is that he's out of options, but Holm may not be. He does have two partial major league seasons, so I'm sure at least two of his three options are gone. 

This becomes relevant when Joe Mauer is ready to return to action. If Holm is out of options, the Twins would have to waive him to send him back to Rochester. If the Twins don't want to risk losing him, their alternative is to instead option out Butera.


Jose Morales, traded during the winter to Colorado, is the Rockies backup catcher. I got to see a few innings of the Rox' win against the Cubs on Sunday with Morales behind the dish. He's hitting .273 in 14 at-bats, which seems about right.

I wrote about this at the time, but given the Twins' current catching situation it's worth repeating: The Twins traded Morales because he was out of options and behind Butera on their depth chart, the Twins having decided they prefer Butera's superior defense to Morales' batting average. They used the roster spot opened by the trade to sign Jim Thome.

Had they kept Morales and dumped somebody else to make room for Thome, they still would have had to move Morales at the end of spring training (unless they decided to keep him over Butera). So I don't fault the Twins for trading him.

Meanwhile, the minor league pitcher the Twins got in the deal, Paul Bargas, is apparently in tough shape with an unspecified neurological condition

Monday, April 18, 2011

More bullpen shuffle

Jim Hoey threw 18
pitches Monday,
14 for strikes.
Jim Hoey looked good in his Twins debut Monday night, getting the last out of the seventh and breezing through the eighth. Jose Mijares was less impressive (six pitches, only two strikes) and definitely has to rank behind Glen Perkins in the bullpen heirarchy.

There certainly remain reasons to be skeptical of the idea of Perkins and Hoey as the primary set-up men, but the struggles of Joe Nathan and Mijares meant someone else had to be given the opportunity to get the big outs late. As long as Hoey and Perkins get those outs, all is well -- and both have the arms to do it, they merely lack the resume.

And now Alex Burnett has been shipped back out and Eric Hacker recalled. Hacker was pretty lousy in spring training, but he's pitched well in Rochester — 11 shutout innings, 10 strikeouts and no walks — and he makes more sense as the long man than Burnett does.

Eric Hacker made his
major league debut
in 2009 with Pittsburgh
Bullpen roles in progress:

Closer: Matt Capps
Setup 1: Perkins
Lefty 1: Mijares
MR1/SU2: Hoey
Lefty 2: Dusty Hughes
MR2: Nathan
Long: Hacker

Redesigning the bullpen

It wasn't pretty, but Glen Perkins got through
the eighth without allowing a run. He's now
two-for-two at holding a save situation
intact in the eighth inning.
After two straight bullpen meltdowns,  the Twins made significant changes Sunday to the relief corps, both in personnel and in roles.

Joe Nathan not only is no longer the closer — the $12 million man is, at least for a while, not going to pitch in high-leverage situations.

Matt Capps, who has been used to get out of seventh inning jams and in the eighth inning — the kind of usage pattern that I suspect played a role in wrecking Pat Neshek's arm — has the ninth inning job.

Jim Hoey brings his fastball to the majors. Jeff Manship takes his curve back to Triple A.

And the eighth-inning job goes to ... Glen Perkins.

That's subject to change, but look at the alternatives.

Nathan has to re-establish his command and/or stuff before he's going to be used to protect narrow leads or ties. Jose Mijares has walked five men in five innings. Dusty Hughes has been just as inconsistent as Nathan, but his bad games have generally come when the Twins are well behind anyway. Hoey has the stuff to take the job, but has yet to demonstrate that he has harnessed it. Kevin Slowey is on the shelf, Manship has pitched his way off the 25-man roster and Alex Burnett might be following suit.

Perkins is in line for the job by attrition -- and by dint of what he's done in the seasons's first 15 games.

Perkins has twice now been deployed to protect a lead in the eighth, and he's done the job both times. It wasn't pretty Sunday-- he walked a man, then fell behind the next batter and gave up a hit-and-run single. (A co-worker said something along the lines of you can't blame Perkins for that one, but you can. The Rays knew Perkins had to throw a strike, which made the hit-and-run easier to put on.) Perkins got out of it, though, by inducing a double play.

Perkins -- who has now worked 7-plus innings without being charged with a run and has allowed just six men to reach base -- has the Greg McMichael Rule working for him. Get outs and they'll find a role for you. Right now, he's one guy getting outs.

Assigning the current bullpen to the roles I laid out during spring training:

Closer: Capps
Set-up 1: Perkins
LOOGY 1: Mijares
Setup 2/MR1: Hoey
LOOGY 2: Hughes
MR2: Nathan
Long man: Burnett

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Pic of the Week

We are all Jackie Robinson:
From left: Blue Jays first base coach Torey Lovullo,
Red Sox first baseman Adrian Gonzalez,
Blue Jays designated hitter Juan Rivera
and Red Sox pitcher Clay Buchholz.
Friday was Jackie Robinson Day, the anniversary of the day in 1947 when baseball's color barrier was broken, the day when every major league player, manager and coach wears No. 42, which is otherwise retired throughout the game.

I am of two minds on this practice. I am a great admirer of Robinson, both as a player and as a man, and he deserves honor and remembrance. Both he and Branch Rickey took great personal and professional risks to integrate baseball, and in the process they made both the game and the nation better and stronger. 

And before the Robinson number was retired, his story was in danger of being forgotten. The Robinson Day practice of hauling No. 42 out of mothballs is an annual lesson in history for generations of players and fans far removed from his era.

On the other hand ... the purpose of the uniform number is identification, to make it easier for the fan sitting several hundred feet away from the field to tell who it is playing shortstop. When everybody is wearing the same number, that primary purpose is lost.

The universal 42 is a political gesture, which is another problem. There are, as any given moment, some 960 men wearing major league uniforms. (Thirty teams, 25 active players per team, seven field staff, that comes to 960.) I doubt you can select 960 people at random and not come up with at least one racist, and I'm not a fan of mandatory groupthink. Robinson was a tremendously divisive figure in his lifetime —despised by racists on one side and militants on the other — and forcing a phony consensus on his memory is nearly as great a disservice as letting that memory fade.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Mauer, Holm and Eli Whiteside

Assuming that the current Joe Mauer diagnosis is correct -- that his "bilateral leg weakness" comes from a viral infection, not from a ruptured disk or Lou Gehrig's Disease or any of the other, life-altering possibilities -- we've had a lot of angst for nothing.

Which is better than having legitimate angst.

I don't, off what is currently known, foresee an imminent position shift for Mauer. Nor do I think it advisable. While Mauer's bat will play at any position, and while he would likely be in the lineup on a more regular basis were he an outfielder or third baseman, his value to the Twins is immensely increased by the fact that he is not only a catcher, but a very good catcher.

The time for a position change will come before his contract expires, but the longer Mauer can remain behind the plate, the more likely the Twins are to get their money's worth out of his contract.


Steve Holm probably
isn't going to match
his career major-
league average.
I heard Ron Gardenhire on the radio talking about his current catching tandem of Drew Butera and Steve Holm. Butera, Gardenhire said, is the better defensive player, but Holm "can swing it."

Holm is likely a better hitter than Butera, but that doesn't make him a good hitter. Yes, his major league average is .264, but that's in just 91 official at-bats. Of more relevance, I think, is that in 500 Triple A at-bats (spread out over four seasons), he's hit .248 -- this despite the fact that most of that playing time has come in the hitter-happy PCL.

Gardenhire's only seen Holm this spring, and Holm hit .400 -- six hits in 15 at-bats, hardly the basis for a sound judgment.

One thing I find intriguing: In 2008, the Twins had a catcher named Eli Whiteside in camp (I remember seeing him catch in spring training that year). Whiteside caught that season for a month in Triple A for the Twins before being released, then moved on to San Francisco, where he won the backup job in 2009 and has held it since.

One of the guys Whiteside beat out for the job: Steve Holm.

Friday, April 15, 2011

The Twins' Thursday curse

When and if Joe Mauer moves to another position,
the odds are back problems will be a catalyst in the shift.
Another Thursday, another Twins loss, another key injury.

Last week it was Tsuyoshi Nishioka's broken fibula; yesterday it was Joe Mauer's "bilateral leg weakness." He was put on the disabled list and is to see the specialist who treated his sacroiliac joint in 2009.

This diagnosis was a new one to me, but the more I learn of it the more concerned I become. Presumably this is rooted in his back, and it is back issues that generally sabotage the careers of tall catchers. Mauer is listed at 6-foot-5 and may be taller than that; he is definitely a tall catcher.

I've been dismissive of the chronic talk of moving Mauer to another position, and I would like to continue to be dismissive of that notion. Two disabling back injuries in a little more than two years (if that's the cause) makes that a difficult position to maintain.

There is much unknown about the outlook, including the exact cause and even when Mauer will see the specialist. so it's premature to declare that his catching days are numbered. What we do know for a fact is that he won't be catching for at least two weeks, and we also know that the Twins, having traded both Wilson Ramos and Jose Morales in the past year, are not particularly deep in catchers now.

Presumably Drew Butera will be the primary catcher while Mauer is sidelined. Steve Holm, a 31-year-old minor league veteran who hit .400 (in 15 at-bats) in spring training, has been called up to serve as the backup. Holm has all of 53 major league games on his resume -- which is what Butera has after Thursday's game.

There is, obviously, a big drop off from Joe Mauer to Butera and Holm. If Mauer's going to be out for a prolonged period, the Twins may have to shop for outside help.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Sound and fury: The Bonds verdict

Barry Bonds: "Nothing
to celebrate."
Seven years and an estimated $6 million later, this is what federal prosecutors got out of their obsessive pursuit of Barry Bonds: a hung jury on the perjury counts that alleged specific lies to the BALCO grand jury and a bizarre conviction on a count of obstruction of justice.

Did you, dear fellow taxpayer, get your money's worth out of this prosecutorial project?

It is a mystery to most how the jury could convict Bonds of obstruction without convicting him of perjury, and  perhaps the judge will be sufficiently struck by the illogic of it all to toss that verdict as well. Or perhaps the feds will seek a retrial and flush more money down the drain.

I doubt that there's a student of the game who believes Bonds was clean over the final eight years or so of his career. But federal prosecutors chose not to charge him with using illegal substances. They charged him, instead, with lying about his use of illegal substances — a charge which necessitated that they prove that he used steroids and knowingly lied to the grand jury about that use — and they could not convict him.

Sound and fury, signifying nothing. Bonds faces no prison time. Had he been convicted of all three counts of perjury, he still would have gotten no prison time. This case has long smacked of vendetta and prosecutorial overreach.

Bonds played in an era in which steroid use was rampant. We will never know how prevalent PEDs were in the late '90s and early '00s — was it 30 percent of players? Fifty percent? Eighty?

What we do know is that Bonds dominated the game in that period, dominated it so throughly that one year he drew 120 intentional walks. That's not just the 'roids at work.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Hoffmann watch and other notes

Jamie Hoffmann was
with the Yankees during
spring training in 2010
as a rule V pick but
was returned to the
The NUN – New Ulm  native Jamie Hoffmann – is back in the majors, having been brought up on Monday by the Los Angeles Dodgers.

The outfielder was last in the majors in 2009. He didn't play Tuesday. The LA roster is crammed with outfielders (six on the 25-man roster), so there's hardly a guarantee of playing time, or even that he'll stick.

He had 20 at-bats during spring training with the Dodgers, hitting .350/.409/450.


A sour development for the Twins in their minor league system: Alex Wimmers, last year's first round pick, a pitcher who was expected to rise quickly through the system in part because of his outstanding command, had a disastrous first outing for High A Fort Myers.

Six batters, six walks, three wild pitches. He threw just four strikes in 28 pitches and hit the backstop on the fly with that many.

He's been put on the disabled list with "flu-like symptoms," but even if he really does have a virus, he appears to have a more serious malady, known in some circles as "Steve Blass disease." Few pitchers recover.


I ridiculed the Royals front office a few weeks ago for discarding Dusty Hughes, and nothing that happened Tuesday night suggests I was wrong.

Hughes threw a shutout inning Tuesday against his old team and collected his first "W" in a TC cap.  The Royals, who are carrying just one lefty reliever, could have used another against the heavily left-handed Twins.

But just as Hughes is no better than the No. 2 southpaw in the Minnesota pen (and might be the No. 3 lefty), he'd be below Tim Collins in the K.C. depth chart.

Collins is an interesting pitcher — listed at 5-foot-7 but probably considerably shorter than that, he has a mid-90s fastball and an impressive curve. He's racked up silly strikeout rates in the minors — more than 13 K/9 over four minor league seasons, and doing the same so far in the majors — but been traded twice.

Evaluators have a hard time getting past the diminutive stature and judging him strictly on the talent. But he's a good one.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

And the Twins best defensive player is ...

Let us begin this post with the standard disclaimer: Nine games is too few from which to make reliable judgments.

It's too few with hitters -- anybody really think that hitters like Delmon Young and Michael Cuddyer are going to remain below .200 all season? -- and it's too few with fielders as well.

And, as regular readers of this corner of the Internet know, I bear a dose of skepticism for the audit-proof defensive metrics that have emerged in recent years. I want to know the numbers, but I decline to base any conclusions solely on them.

So the numbers to be cited in this post are illustrative of what's happened so far, but not predictive of the future.

End disclaimer. On to the meat.

A nice Delmon Young catch from last
season, when there weren't many of them.
Through the wonders of my iPad and a new app, I now have access to Baseball Info Systems' two sophisticated defensive metrics, plus-minus and runs saved. The figures for the Twins aren't pretty.

Tsuyoshi Nishioka is already -3 in plus-minus. Cuddyer, with one game played at second base, has (says BIS) already cost the Twins a run there (and another run at first base, where he has two games played.)

Indeed, the only infielder who isn't in the negatives in runs saved or plus-minus is Matt Tolbert, who has just 17 innings in the field.

But the outfield — Cuddyer and Jason Repko are both +1 in plus-minus in right field, and each (and Jason Kubel as well) is credite with one run saved. Denard Span is 2 to the good in both categories (he's played every inning in center field so far).

But the best defensive player so far: Young. He's +4 in plus-minus with three runs saved.

Those are incredible figures considering how incompetent these metrics have held him to be in the past. He's -57 over the past three years in plus-minus, -27 runs saved in the same period.

And now he's saving the Twins a run every three games? Really?

We'll see how long this lasts.

Monday, April 11, 2011

More thoughts on Manny Ramirez

First, an acknowledgement of error: I messed up in the print column. (The linked version fixes the error.)

Portrait of the athlete as a young Manny:
The pre-dreadlocked Ramirez in his days
with the Cleveland Indians early in his career.
I had the notion of stringing together a lineup of no-doubt-about-it Hall of Famers who didn't have, combined, as many World Series titles as Manny Ramirez.

The list we printed was Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Barry Bonds, Carl Yastrzremski, Rod Carew, Ernie Banks, Robin Yount, Pie Traynor and Gabby Hartnett. But Mays won a World Series in 1954, Aaron one in 1957, and Traynor in 1925. That's three, which is one more than Ramirez.

Traynor was pure oversight on my part — I somehow forgot that his career began that early. (That kind of thing may not be general knowledge, but it's something I expect myself to know without resort to reference books.) At one point in the writing process I replaced Aaron with Ty Cobb, who has zero. That, in my mind, brought the total to one (not really), and I made the sentence say that Manny had more titles to his credit than this group of illustrious players — and then, unaccountably, I dropped Cobb and restored Aaron to the list without further change.

I realized the Aaron error shortly after the press run, and we changed the on-line version to say the group had as many World Series wins as Ramirez, which still wasn't correct. I didn't think of Traynor's title until I started composing this post. (The linked version now replaces Aaron with Cobb and says the group won as many World Series as Ramirez, which is, finally, correct.)

Confused yet?

It wasn't all that good an idea to start with — this isn't basketball. No one player matters so much in MLB as in the NBA. Nobody thinks less of Banks (or Cobb or Ken Griffey Jr.) for the lack of a championship.

The larger point stands: Manny Ramirez's teams won a lot of games.


I want, also, to take note of the incredible lineup the Cleveland Indians assembled in the mid 1990s:

Kenny Lofton, CF
Omar Vizquel, SS
Carlos Baerga, 2B
Albert Belle, LF
Eddie Murray, DH
Paul Sorrento, 1B
Jim Thome, 3B
Manny Ramirez, RF
Sandy Alomar Jr. C

Murray's in the Hall of Fame. Vizquel and Thome are still active (and Ramirez, of course, was until Friday); those three have HoF credentials. So does Lofton, who is not yet eligible but is the kind of player the voters have historically been unkind to (as Tim Raines can attest, leadoff men are almost always overlooked). Belle and Baerga had short careers, but at their peak were legitimate middle-of-the-order threats.

Any lineup deep enough to have Thome and Ramirez — even the young versions of those two — hitting seven and eight is historically good.

It's probably not as good as the Big Red Machine's starting eight; those Cincinnati teams of the mid '70s had Gold Gloves at each up-the-middle position, and Baerga fell short of that standard. Thome wasn't good enough at third to stay there long, and Ramirez was no Ken Griffey Sr. in right.

Impressive as that lineup is, they also discarded the likes of prospects Brian Giles, Richie Sexson and Sean Casey and couldn't find room for such pass-throughs as Jeff Kent and Jeromy Burnitz. That Indians organization was just loaded with position players. Pitchers, that was another story.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Pic of the week

This play made Baseball Tonight's Web Gems.
This features former Twin Jose Morales, now the reserve catcher for Colorado, getting thrown out at home on Saturday.

Actually, it involves two former Twins, one of whom isn't in the photo. The Pittsburgh outfielder who gunned down Morales is Garrett Jones.

It's a odd little play, really. Jones is more a first baseman than an outfielder; he doesn't really have the arm to play right. Morales is a catcher who suffered a severely broken ankle a few years ago; he can't run. Ryan Doumit, the catcher who applied the tag, is (like Morales) a bat-first catcher with defensive limitations.

So we have here an outfielder who can't throw nailing a baserunner who can't run with the aid of a catcher who can't catch. All the weaknesses came together to make this photo.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Bringing up Burnett

Alex Burnett is getting
another shot.
The Twins on Saturday put Kevin Slowey on the 15-day DL and recalled Alex Burnett from Triple A Rochester.

I find this interesting, because Burnett was the first legitimate bullpen candidate to get shipped out this spring. First out, first back.

So why wasn't one of the later cuts brought back? I'll speculate:

1) Slowey's injury is not deemed particularly serious or lasting.There's a pretty good chance that this will be a 10-day or so callup (Slowey last pitched on Monday, so his DL stint can be backdated).

2) Two of the later cuts (Kyle Waldrop and Carlos Gutierrez) aren't on the 40-man roster. While the Twins have two openings on the 40, they're not likely to burn an option year on either for a 10-day stint.

3) Jim Hoey, I assume, stuck late into camp because his fastball velocity is so intriguing. He got sent down because his command is so lacking. Burnett is the safer choice right now.

The other late cuts were non-roster left-handers (Chuck James, Scott Diamond, Phil Dumatrait), and the Twins aren't likely to go with a four-lefty bullpen.

So Burnett got the call, in effect, by process of elimination. I rather believe that if Slowey had a serious, long-term injury, that Waldrop would have been tabbed.

The opener, continued (much later)

The Twi-Fi kicked out on me as the stadium filled, and I never got it back. Quit trying after a while. I don't know if it was overwhelmed, but it sure doesn't encourage me to bring the iPad again.

Then ... well, not to get too detailed, but my wife and I stayed overnight at a suburban hotel (wedding to attend Saturday morning), and the hotel was not iPad friendly. I wound up declaring a cyberholiday for myself. That is probably healthy in some ways, but it's horrible for a blogger's devoted audience.

Anyway, belated thoughts on the opener:

* We had a pregame that included a lengthy welcoming ovation for Tsuyoshi Nishioka, followed by a flag-raising by a survivor of the Bataan Death March (complete with a explanation of what that means),followed by a moment of silence for the victims of the Japanese earthquake/tsunami. Emotional whiplash: We like the Japanese, we hate the Japanese, we like the Japanese.

* Carl Pavano had a butt-ugly first-inning and even after two innings had barely thrown more strikes than balls. But he found his groove. Helped that he was facing Oakland -- that's not a strong lineup -- but he got the batters he faced out.

*Didn't understand what Oakland manager Bob Geren was doing in the bottom of the eighth. Yes, Brett Anderson had been brilliant for seven innings. Geren had Brian Fuentes warming up, and if Geren was going to let Anderson face Jason Kubel-Denard Span-Joe Mauer-Justin Morneau with the game on the line, why was he warming Fuentes?

* I thought a lot about the Cuddyer Principle while watching Luke Hughes play second base. He made the routine plays, which is the minimum requirement. No double plays to turn. Couldn't quite make the play on a ball hit up the middle in the ninth off Joe Nathan, and was it a play that could/should have been made? I don't know.

Friday, April 8, 2011

At the opener

I am, about 90 minutes before first pitch, seated in the right field seats at Target Field, a brat in the belly, watching Oakland take BP. The new "twi-fi" seems pretty solid. I'll add as the spirit moves me.

Life is good.


They're showing the Oliva statue dedication on the big board, and Tony-O says tomorrow is the 50th anniversary of the day he left Cuba. Wow.

Twi-fi seems a lot slower now. Not sure how much more blogging I'll try to do.


Checking the questions

The 2011 Twins have two areas in which they are unproven: The middle infield and the bullpen.  The success or failure of those multi-piece reconstruction projects figures to be a running topic this season.

Let's take a quick look after the first week of games — recognizing, of course, that the sample sizes are excruciatingly small:

Alexi Casilla was hit by a pitch in the seventh inning
Thursday and eventually scored.
Middle infield: Struggling. Second baseman Tsuyoshi Nishioka performed better both at the plate and in the field in spring training than he did on the opening road trip, and now he has a broken leg. Shortstop Alexi Casilla is hitting a mere .167/.231/.333, which is still a better OPS than Nishioka's .208/.269/.250.

The immediate outlook: Luke Hughes, who made a splash early in spring training with a string of home runs, has been called up to fill Nishioka's roster spot. He's not regarded as an adept fielder, but he's likely to get a good share of the playing time at second, with Matt Tolbert getting the rest. There figure to be opportunities for Ron Gardenhire to play match-ups here, but that's not one of the manager's stronger suits.

Bullpen: Doing OK, or even better. The 'pen has combined to throw 19 innings in six games (which is obviously too many), in which they've allowed one home run and eight runs, all earned (3.79 ERA).

That damage was heavily concentrated in the opener, when Dusty Hughes and Jeff Manship combined to allow five runs in two innings. Since that embarrassment,  the Minnesota bullpen has allowed three runs in 15 innings, a much more palatable 1.80 ERA, and didn't allow a run at all in New York.

The immediate outlook: It's going to be some time before Joe Nathan works back-to-back days, and nobody knows when/if his velocity will return to pre-surgical levels. He's had two outings, one good and the other barely adequate. Matt Capps is certainly a good alternative to Nathan in the ninth, but then who is the alternative to Capps in the set-up role? That's the real work in progress.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Nishioka, Liriano and another loss

Pretty lousy math for the Twins on Thursday:
Add one loss, subtract one second baseman.
Of more importance than the 4-3 loss this afternoon for the Twins in New York is that Tsuyoshi Nishioka suffered a fractured fibula turning a double play.

Obviously, he'll be on the DL for a while. Luke Hughes, who lost out to Matt Tolbert for the utility infielder job, is likely not only to fill Nishioka's roster spot but second base as well. That's how I'd do it, at least — stick him in the lineup and see if he'll hit enough to carry his glove.

I didn't see the play in question, but I'm inclined to give Nick Swisher the benefit of the doubt and assume it wasn't an out-of-the-baseline slide or dirty play. The Twins say it was a clean play.

Meanwhile, Francisco Liriano pitched better than he did against Toronto, but the worst aspects of his game cost him. He threw first-pitch strikes to just nine of the 24 men he faced; he walked two leadoff men, both of whom scored; and the crucial hit of the three-run fourth inning came when he got ahead of Andruw Jones 0-2 and started shaking off Joe Mauer. The old Crash Davis line applies to Liriano: Don't think; you can only hurt the ball club.

Dan Gladden described the pitch Jones hit for a double as "a big slow curve ball."'s pitch reader said it was a slider at the same velocity as most Liriano sliders (around 85 mph).  I can't say that I've ever heard of Liriano throwing a curve, so I'm inclined to think it was the slider — maybe a hanging slider.

Meanwhile, Charter and FSN came to an agreement, and the game was carried by Mankato's dominant  cable service. I'm sure Hickory Tech, which ran an ad in Thursday's Free Press touting "all the Twins games," is disappointed at losing that bit of competitive advantage.

Poll gone, a comment gone

I deleted the poll because there appears to be some sort of silly glitch involved that is creating literally hundreds of fictional visitors to the blog. (Eight-hundred plus as of this morning supposedly going straight to the poll, which had all of 24 votes.)

Google has not acknowledged this, nor has it fixed it. And while I am not particularly driven by the pursuit of hits, I am this week more interested in an accurate count than usual because of the Charter-blackout topic, which appears to be bringing more readers than usual.

Had it been an interesting, unique poll question, I'd feel worse about deleting it. Discarding it isn't much of a loss.


While on the topic of me deleting stuff: I deleted a comment on the subject of Charter on Wednesday. I axed it not because it was critical of Charter, but because it contained a mild vulgarity and some shouting.

It's my blog, and I am judge, jury and executioner. It's OK to criticize Charter and FSN over this dispute, but if I don't like the tone, it's gone. Just wanted to make that clear. (I have deleted fewer than five comments since the blog moved to this platform, so it hasn't been a real problem.)

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The alienable right to baseball on TV

The Declaration of Independence asserts that the "pursuit of happiness" is an unalienable right. Watching baseball makes me happy, but despite that I doubt that I have any true right to have it funneled into my television.

Which doesn't make the current squabble between Fox Sports North and a number of carriers any more palatable to the fans caught between them.

I did a quickie post Tuesday night when it became clear that Charter Communications (the dominant cable company in Mankato-North Mankato) was not carrying that night's Twins-Yankees game. I didn't have much time — I was supposed to be working on the front page — and avoided going into detail. Since then there have been comments that suggest some confusion about what's going on.

So let's backtrack a bit.

In recent seasons, the Twins broadcasts have been divvied up between FSN (which has generally carried something in the vicinity of 105 games) and WFTC, aka My29 (which carried games on Sunday afternoons), a total of something in the vicinity of 130 games. Weekday games were generally not carried by either, which accounts for the missing 30 or so games.

Both FSN and WFTC are part of the News Corp. empire. During the offseason, it was announced that the Twins games this year would be strictly on FSN — no more over-the-air broadcasts, strictly cable. (Reading between the lines of the announcement, I inferred that this was News Corp's idea more than that of the Twins, but I doubt the Twins put up much of a fight.) Also,  the number of day games broadcast would be increased. In all, FSN is to carry 150 games. About two dozen of the added games would have been WFTC's under the old system, the rest games that previously would be without TV coverage.

More games meant more money. FSN paid the Twins more and went to its carriers, satellite and cable, for the cash.

And some —  most notably, for the Mankato area, Charter and Dish Network — balked.

As of right now, Thursday's game, which is to be carried by FSN, will not be on Charter,  nor will Saturday's. I haven't the slightest notion how they determined which games are among the 45 in question. FSN lists six April games whose carriage is in dispute; that leaves 38 others scattered through the remaining months of the season.

That's the FSN website statement on the dispute. I tried to find something on Charter's site, but with no success. (Off my previous experiences with Charter, this is not a surprise.) The Twins, who are not directly a party to this dispute but probably aren't thrilled to have about a third of their TV audience cut off, also have nothing on their site.

Joe Nathan and the "90 mph changeup"

The Twins fans without TV access to last night's game wound up missing a pretty good conclusion – a four-run eighth against Rafael Soriano to tie the game, a 10th-inning run to put the Twins ahead, and (perhaps most encouraging of all) a clean inning from Joe Nathan to wrap it up.

Joe Nathan said after Wednesday's game
that it was so cold and dry in
Yankee Stadium "it was like
throwing ice cubes."
I was among those without a view of the game, but I did have something (perhaps) a bit more descriptive of the action than Gordo and Gladden —'s "At Bat 11" app on my iPad. It provides pitch-by-pitch details of the game, including pitch speeds, type and location. (There are readers here who think I'm overly harsh on the Twins' main radio guys, but even John Gordon's most loyal followers cannot believe they're getting every pitch from him.)

I assume the pitch data that shows up on my iPad comes from the "Pitch f/x" system, a computerized, multi-camera system that purports to chart in detail every major league pitch — not just velocity and location but movement and release point and a truly bewildering mass of information.

Anyway, something odd kept popping up on my feed in the 10th inning: Nathan was throwing fastballs consistently clocked at 90 to 91 mph. He was also mixing in what the feed called changeups clocked at the same velocity.


Inasmuch as the point of the changeup is that it's a slower pitch, that's nonsensical. Stephen Strasburg, before his injury last summer, was showing a 90-mph change, but he also was touching 100 mph with the fastball.

One glitch, OK; multiple readings with the same error suggest something's faulty in the system. Perhaps the system is categorizing the pitch as a changeup based not on velocity but movement, in which case it may be that Nathan has a fastball that sinks and moves in on a right-handed hitter. Maybe the velocity readings were flawed for reasons I don't understand.

And maybe the only thing that really matters is that on a chilly night in Yankee Stadium, Nathan was much, much sharper than he was two nights earlier in Toronto.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

An example of why I don't take Charter cable anymore

As I write this from work, the Twins game is on -- or at least available -- on FSN at my home, which has Hickory Tech cable. Here at the Free Press, however, the Charter service is showing poker.

Charter (and, I understand, some other carriers) are arguing with FSN over the "extra" 45 games that in recent years had been carried by WFTC. Charter's regional HQ in Rochester sent the Free Press an email saying, in essence, that FSN is asking too much and we're still negotiating.

I've no doubt FSN is Greedy with a capital G and I've no doubt Charter is too. Somehow, however, the issue isn't a problem for Hickory Tech.

Sponsoring Joe Mauer (adventures in Baseball Reference)

Picking up a long discarded thread of this blog:  Last year I signed up to sponsor Michael Cuddyer, Terry Steinbach and Gene Larkin on Baseball Reference, that invaluable online baseball encyclopedia. When those one-year sponsorships expired this winter, I blanched at the prices for that trio and resolved to look elsewhere.

Joe Mauer's stats
are now sponsored
by this blog.
Things stalled there, largely because I was waiting to see what the price would be for Tsuyoshi Nishioka. B-R had a page for him, with incomplete stats from the Japanese league, but no sponsorship link. I had a couple of fallback notions in mind, but I was basically waiting for Nishi.

I checked on Nishioka on Saturday morning, a few hours after the Twins' first official game of 2011.  No sponsorship link. I checked on Brian Duensing, my primary fallback notion. Taken. Then, for no real reason, as I was pondering alternatives, I clicked on Joe Mauer's link.

Available. Really? I clicked on the sponsorship link, then backed out and took the dog for a walk and myself for a think. Do I really want to spend that much?

I'm not going to tell you what Mauer's price was. Suffice it to say that it far exceeded my $40 budget, far exceeded the January price of the Cuddyer-Steinbach-Larkin trio. I cannot defend my decision to buy the sponsorship on any economical or logical basis. It just felt like the thing to do.

So do it I did. The sponsorship went live on Monday. It is my expectation — resolution — that this is a one-year deal. Even if the Mauer page proves to be a major driver of traffic to this blog, come 2012 I will support B-R at a much lower price point.

But for 2011, I've got Mauer. (And, by the way, Nishioka is now available.)

Monday, April 4, 2011

Understanding the Eddie-oms

(Note: This entry, with minor differences, was the Monday print column. I'm posting it here for my ease of future reference.)

Veteran readers of this blog and my print column are aware of my penchant for personalizing certain ideas or concepts.

What I'm going to do here is organize and define these idioms — or Eddie-oms, if you will.

The Greg McMichael Rule: If you get outs, they'll find a job for you. Named for a pitcher cast off by the lowly Cleveland Indians and signed to a minor-league deal by the Braves, who rose from last man on the talented Atlanta staff at the start of the 1993 season to closer in mid-season.

The Michael Cuddyer Principle: Holds that any (right-handed) major-league position player can be put at any position without it being immediately apparent that he's got no business playing there. Named, obviously, for the current Twins player, who has as a professional played every position other than pitcher or catcher, none of them with notable adeptness.

The Butera Corollary: Holds that the Cuddyer Principle does not apply to catcher; put a non-catcher behind the plate, and it will be immediately obvious to all that he's out of position.

For this reason, back-up catcher is the cushiest job in baseball. They seldom play, and when they do, they're not asked to do a whole lot other than avoid disaster. A reliable back-up catcher will last far longer than a star catcher, and the longer they stick around, the more they are valued.

The (Tom) Kelly Virtues: The basic template for Twins players, established by Tom Kelly during his 15-plus seasons as manager. The Twins value command over stuff from their pitchers and batting average over power from their hitters, and they put an emphasis on defensive reliability. The Kelly Virtues led the Twins to value Doug Mientkiewicz more than David Ortiz.

Adherence to the Kelly Virtues has dwindled in some aspects since Ron Gardenhire took the dugout job, but the changes in the middle infield this offseason suggests that the Virtues may be on the rise again. If the Twins use the expiring contracts of Cuddyer and Jason Kubel to slide Ben Revere into the lineup in 2012, we'll have more evidence that the Kelly Virtues are ascendant.

The (Denard) Span Syndrome: A recent tendency for Twins rookies to outperform their minor league stats.  Span's career minor league OPS was .716; his major league OPS is .759. Brian Duensing and Danny Valencia appear so far to be other examples of the Span Syndrome.

The Gossage Rule: Even the best relief pitchers are failed starters. I pick on Goose Gossage here, but it could just as well be named for Dennis Eckersley, who had been a very good starter earlier in his career but appeared to be on his way out of the game when Tony LaRussa made him a relief pitcher.

The Gladden Rule: The quickest way to improve a lousy pitching staff is to add speed to the outfield. Named for the impact Dan Gladden had when he joined the Twins, but the best example would be the 1989 Baltimore Orioles, who added a flock of fleet young outfielders and went from 54-107 in 1988 to 87-75.

A scrambled bullpen

Joe Nathan got his first save since Oct. 3, 2009. It wasn't easy.
Some interesting bullpen use decisions Sunday by Ron Gardenhire as the Twins got their first win of 2011.

6th inning. Nick Blackburn gives up a home run to Jose Bautista, then retires Adam Lind and Aaron Hill. He should have gotten Edwin Encarnacion too, but Danny Valencia made a poor throw. With the left-handed Travis Snider up and the tying run on, Gardy went to Jose Mijares, who fanned Snider.

Blackburn had thrown just 93 pitches, but he wasn't given the chance to get Snider.

7th inning: Mijares opens the inning by walking the first two men. With the tying and go-ahead men on, Gardenhire brings in Matt Capps, who wriggles out of the jam (sac bunt, comebacker to the mound, fly to center).

8th inning: Enter Glen Perkins for a one-two-three inning.

9th inning: Here comes Joe Nathan, the first of the four relievers to have a two-run cushion. Nathan throws 31 pitches, just 15 strikes (at least officially; I believe he twice struck Bautista out, but the home plate ump didn't agree). With one run in, the bases loaded and the left-handed Lind up, Gardenhire considers bringing in Dusty Hughes; he sticks with Nathan, and Nathan gets the grounder to end it.

What's interesting here? Everything. Mijares and Capps — the top top set up men — were both brought in before the eighth inning and with men on base. Perkins, who probably came out of camp as the third lefty in the pen, got the eight-inning honors. And Nathan was given all the rope Gardenhire had.

It all worked. I applaud the early use of Mijares and Capps in game situations. That essentially forced Gardenhire to come up with a third set-up option. The use of Perkins rather than Hughes in the eighth suggests that Perkins has moved ahead of Hughes in the pecking order. Perkins' success in that outing probably means he'll get more opportunities.

The decision to stick with Nathan is pure Gardenhire. Lind rakes righties and is almost helpless against lefties (career slash line .290/.343./.520 vs. RHP, .218/.265/.344 vs LHP). Couple the numbers with Nathan's struggles, and there's plenty of reason to go to the southpaw.

I surmise Gardenhire wanted to show confidence in Nathan and thus build Nathan's confidence in himself. It would have been real easy for that to backfire — Lind drills a single to drive in two runs, and there's nothing positive from the outing for Nathan.

But again – it all worked.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Pic of the Week

The Milwaukee Brewers work out in the Cincinnati park
on Wednesday, the day before the opener.
A few days ago I lamented the demise of the newspaper box score. As I said, the Free Press downgraded its stats package and no longer receives all the boxes.

We haven't, however, downgraded our photo package. We have access to more good photos than we can use.

So  I'm going to try this notion: Each Sunday I'll post here my Pic of the Week. The only rules are:

  • It will be baseball-related.
  • It won't be a photo we used in the paper.
  • It won't be a photo I used in the blog. 

I'm trying to give you a little something extra, so if I remember even seeing it in one of the metros, I probably won't select it for this.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Run down

The best part of Friday's game
as far as the Twins were concerned.
Well, that was sure ugly.

Earlier on Friday I heard Pat Reusse and Phil Mackey discuss which Twins player would have the biggest falloff in 2011. Reusse picked Francisco Liriano, Mackey Danny Valencia. I was telling the radio: Carl Pavano.

Pavano got the Opening Day start in tribute to his veteranness, but he was part of the first inning jitters-bug himself. Vin Scully used a phrase frequently when broadcasting for NBC (and probably still does): Beaten to death by an angry moth, and that was the first inning for Pavano. An infield hit, a botched pickoff, a ground ball single, double steal, walk, hit-by-pitch, two sac flies, an error, a balk ... Ugly.

Pavano had a stellar 2010 in part because he was very good at limiting the damage. In the first inning of Friday's game, he put gasoline on the fire. Had they gotten the out on that pickoff, it's a one-run inning, but it turned into four runs. Then he started feeding his gopher.

Ah well. There will be better days.