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:

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)

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.


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


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


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.