Archive for the ‘Twins’ 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.

Figuring Out the AL Central, or: I Have Hope Again

August 25, 2009

About a week ago, everybody was writing off the 2009 Twins. I certainly did. Most Twins bloggers did. The folks on the wrong side of the MVP debate were arguing that Joe Mauer couldn’t win it because he was playing for a team that wasn’t going to make the playoffs, and the argument against them wasn’t that the Twins were a contender after all (they weren’t), but that the whole idea that the MVP and the playoffs were somehow linked was absurd (it is). And yeah, the 2006 team overcame a bigger deficit in a short amount of time, but as Aaron Gleeman reminded everybody, that team was good; this one is not. The Twins had the easiest schedule of any contender post-All-Star Break, and they came out looking terrible.

Well, there’s another difference from 2006, too: Detroit and Chicago were good back then, too, and now they’re fundamentally no better than the Twins are. Coming into play yesterday, all three of those teams had Pythagorean records of within a game of each other (right around 63-61). And the actual standings, the Twins having won six of their last seven games while the other two have scuffled a bit, now look like this:
Tigers 66 58 —
Wh.Sox 63 62 3.5
Twins 62 63 4.5

The Tigers are still in control, but it’s far from decided. Now take a look at the teams’ remaining games against opponents that aren’t each other:
Det (24): LAA-2, TB-6, CLE-6, KC-6, TOR-4
Chi (25): BOS-7, NYY-3, OAK-2, LAA-3, SEA-3, KC-3, CLE-3, CHC-1
Min (23): BAL-2, TEX-3, CLE-6, TOR-3, OAK-3, KC-6

The Tigers have 8 games against very good teams, the Twins just 3. The White Sox have 13, and then 4 more against the M’s and Cubs, against whom they’re about equally matched. The Twins’ five opponents other than Texas (who they handled pretty well on the road last week) are the five teams with the most losses in the American League. I think it’s fair to expect the Twins to pick up 1 game on the Tigers and 2 on the White Sox based on that schedule, and if they don’t, either they’re tanking or one of those two teams is playing out of its head. That would leave the Tigers 3.5 up on the Twins and 5.5 up on the White Sox. Then you’ve got this:

Det vs. Min: 7 games
Det vs. Chi: 6 games
Min vs. Chi: 6 games

It’s easy to say it’ll all come down to that, but realistically, it’ll all come down to Detroit. If the Tigers can win 3 of those games against the Twins and 3 of those games against the White Sox, it’s hard to see them falling apart so badly in their other games that they give up the lead. But if the Tigers drop 4 or 5 games against either or both, it should be a pretty good fight.

More interestingly, all six of those games between the Tigers and White Sox come in Detroit’s last 10 games, and the other four of the last ten are all against the Twins. As I said, the Tigers are still in control: the various playoff odds sites seem generally to have the Tigers at about 50-55% and the Twins and Sox at 20-25% each, and that seems about right (though I’d put the Twins closer to 25% and Sox closer to 20% based on the remaining schedules). What that means, though, is that there’s almost a 50% chance that the Tigers won’t win the Central. Which, if nothing else, should once again make for some very exciting baseball in those last ten games in the least exciting division in baseball.

Well, dammit.

August 1, 2009

It’s just like I was saying the other day: the one and only thing this team needs is just one more middle infielder who can’t hit and can’t field his position. Success!

At least they didn’t give up much, I guess. I mean, analytically, in pure value terms, this isn’t a bad deal at all. It just doesn’t help the Twins in any significant way, and I guess I was hoping (despite knowing better) for a little more.

Note: the entire T-D-S editorial staff is off to the beach for a week with his family starting tomorrow. I’ll probably post Something every now and then, but I very much doubt that it’ll be Daily. Back to regularly scheduled programing on August 10!

On the Twins and the Deadline

July 30, 2009

So I’ve been called out. Or called upon. Or called something.

And in stark contrast to the caller-outer himself, when that happens, this guy responds. Or he is this time. I mean, you know, he’s not making any promises.

The question: what should the Twins do with the rest of this season? Buy? Sell? Nothing (which we all know is what really will happen)?

My answer: well, it’s complicated. First, of course you don’t pack it in right now, especially since, as TCM notes, there aren’t all that many sellable commodities anyway. I’m writing this with the added perspective of one extra game over TCM, but it was (or felt like) a pretty huge game–they completed the sweep over the White Sox and jumped past said stockings into second place. still just two games behind the Tigers (and six out of the wildcard, but with four teams in front of them, two of which are clearly better teams). The Twins aren’t particularly good, but the Tigers and Sox aren’t either. The Twins and Tigers are separated by two games in the standings and one in expected W/L; they’re separated in run differential by a single big blowout (currently 11 runs). And I don’t see the Tigers or Sox getting any better this year either. There’s absolutely no reason not to do everything within reason to win this year (for your sanity, three additional uses of the word “reason” have been omitted from this sentence).

That said, I don’t think you should ever engage in a big buying spree unless you (a) feel like you have a great chance to win it all and (b) are pretty sure you’re gonna suck for the five years after this anyway (old team, expiring contracts and so on), and neither of those things are in place here.

Moreover, the realistic middle infield options are pretty well gone; I doubt the Mariners are moving Lopez at this point; Jays GM Riccardi has shown himself to be a useless trading partner, so Marco Scutaro is probably out; and my favorite target, Freddy Sanchez, just went to the Giants (and for waaaaaayyyyy too much). If they’re going to get significant middle infield help, it’s going to come from Mark Grudzielanek (which, as I’ve said before, isn’t nearly as unlikely as people seem to be assuming it is). And for God’s sake, Just Say No to Orlando Cabrera.

But what the Twins both (a) need and (b) can feasibly get is another pitcher. With Slowey gone for the year, they could use a starter, and as weird as the Mariners’ last couple days have been, I bet Jarrod Washburn is still available. But even he might cost too much for what he’s likely to bring them (I sure hope they’re asking, though).

My answer, then; be buyers, but for only one thing: a dependable relief pitcher who won’t cost any big prospects. Arthur Rhodes. John Grabow. There are probably ten or twelve of these guys who will or should be available, and they’re all pretty fungible, because they all have equal amounts of the one quality we’re looking for here: that elusive quality of not being Jesse Crain. If a team wants too much for one of these guys, you forget about him and move on to the next guy on your list.

Matt Guerrier’s and Jose Mijares’ ERAs look awfully good right now, but I just don’t trust those numbers (and neither does FIP–both are 1.5 to 2 runs higher than their ERAs). And with the starters struggling the way most of them are, another bullpen arm for depth–regardless of whether he slots into the 6th-7th behind those two or in the 8th in front of them–would really help.

So that’s it. Get a relief pitcher. Hope Grudzie gets ready quickly to provide some much needed league-averageness. Don’t go crazy just trying to “make a move” and thereby give away anything you’re going to miss a bunch later (like, say, Danny Valencia). Catch the Tigers. Leave the White Sox in the dust. Win the Series. ‘Kay?

The Twins Know Casilla Sucks Too

July 20, 2009

Hey, I guessed one right! Just took 2 1/2 months longer than I had hoped.

Apparently the team decisionmakers watched Casilla flailing around second base and had the same reaction I did (tastes a lot like what you had for dinner the night before), because today they signed 39 year old Mark Grudzielanek to a minor-league deal.

I expect story-breaker Seth’s reaction will be echoed by most Twins fans: essentially, “ew.” He’s old; he hasn’t played in nine or ten months; he’s old; he’s not Freddy Sanchez; and he’s old.

But. It’s clear that the Pirates want a lot for Sanchez. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be making the big show of making extension offers to him and Jack Wilson (offers both of them rejected, but still). A year ago, Sanchez was a terrible player. At 31, he’s reaching the age where most middle infielders start to break down. For all we know, that could happen in August.

Grudzielanek, meanwhile, made it through that barrier age and then some. In every year from 2003 to 2008, Grudzie hit between .290 and .314 and posted an OBP between .331 and .347 (with an outlier .366 in ’03) with a SLG between .399 and .432. Combined with surprisingly good defense for his age (saving 3.1 runs over average in 2008 per UZR), that’s a damn fine second baseman. Not an All Star or anything, but the kind of solid everyday player that playoff teams have filling all their non-All-Star positions. Not as valuable as Sanchez was in 2006 or has been so far in 2009, but a whole lot better than Sanchez ca. 2008.

Now, some assumptions need to be made. One needs to assume that (a) the Twins did their homework and determined that Grudzie has been working out and is still in playing shape, and (b) if he reports to the complex at Ft. Myers and proves otherwise, the Twins are ready to make another move. Because if one thing on this earth is clear, it’s that nothing is happening this year as long as Tolbert or Casilla stays at second base.

But my hopes are relatively high. Grudzielanek has certainly wanted to play, and would’ve been signed in February or March had it been any other offseason–it would be profoundly stupid of him not to stay in playing shape. I don’t think it’s crazy to hope that he’ll take a week or two in Florida and be ready to be the same .300 hitter with doubles power that he’s been for forever. And if that’s the case, you’ve got a player who, over the remainder of the season, is probably about half a win worse than Sanchez, and who in the context of baseball economics has cost virtually nothing. Whatever small piece of the Twins’ future that would’ve been mortgaged to obtain Sanchez, it’s a good bet that that piece is worth more than a half-win in 2009.

So, for maybe the first time in his tenure, I’m going to provisionally approve of something Billy Smith has done.

Then again, it’s feasible that this is just a tactic for use against the Pirates–if Huntington thinks the Twins are desperate and he has them over a barrel, it would be really, really smart to show him that they have another option besides the two subreplacement stiffs they’ve been throwing out there. So it’ll be interesting to see what happens. Either way, I’m liking this move…and that’s a really weird thing for me to say.

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.]

"Maybe it’s a tumor." "IT’S NAHT A TOOOMAH!!!"

May 21, 2009


Wednesday afternoon, and it’s the weirdest thing: the entire T-D-S editorial staff comes down with an illness that is either (a) a really bad, late-season flu or (b) Intermittent Dysmorphic Attachment Dysfunction with Smelly Feet (IDADWSF). It’s bad, whatever it is.

So the planned epic response to the very thoughtful post from tHeMARksMiTh that I mentioned yesterday (the draft in my head is tentatively titled “IN DEFENSE OF COMPASSIONATE (ButStaunchAndUnwavering) SABERMETRICISM”) will be on hold for at least one more day. Instead, I’ll just say this:

Craig Breslow, we hardly knew ye.

I know, he was horrible for 14 or so innings this season. But he was great for 40 or so innings last season. And he went to Yale. (No, I don’t know what that has to do with it.) And he figures to be better, right now, than 25 year-old AA pitcher and marginal prospect Anthony Swarzak. Whatever the solution to the Twins’ bullpen woes was, dropping one of the few relievers who was likely to improve (unlike, say, Luis Ayala) wasn’t part of that solution.

For more, refer to ubelmann.

/ staggers off to bed

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.

Errors in Judgment

May 16, 2009

As Rob Neyer brought to your attention yesterday, a five-member panel appointed by MLB granted the Royals’ appeal, overturning the Angels’ official scorer’s decision granting Howie Kendrick an inside-the-park home run on what was really a routine popup down the right field line that was completely misplayed by Jose Guillen.

I happened to be watching that game live, and, I mean, this was a terrible decision by the scorer. No two ways about it. You can click on the second link above and watch the video clip for yourself. If that’s a home run, we should go back to ’86 and give Mookie an RBI single.

So, I’m glad they overturned it. And Rob’s post and some of the comments beneath it raise some good questions about the quality and motivations of (team-employed) official scorers.

But I think this touches on an even bigger issue. The only reason this was any kind of controversy is that the ball just barely grazed Guillen’s glove on the way by. Consider this same result in a couple alternate universes:

  1. Guillen gets a great jump on the ball and camps under it, but he pulls his eye off it too early and it pops right out of his waiting glove, and then he kind of head-butts it all the way to the fence, resulting in Guillen being featured prominently in blooper reels for the rest of the year.
  2. Guillen takes his eye off of it on his way over, so he takes a slightly wrong angle whereby he comes too far in on the ball, and then watches helplessly as it bounces six feet beyond his reach.
Is there any question in the world that (1) is scored an error, (2) a home run? Yet, isn’t Guillen exactly equally culpable in both scenarios? And in the third scenario, the one that happened back in reality? In all three cases, he should’ve made the play, but didn’t. Why (at least for purposes of fielding and pitching analysis) treat the three cases any differently?

If you can watch the play and read the accompanying story and not come to the conclusion that “errors” and “fielding percentage” are utterly useless as tools for measuring defense, I’d really love to hear your argument in their favor. (Well, read the rest of this, then let me have it in the comments.)

Properly evaluating defense, at its core, requires you to ask one question, and it has nothing to do with whether or not the guy got a glove on the ball. Whether the fielder caught the ball, or dropped the ball, or ended up thirty feet away from the ball, the question should be exactly the same: should we have expected a dude in that position to make the play that that dude just made (or didn’t make)?

The Twins provide another convenient vehicle for making this point. Most days, as I’ve discussed here before, they start one of the worst left fielders in baseball (Delmon Young, or occasionally Jason Kubel); on the other days, they start one of the best (Denard Span sliding over from CF when Carlos Gomez plays). Now, Young and Span may end up with essentially the same number of “errors” over the course of the season, but if you watch them every day, you’ll routinely see Young come up ten feet or more short on fly balls hit at the exact same angle and speed as balls that Span catches with no difficulty. And when Span does make an “error,” odds are it’ll be on a ball just like that: one that Delmon could have been expected to play into a double. See, this works both ways. If Span’s legs and instincts get him to a ball that only one or two other guys in baseball could’ve hoped to, it doesn’t make a ton of sense to punish him if he bobbles it.

Turns out, most MLB clubs already have, internally, done away with fielding percentage and errors. Most teams (not the Twins, clearly; get Go-Go back in the damn game already!) employ some kind of sophisticated system of defensive analysis using tools — like my oft-cited favorite, UZR — that really do nothing but attempt to answer that one simple question (albeit in a slightly more sophisticated way than the way I just posed it).

But how long do you think it’ll take before this straight-forward, common-sense, weirdly counterintuitive idea takes hold among the media and public at large?

Or, to pose the same question in a different way: how many times must the author hear Joe Q. Colorcommentator cite errors made or fielding percentage as evidence that a team is first or last or sixth in “team defense” before he experiences some sort of cataclysmic psychic event?

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.