Friday, June 30, 2006

The Return of DePodesta

Just days after I wrote about Paul DePodesta, the news reports say he has landed with the Padres, hired as "Special Assistant for Baseball Operations," which apparently means he will be advising GM Kevin Towers and other baseball men in the organization. So who hired him?

Sandy Alderson, now CEO of the Padres, formerly the Oakland Athletics GM who mentored Billy Beane. DePodesta will report directly to him.

I just found a new favorite NL team. I hope the Padres stick it to the Dodgers for years to come.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Twins vs. Twins

My interest in tracking the Twins' record has been revived sufficiently enough to start updating the Twins vs. Twins table in the righthand column again. The hot streak of late may be too little, too late to reel in the Tigers or White Sox, but at least the team is making up ground on Tom Kelly's 2001 Twins.

On June 7, when the 2006 Twins were standing at 25-33 (OK, hardly standing), TK's team had a 12-game lead which has now been reduced to 4. The 2001 Twins are in the midst of a hot streak of their own, winning 11 of their next 13 (and 15 of 18 in the run), so they may add back some padding to their lead over the next couple weeks, but students of Twins history and those who bore witness at the time know that TK's last team goes down like Icarus right after reaching their apex of the season.

Whether the same fate awaits this Twins team, in what looks like another transitional season in club history, we'll see....

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

The Architect in Exile: Paul DePodesta is Dead, Long Live DePodesta!

In February 2004, the Dodgers hired Paul DePodesta, famous to Moneyball readers as Oakland GM Billy Beane's assistant and resident expert on computers and sabermetric analysis, as their new General Manager. My friends in the Mariners online community, as well as the writers at the USS Mariner blog, were incensed to see him hired by LA while in the same offseason Seattle had hired Bill Bavasi for the GM job without giving DePodesta so much as an interview. The sabermetric mind of DePodesta matched with the Dodgers' budget and resources was supposed to revitalize that franchise, doing for Los Angeles what Theo Epstein and Bill James along with a huge budget would, as it turned out, instead do for Boston.

The Los Angeles media, led by the LA Times columnist Bill Plaschke, as well as traditionalist elements within the Dodgers organization had a far different reaction. As Gleeman once noted in an eviscerating response to a 2004 Plaschke column titled, "With Luck, the Dodgers Won't Crash," the skeptics in the LA media thought of DePodesta as too young and too nerdy for the job of running their proud franchise, which hadn't been to the playoffs since 1996. Every move DePodesta would make was to be treated with suspicion or derision by much of the mainstream media, especially in Southern California.

When the Dodgers traded Paul LoDuca, Guillermo Mota, and Juan Encarnacion to the Marlins for Brad Penny, Hee Seop Choi, and a minor league pitcher in July 2004, most of the big media hailed The Fish for filling a couple big needs just in time for another pennant drive. Jayson Stark tabbed Florida the big winners at the trade deadline, and the Dodgers big losers. The backlash for trading the "Team Leader" LoDuca and an ace setup man in Mota, when the Dodgers were riding high in 1st place, was merciless. "To say I'm getting killed is an understatement," DePodesta told Peter Gammons, one of the few mainstream commentators to defend him, "but we did what we did to try not just to make the postseason, but to go deep. In this job, you have to do what you believe is right."

Never mind that the team would go on to win the NL West with a 93-69 mark, albeit losing to the eventual NL pennant winners in the NLDS; or that the Dodgers had in-house replacements for Mota in the bullpen; or that LoDuca was 32, getting old for a Catcher, and actually took his customary 2nd half swoon after the trade to Florida. DePo's detractors and LoDuca's fans would never forgive him for trading the Dodgers' "heart and soul" behind the plate.

They pounced again when DePodesta passed on re-signing Adrian Beltre after he'd finally posted a breakout year and nearly won the NL MVP in 2004. The Dodgers let Beltre sign a lucrative longterm deal with Seattle, and instead brought in Jeff Kent and J.D. Drew to replace his offense. Never mind that Kent went on to hit .289/.377/.512, and Drew hit .286/.412/.520 in the 72 games he was healthy enough to play, while Beltre turned into a pumpkin with the Mariners. Hee Seop Choi also hit .253/.336/.453, and Brad Penny as well as free agent signing Derek Lowe pitched well in 2005. But the Dodgers were crippled by injuries and fell to 4th place with 71 wins, and it was deemed DePodesta's fault. There was more bad buzz after the season when manager Jim Tracy left, supposedly because of friction with DePodesta. Shortly thereafter, Dodgers owner Frank McCourt caved to media pressure and fired his GM.

As the Dodgers come to Minnesota this week, they are back on top of the NL West. New Dodgers legend Nomah! has resurrected his career as a 1st baseman in LA, batting .364/.427/.582, while the ghost of Aaron Sele is fooling the Majors' weaker half, somehow posting a 2.73 ERA and 1.27 WHIP. Eric Gagne is hurt again, but Takashi Saito has been a brilliant replacement. Some other new acquisitions like Jae Seo, Kenny Lofton, and Rafael Furcal have struggled, but no matter. Especially when a crop of homegrown youngsters like Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, Jason Repko, and Russell Martin have brought a new energy to the club.

Don't look now, though, but a healthy J.D. Drew is hitting .280/.373/.473, second on the team with 43.1 Runs Created, and Jeff Kent is still hitting .272/.378/.465 with 37 RC. Olmedo Saenz, another player DePodesta brought to the Dodgers, is batting .306/.333/.559. Derek Lowe comes into tonight's start with a 6-3 record and 2.90 ERA, and Brad Penny is 8-2 with a 3.06 ERA. By VORP, four of the five most valuable players on the Dodgers roster this year were acquired by Paul DePodesta. Meanwhile, Adrian Beltre is hitting .249/.313/.375 in the second year of a 5-year deal in Seattle, and Paul LoDuca is hitting .285/.325/.397 for the Mets and would be blocking either Russell Martin or Dioner Navarro if he were still in LA.

I hope that DePodesta feels vindicated, wherever he is today. His big moves have worked out for the club, and it seems there was nothing wrong with the Dodgers that a maturing crop of farm talent and one more big bat couldn't turn around and push the team in the right direction again. But I don't suppose the LA media will ever admit it.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Talking Extensions: Then & Now

In early June 2003, the Twins were cruising along the top of the AL Central, with the Royals and White Sox at a comfortable distance behind, thanks in no small part to a lock-tight bullpen led by Eddie Guardado and LaTroy Hawkins. Everyday Eddie was headed for his second straight All-Star Game, and many people thought that Hawkins deserved to represent the league's setup men in the Mid-Summer Classic that season.

Each man being in the final year of his contract, they both took the opportunity to let it be known via the local media that their agents would very much like to discuss contract extensions with the Twins GM. When Terry Ryan flatly replied that nothing would be negotiated until after the season, the two ace relievers took it a bit hard. They felt a mite insulted.

Shortly thereafter, the team took a nosedive that almost spoiled the season, and you may remember that the press blamed Eddie & LaTroy for spoiling the perfect balance of brotherhood in the clubhouse. They were Bad Guys. Selfish. It was, more or less, their fault that the Twins fell in the tank and nearly drowned, until Shannon Stewart arrived to show the hitters how to work the count, told Gardy to leave Johan Santana in the rotation if he knew what was good for him, and restored harmony to the clubhouse just in time to lead the team to another division title.

That is, and forever shall be, the Official Story of the 2003 Season.

Now in the 2006 season, after a rough and terribly depressing couple months to start, the Twins are riding a hot streak and inspiring some hopes amongst the faithful for another second half surge to claim a postseason berth. No great thanks to a certain Centerfielder hitting .264/.340/.421 on the season and whose bat has been generally missing in action while the young bucks have carried the fight of late. Torii Hunter is in the final guaranteed year of his contract, however, with only a $12 million option for 2007 remaining, so he's used the occasion of his team's hot streak to openly talk about being traded to a team like the Red Sox, or else entertain offers from the Twins for a fat extension of another 5-6 years.

Hunter told Jim Souhan in the Strib:

If the Twins aren't looking to sign him to a long-term deal that will ensure he'll play in the new Twins ballpark set to open in 2010, he isn't interested in signing a contract extension.

"It's got to make sense," he said, in his most detailed comments on his status. "If I'm here to play in that new stadium for two years, yes, I would do it. But if I'm not, if I'm just here until the stadium, no, that's stupid.

"I already don't like the Dome, so I'm not going to get used. It's got to be a long-term deal. For me to be here it's got to be five or six years."

So does Souhan call out Torii on his timing or motives? Is Torii a Bad Guy for thinking only about himself when his team, the team he's supposed to be leading as one of its veterans of senior rank, is playing so well and yet still has more than half the season to play?

Well, what do you think?

Go read his column for yourself, or check out the SBG blog for a rundown of some choice quotes.

I love it when Souhan praises Hunter for his engaging personality and accessibility, as well as the way he plays all-out in the field, and then in the next sentence writes, "He's the guy who took it upon himself to take a swing at Justin Morneau last year, even if he did end up hitting Nick Punto," like it's just one more of his most admirable qualities.

Of course he also boosts the idea that the Twins may have to sign Hunter for another 5 years or else "face the perception that they just received approval of a new stadium and yet are too cheap to keep their best players." Oh, the guilt. That's just low, like a sucker-punch that ends up hitting Nick Punto. Anything but that, Jimmy.

Look, Torii Hunter will turn 36 in July of the 2011 season. He's admitting now that he has chronic pain in his back, hamstrings, and ankle, and keep in mind that he would have three and a half more seasons running on the dome turf he hates before the new park opens. Even at this moment, he is no longer one of the team's very "best players." Just think of what kind of shape he might be in, or what he could possibly still mean to the team, in another few years.

I was in the Northwest when the Mariners traded Randy Johnson even while their new ballpark was under construction, then I witnessed the club trade Ken Griffey, Jr. in the winter after Safeco Field opened, and then lose Alex Rodriguez to a division rival one year later. There were hard feelings, questions about the direction of the franchise, and accusations that the front office lacked the commitment to winning and keeping its best players. That was a loss of three genuine superstars, future Hall of Famers at the top of their game, and the club didn't have a farm system ready to supply replacements. Yet the club survived, even thrived with a new set of stars and popular favorites on the roster.

The M's drew more than 40-thousand per game in each of the three seasons after A-Rod left, and still drew a gate ranked in the Top 4 of AL clubs in 2004-5, despite last place finishes. Even now, while the team is below .500 for the 3rd season in a row, the attendance in Seattle rates 6th in the AL, slightly lagging behind Texas, and averages a few-thousand more per game than the Twins are drawing.

Losing Torii Hunter will not drive away the fans. People will come out and tune in to the games so long as there is something to hold their interest, and a winning team led by Johan Santana, Francisco Liriano, Joe Mauer, and Justin Morneau will do the trick nicely. The decision on whether to keep Torii Hunter should be based on nothing but his expected value on the field over the life of his next contract.

How much is he going to help the Twins win over the next five years, relative to how much money it will take to keep him?

In a period when the club will also have to settle new deals to lock up Santana, Liriano, Mauer, Morneau, Michael Cuddyer, and Jason Kubel, would it be wise to be committed to Hunter at market rates until he's 36 years old?

Friday, June 16, 2006

Calling in a Favor


WK: If this is Kenny from the 407, I told you, I'll see you this afternoon at the ballpark.

TR: Shwa? Wayne? Hey, this is your old buddy, Terry.

WK: Terry who?

TR: Terry Ryan.

WK: Terry from the 612! Que pasa?

TR: Well, you know. Just keepin' it real. Got a project ahead of us. We're scrapping Plan A this week and we'll see what the kids can do the rest of the way. But now I got a little logjam problem and need to swing a deal.

WK: Sure, we could use a reliever to replace Weathers. You want a prospect for Nathan or Rincon?

TR: No, no.... I need to call in a favor. I think you owe me one, for the way the Batista deal went down....

WK: Dude, I made a careful point of negotiating a non-guaranteed contract with him there. You never thought I might have done that for a reason? (Laughs.)

TR: Come on, Wayne. We're friends, right? Remember all those scouting trips we took together, all the nights we shared the floor in Carl's apartment down in Fort Myers, all that Caribbean rum?

WK: Yeah, yeah. We had some good times, boss. OK, you did put in a good word for me when I interviewed here... what do you need?

TR: Like I said, I got a logjam on the roster. We called up Bartlett this week...


TR: Yeah, I know. I should never listen to Gardy... So now we have too many middle infielders on the roster, Castro's benched, and I'd like to move him out before that turns into a real problem. Could you use another middle infielder?

WK: Um, not especially. After Lopez & Phillips, we already have three other guys who can play SS or 2B.

TR: Wayne, remember the time we were down in Venezuela and your wife called....

WK: Right, what do you need in return?

TR: You got any toolsy kids in Class A who aren't hitting a lick this spring?

WK: Who doesn't? You got a name in mind?

TR: How about that Roberts kid in Sarasota? He's not hitting, but he looks fast.

WK: Yeah, OK. But this is the last time we mention the trip to Venezuela, right?

TR: OK, scout's honor. We got a deal?

WK: Done. Just draw up the papers and fax 'em over.

TR: Good to talk to you again, Wayne. Say hi to the family for me, and good luck fighting off the Cards the rest of the way!

WK: Thanks, Terry. Good luck with the rebuild; and when you're ready to trade Lohse or Silva, don't let me be the first guy you call, OK?

TR: No prob. I appreciate what you're doing for me here. See you in Pittsburgh at the break?

WK: Not if I see you first! (Laughs.) Yeah, I'll be around. Let's have dinner. Take care.

TR: You, too. Bye.


Thursday, June 15, 2006

So Long, Fat Tony. Hail to the New Twins!

While Intern Snarky at GameDay registers his surprise at the lack of blog gloating about Tony Batista getting his pink slip Tuesday night, I haven't got around to even mentioning the news.

I suppose it's because the event seemed inevitable from the day Terry Ryan announced his commitment to the guy. I, and a number of others in the Twins online community, predicted the disaster. It was never a question of whether the dreams of 30 HR and 100 RBI out of the 7-spot would go bust, but when. To see that it took until June 13 for Twins management to admit its mistake does not make me feel giddy. It's more of a quiet relief that this depressing element in my life as a Twins fan is finally gone.

Aaron Gleeman recently wrote that the Twins management had been so rudderless, "either unable or unwilling to address the issues that have plagued the team since last season," that he realized he no longer cared about the team enough to write about the Twins every day. I reached that point last winter, after Batista had been signed and I read that the Twins could not trade for Koskie, or pursue any other upgrade, because the GM was committed to Batista and also Kyle Lohse.

Realizing that Terry Ryan had no intention of trading Lohse or Shannon Stewart, and that his plan to upgrade the worst offense in the AL stopped at acquiring Luis Castillo, Rondell White, and Tony Batista just gave me a great, dark braincloud. To see the club go on to jerk around Jason Bartlett, Michael Cuddyer, Jason Kubel, and Scott Baker in succession through the spring just made me feel more and more pessimistic, and less interested in keeping a regular blogging schedule.

Even losing teams can be entertaining and give a fan hope for the future. Supporting a losing team that wastes money on, and gives priority treatment to, mediocre or marginal veterans while running down its homegrown youth, the lifeblood of a franchise like the Twins, just feels pointless and depressing. Most days this spring, if I felt like saying anything about the Twins at all, I just felt like posting angry rants--usually spontaneously, when I'd come across some news or chatter on other sites like the SBG blog or the Bat Cave. It would feel cathartic to vent, but it wouldn't be fun to make a blog into a Daily Rant, and if I'm going to keep a regular blog schedule again, I'd like it to be fun.

I get no kick out of writing about Tony Batista, even when he's been designated for assignment.

I feel joy, however, in seeing Jason Bartlett called up and making an immediate impact, and in the news today that the Twins are showing some commitment to Bartlett by trading Juan Castro to the Reds.

I feel joy in seeing the Twins beat up on the Red Sox this week with the young guys leading the charge.

Jason Kubel this evening has hit his 3rd home run in as many days, has an 8-game hitting streak going, and is batting .351/.373/.649 (thru the 6th inning tonight) since becoming part of the regular lineup on May 29. The performances of Mauer, Morneau, Cuddyer, Santana, Liriano, and Nathan can also make me giddy. This season I've been rooting for my Twins off the à la carte menu, and it feels good to see my guys, mainly the young guys who will form the future nucleus of the team, getting a chance to play and making good.

If you want gloating, just picture me doing a little dance every time Michael Cuddyer delivers a hit.

Tony Batista is just an unfortunate history I'd rather write off. I only hope that when management has to make decisions on the futures of other mediocre to marginal veterans on the roster, Terry Ryan won't forget the lessons he should have learned from Batista and the other moves he made, or failed to make, last winter.

Castro Traded

The Juan Castro Era is over. Terry Ryan called in a favor from his old employee Wayne Krivsky, and sent The Leader to Cincinnati. The Twins get minor league OF Brandon Roberts, currently hitting .267/.325/.308 in about 263 PA's in High A Sarasota.


I guess this gives Rondell White a reprieve when Shannon Stewart comes off the DL.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006


Last night's game just goes to show why you can't turn your back on the Twins, even when the team is in 4th place in mid-June, and management has been kafumbly in the dark for the last couple years and still drives you crazy by talking up the imminent return of Ruben Sierra as if he weren't 40 years old and a broken shadow even of the spectre who rose from the baseball graveyard 5 years ago.

When you see two aces matched on the marquee, you always hope to see something like last night's game, but how many times does the match-up fail to deliver the goods? But, just often enough, the game gives you a cookie to keep you coming back to the store. Last night, we got the whole dessert cart.

Johan Santana had a total mastery of his pitches. The change-up dropped under the Boston bats as sharply as I've ever seen him throw it. Some Red Sox players, especially Kevin Youkilis, were visibly angry at their inability to hit, or possibly even see, the pitch. In 8 innings, Santana finished with 13 strikeouts to no walks, giving up 5 hits and a single run on Jason Varitek's home run to Left-Center in the 7th. He finished his part of the evening by deftly snagging a comebacker up the middle hit by Coco Crisp, and firing a strike over 2nd base to start a double play.

Curt Schilling did his part, as well. He matched his counterpart with 8 innings, striking out 5, giving up 6 hits and a walk, and allowing just a run on Michael Cuddyer's solo shot to answer Varitek in the bottom of the 7th. Rookie hype Jonathan Papelbon lowered his ERA to 0.28 with 2 scoreless innings, too.

The Red Sox took the lead in the top of the 12th by scoring a run off Jesse Crain, but, in the end, the Twins won with Cuddyer getting drilled by a Julian Taverez cut-fastball that got away from him, a Justin Morneau ground-rule double that
just escaped over the wall and held Cuddyer to 3rd base, an intentional walk to Torii Hunter, and then Justin Kubel's high fly to Rightfield that looked like a warning-track fly but kept carrying just beyond the Baggie. That's a game that not only paid immediate rewards to those dedicated Twins fans who came to the park or tuned in for the whole 12 innings, but it also gives a reason to feel hopeful about the club's future.

Johan Santana is still the best pitcher in the league, and still signed for at least two more seasons. Michael Cuddyer is finally enjoying his breakout season at age 27, batting .272/.363/.549, and should be an affordable asset to the Twins for at least the next few years. Justin Morneau has been showing better judgment at the plate lately, now hitting .263/.321/.507 and on pace to hit 38 HR with 127 RBI. Joe Mauer, of course, is the best Catcher in the league, behind the plate and at bat. At age 23, he's hitting .381/.443/.530. And last night's hero, the rookie Jason Kubel, has been settling into a groove lately. Since he's been part of the regular lineup, dating to May 29, Kubel has hit .353/.365/.569 with 3 HR and 11 RBI in 13 games (12 starts). The nucleus is here, beating the Red Sox in grand style last night, and of course I haven't even mentioned Francisco Liriano--but only because he didn't play a part in the victory of the moment.

To make matters even better, the only expensive commitments on the club books for next season are Santana's $13 million and closer Joe Nathan's $5.25 million. Terry Ryan can buy out Torii Hunter's option for $2 million, he can buy out Rondell White for $750K, he can buy out Carols Silva's option for $100K, and he can buy out Luis "The Gimp" Castillo for $500K as long as he doesn't reach an unspecified threshold of plate appearances. With luck, he may get to trade Castillo in July and be rid of the problem. If the GM plays his cards right, he will have an opportunity to build a fresh, stronger cast of players to compliment the young stars already under club control.

Considering how Terry Ryan has played his hands the last couple years, I'm not giddy with unbridled optimism about what lays in store for the club. But when I see the Twins nucleus play a game like the one last night, a game I stayed up two hours past my bedtime to watch on tape until the end because I was too excited to go to sleep, I can't help but feel like letting bygones be, even if only for a little while.

Friday, June 09, 2006


So, Rochester reliever Pat Neshek didn't get the call to replace Matt Guerrier on the Twins roster (while Matt's out with a broken thumb). That call went to Kyle Lohse, who had been serving time in AAA as punishment for a bad attitude and probably would have been buried there until Terry Ryan could find a taker for him, if not for this turn of fortune. However, Neshek hasn't been left empty-handed. Kyle was thoughtful enough to leave his Red Wings cap with Pat--which you can now win, if you can answer a special trivia question. Good luck!

It's too bad for Neshek that he didn't get called up this week to show what he can do, but I don't think it will matter much to him or the organization in the long run. He's a righthanded reliever with a funky delivery who has posted a 2.05 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, and an eye-popping 73 strikeouts to 12 walks in 44 innings. However, reports indicate that while he has dominated righty batters this season, he has been vulnerable to getting hurt by lefties. Through June 6, lefty batters had hit .273/.310/.491 against Neshek, in contrast to the sickly .133/.198/.204 line by righty batters.

Minor league relief pitchers usually come with a limited ceiling, anyway; the kids with the best stuff are developed as starting pitchers. If a young pitcher is put in the bullpen because he lacks the stuff to get through a minor league order more than once, what can you expect to happen when major leaguers get a read on him? If Neshek particularly needs his manager to carefully pick favorable righty-righty matchups for him, he also would seem poorly suited for middle relief duty or the Twins manager, who likes his relievers to start a fresh inning and go on to finish the frame whenever possible.

Meanwhile, the club still needs to showcase Kyle Lohse for a trade, or figure out a way to get some value out of him and his $4 million contract. I could see him either doing very well in a middle relief/set-up role, or else possibly redeeming himself as Boof Bonser's replacement in the rotation. Redeeming himself at least long enough to grease the wheels of the trade machinery, perhaps. And when either Lohse is traded or someone else gets hurt or needs remedial work in the minors, Neshek may yet get his audition for the big time.

Urgency, Focus, Leadership

This is a sequence of screen shots from the 1st inning of Wednesday night's game in Seattle, showing Jose Lopez "stealing 2nd base"...

Here you can see the ball arriving by looking above Juan Castro. Note that Lopez isn't even in the shot.

Lopez begins his slide, but the ball is nearly entering Castro's glove, on target. A perfect throw by Joe Mauer.

The ball is in Castro's glove. Lopez isn't even within 5 feet of the bag, yet. Easy out!

Somehow, the ball pops loose...

It deflects away, while Lopez still isn't within a yard of the bag...

And finally the ball skips away. Credit Jose Lopez with a stolen base!

Yeah, spit in the glove, buddy. That should take care of the problem.

I think he looks like he wants to be here....

Friday, June 02, 2006

More Fun with Dick & Bert

Transcripting some choice commentary by the Twins TV broadcast team Thursday night:

2nd inning

BERT: The Twins have a very good hitting team, but when you're always 3 runs behind, it put a lot of pressure on the offense in April.

Tony Batista up to bat...

DICK: Through 2 months of the season, I think it's safe to say, Bert, that Batista has probably given the Twins what they were anticipating. (Pitch:) A pop-up to short Center. In fact, it's behind the 2nd base bag.

Frank Thomas up to bat in the bottom of the inning...

DICK: As the Twins were in the market during the offseason for some help in the DH spot, Thomas was one of the names considered. And Thomas has hit some home runs, he's hit 11 of them, but that's about all he's done. (Two pitches later:) Thomas with 34 hits, 11 home runs, 3 doubles. That's hit a long way. Number twelve for Frank Thomas.

3rd inning, after Torii Hunter has caught a ball on the warning track

BERT: Well, a lot of room in Oakland. We talked about the foul territory, 400 feet to straightaway Center.... (Note: 400 feet is the standard minimum distance to the fence in straight Centerfield in the majors. It's 408 feet in the Metrodome. So at home, Hunter would have tracked down the fly before stepping within 5 feet of the warning track.)

4th inning

DICK: We were talking about Scott Baker and his start the other night. Bonser works at such, more of a rapid pace. We talked about Baker and his lack of tempo; Bonser seems to have it.

BERT: I think that goes with a lot of confidence too, Dick. Sometimes when you feel like you're struggling out there, you may take a little more time. And that's one thing that Scott Baker needs to do, going back to Rochester, is find that confidence again.

I don't suppose it's occurred to either one of them, how Baker's confidence might have been undermined.

5th inning

DICK: Talking about Batista before... He came to the Twins and, I think, has delivered as advertised. He's fielded his position to the point where, if it's hit at him, he almost always makes the play. (Quick aside:) Does not have much range. And is on a pace now to hit 15 home runs and drive in 60-some runs. And the average coming into the game at about .250, about, I think, what the Twins were expecting.

BERT: Yeah, consistency playing 3rd base, and occasional power. And that's what Batista provides.

6th inning

After Bonser began the inning by hitting Jason Kendall with a pitch and then grooving a fastball which Mark Kotsay smacked over the Rightfield wall, there was a curious lack of criticism of Bonser for giving a free pass to the leadoff batter or leaving a meatball over the plate for Kotsay to savor. After a decent period of mourning had passed, however...

DICK: I don't know... In trying to summarize what Bonser has done here, I guess the word that comes to my mind is that he's been aggressive. He's thrown strikes, he's gotten ahead of hitters, he hasn't dawdled on the mound at all. He looks very much like a guy who belongs in a major league rotation.

BERT: Well, he wants to be here....

Oh, so that's the secret!

7th inning, picking up the theme

DICK: He just looks like he belongs, his expression and the way he carries himself out there.

BERT: He took a little walk right there, a little upset at himself, maybe, but right back on that rubber.

DICK: And he delivers a strike to fill the count on Johnson. It's a matter of pride if you're coming through the Twins system, if you can pitch this deep into a ballgame and not issue a walk. I'm sure that's the last thing he wants to do here in the 7th. (Pitch:) Johnson touches one off. It's high, and it's deep, and it's gone. The third home run allowed by Boof Bonser.....

Slow Drag

As I pointed out before, the pace of games during Scott Baker's starts suddenly became a topic of great interest to Dick & Bert the other night in Anaheim, thanks to an inside tip from Twins manager Ron Gardenhire. As the Twins' TV broadcast team watched Boof "Call Me Bail" Bonser cruise along in Oakland last night, they couldn't praise him enough for striking such a refreshing contrast to Baker's pacing. So I decided to look up just how long Baker's starts have been dragging through the night.

These lines show the date, opponent, opposing starter, final score, Baker's innings pitched, his final pitch count, and time of game.

4/8 at CLE, J. Johnson, 3-0 L, 4.1, 88 pc, 2:31
4/14 vs. NYY, Mussina, 5-1 W, 7 IP, 92 pc, 2:50
4/20 vs. LAA, H. Carrasco, 6-4 L, 5 IP, 99 pc, 3:08
4/26 at KCR, R. Hernandez, 3-1 L, 7 IP, 95 pc, 2:07
5/1 vs. SEA, Pineiro, 8-2 L, 5.1 IP, 101 pc, 2:32
5/6 vs. DET, Bonderman, 7-6 W, 6 IP, 96 pc, 2:41
5/15 vs. CWS, F. Garcia, 7-3 L, 4.2 IP, 88 pc, 3:04
5/20 at MIL, B. Hendrickson, 16-10 W, 5 IP, 107 pc, 3:57
5/30 at LAA, Weaver, 6-3 L, 4.2 IP, 97 pc, 2:33

Time of Game is a rough gauge, for sure, because the opposing pitchers, how long Baker lasted, the final score, whether it was a home or road game, and the length and frequency of Gardenhire's tantrums in protest of an umpiring decision could also play a factor in the time it takes to play. But I think it's enough to address the contention that Baker made his starts drag. We can see there that he never was knocked out terribly early, he always lasted into the 5th inning or longer and delivered a full workload of pitches, so he always had a significant measure of control over how long the game would last. If he has a habit of dawdling, I'd expect to see a number of games in his log pushing three and a half hours. Yet it doesn't look like Baker's starts dragged on especially long, does it? By my figuring, that's 2:49 on average.

The one especially long game in his log was a 16-10 victory on the road, so you'd expect it to take awhile to play out, and here's Baker's line in that game: 4 ER, 6 H, 1 BB, 8 K, 2 HR, 5 IP. Not bad on a day when baseballs were flying all over the yard, and I'd say those K/BB numbers look very encouraging, even exciting. Yet he was skipped the next time through the rotation.

As a matter of fact, I'd like to point out that Baker had a 4.67 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, and 24 strikeouts to 4 walks in 34.2 IP and 6 starts after his fine outing against Detroit (4 ER, 7 H, 0 BB, 5 K, 2 HR, 6 IP) on May 6. Look over those numbers again, if you need a moment. That's a very encouraging beginning to the season, wouldn't you say? Does that seem like a kid on the fast track back to Rochester?

From there, Baker didn't pitch again for 9 days, when the White Sox (currently 3rd in runs scored) cuffed him around and reminded everyone who's a kid finding his way and who is the World Series Champion. His next start came in its regular turn, and Baker beat the Brewers on the road. Then he didn't pitch again for 10 days, while rumors of Carlos Silva's imminent return to the rotation swirled around the media (and probably the clubhouse), when he was knocked out in the 5th inning and labeled a failure who needs some work and confidence restoration at AAA.

Does anything about that sequence in May strike you as odd or funny?

By the way, Carlos Silva lost his rotation spot when the White Sox shelled him on May 14, driving his ERA up to 8.80, and he made his first appearance out of the bullpen on May 18. So while Silva was busy restoring his standing with the manager, Scott Baker had all of two starts: the fine outing for the Win in Milwaukee, and the other night in Anaheim when he was Dead Man Walking.

Is Scott Baker in AAA now because he blew this opportunity, or because the manager needed to get Carlos Silva back in the rotation, like, right now?

I know my answer. Tell me yours.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Fire in the Belly

Dick & Bert talking during the at-bat by the Twins substitute Shortstop Nick Punto in the 2nd inning Wednesday night:

BERT: Bartlett's hitting well in Rochester, hitting over .300, but you mentioned the other night Ron Gardenhire saying they just have not seen that leadership....

DICK: "Fire in the belly," or whatever they're looking for from him. 3-2 to Punto with Ford on deck....

BERT: You know, the old "fire in the belly," that's something that sometimes, Dick, you just can't, you can't put it in somebody. I mean, it's gotta come from within. And you hope that the more playing time that Jason Bartlett gets, that fire will be there. But a lot of guys, like Garret Anderson, that's just the way he plays.

DICK: Punto strikes out to end the inning....

The regular Twins Shortstop Juan Castro fielding a pop-up in the 7th inning Tuesday night: