Closer? We don’t need no stinkin’ closer… or do we?

So there has been a LOT of discussion in the blogosphere since Gardy announced that they would be pursuing a “closer by committee” approach last weekend.  Turns out that even friends don’t always agree what this means or whether it works.  Here’s a slice of the debate just in case you hadn’t already filled up on dinner.

JIMCRIKKET:

In football, when a coach says he has two quarterbacks, what he’s really saying is that he doesn’t have one. I think Ron Gardenhire is saying the same thing when he says he’ll open the season with “Closer by Committee”.

Yes, the Twins have some good arms in their bullpen to open the season. I realize they’ve historically been able to identify and develop new closers. But this feels different.

The Twins are not a sub-.500 team just looking for someone to close games in the relatively unlikely event that they have a lead in the 9th inning like they were when Rick Aguilera was given the job. Nor are they a team simply trying to contend in their division like they were when Eddie Guardado succeeded LaTroy Hawkins. 

This is supposed to be “the season” for the Minnesota Twins. This is when they do more than contend. This is the year they’re geared up to fight with the big boys.  This is more akin to 2004 when they handed the job to newly acquired Joe Nathan.

Don’t get me wrong, I like the guys in the Twins’ bullpen. But I don’t see anyone there who I want to see coming in to pitch the 9th inning of a close game. We could argue whether 9th innings are always the critical inning and whether your best shut-em-down bullpen arm should occasionally be used in the 7th or 8th instead of the ninth. But that’s not the point. Right now, I don’t see a guy on this staff I’d feel comfortable going to regularly in any such situation, regardless of the inning.

Actually, that’s not completely true. Guys like Guerrier, Neshek, Rauch, Mijares and Crain have all had considerable success in those situations. But this is where the closer is different. To be a successful set-up pitcher, you need command of more than one pitch and the ability to miss bats with those pitches. This pen has a few of those guys.

But a closer needs more. He needs an out-pitch… something he can throw time after time and know (not just think) he’ll be successful with, no matter how many times that hitter has seen that pitch. “Knowing”… or believing… he’ll be successful every time he enters the game is a mental thing. It’s a discipline. It’s more than having talent. It requires more than confidence. It requires arrogance.

Show me the guy in this bullpen with (a) reliable command of more than one pitch, (b) the demonstrated ability over the past  couple of years to miss bats with those pitches, (c) a legitimate out-pitch, and (d) the mental toughness… the ego… the arrogance to not only be a closer but THE closer on a team who’s goal is not simply to contend for their Division, but to go the distance. Show me the guy you believe is a closer you want to take you to the World Series… and trust to do his job when you get there.

“Closer by Committee” is just Gardy’s way of telling Bill Smith, “I don’t have a closer.”

I believe he’s right.

CAPITALBABS:

First, when Gardy says he’s going to have a “closer by committee” I think that simply means he knows he’ll use more than one person and he doesn’t want to name names…  I don’t think he gets really caught up in definitions. 

Do I think we need a closer?  Absolutely.  Does Gardy?  well, I never get that elusive opportunity to grill him over a beer at the bar but I’m going to make some guesses based on his pitcher selection in the past.  Yes, he likes having a closer.  He’ll work with what he’s got and hope like hell that someone steps up to the plate.  Do we, as Twins fans, need to have that 9th inning guy to turn games over to – especially ones that are ‘on the line’??  No, we thrive on the angst of a nailbiter anyway…  Do the rest of the pitchers on the team?  Yeah, I kind of think they do.  It’s not that they won’t all do their best regardless, but I think they’ll do BETTER.

Here’s where it gets a little… complicated.

Even if Bert is right and the pitcher is the best athelete on the field, pitching is first and foremost a mental exercise.  And a guy with a good arm doesn’t dream of becoming a great closing pitcher.  He likely dreams of being that great starter – who, no doubt, pitches a complete game with no one else’s help – and starts developing his fastball…  What eventually happens though is that, for whatever reason, his great arm isn’t suited to long outtings every 4th or 5th day.  He becomes a relief pitcher.  And no, it’s not because of a much vaunted ‘out pitch’- or the lack thereof.

Yes, the mental belief that you can throw what you want to throw when you want to throw it is important.  It is if you’re a starter too.  Fact is, I would be willing to bet (whatever limited funds I have available) that you aren’t going to last long with a single team in MLB in ANY pitching role if you don’t believe that – even if it isn’t always true.  So it takes a LOT more than belief to be a 1st rate closer.  So, in a way, JC is right.  What sets a closer apart from his fellow members of the bullpen is BALLS. 

Funny thing about these little families of men whose individual success depends on the skills and abilities of their brothers.  In their heart of hearts, they know whether or not they trust or have the trust of the others.

Nathan became the preeminent late inning guy that he is because of the sheer force of will that drives his intense mound personality.  I can guarantee that he doesn’t have that same intensity 24/7 – who could?  But he goes out to the mound with fire because he believes in himself and because the others believe in him too.

So, out of the group of really excellent pitchers the Twins have now, who has shown that same fire?  Well, no one.  Why?  BECAUSE THEY HAD JOE NATHAN!

There is no reason to expect a change in behavior until you change the status quo and I have to tell you that it really does change the mentality of each and every one of those guys that he isn’t there with them now.

I’m just waiting to see who says, “you know what, I CAN do this.  I know my stuff and I can get any hitter out there if you want me to.  Let me do it.”  And the guy who says it so convincingly that the others BELIEVE him?  THAT’s your closer. 

I’m starting to see a bit of that attitude here and there already.  :)  Gardy is just waiting to see who he really believes.

Or at least that is what this armchair psychologist/pitching fanatic sees when she’s watching baseball.  Maybe she should drink more.

Feel free to serve up your favorite opinion to the buffet and share in the feasting.

GameChat – (ST) Split Squad day, 12:05 pm ESPN & am1500

Nothing like trying to make things really complicated – but half the team will be taking on the Yankees on ESPN and the other half will be dealing with the Rays on am1500 radio.  Not sure which I’ll be tracking at any given moment…

Minnesota @ NY Yankees
Span, CF   Jeter, SS
Hudson, O, 2B   Thames, DH
Hardy, SS   Posada, C
Kubel, DH   Rodriguez, A, 3B
Young, D, LF   Swisher, RF
Harris, B, 3B   Granderson, CF
Peterson, Br, 1B   Gardner, LF
Portes, RF   Pena, R, 2B
Butera, C   Miranda, 1B
  Duensing, P     Hughes, P, P

 

highlights from the Yankees game:  you’ve probably heard by now but in the first AB of the game, Denard Span managed to foul a ball off the chest of his mother sitting in the stands.  The odds of that can only be calculated by a serious stats person – not me.  Glad to hear that she’s ok and even sent him back to CF after seeing the med folk and going back to her seat by the dugout.  The other highlight (other than kicking Yankee butt) is Duensing had a great start against some SERIOUS hitters.  Good to see he has that kind of presence in case we have an injury in the starting ro – something that seems inevitable with our history.  And Neshek had another STELLAR outting.  Good to see him out there smiling on the mound and confident.

  1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
Minnesota 2 0 0 0 1 1 0 0 0 4 8 0
NY Yankees 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 1 0 2 6 1

 

or

Tampa Bay @ Minnesota
Rodriguez, S, 2B   Casilla, A, SS
Brignac, R, SS   Punto, 3B
Zobrist, CF   Mauer, C
Longoria, 3B   Morneau, 1B
Pena, C, 1B   Cuddyer, CF
Aybar, W, DH   Thome, DH
Kapler, RF   Jones, Jac, RF
Ashley, C   Dinkelman, LF
Johnson, E, LF   Singleton, 2B
  Davis, W, P     Baker, S, P

 

ok, this game kind of sucked.  Highlights are hard to find especially considering how deep into the minor league roster we went by the end of the game.  Scooter definitely didn’t have a good game and didn’t even finish the third inning.  So the challenge of watching ESPN on mute while listening to the radio might not have been worth it.  At least I really don’t worry about a pitcher of Baker’s caliber – a bad outting is simply that.  He’ll be back to his usual self for the next one, I’m sure!

 

  1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
Tampa Bay 2 2 4 0 0 0 0 1 1 10 19 0
Minnesota 0 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 3 6 2

remember that the boxscore links you to more game details!

Random craftiness of a baseball orientation…

This is totally silly ground to cover in a baseball blog but here goes anyway.  I’m not really a baseball souvenier collector – mostly because the last thing I need is more STUFF that just sits there!  So my baseball stuff generally can be found in the category of  “wearable”  or I don’t really have any place for it. 

But..  Over the years, there have been a few things that I have collected, definitely don’t want to throw away, but don’t have any place to put.  So cool things like my ticket stubs to Game 1 of the ’91 World Series and a few other favorite games or special give-aways have been relegated to junk drawers and the back shelf of the closet.  That’s just not acceptable.

Well the last 6 months of housing remodel involved many possibilities that coalesced into a plan for a ribbon board.  You know, one of those fancy tack boards that you just tuck stuff back behind and such??  Let me say, that’s just about as girly as I get – considering I have never had one in my life, the fact that I thought to make one at all surprises me.

Detour:  Making anything involving several yards of ribbon and tacks when you are under the supervision (and interruption) of two cats is an adventure. 

But after several layouts, changes, disturbances and re-layouts, a final product in Twins colors was achieved:

gave up on multi-colored ribbons and went with white with the colored tacks.

THEN I had to dig out all my stuff and start loading it up and put it on the wall.

finally have a place to put those construction helmets and that's my 2009 game 162 scorecard in the middle. Sadly, my game 163 scorecard got left in the metrodome restroom *SHAME*

And finally, this is how it all fits in (the planned open space on the wall even!) and please ignore the fully-loaded desk.  I told you I didn’t need any more STUFF.

March is a good month for the Twins calendar.. *shiver*

But now I finally feel like a complete baseball fan!  I have baseball collectables displayed instead of stowed away!  I will sleep a little better tonight.

GameChat – (ST) Pirates @ Twins, 12:05, am1500

Not that it matters nearly as much because our little gathering spot/watering hole is virtual but I’m impressed with myself because my day off at home actually involved a shower before putting up the game post.  I’m sure y’all are very proud.

Pittsburgh @ Minnesota
Raynor, RF   Span, CF
Vazquez, R, 3B   Hudson, O, 2B
Crosby, SS   Mauer, C
Church, CF   Morneau, 1B
Pearce, 1B   Cuddyer, RF
Young, De, 2B   Thome, DH
Grossman, LF   Kubel, LF
Jaramillo, J, C   Hardy, SS
Morton, P   Punto, 3B
        Liriano, P

 

AM 1500 Sports Talk experiment with “open mic day” failed miserably because they forgot to talk about the game so I got to listen to the Pirate announcing team via gameday audio!   Pleasantly surprised to find another fine duo that know how to speak intelligently about both teams (for the most part) and talk baseball and THE GAME!  Thanks whoever you are and Pirates fans should be proud.

Overall it was a great game and a very good outting from Liriano who learned, after closing out the 6th inning, that he will officially be the 5th starter in the Twins rotations.  Reportedly, he’s quite happy to not be closing.

  1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
Pittsburgh 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 1 4 0
Minnesota 0 0 0 0 1 0 2 1 x 4 9 1

TwinsCentric Viewing Party!!

Date:

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Time:

11:45am – 5:50pm

Location:       

Major’s Sports Cafe – Blaine, Minnesota

Street:

10950 Club West Parkway

 

Passing this info along – I’ll definitely be there!

“The TwinsCentric group is proud to present the second TwinsCentric Viewing Party of the 2010 season!

As the Minnesota Twins tangle with the rival White Sox on the South Side of Chicago on Saturday, April 10th, come join other Twins fans at Major’s Sports Cafe in Blaine and enjoy discounts on drinks and food in addition to the chance to win many great Twins prizes!

Those that come out donning Twins gear will receive $2 pints, two-for-one appetizers and an opportunity to win Major’s gift cards, copies of the Maple Street Publishing Twins 2010 Annual and SethSpeaks.net’s 2010 Prospect Handbook and many more items courtesy of Major’s and TwinsCentric. See you then Twins fans!”

GameChat – (ST) Minnesota @ St. Louis, 12:05 pm ESPN

sorry.. I won’t be here to chat with you but here’s the lineups if anyone wants to discuss the game since it’s on ESPN. 

Twins

1, Denard Span, CF
2. Orlando Hudson, 2B
3. Joe Mauer, C
4. Justin Morneau, 1B
5. Michael Cuddyer, RF
6. Jim Thome, DH
7. Jason Kubel, LF
8. J.J. Hardy, SS
9. Brendan Harris, 3B

RHP Carl Pavano, followed by Clay Condrey, Pat Neshek, Jose Mijares and Kyle Waldrop

Red Sox

1. Jacoby Ellsbury, LF
2. Dustin Pedroia, 2B
3. Victor Martinez, C
4. Kevin Youkilis, 1B
5. David Ortiz, DH
6. Adrian Beltre, 3B
7. Mike Cameron, CF
8. Bill Hall, RF
9. Marco Scutaro, SS

RHP Clay Buchholz, followed by Jonathan Papelbon, Hidkei Okajima and Ramon Ramirez

GameChat – (ST) Twins @ Boston, 12:05pm MLBN or am1500

Because the game today is actually televised (!!!!), I wanted to get the lineups and the reminder up a little earlier – so early, in fact, that even Kelly doesn’t have lineups posted yet!  But our ever-striving LaVelle E. Neal over at the Strib does!  So, here’s temporary lineups from him.  I’ll add the nifty little link chart when MLB posts them later.

Minnesota @ Boston
Span, CF   Ellsbury, LF
Hudson, O, 2B   Pedroia, 2B
Mauer, C   Martinez, V, C
Morneau, 1B   Youkilis, 1B
Cuddyer, RF   Ortiz, D, DH
Thome, DH   Beltre, 3B
Kubel, LF   Cameron, M, CF
Hardy, SS   Hall, RF
Harris, B, 3B   Scutaro, SS
  Pavano, P     Buchholz, C, P

 

others scheduled to pitch for the Twins: Clay Condrey, Pat Neshek, Jose Mijares and Kyle Waldrop

others scheduled to pitch for Boston: Jonathan Papelbon, Hidkei Okajima and Ramon Ramirez

  1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
Minnesota 2 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 5 8 0
Boston 2 0 2 4 0 3 0 0 x 11 16 1

Roster Comes In To Focus… Or Does It?

With today’s roster moves, we’re beginning to see some clear winners (and losers) in the battles for the final roster spots remaining open before the Twins break camp and head north… or are we?

To review, here’s what we’ve known pretty much since the beginning of Spring Training:

Roster Locks:

Position Players: Mauer, Morneau, Hudson, Hardy, Punto, Harris, Young, Span, Cuddyer, Kubel and Thome.

Starting Pitchers: Baker, Blackburn, Slowey and Pavano

Bullpen: Rauch, Guerrier, Crain, Mijares and Condrey (yes, I know it’s hard to say he earned a spot based on Spring Training performance, but he was seen as a virtual lock going in and I’d imagine he probably still has his spot as long reliever).

That’s 11 of the 13 Position-player spots that were never up for grabs, 4 of the 5 rotation spots locked up and 5 of 7 bullpen spots taken.

With today’s announcement that Jacque Jones won’t be making the roster and re-assignments/options sending Matt Tolbert, Ben Revere and Matt Maroth to AAA, it’s becoming clear who some of the winners and losers in the battle for the five open rosters spots are going to be… and what a coincidence that it’s looking pretty much like what most people thought it would be before camp opened. (Obviously, Joe Nathan’s season ending TJ surgery opened up one extra bullpen spot.)

So what do we know and what’s still up in the air?

We know Alexi Casilla has “won” the lone remaining non-backup-catcher-position-player spot. It’s reallllllly hard to say he “won” that position, though, given he hasn’t had a very impressive spring. Lexi is getting the spot because (a) he’s out of options, and (b) Matt Tolbert didn’t impress anyone enough to prove he should get the spot instead. Based solely on performance, this spot should be Jacque Jones’, however. But then we all know these decisions aren’t based solely on performance.

We DON’T yet know whether Drew Butera or Wilson Ramos will break camp as the backup catcher (and literally the holder of the 25th roster spot). It’s not a terribly important decision, in my opinion, because whoever gets the job is only going to be holding it warm until Jose Morales is healthy.

The 5th rotation spot was billed as a battle between Francisco Liriano, Brian Duensing and Glen Perkins. Perkins has been eliminated by losing innings due to, well, let’s give him the benefit of the doubt and say it’s an injury. It sure looked like Francisco Liriano was the clear front runner for the final rotation spot, but over the last week a couple of things have happened that have cast some level of doubt on that. First, Joe Nathan was lost for the year and Liriano keeps getting mentioned as a possible replacement as the Twins’ closer. Second, frankly, Duensing has arguably out-pitched Liriano over their last couple of appearances.

In the bullpen, while I’ve heard possible reasons why Pat Neshek may be sent to AAA to start the season, they all sound like excuses to me. It’s almost like someone in the organization simply doesn’t want him with the Twins. He’s performed as well as, if not better than, almost every other relief pitcher this spring. If they really don’t want him, put him on the market and get something for him! But let’s stop with the “he’s not ready yet” crappola, already.

The final pitching spot then is going to come down to Duensing and Anthony Slama. Both guys need regular work so I don’t think you want either guy to sit around waiting for mop-up opportunities (that has to be what Condrey is there for, right?). If the Twins feel they need someone who can throw a few innings when a starting pitcher gets beat up early in a game (or perhaps feel they need another lefty), the gig goes to Duensing. He’s proven he is capable of getting Major League hitters out.

But if they decide they need another one-inning shut down arm out of the pen, Slama could get the call, while Duensing gets regular starts in Rochester. I consider this a bit of a long shot, though, given the guys who already have claimed spots in the bullpen. Condrey is arguably the only relief pitcher you’d feel you could use for more than an inning (or two at the most). Based on that, alone, I believe Duensing is staying (yes, I know Perkins could get that spot, but I’ll believe that when I see it). I suppose what this means is Slama is actually battling Neshek for that last short relief spot in the pen.

So, here’s my take…

Losers:

Ben Revere has been re-assigned to Rochester, but look for him to make his Twins debut in 2010

Jacque Jones impressed, but not enough to convince the Twins to keep 5 OF

Matt Tolbert's occasional problems in the field didn't help his cause this spring

Danny Valencia realistically had no chance... but we'll likely see him in 2010.

Winners:

Alexi Casilla appears to have claimed the final position-player roster spot

Francisco Liriano won a spot... but which spot?

Still competing:

If Neshek hasn't earned a spot, it's just proof Gardy REALLY doesn't like blogs

Brian Duensing could work out of the pen or in the rotation.

Are the old school stirrups enough to earn Slama a spot in the pen?

Will Wilson Ramos back up Mauer... or will it be Drew Butera (no pic, sorry Drew)?

UPDATE: So, it seems that while I was in the drafting process, LaVelle E Neal at the Strib posted an update to his blog that indicated Slama has been advised he will be heading to AAA after the exhibition series vs. the Cardinals, so that makes the bullpen discussion moot… probably. It remains somewhat interesting to see whether Ron Mahay, signed this week, might maneuver his way on to the staff. Absent that happening, it looks like the pitching staff is pretty much set with only the decisions as to who starts and who closes yet to be determined. -JC

GameChat – (ST) Phillies @ Twins, 12:05 pm

Philadelphia @ Minnesota
Wise, CF   Hardy, SS
Castro, J, SS   Hudson, O, 2B
Francisco, B, LF   Mauer, C
Dobbs, 3B   Morneau, 1B
Gload, 1B   Cuddyer, CF
Mayberry, RF   Thome, DH
Schneider, C   Kubel, RF
Ransom, DH   Portes, LF
Valdez, W, 2B   Punto, 3B
  Hamels, P     Blackburn, P

 

  1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
Philadelphia 0 2 0 0 1 0 1 0 0 4 11 0
Minnesota 0 0 0 2 2 0 1 3 x 8 12 0

click anywhere in the boxscore for more game details

GameChat – (ST) Twins @ Orioles, 6:05 pm

 

Glad to report the news from Kelly Thesier that Joe Nathan’s Tommy John surgery went well.  I hope to hear more details soon but I’m just glad that things are going as expected for now.

Minnesota @ Baltimore
Span, CF   Roberts, B, 2B
Casilla, A, SS   Tejada, 3B
Cuddyer, RF   Markakis, RF
Jones, J, DH   Wieters, DH
Young, D, LF   Jones, A, CF
Harris, B, 3B   Scott, 1B
Ramos, W, C   Reimold, N, LF
Peterson, Br, 1B   Tatum, C
Tolbert, 2B   Izturis, C, SS
  Baker, S, P     Tillman, P

 

  1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
Minnesota 0 1 0 0 3 0 0 0 0 4 9 0
Baltimore 0 0 0 0 2 0 1 0 0 3 6 2

click anywhere in the boxscore for more game details