Random Thoughts by Enrique

16Jan/130

Twins Off-season Update

Yesterday, I attended the Worthington stop of the Twins Winter Caravan. This particular visit featured Dick Bremer, new bench coach Terry Steinbach, Ron Gardenhire, and Brain Dozier. For about an hour, they took turns answering questions posed by attendees. The answers I was mostly interested in were those from Gardy about the direction of the team. The Twins manager, as always, was honest and humorous in his responses.

But anyway, what is the direction of the team? The Twins have made moves during this off-season that are sure to affect the club going forward. The first thing was a coaching shakeup. On October 4th, they fired (well, technically, they just didn't offer contracts to) first base coach Jerry White, third base coach Steve Liddle, and bullpen coach Rick Stelmaszek. Somewhat holding on to their jobs were Joe Vavra and Scott Ullger. Vavra was re-assigned from hitting coach to third base coach while Ullger went from bench coach to third base coach. Taking their old positions are Tom Brunansky and Terry Steinbach (already mentioned), respectively. The other new coach will be Bobby Cuellar in the bullpen. These moves show an, albeit reluctant, willingness from the front office to make necessary changes while still highlighting their loyalty to their staff. The two coaches to remain as before are Rick Anderson, the pitching coach, and Ron Gardenhire, the manager.

As for players, Terry Ryan has made some significant trades and signings so far this off-season. On November 29th, the Twins traded Denard Span to the Nationals for minor-league pitching prospect Alex Meyer. A week later, on December 6th, they traded Ben Revere to the Phillies for another right-handed pitching prospect, Trevor May, and for a starter who will immediately be inserted into the rotation, Vance Worley. Later that month, the Twins signed more pitching "help" in Kevin Correia, Mike Pelfrey, and Rich Harden. Again, these moves showed GM Terry Ryan's acceptance of what we all knew, that the Twins desperately needed to improve their pitching staff.

Fox Sports North Broadcaster Dick Bremer

These are some of the more significant moves the Twins have made before the start of the 2013 season. With only 27 days until pitchers and catchers report to Fort Myers, there will be less trades or signings until the start of the regular season. Although the Twins could still make some moves, we now have a pretty good idea about what direction this team is taking. First of all, the Twins have shown that no one's job is assured forever. Although I think Gardenhire's contract will and should be renewed, there is now a sense of accountability within the coaching staff. Gardy recognized that and even mentioned it during his stop in Worthington on Tuesday. He knows it's the last year on his contract and that this team needs to improve in 2013 for him to stay with the club for 2014 and beyond.

Secondly, the front office has taken a step in the right direction by replenishing the minor league system, specially when it comes to pitching. Span and Revere were talented and likable players, but they were part of a surplus of outfielders. Meyers and May won't start the 2013 season in Minnesota, but they will hopefully be part of a good, young pitching staff in the future that will also include Kyle Gibson and Scott Diamond. The outfield holes left by the trades as well as other positions will be covered by players like Miguel Sano, Byron Buxton, Aaron Hicks, Eddie Rosario, and Oswaldo Arcia. All of these are quality prospects whom scouts project highly. These were good moves because the Twins are trying to build a contender for the future, not buy a team that might win now but will flop later. I do think the team will be slightly improved in 2013, but definitely not enough to be contenders in the AL Central. The time I'm really excited for is 2014 and later. Next year, the team will still have great players like Joe Mauer and Josh Willingham, but with exciting young talent ready to form part of a Twins team that can once again contend.

Terry sitting with Gardy, caught texting.

As the Winter Caravan rolls around Twins Territory and with Spring Training just around the corner, the baseball season is closing in. Even though they don't project to be among the contenders in 2013, I do think the team is headed in a better direction than it had been the last few years. Although we should probably begin to prepare ourselves for just one more less-than-stellar season, Twins fans can finally be optimistic again about the future.

Filed under: Baseball, Sports, Twins No Comments
15Jan/130

Moneyball

Clearly, this is mostly a baseball blog. I said I'd be diverse in what I wrote about, but so much of what I want to write about is baseball. That's quite obvious at this point, considering I wrote absolutely nothing during the off-season.

I did read about baseball though. I finally read Moneyball by Michael Lewis. (Yes, that book that the Brad Pitt movie is based on.) It was pretty much enlightening. Most of it included things I already knew about—as it was published in 2003, but it was fascinating to look at the Oakland Athletics' 2002 season, Billy Beane's quest to build a team based on statistical analysis instead of pre-established scouting fallacies, and the overall rise of a new mentality across baseball. Most teams today use statistical analysis in their decision making.

Even though I don't have the resources or the brain power to compute the way some of these baseball statisticians do, I want to try to apply sabermetrics to my analysis of baseball players and teams.

Baseball fans should, however, recognize that one of the things that makes baseball great is its rich history and tradition. I think the best way to attack the issue is (as with most things in life) attempting to find the point of balance. We should admire baseball's tradition while respecting enlightened approaches to the game.

Anyway, this post will serve as my re-introduction to this blog. I will, as before, at least state that I plan to scatter random thoughts throughout my posts, only because I'm afraid to encase myself. But, honestly, my main desire will be to write about baseball, and I will begin with an update on Twins baseball soon.

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7Aug/120

Vin Scully is Awesome

If you're a baseball fan, you'll probably agree that Vin Scully is awesome. The guy has been the play-by-play voice of the Dodgers for 63 years. Sixty-three years. He has always been entertaining to listen to, and his opinions can be valued. Scully has some made some of the most iconic calls in sports history, here are a few:

Anyway, he recently reminded us why we all love him. During a Rockies-Dodgers game, Shane Victorino lined a ball to Dexter Fowler. The ball dipped right in front of the center fielder as he stuck his glove out to catch it. At first, the umpire called it a catch and the last out of the inning. After a conference between the four umpires though, the call was reversed. That is when Colorado's manager, Jim Tracy left the dugout to argue the call. Here's the full video, with Vin Scully narrating:

Using his abilities to lip read and euphemize, Vin Scully attempted to interpret Jim Tracy's argument for the viewers. For example:

That is blinkin' fertilizer.

Seriously, watch it. It's hilarious.

But more importantly, immediately after the heated argument from the Rockies' manager, the legendary broadcaster also snuck in his thoughts on instant replay in Major League Baseball.

We have this equipment, and no one takes avail of it. I mean, they say it would slow up the game. What did that do? I mean, they could have had someone upstairs or an umpire go and look at the tape. Instead, big argument, the manager's kicked out of the game, the umpires have to reverse.

And that's really the point. Instant replay, even for simple calls like this one, would improve the fairness of the game. Of course, umpire mistakes and manager arguments would exist even with replays. Those who appreciate the human element of the game know those things would never go away. However, important calls that might decide the outcome of a game would have a better chance to go the right way. If at home we can watch plays immediately, repeatedly, and in slow motion, why shouldn't umpire crews be able to have that same benefit? Professional sports should make use of the technology available. Those who love the pure aspect of baseball shouldn't worry, human beings will still officiate and manage and play the game.

I hope Bud Selig was watching the Dodgers broadcasts, because even someone like Vin Scully, who is 84 years old and has been broadcasting baseball for 63 seasons, recognized the need for some progress in Major League Baseball. Scully has been around the game for a long time, and he's probably seen many bad calls. Surely, he knows expanded replay would improve MLB's fairness, because, as most fans know, some calls are just blinkin' fertilizer.

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30Jul/120

The Fransisco Liriano Trade

If you happen to follow me on Twitter, you've probably seen me use the hashtag "#TradeLiriano" every five games at least. Here's an example from less than a week ago:

Well, my wish finally came true. On Saturday night, the Twins traded Fransisco Liriano to the White Sox for Eduardo Escobar and Pedro Hernandez. Here is Twinkie Town's assessment on the trade and specifications on these minor league players Minnesota received in return. But basically, Escobar is an infielder who can field but can't hit. And Hernandez is a left-handed starting pitcher who has decent minor league numbers.

Apparently, not many Twins fans liked this trade. I happen to not be among this group. First of all, I had gotten to a point where I would have taken a Target Field Cuban sandwich (which, by the way, is really good) for Frankie. I'd seen Liriano described as mercurial by a few different bloggers; I always chose to describe him as maddening. He was simply not a consistent, reliable starting pitcher. While quite talented and possessing good "stuff," the Twins could no longer count on him in an already weak rotation. Frankly, I was tired of not knowing which version of Frankie Minnesota would get on any given start.

Fans seemed to have wanted more in return than those two minor league players who did not project even among Chicago's top prospects. I do understand that. The farm system needs to be replenished. However, Liriano will be a free agent at the end of the season. He was, even for a couple months, a gamble for any team. His value just wasn't high enough. The clubs that were interested in him were just looking for a rental pitcher in their push for the playoffs, not an ace to build a rotation around. I'm glad the Twins received something in return for him, even if the two players have little major league upside. We couldn't realistically have expected much more than that.

In addition, fans are frustrated because Liriano was traded to the Twins' biggest rival. After all, the last time they traded with the White Sox was in 1986. And, no, I don't like the idea of giving them a good pitcher who might help them win the division. But, first of all, let's face it, the Twins aren't going to challenge for the division this year. Second of all, I know Fransisco Liriano well. I'm calling him the Trojan Horse of this rivalry.

He seemed like a good guy and, if his ex-teammates' tweets on Saturday are any indication, was well-liked in the clubhouse. But now he plays for the enemy. Fransisco Liriano is scheduled to pitch in Minneapolis on Tuesday. It'll be a little weird, but he'll be starting for the White Sox, so I'm hoping he loses.

Filed under: Baseball, Sports, Twins No Comments
19Jul/122

The Matt Wantland Interview (Part One)

A few weeks ago, I posted an essay about file sharing in relation to the music industry. (You can read "Are You a Pirate Too?" here.) As research for the piece, I interviewed Matt Wantland, an ex-member of the rock band 10 Years. This band released three albums under Universal Music Group, the largest of the major labels. I am finally posting the full transcript of that interview, which was conducted on April 19, 2011. Here it is:

(Warning: Some of Matt's responses contain profanity. This interview was conducted as an online chat, so most of his replies are exactly as he typed them.)

Enrique Aguilar: As a musician, what are your general thoughts about illegal downloading of music?

Matt Wantland: I have no problem with it whatsoever, it's how I get my music and most everyone I know as well. I never made a dime off of selling a cd as a signed artist, bands survive on merchandise or live shows, unless you're U2 or Lady Gaga or something, and true fans will buy your disc and go to the show and pick up a t-shirt. What's more is music has always been free through the radio and tv, and now we have youtube which most have on their phone I can listen to anything I want at any given time anyways. Statistically more people check out new music on youtube than any other medium. My thought is in this world, to try to fight a new way of doing things that is only going to continue to go farther from actually owning music you're just fighting yourself and your fans more than making any progress... it's better for people to have it than not to be able to get it

There was a time when I was playing with 10 years that Universal Records would only allow us to put up 90 second clips on our myspace and all it did was piss off our fans, which really does nothing but hurt the artist and their relationship with the fans

Makes sense. Do you think that the internet helped 10 Years become more popular? And do you feel fans were loyal enough by getting out to the shows and buying merchandise for you actually to be able to make a living just from music?

Of course the internet helped, where do you or anyone you know check out new music... I can build a fanbase in korea from my computer chair if I'm smart and good enough. Although touring almost 300 days a year and radio helped quite a bit, that was 6 years ago, if you have a great song you can be discovered by the whole world in a matter of days, people share and pass on what they like to their friends and post it on their fb pages to who knows how many people... radio and tv are the last place most people go for music anymore, it's all commercials (and commercial) and that's why the labels are freaking out because they have no control over the internet.... which is why it's brilliant. they tried with vevo for signed bands music videos and now you can't find official songs and videos on youtube and all they're doing is missing their crowds by trying to monetize everything...Nothing frustrates me more than not being able to listen to a band on my phone and it won't play on youtube cause some label hid them on some private video site they run that they get advertising money from... and I will never try to look up that band again. smart huh? haha

Exactly. Well, since we're on the music industry, would you rather be in a band that isn't signed, and produce and promote yourself?

That's what I'm doing as we speak, obviously funding is harder this way but I also don't have to answer to all these middle men who aren't concerned with anything but their own agenda...lawyers, labels, managers, booking agents, I mean [half] the bands you hear on the radio don't even write their own songs anymore becasue they're so indebted to whoever they are signed to that they're having to sacrifice who they are and what they stand for to maintain the relationship with the labels and the lifestyle they provide

Do you feel you can be more creative now?

Either they get on [board] or they are going to get left behind, a label was good for getting radio play, paying for making the album and distributing to the stores, and then holding all that over a bands head. There is no distribution with an Mp3 or online audio file, so there goes that, noone really cares about radio, and every laptop is capable of recording a record...so now they're scrambling. They understand I think, they just don't have an answer on how they or going to survive through it because they most likely won't. It's a beautiful time for music because everyone has a stage and fans no longer have to buy what they're sold, they can search out what they like and leave the crap on the table, and unfortunately for labels they specialize in crap. I definitely feel I can be more creative now, I don't have anyone telling me to have someone else write my songs or what to wear or what to say in an interview, if I had said half this in 10 years I would've been chastised if not fired haha I don't have to write songs that will try to appeal to a certain crowd on a certain type of radio station. I always think of a band like the flaming lips who never get radio play or anything of the typical nature who built their reputation on trying new things and being themselves and playing live who can play a theatre sold out 3 nights in a row, and being in 10 years where we could have a number 1 rock song and not even fill up a 500 person club, if we didn't have a new song on the radio few people care at all, and that's the problem with mainstream success is those fans go away as fast as they come, fair-weather fans, I would rather play to a room of people who truly believe in me even if it is smaller in numbers than be big for a minute and then be abandoned because I stood for nothing, because we you don't compromise yourself people will stay with you through your experiments, people know when you're full of shit... you remember how big hinder got? where the fuck are they now?

man can I ramble ha

Haha, that's alright.

Downloading helps distribute music. No need for a label to put it on the shelf. But do you think making physical albums, with art and sleeves and all, still works? Do you have a desire to do it? Or would you rather go song by song online?

I plan on putting everything online for free as albums with art, I might print enough to take on the road or to sell online for fans that really want it, I had an idea to hand screen print the album art just to make it more personal for the fans, maybe a small run of vinyl for people that really want something, but otherwise it's just going to end up in someones computer anyways. I wouldn't make more than a thousand and print more if needed

Yeah, that does sound practical. This is probably more of a question for myself, but what would your advice be for an artist who wants to do it all by himself, as far as making music and distributing it online?

it's hard to say as I'm just figuring it out myself, but bandcamp is good, learning how to tag videos and things properly so they show up in searches, tunecore I think handles sending your music to all online music sites itunes amazon and all that

Back to relevant questions. Do you think it's possible for bands signed to a label to keep their artistic integrity? I think it's gotta be tough.

it's very hard, because the label is making an investment and it's not in your bands career it's in how much they think they can get back out of you and when you sign they literally own and control what you do, you would have to be amzingly unique and sellable and the same time to get away with it, indie labels are a better route because they still care about music... a band like death cab for cutie was on an indie label for like 4 albums and ended up getting big enough that majors wanted them, and since they were already established they made the rules because the label needed them more than they needed the label

I see. Did you feel like you couldn't make your music when you were signed? Did you have to cater to a subgenre or to the demands from the label? Or maybe you were rushed to make an album?

I had to make 10 years records, pure and simple... no experiments nothing [too] crazy no chance to change direction or try something new, just safe and sellable and by then end I wasn't even allowed to write at all, the band I helped found was completely taken away from me in every sense you could conceive, it was all safe and calculated

and that is as much the fault of a few guys in the band who don't have enough balls to say no to stupid things requested of them as it did with the labels demanding them

mars volta is another great example of how to do it your own way, they're not scared to say... no, this is what we want to do

Alright, last question. What would you say would be a solution to the "problem" of downloading? Labels figuring it out and letting music go for free because they realize they'll make more money from shows anyway? Or maybe just letting the labels die? 

I'd say let them die, but I think a subscription based thing kind of like netflix would be genius, it's always there whatever you want, I mean the only radio i listen to is pandora and I can ttype in bands I like and then I learn of new bands it leads me to, and the artists still get royalties from the plays, because noone is going to go back in time and start buying in any mass amount ever again

The conversation continued in a more unofficial tone after this point. I will post some of that as "Part Two" on a later date.

Matt's former group, 10 Years, happens to be my favorite band. They will be releasing an album with their own independent label on August 7, 2012. This is their official website, and this is their Facebook page. Last I knew, Matt's new band is named Dead Language. I haven't heard much from them lately, but here's their Facebook, their SoundCloud, and a song by them I really liked. I thought it would be fair to give both bands a shout out. 

 

Filed under: Interviews, Music 2 Comments
26Jun/122

Optimism for the Twins

I haven't had much to add to the Minnesota Twins discussion in my blog as of late, but that's not to say there's nothing to talk about. After all, the Twins have actually been watchable for a few weeks now. I thought I'd share some optimism expressed by Twins Daily blogger Nick Nelson.

I have to agree with Nick. After all, at the beginning of just last year, the Twins were favorites by many to win the American League Central. That same year, of course, unfolded, and now that age of optimism seems like forever ago. Besides, it appears Twins fans now believe that the front office needs to throw out this team and start thinking about 2017's team, so Nick's analysis was a breath of fresh air for me. Go read it if you have a minute. And check out the site, twinsdaily.com, which is one of my favorite places to go for Twins conversation.

Anyway, the Twins are only 7.5 games behind the first place White Sox right now. Sadly, this division is not very strong, but that means the playoff spot is still up for grabs. No, I don't think Minnesota is going to win the AL Central this year, but I do think the they should aim for a .500 record and maybe for third place. (Third place, you should be scared. Third place, you are definitely within spitting distance, and the Twins are coming for you.)

The Twins can realistically aim for middle of the division this year and then once again set their sights on the top in 2013. Nick pointed out how this could happen:

If the Twins can keep the lineup and bullpen together for the most part, they could find themselves back in the mix as soon as next year IF they get significant improvement from the starters. That's obviously a substantial "if," but between Scott Diamond, Liam Hendriks, Kyle Gibson, Nick Blackburn and some freed up money (from departing starters like Carl Pavano, Francisco Liriano and Scott Baker) to hypothetically put toward a deep free agent pool, the Twins may have some decent options available.

There you have it. Twins fans can actually look forward to next year. In fact, look forward to the rest of this year. It could get interesting.

Filed under: Baseball, Sports, Twins 2 Comments
23Apr/121

Are You a Pirate Too?

I thought I'd post an essay I wrote a while ago for a class. The Words Cited are in the comments. That's also where you can let me know what your opinions are on this issue:

In its beginnings, the music industry thrived because of new technologies. One of these was Thomas Edison’s phonograph, presented in the 1870’s. A New York Times writer accurately predicted that it would “lead to important changes in . . .  social customs” (“Phonograph”). Another invention that contributed to the recording of music was the microphone. Also presented in the 1870’s, it is an instrument still being used today in recording and performing (“Microphone”). Guglielmo Marconi’s development of a radio telegraph system contributed further (“Topics”). These technologies led to the ability to record, promote, and distribute music, creating a successful industry. Musician’s work could be reproduced and sold so people could own their favorite records.

Just as technology shaped the beginnings of the recording industry, technology would reshape it repeatedly. The industry encountered various changes in the production and distribution of music. Along came the cassette and then the compact disk. Finally, digital formats allowed for music to be stored and reproduced on portable devices such as mp3 players and cell phones. This led to more changes in the way people consumed music.

The music industry has constantly adapted to technology in order to advance. At the turn of the following century, it was faced with yet another important change:

The arrival of Napster in 1999 marked the emergence of decentralized peer-to-peer (P2P) sharing of music over the Internet. At its peak in 2001, there were as many as 1.5 million people simultaneously sharing files worldwide by using Napster’s software, and Napster had embedded in the consciousness of consumers the idea of downloading songs from the Internet—bypassing the purchase of established distribution forms, such as records, tapes, or compact discs (CDs). (“Media”)

As a result, record sales have been declining for over a decade. “Digital sales are growing, but not as fast as traditional sales are falling.” Even though pirating has been going on for longer than the internet has existed, digital formats, online downloading, and fast internet connections have made it easier than ever to illegally download music (McArdle). Obviously, the music industry is failing to do something that helped make it such a thriving business: adapt to new technology.

People involved in music have picked their side of the issue. Some have denounced illegal downloading and taken a strong stance against it. Famously, Lars Ulrich spoke out against Napster as his band, Metallica, filed a lawsuit against the file sharing company. Ulrich stated, “We object to the companies that take the liberty of providing that access [to our music] without asking us” (qtd. in Bagha). Other musicians, however, have found themselves on the opposite side of the issue. They believe that downloading is helping their music spread to more people. Mircea Gabriel Aftemie, of the band Mnemic, offered his thoughts, “I do encourage people to download and spread the music, but I would encourage them even more if it was legal. I know this is a paradox, but we should encourage people to spread our music” (qtd. in Gray). I had the opportunity to interview an ex-member of one of Universal Music Group’s bands, 10 Years. Matt Wantland, when asked to share his opinion on illegal downloading, declared, “I have no problem with it whatsoever. It’s how I get my music. . . . I never made a dime off of selling a CD as a signed artist. Bands survive on merchandise or live shows.”

It is apparent that to those in the music industry the issue of downloading is a struggle between being listened to and making money; everyone has their priorities buried on either side. How, then, can the music business evolve with the world of internet downloads while keeping both artists and executives happy? Manager of popular group U2, Paul McGuiness, had a few ideas that have already started being used. One of them is an increase in the availability of legal downloads. Examples of this service are iTunes or Amazon Music. Another of McGuiness’ ideas is through online videos. Labels recently launched Vevo, which allows viewers to listen to and watch music videos, while the record companies make money from advertisers (Knopper).

However, not all of these ideas work for everyone. Matt Wantland, mentioned previously, explains, “Nothing frustrates me more than not being able to listen to a band on my phone, and it won’t play on YouTube because some label hid them on some private video site they run that they get advertising money from.” Like him, many other music fans are irritated by these services and give up on looking for new artists to listen to. He adds, “I will never try to look that band up again. Smart, huh?” Unknowingly, labels are hurting themselves this way.

Not all artists arguing for one of the sides offer an intelligent solution. But Paul McGuiness, also previously mentioned, has a vision for the future:

Music subscriptions will be the basic access route, but by no means the only one. Households will pay for a subscription service like Spotify, or they will pay for a service bundled into their broadband bill to an ISP. But many customers will also take out more expensive added-value packages, with better deals including faster access to new releases. There will also be a healthy market in downloads to own and premium albums. iTunes will be fighting its corner in the market, probably with its own subscription service. And a significant minority will still buy CDs, coveting the packaging, the cover designs and the sense of ownership. (43-45)

Matt Wantland voiced a similar idea, “I think a subscription based thing kind of like Netflix would be genius, it’s always there whenever you want. . . . The only radio I listen to is Pandora and I can type in bands I like and then I learn of new bands it leads me to, and the artists still get royalties from the plays.”

It’s time for the music industry to stop being intimidated by the internet. Instead, they should embrace the new opportunity for profit “because no one is going to go back in time and start buying in mass amount ever again” (Wantland). The record labels and the musicians will all benefit from this. Technology created the music industry, and technology should not destroy it.

One question remains. What should we, as music fans, do? We cannot justify stealing music, but we cannot stop listening until the labels are again satisfied monetarily. Music is about the art and about the listener. This has been true before the industry came to be, during its rise, and even during its recent decline. Therefore, we should continue looking for music that speaks to us, that is real, finding the art instead of caring about the business. Eventually, the music industry will either destroy itself or regain its success, but—in the words of Neil Young—“rock and roll can never die.”

16Apr/121

Poor Starts and Untimely Hitting for the Twins

I keep promising myself I won't bring up the 2011 Twins, but I somehow find myself continuing to bring them up. I can't help it. My hopes for the Twins this year boil down to simply improving from last year. That's why comparisons are inevitable. Therefore, let's compare these first nine games to last year's first nine games and see if there's a way to avoid a similar fate in 2012.

The Minnesota Twins (2-7) are already one game behind last year's record (3-6). At this point last year, Twins pitchers had given up 41 runs after nine games in 2011. This year, pitchers have already given up 48. As with any team, a lot of it rests on the shoulders of the starters. Carl Pavano and Nick Blackburn both have ERA's over 5. Fransisco Liriano's is exactly 10.00. A lone positive, rookie Liam Hendriks impressed in his first start, only allowing 1 earned run in 6 innings. (Anthony Swarzak will return to the bullpen and will be replaced in the rotation by Jason Marquis. Meanwhile, Scott Baker is already out for the year with an injury.) But Liriano is the man who really needs to become the ace of the pitching staff. When he's hitting his spots, we all know he has nasty pitches. But he is irritatingly inconsistent. After his first two starts, his WHIP (walks plus hits per innings pitched) is at 2.22. (For measure, Justin Verlander's was below 1 in 2011.) With so many question marks about the rotation's ability and with Baker down, the Twins would do well to look outside the organization for a starter. (It's not going to happen, but I'm talking about Roy Oswalt.) If pitching performances don't improve, the Twins will continue to find themselves in too many early holes.

What about batting? After 9 games in 2011, Twins batters had scored 24 runs. This year, batters have scored 28. There are some substantial improvements to be found though. The team was batting .214, compared to this year's .262. They had hit only 3 homeruns in those nine games, while this year the Twins have already hit 7. However, as we saw, this year's team is only four runs ahead of last year's pace. There hasn't been a lack of hitting or even a complete outage of power, but there has been a shortage of timely hitting. The team is batting  .258 with men on base and .221 with men in scoring position. (As a reference point, the team who scored the most total runs in 2011, the Red Sox, also batted for the highest average with men on base.294.) The problem resides in the heart of the Twins lineup. Joe Mauer is the batter who has the most at bats with runners on, 18, but has only gotten 4 hits. Although he has 5 RBI's, he needs to start hitting the ball better in these situations. The problem is amplified by the next hitter in the lineup, Justin Morneau, who has 17 of these at bats this season. He has recorded 3 hits and drawn 1 walk, only having batted in 2 runs. The next guy up, Josh Willingham, is a different story. He has only had 11 such at bats but has recorded 5 hits and 5 RBI's. My solution (which I've been repeatedly insisting on via Twitter) would be to flip Willingham and Morneau in the lineup. Meaning Willingham would bat fourth, and Morneau would bat fifth. This would separate Joe and Justin, two left-handed hitters, with Josh, a right-handed hitter. It would also allow Willinghamwho has a batting average of .419, an on base percentage of .514, and a slugging percentage of .871more opportunities to hit with baserunners. The six through nine hitters also need to capitalize on opportunities, but the larger responsibility should fall on the top of the lineup.

Obviously, pitchers and hitters are trying to figure things out simultaneously while the Twins collide with a tough part of their early schedule. They start a series in The Bronx tonight, which will be followed by a series in St. Petersburg, Florida. Then they return to Minneapolis to face the Red Sox. Last year, at the end of April, they were 9-17. It's a possibility that the Twins could have a worse record by the end of this April. A poor record in the first month can still be overcome, but let's hope the Twins don't dig themselves in that type of early hole again.

Filed under: Baseball, Sports, Twins 1 Comment
10Apr/124

Is it already time to panic after an 0-4 Twins start?

The Minnesota Twins, after their opening series in Baltimore and their home opener in Minneapolis, are 0-4. As we head into their random off day in the middle of the series, many fans will take the day to ponder if it's still too early to panic (as Minnesota sports fans like to do). After all, Twins pitchers have already allowed 20 runs while batters have only scored 6. They may never win another baseball game again. And even if they do win again, finishing the season 158-4 isn't quite as appealing as 162-0. All jokes aside though, is it actually time to panic?

First of all, allow me to refer you to a blog I wrote last year around this time. The date was April 11 of 2011. It was also their first day off, but the Twins were already 3-6 after three series. We're only four ninths of the way to that point, but already behind last year's pace (which was 1-3 after four games). And we all know how last season ended; I need not remind any Twins fan. If you followed the link, you'll see that my point was that there is little correlation to be found between the first few games of a season and the final record, as we all know. So take a deep breath, Twins fans. It is not quite time for mass hysteria in Minnesota. Here is what we can gather from these first four losses:

Although plenty of runs have been allowed, I would actually say the pitchers have had decent performances. Anthony Swarzak, who wasn't even supposed to start for the Twins, pitched five innings while only allowing one earned run. The other three who have started games, Pavano, Liriano, and Blackburn, allowed their share of runs while still pitching well enough. I'm not saying they've been great. I'm just saying that we knew the pitching would be a weakness, and it hasn't been completely horrifying yet. Additionally, they've gotten very little run support.

That brings on my next point. The batting is supposed to be this team's strength, but the Twins have only been able to score six runs in four games. There might just be a silver lining to be found here though. Morneau, who had fans greatly concerned about his health going into Spring Training, seems to be off to a good start with the bat. If he can return to form, the Twins will see vast improvements in their run production. Also, Josh Willingham, who is essentially Michael Cuddyer's replacement in the outfield and in the middle of the lineup, is batting well for the Twins with 2 homeruns, 4 runs batted in, and an early .467 on base percentage. Maybe Twins fans can find a way to miss Cuddy a little less. Leadoff hitter Denard Span has also been able to get on base some, getting 4 hits and drawing one walk in 15 at bats. However, beyond these three, the Twins have had a tough time getting anything going offensively. We know Mauer, a career .323 hitter (I think some people forget that statistic) will begin to find his rhythm eventually. But it's up to everyone else to step up and contribute. Hopefully the bats can come alive for the Twins soon, because they are desperately needed.

After all this analysis on such small samples sizes, let's not forget that there are still 158 games left to be played, and the Twins are only 3.5 games out of first place. Twins Territory should hold off their collective panic. At least until May.

Filed under: Baseball, Sports, Twins 4 Comments
3Apr/122

My Twins 2012 Season Preview

After being found on Twitter by The Daily Globe’s Aaron Hagen and upon his invitation, I decided to start a blog at Area Voices. This will probably be primarily a sports blog, specifically discussing baseball and Minnesota sports. However, I’ll most likely include music rants and album reviews, as well as random thoughts in between. I’ll get a chance to further introduce myself later, but right now I want to introduce the 2012 Minnesota Twins.

Just like most people in Twins Territory, I want to pretend the 2011 season never happened. But I have to at least address it when looking forward to this season. About a year ago, I wrote a blog (in which I stated I’d write often and didn’t keep the promise—hopefully I will actually do so this time) with my predictions for the season. I had the Twins winning the division by a small margin over the Tigers. A year later, we know what actually happened. The Twins ended last in the division with 99 losses, and the Tigers were 2011 AL Central champions. They are thought of by most to have improved (see: Prince Fielder) and even considered by some as one of the best teams in the league. The Twins, on the other hand, are definitely not everyone’s favorites to win the division. But can they improve from last year’s abysmal season and surprise us?

I think they can improve. First of all, this team isn’t worse than last year’s that was projected to make the playoffs by many fans and experts. I would argue that it’s better. Some changes were made in the offseason. Bill Smith was fired as general manager, and Terry Ryan was re-hired. He immediately made necessary moves to cover most holes on the team. The Twins did, however, watch some fan favorites walk away: Joe Nathan and Michael Cuddyer. Both of these, in my opinion, were necessary non-moves given the situation. Shortstop Jamey Carroll was signed to a two year deal. Ryan Doumit also signed with the Twins; he will be used as a backup catcher, first baseman, right fielder and designated hitter. The team signed Jason Marquis to replace Kevin Slowey in the rotation. And the biggest signing this offseason was that of Josh Willingham. He will attempt to replace Cuddyer in the outfield and in the lineup. Here is the Twins 25-man roster heading into opening day, with the presumable starting nine in bold:

Catchers: Joe Mauer, Ryan Doumit.

Infielders: Justin Morneau (who will be used as the designated hitter at least for the beginning of the season), Chris Parmelee, Alexi Casilla, Danny Valencia, Jamey Carroll, Luke Hughes, Sean Burroughs.

Outfielders: Denard Span, Josh Willingham, Trevor Plouffe, Ben Revere.

Starting Pitching Rotation: Carl Pavano, Francisco Liriano, Liam Hendriks, Nick Blackburn (Scott Baker and Jason Marquis will join the rotation after they come back from the disabled list and the bereavement list, respectively.)

Bullpen: Matt Capps, Glen Perkins, Brian Duensing, Anthony Swarzak, Matt Maloney, Jared Burton, Jeff Gray, Alex Burnett.

Mauer and Morneau, along with Willingham, are expected to carry the team offensively. Meanwhile, the presence of Mauer and Span with new additions Carroll in the field will hopefully improve the team’s defense. The pitching is what concerns me the most. Players like Liriano, Baker, and Pavano need to be consistent in the rotation. Matt Capps, who will be the team’s closer, will need to bounce back after disappointing many fans during his time last year in the same role. These aren't going to be easy tasks for the pitching staff.

Second of all, the Twins might actually be healthy this year. Of course, I know anything can happen during a long season, but the difference between last Spring Training and this one are reportedly night and day. (Joel Zumaya doesn’t count.) Three important players who missed much of the 2011 season appear to be headed into a healthy 2012: Joe Mauer, Denard Span, and Justin Morneau. As for the latter, who has raised the most cause for concern, precautions have been taken to assure he stays on the field as much as possible. Morneau, for now, has been turned into the team’s DH, to decrease the chance of re-injury and concussion symptoms caused by fatigue. Which leads back to Mauer, he will return as the team’s primary catcher but will see some time at first base and as a designated hitter. Much of Minnesota’s hopes have a good year rest on the shoulders of these two.

The Twins are attempting to rebuild while remaining somewhat competitive, and I believe they can do that if the front office makes good decisions and if players contribute the way they’re expected to. Of course, we can't expect them to immediately return to their place among the league's top teams. They still have plenty of weaknesses to worry about. There are many things that have to go right in 2012 for the Twins to have a good season, but I think they have enough pieces to begin their climb back towards the top of the American League Central.

Filed under: Baseball, Sports, Twins 2 Comments