Friday, July 30, 2010

Night Capps

Last night’s deal for Matt Capps still has The Common Man reeling, and not in a good way. The finest of Twins bloggers have weighed in today already on the trade, coming down firmly on the side of the Angels…er, Nationals. Indeed, Wilson Ramos may not be a franchise catcher in the Mauer mold, but it has been clear for a long time that he’s at least a competent starter. And if a nearly ready starting catcher isn’t worth more than a one-inning reliever, then we’re living in a crazy world people.

It’s not that Capps is a bad pitcher. With a career FIP of 3.79, Capps is probably going to be a decent pitcher at the back of the bullpen. His GB rate is a frightening 37.8% given the Twins outfield defense, but he offers more strikeouts than Rauch, and fewer walks. But the Twins didn’t pay for a decent pitcher. They paid for a proven closer with a future starting catcher and with a young lefty reliever. And, frankly, Capps never would have been closing, and therefore would have never been an All Star if he were ever on a team with a halfway decent bullpen. Essentially, the culture of Major League Baseball, where “closer” is considered a position rather than a role, and where saves are a magic pixie dust that lets pitchers appear more beautiful, smart, funny, vivacious, and effective than they really are. The Twins buy this culture hook, line, and sinker, refusing to learn the lessons of Rick Aguilera, Mike Trombley, Eddie Guardado, Joe Nathan, and Jon Rauch: Damn near anyone can be made into a closer.

This trade does make the Twins marginally better this year. Jon Rauch slides back into a setup role, and Guerrier, Crain, and Mijares into the 6-7 inning spots. Everybody can get a little more rest, and everyone can be a little more effective. And Nick Blackburn can rebuild his value as a starter at AAA (presumably, it’s also conceivable that SlamaTime is over).

But all of this shuffling makes the Twins, maybe, a game better in 2010. And will allow the Twins to let Crain, Guerrier, and/or Rauch to walk after the season ends. Capps is going to get expensive, but the Twins will probably be willing to absorb that cost on the chance that Nathan’s effectiveness suffers, a la Francisco Liriano.

Is it all worth it? The Common Man is of the mind that Ramos was both too valuable to give up for a reliever (let alone Ramos + another player), but not valuable enough to acquire a starting pitcher on his own. The Twins would have been better served to hold onto Ramos until they could get a better return, or package him with others for a better player. To simply treat Ramos as though he were worse than Kevin Mulvey (whom the Twins traded straight up for Jon Rauch last year) is simply stupid by Twins GM Bill Smith.

Here are some other links that make The Common Man feel better about his day, and forget about this terrible trade:

Brand new dad Bill at The Daily Something is back with a reminder that the Twins aren’t the only team with an incompetent GM.

Lest you think everybody’s mad at Bill Smith, Jesse at Twinkie Town, Andrew Kneeland of Twins Target, and the always hilarious Fanatic Jack are big fans of the move. Though with most things, if you agree with Jack, it’s best to recheck your math.

Bryce Harper’s Facebook page has apparently been invaded by Scott Boras, who inexplicably stole Harper’s shirt and is typing ridiculous things like “Probably going back to CSN to try to win a National Championship!!! :)” Good try Scott, The Common Man is on to you. (h/t to Craig at Hardball Talk)

If you haven’t yet heard this week’s brilliant podcast, featuring The Common Man, Bill from The Daily Something, and Lar from Wezenball, here it is. No more excuses:

Listen to internet radio with TheCommonMan on Blog Talk Radio

And finally, the Madison branch of TCM’s favorite non-baseball site, The AV Club has a new post up on 6 in game moments in need of a sponsor. They’re all good, but none can compare to:

The Vagi-Gard Medicated Disposable Douche [sponsors] Starting The Wave
There’s always some sh*tfaced a**clown in the stands who tries to start the wave that (we wish) would end all waves. More often than not, this takes place during the pivotal moments of a close game or, more often of late, when Milwaukee is trailing by eight runs and the impending defeat is just beginning to set in. In moments like these, doesn’t one medicated disposable douche deserve another?

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Random Thursday: 1910 Boston Red Sox and why ERA sucks

Some Thursdays just be random. Today is one of those days. So The Common Man used Baseball’s random function to jump from the 1995 American League standings to 100 years ago, and the pitching stats from the 1910 Boston Red Sox, a terrific example of how baseball has changed and why some of our record books may need to be rewritten.

The Sox, like most teams in 1910, relied heavily on its pitching staff, which featured a young Eddie Cicotte and an even younger Smoky Joe Wood. The team finished fourth in the AL with an 82-71 record, and third with a 2.45 ERA.

That 2.45 ERA is deceptive, however. We’re so used to seeing the incredible pitching lines, and low batting lines, of the early 20th century that we’ve taken to calling it the Deadball Era. And while scoring was certainly down in the first two decades of the 20th century, the low ERAs of the Joe Woods, Walter Johnsons, and Ed Walshes are exceptionally deceptive, because they tended to allow almost half as many unearned runs as earned runs. Indeed, while Walsh has a MLB record 1.82 career ERA, his RA/9 is a much more normal (but still excellent) 2.65. Wood had a sparkling 1.91 ERA in 1912, when he won 34 games, but his RA/9 was 2.72. Christy Mathewson had a 1.28 ERA in 1905, he actually allowed 2.26 runs per game. If we account for all the runs he allowed, Matty’s sparkling 2.13 ERA balloons to 3.04 R/9. Between 1901 and 1914, the Major Leagues averaged 2.34 unearned runs per each game played, 28.6% of all runs scored at the time.

And while some of those runs are surely actually the fault of the fielders behind the pitchers, rather than the pitcher himself, in many, if not all of the cases, the pitcher had a hand in his own demise. He allowed baserunners on in the first place, or allowed a hit to drive them in. The Common Man’s feelings on unearned runs (and earned runs, for that matter) are best described by Joe Posnanski, who wrote about unearned runs being a “shaky concept” back in March, “Pitchers don’t prevent runs by themselves. But, for more than 100 years, we have lived in a statistical world where they do, where pitchers are entirely responsible for runs allowed and shutouts and hits per innings pitched … and they cannot be held responsible if some dumb fielder botches the ball behind them.” Likewise, the dumb fielders who botch those balls aren’t solely responsible for them either.

So when we marvel at the work done by Alexander, Young, and Plank and their brilliant ERAs, we’re actually not seeing a realistic picture of the pitcher. And because the play by play data from that era is unattainable, we never will. To judge a pitcher today by this same standard does that pitcher a tremendous injustice.

The fault lies not in our metric, but in ourselves. Indeed, ERA was flawed when Henry Chadwick devised the statistic in the 19th century, but we have adopted it wholeheartedly and without inquiry. We have internalized its meaning without confirmation of its ability to tell us what we want to know. How good was Christy Mathewson? Sadly, ERA does not get you there. FIP gets closer, and certainly a more robust examination of Big Six’s stats demonstrate that he was, indeed, a truly special pitcher.

So what do we do now? As TCM pointed out, we’ve internalized ERA. It’s not going away any time soon. Stats like FIP and WAR are being perfected, and may eventually make their way into the public consciousness. But in the meantime, ERA will continue to be king. In light of this, TCM wonders whether it’s time to rewrite the record book a little. It’s true that the number of errors per team, and the percentage of unearned runs allowed has declined consistently over time. Consider the following graph:

(click to embiggen, TCM's raw data is available here)

The decline has mostly been a gradual process, and has gotten to the point where it’s been down under 10% since 1990, including an all time low of 7.53% of unearned runs allowed in 2009. But there are two watershed moments that drastically dropped the percentage of unearned runs scored. The first occurred in the 19th century, when the use of gloves was popularized. There is also a very significant drop in the number of unearned runs beginning in 1921, as webbing in the gloves seems to have become better and more popular. These changes significantly cut down the number of errors in each season, and therefore the percentage of unearned runs scored.

This 1920 break is a good a place to make a clear distinction between modern pitchers and those of the early 20th century. These pitchers are throwing under vastly different conditions, and playing a much crisper and predictable game. If we must have ERA, we must allow it to be meaningful in a historical context, and it seems clear that the ERAs from 1901-1920 are virtually meaningless.

As such, The Common Man proposes that these are your new career ERA leaders for the modern era (among pitchers with more than 2000 innings):
Hoyt Wilhelm2.52
Whitey Ford2.75
Sandy Koufax2.76
Jim Palmer2.86
Andy Messersmith2.86
Tom Seaver2.86
Juan Marichal2.89
Bob Gibson2.91
Dean Chance2.92
Pedro Martinez2.93

And here are the single season leaders:
Bob Gibson19681.12
Dwight Gooden19851.53
Greg Maddux19941.56
Luis Tiant19681.60
Greg Maddux19951.63
Spud Chandler19431.64
Dean Chance19641.65
Carl Hubbell19331.66
Nolan Ryan19811.69
Sandy Koufax19661.73

(brought to you by Baseball's invaluable Play index)

Monday, July 26, 2010

Beer Leaguers: Goose Island 312 and Omar Vizquel

There was no beer in The Common Man’s household on Friday, and so TCM politely asked his beloved Uncommon Wife to pick some up while she was at the store. He left her with the cheery instructions to “just get anything that looks interesting.” She returned with a six pack of Goose Island 312.

312 is a wheat ale that has garnered a lot of attention recently because it was the beer Barack Obama exchanged with British Prime Minister David Cameron following the US-England tie in the soccer World Cup. Hailing from the President’s adopted home in Chicago, 312 was an apt P.R. choice to give the Prime Minister.

Too bad the beer itself is undeserving of this kind of honor, much like Omar Vizquel is undeserving of a spot in the Hall of Fame.

Like 312, Vizquel calls Chicago home these days, as a utility infielder for the White Sox. Vizquel has had a long and storied career. He debuted with Ken Griffey Jr. in Seattle in 1989, two years before the Seattle franchise’s first winning record. Underappreciated in the Emerald City, Vizquel was dealt to the Indians for Felix Fermin in a challenge trade that Cleveland handily won. Vizquel would become a stalwart part of the Cleveland infield for 11 years, helping the club establish its mid-nineties dominance over the AL Central. He continued to play effectively up until 2008, when he really began to suffer the effects of his age.

Somewhere along the way Vizquel, like Goose Island 312, earned a reputation he didn’t deserve as the best or second best fielding shortstop of all time. 312’s brewers claim that it reflects the “active lifestyle in the city” and is “very accessible to a wide range of people,” such as “people who don’t generally drink craft beer. This would lead you to think that the beer is incredible, since it's so popular. But it falls into that same nebulous category as The Blind Side or CSI:, which appeal to a broad spectrum of people, without actually being that good. They are good enough, with broad appeal and enough of an edge to make viewers feel dangerous for watching them, without the ambition to make them great.

And despite what his supporters may tell you, Omar Vizquel has never been great (with the very brief exception of 1999). He has long simply been a mediocre hitter and a very good fielder, who has managed to rack up 11 Gold Gloves. However, as Keith Law pointed out today in his epic Twitter fight with Vizquel’s army of irrational supporters (following his article on Vizquel’s unworthiness for the Hall of Fame), the Gold Glove voters have recently chosen to honor Derek Jeter and Michael Young at the most important defensive position, undercutting the credibility of the award. And in a time when the nature of the shortstop position was in flux, as Vizquel-types generally gave way to Jeters, and Garciaparras, and Tejadas, and A-Rods, Vizquel was never nearly as valuable as some of his heavier hitting colleagues. As such, he made just two All Star teams.

Yet Omar’s supporters continue to want to claim that he was as good, or almost as good as Ozzie Smith with the glove. This is likely because they never saw Smith or because time makes perspective get all wonky. Or because of some enthusiasm and emotional attachment that causes them to overlook more rational analysis. According to FanGraphs, Vizquel is the 13th best defensive SS in MLB history, and his 48.4 Wins Above Replacement has him tied with luminaries like Del Pratt and Cupid Childs. Even for a Big Hall guy like The Common Man, that’s probably a bridge too far, particularly when WAR ranks him as the 32nd best SS of all time. He’s a good player, a championship caliber player, but he’s not an elite player, and he never was.

Likewise, while Goose Island 312 is a good beer, and a drinkable one, there is not a lot to recommend it for any kind of diplomatic gifting. It’s light and drinkable, but it’s a little dry on the back end and bitter up front, walking a fine line between good and unpleasant. It also has a low ABV (4.2%), which means that you get less kick for the inflated price. And there’s really nothing especially memorable about it. In the end, you’re left to wonder what all the fuss is about. It’s not a beer to honor, let alone immortalize. It will do its job and quench your thirst; and that should be good enough.

Notes on a Lopsided Trade

Some notes on what has the potential to be an incredibly lopsided deal:

Do you really want your interim GM making this kind of franchise altering deal? The Common Man isn’t saying that Jerry DiPoto is in over his head, but he’s been on the job for less than a month and has never had experience leading a front office. And the first trade you want him to make is to deal your ace starter? Talk about being thrown in the deep end. TCM realizes that the D-Backs management had to sign off on this, but you can’t really expect this new GM to be on par with Tony Reagins can you?

If your hands are apparently tied by Haren’s no trade clause such that you cannot get a fair value for the pitcher, as Aaron thinks they were, isn’t it an entirely viable strategy to just hold onto Haren and try to either compete next year, or deal him then? After all, holding the course worked for the Padres.

Evidence that maybe Jerry DiPoto was the wrong guy to make this deal from today’s press conference: “I think he trails only Roy Halladay among major leaguers in total wins.” Um, no. No he does not, Jerry. Joe Saunders has 54 career wins. As of this morning, he is tied with Jeff Francis of the Rockies for 82nd among active Major Leaguers. Even if we are giving DiPoto credit for meaning “since Saunders came to prominence in 2008), Saunders is 13th. From 2009-2010, he’s 29th. From 2008-2009 he is 5th, behind Halladay, Cliff Lee, CC Sabathia, and Tim Lincecum. Perhaps what DiPoto meant is “He is second in American League wins between 2008-2009, behind Roy Halladay.” Because that would be a true statement.

Among players with more than 50 decisions, Joe Saunders is 15th on the active leaderboard with a .628 winning percentage (not the .630 that DiPoto claimed). Above him are luminaries such as Daisuke Masuzaka and Kevin Slowey. Perhaps Slowey’s trade value is higher than the Twins thought.

As embarrassing as this trade is ultimately likely to turn out for the D-Backs, it’s not the worst trade that a GM has made on July 25. That honor likely belongs to Allard Baird who, in 2001, dealt Jermaine Dye away in a three-way deal to the A’s. In it, the Rockies got three prospects from the A’s, and the Royals ended up with Neifi Perez (pictured here in a pose representing what he did and contributed to Kansas City baseball) and a lot of angry words from Rob Neyer. In a year and a half or so with the Royals, Perez would have a .279 OBP and made between $5.5 and 6 million dollars. Dye would hit .267/.344/.488 over that span, and make around $8.5 million. None of the prospects would really help the Rockies at all, but at least they were rid of Neifi Perez.

Also on July 25 of 1896, the Pittsburg Pirates dealt struggling 1B Jake Beckley to the Giants for promising 1B-OF Harry Davis and $1,000. Neither would do much for their new teams. Beckley was released early into the next season, but would catch on with Cincinnati, for whom he’d star for another seven years, and eventually make it to the Hall of Fame. Davis played well, but eventually washed out of the NL at the age of 25. He would reemerge with the new Philadelphia A’s in 1901, and be one of the first great American League power hitters through 1908 or so. (thanks to’s cool new Historical Transactions feature for these last two items).

Joe Saunders has two more arbitration eligible years left before he’ll be free to leave the D-backs. Though he only makes $3.7 million now, he’s sure to get a big raise because of those big win totals that DiPoto is so impressed by. Haren would have actually been under the D-Backs control for one season longer than Saunders, as his contract contains a club option for 2013 at $15.5 million.

This trade, as TCM outlined on Friday, is probably a good thing for the Twins, as they could not afford to keep Haren going forward. Now GM Bill Smith can focus on more reasonable options, including Ted Lilly or Fausto Carmona. The less said about the violent wife-beater Brett Meyers the better.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Forget About Dan Haren, Twins Fans

The Common Man has been writing a lot about his Twins lately, and he hopes you’ll indulge him one last time this week. This morning, Nick Nelson, of the excellent Nick’s Twins Blog, was tossing around the suggestion that the Twins should offer to include Kyle Gibson to the Diamondbacks to try and get Dan Haren. It would be a bold move, for certain, and would probably give the Twins the edge needed to secure a playoff spot this year.

But trading for Haren has longer term ramifications for the team. While Haren’s contract, which calls for $12.75 million over the next two years, plus a $15.5 million team option (with a $3 mill buyout) for 2013), is perfectly reasonable given his ability and performance, Haren’s contract would create a significant problem for a mid-market club like the Twins.

Twins fans would like to think that the club’s coffers are bottomless, now that they’ve got a new cash cow of a stadium. And indeed, the Twins are poised to have their most profitable year in team history, given the attendance at the new park, the attendant increase in food prices, and the additional merch sales associated with the popularity of Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, the stadium, Delmon Young, Carl Pavano, Orlando Hudson, JJ Hardy, Denard Span, and Jim Thome. But the Twins anticipated this rise in revenue and adjusted the team’s payroll accordingly, from $65 million to $97.5 million. Again, the Twins increased payroll by roughly 50% in 2010. The Common Man doesn’t know what the upper limit of the Twins payroll is going forward, but he imagines that the team is getting close.

Which is a problem because, according to the essential Cot’s Contracts, the Twins are already on the hook for $72 million next year to eight players (Mauer, Morneau, Cuddyer, Nathan, Baker, Harris, Blackburn, and Span), and that doesn’t even include the hefty arbitration raises that will be due to Delmon Young, Francisco Liriano, and Kevin Slowey. Nor does it include the $5.5 million team option on Jason Kubel the Twins are sure to pick up. Plus, the Twins will have to decide whether to exercise Nick Punto’s $4 million option next year and whether to re-up Orlando Hudson or pursue another 2B. Carl Pavano is a free agent after this year, and the Twins will have to decide whether to offer him arbitration (that would net him at least $10 million if he accepts). Plus, the club will have to reconfigure its bullpen, with Jon Rauch, Jesse Crain, and Matt Guerrier all eligible for free agency. Adding Danny Haren to the club would up their commitment to at least $85 million, and that would only cover 9 players.

Call The Common Man crazy, but here’s a best guess at how the Twins payroll and roster would shape up for the club next year if the status quo holds:

(click to embiggen)

A couple of notes: The Twins probably can’t afford to pick up Punto’s $5 million option next year, especially if they want to commit to a real 2B. Punto might be persuaded to come back for less money, however. All the arbitration estimates are only TCM’s best estimate. He doesn’t really know, but assumes that he’s on the low side for each of Hardy, Young, Liriano, and Slowey. TCM doesn’t think the Twins can commit to a payroll that would stretch much beyond the $110 million here, meaning they’d be fairly well locked into this roster all offseason while other teams in the division are improving. No matter what, it’s going to be especially hard to compete in the AL Central next year. Looking at the above list, the only scenario that would make sense for the Twins would be to turn around and trade Haren again in the offseason, a la Cliff Lee, for prospects. But there’s no real guarantee the team will be able to get significant value for him, and GM Bill Smith has shown himself to be a mediocre trader at best.

But that necessarily raises the question of how much the Twins should be willing to part with to acquire Haren. Gibson is a potential stud, a legitimate #2 starter, with potential to be a 1.5. Before the season, KLaw wrote “The knock on him in the draft was the lack of a real knockout pitch, and he may never have one, but he's fairly polished, with above-average command and control, and should move quickly if the arm issue is behind him.” Kevin Goldstein gave him four stars. And this year, Gibson has impressed the Twins with his dominant performance at Fort Myers (1.87 ERA, 3.33 K/BB, 8.3 K/9 in 7 starts) and solid work at AA New Britain as a 22 year old (4.31 ERA, 7.0 K/9, 2.75 K/BB). Plus, he’s given up just five homers in 114 total innings across the two levels, showing impressive sink on his fastball. It is not a stretch to suggest that Gibson could be up and helping the Twins in the second half of 2011.

It simply does not make sense to send away a pitcher with Gibson’s future, who will be under team control for 6 years, making the league minimum for three, for someone making $12.75 million and who can’t stay here for more than a few months. Better for the Twins to focus on upgrading the Blackburn/Duensing spot in the rotation with Ted Lilly, Fausto Carmona, or Ben Sheets (who will presumably come much cheaper). Yes, flags fly forever, but the Twins have a good shot at the division without Haren, and probably a better shot in 2011 too.

Update: And with Dan Haren's no trade clause specifically excluding the Twins, it seems like acquiring Haren is an even worse idea than when TCM started writing this post.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Lou Piniella's Resume Is Impressive In Its Bredth and Scope

Yesterday’s announcement that Lou Piniella was set to retire was a good reminder that, geez, Sweet Lou has been around for a long time. Piniella debuted on a 1964 Orioles team that had Harvey Haddix on it, for God’s sake. You can get from Lou Piniella to Cap Anson in just six players using’s Oracle feature (though, to be fair, that’s true of anyone who played with Phil Niekro, the Robert DeNiro of Six Degrees of Cap Anson).

After a brief exposure to the Bigs in ’64, Piniella hung around for another 17 seasons before he retired in 1984, and by 1986 he was managing his Yankees. Aside from years off in 1989 and 2006, Lou has been at the helm of a ballclub in every year, and currently sits 14th all time in managerial wins. But that success only tells part of the story, as Piniella was a leading figure on some excellent Yankee teams in the late 1970s and early ‘80s. Indeed, Lou Piniella has been the rare individual who has been excellent as both a player and a manager, he must have gotten to celebrate on the field a number of times after his teams’ wins.

How many times? Well, these are the kinds of things The Common Man wonders about, and thanks God he has to help answer. As near as The Common Man can tell, Lou Piniella’s teams have won 3369 games in his careers as a player and a manager. And while Piniella’s contributions as a skipper sandwich him between Bill McKechnie and Ralph Houk, if we count all of the wins he’s had to sit through, Lou leaps into the Top 4. Consider the following chart*:

NamePlaying WinsManagerial WinsTotal Wins
Connie Mack48037194199
Joe Torre148522463731
John McGraw69427633457
Lou Piniella154318263369
Tony LaRussa51026043114
Casey Stengel109619053001

The next tier of players/managers includes Leo Durocher (2953), Dusty Baker (2916), and Al Lopez (2914), each of whom have more than 2900 wins under their belts. They’re followed by Bill McKechnie (2790), Frank Robinson (2721), Jimmy Dykes (2638), Bobby Cox (2630), Wilbert Robertson (2625), and Dick Williams (2624). Charlie Grimm and Felipe Alou each also top 2500 total wins.

First of all, it probably shouldn’t surprise anyone that Connie Mack still tops this list. Mack has more than a thousand more victories than any other manager, which will happen when you also own the team for more than 50 years. It’s some nice job security. Plus, Mack had an 11 year playing career in the 19th century for the old Washington Nationals, Pittsburgh Pirates, and in the Players League to add to his total. McGraw also had a very successful playing career that basically ended when he was just 29 years old, to help bolster his total. But Piniella and Torre provide perhaps the most balanced resumes on the list, ranking 3rd and 5th in player victories respectively, allowing them to vault over some of their more one-dimensional colleagues. Robinson had the most wins in his playing career among managers on this list, with 1656. Bobby Cox, whose ’68 and ’69 Yankees won just 163 games in his two seasons as a 3B, has the fewest.

Some have speculated on Lou's chances for making the Hall of Fame, once his career ends. It seems awfully likely. As Rob pointed out yesterday, everyone above him on the all time managerial wins list will have made the HOF except Gene Mauch. And several below him are also in. But even if you doubt his managerial resume, 1826 wins, one World Championship, and extended success with non-Tampa teams, his overall body of work is incredibly impressive, and should qualify Lou for a nice bronze plaque that highlights all of his accomplishments in the game.

*(A couple notes about The Common Man’s methodology: First, in some cases these numbers are estimates, as players were traded in midseason and we don’t have accurate data to determine exact win totals. As this is an ultimately meaningless, but fun, exercise, just take the above numbers with that grain of salt. Also, TCM has accounted for seasons in which the above gentlemen were Player/Managers to avoid double-counting wins.)

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Presenting the Presents

So far, this has been a pretty good birthday for The Common Man. So far, he’s received so many things that money can’t buy. For instance:

The Twins replaced Alex Burnett in the bullpen with AAA wunderkind Anthony Slama.

That TCM shares a birthday with both Alexander the Great and Stephen Strasburg, the man responsible for shaping much of the western world’s past and the one responsible for reshaping its future.
That Stephen Colbert and Steve Carell were The Ambiguously Gay Duo:

God, The Dana Carvey Show should have been the greatest comedy show of all time.

From The Uncommon Wife, this is either the greatest present ever, or the worst. Those are the two options.

Tim McCarver still thinks he’s right.
Bob Uecker is an excellent role model.

It sounds like Minnesota is finally getting serious about upgrading its pitching staff, after another terrible outing by one of the Three Amigos (Baker, Blackburn, and Slowey). TCM will actually stand by Slowey and (especially) Blackburn, whose underlying stats are generally solid. But Blackburn’s got to go.
Twins go against Justin Masterson tonight. Masterson has let lefties hit .301/.397/.452 off him in their career. The Twins have hit .315/.431/.416. The Twins figure to start Mauer, Hudson, Span, Punto, Kubel, Thome. Too bad Morneau is still hurt. Speaking of which…

Faith: In the Twins’ medical staff, who most of the time seem to just make up diagnoses and treatments as they go along instead of taking intelligent steps to prevent and minimize risk. Concussions are dangerous and not funny. Despite what you might think, players should not come back early from them unless you’re ready to deal with the realistic chance that your favorite player could be permanently damaged. TCM is very glad the Twins are leaving Justin alone, and not putting pressure on him to return.

Bud Black is the best manager in the National League this season, bar none. No one deserves a three-year extension more.
Jeff Francoeur is one of the most frustratingly stubborn players in the history of baseball, in that he refuses to adjust his approach at the plate despite overwhelming evidence that it doesn’t work. He’s now riding the pine.
Lindsey Lohan is going to jail. Hopefully, there’s a loophole that will allow her to take Mylie Cyrus, The Jonas Brothers, and Justin Bieber with her.

Alas, TCM has not received this yet. There is no sure peace without strength, and the Twins are still a few players short. He’s hoping for some movement by the club in the next 10 days though.

For those of you interested in giving The Common Man something money can buy, feel free to check out this list from earlier this month.

Monday, July 19, 2010

What's Behind Carl Pavano's Big Start?

It’s no secret that The Common Man’s Twins have been struggling for the last month and a half. In that time, though, Twins fans have come to rely on one man, who has been a bulwark against the team’s potential collapse. He has pitched deep into games, and put many zeros up on the scoreboard. Once every five games, he has given the team an aura of toughness and a swagger that comes from confidence, not arrogance. And on a team with superstars like Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau, he has quietly become a team leader.

The Common Man is talking, of course, about Carl Pavano.


Yes, Carl Pavano. That Carl Pavano. The Carl Pavano who almost inspired the city of New York to bring back the catapult.

Who, in four seasons (for which he was paid $40 million), started 26 games and was actually below replacement level. Pavano won five games in four years and was saddled with the awesomely snarky nickname “American Idle.”

But so far, Pavano has been awesome for the Twins. After being acquired from the Indians last August for a song, Pavano ate innings at a league-average rate for a team that desperately needed some stability. This year, Pavano has exceeded even the most optimistic projections. Through 19 starts, he has a 3.48 ERA and a 4.28 K/BB ratio (easily the best of his career). His BB/9 are down to the lowest level of his career (1.2 per 9 innings), which more than compensates for his low strikeout rate (5.1 per 9 innings).

Plus, he’s second in the league in awesomest mustache (behind only John Axford). Pavano’s success and mustache are inspiring other Twins to dive in, including Nick Punto and Nick Blackburn, who hope that some lip foliage is the only thing standing between them and being effective major leaguers. Plus, nobody celebrates a walk-off hit quite like Pavano:

So how is Pavano doing it? How is he pitching so well, and become such a beloved figure after being a national joke for 4 years?

First, let's throw out the obvious. The Common Man is not a fan of the "only some athletes can handle the pressures of New York" thing. You know, there are a few athletes who probably qualify, but TCM will bet the number of players who Yankee fans and media types think just can't hack it in The Big Apple is rougly 10 times the size of players who actually suffer because of the city where they play half of their games. A more likely explanation has to do with injuries, park effects, and small sample sizes leading to broad assertions about a player's overall psychological makeup. These are professional athletes who have risen through challenges in high school, college, the minor leagues, and often other major league teams, yes because they were extremely physically gifted, but also because they were psychologically strong. It's not at all clear that there was anything psychologically wrong with Pavano that kept him from being successful with the Yankees. Instead, a lot of the trouble in NYC can be explained because he was pitching injured, and wasn't nearly as good as the Yankees thought he was and promoted him as in 2005.

And physically, there doesn't seem to be a lot of difference between Pavno now and his time with the Bombers. His velocity is virtually unchanged. He’s throwing the same number of fastballs as before. He’s not even pounding the strike zone more often, despite what that walk rate might have you believe. Guys aren’t swinging and missing more (actually, the opposite). According to Fangraph’s FIP, Pavano’s was almost exactly as productive last year when the Twins got him. So what gives?

We could credit a new pitch. According to Pitch F/X, Pavano’s been using a two-seam fastball for the first time this year. So while he throws the same number of total fastballs, two-thirds of them are breaking slightly more. And indeed, Pavano’s fastballs have gone from being a liability (23.7 runs below average last year alone) to a strength (more than half a run above average per 100 pitches).

But for another thing, Pavano has been extremely lucky, giving up just a .259 BABIP. It is WAY out of line with the rest of his career (.307) and is unprecedented. Indeed, Pavano’s currently fifth in the American League in the category. Given that every other Twins starter is above .327, it’s safe to assume that Pavano’s luck is probably going to run out sooner or later. He’ll settle back into a league-average pitcher, at best, soon enough. Probably just after the Twins sign him to a 3 year, $33 million extension.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Big Links

The Common Man has much love for these links, and thinks you will too.

Hey, did you hear about the big podcast on Wednesday night?

Listen to internet radio with TheCommonMan on Blog Talk Radio

Skip the first 8 minutes of technical difficulties to hear the brilliant TCM, Lar from and Bill of The Daily Something talk about the All Star Game, George Steinbrenner, the Trade Deadline, and the 1st half of the season.

Speaking of friends of the blog Lar and Bill… Bill’s got a great article up today (inspired by Omar Infante’s inclusion in the All Star Game) of the worst All Stars of all time. Ron Coomer’s on the list, as is TCM’s favorite inexplicable All Star Billy Hunter. Lar’s been getting ready for his big SABR presentation next week on Charles Schulz’s Peanuts and baseball, so he’s had a number of guest bloggers this week. However, Lar did take the time to figure out exactly how long it would have taken the Home Run Derby participants to run out each of their blasts. The “winner,” just as in the Derby, was David Ortiz, who would have taken more than 14 minutes to trot.

Some of TCM’s more foolhardy fellow Twins fans are complaining about Justin Morneau’s concussion. In particular, Jack Steal (who writes the Fanatic Jack Talks Twins blog), claimed on Twitter last night that Ron Gardenhire was babying both Morneau and Mauer, and asked “Who is a bigger Candy Ass. Mauer or Morneau.” [sic] Jack is incredibly pessimistic, especially in 140 characters or less, and his fatalism is endlessly fascinating to The Common Man.

That said, Jack’s being an irresponsible idiot here. In recent years, we have learned more about the damage to the brain caused by concussions. Indeed, Twins fans should be acutely aware of these problems because of Corey Koskie’s catastrophic post-concussion syndrome. Frankly, there’s no such thing as a small brain injury, because any follow-up traumas are potentially debilitating and life-threatening. One would do well to read up on the symptoms and the potential lifetime of problems that can stem from a concussion before criticizing Morneau, Jack.

It’s hard enough hitting a 95 MPH fastball, but it’s damn near impossible when you can’t concentrate, have diminished reflexes, and can’t remember how to recognize pitches. The Twins can't afford to risk Justin's long term health, as well as his ability to come back this year, by rushing him back.

The death of George Steinbrenner obviously disrupted the Yankee Universe this week, with several remembrances (including TCM). Larry at It’s About the Money has a good piece up on George’s legacy, while Jason reassures us that the Steinbrenners aren’t going anywhere. That’s precious little comfort to Muhammad Cohen, who has apparently been nursing a pretty significant grudge for 25 years, and picked a hell of a time to unload it.

As if you needed them, here are 50 excellent reasons to be excited about the second half of the season.

And finally, while there is nothing funny about the racism and apparent violence that Mel Gibson has been guilty of in recent weeks, we can all enjoy this hilarious video of Dennis Leary, calling Mel out during a Red Sox/Tigers game in 2006:

(H/T to Andy on the blog)

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Stay Classy, San Diego (even when you fall out of the division lead in the NL West)

On last night’s podcast, Bill brought up that his favorite story of the year has been the San Diego Padres improbably run to the top of the NL West. Still, things aren’t going to be easy for the Friars. At 51-37, they are ust two games up on both the Rockies and the Dodgers, and four up on the Giants. And while they’ve been great so far, The Common Man can’t help but feel like we’ve reached the Padres’ high water mark in 2010. Indeed, if TCM had to pick one division leader right now who was not going to make it to the finish line, it would be San Diego.

There are several obstacles standing in their way. The first, and most important, is that they are fighting with three other teams for the division lead. While they have a head start, the likelihood of one of the other clubs (in particular, the Rockies, who are going to get Troy Tulowitzki and Jorge De La Rosa back soon) putting together a big second half is high.

The Padres also have a grueling end of the season, playing 13 of their final 20 contests on the road in Colorado, St. Louis, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. Plus, three of their seven home games come against the NL Central leading Reds. All in all, it’s going to be a tough back half of September for these Padres.

And while it may not seem like it, given the offensive black hole they play in, the Padres may have some weaknesses in their rotation, where Clayton Richard, Jon Garland, and Wade LeBlanc all have xFIPs a run or so more than their ERAs.

The Padres have also fared incredibly well in one-run games thusfar, winning 19 of 31 contests. To a certain extent, this is a function of the team’s magnificent bullpen, but it’s also likely that this kind of success simply isn’t sustainable.

And then there’s this: The Common Man doesn’t expect the Padres to make any major moves here at the trade deadline. For one thing, the team is not poised to take on additional salary. Increasingly, these deadline deals are being made for financial reasons, and many of the players that GM Jed Hoyer could acquire to help (Roy Oswalt, Jose Guillen, Corey Hart, Jayson Werth, etc.) make a bunch of money.

The Padres remind The Common Man a lot of the Seattle Mariners from last year or the Twins from 2001, in that no one really expected the clubs to be competitive, but they did through great defense, decent pitching, and mediocre offense. That said, it’s important to note that both clubs ran out of gas, as they were just not good enough to stay in it. And given the realization that the Padres are probably playing over their head, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to plug leaks on a ship that’s going to sink anyway.

Under smart leadership, the Padres are also going to patiently implement their master plan, which is incredibly similar to the M’s. With a lead, it doesn’t make sense to sell off players and compromise their long term prospects for a short term gain. Instead, they’ll hold tight to prospects Donavan Tate, Simon Castro, and Jaff Decker. The Padres, in their market, will only remain competitive by building themselves into a player-development machine on par with the Twins of the early 2000s.

Indeed, while the Twins did try to upgrade in 2001, they smartly refused to part with their prospects, who included Justin Morneau, Michael Cuddyer, Luis Rivas, Bobby Kielty, Matt LeCroy, JC Romero, Kyle Lohse, Lew Ford, Juan Rincon, Jason Kubel, and the young Johan Santana. Each of these players would prove valuable in the coming years as the Twins became the dominant team in the AL Central. Expect the Padres to hold course and, at best, pick up a castoff in August to cover CF or SS. But in the meantime, they’re likely to get passed by either San Francisco (who seems to be aggressively pursuing offensive upgrades) or Rockies.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Year One A.G. (Anno George)

Of course George Steinbrenner was going to upstage the All Star Game last night. He loomed over baseball for so much of his ownership of the Yankees, first as a hothead, then as the biggest spender in baseball, who used his financial resources to build and maintain an empire in the Bronx. Each of us knows what we think of Steinbrenner today, whether he’s regarded as the savior of a legacy, the scourge of small markets, or the national joke who couldn’t decide on a freaking manager (and couldn’t leave poor Billy Martin alone).

Rob Neyer points out today that Big George definitely got the beginning and end of his ownerships right. But there were some real bumpy spots in between. Indeed, there were warning signs right away that Steinbrenner wasn’t a typical owner. His first year suggests a cagey businessman, full of bluster and enthusiasm, who couldn’t stay out of his own way.

In 1973, the Yankees had become a mediocrity, thanks to the shortsighted ownership of CBS. Mike Burke, the CBS vice president in charge of the team had done nothing to maintain the Yankee hegemony of the 1920s-1960s, and the club was drawing fewer than 1,000,000 fans for the first time since World War II. The Mets had outdrawn the Yankees by more than 2 to 1. Tired of operating the club at a loss, and the mocking that came with their poor stewardship, CBS decided to sell off the Yankees to a group led by Steinbrenner in late 1972.

By mid-January 1973, the deal was done. Steinbrenner, then a Cleveland shipbuilder, and eleven other men split the $10 million price tag (that’s just $833,333 per man), and Steinbrenner moved in. He allowed Mike Burke to stay on, saying “we plan an absentee ownership as far as the Yankees are concerned. We aren’t going to pretend we’re something we’re not. I’ll stick to building ships.”

Of course, that’s not what happened. After just four months, Steinbrenner had decided that Burke wasn’t the right man to right the Yankees’ clipper, and sent him packing. Milton Richman, an editor with the UPI wire service, wrote, “Business wise, he did a wretched job, maybe one of the worst ever. How bad? …During Burke’s eight year stewardship as chairman of the board and president, the club lost between $10 and $11 million. That wasn’t merely a paper loss, that was hard coin of the realm, and no team in baseball history ever lost so much in a corresponding period.” Richman also suggests that Steinbrenner had not known just how bad the team’s financial situation was when he bought it, “For one thing, Steinbrenner had been told the Yankees had lost money but he had no idea to what extent.”

Richman then went on to praise the new owner further, “Steinbrenner is a completely honorable man, one who keeps his word. He leveled with Burke from the start and there wasn’t anything he did later that he didn’t tell Burke he would do in advance.” Of course, in just over a year later, Steinbrenner would be convicted for making illegal campaign contributions to Richard Nixon’s presidential quest in 1972, so one wonders exactly how well Richman knew him. In any case, Burke was dismissed and Gabe Paul was brought in to run the club.

But while Richman was selling Steinbrenner as having been duped by Burke, The New York Times Red Smith saw a fox in the henhouse:
“Three seasons ago when automobiles and meat cost less than they do today, a Milwaukee group paid $10.5 million for the Seattle Pilots, a bankrupt baseball team with a one-year record of artistic, athletic, and financial failure. Since then the buyers have sunk more than three million dollars into the club and they are now in the bucket for a shade less than $14 million. They operate in a city of 750,000 with a club that, like the Missouri mule, has neither pride of parentage nor hope of prosperity. For ten million dollars Mike Burke and friends get a team with a half-century tradition of unmatched success, a territory with 15-million potential customers, and a promise that the city will spend at least $24 million on a playpen for them.”
Smith went on to praise Steinbrenner and his fellow owners for limiting their risk and for making the Yankees into a tax shelter, calling the deal “cozy.”

Steinbrenner himself quickly earned a reputation around the league. During the investigation into his donations the following year, Steinbrenner was called “tough” and “imposing,” and “a controversial influence on the American League team.” Manager Ralph Houk resigned after 1973, citing disagreements with Steinbrenner. It was the first of 20 managerial changes that would take place under Big George’s watch. George was blamed for it in the press:
“[Houk’s] resignation can be traced to the intrusion, if not the interference, of George Steinbrenner, the primary owner in the syndicate that purchased the Yankees early this year for $10 million….In his enthusiasm, Steinbrenner didn’t [know enough to let Lee MacPhail and Houk operate the team]. He sabotaged Houk’s authority in the clubhouse. Houk knew it, the players knew it. When the Yankees, with virtually no injuries, slumped, Houk was unable to recharge them, apparently because he was unable to recharge himself.”

Meanwhile, in his first year on the job, Steinbrenner continued to make waves. To replace Houk, Steinbrenner tried to hire Dick Williams from the A’s, signed him to a three-year contract, and went so far as to introduce him at a press conference. However, he did not receive permission from A’s owner Charlie Finley first. Finley at first flatly denied to allow the Yankees to interview his manager, but later declared he wouldn’t let Williams go without compensation. Outgoing AL President Joe Cronin voided the deal, though Williams managed for neither team to start 1974. Instead, the Yankees turned to Bill Virdon who declared, “I’m not concerned about Dick Williams.” George, however, was. “No, I can’t say we’ve abandoned the idea of signing Dick Williams. If he gets free, we’ll have to cross that bridged if we come to it.”

There were other gaffes, some of which went unreported (what Steinbrenner did to undermine Houk, for instance, isn’t clear from the newspaper accounts The Common Man read). Others were amusing (prematurely announcing a trade involving one of his pitchers who wasn’t actually involved in the deal). But all of them hint at the rocky future Steinbrenner would have with the Yankees. While it’s right, today of all days, to remember how many wonderful things he did for New York and the Yankees, it’s also entirely appropriate to remember what made him stand out so much in contrast to the rest of the game.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Back-Up Plans

All the news this morning is pretty distasteful to The Common Man. LeBron is gone. The Twins lost for the fourth time in five games last night. And now it looks like Cliff Lee is off the table, poised to go to the New York Yankees for Jesus Montero and other pieces. This, of course, leaves the Twins again in the lurch, two games back, with two teams in front of them, and floundering. So where do the Twins go from here? Obviously, this is a roster that needs to be improved, so who might the Twins want and who will buy what they are selling?


Ted Lilly
Lilly’s available, and like Lee does not require a long term salary commitment, as he’s a free agent after the season. That said, he’s not as good a pitcher as Lee, and while he’s unlikely to require the same package to acquire, the Twins might not match up well with the Cubs. Wilson Ramos is the player the Twins should be most willing to deal, but the Cubbies is set at catcher for the long term with Geovanny Soto. And TCM doesn’t think that Lilly is worth giving up an elite talent like Aaron Hicks or Kyle Gibson. As such, the Twins are left with Ben Revere and a pupu platter of pitching prospects, which doesn’t seem likely to get it done.

Roy Oswalt
Oswalt has requested a trade to a contender, and the Astros are likely to deal him. That said, he’s very expensive through 2011, and the Twins probably can’t take on that kind of salary. To get the Twins to pony up any decent prospects, the Astros would probably have to eat a lot of money, which they may not be in a position to do. Houston could use pitching and a catching prospect like Wilson Ramos. Outfielder Joe Benson may also be a possibility.

Dan Haren
Ken Rosenthal argued earlier this week that D-Backs interim GM Jerry DiPoto is unlikely to have the freedom to make a big splash at the deadline with some of his more exciting players. But if the Twins overwhelm DiPoto, he could potentially sell the team ownership to deal built around Ramos and either Benson or Angel Morales.

Javier Vazquez
Hey, the Yankees don’t need him anymore, apparently, and would love to unload the pitcher. There is no commitment beyond this year, and Vazquez has proven to be a quality pitcher everywhere he’s played that isn’t the Bronx. The Yankees are undoubtedly hoping to unload him for something to help this year, which the Twins can’t really offer (unlike the Phillies, who could (but probably shouldn’t) offer Jayson Werth). But the Twins could offer Ramos (even with the Yankees impressive catcher depth in the minors, they’re dealing one of them for Lee, Cervelli has struggled recently, and Austin Romine is still a year or two off). The Twins could also presumably build a deal around Aaron Hicks. That said, the Yankees don’t really deal for prospects, nor do they seem likely to strengthen a team who is a potential playoff opponent for the current season. Alas, Vazquez probably isn’t available to Minnesota.


Coco Crisp
The A’s aren’t going anywhere and have a surplus of outfielders. The Twins have been dying for a decent RH backup outfielder who can play CF (no, Jason Repko doesn’t count). Crisp also doesn’t require a significant capital outlay, as he’s got a $500K buyout for next year, and will make about $2 million for the rest of the year. If the Twins can get him for a minor prospect, he’d be a nice addition.

Jose Bautista
Despite early success in 2010, the Jays have dropped 11 games back and are at .500, and need to look into dealing players. Bautista has shown a lot of power and patience this year, and actually leads the majors in homers (and has already bested his career high by 7). He’s playing way over his head, but the Twins could really use his right handedness and positional flexibility to hold down 3B, and sub in at 1B, and the OF corners as needed. Bautista is cheap, but is arbitration eligible next year, and will be due for a raise, but could be non-tendered if necessary. The Twins could look into giving up Chris Parmelee (the Jays could use a 1B prospect) and maybe a AAA pitcher like Swarzak to acquire him.

Austin Kearns
Like Crisp, Kearns would give the Twins a strong righty bat off the bench, and a good RH backup outfielder. He would be stretched in center, unfortunately, but is especially cheap (he’d cost around $300K for the rest of the year, and there are no commitments in 2011). The Indians are definitely motivated sellers, and Kearns shouldn’t cost too much in terms of prospects. The Twins could deal someone like Luke Hughes for him, giving the Indians a stopgap 3B in 2011 until Lonnie Chisenhall is ready. If Cleveland was willing to include Fausto Carmona, the Twins could probably bump the offer to include Ben Revere, Joe Benson, or Angel Morales, plus a pitcher.

Dan Uggla
Jeffrey Loria has made noises about still wanting to get in the race, but that’s just saber rattling. These fish are fried. The Marlins could use an advanced catching prospect, so Wilson Ramos would be a good fit here. Ben Revere would also provide some nice insurance in case Cameron Maybin never puts his considerable tools together. Uggla would be a great fit for the Twins, if he’s willing to move to 3B. He’s a right-handed slugger who will be arbitration eligible next year for the final time. Unfortunately, he will be expensive to hold onto long term, but that’s exactly why the Fish won’t want him. If the Twins can also pry away Leo Nunez with the addition of another prospect, that would give the Twins another cheap and reliable option at the end of games.

Christian Guzman
Hold on to your butts people, but what if the Twins reacquired Christian Guzman? The former Twins offers a great deal of positional flexibility, is a switch hitter who has always had more success against lefties, and will come unbelievably cheap from the Nats. Alright, maybe that’s crazy. But it’s better than another round of Plouffe, Tolbert, Casilla, and Harris, isn’t it? Isn’t it? A bucket of baseballs should be enough to get him.

Miguel Tejada
No, no, a thousand times no. Tejada’s looked old and slow this year, and has not adjusted well to his shift to 3B. He’s not even hitting lefties right now.

Ty Wigginton
That’s better. Wigginton’s shown a great deal of flexibility this year, sliding over to 2B to cover for Brian Roberts’ injuries. He’s a bad fielder, but would provide the offense the Twins have been lacking at the hot corner all year, and would provide a viable option at 2B and 1B when Morneau or Hudson are hurt or need time off. He’s signed only through the end of the year, and the O’s would probably take a Chris Parmelee for him.

Alberto Callaspo or Mike Aviles
Callaspo is a switch hitter, while Aviles bats righty. Both have historically done well against lefties. Callaspo has more experience at 3B than Aviles, but Aviles is capable of playing SS, which Callaspo is not. Both would be a good option to start at 3B or at least be a good right-handed bat off the bench. Neither make a prohibitive amount of money. With Alex Gordan seemingly ready to get back to the majors and Mike Moustakas absolutely wailing on the ball at AA, the Royals can jettison one of them for Ben Revere and a pitcher with little risk.

Willie Bloomquist
Just kidding.

And that’s it that’s available right now that seems to make sense for the Twins. They could use a starting pitcher and a right-handed bat, preferably on the left side of the infield, but flexible enough to take over other roles in case the club is bit by the injury bug again. A real reserve outfielder would be nice too. Also, the club probably doesn’t need to carry three lefties in its bullpen and could use either a dominant righty on the back end or could (ideally) just open up an extra spot on the bench. TCM's preference would be to acquire Crisp and/or Wigginton, and to view all the pitchers as prohibitively expensive at this point, and instead try to solve the problem that is Blackburn from within the organization. Also, the club needs to banish Butera back to the minors and call up Jose Morales yesterday.