Monday, October 31, 2011

Some catching alternatives

Drew Butera hit .167/.210/.239 in 254 plate appearances last season, which is pretty putrid but not quite as bad as Rene Rivera's .144/211/.202 in 114 plate appearances. And both looked like Babe Ruth next to Steve Holm .118/.167/.176), but at least the Twins invested just 18 PAs in him.

Rivera has been taken off the 40-man roster. Butera is still on the 40, but considering how poorly he performed both at the plate and behind it -- he had seven passed balls, which is a lot for someone who (a) caught less than half his team's innings and (b) wasn't dealing with a knuckleballer -- his job is hardly secure.

A meeting early in the season
between two subjects of
this post: Ryan Doumit
tags out Jose Morales.
There are, or will be, some interesting (and flawed) alternatives to back up Joe Mauer available this winter, starting with the guy who lost out to Butera in 2010.

Jose Morales was traded after the 2010 season to Colorado, a move that opened a roster spot to re-sign Carl Pavano. (The minor league pitcher acquired in the the deal, Paul Bargas, was found during spring training to have a brain tumor; in a season marked by a seemingly endless string of health issues, Bargas' was simultanously the lowest profile and the worst.) Morales opened the season as the Rockies back-up catcher, but he fractured his thumb and was limited to just 22 games, 71 plate appearances. He didn't play anywhere, majors or minors, after June.

Colorado outrighted Morales earlier this month. He's 28, he's had plenty of injuries, he's out of options, he doesn't have a great defensive reputation, he doesn't have much power -- but he's a good contact hitter, especially left-handed (he's a switch hitter).

Will the Twins bring him back? I doubt it, if only because it would imply an admission of error in choosing him over Butera. Still, if they want a low-cost bat-first catcher, he's a possibility.

Two other guys, likely to be pricier than Morales (or Butera), who caught my eye last month are Ryan Doumit and Chris Snyder, both now of the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Pittsburgh GM has said that he is unlikely to pick up the options on either man.

Doumit is a good hitter -- not just a good hitter for a catcher, but a good hitter, period. As a catcher, he's pretty brutal, and the Pirates ran him out in right field and first base some last season before he went down with an injury, which isn't unusual for him (he's spent time on the DL every season since 2006).

I think the switch hitter would be particularly attractive if the Twins lose both Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel in free agency; Doumit could be used to DH, back up Mauer and play some right field (or first bas) as well. He'll turn 31 in April.

Snyder isn't as good a hitter as Doumit but is a superior defender. He'll turn 31 in February. His problem: He had back surgery during the season. He is said to be recovering well, but catching is tough on backs.

These are three different types of catcher. I would think the Twins would be more interested in somebody like Snyder is they fear Mauer can't catch 130 times in 2012. Doumit would make sense if the Twins want to carry Butera as a defensive catcher, freeing Doumit to DH or play other positions. And Morales, or his ilk, would be a bat-first backup.

And, of course, cost matters.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Pic of the Week

Yadier Molina reacts to the final out of the 2011 season.

I'll let that photo, the final Pic of the Week for 2011, speak for itself.

I'll talk, instead, about the whole PotW concept. As I said when I introduced the Sunday theme, I wanted an outlet for some of the photos the Free Press gets through the Associated Press that we simply can't get into the paper.

Another motivation was to make it easier for me to both have a Sunday post and time to compose the print column for Monday. I generally picked the photo on Friday, set the post up to publish in the wee hours of Sunday, and that gave me Saturday and Sunday morning to focus my thoughts on the column.

It worked. I wasn't always thrilled by my choices for photos in a given week, but on the whole the format did what I wanted it to do, and I expect I'll return to it in 2012.

Thirty-one weeks, some of which got multiple pics. Here they are. Which is my favorite? That probably depends on the day, but I'm particularly fond of the one of Branyan Pena and the praying mantis.

Monday's print column will be the last for the year, but the notion of a Sunday theme will remain. Next week I'll launch the Sunday Funnies -- amusing stories, some of which may actually be true, gleaned from my collection of baseball literature.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Contemplating Tony LaRussa

A World Series trophy? For me? 
The St. Louis Cardinals won the World Series Friday night, winning the most routine game of what had been an intriguingly dramatic series.

This makes three World Series titles for Tony LaRussa, who is increasingly making a case for the title of greatest manager ever.

There's no clear and obvious way to determine such a title, but but he's a serious contender. As I've said before, I don't like his persona, but I can't argue with his results.

One intriguing aspect of his career: He has had, by my reckoning, six teams that could legitimately be said to be the best team in baseball that year -- the 1993 White Sox, the A's of 1988-90, the Cardinals of 2004-05. Only one of those teams (the 1989 Athletics) won the World Series. Two of his titles, including this one, came with squads that were less than the best.

Of course, the wider net cast for postseason teams in the current set up makes it almost inevitable that the best team doesn't win. John McGraw, Joe McCarthy, Casey Stengel -- those men had to have the best record in the league to get to the World Series. LaRussa doesn't.

In both 2006 and 2011, LaRussa -- the father of the modern bullpen of specialists and rigid closers -- had to get resourceful with the relief crew. The Cardinals this year went through five different closers, and eight different pitchers picked up saves. Three of the men in his postseason 'pen were midseason acquisitions (Octavio Dotel, Arthur Rhodes and Marc Rzepczynski); another (Jake Westbrook) was a transplanted starter.  All through the postseason, as Jason Motte continued to get the ball for the final outs, LaRussa kept insisting that Motte wasn't the closer, that there was no closer.

That was just one of the challenges for LaRussa this season. Remember:

  • Adam Wainwright, arguably his best starter (and the man who he turned into his October closer in 2006) went down for the year during spring training, opening a giant hole in the rotation. 
  • LaRussa was troubled by a severe case of shingles from practically the start of the year and was forced by his bosses to take a leave of absence in May. He is still on medication for the ailment.
  • Dave Duncan, his long-time pitching coach and confidant, had a long leave himself to tend to his severely ill wife.

The Cardinals were not the best team in baseball in 2011. But LaRussa led them to the title anyway. It was, perhaps, the most impressive accomplishment of an impressive managerial career.

Friday, October 28, 2011

World Series late night: St. Louis 10, Texas 9, 11 innings

David Freese might remember this
game for a while: A costly dropped
popup early, a game-tying triple in
the ninth, a game-winning homer
in the eleventh.
Game story here.

Box score here.

Quite the game. Quite the spectacular game.

Twice the Rangers were one strike away from wrapping up the World Series. Twice they let it slip away.

Slip away is an appropriate term, given the number of errors involved. It wasn't a cleanly played game, but it was a great game.

This is becoming one of the great World Series. Every game has been notable — tight pitchers duels interspersed with see-saw slugfests (like this one).

And now, I assume, tonight Chris Carpenter gets the ball for St. Louis. I suspect this will be his Jack Morris moment — a top-flight veteran pitcher taking the hill for a Game Seven. I remember Morris, after the Puckett Game in 1991, answering a reporter's question with: "In the words of the late great Marvin Gaye, 'Let's get it on.'"

On paper, the Cardinals have the edge tonight, because they have the best starting pitcher. But again, that assessment hinges on Carpenter being the man, and coming into Thursday's game Tony LaRussa was listing Kyle Lohse as the starter for Game Seven.

LaRussa was still being coy in the immediate aftermath of Game Six, but really — Carpenter or Lohse? It doesn't look that difficult a choice. Of course, LaRussa has been known to overthink things.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Twins "fun bunch"

John Shipley, beat writer for the Pioneer Press, was on ESPN 1500 Wednesday night talking about covering the Twins at the end of their misbegotten 2011 season. I listened to some of it on a static-ridden car radio while waiting in a parking lot for my wife.

Trevor Plouffe  
It shouldn't be any surprise to hear that September was a miserable month to be around that team. A lot of grumpy people taking too many losses and itching for the season to end.

What I found interesting was Shipley's description of what he called "the fun bunch" -- a collection of young players who didn't appear to be taking the job seriously. He named, specifically, Trevor Plouffe, Danny Valencia and Drew Butera, and said that the team took steps to split them up in the clubhouse (I assume by shifting lockers.)

Chris Parmelee was emphatically not part of the fun bunch. He saw September as a chance to make an impression, and he took advantage. As a serious fan watching the games, I was impressed by the consistent quality of Parmelee's at-bats; Shipley was impressed by his demeanor.

There was an incident, fairly early in the season, in which it was reported that a "veteran" had loudly and profanely told off "a young player" who was pleased with himself  during a losing streak. While it was never specified who was who, my assumption was/is that the veteran was Justin Morneau or Michael Cuddyer and the youngster was Valencia or Plouffe.

Whoever was involved, Shipley's description of September suggests the lesson didn't take.

I'm unsure how much weight to put on this. None of the three players Shipley named had a good season, but is that the result of a "who cares" approach, or is the attitude an attempt to cope with failure and maintain the emotional "even keel"  that Tom Kelly talked about so much? I don't know.

But if (a) a player isn't doing the job as well as expected and (b) the people in charge perceive him as being flippant about it, then (c) that doesn't bode well for the player's future.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

An entertaining World Series (if you turn the volume off)

Nick Punto's on-base percentage in
this World Series is .467. This is not a typo.
He has three hits and four walks in 15
trips to the plate. 
This Texas-St. Louis World Series isn't anything resembling my dream matchup. Of the postseason field of  eight, it probably pits teams five and six or seven of my rooting interest. But it's easily the best series of the past decade — easily because we've had so many four- and five-game World Series.

Monday's bullpen phone controversy just added to the fun. From a pure karma sense, it's fitting that control freak Tony LaRussa, the manager who popularized specialty relievers, got burned on the biggest stage by not having pitchers ready for their matchups.

We've seen Albert Pujols have probably the biggest offensive game in World Series history — 14 total bases — and two days later put on a hit-and-run on his own, down two runs in the ninth inning, a move that suggests that he felt overmatched against Neftali Feliz.

We've seen dominant pitching from Derek Holland and plenty of pitching that was ... less than that. We've seen the mighty Nick Punto try (and fail) to break a bat over his knee after hauling the lumber all the way to first base (at least he didn't dive into the base). We've seen Allan Craig get two big pinch hits, seen Adrian Beltre hit a homer from his knees, seen Elvis Andrus flash his spectacular range at shortstop.

I've enjoyed this Series tremendously, in no small part because I've learned to just turn the volume down so as not to be distracted by the nonsense spewed by Tim McCarver. (I spent the regular season practicing with Dick-n-Bert.)

I merely read about Timmy Mac's lunacies on the Internet afterwards. The best take on McCarver — as is generally the case — comes from Joe Posnanski.

Joe Buck doesn't like doing baseball. McCarver's stale and out of touch. The challenge for we the fans is not to let Fox ruin a good game.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Joe Nathan update

Joe Nathan converted
14 of 17 save
opportunities in 2011.
The Twins this afternoon (Tuesday) announced that they are declining Joe Nathan's $12 million option but are still interested in bringing the closer back.

If they do — and I rather expect they will re-sign him — it will be for less than $10 million.

What $10 million? Because that would be the real cost of exercising the option. By declining the option, the Twins are obligated to pay Nathan a $2 million buyout.

Nathan will turn 37 next month, and 2010 was far and away the worst season of his career. Even in the second half, in which he was much better than before the All-Star break, his ERA was roughly two runs a game higher than we're used to seeing.

I don't know how much of a market there will be for Nathan this winter. The Twins are betting it will be slow enough that they can retain him at a significantly lower salary.

The raging genius that is Tony LaRussa

Tony LaRussa: Even great managers can make
decisions that make no sense at all.
I'm about to mock Tony LaRussa. I will do so with all the respect his incredible managerial record deserves. Thirty-three seasons in the dugout, 2,728-2,365 regular season record, two World Series titles (and four other trips to the Series, including this year) ... the only managers with more lifetime wins are Connie Mack and John McGraw, and LaRussa is going to catch Muggsy.

Tony LaRussa is a great manager. I don't much care for him, but that's my problem, not his.

I know a few people who have a particular problem: They feel constantly compelled to prove that they are the smartest guy in the room. (Sometimes it's me doing that.) LaRussa sometimes manages that way— as if he's just got to prove that he's smarter than anybody else.  His record allows him to get away, in the court of public (or media) opinion, with nontraditional moves for which others would be criticized, if not crucified. Hitting the pitcher eighth, for example.

He had one of those moments in the eighth inning Monday night. It didn't affect the outcome, but it was still weird — he took a left turn at inexplicable and parked at illogical.

I refer to his decision to being in Lance Lynn to issue an intentional walk to Ian Kinsler, then immediately relieve Lynn with Jason Motte.

Deploying a reliever solely to walk someone intentionally sometimes serves a purpose. Let's say the Twins are playing the White Sox, and Paul Konerko is up against Scott Baker with two outs, a man on second and Adam Dunn on deck. Ron Gardenhire wants to walk Konerko and bring in Jose Mijares to  face Dunn, but he expects the Sox to pinch hit for Dunn, which would force Mijares to face a righty. Instead, Gardy can have Mijares come in and issue the walk to Konerko. Now if the Sox pinch hit for Dunn, he can counter with a right-handed reliever.

But that wasn't the case here. It was right-handed pitcher for right-handed pitcher, and there was no way Texas was going to pinch hit for Elvis Andrus anyway.

I'm sure LaRussa had reasons for burning Lynn, but I can't imagine what they were.

I don't fully buy the manager's post-game explanation — that the bullpen coach misheard (twice) the instructions phoned to him. Even if the root of the problem was that LaRussa wanted Motte warming up, not Lynn, he still could have had Marc Rzepczynski issue the walk to Kinsler.

This is a different issue than letting Rzepczynski face Mike Napoli. At the time, I figured LaRussa was sticking with the left-hander because Mitch Moreland was on deck. Apparently, had Motte started warming up in time, he would have pitched to Napoli. That makes sense, and I credit LaRussa's version of events there.

Monday, October 24, 2011

The Twins' Cuddyer conundrum

Michael Cuddyer has played quite a bit of first base
the past three seasons, but Chris Parmelee's September
showing suggests Cuddy isn't needed as Plan B there.

Bill Smith, the Twins general manager, has said repeatedly in recent weeks: The Twins value Michael Cuddyer and want to re-sign him.

They should be careful what they wish for.

Cuddyer's impending free agency is a sharp challenge for the Twins front office.

One can easily draw up a list of reasons — good reasons — for the Twins to want to keep Cuddyer:

  • In a lineup that figures to remain heavily left-handed for several seasons to come, he is their best right-handed hitter -- and one who mashes left-handers.
  • As the longest-tenured Twins player, he provides an experienced clubhouse voice to the younger players -- and, unlike some of the previous "leaders," his voice buys into the organizational philosophy.
  • He is willing, even eager, to step out of his comfort zone to play out of position.

On the other hand:

  • He'll turn 33 before the 2012 season begins. A multi-year deal with him is buying into a declining market.
  • While he'll play multiple positions willingly, he's not really good at any of them. His value is strictly in his bat.
  • He doesn't hit right-handers well at all.

There have been Internet reports that some bigger-payroll operations — specifically Boston and the Cubs — are interested in bidding for Cuddyer, with the Rockies and Giants also linked to him.

I have my doubts, frankly, that the sabermetric-oriented operations are going to go high on Cuddyer. The Red Sox may be losing Theo Epstein, but they will remain one of the game's more statistically astute operations, and Epstein is going to the Cubs, so they'll be more new school than in the past. I don't see either wanting to win a bidding war for Cuddyer.

The Twins, for their part, don't want a bidding war at all. Target Field has elevated them from the lower rungs of revenues, but Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau eat up much of that gain. The two former MVPs account for about a third of the payroll. A three- or four-year commitment to Cuddyer at $10 million a season would tighten the screws on the rest of the budget.

Cuddyer certainly fits an immediate need. The Twins don't have an obvious replacement for him on hand for 2012, either as the right fielder or as a middle-of-the-order right-handed bat. But a multi-year deal would make him a roadblock for Joe Benson, and perhaps others, in coming seasons -- seasons in which the odds are that Cuddyer's play will decline.

Chris Parmelee's September performance, and the use of Mauer as a part-time first baseman, suggests that Cuddyer's role as Plan B to Morneau at first base is less important than it has been in recent years. If the Twins are serious about fixing the middle infield defense, the temptation to play Cuddyer at second base should be resisted. And if first base and second base are out of the equation, Cuddyer's positional flexibility is largely negated.

The Twins last summer reportedly made a two-year offer to Cuddyer at $8 million a season. That was quickly declined, and I don't blame Cuddyer for doing so. It would be a very good deal for the Twins, but almost certainly well below market for the player.

Emotionally, I want the Twins to keep him. Logically, I don't think it makes sense.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Pic of the Week

The wind in St. Louis  gave Tony LaRussa
an ad hoc Mohawk during the national anthem
before Game 1 on Wednesday.

Even for a veteran manager like Tony LaRussa, the World Series is a truly hair-raising experience.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

The value of postseason games

One recurring argument in the seemingly unending debate over public subsidies of professional sports is if they have any real financial benefit to the hosting city/county.

Hosting the World Series has been a blessing
for St. Louis' city budget.
There is little doubt that the games trigger economic activity; the question is if that activity would occur anyway, just in a different direction, without the games.

On Friday we had a minor data point: The mayor of St. Louis dropped his plan for mandatory furloughs for city workers because the Cardinals had made the World Series. The seven postseason games played so far in the Gateway City brought in an unanticipated $2 million in sales tax revenue; should the Series go the full seven games, the city stands to pull in another $900,000. The furloughs would have saved the city some $2.7 million.

As the linked-to item from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch makes clear, there are city officials who didn't think the furloughs were ever necessary, but that's not the point here. The point is that St. Louis has gotten $2 million in revenue from seven games -- revenue it didn't expect because it didn't expect the games to be played. Nobody seems to be disputing that assessment.

Now, I wouldn't assume that the math (one game = $285,000 in tax receipts) would hold true for the regular season. Postseason tickets are pricier than regular season tickets, for one thing, and it's likely that fan enthusiasm brings more memorabilia sales as well. And extrapolating this to the Twins is dicey as well; I have no idea how Missouri/St. Louis sales taxes compare to Minnesota/Minneapolis.

But if we cut the per-game tax receipts to a third, we get about $95,000 per game. Multiply that by 81 (the number of regular season home games) and we get a bit less than $7.7 million a year in added public revenue.

Does that justify hundreds of millions in public investment in a stadium? Not by itself. But it doesn't hurt.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Twins drop two more players

Brian Dinkleman hit
.301 for the Twins but
just .243 for Rochester.
Last week, at the end of their organizational meeting, the Twins removed four players from their 40-man roster. On Thursday, they dropped two more, Brian Dinkleman and Phil Dumatrait.

Dinkleman's fate isn't a surprise -- in fact, I wonder why he wasn't lopped last week, with Jason Repko, Rene Rivera, Anthony Slama and Matt Tolbert. While Dinkleman hit .301 in his brief major league stint, it was an empty .301 -- just one extra-base hit, that a double. He's not a good enough hitter to justify playing in the outfield, not a good enough defender to justify playing at second base.

Dumatrait, on the other hand, is a guy I could imagine the Twins deciding to keep around. His ERA (3.92) wasn't all that bad, he was effective against lefty hitters and he never coughed up a lead.

Phil Dumatrait
would be eligible for
arbitration had he
remained on the
40-man roster.
But he's really not good, either -- 25 walks and 29 strikeouts in 41 innings -- and I find it encouraging that the Twins recognize that he's easily replaceable.

So the Twins now have 36 players on the 40-man roster. That number will decline some more soon, when the World Series is over and Michael Cuddyer and others officially become free agents. If the Twins chose not to exercise their option on Joe Nathan, they could enter November with as many as eight open spots on the 40-man roster.

Those slots won't be open long. The Twins will have to add a number of players now on minor league rosters to protect them from the Rule V draft. That action will probably come next month.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

A Theo-logical debate

What price for a top-grade big-market
general manager? What price for
him if he's NOT going to be your
general manager?
Theo Epstein has been running the baseball side (as opposed to the business side) of the Boston Red Sox for almost 10 years, which is a long time for a general manager with any team, much less one that gets the microscopic scrutiny of the Sawx.

His record in the job isn't impeccable, but no matter how one measures it, he's been the most successful general manager Boston's had since the job was invented. If, or rather when, he officially moves on to the Chicago Cubs, he will leave behind a better baseball operation than he inherited in 2002 — and a couple of World Series trophies.

The Red Sox gave "young Theo" – he may be a 10-year veteran of the job, but he's still just 37 — permission to pursue the Cubs job, but that's not the same as giving him permission to take it.
Epstein has a deal in place with the Cubs, and a year remaining on his contract with Boston. The two teams have spent about a week jawing over compensation for the executive, with the Red Sox supposedly opening negotiations with a demand for Matt Garza.

I don't see that the Sox have that much leverage here. Epstein may be, over the long haul, worth that price, but it certainly appears that the wunderkind's time with Boston has expired. If the Cubs walk away from the table, what will the Sox ownership do — keep Epstein in the job as a lame duck when they know (a) he doesn't want to be there and (b) he'll certainly be in demand from other teams next offseason? There's too much potential for mischief there.

One interesting aspect to this is that the Cubs have tried this before — almost 20 years ago, with Andy MacPhail. "Young Andy" — like Theo, he was, when he became the Twins general manager, the young man in the job in the majors — won two World Series titles at the helm of Minnesota, and then jumped to the North Side to try his luck with the Cubs.

And as with MacPhail, Epstein is apparently being pursued not so much to be general manager, limited to running the baseball side, but to be atop the entire operation as team president. I believe MacPhail's tenure with the Cubs ran aground on his poor hires as general manager (Ed Lynch and Jim Hendry) — the way I put it when MacPhail left Chicago a few years ago was that he never found his Andy MacPhail.

Titles and duties vary from team to team, and the Cubs are under different ownership now than when MacPhail was there. But the Cubs in many ways are in a similar situation to the Red Sox when Epstein became GM — a big market team with a large but restive fan base, a beloved but increasingly decrepit park, a farm system that has not been particularly well cared for, a history more noted for failure than success.

Epstein in Boston dealt with only part of those problems, and did his job well. He fixed the farm system. He didn't fix the problems at Fenway Park; somebody else — co-owner and team president Larry Lucchino — did that.

Epstein, like MacPhail, may be eager to move up the ladder to other, more corporate, duties — if the reports of his rivalry with Lucchino are correct,  he may be really eager to prove that he can fix Wrigley Field better than Lucchino did Fenway. If that's the kind of thing he wants to do in Chicago, he'll need to do a better job than MacPhail did at finding his Theo Epstein to handle the baseball operation.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Eddie Rosario Experiment

Eddie Rosario is a Puerto Rican -- turned 20 in late September --who the Twins drafted in the fourth round in 2010 and had a monster 2011 season in the Appy League as an 19-year-old outfielder -- 21 homers with a slash line of .337/.397.670.

He played mainly in center for Elizabethton, and everything I've seen about him suggests that (a) he could stick in center rather than have to move to a corner and (b) the Twins have so many other toolsy outfield candidates in their minors -- Joe Benson, Aaron Hicks, Oswaldo Arcia, Angel Morales -- that Rosario might have to shift to a corner anyway.

Plenty of outfield prospects, but a dearth of middle infielders -- which led, according to this LaVelle Neal item, to an instructional league experiment of trying Rosario at second base. LEN says it went well enough for the Twins to plan to continue the position shift in spring training.

Even if the shift takes root, it's no immediate fix for the major league middle infield. Rosario's big season came in the lower levels of the  system -- there are four rungs of the organizational ladder separating him from Target Field. He won't be in Minnesota in 2012 or 2013, and even 2015 may be pushing it for this rather conservative developmental system.

That the Twins are trying this with one of their better prospects speaks, again, to their long-running difficulty in developing middle infielders. It's something to keep an eye on -- and the likelihood that next season will see Rosario and Miguel Sano in the same infield for Beloit in the Midwest League has me contemplating a minor league road trip next summer, something I haven't done for a few years.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

No baseball here today

There were posts Sunday and Monday because I worked ahead on them so that I could devote those days to my father's funeral (which was Monday) and the family gatherings/obligations that came with it. I haven't anything to say today.

Well, that's not completely true. I think I have thoughts about the Cubs-Red Sox squabbles over Theo Epstein's services. I think I have thoughts about Tony LaRussa's pitching changes in the NLCS. What I don't have are thought-out thoughts, or the time to think up thought-out thoughts.

In a few minutes, as I write this, I'll be headed to my mother's place to start helping with thank-you notes. And I plan to ask her about something one of my dad's former colleagues told me before the funeral -- that Dad was an an all-city football player in high school (St. Paul Murray).

He may be dead, but there are still things for me to learn about the man.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Tinkering with the edges of the 40-man roster

The Twins on Friday announced that four players — outfielder Jason Repko, catcher Rene Rivera, pitcher Anthony Slama and infielder Matt Tolbert — had been outrighted to Triple-A Rochester and thus removed from the 40-man major league roster.

The four are all low-ceiling players and out of options. The move also indicates that the Twins don't see them as likely to make the 25-man roster coming out of spring training, which is interesting since two of them (Repko and Tolbert) did in 2011.

Let's read between the lines on each player and try to decipher what their demotion tells us about the Twins' plans for 2012:

Jason Repko hit
Repko: Had he remained on the 40, he'd have been arbitration eligible, and thus in line for a substantial raise. That wasn't going to happen.

Beyond the finances, Repko's value is diminished by the rise of Ben Revere and Rene Tosoni. Repko isn't needed as a backup center fielder. Tosoni is a better hitter — and a left-handed hitter, something managers tend to value in a fourth (or fifth) outfielder.

We don't know how the Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel free agencies will play out, but right now we can assume that the Twins will break camp with Revere and Denard Span as outfield regulars, Tosoni as a reserve, and a veteran holding down right field while Joe Benson gets a year in Triple A.

Rene Rivera hit
Rivera: Drew Butera stays, Rivera goes. Both are catch-and-throw guys; neither can hit. On a team whose regular catcher starts 130-plus games, either is an acceptable backup; you don't want them catching 100-plus games.

So how do you pick between the two? I believe Butera still has options. I rather expect the Twins to look this winter for a No. 2 catcher who offers something at the plate, in which case Butera goes to Rochester and waits for an injury.

Slama: His minor league numbers have always been better than his scouting reports. The Twins clearly don't think his stuff and command will work in the majors. Plus he had some arm issues in 2010.

He may not have gotten a clean shake from the Twins — seven major league innings is hardly enough to prove that what worked for him in the minors won't work in the bigs — but life isn't always fair.

Matt Tolbert hit
Tolbert: A victim of the numbers game. The Twins know they have to revamp their middle infield. They have an investment in Tsuyoshi Nishioka; Alexi Casilla was the best of a bad lot; Trevor Plouffe still intrigues somebody with his bat. Plus there's Brian Dozier, their minor league player of the year, who ought to get a good look during spring training.

That's four holdovers, plus the likelihood that the Twins will import somebody from the outside.

Like Repko, Tolbert is arbitration eligible; again, there's no way the Twins were going to give him a big raise.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Pic of the Week

Justin Verlander pitches in Game 5 of the ALCS.
I always wonder, when I see the Associated Press move a photo like this, what newspaper is going to print it.

It's ... different. I'll even grant that it's arty. I don't know that it's photojournalism.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Ventura, Konerko and managing

If these cartoons are any indication, there's considerable skepticism about the selection of Robin Ventura as manager of the Chicago White Sox.

First, from Scott Stantis of the Chicago Tribune:

Then, this from Carl Skanberg of the "Smells Like Mascot" blog, linked to from the sidebar:

I can't help but wonder what the reaction would have been had the Paul Konerko as player-manager brainstorm gone anywhere.

There hasn't been a player-manager since Pete Rose in the mid-1980s. There was time — in the 1930s, during the Depression — when the majority of managers were players as well. It was a cost-savings thing, basically — and that probably was a reason for Kenny Williams to consider Konerko, to save on the salary of a manager.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Still more on Delmon Young

Delmon Young launches his sixth-inning homer.
Delmon Young seems to have taken over this blog, but then, he's taken over the postseason for Detroit.

The erstwhile Twins outfielder hit two more home runs Thursday for Detroit,  helping keep the Tigers alive in the ALCS. He now has five homers in the Tigers' 10 postseason games — one more than he hit for the Twins before being traded in August.

There's a notion going around that this hot streak "proves" that the Twins shouldn't have traded him. I think it "proves" only what we knew — that Young has more power than he showed with the Twins this year, which isn't saying much. A slugging percentage around .400 and an on-base percentage around .300 isn't good for any major league hitter, much less a corner outfielder who had trouble in the field —and that's what Young has done in four of his five full major league seasons, the exception being 2010.

As a Twins fan, it doesn't bother me that Young hit three homers against the Yankees and two more against Texas. The more the merrier. And as a Twins fan, it will not bother me if the Tigers decide to wrap him up with a big-dollar, long-term contract.

Maybe Jim Leyland can get more out of him than Ron Gardenhire did. If so, more power to him. My sense is that Young is never going to live up to the expectations that accompany the No. 1 overall pick.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Revisiting Delmon's defense

Defense has never been one of
Delmon Young's strong suits.
The Detroit Tigers held a 2-0 lead into the sixth inning on Wednesday. Then, with a man on first, Ian Kinsler knocked a ball down the left field line, and Delmon Young had difficulty corralling it.

That Young is given to travails in the field is no revelation to Twins fans. He has always looked awkward in the outfield, and the advanced metrics have generally agreed.

But this was a weird season for Young, at least according to Baseball Info System's twin measurements of defense, plus-minus and runs saved.

I posted a comment just nine games into the season about Young's suddenly strong scores. At that point, BIS had Young as +4 in plus-minus, +3 in runs saved — astoundingly good given how incompetent he had been in the past on those scales. And I doubted that he could maintain it.

Those numbers actually improved slightly while he was with the Twins, to +5 in plus-minus, +4 in runs saved in 75 games in left field.

Then he was traded to Detroit. And in the 40 games Young played for the Tigers, he was -11 in plus-minus, -8 in runs saved. For the season in total, he was -6 in plus-minus, -4 in runs saved — which is far superior than his previous scores.

I have, frankly, a difficult time seeing why he would be a clearly above-average defensive left fielder for one team and revert to abysmal as soon as he was traded.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

A example of the fallacy of wins and losses

Bad hair but a good start for Doug Fister on Tuesday.
Most people who follow baseball recognize the fallacy of judging a pitcher by his won-loss record.

The rest of them apparently work in broadcast.

Whether it was TBS' crew or Fox's, the mention of Detroit pitcher Doug Fister almost always came with commentary suggesting that he was awful with Seattle and turned it around with Detroit.

And if all you knew was the won-loss record, you'd believe that.

Fister made his debut with the Mariners in 2009 and went 3-4. In 2010, he was 6-14. This year, he was 3-12 for Seattle when he was traded to the Tigers.

With Detroit, he went 8-1.

But his ERAs were always decent with the M's, his walk rates low, and his home runs allowed almost non-existent.

He has been better with Detroit. He walked just five men in more than 70 innings for the Tigers, a ridiculously low rate. His strikeout rate jumped to more than seven Ks per nine innings.  His walk and strikeout rates with Seattle were good; his rates with Detroit are unbelievably good.

If you don't walk people, get strikeouts and keep the ball in the park, you're pitching effectively. He did that with Seattle. The Mariners just weren't good enough for it to matter.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

A farewell to my father

Ben Thoma and little Eddie, circa 1958.
My father died Monday evening. This is a baseball blog, and I'll write a little bit about him, me and the game, but the truth is that connecting Ben Thoma to baseball is a stretch.

He was a biology instructor at the community college in Willmar during the school year and the park naturalist at Itasca State Park during the summer. He spent much of his adult life connecting people to the world of nature. He had little time or inclination for what he called "jock-like behavior," and whatever affinity he felt toward baseball was almost certainly linked to his eldest son's obsession with the game.

(Dad wasn't a fan; his mother was. Woe betide the grandson who interrupted Hildegard Thoma's enjoyment of Halsey Hall's broadcasts.)

Baseball and dad: I remember his 1940s glove, a relic of his youth that he used to play catch with his boys, a pancake that required two hands to catch the ball. When I imagine baseball in the 1940s and earlier, it's Dad's glove that informs that vision. Why are there no .400 hitters any more? One reason is that the gloves of the past half-century allow more catches.

I remember, too, a Twins game the family attended in the early 1970s and how my father somehow struck up a lengthy conversation with a vendor. It may have been a multi-piece talk, with the conversation resuming whenever the vendor's route led him past our seats. My brothers and I came home from the game talking about the plays; Dad came home with the story of the Griffith family, how Calvin Griffith and his siblings were taken in by Clark Griffith. Calvin and a sister were formally adopted; the others were not, but they were all involved in running the Twins, and one of Calvin's brothers ran the concession operations. How dad elicited the vendor's stories about Jimmy Robertson (or the details of those stories) are lost in the mists of my memory, but I know he got more enjoyment out of talking with that vendor than from the game itself.

Monday, October 10, 2011

The reactivation of Delmon Young

Delmon Young hit
three homers in the
ALDS. He hit four
for the Twins before
he was traded to
Detroit in August.
This suggests that the Twins have no monopoly on dubious medical decisons.

The Tigers left Delmon Young off the second round roster because of his strained oblique. But then Magglio Ordonez broke his ankle — rebroke it, actually — and the Tigers exercised their option to replace Mags in mid series (which takes him out for the World Series, which is pretty obvious anyway.)

And they replaced him with ... Delmon Young.

I can't think of anybody who played effectively with a troubled oblique. Such injuries usually take weeks of rest. Young has had about four days.

Options were clearly scarce for the Tigers.

Owwie-oh, Maggilo

Magglio Ordonez was a shell of the hitter
he once was, but even that shell figured
to be useful against Texas' lefty starters.
Magglio Ordonez is out for the rest of the ALCS — and the World Series, should the Detroit Tigers go so far — with a fractured ankle.

He's 37, turns 38 in January. He's coming off easily the worst season of a brilliant career. He's a defensive liability. And now he's broken the same ankle two years running. I will be surprised if anybody, including the Tigers, offers him a contract this winter.

Of more immediate import — the Tigers are now without both Delmon Young and Ordonez, a pair of right-handed hitting corner outfielders who figured to be of importance against Texas' three left-handed starters.

The Tigers could readily replace either with Ryan Raburn without losing anything. But Raburn can't fill in for both.

Ordonez ain't what he used to be. But what he was still had some value in this matchup. That value is unlikely to be replaced by whoever the Tigers activate to fill his roster spot today.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Pic of the Week

Mark Teixeira reacts after Nick Swisher struck out with
the bases loaded on Thursday.
I said this on Facebook immediately after the Detroit Tigers won Game Five on Thursday:

Life is always better when the Yankees lose.

Words to live by.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

A monstrosity in Miami

Jeffrey Loria, owner of the Florida/Miami Marlins, made his money as an art dealer, so, theoretically, he is a man of wealth and taste.

Wealth, I'm still willing to grant. Taste is becoming another thing. There should be no sympathy for this devil.

The team is getting a new stadium in downtown Miami, at the site of the Orange Bowl, and part of the deal is that the Marlins will ditch the Florida name for that of its city. Which, of course, makes their original logo — a capital F intertwined with a realistic marlin — obsolete.

What they're apparently replacing it with is ... a mess:

The official unveiling of the new logo is to come next month, and maybe they'll wise up enough to ditch the rainbow effect before then. The basic look, however -- the simple M and a stylized marlin -- is part of the seating, in white.

But even the gaudy color scheme of the leaked logo isn't the worst. Check out their planned home run sculpture:

This ... thing ... is to rise up and dance when Miami hits a homer. To which I say: Hooray for the bunt.

Three great Game Fives

Wake me up before you Go-Go: The Brewers charge the field to celebrate
as Carlos Gomez slides home with the winning run Friday.
Three of the division series went to a fifth game; all three were excellent contests. All were one-run affairs; one went extra innings.

Fox may not be happy that the Yankees and Phillies have been eliminated; the News Corp bean counters may dread the possibility of a Detroit-Milwaukee World Series. But these results pleased me, not least because of the roles certain recent members of the Twins played in those games.

When Carlos Gomez was perched on second base in the bottom of the 10th inning in Milwaukee on Friday night, I flashed back to Game 163 in 2009 — a stirring game in the Dome. Remember? It was Go-Go who carried home the winning run that night.

Among Nick Punto's crisp defensive
plays was this tag on Chase Utley
on a stolen base attempt.
And it was Go-Go who brought the run home on Friday for the Brewers. Good for him. I continue to believe that Gomez will thrive if he lands on a team that can put him in center field and at the bottom of the lineup. He hasn't found that team yet. Maybe he never will.

Also on Friday, Nick Punto played a sparkling game at second base for St. Louis. Punto missed a lot of time with injuries this season, so even if the Twins had kept him, he probably wouldn't have been the reliable Plan B for the infield that he was for so many seasons for Ron Gardenhire. The Twins didn't adequately replace him.

And, of course, Delmon Young on Thursday hit his third home run of the series as the Detroit Tigers knocked off the Yankees. At this writing, I don't know if Young, who strained his oblique Thursday, will be available for the ALCS against Texas.

The Rangers figure to have three lefties in their rotation, so Detroit would be better off with Young in the lineup — if he can swing the bat freely. He missed a month for the Twins with an oblique strain this summer, so I suspect he's not going to be useful in the coming series.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Robin Ventura, manager

Robin Ventura spent most of his career with
the White Sox, but also played for the Mets,
the Yankees (above, in 2003) and Dodgers.
You can't accuse Kenny Williams, the general manager of the Chicago White Sox, of hiring retread managers. By tabbing Robin Ventura — probably the greatest third baseman in the franchise's 111-year history — to follow Ozzie Guillen as the dugout boss, Williams has hired a man who not only hasn't managed or coached in the majors, he hasn't managed in the minors either.

Trying to guess what kind of strategic manager Ventura is going to be is a fool's game. We do know that he'll have Don Cooper as his pitching coach, and he'd doubtless be wise to allow Cooper a great deal of autonomy in running the staff. 

The most important attribute for a manager is his credibility with the players. It's been seven years since Ventura last played, so his players are likely to know something of his exploits. That's instant credibility.

Keeping that credibility ... Ventura's dealings with players have been as a peer, not as their boss. He hasn't had to look a player in the eye and kick the man's hopes in the teeth, hasn't had to tell him he's getting demoted, hasn't had to tell him he's out of a job. He hasn't had to find the perfect balance between encouraging a struggling player and criticizing him. 

That's the real issue with hiring a completely inexperienced manager -- not whether he knows when to issue an intentional walk or his preference for power or defense at second base, but his ability to deal with egos and emotions over the course of a long season.

Don Kelly and Jorge Posada

At this moment, Thursday's game was scoreless. When
Don Kelly finished his swing, the Tigers had the lead,
and they never gave it back.
Don Kelly first came to my attention in 2009 as the conduit for a piece of Metrodome magic — a misplayed fly ball that ignited a five-run rally that gave the Twins a win over Justin Verlander and the Detroit Tigers.

That season ended with the Twins beating the Tigers in the memorable Game 163, so that was no small failure.

But Jim Leyland, Dave Dombrowski and Company kept Kelly around. He's a Swiss Army Knife of a player — plays defense in the corner outfield positions (and with regulars Delmon Young and Magglio Ordonez  around, Leyland has plenty of use for defensive substitutes), is an infield option, provides a left-handed bat -- heck, he even pitched for one out and caught six innings this season.

And on Thursday night, for Game 5 of the ALDS, Leyland wrote him into the starting lineup in Yankee Stadium, hitting second — and Don Kelly hit a first-inning home run. He made plays at third base, he made plays in right field.

In September 2009, I didn't think Kelly was long for the majors. Today, there's a generation of Tigers fans unlikely to forget him.


Jorge Posada hit .429/.579/.571
in the ALDS. If those are his final
games, he went out well.
An image from the TBS broadcast that will linger for a while: As soon as Alex Rodriguez struck out to end the Yankees season, the entire dugout turned away from the field and headed back to the clubhouse.

Everybody except Jorge Posada, who continued to stare out at the Tigers celebration.

This is probably it for Posada. He's 40 years old now -- a well-used 40. His contract is expired. His play has diminished to the point where he had become a platoon DH. The Yankees have no real use for him anymore, and it was widely believed early in the season that the higher-ups were hoping to prod him into retirement.

He swallowed his considerable pride (the bitterness of that menu being considerably sweetened by the $13 million or so the Yankees paid him) and stuck it out.

I don't know that he's all that interested in playing for somebody else, especially for the kind of money a platoon DH should get (roughly a tenth of what he made this year). If he does, it will be odd to see him in a different uniform.

His has been a unique and high-level career. The Yankees have had a string of stellar catchers over the generations. By my reckoning, he's the third-greatest catcher they've had, and he's worthy of the Hall of Fame.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Details of defense

David Freese gets out of the way after tagging
Chase Utley on a rare 6-3-5 fielders choice. The
umpire is Chris Guccione.
I'm not a fan of Tony LaRussa — mostly for the constant belligerence, but also because he, more than any other manager, created the seven-man bullpens and nonstop pitching changes that drag out games. I also suspect that, if a truly accurate history of steroid use in baseball could be compiled, TLR would be a near-constant figure.

But there's no denying his record. The man has been, and remains, one of the great managers in the game's history, and his infield on Wednesday night provided a couple of plays that I think illustrate the attention to detail that LaRussa demands.

Play One: sixth inning, Cardinals up 3-2, Chase Utley on first with no outs. Utley runs with the pitch, and Hunter Pence hits a grounder to the left side. As shortstop Rafael Furcal throws to first, Utley rounds second and heads to third.

Two things happen here: First, Albert Pujols sees Utley make his move to third and comes off the bag to shorten the throw from Furcal. Second, third baseman David Freese doesn't stand around admiring the play — he's in position to take the throw from Pujols. Utley is out by several feet — a 6-3-5 fielders choice.

There are a lot of teams that wouldn't have cut off Utley. Some first basemen would have clung to the base to get the sure out, then tried — doubtless too late — to throw to third. Some first basemen wouldn't have the arm to make that throw. (Inability to throw makes outfielders first basemen.) Some shortstops might have made a higher throw to first, forcing Pujols to hang back. Some third basemen wouldn't have anticipated the play coming his way.

The Cardinals played it as if they knew it was coming. By doing so, they turned man on third, one out into man on first, one out. In a one-run game, that's significant.

Play Two: Eighth inning, Cardinals up 5-2, pinch-runner Michael Martinez on second, no outs. Jimmy Rollins hits a hard grounder to second. Ryan Theriot holds Martinez at second, then gets the out at first.

This is a more subtle play than the previous one, but remarkable in its own right. It's virtually automatic — grounder to the right side, a runner on second is taking third. Maybe a second baseman will occasionally be able to check a Jim Thome or one of the Molina brothers — but Martinez is hardly immobile.

It was a bit of a perfect storm. Theirot didn't have to move left to make the play. Martinez didn't get a good jump off the base. And while Theirot doesn't have a great arm, he throws well enough to have spent most of his career at the position, so he probably throws a bit better than most second basemen.

Martinez wound up scoring anyway. The point is, Theriot and the Cardinals didn't concede that base.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The lesson of A.J. Burnett and Rick Porcello

Pitching in an elimination game Tuesday,
A.J. Burnett got the job done for the Yankees.
I was driving around Mankato Tuesday evening running errands and listening to the static that accompanied ESPN Radio's pregame for the Yankees-Tigers game. Somebody -- I think it was Dan Schulman -- described the pitching matchup more or less thusly:

An inconsistent, frustrating 30-something .500 pitcher and a young nibbler.

If all you know about baseball comes from the cliches of Dan Gladden and Dick Bremer, that doesn't make sense. It's the young guys who are supposed to be talented but frustratingly inconsistent, and the old pros who fall back on their guile.

But the description is accurate. A.J. Burnett, age 34, has a wonderful arm but pitches seemingly without a clue -- a right-handed version of Francisco Liriano, right down to the ugly high-walk no-hitter.

In his three seasons to date with the Yankees, Burnett has led the league in wild pitches twice, in hit batters once, has averaged four walks per nine innings and has an ERA of 4.79, which is roughly a full run per game higher than he had in his time with Florida and Toronto. Had it not been for the series-opening rain delay, he would not have been entrusted with a start in this series. And he has two more seasons left to run on contract, at more than $16 million a year.

Then there's Rick Porcello, 23, who was far more highly regarded when he was coming out of high school than he is now. Considered a top-three talent in the 2007 draft, he fell to the Tigers late in the first round (one pick before the Twins tabbed Ben Revere) because of his bonus demands. Porcello made the majors in 2008 and has been, basically, the kind of pitcher we've come to associate with the Twins -- a sinker-slider guy with a low walk rate and a low strikeout rate. (Unlike most of the Twins "sinkerballers," Porcello actually does get ground balls.) Detroit signed him anticipating a future ace; he's a reliable change-up, at least, away from that status.

The Yankee lineup loves facing that kind of pitcher. That's been at the heart of the Twins' head-to-head problems with the Yanks -- the Minnesota starters don't miss bats, and the New York hitters can spoil the good pitches and wait for the mistakes.

And so it went Tuesday night. Burnett survived his wildness in the first inning, then found the release point for his curve ball and got the Yanks into the sixth inning with just one run allowed.

Porcello? He got one more out than Burnett did, walked three fewer, struck out two more -- and surrendered three more runs.

It was a one-game object lesson in the value of stuff over command. It's not a lesson I particularly like -- watching Burnett or Liriano in aimless mode is painful for a fan -- but it's real anyway.

Burnett is 34. If Porcello doesn't find a way to miss bats, he won't last as long as Burnett has.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Verlander-Sabathia II

CC Sabathia eats his glove.
A few observations on Monday's Tigers-Yankees game:

*The TBS crew seems startled at how Justin Verlander geared up the velocity for the final couple batters of the game. Their amazement merely underlined how little they know about Verlander in particular, and -- here I extrapolate a bit -- probably about baseball outside the New York Boston axis.

Velander ALWAYS does this. In fact, it's the surest way to know that he's in his final inning. For that last out, he's leaving nothing in the tank. He opens the game throwing low 90s, dials it up to 100 or more when he's in a jam, throttles it back down when not in trouble -- and lets it all out for the final few pitches.

*Maybe it's just me, but CC Sabathia looked fatter than ever. Perhaps I've mainly seen him in the (slimming) home pinstripes this year, but man, in the road grays, he looked particularly blimped out.

* The beauty of that matchup is that Sabathia and Verlander appear to be the workhorses of their generation. It comes out in different ways. Sabathia is probably the most equipped current pitcher to work on short rest. Verlander hasn't done that nearly as often as Sabathia has, but he probably throws more 120-plus pitch games than anybody else -- and, as noted, holds that velocity.

* I was happy to see the Tigers use the bunt on Captain Cheeseburger, and not at all surprised that after Alex Avila missed on his first bunt attempt, Sabathia came up and in on him.  Sabathia hates it when people bunt on him, hates having to field his position and move his poundage.

* Even without his command, Sabathia is still impressive. When he needs a strikeout, he can do that; when he needs a ground ball, he can do that too. No, he didn't pitch well (neither, really, did Verlander, at least by his own standards). After a season spent watching Twins starters (and infielders) make bad situations worse, it was striking to see Sabathia and his infielders display their mastery of damage control.

*The TBS boys were surprised to see Sabathia pitch at all in the sixth; they figured he was done after five. On the surface, I agreed. But here's the thing: Sabathia's shortest outing in 2011 was 5.6 innings (once in April, once in September). Joe Girardi expects more than five-and-fly from the big man. He didn't get it Monday, and today he's counting on A.J. Burnett, which is something he probably doesn't want.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Playoff shortstops

Shortstop was a disaster for the 2011 Twins -- so much so that it remained on my mind as I watched the first weekend of playoff baseball.

The odd thing is how many of the teams in the October tournament struggled at the position. Three of the surviving eight changed their regulars during the season; few have a truly outstanding all-round shortstop.

Break it down:

Sean Rodriguez played 431 innings at short this season
for Tampa Bay, 353 innings at second base and 172
innings at third base.
Tampa Bay Rays: Reid Brignac opened the season as their regular, but he was an utter disaster at the plate (.193/.227/.221). Elliot Johnson didn't hit either. Both men, according to Baseball Info System's advanced metrics (plus-minus and runs saved), fielded well; Brignac was +11 in plus-minus, +8 in runs saved, Johnson +13 and +11 in less than half Brignac's playing time.

But right now it's Sean Rodriguez playing short. He's out of position -- he's a second baseman -- but he's getting the job done well enough in the field, and he supplies something with the bat.

This solution has a ripple effect on the rest of the lineup. Playing Rodriguez at short means Ben Zobrist is locked in at second base, and that in turn deprives manager Joe Maddon of his preferred right fielder against left-handed pitching.

Texas Rangers: Elvis Andrus might be the best defensive shortstop in the American League. The BIS metrics like him (+14, +13).  His offense isn't to the same level, but he just turned 23 in late August. Of all the shortstops in this year's field, he's the one I'd most like to have.

New York Yankees: Derek Jeter had a painfully slow start and caught fire around the time he finally got his much-hyped 3,000th hit. (Second half slash line: .327/.383/.428). His power is pretty much gone, and the defensive metrics continue to say he's a poor defensive shortstop. Plus-minus has him at -22, runs saved at -18.

Detroit Tigers: The Cleveland Indians despaired of Jhonny Peralta's glovework at short, shifted him to third base, then unloaded him. The Tigers returned him to short. The BIS metrics say he's a very slightly below average defender (-5 in plus minus, -4 in runs saved.) From a shortstop who hit .299/.345/.478, that's plenty good enough.

Philadelphia Phillies: Jimmy Rollins is 32, and his game has declined since his 2007 MVP season. The BIS stats say he's an average defender (-4, -2). He is very much still a central figure on the best team in the National League, and it will be interesting to see how he and the Phillies handle his impending free agency.

Ryan Theirot, seen here taking a break-up slide from
Chase Utley, started 87 games at shortstop
for the St. Louis Cardinals.
St. Louis Cardinals: They opened the season with Ryan Theriot, then traded for Rafael Furcal. Theroit was vocally displeased about being replaced, but his defense was bad (-15, -12) and he isn't enough of a hitter to make up for it. Furcal isn't much of a much either, but he's an improvement over Theriot.

Arizona Diamondbacks: Opened with Stephen Drew, who has lived up to the family tradition of being generally viewed as making the least of his considerable talent. Whether that's fair or not, Drew broke his ankle in late June, and the Snakes have made do with veteran utilityman Willie Bloomquist. He's been an adequate patch.

Milwaukee Brewers: Few major league regulars draw the sabermetric disdain of Yuniesky Betancourt, and he certainly isn't a standout. But the position hasn't been a gaping wound for the Brewers either. Betancourt is, by the BIS metrics, a below-average defender, and there's no question that he's a below-average hitter. But this has been one season in which several teams have done worse at short than Betancourt, and that's not always been the case.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Pic of the Week

Dan Gladden, motorcycle enthusiast, drove John Gordon
around Target Field before Wednesday's finale in a sidecar.
It was Gordon's final game as the Twins radio voice

I don't know: Is that joy on John Gordon's face, or abject terror?

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Contemplating Terry Francona

Tito Francona and Theo Epstein, manager and general manager,
face the media on Thursday, the day after the
Red Sox completed their historic collapse.
Terry Francona managed the Boston Red Sox for eight seasons, winning two World Series in the process. Now he's out.

Fired? Pushed? Walked away? What they're saying for public consumption: Francona was encountering a growing disconnect with his team, which collapsed in stunning fashion last month. He told his superiors Friday morning that might be time for him to go. And after spending the day thinking about it, they agreed.

Which leads me to suspect that the Sox will look for a bit of a bully this time around — somebody who's not going to tolerate pitchers drinking beer during games, somebody who's not going to be as accommodating to egos, somebody less publicly passive.

Such a manager, I think, won't last long in the Fens, nor will he be particularly successful. Boston is a high-pressure environment to begin with. Dropping a high-pressure manager into such an environment is a bit like flipping lighted matches at a gasoline can. Maybe the first one won't ignite it, but eventually ... boom.

Francona was successful for years in Boston because he has a knack for dealing with superstars and their egos.  He was an unknown minor league manager who rose to prominence for dealing with Michael Jordan during the basketball star's flirtation with baseball. He got the job in Philadelphia, didn't win, got fired, got the job in Boston — and won.

Curt Schilling and Manny Ramirez, Pedro Martinez and David Ortiz — lots of talent, lots of quirks. It worked under Francona; it hadn't for other managers.

But there's probably a limit to how long a manager can absorb all the pressure and keep it from tearing at the players — and a time when constantly deflecting criticism results in a lack of accountability.

If in fact the players were abusing the freedom Francona's personality granted them, they may well regret it, and soon.