Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Something that ain't gonna happen

But it's worth a chuckle anyway.

(And if it did, I think Denard Span would give up his number for this guy. He wouldn't need Pat Neshek's.

Jon Garland gets no respect

Compare these two pitchers:

Pitcher A: 14-12, 200 innings, 3.47 ERA
Pitcher B: 17-11, 221 innings, 3.75 ERA

Of course, there's more to the numbers. Player A had unimpressive component stats in 2010— but always does. He's also 30 and has a truly impressively consistent nine-year record — every year he makes 32 starts, pitches about 200 innings, wins 10-plus games. Everything about his stats says he's mediocre; somehow he adds up to more than mediocre.

Jon Garland is the definition of innings eater. 
Pitcher B is five years older and, while he's been healthy the past two seasons, has a frightening injury history. He has just four seasons of 30-plus starts on his resume, four seasons of 200-plus innings (and that's including a season in which he gets there by counting a postseason start).

Pitcher A, despite being much younger, has pitched more than 300 more innings than Pitcher B with 30 more decisions. Their career ERAs are almost identical—4.32 for Pitcher A, 4.34 for Pitcher B

Pitcher A is Jon Garland, who on Sunday signed with the Dodgers for one year, $5 million (with incentives-based bonuses and 2012 option).

Pitcher B is Carl Pavano, who remains a free agent and is about as hotly pursued this offseason as any pitcher can be without the Yankees involved. Somebody is going to give him at least three years — and twice as much guaranteed money a year.

Seems to me that the wrong guy is getting the big contract. Not that I would turn down $5 million myself.


The Twins signed a 17-year-old Dominican shortstop prospect, although Javier Pimentel is a growing boy and may, as they say, outgrow the position. Whether he's a shortstop or some other position, it'll be a while before we know if the $575,000 was wisely spent.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Reading too much into an Adidas ad

We have a bit to wait for the next domino to fall in the Twins middle infield situation (that being Orlando Hudson's decision on the Twins' arbitration offer).

Meanwhile, I've become fascinated with this Japanese ad (w/ English subtitles) featuring possible/probable Twins infielder Tsuyoshi Nishioka, which raises some questions, mostly meaningless:

  • Does his stated desire to be recognized (as the subtitle puts it) as the "best short stop player in the world" imply that he might resist moving to second base?
  • He appears to be quite attached to his uniform number, but No. 7 is already taken with the Twins.
  • And, finally, is the art thing real or an ad fabrication?

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Notes, quotes and comment

Justin Morneau says he has no doubts about his availability for spring training. Not that he's ready to roll now; autographs yes, baseball, not quite:

It's encouraging. Two months ago, I couldn't have come out and sat that long and signed, so it's come a long ways. It's not all the way better yet, but it's close.

Obviously the early October talk about maybe having him for the World Series was overly optimistic. On multiple levels.


Tuesday is the deadline for the 35 players ... offered arbitration to accept those offers. Only a few are likely to do so. Among those believed to be considering the offers are Juan Uribe Giants), Orlando Hudson (Twins) and Miguel Olivo (Blue Jays). …

The Hudson notion contradicts the conventional speculation -- I won't elevate it to the status of conventional wisdom -- that he and the Twins have a gentleman's agreement that he'll decline. I don't profess to have any actual knowledge, but I expect him to decline, if only because the Twins have made it clear they don't really want him back. As a free agent, he has considerable control on where he plays in 2011; if he accepts arbitration, he has none.

Speaking of Rogers, I thought his notion last week about  of trading Chicago general managers was bizzare, but he was apparently just warming up. This Sunday's column is landing places for Derek Jeter, and it takes some fevered imagination.

Like this sample:

Twins: Because the Twins can't beat Jeter, maybe they can sign him. The Twins aren't crazy about J.J. Hardy, which is why they have negotiated for the rights to talk contract with Tsuyoshi Nishioka, the .346-hitting shortstop of the Chiba Lotte Marines, and have had preliminary talks with the Red Sox about (Marco) Scutaro. Adding a guy with Jeter's presence could be the equivalent of adding a front-line starter, which is the piece that has seemed lacking.

Oh boy.


Poll stuff: We had 48 participants in the "who will sign Cliff Lee" poll.

Thirty-eight (79 percent) say the Yankees; eight (16 percent) say Texas; two (4 percent) say someone else.

New poll up.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Tsuyoshi Nishioka and a middle infield in flux

Tsuyoshi Nishioka spent much of his career in Japan's
Pacific League playing for former Mets and Rangers
manager Bobby Valentine, who speaks highly of him.
It would appear that this copy editor/blogger will need to learn to spell Tsuyoshi Nishioka.

The Twins on Friday were awarded the negotiation rights to Nishioka, a switch-hitting middle infielder who won the Pacific League batting championship in 2010 by hitting .346 for the Chiba Lotte Marines. Minnesota now has 30 days to reach a contract agreement with the 26-year-old.

So ... let's review the Twins' middle infield situation, in order of the pending deadlines for each candidate.

Orlando Hudson, the incumbent second baseman, is a Type B free agent. The Twins earlier this week offered him arbitration, a move likely intended to secure a compensation draft pick next summer. Hudson is expected to decline arbitration. The deadline for the O-Dog to decide is Tuesday.

J.J. Hardy, the incumbent shortstop, was rumored in the immediate wake of the season to be a non-tender candidate, but now the buzz is that the Twins won't cut him loose. The deadline to tender a contract is Thursday, Dec. 2.

Tsuyoshi Nishioka is a blank slate to most of us American fans. It's worth noting that Kaz Matsui, the only Japanese middle infielder to come stateside, never lived up to his advance billing.  Matsui had better numbers in Japan, and more glowing scouting reports. Published scouting reports doubt that Nishioka has enough arm to play shortstop in the U.S. majors, and it's worth noting that he was just a career .280 hitter in Japan before his 2010 breakout. He has displayed little power in Japan, and most Japanese hitters lose power when they play in the American majors.

Maybe the 2010 season wasn't a fluke. Or maybe he's simply Nick Punto without the throwing arm. I respect the Twins scouting acumen, and they have put up several million that say Nishioka's a good major league player. I'm skeptical, but all I've seen of him is this video.

But he doesn't have to be a star. Nishioka's clearly faster than Hudson or Hardy, and if he can play second base well, fill the second slot in the batting order and hit .280, he'll help. 

Winning the rights to sign him and signing him are two different things, but most Japanese players who go through the posting process sign. The rule of thumb has been that the posting fee and the total contract are about even, but the winning bid was somewhere around $5 million-$5.3 million, and I don't see him headed out of his comfort zone for a package that low. Still, he's likely to come cheaper than either incumbent.

Alexi Casilla, incumbent reserve, had been touted this offseason as a potential low-price starter in 2011. He may still fit in that role: If Hudson walks and the Twins sign Nishioka and trade Hardy, they suddenly have two speedy switch-hitting middle infielders and a spring-training decision to make. Who's the shortstop and who's the second baseman?

Matt Tolbert and Nick Punto: Tolbert is out of options, Punto is a free agent. If the Twins wind up going with Hardy at short and Nishioka at second, Casilla is the primary reserve and Punto is a goner. If they go with Nishioka and Casilla as the middle infield, I think Gardenhire will want Punto as a security blanket. Nishioka and Casilla represent two question marks in the middle infield; for a contender, that's at least one too many.

T-S-U-Y-O-S-H-I N-I-S-H-I-O-K-A. Hey, I learned to spell (Doug) Mientkiewicz and (A.J.) Pierzynski. I ought to be able to master this.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Contemplating Derek Jeter, Part III

Derek Jeter has played 2,274 games at shortstop in his illustrious career, exactly zero at any other position.

Jeter is now fifth on the all-time list of games at short -- more than 400 behind the still-active Omar Vizquel, but closing in on Cal Ripken for fourth.

If he's not a shortstop,
where would he play?
Eighteen men have played more than 2,000 career games at the position. It's a demanding position, and as a historical rule, only the very best glovemen stay there throughout their careers. Ripken moved to third base late in his career, and Rabbit Maranville racked up more than 500 games at second base, most of them in his 40s. Luis Aparicio and Ozzie Smith never played another defensive position, and as a general thing, the great defensive shortstops can stay there even after having lost a step or two.

If Jeter has not been the worst fielder of the 18 (relative to his time), he's mighty close to it. And if he has not been the greatest hitter in the group, he's mighty close to that status too.

One of the underlying issues in the Yankees-Jeter contract standoff is: How long can the Yankees keep him at shortstop? And where else could they play him?

First base is out of the question; Mark Teixiera has six more years to go on his contract. Third base? Alex Rodriguez's money sinkhole doesn't close until 2018. Second base is still the middle infield, and anyway, Robinson Cano is there. That leaves the outfield.

Assuming that Jeter's ego will allow him to change positions. The Yankees management is too sharp to take five Gold Gloves as proof of defensive prowess; Jeter may see the big ugly trophies as proof positive.

If this report -- that Jeter is demanding a six-year deal at $25 million a year -- is accurate, his ego is badly inflamed. The Yankees are in the uncomfortable position now of cutting a reality check on the financial issue, and even after that's over, will have to cut another on the baseball issue.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving

Let's eat.
There are many things in this man's life to be grateful for ... many many many things. But this is a blog about baseball, not a blog about the wife and the beagle and the myriad wonders of life in middle America.

So I'll focus on this one:

I am grateful that the team of which I am a fan is a chronic contender with stable, sober, competent management, grateful that the team injects drama into my life through what it does on the playing field rather than the clubhouse, courtroom or Internet scandal sites.

Whatever frustration the Twins' Octobers have caused pales next to the pleasure their summers provide.

Happy Thanksgiving, dear readers.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Arbitration decision and prospect rankings

Today was the deadline for teams to offer arbitration to their Type A and B free agents. Joe Christensen reports that the Twins offered arbitration to Jesse Crain, Carl Pavano and Orlando Hudson.

Jon Rauch won't bring
the Twins a draft pick
if he signs with another
team this winter.
The next deadline in the process is Nov. 30, when those three have to decide if they accept. If they do, they're off the free agent market. They can either reach an agreement with the Twins or let an arbitrator pick their salary for 2011. If they don't accept, they remain free agents, and if/when they sign with somebody else, the Twins will get draft pick compensation.

The Twins will not get picks if/when Jon Rauch, Matt Guerrier and/or Brian Fuentes sign elsewhere, because those three were not offered arbitration.

I expect the three they offered arbitration to sign elsewhere, and I suspect that's the Twins expectation also. They were safe offers -- the other three might well have decided that they'd do better with arbitration than in the marketplace.

Considering how poorly Hudson has fared in the marketplace the past two years, it's still possible he'd accept arbitration. I think the Twins would rather he didn't.

Baseball America today released its Twins Top 10 prospect list. Kyle Gibson tops the list. Aaron Hicks dropped from No. 1, where he's been the past two winters, to No. 2.

There's a lot of good stuff behind the paywall. One tidbit I picked up from the chat with John Manuel, BA's co-editor-in-chief and the man behind the Twins list, is that Miguel Sano, the Twins' Domincan superprospect, is now 230 pounds. Still a teen, but he's definitely outgrown shortstop -- which was always deemed likely -- and may be outgrowing third base as well.

Contemplating Derek Jeter, Part II

It's been what, two-plus weeks, and I'm still wrapping my little brain around the fact that Derek Jeter got yet another Gold Glove.

Six errors in 2010,
eight in 2009. There's
more to defense than
avoiding errors, but
that counts too.
That's five. Only four shortstops have won more, which is a bit less impressive than it sounds, since the Gold Gloves started in 1957. So shortstops like Marty Marion, Phil Rizzuto, Honus Wagner, Leo Durocher and Dave "Beauty" Bancroft -- all regarded as superb glovemen -- have none.

Still, five is more than guys like Davy Concepcion, Ozzie Guillen, Alan Trammell and Barry Larkin won, and perhaps the weirdest thing about Jeter's Gold Gloves is that he didn't win any when he was in his 20s -- and was at least somewhat agile in the field.

Explanations I've devised and discarded:

The voters aren't paying attention. The voters are the managers and coaches; I daresay they pay more attention to baseball than I do, and I'm fairly obsessive. They may not take the vote with a great deal of seriousness, but this is not a willfully ignorant voting pool.

It's a plot to build Jeter's ego and make it more difficult for the Yankees to move him to a less demanding position. If the voters were all Red Sox employees, this might be plausible. Reality says you can't concoct a 70-person conspiracy and keep it a secret.

What I suspect is happening here:

1) The voters are divided. The specifics of the voting aren't released, but assume that there 70 AL votes (14 teams and five votes on average from each). There might be 25 votes for Jeter, 20 for Elvis Andrus, a dozen for Alexi Ramirez, five or six for Jason Bartlett, one or two apiece for Erick Aybar and Cesar Izturis and Asrubal Cabrera and J.J. Hardy ... you can win a Gold Glove, or the governorship of Minnesota, even if a majority wouldn't vote for you if you were unopposed. All you need is a hard-core base and a divided electorate.

2) Some of the voters are as much attuned to the mental aspects of defense as the physical. They'd agree that Andrus has more range than Jeter, but vote for Jeter on the basis that Jeter's aware of what baserunners might try to score from second on an infield hit, that Jeter knows where the cutoff man's supposed to be, that Jeter knows that this outfielder's throws tend to sail to the right or left ...

The Gold Glove voting isn't well designed, and screwups are a regular occurrence. One career Gold Glove for Jeter is plausible; five represents, in my view, multiple screwups.  

Monday, November 22, 2010

Contemplating Derek Jeter, Part I

Whatcha gonna do,
sign with the Giants
or something?
The New York Yankees are currently confronting their version of what I call the Cal Ripken Dilemma: They have a franchise icon clearly in decline whose pride won't allow him to admit that, while he's still useful, he's not worth his current salary.

In this case, the icon is Derek Jeter, officially a free agent. The Yankees have reportedly offered The Captain a three-year contract at $15 million a year. This would be about a 25 percent pay cut, and Jeter (through his agent) ain't buying:

Derek's significance to the team is much more than just stats. And yet, the Yankees' negotiating strategy remains baffling.

Thus speaks Casey Close.

Jeter is indeed deeply entwined in what a marketer would call the Yankee brand (and baseball's brand in general;  an image of Jeter in triumph is so ubiquitous in MLB promos that I suspect it's mandated by some obscure clause of the labor agreement). And the Yankees are deeply entwined in Jeter's brand. Think he'd be so prominent in ad campaigns if he played for Houston?

The problem in these increasingly testy negotiations is that Jeter is more valuable to the Yankees than he is to anybody else, because he's simply not the player he was even three years ago, and the Yankees know it. The Yankees also know that the second Steinbrenner generation established themselves as soft touches by caving in to Alex Rodriguez and Jorge Posada in previous talks, and they want to prove otherwise.

In the end, Jeter will have to accept the Yankees offer, because nobody else is going to offer as much. And if his pride is wounded by knowing that A.J. Burnett makes more per year, for a longer term ... well, that's Jeter's problem.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Silly season and poll stuff

Things must be rather boring on the Chicago baseball beat these days. My evidence for that is the latest foray by Phil Rogers, the Chicago Tribune's national baseball writer, into consider-the-source territory.

I'll bypass his centerpiece (the notion that the Cubs and Sox should swap general managers) because picking it apart would be to take it seriously.

Instead, I'll hit on this throwaway nugget in his "whispers" sidebar:

The Red Sox are talking trade with Marco Scutaro, and it's easy to see him going to the Twins for one of their bullpen arms. Scutaro is Nick Punto on figurative steroids. …

Boston signed Marco Scutaro as
a free agent about a year ago; now
they supposedly are shopping him.

I don't know exactly what the Punto-on-steroids comparison is supposed to mean, but never mind. I'm struck instead by the notion that the Twins have excess bullpen arms to swap for Scutaro.

Remember: Jon Rauch, Matt Guerrier, Jesse Crain, Brian Fuentes, Ran Mahay and Randy Flores are all free agents. Maybe it's possible to trade the right to offer arbitration to someone like Rauch, but that's all the Twins actually have of any of the six, the right to offer arbitration.

Scutaro has one year left on his contract, $5 million. He'd probably be a bit cheaper than J.J. Hardy, who's arbitration eligible, but he's about seven years older and, based on 2010 numbers, no upgrade at the plate. I don't see it.


We had 41 responses to last week's poll question: Should the Twins make it easier to hit home runs in Target Field? Justin Morneau won't like the results.

Thirty-seven (90 percent) said no, four (10 percent) yes.

Thus proving (?) that, while chicks dig the long ball, my blog readers prefer flyball outs.

New poll up.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Roster moves and Pavano speculation

The Twins on Friday added four players to the 40-man roster, which now stands at 38. This gives them room to sign a couple of free agents (remember, their 10 free agents are not on the 40) or make a Rule 5 pick, but my guess is that they won't try the latter.

None of the four -- one pitcher, two outfielders and a first basemn/outfielder -- are particularly likely to make the 25-man roster out of spring training, or even during the season. Chris Parmalee, former first-round pick, is long-term Justin Morneau insurance at first base, but the Twins have signed minor-league vet Justin Huber to a minor league deal, and Huber is the better immediate bet if Morneau's return stalls this spring. (The even better immediate bet is the Michael Cuddyer-at-first routine, but as the roster stands that would leave a hole at DH.)

Seth Stohs is at least mildly surprised that relief prospect Kyle Waldrop didn't get added, but that's been in the cards since Waldrop signed a minor-league deal earlier this month. He may be a Rule 5 draft target next month.

The free-agent market at this point is rather frozen as we await the deadline for offering arbitration; I believe that's Tuesday. Leaving two open spaces on the 40 doesn't necessarily limit the Twins to two arbitration offers to free agents, but if they offer to three and all three accept, they'll have to get rid of somebody.

But while few are signing, there's no shortage of speculation, and Carl Pavano is prominent in said speculation.

Here's some speculation that points to him staying with the Twins. Here's some that suggests that the Brewers and Nationals are better bets to land him. Milwaukee seems more plausible than Washington; I can't imagine how a mid-30s middle-of-the-rotation guy fits in a building process.The Brewers, on the other hand, are capable of contending if they can find a way to get some outs. Pavano makes sense for them, at least in the short term.

And the short term is the only term that makes sense with Pavano for anybody. My view is unchanged: If it's going to take a multi-year deal to retain him, the Twins should wish him well and walk away.

Something may happen with Pavano sooner rather than later. Normally the second and third best pitchers on the market are seen as reasonable consolation prizes for the suitors for the No. 1 free agent arm, but there's a big gap between Cliff Lee and the rest of the field, and we can be pretty sure the Yankees aren't turning to Pavano if Lee decides to stay closer to his Arkansas home. There's not a lot of reason for Pavano to stall.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Football in Wrigley, part II

The Big Ten stepped in this morning and imposed unique rules on the Wrigley Field game tomorrow:

One end zone will be used.

Seriously. What a farce.

Football and concussions in Wrigley Field

Bob Dylan described this scene in
 "It's Alright Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)":
Obscenity who really cares, Propaganda all is phony.
They're going to have a college football game Saturday in Wrigley Field, Illinois vs. Northwestern, the venue serving as a gimmick to get Chicagoans interested in Northwestern football.

Padding (and ads) disguised
as the iconic ivy — which
long ago succumbed
to the change in seasons.
This won't by any means be the first time the inferior sport has been played on the home grounds of the Chicago Cubs.  Wrigley was the home field for the Chicago Bears through 1970, which means the likes of Alan Page and Dick Butkus played there. I don't remember it, but apparently the gridrion was laid out differently then, and one corner of an end zone was lost to the outfield wall.

This layout keeps all of the end zone, but there's sure not much room between the back of the end zone and the right field wall. If any — the goal posts are attached to the wall itself.

It calls to mind one of the old tales of Bronko Nagurski, the football legend from International Falls, Minn. He's playing fullback for the Bears in Wrigley, the Bears have the ball near the end zone, and they give the ball to Bronko. Bronko puts his head down and runs through a suddenly gaping hole, through the end zone and —BAM — into the brick wall.

He wobbles back to the huddle: I don't know who that last guy was, but he hit me pretty good.

Anyway... if they really must play football, they shouldn't contaminate Wrigley with it.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

King Felix and the devalued win stat

Felix Hernandez' 13-12 won-loss record is easily the worst
of any starting pitcher to win a Cy Young. 
Felix Hernandez is your 2010 Cy Young Award winner, and well done by the BBWAA.

Tom Tango (via Rob Neyer) hit the nail on the head today even before the vote was announced: This isn't about the new sabermetric stats, such as fielding independent pitching and wins above replacement, taking over. It's about the growing realization that the Win isn't as meaningful as it was 100 years ago, or 20, or even 10.

In 1987, a pitcher led the National League in ERA, strikeouts and fewest hits per nine innings, but he finished fifth in the Cy Young balloting because his record was just 8-16. Nolan Ryan was clearly the best pitcher in the league, but it didn't get any recognition.

That wouldn't happen today. I don't know that King Felix would have won the award this year had his record been below .500, but he would certainly have been more in the running than Ryan was.

I suspect the turning point for the writers was 2005, when Johan Santana was heads and shoulders above the league but Bartolo Colon won 21 games and copped the award.

Lesson learned — and acted upon.

Bud Black and the vagaries of award voting

Awards voting -- MVP, Cy Young, ROY, Gold Gloves, even the Hall of Fame and All-Star teams -- is inherently subjective, and unlike some of my internet-based brethren, I'm fine with that. I don't think we're anywhere near the point of being able to definitively declare off the stats alone that this center fielder saved his team more runs than that shortstop, and this relief pitcher's 70 innings were more important than that starter's 210.

Bud Black is a managerial rarity:
He was a pitcher in his playing days.
What we're getting is a series of historical snapshots of opinion, some gathered in a well-designed way (the BBWAA votes) and some in a haphazard, even idiotic way (All-Star selections). You'd probably have to work really hard to come up with a worse voting system than the Gold Gloves, which is why Rafael Palmeiro once got a Gold Glove for 28 games at first base. The Hall of Fame selection system was broken from the start of the institution, which is why they keep tinkering with it.

Anyway, the manager of the year voting is even more subjective than most. What the heck are voters judging the candidates on, anyway? Won-loss record, sure, but in that case Joe Maddon would have won the AL award, and he finished a distant third.

Expectations are always big to the voters, but ...whose expectations? Answer: those of the voters. The Padres were bad in 2009; they made no major offseason acquisitions and actually offloaded one of their better power hitters; they wound up contending for the NL West to the final weekend. And Bud Black won MOY.

He wasn't the only better-than-expected candidate. Cincinnati was expected to be an also ran in the NL Central, behind the Cardinals and Cubs at least; the Reds won the division. San Francisco was supposed to be better than the Padres but not better than the Dodgers or Rockies; the Giants won the division, which is all the voters know when the ballots are cast.

Two possibilities here:

  • The expectations were right, and the Padres contended on the force of Black's managerial brilliance; or
  • The writers underestimated the Padres at the start of the year.

Since none of us enjoys declaring that we were wrong, the writers picked the first possibility.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Gardy, manager of the year

I am pretty sure that, if Ron Gardenhire managed the Twins in a good Strat-O-Matic league the way he does in real life, he would have a losing record.

Ron Gardenhire has a .550 winning percentage in nine
seasons as Twins manager.
Among his frequent tactical sins: He over-exposes the likes of Jason Kubel, Jacque Jones and Jim Thome to left-handed pitching; he manages for the save stat; when he does use a defensive sub in the late innings, it's usually not for his worst defensive outfielder.

But he's not plying his trade in a dice-and-percentages game. He and his peers are in a human contest, where the considerations include the fragility of the DH's back, the tenderness of the catcher's shoulder and the self-confidence of the left fielder.

Gardenhire today was named the American League Manager of the Year by the BBWAA. He's been the runner-up five times; now he's the winner.

I don't know that he did a better job running the Twins in 2010 than he did in 2006, or in 2002, or 2003. What I do know is that he's won six division titles in nine seasons at the helm and was one win shy of a seventh. The AL Central may not be the best in baseball, but it's not the weakest either.

He's doing more things right than wrong.

Looking for a Japanese import

Joe Christensen reports today that the Twins expect to be among the bidders for negotiation rights to Tsuyoshi Nishioka, a switch-hitting middle infielder from Japan who won a batting title in 2010 (age 25) with a season out of line with his past stats.

This is a complicated process in which interested MLB teams submit bids to the Japanese team that holds the player's rights, with the high bidder getting a window in which to reach a contract agreement with the player. It's a combination of a purchase and free agency. Further muddying the waters here: It's been reported that Nishioka wants to wind up on the West Coast.

The immediate takeaways from this:

  • This process is a long way from delivering Nishioka to Minnesota;
  • The Twins' decades-long inability to develop their own middle infielders continues to force them to look elsewhere for such players.

Chuck Knoblauch was the last quality middle infielder the Twins signed as an amateur and developed intheir system, and that was almost 20 year ago. Luis Rivas wasn't a quality middle infielder, but he plugged the second base hole for a few years.

 Other than that, the void. The Twins have gotten their regulars by trade (Jason Bartlett, Luis Castillo, Nick Punto, J.J. Hardy) or free agency (Orlando Hudson), but their otherwise productive player development operation doesn't do so well in the middle infield.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Free agent arbitration: Carl Pavano

2011 age: 35

Free agent classification: Type A

2010 basic stats: 17-11, 3.75 ERA (full stats here)

2010 salary: $7 million

The Outsider's verdict: Yes


The free agent field for starting pitchers this offseason can be divided into two parts. There's Cliff Lee, and then there's everybody else.

Carl Pavano's
spring-training mug
doesn't display the
moustache that made
him a folk hero in 2010.
Carl Pavano might be the most accomplished pitcher in the second group, but that doesn't mean there ought to be great demand for his services.

The ideal outcome here for the Twins would be for somebody else to step up with the multi-year deal Pavano sought last winter and concluded wasn't forthcoming.

In 2009, Pavano struck out 6.6 men per nine innings. In 2010, his K-rate fell to 4.8. That's a red flag. It tells us his arrow is pointing down.

A three-year deal at $10 million at year -- and that's the kind of figure that's been tossed about -- with a 35-year-old with his injury history and a declining K-rate is bad thinking.

The risk of offering arbitration here, especially considering that most teams that would consider signing such a veteran would have to surrender their first-round draft pick, is that Pavano could reach the same conclusion he reached last winter and accept it. I suspect that somebody is going to take the 17 wins and 3.75 ERA more seriously than the strikeout rate and outbid the Twins for him.

Which would be fine with me. I'd rather see the Twins with an extra draft pick next June than Pavano in the rotation.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Poll stuff

We had 50 participants in last week's poll, which makes the percentages really easy to figure.

The question: Which free agent reliever(s) should the Twins offer arbitration?

Jesse Crain had 35 votes (70 percent). Matt Guerrier had 20 votes (40 percent), Brian Fuentes 13 (26 percent) and Jon Rauch 12 (24 percent). (I should have had a none-of-them response available; I goofed.)

The respondents averaged 1.6 offers.

New poll up.

Friday, November 12, 2010

A case of slugger entitlement

Justin Morneau thinks it's too difficult to hit home runs in Target Field.

Not, you realize, because it hurts his individual stats. No, he says, he's thinking about the good of the team:

It affects the hitters a lot, and you start to develop bad habits as a hitter when you feel like you can only pull the ball to hit it over the fence. You take those habits on the road. ... I think we had a team built around power and offense and were not able to take full advantage of it.

It's probably unfair and flip for me to connect Morneau's logic with his concussion, but a fuzzy head might have something to do with it.

Justin Morneau and his teammates (and league rivals)
found home runs harder to come by in Target Field.
Despite what Morneau says, that's not a bad thing.
One: Reworking your park every year to fit your roster is a fool's game. Even if you know that you have a hitter's park (or a pitcher's park) -- and one year's results, while indicative, is hardly conclusive -- the structure remains while the roster changes. By the end of the 2010 season, players were talking about the ball jumping more than it had earlier. I doubt that we truly have a handle on how Target Field plays. 

Two: Morneau hit .375/.448/.757 on the road last season. Yep, Target Field really wrecked his swing for those games.

Three: What's good for Morneau's home run totals is bad for Scott Baker's ERA. A park that gives pitchers something isn't a terrible thing.

Four: There wasn't that much difference in offense -- runs scored -- in the Twins' home and road games. There were 712 runs scored in Target Field in 2010, 740 elsewhere. The Bill James Handbook puts the one-season park factor at 96, meaning that runs were about four percent below average in Target Field. This is hardly the Astrodome. (The difference could easily be random.)

The park last year depressed home runs, not offense. Doubles were 12 percent above average in Target Field, triples 20 percent. 

The big guy believes that when he hits a big fly, he's entitled to jog around the bases. I'd rather see players running. Doubles and triples are fine by me.

Five: The baseball I grew up with didn't feature opposite-field home runs. That's a phenomenon that arose with the steroid era. Changes in hitting techniques probably had more to do with it than chemicals, but the fact remains that such hitters as Harmon Killebrew, Reggie Jackson and George Brett pulled their home runs. Hitting prowess doesn't rely on opposite field taters.

It ain't broke. Don't fix it.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Free agent arbitration: Matt Guerrier

2011 age: 32 (turns 33 in August)

Free agent classification: Type A

2010 basic stats: 5-7, 1 save, 3.17 ERA (full stats here)

2010 salary: $3.15 million

The Outsider's verdict: No


The primary problem with offering arbitration to Matt Guerrier is in the second line above: His status as a Type A free agent.

Matt Guerrier has risen
from mop-up man to
primary set-up man
in seven seasons with
the Twins.
It means that, if the Twins offer arbitration, a team that signs Guerrier is likely to lose its first-round pick in next summer's amateur draft. That's not the case for a bad team, but bad teams aren't likely to pursue a 30-something middle reliever, and Guerrier isn't likely to be eager to sign with a non-contender. He's facing the same dilemma that has confronted the likes of Orlando Cabrera and Orlando Hudson: The low guys on the Type A totem pole find that their status weakens their negotiating position.

If offered arbitration, Guerrier is likely to accept; and the Twins may not want to fit his likely award into their budget.

He's had a nice run with the Twins. Twice he's led the league in appearances. His ERA has been under 3.40 in every full season but one.

Not bad for a guy the Twins plucked from the waiver wire when the Pittsburgh Pirates decided he wasn't worthy of a spot on their 40-man roster.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Hacking at pitching depth

The Twins  on Tuesday signed minor-league free agent Eric Hacker to a major-league contract, which means he has a spot on the 40-man roster.

Eric Hacker was 16-8, 4.51 for the Fresno Grizzlies
(Giants Triple A team) in 2010 and was named the
PCL pitcher of the year.
This has been greeted with some consternation in the Twins' blogging community — not so much signing Hacker as expending the roster spot. He's 28; he's had all of three major league innings; his 2010 season, while good in context (the Pacific Coast League is hell on pitchers), wasn't eye-popping; he's bounced from the Yankees to the Pirates to the Giants ... on the face of it, he's the kind of arm who gets a minor league deal with an invite to major league camp.

This signing comes with no less than seven members of the Twins bullpen of 2010 going into free agency. It also comes on the heels of a season in which almost nobody on the Twins Triple A or Double A staffs impressed.

I don't see Hacker as a rotation possibility for the big league club. I do see some parallels between him and the minor league career of Matt Guerrier. Guerrier was, like Hacker, a minor league starter who had some success but was seen as being just slightly lacking as a starter. (One of my favorite Guerrier facts, one that I've not had opportunity to use: He was one of three pitchers in the 2000-2009 decade to have an 18-win season in the minors.) 

Now, Guerrier didn't emerge immediately as a crucial bullpen cog, and I don't expect Hacker will either. He might be the long man; he might not make the big league club.

He adds to the organization's pitching options, and right now, they need some.

Free agent arbitration: Jesse Crain

2011 age: 29 (turns 30 in July)

Free agent classification: Type B

2010 basic stats: 1-1, 1 save, 3.04 ERA (full stats here)

2010 salary: $2 million

The Outsider's verdict: Yes


Jesse Crain has been the very image of inconsistency in his career. In April and May of the past season,he allowed 13 earned runs (and 16 total) in 22 innings -- an ERA of 5.32. He was charged with just 10 earned runs the rest of the season.

Jesse Crain has pitched
in 376 games for
the Twins in his career.
He's done this before. In 2009, he was awful through July (and was briefly shipped to the minors); then he allowed nothing in September (13.1 innings, five hits, no runs). In 2008, he had three good months, three bad months. And so on and so forth.

When he's good he's very good, and when he's bad he's horrid. A radio wit dubbed him "Crain Wreck," and he's had enough disasters for the derisive nickname to stick.

Still, he was Ron Gardenhire's go-to-guy in the 'pen down the stretch. And he's the most likely of the Twins' crop of free agent middle relievers to be offered arbitration.

He's not starting from too high a base; he deserves the raise arbitration is designed to award; and there will be suitors. The risk in offering arbitration is minimal.

He indicated to MLB.com's Kelly Theiser that he's interested in having a chance to close. That probably isn't on the horizon in Minnesota; the Twins went through three closers from the start of spring training and never appeared to consider putting Crain in the ninth inning role.

Closing, of course, is where the money is for a relief pitcher, and this offseason might be Crain's best chance to cash in.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

A change of the guard on Sunday Night Baseball

Joe Morgan: Great player,
less than great broadcaster
Jon Miller: Please, may
we have more?
ESPN has dumped Jon Miller and Joe Morgan from their Sunday Night Baseball booth.

Morgan I won't miss; as with most players-turned-analysts (and yes, the Twins broadcasters, TV and radio both, are included in this), he makes the mute button a blessing.

Miller, on the other hand, was and remains an excellent play-by-play man.

He should have been kept — under the Vin Scully Rule. Scully does his innings for the Dodgers solo. No second (or third) voice to get in the way.

That's not the current style in the broadcast world, be it ESPN, Fox, CBS or NBC. They all seem afraid that one person will bore us. They haven't figured out that (1) less is more and (2) pointless blather is what bores us.

Free agent arbitration: Brian Fuentes

2011 age: 35 (turns 36 in August)

Free agent classification: Type B

2010 basic stats: 4-1, 24 saves, 2.81 ERA (Full stats here)

2010 salary: $9 million

The Outsider's verdict: No

In less than two full seasons as the Angels closer before
being traded to the Twins, Brian Fuentes had 71 saves
and an ERA of 3.76.
Diminished role should equal a diminished salary, and that's the basic argument against offering arbitration to Brian Fuentes.

Fuentes has been paid the past two seasons as a top-flight closer. In truth, he was probably never at that level despite leading baseball in saves in 2009, and he certainly isn't now.

He's still an effective pitcher -- sure death on left-handed hitters (.128/.222/.149 in 2010) but a bit home-run prone versus righties. Depending on his bullpen mates, he can be a second-tier closer, a top-flight set-up man or an overqualified LOOGY. None of those roles is worthy of $9 million a year.

If the Twins offer arbitration and he accepts, the lowest offer the team can make is a 20 percent cut, or $7.2 million. That might be justifiable in their salary scale if he's the closer, but that job, at least in theory, still belongs to the rehabbing Joe Nathan.

The Twins have, in the past, effectively capped what they'll pay set-up men at around $3 million. Even if that rises this offseason, it's not going to double.

They could offer arbitration it they were sure that somebody else is going to purse Fuentes as a closer, but that's hardly a certainty. The market is unlikely to put as high a price tag on the short-arming southpaw as arbitration is likely to.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Free agent arbitration: Jon Rauch

Age in 2011: 33

Free agent classification: Type B.

Basic stats: 3-1, 21 saves, 3.12 ERA (Full stats here.)

2010 salary: $2.9 million

The Outsider's verdict: No


Jon Rauch in his Twins
tenure: 8-2 with 21 saves
and a 2.82 ERA.
Rauch had two 2010 seasons: the part in which he had the glory job of the closer, and the part in which he was the No. 3 (or lower) set-up man. Once the Twins traded for Matt Capps, Rauch was not only demoted from the ninth inning role, he also ranked below Matt Guerrier and Jesse Crain in the setup hierarchy, which is why he had just two holds.

If this were, say 10 years ago, it's very likely that somebody would be sufficiently impressed by the 21 in his saves column to make a big offer this winter. Oh boy, a proven closer! But today, most general managers recognize the fallacy in using a "decisions" stat to evaluate pitching talent.

Rauch has value as a set-up man, as bullpen depth. That is likely to be how the market treats him as a free agent. There's too much risk here that arbitration will value him as a "proven closer." The Twins will, and should, forego the reward of the draft pick and duck the risk that he'll accept arbitration.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Punto poll

We had 54 responses to last week's poll question: If Nick Punto would sign for one year, $1 million, should the Twins bring him back?

No. 8 did better than I expected: 35 (64 percent) said yes, 19 (35 percent) said no.

Nick Punto: 21 career
triples, 13 career home runs
Here's what I kinda-sorta expect: The Twins will let Orlando Hudson and J.J. Hardy go (Hudson's departure is apparently a given) and lean on their internal candidates to fill the middle infield. That would allow them budgetary wriggle room on offering their veteran relief pitchers arbitration -- a topic I expect to explore in the coming week.

The primary candidates in that scenario for shortstop would include Alexi Casilla and Trevor Plouffe, with Brendan Harris and his guaranteed major-league salary a consideration as well. The primary candidates for second base would be Casilla and Luke Hughes, with Matt Tolbert a possiblity but a more likely choice as the chief utility infielder.

That's five candidates for a minimum of three jobs (shortstop, second base and utility infielder), none of them established major leaguers. I suspect Ron Gardenhire would prefer to have his Punto security blanket on hand in that scenario -- and the deal would be for a low guarantee with playing time bonuses, and no certainty that he's making the roster this spring.

Punto has his flaws, but he can probably do better than that on the open market. But if he's Gardenhire's security blanket infielder, Gardy's also something of a security blanket for him. This can happen.

New poll up.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Flawed defense, flawed numbers

From a comment to my Friday post:

So the Twins had the best second baseman, a very good shortstop and a good centerfielder and defense hurt them? Am I missing something?

Perhaps. Like this game. And this game. And this utter travesty. And ...

A slimmer Delmon Young looked better
on defense in 2010 to most fans,
but the defensive metrics say he was as
bad as before. So do you believe your
lying eyes or the newfangled stats?
Let me back up. I did a lousy job on the Friday post. It was supposed to be about Nick Punto's rather remarkable plus-minus and runs saved numbers, and it wound up being about almost everybody else's first — and the underlying problem with the whole idea is that I don't completely trust those stats to begin with.

I like the idea behind the stats, but just try to describe how Baseball Info Systems decided that Punto saved eight runs over an average third baseman in just 344 innings, or seven runs over the average shortstop in just 258 innings. You can't. I have the books, and they can't describe it well.

What's more, they don't fully trust those numbers either. That's why they supplement the 2010 leaders with a rolling three-year figure, and why they left Punto out of the leaders rankings.

Several years ago, when BIS rolled out plus-minus, I wrote a Monday print column on how we're being asked to take these fielding metrics on faith. Unlike the hitting stats, they can't be readily audited. If you doubt that Joe Mauer hit .327 last season, you can go through the box scores and check it yourself. If you question his 91 runs created, you can work though the formula. If you doubt that Orlando Hudson was +23 in plus-minus, you literally can't figure it yourself.

I'd rather know the plus-minus and runs saved stats than not. But I'll continue to doubt their validity as long as I'm watching players who look good in those numbers give away outs and runs and games.

Back to SoCalTwinsFan's comment:

So, the Twins are weak defensively in three of eight positions on the field and those three are the least important on the field, RF, LF and 1B.

Are they the least important? No; they are the least demanding, which is a different concept altogether. Let's ditch for the moment my reservations and work with runs saved. Over the past three years, Hudson has saved his teams 18 runs. Delmon Young, by the same measurement, has cost his team 27. If a run is a run, Young is costing his team more runs than Hudson saves.

It takes more ability to play second base at a major league level of skill than to play left field. That is undeniable. That doesn't mean the runs Hudson saves are more important than the runs Young allows.

Friday, November 5, 2010

The magic glove of Nick Punto

Measuring defense has not been perfected by any means, but it's still better to know what the metrics are saying than to ignore them. (Imperfect knowledge -- coupled with an understanding of the limitations of that knowledge -- is better than ignorance.) The Bill James Handbook, of which I wrote a few days ago, publishes two yardsticks devised by Baseball Info Systems: plus-minus and runs saved.

Glovework is a big part
of what Nick Punto offers.
Notable Twins in these stats:

Orlando Hudson, now a free agent, had 17 "runs saved" at second base in 2010, tied for the best in baseball with Tampa Bay's Sean Rodriguez, and led all second basemen in plus-minus with a +23. Over the past three years, the O-Dog is credited with 18 runs saved and a +27 -- most of both coming last season.

Alexi Casilla's three-year total in runs saved at second base is -13, tied for fifth worse.

J.J. Hardy has a three year total of 18 runs saved at short, at 2010 total of 4. In plus-minus, Hardy was a +6, tied for ninth in BIS' rankings, and a solid +29 over three seasons.

Delmon Young ranks last among left fielders in the three-year totals, -27 in runs saved; in 2010, he was -8, still among the league's worst. In plus-minus in 2010, he was -20, worst in all the majors; over three years, he's -57.

Michael Cuddyer, despite not playing at all in the outfield after Justin Morneau got hurt in early July, was a -6 in runs saved in right in 2010, tied for fourth worse in baseball. In plus-minus, he was -17, which is ghastly.

Denard Span was top 10 among center fielders in runs saved (nine) and in plus-minus (+14).

And then there's Nick Punto.

Punto was (in plus minus) a +1 at second base, a +10 at third base, a +8 at shortstop. In runs saved, he was 1, 8, 7. These are very impressive numbers for relatively few innings.

BIS didn't include him in their rankings; one of their people told me it was because he didn't play enough innings. But he'd have easily made the top ten at both third base and shortstop in both runs saved and plus-minus.

The question is: How much weight can one put on those numbers? Answer: Not a lot. BIS publishes three-year numbers in part because the single season figures, even for a regular, can fluctuate so much (see Hudson). For a part-timer, the fluctuation problem figures to be worse.

I continue to believe that defense, both the portion we can measure and that which is still hidden from statistical analysis, is one aspect of the game that kept the 2010 Twins from being a truly outstanding team.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Thinking of Sparky

Thursday addendum: Sparky Anderson died Thursday.

Sparky Anderson — Hall of Fame manager who skippered the Big Red Machine and the 1984 Tigers to World Series titles — is now in hospice care with complications of dementia.

It hardly seems possible that it's been 15 years since the white-haired one left the dugout. He won 2,194 games as manager; that's now sixth on the all-time list, but was third when he retired. The Cincinnati teams he had in the mid-70s boasted probably the best lineup of regulars ever:

There will be no more
Sparky Anderson monologues
comparing Kirk Gibson
favorably to Mickey Mantle.
Rose, 3b
Griffey (Sr.), rf
Morgan, 2b
Bench, c
Perez, 1b
Foster, lf
Concepcion, ss
Geronimo, cf

It strikes me that Sparky spent most of his long managerial career with two shortstops — Dave Concepcion in Cincinnati and Alan Trammell in Detroit. Both of them were better than a handful of shortstops enshrined in Cooperstown, but neither right now can be called the best eligible shortstop not in (that would be Barry Larkin).

Anderson was a mentor, at least at a distance, to Tom Kelly, which makes it at least slightly ironic that it was Sparky on the losing end of the ALCS to Kelly in 1987.

But what I will long remember about Anderson was off the field. As I recall, it was 1988, the year after the Tigers lost out on a World Series trip to the Twins. My future wife and I went to a day game, the last game of a Tigers-Twins series at the Dome; the Twins won. She and I went to a restaurant for a meal and were walking past the Dome again. The Tigers bus was idling outside the players gate, ready to go to the airport.

And Sparky, doubtless chafing internally after a lost game and lost series, was standing outside the bus door, a swarm of people around him, signing autographs.

We all go sometime, and it appears that Anderson's time will come soon, and when he goes he won't be — and isn't now — the Sparky Anderson we remember.

But we will remember.

Pictures of pitchers

I am frequently fascinated by still photography of pitchers. Freezing the image in mid-delivery often makes it obvious that the arm is simply not supposed to be doing this. The wonder isn't that pitchers get hurt from throwing high-velocity, high-torque pitches, but that the injuries aren't more common.

This is an AP photo of San Francisco rookie Madison Bumgarner taken during Game 4 on Sunday:

It is almost identical to an AP photo taken eight days earlier (by the same photgrapher, no less) when he was pitching in Philadelphia; the only real difference is that in the NLCS game he had a black brim on his cap. I know what the photographer was thinking: Look at that straight line. I've looked at hundreds of photos of pitchers over the years, and I rarely if ever see something like that.

Contrast that to this:

This is C.J. Wilson of the Texas Rangers, displaying what is known in some biomechanic circles as "the inverted W." (That it's called "the inverted W" rather than "the M" suggests that somebody also knew something about typography, but let's not get diverted.) Note that both elbows are above the shoulders and both hands are below. Go ahead — try to put your arms in that position. Real comfortable, isn't it?

Francisco Liriano did this in 2006 — I remember several photos of him in this position. I haven't seen a photo of him in the inverted W since, and I assume that is the result of the delivery changes the Twins had him make after his ligament replacement surgery.

For this and other reasons, if I were still playing fantasy baseball I'd let somebody else take the risk of having C.J. Wilson next year.

One more photo. This one, I suspect, is more a function of toying with shutter speed than the pitcher —  if Pat Christman is reading this, he can speak to that question — but still ... everything else is moving, but Bumgarner's head is still. (Addendum: I talked with P.C. about this during a lull on election night, and yeah — it's shutter speed. Slow enough to blur movement.)

Bumgarner is a very interesting young (21) pitcher. He rocketed through the Giants' minor league system, putting up ERAs below 2.00 at every level until he hit Triple A this year. But the reports this spring had his fastball velocity in the mid-80s, down from the mid-90s in the minors. He lost out on the fifth starter job in spring training and was a mess at Triple A at the start of the year.

Clearly the velocity is back.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Sometimes less is more

The die appears to be cast. Both Commissioner Bud Selig and the head of the players union have come out in favor of adding two more wild card teams to the October mix.

OK, the language they use is of "considering it." Translated, they just need to work out the details.

Commissioner Bud:

I like it enough, so we'll seriously consider it. Is eight out of 30 enough? Is that fair? And that's the basic question here, at least for me. ... (Ten is) more fair than eight. Two more would give us 10, and 10 out of 30 I still think is a rational mix.

Michael Weiner, the new executive director of the players union:

There is sentiment among a substantial segment of the players to consider expanding the playoffs. ... I think we can have a very healthy discussion with the commissioner's office when bargaining begins about these issues.

Meanwhile comes the news that the NFL game on NBC easily bested Game Four of the World Series in the TV ratings on Sunday night.

This doesn't affect my interest in either sport -- maximal for baseball, minimal for football. It's of import only to those people with a financial interest in either baseball or News Corp. (the parent company of Fox).

If baseball expands its postseason field,
it won't be because its TV ratings are high.
But it strikes me that if MLB and its crucial employees want to return the World Series to appointment viewing status, the first step is to stop watering down the product.

The postseason already drags along for four weeks, with teams playing roughly every other day as the weather deteriorates. Too many games, too much dead time, too many opportunities for the strongest teams (as measured by the marathon of the regular season) to fall by the wayside. (Nobody but rabid partisans can believe that the Giants and Rangers were the best teams in their respective leagues.) It's a recipe for fan disinterest.

I'm sure the advocates of a bigger playoff field see some sort of financial advantage in it. Again, that's of no import to me the fan. What I want is better baseball. A 10-team playoff field -- that's not going to do it.


And now, a brief counter-argument, because there IS a way in which a 10-team field might improve play.

You don't get another round of playoffs by adding two teams to an eight-team field, because there'd be five survivors after the first round. Twelve won't do it either, because eventually the field gets narrowed to three. Brackets have to go (in reverse) 2, 4, 8, 16, 32 ... and even Bud isn't talking (yet) about a 16-team field.

What would happen is that the two wild-card teams in each league would pay each other first in a short series (perhaps as short as one game) to narrow the field back to eight.

The advantage? Well, consider the American League this year. September was essentially devoid of races. Texas had its division under control;  the Twins blew away the White Sox early in the month; the Yankees and Rays were close, but neither was too concerned about winning the division title, because being wild card was about as good, and Boston wasn't a genuine threat to either.

But if the wild card team had to play Boston in a one- or three-game series, there'd be reason to go hard for the division crown. It's a basic truth in all sports: The shorter the competition, the easier the upsets.

So this would, in some cases, make winning the division more important than it is now.

Powering their way to the title

Tim Lincecum has led the National
League in strikeouts each of the
past three seasons.
Chalk one up for the theory that power arms are the key to October success.

The San Francisco Giants have some big arms in their starting rotation, to be sure.

The Giants pitching staff led all of baseball in strikeouts. And when they pared their rotation from  five to four for the postseason — pushing soft-tosser Barry Zito aside — they came at their opponents with a knack for missing bats.

  • Tim Lincecum in the regular season struck out 231 batters in 212 innings.
  • Matt Cain fanned 177 in 223.1 innings.
  • Jonathan Sanchez whiffed 205 in 193.1 innings.
  • Madison Bumgarner, who spent a good chunk of the season regaining his stuff in the minors, K'd 86 in 111 major league innings.

The four playoff starters in the regular season stuck out a total of 699 men in 739.2 innings — 8.5 K/9.

And that takes a lot of strain off the defense, which in the Giants case, isn't all that mobile.


Yes, that's a new header up on top,  one I created during the summer to use during the offseason (thus the Rogers Hornsby quotation).  I have another lined up to impose on you during spring training. The caps will probably return when the 2011 regular season gets under way — "probably" giving me an out if something better comes to mind.

Feel free to tell me what you think of this one. Or,  if you remember it, what you thought of the Halloween special that was deployed on Sunday.

Monday, November 1, 2010

The Bill James Handbook arrived

It's always a good day for this stat nerd when this annual reference and analysis book comes in, although I have to admit it has lost a bit of its impact with the rise of the Internet and Baseball Reference.com.

Still, some of its content is original and fresh.

Checking a few Twins-related items:

  • The Twins (and Angels) have traditionally dominated in "Manufactured Runs." Not this year. The Twins were fifth in the AL in manufactured runs, the Angels eighth. The top team: Texas.
  • Ron Gardenhire used 55 pinch-runners in 2010, the most in baseball. (Hello, Mr. Thome.) He also led the majors in "quick hooks," a stat intended to count how often a manager pulls a starter earlier than his peers do.
  • Jon Rauch inherited just 10 baserunners all season. (Three of them scored.) Matt Guerrier, in contrast, entered games with 45 men on base; he allowed 10 of them to score. Ron Mahay inherited 40 runners, Jose Mijares 28, which is essentially opposite of what I would have expected, but I suspect more of Mijares' were crucial runners.

I'll end here with some quotations from Mr. James's "essay," "38 Facts about Major League Baserunning in 2010":

32) The worst baserunner in the majors, not counting stolen base attempts, was Jason Kubel of Minnesota.
33) The worst baserunner if you do count stolen base attempts was still Jason Kubel. ...
37) The Twins, normally a very good baserunning team, had a bad year running the bases in 2010. It is fair to ask if this could be a park effect, but ... not really. The Twins had 17 runners doubled off base, one away from the major league-leading 18 by the Mets. A park doesn't do that to you.

There's a lot to dig into here.