Initially saddled with a holdover manager, Falvey and Levine weren’t going to be able to make their mark from the start. They waded in the shallow end and allowed an acclimation process of sorts to take place. Prior to the 2019 season they jumped right off the high dive straight into the deep end. Regardless of the fanfare created by roster reinforcements, it was the infrastructure that seemed so valuable last winter.
Having spent time down in Fort Myers for Spring Training, it was immediately evident that this collection was going to do things differently. The Twins can’t change how they’re viewed by potential free agents overnight, but they can position themselves as an industry leader other teams will quickly want to emulate. The former carries a significant monetary cost while the latter is generally accompanied by a level of commitment towards a strong belief in process. Over the past year Minnesota’s front office has reinvigorated the organization to levels it’s likely never seen.
Without having yet signed any free agents, there’s been a flurry of activity from the Twins ranks this offseason. Something like five coaches will have been poached when the dust settles, and a five-year extension will have been handed out to the two head men. Those two combining realities are the defining moments of where Minnesota is now, and how they’ll want to operate in the future. Talent has been plucked from the organization to take promotions elsewhere, while the men who picked them for those roles are now tasked with getting it right again.
There’s no denying that the Twins have a substantial amount of money to spend this offseason, and coming off a 101-win season, a responsibility to write those checks. What they also must get right is the replacements for the now goner developers of that talent, and a blueprint that continues to make the overall infrastructure an environment conducive of producing success.
Minnesota should be looking to add everyone from Gerrit Cole to Anthony Rendon on the diamond over the next handful of months. Jim Pohlad also realizes that it’s equally important Falvey finds the next James Rowson, Jeremy Hefner, or Tanner Swanson as well. Coming over from an Indians organization that generated some steam as being progressive, the Twins head man has left no stone unturned. Plucking a pitching coach from the collegiate ranks and adding support staff based on success rather than tenure, it’s been in the advancements Minnesota has made that ultimately generated hot commodities for other big-league clubs.
I’ll be the first to admit disappointment if a certain payroll threshold isn’t reached before Opening Day in 2020. I also believe that the Twins front office duo of Falvey and Levine are the best equipped to construct a process-oriented blueprint both on the field and off it. The Twins seem to believe this as well, evidenced by the lengthy pact made to the tandem, and that’s a very key development.
With a window open, and execution at the forefront, I’m not sure we’ve ever had reason to feel so confident in a Minnesota Twins management group at any point in history. It will be on Derek Falvey and Thad Levine to hit on those beliefs, but for now, there’s no stopping this train.
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- Nov 14 2019 10:57 AM
- by Ted Schwerzler
Every team in baseball should be salivating at the thought of adding either Gerrit Cole or Stephen Strasburg to their starting rotation. Young aces simply don’t hit the free agent market often, and when they do the costs will be substantial. Minnesota can afford either (and even both), but I’d expect Cole to look at the West Coast or New York, while Strasburg returns to D.C. with on a hefty raise. That doesn’t mean all is lost for the Twins, but how they react is where this narrative begins.
Going into 2019 the front office suggested a wait and see approach that was built on the premise of Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano establishing their value. The former looks the part of a star (when healthy), and the latter showed he’s one of the best power hitters in the game. Neither of them was a linchpin in the 101-win season though, and Rocco Baldelli got strong performance by utilizing the full sum of his parts. Buxton and Sano can be key cogs, but the winning was as much alongside them as opposed to being because of them.
Now with an established infrastructure of developmental talent, a big-league roster capable of competing with anyone, and opportunity as abundant as it may ever be, it’s time to follow in the footsteps of recent World Series winners and begin to capitalize on the window.
I’d hardly be shocked if the win total takes a slight step backwards, but the goal is an extended presence into October. Here’s how that happens in 2020:
1. Cron is the odd man out in arbitration deals.
After a nagging thumb injury in 2019, Cron should be all systems go in 2020. He was great before the thumb issue flared up, and I certainly have no problem with the Twins offering him an arbitration deal. Unfortunately, this projection includes a roster crunch, so C.J. becomes the lone arbitration-eligible player to not be tendered a new deal.
2. Make Anthony Rendon the big splash paying him $33 million for eight years.
Last offseason I liked the idea of Josh Donaldson coming to the Twins. He was a former superstar and could be had at a discount. Going home to Georgia he had a very good bounce-back year. With plenty of money to spend, and the top two pitchers likely off the board, the next superstar opportunity is a better one. Anthony Rendon is an MVP-level talent, has been incredibly consistent, and joins one of the best lineups in baseball. I’m not sure Miguel Sano needs to move across the diamond yet, but there’s no reason this isn’t a good enough opportunity for him to do so.
3. Sign Zack Wheeler to a four-year, $72 million contract.
At the top of Minnesota’s impact pitching list should be Zack Wheeler. Hiss secondary numbers are drool-inducing, and he’s already got plenty of velocity for Wes Johnson to work with. Allowing the Twins pitching coach to pull more from the 29-year-old and Baldelli would have a very impressive one-two punch at the top of his rotation.
4. Sign Jake Odorizzi to a three-year, $36 million contract.
The Twins smartly handed Odorizzi a qualifying offer. He could take that and return at $17.8 million which would be just fine. It may also ward off some competition for his services, keeping the bidding on a longer-term deal. Two-years doesn’t seem enticing for the former Rays hurler if the alternative is a gaudy one-year pact, so go three and bolster the middle of the group.
5. Trade Eddie Rosario and Jhoan Duran to the Colorado Rockies for Jon Gray.
Under team control for two more years, the former third overall pick is where I’m setting my sights in a swap for the Minnesota outfielder. Rosario can probably hit a boatload of bombas in the Rockies, while Gray can be expected to build on a career year in 2019. His FIP has suggested there’s more than the ERA has told us for a few years, and while the walks could be reduced, the strikeout stuff is going to play anywhere. At worst you’ve got a number four starter, and the upside is a guy to contend with Wheeler and Jose Berrios at the top. Duran was the main piece in the Eduardo Escobar deal, and he looked impressive during his first full season in the organization.
6. Sign Alex Gordon to a one-year, $2 million contract.
Prioritizing defense is a must for the Twins in 2020. With Eddie Rosario gone, adding another plus-glove into the outfield mix as depth makes a lot of sense. Gordon isn’t the player he once was, but he’s still above average in the field and can play left as often as Marwin Gonzalez is elsewhere. Ideally, I’d like some center field depth, but I’d tell Max Kepler and Jake Cave to be as prepared as possible coming into spring training. Gordon is done with his massive Royals payday, and the $4 million buyout should reduce his 2020 ask as well.
7. Sign Robinson Chirinos to a one-year, $6 million contract.
I’d be fine with Jason Castro returning on this same exact deal, if he’s open to it. Chirinos is an excellent backstop with a strong bat, and seemingly an impressive clubhouse presence. He recently wrapped up a season coming just shy of winning a World Series and could help push Minnesota toward that same exact goal.
8. Sign Drew Pomeranz and Sergio Romo to one-year deals for $3.5 and $3 million.
The former gives Minnesota a second lefty option in the pen, and his former starting experience should allow for some length as well. A reunion with Romo would work in the clubhouse, and his slider is still as devastating as ever. Neither represent earth-shattering pen arms, but this is the easiest avenue toward improvement.
The most prolific power offense in the history of baseball returns in 2020, but with an added boost. Eddie Rosario ends up being dangled to acquire pitching but getting the best position player on the market makes up for that and then some. Rendon’s bat plays, and his glove may be even more important. I like Marwin in the outfield more than on the dirt, and Alex Gordon provides a defense-first bench option that the Twins haven’t had.
Yes, the outfield prospects are close, but there’s still a clear path to playing time, and the Opening Day roster starts in a very good place.
From a pitching perspective it’s a season of change. Odorizzi is back with Berrios, but the impact is felt from outside the organization. Wheeler represents a second bullet for Minnesota to mold into an ace, and he can bolster the top of the staff even if he doesn’t get there. Gray should benefit from leaving the Rockies, and a better organization can most certainly take his stuff up another level.
I struggled with the idea of giving Brusdar Graterol a rotation spot out of the gate. He has never pitched more than 102 innings in a season, is coming off just 61 in 2019, and is still just 21-years-old. Ideally, he starts at Triple-A and settles back into starting. That said, I like his arm a good deal better than any fringe fifth starter, and if Minnesota deems that he beats out the likes of Lewis Thorpe then take off the training wheels.
If there’s a weak spot to this roster it’s the same area 2019 started out with. The relief corps is composed of internally developed arms, which is only a strength if regression is to be denied. Rogers, May, Duffey, and Littell all return as near certainties. Stashak earned himself an opportunity to make the Opening Day roster, and Devin Smeltzer could be a nice long man in relief. Free agents, one returning, complete the group and Pomeranz looks to have some serious upside.
Should the Twins find themselves cycling through arms too often out of the pen, or if there’s a lack of production, relief arms at the deadline are among the most easily acquirable commodities.
When the dust settles this puts the Opening Day payroll at $143.4 million. That’s almost a $30 million jump from 2019, and a step up from the previous high-water mark in 2018 as well. This is the time to build, and this plan leaves the Twins with opportunity to add more in 2021 and puts forth a very strong group to defend their AL Central Division title.
~~~What would your blueprint look like for the Twins this winter? Download your copy of the Offseason Handbook and use it to construct a champion. Share your vision for discussion in our Create a Blueprint forum thread. Meanwhile, stay tuned to TD as our writers will be formulating offseason plans from different perspectives all week long.
- Nov 13 2019 09:04 AM
- by Ted Schwerzler
Let’s rewind over a half decade and land back in 2013. The Chicago Cubs and Houston Astros both employed top five farm systems but were among the worst teams in baseball. Chicago won just 66 games while Houston joined the American League and punted on the season to the tune of 51 victories. The next year both clubs remained in the top five on the farm but also showed life in the majors to the tune of 73 and 70 wins respectively. Pairing their development success with what was happening at the highest level, it became evident that it was time to go.
In 2015 the Cubs opened with a $106.6 million payroll, 98% increase from the $53.6 million a year prior. Houston was not as drastic, going from $41.6 million to $64.8 million (a 56% increase). Both teams jumped up in wins, most notably Chicago parlaying their 97 into an NLCS appearance (in which they were swept by the Mets). 2016 saw the Cubs fully realize their goal with a World Series victory, the first since 1908. To get there Theo pushed payroll to $161.3 million, another 51% increase, or jump of 200% since 2014.
Image Credit: Forbes
To be fair, Minnesota will never operate on the same revenue stream that a national brand like the Cubs benefit from. Houston is a much more feasible example though, and while they likely have a more lucrative TV deal as well, 2019 revenues highlight the gap being relatively insignificant. The Astros also saw an 86-win successful year in 2015, only to take a step backwards (84 wins) in 2016. That is largely reflective of the cycle Minnesota endured popping up for a one-game Wild Card loss.
Payroll growth in Houston has been noteworthy as well. Coming out of the 86-win campaign in 2015 the Astros operated differently than the Twins (who went from $130MM in 2018 to $114MM in 2019) by increasing payroll to $75.4 million, a slight 16% increase. They finished third in the division, but the dam was clearly ready to break. Still with a top farm system, and so much big-league talent, Houston went gangbusters spending $132.5 million in 2017, a 76% increase that culminated in a World Series.
Despite being an uncapped sport teams all have a spending threshold. Chicago suggests they’re near theirs and have begun to scale back. The additional funs provided them a window of five straight winning seasons, 90 wins in all but one of them, and the ultimate goal. Houston is in the midst of a stretch where they’ve won three straight division titles, 100 games in three straight seasons, and have gone to the World Series in two of the past three years.
Infrastructure and development in baseball is about creating a backbone capable of sustaining excellence at the highest level. Whether prospects contribute to maturing on the biggest stage, or being parlayed into veteran talent, the goal is not a constant state of hording. Minnesota’s window is now fully open, paired with ideal opportunity around them, and the financial flexibility to make waves. You could, and I have, made the argument that significant spending would have provided marginal gains in recent seasons. That is no longer on the table, and the blueprint has already been draw up for these Twins.
2020 isn’t about dabbling at $130 million. This franchise now needs to show up at the checkout counter and make use of what it has built these past few years.
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- Nov 06 2019 01:45 PM
- by Ted Schwerzler
Coming into last season Minnesota took a step backward in the payroll department. After being just shy of $130 million in 2017, they began 2018 with a $114 million tab suggesting that the next step was largely reliant on seeing what they then had. We are now in a position, for the first time in nearly a decade, that the Minnesota Twins know exactly what they have. This organization has a forward-thinking front office that has hired an infrastructure designed to push development. They have a manager capable of getting execution at the highest level. They have a prospect stream filled with both quality and quantity. Maybe most important, they are division winners with a clear path to opportunity both immediately and into the future.
It is in that perfect storm that you can adequately gripe about payroll needing to be where revenues suggest it should be.
Now let’s apply this to actual commodities and what the dollars represent. Despite making a silly suggestion that Zack Greinke didn’t win the Astros a World Series, the reality is that the Houston Astros and Washington Nationals played on the biggest stage because they both employed three pitchers that could trump virtually any competition. The Twins hit a boatload of bombas in 2019, and the lineup will continue to play, but the rotation must be filled with arms capable of competing against the upper echelon.
For the first time in franchise history the Twins have handed out a qualifying offer (there was an argument to be made that a second could have been made) insuring Jake Odorizzi will agree to nothing worse than a one-year, $17.8 million deal. That’d be a strong start to free agency for Minnesota, but if he rejects the offer in the next nine days, working out a long-term deal with the help of draft pick compensation warding off other suitors would be a fine result as well.
Different publications have tied Minnesota to a handful of options, but there have been suggestions of arms starting with Bumgarner and Wheeler, and trickling down from there. Although Falvey needs to be a player on the Cole and Strasburg market, they both could very well have more exciting destinations in play. Regardless of how the four rotation spots are accounted for, a final tally of something near $70 million should be enough to create a strong group.
If Minnesota can’t allocate all their funds to the pitching market, then supplementing with an offensive addition is hardly an egregious ask. Holding back some of the discretionary dollars a year ago made some sense but making sure every effort possible is made for 2020 and beyond now should be in all systems go mode. There are more than a few ways for the Twins to tack on significant money while avoiding risk and poor contracts, and this is their opportunity to do it.
$140 million would be a bit north of $10 million into the uncharted waters territory. While $135 million is a nice bump from 2019, the $140MM mark would likely land them just outside of the top 10. At this stage of the cycle Minnesota could comfortably be closer to $150MM than $130MM and things would be just fine. No matter how they get there though, the training wheels need to come off this time around.
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- Nov 06 2019 06:55 AM
- by Ted Schwerzler
Obviously, this all hinges on how the organization views the immediate future of Miguel Sano. He’s the current starter at the hot corner and is coming off a .923 OPS during his age-26 season. The Dominican native is under team control for each of the next two seasons, and the expectation would be that his salary remains under $10 million before hitting the open market. Rocco Baldelli has an opening at first base if the club decides to non-tender C.J. Cron, and it’s always been assumed that Sano would be better off switching sides on the diamond.
Assume Miguel moves and vacates the hot corner, the timing may never be better. Rendon will play 2020 as a 30-year-old and is coming off an MVP caliber season. He posted a 1.010 OPS and launched a career high 34 home runs. Even with some regression, Rendon hasn’t posted an OPS below .900 since 2016. He’s consistently been a 6 WAR player and generates production through both offensive and defensive excellence.
In his final year of arbitration Rendon made $18.8 million for the Nationals. Fangraphs has valued his production as being worth roughly $50 million annually since 2016, and he hasn’t been worth less than $34 million since 2015. The open market isn’t going to pay him that handsomely but expecting a 5-7 year deal that checks in between $25-30 million on a yearly basis seems more than doable. Nolan Arenado and Manny Machado would be the only third basemen paid above Rendon, and that seems like a pretty fair place for him to slot into the leaderboard.
The downside to this argument is that Minnesota should be throwing a good deal of their cash at arms. If we assume they have something like $70 million to spend, chopping that almost in half by inking a position player isn’t a great use of funds. However, there’re only so many pitchers on the open market worthy of the big-time payday. Should Minnesota miss on Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg, I’d expect only Zack Wheeler to surpass the $20 million mark. That means the Twins could sign a very good arm and still accommodate a contract enticing to Rendon.
By no means should the assumption or expectation be that the front office prioritizes a third basemen. Even if there’s a desire to move Sano defensively, other more economical options exist. If the goal is to raise the overall talent level to the highest possible extent though, adding a superstar like Rendon certainly bridges the gap between a superstar pitcher and just a middle of the rotation arm.
It’s hard to project the Twins as a serious player any time we’re talking about the best player on the market types, but we’ve entered the territory where the organization is ready to compete and do so at a World Series worthy level.
- Oct 31 2019 06:53 PM
- by Ted Schwerzler
As has been customary on teams Lewis plays on, a championship was the culmination of all the hard work for the Salt River squad. Contributing two hits in the trophy clinching victory, Lewis ended on the same high note he’d played at throughout the fall slate. Still fresh with emotion and reflection following the action, I caught up with the 2017 draft pick to check in.
Twins Daily: After dealing with somewhat of a frustrating season, how excited were you to get a reset in Arizona and have a chance to showcase your ability against some of the best prospects in baseball?
Royce Lewis: I was more excited for the multitude of reps I would be getting against some of the most dominant pitchers.
TD: With the Fall League being composed of talent from multiple levels, how did you feel it stacked up against what you saw at Pensacola this year? Was it a step up or did it feel somewhat like an All-Star team collection of talent?
RL: It felt like I was playing in a Futures Stars game each and every day!
TD: What do you feel like you can attribute the level of success you saw in the Fall League to? An MVP is incredibly impressive. How were you able to continue a high level of production against that level of talent, through the entire schedule.
RL: I was able to be more consistent and get hits with runners in scoring position. I consistently put myself in the right situations, in the right counts, and at the right times.
TD: A few different outlets have touched on your swing. It’s one of the smoothest to the ball, but the main talking point is your leg kick. Have the Twins tweaked it at all, or do you feel like it will need to evolve as you continue towards the majors?
RL: They (the Twins) started to begin to making adjustments in the beginning of the season and in the second half let me go back to being more like myself. You can always evolve, no matter how good you are, in every attribute in every skill of the game so I think everyone is always making adjustments and minor tweaks!
TD: Now with something like 9 months of baseball behind you in 2019, how would you define and categorize your season? What were you proud of and where do you want to work on adjusting for 2020?
RL: It was a great season of ascension and growth. I was proud of my ability to stay healthy and in shape. As usual continue working on all parts of my game to be better each and every day.
TD: Looking at just your experience in Arizona, what’s something you feel like you can take away and utilize specifically to help your game reach the next level?
RL: I enjoyed showcasing my ability to play multiple positions on the field, like fellow teammate Luis Arraez.
TD: With Spring Training 2020 a few months out, what are you looking forward to providing some relaxation this offseason? Obviously, you’ll have plenty of baseball activities to get you ready for the year ahead, but what is 20-year-old Royce looking forward to off the field?
RL: Fantasy football, sleeping in without an alarm, and eating the house down!!!
Lewis will almost assuredly begin 2020 at Double-A Pensacola, but as with any elite prospect, the stop in Triple-A could be an abbreviated one. The Twins should be the favorites to repeat in the AL Central Division, and adding a talent like Lewis down the stretch may provide quite the boost to a team already poised to be very good.
- Oct 29 2019 10:49 AM
- by Ted Schwerzler
Though Jason Castro wasn’t near the offensive threat that Mitch Garver has been behind the plate, he is no defensive-only catcher a la Drew Butera. In 2019, Castro posted a 103 wRC+, which ranked 15th out of the 36 catchers with at least 250 plate appearances. Factor that in with Castro’s above average pitch framing ability, and solid all-around defense behind the plate, and you have yourselves a pretty good catcher. Now, at the age of 32, Castro is entering free agency and the Twins suddenly find themselves in need of a catcher to back up Mitch Garver. Let’s take a look at some of the options the Twins have.
Perhaps the most obvious place the Twins could look to find the replacement for Jason Castro is on the free agent market. While there won’t be any big-time catchers available in free agency, that is perfectly fine with the Twins as all they need is someone who can be their number two behind Mitch Garver. Some of the names the Twins could be interested in are Robinson Chirinos, Travis d’Arnaud, Alex Avila and Jason Castro himself. Personally, Jason Castro makes the most sense to bring back among this group. The Twins will be looking to replicate the success they had at the catcher position this year, and what better way to do so than by using the same players? While this move would certainly make sense for the Twins, especially on a one- or two- year deal, it is hard to say if it would make a lot of sense for Castro. It is entirely possible that Castro is looking for an opportunity somewhere he could be the primary catching option, and who could blame him? He certainly has the ability to be the primary catcher for roughly half of the organizations in major league baseball, and if he were to return to the Twins, at best he will split time with Garver 50/50, barring an injury.
Another option the Twins could turn to in on the trade market. One team the Twins could reach out to is the Seattle Mariners, and their always-very-eager- to- make-a-trade GM Jerry Dipoto. The Mariners have two quality young catchers in Tom Murphy and Omar Narvaez. Murphy has one year remaining before he becomes arbitration eligible in 2021, while Narvaez is eligible for arbitration for the first time this winter. With a few years of team control remaining for each player, the Mariners could have one of two viewpoints. Either, A, hold onto them as part of the future of the organization, or B, cash them in while they can still return good value, and continue to build up their strong farm system. If the answer is B, I think the Twins could make an excellent trade partner for them, given the sheer depth of the Twins farm system, and value that either one of these two catchers would bring to the team.
If the Twins don’t find anything they like in either free agency or on the trading block, they could always turn internally. Perhaps the most likely option, if this were the case, would be to give Willians Astudillo extended playing time as a catcher. While this would certainly be a fan favorite choice, it is still a little dicey trusting Astudillo behind the plate that often, especially with his offensive struggles mitigating his ability to make up for his poor defense.
After Astudillo, their top two catching prospects within the organization are Ryan Jeffers and Ben Rortvedt. While both are solid catching options, they each have only played partial seasons at AA with zero experience at the AAA level. Turning to one of these two to start the season would require a big jump that they might not be quite ready for. A fourth option would be Tomas Telis, who posted an impressive .330/.364/.490 slash line in 82 games for the Rochester Red Wings this season, albeit in the extreme offensive environment that was Triple-A this season. Telis does have brief MLB experience playing for the Texas Rangers and Miami Marlins before he came over to the Twins organization, so he should be ready if the Twins were to call his number.
While the Twins main focus will certainly be around addressing the starting rotation, filling the hole left by Jason Castro cannot go overlooked. One thing that needs to be at the forefront of the Twins minds when making this decision is in case of an injury, is this a player we trust to step up as the primary Twins catcher in his absence? If that answer is no, they should probably look to an alternative option, to avoid a replay of the 2018 Twins catching situation.
- Oct 24 2019 07:05 AM
- by Andrew Thares
There should be no expense spared by the Minnesota front office this winter. Derek Falvey and Thad Levine have suggested they’ll target impact pitching. Both Cole and Strasburg could be handed blank checks, and the end result may still be in them thumbing their nose at the prospect of playing in the Midwest. I’m very much a fan of what Zack Wheeler could be under the tutelage of Wes Johnson, but it’s the staff ace role that presents the most intrigue.
Jose Berrios’ offseason workouts have become the thing of legend. From pulling trucks to flipping tires and doing rigorous beach circuits, there’s nothing that the Puerto Rican native won’t turn into an opportunity to break a sweat. This offseason though, the Twins have presented a new directive. As he left Twins Territory and headed home the plan was for a new training regimen to be instituted. While I have no idea what the specifics of that are, my guess would be that the intensity is likely decreased just a little bit.
With the Twins pointed towards a division title as the 2019 season came to an end, Berrios went into August with a 2.80 ERA and capped off the year with a 3.68 mark. The final 10 starts included a 5.83 ERA and .835 OPS against. He surrendered 10 of his 26 homers and gave up an underwhelming 68 hits in 58.2 innings. Certainly, an ugly set of statistics, but it’s become relatively par for the (August) course for the 25-year-old.
Now four years into his major league career Berrios owns a 5.96 August ERA and a 4.64 mark in September. Those months also include opposing slugging percentages of .811 and .741 respectively. Despite being from a much warmer climate, his career 3.69 ERA and .627 OPS against before May is light years more impressive. It doesn’t take much analysis to understand that the end of the season is when Berrios is at his absolute worst.
From a conceptual standpoint I’d imagine that Minnesota’s plan for Jose this offseason is to find a routine that breeds sustainability. Rocco Baldelli doesn’t want to see his staff ace coming out of the gates flat, but he also needs to know that he’ll take the ball and be just as dominant down the stretch. Working on a routine that allows for endurance and an ability to avoid a breakdown will give pitching coach Wes Johnson a pitcher much more able to pave the way for the starting rotation. Avoiding velocity dips and ineffectiveness for significant periods, the pitcher Berrios was through July represented a talent worthy of Cy Young consideration.
I don’t believe we’ve seen the best of Berrios yet, and that shouldn’t be groundbreaking given his youth. It’s on Minnesota to develop him toward taking the next step, and with Falvey’s track record in Cleveland, there should be belief they have the right man for the job. The Twins need to spend and acquire pitching this winter, but the sooner they can unlock their own ace, the better.
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- Oct 24 2019 09:28 AM
- by Ted Schwerzler
Everyone knows what the top of the market will look like. Gerrit Cole is going to command a return that could make even Mike Trout and Bryce Harper blush. He’s been nothing short of exceptional, just turned 29-years-old, and may still have another gear to reach. There’s no guarantee that Stephen Strasburg becomes the second premiere arm, but logic suggests he’ll opt out of the final four years and $100 million of his current deal. Every team in baseball should be tripping over themselves to offer these guys a payday. If the Twins aren’t in on them it’s a problem, but if they get turned down anyway, they’ll need to pivot.
For the sake of this argument let’s assume that Derek Falvey offers either of those pitchers a blank check and neither takes the bait. All is not lost with Zack Wheeler still being in the picture. He’s not the arm either of those pitches is, and he is older than Cole, but the former Mets hurler may be the most underappreciated talent looking for a new home.
A former first-round pick, Wheeler has been a model of consistency when healthy. In his three full seasons he’s pitched at least 180 innings with strong strikeout numbers and an ERA firmly in the mid-3’s. For New York in 2019 his ERA crept up to a 3.96 mark, but the 3.48 FIP suggests he was likely victimized by one of the worst defensive teams in baseball.
Over the course of his career Wheeler has avoided the long ball and kept baserunners to a minimum. He’s not going to challenge for the league lead in strikeouts but the 195 in 2019 was a new career high. With the Mets he was consistently a 10% whiff rate thrower, and he’s expanded his chase rates each of the past two seasons. With an average fastball of 97.1 mph this past season, Wes Johnson should be salivating at the opportunity to take him to the next level.
You can bet that the Twins have done a decent amount of background work on Wheeler already. They were in talks with Brodie Van Wagenen regarding Noah Syndergaard, and there’s no doubt that Zack’s name likely was added into the mix. Now costing only dollars, he doesn’t come with the price tag of coveted pieces from within the system. The ability to add a starter with his repertoire and upward projectability is a rare scenario, and one that Minnesota can’t miss on.
Paying for pitching on the open market is largely a landmine of failed opportunity. Teams either find themselves looking to overextend for the best option or having to settle for a patchwork piece that doesn’t fit the mold. Developing pitching is the greatest path to sustainable success and being able to acquire someone like Wheeler who provides a fair mix of pay and future potential looks like a slam dunk.
Gerrit Cole or Stephen Strasburg represent the outlier opportunity to add one of the 5-10 aces in baseball to your staff. Someone like Wheeler gives the Twins an avenue to have two aces of their staff and allow them to battle each other for that top spot.
- Oct 17 2019 08:15 AM
- by Ted Schwerzler
Reports have suggested that the 2020 qualifying offer amount will drop to $17.8 million, which is a $100,000 step back from 2019. Determined by the average of the top 125 salaries in the game, it’s the first season that the amount has taken a step backwards. That alone is just another bullet point in a long list that the MLBPA must attack in upcoming CBA discussions.
Minnesota organized a shrewd pact with the former Yankees starter prior to the 2018 season. Paying him $2 million to watch over his Tommy John rehab, he then made another $8 million as a fully healthy starter in 2019. Posting one of the best seasons in his career, Pineda was estimated to be worth $21.1 million after accumulating 2.7 fWAR. His season came to an abrupt halt after failing a PED test for taking a diuretic he noted as being for weight loss. At least in part, an appeals process deemed his reasoning sufficient, as his suspension was reduced to 60 games and would not have carried postseason ineligibility.
From a merit-based standpoint, Pineda has plenty going in his favor. The 4.01 ERA was the best he had posted since his rookie season, and his 1.7 BB/9 established command not seen since 2015. After an ugly first month of the season, Minnesota got a 3.46 ERA in 117.0 IP from Pineda and he allowed opposing batters just a .670 OPS against him. Prior to his suspension, there was serious steam to him being the Game One starter in the American League Division Series.
Looking ahead we see a soon-to-be 31-year-old that has had some health concerns. Pineda is now well distanced from Tommy John surgery, but he’s never pitched more than 175 innings in a given year, and (as evidenced by the intentions of weight loss) is not slight in stature. The body of work and physical profile make him somewhat of a risk on a long-term contract, but that’s mitigated on a one-year deal, and even moreso through the 2020 qualifying offer implications.
The Twins have a substantial cash flow going into the upcoming offseason, and while they could certainly afford to pay Pineda nearly $18 million for a single year, that’s probably not the best plan of action. Fortunately, because of his remaining suspension, that’s not what the bill would look like. Having something north of 35 games left to serve for 2020, Pineda’s deal would be a prorated portion of that total QO. Rough math indicates a bill resembling something just shy of $14 million, which would be more enticing.
Again, there’s no denying that an arm like Pineda’s can’t be the premiere acquisition, but we saw how important a strong back-end starter can be with the revolving door in 2019. Allowing an internal option or two an avenue to hold down the fort until Pineda is reinstated would be a solid blueprint, and there’s no long-term commitment here either. If the QO gets rejected, Minnesota gets draft pick compensation and wins either way.
What do you think? Does Pineda get a QO if you’re in charge?
- Oct 16 2019 06:08 AM
- by Ted Schwerzler
Data scientist and former FiveThirtyEight journalist Rob Arthur wrote a piece today for Baseball Prospectus. The premise was that the baseball teams played the game with all season is now gone, and that’s quite a damning revelation. If you don’t have access to a subscription at Baseball Prospectus, he did a nice job breaking it down to a bite-sized Twitter thread. The ball itself is causing more drag than it has at any point since 2016. Home runs are down more than 50%, and the playing field established for 162 games has now been abolished.
Arthur went on to clarify that weather is not the culprit for these outcomes. He stated that drag factors in both temperature and pressure, while also noting conditions have been more optimal than normal and don’t have a significant overall impact. Considering the research he provided, and the comments offered up by Baseball America’s J.J. Cooper, I began to think of specific examples.
Earlier I mentioned thinking that something seemed off about that Dodgers and Nationals game to close out the National League Division Series. I didn’t dig in enough to see the amount of wall scrapers typically present on a game-by-game basis, but it certainly seemed abnormal. I did however consider that Will Smith at bat in the bottom of the 9th. His 100 mph exit velocity and 26-degree launch angle resulted in a fly out. During the regular season there was 75 similar occurrences of those inputs, and they resulted in 44 homers with an 83% base hit rate.
This is a Minnesota Twins website, so let’s bring things full circle here. Parker Hageman immediately turned to Monday’s game against the Yankees. I remembered thinking it was odd to see Gleyber Torres barely get out on a well struck ball, but it was Marwin Gonzalez’s blast that immediately looked gone and fell way short that got me. As Parker notes, the Twins 1B had his well struck ball become a pretty small outlier.
If we think back to game one, there were homers hit by both Miguel Sano and Nelson Cruz that struck me as odd. Although the ball went out to the opposite field, power sluggers like those two rarely need every extra inch to reach the seats. In doing some research through MLB’s own Statcast service, the balls that left the yard in the Postseason traveled an average of 70 feet shorter than they same circumstances produced during the regular season.
All along, the expectation should’ve been that the sport would walk the baseball back. Despite the home run providing a level of excitement to the game (one that pace of play changes would seemingly be geared towards), Rob Manfred has publicly stated that inquiries would be made too many times for tools of the trade to go untouched. What strikes this writer as irresponsible, unfair, and downright disingenuous is to make these wholesale changes during the season.
The point isn’t to suggest that the Twins or any other team is getting a raw deal because of the deadened baseball. What is fair is for players across the league, most importantly hitters, to have a level of frustration aimed at the governing body of their sport. As former pitcher Dallas Braden puts it, “The guy that deflated footballs in the NFL was drug over the coals by the commissioner of the NFL for altering the sports’ ball. What do WE do when it’s THE COMMISSIONER altering balls like some MAD plastic surgeon? Let the man snip & shape as he sees fit, no issues?”
I’ll never have a problem with seasons being analyzed separately as not all factors remain the same as the calendar changes. I do think you’ve got a significant problem when the integrity of a collective season is being manipulated at the drop of a hat.
Because of this uproar Major League Baseball has now issued a statement on the situation. Unfortunately it does little to address any of the actual problems and avoids any statements that point to real reasons why there's such drastic changes in results.
- Oct 10 2019 05:52 PM
- by Ted Schwerzler
To set up some initial parameters here, we need to understand the financial situation. The Twins are coming off a $120MM payroll after a $130MM payroll in 2018. A 2020 payroll should check in at no less than $135MM, and more realistically hover around $140MM. From a commitment standpoint there’s only a first base and backup catcher role open for position players, and then there’s something like one or two bullpen opportunities. As was the title of his article, John pointed out that Minnesota has around $70 million to hand out in the form of starting pitching contracts.
So, how does that break down?
Looking at what is available on the market, and a baseline understanding of what acquisition cost will be, there’s certainly not an abundance of players that will command more than $25 million annually. Although there is never a shortage of Martin Perez-types that can be had for less than $10 million, Minnesota must be aiming higher. With Jose Berrios as a given, and one spot tabbed for an internal candidate (think Devin Smeltzer, Randy Dobnak, or Lewis Thorpe), the rotation gets remade with projectable talent.
To break down options I categorized the three opportunities into different salary buckets. This is what I’ve come up with.
SP1 ($25 million and up AAV)- Gerrit Cole, Stephen Strasburg, Madison Bumgarner
I believe this group to be completely represented by the names above. Strasburg is not a lock to opt out of his current deal, but with just $100 million left over the next four years he should cash in for a final big payday. Cole is the premiere target on the market, and while even a blank check may be thwarted by a more enticing market, there’s no excuse for Minnesota not to make their best effort.
Bumgarner was not an appealing trade option at the deadline given the estimated return for a rental. He’s still not the pitcher he once was, but he’s only 30-years-old and proved his durability again this season. Competition for three arms that every team needs will be substantial, but the Twins are as well positioned as anyone to make it happen.
SP2 ($15-25 million AAV)- Zack Wheeler, Dallas Keuchel, Hyun-Jin Ryu
The youngster of this group is the former Mets pitcher Wheeler. He’ll pitch next season at the age of 30 and was one of the most intriguing names at the deadline. He wasn’t moved but posted strong numbers across the board and looks to be knocking on the door of another level. If the Twins are convinced Wes Johnson can provide the breakthrough, they should be all in. Keuchel has given Atlanta about what was expected, but most importantly has calmed health concerns. He’s not a velocity guy but saw and uptick in strikeouts. The new ball has burned him more than ever, but this is the type of two or three starter that a really good rotation employs.
Eldest of the bunch is Ryu, who was fully healthy for the first time since 2013. Getting below 1.0 HR/9 in the toughest season to do so implies he really has no flaws, but it also comes down to belief in him going forward despite a track record of unavailability due to injuries.
SP3 ($10-20 million AAV)- Alex Wood, Julio Teheran, Jose Quintana
Only Wood is truly a free agent among this trio. Both Teheran and Quintana have team options that the Braves and Cubs respectively could pick up. For Wood, 2019 was a throwaway season due to back issues, so he comes with caution tape unless the medicals all check out.
Teheran is a bigger name than he is talent, but there’s workable ability in his repertoire.
Quintana would be returning to a familiar division, and while the Cubs could move on, his 3.80 FIP suggests the 4.58 ERA wasn’t truly indicative of the stuff.
The Twins have two parting options that would both fit in this group as well. Michael Pineda pitched himself into a decent payday even with his suspension, and because of the games missed, he’ll likely offer an immediate discount. Jake Odorizzi could be handed a QO which would put him at the top of this range, but he should have no problem finding a longer-term pact that falls somewhere in the middle.
I don’t believe the Twins will sign an arm from all three of these buckets given the likelihood for a trade being swung. If they did only hand out paychecks though, a strong trio can be formed from the group above. To say Cole is immediately out because he’d have to chose Minnesota seems dismissive. He’s a long shot, but money talks. If Gerrit turns you down, I’m more into Strasburg than Bumgarner, but I’d make sure one of them is cashing a check from 1 Twins Way. Wheeler is the most exciting name from the second group, and I believe he’s got another level yet to unlock. I’d round out the options by making sure that Jake Odorizzi never gives up the lease on whatever rental property he calls home in Minneapolis.
Who would be the three arms you’re targeting to accomplish an acquisition from each pool above?
- Oct 09 2019 05:54 PM
- by Ted Schwerzler
Rocco Baldelli took over a Twins team that had little direction, and even less certainty. Moving on from Paul Molitor and creating an infrastructure geared towards sustainable progression the Minnesota front office had set forth to blaze a new trail. Not only were we treated to a record-breaking performance, but it was done with a core that remains intact and reinforcements soon to follow.
For much of the last offseason we heard about a timid approach reliant on the emergence of Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton. Both had strong 2019 campaigns (for Buxton, while he was on the field), but it was the unexpected development of players like Luis Arraez and Zack Littell that defined the growth we saw on the field. Process and practice have fostered a team that will allow the expected to rise, but the unexpected to also seize opportunity.
2019 was significantly more than a record -etting home run total, a win total mirroring that of the mid-1960’s, or even an American League Central Division title. It was a season that provides a launching point into the future and gives us a glimpse of what is not only possible, but what is yet to come. Although the bar has been raised across much of the record book, the result is now a future more hopeful than it has been since Torii Hunter was chasing down baseballs at the Metrodome.
I’m not here to tell you that losing in the postseason isn’t a bummer, or that dropping a series to the New York Yankees doesn’t stink. Reality hits us in clarifying that only one team ends their season with a victory however, and that being in the final pool for that annual opportunity is a must. Terry Ryan was not able to position the Pohlad’s team for that scenario at the end of his tenure in Twins Territory. Derek Falvey and Thad Levine have hit nearly as many bombas as their on-field product, and now should begin a stretch of yearly October baseball.
There will be time to discuss the size of a blank check Gerrit Cole may eventually turn down, and whether Nelson Cruz repeats his 2019 performance as a 40-year-old. There can be a moment of frustration hurled at the Yankees, and unfortunate history can even receive its run. Looking back, and beyond the final three games, it’s hard to be anything but excitedly hopeful for what is yet to come.
The Minnesota Twins didn’t provide us with a “there’s always next year” type of theme in their exit. Instead we are faced with a “look out” and “we’ll be back.” It won’t be uncommon to see the team that calls Target Field home assumed as the division favorite next March, and they’ll get another shot at rolling the dice in October.
A sport that celebrates failure occurring only 70% of the time is quite a difficult beast, and humility can often be dished out in small sample sizes., but this was a season of excitement for what is yet to come. To Derek, Thad, Rocco, and the 50 guys that put that Twins script across their chest this season, thank you for months of enjoyment. Soak up the well-deserved rest, and we’ll all still be waiting for the next October opportunity to get unhinged in downtown Minneapolis. We all know it won’t be long.
- Oct 08 2019 02:56 PM
- by Ted Schwerzler
Odorizzi: 5 IP, 5 H, 2 ER, 0 BB, 5 K, 65.9% strikes (54 of 82 pitches)
Home Runs: Rosario (1)
Multi-Hit Games: Rosario (3-for-4, 2B, HR), Arraez (2-for-4, 2B)
WPA of +0.1: Rosario .110, Cron .104
WPA of -0.1: Sano -.165, Kepler -.139, Gonzalez -.118, Cruz -.112, Polanco -.108, Garver -.101
Here's A Look At Today's Win Probability Chart
[attachment=13262:vs Yankees 10-7-2019.PNG]
(Chart via Fangraphs)
Despite being down in the series 2-0, Twins were amped at the start of the game, and Jake Odorizzi gave them something to cheer about in the top of the first. After striking out DJ LeMahieu to start the ballgame, Odorizzi appeared to get Aaron Judge to fly out to Eddie Rosario in right for two quick outs. However, Judge was awarded first base after catcher’s interference was called. That was no problem for Odorizzi, as he came back and got Brett Gardner to strike out and Edwin Encarnacion to fly out to end the inning.
Odorizzi wasn’t able to keep the Yankees off the board for long, however, as Gleyber Torres hit a fly ball that just cleared the wall, and Jake Cave’s glove, in left. Rocco Baldelli went out and asked the umpires to review the home run for fan interference, and while a fan did reach over the railing and made contact with the ball, it was clearly already over the fence, along with Cave’s glove, before the fan touched it. Luckily for the Twins, the home run came with nobody on base, which feels like a rare occurrence for the Yankees against the Twins of late.
The Twins gave themselves an excellent opportunity to get on the scoreboard themselves in the bottom of the second. Eddie Rosario drove a pitch about six inches above the zone deep off the top of the right-center field wall for a lead off double, narrowly missing a home run. After a Mitch Garver walk, and a Luis Arraez single, the Twins had the bases loaded and nobody out. However, as was the narrative all season long, the Twins failed to get the job done with the bases loaded, thanks to a Miguel Sano popup, and strikeouts from Marwin Gonzalez and Jake Cave.
Gio Urshela led off the Yankee third with a blopper that dropped in front a Jake Cave, who inexplicably laid out for the baseball, coming up a few feet short, and allowing the ball to get past him, turning a routine single into a lead off double for Urshela. Urshela was able to advance to third on a DJ LeMahieu ground out, and looked like he might be stranded there after Aaron Judge struck out. However, Brett Gardner came through with a two-out single that went right past a shifted Miguel Sano, giving the Yankees a 2-0 lead.
After singles from Jorge Polanco and Eddie Rosario, the Twins had another scoring chance with two on and two out, for Mitch Garver, in the bottom of the third. After getting ahead in the count 3-0, Garver took what was pretty clearly ball four high, however, umpire Gary Cederstrom didn’t see it that way, calling it a strike. After that, Luis Severino was able to battle back and strike out Garver to end the inning.
Jake Odorizzi did his job in the fourth and fifth innings, by keeping the Yankees off the board and working two pretty clean innings. Overall, for the night, Odorizzi earned a tip of the cap for doing his job by limiting the Yankees to just two runs across five innings, keeping the Twins in the game into the later innings.
Luis Arraez got yet another Twins rally attempt going in the bottom of the sixth, when he drilled a one-out double that split the gap in left-center field. Miguel Sano followed that up with good at-bat, working the count full before driving a ball that left the bat at 107.9 MPH, toward the wall in right, but Aaron Judge used all of his 6’8” frame to reach up and snare the ball out of midair. Marwin Gonzalez followed that up by driving a flyball high into the Minnesota sky, but that ball came up just shy of the fence, as Judge made the catch on the warning track to end the Twins sixth.
The Yankees added to their lead in the top of the seventh after yet another clutch hit off the bat of Didi Gregorius. Gleyber Torres started the inning with a ringing double off of Taylor Rogers. Then with one out, Gregorius ripped a single down the first base line, bringing around Torres to extend the Yankee lead to three.
It took a long, and I mean long, time but the Twins were finally able to get on the board thanks to this Eddie Rosario blast to lead off the bottom of the eighth.
The Yankees tacked on a couple more runs in the ninth to extend their lead to four in the top of the ninth. Cameron Maybin took Sergio Romo deep, with what looked like a lazy fly ball that just cleared the wall in left. They tacked on their fifth, and final, run of the game, thanks to, you guessed it, yet another RBI off the bat of Didi Gregorius.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Twins got themselves a little rally going in the bottom of the ninth, getting each of the first two hitters on to lead off the inning. However, the ninth ended in the same way as every other Twins rally of the ballgame. Max Kepler picked up the first out of the inning, by striking out three straight sliders from Aroldis Chapman. Jorge Polanco then lined a ball up the middle that appeared destined for a base hit until Didi Gregorius grabbed the ball, and with it the Twins hopes and dreams. The Twins season came to an end with Nelson Cruz at the plate looking at strike three right down the middle.
The Twins ended the game going just 3-for-9 on balls put in play over 100 MPH. Those nine batted balls had an average expected batting average of .612. Instead, the Twins got just over half of that, and of course all the ones that didn’t drop for a hit were the ones hit in the highest leverage spots, but hey that’s baseball.
Postgame with Baldelli:
Here’s a quick look at the number of pitches thrown by the bullpen over the past five days:
[attachment=13261:10-7-2019 vs Yankees.PNG]
ALDS Game Recaps:
Twins ALDS Game 2 Recap: Nothing Works, Twins Lose 12th Straight To Yankees
Twins ALDS Game 1 Recap: Bad Defense, Questionable Management Leads to Loss
- Oct 08 2019 04:25 AM
- by Andrew Thares
ALDS Game 3
New York Yankees (103-59) @ Minnesota Twins (101-61)
Series: 2-0 Yankees
Start Time: 8:40 PM ET / 7:40 PM CT
Forecast: 60 degrees and sunny
Pitching Matchup: RHP Luis Severino vs RHP Jake Odorizzi
Jake Odorizzi posted a sub-2.00 ERA through his first 13 starts for the Twins this season, and he was below 3.00 until the month of July. For the first half of the season Odorizzi established himself as the go-to arm behind Jose Berrios and earned a trip to his first All-Star Game because of it. July was not kind as the former Rays righty posted a 7.43 ERA in five turns and desperately needed to get back on track. Making nine more starts the rest of the way he rebounded with a 3.04 ERA .647 OPS against and 65/16 K/BB. As a fly ball pitcher it always made sense to turn Odorizzi loose in Target Field, but it was actually in New York that Jake fared significantly better than this outfit. His length in a series that has seen Minnesota get just a combined 6.0 IP from starters is a narrative to watch.
Aaron Boone turns to Luis Severino for game three. Had he been healthy in 2019 Severino would’ve likely been the game one choice as a two-time All-Star and Cy Young candidate at age 25. Instead he’s thrown just 12.0 IP this season and he’s yet to be given a leash longer than 80 pitches. Severino is a strikeout pitcher with plenty of velocity, and he’s fanned more than 10 per nine each of the past two seasons. He hasn’t been known to give up the long ball, and command isn’t much of a problem either. Luis does have a 6.26 ERA across 23 postseason IP however, and with the uncertainty of a small runway to get ready for this action, New York may decide to go with a quick hook.
Battle Tested Twins
There’s no denying that Minnesota is up against it and in a far from enviable position. That being said, this group has veterans sprinkled in that can provide levity during this type of scenario. Baldelli has kept things light and loose for his club all season, and nothing suggests bucking that trend now. Minnesota didn’t suffer a three-game losing streak until their 94th game of the season and surrendered to that fate just twice all season. Including a loss in the final game of the regular season the Twins are riding a three-game skid, but history suggests an ability to put the fire out.
All hands will be on deck in an elimination game, and the expectation should be that the usage of Taylor Rogers, Trevor May, and Sergio Romo should be more liberal if the situation presents itself. While pitching has been a downfall, and the management of it, a central focus will be placed on the quality of at-bats and production from the lineup. After breaking records left and right during the regular season, the Twins have been outscored 18-6 in the past 18 innings.
Climbing out of a 2-0 hole is hardly an easy task, and looking at it from a big picture view does nothing to minimize the situation. The Twins need to take their opportunities in small chunks at a time and attempt to win each inning on the path to making this a series before it’s over.
- Oct 07 2019 04:12 PM
- by Ted Schwerzler
The hitters that we will be breaking down in this installment are Aaron Judge, Edwin Encarnacion and Gleyber Torres. Just as the with the three previous hitters, each of these three is also right-handed. This sets up well for the Twins pitching staff that is stacked with right-handed pitchers. Let’s start this breakdown by looking at perhaps the best hitter in the Yankees lineup, Aaron Judge.
2017 was a breakout rookie season for Aaron Judge, who hit what was then a rookie record 52 home runs. In the two seasons since, Judge has failed to reach the 30 home run mark, as a result of missing substantial amounts of time with injury in each season. However, when healthy, Judge is still one of the best power hitters in the game. When facing Aaron Judge, getting ahead in the count is vital. Judge has a patient approach, and when he gets ahead in the count, he doesn’t miss his pitch often. Since 2017, Judge ranks third in major league baseball with a .531 wOBA when ahead in the count. A big reason for this is his proficiency against fastballs, as Judge has a .449 wOBA against fastballs over that span.
While Aaron Judge can be deadly when he gets his pitch, he can be susceptible against breaking balls and off-speed pitches. In 2019, Judge has a whiff rate of 52.9 percent against breaking balls, and a staggeringly high whiff rate of 61.9 percent against off-speed pitches. While Judge struggles to make contact with both breaking balls and off-speed pitches, the approach to get him to do so varies drastically. Against breaking balls thrown out of the zone, Judge has a whiff rate of 89.1 percent versus a whiff rate of just 30.4 percent on breaking pitches thrown in the zone. However, when swinging at off-speed pitches out of the zone, Judge has a whiff rate of 75 percent versus a whiff rate of 53.6 percent. As we can see, Judge’s whiff rate varies a lot more drastically on breaking balls than it does on off-speed pitches. Knowing this, the Twins pitchers should focus more on using off-speed pitches, rather than breaking balls when trying to get a pitch over the plate, without having to give in and throw him a fastball.
Now that we have a plan of action for the pitchers against Aaron Judge, let’s take a look at how the fielders should line up against him.
From the Aaron Judge spray chart pictured above, we can see two things. The first and most obvious is the large percentage of groundballs that he hits to the left-side of the infield. The other obvious thing is that Judge rarely hits fly balls to left field, and when he does, they usually go over the fence. To defend against him, the Twins should have their outfielders shade slightly to right-field so they will have a better chance at catching the larger portion of his fly balls that actually stay in the ballpark.
There have been some concerns on the Yankees front about Edwin Encarnacion’s availability for the ALDS. However, reports have been promising, and it does indeed appear as though Encarnacion will be ready to go. With Encarnacion back in their lineup, it adds yet another power-hitting righty into the middle of the lineup that the Twins need to be ready for. While Encarnacion is a big power-hitting righty, like Aaron Judge, Encarnacion and Judge aren’t as similar as you might think. While Judge’s ability is built around excelling at certain aspects of the game, while having holes in other aspects of the game, Encarnacion is much more balanced in his skills. Despite being such a feared power hitter, Encarnacion has a modest 21.2 percent strikeout rate in 2019. This means, the Twins won’t be able to take advantage of his swing and miss tendencies like they can with other hitters in the Yankees lineup. Another thing Edwin Encarnacion does well, is hit against both right-handed and left-handed pitchers. In 2019, Encarnacion has a .244 average and a 121 wRC+ against righties, while he had a .245 average and a 152 wRC+ against lefties.
Encarnacion is about as well-balanced as a player can be against all pitch types. In the chart below, we can see that his wOBAs against fastballs, breaking balls and off-speed pitches are nearly identical in 2019. This gives Twins pitchers flexibility to face Edwin Encarnacion with a much more balanced approach than they can with many of the other hitters in the Yankees lineup.
[attachment=13215:Edwin Encarnacion 1.PNG]
One thing that does remain the same with Edwin Encarnacion, in comparison to the rest of the Yankees lineup, is his propensity to pull the ball on the ground, as we can see in the spray chart below. Additionally, much like Gary Sanchez, the Twins should be able to take advantage of Encarnacion’s extremely slow running ability by playing their infielders deeper to cut off more of the groundballs Encarnacion hits, while still having time to throw him out at first.
The final Yankee hitter that we will be previewing in this series is Gleyber Torres. The thing that has become quite apparent with Torres in 2019, has been his inability to hit breaking balls. For Torres, it’s not so much that he swings and misses at a lot of them, but rather his ineptitude of putting breaking balls in play with any authority. The chart below features Gleyber’s barrel percent, and whiff rate against fastballs, breaking balls and off-speed pitches, in 2019.
[attachment=13217:Gleyber Torres 1.PNG]
One thing that the Twins pitchers shouldn’t have much trouble doing is getting Gleyber Torres to swing at bad pitches out of the zone, as he had a chase rate of 35.1 percent in 2019. For reference, that is almost right in line with C.J. Cron’s 35.6 percent chase rate this season. Now let’s take a look at Gleyber’s spray chart.
While Torres also hits a large number of groundballs to the left side of the infield, he does hit just enough balls in the vicinity of where a second basemen traditionally plays, to where I think it makes more sense to play Torres straight up.
As we can see from these breakdowns, the Yankees will be sending power-hitting righty after power-hitting righty at the Twins pitchers all series long. This makes it imperative that they keep the ball in the yard at all costs, and not let this lineup slug their way to victory. To do so, they will need to avoid pitching into the Yankee hitters' strengths, and attack their weakness, as I have highlighted here.
- Oct 04 2019 04:27 AM
- by Andrew Thares
You won’t have any trouble finding glowing stories about the New York slugger. Sanchez was signed as an international free agent out of the Dominican Republic, and he consistently popped up on top 100 prospect lists through his time in the minor leagues. A two-time All-Star and Rookie of the Year runner up, Sanchez owns an .846 career OPS and surpassed the 100-home run plateau this past season. Just about to turn 27, it’s Sanchez that is often thought of as the premiere backstop in baseball.
With a breakout 2019 season under his belt, Mitch Garver threw all of that for a loop. I’ve described Garver as “The best catcher in baseball” when tweeting out his exploits on a regular basis. What may have started out as somewhat in jest has become a ringing endorsement of talent that holds serve with the high praise. Following a decent showing during his 2018 rookie season Garver went to work over the winter, and it is paying off in any more significant way would likely be impossible.
At the end of the regular season Rocco Baldelli had played Garver in 93 games. He was given regular rest sprinkling in veteran Jason Castro, and he missed time after a Shohei Ohtani slide into home put him on the Injured List with an ankle injury. When the dust settled on those 93 games, Garver posted a .995 OPS. In Minnesota Twins history only four players have posted a higher single-season OPS: his teammate Nelson Cruz, 2009 MVP Joe Mauer, 1977 MVP Rod Carew, and Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew (twice). Mitch ripped 16 doubles, which is a modest total on its own, but launched a Twins record 31 dingers (30 as a catcher) with a nutty .630 slugging percentage.
When stepping into the batter’s box Garver brought his lumber and terrorized opposing pitchers. He’s been a bat first player for most of his career though, and it’s what he did behind the plate that elevated his game and stature in baseball’s landscape. After posting a -16 DRS and -9.2 FRM (framing runs) in 2018 he jumped those results to 0 DRS and 0.8 FRM in 2019. Working with Tanner Swanson over the offseason he focused on controlling the bottom of the strike zone and exponentially increased his effectiveness by percentage of called strikes.
During the ALDS press conference on Tuesday afternoon Cory Provus asked Garver about the work he put in and if he was happy with where things wound up from a defensive growth standpoint. Mitch answered, “I think about that a lot.” He talked about the importance of stealing any extra strike and how you may quantify that. There’s a level of importance that plays into all facets of the game based on how each pitch is received. Garver also noted that “the confidence level from a manager to put you back there knowing the work I put in is translating to the game, I think that shows a lot. Having a manager that can trust you behind the plate, that’s kind of more important than all of those things (referring to defensive metrics).”
Whether Mitch is in the lineup for every game of the series or not, it will be the time he’s on the field that his ability can truly take the spotlight it deserves. Sanchez has gotten the accolades while playing in the mega-market that is New York. The Yankees “Kraken” is the longball leader since he entered the league. Going into 2019 it was a good bet that he’d return to Silver Slugger status and regain his place at the peak of the position. For now, though it’s Garver’s chance to show he heads the conversation and currently carries the torch.
Minnesota is often a secondary thought when it comes to national discussions. The smaller market that Minneapolis is will never trump the costs, and regardless of the press that this Bomba Squad has driven, individual contributors will fall by the wayside. For the guy from Albuquerque that has had to grind for everything he’s earned, that’s probably all fine and well. Over the course of this series though, Mitch Garver can allow his play to overshadow even the largest of markets. If and when those moments come it will be good for him, because he’ll have earned it.
- Oct 03 2019 07:54 AM
- by Ted Schwerzler
In Part 1 of this two-part series, we will be breaking down the strengths and weakness of DJ LeMahieu, Gary Sanchez and Giancarlo Stanton, and finding the best approach for the Twins pitchers and fielders against each of them.
DJ LeMahieu has quietly been one of the best all-around players in the American League this season. Not only has he filled in well at three different positions in the infield, but his bat came to play, as his 136 wRC+ ranked 21st among all qualified MLB hitters in 2019. What makes LeMahieu so successful is that he doesn’t have many weaknesses. Here are LeMahieu’s wOBA versus each pitch type, and what percentile they rank in Major League Baseball this year.
[attachment=13208:DJ LeMahieu 1.PNG]
When breaking down LeMahieu’s splits versus lefties and righties, it comes as no surprise that he is a much better hitter versus lefties than he is against righties, given that LeMahieu is a right-handed hitter, as he has a 182 wRC+ against lefties vs a 119 wRC+ against righties. To get a better idea on how to approach LeMahieu, depending on the hand of the pitcher, lets take a look at the same chart as above, but this time broken down by opposing pitcher handedness.
[attachment=13209:DJ LeMahieu 2.PNG]
From these charts, it is clear that Twins pitchers should avoid throwing off-speed pitches, such as changeups and splitters to LeMahieu altogether. Their main approach should be to pepper LeMahieu with fastballs in and force him to hit his way on base. For right-handed Twins pitchers, they should be able to work in some breaking pitches against LeMahieu as well.
Another part of DJ LeMahieu’s game that is quite apparent is his approach at the plate. Illustrated below is DJ LeMahieu’s spray chart from the 2019 season.
From this spray chart, the part that is most clear is DJ LeMahieu rarely pulls the ball in the air. The Twins defenders should take advantage of this by having all their outfielders shade pretty significantly towards right field. Additionally, it would make sense to have Jorge Polanco shade a little more towards the third base bag to help cut off the large amount of ground balls LeMahieu hits in the hole between shortstop and third.
When it comes to facing Gary Sanchez, the key is to avoid letting him make contact. Fortunately for the Twins, Sanchez makes this pretty easy, as his contact rate of 70.2 percent ranks 237th out of the 273 hitters with at least 300 plate appearances in 2019. Sanchez especially struggles to make contact with breaking balls, as his contact rate on them is just 59.2 percent this season. Another way to induce Sanchez to swing and miss is by getting him to chase fastballs up and in on his hands.
While avoiding contact is an optimal strategy with any hitter at the plate, Gary Sanchez is one of those hitters where it seems especially important, as he barrels the ball up roughly one out of every five times he puts the ball in play. That’s the fourth highest among any hitter who put at least 200 balls in play this year. A big reason for this is the pull heavy approach that Sanchez has at the plate, as you can see in the spray chart down below.
Gary Sanchez’s ground ball distribution is almost exclusively pulls down the third base line. The Twins shouldn’t have much trouble exploiting this with a three-man shift on the left side of the infield. Another thing the Twins should take advantage of is Sanchez’s speed, or lack thereof, as his sprint speed of 25.5 feet per second is down near the bottom of the league. This should allow the Twins infielders to play further back to cover more ground laterally, and still have enough time to make the throw over to first to get Sanchez in time.
Giancarlo Stanton (Note: All statistics for Stanton are from 2018, due to limited sample in 2019)
When it comes to facing Giancarlo Stanton the approach is simple: feed him breaking ball after breaking ball after breaking ball. Whether it is a righty or a lefty on the mound for the Twins, it doesn’t matter, just don’t throw anything straight to Stanton. In 2018, Stanton whiffed at 45.8 percent breaking balls that he swung at. Since he struggles mightily vs. breaking balls against lefties, it is probably their best option to try to get Stanton out, unless they possess an excellent changeup. To illustrate this point further, here are Stanton’s wOBA breakdowns by pitch type and pitcher handedness in 2018.
[attachment=13212:Gincarlo Stanton 1.PNG]
Just as was the case with Gary Sanchez, the Twins should be able to employ an extreme pull shift to the left side of the infield when Giancarlo Stanton is up at the plate, as we can see from his spray chart down below.
While Stanton isn’t the fastest of runners, at 26.8 feet per second, he still has enough speed where the Twins probably won’t be able to take advantage of it by playing deeper in the hole, like they can for Sanchez. In the outfield, the Twins should pretty much just play straight up, as Stanton's spray is pretty even on balls in the air.
As we can see the Yankees order can provide quite the challenge, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a way to attack them to keep their lineup in check. The key will be for the Twins to take each hitter one at a time and do what they can to get that hitter out. Stay tuned later in the week, as we will be featuring three more juggernauts in the Yankees order in Part 2.
- Oct 02 2019 07:14 AM
- by Andrew Thares
There isn’t a ton of history between this collection of Twins and the Yankees presumed ace. Paxton started Opening Day at Target Field last season after a bald eagle attempted to throw him off his game. That lineup couldn’t be further from the 2019 collection, and this squad saw him for just three innings in May before he hit the injured list for nearly a month. Rather than breaking down individual matchups, the intrigue between what both sides do well is a tug-of-war between who wins out.
Rocco Baldelli’s club set the single-season MLB home run record in 2019, besting this New York club by one. They owned the second-best slugging percentage in the history of baseball, and they thrive by hitting the ball out of the park. Dominated by right-handed power, left-handed arms are something the Twins have stuck a fork in all year. Facing lefties 39 times they posted a .286/.357/.529 slash line with 88 home runs. That’s an average of 2.3 HR per start against lefties as opposed to their 1.8 HR per start against righties.
There’s also the consideration of where Paxton may pitch against the Twins. Unless his butt injury bumps him from a game one appearance, he can be expected to take the ball starting the series and then in a potential game four scenario. The first game would be at Yankees Stadium with that second start coming at Target Field. Minnesota has been a record-breaking road team this year, and the lineup has an OPS .31 points higher away from Target Field. In those road contests they also left the yard an additional 33 times.
From a stadium standpoint Target Field and Yankees Stadium have both played very similarly in 2019. Per ESPN’s MLB Park Factors they rank 24th and 25th in HR. What we saw between these squads both during the extra-inning affair in Minneapolis, and their total body of work, is that any given night can make a ball yard look pretty small.
So how does this stack up against Paxton? Well, there’s a lot to unpack. As a lefty it would be expected that righties hit better off of him, and that is the case. Opposite- handed batters own a .752 OPS against him while left-handed hitters have posted just a .670 OPS. Those lefties enjoy a higher .266 average and .314 on-base percentage. Righties jump way up in terms of slugging, posting a .445 mark, nearly 100 points higher. Surrendering 23 homers in 2019, Paxton has allowed only two of them to left-handed hitters and he has a K/BB two trips to the bench higher against lefties.
Although Yankees Stadium is often considered a bandbox, Paxton has enjoyed his time at home. In 15 home starts he has an ERA a full run lower (3.35) with an OPS nearly 200 points less (.650) than where he’s at on the road (.814).
2019 was Paxton’s worst full season as a starter. He posted his highest ERA, walk rate, and HR rate. He’s given up a career high hard-hit rate, fly ball rate, and nearly matched his HR/FB tally from 2018. That’s not to suggest this isn’t still a top-tier pitcher as the former Mariner is sitting down over 11 per nine and gets swinging strikes 14% of the time. It’s for spots like these that the Yankees went and swung the deal to bolster their rotation.
At the end of the day something must give, and it’s pretty hard not to say the pressure is on the Bombers. Paxton is pitching in the postseason for the first time, and now doing so with the weight of the empire on his back. He throws with the arm that Minnesota clobbers, and he’ll be coming off an injury-shortened start his last time out. As the home team it’s on New York to hold serve in the Bronx, and with Luis Severino likely to follow Paxton, a game one steal may be the best hand for the Twins to play.
Given how closely these two teams look on paper, it’s hard to imagine we’re going to see anything less than a four-game series. If the Twins can continue playing to their strengths and get to Paxton in game one, they’ll be in a great spot to make their way to the American League Championship Series. There’s no denying that Minnesota needs to perform up to expectations as well, but if there’s a draw they should be salivating about, it’s this one.
Not all aces are made equal, and much like Jose Berrios for Minnesota, Paxton has plenty to prove across the entire baseball landscape. Pitching can tend to have the upper hand in October, but Baldelli employing #BombaSZN early would hardly be a shock.
- Oct 01 2019 04:26 AM
- by Ted Schwerzler
We’ll do a lot of looking ahead to this Twins-Yankees ALDS here at Twins Daily over the coming days, but I thought it was also worthwhile to take a quick look back at how these teams have played against each other so far in 2019.
There’s no denying the Yankees dominance over the Twins in postseason play, but it’s also completely irrelevant. Rocco Baldelli’s response to whether he was aware of the recent postseason history between the Twins and Yankees was the exact message the entire organization and its fans needed to hear.
So how about 2019? The Twins went 2-4 against the Yankees this season, though New York only held the advantage in run differential by five (43-38). Here’s how things went at Yankee Stadium, with links to the Twins Daily game recap for each contest:
May 3 | NYY 6, MIN 3
May 4 | MIN 7, NYY 3
May 5 | NYY 4, MIN 1 (8 innings)
The Bomba Squad was uncharacteristically quiet in that series, and a few untimely errors crippled the pitching staff. There were three unearned runs allowed the first game and one more in the finale. The teams met again nearly two months later in Minneapolis.
July 22 | MIN 8, NYY 6
July 23 | NYY 14, MIN 12 (10 innings)
July 24 | NYY 10, MIN 7
The Twins evened up the season series at two games a piece, then had New York against the ropes in the second game at Target Field. The Twins led 8-2 through the first four innings, but suffered a crushing extra-inning loss in what was among the most thrilling games of the season.
Over the entire season series, the Twins combined to hit a solid .254/.343/.512 (.855 OPS), but the Yankees had a much more impressive .327/.402/.588 line (.989 OPS). Poor starting pitching was a common theme throughout for both teams. Here’s a look at the numbers:
NYY SPs: 8.54 ERA, 1.78 WHIP, 6.5 K/9, 4.4 BB/9, 1.045 OPS against in 26 1/3 innings.
MIN SPs: 7.45 ERA, 1.97 WHIP, 10.9 K/9, 5.6 BB/9, 1.047 OPS against in 29 innings.
Ick. The biggest separator was bullpen performance. Twins relievers combined for a 5.87 ERA in 23 frames while the Yankees pen posted a 3.38 ERA over 26 2/3 innings. Blake Parker managed to give up five runs while recording just five outs against the Yankees, so I guess take that with a grain of salt. Parker’s dreadful appearance in that July 23 madhouse of a game was his last in a Twins uniform.
Considering the changes both these teams have gone through since late July, even this season’s previous matchups might not matter. That alone illustrates how completely ridiculous it is to drag any prior years into the conversation.
- Sep 29 2019 09:33 PM
- by Tom Froemming
Perhaps the most obvious impact of losing Luis Arraez is losing his quality bat from the Twins' lineup. Among the 10 Twins hitters with at least 300 plate appearances in 2019, Arraez’s .334 batting average and .399 on-base percentage lead the team. In fact, among all MLB hitters with at least 300 plate appearances this season, Arraez ranks third and ninth in those two categories respectively. On a team filled with home run hitting power left and right, it is imperative to also have a few guys in the lineup who excel at getting on base to help turn many of those home runs into two- and three-run shot.
Part of what makes Arraez so successful is his approach at the plate. He treats every single pitch he sees like it might be his last and is fearless when facing some of the best pitchers in the game.
Another impact of losing Luis Arraez, is going without his versatility defensively. While Arraez isn’t an elite defender, he has surprisingly held his own throughout the diamond. The Twins haven’t had an issue with versatility most of the season, thanks to having two utility players in Marwin Gonzalez and Ehrie Adrianza.
However, with both of them fighting through injuries as well, that leaves the Twins versatility limited and very much in doubt. Fortunately for the Twins, it does sound like Gonzalez should be ready to go for the ALDS, but if something were to flare back up, which seems all the more likely at this point, that could really impact what matchups Rocco Baldelli can play around with through the series.
So, how will the Twins go about replacing Luis Arraez? The first thing to figure out is who will take his spot on the roster. Personally, my money would be on Willians Astudillo, as he can also provide some defensive versatility himself. While Astudillo is a downgrade from Arraez, he can help replicate to at least some extent what Arraez brings to the Twins.
In addition to that, this makes Jonathan Schoop’s role in the series that much more important, as he will now need to step up as the Twins starting second baseman in likely every game this series. This might not be all that detrimental, as three of the Yankees five starting pitchers are left-handed, and Schoop has a much better OPS versus lefties (.917) than he does against righties (.736) this season. However, with the return of Luis Severino to the Yankees rotation, Luis Arraez would have been the perfect hitter to set up the top of the order with, if that is the route Rocco Baldelli would have chosen.
Overall, the loss of any one give player for a postseason series is often over emphasized, as these series are such a small number of games, at least in baseball terms. However, when you factor in the lose of Luis Arraez with the losses of Byron Buxton, Michael Pineda, Sam Dyson, Ehrie Adrianza and with other players, like Max Kepler, Marwin Gonzalez and C.J. Cron, dealing with nagging injuries, it starts to add up. Hopefully, Arraez can make a speedy recovery, and the Twins can get past the dreaded Yankees, so Arraez can make a return to the Twins roster for the later part of a postseason run.
- Sep 30 2019 05:51 AM
- by Andrew Thares
Unlike many Twins fans, Henry Blomquist doesn't fear the New York Yankees.
"This is a different season. These guys are too young to care about the past, and honestly I'd rather play them than the Astros. Verlander and Gerrit Cole? Let the wild card team deal with that."
However, Blomquist does care about time. The 26-year-old Richfield bachelor is working two jobs as he attempts to pay back student loans. The prospect of a Twins/Yankees playoff game makes for a very crowded day.
"Do you remember that one game they played earlier this year, went into extra innings, Aaron Hicks won the game and it was a football score," asked Blomquist. "Neither team's pitching has gotten any better. It's going to be a co-rec softball game every night."
Blomquist spends his days working at a local credit union, then picks up gigs for a rideshare company in the evening. He figures if he plans it right, he can squeeze in a relatively normal Twins/Yankees game in between the two.
"If they can keep it down to, like, a 9-7 game with only one team really going bananas with the pitching changes, I should be able to watch the whole thing, then get people home from bar close and night shifts," said Blomquist. "Squeeze in 3-4 hours of sleep before I have to go back to work in the morning. That should be doable."
However, he has no contingency plan if the games go sideways.
"I have to accept that there's a chance that 9-7 score is in the 4th inning and Martin Perez is coming into the game," said Blomquist. "Radio doesn't work in my Ultima anymore, but the passengers seem to be alright with these smooth jazz CDs I got at Goodwill. Kenny G. is no substitute for Cory Provus, I'll tell you what."
- Sep 27 2019 06:11 AM
- by RandBalls Stu
On May 24 the Twins had just wrapped up a victory against the Chicago White Sox. They were 34-16 through their first 50 games and the club had swatted 101 homers. Dubbed “#SotaPop” by Twins Daily’s own Nick Nelson a month earlier, Eddie Rosario dropped a term that would stick the rest of the way. He suggested “When you’re hitting a lot of bombas, everybody’s hitting bombas, everybody’s happy.” From that point forward the “Bomba Squad” was born.
Rosario’s comments came just a day after Minnesota had launched eight dingers for the second time on the season. Fast forward a few weeks and Byron Buxton had just launched the 4th greatest homer of the season in terms of WPA. It was his blast on June 5th though that busted out the tape measure. 454 feet against the rival Cleveland Indians, the shot was described as launched while putting the league on notice. Anyone in this lineup could take you out, and of the no-doubter variety.
As the month of June wore on, it became time that the authorities take notice. All season long the Minnesota Twins did an exceptional job of marketing this team. Facing attendance woes from a year prior, they found ways to funnel fans into Target Field. Keeping with that theme in relation to the All-Star Game, the Twins creatively marketed the “Bomba Ballot.” Baldelli’s Bangers ended up meeting the Minneapolis Bomb Squad, and one group was preventing crime while the other was committing it.
Heading into the All Star Break the Twins surpassed the 2018 New York Yankees mark for most home runs prior to the time off. They swatted four dingers against the Texas Rangers on July 5 at Target Field giving them 162 on the year (they’d add one more the next day). That game was a blowout 15-6 win that saw catcher Mitch Garver continue his tear.
You can’t look back to July without thinking about the epic affair Minnesota and New York provided over the course of 10 innings. The two clubs combined for 26 run on 35 hits, and while the pitching got beat around, it was the bats that showed off. These two squads have been running away from the pack with the longball all year, and that was one of the most exciting games Minnesota has played this season. Unfortunately, it ended with an Aaron Hicks diving grab in the gap, but Miguel Sano put his stamp on the action by leaving the park twice on the evening.
When the calendar turned to August the Indians began to believe they had a chance in the AL Central division. With the division lead shrinking by the day the month needed to get off to a good start. The lineup had lost some key pieces due to injury, some of the pitching performances weren’t what they were early on, and there was too much runway left to sit back and rest. On a day in which he was getting a break, Miguel Sano became a hero. Pinch hitting for Ehire Adrianza in the 9th inning of a tie game against the Atlanta Braves, he stepped in got a second pitch, and sent everybody home.
Before the month would end the Twins walloped their greatest home run of the season. Highlighted as the greatest WPA inducing blast of 2019 in Cooper’s piece last month, Marwin Gonzalez got all of a ball from Josh Hader to put the Twins ahead while trailing in the 8th inning. Both Gonzalez and Nelson Cruz had looked like slam dunk fits for this club coming into free agency, and this was just another moment to highlight how right the front office got it.
Minnesota began the month of September with a 4.5 game lead on the Cleveland Indians. Despite needing to provide some calm myself, and Indians personality Jensen Lewis providing fuel for the fire, the Twins were going to wrap the Central up. Holding serve the first two weeks was a must, and no serve was bigger than the Nelson Cruz bomba against the Washington Nationals. Statcast measured the blast at just 460 feet but crushing it out to bystanders at Minnie and Paul’s in dead center, there’s zero doubt the distance was significantly closer to the 500 ft mark.
The Twins went into Cleveland and hung a doubleheader sweep on the Indians in what amounted to their final division opportunity of the season. Sending a shot out to left field off Nick Goody, Minnesota had all the breathing room they’d need. Once again, the Twins polarizing third basemen had come up in a spot fitting for a star.
Just a couple of days later Sano went yard again, this time registering the longest homer of the season (per Statcast) tracked at 482 ft. Tape measure shots have become something of the norm for Miguel, but this one was something else. As Minnesota was in the swing of a 13-game stretch against the bottom of the division to close out the year, they were going to make sure there was no doubt about who the cream of the crop was.
Another double dinger day was on tap for Sano against the Royals to close out the home slate at Target Field. As impressive as his efforts were in a 12-8 victory against Kansas City, it was his friend an elder statesmen that stole the show. Much like Jim Thome and his pursuit of 600 the last time Minnesota won the division (though the record breaker came in the following season), Nelson Cruz punctuated a career year with blast number 40. That longball was also the 400th of his career and firmly entrenched him as one of the greatest power hitters to ever play the game.
Now the division has been in hand for nearly a week but coming off the official clinch on September 25 (and Baldelli’s birthday), the Twins trotted out their hangover lineup on Thursday against Ron Gardenhire’s Tigers. Minnesota was getting their game in hand over the Yankees in, and knotted at 299 homers could be the first to reach 300. Jonathan Schoop hit a wall scraper for a two-run shot to reach Sparta and history was made. Willians Astudillo tacked on another before the day was over, and now the Twins will look to hold serve before facing a Yankees team in a much more desirable set of circumstances.
There are just three games left in the 2019 regular season. Minnesota can tie the all-time franchise wins record. They could surpass a few more benchmarks. Heck, they could even hang a final sweep on the board against the Kansas City Royals. No matter what they do though, this will have been the year of #SotaPop turned into the Bomba Squad and we lived through big flies that never seemed like they’d come down.
- Sep 26 2019 08:00 PM
- by Ted Schwerzler
Dobnak: 6.0 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 6 K
Home Runs: Luis Arraez (4), Rosario (32)
Multi-Hit Games: Polanco (2-4, R, 3B), Cruz (2-4, R, RBI), Arraez (2-3, HR, R, 2 RBI, BB)
WPA of +0.1: Arraez .289, Dobnak .180, Duffey .109
WPA of -0.1: Garver -.113
Early on in this one the story was infield defense. Minnesota has slipped behind their early season defensive efforts for months now. After playing at a career-best clip to start the year, Jorge Polanco has looked like the guy who won’t be a long-term answer at short. His error allowed the cement-footed Miguel Cabrera to score all the way from first base (it looked as if he was running in slow motion) to give Detroit a lead. Dobnak saw Miguel Sano boot a grounder later in the action that ended up proving harmless.
Early in the season Eddie Rosario introduced us to the term “bombas” and it was off the bat of the diminutive Luis Arraez that the lead was captured. A 402 foot no- doubter put Minnesota in the lead. It was his fourth of the year and longest career blast to date. Dobnak bowed out with a lead and Tyler Duffey locked down his 23rd straight inning of scoreless relief work.
Insurance runs didn’t take long as Minnesota was ready to put up another crooked number in the eighth inning. Polanco grabbed his seventh triple of the season with some solid baserunning after the first out. Nelson Cruz then drove him home through a pulled-in infield. Mr. Bombas himself, Rosario, then went jack job on a laser to right field for his 32nd dinger of the season. Up 5-1 needing just six outs, this one was all but decided.
Don’t worry, Rosie wasn’t done with the fun after his homer either. Sliding to make a play in the field for Trevor May, there was some added flair on the out as well. There’s no denying a hot Rosario is a great development going into the postseason, and there’s also no denying this man is feeling himself right now.
Cleveland currently trails the Chicago White Sox by a 4-1 tally in the third inning. A loss would allow the Twins to pop the bubbly for the first time since 2010. This team is two wins shy of 100, and the century mark is something they haven’t accomplished since 1965. Tomorrow will likely be a hangover-induced lineup, but the Royals should expect to get the business this weekend in Kansas City.
A date with the New York Yankees looks imminent in the American League Division Series and this club is looking to erase demons Twins Territorians are haunted by.
Here’s a quick look at the number of pitches thrown by the bullpen over the past five days
Next Three Games
Thu @ DET, 12:10 PM CT (TBD vs Zimmermann)
Fri @ KC, 7:15 PM CT (TBD vs Skoglund)
Sat @ KC, 6:15 PM CT (TBD vs Sparkman)
Twins Game Recap (9/24): Odorizzi's Gem Cuts the Twins Magic Number to 2
- Sep 25 2019 07:28 PM
- by Ted Schwerzler
Odorizzi: 6 IP, 2 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 7 K, 64.5% strikes (60 of 93 pitches)
Home Runs: None
Multi-Hit Games: Cave (2 for 4), Wade (2 for 3, 2B)
WPA of +0.1: Wade .207, Odorizzi .180, Rosario .160, Astudillo .108
WPA of -0.1: Sano -.179, Polanco -.157
Jake Odorizzi did an excellent job keeping the Twins in the ballgame, as the bats struggled to come through in the early innings. After a Detroit double and single led to a run in the first inning, Odorizzi allowed just one more baserunner, on a walk, while striking out six more hitters. He did come back out to pitch in the bottom of the seventh, but was pulled during his warmups when Rocco Baldelli noticed something was off. The report was Odorizzi was lifted with hamstring tightness, so hopefully this shouldn’t be much of an issue for him as we move into postseason play.
It took a while, but the Twins bats finally woke up in the seventh inning against Spencer Turnbull. Jake Cave led off the inning with a sharply pulled single into right field. LaMonte Wade Jr. followed that up with an excellent at-bat that resulted in a double down the third base line, and suddenly the Twins were in business with runners on second and third, with nobody out. This prompted Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire to go get Turnbull, and bring in David McKay to face Willians Astudillo. This proved favorable for the Twins, as Astudillo came through with a base hit up the middle to give the Twins their first runs of the game.
After a Jason Castro hit-by-pitch and a Nelson Cruz intentional walk, Eddie Rosario came to the plate with the bases loaded and two outs, and he came through with a ringing double that made its way to the wall in left, scoring Astudillo and Castro, giving the Twins a 4-1 lead.
Following Jake Odorizzi's six innings, Kyle Gibson came into the game to try to protect the Twins three-run lead. Gibson gave up a couple of singles in the inning, but struck out the other three batters he faced, popping as high as 96 MPH on the radar gun. He came back out in the eighth, and after the Tigers cut the lead down to two, thanks to a couple of doubles, things suddenly looked very interesting. However, after a visit to the mound, Gibson settled in to get the final two outs of the inning. Taylor Rogers came on in the bottom of the ninth and pitched an easy 1-2-3 inning, picking up his 29th save of the season.
Here’s a quick look at the number of pitches thrown by the bullpen over the past five days:
Next Three Games
Wed at DET, 5:40 pm CT (TBD-Norris)
Thu at DET, 12:10 pm CT (TBD-Zimmermann)
Fri at KC, 7:15 pm CT (TBD-TBD)
Twins Game Recap (9/22): Twins Offense Erupts for Twelve Runs Over Royals
- Sep 24 2019 08:37 PM
- by Andrew Thares