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Twins Getting Greatness from Utility

From Denny Hocking to Nick Punto and then eventually Eduardo Escobar the Minnesota Twins have always employed a scrappy utility type of player that draws the praise of fans everywhere. Light-hitting, good defensively, and an ability to play all over the diamond, the bat is something that typically is left by the wayside. In recent years however, this organization has seen the emergence of utility men that go on to play a much more prominent role.
Image courtesy of © Jordan Johnson-USA TODAY Sports
Acquired in exchange for Francisco Liriano was back in 2012, Eduardo Escobar was a middle infielder that would shuffle his was around the diamond. After five big league seasons in Minnesota compiling a .709 OPS the 2018 season saw him break out in a big way. Through 97 games on a bad team a year ago, Escobar posted an .852 OPS and looked like he’d challenge the all-time doubles record. 23 homers were a new career high and he did it while providing utility all over.

Jettisoned to Arizona Escobar left a starting position open. The expectation isn’t for a utility player to take over an everyday role, but there’s certainly at bats to be gobbled up and opportunity to be had. In 2019 Ehire Adrianza is rewriting his own narrative.

In the offseason prior to the 2017 campaign Ehire was placed on waivers by the San Francisco Giants. After being claimed initially by the Milwaukee Brewers, Minnesota brought him in. Getting in just 70 games that season he posted a .707 OPS. Adrianza was always billed as a very good defensive shortstop who’d never been given much leash in the Bay. The Twins played him in five different positions last season and that versatility was the bulk of his value as he posted just a 0.5 fWAR and .680 OPS.

Fast forward to 2019 and the explosion of sorts has happened. Adrianza hasn’t joined his teammates as a chief member of the Bomba Squad, but he’s no longer just a fringe utility man either. He’s got a career best .288/.377/.432 slash line and nearly has surpassed his career high fWAR (1.0 in 2017) through just 53 games of action. Dating back to May 12, 31 games ago, Adrianza owns a .397/.473/.603 slash line across 93 plate appearances. Jumping into his first career pitching performance 2019 has come with seven different positions on the diamond.

No one is willing to suggest that Adrianza is an All-Star caliber player or the guy that you build a roster around, but he’s absolutely the type that you round out a very good team with. In the Postseason you can generally find significant value in the 25th man on any given roster. Ehire has afforded Rocco Baldelli a significant amount of versatility in his lineups, and because his bat has performed at an otherwise unseen clip, there’s been less of a dropoff when teammates have dealt with injury.

Credit Adrianza for taking the path often traveled and turning it into a consistent opportunity. Rare is the light hitting minor leaguer like Luis Arraez coming up and batting near .400 for any considerable amount of time. Ehire’s trajectory is one many big leaguers before him have traveled. He could’ve been Pedro Florimon for something like 10 years and fizzled out over time. Instead he’s an irreplaceable cog on one of the best teams in baseball and all his teammates are better for it.

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16 Comments

I remember him crediting Rowson with his turn around. Told him that he could hit homers and shouldn't be afraid to swing out.

And this with a just dreadful start of the season.

    • Danchat likes this

I remember him crediting Rowson with his turn around. Told him that he could hit homers and shouldn't be afraid to swing out.

I remember watching Eduardo Escobar in the process of breaking out in a similar fashion. I think it was in Spring Training some years ago, during batting practice he was clearly having some "fun" going for homers, and I figured, nah, just messing around, boys will be boys. Lotta laughing with teammates during this. Nope, this was serious work, in between the laughs. Next, during real games during the regular season, every now and then you could see he would take a serious rip during a plate appearance, at a very intelligent moment in the game when a surprise HR could be a difference maker - then if that didn't work he'd switch modes back to his normal swing for the rest of the PA - until eventually he was behaving like an all-purpose hitter fulltime.

 

I don't know whether the same timeline's going to happen for Ay-Ray, but home run power is often the last of the tools to develop.

    • Dman, Jham and DocBauer like this
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VivaBomboRivera!
Jul 23 2019 05:36 PM

From Al Newman to Denny Hocking to Nick Punto and then eventually Eduardo Escobar the Minnesota Twins have always employed a scrappy utility type of player that draws the praise of fans everywhere...

 

Fixed yer lede. ;-)

Nice article.

    • ashbury, woolywoolhouse, DocBauer and 1 other like this

To those who said it back in May/June... they got his trade value up! Time to trade him!

 

I jest, but boy, this team sure has a lot of utility guys. I looked back at our 2018 roster and I gagged when I realized our bench at one point was Bobby Wilson, Ryan LaMarre, Gregorio Petit, and Adrianza.

 

But Adrianza does deserve credit where it's due - he's turned into a very successful waiver claim, which I think was the very first move by the Falvey/Levine regime. I also think Rowson deserves some credit (the guy doesn't get enough IMO) helping develop Adrianza over the years.

    • DannySD likes this

Hi, Dick Bremer! Are you reading Twins Daily tonight? You pretty much gave a shout-out to this article a moment ago without naming names. :)

Marwin is the poster boy for a super utility player with a quality bat, and deservedly so. While Adrianza is not quite at his level...though with a little more power he might be...he might be referred to also as a super utility player.

For that matter, while it's still early in his career, Arreaz could be thought of the same way. He's played 4 spots, done just fine, and can obviously swing the bat. While he may end up being a starting 2B in the near future, he fits the description at the moment as well.

And while he can't play SS and there are varrying opinions on his bat and potential, Astudillo could also be claimed as a super utility type.

Have to really like how this roster is constructed!
    • mikelink45, Dman and gagu like this

I'm not going to bother with the research, but I feel like Ehire hits way better when he plays more often. Of course, when he's not hitting they also don't put him in the lineup as often. Utility player is a tough role that requires a certain mindset. I'm glad it's working for him.

 

I suspect he's mostly just having a career year with a juiced ball, but I'll take it. Hitting is also contagious.

    • DocBauer likes this

While there's all kinds of questions an issues about the way the FO has constructed the bullpen, there's little doubt about the way they've built the team in the field. No wasted roster spaces, and while I might pine a little for some additional on-base monsters and high average hitters, overall they've done a heck of a job. And one of those areas is in the utility group.

 

Adrianza is hitting really well, and his ability to defend at multiple positions while continuing to hit this year is a significant asset. And it's not a fluky, high BABIP-induced, small sample size trip: this looks like just legit improvement.

 

Gonzalez is also hitting well and providing quality defense all over (after a horrid start at the plate). 

 

It's really helpful to not have massive drop-offs when a starter gets a day off. 

    • DocBauer and gagu like this

Hi, Dick Bremer! Are you reading Twins Daily tonight? You pretty much gave a shout-out to this article a moment ago without naming names. :)


I feel like a number of good ideas have spring from this site. Use of options for relievers like extra roster spots and position flexibility were pushed for on this site, and those suggestions actually made there way to the rosters. Whether or not anyone else actually follows along, what a great community of baseball fans!
    • DocBauer likes this

I feel like a number of good ideas have spring from this site. Use of options for relievers like extra roster spots and position flexibility were pushed for on this site, and those suggestions actually made there way to the rosters. Whether or not anyone else actually follows along, what a great community of baseball fans!

And don't get me started about TD articles highlighting something I brought up a couple days earlier. :)

    • Tom Froemming likes this

 

From Al Newman to Denny Hocking to Nick Punto and then eventually Eduardo Escobar the Minnesota Twins have always employed a scrappy utility type of player that draws the praise of fans everywhere...

 

Fixed yer lede. ;-)

Nice article.

I'd add Tovar to that list. He had a 5-year run in the top 25 in AL MVP voting. In '68, the season he played one inning at each position in a late September game, Tovar put in more than 70 innings in left, center, right, second, short and third. In the Oakland game, he pitched a scoreless 1st, with a K, a walk, and a balk in a 2-1 victory. Quote from Minnesota Twins: The Complete Illustrated History: "Cesar Tovar was a Billy Martin kind of player—scrappy, hustling, able to contribute in a variety of ways on the fieId..."

    • DocBauer likes this

I'm not going to bother with the research, but I feel like Ehire hits way better when he plays more often. Of course, when he's not hitting they also don't put him in the lineup as often. Utility player is a tough role that requires a certain mindset. I'm glad it's working for him.
 
I suspect he's mostly just having a career year with a juiced ball, but I'll take it. Hitting is also contagious.


I think everyone does better when allowed to play on a regular basis. TO was great at that and once made a comment, paraphrasing now, "how can I expect someone to come off the bench to perform or PH if they haven't been playing on a regular basis". I think Gardy and Molitor were pretty good at this philosophy as well. The big difference with Rocco, IMO, is he isn't stagnant with roles for players. And I think this goes back to the FO as well. As weird as it sounds, it's a Little League approach at the ML level. You are a ballplayer. So be one.

That's not to say everyone can pull it off. I think we all still shudder at remembrance of Sano in the OF. Not everyone can pull it off. Marwin was brought in for a very specific reason, and he has been all we could have hoped for. But like Brian has stated before, you can also develop your own super utility players.

There is a power difference, but Adrianza reminds me much of Escobar. A solid milb player, solid numbers, just waiting for opportunity for continued growth and development. A chance. Adrianza was not great the last 2 years, but solid and productive. Be bad a great ST this year and then a horrendous start to the season. But Rocco saw something. And then look what happened.

Arraez has potential, but is a 2B only. Except, he's not just that and is proving that.

Some of us love Astudillo and believe in him, some don't. I get it. Some say his production last season was an illusion as it was late in the season. And they want to point to some bad stretches this year. Except, he hit before be got injured. He didn't look good after brought back. Then be raked at AAA, looked good again, then got hurt again.

It still comes back to the player. But Rocco is very smart and very forward thinking. He seems to understand the limitations of his players, but also sees their potential.
    • Reider and Shaitan like this

 

Not everyone can pull it off. Marwin was brought in for a very specific reason, and he has been all we could have hoped for. But like Brian has stated before, you can also develop your own super utility players.

 

The general perception here seems to be that utility is a Falvine emphasis. I hope so because I love the versatility it gives the roster (even if the league goes to 26 next year).

 

I'm glad we have Marwin and that he's a great fit both in role and clubhouse fit, but he was also a spring signee, which makes me wonder if it's by design or luck.

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Brock Beauchamp
Jul 26 2019 09:50 AM

The general perception here seems to be that utility is a Falvine emphasis. I hope so because I love the versatility it gives the roster (even if the league goes to 26 next year).

I'm glad we have Marwin and that he's a great fit both in role and clubhouse fit, but he was also a spring signee, which makes me wonder if it's by design or luck.

Both, I suspect. Given how the team apparently views Adrianza, it's possible they viewed him as Gonzalez-Lite and assumed Gonzalez would be snatched up at a much higher rate than they got him. When Marwin lingered in free agency through February, they probably pivoted and grabbed him.

Which makes me wonder how analytics-first teams are viewing “roving” players.

For example, maybe Gonzalez is a 2 WAR player. That's fine but hardly jaw-dropping. A basic analytical analysis would pencil in two wins and move on.

But is that actually the case? I don't think it is because:

1. Gonzalez provides rest for starters. I'm sure some advanced teams have affixed a number to what you get from a player starting 155 games versus starting 145 games. Maybe it's such a small number that most ignore it... say, 0.1 WAR performance over those 145 games. But if you duplicate that nine times, you're quickly at 1.0 WAR or thereabouts. Suddenly, Gonzalez is a full win more valuable than he was before. On top of that, Gonzalez will allow many starters to sit during games they face a platoon disadvantage, further extending that improvement in overall play. Or maybe that starting player has a 2% higher chance of avoiding injury at 145 games. That in itself has an enormous impact if it prevents a 5 WAR player from going down for a month of the season.

2. Gonzalez provides insurance against starter injuries and replacement (or worse) players. We always affix the "replacement player" value but we also know that replacement players aren't manufactured on an assembly line, ready to take over as needed. Plugging in Gonzalez at third while Sano was injured could easily have brought the Twins another 0.5 WAR, as their options behind Sano weren't great (I'm excluding Adrianza from this hypothetical because it's just that, a hypothetical). Multiply that over multiple positions over the course of a season and you start to get that much more value from Gonzalez.

3. The futility fielder. Again, we assume that historically, this player is replacement level. That may not be the case. Just plugging in any random player, as we saw for a decade straight with those 2000s Twins teams, can lead to some ugly black holes on the roster.

All of these numbers are just guesses but I don't think it's a coincidence that a team like the Astros valued Gonzalez and now teams like the Twins also value him (or that the Cubs held a similar concept by aggressively pursuing Zobrist). I think there's a lot more to the story than "Gonzalez is worth two wins and that's that".

And I suspect this is a trend we'll see gain in importance going forward.

    • DocBauer likes this
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stringer bell
Jul 27 2019 09:25 AM
We’ve seen plenty of Gonzalez at third early in the season and now he’s played mostly outfield and first base. His work in the field has been very good and he’s been decent offensively. I think he’s an unassigned regular, as opposed to a super-utility player.

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