Sunday, February 28, 2010

Census 2010 and "Small" Markets

A recent Sports Illustrated article (Hope Springs Eternal, Feb. 22) describes the Twins as a model for small market success. As Nelson Muntz of the Simpsons said after viewing Naked Lunch, "I can think of at least two things wrong with that title." The Twins "success" has been mostly a result of the collective ineptitude of the White Sox, Tigers, Royals, and Indians. Although, that's not really true. The Tigers reached a World Series and the Indians had the Red Sox beaten in the ALCS a few years ago. Meanwhile, both Tampa and Colorado have recently reached the World Series. Heck, Tampa won a division which includes both the Yankees and Red Sox.

The article inadvertently highlights the meaninglessness of the term "small-market." It refers to the St. Louis Cardinals as one of "game's top grossers." A list by Forbes confirms this. I checked some Census data about the Saint Louis metropolitan area. The total population is lower than the Twin Cities by at least half a million people. (The Twin Cities have close to 3,000,000 whereas Saint Louis is no more than about 2,500,000). Moreover, the per capita income of the Saint Louis area is about $5000 lower than the Twin Cities ($29,000 to $34,000). If there are more people with more money in the Twin Cities, then how can the market be the problem? The Twins marketing department loves to convince fans that the team faces a competitive disadvantage. It's much easier to sell Nick Punto as a third baseman when the entire PR campaign aims for nothing more than low expectations.

If Saint Louis is a "big" market, then the only excuse for the Twins would be the stadium. But they built their new stadium and spent all of last season telling us how much greener the pastures (sorry for the pun) would be next year. Who will their next scapegoat be? Will they blame fans for not spending enough money? Maybe if Mauer goes they'll try to blame the "rich" teams. Or the "unfair" lack of a salary cap. If he stays, they'll blame his contract. Well, I shouldn't give them these ideas. If they want my money, they have to convince me that they are making an honest effort to build a world championship club.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Returning to Form

Is any phrase more tiring than hoping a player with return to form? It's just a code saying that a player had one good year and we're supposed to delude ourselves into thinking it should be expected. Of course, the yaysayers and Twins Propaganda Machine would try to argue the reverse about our favorite infielder. They insist we are judging Punto by one bad year. They are half-right. In his 5 seasons of roughly 400 or more at-bats, he's hit .239, .290, .210, .284, and .228. Even in '08 when he hit .284, he still looked like a .225 hitter. He just had way too many terrible at-bats. I wish I was beating a dead horse, but there are still way too many apologists out there keeping it alive.

Of course, the STRIB had a story about JJ Hardy "returning to form" today. I don't care what form he returns to. He's not Nick Punto. I feel bad for Hardy though. He'll boot a grounder on which he has no play to make the out anyway. He'll get in Gardy's dog house. (He'll need a bigger one this year). Then Gardy will run Puntosy out there for some defense. Plus he looked at [Nick's] numbers against this guy, and he hits him pretty well. (2-6 in 2006). Unless of course, Gardy returns to form.

Monday, February 15, 2010

The Offseason

Spring training approaches and the offseason winds down. The Twins quietly assembled some new faces in the infield. On paper at least, an infield of Harris, Hardy, and Hudson looks downright serviceable. Alas, the only reason to keep Gardy from benching them is his quest to have a roster consisting solely of scrappy infielders. He can't start Tolbert, Punto, and Casilla in the outfield if any of them are playing in the infield. (I can't remember- Did I publicly suggest Delmon Young play second base? Or did I just think it? Either way, it's less ridiculous than any of those options in the outfield). The backup catcher departed and they gave veteran slugger Jim Thome a chance. Undoubtedly, the most positive outcome of the winter was that they didn't sign Chone Figgins. I love it when I'm wrong about the Twins. It just seemed so dumb that it was inevitable. On the flip side, they only have a month a half left to release Nick Punto before the season opens. This at least buys me time to decide how bold of an ultimatum I dare issue in the event that he starts the opener- heck any game- at Target Field. Maybe Gardy thinks that by playing Punto, then Punto will never become a manager who obsessively plays lousy utility infielders.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Jacque Jones

Forgive me for saying this, but I'm excited by the news that the Twins signed the outfielder to a minor league deal. Of former players with even a remotely realistic chance of returning, Chuck Knoblauch is about the only one who could intrigue me more. After all the two-hoppers to second and flailing strikeouts, it's easy to forget that Jones was one of the most productive hitters from 1999-2003; any other player over that era had at least one terrible year. Of course, every year since then, Jones has been worse than a young Doug Mientkiewicz. With any luck, opposing managers have forgotten how to pitch to him and he can be an effective reserve outfielder. If not, it's no big loss. I hope he does well enough that they bring back the old commercial: "Jones turns oun it! He's rounding the bases to the delight of the crowd..." You know. The one with the guy sitting in the toilet stall that shows him with pants around his ankles tapping his feet around as if circling the bases. Much better than the wet toilet paper "high heat" ads.

Even more delightfully, the Mets claimed Jason Pridie off of waivers. Good riddance.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Perkins and Arbitration

Apparently Twins left-handed pitcher Glen Perkins is upset that he failed to qualify for arbitration because he finished the season in AAA. At first, I thought, "Well, you should have thought about that when you lost the game in the top of the first or blew up in the 6th." Then I realized that anybody who was pitching in his place did exactly the same thing. Maybe that's his case. He was just trying to do like everybody else.

Speaking of everybody, Francisco "I Sure Hope He's not the Franchise" Liriano has been pitching the heck of winter ball. He should be well on his way to throwing hall of fame bullpen sessions by May.

I wanted to air my grievances about the pitching staff and sadly realized that it would be a complete re-run from last year. I can't remember any of their names, and a disgruntled White Sox fan said it best in 2002: "You're worse than the guy last night." The grounds crew on Major League wasn't too far off, either. Aside from the pitching, Punto, Tolbert, and Casilla I think I like this team.