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Article: Mailbag: New Rules, Roster Cuts, Leadership

Minnesota Twins Talk Today, 02:11 AM
A big thank you to everyone that sent in mailbag questions throughout the off-season. It has been fun to write on a variety of baseball r...
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Article: Report From The Fort: Breaking Down Baldelli...

Minnesota Twins Talk Today, 02:11 AM
FT. MYERS, FL – Was Rocco Baldelli's starting lineup on Monday a preview of the one we'll see at Target Field on Opening Day? The manager...
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Indians tanking but will still win the division?

Minnesota Twins Talk Today, 02:11 AM
Interesting article that suggests that the Indians are so confident that they will win the AL Central that they are tanking somewhat to m...
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Twins and Gibson Discussion and Extension

Minnesota Twins Talk Yesterday, 11:11 PM
http://www.startribu...lier/507159692/   Interesting to see how this plays out. I'd have to think an extension is likely since the T...
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Twins Spring Training Highlights

Minnesota Twins Talk Yesterday, 10:49 PM
I'll try to update this thread anytime I'm able to grab some spring training highlights. Here are a few from today:  
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What To Expect From Marwin Gonzalez

Marwin Gonzalez. Minnesota Twin.

Pencil him in for any position in the field, he can play more roles than Christian Bale. As a switch-hitter, he’s his own platoon partner. Call him a Swiss Army Knife or Thneed or whatever object you want to conjure up versatility. The Twins will simply call him theirs.

It was a bit of an oddity that Gonzalez lingered this long on the free agent market. Sure, there’s been the ongoing Great Free Agent Freeze-Out but still, someone who can play passable defense at positions 3 through 9 on the diamond and hold his own offensively would be a godsend for any bench -- particularly those that have their sights on a postseason berth -- at a relatively modest price would have multiple suitors. And, yet, Gonzalez was available so long that the Twins were forced to say ‘take our money’.

So what is this modern-day Cesar Tovar capable of providing the Twins? Is Gonzalez likely to replicate his 2017 numbers or is his true production closer to what he’s turned in every other year?
Image courtesy of Thomas Shea - USA Today
You probably can’t help but notice that Gonzalez seemingly came out of nowhere, grabbed attention during the Astros’ 2017 World Series run with a career year at age 28, and then turned in a down year in 2018 on the cusp of free agency. That’s one potential reason he was available in late February.

After digging in, it appears that Gonzalez’s 2017 breakout season was really a combination of things including optimization of his swing, refining his zone approach and, perhaps, punctuated with a bit of luck.

Let’s start with the swing.

While he is a switch-hitter, because over 70% of his career plate appearances happened in the left-handed batter's box -- and will likely be where he receives the bulk of his at-bats going forward -- we will focus on this. Over the first 5 seasons of his career, he posted a pedestrian .256/.296/.382 from the left-side. In the last two -- which was mostly driven by his 2017 performance (we’ll get into that later) -- Gonzalez has hit .280/.362/.477.

Look back at his home run totals from the left-side:

2012 - 2
2013 - 4
2014 - 6
2015 - 6
2016 - 8
2017 - 18
2018 - 11

So what happened where he finally achieved his breakout in an age-28 season? To understand his power progression, you have to understand how his swing has grown.

Below is a comparison of two of Gonzalez’s left-handed swings. The one on the left is from 2015 -- you know, The Weeknd, Adele, Inside Out, Mad Max Fury Road, Obama, etc. Classic 2015. The one on the right is from 2017 -- Cardi B, Imagine Dragons, Get Out, Blade Runner 2049, Trump, etc. Standard 2017 stuff.

Like those two years, Marwin Gonzalez’s swing is essentially the same but also radically different. While the components are similar, such as the big leg-kick and low hands, there are some subtle yet very important changes to his movement patterns.

Attached Image: unnamed (1).gif



From a high-level perspective, it is a more connected swing.

What do I mean by more connected? It simply means that the kinetic chain sequence is working as a unit rather than independent parts of the body.

For example, look at the hand load portion of his swing. From the 2015 clip, you see his hands pick up the bat and bring it to the launch point. His back elbow is picking up the bat. It is drifting. In 2017, his hands, elbow, and bat remain in the same spot as he steps away, leaving the barrel ready to fire at the launch point.

Attached Image: FSFrameGIFImage.gif



Another way to explain what is happening is by using your index finger and thumb, curl your finger back toward your thumb — without touching the two fingers — and flick forward. Now do the same thing but put your index finger on your thumb, feel that tension for a second and then flick. Much more potent, right? That’s the difference between these two movements.

This was something that Eduardo Escobar changed during his career with the Twins which helped provide more power but also gave him more time to identify pitches. By staying taut and stretching rather than moving to a spot, it gives the hitter extra fractions of milliseconds to identify a pitch. A rolling start, like his 2015 swing, can also be more difficult to shut a swing down. For Gonzalez, the change helped him ID breaking balls sooner. He went from swinging at breaking balls at a 46% clip in his first 5 seasons to offering at them at a 35% clip since 2017. His chase rate also dropped from 34% to 21%.

But that was not his only improvement in discipline. Gonzalez’s overall chase rate from the left-side went from 40% and 35% in 2015 and 2016, respectively, to 26% in 2017 and 27% in 2018. Part of the transformation came from the Astros showing the players charts of their weaknesses and creating development strategies to turn them into strengths. Curveballs, from both sides of the plate, were one of Gonzalez’s biggest weaknesses.

To be fair, the Houston Astros are light years ahead of most MLB teams and one thing they excel at is pregame prep. Take a listen to how well they prepare for opposing teams using Statcast data. Furthermore, Gonzalez credits working with and interacting with teammates like Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa and Carlos Beltran as factors behind his approach adjustment. Undoubtedly, this likely influenced Gonzalez’s improvements versus breaking balls as much as his swing tweak did.

As an import from the Astros organization, this is an ancillary benefit for having signed Gonzalez. Gonzalez’s career has spanned the great shift in Houston, going from the laughingstock to one of the elite and respected organizations. He knows the way the analytic-heavy Astros prepared for games and how valuable it was to share ideas with teammates. In order to use the Statcast data to a lineup’s advantage, it requires buy-in from the players. Gonzalez has been through this rodeo and could potentially assist in getting the Twins players up to speed.

The next clip is the power sauce. This is where the two swings really diverge. Watch how in 2015 the barrel and his hands come forward whereas in the 2017 clip the barrel is staying back behind him. It’s pushing versus turning the barrel.

Attached Image: FSFrameGIFImage (1).gif


What happens now, Gonzalez is extending the time the barrel stays in the zone. Gonzalez’s swing stays on plane with the pitch slightly longer, allowing him to handle a greater variation in speed. It also provides a different attack approach. The 2015 version enters the zone steep, which can lead to cutting or chopping contact — in short, less optimal contact. In 2017, with a barrel that is on plane sooner, he’s getting more lift as his ground ball rate dropped from 52% to 46% (his average fly ball distance also increased from 277 feet to 303 feet).

That was the catalyst of his 2017 breakout. A season where he finished hitting a robust .322/.394/.552 from the left side, lifting him to career-best numbers.

Of course, those same numbers from the left side plummeted back to earth in 2018. He posted a mundane .237/.330/.399 from the port (which was much closer to his left-handed career slash of .252/.304/.386 when removing the 2017 production). It raises the question if his adjustments were so good that it led to a breakout season in 2017, why did it regress so heavily in 2018?

“Know what the difference between hitting .250 and .300 is? It's 25 hits. 25 hits in 500 at-bats is 50 points, okay? There's 6 months in a season, that's about 25 weeks. That means if you get just one extra flare a week - just one - a gorp... you get a groundball, you get a groundball with eyes... you get a dying quail, just one more dying quail a week... and you're in Yankee Stadium.” - Crash Davis, Bull Durham


While the changes to his swing have led to an improved approach and more consistent contact, the baseball gods seemingly looked the other way in 2018 after showering him with good fortune in 2017.

His average exit velocity dropped to his normal levels. After posting a 92.1 mph exit velocity in 2017, it receded back to 90 mph in 2018. The second data point that changed is his average launch angle increased from 9 degrees to 14 degrees. Most may consider an increase in launch angle a good thing but for Gonzalez, it led to more batted ball outs -- specifically in the line drive category.

Per ESPN/TruMedia’s data, in 2017, Gonzalez had a .794 batting average on line drives as a lefty. Coincidentally, only Logan Morrison (.805) had a better average. The rest of the league’s left-handed constituency sat at .687. So Gonzalez was performing well above the norm which may have been an indication to expect regression. Last year that number dropped to .613. Part of the reason for this is that his line drives carried a bit further than his previous season. In 2017 his average liner went 257 feet on average but was at 268 feet in 2018, meaning fewer liners dropped in front of the outfielders and infielders. Hitting the ball hard on a line is obviously preferential, however there are some diminishing returns when more liners become midrange instead of short or long.

The venerable Tango Tom, MLBAM’s senior data architect, dropped some wet hot charty data on us this weekend, showing how exit velocity and launch angle affects the distance of a batted ball. A ball struck at a 15-degree launch and a 97 mph exit velo would travel on average 271 feet. This was Gonzalez’s average line drive metrics in 2017. He actually averaged a distance of 257 feet on those balls. Meanwhile, one that has a 17-degree launch and hit at 95 mph would travel 281 feet. In reality, Gonzalez’s liners traveled 268 feet in 2018.

Take a look at how that visually played out.

Attached Image: Webp.net-gifmaker.gif



There were many more balls falling in front of the outfielder and over or between the infielders. Since 2009, line drives that traveled between 200 and 250 feet (which is where the bulk of Gonzalez’s landed in 2017) became hits at a 96.2% clip. Line drives traveling over 250 and under 300 feet, however, only became hits at a 70.3% clip. That extra 11 feet cost Gonzalez a bunch of hits.

Likewise, Gonzalez experienced a decline in his ground ball average as well. In 2017 he held a .281 average on ground balls, 12th highest among left-handed hitters and well above the .243 average. In 2018, that average dropped to .182, 64th among left-handed hitters. To be clear, grounders are just long bunts however even the most ardent launch angle supporter still hits ground balls in 30% of their batted ball profile mix. Grounders need to sneak through the infield in order to continue to post robust numbers.

What does this mean for the Twins and Marwin Gonzalez going forward?

Obviously, you can’t just say Marwin, hit it a bit softer with some topspin occasionally. Hitting doesn’t work that way. That said, Tango Tom’s Twitter thread alluded to that particular study potentially being critical in understanding how attack angle plays a role in the output. There are players who outperform that expected batted ball travel distance and most of those players with the added carry have lower launch angles (Tango cited Lorenzo Cain versus Joey Gallo as contrasting examples). The Twins brain trust may be able to back into an attack angle study with Gonzalez. It may be that his swing in 2018 had some change that can be tweaked back through some spring drills.

Again, Gonzalez’s greatest asset is his versatility, not necessarily his bat. Tweaks or no tweaks heading in 2019, if Gonzalez continues to hit the ball as hard as he has done since 2017, from either side of the plate, while playing wherever he is needed in the field, the Twins should wind up with more than enough value.

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32 Comments

Could Gonzalez be a victim of the current fad of elevating the launch angle? Maybe in 2018 he elevated slightly, and the result was balls getting caught by outfielders instead of falling for hits. 

 

Hit the ball flat, Marwin!

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IndianaTwin
Feb 25 2019 07:16 AM
If all he does is get us a few days with unis as awesome as the one pictured, his contract will have been a success.

'It was a bit of an oddity that Gonzalez lingered this long on the free agent market.'

 

You kind of brought it up in your article but I wonder why Houston didn't resign him?? 

    • tarheeltwinsfan likes this
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Parker Hageman
Feb 25 2019 08:12 AM

 

Could Gonzalez be a victim of the current fad of elevating the launch angle? Maybe in 2018 he elevated slightly, and the result was balls getting caught by outfielders instead of falling for hits. 

 

Hit the ball flat, Marwin!

 

In general, that might be what happened. In order to adjust launch angles, there usually is something in the swing that changes -- perhaps the degree in which the barrel enters the zone or different contact point or whatever. Teams do have this type of minuscule data that they can review and discuss with players.  

 

Here's the thing -- if he elevates *more* those have a higher tendency of becoming extra-base hits and home runs. If he lowers his launch, he may get a few more hits in front of the defenders but then he might also have more ground balls (which with shifts are getting cut off). For my money, I think the right answer is doing what you can to get him back to whatever was working in 2017. 

 

Max Kepler had this similar problem in 2018. He hit a ton of balls in optimal launch angle/ev ranges but a lot of those stayed up in the gaps and were caught by outfielders. Interestingly enough, going back to Tango Tom's flight distance study, Kepler was a guy who outperformed his expected carry rate -- meaning more of his batted balls should have maybe died earlier. 

 

The one area of data that the public doesn't have access to is flight spin once the ball makes contact with the bat. From what I've been told, for whatever reason, there are guys who impart high spin and low spin (too much spin and the ball dies or hooks/slices, too little and the ball goes nowhere). The guys who manage to stay in the mid-range of that tend to have the ball carry the furthest -- Mookie Betts was supposedly one of these guys. It possible that Gonzalez (and Kepler) had too much spin in 2018. 

    • h2oface, Tom Froemming, ToddlerHarmon and 1 other like this
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Parker Hageman
Feb 25 2019 08:25 AM

 

'It was a bit of an oddity that Gonzalez lingered this long on the free agent market.'

 

You kind of brought it up in your article but I wonder why Houston didn't resign him?? 

 

Good question. And it definitely made me pause, given how advanced the Astros are supposed to be -- do they see something that happened in 2018 that made them believe Gonzalez is expendable?

 

If media reports are to be believed, the Astros did have conversations with Gonzalez and wanted to bring him back. With bringing in Michael Brantley, unless there were injuries (which it's baseball, sure there will be), Gonzalez likely didn't have a starting position with Houston. With the Twins, at least from what the Twins are saying, he'll basically be an everyday player. 

    • Cory Engelhardt, Blackjack, dbminn and 2 others like this
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tarheeltwinsfan
Feb 25 2019 08:30 AM

Interesting article. Thanks.

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Tom Froemming
Feb 25 2019 08:57 AM

 

You kind of brought it up in your article but I wonder why Houston didn't resign him?? 

Just to add to what Parker said, the Astros also traded for Aledmys Diaz this offseason. He's both cheaper and a better shortstop than Marwin, making him a bit more of a natural fit for that super sub role. Diaz is a pretty solid hitter, too (109 career OPS+).

 

Jose Altuve is going to start collecting $29MM per year starting next season, guys like Carlos Correa and Alex Bregman figure to get expensive via arbitration and I'm sure Houston would like to maintain some wiggle room for further Brantley-esque additions. I think that's a big reason why they also moved on from Charlie Morton and Dallas Keuchel (though he's still unsigned).

 

Basically, the Twins had a lot of payroll to play with and the Astros did not.

    • Cory Engelhardt, Danchat, spycake and 8 others like this

 

Just to add to what Parker said, the Astros also traded for Aledmys Diaz this offseason. He's both cheaper and a better shortstop than Marwin, making him a bit more of a natural fit for that super sub role. Diaz is a pretty solid hitter, too (109 career OPS+).

 

Jose Altuve is going to start collecting $29MM per year starting next season, guys like Carlos Correa and Alex Bregman figure to get expensive via arbitration and I'm sure Houston would like to maintain some wiggle room for further Brantley-esque additions. I think that's a big reason why they also moved on from Charlie Morton and Dallas Keuchel (though he's still unsigned).

 

Basically, the Twins had a lot of payroll to play with and the Astros did not.

Just to add to what Tom said, you could make a strong case that by this offseason the Astros thought of him more as their left-fielder and less as a sub-sub: he started in LF every playoff game in both 2017 and 2018 until Altuve was hurt and moved to DH, in 2018 he started twice as often at LF than any other position and almost as much as every other position combined, he had 20 more LF starts than the second most guy (Tony Kemp), and they more or less replaced him (salary wise) by signing a full-time LF in Brantley. 

    • spycake, Tom Froemming, ToddlerHarmon and 3 others like this
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The Mask of Zoilo
Feb 25 2019 10:07 AM

Just to add to what Tom said, you could make a strong case that by this offseason the Astros thought of him more as their left-fielder and less as a sub-sub: he started in LF every playoff game in both 2017 and 2018 until Altuve was hurt and moved to DH, in 2018 he started twice as often at LF than any other position and almost as much as every other position combined, he had 20 more LF starts than the second most guy (Tony Kemp), and they more or less replaced him (salary wise) by signing a full-time LF in Brantley.


Just to add to what Markos said, Marwin was reportedly asking for 4 years, 60 million. Houston (along with everyone else) wasn't going to pay that and moved on rather than waiting for the price to come down in February. If Marwin would have been open to 2/21 in November, he might still be an Astro.
    • ashbury, markos, Blackjack and 4 others like this

Great discussion here! Here's something I shared in the xwOBA article comments:

 

Marwin Gonzalez was MLB's biggest xwOBA over-performer in 2017 (minimum 200 PA):

 

https://baseballsava...pas=200#results

 

For the 2015-2018 regular seasons, Gonzalez cumulatively has a .332 wOBA vs an xwOBA of .305. 2018 he was almost an even match -- .318 wOBA vs .317 xwOBA.

 

More from Marwin Gonzalez's Statcast page:

 

"Similar Batters to Marwin Gonzalez:

Neil Walker

Rougned Odor

David Freitas

Matt Joyce

Alex Gordon"

 

https://baseballsava...mlb#batted_ball

    • markos likes this

 Among the many fads in baseball today is the trend toward "positionless" baseball as a way of adding depth.While the Twins have some guys who can play 2 or maybe 3 positions, the addition of Gonzalez definitely increases their versatility.That in itself makes him a great addition.Stat geeks, and I use that term in a complimentary way, can analyze the numbers all they want.One thing that will not show up in any analytics is the fact that this guy has played in, and won, a World Series.I believe adding him brings the grand total of players on this roster who have done so to ONE.He's played in numerous playoff games.To me, that's as valuable as any number he brings to the table.

 

One thing that will not show up in any analytics is the fact that this guy has played in, and won, a World Series.I believe adding him brings the grand total of players on this roster who have done so to ONE.He's played in numerous playoff games.To me, that's as valuable as any number he brings to the table.

FWIW, Lance Lynn had *pitched* in 24 postseason games (7 starts) when we signed him (including a World Series clincher in 2011), compared to Gonzalez's current 30 postseason games as a position player. How valuable was that?

 

Nelson Cruz has a whopping 41 career postseason games (including, regrettably, some in the field like Game 6 of the 2011 World Series). Addison Reed has pitched in 13 postseason games; Rodney had pitched in 13 when we signed him too. Schoop's played in 12, and Castro 7 (including 1 with the Twins, believe it or not). Martin Perez has one too! Somewhat surprisingly, Pineda has never appeared in the postseason, and neither has Odorizzi.

    • Mike Sixel, Danchat and Hosken Bombo Disco like this

This is one of those deals where we should expect mediocrity so we can be pleasantly surprised. He is a good but not great addition to the team.

 

If the rest of the offense starts firing on all cylinders, this will be an awesome pick up. If it's another year where only the utility player is good plus one other position player, this signing won't matter.

    • Mike Sixel likes this

 

Could Gonzalez be a victim of the current fad of elevating the launch angle? Maybe in 2018 he elevated slightly, and the result was balls getting caught by outfielders instead of falling for hits. 

 

Hit the ball flat, Marwin!

His launch angles per year are below.He is below MLB average in Launch Angle and his 2018 season was flatter than his 2017 season.Maybe it is just a coincidence but his best season was his highest Launch angle season.

 

2015 - 9.1

2016 - 6.5

2017 - 10.9

2018 - 10.0

 

MLB average - 10.9

    • Mike Sixel likes this

 

Good question. And it definitely made me pause, given how advanced the Astros are supposed to be -- do they see something that happened in 2018 that made them believe Gonzalez is expendable?

 

If media reports are to be believed, the Astros did have conversations with Gonzalez and wanted to bring him back. With bringing in Michael Brantley, unless there were injuries (which it's baseball, sure there will be), Gonzalez likely didn't have a starting position with Houston. With the Twins, at least from what the Twins are saying, he'll basically be an everyday player. 

 

You covered it. Astros don't need an average utility player when you sign someone better to play everyday. I wanted the Twins to go after Brantley and once again they settle for the leftovers.

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Parker Hageman
Feb 25 2019 04:16 PM

 

Interesting article. Thanks.

 

is that passive-aggressive minnesotan "interesting" or were you genuinely interested

    • NumberThree likes this
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RatherBeGolfing
Feb 25 2019 04:19 PM

 

FWIW, Lance Lynn had *pitched* in 24 postseason games (7 starts) when we signed him (including a World Series clincher in 2011), compared to Gonzalez's current 30 postseason games as a position player. How valuable was that?

 

Nelson Cruz has a whopping 41 career postseason games (including, regrettably, some in the field like Game 6 of the 2011 World Series). Addison Reed has pitched in 13 postseason games; Rodney had pitched in 13 when we signed him too. Schoop's played in 12, and Castro 7 (including 1 with the Twins, believe it or not). Martin Perez has one too! Somewhat surprisingly, Pineda has never appeared in the postseason, and neither has Odorizzi.

 

Gah but he's such a "winner!"

is that passive-aggressive minnesotan "interesting" or were you genuinely interested

Interesting reaction.

    • Parker Hageman, USAFChief, Mike Sixel and 1 other like this

what to expect?a .750 OPS and decent defense when he plays. Anything more will be a bonus, IMO

I don't see the AB's.Unless Sano is out.

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jorgenswest
Feb 25 2019 07:03 PM
I see the at bats even when everyone is healthy.

He can go in for Sano, Cron, Cruz or Schoop against a right handed pitcher.

He can go in for Rosario and Kepler when facing a lefty.

They ought to be able to find him 5 starts a week without compromising anyone’s regular playing time.
    • Twins33, Riverbrian, TheLeviathan and 1 other like this
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Original Whizzinator
Feb 25 2019 07:33 PM

If all he does is get us a few days with unis as awesome as the one pictured, his contract will have been a success.

Blasphemy!
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Physics Guy
Feb 25 2019 07:40 PM

 

I don't see the AB's.Unless Sano is out.

It's not as hard as you might think given Marwin's versatility.

 

http://twinsdaily.co...ng-gonzalez-ab/

 

 

I see the at bats even when everyone is healthy.

He can go in for Sano, Cron, Cruz or Schoop against a right handed pitcher.

Is that a good thing? Gonzalez has a career 101 wRC+ versus RHP.

 

- Cruz had a 126 wRC+ vs RHP last year, and a 123 career mark.

 

- Schoop has a reverse split for his career -- 101 vs RHP, 85 vs LHP.

 

- Cron has no platoon split -- 111 vs both RHP and LHP for his career.

 

- He should be a defensive upgrade over Sano at 3B, but FWIW, Sano has a 114 wRC+ vs RHP for his career too.

 

 

He can go in for Rosario and Kepler when facing a lefty.

This makes a bit more sense, although Rosario and Kepler both showed signs of competence vs LHP last year -- Rosario with a 95 wRC+ vs LHP, and Kepler with a 101. Do the Twins want to nurture that into their prime years, or immediately turn them into platoon players? Gonzalez only has a 104 wRC+ vs LHP for his career.

 

We certainly can get at bats for Gonzalez on this team even if everyone is healthy, but I'm not sure of the benefits of doing so. (Obviously if someone is hurt or collapses, the benefits of Gonzalez become clearer.)

    • markos, Dman and BJames like this
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jorgenswest
Feb 25 2019 09:15 PM
It is a good thing. Players aren’t going to play every day and they have much better match up data. For instance Sano has done well against fastball pitchers over his career where Schoop has done better against pitchers who feature a sinker and cutter. Gonzalez has struggled more with the curve ball. The Twins will have the data and flexibility to fine tune the line up with the additional solid hitter.
    • Twins33 and Original Whizzinator like this

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