Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Twins' Notes and Thoughts... 8/30/11

By Matt Tschida

Mauer’s Positional Value
While sitting at Target Field the other day, I overheard a couple Twins fans regurgitating something they'd undoubtedly gleaned from the local media—“Mauer’s value is behind the plate... he's only worth $23M if he stays at catcher.”

I chuckled to myself. For this to be correct, they'd have to believe that Mauer is truly nothing more than a .300-ish singles hitter.

The same fans went on to say that Mauer changes the game defensively. As I've mentioned in previous posts, Mauer is highly overrated defensively. Is he a solid defensive catcher? Yes, but he is certainly not elite. He has a great arm, but he's not quick out of his crouch to block balls—he's been able to get by at times by "picking" rather than blocking. According to www.beyondtheboxscore.com, Mauer ranked 27th in block percentage in 2009, blocking only 89.1% of possible chances, and just 86% in 2008. I wasn’t able to locate anything more recent, but it’s safe to say he hasn’t jumped up 25+ spots into the top 5. When you add that to Mauer’s 28th-ranked 2011 catcher ERA of 4.31 (Rene Rivera’s catcher ERA, to put this into perspective, is 3.31), you see how overrated Mauer is behind the plate.

In theory, Mauer is more valuable playing catcher because of the offensive advantage he provides at the position. However, when he's not in the lineup that advantage is moot. The bottom line is that the Twins need a healthy Joe Mauer in the lineup. He is not an elite defensive catcher anyways, so if the Twins could have him play one game a week at first base, one in the outfield and one at DH, he'd have a better chance of staying healthy for an entire season. Eventually he could move permanently to one of those positions once the Twins find a catcher capable of holding his own both offensively and defensively.

People need to remember how spectacular Mauer was offensively the season before he signed the huge deal. Here are his 2009 numbers: .365/.444/.587 with 28 HR and 96 RBI in 138 games. I believe that those numbers, coming from any position, are worthy of $23M/year. For example, one of this season’s top MVP candidates, Adrian Gonzalez, signed with the Red Sox for about $22M/year and he's hitting .345/.406/.559. Moreover, he plays first base, an easier spot to find offense. Maybe Mauer can repeat those numbers while still playing catcher every day, but I would have a lot more confidence in him returning to form if he only had to catch 3-4 days a week—or if he didn’t catch at all.

Did Twins Make a Big Mistake By Not Trading Span?
Back at the trade deadline, the most talked-about rumor involving the Twins was a trade that headlined Denard Span going to the Washington Nationals in return for closer Drew Storen. I was one of the few people in favor of the deal because of Storen's huge upside, and because of the Twins' glut of outfielders on their current roster and in the farm system.

Many of those opposed to the trade were pointing to Bill Smith's Matt Capps-for-Wilson Ramos debacle, simply because both Capps and Storen happened to be Washington closers. False. Drew Storen was taken 10th overall in the 2009 draft, has been a top reliever ever since he was brought to the majors, and is still only 24-years old. Matt Capps, on the other hand, has been very inconsistent throughout his major league career, and is not a proven closer.

Many people also questioned why you would trade an affordable solid everyday player for a closer. Storen would probably rank about the same among closers in the MLB as Span does among center fielders—both would rank around the top 10-15 at their position. What's more, a closer can have an impact on most games simply by the way the the rest of the bullpen can be structured. You can see how big of a difference a great bullpen makes when you consider how bad the Twins' bullpen has been this season. The 2010 Twins bullpen went 21-18 with a 3.49 ERA. This season, they're 15-22 with a 4.60 ERA. That’s a 5-game swing in the standings, and several more between the ears.

Another aspect of the trade that wasn’t really looked into at the time was Span’s health. His concussion is starting to mirror that of Justin Morneau’s situation last season, and with first-hand knowledge of this type of injury, it may have been wise to deal Span and let another organization deal with the symptoms. It has been said that these talks could heat back up this offseason, but I have my doubts given how long Span has been out. I would still be in favor of acquiring Storen for Span, but there is little chance of that. The alternative is standing pat with Span (assuming he comes around) and Ben Revere playing in the same outfield, which certainly isn’t a bad thing.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

OML Fantasy: Anti-Ocho

Once star-crossed lovers, the utopic marriage between Chad Ochocinco and Bill Belichick has quickly become the fantasy community’s favorite fairy tale, but I caution you not to overreact to the spooning. This is not Randy Moss 2.0—not even close.

Click here to read the rest of the debate at Fantasy Victory.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Twins Notes and Thoughts... 8/18/11

By Matt Tschida

Delmon Young Trade
I didn’t have a problem with the Twins trading their starting left fielder of the past three seasons, but rather the timing. I understand that Young hasn’t always meshed well with the coaching staff, and doesn’t always put forth maximum effort, but it doesn’t make sense to trade a player who was your MVP of 2010 at this point of the season. Sure, the Twins want to clear room for Ben Revere, who covers much more ground for the Twins' fly ball pitching staff. It's just very disappointing that Young was traded at a point when his value is so low.

If the Twins would have entertained offers last offseason, they could have netted a top prospect or two instead of two pitching projects. It was certainly a lose-lose situation for Twins' GM Bill Smith. If he would have traded Delmon last offseason, fans would have ripped him apart because many felt Young was entering some big seasons (which he still might be). Why would you trade him after waiting through two mediocre seasons? I don’t blame Smith for keeping Young last offseason, as the Twins' lineup was still very left handed and needed some consistency and power from the right side.

The best case scenario for the Twins would have been to keep Young the rest of this season and hope that he'd continue to hit better, as he has during the second half of the season. He's become more disciplined at the plate in the last month—he's drawn more walks (10) than he had in the first 3-1/2 months combined (8). There was no reason (unless the front office really wanted to dump $1M from the payroll of a team that sells out every game) to trade Young at his lowest value in a season and a half. If Young could have finished strong and raised his average into the .280-.290 range, while hitting 6-8 homeruns, his value would have been much higher in the coming offseason.

The Twins have nothing to gain or lose the rest of the season, so the addition by subtraction theory doesn’t make a ton of sense right now. Sure, if the Twins were only a couple games back and needed to play Revere more in left field and didn’t have a spot for Young, then I could see that point. That's simply not the case for a team that's out of the playoff race, specially not knowing when Denard Span will be completely healthy.

Twins Sign Three First Round Picks
In the waining hours of the signing deadline, the Twins were able to ink their top 3 draft picks from the 2011 amateur draft. The timing was not abnormal, as most teams wait to sign top picks until
deadline day to let draft slot dollars work themselves out.

Levi Michael (North Carolina) was the Twins' first round selection. He played 3B, 2B, and SS in his 3 years at UNC and the Twins are hoping he can stick at SS. Some scouts believe he is more of a 2B based on his range and arm strength (ahem, Nishioka). He’s a patient hitter who will hit for a high average, steal a decent amount of bases, and hopefully find the gaps at Target Field. Comparison – Orlando Hudson (without the constant chatter).

Travis Harrison (Tustin High School—Califonia)
was the team's second first round selection—a compensation pick. He is a 3B who will likely move to either 1B or a corner OF spot. The Twins hope he can stay at third, but his defense is part of the reason he wasn’t drafted higher. He has big time power, and while he hit .486 in his senior season, some scouts aren't convinced that he'll hit for a high average at the MLB level. Comparison – Josh Willingham/Mike Napoli (this is more of an offensive comparison, as it’s not known what position he ends up at).

Hudson Boyd (Bishop Verot High School—Florida) was the Twins' third and final first round selection. He’s a power pitcher who's consistently in the 93-94 mph range with a power curve. The only thing holding him back from moving up quickly is the lack of a quality third pitch. The Twins will work to develop a change-up with him.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Vikings Game Notes: Preseason WK1 @ Tennessee


- Asher Allen picked up right where he left off last season, missing a tackle on the first play from scrimmage and getting burned down the sideline on the second.

- Secondary struggling to tackle on first drive. Vikings bailed out by 30-yard loss on an atomic fumble.

- Gerhart catch-and-run on third and long to convert--an encouraging sign. Two plays later he makes a sweet cutback and plows ahead for ten yards. On third and short, Vikings get owned at point of attack. Get used to it. Chris Warcraft enters for first punt since calling Brady and Manning d-bags.

- Jasper Brinkley whiffs badly on clear shot at Locker.

- Asher Allen misses another tackle.

- Christian Ballard plants Locker from the DT spot--first sack of the preseason.

- McNabb done, finishes 6-11 for 40 yards. Lots of quick hitters tonight.

- Lorenzo Booker making people miss out of the backfield, but (still) can't run inside.

- Booker fumble.

- Chris Cook torched for 45-yard touchdown from Locker to Figurs.

- Chris Cook gets trucked--disappointing night.

- Vikings physically dominated in the trenches throughout the first half. Touchdown Titans (14-0).

- Joe Webb to Jaymar Johnson on a pretty slant... followed by another nifty check down to Booker.


- Joe Webb flashing crazy athleticism, but that running shot put is eerily reminiscent of the Tarvaris jump-pass.

- Joe Webb continues to move the chains as a dual-threat quarterback. I prefer him to McNabb, personally.

- Ponder to Rudolph on his first professional snap. Romo to Witten -- you heard it here first.

- Marcus Sherels is thoroughly overmatched.

- Lorenzo Booker still making people miss. Fumble aside, great showing.

- Ponder shows nice escapability/playmaking on 17-yard first down pass.

- It's refreshing not to be watching Albert Young.

- Juaquin Iglesias explodes down the sideline for 26 on a dump off.

- 35-yard punt return for Jaymar Johnson. His spot should be solidified on the roster.

- Ponder's a very average 6'2", but he's playing shorter than that--ball batted at line.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Twins' Notes and Thoughts... 8/5/11

By Matt Tschida

Free Kevin Slowey
Isn't it time to give Kevin Slowey another shot in the starting rotation? I think the Twins need something to spark this staff, and a motivated Kevin Slowey could be the trick. He has started six games in Rochester and posted an acceptable 3.55 ERA, with 32 strikeouts and only four walks in 45.0 innings. Even if the Twins plan on trading Slowey, there’s only so much he can do for his value at AAA. If he can step in for Nick Blackburn and put together some quality starts, then the Twins could either trade him before September 1, or keep him for their own postseason push and trade him in the offseason. Meanwhile, Blackburn (who's posted an awful 8.37 ERA in his last seven starts) could work things out at AAA, like he did last year.

The Twins could be hoping that keeping Slowey in the minors for the rest of the season might result in a Glen Perkins-like resurgence. Perkins spent all of 2010 in the minors, upset with the organization. However, he sucked it up and came into the season prepared to contribute, and he's been the Twins' most consistent reliever all year. I’m not sure that's something Slowey has in him, and I’m guessing either he or his agent will demand a trade this offseason. Therefore, a value-boosting call up is probably the team's best bet.

Anthony Swarzak has earned the rotation spot over Slowey, but he's also proven that he's more flexible and can come out of the bullpen effectively. The Twins could still use a “long” guy out of the bullpen, and having another capable spot-starter like Swarzak in the pen is a nice asset.

Another rift between Slowey and the organization has been the team's perception that Slowey shakes off Joe Mauer too much. I would rather have a pitcher throw the pitch he is comfortable with than what the catcher wants all the time. You hear Bert Blyleven constantly preaching that pitcher is in control, and should throw what he wants, but Ron Gardenhire and Rick Anderson seem to disagree with that theory. Go back to the Milwaukee series, when Jose Mijares gave up that costly hit to Prince Fielder. Mijares was upset with the pitch Mauer called for, but the media and the announcers went after him for not shaking Joe off. However, management's actions seem to imply that pitch selection is not the pitcher's final call for this team. The numbers below illustrate the staff ERA's by catcher in 2011.

Twins Pitching Staff by Catcher 2011
Butera: 4.96 ERA
Rivera: 3.32 ERA
Mauer: 4.25 ERA

Should the coaching staff really be telling pitchers to shut up and throw what Joe calls? I for one am not sold on Mauer's pitch calling.

Rick Anderson
I find it odd that Joe Vavra has gotten a lot more heat than Rick Anderson. Aside from a couple missed starts by Baker and Liriano, the starting staff has been the healthiest part of this team. To put that into perspective, every regular hitter for the Twins, with the exception of Michael Cuddyer and Danny Valencia, has spent time on the DL. There’s not a whole lot a hitting coach can do when he’s working with minor leaguers and scrubs not ready or able to step in.

The starting pitchers carried the team for about a month, but these guys have all been on the MLB roster for 2+ years and should be able to give more consistent efforts. The ERA for the starters is only a few points higher than it was last year, but we shouldn’t have to keep waiting every single year for Baker, Blackburn or Liriano to step up. I don’t think an ERA in the 3.80-4.20 range is too much to ask for out of each starter. Instead, we have one or two starters step up each year, and one or two starters step backwards.

At one point Scott Baker, Kevin Slowey, Glen Perkins, Francisco Liriano, and even Nick Blackburn were considered relatively promising prospects. None of them, with the exception of Liriano, were considered to have ace potential, but each was considered a No. 2-4 starter. It just seems to me that Rick Anderson has been given a free pass here. Some people still praise him for working magic, but that notion feels old and overblown. He seems to want to turn every pitcher into a “pitch-to-contact” pitcher, instead of letting them do what they’ve done their whole life.

Take Francisco Liriano, for example.

"We've told him forever that he's a strikeout pitcher... We understand that he can strike people out, but if he really wants to become a pitcher, pitch to contact."
- Ron Gardenhire, 4/12/11

It's also concerning that so many starters seem to clash with this coaching staff. Going back to Kyle Lohse, there have been many talented pitchers who could have helped stabilize this rotation–-Matt Garza, Glen Perkins and Kevin Slowey all come to mind. I understand that Anderson has been with Gardy since he took over as manager (and was his roommate with the Mets during their playing days), but I think it might be time to consider a change. Pitchers who “pitch to contact” generally do not have a lot of success in the playoffs.

Valencia’s Slide
A lot has been made of Valencia’s “soft” slide into home last night by Bert, media outlets and bloggers. Well, it shouldn’t have even happened with the team down 7-1. There is no excuse for Steve Liddle sending him in that situation (no outs, and down by six with the tough-to-double-up Ben Revere coming up). Am I excusing Valencia's soft slide? No. He should have slid hard and late towards the back of the plate, but down six runs you generally don’t truck the catcher, as many people are suggesting.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

A Few Bold 2011 Fantasy Football Predictions

By Joey Cavalier

Just to be clear, these “bold predictions” do not necessarily reflect my rankings. They are fun, brash predictions that invite others to make fun of me and tell me how stupid I am… That said I believe these are things that could actually happen, given that the players mentioned play to their upside. So sit back, read, respond, and make fun of me please…so here we go, in no particular order.

1. Mike Tolbert will finish the season with more fantasy points than Ryan Mathews.
Ryan Mathews showed up to training camp out of shape and seemingly indifferent. The fact that he, as a RB, failed a basic physical is alarming. Rumor has it most of the Chargers’ coaching staff prefers Tolbert to Mathews. That makes sense because Tolbert has been very effective when given the chance (plus, he is a Michael Turner clone). Tolbert had 11 touchdowns with only 182 carries last year! Tolbert will be the feature back and Matthews will slide over to the passenger seat.

2. Plaxico Burress will finish the season with 10 receiving touchdowns. Plaxico is fresh out of the slammer and ready to get back to jumping over cornerbacks. Mark Sanchez has never had a weapon to throw to like Burress. All that Sanchez needs to do is close his eyes, throw the ball high in the air, and wait for Burress to come down with it. Plaxico will be the go-to guy in the red zone for the Jets. No one is more equipped to bring down the jump ball than the 6’5" WR. He may not end up with a lot of yards, but he will end up with a lot of touchdowns.

3. Jamal Charles will be the No. 1 fantasy RB this season. Though many wouldn’t consider this a bold prediction, Charles needs to surpass the likes to Adrian Peterson, Chris Johnson, Ray Rice, and Arian Foster to establish himself as the best fantasy RB. Charles was a top-5 fantasy RB in almost every scoring system last year while sharing the load with Thomas Jones. Charles has done nothing but embarrass defenses when given the chance. With Jones getting old and taking the back seat, Charles will get more touches, and cement himself as “the” elite fantasy RB.

4. The Arizona Cardinals’ offense will be the sleeper fantasy offense that you want to tap into. The addition of Kevin Kolb will bring Larry Fitzgerald back to his rightful place of fantasy dominance. Plus, Arizona added Todd Heap to the fold, and Kolb loves checking down and hitting his TE. The subtraction of Tim Hightower brings clarity to the Arizona backfield, where Beanie Wells and rookie Ryan Williams will get a chance to put in a lot of work. With a QB who can actually complete a pass, Beanie Wells (who has been named the starter) has the chance to become a solid No. 2 RB this season. Buy stock in the Cardinals offense.

5. Daniel Thomas will be the “Fantasy Rookie of the Year” Some have already crowned Mark Ingram the Fantasy Rookie of the Year, but he is in a serious RB committee on a pass-first team. Pierre Thomas, Darren Sproles, and Chris Ivory will all be taking touches away from Ingram at some point. Daniel Thomas will be the feature back on a run-first team, with only Reggie “can’t-run-up-the-middle” Bush taking touches away from him. With Jake Long leading the way, Daniel Thomas will be crowned Fantasy Rookie of the Year.

6. Vincent Jackson will end up a top-5 fantasy WR.
With a head the size of Barry Bonds’, a chip on his shoulder, and a chance to earn a huge contract, V-Jax will come up big this season for fantasy owners. Having the toss-happy Phillip Rivers as his QB doesn’t hurt his cause either. Defenses have to focus on stopping Antonio Gates, and the speedy 6’5" receiver will toy with opposing defenses like he did before all of his holdout-douchebagery. Welcome to upper-echelon, Vincent Jackson, now stop being such a jackass!

7. Reunited with Mike Martz, Roy Williams will be a top-30 fantasy WR.
Trust me, it was more painful for me to type this up than it is for you to read. This is not so much about Roy Williams’ skill set as it is about Mike Martz and his stubborn way of doing things. The mad scientist has already come out and said that Roy Williams will get 70-80 catches this year. The Bears throw the ball a lot, and no one in the receiving game has done anything to earn the title of “go-to-guy.” Williams had a couple of big seasons under Martz in recent history, and Martz is going to do everything he can to rekindle Williams’ success. The egocentric Williams will be a cheap surprise for the fantasy owners who pick him up off the scrap heap.