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  • Embracing the Suck

    By virtually every measure, the Minnesota Twins are a very bad baseball team. Entering Friday nightís game against the Astros, the Twins offense ranked 21st in both runs scored and wRC+. The starting pitching has been horrific even by recent Twins standards, ranking last in ERA (5.18), last in xFIP (4.56) and last in strikeouts (302) by an embarrassing margin. Lastly, the defense has been mediocre (12th in DRS) to bad (27th in UZR), depending on your metric of choice. The teamís lone bright spot has been the bullpen, which has been great despite a lack of name recognition and chronic overuse from the outset (367.2 innings pitched, 5th most in MLB).

    So yes, the Twins have been bad this year. Fortunately (or unfortunately, as I will argue), a few other teams have been worse. One of those teams is the Houston Astros, who are in town this weekend for a three game series at Target Field. The Astros know they are bad, and they are proud of it. From the moment GM Jeff Luhnow assumed control of the team, that has been the plan. Why? Because Luhnow is one of the smartest men in baseball, and he knows the best way to rebuild under the current CBA is to bottom out and embrace the suck. At 45-60 and virtually assured of a third straight 90-loss season, the Twins would be wise to do the same.

    Thatís because in todayís MLB landscape, if youíre going to be bad anyway, you might as well strive to be the worst. With more and more teams locking up their best players to long-term contracts before they are able to hit the market, adding impact talent through free agency has never been tougher. Further, as evidenced by this weekís trade deadline (emphasis on dead), teams are valuing their controllable assets more than ever, making improvement via trade just as difficult. That leaves the international market and the draft as the only remaining avenues through which a team can dramatically improve its roster. The team that finishes lowest in the standings stands to benefit the most from both Ė in the form of the largest international spending pool and the number one pick in the amateur draft. Simply put, it pays to suck.

    Twins fans need look no further than Miguel Sano to understand the value that can be had on the international market. Itís an area they have taken some advantage of in recent years, but one where they could surely do more. As for the draft, the 2014 class figures to be much stronger than this yearís crop, with the top prize being NC State lefty Carlos Rodon Ė who likely would have gone number one to Houston over top selection Mark Appel had he been eligible as a junior. Of Rodon, Keith Law has stated: ď[He] checks every box you might want to see in a potential first overall pick and projected No. 1 starter.Ē In other words, heís just what the Twins roster doctor ordered.

    Heading into this weekend, the Twins trail the Astros by ten games for the worst record in baseball. They also have the White Sox, Marlins, and Brewers to contend with, among others. With 57 games remaining, the race for Rodon is still wide-open. So maybe you try to deal Justin Morneau and Josh Willingham to contenders, even if it means eating some salary to do so. Maybe you give Liam Hendriks one more shot to prove he can be a major league starter, and Chris Parmelee one more chance to show he can hit major league pitching. And maybe you give Joe Mauer a few more days off in the second half, to save those knees and extend his career behind the dish. Iím not advocating intentionally trying to lose, but itís past time to worry about 2013. Itís time to embrace the suck. #p2c

    Originally published at pitching2contact
    This article was originally published in blog: Embracing the Suck started by jdotmcmahon
    Comments 17 Comments
    1. Twins Daily Admin's Avatar
      Twins Daily Admin -
      Ok, but can we say the same thing about the Astros next year? Or the next year? At some point, a team has to move forward, and they can't do that by embracing the suck. I'm not sure what the difference is between embracing the suck and "establishing a culture of losing."
    1. Zephrin's Avatar
      Zephrin -
      Losing at the Major League level shouldn't hurt minor league talent if they establish their own culture of winning. Getting a great core of players that comes up at the same time can bring with it a winning culture. A lot of the kids that Played at E-town last year are winning again in Cedar Rapids, and Ft. Myers has played well this year, too.
    1. Zephrin's Avatar
      Zephrin -
      While you could argue that stocking Rochester with career minor leaguers may be holding some kids back, it is important for prospects to experience winning. CR, FtM and Roch should all make playoffs this year, which is good for grooming a winning culture. I don't have the stats in front of me, but did guys like Plouffe, Parmelee, Dozier, etc play on winning minor league teams ever?
    1. raindog's Avatar
      raindog -
      The Twins aren't going to finish with a worse record than the Astros unless they literally try to lose.

      As for embracing the suck in general, I don't think finishing last or in the bottom 5 makes much of a difference. The draft is such a crap shoot. The Twins will have the chance to draft huge talent for the next couple years, no matter how bad the record.

      I agree with you on Luhnow. When he took control of the Astros, they had a horrible major league team and nothing to look forward to in the farm system. In a short period of time, he has turned the Astros outlook around. With an owner that understands his vision, the Astros have a bright future.
    1. raindog's Avatar
      raindog -
      I realize that sounded like I was contradicting myself. I agree that sucking has its benefits. Just how sucky you end up is not going to make a huge difference. The Twins are going to have high draft picks the next couple years.
    1. NoCal's Avatar
      NoCal -
      A long term strategy is better than "embracing the suck". For example, build your team up the middle (catcher, ss, cf); pitching is 75% of the game; tailor your team to your ballpark. Using those principles as a guide, an organization can make decisions about drafting, trading, roster construction. It takes time, it takes patience. It probably also requires taking bloggers with a grain of salt.
    1. cmb0252's Avatar
      cmb0252 -
      Quote Originally Posted by NoCal View Post
      A long term strategy is better than "embracing the suck". For example, build your team up the middle (catcher, ss, cf); pitching is 75% of the game; tailor your team to your ballpark. Using those principles as a guide, an organization can make decisions about drafting, trading, roster construction. It takes time, it takes patience. It probably also requires taking bloggers with a grain of salt.
      Crap shoot? Out of the 900+ players in the first 10 rounds they have a 1/6th chance to make it at least for a cup of coffee. Players drafted in the 3-5 rounds have ~47% chance, 1st round supplemental-2nd round have a 57% chance to make it, and first rounders have a 73% chance to make it. If we break down the first round players drafted 1-5 have a 88% chance to at least make it to the bigs while the rest of the first round is about 70%. There are always exceptions but historically drafting in the top 5 doesn't only increase the chance of the player making it to the bigs but increases the chance of them having an impact.

      Moral of the story: If you are drafting high, draft real high! That or just don't suck so you don't have to worry about it.
    1. TheLeviathan's Avatar
      TheLeviathan -
      This new CBA didn't make tanking any more or less effective. We are just in a cycle with a lot of savvy small markets having success - they tend to be more conservative with the assets they trust which is why you see less player movement.

      High draft picks are nice, but the Twins have to add talent when they can. Waiting for the stars to align is an expression we use more flippantly, but when you look at it literally you get a more realistic picture of what it means: it can take a very, very, very long time. And it certainly doesn't happen frequently enough to start making baseball decisions on that philosophy. I doubt even Ryan believes any such thing, he's just diametrically opposed to spending money outside a self-selected set of parameters.
    1. old nurse's Avatar
      old nurse -
      Quote Originally Posted by cmb0252 View Post
      Crap shoot? Out of the 900+ players in the first 10 rounds they have a 1/6th chance to make it at least for a cup of coffee. Players drafted in the 3-5 rounds have ~47% chance, 1st round supplemental-2nd round have a 57% chance to make it, and first rounders have a 73% chance to make it. If we break down the first round players drafted 1-5 have a 88% chance to at least make it to the bigs while the rest of the first round is about 70%. There are always exceptions but historically drafting in the top 5 doesn't only increase the chance of the player making it to the bigs but increases the chance of them having an impact.

      Moral of the story: If you are drafting high, draft real high! That or just don't suck so you don't have to worry about it.
      You can suck with high draft picks as easily as not. Your numbers are nice but do not tell much as to not sucking. Percentages of players making it to the big leagues does not say much as to where the quality players come from..
    1. big dog's Avatar
      big dog -
      I found that study interesting, but I think there's one problem with it that is difficult to address. Using an appearance in the majors as your measure of success biases the results toward high draft picks; if someone is the first-round pick, teams are much more likely to bring them up, at least for a bit, just because they were a first-rounder so there must be something there (Adam Johnson). That doesn't make them a real major league ball player. The same player who was a 14th round pick never gets the call. At worst, all the study shows is that clubs are more likely to promote top picks, not that they make better ball players. I don't think the bias is that severe, but I think it does put the value of results in some question.
    1. Top Gun's Avatar
      Top Gun -
      All bull, pays to suck? pay up and you won't suck!
    1. John Bonnes's Avatar
      John Bonnes -
      Quote Originally Posted by old nurse View Post
      You can suck with high draft picks as easily as not. Your numbers are nice but do not tell much as to not sucking. Percentages of players making it to the big leagues does not say much as to where the quality players come from..
      Shoot - we had this posted during the draft, but I forget where. I just looked and can't find it.

      The reality is that picks 2 thru 10 or so are kind of a crap shoot, though that makes it sound like the chances are stacked against you. They're not. Odds are you'll do pretty well.

      But picking #1 is a totally different proposition. When someone separates himself from the pack at an early age, it often means they're going to be exceptional. That's not true for every draft, but for some drafts, it just plain means superstar. So when you look at the value of MLB players that have been drafted at different places, the #1 position exceeds the #2 position by multiples, not by just a little.

      Just thought I'd add that so we have some data going forward with this discussion. (One can argue that MLB should implement a lottery for that #1 pick. I"m a little surprised they haven't yet.)
    1. mike wants wins's Avatar
      mike wants wins -
      The Astros traded their vets, committed to a rebuild, and were honest with their fans about the process. Not sure how you can compare that to the Twins at all. As for higher picks, do people really argue that a good group of scouts is not more likely to get good players if they pick earlier?
    1. IdahoPilgrim's Avatar
      IdahoPilgrim -
      Quote Originally Posted by mike wants wins View Post
      The Astros traded their vets, committed to a rebuild, and were honest with their fans about the process. Not sure how you can compare that to the Twins at all. As for higher picks, do people really argue that a good group of scouts is not more likely to get good players if they pick earlier?
      And for that honesty the fans have rewarded them by ... not coming to ballgames. They are 28th in attendance, ahead of only the two Florida franchises.
    1. cmb0252's Avatar
      cmb0252 -
      Quote Originally Posted by IdahoPilgrim View Post
      And for that honesty the fans have rewarded them by ... not coming to ballgames. They are 28th in attendance, ahead of only the two Florida franchises.
      Hey, it's pretty awesome for me as a Twins fan who lives in Houston! Astros vs Twins tickets are going for about 8-10 bucks! My girlfriend and I can see the whole series for about 50 bucks.
    1. cmb0252's Avatar
      cmb0252 -
      Quote Originally Posted by old nurse View Post
      You can suck with high draft picks as easily as not. Your numbers are nice but do not tell much as to not sucking. Percentages of players making it to the big leagues does not say much as to where the quality players come from..
      I'm just using the available data instead of coming up with my own general assumptions. The same study that I took the above stats from also looked into chance to make an impact. Top 5 picks had a 37% chance to have a 10+ War career. That's pretty good.

      Also, the elephant in the room here is how easy it is to devalue prospects because they aren't proven while assuming big leave players are. While prospects may never reach the bigs they are at least cheap investments. Big leaguers suffer injuries, have a bad year (years), and rarely live up to their contracts. Good teams build via the draft and if you are building through the draft studies have shown the higher the pick, the better.
    1. USAFChief's Avatar
      USAFChief -
      You might not be "advocating intentionally trying to lose," but you sure seem to be in favor of doing what they can to avoid winning.

      Embrace the suck? No thanks. It makes a sham of everything that's good about major league baseball, IMO, while doing nothing to guarantee anything for the future.
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