Wednesday, November 19, 2008

I'm not saying I'm qualified to be a baseball writer, but I'm definitely more qualified than at least one member of the BBWAA.

Sorry about not blogging this season. 2008 turned out to be a pretty busy year for me... got married, took a honeymoon, bought a house, adopted a puppy...

2008 was a fun season with a dull ending. (I'm cool with the Phillies winning, I just wonder how much longer we have to wait for a compelling World Series.) The postseason awards wrapped up today with the awarding of the American League Most Valuable Player award to Boston's Dustin Pedroia.

Although I would have given the award to either Joe Mauer or Carlos Quentin, I don't have a problem with Pedroia winning the MVP. If you look at the complete voting tally, though, there is one name clearly out of place on the list.

One member of the BBWAA decided that Tampa Bay Rays shortstop Jason Bartlett was worthy of a fifth-place vote. Bartlett only appeared on the one delusional ballot, no doubt from one of the Tampa writers (he was after all named the Rays MVP by the Tampa chapter of the BBWAA despite being below league average for shortstops in nearly every offensive and defensive statisitical cetagory).

Now, I know statistics don't tell you everything, but the right statistics will tell you quite a bit. I know Bartlett's "arrival" and "stability at the shortstop position" was "the glue that held the Rays infield together" during their magical 2008 season... Hogwash.

I like Jason Bartlett. I thought he was a decent shortstop while with the Twins. He's a serviceable but unspectacular middle infielder. He has no business being anywhere near anybody's MVP ballot.

The best case I can make is a comparison:

Player A:
.286 BA, .329 OBP, .690 OPS, 1 HR, 37 RBI, 20 SB, 48 R
.970 Fielding Percentage, 4.10 Range Factor

Player B:
.284 BA, .344 OBP, .726 OPS, 2 HR, 28 RBI, 15 SB, 43 R
.973 FP*, 4.75 RF*

* = Player B's defensive numbers at SS. They'd be even better if you mixed in his games at 2B, 3B, and CF.

Player A is Jason Bartlett. Picked by one real-life voter as the fifth most valuable player in the American League.

Player B is Bartlett's eventual replacement in Minnesota, Nick Punto. I love Lil Nicky Punto, but there's a very good reason why, despite very similar, and actually slightly better numbers, Punto didn't receive any MVP votes.

Because he's Nick Fucking Punto.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

The Beef

My buddy Jason selected Sir Sidney Ponson of the Minnesota Twins in the 27th round (of 28) of the Heart of a Champion Fantasy Baseball League draft. By that point of the day, five hours into 12 dudes sitting in a living room on a Saturday afternoon, drinking beer and picking players for our pretend teams, it was a fun, low-risk pick. Jason proudly defended his pick, "I have faith in Meatloaf!" And just like that, a nickname was born.

A week or so earlier, my fiance Maria and I were at a dinner party hosted by our friends Morgan and Steve. Several bottles of wine into the evening, after the other guests had left, we retired to their living room where Steve and I began discussing our upcoming fantasy draft and baseball in general. At some point, we remembered that we never did make it to a Twins game together last year, despite assurances from both sides that it was going to happen. By the end of the night, Steve had gone online and purchased tickets for the first game of the Twins only 2007 home series against the New York Yankees.

Of course, when the tickets were bought we had no way of knowing that our game would be Ponson's Twins debut. Hell, even as of Friday afternoon we were lined up to watch Boof Bonser open the Yankees series. After Friday night's freeze-out in Chicago reshuffled the Twins rotation, though, Ponson was exactly what we'd get.

Sure enough, the Yankees jumped on Meatloaf early with their bats out of hell. Johnny Damon doubled, Derek Jeter singled, Bobby Abreu singled, Jorge Posada doubled (on a ball poorly played by Jason Kubel), and before many had even found their seats, the Yankees led 3-0.

In the top of the second inning, with Damon on first and two out, Abreu worked the count full and the crowd responded by standing up, getting behind Meatloaf with the most encouraging cheering of the night. Meatloaf responded with a nice fat cookie that Abreu creamed about 800 feet to right field to make the score 5-0.

Ponson settled down for the next three innings, even winning me over a bit by hitting Jeter in the nutcup with a fastball in the fourth inning. I was pretty surprised, though, after the Twins finally put a run on the board in the bottom of the fifth, to see Meatloaf sent out for a sixth inning of work. Sure, he had a decent groove going for a few innings, but his pitch count was already in the mid-80s. I had a bad feeling, which held true after an Alex Rodriguez blast to the opposite field made the score 8-1. Gardy came out to get Meatloaf, who exited to a chorus of boos.

I don't think the boos were necessary. Gardy said in a soundbite on the news tonight, "Meatloaf pitched his butt off for us tonight." (OK, fine, Gardy didn't really call him Meatloaf. We're workin' on it, though!) And he did. The problem is, Ponson is just not a very good pitcher.

I don't really care about Meatloaf's checkered past - his multiple DUIs, his assault of an Aruban judge, his childish boycott of the Baltimore media. I'm all for last chances, and I love a good sports comeback story as much as anybody. I'd love to see Ponson turn his career around with the Twins and I'm willing to give him opportunities against lineups less potent than the Yankees. I want him to surprise me, but I can't help but have a bad feeling about his long-term results with the Twins - a magnification of the bad feeling I had when he rolled out for the sixth inning tonight.

And while I've come to understand the Twins conservative roster nature, I still don't agree with serving 30 year old Meatloaf every five days when we have 23 year old prime beefcake in the minor leagues.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

The Hold Steady goes out to the Twins game

The Hold Steady have recorded a wonderful Twins-centric version of baseball anthem "Take Me Out to the Ballgame."

You may listen and freely download from their myspace page.

Also, MTV has posted an interview with Craig Finn about the song as well as studio footage of the band recording the song. Check that out here. I'm diggin' the powder blue Hosken Powell jersey, and pretty amazed by the beard. I've never seen Craig with facial hair before!

Friday, March 30, 2007

Short at Short

Ron Gardenhire and Terry Ryan can be a stubborn bunch, so now that the Twins 25 man regular season roster has been finalized, I'd be pretty surprised to see them tweak it before opening day. It's just not the way things are done in Twins territory.

All throughout spring training, we heard Gardenhire's opinion that the number one concern for the club was finding a backup shortstop. Gardy was too stubborn to want Nick Punto - the team's starting third baseman, but a natural shortstop - to play any position other than third, instead opting to give Luis Rodriguez and Jeff Cirillo a heavy shortstop workload over the past two weeks of spring. These are not answers. Rodriguez is a marginal second baseman and bad third baseman, and is not even close to possessing the range necessary to handle short. Cirillo is a two-time All Star who was once one of the premier defensive third basemen in baseball, but he is 37 years old and has played exactly five games at shortstop in his thirteen big league seasons.

Unable to acquire a backup shortstop, Gardenhire finally conceded the other day that if and when Jason Bartlett needs a day off, he will in all likelihood play Punto at shortstop and plug either Cirillo or Rodriguez at third (hopefully Cirillo!), which is just common sense.

Tonight, though, just hours after J.D. Durbin's release and Josh Rabe's demotion to Rochester, for all intents and purposes finalizing the roster, the Kansas City Royals released the perfect piece to this Twins puzzle.

Alex Gonzalez (not to be confused with the current Reds and former Red Sox and Marlins shortstop), the longtime Toronto Blue Jays and Chicago Cubs shortstop, was trying to make the Royals as a utility infielder. He was in Royals camp on a minor league contract and probably would have made the team had second baseman Mark Grudzielanek's injury been as serious as originally thought.

Gonzalez hit .444 this spring for the Royals, and while that is hardly in line with his .243 career average, it did show that he still has something left in the tank. While it does seem like he's been in a major league uniform for ages, he's still just 33 years old. He has a reputation of a solid, if not spectacular, defender and a good teammate. He averaged about 15 home runs a year as a full-time player from 1996 to 2003. And as recently as 2005, he hit .269 with 9 home runs in 349 at bats.

Gonzalez wouldn't push Bartlett or Luis Castillo for their jobs, and he certainly won't be a name that would generate much excitement among the general Twins fan base, but personally, I would feel a hell of a lot better with him as my primary utility infielder than Luis Rodriguez. He's out there right now, easily available for a pittance. Dammit, though, Gardy and Ryan have decided on their 25 guys, and with opening day three days away, I don't see them changing their minds now.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

When "The Deal" Goes Down

Almost exactly two years ago, as the Twins 2005 spring training season was concluding, one of the most discussed topics was what to do with Michael Restovich.

Restovich, a local product from Rochester, Minnesota, was drafted by the Twins in the second round of the 1997 amateur draft. His hulking 6'4" frame, prodigious power, and especially his local ties led to some inevitable whispers of him being "the next Kent Hrbek."

But in spring training of 2005, Restovich and the Twins were at a crossroads. Restovich had steadily worked his way up through the Twins minor league system, leading to brief major league stints toward the end of the 2002, 2003, and 2004 seasons, but by 2005 he was out of minor league options, meaning if he didn't make the Twins 25 man major league roster, he would have had to pass through waivers before he could be sent back to the minor leagues. With the outfield set, Restovich's only chance to make the club was as its 25th man, but the Twins were being overly cautious on franchise catcher Joe Mauer's tender knee, and decided to break camp with four catchers on the roster (Mauer, backup Mike Redmond, DH Matthew LeCroy, and third-catcher Corky Miller), leaving Restovich without a job.

When it was announced that the Tampa Bay Devil Rays had claimed Restovich off waivers, there were cries from hometown fans in Rochester, Minnesota all the way to the Twins' AAA affiliate in Rochester, New York. "How could we let him go for nothing?" "I can't believe they couldn't even get a minor league prospect for him!" "This is going to come back to haunt the Twins, like David Ortiz all over again!"

Well, two years later that decision has not exactly hampered the Twins. One week after the Devil Rays acquired Restovich, they tried sneaking him through waivers themselves (Resto never did appear in a big league game for Tampa Bay). He was picked up by the Colorado Rockies, who did keep him on their big league roster... for about one month. In May, Restovich was sold by the Rockies to the Pittsburgh Pirates. In his 2005 stints with the Rockies and Pirates, Restovich combined for 115 at bats and produced a measly .676 OPS. In 2006 he picked up 12 at bats in 10 games for the Chicago Cubs, collecting only two hits. He spent most of the season with the Cubs Iowa farm club. This season, he's set to play for the Washington Nationals minor league club in Columbus.

So why all the Restovich reminiscing? Well, now at the conclusion of spring training '07, the Twins are faced with the same dilemma. They have a former second round draft pick who is out of minor league options, and they risk losing him for nothing if he doesn't make the final roster.

J.D. "The Real Deal" Durbin (nickname self-proclaimed) was the hottest pitching prospect in the Twins system in 2004. Dude threw gas! A September call-up in 2004 yielded ugly results, though (8 innings pitched, 12 hits, 6 walks, and a 7.36 ERA). Control problems plagued him in 2005 and he stayed in the minors all season. J.D. finally started putting it all together in 2006, and seemed destined for another late-season stint with the Twins until injuries ended his season prematurely.

This year seemed to be Durbin's best shot to stick with the Twins, but he obviously is not fully recovered from his arm injuries. He has posted a 12.38 spring training ERA so far. There's no way he makes the team, but (as of this writing) he still hasn't been given his pink slip. Obviously, the Twins are trying to deal "The Deal", which makes sense. If they can get something - anything - for him, it's better than nothing. But there does seem to be a sentiment that they need to get something for him.

Why? Because if they don't he might come back to haunt them? Fans who are panicking about the possibility of losing Durbin on waivers are overvaluing him. If someone else (Washington? Kansas City? Tampa Bay?) wants to take a chance on him, let them have him. He’s a guy fighting his way back from injury, a LONG way away from being able to help a major league staff, and he’s always been bigger on hype than on production anyway. Remember, Pat Mahomes and Willie Banks could once throw 95 MPH, too!

At 5:00 PM today, KFAN is reporting that the Twins have officially received nothing for J.D. Durbin, as he has been claimed off waivers by the Arizona Diamondbacks.