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Three-Bagger: Heroic Hildy, Golden Buck & Molitor's Last Stand

An unlikely bullpen savior. A front-runner to become the first Minnesota Gold Glove winner since 2010. And a manager who just might stick around after all.

Let's dig in on these three trending September story lines...
Image courtesy of Jay Biggerstaff, USA Today
* Michael Tonkin. Pat Light. J.T. Chargois. Neil Ramirez. Alex Wimmers. These are all right-handed relievers that the Twins tried to bring along last year, with little-to-no success. Minnesota's whiff rate on bullpen reinforcements (and the lack of significant offseason moves on this front) is a primary reason the unit developed into such a frustrating liability – one that went unaddressed at both the July and August trade deadlines.

But in Trevor Hildenberger, the Twins have found a rare internal solution, and a player whose impact exceeds anything they could've hoped to acquire in a deadline deal.

When the team shipped out Brandon Kintzler, it looked like a move that could cripple an already vulnerable unit. His departure left behind a group of righties who were all either extremely inexperienced or extremely difficult to trust.

Some members of that latter category – namely, Matt Belisle and Ryan Pressly – deserve plenty of credit for stepping up, as does another rookie newcomer, Alan Busenitz. But no one has been quite as impressive as Hildenberger, the side-arming slinger who hit the ground running in late June and hasn't slowed his pace since.

Hildy's overall numbers are stellar: 35.1 IP, 2.29 ERA, 0.96 WHIP, 58.5 GB%, 36-to-4 K/BB. But what has really stood out are the moments. The 26-year-old rookie has been used in numerous high-leverage spots, where many green arms would wilt, and he has consistently delivered. Friday night may have been his most dazzling performance yet: he entered in the seventh inning with the bases loaded and no outs, and somehow escaped unscathed. Then he cruised through a clean eighth, the sixth time this year he's given Minnesota two full innings out of the pen.

According to Win Probability Added, Hildenberger has been the third-most impactful Twins pitcher behind Ervin Santana and Kintzler. Hard to argue if you've been watching him put out fires over the past few months.

His delivery might be deceptive (especially with his quirky tendency to switch it up on occasion) but his numbers are not. The young right-hander has a strong recipe for sustainable success, with outstanding control, a feel for missing bats, and the ability to get grounders on command. Whether he's a future closer or setup man, the Twins are extremely lucky to have him. Hildenberger single-handedly changes the outlook of the bullpen going forward dramatically.

* For a long time, Twins players were regular fixtures on the Gold Glove ballots. Thanks mostly to Joe Mauer and Torii Hunter, Minnesota was represented in the awards for a decade straight, from 2001 through 2010.

No Twin has taken one home since, and while we can certainly criticize the voting system that elects winners, it's hard to deny that this is an apt reflection of the team's plight over the past six years – bad defenses making poor pitching staffs look even worse.

The Gold Glove drought is almost certain to end at the conclusion of this 2017 season, because Byron Buxton is essentially a shoe-in for what will likely be his first of many.

We all know that GG voters are creatures of habit, but Tampa Bay's Kevin Kiermaier, the AL's center field honoree in each of the past two seasons, missed 10 weeks this summer with a wrist fracture, which should take him out of the running. (Though this is not a guarantee; Hunter won in 2005 despite playing only 98 games.)

Buxton would be the deserving recipient anyway. He's been all over the highlight reels, he dominates defensive metrics, and his contribution to Minnesota's stunning improvement this year is well known nationally. He further solidified his case on Friday night with a game-changing grab at the warning track to end the fifth inning and preserve a slim lead.

This recent tweet from Aaron Gleeman puts some context behind what Buxton's glove has meant to the Twins this year:



Wow.

The Twins could easily have multiple players earn hardware. Joe Mauer should be at the top of the list for first basemen, and there's a decent argument to be made for Brian Dozier. But I'd rate each of their chances at less than 50/50.

Buxton, though? He's got this thing wrapped up. Now let's just hope his hand starts feeling better soon.

* Lame duck. It's a term no manager wants attached to his name, but Paul Molitor wore it openly and candidly coming into 2017. He has never shied away from the stakes of this season for him personally, with 2016's scars still fresh and a new front office group likely eager to install its own preferred choice for the gig.

The year started on a redeeming note for Molitor and the Twins, but as the trade deadline came and went, the skipper's outlook began to take an ominous turn. The team was sinking out of contention, and while he was still on track for a big step forward, it wasn't necessarily the type that would save his job.

But Molitor's role in the turnaround we've seen over the past six weeks should not be downplayed. Sure, there are some things to take issue with from a tactical standpoint – the propensity for bunting and some occasionally head-scratching bullpen decisions come to mind – but to the extent that a manager functions as captain of the ship and motivator of men, there is really no knocking the work he has done.

This Twins team has proven incredibly resilient, rebounding from setbacks time and time again. Even when things have looked grim, the players haven't gotten down and fallen into a funk the way they did in 2016. His club's response to the deadline sell, a 20-win August, was quite the statement.

We know ownership likes Molitor. And his players have been going to battle for him in a big way. With both those things being the case, Derek Falvey and Thad Levine may be hard-pressed to go another direction, especially if this strong late-season run culminates in a postseason berth.

If the team re-ups with Molitor, I do hope that Falvey and Levine have a long sit-down with him during the offseason to go over run-scoring matrixes, statistical probabilities and sacrifice bunting.

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80 Comments

So... if Molitor goes, does the whole coaching staff go? Rowson and Rodriguez have done a fine job. Guardado and Allen seem like they have done well too. Glynn has gotten kudos for his fielding lessons. Seems like a Catch-22 for the FO. After all, the team is going to finish 20-25 games better than last year. 

 

I suppose it could be Pickel or Mauer or Mientkewicz.

 

 

Why wouldn't a "long sit down" with Molitor have happened LAST off season?
    • Blake, Jerr, Mike Sixel and 9 others like this

I'm not convinced Molitor is a great "captain of the ship" or "motivator of men," (he might be, he might not be - It is dfficult to tell from where we are) but he is clearly a mediocre baseball tactician at best. I realize that in the short run it may upset some of the players not to bring him back next year, and that is the only real reason that I hesitate at all, but overall, it is Falvey and Levine's job to find a manager who is good at managing the players AND managing the strategy and tactics of a baseball game. I very much doubt you can convince me there isn't someone out there who can do a better overall job at both of those roles than Molitor. 

    • USAFChief, Blake, Jerr and 9 others like this

So, was the "sacrifice bunting" mention a throw away line or meant ironically?

    • USAFChief, Jerr and nytwinsfan like this
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ashburyjohn
Sep 11 2017 07:07 AM

Mauer has been a revelation, and has come of age as a first baseman this season. He has saved many runs. He has the numbers and he also passes the eye-test.

 

Still, there are other good fielders in the league at that position and I doubt that voters will see Joe as a hands-down winner. Guys like Carlos Santana, who don't necessarily look the part, have highlight reels of their own that demonstrate they are not immobile statues waiting for easy chest-high lobs from the infielders. They have numbers and pass eye-tests too. Personally I would need to do a lot more watching of other teams before handing the crown to Joe.

 

Buxton is a different story entirely. An easy nod.

    • Blake likes this

Baseball players aren't heroes.

    • ThejacKmp and wsnydes like this

So I'm still concerned about Hildenberger's staying power to anchor a bullpen.

Batters who have faced him only once:
76PAs, .374 OPS, 30% K%, 5% BB%, 0 HRs, .200 BABIP

Batters who have faced him at least twice:
63PAs, .850 OPS, 21% K%, 0% BB%, 2 HRs, .404 BABIP

 

* NOTE: I wanted to split every plate appearance into two buckets: first time facing Hildenberger, and second (and later) time facing him. Unfortunately, I couldn't figure out how to get that data without manually sorting through the plate appearances for the batters who faced him multiple times. I'm too lazy to do that. So the above data is a derivation of what I wanted, but it isn't exactly correct. Sorry for being potentially misleading.

 

Don't get me wrong here. I think he has shown enough to be penciled into the bullpen going forward. He throws strikes and gets ground balls. He should continue to be able to provide some decent innings, but I'm hesitant to rely on him to continue to work high-leverage innings next year. Basically, I'm fine if he is the third or fourth best pitcher in the bullpen next year, but not if he is their best or second-best pitcher.

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Nick Nelson
Sep 11 2017 08:18 AM

 

Baseball players aren't heroes.

In the context of winning baseball games they can be. I don't think I implied that Hildenberger cured cancer. 

    • iTwins, luckylager, Jerr and 8 others like this

 

I realize that in the short run it may upset some of the players not to bring him back next year, and that is the only real reason that I hesitate at all 

 

Yeah, this. But that said, if the FO feels comfortable with Mauer or Dougie, the players will have seen them before and likely not be too upset.

    • Jerr and nytwinsfan like this

 

So I'm still concerned about Hildenberger's staying power to anchor a bullpen.

Batters who have faced him only once:
76PAs, .374 OPS, 30% K%, 5% BB%, 0 HRs, .200 BABIP

Batters who have faced him at least twice:
63PAs, .850 OPS, 21% K%, 0% BB%, 2 HRs, .404 BABIP

 

* NOTE: I wanted to split every plate appearance into two buckets: first time facing Hildenberger, and second (and later) time facing him. Unfortunately, I couldn't figure out how to get that data without manually sorting through the plate appearances for the batters who faced him multiple times. I'm too lazy to do that. So the above data is a derivation of what I wanted, but it isn't exactly correct. Sorry for being potentially misleading.

 

Don't get me wrong here. I think he has shown enough to be penciled into the bullpen going forward. He throws strikes and gets ground balls. He should continue to be able to provide some decent innings, but I'm hesitant to rely on him to continue to work high-leverage innings next year. Basically, I'm fine if he is the third or fourth best pitcher in the bullpen next year, but not if he is their best or second-best pitcher.

 

This are really small samples and the BABIP is pretty high on the second one. Not sure I would feel comfortable making any inferences from that information.

    • Jerr likes this

I'm surprised in the world of analytics, no one has come up with a good way to measure a manager's impact on a team. I do believe there are managers out there that make their teams more successful than others in the same situation. Terry Francona and Joe Maddon immediately come to mind as examples. 

 

I don't really know if Molitor is one of those managers that makes their teams more successful. Or if he hinders success with his in-game decisions. 

    • USAFChief, Blake, Jerr and 1 other like this

 

I'm surprised in the world of analytics, no one has come up with a good way to measure a manager's impact on a team. I do believe there are managers out there that make their teams more successful than others in the same situation. Terry Francona and Joe Maddon immediately come to mind as examples. 

 

I don't really know if Molitor is one of those managers that makes their teams more successful. Or if he hinders success with his in-game decisions. 

 

I know Eno Sarris has said he's tried, and he wrote an article on it a year or two ago.

 

I think there are really two big issues:

1. Much, if not most, of their work is not in game strategy or tactics, but in leading a group of people day by day. That's hard to measure, especially if you don't have day to day access to the team, and you don't know which processes he controls vs the FO. Also, even if a team had some kind of internal measures of employee satisfaction or something, we'd never know about them. Culture and that stuff is hard to measure, and I'd bet MLB clubs aren't exactly at the fore front of that measurement.

 

2. Much of the success is really player driven. Even when you make the right decisions, it often doesn't work. Because the sample sizes are small for tactics, it's hard to measure. Take bullpen usage. I know Sarris tried to figure out if there was an issue with having RPs warm up, but not be used, or warm up in 2 innings. But, that data isn't kept anyplace, but it could have a big impact on that RP's performance. Or, take lineup construction. Studies show it might matter 1-2 games a year, maybe 1-2 more at the extremes. Since most of the time a manager will get things right, it won't matter much. That's really the issue, I think. There isn't much difference in how managers really act, so there isn't much data that shows anything other than the normal way to work. And, when a manager does something that isn't normal, it is only done a few times a year probably, so there isn't enough outcome differential for it to matter when compared to other managers.

 

What's interesting about that, is that manager decisions, over the year, probably wash out a lot. But, in the context of the moment, they probably matter more than we know. People also tend to recall when things go horribly wrong when a move is made, but rarely remember when they go right (as expected most of the time). 

 

Yes, Molitor's love for the sacrifice bunt is painful. And yes, it might have cost them a run here and there. But, when you average it all out over the year, it comes out in the wash. That's why I actually like measurements that try not to take averages over the year, but look at discrete outcomes in a game. But even those are tiny differences usually. And even those wash out when you add them up (some negative, some positive).

 

those are my theories, anyway.

    • Blake, markos, Vanimal46 and 2 others like this

My guess is that the FO wants Pickler to take over so I imagine he'd keep several of the same coaches on staff.

These are all great points. Perhaps Francona and Maddon do a better job creating a fun culture and are better leaders than others. Because I do think, even though it can't be measured, that Francona knows how to lead a team to success better than others. Let's say Ron Gardenhire was the manager of Cleveland instead of Francona. Would the team be 5-10 games worse than their record today? 

 

I do agree that most of their decisions over the course of a season wash out, so that's probably not the best way to measure a manager's value to an organization. 

 

Why wouldn't a "long sit down" with Molitor have happened LAST off season?

If I recall correctly there was an acting GM with only a slim chance of retaining the job. There might have been a long sit down. So far this season it has produced 15 more wins. Good job, Rob.

    • howieramone2 likes this

Some guy did some number crunching in an article quite a few years ago. Actually runner on first ,no outs, a sacrifice increases your chances of scoring exactly one run. Molitor is doing a pretty good job in one run games, as someone else on this board calledthe Twins lucky in that category. Perhaps Moliror might be smarter than some here give him credit for.

    • Blackjack and Broker like this

 

This are really small samples and the BABIP is pretty high on the second one. Not sure I would feel comfortable making any inferences from that information.

Well, his overall MLB sample size is pretty small too, but that didn't stop Nick from saying "Hildenberger single-handedly changes the outlook of the bullpen going forward dramatically." :)

 

I think it's fair to pump the brakes a bit on that.  I don't want the team to say "the bullpen is just fine with minimal changes" yet again this winter...

    • markos likes this

 

If I recall correctly there was an acting GM with only a slim chance of retaining the job. There might have been a long sit down. So far this season it has produced 15 more wins. Good job, Rob.

 

Derek Falvey was hired 2 days after the World Series concluded.  What do you mean acting gm?

    • Mike Sixel likes this

 

So I'm still concerned about Hildenberger's staying power to anchor a bullpen.

Batters who have faced him only once:
76PAs, .374 OPS, 30% K%, 5% BB%, 0 HRs, .200 BABIP

Batters who have faced him at least twice:
63PAs, .850 OPS, 21% K%, 0% BB%, 2 HRs, .404 BABIP

 

* NOTE: I wanted to split every plate appearance into two buckets: first time facing Hildenberger, and second (and later) time facing him. Unfortunately, I couldn't figure out how to get that data without manually sorting through the plate appearances for the batters who faced him multiple times. I'm too lazy to do that. So the above data is a derivation of what I wanted, but it isn't exactly correct. Sorry for being potentially misleading.

Interesting that both of the HR were to Jose Iglesias!  Didn't remember that.

 

The HR came in Hildenberger's 1st and 3rd PAs vs Iglesias, with a groundout in between.  How much are those 2 HR swinging the data?  That could be about ~.120 OPS points right there.  Other XBH:

 

Kinsler (1st of 2 PA)

Abreu, Altuve, and Kevan Smith (2nd of 2 PA)

4 others (1st and only PA)

 

All 4 of his BB came to "1st and only PA" guys too (3 in his first 3 MLB games).

 

Where did you find this split/data?

 

Interesting that both of the HR were to Jose Iglesias!  Didn't remember that.

 

The HR came in Hildenberger's 1st and 3rd PAs vs Iglesias, with a groundout in between.  How much are those 2 HR swinging the data?  That could be about ~.120 OPS points right there.  Other XBH:

 

Kinsler (1st of 2 PA)

Abreu, Altuve, and Kevan Smith (2nd of 2 PA)

4 others (1st and only PA)

 

All 4 of his BB came to "1st and only PA" guys too (3 in his first 3 MLB games).

 

Where did you find this split/data?

Baseball Reference has a pitcher-vs-batter page:

https://www.baseball...tcher=hildetr01

 

For this, I just downloaded to excel and calculated the two separate groups. I was too lazy to go through the 20+ batter with multiple PAs and move their 1st PA into another column, though each batter's hyperlink lists the PAs. 

 

Why wouldn't a "long sit down" with Molitor have happened LAST off season?

 

The owner of the team declared any Molitor discussions out of bounds.

    • gunnarthor, howieramone2 and bighat like this

 

Baseball Reference has a pitcher-vs-batter page:

https://www.baseball...tcher=hildetr01

 

For this, I just downloaded to excel and calculated the two separate groups. I was too lazy to go through the 20+ batter with multiple PAs and move their 1st PA into another column, though each batter's hyperlink lists the PAs. 

Got it.  I was looking at that page too, but thought there might be a quicker way.

 

The owner of the team declared any Molitor discussions out of bounds.

A "sit down" isn't about firing him, it's about talking to him.

 

A "sit down" isn't about firing him, it's about talking to him.

 

If you are implying they never had a conversation, that's silly.

 

The connotation is they "had a conversation" but the conversation was about how he has to do a better job.  I doubt that happened because his job status was out of their hands.  In that situation, you play nice.

    • old nurse likes this

 

Derek Falvey was hired 2 days after the World Series concluded.  What do you mean acting gm?

I guess when I said nice job Rob people wold understand that it was Rob Antony. He had a month after the season to talk with Molitor about the season they were involved in.Thetime to talk about the season and digest it is immediately after the season. Falvey was hired on October 2, 2016. He could take the job officially until after the series, when the Indians season was done.In the three months before the season started I would think it unimaginable that they did not have conversations about the past season. Falvey's understanding of the Twins was from afar. His understanding of the Twins is going to come from that and the retained employees. His concern would not be of the season past but the upcoming.


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