Episode 13 of the Twins baseball podcast, Talk To Contact (@TalkToContact), is now available for download via iTunes or by clicking here.
This week Paul and I take a look at Twins prospect (?) Daniel Ortiz and Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew. We again field a bunch of questions from the interwebs. Among the topics discussed form the mail bag: Joe Benson and his mullet, the Miami/Toronto trade, and regular season wins versus playoff success. We also have an update on the email from Larien who wanted to have a relationship and a business proposal. Tune in for Minnesota Twins banter and a whole lot more.
Alexi (Lora) Casilla was signed by the Anaheim Angels as an amateur free agent in 2003. He played for the Angels’ Minor League affiliates for two seasons before being traded to the Twins in 2005 for left-handed reliever J.C. Romero. Casilla started the 2006 season in High-A Fort Myers playing for the Miracle and by September had earned himself a Major League call-up and played in nine games to close out the year. For the next six seasons Casilla was at least a part time player for the Minnesota Twins, though he never really became the reliable middle infielder that many expected him to become. And then last week, after losing the starting second base job and struggling to live up to even the meager offensive standards he had set for himself following 2010 and 2011 (the first time in his career he put up two relatively similar offensive seasons back to back), the Twins waived Casilla and he was claimed by the Baltimore Orioles, ending his lackluster career in Minneapolis.
In parts of seven seasons in Minnesota Alexi Casilla hit .250/.305/334 (BA/OBP/SLG), and only in his initial nine games in 2006 did he record an above average offensive season by OPS+ (clearly, some small sample size bias). All told, he was worth 57 runs LESS than an average hitter in Minnesota. In terms of Runs Created, among Minnesota Twins players with at least 1500 plate appearances, Casilla ranks 71/76, ahead of only Hosken Powell, Scott Leius, Jim Holt, Al Newman and Jerry Terrell.
Defensively, where most Casilla Apologists would pin most of his value, Casilla falls short of average in almost every defensive statistic. He’s been worth -21 runs in Total Zone Total Fielding Runs Above Average, -1 in BIS Defensive Runs Saved Above Average, and his fielding percentage (arguably a poor predictor of true defensive value) was just .976 compared to a league average of .985. Again, against other Twins with 1500 plate appearances, Casilla compares poorly coming at 53/76 with -3 runs created from fielding. Though he’s ahead of some other big name Twins, Joe Mauer (57th), Kirby Puckett (59th), Jason Kubel (68th), Harmon Killebrew (75th) and Michael Cuddyer (76th). Unlike many of the Twins below him on the all time list, as noted above, Casilla’s bat did little to justify his continued presence on the Twins roster.
The only place where Casilla compares favorably to Twins of the past, is his ability to effectively steal bases. Casilla’s 71 stolen bases are good enough for an 18th best in franchise history (though 71 is a fairly low total, as Ben Revere, with 700 fewer plate appearances, is already ahead of him with 74). However, Casilla is the most efficient base stealer in Twins history (min 25 SB attempts), swiping bags in 88.75% of his attempts. Why Casilla doesn’t have more stolen bases is probably the result of not getting on base frequently enough and playing for Ron Gardenhire, who doesn’t typically push runners to steal bases.*
Casilla leaves the Twins as a fairly successful Major Leaguer, if not a successful Twin, simply because he was able to collect so many plate appearances. Not counting his September call-up in 2006, only 241 MLB players have more plate appearances since 2007, putting him in the top 10% of players since the start of 2007 (2,447 players had plate appearances between 2007 and 2012.). And while that list contains players who may have since retired, Casilla still ranks in the top 15% for plate appearances by active players during the same time period. Whether it was the Twins’ lack of viable middle infield options, or their continued belief in Casilla as a project, he has more plate appearances than all but 57 other Twins players putting him ahead of 92% of players to play for the Minnesota Twins. He might not be missed, but he was certainly a big part of the ball club for a little more than six years.
*Only three Twins have more than 100 SB attempts since Gardenhire took over as skipper, Torii Hunter, Nick Punto and Denard Span. And only Ben Revere has a chance to join that group in the next several years. For a quick point of comparison, Tom Kelly had seven different players attempt at least 100 SB, and Chuck Knoblauch attempted 353 (2nd in team history to Rod Carew).
This past Thursday I had the wonderful opportunity to attend a baseball game at Target Field as the guest of Fox Sports North. In addition to myself, Twins bloggers Aaron Gleeman, John Bonnes, Nick Nelson, and Bill Parker were all in attendance to take in a day game against the Orioles and help Fox Sports promote their recently upgraded GameConnect service.* A great big thank you to Becky Ross and Laura Beshire from Fox Sports for hosting us, and Robby Incmikoski for stopping by the suite to talk to us and share some of his humorous baseball stories from the recent past.
I brought my father along with me last Tuesday. It was nice to bring him along as my guest, an opportunity for me to repay him for bringing me to so many Twins games in the Metrodome in the early/mid 90s when I was a young boy. We arrived on the suite level (just above the Legends Club) about 40 minutes before the first pitch so we took some time to wander around and check out a part of Target Field where we had never been before. The suites are arranged around the infield lines from first base, back to home plate and then over to third. In addition to being numbered, the suites are named after Minnesota lakes. My father and enjoyed looking at the images of the lakes and reminiscing about fishing trips at Pelican Lake or a vacation up north at Kabetogama Lake, as we walked through the halls. On the wall opposite the suites were pictures, poster sized baseball cards, and paintings of great Twins players and management dating all the way back to the origins of the Minnesota Twins franchise as the Washington Senators. I knew the names of a lot of those Twins greats (Harmon Killebrew, Rod Carew, Tony Oliva, Bob Allison) but my father could remember watching these guys at Met Stadium.
Eventually we made our way into the suite, introduced ourselves to the rest of the bloggers and their guests and settled in with a couple of beers and brats to take in a game of baseball. In the past when I have attended games I am usually locked into the on field action. I know who is on deck, who is warming up in the bullpen. I like to watch the ways that players communicate with each other between plays and I am always trying to decipher the signs coming in from the dugout or third base coaches. Up in the suite, hanging out with the bloggers I found myself spending time socializing and talking about baseball things not necessarily happening on the field below. Numerous times I found myself searching the scoreboard to find out not just what the score was, but what inning it was and who was ahead.
After the game was over (the Twins bullpen ultimately coughed up the lead in the 8th) we joined the Twins Geek, Aaron Gleeman and Nick Nelson at the Fulton Tap Room for a beer (compliments of Mr. Gleeman) before heading back to the car and returning to Wisconsin. All in all it was a really fun day and I cannot thank FSN enough for giving me a chance to spend a day doing the things I love: tweeting, watching baseball, and spending time with my father.
*The GameConnect webpage designed to be a tag-along feature to enhance your game watching experience. It is updated live and provides a plethora of stats and has an integrated twitter feature to connect you to social media. While you are not going to grab a bunch of advanced stats GameConnect gives you enough information to heighten your awareness of what is going on in the game. The Twitter feed is a little clunky, but it searches Twitter and pulls in tons of tweets referencing the current game. It is a great place to find new twitter followers and gives other Twins tweeters a chance to find you.
I recently received a review copy of Harmon Killebrew: Ultimate Slugger. The book was written by Steve Aschburner with a foreword by Jim Thome and published by Triumph Books.
Steve Aschburner is a long time sports writer, covering all four major league sports and NCAA basketball. His primary area of emphasis is NBA basketball, but between this book, and his 2008 work “The Good, the Bad & the Ugly: Minnesota Twins”, it is clear that he has a soft spot for America’s Pastime and the Minnesota Twins.
As a Twins fan not old enough to have seen Harmon Killebrew play for the Senators/Twins, nor old enough even to remember him calling games for the Twins on television, reading Ultimate Slugger provided an excellent opportunity to familiarize myself with one of the greatest men to ever play professional baseball. Not only did I learn a lot about Killebrew, but I learned a lot about the game of baseball as it was played nearly 50 years ago.
The book is straight forward enough, it starts with a brief synopsis of Killebrew’s family lineage, includes some stories about Killebrew as a young kind, and then follows his career through his early days as a “Bonus Baby” in the 1950s right through his playing days and his strong presence with the Twins up until 2011.
The two things I liked best about Ultimate Slugger was the way Aschburner captured the spirit of Killebrew and the insights into Major League Baseball as it existed in the 50s and 60s. Aschburner best captured Killebrew through interviews and stories from his life long friends. He provided insight into the MLB gone-by with just enough statistical analysis to give you an idea of how the game was played and who the biggest players were, and throwing in some anecdotes that highlight the essence of the game.
One thing that particularly struck me was the story of how Harmon Killebrew’s first trip to the Major Leagues. Killebrew joined the Washington Senators during a 19 game road trip. A NINETEEN GAME ROAD TRIP (The Twins’ longest road trip in 2012 is 10 games, and that’s one of the longest road trips in MLB this year). But when Killebrew joined the Senators on that road trip, it was not just the first time he’d been to a Major League game, but the first time he’d even seen a Major League stadium. Because he was a “bonus baby” Killebrew did not have the benefit of Minor League seasoning, and his first two years he played sporadically, mostly being used as a pinch hitter or pinch runner. Pretty interesting start for a man that would become an MLB icon.
The biggest drawback to the book is Aschburner’s writing style. As a seasoned sports writer, his book reads more like a 230 page newspaper column than a regular biography. Aschburner uses more than his fair share of hokey transitions and cliches to chronicle the life of Harmon Killebrew, but that’s really the only knock on the book.
If you’re a Twins fan looking to gain more insight into the life and stories that surrounded Harmon Killebrew you should definitely pick up a copy* of “Harmon Killebrew: Ultimate Slugger”.
*Knuckleballs will be running a contest during the upcoming All-Star break and giving away two copies of “Harmon Killebrew: Ultimate Slugger”. Stay tuned!
On the heels of Bert Blyleven’s induction in to Baseball’s Hall of Fame, three more former Twins have renewed chances to join Bert, Harmon Killebrew, Rod Carew and Kirby Puckett in Cooperstown. Tony Oliva, Jim Kaat and Luis Tiant have been nominated for consideration by the Baseball HOF’s new “Golden Era Committee”.
The Committee, made up of 16 voters consisting of executives, veteran media members and existing HOF members, will be choosing from among ten players and executives that made their greatest contributions to the game of baseball between the years 1947 and 1972.
The committee will be meeting during MLB’s winter meetings in December and each member can vote for anywhere from zero to five candidates. It takes being included on 75% of ballots cast to gain election. This committee will be holding similar elections just every three years, so anyone who doesn’t gain election this year will have to wait another three years just to find out if they’ll be considered again. Given the age of most of these guys, that could literally be a lifetime.
Oliva, Kaat and Tiant are joined on the ballot by Ron Santo, Buzzie Bavasi, Ken Boyer, Charlie Finley, Gil Hodges, Minnie Minoso and Allie Reynolds. For a fan in his mid-fifties like me, those names bring back a flood of memories and it’s hard to believe that none of them are in the HOF already.
Interestingly, the three former Twins all played together, along with Blyleven, Carew and Killebrew, on the 1970 team that won the AL West Division. Think of that for a moment… it could very well turn out that the 1970 Twins included SIX future Hall of Famers!
At a time when many of us are trying to figure out how the Twins should rebuild their roster in an effort to regain some level of competitiveness, take a look at some of the numbers that members of that 1970 team put up:
Tony Oliva: .325/.364/.514 .878 OPS, 23 HR, 107 RBI in 157 games.
Luis Tiant: 7-3, 3.40 ERA, 17 starts, 2 complete games, 92.2 IP
Not bad, but not one of those pitchers was even the ace of that staff in 1970. That honor went to…
Jim Perry: 24-12, 3.04 ERA, 40 starts, 13 complete games, 278.2 IP… and a Cy Young Award.
Congratulations to Tony-O, Kitty-Kaat and El Tiante on their nominations and here’s hoping the voters recognize that all three of these guys are deserving of the honor to stand with their peers as among the best to ever play the game.
For a team in a league that limits active roster size to 25 players, the Twins have certainly manage to fit an awful lot of guys in to uniforms. 39 different players have taken the field for the Twins in 2011… 20 position players and 19 pitchers.
Of course, if you happen to be one of those fans that only pays attention to who’s playing when the Twins are taking the field at home in Target Field, you may not have noticed the constant roster adjustments that have resulted in Gardy putting something like 57 unique line ups on the field out of their 61 games. The reason you may not have noticed is that only 21 of those games have been at home.
From way down here in Eastern Iowa, I’ve personally attended almost 15% of the Twins’ home games. Quite the avid fan, aren’t I? Well, not really. I’ve actually only driven up to the Twin Cities for one series (the Angels)… and I didn’t even stay for every game of that series.
Well, get ready to get reacquainted with your team, folks, because all that is about to change.
The Twins will play 31 of their next 41 games at Target Field. They’ll have series in San Francisco and Milwaukee later this month and play a series in Chicago just before the All-Star Break, but otherwise, it’s time for some home cooking.
So, for those of you who have kind of lost touch with this team since the season started, here are a few things you should know:
You may have heard the Twins have a new second baseman. You may have heard that he’s from Japan. You may have heard wrong. Or not. Tsuyoshi Nishioka did start the season at 2B, but only lasted a week or so before breaking his leg, so when you go to the game, expect to see Matt Tolbert there. Or Luke Hughes. Or Michael Cuddyer. Or Alexi Casilla. Then again, Nishi is hopefully wrapping up his rehabilitation work in the minors soon, so you MAY see him out there. Or you may see him at shortstop instead. Or it may be Casilla there. Or Tolbert. Yeah… better just check the lineup on the big screen.
You may remember that the Twins have a home-grown All-Star MVP catcher. Well, yes they do. He’s currently DHing and catching a few innings here and there… for the Class A team his brother manages down in Ft. Myers. He, too, may be back on the field for the Twins some time during the next few weeks. But I wouldn’t bet on it. His legs are weak. Seriously… that’s the story… the $23 million/year hero is apparently taking the year off because his legs are weak.
You may have heard that Jim Thome is approaching a career milestone… 600 home runs! That’s true. He’s just approaching it very… very… slowly. He’s on the Disabled List at the moment (where he has lots and lots of company).
You may have heard that you can at least cheer for Jason Kubel and Denard Span because they have been among the few Twins actually hitting the ball well this season. Well… maybe. Kubel is keeping Thome and the others company on the Disabled List and Span has been missing games lately with what could be a recurrence of some vertigo issues he had a couple of years ago. Or maybe he just misses Thome and Jason (and the other Jason… Repko) and Joe (and the other Joe… Nathan) and the other guys on the DL and wants to hang out with them for a while.
You may have heard that the Twins’ bullpen is full of guys you’ve never heard of. This is true. It’s just not necessarily the SAME group of guys you’ve never heard of that started the season out there. The good news is that THIS group of guys has actually been getting hitters out lately. Still… if you go to a game and the Twins have a lead of say 2 runs (or 3.., or 4… or 5) heading in to the last couple of innings, it might be premature to assume it’s safe to go line up at the light rail station.
Hopefully, during the course of the next 6-7 weeks, Twins fans will get to see more familiar jersey numbers at Target Field… either that or the team is going to have to consider putting names on the back of those old-school throwback uniforms they’re wearing at home (something they decided to do to honor Harmon Killebrew).
Even more importantly, I hope the performance on the field continues, as it has over the course of this past road trip, to resemble something fans have come to expect from the Twins in recent years. Their record is still the worst in baseball, but the pitching is more consistent (in a good way) and while the remaining sluggers still haven’t been slugging, the guys at the top and bottom of the order have been finding ways to score some runs. It has become fun to watch the Twins again… just in time for this long homestand.
I wrote a few weeks ago that I didn’t believe the Indians were for real. I’ve seen nothing to change my mind. The Tigers are the team that everyone in the AL Central need to focus on and the Twins are currently exactly 10 games behind Detroit. Six weeks from now, the Twins will be wrapping up this favorable stretch of their schedule by hosting the Tigers for a four-game series. If they aren’t within clawing distance of Detroit at that point, you might want to get a good… and last… look at some of your favorite players in their Twins uniforms, because many of them will likely be wearing someone else’s colors a week or so later.
There are a great many Twins fans heading into downtown to join with others to commemorate the life of Harmon Killebrew. Here’s all the details if you want to join Knuckleballs’ own JimCrikket and the rest. My advice is to get there as early as possible.
What: Public memorial
When: 7:10 p.m. today (broadcast coverage on FSN will begin at 6:00 pm)
Where: Target Field (gates open at 6)
Scheduled speakers: MLB Commissioner Bud Selig, Rod Carew, Paul Molitor, Jim Kaat, Tony Oliva, Michael Cuddyer, Justin Morneau
What fans should know: Event is free and open to everyone. General admission seating. Concession stands will be open. All attendees will receive a commemorative program.
Due to the solemnity of the day, Governor Dayton has declared today to be Harmon Killebrew Day here in Minnesota. I thought I would share his declaration here in it’s entirety.
Minnesota Twins legend and Hall of Famer, Harmon Clayton Killebrew, passed away on May 17, 2011, at the age of 74 after a courageous battle with esophageal cancer; and
Mr. Killebrew’s Hall-of-Fame career began when he was signed out of the ball fields of Payette, Idaho by the Washington Senators, who moved to Minnesota in 1961 and became the Minnesota Twins; and
Thanks to quick hands and extraordinary upper-body strength, Mr. Killebrew developed into one of the most feared power hitters of all time, amassing a staggering 573 home runs throughout his career; and
Mr. Killebrew dominated the game, racking up 11 all-star game appearances, named American League Most Valuable Player in 1969, and, in 1965 led the Minnesota Twins to their first World Series appearance; and
After retiring, Mr. Killebrew’s illustrious career was recognized by Major League Baseball, when he was elected into the Hall of Fame in 1984; and
Much of Mr. Killebrew’s retirement was devoted to his foundation, the Harmon Killebrew Foundation, where he worked with the Minnesota Twin Community Fund and the Miracle League to bring the joy of baseball to children; and
Mr. Killebrew’s life should serve as an inspiration to everyone, and his work on the baseball diamond and through his foundation will never be forgotten; and
Today the citizens of Minnesota join with Mr. Killebrew’s surviving family members, his many friends, and his passionate legion of fans in celebrating the man an all he accomplished throughout his life, on an off the diamond.
Now, Therefore, I, Mark Dayton, Governor of Minnesota, do hereby proclaim May 26, 2011 to be:
Harmon Killebrew Day
That was a truly amazing and moving service. If you were unable to watch it or attend, FSN has it divided into clips for you watch. I encourage you to take the opportunity.
I’m not sure what kind of coincidence comes into play that the Twins are in Arizona on the same day as Gentleman Killer’s funeral but I’m not going to look a gift horse in the mouth. It allows Cuddyer, Morneau, Nathan, & Gardenhire to act as pallbearers for Harmon in addition to Molitor, Oliva, Carew & Quilici. Additionally, Bert Blyleven will be giving the eulogy. I have no idea how this will effect the team as a whole but I’m sure that they are all grateful to be able to pay their respects to his family in person.
I was very glad we were able to share the funeral with anyone who was able to watch and our thanks to Kare11 for using an embeddable video code! Here is the video provided by Kare11 that you can watch at your leisure if you were unable to watch.
It was a very touching service and I am certain that no eye remained dry through it’s entirety. I know mine didn’t with all the family and friends who shared. I am so glad that the team was able to participate in Arizona. For those of us who are stuck in MN and couldn’t join the thousands at the funeral, the public memorial for Harmon is next week here at Target Field.
Memorial service (open to the public) Thursday, May 26, 7 p.m.
Live coverage from Target Field begins at 6:00 p.m. on FS North.
Watch re-airings of Spotlight: Harmon Killebrew Tribute on FOX Sports North
Friday, May 20: 7:30 p.m., 1 a.m.
Satuday, May 21: 8 p.m.
Sunday, May 22: 6:30 p.m.
Tuesday, May 24: 6 p.m.
Wednesday, May 25: 3:30 p.m.
Thursday, May 26: 2:30 p.m.
Yes, this is a second Harmon Killebrew memorial post at Knuckleballs, but I just feel compelled to share my own thoughts about Harmon.
I was three years old in the summer of 1959 when my dad got a coaching job in southern Minnesota. Two years later, the Washington Senators relocated to the Twin Cities and, with them, came Harmon Killebrew. To a young boy like me at the time, Killebrew was larger than life. My family might only make one or two trips a year up to see games at Metropolitan Stadium, but we watched Killebrew and his team mates on television every summer, all summer long.
It’s not surprising that he became my hero… my sports idol. He was the player I wanted to be “like”. But then, he was the guy we all wanted to be like. While we kids didn’t probably notice it so much at the time, his gentle and gracious demeanor towards media, fans and pretty much everyone he encountered probably resulted in him being the guy our parents hoped we would all grow up to be “like”.
Through the subsequent decades, we’ve seen one superstar after another capture our attention (and the attention of our kids) with their remarkable talents, only to turn out to be the kind of person off the field that we would never want our children to idolize. Charles Barkley even made a lot of money from his “I am not a role model” mantra.
As parents, we’ve had to constantly remind our children that their sports heroes are “human” and they may not always be the nicest guys off the field. Spend even a single day at any Major League spring training camp (yes, including the Twins’) and you’re going to see examples of what I’m talking about. We all have had to remind our kids that their sports heroes are not “real” heroes. It’s OK to love the way they play a game, but “real” heroes are people who live their lives up to certain ethical standards and just because a person can hit a baseball 450 feet, we can’t assume he lives his life in a manner worthy of being considered a hero.
I’ve always felt a bit sad for all the kids who have grown up worshiping this home run hitter or that quarterback or this other power forward, only to realize as they get older that their hero actually was more than a little bit of a jerk. It’s just sad when a kid eventually even feels embarrassed for having admired a particular superstar. Maybe he used drugs. Maybe he abused his wife or kids, or maybe he was just a really crappy human being. I suppose there’s a lesson to be learned by kids in that situation that helps them understand the nature of human frailties. If so, it’s a lesson I’m glad I never had to learn… at least in that manner.
My hero understood and embraced his place as a role model. I’m sure Harmon Killebrew made mistakes in his life. We all do. But I’m not aware of any sports figure of his stature who has had a reputation for class and graciousness the way Killebrew has. Listen to his team mates. Listen to current players who were privileged to spend time around him as they came up in the Twins organization. Listen to people in the Twins organization that he worked with. Listen to members of the media.
I’m midway through my sixth decade on this earth and I’m still as proud as I’ve ever been to say Harmon Killebrew was my hero.
Harmon lost his battle with cancer this week and that means we won’t see him at Target Field any more, other than in a bronzed likeness. It means those of us who make the trip to spring training won’t see him around the batting cage talking with today’s players. It’s sad and our thoughts and prayers are with his family as they mourn his passing.
But Harmon will live on. When you get a legible autograph from Michael Cuddyer or one of the other Twins players that Killebrew taught to sign their names properly, Harmon will be there. When you come away from a night at a Twins Caravan impressed with how “fan friendly” the Twins players were, Harmon was there. Whenever you see an athlete conduct him or her self with class and willingly and openly embrace his or her place as a role model for young fans, Harmon will be there.
Harmon Killebrew was my hero. He was a real hero. Real heroes live on in the hearts and lives of the millions of people they touched during their time among us.
The game itself doesn’t start until later but FSN will begin broadcasting at 8 pm with a memorial for Harmon Killebrew – ESPN radio will begin their tribute to him at 8:40. Seattle has lowered the flags in the park to half staff to honor and there will be a video tribute and a moment of silence before the game begines.
Obviously, Killebrew’s passing will be a major discussion point – not entirely excluding the fact that the Twins play of late hasn’t been worth talking about – so we’ll just embrace it. If anyone has a particular story they would like to share, I encourage them to do so! The Twins will be sporting a 3 patch on their uniforms in addition to the memorials they are planning at Target Field. Even though there are innumerable writeups in honor of Killer, I think people should read an additional memorial from Harmon’s colleagues this afternoon: Twins Legends Remember
Well, goodness! THAT hasn’t happened in awhile! Whether or not the Twins won this one for The Killer or just got lucky on a couple questionable calls and took advantage of good pitching/bad pitching – it all just doesn’t matter. They won. They broke a freakishly long losing streak. They didn’t hit too much but they hit enough… AND they did play pretty aggressively on the base paths which I do like to see. And Michael Cuddyer gets a new pen for all those signatures he spent so much time improving with Harmon because of being the RBI man tonight.
But this game really came down to the pitching. And since we never know exactly which Liriano we’re going to see on the mound on a given night, I was ecstatic to have 7 innings of (mostly) thrilling pitches from him. For that reason, FranKKKie was voted today’s BOD! (funny thing, we’re so out of the habit, almost everyone left without voting!)