Archive for the ‘Mauer’ Category

The Worst Intentional Walk I’ve Ever Seen

August 19, 2009

I watched the Twins game against the Rangers last night. One of those weird games that for a while, nobody seemed to want to win…least of all Rangers manager Ron Washington.

Now, I don’t see a lot of the Rangers, but I’ve always liked Ron Washington. Maybe because he’s a former Twin, maybe because he just carries himself like the kind of guy who should be a very good manager (the way I think most non-Twins fans probably see Gardy). But this was…interesting.

Top of the 6th inning. Four runs already in for the Twins, now tied at 5. Nick Punto on first, Delmon Young on third, two outs. Right-handed reliever Jason Jennings is the new pitcher. Before even throwing a pitch, he picks Punto off, but the defense bungles it — Omar Vizquel throwing to third behind Delmon for no particular reason, and unsuccessfully — so now there are runners on second and third with two outs. Leadoff hitter and LHB Denard Span at the plate. After Span comes RHB Orlando Cabrera. Washington has Span intentionally walked to get to Cabrera with the bases loaded and two down.

Some numbers for you to consider:
Denard Span vs. RHP, season: .281/.367/.381
Orlando Cabrera vs. RHP, season: .294/.318/.394

Now, granted, Jennings himself has huge platoon splits, and would much rather face a righty than a lefty. But Span is an atypical lefty. He’s never had big platoon splits in the majors or minors, he has almost literally no power, and this year, he actually has severe reverse splits (with an .842 OPS against lefties compared to the .748 above). As a right-handed pitcher, the only thing you’re worried about against Span that you’re not especially concerned about with Cabrera is the possibility of the walk–the very thing you’re handing him for free!

And remember, there are two outs, so no double play. The only advantages here are the chance for the 3B or SS to get a closer force out (how often do you think that really makes the difference?) and whatever small advantages you think you get from facing Cabrera rather than Span and from Jennings facing a RHB rather than a LHB. And for that you’re loading the bases — in a tie game in just the 6th inning, remember — and risking a huge inning, a run scoring on a HBP or unintentional walk, etc.

Ohhhhhhhhh, and I have just one more set of slash stats for you. Consider the guy who comes up after Cabrera:

Joe Mauer, vs. all pitchers, 2009: Seventy million/eleventy billion/Zorbon-X6Qsquared.

That’s right. Rather than face slap-hitting, reverse-splitted Denard Span with two outs (a situation in which the most likely negative outcome was a walk anyway), Ron Washington thought it would be a good idea to intentionally load the bases to face what in that situation was a very similar hitter, just one hitter in front of the very best hitter on the planet. Say O-Cab scratches out an infield single? You’re looking at a one-run deficit with the bases still juiced and Babe Freaking Ruth coming up. And for what purpose again? Oh yeah…none in particular. I’d much rather have two chances to get the out pre-Mauer than one.

Pretty definitely the worst IBB decision I’ve ever seen. One of the worst managerial moves I’ve ever seen, period.

Ah yes, and it “worked.” Cabrera hit the ball hard, but Byrd tracked it down in center, and Mauer was left on the on-deck circle (and naturally homered to crazy-deep center to lead off the 7th, his second of the game). No justice, I tell you.

But then, okay, here’s a little bit of justice for you: if Jennings pitches to and retires Span to end the inning, and then O-Cab leads off the 7th with the out to center, there are three outs in that inning, rather than two, at the point when Delmon Young comes up and hits the 2-run homer that real-life Delmon hit to give the Twins the lead (and eventually the win). Not nearly as immediately gratifying as my O-Cab-single-plus-Mauer-grand-slam scenario would have been, but a little bit of karmic retribution nonetheless.

Intentional walks are dumb. Intentional walks that load the bases one seeing-eye single in front of the best hitter in the game are unforgivably dumb.

My Favorite Thing Today: two great Joes collide

August 16, 2009

Staying very much on the map for this one, because two of my very favorite things in the world came together in a beautiful way yesterday: Joes Posnanski and Mauer.

If you’re like me (and let’s face it, most of you are), you’ve probably at least skimmed past that post in your feed already (as much as I love Poz, I find that I just don’t have the stamina to always read the 10k or so words he writes every other day or so, much as I try), but it’s definitely worth a serious look. You’ll read a lot on here for the next three or four months about how great Mauer is, how Mauer is clearly deserving of the MVP award, and then how Mauer got completely screwed out of that same MVP award. But Joe, of course, puts it a lot better than I ever will.

Sigh. Gonna be another frustrating award-announcing season, I think.

MVPs and RsBI

July 21, 2009

Sorry for a third consecutive Twins-related post (this one doesn’t have much to do with the Twins at all, it just starts out that way), but DicknBert really ticked me off the other day.

This was Friday night, the same night that Alexi Casilla made me (and apparently Billy Smith) wish the second base position had never been invented. It was the second game back after the All-Star break, and the “ question of the day,” or some similarly silly promotion, was: who are Dick and Bert’s picks for MVP through the first half of the season?

Both picked Albert Pujols for the National League MVP, which is the only pick a thinking person can make. But Bert goes first, and his AL MVP pick (stats up to the last date he could’ve made the pick, through July 16) is:

Jason Bay. .260/.380/.527, 20 HR, 72 RBI, 56 R, 125 OPS+. He’s a left fielder, and probably the worst one in the league; UZR says he’s already cost the Red Sox 8.1 runs, or essentially 1 win, with his defense alone.

Then it’s Dick’s turn, and he starts out by indicating he agrees with Bert on his NL pick, but disagrees on the AL. Thank God, I think. Dick’s pick:

Torii Hunter: .305/.380/.558, 17 HR, 65 RBI, 56 R, 140 OPS+. He’s a center fielder, and has always had a sterling defensive reputation, but the stats have never agreed, and this year UZR has him at -2.1 runs.

So kudos to Dick Bremer, I guess, for picking a much, much more valuable player as his Most Valuable Player than Bert did; Torii is the better hitter, plays the more important position, and has been the much less damaging defender. But it should go without saying that neither of these guys is anywhere near the actual most valuable player in the American League.

And then I started thinking: what do these guys have in common? And then Blyleven listed off all the other guys he could have picked: Miguel Cabrera, Justin Morneau, Mark Teixeira, Evan Longoria…and that’s about when it dawned on me.

1. None of these guys is Joe Mauer.
2. On a related note, each of these guys is near the top of the league in runs batted in.

Now, let’s be clear about this. He had a huge slump over the weekend that has muddied the waters a bit, but as of July 16, there was only one remotely reasonable selection for AL MVP, and that was Joe Mauer. There’s just no debating that. You could’ve made an argument for somebody else, but you would’ve been indefensibly wrong. Check it:

.373/.477/.622, 15 HR, 49 RBI, 49 R, approx. 182 OPS+. He wasn’t just leading the league in batting average, or on-base percentage, or slugging percentage, or OPS, or OPS+; he was leading the league in all of those things. And he’s a catcher, and one of the best in the business; consider that while the average AL LFer (Jason Bay’s position) has a .771 OPS and the average AL CFer (Torii’s) has a .743, the average AL catcher has just a .712 OPS…and that number is significantly buoyed by Mauer himself. Aside from Pujols, there is nothing in all of baseball right now that even has a case for being anywhere near as valuable as a great defensive catcher with an 1.100 OPS. And, yeah, he missed a month, but he was still leading the league in almost every cumulative stat that attempts to measure player value, too; that’s just how much better he was than everybody else.

So there are DicknBert, Mauer’s own home team announcers, and not only do they not pick him, they don’t even mention him as being in the conversation. Morneau, sure, but not the runaway best player in the league hitting right in front of him (incidentally, the only other player even arguably in the conversation is Ben Zobrist, who also went unmentioned).

So it’s really clear to me that all they did was look at the RBI leaders and pick the one they think is having the best year (Bert didn’t even do that, he just picked the #1 RBI guy, despite the fact that he’s hitting roughly as well as you’d expect a LF to hit, and much worse than you’d expect a terrible defensive LF to hit). That would be fine and all, since it’s just two guys on a small-market local broadcast filling air space, except I’m pretty sure that that’s what the writers do, too. Here’s an ordered list of how the leader in RsBI has fared in the MVP voting the last five seasons (so 10 total contests, AL & NL):

1, 1, 2, 2, 2, 2, 3*, 5, 7*, 23

The average of these numbers is 4.8; the median is 2. In the two races with asterisks, there was a very close second-place finisher in the RBI race who finished first or second in MVP voting. The 23 throwing the whole thing off is Vinny Castilla, who had about an average offensive year in the middle of the lineup for the 2004 Rockies…if the Rox had won 94 rather than losing 94, Vinny might have wound up as the worst MVP pick in modern history.

Writers (and most everybody else) have seemingly always been in love with the RBI; I stopped with 2004 because before that, Barry Bonds stepped up, was intentionally walked approximately 800 times a year, and forced them to get away from RBI for a couple years. And of course every now and then they’ll pick a middle infielder–like Rollins in 2007 or Pedroia in 2008–but they almost never end up with the right middle infielder. The only way they end up on a non-RBI guy is: when the RBI champ is playing for a bad team (and where your team finishes in the standings should have nothing to do with how valuable you are, but that’s a discussion for another day); when other big RBI guys all have something go wrong; and when some little middle infielder is bestowed with the tag of “heart and soul” or “team leader” of some first-place team. In 2008, Morneau was the big RBI guy for the contending team, but he fell flat on his face in September, so he finished “only” second to sparky ‘n’ scrappy little Dustin Pedroia, whereas in 2006 Morneau did well down the stretch, so he won it. In both years, Joe Mauer was far and away the Twins’ MVP, and you could’ve made a case for him for league MVP too (though Derek Jeter was in the discussion in ’06 and Pedroia actually had a decent case in ’08).

The thing about it is–and I’m probably preaching to the choir here, but whatever–raw RBI total has almost nothing at all to do with a player’s value. It’s remarkably easy for a decent hitter with some power who spends 160 games hitting 4th or 5th in a high-scoring lineup to wind up in the top two or three of the league in RBI, and to be an average or worse overall player (see Ryan Howard ca. 2008 and 2009). The work Mauer did in getting on base in front of all those Morneau RBI, and in playing impeccable defense at catcher, was just much, much more valuable to the Twins, in ’06 and ’08 and again in ’09, than the RBI themselves are. And I think people are starting to recognize that, or at least the writers who refuse to recognize it are retiring or dying off and being replaced by the Rob Neyers, Keith Laws and Christina Kahrls of the world. But when the two guys whose entire livelihood is made by watching Mauer do his thing and relaying the wonder of it all to the masses can’t get this down, it really makes you realize how far we still have to go.

Chairman Mauer: The First 100 PAs

May 26, 2009

I’ve crossed a line, or the Twins have, or Joe Mauer has.

Someone or something has crossed a line. And now I don’t even care all that much that the Twins lost yesterday, because Joe hit another one:

Quite a one, too. He didn’t start the game (which was ridiculous to begin with; if you’ve got the best left-handed hitter in the game, and the other guys have a straight-fastball-throwing righty on the mound and a lefty throwing tomorrow, don’t you want to give him a day off tomorrow?), but pinch hit for Mike Redmond against Jonathan Papelbon in the bottom of the 9th with two outs and a runner on. His 11th home run of both the season and the month of May, making this his third consecutive game with a homer and fourth in the last five games, clanked high off the collapsed seating in right-center field, and made it a one-run game.

An even-more-lost-than-usual (understandably, it should be noted, with the recent passing of his mother) Delmon Young was due up next, which made it a foregone conclusion that that was as close as they were going to get. But, I kid you not: at least at the time, the result of the game didn’t matter at all, because Joe hit one. It must be just a little like what Joe DiMaggio’s hitting streak was like.

Conveniently, Mauer’s pinch-hit homer came on his 100th plate appearance of his season, which (also conveniently) began on May 1. His season line now looks like this:

100 81 25 36 11 31 .444 .530 .914

He’s still about 43 plate appearances shy of qualifying for percentage leader boards, but even if you give him 43 hitless at-bats (as BBREF does on its leaderboard). he’s still in the top ten in on-base, slugging and OPS. He moved into the top ten in homers, and is only a few out of the top ten in RBI. Essentially, the league needed him to take that month off just so everyone else would have a chance to do something worth noticing before he took things over.

Here’s all he’s done since May 21 (four games plus the one at-bat): 9-13, .692 BA, .684 OBP (that’s right, his two sac flies outbalance his three walks and an HBP), 1.211 SLG, 4 HR, 13 RBI.

Dave Cameron wrote a few days ago that Mauer’s power surge probably wouldn’t last, because he was hitting everything to center or left and not turning on pitches like power hitters usually do. That seems problematic to me to begin with–you might not think much of one or two wall-scrapers down the left field line, but a guy that can hit them out consistently to the opposite field and two or three in a month to the deepest part of the ballpark probably has some real power–but as though he read of Mr. Cameron’s concerns, Mauer’s home runs in the last two games have been no-doubters to right. Here, via Hit Tracker Online, is the distribution of his HR so far (minus the one from yesterday; add another one about where that furthest-right one is):

At least one among the cluster in left was actually much more toward center, and the one currently in right was further down the line than that. But you get the idea. He can hit ’em anywhere, apparently.

Obviously, no one is a true .444/.530/.916 hitter, and I doubt Mauer is going to hit 50 or even 40 home runs, this year or any year. But in 100 plate appearances, he’s come two short of his career high (13 over 608 PA in 2006). With apologies to Mr. Cameron, it’s pretty clear that he’s a changed (and, unbelievably, improved) hitter: what remains to be seen is by how much he’s improved.

Here’s the storm cloud, though: generally, the concern with Mauer has been how long he’ll last. He’s a catcher, and is huge for a catcher, so he’s liable to either switch to a different (and much less valuable) position or to suddenly burn out in, say, his early thirties. Now, though, the concern for me is this: does he even get that far as a Twin? Or does he keep playing like the perfect blend of Albert Pujols and Yadier Molina and completely price himself out of their league when his contract is up after next season (2010)? My gut tells me that he’s the one guy they can’t afford to lose (especially after just one season in their new stadium), and that they’ll have to do anything to lock him down before he hits the market, even to the detriment to the rest of the team. But then, if this is the exaggerated version of a real, new and improved Joe Mauer, how much would the Yankees or Red Sox pay for something like that, as their own catching stalwarts just happen to be hitting (or well past) retirement age? I shudder to think…

[Psst. If you haven’t been around for a couple days, I hope you had a great weekend, and you should check out Saturday’s big sabermetricians vs. RBI guys post, its aftermath posted Sunday, and the associated links to posts from Way Back and Gone and Baseball Over Here. Also, Happy Memorial Day.]

In Defense of Compassionate Sabermetricism

May 23, 2009

If I’m going to have a horribly unhealthy, gut-busting, productivity-killing Friday lunch, I’m a big fan of Panda Express’ Orange Chicken. And there’s a decent copycat place a couple blocks from the office, but it was a nice day yesterday, and I was up for a walk, so I went for the real thing. To get that, you have to head to the James R. Thompson Center, a big gathering point for a lot of Chicago that, as I understand it, houses some government offices and whatnot. The Panda Express is really all I’m interested in.

So I get there, and there’s this big protest going on right outside the building. Up close, people are waving signs about the right to life and how gay marriage is destroying our families, milling about in the general neighborhood of someone who is speaking ineffectively into a megaphone, while across the street is another group of people doing their best to drown out this first group with shouts like “What do we want?” “Abortion rights.” “When do we want it?” “Now!” and “Fascists go home!” and I’m thinking to myself, what are these people (any of them) doing here, really? Do they expect to convince anyone by labeling the other side murderers or fascists, or by just being louder? Or do they just like to hear themselves talk? Is there just nothing better to do on a pleasant Friday leading into a holiday weekend?

That’s basically how tHeMARKsMiTh sees the world of baseball fans and writers: the internet-savvy sabermetric crowd against the talk-radio-and-newsprint traditional crowd, both sides trying to shout each other down, never getting anywhere. (Of course, that doesn’t even remotely do justice to his post. Read it yourself; I’ll still be here when you’re done. Ready now? Good.) A couple basic things to get out of the way:

  1. I agree with most of his main points. There’s a lot of shouting into the abyss that goes on on both sides, a lot of name-calling and making fun, and it’s hard to see how any of it does anything at all other than making people on the same side feel smug and superior at the other side’s expense. (Okay, I have to make an exception for these guys, who were just too funny. And JoePoz, who’s kind of a fence-straddler, anyway. But otherwise, I don’t see the point.)
  2. I don’t think traditional stats (or most of them, anyway; sorry, Holds and Fielding Percentage) are completely worthless. You’ve seen me use HR and RBI a bunch of times already. Stats like those give context; even if you believe that VORP or WAR or Win Shares are a perfect measure of player value, think of the traditional stats as the splash of color in the crystal-clear black-and-white picture. They tell the story: what kind of hitter he is, where he likely hit in the lineup, and so on. WAR will tell you that Mark Teixeira and Carlos Beltran were almost exactly as valuable as each other in 2008, but don’t you want to know a little more than that? That’s where I think runs, RBI, HR, SB, and so forth come in handy.
  3. Another main point of Mark’s is that neither side has it completely right. I agree with that, too: there’s not much “right” about picking an MVP based on who has the most HR or RBI or Saves, and sabermetric analysis is certainly far from perfect as well — all you need to do is look at how much the various metrics (WARP vs. WAR, plus/minus vs. UZR) disagree with each other.

But where I disagree with Mark is: I don’t see this as being like the abortion or gay marriage debate at all. In those debates, like in the “dialectic” Mark envisions, there are really only three plausible truths: (a) one side is correct; (b) the other side is correct; or (c) the answer is somewhere in the middle. If you have one side that believes that abortion should be legal in all circumstances and one side that believes it should be banned in all circumstances, that’s as far as it goes; it can’t be more legal than the first side wants it, and it can’t be more illegal than the second side wants it. So the one true “right answer” has to be either one of those extremes or something between them.

Not so here. Our advanced metrics are flawed, but the answer isn’t some compromise between them and the traditional stats; the answer is more research, and more metrics. The metrics we have have grown out of the more traditional statistics. Saying you prefer HR and RBI to VORP and WAR isn’t at all like saying you prefer “Choice” to “Life” or vice-versa; rather, it’s like saying you prefer Betamax to Blue-Ray.

Here’s how Mark defends the traditional crowd:

Those who follow counting numbers have a point (among many). Baseball revolves around the run. It determines who wins and who loses. Therefore, should you not pay attention more to runs, RBI’s, and home runs? Home runs automatically score a run (making them slightly important) and bring in whoever is on base (making them more important). If the point of the game is to score runs than the other team, home runs and RBI’s are awfully darn important, which gave Howard the edge [over Pujols for 2008 NL MVP].

But this ignores the critical weakness of run and RBI totals (and this isn’t a criticism of Mark, who I know understands this: it’s just that I don’t think there’s any way for anyone to successfully defend this position), which is that, in every instance in which you don’t hit a home run, your runs and RBI are totally dependent upon your teammates either getting on base for you or driving you in.

This doesn’t work well for the NL race, because Howard actually did do a phenomenal job of knocking runners in in 2008 (Pujols was still the clear MVP for other reasons), but take a look at this list (I hope). In 2008, Justin Morneau finished 2nd in the AL MVP voting, while his teammate Joe Mauer finished a distant 4th, based largely (or rather, entirely) on the fact that Morneau had 129 RBI and Mauer managed just 85. If that link went to the right place, though, you’ll see that when they batted with runners on base, Mauer and Morneau drove in those runners at almost exactly the same percentage: 19.0% to 18.6%. Morneau gets that huge edge in RBI because he batted with 151 more runners on base than did Mauer. Morneau actually batted with the most runners on base of anyone in the league. Part of that, of course, is because he’s not a catcher, and thus got to play every day. But a huge part of that is that he got to hit behind Joe Mauer, and his 2nd-in-the-AL OBP!

So the RBI stat tells you who was at the plate for the final event resulting in the creation of a run, but it can actually distort your sense of how that run was created. Mauer was, hands down, a better hitter than Morneau in ’08, and played a much bigger part in how the Twins’ runs were scored. When you add in defense and adjust for position scarcity, it’s not even close. They’re very nice complementary pieces, but Morneau is the Scottie Pippen to Mauer’s MJ.

So, yeah, runs are awfully important. On the team level, you could almost say they’re all-important (almost). But to look at the HR, runs or RBI a single player has as a way of judging that player’s value is never a good idea. Even with Howard: make him the MVP because he drove a bunch of guys in, and you’re ignoring Pujols’ 100+ points of OBP and 100+ points of SLG, amounting to 100+ fewer outs and many more runs for Pujols’ team, and Pujols’ vastly superior defense, all for the sake of (a) Howard’s good fortune of having 50 more runners on base during his PAs than Pujols had in his and (b) a 2% edge in his success at driving those runners in. It doesn’t add up, or even come close.

More to the point, every one of those traditional stats is totally encapsulated in some more advanced metric or other. Whatever skills you think RBI measures, that’s also measured, and better, in SLG; or, if you think hitting with runners on base or “in the clutch” is a skill that’s worth measuring, stats like WPA/LI do a better job with that. Batting average is a fun little stat for what it is, but OBP tells you the same thing and more. Fielding Percentage is totally encapsulated by all advanced fielding metrics, like UZR and Plus/Minus.

You might think that these things (well, save OBP) are less-than-perfectly accurate, but that’s not an argument in favor of going back to the old things; it’s an argument in favor of doing more research and finding better new things. UZR may not be perfectly accurate, but it’s always, in every possible instance, going to do a better job of telling you who is the better fielder than fielding percentage will. FIP may not be perfect, but it’s better than just comparing two players’ ERAs. There may be slightly different ways to measure OPS+, but it’s always going to be better than not adjusting for era or ballpark factors at all. And so on. We can argue about how good the new stuff really is, but it’s just plain better than the old stuff (the well-grounded stuff that gains some level of acceptance, that is, not just any old thing someone thinks up).

So that’s the point: I’m not going to use the term “flat-earthers” around here. I try to avoid mudslinging of all types. I have nothing against people who rely solely on traditional stats, and I think those stats have their place. But their place isn’t in player analysis, not anymore. If you’re going to argue something like that Howard was the 2008 NL MVP and base it on traditional stats, you’re going to be wrong — simply, objectively, obviously wrong. And I’m sincerely sorry to say that. But I’m not trading in my DVD player for a VCR, and I’m not giving up my numbers for a set that tells me the same stuff, but less of it, and with more static.

Joe Mauer Day

May 2, 2009

I got nothin’ today. Or rather, no energy left to come up with somethin’. As I type this, Randy Johnson has been perfect through 3 1/3, having struck out the first five batters he faced (and none of the next four). He’s too old for that sort of thing.

Mauer certainly didn’t disappoint tonight. In his first time up, he took two balls before smacking a home run to the opposite field. Next time up, he took two strikes before lacing a double down the left-field line, later scoring. Next time up, he took three balls and a strike, then a fourth ball, scoring on Morneau’s home run. So, having seen 11 pitches and swung the bat only twice, he’d already been on base and scored three times. Two swings, three runs. Next time up he fouled oen off and grounded into a double play, but still. If you’re a Twins fan, today was like Opening Day #2.

Back tomorrow with something for real.

Links of the Week or so

May 1, 2009

I didn’t have much more time than I expected today, so here are some links to things I’ve found interesting over the last several days.

  • My old friend The Common Man takes me to task for my faint praise of Michael Cuddyer on Tuesday. If things go well here, I’m looking forward to much more of my mindless blather being hyper-analyzed by people more intelligent than I.

  • Much newer friend Lar takes us back to Orel Hershiser and his glorious 59 in 1988. I remember that streak, and Canseco’s 40/40 the same year, as the first baseball things I noticed that weren’t the Twins or the World Series…though the accuracy of that remembrance is extraordinarily questionable.
  • Dave Cameron is one of my favorite baseball writers, and I think I’ve already linked to his stuff twice. This week, he drew some…interesting conclusions about the first 35 PA of Andruw Jones’ season, and then responded to some criticism over that with some very broad statements about the usefulness of small samples. You can see what I think about all that in the comments to both articles, if you’re interested; otherwise, I leave you to draw your own conclusions.
  • In Cameron’s very interesting piece about Chris Young’s complete inability to hold runners, he concludes, “Quite simply, Young is worse at holding runners than anyone else in baseball is at any other skill.” Probably right. I was thinking about possible competition for that title, and all I could come up with was pitcher Daniel Cabrera’s hitting.
  • Jonah Keri wrote a very good column for SI that, inter alia, defends David Wright from jumpy Mets fans, and yesterday responded to an email from just such a fan on his excellent blog. Keri has noticed something I have too, which is that fans go to insane lengths to find fault with their team’s best player, especially when he’s the soft-spoken sort. I’ll write a thing about that someday.
  • Shyster does a number on that ridiculous forthcoming A-Rod book and the ridiculous person who wrote it.
  • Zack at MLB Notebook interviews Jason from IIATMS, Mark from Way Back and Gone, and many similarly excellent folk in chronicling The Life and Times of a Baseball Blogger. There is a nonzero chance that, had that post cropped up three short weeks earlier, you wouldn’t be reading this right now…

  • Non-baseball Division: For as long as there have been juries, there have been people who have tried to get out of jury duty (or so I assume). If you’re looking to get out of jury duty, don’t take your cues from this guy.
  • From the Archives Division: I firmly believe that Joe Posnanski is the best currently active sportswriter on the planet, and I recommend everything he writes. But I also believe that the Snuggie is the most fascinating and bewildering thing in our modern world, and I can’t recommend anything Joe has written more than his blow-by-blow dissection of its amazing commercial.
  • Topical Comedy Division: The only thing funnier to me than Snuggies is everyone’s severe overreaction to swine flu, and the only thing funnier than that is Colbert’s riff on everyone’s severe overreaction to swine flu:
    The Colbert Report Mon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
    Enemy Swine: A Pigcalypse Now
    Colbert Report Full Episodes Political Humor First 100 Days
  • Happy Joe Mauer Day!!!

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…