Monday, September 30, 2013

Monday Morning Madness: September 30, 2013

It's been said that all good things must come to an end.  Sadly, this will be the final Monday Madness of the 2013 season.  I know.  Don't blame me though; I'm not the one who decided against a 12 month MLB season.  It's time for a break from Twins baseball.  After the month of September that we've all endured, a little break might not be the worst thing.  I'll try to infuse some fun and positivity in this final Monday Madness of the 2013 season.

The Gardy 1000

Well, that was a huge embarrassing failure.  Wait, I said I'd be positive.  Um.  The Twins made a valiant effort to get Ron Gardenhire his 1000th career win.  They needed to go 3-4 this week and they only missed it by 2 games.  Two isn't bad.  That's only about 1% of a season.  It's such a small sample. 

Here's some real positivity.  Josmil Pinto had a wonderful September debut.  In fact, only Chris Parmelee has had a better September debut than Pinto, when looking at OPS and only including players with 50 plate appearances in September.  We can ignore the Parmelee part, but knowing that Pinto looks good makes me feel good about next season.  Having Pinto gives the Twins more options at catcher.  If the Twins can enjoy another  3-5 years of above-average offensive production from their catcher, the rebuild will be somewhat easier.

A recent Terry Ryan interview shocked and awed everyone when he admitted that he was interested in bringing Mike Pelfrey back for the 2014 season.  Pelfrey hasn't been a highlight of the 2013 season.  He's been one of the more frustrating players for me to watch.  He dug himself a big hole in April and May; did he dig out of it?

K:BB Ratio

Well, kind of.  In April and May he was a disaster.  In June, he was pretty good.  He didn't walk anyone, but he was a bit unlucky so his ERA wasn't great.  In July, he was worse, but had some strand rate luck and looked better than he actually was.  He was pretty bad in August, but finally got some good BABIP luck.  In September, he's been pretty poor again, but has a crazy high BABIP and has been generally unpleasant to watch.  Basically, he's been really inconsistent.  The only reason to sign a guy like Pelfrey for another year would be if you could rely on him for consistently decent innings.  The Twins can't rely on him for that.  Cut him loose.  Oh, and dig up, stupid. 


Fun Stat

Anthony Swarzak threw 96 innings this season without starting a single game.  This has only happened 461 times since 1901.  Juan Berenguer accomplished this feat in 1989 and 1990 and no one had done it in a Twins' uniform since then.  No one in baseball had done this since 2006, when Scott Proctor threw 102.1 innings without starting.  Swarzak is a rare bird, especially in this current era.

Random Paint Image

The Playoffs are starting this week and that means National Coverage.  No more Dick and Bert, no more Coom-dog, no more Anthony LaPanda.  Here's a dramatization of what I think could happen during the TBS studio show, if things really fall apart.

Look, if you don't get that reference, then you clearly didn't watch as much Comedy Central as I did as a kid and you don't think Dennis Eckersley looks like a certain watermelon-smashing comedian like I do.  And really, that's your problem.

Former Twin Update - Francisco Liriano

Francisco Liriano finished the 2013 season with 16 wins and an ERA just slightly above 3.  He has been one of the major reasons why the Pirates season is still in progress.  In fact, he'll start the Wild Card game on Tuesday against the Reds and their lefty-heavy lineup.  Lefties have hit .131/.175/.146 against Liriano in 138 plate appearances this season.  Before the season, who would have ever thought that Francisco Liriano would be starting a playoff game in 2013?

Answer to a Hypothetical Facebook Question

Nope, not today.  It's impossible to find anything positive on the Twins Facebook page.  It's my problem really.  I only go there for this bit, so it only affects me once a week at most.  I can handle complaints.  I can handle negativity.  I can't handle hostility.  There isn't a single Twins fan who has any right to be hostile.  No one should be calling Joe Mauer a wimp.  No one should be calling for Gardy and Anderson to be hit with bricks.  Since 99% of the Facebook comments are hostile, I'm not doing it today.

Instead, I asked my 8-year-old cousin to give his thoughts on the Twins' 2013 season:

"It was really fun.  I actually got to go to two games!   They won the second game!"

Off-season Plans

Monday Madness is ending for the year, but I've got loads of off-season stuff planned.   I've got recaps, pumas, predictions, previews, video games, candy, treats, ice cream, lobster and much, much more.  This week, I've got two guest columnists doing season recaps and I have a mailbag coming on Friday.  I'm going to try to have some fun this off-season, if you want to join me.

Parting Thought

The Twins 2013 season was unpleasant.  The franchise is in a better place than it was in 2012, but there is still a lot of work to be done.  I'll do as much work as the Twins allow me, but a more likely scenario would involve the Twins' current decision makers working to improve the team.  I have confidence.  I think that strides were made this year that weren't seen on the field.  If the organization continues down a similar path, I believe the Twins will be a good team in the near future.  I've always held that 2014 will be the first year in the on-field turnaround and I stand by that.  I really feel that we just suffered through the last 90-loss season for awhile.  If I'm wrong, you can all hurl tomatoes at me when I run on the field during a 2015 game. 

Have a nice week, everyone!

Friday, September 27, 2013

Awardin' 2013: The American League!

Welcome back to Award Season!  In my previous installment, I handed out the major NL awards.  If you missed it, click here.  I also lamented the lack of an actual Awards Ceremony for these important honors.  Think of the bowties and suspenders we are missing out on!  Danny Valencia would look great in a suit, but he wouldn't get invited to the ceremony so we're kind of just back where we started, aren't we? 

AL Breakout Player

Preseason Pick - Matt Moore
Midseason Pick - Josh Donaldson
Who should win? - Josh Donaldson
Who will win? - This is not a real award.

One of the easiest ways to totally nail an awards prediction is to make up an award.  In this case, I failed to accurately predict an award that I created.  Matt Moore has been great.  He's won a bunch of games, has a pretty sweet ERA and a winning smile.  He also leads the league with 17 wild pitches.  This is the breakout player award, not the "break stuff with your wild pitches" award, Matt!  Lol.  If I'm going to be real here, he's got a great case for this fake award.  He just wasn't as good as Josh Donaldson. 

Donaldson has been amazing.  Now, some might argue that Donaldson broke out last season, but I'd say that going from 1.5 fWAR to 7.7 fWAR counts as an additional breakout.  Donaldson is a legitimate MVP candidate on one of the best teams in baseball.  He's slugging over .500 and has an OBP approaching .400.  He's been extremely valuable to the Athletics and he has had a superstar season.  I'm really proud of him.

AL Rookie of the Year

Preseason Pick - Wil Myers
Midseason Pick - Aaron Hicks
Who should win? - Wil Myers
Who will win? - Wil Myers

LOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOL!  I refuse to provide any context for that mid-season Aaron Hicks selection.  I want the record to show that despite Hicks' sub-.200 batting average, despite his extremely poor plate discipline, despite his recent hamstring injury, I STILL thought he would pull out of it and win this award.  Choosing Hicks for AL ROY at the beginning of the year would have been a justifiable, but homer-ish pick.  At the All Star Break?  Stupid homer pick.  Stomer Pick.  Stomer Simpson Pick.  Just hilarious.  I'm so glad I did that.  Scrapbook!!!!

The real winner is likely to come from the Tampa Bay Rays.  There are two reasonable candidates, and a third if you include Royals' outfielder David Lough.  He's lougher on my list though.  OHOOHOHOHOHHH!  Lough has been a good defender, but his offensive stats offend me.  For me, the award comes down to Wil Myers and Chris Archer.

Both guys have played about a half-season.  Both guys have been good, but not great.  When you look at their peripheral stats, Archer has been good, but maybe a bit lucky, while Myers has been just good.  He's slugging close to .500 and showing good plate discipline.  He's got a wRC+ around 130.  Archer has been good as well.  His slightly higher than 3 ERA proves that.  However, his BABIP is .245 and that points toward some luck being involved.  With both guys so close in performance, I'll break the tie by looking at one of the most controversial stats that exists.  There's no way that leads to any sort of discussion or argument.  Myers' WAR is higher.  There.

AL Cy Young Award

Preseason Pick - Justin Verlander
Midseason Pick - Felix Hernandez
Who should win? - Max Scherzer
Who will win? - Max Scherzer

This is a tough one.  Verlander has had a nice season, just nothing special.  Anibal Sanchez has probably been the most impressive overall pitcher, but he won't reach 200 innings, which hurts his chances.  Doug Fister, Hisashi Iwakuma, Jon Lester and James Shields have all been great. 

I'd be more inclined to vote for Bartolo Colon if he went by "Bart Colon" and asked us to call him "Big Bart."  That act would pretty much cinch my vote for the next few decades.  However, I can't get over the lack of strikeouts, the fact that he won't hit 200 innings and the fact that he won't embrace the Big Bart persona.  You gotta start eliminatin' somewhere, Big Bart.  

At the All-Star Break, Felix Hernandez had seized this award in my eyes.  He was pitching as well as he had ever pitched and he was already one of the best pitchers of our generation.  Since the Break, he hasn't been as great and he was injured for a significant time.  He's still tied for second in fWAR for all AL pitchers, but his overall numbers aren't so dominant that he stands out among the rest.  I think you can still make a strong case for Hernandez, but he's part of the conversation instead of leading it. 

Here's the whole conversation:  It comes down to Felix, Chris Sale, Yu Darvish and Max Scherzer.  I think Scherzer wins the actual vote for sure.  His overall numbers are great and the win total will get him a lot of votes.  I think the path to get to Scherzer is a lot more complicated than "21 wins is a lot."   Who do I like?  Here's how I feel:

Darvish is the most dominant of the four.  His K% is 32.7%, by far the highest of the four.  He also issues the most walks of the four, which takes him down a bit in my eyes.  In fact, his BB% is at least 50% greater than the other three.  Darvish has the highest strand rate of the four, at a staggering 83.9%.  Of course, his high strikeout totals will inflate that rate.  Rhyming is cool, but I'm removing Darvish from this conversation, even though he's had a great season.

Hernandez, Sale and Scherzer have been extremely similar pitchers this season.  Just look at this chart:


Ridiculous.  All three have elite strikeout and walk rates.  Each has a good ERA and an xFIP that confirms it.  Scherzer's BABIP is a bit lower, but his LOB% is also lower.  If those two things somewhat cancel each other out, then each has been equal parts good and equal parts lucky.  Well, maybe Scherzer has been a bit "luckier" than Sale and Hernandez.  I like peripheral stats when predicting for the future, but I like traditional stats when it's time to evaluate actual performance.  Maybe that puts be a few years behind the curve, but I like to reward players for what they actually accomplish, not what we think they should have accomplished. 

Ok, we have to start eliminating players, so Hernandez is out due to the slightly lower innings total.  This hurts me as I love King Felix and I think he is the best overall pitcher in the American League.  If I had to predict who would be the best pitcher next year, I'd take Hernandez.  That being said...

Sale v. Scherzer in the finals!  The question is, can you really vote for a guy with an 11-13 record over a guy with a 21-3 record when the two are so similar in every other way?  Sale might have been a slightly better pitcher this year, but can you completely ignore Scherzer's wins?  I can't.  I just can't do it.  I want to, but I can't.  So, for the record:
  • Best AL Pitcher right now:  Felix Hernandez - loses this award because he got injured
  • Best AL Pitcher this season:  Chris Sale - but ever so slightly
  • AL Cy Young Award Winner - Max Scherer - and he deserves it for more than just those 21 wins. 
I don't think pitcher wins are the devil, but I don't look at them first.  Everything needs a line of succession.  If Obama can't fulfill his duties, Biden's in charge.  If Biden can't, we call on Boehner.  If enough guys get debilitating food poisoning that everyone secretly thinks could be malaria, then Doug, your local garbage man takes over.  Meet Pitcher Wins:  The Doug the Garbage Man of pitching stats.  You don't want him running the country, but in the pinchiest of pinches, you'll have to make due. 

This concludes the convoluted metaphor section of our exercise.  Scherzer wins.    


Preseason Pick - Evan Longoria
Midseason Pick - Miguel Cabrera
Who should win? - Mike Trout
Who will win? - Miguel Cabrera

First off, in any other season and under any other circumstances, Josh Donaldson would be right in this conversation.  However, the Trout v. Cabrera Round 2 storyline is just too juicy for writers.  I guarantee Donaldson will get a lot less publicity than he probably deserves.  He's been outstanding and should be just below Cabrera and Trout in this debate.

Deep breath.  We did this last year, and all the arguments are basically the same:
  • The Tigers made the playoffs; the Angels didn't
  • Cabrera is the best hitter in baseball
  • Trout is a better overall player, when you consider defense and fielding
Of course, Trout has actually improved as a hitter this year, significantly boosting his walk rate and significantly cutting his strikeout rate.  His defensive ratings are still good, but not elite this year and he isn't running as much.  Some of that change in running is due to his change from leadoff to third in the lineup, but that does count for something.  Trout is basically having the exact same amazing season he had last year, just with more walks.  If he didn't already command the presence of the saber community, those extra walks sealed his seal deal. 

Cabrera, on the other hand, did not win the Triple Crown this year.  He might lose some votes due to that, which is insane.  He's been a better hitter this year in just about every category - batting average, OBP, slugging, and he's right in the same neighborhood in runs, home runs and RBI.  The only difference?  Chris Davis hit over 50 home runs.  That's it.  Did Chris Davis' power breakout make Cabrera a worse hitter?  Nope, but some will honestly lean on the "no Triple Crown" crutch when they change their vote from Cabrera as MVP in 2012 to Trout as MVP in 2013, when basically nothing else has changed.  It's lunacy. 

I would have voted for Trout last year, for the same reasons why I would vote for him this year.  He's a better overall baseball player.  His offensive contribution is only slightly smaller than Cabrera's, but the value he adds on defense and on the base paths tips the scales toward him.  That's how I felt in 2012, and that's how I feel right now.  Just like last year, I don't think Cabrera is an undeserving winner, I just feel that Trout is better. 

This is Flair-Steamboat back in the 60 minute iron man days.  This is Ali-Frazier, it's Agassi-Sampras, it's Kobe-LeBron, it's really good bowling guy-really good bowling guy.  No one loses in this situation.  We get to watch two of the greatest players of this generation duke it out for one of the most prestigious awards in sports.  Regardless of whether your candidate wins, just remember that these are two outstanding players.  One has to win and the other has to lose, but they both deserve careful consideration and serious props. 

That's a wrap!  Wait, this is a wrap:

I really enjoyed the 2013 MLB season.  There were plenty of award-worthy performances, but just not enough awards to go around.  If I ever find my way to Head of State, I will replace all games with award ceremonies.  That way, we can truly recognize these great athletes.  Even better, I'll just cozy up to Doug and see if I can get him to enact these policies for me.  

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Awardin' 2013: The National League!

Guess who hasn't written about awards in a couple of months?  As I have written before, I love sports awards.  I think there should be awards for everything.  Best hair.  Best chaw bulge.  Best ejection.  Best everything!  In fact, I'd do a full awards ceremony with athletes, celebrity guests, hijinks, Kevin Hart and ESPN.  I'd call it "The ESPN Sports Awards".  Since no such thing exists, I am forced to devote precious internet space to my own personal choices for the most important baseball awards.

I made preseason predictions: 

I made All Star Break predictions:

Now, it's time to hand out the actual hardware.  Not literally though.  The actual awards are decided by a different blogger.  And yes, I am aware that the season is not over.  That's how confident I am with my awarding.  I am willing to completely ignore the final 3% of the season.  You had the last six months to win me over, Tony Campana!  (Spoiler alert:  Tony Campana is not my NL MVP.)

We'll start with the National League today and the American League on Friday.  SUSPENSE!

NL Breakout Player

Preseason Pick - Wilson Ramos
Midseason Pick - Matt Carpenter
Who should win? - Matt Carpenter
Who will win? - This is not a real award.

Just because I love being right, here is what Ramos has done in just under a half season:  2.4 rWAR, 15 HR, 56 RBI, .278/.312/.473.  Wow.  So, he's breaking out, he just can't stay healthy.  If he plays a full season in 2014, he's going to be a star. 

I was right about Ramos to an extent, but in no way did I see Matt Carpenter coming.  He's in the top ten in the National League in the following categories:  WAR, batting average, OBP, slugging percentage, runs, hits, OPS+, extra base hits, doubles, and walks.  Insane.  Everyone knew the Cardinals would be good this year.  They're basically good every year.  There's simply no way that anyone predicted that the Cardinals would be this good because Matt Carpenter became one of the ten best players in the National League.  He's an MVP candidate. 

NL Rookie of the Year

Preseason Pick - Jedd Gyorko
Midseason Pick - Jose Fernandez
Who should win? - Jose Fernandez
Who will win? - Jose Fernandez

Gyorko had a nice rookie season.  He reached 20 home runs, he's posted an above average OPS+ and he looks like a good overall player.  Most importantly, his name is pronounced Jerk-O, which is just super.  But!  He isn't even in the ROY conversation.  Evan Gattis has shown some great power, but he hasn't offered much else.  A.J. Pollock and Nolan Arenado have rated great defensively, but haven't been great offensively. 

In a lot of ways, it was the year of the rookie NL pitcher.  Hyun-Jin Ryu, Julio Teheran, Shelby Miller and Gerrit Cole have all had really nice debuts.  They all have an ERA just above 3 and each has been very important to a playoff team.  They have all been great and none of the four stand a chance at winning this award. 

Yasiel Puig is a phenomenon.  In just about any given season, he'd be a runaway ROY.  He's exciting, he's talented and he's controversial.  He's in the headlines just about every week and his play merits the press.  On the other hand, he's played just 98 games.  He's been fantastic in those games and he certainly helped in the Dodgers' turnaround.  He's hard to argue against, so instead, I'll argue for the guy who I think has been the rookie of the year.

Jose Fernandez is a ridiculous phenomenon.  He started out as an impressive pitcher for his age and experience level.  He ended the season as one of the five best pitchers in all of baseball.  He had a sparkling 2.19 ERA (all ERAs under 2.5 have to be called "sparkling").  He was exciting to watch as well.  I think that matters when it comes to the more superfluous awards like Rookie of the Year.  Puig was fun to watch, but we got to watch Fernandez more.  I'll take Fernandez, but there were a lot of great rookies in the National League this season and I think they all deserve a tiny ROY award for their efforts.  

NL Cy Young Award

Preseason Pick - Stephen Strasburg
Midseason Pick - Clayton Kershaw
Who should win? - Clayton Kershaw
Who will win? - Clayton Kershaw

Strasburg had a fine season.  His strikeout rate dipped, but his ground ball rate spiked.  This is probably a good trade off for Strasburg in the long-term.  He was good, but he isn't in the Cy Young conversation. 
Fernandez merits consideration, but he only threw 172.2 innings.  Mat Latos and Cliff Lee have had excellent seasons.  Adam Wainwright abolished the walk from his repertoire in the first half and has had a really nice season.  Matt Harvey was amazing until his injury and he might have challenged for the award if he had been able to finish the season. 

All of those guys are great, but Clayton Kershaw is the King right now.  Kershaw won the award in 2011, should have won in 2012 and will win this season.  Right now, Kershaw is first in the National League in pitcher WAR, ERA, WHIP, innings pitched, strikeouts, and WAR.  That's right, as a pitcher, Kershaw leads the National League in WAR (actually tied with Andrew McCutchen, more on that later).  That's not easy to do.  His ERA is under 2.  That's not just sparkling, it's refreshingly sparkling.  Kershaw is the Sprite of Major League Baseball.  Obey your thirst.   


Preseason Pick - Bryce Harper
Midseason Pick - Andrew McCutchen
Who should win? - Clayton Kershaw
Who will win? - Andrew McCutchen

It's so odd.  I predicted that Harper would win AND run into a wall, but I didn't think those two things would actually clash as much as they did.  As it turns out, running face-first into a wall actually hurts your chances of having a spectacular season.  Even so, Harper is nearly slugging .500 as a 20-year-old.  He's going to win an MVP and I'll probably predict it every year until it happens.  It's not happening in 2013.

Matt Carpenter has been outstanding, but I'm not picking him.  Carlos Gomez is suddenly an MVP candidate.  Twins fans are totally cool with this, after watching Gomez seemingly have no clue how to hit a baseball when he was in Minnesota.  Troy Tulowitzki, Yadier Molina and Joey Votto all had great seasons because they are great players.  Paul Goldschmidt looks like a star, but comes up a bit short. 

For me, it comes down to Kershaw and McCutchen.  McCutchen is a dynamic player and I think that he will win the award.  He hits, hits for power, runs, fields, smiles, etc.  He really does it all.  I also think he will get bonus points from voters for being the best player on a Pirates team that made the playoffs for the first time in 20 years.  I love Andrew McCutchen and I won't be upset at all if he wins the MVP.  He deserves it.

Kershaw deserves it too.  Some will not vote for Kershaw because he is a pitcher and they have their own award.  I don't really understand that logic.  All pitchers are players too, right?  Kershaw leads the NL in WAR, which shows the immense value that he has provided.

He is having an all-time season.  Kershaw has 8.0 WAR and a 191 ERA+.  That feat has been accomplished just 15 times in the past 25 seasons.  It's only happened once in the past decade (Zack Greinke in 2009).  By comparison, if you enter McCutchen's WAR (8.0) and OPS+ (159), you get 48 such seasons.  That is still impressive, but not quite as rare as Kershaw's feat.  In fact, at least one position player has posted those numbers in each season dating back to 2000.

When you have two extremely valuable and impressive players, it can be hard to make a selection.  I needed some sort of tie-breaker, so I used what I could find.  Those arbitrary cut-off numbers might not convince you that a pitcher should win the MVP, but for me, Kershaw's level of dominance was not shown by a position player this season, so I go with Kershaw because pitchers are players too.

There you have it.  It's impossible to be as thorough as I was during this process.  I have a spreadsheet and everything.  If you want to see it, just send me an email and I will share it with you.  I'll be back on Friday with the American League award winners.  Please try to dress sharp; tuck in your shirt.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Monday Morning Madness: September 23, 2013

Twins/A's Recap

The word "bludgeoned" gets thrown around so often... 

The Gardy 1000

Is this going to happen?  Going into this week, the Twins needed to go 4-10 to finish the season "strong" and give Ron Gardenhire 1000 career wins.  As bad as the Twins have been, that seemed reasonable.  Star wipe to today and the Twins need to go 3-4 in their last seven to pull it off.  Yikes.  Anything short of a Spaghetti Jesus miracle and I don't see it happening.  If Cleveland can somehow wrap up a playoff spot early this week, then it's possible.  I don't see that happening though.  Maybe we can convince MLB to add games to the schedule?  I'll start a petition.  Just let me find my megaphone.

The two sides of Oswaldo Arcia

We got to see both Good Arcia and Bad Arcia over the weekend.  He hit two home runs in the Oakland series and generally looked good at the plate.  On Friday he put on some sort of reverse clinic in the outfield, misplaying a couple of balls and generally looking like a future DH.  He also slid feet-first into first base on Sunday, which was confusing, but entertaining.   

He's young, so he'll make mistakes.  His defense has been inconsistent, but he seems athletic enough to get better.  His offense has been pretty good, as he has a 104 wRC+ as a rookie with little experience above AA.  His strikeout rate is a bit high and his walk rate is a bit low, specifically compared to his own Minor League numbers.  If he can even those rates out and continue to add power, he'll be spectacular.  He's 22.

Rosario back to outfield?

While on ESPN 1500 over the weekend, Rob Antony mentioned that Eddie Rosario might be moved back to the outfield, depending on a few factors.  My hope would be that this decision is based entirely on how Rosario performs as a second baseman and has nothing to do with Brian Dozier.  As much as Dozier has improved this year, he is still an average offensive player.  His 99 OPS+ this season proves that.  Defensively, Dozier will likely always be better than Rosario.  Offensively, Rosario could be special.  I like Dozier, but I'm not quite ready to pencil him into the lineup for the next five years.  I would hope that the Twins aren't making any decisions based on the current roster because it could still be 2-3 years before the team is truly good. 


Fun Stat/Possibly Wild Theory

Since integration in 1947, only 56 pitchers have provided 45.5 WAR or more.  Why 45.5?  Brad Radke's career WAR was 45.5.  He retired at 33, as we all know/cry about to this day.  Only two of those 56 pitchers retired younger than Radke:  Don Drysdale and Sandy Koufax.  Is it possible that Brad Radke was the most underrated pitcher of his era?  Or, am I just blinded by our shared first name?  Here is the entire list of 56.  Looking at all the names, it seems that most of these guys are properly rated as great pitchers.  I'm not sure Radke is, at least not outside of Minnesota.  Just thinking out loud here.   

Random Plug - Punto Oral History

How the H did I miss this?  This is like nine months old and I just found it this week.  Anyway, it's hilarious and I figured that if I missed it, others probably did as well.  It's an oral history of Nick Punto sliding headfirst into first base.  It is eminently quotable.  If you missed it, you have to read it.  GET MONEY!

Random Paint Image

I'm plagiarizing myself a bit, but here's an image I drew of Johan Santana and Bartolo Colon to immortalize the robbery that was the 2005 Cy Young Award.

The biggest tragedy of all is that Colon is still pitching and Santana might have to retire.  Unfair.

Former Twins Update - Rangers

On Saturday night, Matt Garza started for the Rangers.  He was outstanding for eight innings, but gave up a lead-off home run to Eric Hosmer in the 9th.  He was relieved by Joe Nathan, who hammered down the save and helped the Rangers to remain a half-game out of the Wild Card.  He was met at the mound by A.J. Pierzynski, who caught the game.  It was a former Twin explosion!

ROAD TO 1000!!!!!

Last week, we discussed Jamey Carroll's quest for 1000 hits and Ron Gardenhire's quest for 1000 wins.  Gardy's week didn't go well, as I discussed earlier.  Carroll had a tough week of his own.  He entered the week with 999 career hits.  He had zero hits this week.  Of course, he had zero at bats too.  That's rough.  The Royals should get eliminated from the Wild Card race this week.  Perhaps when their fate is sealed, they'll let Carroll take a crack or two at the roundest of all round numbers.

Link to Something I wrote

I traveled through time to have a AOL Instant Messenger conversation with my 12-year-old self.  It was intense.  I really gave myself the business for being behind the curve when it comes to sabermetrics.  It was almost as if I hadn't heard of Moneyball in 1993.  Idiot!  Anyway, if you missed this scientific marvel, you can read it here. 

Parting Thought

One more week.  As horrible and painful as the last few weeks have been as a Twins fan, the next six months are going to be just as tough.  There won't be any Twins baseball to watch, but there will be news of "improvements" to the team.  I hope the off-season is more eventful than the regular season was.  I always enter the off-season optimistic and I hope my blind faith is rewarded with some shrewd moves.  If nothing else, I won't have to see my favorite team get waxed 11-0 for a little while. 

Have a great week, everyone!

Friday, September 20, 2013

8 reasons why I still hold out hope for Aaron Hicks and Kyle Gibson

In case you missed it, a couple of prominent Twins rookies had difficult seasons.  Well, difficult might be a massive understatement.  Well, massive might be a huge overstatement.  I'll calibrate my adjectives later, but we all know that Aaron Hicks and Kyle Gibson performed below expectations.  Expectations may have been too high to begin with, but both players struggled to a surprising extent. 

Hicks and Gibson are hardly unique.  Many productive Twins players performed poorly in their rookie seasons.  In fact, I have eight such case studies that should demonstrate why we can still be optimistic about these two players, regardless of how abysmal they looked in their rookie seasons. 

First, let's examine the two rookies from 2013:

Subject:  Kyle Gibson
Rookie Season:  2013, age 25
Rookie WAR:  -0.8
Career WAR:  ???

Gibson debuted at the end of June to tremendous fanfare.  He had been mostly great at AAA and the Twins' starting pitching was mostly terrible.  Gibson's debut was exciting, appointment viewing, but it proved to be his best start with the Twins.  He posted a 6.53 ERA in 10 starts, before getting sent back to Rochester on August 20.  

Subject:  Aaron Hicks
Rookie Season:  2013
Rookie WAR:  0.6
Career WAR:  ???

By WAR, Hicks wasn't a complete disaster.  His defense and speed saved him from negative value.  His bat was almost entirely negative, save for a couple of huge, memorable games.  Hicks started his Twins' career by hitting .042 in his first 13 games.  He pulled things together slightly to post a 63 OPS+.  He never pulled it together enough to earn a full season with the Twins.  He was sent to Rochester in early August and didn't perform well enough to earn a trip back to Minnesota in September. 

Now that we've looked at the two disappointing rookies, we can remember how some past Twins compared during their rookie seasons. 

Subject:  Frank Viola
Rookie Season:  1982, age 22
Rookie WAR:  -0.1
Career WAR:  47.4

Viola didn't have a terrible rookie season, but he wasn't Sweet Music just yet either.  He isn't a great comp for Gibson because he was quite a bit younger.  However, had Gibson stayed healthy, he may have rocketed up through the farm system like Viola did.  Viola was drafted in 1981 and made his debut just about a year later.  In Viola's first taste of the Majors, he posted a 4-10 record with a 5.21 ERA in 22 starts.  He was actually worse the following year, although he did throw 210 innings.  Viola established himself as a reliable starter in 1984, his third season as a Twin. 

Subject:  Johan Santana
Rookie Season:  2000, age 21
Rookie WAR:  0.1
Career WAR:  50.7

A bit of a cheat, as Santana was a rule 5 pick who needed to remain on the roster in order to remain with the organization.  However, Santana did have a rough debut.  He threw 86 innings, started just five games and nearly walked as many batters as he struck out.  Of course, he was 21 and had never pitched above A ball.  However, he learned on the fly in the Majors and eventually became one of the best pitchers in Twins history.

Subject:  Matt Garza
Rookie Season:  2006, age 22
Rookie WAR:  -0.1
Career WAR:  14.7

Garza's debut might have been the most electric debut that I can remember.  His hype was huge and his performance was full of nervous energy.  Garza got lit up in that first MLB start, but posted a few nice starts later in his rookie season.  He finished with a 5.76 ERA and didn't impress enough to earn a roster spot at the beginning of the 2007 season. 

Subject:  Kyle Lohse
Rookie Season:  2001, age 22 
Rookie WAR:  -0.1
Career WAR:  18.9

Lohse isn't the first guy that Twins fans would want to compare a promising young starter to.  In my opinion, if Kyle Gibson turns out to be Kyle Lohse, the Twins would be happy.  Well, so long as Gibson doesn't act like Kyle Lohse anyway.  Lohse made 16 starts in his rookie season and posted a 5.68 ERA.  I don't think Twins fans look back fondly on the Kyle Lohse era, but he did provide at least three competent seasons while very young and reasonably priced.   

Subject:  Doug Mientkiewicz
Rookie Season:  1999, age 25
Rookie WAR:  -1.6 
Career WAR:  11.0

Dougie Baseball made his debut at a relatively advanced age and didn't impress at the plate.  He posted a 66 OPS+ and struggled to make contact.  Mientkiewicz split time with Ron Coomer, which was probably delightful.  He spent almost all of the 2000 season crushing AAA.  In 2001, he established himself as the Twins' starting first baseman for the next few seasons. 

Subject:  Matt Lawton
Rookie Season:  1996, age 24 
Rookie WAR:  0.6
Career WAR:  15.0

Like Viola, Lawton wasn't bad as a rookie.  He posted a 78 OPS+ and showed the promise of what he would become at maturity.  He walked as much as he struck out and he showed some pop and some speed.  His defense was pretty good as well.  He was just a young player who needed more at bats to reach his potential.  It took a few seasons, but Lawton blossomed into a great, and somewhat underrated player. 

Subject:  Jason Kubel
Rookie Season:  2006, age 24 
Rookie WAR:  -0.9
Career WAR:  4.9

Kubel's debut was actually two years prior, but he didn't play enough to exhaust his rookie status and then he suffered his nasty knee injury and missed all of 2005.  Upon his return to the Twins in 2006, Kubel hit .241/.279/.386 in 235 plate appearances.  He looked overmatched at times, and was not quite the player he was before his injury.  He eventually became an average offensive player and his peak season in 2009 was one of the better offensive seasons in recent Twins' history. 

Subject:  Torii Hunter
Rookie Season:  1999, age 23 
Rookie WAR:  0.8
Career WAR:  49.8

Aaron Hicks is unfairly compared to Torii Hunter.  Both are athletic and talented centerfielders but the comparisons might end there.  Hicks is a patient, sometimes passive hitter with good speed for stealing bases.  Hunter is an aggressive and powerful hitter, with an aggressive approach to running the bases.  However, if Hicks' career takes shape like Hunter's did, then all Twins fans will be somewhere between stoked and very stoked.  Hunter posted a 73 OPS+ as a rookie, but slowly improved and eventually became a guy who will likely produce over 50 WAR in his career. 

Will Hicks and Gibson bounce back to productive careers like the eight case studies presented here?  Perhaps, as history shows that a poor rookie season is no reason to give up on a talented player.  While Gibson may be older than the pitchers presented here, he is similarly inexperienced.  His age shouldn't be held against him, as he can still be a productive pitcher for the Twins for the next decade.  Hicks was about as bad as a hitter can be, but he still holds promise and could develop slowly.  His skill set is too enticing to ignore and he should be given more opportunities from the Twins organization and from Twins fans.