Spring training, made for TV

Ozzie Guillen joins Twitter. Dayan Viciedo receives a public scolding from Kenny Williams for failing to run out a pop-up.  A pitching coach gets heckled in a virtually empty stadium. All in the first week of game action.
In a spring training with very few open spots and fewer problems, it’s funny that so many odd secondary plots are emerging … especially when the Sox are the subject of a reality show for the MLB Network.

Will Linebrink sing the blues?
Joe Cowley spent Monday tweeting often about the presence of cameras, and according to our friend Carl, he also brought it up to Chris Rongey on The Score on Monday evening.  Cowley said that Cooper wondered — perhaps jokingly — that the heckler was an MLB Network plant.
It’s an interesting theory. The thrill of spring training is that baseball exists, and there’s not a lot more to it. Especially when it’s cold(ish) and raining and games are delayed or canceled. So when Viciedo gets hammered while a guy with a fat reputation plods like a fat guy and turns an easy RBI single into a play at the plate, it’s not wrong to raise an eye, although Cowley mentions the Swisher thing, too.
But for giggles, if the Sox and/or MLB Network are actually exaggerating events for effect — probably unlikely, but yaneverknow — I have a few more ideas.
No. 1: During Woodjock, Jake Peavy’s charity musical event, Scott Linebrink joins him onstage for “Hotel California.”  He takes the outro solo, then promptly breaks a string.  Peavy yells, “Damnit, Liney, wait ’til the regular season to blow leads!”  The crowd laughs.  Linebrink storms off the stage, but guest vocalist Omar Vizquel brings them back together with a stunning rendition of “Bridge Over Troubled Water.”
But wait! Then, it’s discovered that Vizquel lip-synched the entire song, and Linebrink wonders who isn’t living a lie.

No. 2: Guillen’s open competition for the last bullpen spot results in Jeff Marquez eating uncooked camel testicles.  Not only does Marquez start the year in Triple-A, but nobody else partook in that event, much to Guillen’s delight.
“I cant belive marquez he ate it nuts haha yesssssssssssssssssss,” he tweets.
No. 3: Brent Lillibridge goes on the 60-day DL after tearing his Achilles on the Aggro Crag.
And if they’re still starving for storylines, they can make Carlos Quentin and Gavin Floyd swap wives, display 26 briefcase-bearing beauties between Rick Hahn and Craig Landis in John Danks’ extension negotiations, and get Bobby Jenks and Andruw Jones to cry on some oversized scales.  Now you have a television show.  If they’re gunning for drama, they should go all-in.  Williams doesn’t do it any other way.
**********************************
This one’s on the house:
Q: Besides a striking resemblance to one another, what do Joe Nathan and Count Chocula have in common?
A: They’re both on the shelf.
It's like looking in a mirror.
All week veal.
The ace Minnesota closer has a tear in the Ulnar Collateral Ligament in his right elbow, and while the Twins will wait a couple weeks to officially make a decision, “Dr. James Andrews” has entered the conversation.
Numerous White Sox were polled for a reaction, which seems like a little much to me. Unconvincing body language aside — pause for third cheek-flapping deep breath — Nathan’s a great closer.  Still, he only comes into play when the Twins are leading after eight innings, and on top of that, they have another difficult-to-hit righty coming off Tommy John surgery in Pat Neshek. The ledger looks the same.
If the Twins lost Joe Mauer for an entire season, that would change the complexion of the division.  Losing a closer only makes Ron Gardenhire’s job slightly tougher.  From the Sox’s perspective, Nathan would be a non-factor in two-thirds of the season series, even before the injuries. Let’s save the going overboard for television hijinx.
Like making Williams’ golf cart street-legal.
**********************************
Christian Marrero Reading Room:
*John Danks threw three scoreless innings, after which he declared the White Sox are “the team to beat” in the AL Central.  And here we go.
*Paul Konerko and Mark Kotsay had two hits apiece in a 6-2 loss to San Francisco. The rest of the lineup struggled, and Jhonny Nunez is falling out of the picture.
*Cowley previews Alexei Ramirez’s road ahead.  One paragraph worth noting:

Despite all the travails, Ramirez actually played a dominant shortstop the last six weeks of the season, but this fact basically went unnoticed.

Not by me! Ramirez won the Gold Glove for September in White Sox Outsider 2010! BUY IT! LOUD NOISES!
*Dayan Viciedo is now a Scott Boras client. This is old news and you guys talked about it in the last thread, but I wanted to bump it to the top for posterity. It will come into play at some point.

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Jim Margalus

Writing about the White Sox for a 16th season, first here, then at South Side Sox, and now here again. Let’s talk curling.

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iowaoaks

Jim, you could not nail the Nathan situation in Minnesota any better. Thank you.
and I should have a copy of the book in hand by end of the week. I NEED some good baseball reading and am very much looking forward to it.

knoxfire30

Jim gotta disagree with you and iowaoaks, you are really downplaying the importance of a dominant closer here. And especially for a team like minnesota that has made a living winning the 1 and 2 run grindy type games the last decade. Its not just finding a guy to record outs 25-27, its also the trickle down effect of a setup guy turns closer, a long reliever turns setup man, some guy who should be in the minors now being in your bullpen, ect ect. This is a monster injury for the twins comparing this to mauer basically the best player in the game isnt really fair.
And for any twin fans holding out hope that he is gonna pitch through this in a couple weeks, let me put out that glimmer of hope, a tear in your ucl is impossible to pitch around, and the fact they have consulted dr does every major athletes surgery is a horrible sign for twin fans.

Shinons

I’m with knox.
But the MLB brainstorming was hilarious – great work Jim.

ricksch

Nathan is an elite closer. You don’t lose a guy like that and not deplete your bullpen. The Twins have held a voodoo curse on the Sox in recent years and it’s leaked into the heads of their fans. We should remember that we did beat them recently in an important one-game playoff.

marshlands

@Knox
I’ve got to disagree and side with Jim here. Nathan, and closers in general, simply do not pitch enough to make a HUGE difference over the course of the season. This applies especially to the way Gardy uses Nathan (which is to say, very conservatively).
If we want to take a closer look, we can see that Nathan had a 1.9 WAR last year, which was good for 8th on the team (behind Mauer, Span, Morneau, Kubel, Cuddyer, Baker, Blackburn, tied with Crede). And, essentially, the loss of Nathan, assuming his replacement plays at, well, replacement level, is roughly a 2 win difference.
I’m not saying every win doesn’t matter, but we also can’t assume that Nathan’s replacement, be it Guerrier, Rauch, or whoever, will be league average or worse (I’d bet they won’t be!).
The Twins are certainly not as well off as they would be with Nathan, but it’s not catastrophic, and something a shrewd organization will be able to overcome.

knoxfire30

Comparing WAR of Nathan vs positional players is sketchy logic at best. And comparing Nathan to replacement level is just as sketchy. There is noway of knowing whether a replacement will come in and save 40 of 42 games or a guy comes in and blows 9-11 saves and a musical chairs of closer by committee occurs.
The twins are going to feel this injury all season long.

marshlands

Also, the Twins have been inquiring about Jason Frasor.
This, or a trade in general, would nullify any of the Twins concerns about this “trickle down” effect Knox was referring to (which I’m not sure exists, but probably).

knoxfire30

I put the odds of a Frasor trade at about 1 in 20 at this point.

bigfun

The whole point of replacement level is to have a baseline to evaluate players, and while we can’t “know” with certainty how good a Nathan replacement will be, there’s enough information to make useful predictions.
A better argument for this as a game-changer would be to note that WAR is, iirc, context-neutral. If you look at Win Probability Added, which accounts for context, Nathan was third-best among relievers last year (behind, of course, Papelbon and Rivera; Thornton is sixth). That’s hard to replace.
That said, I’m still more inclined to agree with Jim. This is a blow to them and helps put the Sox within striking distance, but the Twins are still favorites to take the division.

Shinons

I think the point knox is making is that a closer is a very different role. You can have a guy who dominates in setup but due to whatever unquantifiable reasons, falls apart as a closer – you see it all the time. Rauch is the only guy on that roster who has any experience as a closer, which was only half a season. The guy is already a streaky, up and down player, and when he saved 17 games in 23 attempts he was playing near his best. I think figuring the “he blows half his attempts early on, gets rattled, bullpen explodes, save the women and children first, oops that save got blown too, cue apocalypse” scenario is entirely realistic.

bigfun

But why would a top setup guy who routinely comes into crucial eighth inning situations with men in scoring position and zero or one outs not be qualified to be a closer? Because he doesn’t have the mystical unknowable special secret magic aura to pitch the ninth with a three-run lead and no men on?
It doesn’t make much sense, especially when the highest-leveraged part of the game often comes an inning or two earlier.

knoxfire30

you have to be joking, the list of guys who could get it done in the 8th but not the 9th is endless

bigfun

An endless list that no one has provided an example from yet.
Please tell me about some setup guys who were really good in a decent sample size in the eighth inning but really bad in a decent sample size in the ninth inning.
I mean… you’re telling me endless numbers of setup guys have no problem with bases loaded, no outs, one-run lead in the eight inning, but will go completely Section 8 if asked to hold a bases-empty three-run lead in the ninth inning?
Doesn’t seem to make much sense.

matt

I’ll throw Octavio Dotel out there… Began his career as a great and dominant 8th inning guy, but it didn’t translate well as a closer. Yeah, he is technically able to get saves, but do you want him out there for your team in the 9th. Saying that’s exactly what the Pirates paid him for… I say he’ll save around 15 and blow at least 5 before they get fed up with him.
Rafael Betancourt too. You love to have him in the 8th, but are scared to death if he’s trying to pick up the save. I remember a game last year where he was brought in late to hold the lead before giving up a massive granny to put the Giants ahead. Never wanted him out there in the 9th again, neither did the team.
Ryan Madson last season for the Phillies… great in the 8th, just bad enough in the 9th that he couldn’t wrestle the full time gig from Brad Lidge in the midst of one of the worst seasons ever seen from a closer.
Those are the three off the top of my head. I’d say obviously knox is being a bit hyperbolic when he says endless, but think about it this way: Linebrink (0.2 WAR, -1.92 WPA last season), 9th inning, bases empty, in Detroit, late in the season, Thornton and Jenks unavailable. Any butterflies in your stomach?
The Nathan situation will all be worked out in the first month. Although for that first month, Twins’ fans, and more importantly Twins’ players, won’t have a clue what to expect from the 9th. Nathan gave them confidence going to the 9th that’s just not there right now. That’s hard to replace.
Lord knows if any of this will matter, but it’s Spring Training and there’s not a whole heck of a lot else to talk about right now.

bigfun

Dotel wasn’t a great closer in 2004, but he was striking out almost 13 guys per inning! He had a 3.69 ERA which was pretty close to his FIP. Not a dominant closer, but pretty much the same guy he was in the eighth inning – lots of home runs and even more strikeouts. And it was Tommy John surgery that ended his time as closer, not an inability to handle the mental stress of the ninth inning.
Betancourt has never gotten any significant time at closer. Every year he picks up a few spot saves and a few blown saves (common for relievers pitching in extra innings or other situations).
The Phillies should have stuck with Madson last year, his peripherals were pretty good. But teams make decisions based on small, highly random sample sizes, which feeds into the whole mentality that the closer job is a real thing that means something. Which it isn’t. Madson will probably get another crack at the job this year considering Lidge’s health questions and short leash.
And I don’t understand your Linebrink example. Linebrink makes me queasy in the seventh and the eighth too. There’s nothing special about the ninth – he’s just a bad pitcher regardless of inning.

Shinons

The candidates who are looking to take over for Nathan are all very flawed. Either they’ve got sub-par stuff, inconsistent, inexperienced, coming off injury, etc. There are certainly examples of guys who came in and thrived, absolutely. My knee jerk reaction to the news was that Rauch would be this year’s MacDougal. But while they cooooould come in and thrive, it’s just as easy to imagine they come in and get Linebrink’d. The only thing we know for certain is that only one of these guys have any experience at all in this role (Rauch) and he was fully mediocre, no where near as effective as Aardsma, Franklin, or MacDougal. I’ll just put it this way – if I were a Twins fan, I wouldn’t be feeling real good right now.
But to add to knox’s list of guys who could pitch the 8th but not the 9th: Lindstrom/Nunez and Marmol.

bigfun

Shinons, your examples are just confusing me more. Lindstrom saved 15 games last year with only two blown saves. Nunez never established himself as a strong setup guy (less than 50 innings in 2008 with a K/9 of less than 5 is his best season – yuck) so that doesn’t make any sense either. Marmol saved 15 games, will be the Cubs closer this year, and could easily improve on his showing from last year if he can just tone the Mitch Williams impersonation down a bit.
Carlos Marmol can’t be a closer, but someone like Brian Fuentes can because he has “experience in the role”?

Shinons

big fun, those are just guys whose numbers got worse when they went from the 8th to the 9th. There’s a list of guys who thrived as a closer, there’s even more who don’t step right in and excel. I don’t see how this is anything less than completely intuitive.

bigfun

It doesn’t seem intuitive to me because the facts don’t support it. Dotel the closer in 2004 and early 2005 was basically the same pitcher he has been for his entire career – high walk rate, fluxuating but generally high HR rate, and high strikeout rate. The other examples all have small sample sizes at closer and some of them weren’t even bad in the role.
I would take Lindstrom, Marmol or Dotel any day over Aardsma, Rodney, or MacDougal, even though the latter three are the “proven” closers.

Shinons

Here is what I’m saying: we don’t know how any of these guys will respond until you toss them out there. I’m not talking about whether player a >, <, or = player b because they are an experienced closer, nothing like that. Just that it's a different role and you don't know how any of these guys will respond to it except for Rauch, simply because he has been in that role before. The guys could perform better, could perform worse, we won't know till they get into the role. Clear enough?
I get your point that an inexperienced guy with talent beats an experienced stiff every day of the week, and I certainly agree. It's just we're talking different things here.

bigfun

I understand what you’re saying, but I disagree that it’s a different role. Assuming a similar number of runs and baserunners, pitching in the ninth is nothing particularly special, so there’s no need to take a wait and see perspective beyond what you would do with any other player on the team.

Shinons

You may be right. I dunno, seems extreme to me to assert that there’s no difference between setup and closing, but I guess we’ll see.

tjrako

I agree with Jim on this with Neshek coming off the Tommy John surgery (What is it about 18 months before the pitcher gets the range back). I think Neshek will start slow and then Gardenhire will give him more work. This has also gotten in
the Sox’s heads also (Anyone where a Twin uni that can throw 90+ can own the Sox in late innings). If Mauer, Morneau, Kubel, Cuddyer went down for the year it would benefit
the Sox.
Great job on storylines Jim.

knoxfire30

Side note from the above debates. Anyone catch the arron poreda line today, lets just say he outdid johnny nunez’s gem yesterday, yikes!

newcomer

I just have to say that fake Ozzie tweet is about the best thing I’ve ever read.

matt

Er… not to point out the obvious here, but Joe’s kind of ignoring something. Lidge blew 6 games last year on the road, without giving his team a chance to come back. Let’s say he does his job and picks up up the save in 5 of those. All of a sudden, the Phillies are 98-64 instead of 93-69. It didn’t matter because there was no one in the division that could touch them and because the rest of the team provided enough wins to give them that cushion. It seems like Joe’s discounting just how much Lidge hurt them during the season.

marshlands

Closers are so, so, so overrated. There is no mythical quality to be a closer. You simply have to be a very good pitcher in order to succeed. Like anything else. And because a closer pitches so infrequently, they simply do not have that much value in the grand scheme of things. Pointing to a few guys who’ve failed in the 9th does us no good, since just as many have succeeded in moving upwards (Broxton, Soriano, Bell, etc.).
Furthermore, when a closer is replaced, he is replaced (generally) by the second best reliever on the team. This makes the closer’s value even less, because his replacement isn’t even ‘replacement level’ — he’s usually much greater than that.
If there’s any heavy impact because of Nathan’s absence, it’s going to be on the very back end of the reliever rotation — the actual replacement level pitcher who gets moved into the bullpen, not your Guerrier/Rauch types. This is what Knox was alluding to in “trickle down” effect, which seems to be accurate, but the damage isn’t in the 2nd best guy being slid to the top slot.
When all is said and done, Nathan’s absence figures to cost the Twins roughly 2-3 losses, which, while damaging, is hardly the catastrophe everyone is making it out to be.

Shinons

Rauch is much greater than replacement level? Really?

marshlands

While “much greater” are words a bit too strong for Jon Rauch, he’s been consistently better than replacement level his entire career. I think people on here don’t really understand what replacement level means, but w/e.

bigfun

“I think people on here don’t really understand what replacement level means, but w/e.”
Yeah, I think this is the case. The Twins have decent pitching depth. If the Nathan injury means someone like Duesing gets the final spot in the bullpen instead of going to AAA and he contributes something like 1 WAR… then they’ve lost maybe 1.5 WAR at most with Nathan being out.
Twins writer Aaron Gleeman sums it up pretty neatly on his blog:
“Whatever happens the bullpen’s depth has the Twins remarkably well-positioned to handle losing their stud closer and any decision Gardenhire makes will likely result in less of a game-saving dropoff than most people seem to think. Nathan has been spectacular, but the role he’s filled is so rigid and fawned over that the gap between truly ‘great’ and merely something resembling ‘mediocre’ in the ninth inning is typically overstated and often unpredictable, with last year providing a pair of prominent examples.
MLB’s best save percentage belonged to Fernando Rodney, a 32-year-old career-long setup man with a 4.28 ERA who went 37-of-38 for Detroit. Philadelphia won 93 games and the NL pennant despite one of the worst closer seasons ever by Brad Lidge, who went 0-8 with a 7.21 ERA and MLB-high 11 blown saves. Nathan’s injury drops the Twins’ playoffs chances, which is difficult to stomach after a productive offseason had the team looking so strong, but they can definitely survive and even thrive without him.”

marshlands

Also, for what it’s worth, found this:
http://www.beyondtheboxscore.com/2009/4/29/856308/bullpen-chaining-and-reliever-war
Heavy on the math, so feel free to skip it. Basically supports the notion of “Bullpen Chaining”, where everyone has to move up a spot, taking into account performance/leverage.

ricksch

The thing that is being missed in this orgiastic love of statistics is that when you lose your top guy, EVERYONE in your bullpen has to step up. Some will, some won’t The Twins are not going to find a replacement at Nathan’s level. Further, as the season goes on, you have your top core relievers working more innings than they would have. Imagine if Jenks went down, we’d have Thornton closing and then have to rely on Williams as the lefty specialist? Linebrink or Pena would then have to pitch the 7th — God help us — AND, that’s all built on the premise that Putz will be healthy. Maybe I’m apples to oranges. The Twins have more bullpen depth than we do, especially if Neshek comes back to form — but when Nathan came in against the Sox, we basically lost before he threw a pitch.

bigfun

How has that been missed? It was brought up in the second comment to this post and discussed repeatedly throughout.

ricksch

I realize Knox said as much, but it seemed like it needed to be illustrated. And I think that a lot of these stats are meaningless and/or affected by several factors that don’t show up on the stat line — like your teammates or the team you’re playing against.

bigfun

Not sure I follow – when talking about how a particular reliever might do, how would we factor in his teammates or rival teams?

ricksch

For example — “the team you’re playing on” — Mike MacDougal had a nice stat line for the Nats last year. But that’s a team going nowhere and everyone knows it — so how different is that from being on a team in contention — or even anywhere near .500?
“Other teams” — things do usually tend to even out, but there are plenty of anomolies in sport where one pitcher, let’s say, throws most of his games against sub-.500 teams, while another guy seems to get the Yankees and the Red Sox every time out.
More obvious stat skewing — a pitcher’s lack of run support will kill his won-loss record. Of course, his ERA may be solid and point up this fact, but the perception is skewed.
Stats certainly have their place but I don’t consider them the Grail. Example, Jim had made a case for Tony Pena being better than he seemed last year, via some stat line I don’t recall. But when I’ve seen the guy pitch, all I remember is all the 0-2 counts where he put the next pitch in the hitter’s wheelhouse. Is there a stat for blown 0-2 counts? (probably huh?) Pena may have good stuff but what he lacks is hard to teach. He sure as hell doesn’t look like a “pitcher” to me, though I hope I’m wrong and he does his job this year.

bigfun

Sure, you want to apply context, but if we’re comparing various MN relievers, those two factors should be pretty even among them. I certainly agree that team/league context is important, but that’s true regardless of what role the guy has in the bullpen.
Re stat skewing – well, that’s why W-L records, saves, and ERA are not such good stats, and why teams and outside commentators have developed better ones.
I think everyone who is big into stats agrees that they aren’t everything. They always need to be combined with observation (primarily in the form of good scouting, which can detect those subtleties you’re talking about) to be effective.

marshlands

Also: While stats like WAR, RAR, etc., are context neutral, using these in combination with contextual stats like WPA, Leverage Index, etc., can give you really good idea of how a player really is performing.
And WAR is park/league adjusted as well, which adds a lot of context.

ricksch

You all make very good points. I guess I just like going on what I see as much as anything else. I watch maybe 50 game a year, which seems like a fair enough sampling. More than that would jeoparidize my marriage and screw with my golf game. My brother gets totally skewed by samples. We were at the Sox-Angels game last year where Nix hit two homers and from that point on, you couldn’t convince him that this kid wasn’t the next Babe Ruth.

marshlands

Hey guys, that Joe Nathan injury really hurt the Twins this year.
Sorry, had to dig this one up because it’s too good.