Sunday, March 28, 2010

Another Saturday Night

If I could spend every night like I spent the last two hours or so - listening to Astral Weeks and Let It Bleed, reading Othello, and drinking scotch, with my faithful dog sleeping on the couch next to me, and The Simpsons Season 3 awaiting the publication of this blog entry - I might never spend 'em in any other way.

Improve upon this scenario. Go ahead, try. I dare you. You can't!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Milwaukee Brewers Pitcher Facts

Today is March 25th - "Waffle Day" in Sweden. So, while we all enjoy waffles and socialism*, let's take a moment to discuss Milwaukee Brewer Pitcher Facts.

Fact One: The first pitcher I ever drank, made by a Milwaukee Brewer, would be a $5 pitcher of Blatz at Foundation, located just north of Center St. on Bremen in glorious 2000-era Riverwest.

Fact Two: The Brewers have four pitchers competing for two spots in the starting rotation. Their names are Jeff Suppan, Manny Parra, Dave Bush, and Chris Narveson. The coaches must make a decision very soon - the season is almost upon us! And the decision won't be easy. But maybe I can offer some assistance (hey, that's why you're reading this!).

Fact Three: The cost of pitchers of Blatz at Foundation went up a dollar over the first two or three years I lived in Riverwest. My friends and I protested, but eventually came to terms with the new reality.

Fact Four: Manny Parra and Chris Narveson can't start the season in Triple AAA Nashville, because another team could claim them off waivers. Dave Bush has enough years of Major League service that he, too, could decline a minor league assignment. And Jeff Suppan? The aging veteran, who has now been entirely paid off, is a "sunk cost" of a whopping $12.5 million. For those who don't know the Brewers team well, you might be surprised to know that Suppan has been the highest-paid Brewer over the past three years.

Fact Five: Foundation ELIMINATED pitchers of Blatz sometime around 2004 or 2005, switching to $2 bottles of PBR for its "cheap" beer. But, all along, the Uptowner (two blocks from Foundation, at the corner of Center and Humboldt Blvd) had been offering $5 pitchers of Blatz! Smacking our foreheads, we hiked thataway for our Milwaukee Brewer pitchers.

Fact Six: Manny Parra has great talent, but seems unable to put it all together. Chris Narveson is the opposite - a journeyman who seemingly does everything right. Dave Bush is a precision pitcher who pitched 8+ innings of a no-hitter last spring, and clearly has what it takes to be a quality starting pitcher in the major leagues (as long as he avoids those hard line drives to the elbow, such as the one that derailed him last year). Jeff Suppan is running on fumes - his ERA the last two years were 4.96 and 5.29, and his WHIP was 1.542 and 1.695. This spring, in 12 innings of work, his ERA is 9.00, and his WHIP is 1.833.

Fact Seven: Rumor has it that the delicious pitchers of Blatz are not Blatz at all - that the dastardly G. Heileman Brewery secretly brews kegs of Milwaukee's Best Light, labels them Blatz for the old-timers and weirdos, and distributes them throughout the townie and hipster bars of Milwaukee!

Fact Eight: One of these four pitchers is clearly deserving of a spot in the starting rotation, two line up just about the same in terms of risk-vs.-reward, and one is clearly not capable of quality starting pitching in the majors.

Dave Bush should start for the Brewers. He is a proven quantity - a dependable middle-rotation starter. He has pitched well this spring, and is seemingly recovered from his elbow injury last year.

Jeff Suppan should not start for the Brewers. He has been our worst starter for the past two years, and is clearly the same guy this spring. He is a sunk cost. He is paid off. It's time to say goodbye. Either Manny Parra or Chris Narveson would be a better choice.

Manny Parra and Chris Narveson present the toughest call. While Manny has been solid this spring, his long-term potential is just so tough to get a handle on, I don't know what to do! We all want to believe - and the Brewers organization does believe - that Parra has the stuff to be a good/great pitcher. Chris Narveson, on the other hand, has been really impressive late last year and this spring. He seems to have discovered an underground reservoir of talent that was previously untapped. But how deep does it truly go?

So, I propose this: Offer Jeff Suppan a spot on the Nashville Sounds. If he declines, let him go. Better pitchers than he are still looking for work. Dave Bush and Manny Parra should occupy the fourth and fifth spots of the Brewers starting five, and Chris Narveson somewhat unfortunately ought to begin 2010 in the bullpen - Manny Parra needs one more chance to be a starting pitcher for the Brewers, and this strategy also allows Narveson to work some innings of long relief, where hopefully the Brewers coaches will be able to further judge exactly what he's capable of. If either Bush or Parra tanks (can't keep the ERA below 5.00, can't keep runners off the bases/high WHIP, etc.), cut the offender and promote Narveson to the rotation. One last thing: Chris Narveson represents a potentially valuable trade commodity, should the Brewers need to shore up their roster somewhere. Hey, shit happens.

I know that Doug Melvin, Ken Macha, and Rick Peterson are regular readers of this blog (Ken really enjoyed my Tom Waits entry). So, guys, please: listen to me! I watch the games and I crunch the numbers. I speak for a million-plus hopeful Brewers fans, looking to get the most out of their team. I hope you will do what's right for the pitching staff, and for the team.


Fact Nine: I'll have a pitcher of Blatz and one pint glass, please.

That is all.

*Socialism? Yeah, right.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

My Alex Chilton Post

Check this - Alex Chilton, who was an awesome musician and rocker from Memphis Tennessee, died yesterday at the age of 59. There are serious Chilton people, completists, and I can't compete with them, but I really loved his music and I'm going to type out some thoughts that are jumping around in my brain, upon his passing. In my life, I've played the first two Big Star albums the most, because when I was younger, the Replacements told me to "never travel far without a little big star" (I scribbled "never leave home without a little Ramones" on my travel CD case, too), and back in the late 90's, the only thing you could really easily find by Big Star was a CD of the first two albums in sequence - as a consequence, I'm still a little hazy on where #1 Record ends and Radio City begins - but they both are GREAT ALBUMS, PERIOD, so does it really matter? Nope!

I also like the albums Sister Lovers, and Flys In The Sherbert (ok, that last one is a solo album, but it's really cool, and I recommend it very strongly if you like Big Star and music that's kinda goofy and fucked up). And of course I've been singing along to the song "The Letter" before I can remember memories. Here are three ways in which Big Star/Alex Chilton has impacted my life:

1. I think "September Gurls" is one of the top 25 or so songs ever written, and certainly one of the most beautiful rock/pop tunes I've ever heard. I've put it on more mixtapes than I can count, and played along with it dozens of times on guitar in my room.

2. I learned how to play the song "I'm In Love With A Girl" (I'm sure I didn't get the chords exactly right, but I'm at least in the ballpark), and have played it at a bunch of shows. I'm no Tim Schweiger* but I try.

3. Here's a chain of events that I am convinced happened: a.) Paul Westerberg, a big Alex Chilton/Big Star and also Minnesota Twins fan, lobbies the Twins energetically in the offseason to sign free agent slugger Jim Thome. b.) The Twins sign Jim Thome, and Paul makes him a mix CD prominently featuring Chilton tunes. c.) Thome becomes an Alex Chilton fan, too. d.) Alex Chilton passes away the night of March 17th, 2010. e.) Jim Thome, in his honor, hits his first home run as a Twin the very next day, knocking a pitch from Pittsburgh's Ross Ohlendorf over the right-field fence down in Ft Myers. ABSOLUTELY AIRTIGHT LOGICAL CHAIN OF EVENTS, NO???

RIP Alex Chilton.

*Tim Schweiger is one of my favorite Wisconsin musicians of all time - he was in a great band called Yesterday's Kids back in the late 90's and early 00's, and he now plays solo or with a backing band called the Middle Men. He's covered several Big Star/Alex Chilton songs in his day, solo or with other bands. He doesn't tour much, but if you are hanging around Wisconsin long enough - and why wouldn't you? - you can probably catch one of his shows. You will be rocked! Here's a link to his jazzy page:

Friday, March 12, 2010

Something Tom Waits Said

I don't remember where it was I read it, but somewhere, in some interview, Tom Waits said that he likes songs that give specific details. As in, "Chestnut Street" as opposed to "the street." Or "Senators" instead of "politicians." Or, I dunno, "Ramones records" instead of punk rock records? In any event, I completely agree with Mr. Waits. I'll try and provide more specifics from here on out. Not just for my band, but other people's bands too!

1. "Went to my university" - Descendents (My World)


"Went to the University of Wisconsin in Madison"

2. "I wanted to go by the river/keeping warm with something bitter" - Bent Outta Shape (Stick Around)


"I wanted to pee by the East River/keeping warm with any one or more of the following: coffee, unsweetened cocoa, South American "mate", marmalade, bitter melon, beer, bitters, olives, citrus peel, many plants in the Brassicaceae family, dandelion greens and escarole."

3. "Read about your band in some local page/didn't mention the name" - the Replacements (Left Of The Dial)


"Read about Zuzu's Petals in the City Pages/didn't mention the name" - then how did you know, Paul? HOW DID YOU KNOW, PAUL?!?

4. "She grew up in an Indiana town/had a good lookin' mama who never was around" - Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers (Last Dance With Mary Jane)


"She grew up in a shitty town/had a MILF who was smart enough to not stay in said shitty town"

I'm sure I could think of more if I took the time.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

What Joe Nathan Meant To The Twins

This will be a relatively short, bittersweet post. During his first appearance in spring training against an opposing team, Twins ace closer Joe Nathan tore a ligament in his elbow. He most likely will be unavailable for the entire season as a result. Considering his age (35, one of my most-ignored speed limits), this could be as catastrophic an injury as they come.

Since 2004, when Nathan broke in with the Twins, nobody has more saves in baseball than Joe: 246. Since 2004, when the Twins have taken a save-situation lead into the 9th inning, Joe Nathan has preserved that lead 91% of the time. Only Mariano Rivera (the greatest closer thus far in the history of baseball) has been more reliable. The save is a flawed statistic (i.e. it's quite easy to maintain a 3-run lead in the 9th inning), but you can't argue against his consistency or sheer accumulation of saves. Plus, he's a good dude.

(For this next paragraph, I owe a debt of gratitude to Minneapolis Star-Tribune columnist Joe Christensen as well as Baseball Prospectus. Thanks, everybody.)

I mentioned that has Joe nailed down the save 91% of the time since 2004. The home team that takes a save-situation lead into the 9th inning has won 87% of the time, and the average away team has won 86% of the time. Simple math dictates: Nathan has made the Twins about 5% better in the 9th inning than they otherwise would've been. Since 2004, the Twins have entered the 9th inning in a save situation 271 times, and Joe Nathan has been golden 246 times. With a league-average closer, the Twins notch 234 (statistically, 234.4) saves. How many of those games do they end up winning in extra innings? Not many. Also, the impact on the rest of the bullpen is harder to measure, but losing Nathan puts more pressure on everybody else, and so you end up giving up a run here and a run there in games in which you otherwise wouldn't. Putting it all together, I'd say that this loss costs the Twins about two games every year that they rely on a league-average closer.

Naturally, there is something to be said for the consistency and reliability of a Joe Nathan closing out your 9th inning. And naturally, twelve wins over six seasons is nothing to scoff at. Consider this alternate history (by Harry Turtledove): If the Twins lose two more games than they did in 2006, they lose the AL Central to Detroit by one game. If the Twins lose two more games in 2007 and/or 2009, the White Sox and Tigers win the division outright each year, respectively. Also, the South wins the Civil War*. Ouch... but at least there's no Florida Marlins.

So let's not kid ourselves: a lights-out closer can give you an legitimate edge over your rivals. And knowing that your uber-reliable closer has got the 9th inning locked down, year-in and year-out, can't be quantified. PLUS HE IS A GOOD DUDE! I can't stress that enough. This injury sucks.

But the sky is not falling. The missiles haven't been launched. And the Twins season is far from over. The Twins will have to take a deep breath, figure out their best option, and move forward. I am confident that this 2010 team is the best Twins team in years, even - and it pains me to say it - without Joe Nathan.

*Apologies here to anybody unfamiliar with the alternate-history novelist Harry Turtledove. He wrote a series of books set in a parallel universe in which the South won the Civil War. At one point, Louis Armstrong and his band escape to the North in a jeep, machine guns blazing. Good stuff.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

What Time Is Thome Time In Minnesota?

During the winter trading season, the Minnesota Twins acquired free agent slugger Jim Thome on the open market for whatever the opposite of a pretty penny is (an ugly penny). The Twins got a bona fide masher, the kind of guy who only swings at pitches he believes he can launch into the stratosphere - thus, a guy who hits home runs a lot, strikes out a lot, and walks a lot, especially in comparison to your average ballplayer. Some baseball stat joker termed these the "three true outcomes" awhile back. "Big Jim" Thome currently ranks third among active players in home runs with 564, first in strikeouts with 2313, and first in walks with 1619. Three true outcomes indeed - nobody does 'em better.

Jim Thome will turn 40 during this season. He is not the baseball player he once was. He cannot play defense at any position, not even first base - thus, he will serve the Twins purely as their designated hitter. He doesn't run well - Twins manager Ron Gardenhire is lucky in that there usually will be a speedy bench jockey to pinch-run for Thome should he reach base during later innings. And even his once-mighty hitting skills have been in decline for the past few years - his OPS was .973 in 2007, .865 in 2008, and .847 in 2009. These last two years represent his first full seasons with a sub-.900 OPS since his first couple years in the big leagues. However, he still can pack a wallop beyond that of your average MLBer, especially when facing righthanded pitchers, against which his 2009 OPS was .881, very respectable for a DH.

And so here we are, Jim Thome a Twin. But Jason Kubel is already a lefthanded hitting DH, and Delmon Young needs at bats. If Jim Thome's in the lineup, one of those guys has to sit. And so, we must ask ourselves (well, we don't HAVE to ask ourselves, but if you're the sort of person who's still reading this blog, you are highly encouraged to ask yourself): when should Ron Gardenhire pencil Thome's name in the Twins starting lineup?

I suggest the following criteria.

1. Jim Thome can start as DH regardless of whether the pitcher is a righty or a lefty. He is an excellent hitter against righthanded pitching but has sunk to league average or just below against lefties. However, Jason Kubel hits even worse against lefthanders than Thome does (I was quite surprised to learn this). Since Kubel hits righties better than Thome, and Thome hits them better than Delmon, the Twins may want to consider Thome at DH and Kubel in left field against righthanders, and Thome and Young against lefthanders. But wait, there's more...

2. Jim Thome should usually only start as DH when the opposing pitcher is at least a 50/50 flyout vs. groundout pitcher. His OPS against canned corn inducers was .956, whereas against ditch diggers, it was .821. Conversely, Delmon Young fares best against pitchers who rely on the grounder for outs. Note that his OPS against them is actually lower than Thome's, but his defense and his potential for offensive improvement this year make him a better starting option in this sort of matchup. Jason Kubel was a force to be reckoned with last year against pitchers who induce the groundout, and didn't hit flyball pitchers so well, but over his career, he is a slightly better hitter against the fly guys, albeit not as good as Big Jim.

3. Jim Thome should not start against pitchers who strike out or walk a high percentage of batters - "power pitchers." He can't hit against them, but Jason Kubel can (he hits all pitchers about equally well when compared by how many batters they walk and strike out), and Delmon Young can play defense to compensate for any lack of hitting skill he may have against power pitchers. I believe Thome is so weak against power pitchers, he should not ever face them. This means he should ride the bench against Jake Peavy (White Sox), Justin Verlander (Tigers), Zach Greinke (Royals), and their ilk - all of them pitchers he would have been more than equal to in his glory days. So it goes.

4. Last, consider who the Twins starting pitcher is, and what kind of outs he is likely to produce. A Twins outfield of Kubel/Span/Cuddyer is markedly worse at catching fly balls than the Young/Span/Cuddyer outfield is. Scott Baker, Kevin Slowey, and probably Francisco Liriano (who is somewhat of an x-factor right now) induce more fly balls, and whether caught or not depends on who's in the outfield. Glen Perkins - should he win a spot in the rotation - is about league average when it comes to air vs. ground. And Nick Blackburn gets a ton of grounders with that nice sinker (a quick note: when I lived in NYC and listened to Blackburn pitch against the Yankees, the local radio commentators, John Sterling and Susan Waldman, absolutely would not shut up about Nick Blackburn's sinker. They really drove the point into the dirt, so to speak).

So, we have a few guidelines. If the starting pitcher for the Twins is Nick Blackburn, and the opponent's starter is a right-handed pitcher who relies on fly outs, and who doesn't strike out or walk a high chunk of batters he faces, then it's Thome Time. If, however, the Minnesota starter is Scott Baker, and the Twins opponent is a lefthanded grounout-getting strikeout-and-walk machine, it is... well, whatever the opposite of Thome Time is. If he were still on the team, I would say "Gomez O'Clock," but Carlos Gomez is a Brewer now.

All of this, of course, presumes perfect health and levels of rest for everyone involved. Baseball is a funny game. People get hurt. And there are a TON of games to play, and lineup cards to write - we might see Jim Thome starting at DH against Jake Peavy (a power pitcher, plus plenty of groundouts), with Michael Cuddyer, Delmon Young, and (brace yourself) Nick Punto in right, left, and center field, respectively. You never know.

Here's the most important thing to take away from all this: when considering only the righty/lefty split (the most important split in baseball, the one that made Mr. Burns pinch-hit Homer Simpson for Darryl Strawberry in a move that won him the game), Big Jim Thome is a better DH option than Jason Kubel, no matter which side of the mound the ball is hurled from. Jason Kubel should get most of his at-bats while starting in the outfield this year. There is not much need for him to fill the designated hitter position when the clock strikes Thome.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The Night Before

The title of this post is taken from one of my favorite Beatles songs. And I guess it wouldn't hurt to say right now that the Beatles are one of my favorite bands, from their first single ("Love Me Do") right up through Revolver (I nominate "And Your Bird Can Sing" as the number one song Thin Lizzy should've covered, but didn't. At least, I've never heard their version, if they did one). I like the later-era Beatles too, but the timeline really pulls a Ken Griffey Jr.* of sorts on me: so incredibly talented and amazing right out the gate, you expect the sun, moon, and stars, until about halfway along the timeline (Beatles: between Revolver and Sgt. Pepper; Junior: The Injury Years) when they sort of level off into "very good, but..." status (here, Griffey's 2005 season is analogous to Side B of Abbey Road). Later Beatles and later Junior are still better than 90% of the competition (at least until Let It Be, or the trade back to the Mariners, at which point it's clear that the glue factory is gearing up for a Seabiscuit shipment if you catch my hopelessly twisted analogizing), but they just can't coast on the first half of their careers forever.

Anyway, it's The Night Before... THE FIRST MILWAUKEE BREWERS, MINNESOTA TWINS, AND CHICAGO WHITE SOX SPRING TRAINING GAMES! And I'm absolutely bouncing off walls and dancing on the ceiling! The Brewers take on the Giants, the White Sox meet the Angels, and the Twins stare down the Red Sox later that evening.

I haven't bought that gameday radio thing from yet, so I can't listen to the White Sox game. But you better believe I'll be tuned in to the Brewers, and then later on to the Twins (although I will probably miss the end of that latter game, because of band practice. Bands are dumb).

Mets and Braves (of Atlanta) fans got their baseball life back on March 2nd**. A few other teams, March 3rd. And everybody else joins in today, March 4th. But whatever the team you root for, the night before they play their first real spring training game is one of those nights where you might want to consider taking some extra sleep medication before bedtime. Bushmills Nerve Tonic works fine for me. You?

*Non-Beatles=Griffey fact: earlier today (or yesterday, depending on when you read this... ah heck, it happened the afternoon of March 3rd) against San Francisco, Ken Griffey Jr. walked in the first inning, tried to steal a base, and was thrown out. The next time around in the order, he was pinch-hit for by former Milwaukee Brewer Brad Nelson. Just thought I'd report that for you. I think it's a perfect example of that useless trivia we all know baseball is absolutely rotten with.

**Not counting pro teams playing against college teams, even if that pro team is the Pittsburgh Pirates and therefore the matchup is almost even...