Twins notes: Cover boy Mauer, promotions, delusions, bingo and false hustle

Joe Mauer is on the cover of this week’s Sports Illustrated with a headline about his “chase” for .400, which is amusing given that going hitless last night pushed his batting average below .400 before the magazine even showed up on newsstands. There’s a reason why no one has batted .400 in almost 70 years, and it has nothing to do with any silliness about a “cover jinx.” Here’s a comparison between this week’s cover and Mauer’s previous SI cover in August of 2006:

You’ll notice that “hometown hero” appears on both covers.

Given a promotion after hitting .284/.373/.483 with seven homers, 25 total extra-base hits, and a nice 40-to-31 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 57 games at Double-A, Danny Valencia went 3-for-5 with a double in his Triple-A debut last night. Valencia ranked sixth on my list of the Twins’ best prospects heading into the season, and it looks like he may be ready to take over for Joe Crede as the starting third baseman in 2010. I’m not convinced that he’ll have big power, but Valencia should be a solid all-around player.

Asked Tuesday about the Twins’ decision to designate Luis Ayala for assignment while calling up Bobby Keppel from Rochester, Ron Gardenhire revealed that Ayala was unhappy with his middle-relief role and requested a trade several weeks ago. As you can imagine that didn’t sit well with Gardenhire, which explains why the Twins were willing to cut him loose despite Ayala proving reasonably useful in low-leverage spots. Here’s some of what Gardenhire had to say:

He wanted an eighth-inning role, that’s why he signed over here. He wasn’t pitching well enough to be an eighth-inning guy. So there you have it. His thoughts were if we gave him the ball in that eighth inning, he’d be able to do the job. My thoughts are if you’re not getting them out, you’re not going to pitch in the eighth inning. We’re trying to win. So there’s your difference.

When you walk into my office and tell me you don’t like your role — and he talked about his contract for next year — you lose me right there. I don’t deal with that. We’re talking about winning now. That’s why he’s out the door and another guy’s in there to pitch. And it’s not because he’s a bad guy. His theories are a little different.

Gardenhire has every right to react the way that he did and ultimately Ayala is expendable enough that he’s not worth the hassle, but part of the reason why he “wanted an eighth-inning role” is that the Twins talked him up as a setup man when they signed him. He was never worthy of that job and Gardenhire deserves credit for realizing that when Bill Smith couldn’t, but Ayala had reason to be delusional about his ability, given what the front office no doubt told him about his likely role during the courtship process.

Back when Ayala signed in February, nearly every story about the move included some mention of his supposed “sinker.” Here’s what I wrote at the time:

Can the people who get paid to write about the Twins please stop referring to him as a “sinkerballer”? When the Twins signed Ayala two weeks ago Joe Christensen of the Minneapolis Star Tribune and Phil Miller of the St. Paul Pioneer Press both called him a “sinkerball specialist” and last week LaVelle E. Neal III called him “the sinkerballing Ayala.” Ayala and the Twins may tell you that he throws a sinker, but he hasn’t actually had an above-average ground-ball rate since 2004.

Sure enough, Joe Christensen‘s story about Ayala being cut included a note about how “the Twins had grown increasingly frustrated with Ayala’s inconsistency with his sinker.” Shocking!

On a related note, remember all that stuff about how Sean Henn “features a 95-mph fastball”? Turns out, he’s averaged 92.4 miles per hour with his fastball since being called up last month, which is very close to the 91.7 miles per hour that he averaged with his fastball in previous stints as a big-leaguer. If only there were ways for journalists to research this type of data rather than just relying on the subjects they’re reporting on to provide them with information.

I’ve toyed with the notion of creating a Bert Blyleven drinking game, but feared that too many readers would die of alcohol poisoning if/when he said “left the ball up” a couple hundred times during one of Scott Baker‘s starts. All of which is why Seth Stohs creating the “Bert Blyleven Bingo Board” is a much better (and safer) idea. It seems like fun, but playing would involve taking my television off mute during Twins games, and my ears aren’t prepared to take that chance.

Nick Punto‘s refusal to cease sliding head-first into first base has now created one injury along with zero base hits and countless moments of ecstasy for Dick Bremer. Yay for false hustle!

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Comments (2)

  1. Submitted by tom moore on 06/24/2009 - 10:57 am.

    “yay for false hustle”. good line.

    i like that gardenhire, btw, threw in the line about ayala not being a bad guy – and wish the strib would have included it in their summary – makes it all sound less harsh and more of a “different philosophy” sort of thing.

    you can’t blame a guy for being upfront and honest about how he’s viewing his own career, contract and role. and, it looks like he’ll get his way – so, it worked – can go to pittsburgh or elsewhere and prove if he is or isn’t set-up man material while auditioning for next year’s contract. good for him (even if being a team player and going out and executing was his easiest path to a better contract next year).

    lastly, related to ayala release: is it ever worth it to sign these fringe, veteran free agents over just giving a younger guy a chance? wouldn’t you rather see what a couple of AAA guys can do when given the shot over what a proven mediocre-at-best veteran can do (and for much less in salary)? or is money involved in that keeping guys like ayala around lengthens the time before those AAA guys become arbitration eligible? like, might as well get more experience at AAA and come up when less of an unknown than to come up a year early and use up service time? or does the math not add up? like, a million plus for ayala offsets anything saved in service time? any ideas? i’d love to know a stat comparing twins pitchers who have spent a full season on the big league roster and how long it took them to go from AA to majors compared to similar players in other organizations.

  2. Submitted by Thomas Keeler on 06/28/2009 - 02:46 am.

    Hey – sliding into first base comes from desire! Something that cannot be quantified.

    Asking Punto to stop sliding into first would be like asking Puckett to quit swinging at bad pitches. And to think: Gardenhire brags about asking Punto to stop sliding into first. Maybe Gardenhire was telling Puckett he’d be a better hitter if he was more selective at the plate.

    Also, watch the final out of the 1996 ALCS, Ripken ground out to third.

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