Tuesday, March 31, 2009
According to Peter King, the Broncos are now officially opening up trade talks for disgruntled QB Jay Cutler.
Owner Pat Bowlen says, "We will begin discussions with other teams in an effort to accommodate his request to be traded."
It's been discussed in this space before and now, more than ever, it's time for the Vikings to make a serious play for him, no matter the cost. Even if it takes Tarvaris Jackson and their 1st Round pick.
UPDATE: Peter King didn't break the news. The Broncos released a statement with the Bowlen lines. My reading comprehension is not one of my strengths.
Saturday, March 28, 2009
(Yes, I intentionally waited until Earth Hour to post this. If you're participating in Earth Hour and think your participation alone entitles you to claim that you've "made a difference," I hope the Sham-Wow guy takes you out for a nice evening together.)
Can the Starting Staff Get Minnesota to the Postseason?
So long as they stay reasonably healthy, yes. The starting pitching is postseason quality.
In 2008 Minnesota’s rotation began the year as just below average. The late season addition-by-subtraction of jettisoning Livan pushed the Twins to an average unit; when Francisco Liriano began pitching well and Glen Perkins came into his own, Minnesota suddenly had an above average rotation.
Provided the rotation stays reasonably healthy – meaning the Twins get at least 160 innings out of everyone, and hopefully more – Minnesota should have one of the better rotations in the A.L.
Unless Liriano turns back into his pre-injury self, Minnesota doesn’t have a true ace. But that’s fine. They essentially have two very good #2 pitchers in Baker and Liriano, two solid middle-of-the-rotation starters in Slowey and Blackburn, and a good fifth starter in Perkins. Until the postseason an ace isn’t all that essential. In the regular season, it’s better to have the depth of the Twins rotation than have a top heavy rotation that runs out an ace, a mid rotation starter, and three pitchers who should be middle relievers or in AAA.
(In the following paragraphs I’ll be referring to FIP as much as ERA, mainly because FIP is better as a predictive number than ERA. FIP stands for Fielding Independent Pitching and essentially measures everything for which a pitcher is especially responsible. FIP, which controls for defense, helps explain how well a pitcher pitched regardless of how well his fielders played. If in 2008 a pitcher has a FIP of 5 and an ERA of 3, he was pretty lucky in 2008 and, barring dramatic improvement, the pitcher’s ERA should naturally rise in 2009. The complete formula is here.)
Scott Baker isn’t a Santana-like ace, but he’s still very good. Baker doesn’t get the ace tag because he doesn’t have elite strikeout ability, though his over 7 K/9 is very good, as is his K/BB. Baker does an excellent job of limiting walks and avoids getting hit hard; as a result, he limits the baserunners allowed.
Fewer baserunners = fewer scoring opportunites. Fewer scoring opportunities = lower ERA. Lower ERA = better pitcher.
Baker’s 2008 FIP wasn’t all that much higher than his actual 2008 ERA and his BABIP was reasonable, meaning Baker’s 2009 performance should resemble his 2008 performance, although his ERA rising half a run wouldn’t be a shock. Still, Scott Baker is an excellent pitcher who absolutely deserved the contract he received – by one metric, Baker was worth over $15 million in 2008.
Considering the injury he was rebounding from, Francisco Liriano had a fairly strong 2008. Yes, Liriano languished in the minors too long; calling him up in June may have won the Twins the Central Division title. Even after he was recalled, Liriano never regained his 2006 form, as his strikeouts were down and his walks were up. Still, the 2008 version of Liriano was reasonably solid. Another year removed from surgery, Liriano should continue regaining some of his control.
I wouldn’t anticipate Liriano returning to striking out over 10 guys per 9 innings, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he could return to rates of about 8k/9 and just over 2 BB/9. Combining those strikeout and walk rates with decent ground ball rates – and, again, I wouldn’t expect a 55% GB% from Liriano, but he can be over 40% - should make Liriano a valuable #2, if not a low-end #1. Liriano has obvious injury issues, particularly since he threw over 200 innings in 2008 after missing all of 2007. But if Francisco’s healthy, Minnesota could do much worse than having Baker and Liriano atop their rotation.
Kevin Slowey and Nick Blackburn are both solid mid-rotation starters. Neither strike out a ton of batters, although Slowey’s K/9 isn’t awful. Both limit their walks and induce a decent amount of ground balls. Neither give up many gopher balls. Based on FIP and other projections, Slowey should replicate his 2008 season, while Blackburn’s ERA may rise a little but not a lot. Both should remain valuable starters, although each will have bad days where they get hit really hard and seem worthy of kicking out of rotation. But that’s what mid-level starters do. Both Slowey and Blackburn remain in the Twins’ rotation until they enter their late-arbitration years, at which point cheaper options with similar productivity should be available.
Glen Perkins is what you’d expect out of an average fifth starter: low strikeouts, low walks, average groundball rate, high home run rate, ERA between 4.5 and 5. Perkins did finish with an ERA just below 4.5, but his 2008 results were a bit fluky, as his FIP was nearly a full run higher than his ERA. Unless Perkins improves his strikeout or home run rates, Perkins’ ERA should rise to around 5. Still, his performance is acceptable so long as he’s the last starter in the rotation , he’s earning less than 500k, and he throws at least 140 innings. But there is one giant elephant in the room with Perkins, and it’s the same one hiding in Francisco Liriano’s foyer.
Not a great pitcher to begin with, Glen Perkins’ innings jump causes additional concern. Perkins threw less than 50 innings in 2007 before jumping to over 180 innings in 2008. Jumps like that typically result in some kind of arm injuries the following year (this is the reason I’m concerned about Ricky Nolasco; his innings jump is similar to Perkins’). While Perkins and Liriano are both injury risks, Perkins is more replaceable than Liriano; the dropoff from Perkins to Humber/Dickey isn’t nearly as dramatic as the dropoff from Liriano to Humber/Dickey. If Perkins misses a few starts, the injury doesn’t kill the Twins like it could if Liriano missed a few starts.
I'd anticipate an excellent 2009 performance from the Twins' starting rotation. It's too bad the bullpen will likely end up blowing a signficant number of games.
Thursday, March 26, 2009
What you have missed from the Boilermakers:
Two Turnovers, 1-4 shooting and three layups surrendered.
Not the start Matt Painter was looking for...10-3 Huskies.
HEY dmk, HAVE FUN BEING A REAL FUCKING TRUCKER AND CONTRACTING NUMEROUS DISEASES FROM REST STOP SEX!!!! ~ Howie Long.
I often wonder why Dick Enberg does not just come out and endorse Just For Men. I mean COME ON, a 70-year old man with strawberry blonde hair??
Finally some life from Purdue with a three from Robbie "The Rocket" Hummel followed by a block from Jajuan Johnson and then a Huskie turnover.
I have attempted to post three different times, only to be stymied by the error message from blogger.com. FUCK.
Okay, I think I'm back. But what I wanted to say was that the UConn jerseys have to be gray. I have watched them a handful of times this season and everytime I think my eyes and/or TV is fucked up.
Worst alleyoop execution in the history of basketball courtesy of Stanley Robinson, who seems to be sporting "nappy-ass ho" hair this evening.
Hummel is on fire and the Boilers are back within three at 26-23 with 3:43 to go in the half. Needless to say, he is their one and only offensive threat thus far.
Great graphic out of the break from CBS, basically it was something like this:
Purdue w/ Hummel: Top 15 Team
Purdue w/o Hummel: Major Sucktitude
Not much atmosphere in Glendale. After all, it is only 4:49 in Arizona, and these two teams are both from east of the Mississippi. No one in that area cares...hell no one outside of Storrs and West Lafayette really care either.
Purdue is shooting 4/17 when you take out Hummel's great performance. That is flat-out pathetic and yet they are only down by three. 28-25 UConn.
The more I listen to Jay Bilas, the more I want to jam a pencil in his skull.
30-25 Huskies at intermission.
I watched the Seton Hall-Michigan 1989 Championship Game on the Big Ten Network last night, and they listed Xavier (Ohio) as Michigan's first round opponent. Needless to say, they have arrived as a program playing in their third sweet-16 since 2004.
So if Gus Johnson is not in Boston or Glendale, then what are the chances that CBS sent him to Memphis? Talk about potential unintended comedy purposes....someone get Simmons!
Scratch that thought, because Gus and Len will be in Indianapolis. Damn.
The "X" up one with four and a half to go in the opening half. Pittsburgh just will not make anything easy this tournament, no matter if its the #16, #4 or #1 seed that they are playing.
Well, the second half is about to start so you know what that means...ITS COCKTAIL TIME FOR AJR26.
On a side note, I wonder how these allegations against Connecticut and Jim Calhoun are going to affect the future of the program. Obviously, it should not be a distraction to the current crop of players unless more information surfaces like this about violations, but you have to wonder if they make the Final Four, what the media attention to the problems will be like.
The teams trade baskets and UConn maintains a five point lead.
WOW, Xavier up 37-29 at halftime in Boston. That would likely be the biggest upset of the tournament thus far.
Three fouls on Chris Kramer, the feisty Purdue guard. Lookout for A.J. Price with him out of the contest.
Dear God, Stanley Robinson.
I love Budweiser/Bud Light advertising, but the drinkability campaign makes no sense and really pisses me off.
How many centers over 7'2" have been effective in the NBA? Watch Thabeet, he looks almost like a clone of Roy Hibbert. There is no way he is mobile enough to be anything more than a shot blocker at the next level. A quick list of star NBA centers over 7'2":
I can't think of any others right now. Connecticut with eight straight after Kramer's departure. 42-31.
I guess Kareem was 7'2", so there is another.
Jajuan Johnson with two free-throws coming up after the commercial to potentially cut the UConn lead to just three at the under 12 timeout.
Purdue is going to be a top-10 team to begin next season, because they have no seniors that significantly contribute to a solid squad this year.
Tough shot by price to put the Huskies back up six, which is immediately followed by a Robinson dunk and suddenly the lead is back to eight.
Anyone else get the sense that Purdue does not have enough offensive weapons to catch and over take Connecticut? Put the Huskies in the Elite Eight unless something drastic happens.
Exhibit A on Thabeet's slow-as-molasses lateral movement on Johnson's thunderous dunk.
Thabeet's stats 15 points, 15 rebounds, 4 blocks....AND a lot of intimidation!!! says Dick Enberg.
Imagine what Dick would say about Eric Devendorf's stats: 20 points, 10 assists, 2 misdemeanors and 2 women put in their place...."ohhhhhhh what can you say about the real-life Mr. Malibu's Most Wanted!!!"
Under four TO and it is still Huskies by eight. Xavier-Pitt locked up in a great duel in Boston, with the Panthers up 40-39.
Sorry....but I was distracted by the police video of Ryan Moats' well-publicized confrontation with the Dallas police officer who went on a power trip while Moats' mother-in-law was dying inside the hospital. When did common sense completely leave the realm of law enforcement?
Amen, Greg Gumbel, you are like Jesus at this time of year....Minnesota has been transferred to Pittsburgh-Xavier. 43-40 Musketeers with 8:59 to go.
Great coaching switch by Xavier in going to the 1-3-1 half court look. Talking to the West Virginia coaches last weekend, they said that Pittsburgh will have real issues with a team that is long and that can play a 1-3-1 zone. We'll see how they handle it this time.
Blair with his 15th rebound and on the other end south-paw Dixon gets a layup to push the Panthers up 1.
No way that shot was attempted before the shot clock expired...Xavier gets a huge break and now a one point lead.
Replay confirms Jamie Dixon and my suspicions...but not Bill Raftery's as he says, "Oh, That's pretty close"....what he meant to say was that it was extremely close, only the complete opposite.
If you had the "secret formula" to CocaCola, would you blackmail the company for all that they are worth?
I sure would.
Connecticut is Elite with a 72-60 victory over Purdue.
HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA Dixon blows a layup, acts hurt, and then gets taken out by his coach. Great play son. Pittsburgh up five at 52-47.
Pittsburgh looks a lot like Michigan State. They show spurts of brilliance, but are very erratic and turn the ball over way too much.
We are gonna Youthanize America. Brilliant, just brillant.
Xavier's Dante Jackson hits a bucket for a 54-52 Xavier lead. Then, a great hustle play by a Musketeer goes for naught as he steps out of bounds.
Three by Levance Fields----ICEEEEEEEEE COLD! 55-54 Panthers.
Great D by Pitt.....57-54 with twenty-some seconds left. Decision time for Xavier--go for a quick two and foul or hold the ball and try and hit a three-pointer?
I say get a layup and foul the Panthers, who suck at shooting free-throws.
Terrible Foul by Blair. I mean why would you reach on that drive attempt? Up three, and you stop the clock???
Pittsburgh is going to the Elite Eight. Two clutch free throws by Sam Young and a missed Xavier three seal the deal. It ain't pretty, but the Panthers are surviving and moving on.
60-55 Pitt over Xavier
The live blogging is done for the night as I have other shit to do while watching the late games.
Then Roger Goodell decided to push his new idea for generating revenue in the face of a depression.
That idea? Cut two preseason games and extend the regular season to 18 games.
Besides MJD and Peter King (talk about an obscure pairing), I haven’t seen any one against this. Most people seem to be in favor of this, because, hey, HEYLOOKIEHEREWOWIEZOWIE MORE FOOTBALL!!!
That said, I’m with the two notable dissenters: extending the season to 18 games is an awful idea for a number of reasons. Let's briefly explore the consequences of a lengthened NFL season.
By extending the season to 18 games, the NFL is adding another two hours of car-crash level collisions between their players. No players of consequence play much in the preseason games, so the starters and key reserves would see an increase of two games in both hits and paychecks.
More games = more hits. More hits = more injuries. More injuries = bad.
Chances are some of these injuries will be to superstars, like Tom Brady. Some of the injuries will be career ending. In fact, we’ll probably see more career ending injuries than before, simply because some players will suffer more minor injuries over the duration of a longer schedule. When players try to play through minor injuries, they become more susceptible to major injuries. And, of course, the longer season gives us more opportunities for these minor injuries to turn major.
If you like games involving Matt Cassel instead of Tom Brady, you should love the extended regular season.
More hits and more injuries, both minor and major, during one season take games off players’ careers.
If the NFL does increase the schedule to 18 games and injuries do actually increase, as they logically should, careers will be shortened. In some cases, dramatically.
The NFL already is at a point where RBs are rarely productive past the age of 30, LBs and DLs are done by 32, and most skill position players are washed up by 34. Does the NFL really want to further shorten careers? Do we want running backs to have a shelf life of 6 years? How is that good for the league? Isn't name recognition over a long career at least somewhat important for marketing purposes?
Unless the players really ARE completely replaceable, as has been hypothesized by many, shortening careers isn’t in the NFL’s best interest from a commercial standpoint.
Lower Quality of Play:
Going along with the “more injuries” theme, the more injuries a team incurs, the lower its quality of play. This should be a natural deduction: a backup is worse than a starter, so if a team has a bunch of backups playing in place of their injured starters, the team is worse than it was with its healthy starters.
More injuries means more backups in key roles. More backups in key roles means worse teams. Worse teams means lower quality of play.
Not that the average fan notices quality of play much, but that shit legitimately bothers me. When a team has to shuffle in backups for starters, they can’t be as creative offensively or defensively. Coordinators have to run more base/simplified packages because the backups are either physically incapable of doing the same things as the starter or the backup doesn’t know the offense/defense well enough to run the entire playbook.
Simplified offenses and defenses with lower quality players equals reduced quality football. I’ll pass on that. I already get the Big 10 for most college football regional coverage. I don’t need any more shitty football.
Also, I say quality way too much.
Decreased Interest Level:
I’m not sure that lengthening the season will actually depress interest in the NFL. But extending the season MAY lead to a lower level of interest among NFL fans, mostly the casual fans.
There is such a thing as oversaturation. Even for the NFL, constantly throwing a product in the consumer’s face could get tiresome. I’m not saying the casual fans will give the NFL the NBA/NHL treatment and only tune in for the playoffs, but a longer regular season does mean more meaningless regular season games.
Yes, there will bbe more football, which in some instances will be good. But do we really need more late-season Monday night Seattle-Kansas City matchups? Hell, do we need more Sunday afternoon games involving the Rams? Does that really enhance the product?
People will argue that the prolonged regular season will cause all types of havoc with the record book. They’re right.
But I don’t care.
The NFL’s had so many rule changes over the years, particularly in the passing game and, uh, “nutritional development.” Like in baseball, these changes make comparing records across eras stupid unless you have statistics that adjust for the different eras.
Arguing that 3500 yards passing or 2000 yards rushing means the same in 2009 as it did in 1979 is already retarded. Adding the extra games into the record book bitching won’t mean much to me. Using raw numbers is currently a poor way of evaluating performance. Advanced stats can still be developed to measure which individual seasons and careers were best even with a different number of games per season.
Were it me, I’d cut two preseason games and keep the regular season at 16 games. This would get the players some more time off and avoid meaningless pre-season contests for which fans are forced to pay full price.
But cutting the preseason games without adding regular seasons won’t happen because of the resulting loss in revenue. So, my idea can get fucked.
If the Rog is intent on going to 18 games – and it looks like he is – I’d hope he’d make a few moves to help with the expected increase in injuries.
First, I’d look at increasing roster size so that teams can employ more full time special teams guys. This may not significantly cut down on the injuries, but having fewer starters or key reserves playing special teams would help at least a little bit. Increasing roster size by 3-5 guys should do the trick.
My primary change would be adding another bye week for each team. Meaning two byes per season per team, and a 20 week regular season.
Start the season in late August or early September. Remove the bye week in between the conference championships and Super Bowl to get this bye week in place. There. Done. Easier than, and almost as enjoyable as, beating a hipster to death with a tire iron.
The extra bye week won’t completely prevent all the newly created injuries, but it should help players recover from in-season injuries and improve the quality of play, at least marginally. Adding the bye week would do more for player safety than any of the newly enacted on-field rules. If the NFL insists on lengthening the season, they should at least offer the players some additional protection in the form of an additional bye week.
Tuesday, March 24, 2009
If you read the NCAA March Madness preview, then you know I had the pleasure of working at the first and second round tournament games at the Metrodome last weekend. Rather than write a traditional column about my experience, I instead will present some random jottings for the avid readers of IHS. Enjoy:
Sitting courtside and having an All-Access Pass at March Madness is sweet.
Cole Aldrich will have a long NBA career, beginning in Fall 2010.
That same NBA-bound Cole Aldrich speaks slower than a four-year old with a studder.
North Dakota State and its fans provided an electric atmosphere in the opener on Friday morning that went unmatched the rest of the weekend.
Everyone and their illegitimate black child thinks the Metrodome is old, outdated and needs to be renovated and reopened by 2014.
Even though he just signed a new contract extension, Dayton's Brian Gregory will be the next head coach at a big-time college program within the next two seasons.
Most media personalities believe ESPN's Jay Bilas is "the new golden boy" and Len Elmore, among others is not impressed...nor is Dick Vitale.
After listening to Bob Huggins talk with the media and then interact with his players, I've come to the conclusion that he really is a prick, and it's not just the media portraying him as such.
Gus Johnson says with a wink that as a restaurant owner "you don't mess with a man's ribs".
Sid Hartman is on the brink of being legally deaf.
The USC song girls have more silicone and botox than the women on the "Original Housewives of New York".
In a related story, I'd love to violate each and everyone of the Song Girls...and the housewives of NYC.
Michigan State must give opposing coaches nightmares with they way they rebound the basketball....kind of like the nightmares GldnKnight gives to his office chair after a big lunch.
Kansas will be a participant in the 2010 Final Four in Indianapolis.
Gus Johnson like himself some herb....ancient Chinese herbs to be exact.
BC's Al Skinner gets more out of less than any other high-profile coach in the country.
USC's Tim Floyd gets less out of more than any other high-profile coach in the country.
Longtime Cowboys' radio voice Brad Sham is convinced that Terrell Owens is bi-polar.
Sham also believes that T.O. had a bad experience with a white coach when he was younger, which causes him to not listen to criticism from non African-American authority.
Len Elmore loves Earth, Wind, & Fire, is dorkier than Doc Brown, and smokes like a friggin' chimney.
Tom Izzo says his team "is continuing to get better, but sometimes we just shoot like shit."
Gus Johnson and I had a nice chuckle about his altercation in Memphis, mostly because his producer or director had no idea why Gus insisted he wasn't going to be working the South Regional this weekend.
Westwood One and CBS Radio's Reid Gettys is an underrated basketball analyst.
There is nothing like the simulatanous excitement of NCAA tournament games going down to the wire, with Greg Gumbel orchestrating CBS's flip between tension-filled contests.
Monday, March 23, 2009
Not many thought this day would come, especially after the travashamockery of one month ago (Note: want to lose all faith in your government? Watch a local county or city hearing. They're more painful than having a hemorrhoid punctured by a fingernail). But on March 23, 2008, the Florida Marlins were finally granted approval to build a new stadium after the county commission passed the agreement. This is justifiably being called the biggest day in franchise history, because it means the Marlins can finally be a major league team with a major league payroll, provided Jeffrey Loria doesn't pocket all the money (obviously, that's a big if).
On the one hand, I deplore using public funds to build sports stadiums. Especially when we're in a depression. The temporary construction jobs notwithstanding (some commissioners were calling this a "stimulus package" for the construction industry), building sports stadiums on the taxpayer's dime is terrible public policy.
On the other hand, the public money is hotel bed taxes that by law can't be used for schools, social services, etc. Simplified, the money can only be used for things designed to attract tourism, such as stadiums, convention centers, performing arts centers, and similar items (I'm not going to debate the wisdom of that policy here). And while the county, who are contributing the lion's share of the public funds, will probably see little net economic benefit from the new stadium outside of possible All-Star games, WBC events, and other events that can only be speculated about, the Little Havana neighborhood where the stadium is being built, and the Orange Bowl once stood, should benefit tremendously. Besides, I don't pay taxes in Dade County, so my philosophical objections can be tabled. That's how I'm reconciling my positive reaction, at least.
So...WHOO-HOO NEW MARLINS STADIUM. Hanley won't be traded for prospects after all!*
Stadium Renderings are available here. Financial breakdown available here. Groundbreaking is set for July if the bond issue goes according to plan (another big if). Opening day will be 2012. If I'm employed, I'll be there.
*Hanley may still be traded for prospects at some point.
Sunday, March 22, 2009
A spring training no hitter? OMG! The Marlins are totally winning the World Series!
(If the final stadium vote passes tomorrow, I'll be piss myself drunk by 6. Perhaps this is a good omen)
Can the bullpen hold up?
We’ll get this out of the way:
1. Joe Nathan is an elite closer. No further examination of his ability is necessary.
2. As a closer in his 30’s, Joe Nathan still shouldn’t have received that contract extension. The money would have been better allocated elsewhere.
3. If Joe Nathan is injured for an extended period of time, the Twins bullpen is fucked with an oar.
Low revenue teams like the Twins mostly go cheap on the bullpen. They bring in a bunch of young, cost controlled arms, preferably ones with high strikeout rates/good control. Most of the time, this suffices for an average, at best, bullpen. Outside of Nathan, this is the strategy the Twins have elected. Will it work?
What teams (should) look for in relievers are a good strikeout rate, limited walks, and the ability to limit home runs and extra base hits. (i.e. not get hit hard). Only two - maybe three - of the Twins relievers possess these attributes.
Were Pat Neshak healthy, Minnesota would have the makings of a solid bullpen. Without Neshak, the Twins lack a bona fide setup man. Jesse Crain slides from a seventh inning role into the set up role. Crain had decent strikeout numbers last year but suffered from control problems at times and was prone to giving up too many hits. Ideally, the Twins would have a setup man who could miss more bats than Crain, but at this point they need to take what they can get out of Jesse. Crain’s 2009 projections range from mediocre to pretty solid, so whether he's successful as the set up man is still up in the air. If Crain can harness his control, the Twins will go a long way towards settling most of their bullpen issues. That being said, I’d expect the eighth inning to be a major issue for Minnesota this year unless Craig Breslow is as effective against righties as he is against lefties.
Craig Breslow looks to be a very solid reliever for Minnesota; I wouldn’t be surprised if he ended up as the Twins’ most reliable relief option outside of Nathan, even if he’s just a lefty specialist. Breslow strikes out batters at an excellent rate. His walks aren’t great, but they aren’t out of control either. Breslow also does a great job against lefties; if his role is confined to facing LH hitters in critical situations, Breslow should be very effective. Breslow’s projections are favorable. For a low cost LH reliever, the Twins could do much worse than Breslow. He’s a good pitcher to have around.
Matt Guerrier is another cheap arm who the Twins hope can fill in as a seventh inning reliever. While he’s not a young fireballer, he may suffice as a middle relief option. Guerrier strikes out batters at a decent rate, but he walked too many damn people last year. If he harnesses his control he should be ok as a sixth inning guy and passable as a seventh inning guy. Guerrier did suffer from an elevated BABIP; when his luck turns and his BABIP returns to normal levels, as it should, his ERA should drop a bit. ERA isn’t a great measure for relievers, but expect Guerrier to be a bit more effective in 2009. He still won’t be a great reliever by any stretch of the imagination, but Guerrier should be better in 2009 than he was in 2008. I wouldn’t want him pitching in too many critical situations, though.
Luis Ayala’s salary probably guarantees him a shot as the seventh inning reliver. Moving over to the American League doesn’t bode well for Ayala’s chances. Ayala doesn’t strike out many batters, but he limits his walks well. Ayala lets the ball be put in play and have his fielders do the work; with the Twins improved infield defense through the Crede addition and playing Punto full time, Ayala may find more success in Minnesota than he did in New York. Ayala isn't worth $1.7 million, but he can suffice as a seventh inning guy in a pinch, although he fits better as the sixth inning guy. Ayala won’t be a miracle worker; I’d expect him to be the reliever who draws the majority of Twins’ fans ire throughout 2009, particularly if Gardy decides to use him in the seventh or eighth inning.
If Jose Mijares can fix whatever’s been ailing him this spring, he’ll be the Twins second LH reliever. Mijares had decent minor league strikeout rates and was solid in his September callup, but for whatever reason he’s struggled this spring. His upside is still greater than Brian Duensing’s though, so expect Minnesota to promote him when Duensing inevitably struggles. Provided Mijares can get back to what was working in 2008, I’d expect him to be a fixture in Minnesota’s bullpen for the foreseeable future.
Brian Duensing could end up claiming the second lefty reliever role for the Twins. Duensing has been a starter throughout his career, but with the Twins’ rotation full his best chance of making the squad is as a reliever. Duensing didn’t have great minor league strikeout rates and gave up a lot of hits, so limiting Duensing’s use to non-critical situations is necessary. Ideally, Duensing would start the year in AAA, but if the Twins insist on a second lefty out of the bullpen then Duensing could make the team over Mijares. I wouldn’t expect much in the way of positive contributions, though.
R.A. Dickey might be a nice long relief/spot starter option, as his knuckleball brings a different look from any other reliever in the bullpen. With Joe Mijares’ struggles this spring, it wouldn’t be a shock to see Dickey make the squad out of spring training and fit into the long relief role. I wouldn’t want Dickey pitching the eighth inning in a close game – although bringing in Dickey’s knuckleball after a team has seen Liriano all day isn’t a bad idea – but using Dickey as an innings-eating guy who can throw the sixth inning if a starter struggles is a prudent idea.
Phillip Humber is the final realistic candidate for a Twins bullpen spot. Because he’s out of options and would need to clear waivers if the Twins tried to send him to the minors, I’d expect Humber to at least start the year as the Twins' last reliever out of the bullpen. A much heralded prospect in the Mets system who came over in the Johan Santana deal, Humber hasn’t met expectations and will probably settle into a spot starter/long reliever role with someone. His upside is greater than R.A. Dickey and Brian Duensing, but at this point expecting miracles out of Humber isn’t wise. Humber probably doesn’t miss enough bats to ever succeed in a starter’s role, but he may be able to salvage his career out of the bullpen. I wouldn’t count on it, though.
Unless Jesse Crain improves or Craig Breslow is effective as the primary setup man, Minnesota’s bullpen will be the team’s Achilles heel all year. If the Twins are contending around the trade deadline, bringing in a set up man from a struggling team will be necessary to propel Minnesota into the playoffs. Whether Bill Smith is willing to give up key prospects for a setup man may determine whether Minnesota is a playoff team in 2009.