Monday, September 19, 2011

All I Wanna Be Is The Goddamn MVP (plus bonus thoughts)

With about a week and a half of regular-season baseball left to play, I think it's safe to start talking about who we, the disenfranchised non-BBWAA members, would vote for in the American League and National League MVP races. I also plan to write an article about the Cy Young awards sometime in the next two weeks. The NL Cy Young race is very close, the AL race not so much in my opinion... anyway, that's another article for another time. This is MVP talk here.

The 2011 MVP race in the American League is particularly interesting, because among the four or five players that stand out, there is a pitcher who has a legitimate claim to the award - not a common thing, as many folks will only vote for an everyday player for MVP. Meanwhile, in the National League, the race is more conventional but no less contentious. There are three players in the NL who should be given serious consideration.

Here's my take on both MVP races, then.

NATIONAL LEAGUE

The NL MVP award will be given to one of these three men: Justin Upton, Ryan Braun, or Matt Kemp. Justin Upton is the right fielder for the Arizona Diamondbacks, Ryan Braun is the left fielder for the Milwaukee Brewers, and Matt Kemp is the center fielder for the Los Angeles Dodgers. All three have played extremely well this year, and all three are worthy of recognition and consideration for the award.

At the plate, Matt Kemp and Ryan Braun have virtually identical and absolutely stunning stat lines: .320/.398/.565 for Kemp, and .336/.400/.597 for Braun. It gets even better when you add their baserunning into the mix: Braun has stolen 31 bases in 37 tries, and Kemp has swiped 40 in 50 attempts. When it comes to power, speed, and plate discipline, Matt Kemp and Ryan Braun are the class of the National League. Justin Upton has batted .293/.374/.537, nothing to sneeze at, but not as good as Kemp and Braun. And stealing 21 bases in 30 attempts is costing his D'backs valuable outs.

One last metric: ranked by baseball-reference.com's Offensive WAR (wins-above-replacement player, a handy stat which calculates how much more a player contributes to his team than an average Triple A minor league replacement would), Kemp is in first place at 8.2, Braun is second at 7.0, and Justin Upton is all the way down at number seven with 5.0 wins, behind Joey Votto, Lance "Lazarus" Berkman, Jose Reyes, and Prince Fielder.

Offensively, it's clear that Braun and Kemp are more valuable to their teams than Justin Upton. Meanwhile, when measuring their defensive contributions on baseball-reference.com, it seems that Matt Kemp has played well enough in center that his fielding can't be held against him, and that he is better than the average NL center fielder when playing at Dodger Stadium. That's pretty good stuff, what with the importance of center field and all. Ryan Braun has a deserved reputation as a below-average defender, but this year he seems to have figured out his position well enough so that I can't cite his defense as a negative. He catches the balls he gets to, he's been getting to the ball better than years previous, and... well, he plays left field, so let's leave it at that. Last, we have Justin Upton in right field. His defense there is slightly but measurably below average.

At this point, Upton can be removed from the NL MVP discussion. It's a two man race. And it would seem that Matt Kemp, playing center field, should win the award over Ryan Braun, who plays left field, since both are essentially each other's equal at the plate. Matt Kemp has the slight edge in WAR as well. If batting average matters, then Ryan Braun gets the nod there. They are both statistically tied in on-base and slugging percentage. If stolen bases are a factor, Kemp has stolen more but been caught more and at a higher rate than Braun. Hmm. I'd still give the award to Matt Kemp, all else being equal.

But all is not equal. The Milwaukee Brewers are charging towards their first-ever division title, and the Los Angeles Dodgers are trudging towards an idle postseason. Does this mean that Braun's play has been more "valuable" than Kemp's because it has pushed his team over the top and into the playoffs? There are folks who would argue that this is the case, and there are folks who would argue that this at least could be used as a tiebreaker. I am in the latter camp - I would use overall team success as a tiebreaker. However, this is not a tie. Where offensive prowess meets offensive prowess and the result is an immoveable stalemate, center field trumps left field every time.

My choice for National League MVP is Matt Kemp of the LA Dodgers.

AMERICAN LEAGUE:

The central question facing voters for the AL MVP award is this: can a pitcher win? And following that: how good must a pitcher be in order to win?

The AL MVP for 2011 will be given to Jose Bautista, Adrian Gonzalez, Curtis Granderson, Jacoby Ellsbury, or Justin Verlander. Four position players, and a starting pitcher. Four men who take the field every day they can, rain or shine, and give their all in pursuit of the win. And one man around whom the entire game revolves, one man who has as much to do with his team's performance as all the other eight put together... but who only plays one day out of five.

Jose Bautista is the prodigiously-powered slugging right fielder for the Toronto Blue Jays. Adrian Gonzalez and Jacoby Ellsbury play for the Boston Red Sox, first base and center field respectively, and both have torn the cover off the baseball this year. Curtis Granderson has played quality center field for the New York Yankees while hitting tons of home runs. Justin Verlander has, simply put, been the best pitcher in baseball and the ace of the Detroit Tigers rotation.

Let me begin by saying that I don't believe Adrian Gonzalez should win MVP. As measured by traditional stats (batting average and RBIs) and OPS lines, the award would go to Gonzalez (.333/.402/.537 vs .319/.376/.539), and make no mistake, his on-base percentage is really remarkable. Adrian knows how to handle the bat. But Jacoby Ellsbury makes it all up on the basepaths. He has swiped more bases, that's for sure: 37 against Gonzalez's 1 measly base stolen. Equally important is that Ellsbury leads Gonzalez in total bases: 330 to 325. They are #1 and #2 in the AL in total bases, by the way. However, defense matters. Adrian Gonzalez plays first base. Jacoby Ellsbury plays center field. Thus, offense being roughly equal, defensive prowess gives the nod to Ellsbury over Gonzalez for most valuable member of the Red Sox. One last thing: as the Red Sox have stumbled down the stretch, Jacoby Ellsbury has not been the reason why. His line for September is .361/.413/639. It's as if he's trying to put the entire Red Sox team on his back.

So it's a four man race between Ellsbury, Jose Bautista, Curtis Granderson, and Justin Verlander. Of these players, only Bautista plays for a team not in contention for a playoff berth. But man, does he play. Nobody hits home runs quite like Jose Bautista. Hell, nobody hits like him, period. Oh, sure, there's some guy named Pujols in the National League, but he's having a bit of an off-year, and so I feel confident in saying that Jose Bautista is, today, the elite batsman in all Major League Baseball. He leads the AL in on-base, slugging, OPS, and OPS+ (park-adjusted OPS). His line is .304/.448/.623. Nobody else is close to that. He leads the league in home runs with 42. He leads the league in walks. Of his 123 walks, 23 were intentional. That's insane! And of course, that leads the league. Opposing managers would rather give up the automatic baserunner than face Bautista at an incredible rate. That's a testament to the fear his bat instills in his opponents. On defense, he plays right field and plays it just fine. He's definitely worthy of the award. But should we win it?

Curtis Granderson is hitting very well this season, too. He's got 40 home runs, and has been neck and neck with Bautista for the lead in that category all season. He's also an immeasurable clubhouse presence, and the center fielder for the Yankees. For some faithful pinstripe boosters, this would be enough to put him over the top already, and I'm sure Granderson will win the NYC-area MVP vote. However, his center defense is below league-average, and honestly, there's a center fielder in Boston who is better in just about every category than Curtis. Therefore, I would not vote for Curtis Granderson for American League MVP. The race is down to three men.

And now we come to the most interesting man in the world: Justin Verlander. When I began writing this entry, I honestly had no idea how I should approach his candidacy. Certainly, he's been very valuable indeed to the Tigers, but is he actually as valuable as, say, his teammate Miguel Cabrera, who is one of the top three first basemen in the American League? I needed to think about this. So, I took my roommate's dog (a sweet and energetic pooch named Winnie, a chocolate lab/pit bull mix) for a walk. And in between restraining Winnie from chasing rabbits, and picking up after her, as I thought about Justin's case for MVP, it occurred to me that I could approach the Verlander MVP candidacy as follows: did his presence on the Detroit Tigers allow them to make the playoffs, or would they have made the playoffs with the pitcher that they would have if they didn't have Verlander? (This is different than the "is he playing on a playoff team?" argument that some people would use to give Ryan Braun the MVP award over Matt Kemp in NL, because it would be tough to argue that the leftfielder the Brewers would have if they didn't have Braun would be so awful that they'd have missed the postseason - the Brewers are a well-rounded team, but the Tigers are mediocre except at first base and, of course, for Verlander.)

Here's what I mean by this: Justin Verlander is the AL Ace of Aces. He will win the Cy Young award this year. He's won 24 games, may win 25 (which nobody does anymore), and his Tigers team isn't the Yankees - those aren't CC Sabathia-style wins with guaranteed run support. Strikeouts, innings pitched, baserunners allowed, he is the king of all those things, and moreover, he is the absolute anchor of that team, the rock around which Jim Leyland can manage differently, giving his bullpen rest, not worrying about the days when Verlander takes the ball.

So who is the pitcher the Tigers would have if they didn't have Verlander? This isn't a WAR thing; the Tigers have enough money and savvy that they would definitely have an ace at the top of their rotation if they didn't have Verlander. So, arbitrarily, I have decided that if Detroit didn't have Justin Verlander, they would have the 10th-best starting pitcher in the American League. And arbitrarily, using a gut-check mix of ERA, WHIP, K:BB and K:9, I have decided that the 10th-best pitcher in the American League is James Shields of the Tampa Bay Rays, "Big Game James" as he is known these days. Please don't argue with me on this - if you wanted to substitute Brandon McCarthy or C.J. Wilson or Ricky Romero or someone else, I'd be fine with it in a different article, but for this one it's going to be James Shields.

Well, how good would the Tigers be with James Shields instead of Justin Verlander? James Shields has allowed 10 more earned runs than Justin Verlander. He's allowed 17 more hits, four more walks, and hit 5 batters versus Verlander's 3. He's given up two more home runs than Justin has, 24 to 22. All this translates into an oppnent on-base percentage of .240 for Verlander, and .273 for Shields. Batters slug .308 against Verlander, and .350 against Shields. Defense-independent pitching (DIPS) would have Verlander's ERA at .307 and Shields at .349, but if Shields was pitching with Detroit's defense then... Ok, ok, you say. Enough with the numbers. Translation, please!

It is my belief that if James Shields was the ace of the Tigers rotation, they would have won two or three fewer games than they have or will have by the end of the season. Let's use the high-end estimate, because Verlander is the best pitcher in baseball, and that's got to be worth a mythic "intangible", right? Three games worse, the Tigers would still win the AL Central. They might not be as fearsome going into the playoffs, but they'd be IN the playoffs. This wasn't always a given, by the way - the AL Central was a tight race all the way into August, before Cleveland gave way to troublesome reality and sank back in the standings.

And so we come down to it: Justin Verlander, Ace of Aces, did not singlehandedly pitch the Tigers into the playoffs. He gave them supreme confidence every fifth day that they would win if they even plated a mere two or three runs, he gave Jim Leyland the certainty that his bullpen would get much-needed rest at least once a week, but he is not singlehandedly responsible for their playoff berth and division title. So how did they make the playoffs? Sure, Miguel Cabrera hit like a monster, but the sub-par AL Central opposition gets the gold star. Now here's a thought: If the Tigers were in the AL West or East, and the season ended right now, three wins would be the difference between a playoff berth and an idle October.

Therefore, Justin Verlander makes the Tigers an elite team at least capable of competing in the tougher East and West divisions, and currently the playoff team most others would least want to face in a short series. Hmm.

So, who would I pick for my American League MVP?

After careful consideration of the top three choices - the best hitter in baseball, the best all-around player in the league, and the best pitcher in baseball who also may have single-handedly won his team a division title - I have come to the conclusion that the hypotheticals involved in Verlander's case loom too large for my vote to go his way. And after a lot of thought, I have weighed Jose Bautista's batting against Jacoby Ellsbury's all-around play, and since no one number is persuasive enough to give the outright win to Bautista, and conversely the numbers, defensive metrics included, do not give Ellsbury a runaway decision once his position at center field is factored in, I am forced to with the dreaded all-around Wins Above Replacement stat to make my decision. Bautista has the lead here. Joey and Jacoby go down to the wire...

And my choice for AL MVP is Jose Bautista. Barely.

And as I finish this entry, the Red Sox have slipped to a half game ahead of the Rays for the wild card playoff spot. If WAR can be trusted, then Bautista's presence on the Red Sox would be worth some insurance against this terrible Boston losing skid, and when all is said and done, perhaps Joey Bautista would have made the difference between making the playoffs and sitting at home watching them, were he on the Red Sox.





*title of this post taken from a song by my friend Jub, who plays in a couple great local bands here in Minneapolis such as Sundowners/Little Hazy (there's a name change pending), and Apocalypse Meow (no need for a name change on that one!)

Friday, August 26, 2011

North Park Awesome Fest

It's getting towards the end of August, and among the many activities I have planned - pleasant and less-than-pleasant - I am taking a vacation to southern California to play North Park Awesome Fest with my band ( fest: awesomefest5.com ... band: natocoles.bandcamp.com). We're all truly and massively excited about this! And the lineup, oh the lineup...

Scared of Chaka
Mean Jeans
Bananas
New Creases
White Wires
Shark Pants

You see what I mean? I didn't even list a couple of the bands that are playing, because you deserve to be surprised when you click on over to the Awesome Fest 5 website.

Of course, nothing this awesome could be expected to be problem free.

Number one, our bassist (Kyle "Yukon Blond" Sando, who runs this little bloggy: theyoungandtheheadless.blogspot.com) couldn't make it - so we're rush-training Matt Army from That's Incredible, inducting him into the ranks of Blue Diamond Bandmates. Naturally, That's Incredible are playing IMMEDIATELY after us, at a different venue. I assume Matt will be whisked away into a plush limo with motorcycle cop escort, lights flashing and pistols drawn, and zoomed across the neighborhood to make it onstage in time to play "Aquanet".

Number two, the Mean Jeans and the Bananas are basically playing at the same time! Having seen the Bananas a handful of times, and never having seen Jeans in action, I think I'll pick the Portland trio. I imagine this will create a massive headache for a whole bunch of other gap-toothed punk rockers, though.

Finally, I have been absolutely unable to practice my foosball lately. Those who keep track of these things know that I won the NPAF 3 Foosball Championship back in 2009, but you may not know that since that day, J Wang (of Dan Padilla, Tiltwheel, more greatness) has beaten me fair and square/hungover on a Tornado table. So, I need to get my ass in gear and start doing 100 wrist snaps twice a day. J Wang, I'm gunnin' for ya!

And of course, an entry in this blog about San Diego would not be complete without recalling that it was indeed in San Diego where Dock Ellis pitched a no-hitter while tripping on LSD, way back in 1970 on the 12th of June. Watch this great animated video of an interview conducted by NPR, and be happier and wiser for having done so. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_vUhSYLRw14

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Hello Again

Hey, sorry I've neglected this blog, but it's been a crazy busy summer. This is a good thing. I've been on tour with the Blue Diamond Band, on vacation with the family to Oregon (and I got to hang out with Jon Hands-on, too!), and on a road trip with the significant other to northern lower Michigan. Yup, lots of vacation time. Over the course of these past few months, it seems that a few things have become apparent:

1. If you live in Minneapolis and you don't own either of these two items yet, you should get the Frozen Teens/Street Legal* split 7", and the In Defence "$7.98 LP" LP immediately! Both have been on somewhat constant rotation on my turntable. If you don't live in Minneapolis and you don't have either of these two items, you're on a slightly less pressing schedule to get them, because it's ultimately more important that locals support all the good local bands. However, as of this entry, you have officially been warned! You'll need both these records within the year, to be sure.

*Street Legal are technically from Kansas City, so I guess you could sort of read this blog entry backwards if you happen to be from that badass bastion of barbeque and blacks who once played baseball?

2. The pumpkin fell from the sky at midnight, splattering across the western edge of downtown Minneapolis. Although July looked good, as of this date it sure seems as if the Minnesota Twins will be spending October with their families, working on model airplanes and catching up on their reading. Filming more commercials, maybe. At least Twins fans have Jim Thome's march to 600 home runs to cheer for.

3. Meanwhile, the Milwaukee Brewers are starting to pull away from the pack in the National League Central. From the start of the season, I have maintained that the Brewers and the Reds are the two best teams in this division. However, apparently the Cincinnati Reds starting rotation didn't get the message, and the team seems unlikely to make a run. Meanwhile, the Pittsburgh Pirates were everyone's favorite little engine that could. Hey, they even started selling out at PNC Park! But the underlying fundamental numbers of the defense and pitching told a different story - numbers like strikeouts-to-walks ratio, the batting average of opponents' balls in play. And just like that, the ship has sunk below .500. Last but not least, the St Louis Cardinals seem determined to overachieve with a patchy offense (propped up of course by the dynamic trio of Albert Pujols, Matt Holliday, and the rejuvenated Lance Berkman), which makes me (and no doubt many citizens of Redbird Nation) wonder what could have been achieved had Adam Wainwright been able to even pitch for half a season... well, anyway, as I type this, the Brewers are in St Louis, beating the Cardinals for a second straight night, and it looks like the Brewers are on their way to their first-ever NL Central Division title. Knock on wood.

4. If you're wondering where to be on Labor Day weekend, there is one answer and only one answer: NORTH PARK AWESOME FEST. Check out the lineup! Or let me just toss a few band names at you: Scared Of Chaka. The Mean Jeans. The White Wires. The Bananas. And of course, all the usual suspects, the people in bands who are often heard to make comments such as the following: North Park Awesome Fest is like Gainesville Fest, except you don't have to wait in line forever and there aren't any shitty screamo bands. See ya there!

5. Oh, the Future Virgins LP? "Western Problems"? Perhaps the album of the year thus far... We'll see what happens for the rest of 2011!

Friday, May 27, 2011

Excuse Me While I Dash Off A Quick Letter To Ron Roenicke

Dear Mr. Roenicke,

Now that Nyjer "T-Plush" Morgan has come off the DL, the Brewers lineup is complete and ready to fire on all cylinders. The Cardinals will fade, and the Reds are tough but not tough enough. We can catch them, and I'm confident your leadership will be tested in the NLCS against the Phillies come October.

But speaking of Nyjer Morgan... ok, this might sound a little crazy because it goes against the grain: I think Nyjer Morgan should bat leadoff, and Ricky Weeks should bat second. At least for a little while. Morgan seems to have found his stroke and his discipline at the plate is that of steely on-base determination, while his speed is perhaps even more nitro-boosted than Ricky's. The one thing he lacks is power, power to drive in runners.

Ricky has this power. Let Morgan bat leadoff (assuming he's truly become an offensive force to be reckoned with), slashing singles and stealing bases. And then let Ricky Weeks bat. And then Ryan Braun. And then Prince Fielder. Bar none, that would be the top 1-2-3-4 in the National League (again assuming high level of production from Nyjer). Hell, bat Corey Hart and Casey McGehee 5 and 6, and that's the top 1-2-3-4-5-6! If Lucroy continues to hit, and Betancourt maintains his 2010-level batting, that lineup is worthy of a Joey Ramone shout: "1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8!"

I'm not saying we can't make the playoffs with the Weeks/Hart/Braun/Fielder lineup. But we can do better. I'm sure you've considered T-Plush in the leadoff spot. I say go with it.

Sincerely,

Nato X Coles

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Doofus Of The Week

Hi there. Let me start out this entry by stating a fact that's probably already known to 95% of the people who read this blog: I LOVE THE REPLACEMENTS. On my list of favorite bands of all time, they usually rank #2 (behind Husker Du) and are never not in the Top 5. Last night, I played a bunch of Replacements songs on guitar in a garage during a thunderstorm, including one ("Heyday") that I'm not sure I ever played before. I can do this because I've listened to the music so much that the songs are now permanently ingrained in my brain. It's similar to the Ramones, Tom Petty, the Huskers (of course)... stuff like that.

I went and saw Tommy Stinson at First Avenue on Friday night. The first thing I need to say is that it was a good show, and the band sounded great! Now on to the funny stuff...

It's strange to see such an iconic dude like Tommy backed by... well, backed by two good friends of mine from Milwaukee (Tim Schweiger and Jon Phillip), and Mike Gent from the Figgs (a great band you all should check out if you haven't yet) with whom I'm on a first name basis (although he still thinks I live in Green Bay). It's strange. And cool! I felt so proud of Tim (guitar) and Jon (drums), and even though Paul Westerberg didn't end up joining the party for a song as had been rumored - hey, it was raining, so he probably just stayed in his hole in Edina - I could imagine that Tim and Jon were on cloud nine for sure,if they weren't too nervous! Tim's a worrywart. But he did fine.

Tommy Stinson's fiancee (her name escapes me) was also onstage singing and playing miscellaneous percussion, making the band a five piece. So, there they were, rocking and rolling and playing cool tunes. Naturally, they played "Friday Night Is Killing Me" off Tommy's first post-Replacements album of the same name from his old band Bash'n'Pop. They didn't play my other two favorites off that album, though - no "Fast and Hard," and no "Never Aim To Please." Ya know, those two songs SMOKE. Jon Hands-on always maintained that Tommy solo was better than Paul solo. I probably don't agree, but there's no doubt that Tommy's post-Mats output has a little more fire and energy than Paul's.

There was a drunk idiot at the show. I estimate that around 500 people were there to see Tommy (and/or the opening acts), and one blacked-out zombie somehow managed to piss off nearly all of them. After Tommy's eighth or ninth song, this guy threw an empty can onstage. Here's how Tommy responded, as I can best recall:

"Well now we know who wins the doofus of the week award. What is this, your first fucking concert? Throw something else onstage, and I'll fucking leave."

Wow. I looked at my pals Lucas and Amy (who incidentally have a baby on the way, and apparently they're trying to expose the kid to "good rock vibrations" as often as possible - good for them!), and you know how people sometimes say the word "awkward" in that cadence where "awk" is high-pitched, and then there's a slight pause, and then "ward" is a lower pitch and drawn out, like "whirrrrrrred"? The look the three of us exchanged was the visual equivalent of saying "awkward" like that. Tommy Stinson - EX-REPLACEMENT TOMMY STINSON - threw a tantrum because some drunk threw a can or bottle onstage?

This brings me to my next point. It's a difficult thing to front a band. I'm still figuring out how to do it. There are, in my opinion, three schools of band fronting, with many subschools of course, but they all boil down to one of these three frontman styles:

1. The Master Of Ceremonies. This emcee-style frontman interacts with the audience via snappy banter and clever antics. This can be annoyingly corny if taken too far, but done right, the Master Of Ceremonies commands the room and makes the crowd laugh, cry, oooh and/or ahhh as the situation requires. Examples of people who are excellent at being The Master Of Ceremonies are Bruce Springsteen, "Weird Al" Yankovic, and Ben "In Defence" Crew.

2. The Artist. Scowling, intense, The Artist virtually ignores the audience entirely (except possibly to scold them for being insufficiently scowling and intense as well) and is purely focused on sacrificing 110% of his/her mind, body, and soul on the altar of their performance and art. Sometimes The Artist takes themself so seriously that they're a joke, but make no mistake: if the frontman of a band does The Artist right, their catharsis is projected throughout the room like a telepathic explosion, and you WILL be rocked. Examples of The Artist done right are Fugazi, Husker Du (in particular Bob Mould, although he hasn't been The Artist for a decade now), and the Velvet Underground.

3. The Average Joe (or Jolene). Wait, what? Somebody gave me this guitar and put a microphone on a stand in front of me? Ha, well, ok! Stranger things have happened! Let's have some fun! The Average Joe is just like you and me, except they happen to be playing the show right now. No planned routines, no dour self-seriousness, maybe not even a planned setlist. There is NO pretention here, just some songs being played and drink tickets being used. The Average Joe can be a drag between songs, and occasionally really boring while performing them, but if they and their band have a good sense of humor and take the actual MUSIC as seriously as they don't take themselves, then the audience/performer barrier is shattered and everyone feels great about it. The Average Joes that I know include Tom Petty, the Dillinger Four, and the Ergs!.

Tommy Stinson falls firmly into the Average Joe category of frontman, and I would not say that he is anywhere near the equal of the three examples of good Average Joe frontman-ing that I provided. His banter included gems like "A whole bunch of people gave me some jokes to tell, but I forgot them all," and "I'm going to play a bunch of new songs. I guess you guys are the test market." That last one reads much better than it sounded live, by the way. And it didn't help that Mike Gent of the Figgs, standing eight feet away from Tommy is a GREAT Average Joe frontman who can pull off The Master Of Ceremonies too when required.

Later, I heard that he was very stressed out and tired from a long day and in particular a 2-hour spot on local indie radio station The Current, and that he felt like he was losing his voice, too (he sounded fine). Nevertheless, I have to go way out on a limb and risk being called a hypocrite here, and state: he should've let the music do the talking. In his defense, he did take requests, and seemed to loosen up as the night went along.

At one point, Dave Pirner (Soul Asylum's main dude) came out onstage, smashed a guitar, smashed another guitar, and sang "My Generation" while the band did an admirable job of stumbling through the cover. That was the liveliest moment of the night for sure! Dave Hause (the Loved Ones) had opened the show, and came out for a few backups on that tune as well. That was quite a collection of onstage talent! I'm not sure the grumpy old man who was noticeably absent would've fit. I've seen Paul live, and I came away slightly unimpressed.

This, by the way, is why I don't like to go see the shows of old guys from bands I'm too young to have seen play. I always build it up too much in my mind, expecting something that I hear and see in my head when I listen to their great, classic records. It never works out that way (except, oddly, for when I saw Bob Mould solo acoustic in Milwaukee - he was The Average Joe between songs, but holy smokes was he The Artist while playing and singing! Sooooo intense!).

Anyway, once the show was over and the lights came on, I wandered over to where Tim and Jon were hanging, to shoot the shit a little. Tim talked about wanting to tour more, but he was kind of despairing as to his "draw" outside of eastern Wisconsin. I think he's really good, you readers should look up Tim Schweiger and The Middle Men and see for yourself. Also, his old bands (The Obsoletes, and Yesterday's Kids) were absolutely great. Maybe I'll see if he wants to do a two-headed tour with me sometime. I told Tim I was probably splitting downtown, but that he should text me if he wanted to get a drink away from First Avenue. He said he would.

I walked out, and intended to walk to my car and split downtown indeed, but then I looked in The Depot (the bar next door to 7th St Entry) and my taste buds began tickling for a pale ale. I walked in, ordered a Summit, and sat down to watch baseball highlights and wait and see if Tim was gonna come out and meet me. He didn't. So I finished my beer, admired Prince Fielder's amazing 450-foot walkoff homerun a few times, and went home.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Good Good Things

Lately I've been thinking a lot about what a baseball team can expect from its position players. Probably this is because the Twins lineup has been demolished by injuries, prompting them to start guys like Rene Tosoni*, Matt Tolbert, Rene Rivera (what's with all the Rene's?), and the dauntless Drew Butera, he of the fine defense and the mighty hurricane-force swingannamisses. Also, the experiment in which Alexei Casilla performs the duties of an everyday shortstop has failed, but that's much the same thing. Trevor Plouffe was called up from Triple A Rochester the other day. He had a couple great games, and then got hurt. Yup, well, we'll see.

*I was present at Target Field for five Rene Tosoni Major League Firsts: 1. First hit 2. First RBI 3. First error 4. First home run 5. First time to strike out in every at-bat. Whoa!

There's such a thing as a "replacement-level player," basically a fair descriptive term for guys like Tolbert and Butera. But I'm more interested in what is expected from a player who is better... a player who is better than bad. A player who is GOOD.

In order to win the World Series, you have to be good. In order to win the World Series, you have to first make the playoffs. Eight teams make the playoffs every year. Therefore, the eighth-best team in baseball is the team that demarcates the difference between good and whatever else exists. Therefore, the eighth-best player in the league at every position demarcates that difference for all baseball players.

So, without further ado, here are the eighth-best players, ranked by OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging), at every position, for the 2010 regular season. For every position, I required a minimum of 400 plate appearances to qualify.

Catcher: Ryan Doumit .738
First Baseman: Ryan Howard .859
Second Baseman: Jeff Keppinger .744
Third Baseman: Mark Reynolds .753
Shortstop: Marco Scutaro .721
Left Fielder: Delmon Young .826
Center Fielder: Drew Stubbs .773
Right Fielder: Jay Bruce .846

BONUS: Here's the fourth-best designated hitter! It's Victor Martinez, at .844.

Here are the rankings for the 2009 season.

Catcher: Kurt Suzuki .734
First Baseman: Adam Lind .932
Second Baseman: Gordon Beckham .808
Third Baseman: Casey Blake .832
Shortstop: Maicer Izturis .794
Left Fielder: Luke Scott .828
Center Fielder: Cody Ross .790
Right Fielder: (tie) Andre Ethier and Nick Swisher .869
DH: Victor Martinez .861

There you have it! Note the difference between 2009 and 2010; the 2010 season was anointed The Year Of The Pitcher. You can see the dropoff from 2009 to 2010 at many of the positions here, especially the infield spots.

So, where are we in 2011 right now? How good does a position player have to hit to be 2011-level good? Here ya go...

Catcher: Brian McCann .770
First Baseman: Gaby Sanchez .946
Second Baseman: Ian Kinsler .750
Third Baseman: David Wright .739
Shortstop: Jamey Carroll .766
Left Fielder: Jonny Gomes .748
Center Fielder: Peter Bourjos .794
Right Fielder: Carlos Quentin .917
DH: Billy Butler .825

Give yourself a pat on the back if your team's player at their position is doing better than any of these guys, because if they are... they are good. That is all.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Hope I Die Before I Get Old

If Derek Jeter (age 36, turning 37 in June) collects as many hits as Pete Rose did from the season during which he turned 37 onward... he will end his career with 4243 hits. That's 13 shy of Pete Rose's record.

If Alex Rodriguez (age 35, turning 36 in July) socks as many dingers as Hank Aaron did from the season during which he was 36 onward... he will end his career with 819 home runs. That's quite a few more than Hank Aaron (or Barry Bonds).

To paraphrase the Ergs: "But they probably won't."

Thursday, May 5, 2011

State Of The Brewers

Well, the hitters aren't hitting, the fielders aren't fielding, and the pitchers aren't pitching.

Not for the past week, anyway.

One, Zero, Two, Three, and Zero. Those are the number of runs the Brewers have scored in the past five games.

Two, Five, Six, Eight, and Eight. Those are the number of runs the Brewers opponents have scored in the past five games.

This is a team in a serious, serious slump. There's no nit-picking or lineup analyzation that can point out why a team is slumping. If Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun aren't hitting, or Zach Greinke has a bad day, the Brewers are not going to do well.

But I can think of three problems that do need solving...

1. Carlos Gomez. An exciting player and great defender with a wiffle bat. There is no reason to bat him second in the lineup. How many more RBI's would league near-leader Prince Fielder (not to mention Ryan Braun) have if someone who could get on base was batting second? Now that Corey Hart and Nyjer Morgan are healthy, it's time for Gomez to take a back seat. As a four-and-a-halfth outfielder (is that a word?) and a late-inning defensive sub or pinch runner, he is a valuable asset. Even when starting, however, he should bat eighth or ninth in the lineup. Pitcher Yovanni Gallardo has a higher career OPS (.671) than Gomez (.638). Zack Greinke apparently hit very well in his younger days.

2. Baserunning. So Ron Roenicke likes to run, huh? Well, if so, the man needs to send Jonathan Lucroy, Yuniesky Betancourt, Carlos Gomez and even Ryan Braun to baserunning camp! In recent games, all have committed blunders which cost the Brewers runs and outs. If the Brewers don't run smarter, they will run themselves right out of the division.

3. Infield Defense. The team has looked sloppy in the past week, true, but really this infield kinda stinks, period. No matter how the Brewers media spins it, and they do try, Messrs. McGehee, Weeks, and Fielder are average at best with the glove. And Yuniesky Betancourt is infamously the worst defensive shortstop who starts every day in the major leagues, with one possible Bronxian pinstriped exception. What can be done about this? I'm not sure. I guess they'd better start hitting, then!

As I wrote this, the top of the Brewers order struck out in a row to open game four of the series in Atlanta. Things have got to turn around! On a positive note, Nyjer Morgan is batting in the second spot in the lineup. That's a major improvement right there.

This lineup is too good, this rotation is too good. I have confidence that we're looking at a team that, if they play smart and hard, will make the playoffs. However, if bad managing and mental errors keep cropping up, there are going to be some very long faces and long nights awake in Brewer Nation come October.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Boss/Mats 96? Minute Mix

My buddy Mike Cranberry, who is the drummer in my band and a total stand-up dude (except when he's sitting down or lying down), found a whole bunch of tapes about a month ago, and gave me most of them.

They're not blank. They're not even supposed to be record-over-able. They're varying lengths, and they appear to mostly be recordings of motivational speeches and seminars (examples: "New Diamonds". "Rally". "Where There's A Will, There's A Way". "New Emeralds". And so on.) But, of course, you can take two small pieces of tape and put them over the tabs, and voila: free record-over-able tape!

So, I've been making mixtapes of irregular length. Yesterday, I made the following mix of Bruce Springsteen and Replacements songs:

SIDE BOSS
1. The Promised Land
2. Sherry Darling
3. Seaside Bar Song
4. Crush On You
5. Atlantic City
6. Bobby Jean
7. Where The Bands Are
8. Darlington County
9. You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch)
10. Because The Night
11. Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)

SIDE MATS
1. Favorite Thing
2. Fuck School
3. Shiftless When Idle
4. Color Me Impressed
5. Alex Chilton
6. Androgynous
7. Bastards Of Young
8. Unsatisfied
9. White And Lazy
10. Lovelines
11. I Hate Music
12. I'll Be You
13. Left Of The Dial
14. Red Red Wine
15. Can't Hardly Wait
16. Treatment Bound

Alas, I cannot make you a copy of this tape (if you wanted one, that is). Why? Because the tape ("Dave and Jan Severn: F.E.D." I have no idea what this means, of course. You expect me to actually listen to these things before I record over them???) is an irregular length, longer (but not too much longer) than 45 minutes. Sorry.

Mike gets the mixtape. That is all.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Pitching To Contact When You Can't Play Defense (And: April 16th Is Record Store Day)

My first game this year at Target Field was yesterday, Wednesday April 13th. 807 years ago, the Fourth Crusade turned from their goal of reaching Palestine, and instead sacked and pillaged Constantinople, thus bringing an end to the Byzantine Empire's unbroken near-millenia of hegemony over the Balkan and Anatolian region.

Yesterday, I may have witnessed something no less historically devastating to a concept that had endured throughout what, in baseball years, verged upon 1000 years of acceptance: the Twins pitching philosophy of "pitching to contact" - that is to say, throw strikes, let the batter put wood on the ball more often than you otherwise might, and trust your elite defense to get the job done behind you.

The Twins trotted out the following defense:

p - Francisco Liriano
c - Drew Butera
1b - Justin Morneau
2b - Michael Cuddyer
3b - Danny Valencia
ss - Matt Tolbert
lf - Delmon Young
cf - Denard Span
rf - Jason Kubel

Some Twins fans are already rolling their eyes. But for the uninitiated, let me illustrate just what's wrong here. First off, the only above-average defense in this lineup comes from Drew Butera and Justin Morneau, both of whom field their positions extremely well. That said, gold glove defense at first base is kind of like winning the participant trophy in a sack-of-potatoes race. You don't pay your first baseman for his glovework, you pay him to S-L-U-G. And Butera's defense in no way, shape or form makes up for his complete lack of ability to hit major-league pitching!

Matt Tolbert and Danny Valencia will never win any awards on defense. Below average defense (and these two are both slightly below average) at third base could be picked up by an excellent shortstop, or somewhat vice versa, but these two guys ARE the third baseman and shortstop! So that doesn't work, now does it?

And Michael Cuddyer... oh, Michael Cuddyer. You are both Ron Gardenhire's and my mom's favorite Twin. And when you stalk the outfield in right, ranging the middle distance, catching fly balls and gunning down the occasional runner, you are doing allright. But second base? Michael Cuddyer DOES NOT HAVE THE RANGE TO PLAY SECOND BASE. His position is right field, where he is fine. And when he can't play in right, Jason Kubel has to. And Kubel is a below-average right fielder, primarily because he cannot get to the fly balls that others can. Bloops land more often for singles. Line drives find the gap more often for doubles.

Delmon Young is not a great defensive left fielder. But as with first basemen, we don't pay our left fielders to field, we pay them to launch monster bombs, and I won't be ragging on Delmon here because as of last year, he's become a great hitter. Still, this entry is about defense, and there's no denying it: Delmon's defense stinks, and unlike his hitting these past few years, it probably won't get much better.

And Denard Span? Good, but not good enough to make up for the fact that a center fielder who looks left and sees Kubel and looks right and sees Young is going to need incredible speed and reflexes to compensate for the lack of corner outfield defense.

Francisco Liriano is supposed to be our one strikeout guy. He's the one pitcher who is supposed to not NEED to pitch to contact. But in the game I went to, during the fourth inning (aka The Fourth Crusade, with the Royals batsmen playing the Crusaders and the Twins the hapless Byzantines), the Royals scored six runs, and here were the devastatingly-crushed ball-clobberings from the Royals arsenal:

1. A ground ball single to left field (past Danny Valencia and Matt Tolbert)
2. A ground ball single to center field (past Matt and Michael Cuddyer)
3. A ground ball single left (past Danny and Matt)
4. A ground ball single to center (past Matt and Michael)
5. A "soft line drive" to left (Delmon Young can't get it)
6. A ground ball double to left (past Danny, and Delmon can't come up with it quickly enough)
7. A "soft fly ball" to right field (Jason Kubel can't get it)
8. A ground ball single to second base (Michael can't make the play in time to prevent the run)

Do you detect a pattern? With the exception of the double to left field, not one of these was a hard-hit ball. Even average defense quite possibly ends this inning with fewer runs scored. The Twins would hope for a defense that would record at least two outs between items 1 and 5. The Royals should have scored 2 runs that inning, 3 on a bad day for the Twins. This was no bad day - this was THE FALL OF CONSTANTINOPLE!!!

I read today in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune that the Twins are asking Francisco Liriano to alter his approach on the mound from strikeout machine to pitch-to-contact Twins company man. If this is the case, then we are in for a long season unless the Twins do something to improve their defense behind their pitchers. And yes, the game I attended featured the C-list defense.

But even when Tsuyoshi Nishioka was healthy, he seemed to be nervous in the field, and unable to communicate properly with Alexei Casilla, who himself is the maddening kind of shortstop who will completely amaze you with an impossible play one inning, then next inning make you tear your hair out in frustration when he takes a routine grounder and sails the throw to first over Justin Morneau's head into the dugout.

I miss O-Dog.

LATE ADDITION:

Saturday April 16th is Record Store Day. Support your local record store! Take that $20 you were gonna blow at some tacky restaurant, and mosey on down to Hymie's and pick up two or three great used LPs you always wanted but never had. Walk on down to Extreme Noise and grab that Chiefs reissue you always wanted but never pulled the trigger on. Visit Treehouse and grab a couple CDs. Stop at Yeti and buy a cassetti! These are Twin Cities-centric instructions, true, but the advice applies to all folks in all cities. Support your local record store! To paraphrase Johnny Thunders: you can't put your arms around an mp3.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

The New Backdrop In Center Field At Target Field

Ok, friends. Last year, behind the center field wall at Target Field here in Minneapolis, there was a row of pine trees. Apparently, hitters didn't like them - the waving-gently-in-the-breeze thing confused these poor, overmatched Major League Baseballers, and so the trees have been uprooted and replanted elsewhere.

Denard Span: "I can't make any excuses and say maybe why I didn't hit as good as last year was because of those trees... But I can say having that background there was definitely better than having those trees back there."

In 2010, the Twins had a batting average of .282, and an OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage) of .776 at Target Field. Twins batted .276 and OPS'd .750 at every other ballpark they played at. Almost the entire difference in OPS is in an increase in home on-base percentage, by the way. I'm not sure what that means, but wouldn't it be that much harder to draw a walk if you couldn't see the ball as well?

Opposing teams batted .263 and OPS'd .709 at Target Field, and .270 and .758 at the other various parks around the league. Most of that difference in OPS come on the slugging percentage side of the stat. So it's clear that opposing batters didn't particularily hit well at Target Field compared to their home ballparks, especially for power (remember that the Twins slugging percentage is nearly identical at home and away for 2010), but then again, very few teams ever hit better on the road than at home.

Here are the 2010 home/away OPS splits for the teams in the AL Central:

Minnesota Twins - .776/.750 (differential: .026)
Chicago White Sox - .796/.709 (.087)
Detroit Tigers - .775/.726 (.049)
Cleveland Indians - .710/.690 (.020)
Kansas City Royals - .751/.710 (.041)

The Twins home/away differential is less than that of the White Sox, Tigers, and Royals, but greater than that of the Indians. Does this mean that the Twins batters may have a point; that if only they had a better batter's-eye view (i.e. no confounded conifers!), their home hitting would be that much better?

I looked up how other MLB teams did at the ballparks in the AL Central against the hallowed five of the Great Lakes Division. Remember, this is OPS against, a measure of pitching prowess, not hitting skill. Here are those numbers, at the park in question/at all other venues:

Target Field - .709/.758 (differential: .049)
US Cellular Field - .736/.704 (-.032)
Comerica Park - .695/.770 (.075)
Jacobs Field - .728/.789 (.061)
Kaufman Stadium - .759/.795 (.036)

It's interesting that the Twins didn't even have the biggest split here - that honor goes to Comerica Park in Detroit, where Tigers pitching apparently REALLY shined when enjoying the comforts of home. The Indians pitchers, too, had a better time of it at home than away relative to Twins hurlers. The somewhat (in?)famous home-run friendly atmosphere at US Cellular Field is reflected here by the White Sox actually allowing higher OPS against at home than on the road.

After looking at these numbers, it's clear to me that Target Field does provide some sort of advantage to the pitcher. What isn't so clear is how MUCH of an advantage, and relative to at least several other ballparks in the AL Central, whether or not it's even worth talking about. If you consider the home/away OPS against stat as a good cross-section measurement of opposing batters, Target Field wasn't the toughest park to visit in the AL Central - Comerica Park was.

Obviously, some teams had better hitting overall, and some teams had better pitching overall. But the splits tell a tale worth your attention. Look at the differential. Was Target Field really so devilishly hard to hit at? The Indians at Jacobs Field had both a smaller OPS advantage for their hitters (.020) and larger OPS against advantage for their pitchers (.061) than the Twins. I'd say that makes The Jake the toughest park in which to get comfortable at the plate in the Great Lakes Division.

Jason Kubel, after hitting a pinch-hit single in his first at-bat at Target Field since the pines were taken out: "I liked it... I saw everything fine. [In batting practice], when it was sunny out there, it was fine. Three o'clock games were the worst ones."

If the batter's-eye has been improved by the forced relocation of the evergreen row, I'd expect the differential for Twins offense to be larger this year, and also I'd expect opponents to hit better at Target Field relative to other parks than they did last year. We'll see what happens.

I liked the pines.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Collected Thoughts

Evening, everybody. Here in Minneapolis, it is SPRING! TIME! That means it's been at least 60 degrees fahrenheit for a little bit every day since yesterday! Fantastic. Here are some collected thoughts.

1. Olympia lager has changed its can design! Today, I was at Sentyrz Grocery in Northeast Minneapolis, and I grabbed the last Olympia 12-pack with the typical blue/gold on off-white color scheme. Lined up behind them, like unarmed Russian foot soldiers from World War Two backing up the front line of troops, who happened to be the only ones for whom the government could afford rifles (average number of bullets: three), were these weird orange/off-white 12-packs. Not cool. I've always thought Olympia had the best can art of any beer. If this change is permanent, then I'll have to find a new main squeeze.

2. The new Gateway District album is less country, but no less rocking, than the first one. Highly recommended! The best tracks thus far are "Leaving Me Behind," "Sirens," and "Queen Ave." My uncle and his family live six blocks from 6132Queen Avenue South. You really needed to know that.

3. Reports of the Milwaukee Brewers's death have been greatly exaggerated. After dropping the first four in a row, the team won three straight, and let's face it, the Brewers SHOULD have won that first game. Brandon Phillips ran off the base path to avoid the tag! So Brewers fans, we're working from a "should be" record of 4-3, not 3-4. All that aside, it's nice to see that Shawn Marcum can pitch well, Yovanni Gallardo is one of the most underrated pitchers in baseball (especially when you include his ability as a hitter), Ricky Weeks's golden club will more than make up for his leaden glove, and John Axford's 2010 season was not a fluke - since opening day, he's been dominating in the ninth inning for the Crew.

4. Are you a DJ? Do you need a 20-minute break? But are you afraid that people will look down on you for just letting a record play uninterrupted for that long? I have the remedy: Rare Earth "Get Ready" on LP, side two. DO IT. You'll thank me 21 minutes from now.

5. Shaw's Bar in Northeast Minneapolis has the MLB Extra Innings package, and a 4pm to 7pm happy hour featuring half-price appetizers and $6 pitchers. Me and Johnny B from the Annandale Cardinals have already enjoyed quite a few games there, including the Minnesota Twins opening day loss to the shrieking beaks. I'll see you there!

Over and out.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Record Stores and A Brewers Thought

RECORD STORES:

Hi everyone. Today, I drove around Minneapolis, hanging up flyers for my band's next show. Well actually, I only drove around that narrow portion of south Mpls with all the business at which one would hang up this sort of thing - you know, Nicollet from Roadrunner Records to Yeti Records, then Lyndale from Twin Town to Treehouse Records, then Extreme Noise on Lake St, and if time, the long jump over to Hymie's, way out east further down Lake.

Except... Roadrunner was closed! Roadrunner Records closes at 6pm. On a Saturday. That's way too early. I don't blame you if you haven't made it Roadrunner yet - I never made it there until I actually moved here, because it's in the 40's south, by which I mean "south of 40th St". That's almost another country as far as most Minneapolitans seem to be concerned, which is why I find awesome deals there on rare-ish stuff I want ALL THE TIME. But, you really owe it to yourself to take a trip there. Mike Cranberry, my good friend and drummer, is a fan of the Young Fresh Fellows. Roadrunner had a copy of their best album, "The Men Who Loved Music," and Mike - who actually lives on 40th St some blocks west - had never made it over to Roadrunner. I hope he picked up that album while he had a chance. Anyway, whether or not Roadrunner closing at 6pm on a Saturday is because they never have any business at that time of day, or whether Roadrunner would indeed have business at that time of day if only they were open is beside the point. Roadrunner was closed, and I was bummed.

Then, Yeti Records. Open. Awesome. I picked up Warren Zevon's "The Envoy" album for $3.50. TWIFTA*!

Then, Twin Town. Not strictly a record store. And closed. At 6:30pm! On a Saturday! Some musicians are just barely getting ready to leave the house at that time of day, and they can't pick up picks, strings, maybe a cable from Twin Town before the big Saturday Night battle of the bands at Stinky's Beat Shack?

Then, Treehouse Records. CLOSED. By now, I was beginning to sense a pattern. If you want to go record shopping in Minneapolis on a Saturday, you have to do so by 6pm. Am I crazy to think this is too early for record stores to be closing on a Saturday? Well, whatever, it's the reality.

Luckily for me, Extreme Noise is always open, 12pm to 8pm, 7 days a week. That's more like it. I picked up the new ADD/C LP (great cover art), and the GG King "Drug Zoo" 7", the Big Eyes "Why Can't I/Your Lies" 7", and that Marked Men 7" that just came out. So far, the standout is definitely GG King! I highly recommend it if you like relatively lo-fi, Killed By Death-influenced garage punk with pop smarts. It's Greg from the Carbonas's new project, fyi.

There was no time to go to Hymie's, but I'm sure they were closed, too. So instead, I got tacos, and that was fine by me.

*TWIFTA stands for That's What I'm Fucking Talking About, a phrase originally used synonymously by future members of Yesterday's Kids to refer to Miller High Life

A BREWERS THOUGHT:

On Opening Day, the Brewers led off with back-to-back home runs from Ricky Weeks and Carlos Gomez. Not only was this the first time the Brewers ever led off the season with a first at-bat home run (let alone back-to-back homers), it was the first time this feat was accomplished by any Major League team since the Cincinnati Reds hit opening day leadoff back-to-back in 1969 against the LA Dodgers, in Cincy. What a coincidence that it happened again in the same city, eh? Pete Rose was the leadoff batter, followed by the slightly less (in)famous Bobby Tolan. The home runs were hit off pitcher Don Drysdale, who is in the Hall Of Fame today. They would be the only runs the Reds scored that day, and the Dodgers ended up winning, 3-2. Did Pete Rose have a side bet going that he would homer in his first at-bat of the 1969 season? We may never know for sure.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Great Reveal

Hi everyone. Nato here, back in blogging action just in time for the beginning of the middle of spring training down in Florida and Arizona. Here in Northeast Minneapolis, the giant snowpiles are slowly receding. As they recede, they reveal the garbage and mud and general scrabble which they hid all winter long. Someone, I'm not sure who, called this "The Great Reveal."

And that's the theme of this entry: The Great Reveal. Bear with me now while I reveal to you some opinions and facts and opinio-facts and whatever. And hey, it's good to see you all again! Happy new year.

1. Since I last posted, the Milwaukee Brewers got better. Way better. How is this even possible? Well, someone (possibly owner Mark Attanasio) gave Brewers GM Doug Melvin both a giant wad of spending cash and a kick in the ass to go get some damn pitching! Fans know that, last year, the Brewers hitters could hit, but the pitchers couldn't pitch. In 2010, the Brewers ranked 3rd in the National League in OPS at .759, and only the Colorado Rockies hit more home runs, which stands to reason considering they basically play in outer space. But the pitching staff ranked 14th in both ERA (4.58) and opponents' OPS (.765) and 15th in WHIP (1.44).

Clearly, something had to change. So, showing the kind of pedal-to-the-medal, party-now-hangover-tomorrow attitude which in 2007 brought the Brewers CC Sabathia and the playoffs for the first time since 1992, Melvin shocked the baseball world (really, nobody saw it coming until it was too late, and I'm happy to report that rumors of tearful wailing and gnashing of teeth in the Bronx are not exaggerated!) by nabbing 2009 Cy Young Award winner Zach Greinke from the Kansas City Royals, as well as the stalwart demi-ace Shawn Marcum from the Toronto Blue Jays (who was, ironically, born in Kansas City). Now, I'm not saying this makes the starting rotation better than the Philadelphia Phillies "four aces" as that would be an insult to whichever of Messrs. Halladay, Hamels, Oswalt, and Lee one matches up against Randy Wolf. I'm just saying that right now, on paper, the Brewers look competitive against any team in the National League in the top AND bottom of any inning. As I type this, Zach Greinke is out for the first couple weeks of the season with a fractured rib he got while playing basketball. So what? Who cares? Adam Wainwright of the St Louis Cardinals is out for the entire season, and he probably can't even hit a free throw either...

And with Prince Fielder batting for big big bucks in his last year before free agency, I wouldn't want to be a pitcher going up against the Brewers offense this year!

2. Right now, the Twin Cities has a TON of really good punk/hardcore/indie rock/whatever bands! This is a good scene. Here's how I know this: I usually keep a mental list of the dozen or so bands I'd like to play with on any given local show. But around here, the number seemed unmanageably large to just keep upstairs, so I said to myself, "I'm going to make an actual pen-and-paper list of all the bands who I should ask to play with us the next time I put something together at Stinky's Beat Shack or wherever." And the list was TWENTY SEVEN BANDS LONG. Leaving aside the numerology of 27 as an overly-hyped Rock Number, that's a lotta bands. If we played with three different bands per show, we'd have to play at least nine times a month to play with all the bands around here I'm thinking of! That's ridiculous.

3. One night a few weeks ago, the bands Best Coast and Wavves played in Minneapolis. The next afternoon, I was driving in the West Bank neighborhood and eating a slice of pizza. Feeling full enough before I reached the crust, I tossed the crust out the window onto a grassy/snowy embankment. It was unseasnably warm. A woman and a man were standing on the corner, and as I approached, the girl yelled "thanks for littering, asshole!" I yelled back "that was a pizza crust - it's bio-FUCKING-degradable and you know it!" Funny thing: she looked like and was dressed like the girl from Best Coast, and the guy looked like and was dressed like the guy from Wavves! So, two things here. 1. Is throwing a pizza crust onto a grassy/snowy embankment littering? 2. Best Coast are actually pretty good, I don't care about Wavves, and I wasn't at the show the night before either way. BUT, I think that if it WAS the singer from Best Coast, it's pretty cool that she'd call out a litterer for littering. Even if he wasn't actually littering, heh heh.

4. The Minnesota Twins signed a Japanese guy! This rules. I cannot stress this enough: I love Japanese baseball. A few years ago, I saw a documentary on ESPN2 called "The Zen Of Bobby V," about Bobby Valentine's stint as the manager of the Chiba Lotte Marines in the Central League of Japanese Pro Baseball. I love the songs, the cheering, the fanaticism, and although the stathead in my wrinkles his nose at the emphasis on bunting and hit-and-run style baseball, honestly it is really fun to watch! So, Tsuyoshi Nishioka has joined the Twins as their starting second baseman. Expect lots of singles, lots of doubles, lots of first-to-third baserunning, hopefully some good old-fashioned base stealery, and at not a few games, a certain bald, sideburned doofus singing his fight song every time he comes to the plate!
Check it out: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=demGSiw8l0E

5. Usually, at any given moment in mainstream pop culture, there is one good song, and all the other songs pretty much suck. I wonder why that is? For awhile, it was "99 Problems." Briefly, "Last Night." Then, it was "Hey Ya." That was a good era, I never got sick of that song. Anyway, you see what I'm getting at, right? Ok. Right now, "Fuck You" by Cee-lo Green is that song. Go listen to it, fall in love with music all over again...

Right then, that'll do it for today. Thanks for reading! See ya later,
-Nato