Kirby Puckett

Kirby Puckett

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Twins Week in Review: April 20-26

Three Reasons to be Optimistic
1. Pelfrey
No, that isn't a typo. For the first time since this blog began, Mr. Mike Pelfrey is on the optimism section of the Week in Review. Of course, his seven inning shutout performance means nothing for the future, but it's nice to be occasionally reminded that he's capable of being decent once every two years.
2. Gradual Improvement
After the miserable first week of the season, things have gradually gotten better. Hunter, Plouffe and Santana didn't have anywhere to go but up, and Hughes seems to be returning to form (more on him in a few paragraphs) and Mauer's been doing pretty well all season.
3. Molitor
After spending the last decade plus with Gardenhire, Molitor's aggressiveness and knowledge is a breath of fresh air. He platoons way more often than Gardy and has smartly been sitting Santana against righties. He's also been more willing to try different things. Yesterday he was talking about batting Mauer leadoff, something that makes sense when you think about it; He's consistently on base, which is the most important quality in a leadoff hitter, and has a low slugging percentage, so he isn't a very good fit in the middle of the lineup. If Gardy were still here he'd never consider it just because he always felt the need to have a quick middle infielder or infielder leading off, no matter how little sense it made in every other area.
Three Reasons to be Frustrated
1. Arcia
Arcia's pretty easy to figure out. He swings out of his shoes every at bat and if he gets something to hit he destroys it, and if he doesn't, he strikes out. His discipline has been even worse this year as it was the last few. His O-Swing percentage* has gone up from last year's already terrible mark of 38.1% to 43.8%. The result of that's been a .195/.261/.268 line this year. I hope he gets it going because there's no one more fun to watch on the team than him when he has it going.
*That's the percentage of pitches he swings at outside the strike zone
2. Buxton and Sano 
Both are off to terrible starts in AA Chattanooga, Buxton starting with .200/.254/.364 and Sano with .173/.317/.385. It was expected that they would start out slowly after their injury riddled seasons last year. It's only April, we'll see how they progress.
3. Fielding
Right now, there is exactly one above average fielder who regularly plays for the Twins: Dozier. Everyone else is somewhere between average and horrible. It makes the pitchers look even worse than they usually are.
Stat of the Week
That's Hunter's average with two strikes this year. It's also the highest average on the team. That should give you a pretty good idea of how the Twins offense has been so far this year.
Question of the Week
What's up with Hughes?
After a breakout season last year, Hughes has struggled this year, leading the league in both losses and hits allowed. Even his first good start of the year a few day ago in Seattle came in a ballpark built for pitchers. Of course, since Hughes is a fly ball pitcher it's difficult for him to succeed with the slow as molasses Arcia-Schafer/Robinson-Hunter combination in the outfield. Hughes will eventually return somewhat to form and possibly do even better if Molitor makes some changes.
Dan Gladden Stupidity Moment of the Week
In which we look at something moronic Dan Gladden said while announcing Twins games this week
I'm cheating here and using one from two weeks ago, but this is too good not to use. Against the Royals, Mauer was coming up with guys on first and second when Danny said, "The Royals walked Mauer earlier in the game even though first base was open." Take a look at that quote again. First, he's seems surprised that they walked Mauer, then he answers his own question while talking about why it was surprising. Brilliant!

Sunday, April 19, 2015

The Stupidity and Illogicality of Evaluating Quarterbacks in the Draft

     This summer, I wrote a column called "The Stupidity and Illogicality of Baseball's Unwritten Rules", basically making fun of people getting mad at others bunting against shifts, watching homers and every other thing Brian McCann wouldn't like. While thinking about the upcoming NFL draft, it occurred to me there's another stupid and illogical thing going on, slightly more important than baseball players getting mad about stuff, and that's the way NFL teams evaluate quarterback prospects.
     The first blunder teams constantly make is their obsession over pro days, combines and measurements, valuing them over, well, you know, actually how good a quarterback is. Just ask the numbskulls who decided that Jake Locker and Blaine Gabbert would be better players than Andy Dalton, someone who was statistically better than those guys in college. The only quality they had on him was height, Dalton was 6'2", Locker 6'3" and Gabbert 6'5". Need any more assurances? Well too bad 'cause I'm giving them to you anyway. The next year, the first four QBs taken were Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Ryan Tannehill and Brandon Weeden, three of whom were at least 6'3". Meanwhile 5'11" Russell Wilson was taken in the third round. I bet you'll never guess who the only guy with a Super Bowl ring is.
     That's only the measuring side of the combine. I haven't even mentioned how a player can greatly improve his stock by making decent throws in a controlled environment which apparently means more than a college career. Blake Bortles over Teddy Bridgewater* anyone?
*Knock on wood
     It may feel like I'm beating a dead horse here talking about how combine things mean nothing but this is such a strange phenomenon to me. Not only is it nonsensical, but there's no history of it ever working. If you look at the most successful quarterback so far from the last six drafts, all of them were either bypassed because of their height or were chosen mainly because of their college performance, with Teddy Bridgewater, Mike Glennon (by default), Russell Wilson, the aforementioned Andy Dalton,** Sam Bradford (once again by default), and Matthew Stafford. It's a little too early to tell if Bridgewater was the right pick, but it's shaping up that way, and Andrew Luck could easily blow Wilson out of the water someday, but there are still the guys I mentioned above who Wilson's better than.
**Some people would say Cam Newton's been better, but since you'll see pigs flying next to the ice capped mountains of hell before I don't defend a fellow ginger here's my response. Dalton's been more consistent since they got into the league, and you can't play the "He can't win in the playoffs" card if Newton's only win came against Ryan Lindley.
     All this brings me to the Jameis Winston vs. Marcus Mariota debate. I've been in the Mariota bandwagon for awhile, partly because I think he'll be a good player in the NFL, partly because I wouldn't touch Winston with a ten foot pole. In college, Winston had his terrific 2013 year, then came crashing down to earth in 2014, throwing for just 3907 yards with 25 touchdowns and 18 interceptions. Meanwhile, Mariota improved every year he was at Oregon, topping Winston's Heisman season last year by throwing for 4454 yards with 42 touchdowns and a miniscule 4 interceptions. Just based off my personal philosophy, (or, as I like to call it, the philosophy that has a history of working) Mariota fits the bill.
     I haven't even mentioned Winston's off the field antics yet. Most scouts and evaluators chalk it up to "character issues". I'm sorry, but two shoplifting incidents and a sexual assault aren't just "character issues", he's a downright headcase. Now if you're a GM, do you really want to pass up on the best quarterback in college football, for someone who looks better on paper and has slightly more upside, but could easily crash and burn? And after the seven month Johnny Manziel Debacle are you really ready to take the risk on someone even crazier than him? Just take Mariota. He's the safer pick. 

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Twins Week in Review: April 6th-12th

Three Reasons to be Optimistic
1. Tommy Milone
Going into the season I was more optimistic about Milone than any of the pitchers other than Hughes because he was the only one on the staff who actually earned his spot in spring training. He has a history of being inconsistent throughout his career, but these last few weeks have been a good sign.
2. Ummm... Duensing?
This week has sucked so much I can't think of another reason to be excited. So Duensing wins it by default for his 1 save and 0.00 ERA.
3. Buxton and Sano
Yep, they still exist. Feel free think of them every time Pelfrey gives up a multi run lead, Plouffe gets eaten up by a grounder at third, and Arcia swings out of his shoes on a 3-1 in the dirt. Help is on the way.
Three Reasons to be Frustrated
1. Santana
We're talking about Ervin here, we'll tackle Danny's situation in a different section. I'm not as furious as some people are about his suspension just because the Twins weren't going to be very good this year. Obviously it's frustrating because the Twins were supposed to be at least a little better than they were last year and a lot better than they are right now, but that's it, he'll still be there when the Twins are hopefully contending in a few years.
2. Hunter
That reunion went sour quickly. Hunter's 2-17 to start off the season, and his blowup on at Joe West on opening day was the perfect metaphor for this season. That said, the said incident wasn't a horrible sign; it shows he cares, he won't take being this terrible. Someone on this team needs to have that attitude.
3. Everything
I don't think this needs an explanation, but I'll give one anyway. Everything that could've gone wrong this year has so far. It started with the Santana suspension, then we found out Nolasco is still Nolasco, then he got injured so we can't even make fun of him, Perkins hasn't even gotten in a game yet, Father Time is pounding the living crap out of Hunter, Mauer's the only starter with an average above .214 right now, they're outfielders have the same amount of errors as assists, and hearing all this from Dan Gladden makes me want to put my fist through a wall. What a delightful team.
Stat of the Week
That's the Twins run differential through the Detroit series. They picked it up slightly in Chicago, moving to -16. I think I used up all my energy in the last section. Let's just move on.
Question of the week
Who's the real Danny Santana?
Santana burst onto the scene last year, hitting .319/.353/.447 with 20 stolen bases in 24 attempts. One red flag about him was his unusually high batting average on balls in play of .405. He's struggled to start this year, making him exactly like the rest of the team in that regard, and the statheads smugly laughed knowingly as they adjusted their pocket protectors because they knew the whole time he wouldn't be good this year.* After starting out 0-12, Molitor sat him, telling the media he was "obviously pressing." Since then, he's collected four hits in his last two games. Hopefully he's starting to relax and play like he did last year.
*Sorry to stereotype all statheads, most of them are pretty normal and non-obnoxious, in fact, I probably use numbers more than plenty of people, but some drive me insane with the way they smugly tell you that because WAR says this, you're automatically wrong. I'm going to stop now before I get on a rant because this definitely deserves its own column. 
Dan Gladden Stupidity Moment of the Week
In which we look at something moronic Dan Gladden said while announcing Twins games this week
I was listening to the game today, and the radio hadn't been on more than five minutes when I heard Danny say, "He hits a fly ball to left, Nunez...." That's it. When you're a radio announcer, you're entire job description is, "Describe what's happening" and he couldn't even do that. As Gladden would say, he kinda screwed that play up a little.

Friday, April 3, 2015

MLB Preview 2015! NL Edition

Continuing the MLB preview with the National League. Just in case you missed it, I started to preview the MLB yesterday with the AL.
Washington Nationals
On paper, this is the most talented team in the league. Their only big loss this offseason was Adam LaRoche and Ryan Zimmerman should be able to fill his shoes. Between Scherzer, Zimmerman, Strasburg and Fister I just can't see anyone winning four out of seven games against them. Barring an A's like offensive collapse, they're the team to beat.
Miami Marlins
I've made fun of the Marlins multiple times in the last year, but I was really impressed by their offseason. Just because Dee Gordon wasn't as good in the second half of last year as he was in the first, people seemed to assume he was terrible and just got lucky in the first half. Umm, he hit .284. While his .300 on base percentage isn't good, his base running adds an aspect to his game few other players have and he's only 26. I just don't think they'll have the pitching to make the playoffs; until Fernandez comes back in June, Henderson Alvarez will be the only pitcher in the rotation who had an ERA under 3.80 last year.
New York Mets
If a few position players have surprise years, they have enough pitching to potentially make it interesting. Zack Wheeler missing the season will be tough, but between Matt Harvey, Jake deGrom and a possible Dillon Gee step forward this is an underrated pitching staff.
Atlanta Braves
John Hart had a good offseason in his first year as GM. He downgraded their offense quite a bit, and there's no doubt between losing Jason Heyward and Evan Gattis they'll struggle to score runs, but they now have a sneaky good starting rotation after acquiring Shelby Miller in the Heyward deal. For now though, they're just playing the waiting game until enough prospects are ready to help them contend.
Philadelphia Phillies 
Welcome to the most dysfunctional team in the league. Ruben Amaro's such a moron I'm not even surprised he isn't trading Cole Hamels. The rest of the roster's going to be a train wreck. Unless you're a fan, the only reason to follow this team would be to scout potential trade targets or chuckle every time the TV shows Amaro watching the game.
St. Louis Cardinals
I'm out of things to say about the Cards. They develop their players, their fans think they're gods, they think they're sacred guardians of the game, between Mike Matheny and Tony La Russa they haven't had a manager smile since 1995 and they're only this annoying because they're so good.
Pittsburgh Pirates*
 Obviously you don't need to worry about McCutchen, he'll have his usual great year. Josh Harrison's high BABIP (.353) slightly concerns me, but he also posted a career high in line drive percentage so that explains a lot of it. His 4% walk percentage was also a career high, aiding in on base percentage. The X factor for the Bucs will be Gerrit Cole. If he takes a step forward he'll replace Edinson Volquez as the number one starter.
Chicago Cubs
The sure things on the north side are Jon Lester, Anthony Rizzo, and Starlin Castro. As for anyone else your guess is as good as mine. That's what makes this team so interesting. They could get no development and have a miserable season, or Soler, Baez and Bryant could come up, mash and bring them into the playoffs as a three headed Yasiel Puig-like monster. While we're on the subject of Bryant, here are my thoughts on sending him down: It reminds me a lot of tanking in basketball, it's stupid, and it makes organizations look bad, but ultimately it's a broken system which incentivizes it. Unlike tanking, there's no clear way of stopping it.   .
Milwaukee Brewers
After last year's choke job that would have gotten more attention if the A's hadn't overshadowed it, the Brewers didn't do enough to stay afloat in an increasingly tough central. They don't have any glaring weaknesses, but they don't have enough to be contenders either.
Cincinnati Reds
Here we have the "looks better on paper all stars". The Votto-Phillips-Bruce core is on the downfall, or already at the bottom in Bruce's case, and I don't think Billy Hamilton and Todd Frazier will be able to pick up the slack.
Los Angeles Dodgers
For a team that usually spends money like it's going out of style in the offseason the Dodgers made some really shrewd moves, most notably letting Hanley Ramirez go and replacing him with Jimmy Rollins. Even if he doesn't match Hanley's offensive production, he's light years ahead of him fielding-wise and is more durable. I also liked the Howie Kendrick trade, he's been flying under the radar for the last five years and he never gets any attention.
San Francisco Giants
The champs didn't make any major moves this offseason, Buster Posey is still the best catcher in the league*, Madison Baumgarner still isn't human, that's about all you need to know.
*Fight me Yadier Molina fans.
San Diego Padres
Yesterday in the Blue Jays section, I mentioned that the team that makes the biggest splash tends to disappoint. That's more evident with the Friars than anywhere else. Along with revamping their offense, they have an underrated pitching staff, although trading Jesse Hahn for Derek Norris was a sneaky bad (or sneaky good from the A's perspective) move. Their outfield defense is going to be painful, especially in the graveyard of a field they call Petco Park. Much like the Red Sox, they'll be fun to watch, but ultimately disappoint.
Colorado Rockies
Last August, I laid out the groundwork for the Rockies to contend. In a nutshell, it was blow everything up, trade Tulowitzki, Gonzalez and Morneau for pitching prospects, keep Nolan Arenado and possibly Charlie Blackmon because they're young and figure into the future plans. Concentrate on pitching and fielding, when you play in Denver the offense will eventually come.
Arizona Diamondbacks
Having Patrick Corbin back will be a big boost to the D-Backs. I have nothing else to say.
MVP: Andrew McCutchen
You won't find a bigger Cutch fan than me. As disappointing as it was for him to cut his dreads, he's still only 28 and has plenty of good years left.
Cy Young: Clayton Kershaw
It's his to lose until someone else takes it away in my mind.
That's it. I suck at coming up with conclusions to these so I'll just ramble on as long as possible until it feels right to stop. Ok, that's good.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

MLB Preview 2015! AL Edition

It's baseball season. Is there anything better? Don't answer that because it's obviously no. Let's get to the rankings.
Baltimore Orioles
Yeah, they lost Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis, but they'll make up for that in other areas. For starters, there's a good chance they're getting a bounce back season from Manny Machado, despite his lack of playing time last year he made improvements in several areas last year, like improving his on base percentage from .312 to .324 and hitting almost as many homers last year as he did in 2013 (12 last year and 14 in '13) in less than half the at bats. Matt Wieters's production will help as well. He hasn't lived up to the hype he had in the minors, but around .250/.320/.425 and 20 homers is nothing to complain about from your catcher.
Toronto Blue Jays
Every year I tell myself to beware of the trendy team, like the Jays last year, or the Marlins in 2013, and then every year, I find myself convincing myself that maybe they can be good. I mean, the Blue Jays improved a lot this offseason. Russell Martin's going to have a huge impact, both offensively (a .290/.402/.430 line last year) and defensively, where he stole an estimated 111 strikes last year with his pitch framing, eighth best mark in the league. Josh Donaldson will help too. Their biggest problem will be their bullpen, and there's never a shortage of relievers available at the trade deadline... Damnit, I just talked myself into the trendy team again.
Boston Red Sox
You can put me in the nonbelievers division of the Red Sox this year. Sure they'll score lots of runs, but they don't have the pitching. Porcello was a good return for Cespedes, but there's no stability past that. Wade Miley and Joe Kelly are both question marks, doing well in 2013 and coming down to earth last year, Justin Masterson somehow figured out a way to be more enigmatic than Miley and Kelly and I haven't even mentioned the defensive train wreck between Panda and Hanley in left and third. They'll be fun to watch, but that's about it.
Tampa Bay Rays
Not much here, if they stay healthy Alex Cobb and Drew Smyly might make them interesting but that's it. The Rays are just taking a few years to retool and restock their depleted farm system.
New York Yankees
 This team will also be undoubtedly better than last season with just the upgrade from Jeter to Didi Gregorious, especially defensively.* That said, the East has gotten a lot tougher this year, and I get so much satisfaction picking the Yankees last, I'd be lying if I said that didn't have something to do with the decision.
*My favorite discussion this offseason was, "who can possibly replace Jeter?" Umm, he was statistically the worst everyday player last year. I think Chris Christie could have covered more ground at short.
Chicago White Sox
I liked all of the Sox moves, especially the Samardzija trade, which I talk about in the A's section below. Melky Cabrera was a good move as well, and all of these can add up quickly in a wide open division.
Detroit Tigers*
I talked about why I'm skeptical of the Tigers a month ago. That should give you a good idea of what I think of them.
Kansas City Royals
I didn't like the defending AL champs' moves, they overpaid for Kendrys Morales. Before I go on, I'd like you to quickly recount your memory of Morales last year. There's a good chance you're a Twins fan here, so you probably remember how disappointing Morales was for the Twins last year before they traded him to Seattle. His .234/.259/.325 line was pretty bad with the Twins, but he was somehow just as bad, and in some areas even worse with the Mariners, hitting .207/.285/.347. The Royals gave him two years. Averaging 7 million a year. For I guy who hit into more double plays (12) than homers (8). Now that I'm done criticizing that deal, the Royals are still a pretty good team. Losing Shields hurts, but Yordano Ventura might be able to pick up some of the slack.
Cleveland Indians
Man, is this central division race going to be fun or what? The last four teams I named are all potential playoff contenders. The Indians improved their atrocious defense, starting last year at the trade deadline when they dealt Asdrubal Cabrera. Francisco Lindor will likely get called up at some point this year, further improving their fielding. They continued into the season by trading for first baseman Brandon Moss, allowing them to move Carlos Santana to third base and get Lonnie Chisenhall out of there. The biggest question facing the Tribe will be pitching. Obviously Corey Kluber will be good, but the young guys Danny Salazar and Trevor Bauer have to perform for Cleveland to contend. Don't look at this fourth place prediction as a knock; this is a tough division and any of these teams can pull out the championship here.
Minnesota Twins
Well, except for the Twins. You can read my Twins preview here.
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
An intriguing storyline to watch for with the Angels is Trout trying to adjust to high fastballs. Pitchers figured out that was his weakness last year and started peppering him with them as 62.4 percent of the pitches he saw last year were fastballs. Beyond that there aren't a lot of things happening with the Angels, they still have the worst name in all of sports, keep that in mind.
Seattle Mariners*
We know what we're getting from the M's at this point, great seasons from Felix Hernandez and Robinson Cano, really good seasons from Hisashi Iwakuma and Kyle Seager and a completely befuddling job by Lloyd McClendon as manager. That's why Nelson Cruz is so important to the club. At age 34, there's no way he's going to repeat his season last year, but if he can do 75% of what he did last year he'll lift the ceiling for an offense that badly needed pop last year, scoring just 613 runs over the course of the year, 18th in the league.
Oakland A's
After winning the "Most Bizarre and Confusing Season" award, the Athletics kept it going by winning "Most Bizarre and Confusing Offseason". I liked most of their moves, especially getting Jesse Hahn for Derek Norris. Even if Hahn was protected by the graveyard of Petco Park's outfield, he had a park adjusted ERA+ of 109. Meanwhile Norris rode a .336 BABIP to hit .294/.402/.477 mark in the first half of the season before falling to .240/.324/.335 in the second half. On the other hand, they gave Jeff Samardzija away for Rangel Ravelo and a box of peanuts and top shortstop prospect Daniel Robertson for one year of Ben Zobrist. They didn't seem to decide whether to look to the future or try to contend next year. We'll see how it plays out.
Texas Rangers
I had the Rangers winning the west last year, which submarined my predictions, and now things look bleaker than ever. I don't know how good Prince Fielder will be, but there's no question that that contract isn't ending well, same with Shin Soo Choo.
Houston Astros
Welcome to the Twins of the west. George Springer, Jon Singleton and whatever other prospects show up will make them interesting. Personally, I'll be watching them to scout them for the 2017 ALCS but that's just me.
Disclaimer: When I talk about awards, I mean MVP and Cy Young. Rookie of the Year is a crapshoot and manager of the year is pointless. Thank you and please drive through.
MVP: Mike Trout
See above. It's all about adjustments. I have a feeling he'll make it.
Cy Young: Chris Sale
I'll take him even with the injury. While nobody was paying attention last year, he took a huge leap, moving from the "really good" section on the pitcher hierarchy to the "great" section, going 12-4 with a 2.17 ERA and a 176 ERA+, tops in the league.
NL coming tomorrow!