Fire Gardy

Mismanaging games since 2002

Archive for March, 2010

We’re Changing Our Address: HittingTheFoulPole.com

Fire Gardy, the blog, has had a good run these last two years. We started from nothing, and built a somewhat healthy readership — that’s you! — who come here numbering over 100 on any day we post a new article. Of course, that’s not a big following by the standards of many baseball writers, but for small-time bloggers like us it’s pretty heartwarming. We’ve been glad to be here, and we’ve been even more glad that you, our readers and commenters, were here too.

But the recent flap regarding the name, often brought up by the people I know in real life* and by the links from Posnanski and Neyer which set us up as some sort of ringleaders of a misguided Anti-Gardy League here in the wild ol’ internet, it has become clear that the title of the blog may be holding the site back even more than our lack of insights about baseball or ability to entertain readers with our prose.

* As opposed to the people I know from the internet, which is less like really knowing them.

So, we have decided to continue blogging in the same way — but with more pictures and rootin’ tootin’ — but under a different letterhead. The new site is up and running at HittingTheFoulPole.com. It has a more modern look to it, and that delightful photograph you’ll find in the header was taken by FunBobby. The improved appearance of the site will hopefully make up for the fact that we’re pulling up our tent stakes and fleeing our hometown in the middle of the night, like some sort of Carl-Pohlad-in-his-2002-dreams, and abandoning our small but loyal group of fans.

We’re not abandoning you. Our odd senses of humor and esoteric statistical witch-doctory and love of the game will still be coming to you every whenever-we-come-up-with-something, as long as you update your RSS reader to our new feed. In the interest of making a smooth transition, we’ve copied over all our posts and comments onto the new site; in the interest of history, I’m leaving all the old content up on this old Fire Gardy site (for as long as I feel like continuing to pay for the domain).

Hitting the Foul Pole.

Make it your new favorite Twins blog.

15 comments

2010 Predictions sure to be wrong

Well, we’re less than two weeks away from Opening Day, so it is time to make 2010 projections.  I’m going to do division winner, playoff winners, and league MVP and Cy Young award winners.  Feel free to leave your predictions in the comments section, or yell at me if you think I’m wrong.

American League:

West: Rangers.  I think they have the pitching to win, and if Hamilton stays healthy their offense will score enough runs to support said pitching.

Central: Twins.  This is the best lineup they’ve had in years, and the starting rotation is solid, if unspectacular.  Having Pavano and Slowey for an entire season won’t force Ron Gardenhire to start a string of AAAA players in important stretch run games.

East: Yankees.  If it ain’t broke…..

Wild Card: Angels.  It was a toss up for the west crown, and I think the big boys of the AL east will beat up on each other enough to let the Angels take the wild card.

MVP: Joe Mauer.  I’m tempted to pick Texiera, but I guess I’m too much of a homer.  It will be another close one, especially if A-Rod plays the full season.

Cy Young: CC Sabbathia.  I think the voters will revert to the “ooh, look at all those wins” style of voting, which will prevent Grienke from winning his second in a row.

National League

West: Rockies. If they can get their closer situation figured out, they should have no problem winning the division.  The return of Jeff Francis will more than offset the loss of Jason Marquis.

Central: Cardinals.  They have two of the best starters in the NL headlining their rotation, and the best hitter of my generation.  I can’t find a reason to pick against them.

East: Phillies. Roy Halladay might actually win 30 games in his switch to the NL.  The Marlins and Braves could challenge them for a while, but the Phillies will pull away by midseason.

Wild Card: Marlins.  Josh Johnson is a legitimate ace, and Ricky Nolasco should see his ERA take a large dip due to his good peripheral numbers.  Hanley Ramierz anchors a young, but talented offense.  Florida can win a lot of games on the strength of their starting pitching.

Cy Young: Josh Johnson. The two cards pitchers will take votes away from each other, gift wrapping the award for Johnson

MVP:  Albert Pujols. He’s a machine.

Playoffs:

LDS

Yankees over Angels

Twins over Rangers

Cards over Marlins

Phillies over Rockies

LCS

Twins over Yankees.  (I know, I know)

Phillies over Cards

World Series

I’m not going to  venture a guess.

So there you go.  What do you guys think?

7 comments

The Twins Way of Thinking

I just read an interesting interview with Rob Antony — the Twins’ assistant GM — and it focused mainly on a hypothetical situation involving “RBI guys.” The question was, if you’re looking to sign a free agent, would you target a guy who had a high RBI total, or a guy with a high slugging percentage?

Antony replied that he would prefer the player with the higher RBI total. “Because you win with runs,” he said. “And I want that guy because you also have the correlation with a better batting average with runners in scoring position – he’s the guy that can step-up, the guy you want at the plate.”

“I think guys are pitched differently when they have a chance to do damage and they can’t make adjustments. Then, sometimes the guy with a bunch of home runs and few RBI with nobody on base, they challenge him, and you look and a lot of those guys do their production with the team behind and they tack it on and enjoy a solo home run in the eighth inning.”

Yeah yeah, Mr Antony, we all hate A-Rod and all those pointless 8th inning homers. (Though I wonder if the people who think 8th inning homers are pointless would rather not have those runs.) Anyway. Not the point.

If a scout or evaluator “sees something” in a guy that says he has the fortitude to hit well in scoring opportunities, that’s one thing. But if it’s a tautological “he’s a run producer because he had a big RBI year” line of reasoning, that’s where the problem is.

There is a non-statistical way of thinking about baseball. I know that because it’s all anybody really knew for 80 years; I also know that because there are still several teams that subscribe to it. The Twins are one of them.

A problem I’ve seen is when the younger statistically-minded community conflates “the non-statistical way of thinking” with “anti-statistically not thinking.”

Whether the Twins are right and Morneau drives in runs because of something intrinsic to him and his ability to make adjustments better than the pitchers he faces, or the numbers are right and Morneau produces runs because he’s a good hitter with a high slugging percentage and he happens to bat behind Mauer and Span who are always on base, well, does it matter? Morneau is still Morneau.

When the Twins are evaluating a player, I’m curious as to how they do it (that’s why I try to hunt down articles like this one that offer a glimpse). Do they watch the hitter in some run-producing situations and see how he handles it and extrapolate based on their experience how he’d do over the course of a season? Or do they do a cursory, limited version of statistical analysis, see a high RBI total at some point, and conclude that this is an RBI guy?

That’s a lot more important to me than the organization actually using modern analysis to their advantage — I want to know that the Twins are actually thinking — whatever their process — as opposed to being fools.

Obviously, the results this decade have been good. It’s working. But I want to keep up my hope that it’ll keep working.

2 comments

How long will Mauer last?

The Twins have Mauer under contract now for the next nine years; it’s my opinion that signing this deal was completely necessary for the Twins, despite the much-talked-about downside risks inherent in any long term contract and compounded by Mauer’s position, height, and injury history.

Fangraphs has already pointed out that Mauer’s bat is good enough to play anywhere on the diamond, but the Twins wouldn’t have felt quite as pressed to make this deal for a first baseman as they were for a catcher. The question today, though, is this: how long will Mauer stick at catcher?

Colin Wyers takes a look at this over at ESPN’s TMI blog (insider only), and takes a somewhat interesting tack. He finds that the average catcher stays at the position for 10 years, and has a total career lasting 11 years; they don’t last long in the league once they leave the position. But Wyers acknowledges that Mauer isn’t average, so he narrows it down to just the catchers who had a career after catcher, and finds that they played an average of 7 years at catcher and a total career of 12 years.

Mauer’s already been in the league for six years, and the Twins are banking on his career lasting at least 15 years. According to Wyers’ analysis, this would be so far above the average that you simply can’t expect it to happen.

the odds are that Mauer won’t be able to remain a full-time catcher much more than halfway through this contract, so by then the Twins had better have a contingency plan in place.

I’m going to go ahead and disagree with his conclusion here. This is a very simplistic look at things, and basing it on the average career is a major problem to begin with — Joe Mauer is a singular talent, and what an average player does simply has no bearing on what he might do.

Secondly, he limited the pool of players he looked at pretty strictly. Their careers had to start in 1974 or later, and they must have retired by now. That ignores most of the historical comparisons to Mauer, including Yogi Berra, Johnny Bench, Carlton Fisk, Jorge Posada, Jason Varitek, and others. I’m basically throwing out a list of the greatest catchers ever for a reason — Mauer is one of them.

If you decide to judge Mauer’s potential career against those of other great catchers, as opposed to the average catcher, would you really come to the conclusion that the odds are against him lasting past age 32? Posada is still going strong at age 37; Varitek was never as good as Mauer and stopped being any good at age 35; Bench was still great at 33 but was done by 35; Fisk was still great at age 42 (despite a couple down years at 38-39, from which he rebounded); Berra was good through age 36, and even posted a 138 OPS+ in limited action at 38.

Barring a major injury, there seems to be little reason to believe that Mauer’s catching career will end in his early 30s. In fact, judging by more recent players who, like Mauer, have been able to take advantage in modern advances in nutrition and exercise, he may even be worth a multi-year contract at age 36 when he hits the market again. Posada was.

There are no guarantees in life, or in baseball. But the assumption that Mauer’s career is already on the brink of collapse because he’s pushing up against the limits of the length of the average catcher’s career is naive and unhelpful.

Mauer is on track to be an inner circle hall of famer, and there is almost no reason to think he’ll be anything but one of the best players in the game for at least the next five years; by then, he will have virtually assured himself a plaque in Cooperstown with a TC on his hat.

At the end of the day, no, we don’t know how long Mauer will be crouching behind the plate at Target Field. But it shouldn’t be too much of a task to sit back and enjoy the show, however long it lasts.

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Introducing the Span Fan t-shirt!

We tried to make a t-shirt once in the past, the “Free Jason Kubel” shirt — it was a cool shirt, I thought, but we had it made shortly before Kubel was freed and took advantage of it by establishing himself as one of the best hitter on the team and assuring himself a spot in the lineup. Whenever I wear it, I get quizzical looks and questions like “Who is Jason Kubel, some sort of political prisoner?” or, more rarely, “Why does Kubel need to be freed? Isn’t he good?”

So maybe it’s time for a new t-shirt, one that won’t be obsolete immediately.

Let’s see … we want a young, popular (but not too popular just yet) player, under contract for several years, with potential to improve and — why don’t I just stop right there. You know what I’m getting at.

Span Fan t-shirt

Introducing the brand new, FireGardy.com exclusive Span Fan t-shirt!

You can customize the color of the sleeves if you want — I just went with the standard black sleeves. Since mine was delivered, I’ve worn it constantly.

I know for a fact that FunBobby will be wearing his to Opening Day — so look for the guy who looks like a happier version of Glen Perkins wearing an awesome Span Fan t-shirt, and feel free to get jealous that your t-shirt is so lacking in coolness. Then solve that problem by getting your very own Span Fan shirt.

Sorry about the blatant self-promotion. Of course, we’ll try to keep this kind of crap to a minimum (which I think we’ve done over the years).

4 comments

Evaluating Mauer’s new contract

Now that Mauer has signed his contract extension, paying him $23M per season from 2011-2018, let’s take a look at how the contract values Mauer as a player, and also how much the Twins paid per win.

It’s tough to pin down exactly what Mauer’s true talent level is — he just posted an 8.1 WAR (partial) season, which is incredible, and also has two 6 WAR seasons and two ~3 WAR seasons under his belt. Meanwhile, those values do not account for how good he is behind the plate.

At Fangraphs, both CHONE and the FANS project him to 7.3 WAR for 2010, which seems reasonable; I think it’ll be helpful to look at this contract in a few different scenarios: 7.0 WAR (in case his talent lies lower than the CHONE projection), 7.3 WAR (the projection is accurate), and 8.0 WAR (either the power wasn’t an illusion and he can keep this up, or we take his excellent defense into account and add a win).

I’ll assume that he stays at this value through age 30, and then starts to decline at 5% per year* after that.

* In a previous analysis I had assumed a 0.5 WAR per year decline, which seemed like a really fast decline. I’ve seen 5% per year used at Fangraphs.

Here are the annual win values the Twins can expect to get from Mauer based on our three options for his current true talent level:


True talent level: 7.0 WAR
7.0, 7.0, 7.0, 6.65, 6.3, 6.0, 5.7, 5.4
Total: 51.1 WAR


True talent level: 7.3 WAR
7.3, 7.3, 7.3, 6.9, 6.6, 6.3, 5.9, 5.6
Total: 53.3 WAR


True talent level: 8.0 WAR
8.0, 8.0, 8.0, 7.6, 7.2, 6.9, 6.5, 6.2
Total: 58.4 WAR


Note: I rounded to one decimal point for display, but not in the calculations. So if these numbers don’t appear to add up exactly right, that’s why.

Obviously, that’s a lot of wins that the Twins are getting, regardless of which one is “true.” But at the same time, they’re paying a lot of money for it. This is the fourth largest contract in MLB history, behind ARod, ARod,* and Jeter.

* What people never seem to point out about ARod’s first mega-deal, the $252M one, is that he opted out with three years left on it, eschewing like $80M in salary. So the amount he actually got PAID from that contract is less than Mauer’s new deal. Just saying.

So what rate are the Twins paying, given that they’re handing over $184M?

In scenario 1, where Mauer’s a 7 WAR player, they’re paying $3.6M/win. In scenario 2, where Mauer’s a 7.3 WAR player, they’re paying $3.45M/win. In scenario 3, where Mauer’s an 8 WAR player, they’re paying just $3.15M/win.

Basically, the Twins just inked a deal locking in today’s depressed market rates for nine years into the future. We then have to balance that against the fact that he’ll be the highest-paid catcher in the league for the entire life of the deal, and he’ll be 35 years old in the final year — of course, if we look at Jorge Posada’s aging process, maybe that won’t be a huge problem.

And in case you were wondering, if the Twins had had to sign this contract in the economic environment of two years ago, when wins cost $4.5M apiece on the market, this same contract would have been worth either $230M, $240M, or $262M. Wow.

My dad thinks it was pointless for Mauer to have wasted a few years in the minor leagues — he’s a once-in-a-generation talent, who was one of the best defensive catchers in the majors at age 18, and so overmatched his minor league opposition at every level that they simply pitched around him. In hindsight, we’ve learned that his swing didn’t change at all since high school, and in fact nothing about his game (or his sideburns, for that matter) has changed. I don’t think it’s crazy to think Mauer would have found success at age 19, rather than waiting until he was 21 to make his debut (and 22 until his first full season). Might he even have another batting title (or two) under his belt right now?

Of course we’ll never know what would have happened, and what his career might have looked like. But if it had been exactly the same, and the only difference was that he signed this extension two years ago, the Twins would have had to pay a much higher rate per win. And because they delayed bringing him up, they potentially saved $50-80M over 8 years. From the team’s perspective, I sure wouldn’t call that pointless.

So is the deal, in the end, a good one? It’s practically impossible to call any 8 year, $184M contract a “team-friendly” one, so I won’t. But I will say that the Twins’ front office has shown itself to be eager to take advantage of the current market rate to lock in long-term deals, and thus deserves some credit for “astuteness” rather than simply “luck” in taking the opportunity to lock in perhaps the most valuable player in the game for the lion’s share of his career.

And it’s been a while since anyone could realistically call the Twins’ front office “astute” with a straight face.

4 comments

Great News! Mauer Signs.

The Twins have agreed to terms with starting catcher Joe Mauer. The deal is reportedly 8 years, $184 million with a full no trade clause.   A press conference is scheduled for Monday night at the Twins complex in Ft. Myers. This is great news people.  The average annual value is $23 million, a hair more than Texiera is making in New York.  If there was a hometown discount, there wasn’t much of one.  I would imagine he would be getting $25ish from the New York/Boston team. 8 years is a long time, but it will cover Mauer’s age 28-35 seasons which are his prime years.

What does everyone else think?  We will break it down further once more details come out at the press conference tomorrow.

8 comments

Nathan plays catch, makes a decision about surgery

Bad news, everyone!

Joe Nathan played catch with Rick Anderson this morning, to determine if he could pitch through his injury and get by without having Tommy John surgery. His conclusion? No.

“Didn’t go like we hoped,” Nathan said. “We knew it was a long shot, but what this did do is clear my head. Definitely was no gray area. Definitely was on the black side, where it didn’t go as well as we like, and we know now we’re going to have to go in and get some surgery done, get this thing fixed up.”

Joe Christensen watched the throwing session, and said Nathan was “making some strong throws before it ended,” and that he couldn’t tell whether it had gone badly.

“As we kept throwing, it became clear that it was getting harder and harder to play catch,” Nathan said. “It became clear that it didn’t feel great. This was going to be an easy answer for me to know I wouldn’t be able to pitch without getting this thing taken care of.”

I’m glad there’s no gray area for him in this, and that it was such an easy decision. This is not something Nathan should be second-guessed about all summer, every time a lesser reliever struggles in the 9th inning. I think we all knew this had to be done, and this just makes it official.

Given that the estimated recovery time is 12 months, we now await the news as to when he’s having the surgery; Nathan himself said “as soon as possible,” and hopefully he’s going by his own definition of the words “soon” and “possible,” rather than the Twins’ version which would undoubtedly have him wait until November to have the surgery.

6 comments

Valencia’s demotion, explained

Yesterday, Danny Valencia homered off Johan Santana, and was rewarded by being cut from major league camp — it seemed pretty abrupt to me. But thanks to Joe C, we have an explanation:

Players on the 40-man roster who did not finish the previous year in the majors need to be optioned before today (16 days before Opening Day), or, in the event of an injury, they must be kept on the major league DL.

Since Valencia was expected to contend for the starting third base job, his cut seemed particularly abrupt.

I don’t know if I’d use the word “expected” here. A better choice, I think, would be “hoped.” I believe Valencia is almost ready for a promotion to the majors, and a half-season or so in AAA to make some adjustments to his approach at the plate would definitely do him good.

Even more than that, though, is the fact that Gardy is still the manager around here, and there’s nothing he hates more than:

  1. Young, talented players
  2. Anything that might cut into Nick Punto’s playing time

That’s why I was so interested to read even the most cursory scouting report from Gardy, about Valencia.

Asked what impression Valencia made this spring, Gardenhire said, “He was fine. He moved around just fine. A good arm. He’s still got to learn where to play guys defensively and all those things. His bat seems good, there’s things he’s going to have work on, hitting the breaking ball and all those things. We saw teams that knew him down here they were spinning a lot of balls. … But I guarantee you one thing: He can hit a fastball, and if he sits on a breaking ball, he can hit that, too. … We’re going to go away here with our infield, and if anybody has any issues, he’ll get a chance.”

Of course, no mention of the thing Valencia actually needs to work on: plate discipline. I’ve talked about this before, but throughout the minors Valencia has struggled to draw walks in his first half-season or so at each level, but then adapts and his OBP jumps up, leading to a promotion and the cycle starts over. Also, it’s probably more important that he learn to a) avoid swinging at breaking balls, and b) foul them off when there are two strikes, but that’s not Gardy’s game.

In fact, there’s little surprise Gardy didn’t talk about Valencia’s strike zone control or plate discipline. There’s just about no evidence that he’s aware that either of those things exist.

So there’s nothing wrong with Valencia being sent down, and the Twins essentially waited until the deadline to do it. And he’s just a heartbeat away from a promotion.

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Thome on the Twins’ clubhouse atmosphere

An email from Pat Neshek to Buster Olney (insider only) sheds some light on the Twins’ clubhouse atmosphere.

“Our bullpen really centers around Nathan, so this, of course, is a huge blow to the ‘pen. When I first got up in 2006, I was amazed that the bullpen guys all stretched together, hung out together and did things off the field together.

“As far as the bullpen goes, Nathan and Matt Guerrier are the best of friends. Jesse Crain is not too far behind and always together with them. Jose Mijares is quiet and does his own thing. I can’t quite get a read on Clay Condrey. In years past it was this way as well. We like to run and lift together and do things as a group and I’m pretty sure this doesn’t happen with other teams. Jim Thome was commenting the other day to Kevin Slowey that this was probably the nicest atmosphere and bunch of guys he has been around, it was cool to hear coming from him.”

I imagine the Indians and White Sox won’t be too pleased to hear that; at the same time, though, Thome spent his tenure with those teams sharing a clubhouse with Albert Belle and AJ Pierzynksi, so maybe it’s not saying too much.

Of course it remains impossible to measure a team’s “chemistry.” Still, reports of good chemistry are encouraging — especially coming from a long-time veteran player, at a time when the team isn’t winning.

Yet.

Take a bath

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