Archive for the ‘Dome Team’ Category

The All-Metrodome Team Revisited

September 3, 2009

I meant to do this weeks ago, but of course, just as they said they would, the Twins released the combined fans-and-experts’ All-Metrodome Team selections about a month ago.

In four posts this spring, I named my own All-Metrodome Team. So how’d I do?

Here’s the “real” All-Metrodome Team, with asterisks next to selections that were also mine:

C Joe Mauer*
1B Kent Hrbek* AND Justin Morneau*^
2B Chuck Knoblauch*
3B Gary Gaetti*
SS Greg Gagne*
OF Tom Brunansky
OF Dan Gladden
OF Torii Hunter*
OF Kirby Puckett*
DH Paul Molitor

SP Bert Blyleven
SP Johan Santana*
SP Frank Viola*
SP Brad Radke*

RP Joe Nathan*
RP Rick Aguilera*

MGR Tom Kelly*

^ I cheated and put Morneau at DH; they cheated and put Morneau as a second 1B.

Not bad, right? 18 names, and the super-awesome panel of Twins experts and I agree on 14 of them (78%).

But: I only picked 15 names. Because the ballot only allowed for 15 names, so I went ahead and stayed within the rules (except Morneau, and only because the DH picks were ridiculous). Our panel did not; they added for PR reasons, I have to assume, Morneau, Blyleven, and Gladden, because all three currently have roles with the team and they didn’t want to offend them or the viewers/listeners (given that, though, it’s a shock that they didn’t pick both Tom Kelly and Ron Gardenhire).

So here’s where they were dumb:

1. Leaving Shane Mack off. It’s not any kind of surprise–I acknowledged when I made my pick that most people wouldn’t agree with me–but just take a look at it, and he’s a no-brainer. He played just five seasons with the Twins, but was an integral part of the 1991 World Series team, and played phenomenal defense at all three outfield positions while putting up a 130 OPS+. I knew they’d leave him off, but to name four outfielders, out of twelve on the ballot, and still leave him off? Terrible.

2. Dan Gladden. What? I mean, I know he’s a radio broadcaster now (a terrible one, by the way), I know he’s a World Series hero and one of the few to play in both Series, and I know…well, that’s all I know. Gladden played five seasons with the Twins (hey, the same number as Mack, and with a whopping 300 more plate appearances!) and posted a 90 OPS+. Great outfield defense, but no better than Mack’s–his defense simply made him about an average player, while Mack’s made him one of the better players in the league. There’s no contest. Not only that, but Jacque Jones, Michael Cuddyer and Matt Lawton were all better choices than Gladden as well.

3. Tom Brunansky. He was fine–and my first runner-up, so I guess if I’m gonna pick four he’s in–but not even close to Mack.

4. Paul Molitor. I get it–Hall of Famer, St. Paul native, was a coach for a while, and the other choices were David Ortiz, Chili Davis, Roy Smalley and Dave Winfield. But he played only three seasons with the Twins, and only in the first was he actually a competent DH. If you’re going to cheat and throw Morneau in anyway, why not do what I did and throw him in at DH?

5. Bert Blyleven. Obviously one of the Twins’ two greatest pitchers of all time. His Metrodome-era career, though? Three and a half seasons with approximately a 100 ERA+ and the (at the time) two highest HR-allowed seasons in history. If he’s not in your employ, there’s no need to expand the team to add him at all.

Honestly, though? It’s a lot better than I thought they would do. Hrbek’s on the team, Gaetti over Morneau Koskie [EDIT: heh, all you Canadians look the same to me] [EDIT AGAIN: I actually picked Koskie over Gaetti, but noted that it was basically a toss-up, so whatever], and they got all three of the correct pitchers along with Blyleven. I was pleasantly surprised.

The All-Dome Team: Relief Pitchers and Manager

May 17, 2009

Dan Serafini, Scott Klingenbeck, and Billy Gardner. Kidding.

Infielders here, outfielders and DH here, starting pitchers here. Two relievers and a manager will round out the official ballot. It’s a little anticlimactic to be ending with these guys, but so it goes.

#1 Reliever: Joe Nathan (364.2 IP, 1.88 ERA, 235 ERA+, 444 K)
Well, duh.
He’s overshadowed by Mo Rivera and Jon Papelbon, but if there’s been a better reliever than Nathan since 2004, the difference between that better guy and Nathan is too small to be worth talking about. I never want to hear or talk about what happened on Friday night again, but that notwithstanding, Nathan has been everything you could ask a closer to be. He got started too late to be in any sort of Hall of Fame discussion — and I don’t think the Hall needs any more relief pitchers after Mo goes in anyway — but he’s been as valuable as a 70-innings-a-year pitcher can be. Would’ve been nice to see what he could do as a more sensibly used, Gossage-style, 100-innings-a-year pitcher. But alas.

#2 Reliever: Rick Aguilera (694.2 IP, ~3.39 ERA, ~130 ERA+, 609 K)
Again, not a huge surprise. Aggie is a good illustration of The Daily Something Immutable Principle #347: you can always assume a closer (or any reliever), no matter how great, is no better or more talented than an average starter, and any above-average starter can generally become a dominant reliever. Behold:

1995 60 0 55.1 186
1996 19 19 111.1 94
1997 61 0 68.1 121

Further recommended reading is Goose Gossage: 212 ERA+ in 141 relief innings in 1974, and 243 ERA+ in 133 relief innings in 1976; in between, 91 ERA+ in 224 innings as a starter in 1975. This is why I said above that I’m generally against relievers in the Hall (though I’m pro-Goose); is it really enshrinement-worthy that some coach at some point decided to make them into Bruce Sutter rather than Bruce Hurst?

Anyway, Aguilera’s numbers with the Twins, aside from being hard to pin down because of his involvement in three mid-season trades, are dragged down by that one year as an awful starter and by the offense-heavy era in which he pitched. Extra credit for happening to turn in his best year as a Twin — 2.35, 182 ERA+, 42 saves in 69 innings — in 1991, contributing nicely to the World Championship effort.

Runner-Up: Eddie Guardado (697.2 IP, 4.52 ERA, 105 ERA+, 605 K; 141 ERA+ from 2000-03). Everyday Eddie was solid in lots of different roles, but really blossomed when he took over as closer. Sure seemed to make you nervous every time he took the mound in the ninth, but he generally got it done. His early numbers look a lot worse than they were; in the Metrodome in the mid-to late-90s, an average pitcher was putting up a 5 ERA.

Manager: Tom Kelly, 1140-1244 (.478). If you recognize that Billy Gardner being in the conversation is kind of silly, the only two names left on the ballot are Ron Gardenhire and Tom Kelly. As it should be. I’m thinking this is a tough decision for most Twins fans, and it is for me too, though perhaps for a different reason: they’re both deeply flawed in almost the exact same ways. They both distrust(ed), mistreat(ed) and have (had) very little patience for young talent (Todd Walker, David Ortiz, Jason Bartlett, Johan Santana), and both fall (fell) in love with “scrappy” little vets who don’t really have much talent (Al Newman, Denny Hocking, Nick Punto). They both have plenty in their favor, too, of course, but they’ve both made me want to pull my hair out on many, many occasions. Ultimately, I think, you’ve got to go with the guy who got the two titles. Gardy has a much better winning percentage (.547) and four division titles, but I don’t think there’s a manager on the planet who could’ve done any better than TK did with the garbage he was handed from 1993 onward.

The All-Dome Team: The Starting Pitchers

May 10, 2009

We’ve got the starting nine set. Today I had planned to cover all the pitchers and the manager, but it turns out I had a lot to say about the starting pitchers. So I’ll stop there, and pick up with yet a fourth part in a day or two.

The ballot, for whatever reason, has room for three starting pitchers and two relievers. So that’s what we’ll be doing, too.

#1 Starter: Johan Santana (1308.2 IP, 93-44, 3.22 ERA, 141 ERA+, 1381 K)
Well, that’s not hard. Johan wasted away in the bullpen for what felt to many of us like a very long time, at least a year after everyone had figured out that he was the best pitcher on the team, but then stepped into the rotation in 2004 and immediately became the best pitcher in all of baseball. He won the Cy Young Award in 2004 and 2006, and if you don’t think he also deserved it in 2005…well, I probably don’t want to hear it. Check out this comparison (FIP explained here, ERA+ here):

Colon 222.2 157 3.48 3.77 122
Santana 231.2 238 2.87 2.80 155

Just ridiculous. Every single thing that a pitcher even arguably has control over, Santana wins. No, Santana dominates. K/BB ratio? 5.29 to 3.65. HR allowed? 22 to 26. And so on. Santana was the best pitcher in the league by a very wide margin, and Colon didn’t have a particularly strong claim to being in the top five.

Yet Colon won the Cy Young, and for one reason: he pitched for a team with a better offense. Colon’s run support was an amazing 7.28, while the Twins managed a middling 5.71 for Johan. So Colon ends up with 21 “wins” against 8 losses, Santana with 16 and 7.

Now, I know I’ve cited pitcher wins a few times on here, because, well, they’re kind of fun to talk about, and easy to understand. But if you’re comparing two pretty good pitchers, wins and losses are of absolutely no use. None at all. I can’t stress that enough. Santana was your deserving Cy Young in 2005 (which would’ve made it back-to-back-to-back come ’06, and been pretty freaking cool), just as Nolan Ryan and his amazingly unlucky 8-16 record probably was in 1987. The award shouldn’t go to the pitcher whose offense outscores the other guys the most often when he’s on the mound–it should go to the best pitcher. (The killer is, Santana didn’t even come in second; Mo Rivera also impressed the voters more by appearing in roughly one-third as many innings as Santana did. I won’t even get into how ridiculous that idea is.)

I’m still a little mad about this.

Fun fact: in all his starts spanning his entire career with the Twins, the offense scored a total of exactly zero runs for him (just going by memory on that one–might be off by a couple). And yet he managed to win 67.8% of his decisions in those games. Johan is a special, special player.

#2 Starter: Brad Radke (2451 IP, 148-139, 4.22 ERA, 112 ERA+, 1467 K)
The dependable old pickup truck to Santana’s Aston Martin, Radke is another of my favorite Twins and was one of the most underrated pitchers in the game during his career. I think (without thinking about it too hard) that he’d have been #1 on many other teams’ lists from the last 20 years or so, considering especially his longevity with the team. Unfortunately for him, Johan is Johan.

I remember a very young Radke in a commercial for a baseball video game (I’m shocked that it’s not on YouTube like everything else that has ever been created, but I swear I’m not making it up). But anyway, the commercial mentioned that he’d given up a league-leading number of homers that year (which means it could’ve been after either of his first two seasons in the league, ’95 or ’96), and basically consisted of him snapping his neck around to watch the imaginary balls sail over the fence, while a literal parade of batters did kind of a conga line around the bases.

So he was a good sport, too…or else he was 22 or 23 and really needed the money.

#3 Starter: Frank Viola (1772.2 IP, 112-93, 3.88 ERA, 110 ERA+, 1214 K)
Here’s a lesson for all you aspiring little league pitchers at home about run-scoring environments: Viola’s ERA with the Twins was 34 points lower than Radke’s, but when you adjust them for the era and park and compare to league average, which is what ERA+ tries to do, they end up being almost exactly the same pitcher, with Radke just a tiny bit ahead (112 to 110).

Both Bradke and Sweet Music were changeup artists, and both were called up too early for very bad teams, putting up 5-plus ERAs at age 22 (though, again, 5-plus was a lot worse in 1982 than it was in 1995). Viola, unlike Radke, actually took a tiny step backward in season 2, but he broke out in a big way in season 3 (1984), going 18-12 with a 131 ERA+ and finishing in the top ten in wins, ERA, WHIP, IP, strikeouts, starts, complete games, shutouts, and the Cy Young voting.

His years to remember, though, were 1987 and 1988. In the first, he won 17 games with a 159 ERA+, finished 6th in the Cy Young voting (should probably have finished third, but it’s those pesky “win” totals again) and was named World Series MVP. In the second, he had almost the exact same year (four more innings, 12 fewer hits, six fewer walks, four fewer Ks, 153 ERA+), but:

(a) his ERA artificially looked better, because the league had had a sudden offensive spike in 1987 and came back to earth in ’88; and, more importantly,

(b) he won 24 games instead of 17, mostly because the 1988 Twins, who won 91 and missed the playoffs, were actually a much better team than the 1987 squad that somehow won 85 and the Series.

Viola ran away with the Cy Young Award in ’88, of course, with 27 of the 28 first-place votes (24 wins!!!!11!1!), and probably did deserve it — but that’s because the field was weaker, not because the 24-win pitcher was any better than the 17-win one from the year before. But they were both unquestionably great seasons. His ’82 and ’83 drag his numbers down (and he was roughly average in ’85 and ’86, which doesn’t help either), but he was one of the best pitchers in the league for four of the eight seasons that he wore the uniform, and that’s certainly something. So the similarities to Radke are actually pretty superficial. Radke’s great contribution was being consistently good, but he was never great, whereas Viola was never good, not once; awful and average and (especially) great, sure, but never “good.”

Even better: Viola’s midseason trade to the Mets in 1989 brought four young pitchers back, three of whom played vitally important roles in the 1991 Series championship: Kevin Tapani, David West, and someone who I’m very sure will make an appearance next time.

Runners-up: You know, no one else is even all that close. Consider: Allan Anderson, Eric Milton, and Jack Morris[‘ single season with the team] all make the ballot. And there are only eleven names on it! Tapani had his lights-out ’91 and four other average seasons, and two of Bert Blyleven’s three were pretty good (he had many more great years with the Twins, of course, but all in his first tour of duty, back at the old Met), and Scott Erickson’s first three were excellent.

In all, though, it’s a very good thing that the Dome-era Twins have had three really good pitchers, because there’s nobody else who (considering only Bert and Jack’s Dome years)) you’d want to see on an all-time anything anywhere. Absolutely nothing wrong with the top three, though.

The All-Dome Team: Outfielders (and DH)

May 4, 2009

Last Thursday, I talked about the official Twins’ All-Metrodome Team ballot and picked my infielders. Today, we continue with the outfielders and DH. The official ballot, like an All-Star ballot, lists a group of outfielders and instructs you to pick three without differentiating between left/right and center…so that’s what we’ll do, too.

Outfield #1: Kirby Puckett (.318/.360/.477, 66.5 WARP3).
The day he died, I wrote this:

If you saw Kirby Puckett play baseball, whether or not you like the sport itself, you’d have loved him. Most of Minnesota did. A funny little round man, an amazing athlete in an almost completely average-looking body, Kirby did all those little cliches that add up to one big cliche called Playing the Game the Right Way. He was always playing at full speed, no matter what the score was, how he felt, or whether it was Spring Training or the World Series. And you could just tell he really loved to play, more than anyone you’ve ever seen. See that huge smile? It seemed (in retrospect, at least) like it was just always there.

Turns out that Kirby was also a legitimately great player. A flawed player, just as he was quite obviously a flawed man. But he’s a no-brainer for this team and a cornerstone of any all-time Twins team, and the Hall of Fame is a better place for having him in it.

Outfield #2: Torii Hunter (.271/.324/.469, 41.0)
Torii was overrated both offensively and defensively and was (and is) disproportionately beloved by Twins fans. He continued to be considered “the Face of the Franchise” while going out of his way to undermine teammates, most notably calling out a very young Joe Mauer for not playing through an injury while Torii himself would miss time with much more apparently questionable injuries. Frankly, I don’t have a lot of good things to say about Torii, except this: he was better for longer than any outfielder in Dome-era Twins history save one.

Outfield #3: Shane Mack (.309/.375/.479, 30.6)
Probably the biggest surprise among any of my picks, but I have no hesitation at all about putting Mack on this team. He had a weird, weird career; he spent 1987 and 1988 as a poor fourth outfielder for the Padres and then spent all of 1989 in Triple-A or injured; he played in Japan in 1995 and 1996 before finishing his career as a more than adequate fourth outfielder for the Red Sox, A’s and Royals in 1997 and 1998. In the five seasons in between the two MLB absences, though — 1990 to 1994 — he was a Twin, and was very quietly one of the very best players in the league. I remember him as an expert hitter who hit a line drive just about every time he swung the bat. He ran well and played excellent defense. The only knock on him was that he was rather frequently hurt, but when he was on the field, for those five seasons, he was one of the best players in the game.
A good, exhaustive write-up on Mack’s career was done quite a while ago by Aaron Gleeman, here.
Runners-up: Tom Brunansky, Matt Lawton and Jacque Jones (probably in that order) were all very solid players for the Twins, but none are really all-time anything material.

Designated Hitter: Justin Morneau (.282/.348/.501, 22.3)
I can’t do it!

The official ballot consists of Roy Smalley (discussed in the infielders post) and the names of four very-good-to-all-time-great hitters, none of whom came all that close to distinguishing themselves as Twins: Chili Davis, David Ortiz, Paul Molitor and Dave Winfield. Ortiz played the equivalent of four nondescript years with the Twins, Molitor three (and he hit .341 in one of them, but it was an incredibly good year to be a hitter), Winfield and Chili two apiece.

Pass. I refuse to put a guy on this team who isn’t one of the 75 or so best or most important players in Twins history, simply because he “played” a “position” whose only distinction is that it asks nothing at all of you.

So I see no reason Morneau can’t DH for this team. He’s clearly the best hitter of the Metrodome era who isn’t already on the team, so we’re going that way.
Runner-up: Davis (.282/.385/.476, 9.2). It was only two years, but the first was a legitimately awesome offensive year given the era, and helped lead the Twins to the 1991 World Championship.


So we’ve got our lineup, and we’re two thirds of the way through the All-Metrodome Team. I’ll be back sometime soon with pitchers and the manager (only because “manager” is on the ballot), and then we’ll do a wrap-up post to take stock of what we’ve got.

The All-Dome Team: Infielders

April 30, 2009

As they count down to the frigid opening of Target Field next April, the Twins are making some effort to acknowledge/celebrate the 28 seasons that have been spent at the Metrodumpome. Which I guess they should, what with the two World Championships and all. So one thing they’re doing now is, through their official website, running a balloting process to select the all-time All-Metrodome Team. It’s more interesting than an all-franchise team, I think, because you have to make some tougher choices; Killebrew, Oliva, and Carew never played in the Dome (at least not, in Carew’s case, while with the Twins).

So I thought that, in the absence of some really compelling and timely topic for today, I’d go ahead and post my (slightly modified) ballot here, with comments (and stats from their time with the Dome-era Twins only). This is much longer than I was anticipating and I’m suddenly swamped with work, so we’ll stick with the infielders today and pick up with the outfielders and pitchers in separate posts sometime in the next few days.

Catcher: Joe Mauer (.317/.399/.457, 31.6 Wins Above Replacement Player [WARP3]).
He’s played only four mostly-full seasons in the Majors, and yet this is the easiest pick until we get to the man pictured in my avatar. Not since Carew, at least, have the Twins ever had a position player that you could really argue was the single best player in the American League…but Mauer is that. Catchers just don’t hit and get on base the way Mauer does, at least not the ones who can really catch. I don’t know how much longer he can keep it up as a catcher, but enjoy it while he does.
Runner-up: Brian Harper (.305/.339/.428, 16.8 WARP3). No patience or defense, and not much power, but if you’re in the just-pre-Juiced Ball era and can find a durable catcher who can hit .300 with 10+ homers every year, hang on to that guy.

First Base: Kent Hrbek (.282/.367/.481, 53.9)
I assume that Justin Morneau is going to win the fan vote, and quite easily, but it should be a blowout in the other direction. Hrbek, a local Minneapolis boy, had more than twice the number of PA Morneau has had so far with the Twins, was a better hitter when you adjust for the difference in eras (128 OPS+ to 122), and was a better defender (both have/had very good defensive reputations among Twins fans, but Hrbek actually earned his). And then of course there were the two World Series. Hrbek never had a year in which his raw numbers looked as huge and pretty as Morneau’s ’06, but he had several years that, viewed in the proper context, were just as good or better. Morneau has a long way to go. If you’re unfamiliar with the story that goes along with the picture to the right, that’s Hrbek tackling Ron Gant to make him fall off of first base in the 1991 World Series. And Gant was called out. That performance alone might have been enough to put Hrbek on the top of my list.
Runner-up: Morneau (.282/.348/.499, 21.7), of course. Though I’m more interested in the fact that Ron Coomer (now one of the Twins’ broadcast analysts, seen here in Fort Myers in March, photo by the author) made the list. We used to call him Fred Flintstone, for obvious reasons. Seems like a good guy; 87 OPS+. On the occasion he was even the best 1B on his own team, that was a sad team.

Second Base: Chuck Knoblauch (.304/.391/.416, 46.3).
He’s become kind of a joke because of his throwing troubles once he hit New York and connection to the Mitchell Report, but when he left Minnesota, Knoblauch looked like a tiny, troll-like, obnoxious, future Hall of Famer. He was an excellent hitter and baserunner, and only the presence of real future Hall of Famer Roberto Alomar kept him from winning, and deserving, a whole bunch of Gold Gloves (he did get one, in 1997). Second basemen as a whole burn out bizarrely early, and that’s something I’ll explore here someday; it was more in Knobby’s head than his body, but he was done as a useful player by age 31.
Runner-Up: Todd Walker (.288/.344/.419, 3) was a fine hitter who was mistreated by manager Tom Kelly, but I was a little hasty in guaranteeing upon his 1996 callup that he’d be a Hall of Famer someday (hey, those were desperate times). John Castino was probably a better player, but only played parts of two years in the Dome.

Third Base: Corey Koskie (.280/.373/.463, 33.7)
Toughest choice of them all. Gaetti had a longer career, even just considering his time with the Twins, and was a better defender. But Koskie was a fine glovesman himself, and was often the one truly excellent hitter on contending teams that really needed help to score runs.
Runner-Up: Gary Gaetti (.256/.307/.437, 28.8). My first favorite player. His hitting was overrated because of his aversion to taking a walk, and he was a little injury-prone, but the power + Gold Glove defense combination was awfully valuable. He’s probably become underrated now, as memories have faded and people have started to better grasp the importance of OBP. The Rat also has easily the best and weirdest unofficial fan club on the ‘Net.

Shortstop: Greg Gagne (.249/.292/385, 21.2)
Slim pickins here. Gagne was never on base, but was a very solid defensive shortstop with some pop. Extremely fast, but probably the worst base-stealer ever to swipe more than 100 bases (career 109SB/96CS). Looked a little like Kenneth the Page from 30 Rock.
Runner-Up: Roy Smalley (.258/.350/.419, 4.5). Almost all of his games at shortstop with the Twins happened in the pre-Dome era; by the time he came back in 1985, he was playing first and third almost exclusively (and he’s actually listed on the ballot as a DH). Still easily the next-best option in this era.

So that’s your infield. My planned Thursday night gameblog for Friday is looking less feasible with this sudden crush at work, but there will be, well, something…