Saturday, December 06, 2008

Gardy Has Outfield Right

There are a lot of complaints about Ron Gardenhire's comments in Fargo regarding next year's outfield. They got blown way out of proportion over at the STRIB by Howard Sinker,  the former sports writer who is trying to write stuff that sounds the way sports writers think typical fans think. But in many ways Gardenhire was merely stating the obvious, Cuddyer, Gomez, Span are the starting point for next year's outfield.  What are the other options for next year?

1) Cuddyer, Young, Gomez
2) Young, Span, Gomez
3) Cuddyer, Young, Span

It appears to me that Gardenhire's trio is the strongest both offensively and defensively.

We can start by eliminating option one simply because Span is the Twins leadoff hitter. The Twins could move Gomez back into that spot, but there is nothing that would indicate he is any more ready for that than he was last year.

Option two seems to be the one many fans support. But if he plays like he did in 2007, Cuddyer is better both offensively and defensively than Young. With his arm and his experience with the baggie that would be true even if Young moved to right field and Span went over to left.

Option three is probably the most arguable. But Gardy rightly sees Gomez as his future center fielder. Span is no slouch in center, but Gomez has the potential to be a worthy replacement of Torii Hunter as he gets more experience.Putting Young and Cuddyer in the corners with Span between them is the worst defensive outfield the Twins could have.

Of course, the real problem is not what makes the best outfield next year. Its that many people see Young as a budding super-star. Cuddyer isn't. That 2007 player is probably his ceiling and he may not ever reach that again. But that is looking long term and there is nothing wrong with having Young in a postion of having to force Gardy to play him more. With Kubel in the DH slot, there are going to be opportunities for a right handed bat to play. But if you are looking at the opening day lineup, then you would have to go with Cuddyer, Gomez and Span.

Of course opening day is a long way away. Its possible someone will get hurt or play their way into a regular role in spring training. Or get traded. But for now Gardy is spot on.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Its all about money

According to the newspapers, the Twins have offered Casey Blake a two year contract with an option for a third, but he wants three years. Apparently the Dodgers are also in the mix with a two year contract offer. Blake is 35 and you have to be a bit skeptical whether he will be worth $6 million in three years. But that isn't really what the discussion is about. Its about money. Two years at $6 million means a $12 million contract, 3 years makes it $18 million. Its likely that they will end up splitting the difference with the team that comes up with the largest amount of money.

The reality is that his is true of a lot of contracts. While they are paid yearly, the total commitment of dollars is where the real negotiations are. If  Blake is a regular for three years and produces the way he has recently then $18 million is a pretty good deal. But if he turns into a spare part in the next year or two, $18 million is too much.  On the other hand, $12 million for two years with an additional $3 million if they decide to buy him out would make him expensive at two years, but a good investment if he lasts three.

Blake fits the Twins well. He is another right handed bat with some pop that will settle nicely into the seventh spot in the order. He gives them a guy who can play first base and give Morneau a day off. He is the kind of addition that could make the difference between just contending and making the playoffs. That is worth $15 million, it may even be worth $18.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Five Myths about Bert Blyelven's HOF Candidacy

1) Blylevens' record can be attributed to playing on bad teams. In fact, the teams Blyleven pitched for were above average, winning more games than they lost.

2) Blyleven's teams didn't score many runs. In fact, Blyleven's teams scored more runs than the average teams during those same seasons.

3) Blyleven had the "bad luck" of pitching when his team didn't score.

Some people have gone through the games and shown that Blyleven got below average run support when he pitched, despite the fact his teammates, on average, scored more runs than other teams. They attribute this to "bad luck".

If it wasn't for bad luck, I wouldn't have no luck at all.

Even if you attribute his teammate's offensive failure to luck, its certainly just as likely that same luck improved Blyleven's own results right along with his opponents. What are the likely explanations that would explain both pitchers doing better than usual?
  • A) As the staff ace, Blyleven faced other team's aces. But Blyleven wasn't always the staff ace. On the Twins, for instance, Frank Viola was the staff ace. Blyleven was the number two starter.
  • B) Blyleven pitched more often in stadiums friendly to pitchers than his teams played in on average.  Of course, that would mean Blyleven's own statistics were improved by the same factor that drove down his run support.
  • C) He pitched in games where umpires had large strike zones. Again, Blyleven's own statistics were improved by the same factor that drove down his run support.
  • D) His teammates just happened to score fewer runs when Blyleven pitched. Statistically, given the large number of games over many seasons, that is an unlikely explanation.
4) Blyleven's lack of run support could only have been luck.

The most likely explanation for Blyleven's lack of run support is that umpires widened their strike zone when Blyleven pitched and that benefited both pitchers. Given Blyleven's outstanding curve, that is not unlikely. Umpires can be fooled as easily as hitters. If they are calling Blyleven's curve off the plate a strike, they are likely to start doing the same for the other pitchers' pitches. Is that speculation? Yes. But so are all the possible explanations based on luck.

5) Blyleven's low results in the Cy Young award voting should not be a factor.

This is the Hall of Fame. Is there some reason why voters whose peers never recognized Blyleven as one of the premiere pitchers during his career, should now vote him in to the Hall of Fame? Moreover, it wasn't just sports writers who didn't recognize Blyleven. The managers of the allstar teams rarely recognized him as a premiere pitcher either.

Blyleven had a very long and successful career that put him among the leaders in a number of categories.  But there are many people that attribute his presence in the leadership more to the length of his career, than to any outstanding success he had.  When proponents of Blyleven's candidacy are reduced to siting  "win shares" and "ERA+", as the StarTribune did in today's paper,  you know they have been reduced to grasping at straws. 

I am an agnostic on Blyleven as a Hall of Famer. It would certainly not be an outrage if he was elected, but its not an outrage that he hasn't been. He is, at best, a borderline candidate.

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