Friday, October 28, 2005

A Hat-Tip to Ozzie

While watching the final outs of the World Series this week, did you ever wonder what Ron Gardenhire would have made of Bobby Jenks?

Every time I saw the big rookie appear in this postseason, I thought of Gardy. Meanwhile, Ozzie Guillen earned my full respect as a manager. Whenever Ozzie needed a closer to lock up for the night, he signaled for the big widebody, a rookie who had been claimed off waivers last winter and pitched in AA Birmingham until July 5 of this season.

Ozzie had Dustin Hermanson available, a veteran who had saved 34 games with a 2.04 ERA for the Sox this season; and even if Hermanson had tweaked his back late in the season, as late as September 30 he still pitched 2 innings in a 3-2 win over Cleveland and apparently was healthy enough to stick on the playoff roster. Ozzie didn't use him in October, except to face 2 batters in the 8th inning of Game 3 of the Series.

Ozzie had El Duque, veteran of 13 postseason series and 4 World Series with the Yankees. A proven October performer with a 9-3 record and 2.65 ERA in the postseason. The man who shut down Boston for 3 innings in the 5-3, Game 3 ALDS win a couple weeks back, a game he practically saved in the 6th inning when he inherited loaded bases, no outs, a 4-3 score, Fenway in a frenzy, and he smothered the rally without allowing a run. Even with all that on his resume, he pitched in this World Series for just one inning, the 9th inning with the score knotted in Game 3.

Ozzie didn't fall back on those two or any other veterans in his bullpen when he needed someone to take it on home. Jenks blew a Save opportunity in Game 2 of the Series, allowing a couple runs when Jeff Bagwell singled to Center to lead off, Chris Burke walked, and both runners came home with a 2-out single laced to Leftfield by Jose Vizcaino, although Burke should have been out if not for a poor throw to the plate by Scott Podsednik. Still, Ozzie relied on Jenks to pitch 2 innings of Game 3, and he sent him out again in the 9th to wrap up a 1-0 lead in Game 4--with 88 years of frustrated history weighing on the rook's broad shoulders. There was no hand-wringing talk of how "this is not the place to test out a rookie pitcher." Because the manager trusted the kid's talent to shine through.

Ron Gardenhire doesn't have the sack to manage like that. Given the chance to show that kind of confidence in Jesse Crain last October, when he just needed 3 outs to take home a 2-0 series lead over the Yankees, Gardy held back the rookie with the 2.00 ERA and opted to send out his gassed closer for a third inning of work--and we know how that turned out. Crain only made a brief appearance in that series, facing two batters in the 6th inning of Game 3 after the Yankees had already rallied to a 5-1 lead.

In the ALDS the year before, Lew Ford saw one plate appearance--as a pinch-hitter against Mariano Rivera in Game 3--although the rookie had hit .329/.402/.575 down the stretch. For the 2002 playoffs, Gardy turned Johan Santana into a middle reliever and Kyle Lohse into
persona non grata, although both had been aces in the rotation after the break. He also yanked the rookie Michael Cuddyer in the ALCS, after he'd won the Rightfield job with a hot bat down the stretch and ripped Oakland pitching in the prior playoff round, because he didn't like some routes Cuddyer ran under flyballs in Game 2 against the Angels. This is how Ron Gardenhire handles hot youngsters when his team gets to the postseason. They're either on the short leash, or they hardly get a chance to contribute at all.

The Minnesota Twins, because of their own payroll restrictions, must rely on hot rookies and other young talent to gain a competitive edge against richer clubs, but they're managed on the field by a man who doesn't trust youngsters who come to him without a pedigree. When his team makes it to the Oktoberfest tourney, the Twins manager talks about the importance of experience, an area where his team will always be outgunned at the end of the year, and he kicks his kids to the end of the bench like they're only there to audit the course.

Ozzie Guillen gets it. Gardy is more concerned with what he doesn't have, rather than making the most of what he does. He's an impediment to the club in that way, and that's the biggest reason why he's the wrong man for his job. If you don't see it now, it should be obvious to nearly everyone within a year or two. Until Terry Ryan sees it, I'll still support the team and hope for the best, but I don't expect the Minnesota Twins will ever win another World Series as long as Ron Gardenhire is managing the team.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

New Hitting Coach

The Pioneer Press reports that the Twins plan to name Joe Vavra, the organization's minor league field coordinator, as the new hitting coach, after Paul Molitor and Rod Carew turned down the job. The article says that Vavra has held his former job, "the top on-field position in the farm system," for 4 years, although I'm still not sure of what the minor league field coordinator actually does. From 1989-97, Vavra was a minor league manager in the Dodgers organization.

Good hire? Take the poll to the right.

Dougie Being Dougie

I forgot to mention the funniest part about Reusse's column about the A.J. Edge. While Dougie Mint asserts that the Twins became "too nice" without A.J., notice how he also steps up to claim credit for giving A.J. the idea to sign with Chicago last winter:

"I told him, 'If you want to change the perception of yourself as a player, one team sticks out: the White Sox.' I said, 'No place were you hated more than in U.S. Cellular by the White Sox fans. If you can win over those fans, then everyone will realize people have the wrong idea about you as a player.' "

Oh, I don't know. The fans in Oakland really hated A.J., too.

Think Dougie is collecting a commission for that advice? Or maybe, for A.J., it's pro bono. I'm not sure I'd take career counselling from someone who had just managed to alienate himself from Boston fans and the Red Sox organization even while Red Sox Nation was drunk with joy last Fall. If you make a little girl cry on her birthday, after she's just been presented with a pony, can you call yourself qualified to give advice on organizing children's parties?

Now, apparently upset that Mets manager Willie Randolph auditioned new 1st basemen last month, Dougie is intent on setting fire to more bridges on his way out of New York, too.

"I don't know why they would pick up my option, but if they do, I might quit. I'm serious. I don't want to be back there."

Where else would he like to go? Hey, Minnesota suddenly looks real nice again.

"I always thought Minnesota was a great place to play. After a year with the Mets, an organization that doesn't have a clue, I know that for sure."

I don't know why he doesn't ask A.J. to put in a good word for him with his bosses in Chicago. He seems to think that's where a player's career can be reborn; or he did, once upon a time.

I should say that I am still a big Dougie Mint fan. His value as a Twin was generally underrated, and I enjoyed watching him play. His glib mouth never bothered me; I think his comments in the press are just part of the entertainment package. I even defended him when he said he wanted to keep his World Series souvenir. It probably wasn't his best move, but I figured it was his right. Whatever his faults may be, I still miss watching him play for the Twins.

Should the Twins have any real interest in bringing him back?

He hit just .240/.322/.407 for the Mets this season, posting a 4.30 RC/27 rate--the same as Michael Cuddyer. He had just 313 PA's in 87 games because of injuries and his late-season benching to make way for Mike Jacobs. He's 31 years old, turning 32 next June; considering his age and problems with nagging injuries, he's probably left his best seasons back in 2001 and 2003. Those are some reasons the Twins shouldn't spend any serious money to bring him back as a starting player.

However, his batting line this year was tarnished because he just struggled so badly in Shea Stadium. On the road, he hit a respectable .260/.329/.473 for the Mets. We know he's generally liked hitting in the Metrodome, too: he put up a .283/.387/.425 line in the dome from 2002-04, and .301/.370/.492 at home in 2001. I'm not saying he's the guy who will raise the moribund offense back to the heights of mediocrity again; but, in the right environment, he might be a productive help to a competitive club. Given a cheap, one-year trial deal, the Metrodome may bring out a little more life in his bat, yet.

I doubt it will happen, if only because Terry Ryan may want to avoid spooking Justin Morneau, and there's still no telling how Dougie might handle it if he's again relegated to part-timer status in midseason next year. Who knows, Doug might only want to come back because he thinks Morneau has flopped and left his old job open for him.

What do you think: if the realistic alternatives for help at 1B/DH are players like Olerud, Snow, Millar, Fick, and Saenz, would you welcome Doug Mientkiewicz coming back on a short-term, bargain contract?

At this point, I'd prefer Mark Sweeney or Erubiel Durazo, if not a trade for Lyle Overbay, but I think Dougie could be an acceptable secondary option.

Monday, October 24, 2005

A.J. Being A.J.

I have to admit, I'm pulling for the White Sox to win the Series.

I've started each round thinking I'll just enjoy the games as a neutral observer, and before I know it, I find myself cheering for Chicago and my boy A.J. I've been pulling for him and the Sox in this postseason ever since I saw him hit the home run in the first game against Boston; and with all the controversy he left in his wake throughout the ALCS, it's been a fun reminder of why I used to enjoy him so much when he played for the Twins. Thanks to all the shenanigans and controversy, he's become quite the media celebrity all of a sudden.

Bill Simmons last week wrote:

Yet another question: Is A.J. Pierzynski the most annoying professional athlete in recent memory? He's like the Rick Barry of this generation -- everything he does seems annoying for some reason, even his interviews. You can see why the Giants and Twins couldn't stand him. I don't even think he's a bad guy, he's just one of Those Guys. If you played at a $25 table in Vegas with him, he seems like the guy who would say stuff like "Wow, you're way up right now, huh?" and scream "Whammy!" every time he was dealt a blackjack. And he wouldn't even know he was being annoying, so his friends would think of convoluted ways to ditch him, stuff like, "Hey, A.J., I'm gonna go walk around, get some air, I'll be back in 10 minutes" ... and then they would scurry to another casino. That's A.J., right?

Actually, A.J. is the guy who annoys everyone in the casino, except for those in his party. The people hanging with him are having a blast, shouting "Whammy!" right along with him; and those looks of horror from across the table will only egg them on. The people who are down with A.J. love him like a brother; and, as far as they're concerned, everyone else can go piss up a rope. Although there was a whisper campaign directed against him after the Twins traded him to San Francisco, which held that A.J. was so abrasive he'd even turned umpires against the team, it's important to note that he did have close friends in the clubhouse, and I never met a Twins fan who didn't like him. I think it's even safe to say that he was a fan favorite in Minnesota.

Now, the bad boy ditched by two teams, allegedly because of his poison personality, is getting all kinds of credit for giving the AL Champion Chicago White Sox their newfound winning edge.

Patrick Reusse wrote a column on that theme this weekend, with a couple money quotes from the always loquacious Doug Mientkiewicz, who claims the Twins lost their fighting edge when they traded his buddy A.J. Since Dougie isn't playing baseball this week, and can't go fishing with Hurricane Wilma swirling around the Caribbean, I guess he had nothing better to do than to play at his other favorite hobby, stirring the pot:

"The Twins became too nice when they traded A.J.," Doug Mientkiewicz said. "We had an edge to the way we played with A.J. You could see it in the Twins this season. There was no edge to that team."

"I know Joe Mauer was waiting, but I thought at the time the Twins were crazy to trade A.J.," Mientkiewicz said. "Joe probably has more talent than A.J. I'm sure he does. But until Joe gets his guys to the playoffs . . . I'll take A.J."

As A.J. might have said if he were on the line: BOO-YAA!! The match lit, controversy spreads like wildfire.

I'll say upfront, I know that Dougie Mint has a self-serving agenda. Every time the Twins let go of a key veteran, Doug was openly skeptical about plans to count on youngsters to fill in. He didn't believe Morneau was capable of immediately replacing him, and he predicted the Twins would regret giving up so many of the key players on the 2002-03 division championship teams. I'm sure it strokes his ego to see his old team stumble without him and some of his pals.

Yet, I believe the Twins did lose a lot of personality and some edge when they let go of A.J., Dougie, and Everyday Eddie. They did. The 2005 Twins were a bland group, a cast in search of real characters, who seemed to be going through the motions, waiting for someone else to step up and lead the charge. In a lineup where nearly everyone performed below expectations, it's possible that some spark of inspiration, some rallying force, some abrasive jerk who takes the field with nothing in mind but to have a little fun and kick a lotta ass is just what the crew needed most, sometimes this season.

At the same time, I'll say that nobody seemed to miss A.J. so much last year, when the team won another Central title, by 9 games. The 2004 Twins won 92 games without A.J., without Everyday Eddie, and without Dougie for the second half of the season. Now A.J. is the crucial missing ingredient?

It also should be said that A.J., Dougie, and Eddie were more than just colorful personalities. A.J. was an All-Star in 2002, and probably should have been again in 2003. His last year with the Twins, he was worth 22 Win Shares. Dougie in 2003 was worth 20 Win Shares; and while Shannon Stewart and Johan Santana received nearly all the credit for that team's late-season charge, Dougie hit .305/.438/.433 in the second half of that season. Of course, Eddie was an All-Star closer in 2002 and 2003, too.

Those guys had solid, tangible value on the field; they were good players then. And while the club effectively replaced A.J. and Eddie on the field with Mauer and Nathan, the Twins didn't get anything close to 20 Win Shares out of Morneau this season, and they didn't get anything like that kind of value to replace Koskie at 3rd base, either. It didn't help that Stewart had the worst season of his career, Jones was a subpar Rightfield bat, Hunter contributed to the lineup for just a couple months, and the middle infield continued to be a sinkhole, too.

Joe Mauer was the only guy in the regular lineup who pulled his weight this season, except when LeCroy was gobbling cookies served up by lefty pitching. The 2005 Twins dropped to 3rd place because everybody else in the batting order was inconsistent at best, or more often just flat awful. It's not fair to imply or say outright that Joe Mauer is the one who failed to lead this team to another division title. As Batgirl said, "If the Twins had 25 Mauers, no one would complain and we wouldn't need attitude. Though maybe a better team barber." Just so.

Meanwhile, the White Sox are now up 2-0 in the World Series because they've had strong starting pitching all season, which has ratcheted up a notch in October, and the team has a decent enough offense, while every break seems to go their way. How do you make a team go 35-19 in one-run games? Who could predict that Joe Crede would have such a monster postseason? What rational analysis can account for all the breaks in the ALCS or wins like last night's, when Jermaine Dye is awarded 1st base on a foul ball, which leads to Paul Konerko hitting a 2-out grand slam, and finally a little waterbug who didn't hit a homer the whole regular season wins the game with a walk-off shot in the Right-Center power alley?

Is that the A.J. Effect, or is it a superior collection of talent apparently blessed this year, dare we say, by all the hallmarks of Lady Fortune and Destiny?

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Breaking Down the Offense; or, Gawking at the Broken-Down

In thinking about the Twins offense, where things went wrong and what might be done to improve, I thought it might be interesting to compare the Twins regulars to other players at each position throughout the majors.

The first player listed in each table is the Twins starter, with his ranking at the position including both leagues, according to VORP, the run value above a replacement-level player. I've also included the standard batting line, the park-adjusted OPS, the Equivalent Average figure, and the Win Shares value which accounts for both offense and defense. The lines under the Twins starter feature the best in the league at the position, then 5th best, 10th best, and 15th best, to help highlight the difference between varying grades of performance and what the Twins had going for them.

Batting Line
(3) Mauer
(1) Martinez
(5) Posada
(10) J. Lopez
(15) Lieberthal

Let's start with the bright spot, the one genuine star in the lineup this season. At age 22, with just 35 games worth of experience and still rehabbing his knee coming into the season, Joe Mauer is already one of the top Catchers in the majors. Measuring by VORP, only Victor Martinez and Jason Varitek had more value at the plate this year, but his high on-base pct. combined with his superior skills behind the plate puts him at the very top of his profession according to Win Shares. Only Mike Matheny and Brad Ausmus had more defensive value by that measure. The kid did everything this year but hit for power, but that was even more true of Victor Martinez when he first came up, too.

Over the next decade, I look forward to the ongoing debate on "Who's better: Mauer or Martinez?" as both of them should be steady fixtures at the All-Star Game.

Mike Redmond also proved to be a shrewd signing by Terry Ryan, as his 8.6 VORP and 7 Win Shares rated him as one of the best backup Catchers this season. (Henry Blanco in Chicago was worth 2.6 VORP and 5 Win Shares, backing up the best Catcher in the NL, Michael Barrett.) The Twins enjoyed a lot of value out of the position, with 30 Win Shares between the starter and primary backup--or 17 Win Shares above what an average bench player would be expected to contribute given the same amount of playing opportunities. Given that each Win Share is worth one-third of a win to the team, that's 5.67 extra wins beyond the value of average scrubs at one position, more than 4 extra wins credited to Mauer.

1st Base
Batting Line
(38) Morneau
(1) D. Lee
(5) Helton
(10) C. Tracy
(15) Hillenbrand

Unfortunately, Morneau wasn't quite up to playing Diz to Mauer's Bird just yet. They say he was bedeviled by ailments and injuries all year, particularly some loose bone chips in his elbow. Let's hope that explains everything, and that simply a winter of rest will be just what the Doctor ordered to get him at his best next year.

This year, his struggles really dug a hole for the team. I hate to single him out, and I strongly believe his manager and coaches did him wrong by raking him in the media, but there's no getting around the fact that an 8.6 VORP for the regular 1st baseman is a tough handicap to overcome. The difference between Justin Morneau and Derrek Lee this year was about 10 wins. Even the difference between Morneau and a mediocre/fair 1B could have been 2-4 wins. There were 14 1B/DH's in the majors worth 20 or more Win Shares, and 5 more worth at least 15.

He has to take several steps up next season, but I support giving him a full opportunity to make good. In the meantime, it might be wise to swing a deal for someone who could share his burden at 1B/DH. Lyle Overbay, worth 33.3 VORP and 18 Win Shares, might do nicely if the Brewers are ready to make way for Prince Fielder.

Desig. Hitter
Batting Line
(8) LeCroy
Lew Ford
(1) Ortiz
(5) J. Gomes
(10) Kotchman

I included Ford in this box, although his VORP is based on his value as a Centerfielder. He gets 3 Win Shares for his fielding, and in that category he has the advantage of 240 more plate appearances than LeCroy, as well.

As I said earlier in the week, I think LeCroy is a nice value for the money, particularly if you keep him in a platoon role and let him munch on lefty pitching like so many crawdads. Just cutting him loose at this point, when he should at least have some trade value, doesn't make much sense to me. That said, the GM probably shouldn't have much trouble replacing Matty's overall value in the lineup, either. Out of his 350 PA's this season, just 145 were against lefties. The club might not get another bat who can post a 1.025 OPS against lefties, but 145 PA's is still a minor hole to fill--and there should be an upgrade with whoever takes LeCroy's 200-odd plate appearances against righthanders. Trading for David Dellucci from Texas is one idea worth exploring.

2nd Base
Batting Line
(36) L. Rodriguez
(1) Roberts
(5) Soriano
(10) Durham
(15) Cano

The Curse of Todd Walker lives on.

Out of the patchwork of day laborers the Twins hired to play 2nd base this year, Luis Rodriguez had the most value on offense, such as it was. Nick Punto is a better fielder, but his VORP was -2.2. Even Luis Rivas by the end of the season managed a positive 1.1 VORP.

Of course offense can be more at a premium at this position, but there tend to be bargain finds floating around each year who end up giving good value for the dollar. Mark Grudzielanek signed for $1m to move to St. Louis last winter, and his performance for the Cards was worth 23.1 VORP and 18 Win Shares. The Reds also pulled Rich Aurilia out of the scrap pile and got 26.1 VORP and 16 Win Shares in the bargain. Tony Graffanino was paid $1.1m to hit .309/.366/.425, worth 25.8 VORP for KC and Boston. And kudos to the White Sox for taking a chance on Tadahito Iguchi, a relatively cheap free agent at $2.3m albeit somewhat risky as a 30 year-old with no experience outside Japan. While the Twins wasted more than that much cash on Rivas and Juan Castro, Iguchi was worth 30.9 VORP and 17 Win Shares at 2nd base for Chicago, giving them a nice spark at the top of the order. Ron Belliard has been a similar bargain value for Cleveland the last couple years. Todd Walker himself was paid $2.5m to hit .305/.355/.474 (115 OPS+) this year, worth 31.1 VORP or 17 Win Shares, after he'd been lured to Wrigleyville before the 2004 season with a $1.75m deal.

I'm not saying it's easy to pick out the best bargains each winter, but they are out there. Grudzielanek and Graffanino are free agents again this winter. Terry Ryan might start by making inquiries there.

3rd Base
Batting Line
(21) Cuddyer
(1) A. Rodriguez
(5) A. Ramirez
(10) Mueller
(15) Branyan

Or maybe the Twins should finally settle on moving Cuddyer to 2nd base. His cumulative value took a crater-sized hit this season because he had such a brutal April and spent a good share of the summer on the DL or the bench, but he did hit well after that first month (.275/.345/.450) and even his final batting line wouldn't have been such a shortcoming had he played 2nd base all season.

Bill Mueller, who reportedly drew interest from the Twins last July, looks like the best free agent at 3rd base this winter, if the club won't give Cuddles another chance there. Mueller was worth 32.3 VORP and 18 Win Shares for Boston, and he might be about to get pushed out at last by Kevin Youkilis.

Joe Randa (29.3 VORP, 17 Win Shares) is also on the market again, and may be of interest even though his bat tailed off quite a bit after the Reds sent him to San Diego in the summer.

Batting Line
(33) Bartlett
(1) Young
(5) F. Lopez
(10) Eckstein
(15) Greene

Before the season, I figured the Twins could live with the rookie at Shortstop all year as long as he could field his position and play Guzman-level offense. In my book, he was a massive upgrade over Cristian Guzman in the field, taking away hits up the middle that Guzy never would have dreamed of waving at. And he wasn't that far from replacing Guzy's most recent levels with the stick, as Guzman had just a 78 OPS+ and .243 EqA in 2004.

It's not that a .240's EqA is so good for a SS. It remains a hole in the lineup, but pointing fingers at the rookie for bringing down the team is wrong. The more experienced guy the club had there last year was no better than the new kid. Bartlett also had double the run value of Juan Castro (2.1 VORP) in 40 fewer plate appearances.

Batting Line
(32) Stewart
(1) Bay
(5) Burrell
(10) Holliday
(15) Catalanotto

Stewart completely escaped criticism in the local press this season, but in the worst season of his career, his poor plate production was as critical in the team's slide to 3rd place as any other factor. He was simply one of the worst regular Leftfielders in the majors. The difference between him and Jason Bay was at least 7 wins. In the Mauer section, I talked about the Win Share value above the expected contributions of an average bench player given the same playing opportunities: Shannon Stewart with 1 WSAB was essentially your average bench scrub masquerading as a Starting LF and Lead-Off Man this year.

OK, it could've been worse: the Twins Leftfielder could have been Terrence Long or Pedro Feliz. But there weren't many other players given regular time in LF who were just as bad, and I'm wagering that none of them were paid $6.5m this year.

You know what, maybe the savior of 2003 can bounce back next season. On the other hand, he's turning 32 in February, and this was a bad year ending with a shoulder injury, following a season in which he missed 2 months with a foot problem. If Terry Ryan is looking for some budget flexibility, dumping Shannon Stewart on any club willing to take him would be a prime place to start.

Batting Line
(13) Hunter
(1) A. Jones
(5) Damon
(10) DeJesus
(15) Kotsay

Speaking of budget flexibility...

Torii put up fairly typical numbers in the 4 months before he broke his ankle in Boston. His OPS+ was a slight uptick from the 105 OPS+ he posted in 2004. His monthly splits show he had a monster June (.330/.410/.681), but his other 3 months were kinda meh. In July, he was batting .270/.324/.340. I think his #13 rank amongst CF's this year seems fair; it probably wouldn't have changed much had he been able to play the final 2 months. He was worth 31.2 VORP in 2004, 19.8 VORP in 2003. His career year of 2002 (.289/.334/.524; 50.8 VORP) seems as distant a memory as $1.35 for a gallon of gas. We also know he's clashed with younger members of the team lately, and he's occasionally been good for a dour quote when asked about departed veterans. His mood doesn't seem likely to get any better after his friend Jacque is gone.

It's not as if Torii needs to go because he's a bad player; but his play isn't irreplaceable, either. Terry Ryan may be able to apply the $10.75m due Torii to acquire a bat that's better than 25-30 runs above replacement-value. For that kind of money, he probably should find better value than that.

Lew Ford was no great shakes this year; I'd even call him a great disappointment. But even at his production level this year, the difference between him and Torii wasn't all that significant. Lew was worth 3 Win Shares more than the average bench scrub, given the same playing time; Torii, 5. The difference certainly isn't worth $10 mil, is it?

Batting Line
(23) Jones
(1) Guerrero
(5) Jenkins
(10) E. Brown
(15) J. Lane

It's a long ways from 2002 for Jacque, too, and I don't expect it'll hurt to try somebody else next year. Even the green Kubel might stand a fair chance at replacing that kind of production. Oakland's rookie Nick Swisher actually had a similar value to Jacque this season, batting .236/.322/.446, worth 14.2 VORP in 63 fewer plate appearances.

Jermaine Dye was the veteran bargain buy of last winter, paid $4m by the White Sox to hit .274/.333/.512, worth 35.6 VORP and 18 Win Shares. But the big surprise and feel-good story at the position this season was Emil Brown, in the #10 slot in the box above.

A former prospect of the Pirates organization, Brown hadn't seen the majors since 2001, when he hit .190/.284/.299 in 155 plate appearances between Pittsburgh and San Diego. After bouncing from San Diego through the farm systems of Tampa Bay, Cincinnati, St. Louis, and Houston, he signed last winter with the Royals, made the club out of spring training and finally shone like a diamond at age 30. Michael Restovich, take heart. Don't let 'em get you down.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Farewell, Flounder

The Twins began their offseason housecleaning in earnest last week, cutting ties with Luis Rivas, Matt LeCroy, Michael Ryan, Brent Abernathy, Glenn Williams, Jason Tyner, and Joe Mays. Declining the $8.5m option on Mays was an expected move, and Rivas was a dead man walking since the club sent him down to AAA, and I danced on his grave, last July. Most of the rest are organizational filler, who may or may not be brought back to staff the Rochester roster next spring. I'm mildly surprised, and even more pleased, to see that Terry Ryan apparently does not have serious plans to rely on Jason Tyner as a fourth outfielder to give Gardenhire his desired increase of speed on the team.

Matt LeCroy is the one guy I'll miss next season. He's probably due for a raise, after arbitration, in the $1.5m range. Apparently the GM has other uses for that money in mind, rather than a platoon DH and clubhouse cut-up who doesn't mind eating bugs for money or doing silly dances if it makes the guys laugh. That's fine, although I wish Terry Ryan wouldn't pretend that LeCroy blew his spot because he's not versatile enough to make it as a 3rd string Catcher. Ryan told an AP reporter, "Unfortunately, I was concerned about the lack of catching ability. I wanted to think he had enough versatility.''

Frankly, that's silly. Paying $1.5m for a DH isn't out of line. A club that can pay Luis Rivas $1.65m, or $1m for Juan Castro, could find a way to pay $1.5m for a decent DH, even a good platoon bat in the role. His value as a 3rd string Catcher or backup 1st baseman would be negligible, even if he were good at those roles. The main questions should be: is his bat worth the money, or are there better ways to spend the dough?

LeCroy this season hit a solid .260/.354/.444 in 350 plate appearances, including a whopping .306/.404/.621 against lefty pitching. LeCroy's 5.56 RC/27 rate (Runs Created per 27 outs) was second amongst lineup regulars on the team, after only Joe Mauer. His 111 OPS+ was even better than Mauer (108 OPS+), better than any regular on the team. Yes, he's slow, he has marginal fielding skills, and he struggles with righty pitching. But his bat was an asset to the lineup, just the same. A 17.9 VORP for a part-time bat at less than $2 mil is a nice value.

Does the GM think he can bring in a free agent to upgrade the DH spot for that kind of money?

In the 1B/DH bargain bin this winter, he'll be looking at names like Mark Sweeney, John Olerud, Eduardo Perez, Daryle Ward, Robert Fick, Olmedo Saenz, J.T. Snow, Brad Fullmer, Greg Colbrunn, Ruben Sierra, and maybe Raffy Palmeiro if things get desperate for both Palmeiro and the Twins. Only Sweeney and Palmeiro had more value than LeCroy, measured by VORP, this season; and not by all that much. Sweeney was worth 23.2 VORP in 267 PA's this season, Palmeiro was worth 18.9 VORP in 442 PA's.

So if the Twins mean to upgrade on LeCroy's production next year, Ryan will probably have to swing a trade for someone like Lyle Overbay from Milwaukee (33.2 VORP, 2nd year arb., due to be forced out by Prince Fielder) or David Dellucci from Texas (35.5 VORP, due $950k next season, may be available for pitching), to name just two possibilities. Or, perhaps Ryan will apply LeCroy's money to a larger lump of dough to lure an even bigger fish to the Land O' Lakes.

Either way, this could work out fine. But it seems odd that Terry Ryan didn't see LeCroy as a trading chip to offer around this winter. A bench bat who crushes lefty pitching, and is still bound by arbitration, should have some trade value. Why outright him to AAA and just cut him loose? Is he just in such a hurry to clear his books so he can go right after other acquisition targets next month? Any ideas on that?

Meanwhile, farewell to you, Flounder. You didn't quite become the Big Stick we projected a few years ago, but you were an asset to the lineup, a fun character, and I always felt good rooting for you. Happy landings.


Swept away in the first week of housecleaning this offseason, Twins 3rd base coach Al Newman said goodbye on Friday as he took a scouting job with the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Fans who rooted for the '87 and '91 championship teams may be understandably sentimental about seeing Newman leave the organization, but my connections to the team don't go that far back. To me, he was just a reliably fun postgame interview on the radio, and a constant irritation as a 3rd base coach.

I know, fans of every team hate their 3rd base coach, usually because they think their guy has a penchant for waving around runners who never had a prayer of getting home safely. Just yesterday, Braves 3rd base coach Fredi Gonzalez may have cost his team a critical insurance run in the 7th inning. As Jeff Francouer doubled into the short LF corner in Houston, the slow-trotting Adam LaRoche looked quite content to coast from 1st to 3rd, setting up Ryan Langerhans to bat with runners on 2nd and 3rd with 1 out. However, Gonzalez waved LaRoche towards home, even as the Braves held a 5-1 lead, and the relay beat the runner to the plate by several steps. That's usually the sort of move that gets the fans howling for a head on a platter.

I always thought Newman was the opposite kind of traffic cop: cautious to a fault. If there were less than 2 outs, you could count on him to hold the runner at 3rd unless he was sure his man could score without much of a play at the plate. Once on a radio postgame interview with the Dazzle Man, he openly admitted that he didn't even like to see a runner head for a play at home unless absolutely necessary, because of the risk of injury. To a degree, it's good to know he cares about protecting his players. But I've seen him hold runners when it was clear to anyone in the stands that his man could have scored doing cartwheels. I remember one time a few years back when he held the runner at 3rd while the ball was still being collected in the outfield, and the trailing runner was nearly caught in a rundown because he was forced to retreat 80 feet back to 2nd base. Like I said, I know that fans of every team hate their 3rd base coach. That was just Newmie's particular way of irritating me.

According to one of LaVelle Neal's sources inside the organization, Newman's bosses had issues with his performance in the 3rd base coach's box this season, and he had philosophical differences with Ron Gardenhire behind the scenes. I don't know, there's probably some office politics going on. Newman himself told Neal that he wonders if he's being made the scapegoat for the team's struggles this year. Pushing him out might also be a way to hire Paul Molitor as hitting coach, without firing Gardy's close friend Scotty Ullger. If that's all there is to the story, I don't like this way of doing business.

But, some radio listeners have said that Newman may have signed his own walking papers by going on the Dan Barreiro show last week, taking Torii Hunter's side in the Hunter/Morneau fight and criticizing the youngsters on the team. If that is the case, then I'm glad Terry Ryan did something about it. It shouldn't be acceptable for any of the coaches to go on the radio to gossip about the team and rag on the organization's developing talent. If that's what he did, then Newman was a problem. He had to go.

Saturday, October 08, 2005


Friday, October 07, 2005

So Long

Dear Geek,

Sorry to read that you're shutting down the blog.

You were the first Twins fan to stake out your own journal space outside the bulletin board communities, developing your personal blend of geek analysis and kidtales of Cheetos-dust and bathtime follies. You won acclaim and a loyal following, spots on WCCO, a contract with the Star Tribune online. Finally, the coup de grâce, the crème de la crème, your magnus opus: the one-stop blogging community, Twins Territory. A thousand people or more each day would drop in for your take on the state of the team, and to get in on the conversation.

I've seen a number of bloggers give you credit for inspiring them to start up their own humble sites. As for myself, truth is, I was intimidated by the example you set. Your columns always were so insightful and fresh, and I always have been in awe of your ability to keep up your high standard so consistently. If I still felt like I had to match Twins Geek in order to justify claiming my own space in the blogosphere, I still wouldn't have created this site. I still might be devoting my energy to bulletin board arguments and backbenching at bloggers who write about the Timberpups after an especially exciting Twins win. Sorry about doing that to you, I hope it's not too late to say. I can see now that I was trying to improve you, because I wasn't ready to do it for myself. In my backwards way, I meant the complaints as a compliment.

It's a shame that the Strib, 'CCO, or some show like Rosen's late night gabfest don't have the sense to get you on their payroll. Really, in a town where the goddamn 'CCO weatherman is a cross-media celebrity, none of the local media can see the possibilities in giving Twins Geek his own show and newspaper column? Who wouldn't like to see you cracking jokes and giving the needle to Grandpa Sports, Red-Faced Reusse, and some Vikings lineman every Sunday night? They need someone like you, Geek. Now you're shutting down, and we're all the poorer for the loss. I hope it's not forever.

Take care and don't be a stranger. Best of luck.


Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Ex-Twins Stats, Season End

E. Milton (Cin): 8-15, 6.47 ERA, -25.0 VORP
M. Redman (Pit): 5-15, 4.90 ERA, 11.0 VORP
K. Rogers (Tex): 14-8, 3.46 ERA, 40.5 VORP
L. Hawkins (SF): 2-8, 3.83 ERA, 7.4 VORP
Guardado (Sea): 2-3, 2.72 ERA, 36/41 Sv, 13.2 VORP
T. Jones (Fla): 1-5, 2.10 ERA, 40/45 Sv, 25.6 VORP
A. Fultz (Phi): 4-0, 2.24 ERA, 23.2 VORP
H. Carrasco (Was): 5-4, 2.04 ERA, 31.3 VORP
J. Baldwin (Balt): 0-2, 3.81 ERA, 8.4 VORP
M. Kinney (SF): 2-0, 6.00 ERA, -0.6 VORP
S. Greisinger (Atl): 0-0, 3.60 ERA, 1.1 VORP (Released)

D. Ortiz (Bos): .300/397/.604, 83.2 VORP
D. Mientkiewicz (NYM): .240/.319/.407, 4.7 VORP
A. Pierzynski (CWS): .257/.308/.420, 15.4 VORP
C. Koskie (Tor): .249/.337/.398, 9.6 VORP
C. Guzman (Was): .219/.256/.313, -11.4 VORP
T. Walker (Cubs): .305/.353/.474, 30.2 VORP
C. Blake (Cle): .241/.307/.438, 11.4 VORP
M. Lawton (NYY): .254/.356/.396, 19.3 VORP
D. Miller (Mil): .272/.339/.412, 23.5 VORP
M. Restovich (Pitt): .239/.306/.381, -0.1 VORP

*Unfortunately for Resto, he did not get a real chance to play in Pittsburgh, as most of his appearances with the Pirates came as a pinch-hitter, a tough role for someone with little experience in the majors and almost none in the NL. As an OF this season, Resto hit .267/.344/.453 in 96 PA's; as a pinch-hitter, .148/.179/.148 in 28 PA's. Against lefty pitching, he hit .256/.319/.442; meanwhile, Jacque Jones hit .201/.247/.370 against LHP.

Could the Twins have used Resto as a platoon partner for Jones, or as an eventual fill-in at the OF corners after Hunter and Stewart were lost for the season? No doubt about it. He would have improved the team in that role, and provided far more value than Corky Miller did. It's just a shame that the club threw him away so easily. I hope for Resto that one of these days, before too long, he has the good fortune to hook up with a team willing to give him that legitimate shot at filling an OF/DH platoon spot.

D. Mohr (Col): .214/.280/.466, -0.1 VORP
B. Kielty (Oak): .263/.349/.395, 12.1 VORP
C. Allen (Tex): .283/.304/.340, -0.8 VORP
J. Offerman (NYM): .229/.308/.333, -0.1 VORP
C. Gomez (Balt): .279/.350/.342, 4.4 VORP
Q. McCracken (Ari): .236/.305/.296, -2.4 VORP
H. Blanco (Cubs): .242/.281/.391, 2.2 VORP
J. Valentin (Cin): .281/.362/.520, 25.7 VORP
C. Moeller (Mil): .206/.255/.367, -1.1 VORP
D. Ardoin (Col): .229/.310/.362, 1.1 VORP
D. Hocking (KC): .267/.366/.283, 0.9 VORP


M. Kinney (SF, AAA): 7-8, 5.21 ERA, 1.41 WHIP
J. Roa (Pitt, AAA): 1-1, 6.05 ERA (DL)
Rowland-Smith (Sea, AA): 6-7, 4.35 ERA, 1.51 WHIP
T. Fiore (Bal, AAA): 9-5, 3.63 ERA, 1.30 WHIP
A. Johnson (Oak, AAA): 6.23 ERA, 1.52 WHIP, 21.2 IP

J. Barnes (Atl, AAA): .277/.331/.362, 18 2B, 3 HR
T. Sears (Fla, AAA):
.323/.399/.503, 14 2B, 13 HR

Saturday, October 01, 2005


So Torii Hunter was in town for just a few days to visit teammates this week. Still, he made time to carry out his duties as Team Leader--such as getting into a fight with Justin Morneau.

Morneau had the class to downplay the incident and pay his respects to Torii in the press, but here's the part of the story that slays me:

Hunter, during an interview about the frustration in the clubhouse, said he's kept up with the developments from Texas and has been startled at what he's read. Some of the events during the second half include righthander Carlos Silva saying that some players were acting like they didn't want to win, Kyle Lohse damaging doors in the clubhouse after being taken out of a game and J.C. Romero getting into arguments with Gardenhire and bench coach Steve Liddle earlier this week. In each case, things eventually calmed down.

"I gotta say if I was here, I probably wouldn't have allowed that," he said of some of the things he's read about. "It's not my ballclub, but I can't handle that. We're trying to win, and you cannot win when you've got people talking about each other in the paper and the media, even in the clubhouse going against each other. You've got the pitchers on one side going against each other, you can't do that. Everybody's got to be tightly knit, and I think that if I was here it wouldn't happen. We'd have to fight, it's as simple as that."

Um, Torii. You remember that road trip in early June, when there was a fuss in the papers about young players who needed to learn how to play hurt...?

Even now, while he says a team can't have players criticizing each other in the media, isn't he doing exactly that?

Funny how his leadership solution to rifts in the clubhouse seems to be, "We'd have to fight, it's as simple as that," too.

Torii has his talents, but acting as a leader to unite the players on the team isn't one of them. That in itself doesn't necessarily mean that he must go this winter. Baseball teams can win despite divisive influences in the clubhouse. But this incident should finally put the lie to the notion that he's indispensible because he's the Team Leader. Should he stay or should he go--Terry Ryan ought to base his decision mainly on whether Torii's plate production and play in the field is likely to be worth $10.75m (plus the $2m buyout in 2007) to this club, and what kind of value he might bring in trade and how else that money could be spent as an alternative. If Torii's clubhouse influence tips the scales at all, the way I see it, the clashes with Morneau this season should tilt against him.