Fascinating Facts About 5 New Twins Players
Image courtesy of Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports1: Tyler Clippard won a World Series in 2017 ... but didn't pitch in the playoffs.
Marwin Gonzalez has received a lot of attention for playing a role in the Astros' tainted 2017 championship. That make sense; the numbers make it quite clear he was a prime beneficiary of the cheating. One player who's receiving less attention is Clippard. That also makes sense; he was a pitcher and he wasn't even on the postseason roster. But the veteran reliever was on the 40-man roster, and with the team during their run, so he got a ring.
It's unfortunate that Clippard's time with Houston coincided with one of the worst stretches of performance in his career. The Astros had acquired him from the White Sox in mid-August, hoping he could assist in their World Series pursuit, but the right-hander failed to earn confidence, posting a 6.43 ERA in 14 innings.
So, he wasn't a contributor in October. But he was out there on the field celebrating as the Astros reveled in their title*.
Unlike Rich Hill, who is singularly focused on winning a World Series after coming just short against those Astros in 2017, Clippard does have the coveted accomplishment checked off. But something tells me he'd like to do it again and play an actual role this time around.
(Oh, and like Hill – plus almost every other free agent the Twins signed – Clippard does have postseason experience: a 4.26 ERA in 12 2/3 innings with the Nationals and Mets.)
2: Kenta Maeda's medicals raised red flags when he first came over from Japan.
When looking back at the initial coverage of Maeda's signing with the Dodgers back in 2016, I found this tidbit rather ironic. Much has been made of the new starter's highly appealing contract, which includes low guarantees and heavy incentives. But the reasons behind this unusual deal architecture are interesting in light of all the drama that unfolded with the recent trade.
Physical exams at the time of Maeda's signing revealed irregularities in right elbow, leading to a "strong suspicion ...he will need Tommy John reconstruction at some point."
"It's factored into the length and structure of the contract," which maxed out at more than $100 million but guaranteed less than a quarter of that, according to Dodgers head exec Andrew Friedman at the time.
Maeda was 27 then. Four years later, he's thrown 589 innings over 137 appearances for Los Angeles and had not one issue with his pitching elbow. All three of his stints on the injured list in LA were due to lower-body injuries.
It's just another data point to illustrate that the human body is unpredictable, and medical prognosticating is an incredibly inexact science. So whatever concerns arose in Boston's eyes when they looked at Brusdar Graterol's medicals, causing them to sour on him and back out of the original trade, were flimsy at best.
3: Jhoulys Chacin has a better career ERA+ than Jose Berrios or Jake Odorizzi.
His 108 ERA+ mark in the contextualized metric (100 is average) over 1,300 career innings edges that of either incumbent All-Star. Berrios (105) and Odorizzi (106) have been solid in aggregate, as has Michael Pineda (103), but Chacin's body of work surpasses them all.
ERA+ shines a positive light on the former Rockie because it accounts for his six years spent in the league's toughest pitching environment. Chacin's 3.78 ERA in Colorado was even more impressive than it looked. Per ERA+, he's been above-average in six of his nine seasons with 50+ IP, including two of the past three. He has also been very durable of late, logging 100+ innings and 22+ starts in four straight campaigns.
Because he's coming off a rough year, Chacin is being slept on as one of the most underrated additions in the Twins offseason. Tabbing him for the fifth rotation spot with a non-guaranteed deal is a completely risk-free proposition with very real upside.
4: Josh Donaldson was a childhood friend of former Twin P.J. Walters.
I came across this factoid in a profile on Donaldson from 2013. In his junior year of high school, the Florida native transferred to Faith Academy in Mobile, AL, partially because Walters – "one of Josh's best friends," per MLB.com's Jane Lee – had enrolled there a year earlier.
At the time that article published, Walters was pitching in the Twins organization. The right-hander threw 152 total innings in the majors, and 101 of them came with Minnesota, where he made 20 starts in 2012 and '13. It was a real low point in the franchise's recent history, as Walters epitomized the perpetual struggle of Terry Ryan's front office: throwing fringe arms at the wall in desperate hopes of adhesion. Walters was one of many misfires, posting a 5.79 ERA and 1.60 WHIP for the Twins, and never again appearing in the majors afterward.
Donaldson, meanwhile, represents just how much things have changed for the Twins since those dark days. He's the marquee addition to a 101-win division champ, assembled by an overhauled front office that has elevated the club's operational sophistication drastically.
5: Alex Avila developed a rep as "The Titanium Catcher" ... and as a lightning rod for foul tips.
In January of 2014, months after the Twins announced Joe Mauer would be moving away from catcher, an article on Fox Sports Detroit boasted of this nickname for Avila, who missed two weeks the prior season due to headaches and nausea resulting from a foul tip (incidentally, sustained just 11 days before the one that ended Mauer's catching career).
"One thing Avila did do after he returned from the disabled list," according to the writeup, "was start wearing a heavier mask to absorb more of the impact from the foul tips he seems to get so frequently."
His ability to bounce back from the bell-ringers earned Avila a rep for imperviousness, and he has gone on to start 387 games at catcher in the six years since. But as Twins fans know all too well, just one foul tip can change everything, especially when there is a history at play.
Mauer moved to first base permanently in 2014, and later retired at age 35 following another flare-up of symptoms. Mitch Garver suffered a concussion on a foul-tip in September of 2018, and didn't catch again for the final three weeks of the season, casting some doubt on his own future behind the plate. Thankfully, he avoided any further issues or complications in a breakout 2019.
The Twins will hope that Avila can continue to be titanium-grade this year, so he can help lighten Garver's load and continue the productivity of Minnesota's catching unit.
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