Fire Gardy

Mismanaging games since 2002

Archive for February, 2010

It’s been a while

Since we haven’t posted anything in two weeks, I wanted to make sure everyone knows we still exist.  Here’s a rundown of things that have happened in Twins-land over the past few weeks.

  • Pitchers and Catchers reported.  Whoo hoo!!  Baseball has started.  Mijares was, of course, late.  He got held up at security because he had hair gel that wasn’t allowed by what TSA incarnation he was up against.  The good news is he is in camp, not in the best shape, but what did everyone expect?  He doesn’t seem like the kind of guy who has any plans to slim down.
  • Joe Mauer still doesn’t have a contract, but he did show up with a kickass beard.
  • Justin Morneau plans to “take it easy” this spring.  His hope is to not break down in September.  Let’s hope it works. I trust him, I think he knows what he has to do to keep himself healthy all season.
  • According to Denard Span’s twitter feed, Hudson is a great clubhouse presence.  He got Span into the weight room bright and early the other day.  Good to know he already is exerting himself as a team leader.
  • Spring training is shaping up to only have a few position battles.  Third base is the big one.  The two candidates are Harris and Punto.  Both will make the team, its just a matter of who Gardy and co. want to start.
  • The final bench spot is also up in the air. Will it be the out of options Alexi Casilla? Or a backup centerfielder?  I vote for an additional CF. Does Gardy think Span won’t need any days off?  Or does he think Punto can spell him every once in a while? I cringe at the thought of an outfield defense consisting of Young, Punto and Cuddyer.
  • Pitching wise there are many more questions.  Who is the fifth starter? I think we can all agree that Baker, Slowey, Pavano, and Blackburn are guaranteed spots.  So it comes down to Liriano, Duensing, and Perkins for the final spot.  Unless someone like Manship or Swarzak really steps up this spring and takes the final spot.
  • I am assuming that Condrey is all but guaranteed a spot in the bullpen, so there aren’t too many questions there.
  • Did I miss anything?

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Nick Punto Day

So apparently today is Nick Punto day in the Twins blogosphere.  As most of you know, I am not a fan of Lil’ Nicky Punto.  Mainly because I don’t like baseball players who aren’t good at baseball. Actually that’s the only reason I don’t like him.  So here is my rambling rant, that is bound to piss people off because they like Punto for some idiotic reason.

I’m sure Punto is a very nice guy, but why in the hell does everyone love him so much? He tries hard. So what.  So do a lot of people.  It doesn’t mean we should cheer for them  This isn’t little league where everyone gets a trophy.  He is an adequate defender at 3 infield positions.  So what? It doesn’t mean I should be cheering for him. I think the biggest problem is Gardy’s inability to gauge his actual value. Which is that of a utility infielder.  Not a starter on a contender.

So is this Nick Punto obsession based in his halfway decent 2006 season (which wasn’t really all that good when you factor in he was playing third base) where he was one of the sparkplugs to a team that won the division on the last day of the season? If it is that is BS.  Not only has be done very little to help the team since then, I would argue that he has had two seasons that really hurt the team.  Everyone has bemoaned our general badness at the infield positions lately.  If we simple had league average, or even replacement level production instead of the stinkers Punto put up in 07 and 09 who knows what might have happened.  He was a complete black hole offensively, a free out if you will.  There is no level of defense that would make Puno 07 or Punto 09 an acceptable major leaguer.  I understand the importance of defense, but I also understand that it is half the game. 

So can someone  explain to me why people love Punto so much?  Are there several no talent players who try hard that have a irrational fanbase?  Overall I think he is a useful player to have on the team, shouldn’t be starting nor should he be making 4 million dollars a year.  I also don’t get why we have him AND Tolbert.  Seems like overkill.

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Roster update 2/9/10

The Twins signed Jacque Jonesto a minor league deal today.  They also cut ties with Jason Pridie, to make room on the 40 man for Orlando Hudson. This is an odd move since Pridie projected to make the team as a backup OF, and Jones hasn’t played in the majors since 08. Oh well, no big loss.  Speedy outfielders who can’t hit are pretty easy to find on the scrap heap, so I’m sure the Twins will find some cheap player who can fill in at all 3 OF spots and pinch run occasionally.

Does anyone have Jason Tyner’s number?

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We might be back to Wild Bill

Lately I’ve been feeling optimistic about the upcoming season, to the point of worrying that I’m over-optimistic. But I sure don’t feel like I’m exaggerating Bill Smith’s job this offseason.

So when someone like Dave Cameron raves about the offseason and the team in general — calling them clearly the class of the division with a chance at a superb rotation — it makes me a little less concerned about how excited I am, and how impressed I am with Smith.

With Hudson, Hardy, and Thome, the Twins have improved their offense significantly. By retaining Pavano and watching Francisco Liriano return to form in winter ball, their pitching rotation has the chance to be among the best in baseball. Their bullpen is still good, anchored by a relief ace and some quality arms in front of him.

It’s hard to imagine the Twins could have had a better winter. They used this off-season to upgrade the team, and while the roster isn’t perfect, they are clearly the class of the AL Central at this point. Adding Hudson is just the cherry on top of what was already a very good winter.

Wow. I think I’m going to have to go back to calling him Wild Bill.

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Orlando Hudson

The Twins made a big splash yesterday by signing their second ex-Dodger, Orlando Hudson. This is excellent news because Hudson fills two needs. A secondbaseman and a #2 hitter. Last season with the Dodgers Hudson hit .283/.357/.415, that will look pretty damn good between Span and Mauer.  Defensively, Hudson has lost a step or two lately, but that didn’t stop him from winning a gold glove in 2009. He had a pretty bad UZR/150 number (-3.7), but he must be flashy enough that people think he deserved one.   Regardless, I think he will be adequate defensively, especially if Punto is covering some extra ground at third.

Last season Hudson was paid $3.4 million, but according to fangraphs he was worth a cool $13 million. He was worth 2.9 wins above replacement in 2009, nothing to sneeze at.

For $5 million dollars and one year, I think this is an excellent signing. The biggest question has to be what happens to Punto? There is no way Gardy doesn’t start him, and I guess I don’t have a huge problem with him starting at third. Maybe platooning with Harris, who has historically hit well against lefties. I see the batting order working out like this Span-CF Hudson- 2B Mauer-C Morneau-1B Cuddyer- RF Kubel-DH Hardy- SS Young- LF Punto/Harris- 3B

That’s a pretty solid lineup. Throwing in Thome every once in a while won’t be taking a step backwards, like it usually is when you rest a starter.

So the way I see it, the Twins payroll is now around 95 or 96 million.  I’m glad the Pohlad family wasn’t just blowing hot air when they said payroll would increase with the opening of Target Field.  Everyone get excited, spring training is just around the corner.

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The Luck of the Liriano

In the comments on yesterday’s post about Liriano, we had a pretty good discussion that’s worth reading through. There were a couple posts, by semi-frequent commenter Ragstoriches, that stuck out from the flow of the conversation and raise an issue that I don’t think I can do justice to in a comment. So I’m promoting it to a full-blown post, is what I’m doing.

He opened with this:

Liriano’s stuff may be better this winter, but Frankie’s biggest problem of late isn’t his stuff, it’s that he’s a friggin head case. He absolutely cannot deal with adversity – he can throw 6 innings of no-hit ball but a walk and a blooper later he’s in complete meltdown mode, and before you can blink he’s given up 5 or 6 runs.

And after the rest of the conversation had taken place, he closed with this:

So you don’t think Frankie had a tough time getting out of jams last year? Even your stats would prove that. Why did ‘09 Frankie fail to resemble even the 2nd half of ‘08 Frankie – he had another year to recover from surgery, right?

I’m sure games like that happened, but that happens to a lot of pitchers; also, I’ve found that memory is a funny thing, and that it sometimes plays tricks on you. So, without further ado, it’s time to peel back some layers of Liriano’s statistical onion and see just how quickly it can make us cry.

Ready? I sure am.

First, a baseline “this is not a jam” situation (leading off an inning). The first batter of the game had an .863 OPS with a .389 BABIP; the first batter of the inning overall had an .897 OPS with a .337 BABIP. So … not good, but also very unlucky.

His performance was worse than that in every base/out situation except “men on first and second” (when he had a .773 OPS with a .308 BABIP), and “a man on third and 2 outs” (when he had an .830 OPS and a .429 BABIP).

Some notable “in a jam” situations:

  • RISP: .922 OPS, .347 BABIP
  • Men on: .945 OPS, .369 BABIP
  • Man on third: 1.117 OPS, .455 BABIP
  • First & third: .908 OPS, .286 BABIP
  • 2nd & 3rd: 1.198 OPS, .500 BABIP
  • 3rd, under 2 outs: 1.221 OPS, .370 BABIP
  • 3rd, 2 outs: .830 OPS, .429 BABIP

Look at those BABIP numbers, please. For the most part, those are ludicrously high, unsustainable for any pitcher. Furthermore, in only three cases are his BABIP numbers in a “reasonable” or “predictive” range; .288 with the bases empty, .286 with men on first and third, and .308 with men on first and second. Meanwhile, in all other cases, his BABIP ranged from .321 up to an absurd .500.

Okay, so base/out situations give us one window into Liriano’s failure when he got into a jam, but there’s more to this story.

Let’s take a look at his “clutch stats,” to see if those shed any more light on what’s going on here.

  • 2 outs, RISP: .892 OPS, .359 BABIP
  • Late & Close: 1.277 OPS, .545 BABIP
  • Tie game: .800 OPS, .303 BABIP
  • Within 1 R: .879 OPS, .324 BABIP
  • Within 2 R: .866 OPS, .329 BABIP
  • Within 3 R: .875 OPS, .333 BABIP
  • Within 4 R: .856 OPS, .328 BABIP
  • > 4 R: .474 OPS, .259 BABIP

Or we could just break it down by the leverage index, and see how he did in situations of various “game-on-the-line”-itude.

  • High leverage: .893 OPS, .371 BABIP
  • Medium leverage: 1.009 OPS, .367 BABIP
  • Low leverage: .567 OPS, .243 BABIP

Alright. Enough. I think we’re painting a pretty clear picture here.

Liriano had bad basic numbers overall in 2009, but these numbers show that for the most part what happened was that when he was “in a jam” or the game was “on the line,” he got ridiculously unlucky; when it didn’t matter, his luck reversed and he “mowed down the opposition” (ie, the ball found the defenders’ gloves).

Much has been made of Liriano’s strikeouts and walks, of his command of his fastball, of his confidence and his emotional state, of how he seemed to get tired after just a few innings, or that he couldn’t adjust to the adjustments the hitters made the second and third time through the order. A lot of these things are true; especially the ones about his command, and his K/BB ratio.

Check out his peripheral stats:

  • 2006: 10.7 K/9, 2.4 BB/9, 6.6 H/9, 0.7 HR/9, 4.5 K/BB
  • 2008: 7.9 K/9, 3.8 BB/9, 8.8 H/9, 0.8 HR/9, 2.09 K/BB
  • 2009: 8.0 K/9, 4.3 BB/9, 9.7 H/9, 1.4 HR/9, 1.88 K/BB

Obviously, every single one of those stats is trending in the wrong direction (and that’s why his ERA+ has gone from 207 to 107 to 75).

It stands to reason that eventually, his luck will change and his BABIP will drop back to normal levels; his H/9 should drop back down, perhaps not all the way to 6.6, but perhaps to the 7-8 range. A 1.4 HR/9 is totally unsustainable, and that’ll go back down to 1.0 or so (especially given Liriano’s propensity to generate ground balls).

So even if Liriano’s stuff hasn’t improved, and his K/9 and BB/9 rates stay the same, and the only thing that changes is that he’s not one of the unluckiest pitchers in the game, well, his numbers are going to improve quite a bit. If he doesn’t get better, just less-unlucky, Liriano is an above-average pitcher.

And if the reports about his improved command, velocity, and movement prove true? Well, if you combine that with improved luck, he’s still not back to 2006 but he’s getting close.* And close, really, is good enough.

* I closed yesterday’s post by saying that perhaps I was being wildly optimistic. After seeing just how bad his luck was in 2009, I think that was an overstatement. I’m optimistic, but there’s nothing “wild” about predicting that his BABIP will decrease from its cosmic heights and bring his numbers back into line with his talent.

So no, I don’t think the numbers show that Liriano had an especially tough time getting out of jams last year. I think the numbers show that he was unlucky, that any time someone made contact, the ball found a hole. I think that bad luck may, over time, have gotten into his head; have you ever gotten into a rut where you think that everything’s going to go wrong for you? I have, and when it happens your confidence is destroyed; you alternate between not trying enough and trying too hard, and neither is any good. Recovering from this is hard, and a lot of it is just taking some time off and rebuilding your confidence before you get back to it. It must be nice to have an offseason.

That’s why I put so much stock into quotes like this:

“[It was like], this is me,” Liriano said of the way he was throwing. “That’s the way I know how to pitch. Not worry about anything or any hitter. Just go out there and try to throw first pitch strikes and locate my fastball. I feel like I did in ‘06, I have my confidence back. My arm feels great. Physically and mentally I’m ready to go.”

and this:

“I’ve got my confidence back,” Liriano said. “This winter is the best I’ve felt.”

I don’t see Liriano as being any sort of spin-master, with the ability to concoct an elaborate web of lies for our benefit. I see him more as a simple man, perhaps not fully mature, who hadn’t had to face much hardship until after he’d been thrust into the public eye; and now he’s stuck having to grow up in front of our eyes.

Perhaps it’s naivete, but I trust that he can do it.

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The Mauer Rumor Machine is Building Up Steam

The internet, my friends, is all atwitter with excitement after Mark Rosen of WCCO broke the news that the Twins are close to a 10 year deal with Mauer.

Meanwhile, Buster Olney is reporting that the report of a preliminary agreement is not accurate, and both Jon Heyman* and Joe Christensen agree.

* What, you think he has no place reporting on the negotiations of a non-Boras client? Well, you’re probably right.

“Dan Cook,” whoever that is, points out that Rosen is talking to Mauer’s people, while Olney and the rest are talking to Twins officials. We may not be quite as close as we all want to hope (though I’d take Cook’s report with a big, rock-shaped grain of salt given his lack of reporting history).

All that said, I think it’s about time to look at the Mauer situation in a little more depth, couched in what we know about free agency this offseason and the rumored frameworks of this deal.

With contracts of this length, it’s practically impossible to say whether it’s going to work out. It’s just so much time, and anything can happen. Mauer is 26 now, but he’ll be 37 when this contract ends. Will he be the best player in the game at age 37? Will he even be a catcher by then? It’s literally impossible to know the answer to these questions (but it’s not that difficult to guess that the answers go something like: “No,” and “Maybe”).

But let’s just try and project what Mauer would be worth over this time period.

According to FanGraphs, since his first full season (2005), Mauer has been worth* 3.5, 6.1, 3.0, 5.8, and 8.2 WAR; in dollars: $12M, $22.4M, $12.2M, $26.2M, $36.8M.

* Remember, FanGraphs WAR takes into account that he’s a catcher, but does not take into account how good he is at being a catcher. In fact, their glossary page says this about measuring catcher defense:

If you think Joe Mauer’s catching abilities and leadership are worth one win, just add one win to what we display as his win value here. Quantifying catching defense is something that we just haven’t figured out yet, and so we’re not pretending that we have. Consider it an opportunity to fill in the blanks.

And yes, I do think it’s telling that they specifically mention Mauer as being more valuable than their WAR values state. For the purposes of this column, however, I am not going to inflate Mauer’s value beyond what is stated on the FanGraphs page.

The problem is … those WAR numbers don’t actually tell us all that much. Is he a 3 win player like he was in 2005 and 2007? Or a 6 win player like 2006 and 2008? Or is he a legitimate superstar, 8+ win player like 2009? All these numbers come before his prime; great players tend to peak around 27-29, and the truly great players’ skills diminish slowly through their early thirties. (Plus, you can’t plan for good seasons and bad seasons throughout a contract; you have to value a player at his “true talent level,” pay for that, and then basically hope he meets or exceeds that level in as many years of the contract as possible.)

If we put Mauer’s “true talent level” at around 7 WAR, and assume that he maintains that talent through age 30 at which point he will start to decline at 0.5 WAR per season, his value would look like this over the next ten years:

7 7 7 7 6.5 6 5.5 5 4.5 4

for a total of 59.5 WAR over the life of the contract.

To translate that into dollars, though, there are a few things to consider. First is that for the last several years, 1 win above replacement has been right around $4.5M on the free agent market … but this winter that has plummeted to the point that teams are only paying $3-3.5M per win on the open market.

Additionally, Mauer is not currently on the open market; the Twins can expect to get a (small) discount for extending him a year early, a year during which he could very well get injured and lose a shit-ton of money (this is standard procedure for all contracts). Beyond that, players on long-term contracts like this sacrifice about 10% of their fair market value in return for the security of the guaranteed contract. And both of those adjustments come before the possibility of a hometown discount — I don’t expect there’ll be much of one, but it’s possible.

So if we’re paying $4.5M per win like teams have been doing for years, that 59.5 WAR over 10 years will cost $267.75M, minus the 10% for security and fudging downwards a bit for extending early … around $230M, making Mauer one of the highest paid players in the league and giving him the third largest contract in baseball history (after ARod and ARod).

On the other hand, if the Twins are using the 2009-2010 offseason as an opportunity to spend less per win on Mauer’s contract, say $3.5M per win, then the deal would cost just $208.25M, and adjusting downward for security and moving early, it’d get down to the $180-190M range.* If the Twins used the current free agent climate to negotiate this lower price, it’d be a remarkably savvy move from a front office that hasn’t been known for that for some time. (And has never been known for shrewd contracts as much as player acquisition.)

* It’s worth pointing out that there will presumably be deferred money in this deal, which further reduces the total value in “today’s dollars.” I don’t know enough about baseball economics to estimate how much of the contract will be deferred and how much it will effect the real value of the contract. So I’m ignoring it here. Just know that deferred money generally means that the contract is worth less than the number of dollars on the bottom line, so you should watch out for the word “deferred” anywhere in reports about his contract.

Of course, these are just the rumored details. Other reports insist that the Twins aren’t going as far as 10 years on a deal. If, as some reports say, it’s just a 7 year contract, we’re looking at just 46 WAR,* putting it in the range of $140-190M range (depending on whether we’re valuing wins at $3.5M or $4.5M).

* I lopped off the final three years on the above projection of Mauer’s value.

On one level, I want Mauer in a Twins uniform until his career ends. On another level, I felt the same way about Torii Hunter and Johan Santana and other players before them; those feelings went away shortly after they signed contracts that the Twins clearly couldn’t afford, which will be paying them top-dollar even after they’ve declined to the point where they’re not even close to worth the money any more. I certainly don’t want to be paying Joe Mauer $20M+ to be a 36 year old former-catcher with bad knees and a balky back.

Long contracts always carry a ton of risk for the team. In Mauer’s case, the Twins are essentially backed into a corner where they must take the risk; that dynamic did not exist in the Hunter & Santana negotiations. Mauer is the hometown hero, the Golden Child, the Baby Jesus of baseball in Minnesota. He, personally, is a big reason the Twins even have a new stadium to move into; if he’s not on the team in 2011, the fans are going to be furious enough that they may well stop coming to the stadium, and the team knows it.

And frankly, the fact that it’s Mauer’s people that are leaking the information about the contract tells me that the Twins just may have done enough this offseason to convince Mauer that they’re dedicated to building a team around him. Both Morneau and Nathan have recently come out and raved about the roster, saying they’ve never seen anything like this in their time with the Twins. Undoubtedly, Mauer has seen the same things.

Maybe I’m just getting swept up in the giddiness of tracking a rumor as it lives and breathes on the internet, but I’m getting more and more confident that we’ll see a deal before Spring Training, and we can all rest a little easier.

8 comments

Getting overly optimistic about Liriano

One of the major questions facing the Twins coming into Spring Training* is what exactly they can expect from Francisco Liriano. Everybody knows his story, and everybody also knows that part of that story is that every year, around this time, word comes out of the Twins’ offices that Liriano looks great, is throwing the living fire out of the ball, and we should be set at the top of the rotation, so nobody worry!

* It’s just two weeks away now, by the way.

Of course, those prognostications have been totally false in the past; notably, in 2008 Gardy said he had reports of Liriano easily hitting 97-98 MPH on the gun, with a wicked slider that was as good as it was in 2006 … and then he got to camp and was throwing in the high 80s with no command, and was a total mess. So are they changing their tune about Liriano this time around?

It’s funny you should ask, because the answer, of course, is … of course not!

The swell of positivity surrounding the lefty is the result of his successful offseason in the Dominican Republic, where he led his winter league team, the Leones del Escogido, to the Dominican League championship. After a flurry of dominance throughout the postseason — 3-1 with a 0.49 earned-run average in his seven playoff starts — Liriano reached his pinnacle moment in the championship game, striking out 10 and allowing just one hit in five shutout innings.

‘That’s me. That’s how I know to pitch,’ Liriano said of his winter ball results. ‘I feel like in ‘06. I have my focus back; my arm feels great. (I’m) physically and mentally ready to go.’

Liriano reported that his fastball consistently hit 95-96 miles per hour this winter and that he located that pitch as well, something that’s troubled him since his return from surgery. His slider, he said, regained its previously menacing form. Backing up the pitcher’s assertions are his results — over seven postseason starts, Liriano struck out 47 batters in 37 innings.

Alexi Casilla faced Liriano in the Dominican championship series this year while Liriano was dominating everyone; Casilla hit .344 in the series* but struck out 4 times in 8 PAs against Liriano. He confirmed that Liriano’s slider “looks like a different pitch” and is more menacing than ever. For what that’s worth; I imagine that Casilla thinks every major-league-caliber pitcher is about as good as Nolan Ryan. After all, how else would they all make him look so bad out there?

* Some say he would have won the MVP if his team had won; unfortunately they had to face Liriano in the deciding Game 9. Also … I love that they play a best-of-nine series down there. Those guys know how to play baseball.

So is Gardy going to tell us that all is finally right with the world, and we’ve got our ace?

‘All the reports are that he’s really, really throwing the ball well,’ Gardenhire said of his pitcher who was 5-13 with a 5.80 ERA for the Twins in 2009. “This guy is potentially a No. 1 guy, “Gardenhire said. “Everybody’s always looking for a No. 1 guy. I don’t want to put the pressure on and say he’s a No. 1 guy. He’s had No. 1 stuff, and he’s had No. 1 success before. He could be very entertaining.”

Well, I wouldn’t call that saying everything’s going to work out perfectly. I think Gardy did a good job here of not going overboard with a Liriano projection. Apparently, Gardy has learned his lesson from being burned by these reports from the Dominican Republic over the last few years.

But pardon me for not learning my lesson here, because I’m getting excited. I absolutely cannot wait for Spring Training to start so I can see Liriano unleash the ball again. And if he’s back to normal* the Twins will have basically locked up the AL Central before the season starts.

* And by “normal” I mean “superhuman, like in 2006″ … I felt that needed clearing up.

And since this is the internet, I feel I should make a prediction. I think Liriano’s ERA will be under 3, and I think he’ll strike out 200 people this year. Yes, you can call me wildly optimistic.

Anybody else have Liriano predictions they want to share?

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