Friday, September 19, 2014

Episode 100: Remembering the First 100 Shows

Welp, we made it to 100 episodes. Thank you to everyone that has listened to us ramble over the past two years. We've come a long way from Episode 1 and we're happy to have you along for the ride. Along the way we picked up a couple of hitch hikers in Cody Christie and Jay Corn, and we have fun every week talking Twins baseball. 

You can download the new Talk to Contact (@TalkToContact) episode via iTunes or by clicking here, and if you want to add the show to your non-iTunes podcast player, this is the RSS Feed.
This week we talk about Trevor May, Phil Hughes and Ricky Nolasco, who all turned in strong performances, and we talk about the trio of Danny Santana, Oswaldo Arcia, and Kennys Vargas forming a young core of talent for future Twins teams. 

We spend some time Down on the Pond talking about the most productive Minor League seasons in the Twins system. 

Before we sign off we gave Jay time to wax poetic about Derek Jeter as he comes upon the end of his career (sparked by this new ad) and we wrap up Episode 100 talking about beer.

Thank you again for listening to us ramble, and be sure to check out Egon's Unicat, who have been providing us music for the podcast the entire time we've been around! 

You are all awesome!

Enjoy the show.
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Thursday, September 18, 2014

How Can the Twins Prevent Runs?

"To win the game, you've gotta score more runs than the other team"--- Ricky Henderson, baseball's all-time running scoring leader

Baseball can be a very simple game but it always comes back to scoring more runs than the other team. This has always been the case and teams are challenged by how they should go about accomplishing this task. Should a team try and out slug the opposition to win in a high scoring fashion? Should a team use small ball to try and poke their way back into a game?

The 2014 Twins have actually done a very good job when it comes to scoring runs. Their 4.39 runs per game are seventh highest total in all of baseball. Where the Twins fall short is in the run prevention department. They allow 4.84 runs per game and that is the third worst total in baseball. 

To get back to the franchise's winning ways, the Twins are going to need to find a way to allow fewer runs to score. Again that might seem like a simple answer but the ways to improve this area might not be easy.

Improvements from the Starting Staff
The Twins starting pitchers have a combined 4.53 ERA, the fourth worst mark in baseball. Phil Hughes is the only starter with an ERA under 4.00. If you took Hughes out of the equation, the staff numbers wouldn't look too great. Every pitcher seems to have a clunker every now and then but it's important to limit damage. Some pitchers are obviously better at this than others.

While Hughes in the middle of his best professional season, there can be some expectations that there will be some regression next year. If the Twins can get small improvements from Ricky Nolasco, Kyle Gibson, and Trevor May, the team will be heading in the right direction. Alex Meyer's eventual debut could also help to improve the starting staff.

The pitching staff also needs to find a way to strikeout batters at a higher rate. Meyer should help in this area but he won't be the staff savior. Minnesota's staff gives up a lot of contact and the best way to lower runs is by not allowing the ball to be put in play.

Better Defense
The Twins have been rough at a few different defensive positions this season. For the purposes of this article, SABR's Defensive Index will be used. This is one of the pieces that is used to select the Gold Glove Winners.

Catcher: Out of qualifying catchers, Kurt Suzuki has been fifth worst in the American League. He has a negative rating through games of September 7, 2014. The Twins signed Suzuki to an extension around the trade deadline this year. That means the organization won't likely be improving defensively in this area.

First Base: Joe Mauer's transition to a new position has been fairly smooth. He already had a little experience at first base and he is an athletic person. Only Albert Pujols and Miguel Cabrera rank higher than him among AL first baseman. It wouldn't be surprising to see him at the top of the list as early as next year.

Second Base: Many fans might think Brian Dozier deserves a Gold Glove for his defense. He makes some spectacular plays but he also has plenty of misplays and errors. Dustin Pedroia and Ian Kinsler are way ahead in the AL second base rankings because they don't make mistakes. If Dozier could improve defensively, his value would increase even with some of his recent struggles at the plate.

Third Base: Trevor Plouffe's defense might be the most surprising of all this year. In previous seasons he's looked like a stiff wall at third base. He is becoming more comfortable at the position and he ranks fourth in the AL at the hot corner. It will be interesting to see where Plouffe's future lies. Is it at third base or will he have to move for Miguel Sano?

Shortstop: The plan wasn't for Eduardo Escobar to be at short when the Twins left spring training but that's how baseball works. He hasn't been spectacular at shortstop but it's still good enough to rank third in the AL. Former Twin JJ Hardy is well ahead of the rest of the shortstop world and he's a free agent this off-season. Could Danny Santana do as well as Escobar at shortstop? The Twins haven't wanted to find out.

Outfield: The Twins filtered through a variety of outfielders this season so none of their players figure into the SABR Defensive Index. Minnesota will keep Oswaldo Arcia in one of the corner spots even though he is below average in the field. Center field could be a question mark. Santana has been adequate and he could get better with more repetitions at his new position. Left field could be up for grabs. Byron Buxton and his strong defensive ability could debut next year but that would come later in the season.

Shortstop and left field seem to be the areas where the Twins could improve the most defensively. If Aaron Hicks could make a huge leap offensively, his defense would be a welcome addition in the outfield. It would be nice to have a defensive upgrade at shortstop but the Twins have struggled for years to fill that position.

Even the Twins can make some small improvements to allow fewer runs, that'd be great. Otherwise, they are going to have to hope they can out slug their opponents to get back on the right track.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Five Twins Rebound Candidates for 2015

It has been a year of good and bad performances in Minnesota. Unfortunately, there has probably been more bad than good.

On the positive side of things, Phil Hughes has put together the best season of his professional career, Danny Santana has done some good things as a rookie, and the duo of Kennys Vargas and Oswaldo Arcia seem to be able to mash the ball out of any park.

There have been some players that haven't lived up to expectations for various parts of the year. Those players are trying to right the ship over the next couple weeks before 2014 comes to a close. Ending this year on a good note could help each of the following players to rebound in 2015.

Ricky Nolasco: When the Twins signed Nolasco this off-season to the biggest free agent deal in franchise history, there was a smattering of the fan base that said, "Who?" He had been a workhorse pitcher in the National League for multiple seasons but the transition to the American League has been anything but easy. There can be a variety of excuses thrown out in relation to his play this season. He could have been pitching through some injuries and he might have had a tough time adjusting to the new league. He'll be in the rotation next year and one has to hope that his performance will improve.

Joe Mauer: He's not playing catcher any more so there is supposed to be less wear and tear on his body. Even with the switch to a new position, it has been one of the worst offensive seasons on record for Mr. Mauer. His second half performance has been better than his first half performance (.695 OPS improving to .812 OPS), but it has come in half as many games. Fans will always focus on Mauer's performance because of his large contract and that's something he'll live with for the rest of his career. For 2015, the focus should be on getting back to the Mauer of old.

Aaron Hicks: There's a chance Hicks could end up winning the starting center field job for the third straight season coming out of spring training next year. The Twins would obviously need to see something from him in the coming weeks. Since becoming a September call-up, he hasn't exactly blown the cover off the ball. There haven't been a ton of signs pointing towards a rebound for Hicks but there have been flashes of good things in the minors and his first round pedigree always helps. Next year could be his last chance to make a mark with the Twins.

Trevor May: May's only seven starts into his MLB career so it's not too much of a stretch of the imagination to think he can improve. His outings in September have been better and that might be enough of a confidence boost to put him on a improve path moving forward. Kyle Gibson struggled last year in his first taste of the big leagues and he's turned into a much more serviceable pitcher this year. May's mission should be to follow in Gibson's footsteps for 2015. If he can fit into the middle of the rotation for the next handful of years, Twins fans would have to be happy with the result.

Brian Dozier: For fans that haven't been paying attention in recent weeks, Dozier's name might be a surprise on this list. After a tremendous first half of the season where there was a chance he would make the AL All-Star squad, Dozier has fizzled in the second half. His slugging percentage has dropped almost 100 points and this can be attributed to his lack of second half home runs. He hit 18 long balls in the first half and he's only hit one since July 23rd. There are younger players coming through the Twins system in the coming years that will want a middle infield job so Dozier needs to get back to the player he was in the first half.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Episode 99: Twins are Bad at Base Balling

There hasn’t been a lot of good things to talk about with this ball club. That doesn’t mean we don’t have things to talk about, and we even got into a couple of spirited conversations this week, most notably about the coaching staff and their uncertain future in Minnesota.
You can download the new Talk to Contact (@TalkToContact) episode via iTunes or by clicking here, and if you want to add the show to your non-iTunes podcast player, this is the RSS Feed.

Mike Trout and the league leading Angels came to town and swept our hometown heroes, but at least Target Field faithful were reminded what winning baseball looks like.  We also discussed what it is like to watch bad baseball, and talked about the great article, “The Truth of Rooting for a Terrible Team” from The Hardball Times’ John Paschal.
The Twins released their minor league hitting coordinator, Bill Springman. What does that mean, if anything, going forward? The front office cited “organizational differences” which could mean just about anything and everything. We speculate exactly what it means.
We also talk about Jay Corn’s adventure with beer steins, and the upcoming MN Oktoberfest. And don’t forget about the #TwinsHelmetChallenge happening on Monday the 15th at Target Field.

If you enjoy our podcast, please take a couple extra minutes and rate and review us on iTunes. Ratings and reviews are the currency we use to pay for helmets full of food at Target Field.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Bud Selig's Legacy in Minnesota: Contraction Threat

Bud Selig is set to retire this off-season after 22 years at the helm of Major League Baseball. Rob Manfred has already been voted in as his successor, a position he has been groomed for over since starting to work for MLB in 1998. The 55-year old Manfred will have a variety of issues on his plate as he takes over from the 80-year old Selig.

During Selig's tenure as commissioner, baseball has been marked by a variety of ups and downs. A large growth in attendance has increased revenue across the game. This has resulted in some slough of large contracts for baseball's more established players. Besides the positives, there was also a World Series that was cancelled because of a strike and the performance enhancing drug scandal impacted many parts of the baseball world.

For the Minnesota Twins, there have been some positive things that have happened under the Selig regime even if they can't all be credited to him. The Twins were able to finance a new stadium and Target Field has turned out to be a gem. Increases in revenue allowed the Twins to pay Joe Mauer one of the largest contracts in baseball. The organization also got to host the last All-Star Game with Selig as commissioner.

However, the biggest story surrounding the Twins and Selig will always be the threat of contraction made following the 2001 season. Minnesota and Montreal were left on the MLB's chopping block after Selig revealed owners had voted 28-2 to eliminate two teams.

Twins owner Carl Pohlad was frustrated with Minnesota's state government for not being able to come up with a deal to replace the outdated Metrodome. Pohlad would be paid $250 million to close out the franchise he purchased in 1984. There were a lot of things going wrong in the baseball world in the aftermath of September 11th.

In an interview with the Pioneer Press this summer, Selig said, "Contraction had nothing to do with Minnesota. Baseball was really struggling at the time, losing a fortune as a sport. There were owners who believed that contraction might help."

Luckily for Twins fan, contraction never happened. A Hennepin County judge ruled that the Twins had to honor their Metrodome lease for the 2002 season. The Twins took full advantage of their new life as they qualified for the playoffs for the first time since their 1991 World Series Championship. The team won the AL Central Division three straight seasons and six of the next nine years.

Minnesota found itself back on the baseball map but not after dealing with a situation that left more than one scar on the franchise. Selig did some good things for the Twins but his lasting memory will be the fact that he almost stole baseball away from a generation of fans in the Upper Midwest.