Sunday, May 31, 2009

More on the '69 Mets

As promised in Monday's print column:

The 1969 Mets had two young pitchers destined to win more than 300 games apiece — Tom Seaver (311 wins) and Nolan Ryan (324). The staff also included Jerry Koosman (222 wins) and Tug McGraw (96 wins and 180 saves), who weren't Cooperstown-bound but destined for long and distinguished careers.

In 1969 Seaver was 24, and he pitched 271 innings. Koosman was 26 and threw 241 innings. McGraw was 24 and pitched more than 100 innings, mostly in relief. Ryan was 22 and had a much lighter workload (15 relief outings, 10 starts, 89-plus innings), but he had missed almost all of the 1967 season with arm problems and was notoriously wild.

By today's standards, Seaver, Koosman and McGraw had heavy workloads for pitchers so young. Yet they weren't burned out by such use.

Of course, the Mets also had Gary Gentry, 22, regarded as every bit a match in talent to the others. He made 35 starts, pitched 233-plus innings and was fried before he reached 30.

We don't have pitch counts for these guys, but we do know how many batters they faced per game. This counts in longevity; in his book "The Diamond Appraised," Craig Wright used batters-faced to study pitcher durability and concluded that, especially for pitchers under age 25, BFP should be limited to an average of 30 per start (or less).

Koosman was a tad under 30 in 1969. Seaver was at 31. Gentry was at 27. Ryan, in his 10 starts, was at 24. Wright thinks Seaver, as great as he was, might have had an even greater career had he been handled a bit more carefully in his first few years with the Mets. 

Most organizations, in the 1960s and '70s used four-man rotations — or, perhaps more specifically, four-day rotations. The top pitchers pitched every fourth day, three days of rest. The Mets used a five-day rotation. Seaver's 35 starts in 1969 break down thusly: 18 starts on four days rest; eight starts on three days; four starts on five days; three starts on six days; and one start on two days (he made a one-out relief appearance and started two days later; it was four days after his previous start.) The Mets spaced out starts more than the other teams of the era did, which is why they never had anybody throw 300 innings in a time when that was not unusual.

Seaver, Ryan, Gentry and Koosman were all power pitchers. Jim McAndrew was not. McAndrew, age 25, started 21 games for the '69 Mets (and had six relief appearances) for 135 innings. His BFP worked out to 24.4, but it was skewed. He had starts in the first half of the season in which he faced 9, 6, 12 and 16 hitters. But in his last 11 starts, he never faced fewer than 25 batters, and once reached 41 (he pitched 11 innings). He was pitching well in August and September, and manager Gil Hodges rode him hard.

And like Gentry, he was washed up at a young age.

The Hoffmann watch

NUN Jamie Hoffmann's playing time pretty much evaporated in the past week, with one at-bat since May 25.

It's not too surprising that he's not getting a lot of PT. The Dodgers have Matt Kemp (career .296 hitter) in center and Andre Ethier (career .294 hitter) in right, and Hoffmann isn't likely to dislodge either of them. Juan Pierre got first crack at left field duty after Manny Ramirez got caught by the doping police, and he's merely hitting .384.  We all know he's not that good — nobody is, including Joe Mauer — but Joe Torre is not about to stop riding that hot hand.

But Pierre's 0-for-7 the last two days, so maybe ... 

Saturday, May 30, 2009

More of the inexplicable

In the spirit of an earlier post:

* How the San Francisco Giants could go about a decade with this guy and this guy in the lineup back-to-back (not to mention this guy heading the starting rotation) and wind up with one NL pennant, one division title and zero World Series titles. 

*Why Delmon Young (.245-.291-.284; that's right, two extra-base hits in 107 plate appearances) gets the majority of playing time over Carlos Gomez (.217-.289-.315 in 100 plate appearances). The offense is similarly offensive, and Gomez is far superior in the field.

* How Joe Mauer can be hitting .500 against right-handers almost a month into his season.

* How Matt Tolbert can survive striking out at a .267 clip. He has 14 hits — and 19 strikeouts. Gardnehire may love his hustle and attitude, but those attributes only go so far.

(Update on the Tolbert point: The Twins have put Nick Punto on the disabled list and recalled Alexi Casilla. Harris is to play short and Casilla second with Tolbert backing up both. That's more sensible than Tolbert as the regular second baseman.)

Friday, May 29, 2009

Bullpen Ray guns

The Twins today open a series in Tampa Bay against the defending AL champs, which sets up a compare and contrast opportunity regarding the two bullpens.

Ron Gardenhire is a slave to current convention in handling the relief corps. Joe Nathan pitches the ninth inning in save situations. He gets three outs and he's out; he has yet to pitch more than an inning at a time. He is the only Twin with a save so far.

This is probably not the optimal use of a relief ace; there's no way a three-run lead in the ninth is more crucial than a tie in the seventh or eighth, but that's the way managers regulate the workload these days. As for the three-outs-and-done ... well, Nathan's 34, and he didn't seem to handle four- and five-out assignments with any success last season, when the middle relief implosions prompted Gardy to expand Nathan's workload.

Anyway: Nathan in the ninth, Jose Mijares and Matt Guerrier as the primary set-up men, R.A. Dickey as the long man, Sean Henn (theoretically) as a LOOGY, Jesse Crain and Luis Ayala trying to re-establish themselves as serious options. It's a bullpen of set roles, and four of the seven, at least, are doing well in those roles (Nathan, Mijares, Guerrier, Dickey).

Joe Maddon is a bit more adventuresome, or at least he was late last season, when Troy Percival was on and off the DL and not always available when active. The Rays have six pitchers with saves — Percival has six to lead the team, and may never have another (he's on the disabled list again and contemplating "retirement;" I put quote marks around the word because he's "retired" and returned before.)

Last season, six Rays had at least two saves. Percival, who led the team in saves (28), also had four holds — meaning he was occasionally used to protect leads in the seventh or eighth innings.
Maddon shuffled lefty J.P. Howell, former Twins fireballer Grant Balfour, journeyman Dan Wheeler and phenom David Price — plus ROOGY Chad Bradford and LOOGY Trevor Miller — through a variety of roles in the postseason with success.

This year, the no-role bullpen has struggled. Howell's faring well — 2.63 ERA and 27 strikeouts in 24 innings — but Balfour's ERA is 5.75, and he's walked 14 men in 20 1/3 IP, and Wheeler has thown four home run balls in his 16 innings (4.86).

The bullpen may not be Maddon's greatest concern these days; his middle infield is on the DL, and two of his starters, Scott Kazmir and Andy Sonnenstine, have ERAs above 7. But he's not getting much relief from his no-role pen either.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

A bad day for an ump

Todd Tichenor is umping home plate today in the Red Sox-Twins game at the Dome, and he's not having a good day.

The seventh inning just ended. In the top of the seventh, he butchered a play at the plate — Jason Kubel threw out Jeff Bailey, but Tichenor missed the call. Then Tichenor threw out Mike Redmond. Then he threw out Ron Gardenhire. Since Joe Mauer was the DH and had to go into the game to catch, the Twins lost their DH.

In the bottom of the seventh, Tichenor — whose strike zone has wandered considerably all game — called a ball on Brandon Harris, and Josh Beckett said a naughty word. Loudly. When everything was over in that rhubarb, Boston catcher Jason Veritek and manager Terry Francona were ejected, with Francona delivering a variety of emphatic hand gestures vividly describing Tichenor's ball-strike calls. Unlike Gardenhire, Francona is not known for getting ejected.

I believe Tichenor is a vacation fill-in ump, not a full timer. I know I was looking at the crew at the start of the series and wondered who the crew chief is. Jerry Layne, I suppose. It certainly is not a veteran crew; Chris Guccione might be a fill-in too. Anyway, you've got to figure: An ump runs four players/managers, he's having a bad day.

Update: Game over. The run on the Bailey play didn't beat the Twins. How the game would have run with better ball-strike calling, that's completely unknowable.

Of interest, given this morning's post, is how the Twins bullpen fared, and how Gardenhire deployed them.

Anthony Swarzak started, pitched pretty well, left in the seventh having given up a homer and bloop double. Jesse Crain entered, faced one batter, got a fly to right on a 3-2 count that moved Bailey to third. Out went Crain (a week of rest and just six pitches, half of them balls), in came Henn.

Gardy probably had this in mind: Henn gets Jacoby Ellsbury, they walk Dustin Pedroia intentionally, then Henn goes after J.D. Drew. That would be classic LOOGY use. Henn, however, plunked Ellsbury with the 2-2 pitch. Now he had pitch to Pedroia — who hit the fly to right that started the ejection runaround. That's the second out, and Drew hit the first pitch to second to end the inning.

In for the eighth (and ninth) comes Luis Ayala. He faced just six hitters, gave up one hit, got a double play.

What I take from this:

1) Crain is on a much shorter leash right now than he was 10 days ago.

2) Henn hasn't pitched enough yet to establish whether he's a good LOOGY candidate, but: He's now faced nine right handed hitters, and none have gotten a hit. Two walks, Pedroia's disputable sac fly, and 0-for-6 in official at-bats. Lefties are 3-for-8 with a HBP and two doubles. That's a .444 OPB and .556 SLG. And going that far inside on the 2-2 pitch to Ellsbury wasn't good. The best that could happen was going to 3-2.

3) Ayala's results look good, but three of the six outs were air outs, which doesn't suggest that he has rediscovered his good sinker. He did throw strikes, however — 12 strikes, two balls in his 14 pitches.

Working the bullpen

The print column two weeks ago suggested that Ron Gardenhire was overworking the few relievers he trusted.

Here's an update:

In the past week — starting with the 20-1 shellacking of the Chicago White Sox that ended a bizarre road trip (the Twins went 1-6 while outscoring their opponents) — the Twins played seven games, going 6-1.

They've used Joe Nathan four times, twice in save situations, the other two just to get him some work.

Jose Mijares had pitched three times, getting one hold.

Matt Guerrier has pitched three times, getting two holds.

Jesse Crain, the fourth guy Gardy was using in game situations, has not worked at all, suggesting that he (a) pitched his way into the doghouse and/or (b) is not fully recovered from the arm issue that landed him on the DL.

Luis Ayala has pitched once. He got one out, gave up two hits, and came out.

Sean Henn, who relieved Ayala, has pitched twice. (He replaced Craig Breslow on the roster; Breslow has since pitched four times for Oakland, taking one loss but lowering his ERA from 6.28 to 5.40.)

R.A. Dickey has pitched once, a four inning stint that was a perfect example of his role.

In that week, the Twins bullpen has been charged with three runs allowed (one each for Mijares, Guerrier and Dickey) in 15.1 innings, a 1.76 ERA. Only one of those runs (Dickey's) can be said to have had an impact on the outcome, and even that one didn't look significant at the time. The bullpen has not blown a lead.

And, perhaps most important, the key guys — Nathan, Mijares and Guerrier — haven't been overexposed.

Still, the Twins need at least one more useful arm, preferably two — and that's assuming that Henn proves a fit as a LOOGY.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Baseball and the Supreme Court

I imagine Bud Selig, commissioner for life, brooding in his Milwaukee estate over the sudden decline in his political fortune. For eight years, the president of the United States was a man who had once been a member of Bud's little fraternity, the owner of a major league team. And now the new president has appointed to the Supreme Court the very judge who, in 1995, told Bud and Co. that they couldn't impose a new contract on the players, that they had to negotiate with the union.

Sonia Sotomayor may or may not have "saved baseball," as President Obama suggested Tuesday in nominating her. But she is a baseball fan (her team is the Yankees), and as such fits in a long court tradition. Samuel Alito, currently the most junior member of the court, is a noted Phillies fan, for example.

One famous story about baseball and the court centers on Potter Stewart, a fan of the Cincinnati Reds. On Oct. 10, 1973, the Red and New York Mets were playing the deciding game of the NL Championship Series — a day game. The court was hearing oral arguments.

Stewart and fellow justice Harry Blackmun had the clerks provide them with inning-by-inning updates on the game. As the lawyers droned on, the clerks would hand the justices memos with the score.

One said: "V.P. Agnew resigns! Mets 2, Reds 0." (The memo was circulated among the full court and eventually made its way into Blackmun's official papers.)

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Things I can't explain

* How the San Diego Padres have a 10-game winning streak.

*How the Chicago Cubs (100 wins in 2008) have an eight-game losing streak ... with half those losses coming to the Padres and Pittsburgh Pirates.

* How it is that the corpse of Gary Sheffield has been resurrected. He's hitting .277 for the Mets, but more impressively, his OBP is .417 and his slugging percentage is .494.

* How it is that Jason Bartlett is hitting .373-.418-.596. Again: Jason Bartlett's slugging percentage is just a nick below .600. (Yeah, I know: He's using a big Justin Morneau bat to warm up. Give me a better reason.) Nick Punto is a nick below that too ... several nicks. Cut Bartlett's percentages in half, and you've still got better numbers than Punto in two of the three percentages. (.181-.290.-.198). Punto hit .284-.344-.382 last season and Bartlett hit .286-.329-.361 ... but of course Punto had a similar season to this in 2007, the other time he came into the season with a regular job secured.

* Why anybody pitches to Joe Mauer at all. I was amused by the Terry Francona quote in the game story after Mauer hit his two-run pinch-hit homer (which left the Twins one run short: "I'm glad he came up where he could hit that ball as far as he wanted, and he about did."

*Why Dusty Baker keeps pulling this stuff. Last year he used starter Aaron Harang for four innings of relief in an extra inning game, then started him two days later; Harang's season went into the toilet. On Sunday, Harang started; there was a two-hour rain delay; Harang pitched after the delay too. He had 93 "real" pitches and Lord knows how many extra ones during the delay trying to stay loose. Harang's having a nice season so far; let's see if it survives this.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Notes from a weekend

* NUN Jamie Hoffmann got a start Sunday and did something with it — a homer for his first major league hit, a double and four RBIs.

He also reportedly popped teammate Orlando Hudson in the head with his elbow.

And while I'm on the topic — when I posted upon his call-up last week that Baseball America didn't think highly enough of him to put him in the prospect book, I was wrong. I had the 2008 edition in front of me at the time. The 2009 edition ranks him as the Dodgers' 22nd prospect: 

Hoffmann can play all three outfield positions — center field capably ... (he) remains one of the Dodgers' best defensive outfielders. Mostly a gap hitter, he has some power but has an open stance and sometimes loses his timing in his swing. ... If he learns to hit lefthanders with more authority — he has just 21 extra-base hits and three homers off lefthanders the last four full seasons— he could hit enough to be a regular. 

That kind of reverse platoon split over a period of years  is exceedingly rare. Sure enough, his homer came off a righthander (Matt Palmer) but the double came of a lefty (Darren Oliver.)

* I caught a bit of the Cubs-Padres game Sunday afternoon, just enough to see a questionable decision by Cubs manager Lou Piniella. 

Bottom of the sixth inning, scoreless game. The Padres have one out and men on second and third and Josh Wilson, backup infielder hitting under .2oo, up with the pitcher, Chris Young, to follow. Sweet Lou has Wilson walked intentionally, apparently with the notion of setting up the double play, to bring up Chris Young — hitting, according to WGN, .294 at the time. Young promptly smacks a two-run single with his second hit of the game.

Just to make matters worse, David Eckstein followed with a suicide squeeze bunt that Cubs pitcher Ted Lilly threw to the backstop in a misbegotten attempt on Wilson. 

Piniella isn't near the top of managers at issuing intentional walks, according to Baseball Info Systems, but he's had seasons in which the IBB has frequently made matters worse for him. If he walks the No. 8 hitter frequently, it ought to.

* Sunday's Mauer HBP was an odd one — not because the ump changed the call (I know of at least two World Series games that turned on a ump reversing a HBP call) but because the ump apparently didn't change the call immediately upon seeing the evidence. 

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Mauer links and lineup chatter

Monday's print column explores Joe Mauer's surprising home run surge. I mentioned an Aaron Gleeman piece on the same topic, posted Friday on NBC Sports' Circling the Bases blog. Here it is.  

The Pioneer Press has a piece on Mauer and Justin Morneau — personality driven, not analytical — that's entertaining. 

On to the lineup question: Ron Gardenhire on Thursday moved Mauer and Morneau up a slot each in the batting order. The Twins scored 20 runs. They stayed in the 2 and 3 holes on Friday; the Twins scored 11 runs. Status quo remained on Saturday; they scored six runs.

It's hard to argue with 37 runs in three games, and I assume the lineup for tonight's ESPN game will have Mauer hitting second and Morneau third again. But Gardy still prefers Mauer three and Morneau four. He just doesn't have anybody who gets on base to put between Denard Span and Mauer.

Here's the thing — to the limited extent that lineup positioning matters, Gardenhire's better off with Mauer two and Morneau three. Why? Because they'll get more at-bats over the course of the season hitting second and third than third and fourth.

The three guys in front of Mauer in Gardenhire's preferred lineup will generally be Span and two middle infielders (Nick Punto, Matt Tolbert, Brendan Harris or Alexi Casilla, who I still expect will eventually wind up with the second base job). The three guys in front of Mauer in the current lineup are ... Span and two middle infielders. It's going to be the same people in front of the M&M Boys no matter what.

So give the good hitters more at-bats and take them away from Matt Tolbert. Please.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Hoffmann's debut

Not that I intend to provide a blow-by-blow account of Jamie Hoffmann's career, but the New Ulm native made his major league debut Friday night with a pinch-hitting appearance against the Angels.

Hoffmann, facing Justin Speier, flew out to right field in the sixth inning pinch hitting for pitcher Ramon Troncoso.

"New Ulm native". It used to be a standing joke among the sports guys at The Free Press that as far as we were concerned, Terry Steinbach's full name, to be used on first reference in stories, was "New Ulm native Terry Steinbach." Sometimes in conversation we would refer to Steinbach as "the NUN."  

May Hoffmann have a successful enough career that we can transfer the nickname to him. NUN Jamie Hoffmann.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Dodgers bring up Jamie Hoffman

Jamie Hoffmann, the son of Brown County sheriff Rich Hoffmann, was called up to the major leagues Thursday by the Los Angeles Dodgers.

So much for Manny Ramirez, right? Well, probably not.

Anyway, here's some of what John Sickles had to say this spring about young Hoffmann, a 24-year-old outfielder:

Jamie Hoffmann looks like he has a future as a reserve outfielder. Although he doesn't have any overwhelming tools, he does a lot of things on the field. He can swipe a base, shows sparks of power, controls the strike zone reasonably well and is an excellent defensive outfielder. ...Hoffmann should move up to Triple A in '09 and could put up some superficially gaudy numbers ... Don't be tricked into thinking he will be a star, but he should be a useful player. Grade C.

Hoffmann's Triple A stats don't actually look all that gaudy, although he was just moved up from Double A and has all of 41 plate appearances for Albuquerque, a very good place to rack up hitting numbers.

Baseball America didn't think highly enough of young Hoffmann to put him in its prospect book.

Morales sent back out

You've gotta feel a little for Jose Morales.

He was sent back to Triple A Rochester after Thursday's game. It was inevitable. Delmon Young had to to be reinstated, even through it will still be a few days before he'll rejoin the squad after his mother's funeral; a player can only be on the Family Emergency Medical List for up to seven days, and his time is up.

So Morales got shipped out. He had three hits and two walks Thursday; he's hitting a mere .358. 

That's not good enough to stick. Right.

No, I think he's a more useful player right now than Mike Redmond, but that's not the most important consideration. He's where the roster flexibility is. The Twins can send him down and still have him available. They can't do that with a veteran like Redmond. 

So Morales goes back to the minors, which is the best thing in the long run. He has defensive techniques to master, and the only way to master them is to play, which isn't going to happen in Minnesota, not as long as Joe Mauer's healthy. 

After all — .358 is good, but it isn't as good as .417.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Breslow: Too smart to fit in?

I found this sentence, contained in a longer quote from Craig Breslow in the Star Tribune's Twins notebook story Thursday, touching: "It's tough because I felt like this was the first place I was part of a team."

Breslow pitched in the majors for the San Diego Padres, Boston Red Sox and Cleveland Indians before coming to the Twins about one year ago. He pitched more for the Twins than for the other three combined, which might have something to do with feeling like he was part of the team, but I suspect there's something else here: the game's traditional suspicion of the well-educated.

Breslow is a graduate of Yale, with a B.A. in molecular biophysics and biochemistry. If he's not the smartest man in baseball, he's got to be in the running.

Many (most) players in the majors turned pro right out of high school. Those who went to college seldom finished. The draft rules encourage players to come out early. So Breslow will always stick out a bit, a highly educated man in an environment of people who ... aren't.

Again: He didn't pitch well this year. Sean Henn, who essentially takes his place, is said to have a mid-90s fast ball; that's something this bullpen needs, and something Breslow can't provide.

I'd still rather have Breslow around than Ayala.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Twins dump Breslow, keep Ayala

The Twins this afternoon (Wednesday) lost Craig Breslow on waivers to the Oakland Athletics.

This opened up roster space for Anthony Swarzak, who will take Glen Perkins' place in the rotation.

I've been a Breslow backer for a while -- it has been argued here that the Twins lost out on the division title last season because Ron Gardenhire was reluctant to entrust key innings to Breslow. I have to admit that he hasn't pitched particularly well this season, but Luis Ayala hasn't pitched well since 2007, and he's still cluttering the roster.

Swarzak, at least in theory, isn't going to be up for long; Perkins is supposedly expected to return as soon as his 15 days on the DL are up. But if Swarzak fares well, and Ayala doesn't give Gardy some reason to use him in late innings, who knows? This bullpen is clearly in need of a makeover. I wouldn't have started with Breslow, but it had to start somewhere.

One added point: I hope this doesn't lead to Gardenhire trying to use Jose Mijares both as a LOOGY and the top 8th inning choice. That's the kind of useage pattern that got Pat Neshek hurt.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Not so perky

Another lesson in the fragility of pitchers: Glen Perkins goes on the the disabled list after Monday's lousy start.

This is a double blow. It doesn't just create a gap in the starting rotation, it buys Luis Ayala a little more time on the roster.

Sean Henn was recalled to take Perkins' spot, but he's hardly likely to step into the rotation; he pitched strictly in relief for the Rochester Red Wings. R.A. Dickey might get the starts Perkins misses, or (let us hope) in three or four days a real starter might be added to the roster and Ayala ousted.

At any rate, even adding Henn doesn't really fix the issue of too many untrustworthy relievers. Gardenhire is hardly likely to shove Henn immediately into key situations. At best, he's going to try to find low-leverage situations for Henn. There's still going to be too much weight put on Jose Mijares and Matt Guerrier.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Blyleven's analytical limitations

I've pretty much given up grousing about the Twins announcing crews, radio or television. They're bad, and they're not going anywhere, and I have to accept that reality. John ("there's a drive to left right center field") Gordon and Dan Gladden, on the radio, seem deeply involved in a conspiracy to keep us from knowing what's going on.

But I still want people to understand the limitations of the announcers, because for many of us, they're our conduit to the action. 

When Jesse Crain committed a balk in the 13th inning on Wednesday — a mistake that could easily have cost the Twins the game — Bert Blyleven went on at great length about how Crain hadn't come to a complete stop. Wrong.

Rule 8.05 lists 13 reasons to call a balk. Blyleven knows one of them. When a balk was called on him, Blyleven was almost always guilty of violating 8.05(m) — the rule requiring a complete stop from the set position. Crain on Wednesday violated 8.05 (j): "If there is a runner, or runners, it is a balk when ... (j) The pitcher, after coming to a legal pitching position, removes one hand from the ball other than in an actual pitch, or in throwing to a base." No matter how many replays FSN aired, Blyleven talked about the stop rule.

Move on to the eighth inning of Sunday's game. Matt Tolbert — not an outstanding hitter — is up with the bases loaded and two outs. Brett Tomko — not an outstanding pitcher — falls behind 2-0. The next pitch is high, and Tolbert hacks away anyhow, hitting a mighty popup and killing the rally. Dick 'n' Bert go into defense mode, chattering about how Tolbert sat out Saturday's game because Gardenhire wanted him to be more aggressive. Me, I'm grumbling about the lunacy of giving a .171 hitter (Tolbert's average entering the game) the leeway to wreck the inning. 

But Gardnehire cited that at-bat — and a similar one by Carlos Gomez — in telling the Star Tribune's Joe Christensen that he's going to have to start giving certain hitters the take sign.

Moral of this story: When listening to the Twins announcers, understand that they are always going to soft-pedal the Twins flaws. Their job is more to market and promote than to describe. And in this corner, all four have pretty much exhausted their credibility.

Relief rotation

The Monday print column addressed the Twins bullpen woes and the seemingly contradictory notion that a seven-man bullpen is too thin.

What it didn't address — this week anyway — is how bullpen management has evolved. Obviously, the era of 12-man pitching staff is relatively new; I remember (being a hopelessly old guy) when Tony LaRussa with Oakland opted to carry an 11th pitcher ... I think it was 1989. I thought it ridiculously overstaffed. Now nobody has as few as 11 pitchers. I blame LaRussa.

Anyway, it is my recollection that in 1987 Tom Kelly had a set-up man rotation. Jeff Reardon closed, and the three right-handers — Keith Atherton, Juan Berenguer and George Frazier, alphabetically — rotated.

Checking this recollection on Indeed, it wasn't until April 22 — the 15th game of the season — that Kelly used two of those guys in the same game, and another week before they doubled up for the second time. The rotation was Frazier, Atherton, Berenguer. They generally worked multiple innings and then got a couple games off. Frazier went two innings on Opening Day (got the win in extra innings); Atherton worked two innings the second day (set up Reardon for the save); Berenguer pitched three innings the next day. And so it went.

TK did have Joe Klink, a rookie lefty, in his pen to open the season, and Klink served as a LOOGY — Left-handed One-Out GuY — of sorts.

And that was the April bullpen: Reardon, Berenguer, Atherton, Frazier, Klink. Five starting pitchers (Bert Blyleven, Frank Viola, Mark Portugal, Mike Smithson and Les Straker, in that order) and five relievers. Ten man staff.

That's the old school.

The bullpen rotation eventually deteriorated. Berenguer, the most effective of the trio, went into the starting rotation for a brief while (six starts), and by season's end Kelly had lost confidence in Frazier; Frazier was not used in key situations in the playoffs or World Series, and 1987 was his last season.

But even in September, Kelly was frequently picking one reliever a day to get from the starter to Reardon.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

New platform

This, so I am told, is progress.

I'll spare you the story of how the original "baseball blog" was set up on the Free Press Web site in the spring of 2007 without allowing comments. It's sufficient to say that there were no comments, and that was fine by me.

The powers that be now deeply wish that comments be included — and, I guess, that my blog have the same platform as the others offered by the Free Press — and so here I am, and here it is.

I peruse a number of baseball blogs — the blog roll to the right contains the ones I visit daily, plus a couple that I visit less often but find useful for keeping an eye on the AL Central — and generally find that the comment section is best ignored. I'm not going to ignore it here. I'm going to police it, and I'm going to police it hard. Profanity, vulgarities and obscenities are obviously taboo. But I'm going further. There are certain things that I see with regularity in, for example, the Star Tribune blogs that I will not tolerate here. A couple of examples:

*It's OK to criticize Bill Smith, the Twins general manager. Referring to him by his initials in order to make a barnyard epithet out of his name is not. Delete.

*It's OK to argue that Nick Punto shouldn't be the regular shortstop. Hoping that he breaks his leg is not. Delete.

I apologize if this seems overly combative. I hope that my readers are sufficently mature that this warning was unnecessary. The experience of the Free Press' original forum, and of other blogs I keep track of, suggest otherwise.