Kirby Puckett

Kirby Puckett

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Advanced Stats

If you've read my stuff from the last few years, you know one thing about me: I hate advanced stats. I find nothing wrong with batting average, homers, RBI and stolen bases. I'm beginning to come around on certain things, but there are some things about them I just can't stand. Mainly, the attitude behind it. Here's how a typical conversation between a stat nerd and a non stat nerd.
Non Stat Nerd: Who do you think should have won MVP last year?
Stat Nerd: Mike Trout.
Non Stat Nerd: That's a pretty interesting choice considering Miguel Cabrera was either first or second in the league in batting average, homers, RBI, on base percentage and OPS and his the Tigers won fifteen more games than the Angels.
Stat Nerd: Yeah, but Trout had a higher WAR.
Non Stat Nerd: And what's you point?
Stat Nerd: That's it. Trout had a higher WAR so therefore he was better.
Non Stat Nerd: Ya know, WAR isn't the only-
Stat Nerd: Yes it is!
Non Stat Nerd: Can you at least let me finish my-
Stat Nerd: No! WAR is the only stat that matters! Everything else is irrelevant!
Non Stat Nerd: (Sighs, walks away)
Do you see what I'm getting at? There are people who, if you ask them, all that matters is WAR.

Let's take a look at strikeouts. Not exactly a new age stat, but one that can still be debated, and considered overrated by certain baseball writers who write blogs with names that have the word "of" in them. My biggest gripe about strikeouts is, who cares? Yeah, I get that a K removes all possibility of an error, but these are professional baseball players we're talking about, they make plays almost every time. It doesn't matter how the out happened, all that matters is whether the pitcher managed to get the hitter out. What's more, strikeouts drive up a pitch count and don't allow the pitcher to go as long. If you check out this article, it points out how much the Red Sox striking out wore down Cardinals pitching last World Series. So for a hitter, a strikeout is much better than hitting a grounder to second base on the first pitch.

Here's an underrated one: Line drive rate. In this century, unless you're like Ichiro, you don't have much control over where the ball goes after it hits your bat, which is why line drive rate is important. If you're hitting liners, you're doing something right and good things will happen.

One last thing to clarify before I'm done. A walk is not as good as a hit. Why would teams intentionally walk players if it were? A runner can score from second on a hit, they can't on a walk. This is a fact. I am up for an argument with any stat head. Let's go.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

13 Questions

Going into the spring training, the Twins have more than a few uncertainties. Let's go back to the good 'ol baker's dozen questions format to try to answer some of them.
Q. Who's the center fielder?
A. Our options are: Alex Pressley, Aaron Hicks. I think I will shoot myself. Okay, that was a little dramatic those aren't exactly great options. I'm still optimistic about Hicks, though. Over his last 33 games, he hit .233, which is obviously well below average, but one helluva lot better than the .164 mark he posted in his first 28 games. I could see him doing better this year.
Q. How does Mauer handle the position change?
While I agree with the decision to move Mauer, I was profoundly disappointed after hearing the news. It completely makes sense, his health is the most important thing, but he won't be the same player at first. The fact that he's a solid fielding catcher was part of Mauer's greatness. He was an  undisputed top three catcher. First base has a lot more depth. Mauer will be at the same position as Paul Goldschmidt, Adrian Gonzalez and Miguel Cabrera. You can pencil him in for another .330/.400 season, but he just won't be as valuable. Hey, what's happening at the backstop anyway?
What's happening at backstop anyway?
Josmil Pinto was excellent for the last month of 2013 last year and it looked like we would start off the year there until they signed Kurt Suzuki. I wouldn't be surprised if Suzuki started off as the starter while Pinto begins in Rochester to work on his defense.
What's the starting lineup going to look like?
Just off the top of my head, I'd say something like this:
CF Hicks/Pressley
1B Mauer
LF Josh Willingham
2B Brian Dozier
3B Trevor Plouffe
RF Oswaldo Arcia
C Suzuki
DH Jason Kubel/Chris Hermann/Chris Parmelee (excuse me while I wander into traffic)
SS Pedro Florimon
Can Scott Diamond bounce back?
There's no nice way of putting this. Diamond sucked last year. However, not everything is doomed. After spending the last fifteen minutes grasping for straws and looking for good pitchers who were awful their first few years I've discovered that Tom Glavine was 33-41with a 4.29 ERA in his first four seasons. He's just got to bounce back, I'm hopeful that he can do that.
Can Vance Worley bounce back?
There's no nice way of putting this. Worley sucked last year. He was also below average the year before. However, he was good the year before. Very similar to Diamond, he just needs to regain his form. Hey, Dozier showed us that people can make improvements, and Vanimal's only 26, I wouldn't be surprised to see him bounce back.
Are the Twins going out of their way to sign as many former players as possible?
Let's see, So far they've signed Jason Bartlett, Jason Kubel, Matt Guerrier and they're thinking of going after Johan Santana. My advice? Sign as many former players as possible. Why not? We're going to watch them lose a lot of games, we should at least have fun doing it. It's a shame Nick Punto signed with the A's, he would have made a great signing, even if it doesn't make any for a rebuilding team to sign a 36 year old utility infielder.
How will the new acquisitions do?
We'll start with Nolasco. I'm happy with that move, he had a 3.70 ERA in just under 200 innings pitched last year, making him by far the best starter the Twins have. (New ace, two games over .500 last year, ERA less than 4, feel the excitement, Twin Cities!) Hughes I'm not so thrilled about. They just threw 24 million at a guy whose never had an ERA under 4 in years that he started and has had a 4.65 ERA in the last two years.
Who's the DH?
As I said up while talking at the top, DH is really up in the air. Jason Kubel and Chris Hermann are considered the favorites, but I wouldn't be surprised to see Chris Parmelee be a possibility as well. So much for DH being a spot for a power hitter. These three guys combined for a .209 Batting average with 17 homers last year. I liked the Kubel signing, though just two years ago he hit 30 homers and for his salary there isn't much of a risk.
When can we expect the prospects to be up?
I asked Rob Antony about Sano at Twinsfest a few weeks ago, he told me that he had struggled in AA last year, (obviously) and that it would probably be awhile before we saw him in a Twins uniform. I bet he'll be up somewhere in late August or early September, possibly earlier if Plouffe gets injured. As for Buxton, it'll be awhile, I'd say late 2015 at the earliest.
Can the middle infield continue to do well?
One of the pleasant surprises of last year was how well Dozier and Florimon played. Dozier hit 18 homers, second among American League second basemen and fourth overall in the league. He was also arguably the best fielding second basemen in the league, leading the league in range factor per game and only committing six errors. Too bad he wasn't a good enough hitter to win a Gold Glove.
As per P-Flo, his hitting was nowhere near Doziers's but he excelled at one of the hardest positions on the diamond, leading all shortstops in range factor per game. Nothing got through the middle.
Will Glen Perkins continue to be good?
Perk was a solid, reliable closer last year, and it feels very good to have a solid, reliable closer ever since the Matt Capps era, who caused me to find out what hell was like while I he was blowing a save to the Brewers and my Dad and I were the only Twins fans in a section of drunk Brewers fans. But that's a story for a later time.
How many wins will the Twins have?
Okay, this is the only number that matters. They've made some improvements, moved some people around and all things considered, I'll say... 74 wins. It might be a rough year, but it'll be better than the last several, and if you're ever feeling depressed, just read this as many times as you need to.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Complainathon Vol. I

There are few things in the world I love but here's one of them: Venting my annoyance to other people. Unfortunately, most people I'm with don't appreciate my hobby. Luckily, I can do it here and you can't tell me to shut up like my friends and family. Without further ado, here are random sports related things that are annoying me.
Bandwagon fans and other people who don't root for the team that plays in their city. That's it. The fact that they exist. There is absolutely no reason for that. If you live in a city with a sports team you should root for that team, unless you have a very good reason. If someone does root for a team that doesn't make geographic sense, I think they need to experience,  1) a horrible season where your team completely bottoms out. I'm talking 3-13 in the NFL, or 62-100 in the MLB. 2) A heartbreaking loss in a late round playoff game or series. Think of the Vikings in the 2009 NFC championship game, or the Vikings in the 1998 NFC championship game or..... well, pretty much any of the Vikings playoff losses in the last fifty years. If you are one of these people who hasn't suffered correctly, get off my blog and never come back. You are not welcome here.
While I'm at it, can we please stop talking about Marashiro Tanaka as "not Yu Darvish"? Apparently people have forgotten that there is absolutely no way to tell how good a Japanese player is going to be. Remember Tsuyoshi Nishioka? The guy they traded J.J. Hardy for 25 cents and a bucket of baseballs to make room for even though they didn't play the same position? (Number one on the worst Bill Smith moves, and believe me, there were a lot of them) Just please shut up, and don't act like you or anybody else has any idea of how good he'll be.
What's up with nicknames? Remember when there were a lot of awesome ones? The Yankee Clipper, The Say Hey Kid, The Splendid Splinter, The Sultan of Swat. Those are some sweet names. Now, almost everyone follow the same pattern, They're either A-Rod type names, (hey there's one more reason to hate A-Rod) or, the even more annoying route, they're knockoffs of old nicknames. The Millville Meteor, really? Be original, The Commerce Comet is one of the best of all time, don't ruin it by copying it. Another example of this phenomenon: Shane Victorino being called "The Flyin' Hawaiian" (a blatant rip off of Jack Thompson's nickname) The deadball era was the golden age for nicknames. Of course the dead ball era was awesome for a lot of other reasons but that's for a different time.
One last thing before I wrap up, during a sporting event, it's becoming commonplace to watch an interview with a coach or manager. That's fine by itself, they usually say something interesting and they're fun to listen to. Emphasis on the last two words. Why is it becoming a trend to show a split screen while they're going on? This isn't a case where we need to see the person. There is a live sporting event going on while it's being shown which is much more interesting than seeing something we only need to hear.
That's it for today, sorry if it was a bit of a negative column, but don't worry things will be much more optimistic next week when I preview the Twins upcoming season and.... wait never mind.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Top Ten: Center Fielders

1. Willie Mays: Mays gets my vote not just for best center fielder of all time, but best all time. Period. Nobody has ever had his combination of speed and power. From 1955 to 1960, he averaged 36 homers and 31 steals a year. He was also probably the best fielding center fielder of all time, with the most putouts ever and the fourth most assists of all time.
2. Mickey Mantle: Mantle was possibly the most popular player of all time. He was one of the first five tool players and could have been even better had he laid off the booze.
3. Ty Cobb: Cobb had one of the highest Hall of Fame totals of all time with 98.2%. I was surprised when I read it. I know he's arguably the best player of all time, but he was such a jerk you never know. The media's pretty extreme. I wouldn't have been surprised if they had made him wait a few elections just to spite him. He may have been a jerk, but he was fantastic with a bat. A metric called Black Ink measures how many categories a player league in, gives Cobb 154 points. The average Hall of Famer has 27.
4. Joe DiMaggio: The Yankee Clipper has the most unbreakable record of all time. No one will ever hit in 56 straight games again. I can say that with 100% certainty because of how pitching has evolved. In '41, relief pitchers were seldom used, the starter went all nine innings. He would be pretty tired by the end, giving the hitter the advantage. Things are different now. If you don't get a hit in the first seven innings, it's only getting harder from there because from then until the rest of the game, you're facing nobody but fresh pitchers. He was also the subject of one of the most strangely entertaining baseball songs of all time.
5. Tris Speaker: Speaker is one of the most underrated players of all time in my book. He's the all time leader in doubles, out field assists and was a living legend in Cleveland when he played. Three of these are true, one is false: 1) He had his pilots license by 1920 2) He enjoyed wrestling alligators, 3) He threw left handed despite being a natural righty and 4) He was a rodeo cowboy on top of playing baseball. The answer is two. It was just a rumor.
6. Ken Griffey: If it ever came out that Griffey used steroids I think an entire generation of fans would refuse to speak for a month. In the era of steroids and controversy, he was the face of innocence and youth, hitting batting practice with his hat on backwards and making great plays in the outfield. As much as he was idolized by fans, he terrified by pitchers. In an eight year stretch, he averaged 44 homers a year.
7. Duke Snider: Snider has often been forgotten because Mays and Mantle were pretty much gods when they played, but they were much similar than they seem.
Snider: .295/.380/.540
Mantle: .298/.421/.557
Mays: .302/.387/.557
A lot closer than you thought right? Snider also actually hit more homers in the '60s than Mays and Mantle and everyone else.
8. Kirby Puckett: What would be one word to describe people who don't think Puckett should be in the Hall of Fame? Wrong. His lowest batting average ever, was .288, he was a terrific fielder and affected everyone on the team with his leadership.
9. Oscar Charleston
10. Cool Papa Bell: We're grouping our Negro Leaguers together because of their similarities. Here's what we don't know: Any of their stats other than what's on their Strat-O-Matic cards. (.332/.393/.495 for Bell, .391/.478/693 for Charleston) Here's what we do know: If you measured speed on a scale of one to one hundred, Bell would be something like a 150. Cool Papa used to be an extremely fast knuckleball pitcher who go his nickname after striking out, who else, Oscar Charleston in a close game.
In Charleston's case, his stories haven't survived like Bell's or Josh Gibson's. However, there are still people who consider him the best player of all time.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Top Ten: Left Fielders

1. Ted Williams: Williams won six bating titles, led the league in on base percentage twelve times, slugging percentage nine times, and OPS ten times. Did I mention he lost almost five seasons in the war during years in which he was supposed to be entering his prime. It would be like Mike Trout playing two more years, then leaving for three to be in the military. If he stays, there's a good chance he breaks Babe Ruth's home run record while recording another thousand hits. He gets my vote for best hitter of all time. Hands down.
2. Stan Musial: Stan the Man goes down as one of the most underrated nicknames of all time. It was simple but fun, and summed up all you needed to know about Musial: He was the man. His total career averages were .331/.417/.559 and was always a great teammate and never an A-hole to umpires or the media. He won seven batting titles, and led the league in OBP and slugging percentage six times.
3. Rickey Henderson: From 1979 to 1989, Rickey hit .290 and averaged 79 steals per year. Holy crap. (stares at a wall for six hours.) Alright I'm good to keep writing. Stats are only about half the reason Rickey was great. Everyone should have a favorite Rickey quote. Here's mine: While attempting a comeback with the Padres, he called GM Kevin Towers and said, "This is Rickey calling on behalf of Rickey. Rickey wants to play baseball."
4. Lou Brock: Brock didn't refer to himself in the third person, but he was a pretty good base stealer and underrated hitter, hitting over .300 eight times and hitting at least 20 doubles sixteen times.
5. Joe Jackson: Jackson's career slash line of .356/.423/.517 doesn't tell the entire story. What tells the whole story, is what a clutch player Jackson was who came through when it mattered. Most notably in the 1919 World Series in which he hit .375 and hit the only home run for either team in a noble White Sox losing effort.
6. Carl Yastrzemski: Yaz was spectacular in one of the toughest stretches of all time for hitters. He led the league in 27 categories over his career. In an OPS+ stat that takes into account the stadium and era some one played in. From 1965 to 1970, Yaz's OPS+ was 158, meaning he was 58 percent better than the average player during that stretch en route to winning the triple crown in '67.
7. Barry Bonds: Boooooooooooooooooooo! Sorry, that was every baseball stadium with the exception on AT&T Park in the '00s rudely interrupting my column. A few weeks ago in my Hall of Fame article I wrote this about Bonds. I'm not a huge fan of disregarding steroids, but hear me out on this one. What happens if you take the steroids away from Sammy Sosa? You get a skinny little outfielder who averaged nine homers a year from 1989 to 1992. What about Bonds? You don't have the all time homer king, but you do have the only member of the four hundred homer four hundred steal club. An eight time gold glover, and a guy with at least one MVP. It's hard to speculate when he started using and what he would have done without them, but it's safe to say he would have still had a pretty good career.
8. Pete Rose: One of the hardest parts of these lists was looking for a place to put Rose. The hit king needs a space, even if he bet on games. First base was too loaded, he was below average at second base and didn't play enough at third to qualify.
9. Al Simmons: Simmons was an example for every youth coach to use not to do. It worked fine for "Bucketfoot Al" as he hit .334/.380/.535. Why wasn't that corrected? Did he not receive any coaching? I call this "The Youk affect" because he's the best example of a talented player with an awful swing. People should hire him to help small children hit. "You're looking pretty good, Kid, but you need to slide your hand up on your bat, put your feet right next to each other, and bounce up and down like you have a horrible rash on your butt."
10. Willie Stargell: Stargell hit 475 homers and 1,504 RBI in his career and was the heart and soul of the "We are Family" Pirates teams of the '70s. Pops was also one of the most intimidating hitters of all time standing at 6' 2" 188 pounds. Terrifying.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Top Ten: Shortstops

1. Honus Wagner: In 1908, Wagner lead the league in (deep breath) hits, doubles triples, RBI, stolen bases, batting average, on base percentage, slugging percentage, OPS, OPS+, and total bases. Holy crap. One more "Honus Wagner was awesome" story. Back when gloves were so tiny that you could stick them into your pocket, Wagner grabbed a piece of tobacco with it just as the ball was hit to him. He reached down with is bare hand and threw the man out at first. With his hand still in his pocket.
2. Cal Ripken Jr.: Ripken revolutionized the position. Before him there were no power hitting shortstops except for one player a few slots away. Ripken opened the door for people like Nomar and A-Rod.  That's what people forget. He wasn't just durable. Cal Ripken was an all time great.
3. Derek Jeter: This paragraph is going to be really hard to write. Even though I'm a Twins fan, I hate the Yankees. I also dislike Jeter. It may not seem fair, but I don't like him because there's nothing not to like about him. I'll go with an Onion headline to sum it up. "Derek Jeter handles career milestone so graciously you just want to punch his little face." Oh, yeah, the baseball part. His defense has always been overrated, but can sure handle the stick. Career slash line is .312/.381/.446.
4. Ernie Banks: Here really is the first power hitting shortstop. Between 1955 and 1965 he clubbed 383 homers, averaging 35 a year.
5. Arky Vaughn: Hey, it's another Pirates Shortstop! Vaughn was no Honus Wagner (But again, who was?) Vaughn gets my vote for most underrated shortstop of all time. How was this man never voted into the Hall of Fame by the writers? He maxed out at 29% and wasn't voted in until 1983 when he had been dead for 31 years. The guy was a career .318 hitter with an on base percentage of .406. What was wrong with people?
6. Ozzie Smith: One thing lots of great fielders have in common is that they made a lot of errors, but had great range. Smith had the second part, not the first. He leads all shortstops in almost every fielding stat. He's underrated offensively as well, batting over .300 one year and being an excellent base stealer.
7. Luke Appling: How exactly does someone get the nickname "Old Aches and Pains"? It's not as if he was constantly injured. Between 1932 and 1949 he only played less than 130 games once, not counting the year military service caused him to play just 18 games in 1945. And in between those years he hit over .300 twelve times.
8. Joe Cronin: An excellent shortstop and a pretty good player manager as well. He hit over .300 eight times, over 100 RBI eight times, stole at least 10 bases twice and hit over 15 homers five times. Cronin was a complete player.
9. Joe Sewell: One my favorite statistics of all time: In his 14 year career, Sewell struck out 114 times and averaged 10 per 162 games. In 1929, he struck out 4 times in 155 games. When you're making contact at that rate, you're naturally going to be pretty good.
10. Barry Larkin: Injuries kept Larkin from moving up on this list, but he was pretty darn good when he was healthy. He had an unbelievable blend of speed and power, stealing 51 bases one year and hitting 33 homers in another.