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AaronGleeman.com (10 unread)

  • Permalink for 'AaronGleeman.com/2006/05/24/'

    Twins NotesThe subject of yesterday's entry, ...

    Posted: May 24th, 2006, 11:25pm PDT by Aaron
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    Twins Notes
  • The subject of yesterday's entry, Pat Neshek, tossed 2.1 scoreless innings last night to pick up his ninth save of the season. Neshek now has a 1.98 ERA and 56-to-9 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 32.1 innings at Triple-A.


  • Joe Christensen of the Minneapolis Star Tribune had the following note about Kyle Lohse yesterday:
    The Twins don't seem to be in any hurry to trade Kyle Lohse, who was demoted to Class AAA Rochester last week. But among the teams interested are the New York Mets, Milwaukee Brewers and Toronto Blue Jays.
    I've heard several times from multiple sources who I trust that the Twins could have traded Lohse for what I would consider to be good value during the offseason, so there's some reason to hope that he's retained at least a fraction of that value despite his horrendous numbers this year.

    With that said, the Mets acquired Orlando Hernandez from the Diamondbacks yesterday, seemingly taking them out of the Lohse market, and given the Blue Jays' pitching depth in the high minors I'd be shocked if they wasted time on Lohse. I believe Lohse will be traded at some point in June, but I'll be surprised if it's for any real value.


  • I'm hopeful that Denard Span can eventually take over for Torii Hunter in center field, but within the same article that included the above note on Lohse Christensen presented another option:
    Torii Hunter flew home to Texas following the Twins' game in Milwaukee on Sunday, allowing him to watch his two sons play a Little League game for the first time in two years.

    It was quite a treat. Torii Jr. pitched a no-hitter in a four- inning game, and Monshadrik hit a homer, a double and had three RBI.
    I'll say this for the Hunter family: They've got some unique names.


  • Speaking of Christensen, he's now written two feature-length articles about Tony Batista within the span of three months. The first one romanticized Batista's religious beliefs, while the latest version focused on his odd batting stance. I criticized Christensen's first article for various reasons, but to his credit he makes a major effort to remain objective this time around.

    My favorite part:
    "Everybody doesn't like the way I hit," said Batista, a .251 career hitter in the majors with a meager on-base percentage of .298. "But everybody likes the results."
    The idea that "everybody likes the results" is absurd, of course. A more accurate quote might be: "Most people hate the results, but somehow I fooled Terry Ryan." I appreciate Christensen noting Batista's "meager on-base percentage" while pointing out that "the results have been disappointing," but rather than talk about his religion or the method behind his poor play, how about an article or two that are actually about his poor play?


  • With Batista hitting .241/.305/.404 while playing increasingly horrible defense and the season rapidly slipping away from the Twins, I've started to get frequent e-mails asking about Matt Moses. I wrote about Moses as part of my minor-league notes entry earlier this month and Patrick Reusse of the Star Tribune discussed him a bit this week:
    The issue with Moses, the Twins' first-round draft choice in 2003, remains fielding, not his hitting. Riccardo Ingram, Moses' manager at Class AA New Britain, said: "He's getting better, but he's by no means Gold Glove caliber. Being in the right position to catch the ball, the footwork involved ... that's more of a problem for him than throwing."
    Moses has cooled down since a hot start and his .289/.331/.467 hitting line on the year doesn't look particularly impressive. However, the Eastern League has skewed so heavily towards pitching this season that the entire league is hitting a measly .241/.311/.361. For some context, Nick Punto is a career .243/.309/.325 hitter.

    If you take Moses' numbers at Double-A and adjust them for the current offensive environment in the American League, they come out looking like .315/.395/.520. That's damn good for a 21-year-old in the high minors and certainly a step in the right direction after Moses entered the season with a career line of .271/.337/.415 in 169 pro games.

    If he continues to hit like this Moses has a chance to be relatively valuable at designated hitter or a corner-outfield spot, which means a lack of defensively development won't kill him. With that said, if Moses can hit like this and turn himself into even a marginal defensive third baseman he has a chance to be a star.


  • I've grown tired of many things Ron Gardenhire does on a regular basis, but perhaps none more so than his embarrassing tendency to make a fool of himself while being thrown out of games. It accomplishes nothing and makes Gardenhire look pathetic, and the idea that it "fires up the team" is beyond laughable at this point. If someone in a management position in just about any other field behaved like that as often as Gardenhire does they'd no longer have a job.


  • Showing that he's stuck somewhere in the 1970s, the St. Paul Pioneer Press' Gordon Wittenmeyer discussed the Twins' leadoff options yesterday without once mentioning on-base percentage and suggested that Jason Kubel would be miscast in the role because he "struck out 23 times in 120 at-bats for Class AAA Rochester, putting him on a 100-strikeout pace for the season."

    I've heard it argued that strikeouts are worse than other outs for a middle-of-the-order hitter because it keeps them from driving runners in from third base with sacrifice flies or ground outs. Even if you buy into that--and studies have suggested that it isn't necessarily the case--the job of a leadoff man is primarily to get on base, so I fail to see how striking out in that situation is any worse than grounding out or popping out.

    What matters is not making an out, period. Perhaps in another couple decades the good people in charge of covering the Twins in the mainstream media can get past "batting average and RBIs good, strikeouts and errors bad."


  • I'm heading to the Metrodome tomorrow night for the Francisco Liriano-Felix Hernandez matchup, which has a chance to be the sort of thing you brag about seeing 20 years down the line. I've been avoiding going to games this year because I'm frustrated with the team and hate watching baseball in the Metrodome, but Liriano and King Felix are more than enough to change my mind for at least one night.


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  • Permalink for 'AaronGleeman.com/2006/05/23/'

    Who Is ... Pat Neshek I've received ...

    Posted: May 23rd, 2006, 12:08am PDT by Aaron
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    Who Is ... Pat Neshek I've received a tremendous number of e-mails over the past month about Pat Neshek , perhaps more so than any other Twins-related topic. Baseball America inexplicably didn't see fit to include Neshek among their top 30 Twins prospects coming into this season, but he's been on my radar for some time now.



    Last May in this space I described Neshek as "one guy who is worth keeping an eye on" and since then he's improved his prospect stock dramatically. After posting a 2.19 ERA and 95-to-21 strikeout-to-walk ratio while holding opponents to a .225 batting average in 82.1 innings at Double-A last season, Neshek has put up the following numbers at Triple-A so far this year:
     G     GS      ERA       IP      H     HR     SO     BB

    18 0 2.10 30.0 21 4 53 9
    Those are dominant numbers, and the native Minnesotan and former sixth-round pick out of Butler University now sports a career ERA of 2.21 with 333 strikeouts compared to just 202 hits allowed in 264.2 pro innings. Neshek has been used as a closer in the minors, saving 24 games last year and eight already this season, but as a side-arming right-hander he profiles more as a middle reliever in the majors.



    In fact, the single biggest negative with Neshek at this point is that his unique delivery (shown below) leaves him vulnerable to left-handed hitters, particularly those who hit for power. Patrick Reusse of the Minneapolis Star Tribune discussed Neshek a bit in his column earlier this week and quoted Neshek as saying that he's "retired the last 15 lefties" he's faced.



    (Video courtesy of Neshek's personal website.)

    That may be true--stats in the minors aren't sophisticated enough for me to check easily--but for the entire year Neshek has allowed lefties to bat .279/.326/.558 with four homers in 43 at-bats against him. What makes those numbers particularly noteworthy is that Neshek has held right-handed hitters to a remarkable .123 batting average, striking out a ridiculous 39 righties in 65 at-bats.



    The inability to consistently retire left-handed hitters hasn't really hurt Neshek in the minors, but it'll certainly impact his effectiveness in the big leagues. As a closer or late-inning setup man Neshek would inevitably be faced with an avalanche of left-handed pinch-hitters to go along with the usual assortment of left-handed sluggers who reside in the middle of most lineups.



    However, as a middle man he could be used against predominantly right-handed portions of lineups, and because he'd be pitching in the middle innings opposing managers would be less likely to make bench moves against him. Because of that I like Neshek's chances of putting together a lengthy big-league career, perhaps even one that is a step up from guys like Steve Reed or Chad Bradford .



    Will he get a chance in the Twins' bullpen this season? I think so, although given the Twins' sudden reluctance to trust young players you never know. In Neshek's case it's going to be very difficult to keep him in the minors for much longer given that he has 53 strikeouts in 30 innings at Triple-A and has put up the following numbers at each level:
    LEVEL            IP      ERA     SO/9

    Rookie 27.1 0.99 13.5

    Single-A 82.0 1.64 11.1

    Double-A 125.1 2.87 9.9

    Triple-A 30.0 2.10 15.9
    It's one thing when a washed up journeyman in his thirties beats up on inexperienced competition in the minors, but when a 25-year-old former early-round draft pick consistently dominates like that at every step on the organizational ladder you've got to think that the Twins view him as a big part of the bullpen's future.



    Another reason that Neshek's future is far from a given is that throughout baseball history teams have been overly cautious with "trick" pitchers. Whether it's side-armers like Neshek, knuckleballers, or soft-tossers whose great numbers don't match up with their sub par velocity, you have to work a lot harder to get a legitimate chance than someone with mediocre results who throws in the high-90s with perfect mechanics.



    With that said, Neshek throws much harder and has better overall stuff than most guys with non-traditional deliveries. He's also far from the complete disaster against lefties that many seem to think, giving up a relatively acceptable .280 batting average against them over the past two years. Neshek has certainly given up too many homers to lefties this season, but we're talking about a very small sample and he's also managed 13 strikeouts in those 43 at-bats.



    Neshek is one of the Twins' most intriguing prospects and in a minor-league system filled with promising young pitchers he is perhaps the most overlooked as well. I expect him to play a significant role on the pitching staff beginning in 2007 and he deserves to be the next pitcher called up should the Twins need further reinforcements in the bullpen this year.



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  • Permalink for 'AaronGleeman.com/2006/05/22/'

    Twins NotesI suggested a couple weeks ...

    Posted: May 22nd, 2006, 11:15pm PDT by Aaron
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    Twins Notes
  • I suggested a couple weeks ago that the Twins would be smart to trade Shannon Stewart before he becomes a free agent this offseason, but the potential return on such a deal dropped yesterday when the Twins placed Stewart on the disabled list with the dreaded "plantar fascia tear."

    Jason Kubel was recalled from Triple-A to take Stewart's place on the active roster, and despite Ron Gardenhire's spotty track record on such things I'm hopeful that he'll actually get a legitimate chance to establish himself in the lineup this time around. Kubel hit .283/.343/.475 with four homers and 13 total extra-base hits in 30 games at Triple-A.

    A platoon of Kubel against right-handed pitching and Lew Ford against left-handed pitching should have little problem duplicating Stewart's relatively modest production offensively (.298/.355/.376) and they'll be better defensively regardless of how the playing time is distributed.

    As good as Stewart was down the stretch in 2003, the decision to sign him to a three-year contract extension is looking like a mistake. Stewart hit well (.304/.380/.447) while missing 70 games in 2004, hit poorly (.274/.323/.388) while missing 30 games in 2005, and now this year is looking like a repeat of last season.

    If the Twins are lucky they will have gotten about 350 games of .290/.340/.425 hitting from a sub par defensive left fielder for $18 million, which isn't the sort of thing a small-payroll team can make a habit of doing if they hope to remain successful. Perhaps the Twins can recoup some of that value if Stewart returns from the DL in time to be traded at midseason, but I'm not holding my breath.


  • B.J. Garbe, who is one of the biggest draft busts in Twins history, retired over the weekend. A toolsy high-school outfielder from Washington who was the fifth overall pick in the 1999 draft, at no point did Garbe ever resemble a quality prospect after a decent 41-game stint at rookie-ball to begin his pro career.

    Garbe went on to post OPS totals of .636, .597, .619, .508, and .561 in five full-season stops in the Twins system, spending two seasons at both Single-A Fort Myers and Double-A New Britain. After hitting .201/.283/.278 in his second year at Double-A in 2004, the Twins traded him to the Mariners for 41-year-old backup catcher Pat Borders in September.

    Garbe hit .275/.335/.426 as Single-A roster filler in 2005 and then latched on with the Marlins' Double-A team this season. Still just 25 years old, Garbe finishes his eight-year pro career with a .235 batting average in 722 games and is the middle man in a three-year run of top-10 picks (Ryan Mills in 1998, Garbe in 1999, Adam Johnson in 2000) that provided the Twins with zero value.


  • Gordon Wittenmeyer had a nice article in the St. Paul Pioneer Press Friday about Corey Koskie's first season with the Brewers. Koskie was one of my favorite players while he was with the Twins and I was very disappointed when Terry Ryan failed to bring him back when he became available at a discount this offseason, so seeing him do well in Milwaukee is tough to take.

    Here's an interesting excerpt from the article:
    Koskie, 32, still lives in the Twin Cities and said at one point he would have welcomed a trade back to the Twins, once the Blue Jays said they intended to deal him.

    And J.P. Ricciardi called the Twins first once he completed the trade for all-star third baseman Troy Glaus and decided to aggressively shop Koskie to break his infield logjam. But despite the Jays' willingness to pick up two-thirds of Koskie's salary over the next two seasons (leaving a $2 million-a-year cost), Ryan declined.

    The Twins GM already had the $1.25 million Batista on the rolls and said afterward the decision to turn down the Blue Jays was based largely on the same baseball decision the team made a year earlier when Koskie left as a free agent.

    In other words, a declining number of games for four consecutive years, because of injury, made Koskie a risk the team didn't want to take.
    Tony Batista is hitting .252/.313/.422 this season while Koskie is at .289/.363/.537, and they've each played 37 games. Quite the "baseball decision."


  • A take-it-for-what-it's-worth note from Bob Matthews of the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle:
    There is a much better chance of temporary Red Wings pitcher Kyle Lohse being traded than returning to the Twins. Minnesota should get a decent hitter from a team in dire need of a durable starting pitcher who would benefit from a change of scenery.
    "Durable" is certainly not the way I'd choose to describe Kyle Lohse at this point, but to each his own.


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  • Permalink for 'AaronGleeman.com/2006/05/21/'

    Outdoor Baseball, Spring of 2010 I'm too ...

    Posted: May 21st, 2006, 10:10pm PDT by Aaron
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    Outdoor Baseball, Spring of 2010 I'm too young to have been around when people actually thought that the Metrodome was a great idea, so for my entire baseball fandom it's just been the crappy place where the Twins play. I get asked a lot why I don't attend more Twins games in person and the reason is simple: I hate watching baseball indoors and especially hate watching it in a place that makes you feel like you're sitting in the middle of a warehouse.



    Not only would I rather watch the Twins on TV than pay to sit in a "ballpark" that has all the ambiance of a shoe box, I'd rather watch the St. Paul Saints play outdoors. Baseball is meant to be played outside, under the sun or stars, with wind in place of that ever-audible echo that serves as a constant reminder of what a depressing mess the Metrodome is. I've been to more Saints games than Twins games over the past five years, and for most of the time I couldn't name a single player on the Saints.



    I've avoided writing much about the Twins' quest for a new ballpark, in large part because I've seen hopes get up far too often on the subject. I became a hardcore Twins fan right around the time people were getting fed up with the Metrodome, so as far back as I can remember there's been a push for a new ballpark. And as far back as I can remember, it's failed. In fact, even now I remain sort of gun-shy about getting my own hopes up.





    A bill paving the way for a new ballpark in downtown Minneapolis passed the House and the Senate late Saturday night, and I'm sure Jerry Bell, Dave St. Peter, and Terry Ryan sipped champagne in the wee hours Sunday morning. Still, I half expect to hear about a "snag" that threatens to hold the whole thing up yet again. It's not that it seems to good to be true. After all, 10 new ballparks have opened within the last decade. It's that it seems good, and I've been conditioned to not believe that it's true.



    I've kept myself from getting too optimistic about the ballpark by avoiding articles on it and keeping clear of the artist renderings of what the whole thing might look like when it's done. That changed yesterday when I read all there was to read about the situation in both local newspapers and even found myself sneaking a peak at the drawings on the Twins' website. My hopes are officially up, although until I see some dirt being thrown around by guys in hard hats I doubt I'll truly believe it.





    There are all sorts of arguments being thrown around by both sides of the ballpark issue, but for me it's simple. A new ballpark will increase the Twins' revenue, which should lead to increased payroll. That'll give the Twins a better chance to remain competitive, while keeping the team in Minnesota for decades to come. It also means that 81 times per year I can head downtown for an MLB game in a real, outdoor ballpark, which is something I've never experienced in Minnesota.



    I've been to big-league games played in outdoor ballparks in Cleveland, Milwaukee, Cincinnati, Toronto, and both sides of Chicago, and each time I've come away from the experience thinking about how wonderful it would be to have something like that for the Twins. I'm downright giddy right now, or at least as giddy as you can be about something that won't happen until 2010. After waiting all this time, you'd think it wouldn't be so hard to wait until then.



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  • Permalink for 'AaronGleeman.com/2006/05/18/'

    Link-O-RamaEarlier this week I was taking my ...

    Posted: May 18th, 2006, 11:35pm PDT by Aaron
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    Link-O-Rama
  • Earlier this week I was taking my daily tour through the blogosphere when I came across this note from friend of AG.com Paul Katcher:
    Here's an open letter to people who write open letters: You're a hack. Maybe not as bad as the ones who begin columns by giving the Webster's definition of words like "desire" and "commitment," but a hack nonetheless.
    That's only mildly amusing by itself, but the very next blog I happened to go to was Will Carroll's, where I saw this entry at the top of the page:
    Dear Johnny,

    Today, you said "Sheff and Matsui, that's two or three runs a game right there."

    No.

    Stick to the running into walls, diving for balls, and throwing like a girl. Let BP do the math.

    Matsui is eighth on the team with a 0.050 MLVr while Sheffield has an MLVr of 0.209. That's almost exactly a quarter of a run a game. Yes, that's significant and no, you don't have a good replacement. Bubba Crosby's a negative and Melky Cabrera won't keep up his small-sample pace.

    The biggest problem the Yankees have now is figuring out that Bernie Williams is not the answer. Do the math on that one, Johnny.

    Your pal, Will
    Coincidence or fate doing its part to provide me with a good chuckle? You decide.


  • Doug Mientkiewicz and his wife gave their son perhaps the most ridiculous name I've ever seen: Steel Mientkiewicz. Seriously. It sounds like some sort of a power tool.


  • In what was surely an exhaustive process involving tons of data and analysis, Maxim named Ron Gardenhire the second-worst manager in baseball.


  • It's almost impossible to believe now, but at one point not so long ago people actually debated whether or not this person was better looking than this person. For someone without any sense of history, I imagine that would be like finding out for the first time that an NBA team once passed on Michael Jordan to draft Sam Bowie.


  • While the Torii Hunter trade talk begins to heat up, Joe Christensen of the Minneapolis Star Tribune had this interesting note:
    Torii Hunter's contract includes a limited no-trade clause that allows him to block trades to five selected teams. Interestingly, the current teams on his no-trade list are the Boston Red Sox, Toronto Blue Jays, Chicago Cubs, Tampa Bay Devil Rays and Detroit Tigers.
    None of those five teams are in the market for a center fielder, which means Hunter's no-trade clause is essentially useless. If the Twins want to deal him, they can.


  • On a related note, FoxSports.com's Ken Rosenthal speculated last week that the White Sox might be interested in dealing for Hunter. I put the chances of that happening at slightly lower than the chances of the Twins winning the division.


  • Speaking of the White Sox, this article from the Chicago Sun-Times on the Twins' fall from atop the AL Central was painful to read.


  • The possibilities with this are nearly endless.


  • After I criticized the St. Paul Pioneer Press' Twins beat writer, Jason Williams, here last week, someone pointed me to a chat session Williams did at the newspaper's website earlier this month. If you think I get defensive about negative comments here, wait until you get a load of Williams:
    Phil Sampson: Boy I hope your job consist of doing more than answering these questions in the forum because this is pretty sad. Keep up the, uh, "great" work.

    Jason Williams: Thanks, Phil, and don't forget your bitterness on your way out the door for work tomorrow morning. You have no idea what I do. NO IDEA.

    [...]

    Sucks Alot: Why do you go on how great the Twins are when they Suck?

    Jason Williams: Never have said they're great. Funny, because I'm typically criticized for being too negative. You must be an incredibly miserable person if you think I'm too "soft." Of course, your name probably says it all.
    There are a few other interesting responses, but those are my two favorites. I particularly enjoyed the "you have no idea what I do" line, followed by Williams adding "NO IDEA" for added emphasis. In case you forgot, Williams writes about baseball for a living.

    Also, put me in the "incredibly miserable person" group, because every time I read one of Williams' articles in the Pioneer Press I have to double-check the standings to make sure the Twins aren't in first place. The Twins have issued press releases that are harder hitting. For instance, in offering up his opinion on Juan Castro, Williams wrote:
    I don't think he's hurting the team offensively, regardless of his average. Anything he does from the nine-hole is a bonus.
    As if where a guy hits in the batting order is more important than the fact that he's hitting .233/.262/.272. Sure, there's no way that .534 OPS is "hurting the team offensively." You have no idea what I do. NO IDEA.


  • Perhaps I'm the last one to notice this, but the Giants' starting quarterback and the Official Fantasy Girl of AG.com apparently share the same first name. Rarely has something lost its sexiness this quickly.


  • The Twins' first-round pick last June, Matt Garza, made his debut at Double-A yesterday and put up the following line:
     IP     H     R     ER     BB     SO     HR
    7.2 1 0 0 2 13 0
    Prior to that Garza was 5-1 with a 1.42 ERA, 53-to-11 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and .169 opponent's batting average in 44.1 innings at Single-A. In other words, that pick is looking pretty good in a hurry.


  • At the opposite end of the spectrum, here are two pitching lines that have been put up against the Twins' hacktastic lineup this month:
                            IP     H     R     ER     BB     SO     HR
    Justin Verlander 8.0 6 0 0 0 0 0
    Joel Pineiro 9.0 9 2 2 0 0 1
    There are tee-ball teams that work the count more and put fewer balls in play than the Twins.


  • I can't tell if this story is an odd coincidence or subtle nod in my direction, but it's funny either way.


  • A lot of Twins fans seem to be under the impression that a new ballpark will automatically lead to huge increases in attendance. Perhaps that's true, but I noticed yesterday that among the seven teams currently drawing fewer fans per game than the Twins there are three--Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, and Detroit--with ballparks that have opened since 2000.


  • A quick note for those of you interested in such things: The Official Twins Beat Writer of AG.com, La Velle E. Neal III, will be sitting in for Chad Hartman Monday beginning at 2:00 p.m. on KFAN. I've heard LEN3 sub for people on KFAN in the past and he did a solid job, and he'll surely spend more time talking about the Twins in his three hours than the rest of the station does for the remainder of the week. Plus, the show is produced by a guy I used to hang out with when I was a kid.


  • Last but not least, I want to thank everyone who offered words of support regarding the untimely death of my dog last week. It was a very tough time for me, but hearing from so many of you who have gone through similar situations with pets you've loved really meant a lot. While I couldn't respond individually to each of you--there were 40 comments and at least that many e-mails--I want to make sure that you all know how much I appreciated it.


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  • Permalink for 'AaronGleeman.com/2006/05/17/'

    More Deck Chairs Add Kyle Lohse's situation ...

    Posted: May 17th, 2006, 10:53pm PDT by Aaron
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    More Deck Chairs Add Kyle Lohse's situation to the growing list of the things that the Twins have botched over the last couple years.



    Lohse is one of many prospects Terry Ryan has plucked from the low levels of other farm systems over the years, with Lohse coming to the Twins as part of the deal that sent Rick Aguilera to the Cubs in 1999. The Twins then developed Lohse in their own system, sticking with him through some tough times before eventually turning him into a quality big-league pitcher. For that Ryan and the Twins deserve a ton of credit.



    Unfortunately, as they've done so many times with so many young players, the Twins erased many of the gains made with Lohse in the developmental stage by mismanaging him as a major leaguer. Not only didn't he improve with experience--something that's usually been reserved for the Twins' young position players--the case could easily be made that Lohse actually regressed in several keys areas.



    Lohse's command wasn't consistent from start to start, let alone year to year, and early on he didn't have an approach to getting hitters out that went beyond simply throwing the ball really hard. At some point pitching coach Rick Anderson tried to change Lohse from being a hard-thrower who didn't strike many hitters out to being a hard-thrower who focused on inducing ground balls, but that lasted about a month.



    This season, Lohse was worse than ever. His control was spotty, his fastball wasn't missing bats regardless of how hard he threw it, his breaking pitches were flat, and perhaps most maddening of all he seemed incapable of finishing hitters off once he got ahead of them in the count. That's a recipe for disaster, and sure enough the Twins demoted Lohse to Triple-A yesterday after he went 2-4 with an 8.92 ERA in eight starts.





    On Opening Day I predicted that Lohse would "be traded or sent to the bullpen before he makes his 20th start." Technically I was wrong, since Triple-A isn't the bullpen and he hasn't been traded yet, but the point is that for me at least it was easy to see where the situation was headed. Rather than trade Lohse last season when he still had some value, the Twins chose to keep him for the remainder of an 83-win season and then compounded their mistake by paying him $4 million to return this year.



    While sadly not unique, the team's handling of Lohse is a perfect example of why they are no longer contenders. Rather than trust the impressive assortment of young talent they've been able to produce on a yearly basis, the Twins jerk their young players around, stick with mediocre, overpaid veterans for far too long, and then finally turn to the young guys out of panicked necessity.



    In Lohse's case that meant not getting something in return for him when his perceived value was still relatively high, inexplicably deciding to pay him far too much money to come back when the team had comparable, cheaper options available, and then finally realizing their seemingly obvious mistake only after it's too late to really do anything about it.



    Did the Twins need to see another 38 innings to decide that Lohse is a lost cause? Did they need to hold onto Lohse until his potential trade value dropped to an all-time low? Did they need to waste $4 million in the process? Of course not, and it doesn't take any second-guessing or hindsight to see that. For a year I've been encouraging the team to do what they now realize they should have done, but now it's too late.



    Lohse is a complete mess who is surely irate about being demoted back to the minors and has probably burned bridges within the organization. I'd be surprised if the Twins don't deal him in the coming weeks, but I won't be surprised when the package they receive in return is a disappointing one. That's what happens when you go against Branch Rickey's advice and trade a player a year too late.



    Amongst fans and within the media the focus of this situation is understandably on Lohse and Boof Bonser, his replacement in the rotation. However, when patterns repeat and the same mistakes are made on a regular basis, it's no longer about individual players or specific circumstances. This goes far beyond that, and gets to the core of why the Twins have gradually lost their short-lived grip on winning.



    Somewhere along the way the team got away from the very thing that made them successful, which is trusting the young talent that the organization produces. The Twins once did that and the result was three straight division titles from a team full of homegrown talent. Now young players are pushed aside in favor of guys like Juan Castro and Tony Batista. Lohse is the epitome of that changed approach, going from being "young talent" to being "overpaid veteran" while the Twins held onto him.



    Bonser replacing Lohse is not going to fix the Twins' problems, and even Francisco Liriano stepping into the rotation for Carlos Silva will barely make a dent. What plagues this team runs much deeper than that, and Lohse's situation is simply the latest example. Later this year the Twins will be in a position to make similar decisions regarding pending free agents Torii Hunter and Shannon Stewart, and if the past is any indication they'll botch that as well.



    The Twins deserve praise for their ability to identify, acquire, and develop young talent in the minor leagues. Few teams can boast similar success and it's without question what the organization does best. Unfortunately, what the organization does worst is making the most of that young talent once it reaches the majors, as the development seems to stop around Triple-A and players like Lohse stagnate rather than reach their full potential.



    Perhaps a byproduct of that is the sudden distrust in the current crop of young players, and a byproduct of that is certainly the misguided reliance on mediocre veterans that leads to things like playing Batista and Castro every day, and wasting $4 million on Lohse when he could have been traded for something useful and the money could have been better spent elsewhere.



    While the Twins are being praised in some circles for cutting bait on Lohse and turning to Bonser, I find it hard to do that when they're the ones to blame for the problem in the first place. Sending Lohse to Triple-A is akin to shuffling deck chairs on the Titanic, because while it may seem to be making a difference at first, in the end the ship is still sinking.



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  • Permalink for 'AaronGleeman.com/2006/05/16/'

    Top 40 Minnesota Twins: #25 Brian Harper

    Posted: May 16th, 2006, 10:29pm PDT by Aaron
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    Top 40 Minnesota Twins: #25 Brian Harper
    BRIAN DAVID HARPER | C | 1988-1993 | CAREER STATS

    G PA AVG OBP SLG OPS+ WARP WS
    730 2691 .306 .342 .431 110 29.6 75
    I typically begin these career retrospectives by describing how each player ended up on the Twins, but in Brian Harper's case I'll step aside and let Bill James do the story telling. Here's what James wrote about Harper in The Bill James New Historical Baseball Abstract:
    Harper should have had a much better career than he did. He lost a lot of his career to other people's stupidity. He was drafted by the Angels in 1977, hit .293 with 24 homers, 101 RBI at Quad Cities in 1978, then hit .315 with 37 doubles, 90 RBI at El Paso in 1979. The Angels at that time were building entirely around free agents and veterans, in no mood to give a young player a chance. At Salt Lake City in '81 he hit .350 with 45 doubles, 28 homers, 122 RBI. The Angels traded him to Pittsburgh.

    The Pirates already had Tony Pena and Steve Nicosia; they needed another catcher like they needed a fifth baseman. Harper tried to convert to the outfield or first base. He wasn't fast enough to play the outfield; nobody was sure he would hit enough to play first. He bounced over to St. Louis, Detroit, Oakland, Minnesota. He was 30 by the time he got a chance to play.
    Harper was released by the A's following the 1987 season, at which point he had hit .233/.258/.362 in 205 major-league games spread over five teams and eight seasons. The Twins signed him in January of 1988 with the intention of making him the regular catcher at Triple-A, but Harper ruined those plans by hitting .353 in 46 games there to essentially force the Twins into giving him a shot. He went 9-for-22 (.409) with three doubles in his first six starts and never looked back.

    Given a chance to split time behind the plate with Tim Laudner over the last four months of the season, Harper hit .295/.344/.428 in 60 games. And just like that, he had himself a full-time gig. Laudner moved to the bench in 1989 and Harper hit .325 while starting 86 times at catcher and another 15 times at designated hitter. That was the first season of a five-year run that saw Harper rank as one of the elite offensive catchers in the AL:
    YEAR     VORP*    RANK     AHEAD OF HARPER
    1989 32.6 3rd Tettleton, Fisk
    1990 28.3 3rd Fisk, Parrish
    1991 33.6 2nd Tettleton
    1992 34.3 3rd Tettleton, Hoiles
    1993 33.1 6th Hoiles, Stanley, Tettleton, Krueter, MacFarlane
    *VORP stands for Value Over Replacement Player.

    The dig on Harper was always that he was horrible defensively, but several of the other top-hitting catchers from 1989-1993--Mickey Tettleton, Chris Hoiles, Mike Stanley--were also questionable with the glove. In fact, Tettleton's numbers are misleading because he saw about one-third of his time at DH while Harper only appeared there occasionally. An argument could certainly be made that from 1989-1993 Harper was the best catcher in the league.

    Over that five-year span as the Twins' starter Harper hit .307/.341/.431, which was about 12 percent better than the .250/.314/.371 line produced by the average catcher. He batted at least .300 in all but one season, when he fell all the way to .294 in 1990. As James wrote at the end of the passage I partially quoted above, "He was slow, didn't have real power, didn't walk and didn't throw well, but he could hit .300 in his sleep."

    Until I began researching his career, I had the impression that Harper was absolutely dreadful throwing out runners; the Matthew LeCroy of the 1990s. However, the actual numbers don't back that up. From 1988-1990 he threw out 35 percent of stolen-base attempts, which was solidly above the league average of 31 percent. For comparison, Laudner's career mark with the Twins was a shade under 30 percent, including just 27 percent between 1988 and 1989.

    What likely cemented his reputation as a poor thrower was his 22 percent success rate in 1991. The year everyone remembers was Harper's worst, and backup Junior Ortiz gunned down 46 percent in limited duty. Plus, the Blue Jays and Braves ran a ton on Harper during the postseason, going 11-for-14 in 12 games. Harper made up for much of that by going 13-for-39 (.333) with four doubles at the plate, but the idea that you could easily run on him stuck around for the rest of his career.

    In fact, Harper allowed the most stolen bases in the league in both 1992 (118) and 1993 (114), which certainly didn't help put a stop to the image everyone had of him as a noodle arm. However, while teams were running on Harper like crazy, he actually threw out a very respectable 31 percent in 1992 and 33 percent in 1993. In other words, Harper certainly had a mediocre arm and struggled gunning down runners at times, but more often than not did just fine.

    For me the idea that he wasn't a complete disaster controlling the running game is a revelation, and I suspect the same can be said for many Twins fans (and even some non-Twins fans, like James). Doing the actual research rather than trusting my preconceived notions changed my opinion of Harper's Twins career significantly, and that's part of the fun with this whole Top 40 Minnesota Twins series.

    After breaking the news about Harper's respectable arm to Will Young, he offered up that Harper was like "a right-handed A.J. Pierzynski." That comparison seemed apt to me as well, but once you get past the surface it also falls a little short. If we alter Harper's numbers to adjust for the more offense-friendly environment that Pierzynski played in, here's what the comparison looks like:

    AVG OBP SLG OPS+
    Harper .313 .347 .472 110
    Pierzynski .301 .341 .447 105
    Harper actually hit for a higher average and more power than Pierzynski, and was basically a notch above him at the plate. Perhaps most importantly when it comes to his place in team history, Harper's Twins career (730 games) was nearly twice as long as Pierzynski's (430 games). And in case you're wondering, Pierzynski threw out 31 percent of stolen-base attempts while in Minnesota, the same as Harper.

    It's a shame that Harper didn't latch on with the Twins earlier. He consistently put up big numbers in the minors, batting .307 in nearly 900 games before joining the Twins, and given a chance could have doubled the big-league career that he had. Even still, he ranks as one of the most consistent and underrated players of the early 1990s, was a key part of the 1991 World Series championship, and ranks as the second-best catcher in team history.
    TOP 25 ALL-TIME MINNESOTA TWINS RANKS:

    AVG .306 6th
    Doubles 156 17th
    Hits 767 20th
    RBIs 346 22nd
    Total Bases 1079 23rd
    OBP .342 23rd
    SLG .431 24th
    OPS .773 24th

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  • Permalink for 'AaronGleeman.com/2006/05/15/'

    Two Steps Forward, Two Steps Back It's ...

    Posted: May 15th, 2006, 11:50pm PDT by Aaron
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    Two Steps Forward, Two Steps Back It's rare to see a manager undermine his own team's chances of winning as much as Ron Gardenhire did while the Twins split a four-game series against the White Sox. There are a number of examples, some big and some small, but here are four that really stood out:



  • Down two runs with no outs and runners on first and second in the sixth inning Sunday, Luis Castillo hit into a triple play when he popped a bunt up. The triple play is secondary, because the bunt was a mistake before the outcome was known. With two runners on base and no outs in the sixth inning of a game you trail by multiple runs, asking a .330 hitter to bunt is bad baseball. Why are you giving up an out while playing for the tie in a game that has already seen 16 runs scored in the first five innings? To win the game you eventually need three more runs and what better spot to get them?




  • Down two runs with no outs and a runner on second base in the third inning Monday, Shannon Stewart popped a bunt up to the pitcher. You'd think that either Gardenhire would have learned from his mistake with Castillo or realized that giving up an out to move a runner who is already in scoring position when he isn't even the trying run is silly. Not only was the runner already going to score on a hit, Stewart is a .300 hitter who represented the tying run himself.




  • Down four runs with two outs in the seventh inning Monday, Lew Ford stole second base. That he was safe is beyond the point, because he barely made it and moving up a base meant nothing in that situation. Either Ford went on his own, which should get him benched, or Gardenhire fails to grasp that getting from first base to second base when you need a grand slam to tie the game isn't worth the chance of losing both a runner and one of your seven remaining outs.




  • Down two runs with one out and a runner on second base in the ninth inning Sunday, Torii Hunter stole third base. Like Ford, Hunter's steal was a horrible decision regardless of the outcome. He was already in scoring position and his run meant nothing unless there was another one scored along with it. Not only did Hunter risk using one of the team's two remaining outs, he ran on a two-strike pitch that Michael Cuddyer took for strike three. The most important thing in that spot is Cuddyer reaching base, so if Hunter running distracted him from doing that at all it was an even bigger mistake.




  • There's a huge difference between "playing small ball" and simply making bad decisions that limit your offense's ability to score runs and hurt your team's chances of winning. Small ball is moving a runner over when you trail by a run in the late innings. Sabotaging your team's chances of winning is trying to steal meaningless bases while risking crucial outs and intentionally giving up outs in order to move runners over when you're trailing by multiple runs with good hitters at the plate in the early innings.



    The Twins' problems over the past two seasons certainly go well beyond the manager, but that doesn't mean he hasn't hurt them significantly. From writing out lineups that are far from optimal, handing out playing time to the wrong guys, giving his best reliever the least work out of the bullpen, leaving starting pitchers in until they've been completely shelled, and engaging in head-scratching "strategy" during games, Gardenhire consistently makes poor decisions that hurt the team's ability to win games.



    The moves often go against the most basic logic of baseball, and to top it all off any pretense of the Twins playing smart baseball or at least busting their tails at all times went out the window long ago. Gardenhire's team frequently looks sloppy and physically unable to hustle, and as their inability to get bunts down against Chicago showed, they aren't even fundamentally sound. As if that isn't enough, Gardenhire makes a fool of himself by throwing a hissy fit in front of an umpire every couple weeks.



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