RandBall

Michael Rand started RandBall with hopes that he could convince the world to love jumpsuits as much as he does. So far, he's only succeeded in using the word "redacted" a lot. He welcomes suggestions, news tips, links of pure genius, and pictures of pets in Halloween costumes here, though he already knows he will regret that last part.

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TFD: Romo restructures deal, creates room if Cowboys want to trade for Adrian Peterson

Posted by: Michael Rand Updated April 1st at 5:15pm 298367621

zimmerpetersonInitial reports Wednesday that Cowboys QB Tony Romo had restructured his contract to clear cap space seemed like an April Fools’ joke. But as more outlets reported it, the skepticism gave way to serious speculation.

Per reports on Pro Football Talk, among others including the Dallas Morning News, the reworking of Romo’s deal frees up $12.8 million in cap space for Dallas in 2015.

Almost too conveniently, Vikings running back Adrian Peterson — rumored to be sought by Dallas and known to be unhappy with Minnesota — is set to earn a salary of $12.75 million next season.

This could just be a coincidence, as Dallas was hard up against the cap before and might have needed help from Romo — who isn’t taking a pay cut, just moving money around — just to sign draft picks and other lesser free agents.

But even the Dallas Morning News makes the Peterson connection: “The Cowboys haven’t pursued a trade for Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, but if that were to present itself, they now have more salary cap space to work with after the Romo restructure. A source close to Peterson has said the running back won’t take a pay cut to change teams.”

Will the dots connect? We’ll see. But deferring money with Romo is a sign Dallas is gearing up for a short-term run at a title, and those who argued the Cowboys didn’t have the cap space to do a deal for Peterson will have to come up with another reason it won’t happen.

Mid-day talker: Why did Twins pitchers stop throwing changeups?

Posted by: Michael Rand Updated April 1st at 3:14pm 298348681

neilallenLa Velle E. Neal had a good read today on new Twins pitching coach Neil Allen being a proponent of throwing changeups. Allen comes from the Tampa Bay organization, where changeups are preached and thrown. Per FanGraphs, Rays pitchers threw 15.8 percent changeups last season — second-most in MLB behind the White Sox.

As with any story that suggests a team is doing something new as it introduces different coaches and ideas into the mix, it also begs a few questions. Is it really new? Have the Twins not been throwing changeups in the past? And if so (or if not so), what could be some of the factors? Let’s examine:

*Is it really new for the Twins to preach and teach changeups? Yes and no. A search through the Star Tribune archives doesn’t reveal a whole lot of articles about former pitching coach Rick Anderson teaching changeups to specific pitchers, though that doesn’t necessarily mean it never happened. There was one prominent mention from 2002:

LaTroy Hawkins credits new pitching coach Rick Anderson for teaching him changeup that has made the righthander much more effective. “I`m throwing everything now,” Hawkins said. “Andy taught me a changeup about a week ago and I’ve been throwing it my last three outings, and it’s worked pretty good for me so far. I’ve been blessed with a good arm. I just try to take care of it and hopefully I can throw that hard for about four or five more years.”

You’ll note that the story was from when Anderson was new — just as Allen is. You’ll also note that Hawkins is STILL pitching, far exceeding that four to five year plan.

*Have the Twins not thrown many changeups in previous years? It’s useful here to start with 2014, another dismal year for Twins pitchers. Minnesota hurlers threw just 8.0 percent changeups — about half the number Rays’ pitchers threw, and 23rd in MLB. That’s puzzling since the Twins haven’t been blessed with many hard throwers in recent years. It stands to reason that adding changeups could have been an effective weapon for starters who aren’t bullet-throwers since the speed difference is a great equalizer no matter if the 10 mph difference is between 90 and 80 or 95 and 85. … And going to 2013 for another glance, the Twins ranked about the same: 8.6 percent changeups (21st in MLB), while the Rays were No. 1 at close to 20 percent.

If you dig further, though, you find the Twins near the top: in 2012, their pitchers threw 11.3 percent changeups, 7th in MLB; in 2011, they were at 12.2 percent, 9th in MLB that year. Neither of those season were good pitching years, either. Going back to 2010, the last time the Twins were good (and the last time their pitching as  whole was competent), they were at 12.3 percent, 8th in MLB. And if you go back to 2004-2007, the heyday of Johan Santana, they were 10th in MLB in changeup percentage during that span. So it’s not like they never had pitchers who threw good changeups, nor have they shied away from throwing them

*Why did Twins pitchers, as a staff, stop throwing changeups? That’s probably the most puzzling question. When Minnesota had capable pitching in the 2000s, their pitchers threw changeups. Even as things started to go south in 2011 and 2012, they were still throwing changeups. Did pitchers who were roughed up in 2011 and 2012 shy away from them in 2013 and 2014? Was it a matter of new pitchers these past two years who weren’t comfortable throwing changeups or didn’t need them that contributed to the dip? (Phil Hughes, by far the Twins best starter last season, threw just 0.2 percent changeups but that didn’t hurt his season one bit). Did Anderson and Ron Gardenhire start stressing different tactics, like sinkers or different fastball grips?

That part is hard to quantify, but as we mentioned before the dip is particularly puzzling on a staff that doesn’t have a lot of hard throwers. Time will tell if Allen’s preaching of the changeup bears itself out in the numbers or if Minnesota pitchers revert to old form. New Twins pitcher Ervin Santana threw 14.2 percent changeups last year, so he should boost the number. Then again, Jared Burton — who threw a staggering 36.7 percent changeups last year in relief — is gone. The final percentage number will likely be determined by a combination of the pitchers’ natural inclinations plus the results they see in early sample sizes from what Allen is teaching them.

We’ll try to circle back at the end of the season, or even a couple of months in, to compare Twins pitchers from 2014 to this season to see if there is a marked difference in changeups thrown.

TFD: Looks like ex-Viking WR Greg Jennings is about to find a new team (update)

Posted by: Michael Rand Updated April 1st at 10:22am 298208781

When the Vikings traded for Mike Wallace a few weeks back, people immediately wondered what would happen with Greg Jennings. The answer came quickly, when the team announced it was releasing the veteran WR, who was well-liked in his two years here but didn’t produce like a top-end receiver.

The parting was amicable, and Jennings even released a statement thanking the team and fans.

It seems as though Jennings is about to find gainful new employment. He tweeted this on Tuesday:

While Jennings didn’t leave any clues about where he is headed, Miami has been considered a possible landing spot. It would be interesting if he and Wallace essentially trade places — after both signed as free agents with the Vikings and Miami, respectively, in 2013.

UPDATE: OK, maybe Jennings isn’t really signing somewhere else soon. The whole series of tweets, which kept building throughout Tuesday night, culminated in a lame April Fools’ Day joke. Let’s all go back to not particularly caring where Jennings winds up, at least until it actually happens.

Good read: Twins pitcher Trevor May and the art of being 'present'

Posted by: Michael Rand Updated March 31st at 3:20pm 298189341

trevormayThree weeks ago, I saw a tweet from Trevor May, a Twins pitching prospect who was in camp at the time (and has since been sent down to Class AAA Rochester). It read, simply:

Consistently being mindful and present is the most underrated skill a person could have.

As someone who has dabbled in the areas of meditation and mindfulness — dipping toes in the water and wanting to jump in further when I can — it struck me as interesting on both a personal level and professional level. I jotted it down as a possible future story idea.

While I might still ask May about it at some point if/when he makes it to the big league club for good, Al Melchior from CBS Sports was seemingly curious as well and has a great piece on May that answers a lot of my questions. Here’s a sampling of what May does in attempt to stay in the moment:

That entails a daily meditation practice, which normally involves sitting or laying down for periods of 10-to-20 minutes, doing nothing but breathing and noticing what he notices. This isn’t just recharging in order to deal with the demands of being a professional ballplayer. For May, this is a form of practice in the same way that a bullpen session is practice. These extended periods of silence prepare May for the emotional ups and downs of pitching in game situations. He sees his ability to stay even through these emotional waves as an even more critical factor to his success than the actual execution of his pitches.

To understand the importance of May’s mindfulness practice to his performance, it helps to understand how he approaches in-game situations. He views every pitch as a three-step process. First, he determines what pitch he wants to throw and where to throw it. Second, he gets his mind in a focused state. Third, he executes the pitch. So while Yogi Berra said 90 percent of the game is half mental, May’s game is two-thirds mental. And if the first two steps of pitching — the mental steps — aren’t executed properly, the physical work of making the actual pitch is all for naught.

The extended story delves deeper into May’s ups and downs, while also taking a look at the mental side of sports as an emerging frontier. It’s worth a read, for sure, whether you are casually interested about May or more deeply interested in the larger topics broached.

Tuesday (Old football cards, old gum) edition: Wha' Happened?

Posted by: Michael Rand Updated March 31st at 10:13am 298141321

ronnielottSaturday-Monday was three-day birthday extravaganza. Saturday we celebrated my wife Julie’s birthday; Sunday we celebrated our daughter Anabel’s first birthday. And Monday, I took the day off and the three of us spent a family day together since Monday was both Julie and Anabel’s actual birthday.

It was a great three days, and both of them received a great many gifts. Anabel received a Jeff Skinner Carolina Hurricanes doll that she refers to as “dada,” and quite frankly it does look look a lot more like me than it looks like him.

One of the gifts for Julie came from Dana Wessel and his special lady friend, Heather. It was a perfectly lovely and normal gift, but it also came with a special bonus: a pack of football cards.

Julie opened the gift late Saturday, after her party, and I was drawn immediately, of course, to the idea of football cards. She opened the pack, and I blurted out, “Is there gum!?” It was a pack of Topps, that was all I could see for the moment, and yes there was gum.

I grabbed the stick; sports card gum is almost always chalky and firm, so I thought nothing of it when this felt particularly chalky and firm. I immediately popped it in and started to chew, noticing that it strangely began disintegrating in my mouth.

“This will get better in a few seconds,” I thought.

And then I started to look through the pack of cards. … Wow, this player can’t possibly still be in the league can he? … Whoa, Ronnie Lott? Nice! But he retired forever ago. Then I finally looked at the FRONT of the package.

These weren’t your average, everyday football cards that you would pick up at a convenience store. This was a pack of cards from 1989. That meant the cards were awesome … but the gum, which was in fact NOT improving but only getting worse by the second, was 26 years old.

Immediately I ran to the kitchen sink and spit out the tiny fragments of chalky, cardboard-esque football card gum. I think I could still taste it 24 hours later.

Moral of the story: if Dana Wessel (or anyone, really, but probably Dana Wessel) gives you a pack of football cards, always check the year first before you try the gum.

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Atlanta - LP: J. Teheran 2 FINAL
Philadelphia - WP: C. Hamels 9
Washington 0 FINAL
Miami 8
Boston 4 FINAL
Minnesota 4
Detroit 2 FINAL
Houston 3
Toronto - WP: C. Hynes 9 FINAL
Boston - LP: D. Hinojosa 7
Tampa Bay - WP: J. Norberto 3 FINAL
NY Yankees - LP: C. Whitley 0
St. Louis 5 FINAL
NY Mets 4
Los Angeles 4 FINAL
Kansas City 4
LA Angels 1 FINAL
Oakland 4
San Diego 8 FINAL
Chicago WSox 2
Chicago WSox 12 FINAL
Seattle 4
Cleveland 2 FINAL
San Francisco 5
Milwaukee 7 FINAL
Chicago Cubs 11
Arizona 3 FINAL
Cincinnati 0
Texas 4 FINAL
Colorado 10
Pittsburgh 3 FINAL
Baltimore 3
Detroit 78 FINAL
Charlotte 102
Philadelphia 93 FINAL
Washington 106
San Antonio 103 FINAL
Orlando 91
Indiana 87 FINAL
Boston 100
Brooklyn 100 FINAL
New York 98
Chicago 91 FINAL
Milwaukee 95
Dallas 135 FINAL
Oklahoma City 131
Sacramento 111 FINAL
Houston 115
Toronto 113 FINAL
Minnesota 99
Denver 84 FINAL
Utah 98
LA Clippers 61 3rd Qtr 8:03
Portland 73
New Orleans 50 2nd Qtr 3:38
LA Lakers 44
Toronto 3 FINAL
Buffalo 4
Philadelphia 4 FINAL
Pittsburgh 1
Edmonton 0 2nd Prd 5:45
Anaheim 4
Colorado 0 2nd Prd
San Jose 0
Loyola-Chicago 63 FINAL
ULM 62
UCLA 69 FINAL
Michigan 65
Temple 58 FINAL
West Virginia 66

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