Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Beer Leaguers: Gumballhead, Brian Bannister, and Pat Neshek

Last night, The Common Man finished his dinner, put The Boy to bed, and came downstairs to find The Evil Dog had peed on the kitchen floor, despite having been walked not one hour before. Here was a situation that clearly called for a beer.

And so, The Common Man popped the top off of a Gumballhead, a wheat beer made by Three Floyds Brew Pub, in Munster, Indiana. The psychedelic foil label features a yellow creature (Google tells TCM it's a cat who may or may not also be the star of his own web comic) of some sort smoking a cigarette and sporting what appears to be a black eye. Written up the side of the bottle are the words, "It's not normal."

Since the retirement of world-class crazy man Turk Wendell, The Common Man can only think of two ball players who really resonate with this slogan as baseball's true odd ducks. Brian Bannister, the starter for the Kansas City Royals, is the son of former Major League pitcher Floyd Bannister (who won 134 games from 1977-1992), which could lead one to believe that the younger Bannister is old school and conservative, status quo loving legacy. Banny is a fan of sabermatricians around the blogosphere; he is a strong believer in Defense Independent Pitching stats, and is thoughtful in how he dissects his own performance. He has a Bachelors in Fine Arts degree from USC, is a photography enthusiast and supports artists working in the Scottsdale area. Just his mere presence makes the Royals almost watchable in non-Greinke outings. Bannister always has something interesting to say, such that it's no wonder that Banny has made a disciple out of no less a writer than Joe Posnanski.

Likewise, Twins reliever Pat Neshek has made tremendous fans online for being one of the first active players to really blog about his experiences in the minor and major leagues. His insight and his enthusiasm are both greatly appreciated by his readers, as Neshek serves as a proxy for their broken dreams of never having a chance to make the big leagues. Indeed, while you and The Common Man may never have even played high school ball, we always felt we knew and respected the game far more than those who played it. Neshek's baseball card and autograph collections, his openess in talking about both, and his genuine awe at being a Major Leaguer, is refreshing for fans like The Common Man, who feel like they finally have one of their own to root for. Neshek's delivery, the jerky, whip-like, side arm action that fools righty and lefty batters alike also is a reminder of just how different Neshek is from your average major leaguer.

There is, however, one central difference between Brian Bannister and Pat Neshek. Neshek has thrown 120 innings at the big league level, and is coming off of a major injury (Tommy John Surgery). By no means is his full recovery assured, no matter how much The Common Man wishes it so. Still, in those 120 innings, The Freakshow has struck out 142 batters, and walked just 37 (in a row?). He is overpowering, and has an incredibly filthy slider. It's no exaggeration to say that, if he's healthy, Pat Neshek is absolutely nasty. Brian Bannister, on the other hand, The Common Man is sad to say is just not a good major league pitcher. After an exceptionally positive start to his career (14-10, 3.95, low HR/9 and BB/9 rates from 2006-2007, very low BABIP), the American League (or Lady Luck) seems to have caught up to him. In 2008, his HR/9 jumped (as did his K/BB ratio, however), and his BABIP also rose by 60 points (to .316). It held relatively steady in 2009. In the last two years, Banny has gone just 16-28 with a 5.29 ERA. It's clear that Bannister simply isn't a serviceable starter on a competitive franchise, and that he's not part of the long term solution for the Royals. Though he'll probably make a hell of a pitching coach some day.

And so, The Common Man is forced to make Brian Bannister the official Gumballhead of Major League Baseball. For one thing, he's got a lot of knowledge in that head of his, and some gumballs are awfully big. But more importantly, just like Bannister is not a good pitcher (no matter how much we want him to be), Gumballhead is not a good beer. Now, in the interest of fairness, TCM is generally not a wheat beer fan anyway, but this brew seems particularly egregious. It's exceedingly light, to the point where you can't really taste the beer. Rather, you get a splash of water across the bow, before a sharp hoppiness washes over the whole of your mouth. That's followed almost immediately by the most lemony aftertaste that The Common Man can remember having from a beer. And that aftertaste doesn't dissipate either. It sticks with you. It haunts you. It keeps coming back, and just gets more strident and insistent sip after sip, like Yankees in their second at bats against young Banny. Eventually, the aftertaste starts teeing off on your taste buds, and you run for a palette cleanser. And this might be The Common Man's imagination, but there might be the faintest smell of stale urine. Frankly, life's too short to drink this beer, unless you've got no other choice on hand. Fortunately for Bannister, the Royals don't.

Monday, March 29, 2010

The Committee Votes "Aye"

Joe Nathan’s injury created significant questions for the Twins as they sorted out their bullpen options for 2010. Thankfully, when faced with a choice, the team did not panic, and indeed did something sensible. Gardenhire told reporters on Sunday, "we're going to start out and we're going to look at a lot of different people and we'll see what happens. We've got about three or four different guys we can go to."

So, the Twins announced plans to go with what’s being called a “closer by committee” approach at the end of games, but which really amounts to riding the hot hand in the short term and letting the competition play itself out organically. The Common Man is fairly pleased by this. After all, as he pointed out earlier this month, there is really no perfect internal solution for the loss of an elite reliever like Joe Nathan. Rather, the Twins are faced with a number of inexperienced choices who don’t necessarily profile well as shut-down closers in the new sense we’re talking about here. Yet, all of the relievers in question are quality pitchers, and are likely to be average to above-average at the end of the game. There’s no need to give up some of the team’s elite young talent for another largely fungible reliever.

Instead, the team has made value moves. The signing of Ron Mahay indicated, at first, that the Twins were interested in moving Jose Mijares into the role. However, Mahay’s minor league contract could also be taken as a sign that Francisco Liriano has won the 5th starter spot and that Brian Duensing would spend at least part of this season in Rochester, where he’ll be a starter. Either way, if he makes the team Mahay figures to allow Mijares the freedom to enter games in higher leverage situations in the 8th or 9th inning, rather than serving as the team’s de facto LOOGY. Indeed, what the Twins are doing will allow them to pick the matchups that are, in theory, the most effective, bringing in Mijares against Sizemore and Hafner, while using Rauch or Guerrier against Magglio and Cabrera.

As Rob Neyer tweeted tonight, Gardy’s exclusion of Pat Neshek from his list of end of game options is somewhat disappointing. Neshek is incredibly popular with the fans and is generally an excellent relief option against both righties and lefties. His demeanor suggests an ability to work past difficult outings, and his stuff, if he’s healthy, is absolutely filthy. Alas, the Twins seem to have decided to baby Neshek a little bit at the start of the year, easing him back into an expanded role with the club. And The Common Man can respect that, even if he’s eager to see his favorite side-armer get some saves. In fact, one added benefit for the Twins (but not for Neshek) is that a lower save total will result in a lower salary once Pat becomes eligible for arbitration next season.

Again, The Common Man continues to expect Jon Rauch to get the majority of the opportunities at the end of the game. Despite their reasoned approach here, the Twins have always been a relatively conventional team, and Rauch has the look and at least a little bit of experience with the role. Rauch will not be as effective as Joe Nathan, and it will be interesting to see just how the Twins react to this. Indeed, if the team senses weakness, there’s an excellent chance they could pull the trigger on an even more panicky deal than the ones they’ve rejected thusfar. But if they can stay patient and flexible, allowing the most effective relievers to rise to the top of the bullpen ladder, the team is likely to find itself in relatively good shape this year.

This experience can also serve as a strong lesson on building a bullpen going forward, reminding Bill Smith that closers are mostly made, not born, and not to overextend the club for replaceable talent.

Note: The Common Man is sorry for a awfully short post today (by TCM's standards). He's got a lot coming up this week, including a new Beer Leaguers tomorrow, his first post as a part of the Its About the Money Stupid team tomorrow or Wednesday (The Common Man will be posting there once or twice a week from here on out), his regular guest spot at The Daily Something, and a ridiculously entertaining (and long) interview with former Expo and Blue Jay Balor Moore. Check back often, it's going to be busy.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Why and When to Walk Away

It’s easy to make jokes about the Kansas City Royals (TCM has made more than a few in the last 24 hours), and how they’ve lost one of their better pitching prospects, Danny Duffy, who yesterday left the team to “reassess his life priorities.” It’s sad for the Royals and their fans, not only to lose a talented pitcher (Doyle has been called the most advanced of KC’s pitching prospects, and is #8 on Baseball America’s list of its Top Prospects), but it’s especially hard to again feel like the laughing stock of the American League. Especially when that status is so well deserved.

Most of us will look at Danny Duffy’s decision and wonder why in the hell a player with his kind of talent would walk away from baseball. After all, The Common Man would give up his left arm (he’s right handed) to pitch in the big leagues. It is the dream of hundreds of thousands of little boys in the United States right now. To be so relatively close to this magical goal, and potential winning lottery ticket, would be unfathomable to so many Americans.

But while the major leagues are a golden land of milk and honey, it’s easy for us to forget that, frankly, the minor leagues (particularly the low minors) kind of suck for the players. Many are away from their homes, families, and friends for six months at a time (Duffy, for instance, is from California, but played the last two years in Burlington, Iowa ("the backhoe capital of the world!"); and Wilmington, Delaware (where violence was so prevalent in the '90s that the entire downtown is now under camera surveillance). Despite the noise and cramped-ness of a clubhouse, it’s easy to feel isolated if you don’t somehow connect to your teammates. The atmosphere is very insular.

You get paid next to nothing as a salary, and you get $20 (now finally bumped up to$25) per day to eat on the road. You stay in crappy motels, and your living conditions can vary wildly depending on where you’re playing and who you’re staying with. Entertainment is tough to come by (particularly in Burlington, Iowa, or Wilmington, Delaware). For some players, particularly those with young families, it is impossible to make ends meet and continue to play ball. Road trips last 7-10 days, and you spend a dozen hours or more at a time on a cramped bus with 35-40 other people that you may or may not be able to stand.

For as much fun as it can be to play the game, the rest of the grind can really suck. And if, for some reason, your lottery numbers don’t end up a winner, you’re often stuck going back to school at 24, 25, or 26, or starting a career with almost no job history, no practical experience. For some, that risk is not worth taking.

Danny Duffy is still a very young man. At 21, he’s got a lifetime ahead of him. This was undoubtedly not an easy decision for him, to give up the thing he has been working toward for much of his life. Whether injury, loneliness, falling out of love with the game, or never loving it in the first place was the primary motivator, it’s important to note that there are a number of contributing stressors that are pressing on minor leaguers today. If there is anything for the Royals to take away from Duffy’s decision, it’s that they need to examine the support networks they have in place throughout their minor league system to make sure they don’t lose any more players. Duffy may be an isolated case, and may have chosen to walk away regardless, but periodic introspection and analysis is a good thing, particularly for a moribund franchise like Kansas City. Playing for the big league Royals is depressing enough; they should make the minors as welcoming and fun as possible.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Great Thanks and a Preview of Upcoming Events

Thanks again to Rob Neyer for including The Common Man in his Wednesday Wangdoodles. Rob's the best and has been terrifically supportive of late. And thanks to Baseball Think Factory and Baseball Musings for highlighting TCM's work. Thanks to anybody The Common Man missed who linked here today. And thanks to all of you for checking in and making today the highest traffic day in The Common Man's history. TCM hopes you'll come back again...often.

Today, The Common Man is guestblogging over at The Daily Something, but will be back here tomorrow. You can always follow TCM on Twitter. Also, on tap for next week, TCM will present an interview with Balor Moore, subject of a recent Random Thursday and the 1st ever draft pick by the Montreal Expos.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Fisking Howard Megdal and the Greenberg Conspiracy of '38

Sometimes smart people get ahold of statistics and do dumb things. Yesterday, at the New York Times, on Jack Marshall’s Ethics Alarm, and on NBCSports.com, Howard Megdal, author of The Baseball Talmud, explored the long-discussed theory that Hank Greenberg was pitched around in 1938, and therefore denied a shot at the home run record, because he was Jewish. In the comments of HardballTalk, Megdal writes that the central question is, “Was Hank Greenberg treated differently than others sluggers chasing Ruth’s record. And the answer, thanks to the historical record, is yes.” It’s a line Megdal repeats on the New York Times, when he writes, “the statistical record stands as evidence that Greenberg’s religion might have been an additional barrier.” Here’s the problem: the statistical record says no such thing.

Megdal comes to this conclusion because Retrosheet and BaseballReference.com have now provided access to game results and box scores for all of 1938, and indeed for most of Greenberg’s career. His central argument is that Greenberg’s walk rate was 20.4 percent in September of 1938, while Megdal’s math has him at 15.9 percent of plate appearances at the end of August. In addition, Greenberg was walked three times in a game three times during September of 1938, after having just two three-walk games over the course of the rest of the season. Just to be clear, Megdal is talking about a 4.5 percent change in walk rate over a full month and three games in particular in September as evidence of an Anti-Semitic desire to keep Greenberg from breaking Ruth’s record.

Now, a couple of points. First, Hank Greenberg undeniably faced a great deal of prejudice as he chased this mark: he received hate mail and death threats. This was definitely a serious consideration and one that may have played a role in Greenberg falling short if he was distracted or stressed in the season’s final weeks. Second, it is absolutely true that Greenberg’s walk rate in September of 1938 (20.4) is higher than his career rate (13.9).

However, there are significant problems with Megdal’s analysis. The first is that, according to The Common Man’s math, Greenberg didn’t walk in 15.9 percent of his plate appearances through the end of August in 1938. According to BaseballReference.com, Greenberg walked 91 times in 544 plate appearances from April through August. That works out to a walk rate of 16.7 percent. How this slipped past Megdal and the New York Times fact checkers is beyond The Common Man. Really, then, we’re talking about a difference of 3.7 percent between Greenberg’s non-September and September walk rates. Given the same number of plate appearances in September and October, we are talking about an actual difference of five walks between Greenberg’s September rate and the rest of his season. Five walks. That’s what Megdal’s argument comes down to. Five walks spread across 32 games. Statistical blip doesn’t even come close to describing how flimsy this data is.

What’s more, thanks to the work done by two intrepid bloggers at MLB Expert Analysis Blog back in February (which Megdal apparently never saw), it’s clear that, while Greenberg’s walk rate did rise in September, it had been even higher in April and May. Indeed, September and October represent the third highest BB% for Greenberg in 1938. Did pitchers presciently begin pitching around Greenberg in April and May because they knew he would break the mark? Of course not. Again, what you’re seeing is a statistical blip.

This article is also important since it points out that, going into September, Greenberg had 46 homers, and would need 14 to tie the Babe, 15 to break the record. Greenberg’s high for homers in a month in 1938 was 15 in July, which suggests that Greenberg was always a long shot to break the record, until he got hot again in September (and hit 12). Why is this important? Because two of the three three-walk games that Megdal identifies as so important occur on September 3 and 5, when Greenberg was still sitting on 46 homers.

Now, let’s look deeper into those three games that play such a pivotal role in Megdal’s argument. On September 3, Greenberg came to the plate 5 times against the White Sox. Jack Knott, on the mound for the Sox, was about a league average pitcher. He walked Greenberg twice in seven innings (in which he gave up 11 hits and 8 runs, but no other walks). Harry Boyles, who pitched 29 innings that year, with a 5.22 ERA and 7.7 BB/9 (8.5 career mark). Boyles also walked Hank once.

On September 5, the Tigers were playing the Browns in a double-header. In the first game, Greenberg walked three times against Lefty Mills in four plate appearances. Mills was finishing up his only season as a full-time starter, and walked 116 batters in 210 innings. He had a 5.31 ERA and a 5.0 walk rate. However, this was the lowest rate of his career, as he finished above 7.0 in every other season in which he pitched. His career BB/9 was 6.2. In addition to Greenberg (who batted cleanup), Mills walked Dixie Walker (2nd), Charlie Gehringer (3rd) and Rudy York (5th). To accept the notion that Mills was intentionally putting multiple runners on base in a tie game (the score was 2-2 going into the bottom of the 8th, when the Browns pushed across the lead run. Given that he was skating on thin ice as a major league starter, TCM has a hard time believing that Mills would jeopardize his personal ambitions to stop Greenberg from achieving a record he had little chance, at that point, in breaking. In the second game of the double-header, which the Tigers won, Greenberg went hitless in four appearances with just one walk. Aparently starter Bobo Newsom didn’t get a team-wide memo.

The final three-walk game of 1938 for Greenberg happened on September 27, in another double-header against the Browns. Again, in game one, Greenberg was passed three times in four trips, this time by the stellar team of Jim Walkup and Fred Johnson. In his other at bat, Greenberg singled and had an RBI. Walkup was aptly named. Aside from 8 games in 1939, he was mercifully on his last legs as a major leaguer. Jim Walkup was given a shot as a swingman in 1935 and posted a 6.25 ERA with 104 walks in 181 innings. In 1937, he bested that with a 7.36 ERA and 83 walks in 150 innings. He settled down some in 1938, dropping his ERA all the way to 6.80 with 53 walks in 94 innings (and a 1-12 record). Walkup’s career ERA was 6.74 and his BB/9 was 5.1. In that game, Walkup would dole out 5 walks to the Tigers. Not that Johnson was any better. At the tender age of 44, Fred Johnson got his first extended shot with the Browns in 1938. He would pitch 69 innings with a 5.61 ERA. In his one inning of work, Johnson let an unearned run score, and got hung with the loss, thanks to the two walks he allowed. Given that Charlie Gehringer (who immediately preceded Greenberg) also walked twice, it’s again hard to believe the Browns were deliberately putting multiple runners on base. In Game 2, against Bill Cox and Ed Cole, Greenberg was not walked, and in fact hit two homers in four at bats, giving him 58 for the season. The Browns lost 10-2. Honestly, if there was ever a time to walk Greenberg, surely it was in this game, where the Browns were handily getting slaughtered, had nothing to play for, and Greenberg was destroying them.

The facts are that, aside from Jack Knott, Greenberg faced terrible, even historically bad, pitching in these games. Many of these pitchers had control problems anyway. Without actual play-by-play data, we cannot know exactly the situations in which Greenberg was hitting, but it’s clear he was coming to the plate with men on base on many occasions, a dangerous time to put additional runners on. While we cannot definitively know what’s in mens’ hearts, it seems likely that these pitchers did not intentionally walk Greenberg to keep him from the record (especially as most of them were fighting to hold on to their careers), and that there was no organizational policy against him (particularly against the Browns).

The play by play data that Megdal looks at is compelling only if you pick and choose what you want to make your argument and if you (TCM assumes) incorrectly state the player in question’s walk rate through the season’s first 5 months. In actuality, all Megdal’s argument comes down to is five walks in September. Five walks in 32 games. A blip. A nothing. And for him to suggest otherwise is to ignore context and to misuse the data he has available.

Hank Greenberg did face racism in 1938, and what was said about him and sent to him was shameful. It’s an embarrassment to the country he fought to protect several years later in WWII. And that racism may have played a role in the way he famously, as he put it, “ran out of gas.” But you cannot make a credible case that American League pitchers were in on any kind of effort to deny Greenberg the title, Howard. You can’t make these statistics say whatever you want them to.

Monday, March 22, 2010

The Twins Spending $184 Million Completes a Surreal Weekend

Yesterday, the Joe Mauer contract put a fitting cap on what was a surreal weekend for The Common Man. Were those TCM’s Twins shelling out $184 million after all those year’s in baseball’s small market wasteland? Indeed it was. In general, The Common Man is pleased this morning by the contract the Twins gave to Mauer, and looking forward to having him with the club for the foreseeable future. Twins bloggers and national media types are weighing in on this deal, but here are the salient points as TCM sees them:

1) $184 Million over eight years represents a huge risk by the generally risk-averse Twins, and could seriously hamper the club’s ability to compete on the back end of this deal.

2) However, in order to enjoy the benefits (drastically improved odds of making the playoffs every year, and happy fans) of having an otherworldly talent like Joe Mauer in the short term, you have to live with the long term risks.

3) The Twins smartly tacked this contract onto the end of Mauer’s existing contract, giving the club more financial flexibility in this down economy, it only becomes more expensive, presumably, when the economy recovers and revenues are at their normal levels.

4) The No Trade Clause is somewhat troubling, but seems to be the price of doing business. TCM doesn’t want to trade The Golden Boy anytime soon anyway, so that’s fine. If the clause becomes an issue, it will likely be because either the Twins are not competing and need to rebuild, or Mauer’s production has declined to the point that he’s no longer starting. In both cases, there are mitigating factors that might motivate Joe to actually enthusiastically accept a trade that would net him a better chance to win or more playing time.
There is no doubt that this deal represents a fair market value for Joe Mauer’s talents. It is just a shade higher than the 8-year, $180 million deal Mark Texeira signed, and a catcher of Mauer’s ability figures to be more valuable than a 1B of Tex’s.

5) While Joe probably wanted to stay all along, he and his agent really had the Twins over a barrel in these negotiations. The Twins, from a PR perspective, simply did not have the option of letting Joe walk away a year after opening a new tax-payer funded stadium, and a year removed from a well-deserved AL MVP award. He is one of the most popular players in franchise history, and nothing would have killed attendance in Year 2 of Target Field like a Mauer-less Opening Day lineup.

In retrospect, The Common Man thinks it’s clear that the Denard Span and Nick Blackburn deals were done to send a message to Mauer that the Twins intended to be competitive in the long-term, and were not going to let Joe wallow in mediocrity like the Twins did with Kirby Puckett in ’93-95.

Other surrealness that happened this weekend to The Common Man:

When The Boy gets a new interest, it’s not just an interest. It quickly becomes an obsession. This weekend, The Boy decided that he was no longer a small human child, but a whale. He would only eat food with krill in them (krill sandwiches, krill chili, krill breakfast burritos, etc.). On Sunday, this obsession culminated in a trip to the book store, where The Uncommon Wife fueled this fire with some extra gasoline, buying two books on whales, a book on sharks, and one on the ocean. The Boy returned from the store, and announced that he was a sperm whale, “because sperm whales have teeth.” The problem with three-year old, land-locked sperm whales, however, is that they want you to pretend to be an octopus or orca, and then use those teeth. Ow.
Throwing dry brush, jet fuel, and treasured keepsakes from the attic on the fire, The Uncommon Wife suggested, and TCM accepted her proposal for, a family vacation to Los Angeles in April to do some whale watching, among other things. This will also allow The Common Man to take in games in Arizona, Anaheim, and possibly San Diego. So everybody wins!

The Boy was also decidedly high-energy all weekend. By 9:00 last night, as he called his mother up to sing him a song before bed, The Uncommon Wife decided she had had enough. “Ice cream,” she told The Common Man as she met him at the stairs. “That’s not a question or request.” Intimidated by the wild look in her eye, TCM asked meekly, “Do you know what kind you want?” “Something chocolate,” she glowered. “Don’t get what you usually get.”
So, The Common Man ran to the grocery store. TCM pulled into his parking spot directly opposite another beleaguered-looking guy who was just getting out of his truck. TCM then followed him into the store, and both headed directly for the ice cream. As they stood, intently examining frozen case after frozen case of ice cream, TCM looked over and said, “So you got sent out for ice cream too?”
“Yep. And they’re never specific about what they want, are they?”
“Mine just said something about chocolate,” said TCM. “So at least I have a genre to work in.”
“I heard her say chocolate and caramel,” said TCM’s new friend. A bond was forged.
After both heading through the self-checkout, the brothers-in-arms stared at each other briefly before exchanging “Good luck”s, and drove away.

Much of this weekend was spent finally finishing the sink and vanity in TCM’s new bathroom. Alas, The Common Man was called into the sink and vanity project relatively late in the game. The Uncommon Wife had started it three weeks ago, but events conspired to keep it from completion. By the time TCM got to the sink, there were parts missing and no way to tell what had been done from the instructions, and what still needed doing. So The Common Man began taking things apart and starting from scratch. Alas, TCM kept needing more and more things, and ultimately made seven trips to hardware stores (because there are only so many times you can go to one hardware store before you are too ashamed) over the course of Saturday, buying new, flexible pipes for the water, more plumber’s tape, a rubber washer, an extension for the drain pipe, a second extension for the drain pipe when it turned out the first extension was the wrong diameter, and a new drain to replace the one The Common Man broke. TCM is ashamed and feels like much less of a man. On the other hand, he does now know how to not screw up when taking apart and putting together a new sink, because he’s already made all the errors a person can make.

Or did he?

Friday, March 19, 2010

Thank Yous

The Common Man has been extremely pleased this week by the response he has gotten to his work, particularly from friend of the blog, Craig Calcaterra, of NBCSports.com's HardballTalk and also the incomparable Rob Neyer, of ESPN.com's Sweetspot. The Common Man greatly appreciates the support, and thanks them and each of you for stopping by this week. This has, by far, been the most successful week ever at The Common Man, and TCM is both proud and humbled (because The Common Man is also a complex man).

To celebrate this week's awesomeness, The Common Man entreats you to enjoy the following absolutely horrible live rendition of a Godawful song. If you can’t take the first two-and-a-half minutes of ear-bleeding terribleness, at least fast forward and watch the last minute of the performance. The whole thing is amateurish and awkward, but the addition of a ceremonial Native American headdress at the end is a good reminder that a) the feelings of Native Americans are still as marginalized today, as are their traditions fetishized, b) there is no limit of idiocy that people will applaud for, and c) that apparently terrible taste in music extends to fashion. Also, it’s a good reminder that the logo of the Cleveland Indians and the name of the Washington football team remain offensive black eyes on professional sports. Man, if you can’t trust someone with a dollar sign in their name to be respectful of the symbols of other cultures, who can you trust?

And if you're unwilling to familiarize yourself with the symbol for all that is wrong with music today, Ke$ha, enjoy an old The Common Man favorite, a Stupid Man Trick:

If only we could combine these two clips somehow.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

She don't lie, she don't lie, she don't lie

The big news yesterday and today, of course, was Ron Washington’s surprising revelation that he had tested positive for using cocaine during the 2009 season. New details have been leaking out over the past 24 hours, including the possibility that Washington and the Rangers may have been blackmailed by a former employee (who is also the probable source for the original report). The reactions, of course, have come fast and furious, including this report by ESPNDallas reporter Jim Reeves,
Yes, the Texas Rangers should have fired Ron Washington on the spot in July. That, I suspect, is what most teams or companies would have done. You or I probably would not have survived such a transparently self-serving confession of "one time" cocaine use….That doesn't excuse his behavior. This goes beyond stupid. This begs the question: How can Washington manage others when he can't manage himself?

Reeve’s opinion here is by no means outside of the mainstream. Many scribes have called for Washington’s firing and questioned his ability to manage his players “when he can’t manage himself.”
Look, what Ron Washington chose to do was wrong, was stupid, and was potentially career-ending. The Common Man has absolutely no interest in defending Ron Washington’s actions last summer. Ron Washington screwed up, and while firing him would have been a justified punishment, The Common Man is glad we live in a world where a man with no prior history of bad acts can get a second chance. The truth is that we don’t know how or why Ron Washington chose to do cocaine last summer, we don’t even know if it was his cocaine he was using (perhaps he was out with a friend), nor does TCM think we have any real right to know that information. TCM has no bone to pick with Ron Washington, nor does he particularly like him.

So with that out of the way, let’s lay to rest the entirely stupid notion that Washington can’t manage his players because he “can’t manage himself.” None of us is perfect, not even The Common Man, and we all have problems successfully managing ourselves from time to time. Have you ever had an extra drink, even though you knew it wasn’t a good idea, saying “I’m going to pay for this tomorrow?” (TCM is guilty) Did you ever punch a wall in frustration and either break some fingers or dent the drywall? (TCM is guilty of the latter) Have you skipped class, even though you knew that you’d catch hell? (Totally guilty) Have you ever driven while you’re exhausted, eaten an extra pop tart at breakfast, smoke a cigarette? (yep, yep, yep) Did you ever smoke pot, try pills, pull fire alarms, or pick a fight? (alas, TCM never rose to this level). Congratulations, you have at least at one point in your life not been a good manager of yourself. Now, the degree to which these things are “bad management” is debatable, but the test is the same as the one Ron Washington failed. From the outset, you know that what you are doing to yourself is not healthy, yet you do it anyway.

So Ron Washington is really no different than the rest of us, except to the degree that what he did was inappropriate. And while that degree is relevant, we have no evidence he did it more than once or that he put anyone in danger; there is certainly no disturbing pattern of behavior with Washington, after all Reeves goes out of his way to say how much he likes Ron and says he generally does a good job. And baseball history, after all, is filled with successful managers, Hall of Fame managers, who succeeded in spite of their personal failings and bad decisions, just like the rest of us.

John McGraw was a notorious hothead and drinker, who would fight his players, opponents, and umpires. Until Bobby Cox came along, McGraw held the record for the most times ejected from a game, and by all rights he deserved it (particularly since the threshold for umpire abuse was much higher then). McGraw also was touted as the single best judge of talent in baseball, won 2763 games, finished with a .586 winning percentage, won seven pennants and three World Championships.

Billy Southworth had another incredible managerial career. He helmed the Cardinals and Braves for twelve consecutive years beginning in 1940, won 100 games three years in a row, two World Series, four pennants, and retired with a .597 winning percentage (behind only Joe McCarthy for 20th century managers. Like McGraw, Southworth was a tough manager for players to love, his rules were often seen as oppressive and angered his players. Southworth was also an alcoholic whose systematic abuse of alcohol finally caught up to him…after twelve years of almost unparalleled success.

Leo Durocher won 2008 games across 24 seasons as a skipper. He won three pennants and a World Series as a manager. He was apparently also disliked by almost everyone in baseball at one point or another. He feuded with Larry MacPhail, his commissioner (whose name was Happy, how hard do you have to antagonize a man named “Happy” before he dislikes you), and the most beloved Cub of all time, Ernie Banks. He got himself suspended in 1947 because of his association with gambling and gamblers. His inability to keep his personal life from impinging on his team may have cost his team Durocher for the ’47 season, but it didn’t cost them anything on the field. Burt Shotton guided the team to the NL Pennant, before they fell in seven games to the Yankees.

The most obvious example of out of control managers, of course, is Billy Martin. Martin’s vagabond managerial career took him from Minnesota to Detroit to Texas to Oakland, and to the Yankees five separate times. And Martin’s personal demons are well-documented. He was an alcoholic and was violent. He baited umpires, opponents, his players, and his owners into fistfights. His roudiness, drunkenness, and borderline criminal behavior cost him every job he had, except Oakland (and there it probably didn’t help any). Billy Martin is the very definition of not being able to manage himself. The irony, of course, is that he could manage baseball teams, and Martin presided over 7 teams that won more than 90 games, including 5 and a half that would finish in first place (Martin was fired in the middle of the Yankees Championship season in 1978). He won two AL pennants and one World Series. And many of his teams, particularly the Oakland A’s in the early ‘80s, improved because of his presence. Indeed, Martin managed others just fine despite having almost no control over his own addictions and demons.

Of course, Martin’s an extreme example, and ultimately his indiscretions kept him from continuing to manage in the major leagues. However, Tony LaRussa was arrested for drunk driving during spring training in 2007, the year after he won a World Series. LaRussa had fallen asleep at the wheel of his car, and was idling at a green light when police woke him and gave him a breathalyzer. Clearly, this is an example of a man who was not, for one night at least, managing himself. While LaRussa endured a public flogging for his crime, very few questioned his right or his ability to continue managing the Cardinals. One month later, Cardinals’ relief pitcher Josh Hancock would kill himself in a drunk driving accident. Again, almost no one thought to question whether LaRussa’s personal mismanagement had led to a culture of excess and lack of regulation, a thesis perhaps supported by his players’ extensive history with steroid use.

Bobby Cox is generally regarded as one of the greatest managers of the last 40 years. His steady hand guided the Braves to 14 division titles, 4 pennants, and one World Championship in a 15 year stretch, and he led the Blue Jays into the playoffs in 1985. But for one night in 1995, Bobby Cox’s hand was not so steady. Police called to his home in Atlanta arrested Bobby Cox and he was charged with simple battery against his wife. She told the officers that Bobby had punched her and pulled her hair. Cox was ordered to complete violence counseling and an alcohol evaluation and the charges were dropped. No one thought to wonder whether the man who holds the all time record for ejections and who once punched his wife was the right man to manage the Braves.

Indeed, when managers like Cox, Lou Piniella, or Ron Gardenhire fly off the handle and get run from a ball game, it’s often fair to question not only whether they are fit to “manage people,” but whether they are in possession of all of their faculties. The tirades performed by these pudgy, red-faced buffoons does nothing to improve the immediate fortunes of their team (for almost all arguments are lost), and instead only serves to deprive his team of the leadership and expertise the manager was supposedly hired to provide. Do these tirades help in any way? Sure, there are instances where teams come back against their opponents and credit their manager with rallying them, but it’s hard to see these as credible, and The Common Man is sure that some enterprising soul out there, looking at win probability data would find that, in games where a manager is ejected, teams win exactly or almost exactly as often as we would expect them to if the manager had stayed in the game.

So what’s The Common Man’s point? It seems that there are any number of ways that managers have been historically “out of control” either in one-time instances or in a disturbing pattern of behavior that belies serious substance abuse or anger-control problems. Managers are, after all, human and subject to our imperfections and lapses in judgment (except, of course, for Connie Mack). Even the wise King Solomon sinned in the eyes of the Lord, and had his kingdom taken away.

However, many of these same men, who have had so little control over their own demons, have not only “managed others” without incident, but have thrived. Indeed, what will doom Ron Washington as a manager is not whether his use of cocaine last year makes him “fit” or “an example for young men to follow,” but whether he wins more often than he loses, and makes progress toward winning the AL West in 2010 and 2011. As it should be.


The Common Man guest posted on The Daily Something today with a belated Irish All Star team from 1880-1910. What? TCM was drinking yesterday, you expected something different?

TCM will try to be back this afternoon with a reaction to the Ron Washington fiasco in Texas.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Beer Leaguers: Red Menace Ale and Jay Bruce

You know what’s missing in baseball these days? Great nicknames. The 19th century through 1930s proved to be the strongest eras for nicknames in baseball history, with Old Hoss, King, The Crab, The Peerless Leader, Prince Hal, Bambino, The Iron Horse, Dizzy, and Schnozz being among the greatest titles bestowed upon stars, names that immediately recall an image of the player and how he was regarded. It’s long been lamented that writers and players today just don’t have what it takes to come up with original and descriptive monikers for their favorite (or least favorite) players. So this weekend, as The Common Man popped the cap off of a Hale’s Ale Red Menace Big Amber Ale, he knew that he had found the perfect nickname. After all, it’s practically a crime that no one has been hung with The Red Menace before now. But who to bestow it upon?

Of course, the recipient needs to be a Red. Cincinnati has had several players in its history that would qualify. Ted Kluszewski would have been an excellent choice back in the day, particularly given his imposing size and the era in which he played. Frank Robinson, with his all-around excellence also would have been a good choice. Pete Rose’s aggressive style might have earned it, if The Common Man didn’t hate him so much. Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan, and Tony Perez were all productive enough, if not actively menacing. George Foster, in the late 70s, would have been the guy. But let’s look to the beer for guidance.

Red Menace promises much more than it can deliver. In a short, fat, brown bottle, it appears stronger than its taller competitors. The imposing bust of Lenin on the front suggests the deadly seriousness of the former Soviet Union prior to the creation of Yakov Smirnoff. Hale’s website promises a taste that is “big…full flavored, and hoppy.” While the beer starts out strong, the hops flavor is actually pretty light, and the flavor peters out pretty quick. Really, there’s a lot of noise, but not a lot of signal in the beer, as it gives a strong first impression before becoming a wallflower. Alas, Red Menace does not live up to its name, becoming no more potent than Red Mild Annoyance, which is not as catchy a title.

Which is why The Common Man is forced to bestow this nickname on Jay Bruce. At 6’3” and 225 lbs, he definitely looks the part (especially if he’d grow a Lenin-goatee). Bruce came up in late May of 2008 and immediately made an impact. He went 3-for-3 in his debut, with a double, 2 RBI, 2 runs, 2 walks, and a stolen base. After his first seven games, he was hitting a ridiculous .577/.667/1.038 with three homers, 12 runs scored, and 7 RBI. But, of course, that was unsustainable. By the end of the year, Bruce had dropped to .254/.314/.453. Last year, Bruce struggled even more. He hit just .207/.283/.441 in the first half before righting his ship in the days after the All Star Game. Sadly, diving for a ball in the outfield, Bruce would break a bone in his right wrist and miss two months. It's safe to say that, thusfar, Bruce's most glorious and memorable moments on a major league field were his first few; and in this way, he is exactly like our beer in question.

However, there's good news for Red fans that, sadly, does not apply to Red Menace Ale. Jay Bruce is going to get better. Actually, he's going to get a lot better. Despite his struggles, Bruce was excellent for a 21 year old in 2008. And despite the precipitous drop in batting average, Bruce upped his HR% (4.7 to 5.7), BB% (7.3 to 9.8) and dropped his K% (24.3 to 19.4). As a result, Bruce dropped his K/BB ratio from 3.33 to just under 2.0. Even with his struggle to get on base, Bruce upped his OPS from .767 to .773. So why did he struggle so much in 2009? Bruce posted a freakishly low .221 BA on balls in play, 78 points below the league average. Among players with more than 300 plate appearances, Bruce's BAbip was dead last in the National League (and tied with Andruw Jones and Carlos Quentin for 2nd worst in MLB, behind Ken Griffey). Frankly, that's just not sustainable. The year before, Bruce hit .296 on balls in play, and his drop in singles and doubles artificially dipped his BA, OBP, and SLG to levels that don't accurately reflect his ability going forward. As a fun exercise, let's pretend that Bruce had just been marginally unlucky in 2009, and his BAbip had only dropped 30 points off its 2008 level, rather than 75, so that he hit roughly .266 on balls in play. To do that, we need to raise Bruce's non-HR hit count from 55 to 66 (putting Bruce's BAbip actually at .265). And if we do that, essentially giving Bruce 11 more times on base, his BA and OBP rise to a much more palateable .255 and .332 respectively. SLG, of course, would be harder to figure out, given that some of those hits would probably be doubles, but let's just give Bruce 11 singles. His SLG, already an impressive .470 would jump to .501.

Bruce still has significant platoon issues (848 OPS vs. RHP, ..597 vs. LHP) and is still young and developing. There's a chance that he'll never learn to hit lefties or that his development slows, and that he won't be the force that everyone predicted back in 2008, when he was the consensus #1 prospect in baseball. Tom Tango's Marcel system has him down for a .797 OPS. Baseballprojection.com has predicted an .890 OPS out of the young sluger. But if TCM were a betting Common Man, given the natural maturation process, additional exposure to NL pitchers, a fully recovered wrist, and even a moderate amount luck in 2010, TCM would say that Jay Bruce is poised for a huge season, somewhere in the mid-.950s, as he learns to control the strikezone even better and continues to drive the ball effectively. Jay Bruce, The Common Man dubs thee The Red Menace. Now go out and earn it.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Dead Snow, Live Links

It’s a relatively slow Monday on the baseball front. A lot of games were rained out at the end of last week and no one has said anything so blatantly stupid that The Common Man needs to comment on it. Instead, The Common Man takes the lazy way out. After a one-sentence movie review, TCM dumps some links.

Last night, while waiting for The Uncommon Wife to finish with some work so they could finally watch Lost, The Common Man streamed the Norwegian horror-comedy Dead Snow on Netflix. The review: Dead Snow gleefully works out the remaining angst Norwegians feel about their occupation during WWII by pitting Nazi Zombies (or Zombie Nazis) against young people in a secluded cabin in the mountains; fans of gore, snowmobile-related dismembering, and general hilarity will appreciate this celluloid therapy session, as the humor lands consistently despite the subtitles.

As a special bonus, here is what The Common Man tweeted during the film, a new feature of TCM.com he calls Mystery Science Tweeter 3000 (Snark in 140 characters or less):

Should I make a movie about zombies or Nazis? Why not both? Hurray for Dead Snow! The best Nazi Zombie movie Norway has to offer.

Which is more correct Zombie Nazis or Nazi Zombies?

70 years later, the Norwegians are finally fighting the Nazi occupation.

This movie must have been so cathartic for Norwegians.

What did @Ebertchicago think of Dead Snow?

Lesson learned: Never sneak up on a guy when he's hacking the shit out of a platoon of Nazi Zombies (or Zombie Nazis, which do they prefer?)

Good God, how many Zombie Nazis are there in Norway? Can't frickin walk to the bathroom without tripping over one.

Zombie Nazis: All they want is their gold. They're like Zombie Pirates that way. And Leprechauns.

Look, TCM doesn't want to question the logic of a movie that is based on the premise that Zombie Nazis walk among us...

but who hides the zombie gold in a cabin in the Norwegian woods anyway? Why didn't the zombies just keep it? TCM is confused.

Now, on to the linky goodness:

TCM is embarrassed he didn’t know that yesterday was Kirby Puckett’s 50th birthday. Like Friend of the Blog, Bill at The Daily Something, The Common Man’s favorite player of all time is undoubtedly Puckett, despite the unfortunateness that plagued his final years. Bill has a terrific, and fair, retrospective of Kirby’s career up. Shocking question: Has it really been 15 years since Puckett played his final game?

Lar at Wezen-ball has a repost up today from last year’s Pi-Day festivities. It’s fun to see, but not nearly as interesting as his long, engaging, and impressive history of the batting helmet. Not even The Common Man knew that batting helmets were so interesting.

Historian Adrian Burgos Jr. guest-posted on JoePos’s essential blog last week on some context behind Torii Hunter’s idiotic statements last week. Burgos writes that “there is a long history of black Latinos experiencing racism and discrimination in U.S. professional baseball,” and reminds us that Minnie Minoso, Vic Power, Martin Dihigo, and the first Ozzie Virgil endured great injustice in their effort to just play baseball. But the experiences of black Latinos has been largely invisible in the history of baseball’s race relations, largely because their history doesn’t easily fit into the larger narrative of Americans’ struggle for racial equality and we, as a people, are less familiar with it. As Burgos reminds us, “The national pastime has become predominantly a middle-class sport. And that is a discussion from which Latinos ought not to be shut out of.”

Unlike Aaron Gleeman, The Common Man is bullish on both the signings of Denard Span (5 years, $16 million + $9 million option) and Nick Blackburn (4 years, $14 million + $8 million option). Span’s contract figures to be a terrific deal for the Twins, and even may end up being a highly tradable commodity if the team comes up with some additional impact outfielders down the line (five years is a long time). Blackburn’s deal is a little less team-friendly, as he is averaging just slightly more money than Span and pitchers have a higher collapse rate than hitters. Still, Blackburn has been incredibly consistent over the last two years, and even at $6-8 million he’ll be below market for an average pitcher. Barring a ridiculous collapse, Blackburn figures to earn his money. Again, if the Twins continue to develop mid-rotation starters, and Blackburn holds his value, this is an entirely dealable player and contract when the team is looking to upgrade elsewhere. And anything the team can do to demonstrate to Joe Mauer that it's looking to compete for the long term, and encourage him to sign up, is good in TCM's book.

And finally, The Common Man considers himself a huge baseball and Twins fan, and will eventually need to go in for a bit of knee surgery at some point in the future. All of which is why TCM is so disappointed he didn’t think of this first. To think, while he was under, the doctors could help TCM contribute to Joe Nathan’s recovery and success. Kudos to John McDonald of Very Well Then for thinking of the team first. (h/t to Howard Sinker)

Friday, March 12, 2010

Belated Random Thursday: Balor Moore

Yesterday, The Common Man got tied up in important doings at work, and missed out on his day of randomness. As this seems to be a relatively slow news day on the baseball front, TCM thought he’d just pretend it was still Thursday and let fortune find him something interesting using Baseball-Reference.com’s “Random” button. From Farmer Vaughn two weeks ago, The Common Man jumped to the page for Balor Moore, a journeyman lefty pitcher for the Expos, Angels, and Blue Jays from 1970-1980. During those 11 years, Moore only spent five receiving any real roster time. His peak came in 1972 (9-9, 3.47 in 147 innings with 161 Ks), but had serious trouble finding the plate the next year (7-16, 4.49, 109 BB and 151 Ks in 176 IP) and began his sink into obscurity. Moore finished his career 28-48 with a 4.52 ERA in 718 innings and an 87 ERA+.

You wouldn’t know it from his career numbers, but Balor Moore had a hell of an incredible start to his career. Moore was a terrific high school prospect out of Texas in 1969. He threw hard and had a knack for making batters miss. “I was 25-9 in high school ball,” he told The Palm Beach Post. “I really didn’t have the best defense behind me at times. I threw three no-hitters in high school—and got beat.” Scouts noticed, and during the June draft, Moore was the first ever amateur draft choice of the brand spanking new Montreal Expos (22nd overall). The ’69 Expos were horrible, finishing 52-110 and struggling from a lack of quality pitching. Their fan base was less than rabid in those early days, and the club finished 7th in attendance in the 12 team National League. Moore was celebrated by the Expos as the club’s future, compared to Sandy Koufax, and treated like royalty, “a Messiah to lead the Expos with a golden whip for a left arm.”

Reporting to the team’s Rookie League team in Florida, Moore made 9 starts and gave up 2 earned runs (5 total) in 67 innings for a .27 ERA (yeah, you’re reading that right) and struck out 74 in his first 49 innings according to The Herald Tribune of Sarasota. Promoted to the club’s A ball team in West Palm Beach, Moore responded again in his three starts, going 2-1 in 21 innings and again giving up 2 earned runs (and 5 total) for a .86 ERA. Moore finished the ’69 season 9-1 with a .41 ERA, and was invited to hang out with the big league club in September (though he was not added to the roster). The team was effusive. GM Jim Fanning warned “He might be moving pretty fast” through the system. Manager Gene Mauch told the Montreal Gazette “He’s got a good, athletic body and a lively throwing arm. He’s got a major league arm, no doubt….He’s a sound young pitcher and all his stuff happens right out front.” In another article, Mauch went beyond the usual platitudes, “It’s this way: Balor just can’t throw a ball straight. His arm is so live, so strong that the ball moves a different way each time.” Don Drysdale claimed that “He can get the National League All Stars out right now.”

1970 proved to be more challenging for the 19-year old Moore. After three more excellent starts at West Palm Beach (3-0, .72 ERA, and 31 Ks in 25 IP), the young lefty skipped AA entirely and was assigned to the AAA Buffalo Bisons on May 1. Just two weeks later, the Expos decided to see their phenom first hand and called him up to the big leagues. Mauch told the Montreal Gazette that he “would prefer to introduce the 19-year-old in relief—in a mop-up job if one arises. ‘I didn’t bring him up to sit around.’” On May 21, Moore debuted at home against the Pirates with his team leading 5-2. Relieving Steve Renko, with two out and two on, Moore was brought in to face Willie Stargell, who represented the tying run. Some mop-up situation. Welcome to the Big Leagues, kid. Stargell lined out to LF and the Pirates ended the threat. Moore was removed for a pinch hitter, and would be credited with a hold. Moore would pitch three more times in May, tossing an inning in a blowout loss to Pittsburgh, striking out Denny Doyle in a one-batter appearance against the Phillies, and walking Bobby Tolan in another one-batter appearance against the Reds.

After facing eight total hitters across four games, at 19 years old, Mauch and Fanning decided to give the kid a crack at the rotation. On June 3, Moore faced the Houston Astros and gave up five runs across six innings, and was otherwise underwhelming. The youngster struggled again on June 9, getting pulled against the Reds in the third after allowing 8 base runners and three runs. After the game, Fanning made the decision to send the youngster down. “He’s got everything but he’s just not comfortable yet.” We can see the promise and I’ve told him we can. Not one righthander or lefthander pulled him. It was either singles up the middle or to the opposite field. He can handle major leaguers. It’ll just take a little more time….He can pitch in complete relaxation.” Asked if he thought the decision was the correct one, Moore said, “Hell no.”

But team officials pointed out something ominous in his review of Moore’s promise, “The Expos, carefully watching and nursing their primary prospect, believe Moore has an outstanding big league fastball but somewhere between West Palm Beach and Parc Jarry he misplaced his curveball strike. He can regain it quickly, but without the pitch the best batters can work at his fastball.” Moore returned to Buffalo and would continue to struggle with his control. In 119 AAA innings that year, he would 99 batters and strike out 100. While his BB/K ratio improved in 1971, he struggled even more, going 2-11 with a 6.33 ERA and 62 BB in 91 innings before leaving for a six-month stint in the Army. Fanning was philosophical, “It’s a blessing. We might have brought him along prematurely. I’m more convinced than ever that it takes four years and we’ve got to have patience, developing our players slowly as they should be developed.”

When he came back in 1971, the now 21 year old Moore was demoted to AA, where he dominated, giving up 16 runs (5 earned) in 91 innings for a .63 ERA and a 5-3 record. His control problems seem to have been minimized (35 in 71 innings) and he struck out 72 batters. At the end of June, Moore was recalled to join the starting rotation and struggled at first. However, he improved dramatically each month. His ERA dropped from 6 in June to 4.20 in July to 3.35 in August to 2.47 in September. He was especially dominant over the final two months, going 7-4 with a 2.84 ERA in 95 innings with 40 BB and 103 Ks. It looked like Moore had finally fulfilled his promise and become the ace Montreal envisioned in 1969.

Alas, that was the high point for Balor Moore. By the middle of 1973, Moore was sent back to AAA again. Tim Burke of the Montreal Gazette, writing about the Expos’ pitching woes, lamented, “When he first came up at 18, he was far too immature to harness his great throwing talents. He still is. He may always be. But the Expos were desperate at the time.” Moore, understandably, remembers it a little differently. “They rushed me up,” he told the Montreal Gazette in 1978, “but I wasn’t ready. Then as soon as things would go badly they’d send me down again. There was too much pressure. I was afraid that with one bad outing I’d be gone. And those were bad teams in the minors. They’d send me to Winnipeg and Buffalo and Newport. The players had bad attitudes. It was no place for a 19-year-old-kid.

A couple years later, still mired in the minors, Moore got hurt. “My arm was hurt and they wouldn’t believe me. They had made up their minds that they were finished with me and they wouldn’t listen. The manager…wouldn’t talk to me. When I’d tell him my arm was hurt, he thought I was dogging it. He wouldn’t’ believe me. Then they traded me to California. I was only there a couple of weeks and they realized that I was hurt. Those two years with Winnipeg were wasted. They didn’t teach me anything. They just thought my ability would overcome my inexperience. I’m sure that my injury was due to my delivery. They never taught me differently.” Moore did claw his way back, first with the Angels and then with the Jays, becoming a largely underwhelming swing man from 1978-1980. Moore bounced around on minor league contracts for the next couple seasons, but never made it back.

Whatever happened to Moore, and how he was treated or mistreated, his story is a sad reminder that TINSTAPP, and a cautionary tale for young phenoms such as Stephen Strasburg and Ardolis Chapman.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

TCM Guest Posting at The Daily Something

Is Torii Hunter saying stupid things again? It must be Wednesday. Also, that means The Common Man is guest posting over at The Daily Something. Click over to see what Torii said and about The Common Man's two years as a minor-league clubhouse manager.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The Minnesotan Candidates

Bad news on the Joe Nathan front today. As Craig Calcaterra reported today, the Twins’ elite closer has a torn ulnar collateral ligament. The Common Man wishes he was wrong yesterday to doubt the initial assessment that this injury was minor, but it looks likely that Nathan is headed for Tommy John surgery (gee, The Common Man wrote about that last week, too). So while TCM remains convinced the Twins are well-positioned to absorb the loss of Nathan, the big question today (as Craig asks) is who takes over the closer spot in the wake of Nathan’s injury?

Let’s look at the candidates:

Jon Rauch
Because he has closing experience, Rauch will undoubtedly be considered the frontrunner. However, it’s not as though Rauch’s experience was all sunshine and lollipops. Rauch saved 17 games for the Nationals in 2008 with a 2.98 ERA before he was traded to the D-backs. However, he also blew five saves and was pretty clearly pitching over his head. Rauch certainly did a fine job last year after coming over from Arizona, posting a 1.72 ERA and winning 5 games in 17 games, striking out 14 in 15 innings. But that was in extremely limited action. His career FIP is 4.02. And all of his success has come in the National League. Last year, Rauch’s K/BB ratio was his lowest since 2005 and his WHIP was a career high (except for 28 innings in 2002), but was mitigated by a career low HR/9. Rauch in the closer role probably won’t be a disaster, but you should expect an ERA from 3.75-4.00.

Matt Guerrier
Buster Olney tweeted that Guerrier might be the Twins’ best option. Aside from a hiccup in 2008, Matt Guerrier has indeed been a solid option out of the bullpen since 2005. Guerrier’s K/9 is relatively low for a reliever, coming in at 6.01. Last year, despite a dip in his K/9, Guerrier posted a 2.94 K/BB and a .97 WHIP. His terrific performance in 2009, however, was lucky. His BABIP was an unsustainable .222 last year, far off his career mark of .278. Guerrier’s 2.36 ERA is attractive, but his underlying numbers suggest he should remain in the 7th inning slot, particularly as his GB/FB percentage was at a career low. Even at his best last year, Guerrier’s FIP was 4.35. Expect his ERA to rise dramatically.

Jose Mijares
Mijares is not likely to get the nod at the end of the game, given that he’s the only dependable lefty the Twins have in their bullpen (not including potential #5 starter Brian Duensing). But the Twins have not shied away from lefty closers in the past (Eddie Guardado), and Mijares has proved effective in his 1+ seasons in the Twins’ pen. Mijares’ K/9 last year was a strong 8.03. However, his BB/9 (3.36) was high and he is a flyball pitcher. Mijares’ numbers are artificially skewed because he’s been used disproportionately against lefty batters. In his major league career, Mijares has allowed a .458 OPS against lefties, while a .704 against righties. If Mijares moves in to the closer role, obviously, his exposure to righties is going to increase dramatically, and his overall numbers will suffer. There are two other strikes working against Mijares. First, if he closes, the Twins will want to carry another lefty reliever. That could be Brian Duensing, Jose Lugo, Mike Maroth, or Glen Perkins (or the Twins could go outside the organization). None of these options is ideal. Second, Mijares has been criticized in the past for being a bit of a head-case. It’s unclear how fair this criticism is, or how much may have been due to simple immaturity. But if Mijares is mentally unprepared for the pressures the job creates, his tenure could end in disaster.

Pat Neshek
Frankly, this is probably TCM’s favorite option, as The Common Man is an unapologetic Neshek fanboy. His freaky delivery and fan-friendly persona have made him a favorite of Twins fans too, who would embrace the colorful side-armer as a closer. Neshek has struck out 10.59 batters per nine in his career and has a strong 3.84 BB/K. He is an extreme flyball pitcher, but has kept his HR/9 low. The trouble, of course, is Neshek’s injury history. As he works his way back, it’s unclear just how soon Neshek will be ready and how effective he will be in his first season back from Tommy John surgery. The Twins might be better served by letting Neshek work his way back more slowly.

Francisco Liriano
This is idea is batshit insane, but might also be the Twins best chance to replace Nathan’s production at the end of games. Liriano has himself struggled since coming back from Tommy John, posting an ugly 5.80 ERA last year, and a not much better 4.87 FIP. However, all reports out of Florida and the Dominican Republic this winter have heralded the return of the phenom who won 12 games and posted a 2.16 ERA and 144 Ks in 121 innings in 2006. Liriano’s career K/9 is a terrific 9.22 and, when healthy, his K/BB ratio is solid. In addition, when he’s on, Liriano generates a ton of ground balls. Moving Liriano to the back of the pen creates two problems. First, the Twins would lose a great deal of Liriano’s value by throwing him an inning or two at a time. Starters are inherently more valuable than relievers because they throw more innings and, thus, have a greater impact on the outcome of the game. It would also leave the Twins’ rotation a man short to start 2010. The solution would be to plug last year’s hero, Brian Duensing (5-2, 3.64 in 84 innings) into the rotation. Duensing is, at best, a mid-rotation starter, and would probably not be able to match the production of a healthy Liriano, but would allow the Twins to have an above average 5th starter, while maintaining an elite level of performance out of the closer role. Much has been made in the past about the injury risks associated with Liriano’s delivery, and perhaps a move to the pen would reduce some of the wear on Liriano’s arm.

Other relievers
As The Common Man mentioned yesterday, a Nathan injury opens up a role for other Twins relievers, such as Anthony Slama and Rob Delaney, or even Carlos Gutierrez. It also creates the possibility that the Twins will look outside of their organization for help. If the Rays falter in the AL East, the Twins would likely be interested in Rafael Soriano, for instance. Likewise, the team may make a push for Joaquim Soria, Mike Gonzalez, Billy Wagner, Trevor Hoffman, Kerry Wood, Matt Capps, Heath Bell, Octavio Dotel, or whoever becomes available and is effective once teams start to fall out of contention.

Note: The Common Man omitted Jesse Crain from the discussion. This probably says more about Jesse Crain than it does about The Common Man at this point.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Fighting the Urge to Panic

Hey, remember when The Common Man was supposed to go to Arizona this weekend. Yeah, not so much. It turns out that The Boy’s fever and cough stemmed from a mild case of pneumonia, which pretty much made flying a bad idea and relegated him to the couch for much of the weekend. The trip is being rescheduled, perhaps for the last weekend in March, when TCM hopes to enjoy the last bits of Spring Training before teams head north.

Someone else didn’t exactly have the weekend he expected, and The Common Man is feeling his pain today. Twins closer Joe Nathan was shut down on Saturday after experiencing some elbow soreness. Nathan is an elite closer who has had a 1.87 ERA and averaged 41 saves a season in his six years as the Twins’ closer. His K/9 is an otherworldly 11.1 and his K/BB is a terrific 4.32. Though he has typically been limited to around 70 innings, his overwhelming dominance at the end of games is a comfort to Twins fans that they can stop worrying when they have a lead after 8.

At this point, Nathan and the Twins are saying they are not terribly concerned, but their actions are merely “precautionary.” The Twins have not been the most forthcoming organization with accurate medical information recently. The troubles that relievers Jesse Crain, Juan Rincon, and Pat Neshek, OF Rondell White, and 3B Joe Crede underwent never were really addressed efficiently, and all five have suffered significant time and performance loss as a result. The Twins’ insistence that Neshek rehab his elbow injury, in particular, was troubling, given that the best case scenario involved him getting back after several months on the DL and the worst (and far more likely case) had him missing a year with Tommy John surgery. Alas, the rehab didn’t take, and Neshek needed the surgery anyway, and has been out for nearly two seasons after being one of the best set-up men in the majors in 2007, relegated to rehab, blogging, and marathon sessions of autograph signing. All of which is to say that The Common Man isn’t taking what the Twins have to say at face value, but he’s hoping for the best.

Fortunately, even if the Twins were forced to break camp without Nathan (who is terrific with fans, by the way), the team is far better prepared for it than in years past. Yes, Nathan is an elite reliever and is head and shoulders above the rest of the bullpen. But his actual impact on the club’s fortunes is relatively low, especially this year. First and foremost, the Twins have done a good job this offseason in upgrading their offense. The outfield is better, 2B is better, 3B is more reliable on a consistent basis, SS has been upgraded, and DH is stronger. Even the bench is stronger. Barring a rash of injuries, the club will not have to turn regularly to Matt Tolbert or Alexi Casilla, and will not have to bring in questionable offensive players such as Orlando Cabrera. Teams that have the ability to outslug their opponents generally have less need of a truly Nathan-level closer, since they have fewer one-run leads to protect in the final frame.

And for those late innings, the Twins have put together a stronger overall bullpen this year than in year’s past. In 2009, the Twins benefited from three terrific seasons from Nathan, Matt Guerrier, and Jose Mijares, who combined to post a 2.26 ERA in 206 innings. However, the team also had to endure rough performances out of the back of their bullpen, particularly from Bobby Keppel (4.83 ERA in 54 IP), Jesse Crain (4.70 ERA in 52 IP), R.A. Dickey (4.62 ERA in 64 IP), and Luis Ayala (a deceptive 4.18 in 32 IP). Instead, in addition to Guerrier and Mijares, the team will get a full season out of the intimidating Jon Rauch (3.65 ERA in 320 IP over the past four years), Clay Condrey (3.16 in 111 IP over the past two years). Jesse Crain remains with the club and hopes to bounce back from a subpar and injury filled (balky shoulder) 2009. He may not be the same pitcher who won 12 games and had a 2.71 ERA in 2005, but a return to the 3.50 ERA of 2006 and 2008 is likely if his shoulder holds. And, of course, 2010 will see the return of the aforementioned, Frisbee-throwing, and hopefully full-strength, Neshek to the Twins’ pen.

Indeed, if the Twins do lose Nathan, this could create an additional bullpen spot or spots for last year’s season-saving swingman Brian Duensing (3.64 ERA in 84 IP) or minor-league phenoms Rob Delaney (9.2 K/9, 5.37 BB/K, .994 WHIP, and 2.41 ERA in 4 minor league seasons) and Anthony Slama (13.3 K/9, 3.66 BB/K, 1.04 WHIP, 1.86 ERA in 3 minor league seasons).

Not that losing Nathan is a good thing. Undoubtedly, the effectiveness of the Twins’ pen would suffer somewhat, and that’s an important consideration in what could be a tight division in 2010. But the Twins are well-prepared in that they have less need this year for a lights-out closer and more quality options for the pen than any year since 2005 or 2006. Which is why The Common Man isn’t pushing the panic button yet.