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Archive for July, 2008

Twins 7, White Sox 0

It really feels good to beat a division rival. It feels even better to beat a pitcher who has really had our  number over the years.  It always seems like Mark Buehrle flat out dominates us, much like every other lefty in the league.

I don’t think I can say enough good things about Slowey. He flat out dominated the White Sox lineup. Although they all seem to have a terrible average, there are still more good hitters than bad ones in that batting order. In my opinion. He seemed to throw a first pitch strike to every batter. He worked the inside half of the plate very well, something it seems our pitchers don’t do.  He kept his pitch count very low, his strike to ball ratio was slightly above 2:1, which is great.  He averaged about 11 pitches per inning, and never really seemed to be in trouble. It helped that the offense gave him a nice lead in the third inning, but like I said, some of those white sox bats are capable of tying a game with one swing.

I was sitting first row behind the plate last night and noticed that home plate umpire Kerwin Danley was VERY inconsistent. It didn’t favor one team or the other, his strike zone was just bad all around. Couple that with the third base ump making an atrocious call on the Dye “homer”, and the first base ump calling Casilla safe when Konerko clearly made the tag, it was a bad night for the umpires last night. Considering we will have the same crew for four games, this could get very frustrating.

Good to see the lefties hitting Buehrle well. Span and Morneau had nice homers. On Span’s Sox CF Nick Swisher lost his glove over the center field fence while trying to make a leaping grab. A for effort Nick, but you weren’t really that close.

The two teams also seemed to play nice with one another. Gardy and Ozzie got in some tussels with the umps over the aforementioned blown calls (at least the one that hurt us was overturned, I’m guessing the officiating crew was not going to overturn two calls in one game) but there was beanball incidents or staredowns over an inside pitch. Good to see that, although I really want to see a baseball brawl live sometime in my life.

Thoughts on the game or the rapidly approaching trade deadline?

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The Financial Implications of Livan vs Liriano

With Livan Hernandez pitching tonight, the Liriano Situation continues to refuse to get out of my head. Today I want to talk about the financial implications of calling him up versus keeping him down.

Everyone assumes that Liriano is toiling away in Rochester for financial reasons. At first glance, that makes sense for two reasons. One, Livan Hernandez has a “big” money contract, of $5M (though it will shoot to $7M when he hits 200 innings pitched); you can’t send him down to the minors or cut him, without “eating” the contract. Two, Liriano’s Super-2 status is in question, and if we call him up right now he may hit arbitration a year earlier than we’d otherwise hope — a pitcher of Liriano’s ability would probably demand plenty in arbitration.

First, I’ll consider Livan’s contract. I hate the concept of avoiding having to “eat” someone’s contract. You signed the deal in the offseason. At that point, it’s guaranteed, whether Livan wins the Cy Young, gets injured and can’t pitch, or sucks and can’t pitch. If he’d gotten injured, we’d have to “eat” the contract just as we would if he were incapable of getting people out. The point is, we’re paying the money anyway. Forget about it. The goal is to put the best team on the field and win as many games as possible. Livan Hernandez is simply not doing that, and we have an option to replace him. This is a non-reason. The contract has already been eaten.

Second, I’ll try to break down Liriano’s arbitration situation. Under the rules of the collective bargaining agreement, before a player becomes a free agent, they have three “reserved” years (where they make whatever the team wants to pay them, typically close to the minimum), followed by three “arbitration” years (where the team is expected to pay them what they would otherwise make on the open free agent market, but other teams cannot bid). A player can convert the last reserved year into an arbitration year if he has Super-2 status, which means that he has more than 2 and less than 3 years of service time, and is in the top 17% of service time among other players with between 2 and 3 years of service. Liriano has 2.031 years of service time (since 2007 counted toward his service time despite the fact that he wasn’t on the team, which I personally think is a travesty). It is possible, though not guaranteed, that he’ll be eligible for Super-2 arbitration at the end of the season. (Contrary to apparently popular opinion, there isn’t a “date” on which we can call him up and be guaranteed one way or the other. It depends largely on the amount of service time of other young players in their 3rd year.)

This consideration would affect what it will cost the Twins for the next 4 years of Liriano. Next year could be $400K (if he’s reserved), or anywhere from $1M-4M (if he’s arbitration-eligible). Also, the arbitrators consider what a player made the previous year, so the more he makes each year in arbitration, the more he’ll make the next year. One possibility is that Liriano could cost $400K/$2M/$5M/$8M. Another is that he makes $1M/$3M/$7M/$10M. Obviously these are just guesses, but at the very least gives us a ballpark for discussion. If Liriano has Super-2 status at the end of the season, it could cost the Twins in the ballpark of $5-6M over the course of the next 4 seasons.

But another financial consideration is what it’s worth to make the playoffs in any given year. It’s extra ticket revenue (all sell-out crowds at higher prices than normal), extra TV revenue (more than a normal game), extra concessions and parking revenue, just all kinds of money. Other people have put the monetary value to a franchise of making the playoffs in any given year at multiple millions of dollars.

Replacing Livan Hernandez (the worst pitcher in the majors, if you measure quality by any of: ERA, K/9, opponent hits, opponent batting average, opponent OBP, opponent SLG, opponent OPS, etc) with Francisco Liriano (very likely above average) could easily be worth a few wins over the course of the second half of the season. It could be the difference between making the playoffs and coming up just short. From a winning-this-year perspective, calling up Liriano is the correct decision. If it helps make the playoffs, calling up Liriano is the correct short-term financial decision also. If the front office is thinking 4 years into the future, calling up Liriano today might not be the correct financial decision — but it’s likely pretty close.

From Baseball Prospectus:

It’s hard to believe that Minnesota would hold Liriano back strictly for financial service-time benefit, considering that each marginal win gained over the second half of the season has arguably more value for the Twins than any other franchise, given how the windfall of a playoff berth very much hangs in the balance for them.
The guys at Baseball Prospectus are able to analyze this stuff better than I am, but we seem to be in agreement here. The marginal value of Liriano over Livan, to the Twins, is huge. Also, there is no guarantee that Liriano will stay healthy and dominant over the next 4 years and make all that money in arbitration. I would venture to say, considering all that, that calling up Liriano is the correct financial decision.

From Rosenthal’s latest:

“If that (financial motivation) was even a factor, you tell me why we brought him up in April,” Smith said. “It was never a factor. When guys are ready, we bring ‘em up. With many small-market clubs, it’s just the opposite — we get players up here so quickly. They all reach their (service) levels sooner rather than later.”
If that were actually true, the alternative is that they think they’re doing what’s best for the team, winning-wise, both this year and in the future. I don’t think there’s anyone in the world that would prefer Livan over Liriano. I find it hard to believe that the Twins actually think this.

But given the financial considerations involved, maybe the Twins should factor in financial motivations. Not only from a “minimizing cost” perspective, but also including a “maximizing revenue” perspective in such a way that they see the entire picture. It would make the team better today, and give the organization the best chance to make the most money this year and for the next 4 years.

An interesting twist to this story is that Liriano’s agent, Greg Genske, is also Livan’s agent. Genske filed a grievance with the players’ association that effectively demands that one of his clients be called up to the majors at the expense of another of his clients. I’ve never heard of this happening before, but it certainly seems that there’s some conflict of interest for Genske in this case. He may be doing the right thing for Liriano, but the MLBPA can’t be happy about what his actions will do for Livan Hernandez. (That wouldn’t matter at all if Genske didn’t represent both players.)

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Gardy on Liriano, Part I

I love it when Gardy gets mad. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, it’s just fantastic.

Amid all the hoopla surrounding Liriano lately — bloggers and national media members ganging up on the “Seriously, Livan over Liriano?” bandwagon, Liriano filing a grievance, all the hand-wavy “calculation” of service time — Gardy has blown his top. It’s all just too much for the guy. After all, the team is only a game and a half back … which means it’s perfect!

“I’m a little bit tired of that stuff. We have a good team here. We are a game-and-a-half out, I come back into town, and we want to talk about the guy in Triple-A.”
The guy in AAA?! It’s Francisco Liriano, good sir. In case you don’t remember, his nickname is “The Franchise” and he sparked the incredible run in 2006 … when he outpitched The Great Johan Santana repeatedly and consistently. He dominated American League hitters. But to Ron Gardenhire, he’s just some guy. In the minor leagues, no less. I mean, who could possibly care about some guy in the minors?
“I just back into town and I hear all this stuff, and Buster Olney is making my team up now and [Genske] wants to tell me who is going to pitch here. No one is going to tell us who to put on our team and no one on ESPN is going to tell us who should pitch for my team. They haven’t been here all year. If they had been down there and seen the guy pitch, and then started talking, that’s one thing. But to read stats, that’s another thing. I recommend they go down there and watch him pitch, come back with a good report for me and walk into my office.”
It’s not just Buster Olney and Greg Genske who are “telling him” who should pitch. It’s everyone in the world who can look at two numbers and play the “which number is bigger than the other number?” game.

But, of course, that game is completely meaningless! They’re just looking at STATS, rather than actually being there to see Liriano pitch! Oh, the horror! Clearly, the only people who are allowed to have an opinion about baseball teams or players are the guys sitting in the dugout who see 9 guys playing every day, spitting sunflower seeds, scratching their asses, and cackling wildly while burning ream after ream of witchcrafty stats.

“He was here earlier. How did he do? How did he do?”
Wait a second. Stop right there. Mister Gardy, I have a problem with this. If the only way to have an opinion about a player is to actually see him with your own eyes, how do you have an opinion about the young Liriano? When was the last time you SAW him pitch? Was it, perhaps, the last time he was with the Twins, when he didn’t have anything and was terrible? If that’s what Gardy is basing his opinions on, he needs to be whacked over the head.
“We have a guy that has 18 homers in Double-A and his agent is going to start calling if we start letting all this happen. You don’t let other people dictate what we do.”
I doubt his agent will call and demand that he get called up to the majors. That doesn’t even make sense. It doesn’t even apply, in this conversation about service time and collective bargaining agreements. It’s just meaningless. That said, why in blazes is Luke Hughes still at AA? Shouldn’t he, perhaps, get the call up to AAA? Is a young third baseman with power REALLY being blocked by Matt Macri? Seems pretty stupid.

That said, I’m pretty impressed that Gardy’s even aware that someone’s doing well all the way down in AA. Bravo! (Even though he actually only has 15 homers. And nobody has 18. Bravo again!)

Now that I’ve ranted for a bit, it’s time for a little glance into the future.

Gardy’s pissed now and doesn’t seem to remember Liriano and is badmouthing him at every opportunity. Then, in like a week or so, Liriano will get the call and someone will lose their job.

At that point, Gardy will say he’s really pleased to have Liriano and he always knew he was amazing and is an important part of the Twins franchise all along. Everyone will forget about that crazy time when Gardy said Liriano sucks and 8-0 with a 2.50 ERA and a million strikeouts and 5 walks are just stats and don’t matter at all. That was just Gardy being Gardy.That’s why this is “Part I.” Eventually there will be a Part II in which Gardy loves Liriano. You just wait.

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Liriano Needs to be Called Up

The Twins front office seems to be a little confused, regarding its starting pitching situation.

On July 1, assistant GM Rob Antony said:

“We’re looking more for the seven, eight innings where he doesn’t walk many and he’s a little bit more in control of things. When you string three or four of those together, then you’re on a pretty good roll.”
That was very obviously an excuse to keep Liriano at AAA. Except that since June 20, Liriano hasn’t given up a run, and has struck out 24 and walked 3, in 20 innings. Apparently, that’s just about what the Twins are looking for, and he must be on a pretty good roll. So he’s about to get called up, right?
“We told him it’s a two-part thing. He needs to dominate, to pitch better, and then there also has to be a spot, and as long as all these guys are pitching well, we’re not just going to create a spot unfairly to someone else.”
Oh yeah, there’s no room for Francisco Liriano in this rotation, since all our guys are pitching so well! Of course! I mean, it’s not like there’s a guy in the rotation who has the 44th best ERA in the league (out of 46), and has given up the most hits in baseball, and is in fact on pace to give up the most hits in a season since World War 2. If someone were performing that poorly, then perhaps he could be replaced by one of the best young pitchers in the game who happens to be embarassing hitters at AAA.

No. If you thought that you’d be wrong. I guess.

What’s worse, is that the communication between the Twins and Liriano doesn’t seem to have improved.

“Francisco is, and has been, frustrated with the lack of direction he’s been given by the front office,” said Greg Genske, Liriano’s agent.
Maybe it’s just me, but it might be better to at least try to keep the guy happy. He is, after all, “The Franchise.” (And I would think that for an organization that prides itself on clubhouse chemistry, they’d try to keep everyone happy. Rather than single out their most talented players and deliberately screw with them, to the benefit of the worst players in the league.)

Call up Liriano. He’s dominating, and he very clearly has “a spot” in the rotation. Livan’s. Is this really that hard?

Oh, and in other news, La Velle comes up with an update on Shooter Hunt, one of this year’s supplemental first round picks. He’s been pitching at Rookie level Elizabethtown, and has been doing fairly well. In 3 starts, he has given up 2 runs in 14 innings. While striking out 28 and walking 2, and giving up just 2 hits.

That’s right. 18 K/9. 1.29 BB/9. 1.29 H/9. 0.29 WHIP.

Now that’s dominant. Perhaps he’s demonstrated that he overmatches the competition, and should be called up to low-A Beloit. We’ll see how long it takes the front office to do anything about that.

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Twins at the break

Well we have reached the all-star break with the twins just 1.5 games behind the white sox. This is surprising because everyone predicted the Twins would be behind not only Chicago, but Cleveland and Detroit as well.  The club really benefited from two weeks of beating up the pathetic national league in June.  We also have a winning record despite a pretty poor run differential, and Livan Hernandez.  He is on pace to have one of the worst seasons by a starting pitcher. I believe he has allowed 1.5 baserunners per inning so far this season. Wow. Also remember Boof made a handful of atrocious starts in the first few months. Despite all these things, we are still in it. Thanks to timely hitting, I believe the Twins lead the AL in batting with RISP.

Some issues I think the team should address for the second half stretch run.  Carlos Gomez. I think he needs to be removed from the leadoff spot due to his inability to actually get on base. He doesn’t work the count, he doesn’t draw walks, he just seems to be a strikeout machine. Not something you want in a leadoff hitter. I say try Casilla there.  Next up, Livan. He has 9 wins, but that is pretty meaningless considering the rest of his stats are just plain awful. It seems like the team is OK with that, so then who will be the odd man out when Liriano comes back this month? Perkins maybe?  There is also a general consensus that we need another relief arm. I’m not sure what we have in rochester, but I would like to have a power reliever to take some of the late inning workload off of Nathan, Guerrier and Crain.  If Liriano takes Perkins’ spot, I’m sure they will just move Perkins into the bullpen, but I like him as a starter, not a reliever.  Brian Bass is not the answer, he is at besta low leverage situation mop-up man. Not a replacement for Neshek. 

There have been rumblings about Adrian Beltre, who I guess is available. He is an OK player, but I don’t know if I want him and his 12MM pricetag. Buscher has been playing well and I don’t think it will help anything to move him to the bench or back to Rochester.

What else does the team need to do to make a playoff run in the second half? Let’s hear (or read I guess) your thoughts.

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Wherefore art thou Joe Nathan

The twins were in a close game in the late innings last night. Again. Ron Gardenhire failed to use the Twins best reliever in the late innings of a close game. Again. This is a disturbing pattern that needs to stop. Gleeman wrote a pretty good post on this topic this morning and I felt the need to discuss it further. 

Why does Gardy feel the need game in and game out to fail to use Nathan unless we are up by 3 or less in the ninth inning. Seems like a dumb idea to use your best reliever (if not best pitcher) in such a narrow scope.  I’m not really sure what else to compare this to. Maybe if Tony LaRussa only used Albert Puljos as a pinch hitter against tough lefties. Its a complete waste of talent to use Nathan just to rack up “saves”.  I’m surprised Gardy doesn’t have Nathan pitch three innings every game and finish each season with at least 80 saves.  Seems like the save might be that important to him.

On another note, I like the move to pinch hit for Gomez with Kubel against Papplebon. Gomez didn’t look to good at the plate all day, but Kubel laid off a good pitch or two that he might have been able to at least hit in the air to score Punto from third.  Hopefully he realized all we needed was a sac fly not necessarily a hit.  I think when a player comes in as a pinch hitter late in the game like that he tries too hard to hit a homer or something. Just put the ball in the air somewhere in the outfield and tie the game. That way Gardy can mismanage the bullpen for a few more innings and get some other mediocre reliever a loss, but keeping Nathan on the bench in case a “save” situation comes up.

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Twins 6 Tigers 3

That had to be the most pathetic 6 run outburst I’ve ever seen. We should have score at least 10 runs.  5 double plays? 21 runners we left on base. 5 by Redmond, 5 by Harris. 4 by Young. That is just downright terrible. Turrrrrible.  I just don’t get how we had 11 hits off Nate Robertson, and managed to only score 6 runs.  Granted this team is average about 1.5-2 runs below that on the season, but I’m sure they also average well under 11 hits a game. Especially against a lefty.

On to the bright spots. The “Rabbits” as Dick Bremer was calling them last night looked good. Gomez, Casilla, and Span combined for 6 hits, a sac bunt, and a stolen base.  I guess its better than the Pirhannas, but thats only because I hate Nick Punto and Jason Tyner. Not anything against them personally, they just weren’t (or aren’t) good at baseball.

Baker looked good, his pitch count was a little high, 100 pitches in 6 innings. I believe he only had about 80 going into the 6th. Giving up two runs while throwing 20 pitches late in a close games doesn’t help the cause to stay in another inning. It was a good idea to take him out.  I really like the way Baker and Slowey are throwing the ball now.  The rotation seems to be shaping up nicely.  I’m over counting on Liriano anymore. As far as I’m concerned, this is the rotation we have to ride to a playoff berth. If Bill Smith and the Twins Brain Trust (not to be confused with Kevin McHale and the Timberwolves Band of Idiots) decide to add an effective starter, whether that is Liriano or some other dude, great. If not, I can live with 4 out of 5 guys in the rotation.  I think Livan still has SOME trade value, not much, but if it comes down to it, and we need a spot for Liriano I think we have to dump Livan. I think we have had this discussion before, but of all the pitchers on the 25 man roster, Livan is the only one I can safely say is a non-factor for the Twins future. You can say Brian Bass, but he has been an effective middle relief guy who is cheap, so might as well keep him around. Boof is still young and has some value.  Livan is just a filler, and I don’t think the team ever had any intention of bringing him back next year. Unless of course he put up Johan numbers or something.

Blackburn is up against Bonine (who is a righty) at 12:10 today.  Lets go for the series win.

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Why was Perkins yanked?

In the ballgame last night, Scott Ullger decided to take Perkins out with one on and one out in the 7th. It looked to me like Perkins had settled into a groove and could have gotten two more outs in that inning. Instead, Ullger decided to remove him and bring in Jesse Crain to face Edgar Renteria. He then used a series of several more ineffective relievers.  Not sure what he was thinking.  Would Gardy have done the same thing? I’m not sure.  Thoughts?

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