The Best Catcher in Twins History 25 May 2012 by sirsean

Last night, AJ Pierzynski hit a home run that was kept fair down the right field line by the swirling Chicago wind; later in the game, Joe Mauer blasted a homer of his own to center field. So Bill took it upon himself to mock the recent "the Twins would have been better off with AJ than Mauer" thing that has, for some reason, happened.

While Mauer has had a great career so far, with three batting titles and a American League MVP Award, I can't help but wonder if the team would have been more successful with Pierzynski instead of Mauer.

So, sure, Mauer is a historically great baseball player, who happens to be highly marketable and well liked. But what if the Twins didn't have him? That'd be a good thing, no?

Let's not forget, it was Pierzynski who helped the Twins win their only playoff series in the past decade. Plus, after leaving the Giants, Pierzynski hooked on with the Chicago White Sox and helped them win the 2005 World Series over the Houston Astros.

Point one in AJ's favor: he's been on more teams that have had more postseason success than Mauer has. And he received a World Series ring!

I don't know, I don't really think that makes him a better player than Mauer.

Mauer is a better individual player than Pierzynski. No question.

Oh, right. Well, then what were we talking about again?

In my opinion, some decent numbers and durability are better than great numbers and a penchant for winding up in the training room. Nobody ever talked about moving Pierzynski to first base while he was a Twin. Manager Ron Gardenhire never made it a point to give Pierzynski a day game off after a night game. Pierzynski is tough. He picks fights. He gets under the skin of opposing players. He would have been a great asset for a Twins team desperate for a guy who can stir the pot, but still play the game well.

Is it true that "decent numbers and durability" are more valuable to a baseball team than "great numbers and a penchant for winding up in the training room"? Would the Twins really have been better off if they'd never made that fateful 2004 trade that sent Pierzynski away in return for Joe Nathan, Francisco Liriano, and Boof Bonser, and opened up a position for top prospect local golden child Joe Mauer?

Here are Pierzynski's yearly WAR and salary since 2004:

  • 2004: 1.3 WAR, $3.5M
  • 2005: 1.9 WAR, $2.3M
  • 2006: 2.1 WAR, $4.0M
  • 2007: 1.1 WAR, $5.5M
  • 2008: 1.1 WAR, $5.9M
  • 2009: 2.1 WAR, $6.3M
  • 2010: 1.2 WAR, $6.3M
  • 2011: 1.4 WAR, $2M
  • 2012: 1.5 WAR (so far), $6M

First, let's compare to what Mauer has produced in the same time frame:

  • 2004: 1.2 WAR, $0.3M
  • 2005: 3.4 WAR, $0.3M
  • 2006: 6.4 WAR, $0.4M
  • 2007: 3.1 WAR, $3.8M
  • 2008: 6.1 WAR, $6.3M
  • 2009: 7.9 WAR, $10.5M
  • 2010: 5.5 WAR, $12.5M
  • 2011: 1.6 WAR, $23M
  • 2012: 1.5 WAR (so far), $23M

So far, just getting rid of AJ and replacing him with Mauer seems like it was a pretty smart decision. That's a lot of WAR. (Remember that WAR is a counting stat, so Mauer's durability issues are taken into the account by the fact that he's unable to amass WAR when he's not playing.) Is there any gravy? Like, from production received from the pieces returned in that trade?

Joe Nathan:

  • 2004: 3.1 WAR, $0.4M
  • 2005: 2.7 WAR, $2.1M
  • 2006: 3.1 WAR, $3.8M
  • 2007: 2.2 WAR, $5.3M
  • 2008: 2.1 WAR, $6.0M
  • 2009: 1.9 WAR, $11.3M
  • 2010: 0 WAR (didn't play), $11.3M
  • 2011: 0 WAR (sucked), $11.3M (plus $2M buyout of 2012 option)

WAR isn't a great way to evaluate relief pitchers ... some say because it overvalues relievers and other say it's because WAR undervalues their contribution. But those are some damn fine numbers, especially before he signed his big contract and got expensive and old and broken.

Francisco Liriano:

  • 2005: 0.6 WAR (21 IP cup of coffee), one month of pro-rated $0.3M salary, so like nothing
  • 2006: 4.1 WAR (98 IP of untouchability), $0.3M
  • 2007: 0 WAR (hurt, didn't play), $0.4M
  • 2008: 1.5 WAR, $0.4M
  • 2009: 1.1 WAR, $0.4M
  • 2010: 6.0 WAR, $1.6M
  • 2011: 1.0 WAR, $4.3M
  • 2012: -0.4 WAR (so far), $5.5M

Say what you will about him, but he's had two tremendous seasons and a lot of hurt/ineffective seasons. He's currently mired in his worst season yet -- he was way better in 2007 when he wasn't on the mound. His future with the team seems like it's somewhere between murky and nonexistent, but here we're measuring what he's provided in the past. And he provided some things.

Boof Bonser:

  • 2006: 1.3 WAR, $0.4M
  • 2007: 1.6 WAR, $0.4M
  • 2008: 1.2 WAR, $0.4M

Nothing special ... but is it worth mentioning that in two of those three years he produced more value to his team than AJ Pierzynski did to is? And this guy was the worst part of the trade? The cherry on top of the gravy, if you will?

Let's add it up, shall we, in case your mind isn't quite blown yet.

  • AJ Pierzynski, 2004-2012: 13.7 WAR, for $41.8M
  • Joe Mauer, 2004-2012: 36.7 WAR, for $80.1M
  • Joe Nathan, from 2004-2011: 15.2 WAR, for $42.2M
  • Francisco Liriano, from 2005-2012: 13.9 WAR, for $12.9M
  • Boof Bonser, from 2006-2008: 4.1 WAR, for $1.2M
  • The three trade pieces combined: 33.2 WAR, for $56.3M

Despite his myriad injuries and his large contract, Mauer has produced three times as much on the field as AJ, with a better WAR/$ ratio. Despite his injuries and his expensive contract during which he barely played, Nathan produced more WAR with a better WAR/$ ratio. Despite his injuries and long, long periods of terribleness, Liriano produced more WAR with a better WAR/$ ratio. Bonser wasn't around long, but as mentioned before he produced more WAR than AJ for 2/3 of the years he was with the Twins, at a much better WAR/$ ratio.

I want to make clear that I don't mean to take anything away from AJ Pierzynski here. He's been a really good, solid, consistent, and durable player for a long time. He may be the best full-time catcher in baseball.* Personality-wise, he's the sort of player you love when he's on your team, and hate when he's on the other team. In terms of having a guy like that on your team, it seems like a plus. I'm sure the White Sox are quite happy with having AJ Pierzynski around, and he'll probably get some decent contract offers after this season.

* Seriously. Any catcher who's better than Pierzynski also sees time at another position. Mauer spends time at DH and 1B. So do Carlos Santana and Matt Wieters. Buster Posey sees 1B from time to time. Maybe Carlos Ruiz or Yadier Molina is a better full time catcher? Pretty short list.

I'm just saying, it's kind of ludicrous to suggest that the Twins haven't come out ahead by letting him move on to greener pastures. They replaced him with a truly, transcendently great player at the same position. They traded him for what seems to be a patently unfair haul, one of the most lopsided trades of the past decade, and possibly one of the reasons teams are so reluctant to make deals like that involving promising young players any more.* The Twins won this one. Big time.

* Along with the Bartolo Colon for Grady Sizemore, Brandon Phillips, and Cliff Lee trade and the Mark Teixeira for Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Elvis Andrus, Matt Harrison, and Neftali Feliz trade. Like, oops.

I get that Twins fans are in pain right now. There hasn't been much lately to cling to, to be happy about, to hang our collective hats on. It's become a fun bloodsport to attack the failings of the Ryan/Smith/Ryan succession of general management. But that doesn't mean we should paint those few good things with the same brush.

Burying the Yankee demons 17 Apr 2012 by sirsean

For years, the Twins have had demons in New York. Bats go silent; pitches get fat; calls don't go their way; in the rare case they have a lead, they let it get away. The fans and media have long suspected that the Twins' abysmal record against the Yankees over the past decade has been due to the supposed fact that the Yankees are in the Twins' heads.

Former fan-favorites Torii Hunter and Michael Cuddyer "admitted" as much, saying that everyone else on the team except for them (of course) were "nervous, all nervous", and that the Twins were "mentally down" when they had to face the Yankees. It was good of them to keep themselves out of the admission -- after all, they couldn't have possibly been culprits, it's not like they were the leaders of those teams or anything -- and even better because their accusations were simply not based in fact.

In Monday night's game against the Yankees, then, it sure seemed like those old demons would come back to haunt the Twins. In the first inning, Jamey Carroll was called out on a stolen base attempt by Phil Cuzzi, on a call that replay showed was incorrect. (You may recall that Phil Cuzzi was the left field umpire in that playoff game who called Joe Mauer's double "foul" when replay showed it landed over a foot fair.) When that was immediately followed by a Mauer double, it quite clearly cost the Twins a run.

And when the Twins' 2-0 first inning lead immediately turned into a 3-2 first inning deficit, memories of previous collapses came rushing back. Pavano struggled in that first inning, and looked like he didn't have it. They'd be spending the whole night burning through the bullpen, getting blown out and setting themselves up for struggles not only through the rest of the series but throughout the road trip. It's easy, I think, for an opponent to get into a fan's head: all you get to do is sit and watch, and wonder, and panic.

But the players didn't share that panic, at least not on that night. Pavano bounced back and completed six more innings, finishing with 7 IP, 7 H, 6 K, 1 BB, and 3 R. If you'd been told before the game that he'd do that, you'd have jumped all over it. The defense made big plays when they needed it -- not least Casilla's diving grab on a shot up the middle and glove-flip to Carroll to prevent what could have been a dangerous late-inning rally. And the offense didn't give up when the early lead disappeared; no, they came back and re-took the lead in the fifth, and later added some comfort in the eighth.

It was a good win that ultimately probably doesn't mean much. But the performance of Mauer and Morneau made it a Hollywood script. With Mauer's three hits, he's amassed 1107 on his career and passed Michael Cuddyer for 10th in Twins history. With Morneau's 6th inning home run, he passed Torii Hunter for the 7th-most RBI in Twins history.

I'm guessing that the Twins weren't thinking about Hunter and Cuddyer, or even the possibility of burying their Yankee-colored demons. That kind of thinking is more for fans than players. Still, for one night, it sure was nice to be able to say "suck it, Torii and Cuddyer".

If the Cubs are entering the 21st century, where are the Twins? 13 Jan 2012 by FunBobby

We decided to dust off this blog and give it another try in 2012.  Between busy years for both of us, and a lousy on field product, 2011 was a difficult year to blog about the Twins.  So we didn't do it.

Earlier this week I finally got around to reading Jonah Keri's The Extra 2%.  It details the Tampa Bay (Devil) Rays rise from laughingstock to elite AL contender.  The driving force behind this change was a new ownership group.  Led by Stuart Sternberg and a cadre of Wall Street trained analysts.  The rest you know.

I came across this article while reading Hardball Talk this morning.  The cubs have signed a deal with bloomberg sports for a new player evaluation system.  This is something I can only assume the Twins do not have, but would laugh the Bloomberg Sports sales rep out of the room. Probably while giving him wedgies or something.  As with most people (or person) who read this blog, I am very frustrated with the arcane approach to player evaluation the Twins have taken, well, forever.

The extra 2% spends about half a chapter with quote from AL east executives lamenting the Garza/Young trade of 2007.  Because Tampa got such a good deal, they knew they would have another strong team in their division.  Even with Terry Ryan back in charge, I'm not sure I can envision the Twins staff outsmarting the likes of Freidman, Epstein, Cherrington, etc.

I am hesitant to blame ownership, because the Pohlad family has always been pretty hands off.  So the brain trust that has been in place  since the 90s is running this team with a pretty good head of steam, and it does not appear is if they will be changing course anytime soon.

Welcome back to the  blog everyone, anybody have any thoughts on the topic.

Art vs Science, the final showdown! Wherein Jason Whitlock gets the fisking of his life. 22 Sep 2011 by sirsean

After an unexplained hiatus, we're back with a vengeance to fisk Jason Whitlock's tremendously great article about why everything is sucky and boring now and all you damn kids should get off his lawn. This one really riled up my Twitter feed this afternoon.

I won’t be going to see "Moneyball."

Oh good, my friend Jason Whitlock is emailing me to tell me about his plans for the weekend! I also won't be seeing Moneyball, at least until it comes out on Netflix*.

* I like the Netflix/Qwikster name change. Now that Netflix only has streaming, when I ask "Is it on Netflix?", my friends can simplify their responses from "Well, they have the DVD", to the much more precise and definitive: "No." It'll make things much easier.

The movie celebrates the plague ruining sports: sabermetrics.

I thought the plague killing sports was steroids. Or did sports end up not dying from that plague either?

That is not intended as a shot at Bill James, Billy Beane or Michael Lewis.

That's good, because that'd be totally uncalled for.

James (the inventor of sabermetrics) and Beane (the most adept user of sabermetrics) are baseball visionaries worthy of glorification. Michael Lewis (the author of the book "Moneyball" that celebrated Beane’s use of sabermetrics) is one of the most important writers of this era.

I don't know if I'd agree with everything you say here, Jason -- for example, I personally wouldn't call Beane "the most adept user" of sabermetrics, perhaps "an adept user" would be more accurate -- but those are pretty glowing introductions! I'm sure the three of them will appreciate whatever you have to say about them now that they have just the right amount of smoke in their asses.

Wait. Hell, maybe it is a dis — an unintended one — of James, Beane and Lewis.

As long as it was unintended.

They unwittingly conspired to remove much of the magic and mystery from baseball.

I love everything about this sentence. There's just so much here! First, of course, I can't get past the idea of the three of them unwittingly conspiring -- is it possible to unwittingly conspire to do anything? Doesn't the definition of "conspire" pretty much require that it not be done unwittingly? I mean, if you were to "make secret plans jointly", wouldn't you have to know about it? And if the plan was to remove much of the magic and mystery of baseball, well, why would they plan to do that? Bill James, if my understanding of him from having read everything Joe Posnanski writes is even close to accurate, was and is driven in large part to understand and appreciate the magic and mystery of baseball. Beane was trying to win ballgames. Lewis was trying to write an interesting book that makes him more rich and famous. Rational self interest, and all that. Not so much an anti-magic conspiracy.

Or are we just using words like "conspiracy" because they sound good? Because, you know, I'm cool with that.

They reduced the game to a statistical bore. It’s no longer enough to be down with OBP (on-base percentage). To talk the game, you now must understand OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging), VORP (value over replacement player), BABIP (batting average on balls in play) and on and on.

Yeah, understanding things is hard! It's better, if you're going to talk about something, to do everything possible to not understand anything about the subject. That way everyone will be impressed that you're able to have such strong opinions about something you don't care or think about.

There’s a stat for nearly every action in baseball. Little is left to the imagination. Sports were never intended to be a computer program, stripped to cold, hard, indisputable, statistical facts. Sports — particularly for fans — are not science. Sports, like art, are supposed to be interpreted.

And wine is supposed to be appreciated for its earthiness, or the faint aroma of leather or blueberries or summer wind blowing through the leaves of that tree on the other side of the vineyard, or some such wine snobbery; wine is an art, not a science. Therefore, chemistry is bad and scientists have conspired to remove much of the magic and mystery of getting drunk.

It’s difficult to interpret baseball these days. The stat geeks won’t let you argue. They quote sabermetrics and end all discussion. Is so-and-so a Hall of Famer? The sabermeticians will punch in the numbers and give you, in their mind, a definitive answer.

It's difficult to interpret baseball myopically these days. If, for example, you're trying to argue that Jack Morris is a better Hall of Fame candidate than Bert Blyleven, you will indeed get both a punch in the numbers and a definitive answer. But not everyone is such a divisive topic -- Morris' legend lives on in the dreams of aging men, who will never forget that great Game 7 he pitched that one time, but all too easily forget all the times he got a W when his team scored 8 runs for him. Other players are borderline statistical candidates, for whom heart and hustle and love of the game and how sweet his swing looks on a crisp September evening may be able to swing him one way or the other. Some guys are just so obviously not good enough that you deserve to be punched in the numbers for caring about their candidacy at all, and others are so obviously in that it really doesn't matter if they weren't nice to sportswriters after games. Is this really that complicated?

Thanks for inventing the phrase "punched in the numbers", by the way. I'm pretty sure I'm going to use that one.

It’s boring. It’s ruining sports.

That's, like, your opinion, man.

Sabermetrics or analytics are overrunning football, too. ESPN is pushing a new statistical way of analyzing NFL quarterbacks, Total Quarterback Rating.

People are trying to come up with better ways to understand that Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers are really good? I'm intrigued, tell me more.

The nerds are winning.

Can't have that. They're nerds!

They’re stealing the game from those of us who enjoy examining the gray areas of sports.

You can still examine the gray areas of sports. Just, here's the thing, not every area of sports is a gray area.

We’re about 10 years away from a computer program that will write stats-based opinion pieces on sports.

Ah, have we reached the point of this article? The real reason my friend Jason is so scared and angry? Watch out for those computers, they're going to take our jobs!

I think it's worth pointing out, though, that while it's possible today to write a computer program that will write stats-based opinion pieces on sports, the writing isn't going to be very good. This isn't really something to be afraid of. Unless you don't want to understand anything, and you just want to be scared and angry. Which, as Americans, is what we do best!

Last season, the basketball analytics crowd was convinced that LeBron James and Dwight Howard deserved the MVP over Derrick Rose. The fact that Howard’s whiny, immature crybaby-ass was even in the discussion tells you all you need to know about analyzing the game solely on statistics. The Orlando Magic were a joke last season in part because of the immature environment fostered by Howard.

I don't know if "crybaby-ass" is a technical term, but I like it. It distracts me from what I care about when it comes to basketball, which is dunks. Dwight Howard is good at those.

As for James vs. Rose? Well, James devoured Rose in the Eastern Conference Finals. Rose’s defenders — most notably ESPN’s Ric Bucher — argued that Rose’s inferior supporting cast is what allowed the Heat and James to get the best of Rose and the Bulls. And by the time James disappeared in the NBA Finals, it was easy to see the merit of Bucher’s point.

I don't ... get this, but let's move on. We're talking about baseball, right? Or stats? What stats? Does it matter?

It doesn’t really matter who deserved the NBA’s MVP award.

Yeah, I guess it doesn't matter. Great! Let's keep talking about it, then.

What matters is that there was a fun, yearlong debate. As much as we enjoy watching the competition on the field or court, we take equal pleasure in interpreting and debating what we just saw.

Right. Which, apparently, you got to enjoy even though some people were considering facts before coming up with their opinions. So we're agreed, then? Stats aren't evil?

Sabermetrics/analytics undermines the debate. They try to interject absolutes.

Only statistics would interject absolutes. Jason Whitlock, as you can see from those two absolutely non-absolute statements, would never do that.

No one will ever convince me that John Elway isn’t the greatest quarterback/football player in NFL history. I know what I saw.

See? Jason Whitlock would never make a boldly absolute statement or undermine a debate.

I don’t care that Joe Montana won more Super Bowls. I don’t care that Dan Marino threw for more yards. I don’t care that Peyton Manning’s completion percentage is eight points higher.

Yeah, when it comes to quarterbacks, Super Bowls and yards and complete passes are pretty much irrelevant.

I can and have argued credibly and passionately that Elway is the best QB and player in the history of the league.

You can and/or have argued credibly about something? Prove it!

You are free to disagree. I invite you to disagree. I’d love to refute your erroneous position. Just bring more than stats to the table.

When you say "bring more than stats to the table", do you mean "don't consider facts, because those make it much more difficult for me to win arguments"? It kind of seems like that might be what you mean.

The games are about more than stats.

Hello, Mr Strawman? Hi, this is reality calling. Is there anyone, anywhere, who has ever attempted to refute this?

That’s what bothers me about this whole era of sports.

What is? That the games are about more than stats? I wouldn't have thought that would bother you.

In my lifetime, there have been two innovations that have significantly influenced sports fans: 1. fantasy leagues; 2. sabermetrics/analytics.

Just two innovations? I don't know, I thought the 24-hour news cycle influenced sports fans, and HDTV, and the internet, and live streaming of games, and Twitter, and a whole bunch of other innovative and cool things that enable fans to enjoy sports as much as they want to.

Again, the stat geeks are winning.

Everyone is winning.

Our perception of athletes and their value are primarily being dictated by statistics.

They don't have to be, but understanding what "value" means is helpful when you're trying to determine a player's value.

Peyton Manning is the king of fantasy football; therefore, he is the king of real football. LeBron James is the king of fantasy basketball; therefore, he is the king of real basketball.

What year is it? You know that Peyton Manning isn't playing right now and has killed millions of fantasy teams who drafted him, right? And you keep using that word "therefore" in a way that makes me wonder if you know what it means. LeBron and Manning are really good at their respective real sports, therefore they're really good in fantasy sports. For most people, fantasy doesn't dictate reality.

Is it a coincidence that James and Manning have both struggled in postseason play?

Um, yes? Also, didn't Peyton Manning win a Super Bowl? Seriously, what year is it, Jason?

I don’t know the answer. But I want to discuss and debate it. And I don’t want to do it with people who simply want to quote stats.

You mean quoting stats like "Peyton Manning won a Super Bowl"? Yeah, that kind of stat would be really inconvenient for your point. I can see why you wouldn't want to argue with someone capable of remembering that, or looking it up.

The answers and the questions that make sports special, unique, our collective national pastime, can’t be found on a stat sheet. They’re in our imaginations and our individual interpretation of what we witness.

That's true. And since stat sheets don't preclude either the answers or their questions, they can coexist with our imaginations and interpretations. You don't have to care only about the things statistics can quantify, just like you don't have to care only about the non-quantifiable things for which stats are useless. Those non-quantifiable things like "heart" and "clutchiness" or "crybaby-ass-itude" can still be enjoyed, they can be feared, they can be talked about. They can be a source of hope or dread. They can be as much a part of a sports fan's daily conversation as wOBA or WAR, or anything else.

When the "Moneyball" movie hysteria subsides, I hope the sabermeticians STFU.

I thought you didn't like newfangled acronyms. So, I'll help you out a little bit. STFU stands for "Shut The Fuck Up". This might be one of those times where you should heed your own advice.

Valencia likes it? 20 Jun 2011 by sirsean

I've noticed for a while that Gardy throws Valencia under the bus at every opportunity. In a game where Valencia hit a home run but also failed to advance the runner from second to third in a later at bat, Gardy will mention said failure in the postgame press conference. In a game in which the bullpen collapsed and threw away a big lead, Gardy will point out that Valencia didn't bunt, or muffed a hard grounder down the line, or something.

This has seemed to me like another example of one of the main problems I have with Gardy's managerial style -- that he seems to be very highly critical of his talented (but not highly talented) young-ish players, in a way that he isn't of players who are either old or bad or both.

But check out this quote, courtesy of Phil Mackey:

"I think he enjoys it, to tell you the truth," Gardenhire said, regarding Valencia handling criticism. "I think it makes him feel like he's a part of stuff when people are getting on him. Because he's constantly saying, 'How come these guys are getting on me about this, Gardy, and not getting on this guy about this?' So I know he likes it. I really believe he likes that stuff."

Evidently, Gardy is deliberately trying to find ways to criticize Valencia, because he thinks Valencia likes it.

Of course, when I hear that Valencia says "How come these cuys are getting on me about this, Gardy, and not getting on this guy about this?", I don't think that sounds like he likes it. It sounds like he thinks it's bullshit.

And even if Gardy is right, that Valencia does like being criticized more than all the other players even when he's not doing anything wrong, I imagine he doesn't appreciate it when Gardy says he needs to start producing more or he's going to be sent down to Rochester.

What do you think? Have I misread Valencia's feelings? Is Gardy out of touch? Or is this much ado about nothing?