Dan Cook

Dan Cook

Sunday

7-6-14 All-Star Game Blog: Twins All-Stars



The Minnesota Twins will have at least two players representing them as they host the 2014 All-Star Game.

Kurt Suzuki is getting his first shot at an appearance in the Midsummer Classic. Glen Perkins can now call himself a two-time All-Star.

Suzuki broke into the big leagues with Oakland in 2007. A career .257 hitter, he's never been known as an offensive juggernaut. But as a reliable backstop, he's carved out a solid career by handling pitching staffs and answering the bell daily despite his fair share of bumps and bruises.

After deciding to move Joe Mauer to first base, the Twins needed a veteran presence at catcher. Josmil Pinto showed some signs last season, but certainly wasn't ready to be behind the plate day-in and day-out.

So Minnesota signed Suzuki in the off-season to a 1-year, $2.75 million deal. Not rich by Major League standards, but reasonable considering he hit .232/.290/.337 in 2013 while splitting time between Washington and Oakland.

To say Suzuki has exceeded expectations is putting it mildly.

Coming into Sunday's game with the Yankees, he'd put together a slash-line of .308/.366/.400.

Among American League catchers, Suzuki ranked 1st in Batting Average (.308) and OBP (.366), T1st in Doubles (17), 2nd in Hits (77) and T3rd in RBI (34).

Manager Ron Gardenhire cited those numbers as making Suzuki deserving of an All-Star nod.

“He has the numbers. He's done a great job for us and we're very proud for him,” Gardenhire said, “and very happy for him and his family. It's a big thing for him and he's very excited.”

Baseball reference puts his Wins Above Replacement (WAR) at 2.1 games. Fangraphs has him slightly lower at 1.2 WAR.

Whichever version you prefer, there's no question that the number is higher than would've been predicted before the year began.

He was asked if he came into this season thinking he'd have a shot at making the AL All-Star squad.

“I always try to be positive. I always envision it. After the last two years there was definitely a little bit of doubt in there,” Suzuki said, “but you try and stay positive and put in a lot of hard work and time. I believed in myself, it's just a matter of going out there and performing.”

And his contributions haven't just been on the offensive side of the ball.

Suzuki has taken multiple foul balls off thinly-protected areas over the course of the season, and even managed to clothesline himself on a railing chasing after a foul ball in a game this past week. But even with the wear and tear that's unique to the catching position, Suzuki has caught 72 of the Twins 87 games this season.

Asked if he was going to have to cancel previous plans, Suzuki said he had planned to stay in town anyway.

“This is definitely a much better plan for the [All-Star] break than what I had,” Suzuki said.

It's an honor to be selected to an All-Star Game - an honor that most players don't receive over the course of their career. But a player really starts to enter rarefied air when he's selected to multiple All-Star Games.

And you can now add Twins closer Glen Perkins to that list.

Perkins had his first All-Star experience last year at Citi Field as the Mets hosted the Midsummer Classic.

This season, he not only gets to make an appearance in his home ballpark, but also in the town he's called home most of his life.

“I did everything I could do to be here,” Perkins said, “I don't think it's really sunk in yet. But I'm excited to represent the Twins and the state. It's a dream come true.”

Manager Ron Gardenhire could tell how badly Perkins wanted to make the All-Star roster.

“When I talked to him [Perkins] after I talked to the manager [Boston skipper John Farrell], he took a deep breath and sighed,” Gardenhire said, “he was really excited. It was something that was weighing on his mind heavily. This was something that he wanted very badly and rightfully so.”

Perkins was drafted by the Twins in the first round of the 2004 draft and made his Major League debut with the club in 2006.

Beginning his career as a starter, Perkins eventually transitioned to the bullpen and after collecting a pair of saves in 2011 and a handful more in 2012, he became the Twins closer full time and turned himself in to a two-time All-Star.

Perkins ERA is up a touch from last season – 3.22 as opposed to 2.30 last year – but that may be slightly misleading since his FIP (1.84) would indicate he hasn't exactly had rock-solid defense working behind him.

His peripherals would support his inclusion in the All-Star Game as well. His Home Run Rate (0.5) and Walk Rate (1.7) are down from his career averages (1.0 & 2.3) and his Strikeout Rate (11.9) is up (7.2).

Each of those statistics are also improved over his numbers last season – when he joined Joe Mauer as All-Star representatives from the Twins.

Asked about having Kurt Suzuki alongside him, Perkins had a joke at the ready.

“I have a knack for bringing catchers,” Perkins said, “I'm excited for him. He's had a heck of year. He's been our best player. Hopefully I'll get to throw the ball to him.”

After not getting into the game in 2013, Twins manager – and All-Star coach - Ron Gardenhire is determined to make sure he gets in this year.


“I'll be on the bench,” Gardenhire said, “I'll just sneak him out there.”



Friday

6-20-14 Twins Blog: Waiting Game


Ten years. Two hundred ninety-two games. One thousand ninety-three and two-thirds innings. That's how long Yohan Pino (pronounced PEEN-oh) had to slog his way through the minor leagues before finally getting his shot at the big leagues.

And in an ironic twist few sports other than baseball could provide, he had to wait an extra two hours on Thursday night thanks to a steady rain that delayed the start of the Twins vs. White Sox until 9:16 p.m.

It was a long, winding road for Pino.

Born on December 26th, 1983, in Turmero, Aragua, Venezuela, he was signed by the Twins as a minor-league free agent out of the Venezuelan Winter League on May 12, 2004. He began what looked like a steady march through the minors in 2005 in Elizabethton, advancing to Beloit in 2006, Fort Meyers and even Double-A New Britain in 2007.

He spent all of 2008 with the Rock Cats before getting promoted to Triple-A Rochester during the 2009 season, agonizingly close to the big leagues.

But after just eight games with the Red Wings, he found himself traded to the Cleveland Indians organization and spending the rest of the 2009 season in Columbus.

Hey, if the Twins didn't have room for him in The Show, maybe Cleveland did?

Except something in Columbus didn't agree with Yohan and his numbers went in the wrong direction. That got him traded to the Toronto Blue Jays organization in 2011 where he bounced around from Triple-A Las Vegas to Double-A New Hampshire.

After finishing the 2012 season in Vegas, Pino moved on to the Reds organization where he hoped to finally get his shot.

He started 2013 in Double-A Pensacola and managed to work his way up to Triple-A Louisville to finish the season but still couldn't find his way to the majors.

Which brought him back to where it all began, as he signed with the Twins organization for 2014 and began the year back in Rochester.

Did he think he'd ever make it to the majors?

“At times I found it difficult to think I might get here, but I kept on working hard,” Pino said.

All he'd done so far this season in Triple-A was go 9-1, with a 1.92 ERA, an 0.934 WHIP, a 3.81 K/BB, and 9.0 strikeout rate.

Eventually, those numbers became too good to ignore, and when the Twins decided to take Samuel Deduno out of the rotation, Pino – at 30 years, 175 days – became the oldest Minnesota Twin to make his Major League debut.

It just took a couple of extra hours to make it happen.

After the rain finally let up in Minnesota, and the Twins took the field against Chicago, Pino promptly struck out the first two batters he faced: Adam Eaton and Gordon Beckham on five pitches each. A Conor Gillaspie ground-out gave Pino his first big-league 1-2-3 inning. An unsurprising start since he'd gone 1-2-3 in the first in each of his seven starts in Rochester.

Pino wasn't overpowering. His fastball sat in the upper-80's, touching 90 once in a while. He mixed in a mid-70's curveball and an 80'ish mph changeup to keep White Sox hitters off-balance.

Catcher Kurt Suzuki was asked about catching Pino for the first time in his career.

“It helps when the guy hits every single spot you go to. It was nice,” Suzuki said.

Chicago small-balled their way to a couple of runs off him in the 3rd, but that was all the offense they could muster off Pino.

His final line: 7IP, 5H, 2ER, 1BB, 7K, 94 pitches, 68 strikes.

If you'd offered the Twins those numbers before the game, they'd have taken them gladly.

“They've got some pretty good hitters over there and he held them down pretty good. That's fun to watch. He gave us a great opportunity to win a ballgame,” said manager Ron Gardenhire.

And though he didn't factor in the decision, the Twins still got a win in Pino's debut, as they scored two in the 8th on the way to a 4-2 win over Chicago.

After the game he was all smiles when asked what he'll do with the game ball.

“I'm going to get it signed by the whole team and save it for my family,” Pino said.


Given how long he waited to get to the big leagues, it's a memento well-earned.

6-19-14 Twins Blog: All-Star Voting



We here at the WCCO.com Twins Blog are naturally big baseball fans, so we always look forward to the All-Star Game. All the more so this season because the Mid-Summer Classic is being held at Target Field.

One of the joys of baseball's annual honor for the best in the game, is that fans get to play a significant role in selecting who gets play in the game.

Sometimes it's for performance, sometimes it's a lifetime achievement award (hello, Derek Jeter) and sometimes it's just root-root-rooting for the home team.

With that in mind, we'd like to present our own All-Star ballots, and how we got around to choosing them.

We start with he who has been here longest.
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Peter Nelson's Ballot


If there's one thing I can't stand it’s folks who vote for their "favorites" regardless of their performance that year.  If Fantasy Baseball has taught me anything it's to respect the stats.  Here's my ballot:

American League

1B: Jose Abreu - CHW

Abreu was the second-most hyped rookie coming into the 2014 season and he hasn't disappointed.  He is destroying the ball and didn't miss a beat after coming off an ankle injury.  I'd take him over Miggy at this point.

2B:  Brian Dozier – MIN

Dozier is getting it done this season, offensively and defensively.  No hometown bias here. He's the best second baseman the first half of 2014.

SS: Alexi Ramirez – CHW

Another White Sox player on my ballot but it's hard to argue with a batting average above .300 and 30+ RBI at short.

3B:  Josh Donaldson – OAK

Many thought Donaldson should have been at the All-Star game last season.  This season he's made it pretty clear he belongs there.

C: Kurt Suzuki – MIN

Suzuki has been quite the surprise for the Twins.  He deserves to be there just as much as an injured Matt Wieters or Brian McCann.

DH: Nelson Cruz – BAL

If he's made a clean comeback then he deserves to be at the big show.  I presume they've tested him.

OF: Yoenis Cespedes - OAK, Jose Bautista – TOR, Mike Trout – LAA

Cespedes can throw anyone out.  Bautista destroys the ball.  Trout can catch everything.  This is the OF I'd like to see at Target Field on July 15.

National League

1B: Justin Morneau – COL

I'm going to get a little sentimental here.  Morneau has bounced back nicely after signing with Colorado and their potent offense.  It would be fitting for him to start the All-Star Game at Target Field.

2B: Anthony Rendon – WAS

Some think Rendon is the National's best hitter.  The young infielder is putting up the right numbers to make that argument.

SS: Troy Tulowitzki – COL

I'm sure my vote will be the deciding vote to get this guy in.  He's only batting .356 as I write this.

3B:  Todd Frazier – CIN

My heart wanted to go with Pedro but the numbers say Frazier.

C: Evan Gattis – ATL

Gattis was my favorite story from last year and I don't want it to end.  My vote goes to "El Oso Blanco."

OF: Giancarlo Stanton - FLA, Charlie Blackmon – COL, Yasiel Puig – LAD

Stanton has been unstoppable. Blackmon has been a surprise. Puig is a must-see.
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Tracy Perlman's Ballot


I love baseball. I love the Twins.

I don't however, love all the other teams. I'll watch them, sure. But know every player on the roster? Nope. Who's got time for that? (OK, I know a lot of people do and fantasy teams make it even easier, but I don't have time for that).

My All-Star ballot voting process is a simple one. I skim the list looking for Twins players and vote for them.

No fancy equations. No staying up all night debating who's deserving of a spot. No second guessing.

There are some exceptions.

Former Twins who I remain a fan of will get priority too. Sometimes even over the current starting lineup. For example, I continue to root for Torii Hunter, Michael Cuddyer, Justin Morneau and AJ Pierzynski.

While I may not know every starter, I do know a good majority of them and their capabilities. Some are more deserving of an All-Star invitation than the Twins starters.

When wavering from the Twins roster, my decision is based on two things: How are they off the field? Are they a good person? Good role model? If yes, then I consider how good they are at their position.

If at this point, I've decided to give the vote that much consideration, I’ll give them my vote.

Of course, this only applies to the American League. For National League, I depend solely on if I've heard of them and then what I know about them.

Or I just vote for the Cubs player, because they could use as much good morale as possible.  Here's my ballot:

American League

1B: Joe Mauer – MIN

Duh.

2B: Brian Dozier – MIN

I'm sure he'll get beat out by Robinson Cano, but I don’t care. Dozier's hair is WAY more All-Star worthy than Cano’s.

SS: Derek Jeter – NYY

This is one of those "he's a good guy and good at his position and it's his final ASG" votes. Plus, he's a future Hall of Famer, and aren't those the guys you want to see play in All-Star Games?

3B: Trevor Plouffe – MIN

Maybe not technically the best third baseman out there, but he's made a big improvement this season and he's all hustle and heart.

C: AJ Pierzynski – BOS

I know a lot of Twins fans can't stand him, but I always have and always will be a fan of his.

DH: David Ortiz – BOS

This was tough for me. I wanted to vote for Kubel, but he got designated for assignment. Since Big Papi is a former Twin, I don't feel as bad giving him my vote.

OF: Torii Hunter – DET, Aaron Hicks – MIN, Josh Willingham – MIN,

Hunter has a special place in my heart. His #48 jersey is the first, and only, player jersey I own. Hicks has made some insane catches at the warning track and should be back from the DL by the break.  I'd love to see those web gems against some of baseball's best. Willingham is likely better suited for the home run derby, but still, he gets my vote.

National League

1B: Justin Morneau – COL

He's a great first baseman. Plus, it'd be totes adorbs to have the M&M boys back together at Target Field.

2B: Rickie Weeks – MIL

He has good hair and is the only name I recognized. Sorry, not sorry.

SS: Johnny Peralta – STL

Why not? I don't know anyone else.

3B: Luis Valbuena – CHC

Cubs rule.

C: Wilson Ramos – WAS

Former Twin.

OF: Ryan Braun – MIL, Michael Cuddyer – COL, Carlos Gomez – MIL

Cuddyer is one of the nicest, most genuine guys playing the game, and even though he's hurt, I have to vote for him. Go-Go gets my vote because he's having an outstanding season and is a former Twin. Finally, Braun is a member of the tribe, us Jews have to stick together.
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Dan Cook's Ballot


I admit it, I'm a stat-geek.

I love the fact that while baseball lags behind other sports in so many areas, the one area it's absolutely led the way in, is advanced metrics.

Yes, there's always room for the eye-test, but the beauty of sabermetrics is that you can double-check said eye-test and either have it confirmed through statistical analysis, or have it contradicted, which gives you the opportunity to go back and reassess what it is you thought you saw.

With that in mind, here's my approach to constructing an All-Star ballot.

First I use Wins Above Replacement, WAR, to winnow down the field to three-five players at each position.  No, WAR isn't the end-all, be-all of baseball statistics, but it is the most all-encompassing one we have.

And, therefore, a good place to start.

Once I've done that, I break down players by offense, usually OPS – a denominator-challenged stat to be sure, but still useful, defense, dWAR and UZR are helpful numbers, and base-running. Stolen bases isn't totally determinative – especially depending on position – but if there's a large disparity between players, then that tells you a little something.

Notice I'm not using Batting Average, though that's nominally incorporated into OPS, I'm definitely not using RBI, which is an entirely too team-dependent statistic for me to use it in an evaluation of an individual player. I'm also not using home runs. Use that to determine who's in the Derby, fine, but it's not going to get you into my All-Star game.

With that, here's my ballot:

American League

1B: Edwin Encarnacion – TOR

My one write-in vote.  It's a shame the ballots aren't more flexible. Clearly no one saw his huge year coming, but it's undeniable he's deserving.

2B: Jose Altuve – HOU

He and Ian Kinsler are neck-and-neck, but I gave the nod to the youngster and his 20-plus stolen bases.

SS: Alexi Ramirez – CWS

As much as it pains me to vote for a South-Sider, his numbers, especially base-running and defense, stand well apart from the rest of the pack.

3B: Josh Donaldson – OAK

This one's a slam-dunk.  Donaldson's having a MVP-like first half, and the rest of the contenders aren't close.

C: Salvador Perez – KC

Cleveland's Yan Gomes has numbers almost identical to Perez, but Perez has a stolen base and Gomes doesn't.  I guess that's a tie-breaker?  Also, anybody but A.J.

DH: Victor Martinez – DET

This came down to V-Mart and Nelson Cruz. Cruz has slightly better numbers, but Martinez has never failed a drug-test.  Advantage, Victor.

OF: Jose Bautista – TOR, Alex Gordon – KC, Mike Trout – LAA

Bautista may break both video boards at Target Field, and that's worth the price of admission alone.  Gordon's a solid player, deserving of recognition.  And Mike Trout's simply the best player in baseball, churning out yet another MVP-worthy season.

National League

1B: Paul Goldschmidt – ARZ

Though his team's having a nightmare year, last-year's NL MVP runner-up is once again putting up big numbers, and is even throwing in some value on the base-paths!

2B: Chase Utley – PHI

Great players don't die, they just keep plugging away on lousy teams because they're too loyal to ask for a trade. Or something like that.

SS: Troy Tulowitzki – COL

Talk about your MVP-worthy first halves!  I don't know if Tulo's capable of staying healthy all year, but given how well he's played so far, I'd love to see how his numbers finish if he can.

3B: Nolan Arenado – COL

Though he's cooled a touch after a torrid start, he still leads the pack at third in OPS and defensive metrics.

C: Jonathan Lucroy – MIL

First thought: this is Yadier Molina's spot to lose.  Second thought: Lucroy has a better WAR, OPS and dWAR.  He gets the nod.

OF: A.J. Pollock – ARZ, Yasiel Puig – LAD, Giancarlo Stanton – MIA

Pollock has a higher OPS than teammate, and fellow vote-getter, Goldschmidt.  Puig frustrates the hell out of me sometimes but is undeniably a joy to watch hit. And Stanton is the best player you may not have heard of because he plays for an owner only slightly less odious than Donald Sterling.
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So there you have it.  Three different ballots.  Three different approaches.  And ultimately, none of them are "wrong", because it's an exhibition game.

Fans get to vote however they like and the truth of the matter is, the sheer volume of the voting usually ensures that the right players get there anyway.  And if the “right players” don't get there via the fan votes, the managers can always add them as a reserve.

So head to MLB.com and cast your vote before July 3!

Or if you're feeling "old school", head on out to Target Field, grab a paper ballot, and punch those holes for your favorite players.

The point is to enjoy the process, enjoy the discussion and debate, and enjoy the fact that we get to play a part in the best All-Star Game in all of sports!

5-16-14 Twins Blog: Sid Hartman Day


Sid Hartman has graced this humble Earth for 94 years. He has been scribbling for the Star Tribune for 69 of those years and has held court on the airwaves of WCCO Radio for 59.

This Sunday, the Minnesota Twins - who've been in this state a mere 53 years – will honor those astounding numbers, and the singular character who owns them, with “Sid Hartman Day” at Target Field.

There will be a special edition of “The Sports Huddle” with co-host Dave Mona live from Target Plaza near the Majestic Clubhouse, where fans can count on seeing Sid talk with Twins names like Tom Kelly, Dave St. Peter and even a player or two.

In addition, fans will have a chance at a limited edition Sid bobblehead and a coffee mug with famous Sid quotes from his illustrious career (at least the ones fit for print).

So what is it about Sid Hartman that makes him such a legend? Is it merely being around as long as he has? Is it the seemingly endless list of contacts and “close, personal friends”? Or is it something more?

I think it's the stories. Sid's made an amazing career out of telling stories, and along the way has created a bevy of them himself.

Everybody has a Sid story. People who've worked with him usually have several. And for a select few, there are so many stories that volumes will continue to be written long after most of us have left this mortal coil.

(And Sid will probably still be here when we do.)

My first, and best Sid story occurred on June 25, 1998.

As a young radio reporter, I was covering the Brewers as they traveled to the Metrodome to face the Twins. In the top of the 5th, Brewers second baseman Mark Loretta lined a shot to Brad Radke's left. The normally sure-gloved pitcher got said glove on the ball, but wasn't able to gather it in time to throw Loretta out at first.

Twins official scorer Tom Mee watched several replays and ruled it an error. Sid, however, upon learning that was Brad Radke's first ever error in a big league uniform, decided that he disagreed.

For those who've seen Sid “disagree” with a team official before, it wasn't anything that unusual. But there were enough “colorful metaphors” and “decibel levels rarely matched in press boxes” that I was apparently left with a look of stunned confusion on my face.

I say “apparently” because after one look at me, WCCO's Mike Max quipped, “There's only one Sid, right?” To which I mumbled some sort of, “Yeah, sure, okay...”-style agreement.

Had Mike ended his quips there, it wouldn't be much of a story. But moments later, as Sid – resplendent in a “not-quite-Augusta” green sportcoat - walked over to tell Maxie why he thought the error on Radke was such a lousy call, Mike stopped him, looked at me and said, “I don't know why you'd say that, I think that jacket looks great on Sid!”

Gulp.

Again, I was a punk kid doing radio in Wisconsin. But I had grown up in the Twin Cities, and knew enough to know that Sid's a legend and suddenly being put in the position of having dared critique his sartorial splendor was not good.

Naturally, my entire future career flashed before my eyes.

Until Sid took two looks at me, decided I was probably just some punk kid doing radio in Wisconsin and moved on as though I'd never said anything in the first place... which, technically, I hadn't.

And that was fortunate for me, since it turns out I'd spend 13 years (and hopefully still counting) at WCCO Radio.

Over those years Sid's asked me who I was more than a handful of times, “when was I going to get one of those hair transplants like Lynch” at least half a dozen times, and “hey, can you look this up for me” more times than I could possibly count. And the truth is, I treasure every one of them... simply for the stories.

Most people only cross paths with honest-to-goodness legends a handful of times in their lives. When you get to work with one, you soak it up and try and enjoy it as best you can.

Sure, Sid's earned a reputation as curt, irascible, and lacking patience with “selective listeners”. But ultimately, those things are all a part of his charm. Or what another legend, Dark Star, used to call, “the wonder of it all.”

Come Sunday, there will be more than a few “Sid Stories” shared at Target Field. And, knowing Sid, there'll likely be one or two created that day as well.

So head down to the ballpark early, catch The Sports Huddle, and enjoy the spectacle of Sid trying to figure out how a kid from Venezuela got a name like “Felix” as the Twins take on the Mariners and 2010 Cy Young winner Felix Hernandez at 1:10pm.


Who knows? Maybe you'll end up with a “Sid story” of your own!