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Article: Episode 427: Next Man Up

aaron gleeman
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#1 John Bonnes

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Posted 19 May 2019 - 07:06 PM

Aaron and John talk about Nelson Cruz and Mitch Garver getting hurt, Miguel Sano and Willians Astudillo taking their place, calling up Luis Arraez for the first time, demoting Trevor Hildenberger to Triple-A, killing the win, saying goodbye to Addison Reed, and Byron Buxton's spot in the batting order. You can listen by downloading us from iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher, iHeartRadio or find it at GleemanAndTheGeek.com. Or just click this link.

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#2 YLT

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Posted 20 May 2019 - 10:57 AM

On average, if gaining 3-5 runs over the course of a season is as simple and painless as penciling in the lineup in a slightly different way (best hitters at the top, worst at the bottom), what rationale is there for not doing it? It doesn’t take a huge amount of analysis, it doesn’t cost the team any money, it shouldn’t hurt anyone’s ego. I just don’t understand John’s position other than devil’s advocate for the sake of devil’s advocate.

 

The “my precious boy” argument doesn’t hold water. Good players should want as many opportunities to show their talent as possible, especially ones where the current numbers indicate they are way better than a ninth spot hitter.


#3 John Bonnes

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Posted 20 May 2019 - 10:25 PM

 

On average, if gaining 3-5 runs over the course of a season is as simple and painless as penciling in the lineup in a slightly different way (best hitters at the top, worst at the bottom), what rationale is there for not doing it? It doesn’t take a huge amount of analysis, it doesn’t cost the team any money, it shouldn’t hurt anyone’s ego. I just don’t understand John’s position other than devil’s advocate for the sake of devil’s advocate.

 

The “my precious boy” argument doesn’t hold water. Good players should want as many opportunities to show their talent as possible, especially ones where the current numbers indicate they are way better than a ninth spot hitter.

 

One of the challenges of podcast/radio is you don't always know what you're going to talk about beforehand. So I've replayed that impromptu discussion a bit in my head since yesterday, and if anything, I think I wasn't vehement enough in defending Buxton's existing spot in the order.

 

The Twins (and their fans and the media) have shown a clear bias around Buxton that has repeatedly led to the same mistake: they ask him to do too much. Batting him 3rd on Opening Day. Fiddling with his swing. Heaping on expectations. Rushing him back from injury because he plays so well in center field.

 

That bias is understandable. We see the talent, experience the joy of watching him play, imagine the upside, and remember the expectations. But when you understand a bias, you have to try and consciously reign it in a bit. Thus, he started out in the ninth spot this year. And ... that's gone well!

 

Given that, what is the justification from a risk/reward standpoint of pushing him up in the batting order? We know the reward - an average of 3-5 more runs for this offense over the course of the season. We also know the risk - Buxton flounders in the increased roll, and now the Twins must decide between an elite defensive center fielder who is beating himself up at the plate, or Jake Cave in center field.

 

I don't know anyone who would have argued that Buxton should not be hitting at or near the bottom of the order when the season started. I don't know anyone who thinks if he's still sporting an 850 OPS at season end, that he should still be there. But I also don't think the coaching staff should feel any pressure to move him up the order sooner rather than later to gain three extra runs to a historically productive offense. They're closer to the situation, and have more incentives to handle this correctly, and so far they've done well. I'll trust that they are a better judge than I.

 

In fact, I think it's ludicrous to suggest that such pressure should exist. If I had thought about it before the podcast, I would've been a lot more belligerent about it, not less.

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#4 Mr. Brooks

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Posted 21 May 2019 - 11:06 AM

One of the challenges of podcast/radio is you don't always know what you're going to talk about beforehand. So I've replayed that impromptu discussion a bit in my head since yesterday, and if anything, I think I wasn't vehement enough in defending Buxton's existing spot in the order.

The Twins (and their fans and the media) have shown a clear bias around Buxton that has repeatedly led to the same mistake: they ask him to do too much. Batting him 3rd on Opening Day. Fiddling with his swing. Heaping on expectations. Rushing him back from injury because he plays so well in center field.

That bias is understandable. We see the talent, experience the joy of watching him play, imagine the upside, and remember the expectations. But when you understand a bias, you have to try and consciously reign it in a bit. Thus, he started out in the ninth spot this year. And ... that's gone well!

Given that, what is the justification from a risk/reward standpoint of pushing him up in the batting order? We know the reward - an average of 3-5 more runs for this offense over the course of the season. We also know the risk - Buxton flounders in the increased roll, and now the Twins must decide between an elite defensive center fielder who is beating himself up at the plate, or Jake Cave in center field.

I don't know anyone who would have argued that Buxton should not be hitting at or near the bottom of the order when the season started. I don't know anyone who thinks if he's still sporting an 850 OPS at season end, that he should still be there. But I also don't think the coaching staff should feel any pressure to move him up the order sooner rather than later to gain three extra runs to a historically productive offense. They're closer to the situation, and have more incentives to handle this correctly, and so far they've done well. I'll trust that they are a better judge than I.

In fact, I think it's ludicrous to suggest that such pressure should exist. If I had thought about it before the podcast, I would've been a lot more belligerent about it, not less.


Do we have any evidence, and not anecdotal, that there is more pressure in certain spots in the lineup?
If I had to rank all the reasons that Buxton struggled in the past, I think I'd rank batting order spot dead last.

#5 birdwatcher

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Posted 21 May 2019 - 11:55 AM

 

Do we have any evidence, and not anecdotal, that there is more pressure in certain spots in the lineup?
If I had to rank all the reasons that Buxton struggled in the past, I think I'd rank batting order spot dead last.

 

I'm not convinced you can be confident of that. Lots of people believe it's been a factor of some magnitude or another.

 

Some decisions are correct despite a lack of empirical support.

 

We tend to discount or completely ignore the value and even the validity of intuition, and the truth of the matter is that qualitative decisions are far more effective in many cases. That's especially true when the intuitive reasoning being relied upon is backed by sound logic and a relevant anecdotal basis. And it's even MORE especially true when we're talking about probabilities of generating an increase of 3-5 runs over the course of 162 games.

 

Isn't the real fallacy thinking about those maybe/maybe not runs as producing more wins than Buxton maybe/maybe not producing them because he's in a different and arguably higher-pressure spot in the order?

 

I'm with John and Rocco on this one.

 

Edited by birdwatcher, 21 May 2019 - 12:00 PM.

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#6 twins1095

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Posted 21 May 2019 - 12:36 PM

 

I'm not convinced you can be confident of that. Lots of people believe it's been a factor of some magnitude or another.

 

Some decisions are correct despite a lack of empirical support.

 

We tend to discount or completely ignore the value and even the validity of intuition, and the truth of the matter is that qualitative decisions are far more effective in many cases. That's especially true when the intuitive reasoning being relied upon is backed by sound logic and a relevant anecdotal basis. And it's even MORE especially true when we're talking about probabilities of generating an increase of 3-5 runs over the course of 162 games.

 

Isn't the real fallacy thinking about those maybe/maybe not runs as producing more wins than Buxton maybe/maybe not producing them because he's in a different and arguably higher-pressure spot in the order?

 

I'm with John and Rocco on this one.

 

Isn't it also a fallacy to assume that he's producing because he's in the 9th spot in the order? If so, why was he not producing in the past at that spot in order? If you agree that that argument doesn't hold water, that means it's other changes he has made that are causing the positive performance.If it's other changes that have led to more positive performance, those other changes hold true irrespective of spot in the order.  

 

His new swing is not effective or not effective because he's 9th or 8th or any spot in the order.His new swing is working because he made changes that are leading to him being able to be more successful.  

 

If you move Buxton up and all of a sudden his mechanics change and the leg kick is back and the hand placement changes revert... his lack of success won't be due to a spot in the order change... it will be due to a reversion of mechanics.

 

Now, I'm not calling for the Twins to move Buxton up yet and do actually agree that they should keep him in the 9 spot simply from the standpoint of Buxton being on base for the top of the order and a lineup construction that puts a lot of punch into the top couple of spots....

 

If anything...with Sano healthy I would double down on the power at the top of the order strategy given Buxton's success.

 

Put Polanco/Cruz/Sano/Rosario/Kepler/Cron behind Buxton and in every other situation except the first it's basically Buxton (1), Polanco (2) followed up by the big boys with protection behind Sano to prevent pitchers from throwing junk his way.  

Edited by twins1095, 21 May 2019 - 12:38 PM.

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#7 frankiefranchise

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Posted 21 May 2019 - 02:22 PM

I haven't felt compelled to comment on here despite following this site for several seasons - but this week's podcast got me fired up. I side with John on this issue and think that this topic should be discussed further - maybe next week's podcast? 

 

If I have one pet peeve with the new data and analytics driven era of baseball (although in general I love it - I'm a math guy) it is that it treats players as a line of data - a collection of numbers that can be moved around the field, and can be moved up and down a lineup, and they will remain the same - given enough time. While I believe this to be true over the course of a decade for a solid player (say Joe Mauer for example). I would argue this is flawed thinking to apply it to all players in all situations. 

 

If you look at Joe Mauers career splits, he is shockingly steady. It's difficult to find a meaningful difference in his statistics - the answer is a .300 BA no matter what the situation. Given this knowledge, it's easy to assume that you should construct a lineup ordering your hitters from best to worst and let it play out for 162 games. At the end of the year you get 10 more runs (or one more win) and a pat on the back from your boss.

 

The problem is that players are human. They go through slumps, they may have eaten some bad chicken last night, or didn't sleep well, or they simply don't like the spotlight to be on them, or they feel extra pressure with runners in scoring position. A good manager is one who picks up on these things and constructs a lineup to help his players perform their best.

 

AJ Hinch said about his leadoff hitter George Springer in an SI article, “George’s energy, personality and enthusiasm set the tone for this team” and Altuve was quoted as saying “George is the heart and soul because of who he is on and off the field. We feed off his personality and his energy.” None of these things are included on baseball reference.com and these are the things we lean on our manager to figure out and utilize.

 

Rocco has the home team playing with that "it" factor - call it chemistry - call it whatever you want, but it's noticeable. I think John is right - Rocco is in a position to know where to place guys in the order, let's let it play out longer before we go full nerd and start clamoring about a slight inefficiency in the numbers. 

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#8 Mr. Brooks

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Posted 21 May 2019 - 02:30 PM

I'm not convinced you can be confident of that. Lots of people believe it's been a factor of some magnitude or another.

Some decisions are correct despite a lack of empirical support.

We tend to discount or completely ignore the value and even the validity of intuition, and the truth of the matter is that qualitative decisions are far more effective in many cases. That's especially true when the intuitive reasoning being relied upon is backed by sound logic and a relevant anecdotal basis. And it's even MORE especially true when we're talking about probabilities of generating an increase of 3-5 runs over the course of 162 games.

Isn't the real fallacy thinking about those maybe/maybe not runs as producing more wins than Buxton maybe/maybe not producing them because he's in a different and arguably higher-pressure spot in the order?

I'm with John and Rocco on this one.


I'm not claiming to be confident on it.
Simply asking if there is any evidence one way or the other.

Perhaps Buxton is thriving because he's batting 9th. But, it could also be for reasons completely unrelated to where in the order he bats.

#9 Brock Beauchamp

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Posted 21 May 2019 - 02:57 PM

 

I don't know anyone who would have argued that Buxton should not be hitting at or near the bottom of the order when the season started. I don't know anyone who thinks if he's still sporting an 850 OPS at season end, that he should still be there. But I also don't think the coaching staff should feel any pressure to move him up the order sooner rather than later to gain three extra runs to a historically productive offense. They're closer to the situation, and have more incentives to handle this correctly, and so far they've done well. I'll trust that they are a better judge than I.

All of this. I want to see Buxton move up - and I'm sure the coaching staff feels the same way - but I see no need to pressure a guy who has folded pretty hard under previous pressure.

 

Let him get his feet under him and move him up when it feels right, not because statistics "force" the issue.

 

When will that happen? Dunno, I'm not talking to Byron Buxton everyday. But the coaching staff is and they understand the sabrmetric implications of keeping him the nine slot as well as any of us. This isn't Gardenhire's coaching staff and we should keep that in mind when pointing out relatively obvious sabr principles and wondering why they're not doing the obvious thing here... it's probably because they have a reason for doing it.

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#10 diehardtwinsfan

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Posted 21 May 2019 - 03:13 PM

 

All of this. I want to see Buxton move up - and I'm sure the coaching staff feels the same way - but I see no need to pressure a guy who has folded pretty hard under previous pressure.

 

Let him get his feet under him and move him up when it feels right, not because statistics "force" the issue.

 

When will that happen? Dunno, I'm not talking to Byron Buxton everyday. But the coaching staff is and they understand the sabrmetric implications of keeping him the nine slot as well as any of us. This isn't Gardenhire's coaching staff and we should keep that in mind when pointing out relatively obvious sabr principles and wondering why they're not doing the obvious thing here... it's probably because they have a reason for doing it.

even then, I'd move him up slowly... let him bat 6/7 for a while before putting him in the top half... just make sure it's not a slow plodder sitting in front of him. 

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#11 Brock Beauchamp

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Posted 21 May 2019 - 04:01 PM

even then, I'd move him up slowly... let him bat 6/7 for a while before putting him in the top half... just make sure it's not a slow plodder sitting in front of him.

Definitely. There’s no need to jump him 9-to-1 in a single move.
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#12 Huskertwin

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Posted 21 May 2019 - 04:18 PM

Buxton should be batting leadoff TODAY and not down the road. He's already proven he's a completely different player and I'm sure he wants to bat first, not ninth. The team needs his extra at bats (over the course of the season) and he would make such a difference getting on base in the first inning. Starting pitchers are known for struggling in the first inning, so having Buxton on first (or second, etc) gives the pitcher one more thing to think about and deal with that no other player on our team does. So by my thinking, I could see more big innings being produced because the chaos he can cause when he is on base. No analytics in my thinking, just good old common sense.  


#13 Mr. Brooks

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Posted 21 May 2019 - 05:51 PM

All of this. I want to see Buxton move up - and I'm sure the coaching staff feels the same way - but I see no need to pressure a guy who has folded pretty hard under previous pressure.

Let him get his feet under him and move him up when it feels right, not because statistics "force" the issue.

When will that happen? Dunno, I'm not talking to Byron Buxton everyday. But the coaching staff is and they understand the sabrmetric implications of keeping him the nine slot as well as any of us. This isn't Gardenhire's coaching staff and we should keep that in mind when pointing out relatively obvious sabr principles and wondering why they're not doing the obvious thing here... it's probably because they have a reason for doing it.


I'm in no rush either... just as long as, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" isn't the reason for keeping him there.
That is what Blockbuster Video told themselves. The youngsters here will have to Google that.
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#14 ashbury

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Posted 21 May 2019 - 10:37 PM

I haven't felt compelled to comment on here despite following this site for several seasons

You probably shouldn't wait several more seasons before your next post. :)

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#15 IAMNFan

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Posted 22 May 2019 - 08:28 AM

While I would like to say Buck is the best Twins hitter and should be in the leadoff spot, I think we are all looking at his potential.Bottom line is that he has a new approach, whether we want to admit it or not, fragile confidence and still has plate appearances where his pitch recognition is awful.I wouldn't mind seeing him move up against LHP but otherwise, much like he didn't deserve to be brought up last September, he is a good fit at 9 against RHP.

One of the few times I have sided with John on this pod other than his choice of beer!

 


#16 birdwatcher

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Posted 22 May 2019 - 09:09 AM

 

I'm not claiming to be confident on it.
Simply asking if there is any evidence one way or the other.

Perhaps Buxton is thriving because he's batting 9th. But, it could also be for reasons completely unrelated to where in the order he bats.

 

 

I expected you were questioning rather than strongly opining, and Baldelli is going on intuition in leaving Buxton down in the order.

 

There's a distinct possibility that his improvement is mostly swing-related, but that his performance is also enhanced by this perceived "less pressure" thing.

 

Maybe he performs the same, maybe he doesn't, we're guessing, but I'll happily give Rocco the benefit of the doubt. Also, my own theory is that batting order is overrated as a tactical element despite what some of the arithmetic tells us. Because to me, the much more powerful tactic, as twins1095 is depicting, is the relationship of the placement. I very much like the thought of Buxton as #9. I may be wrong, but it feels to me like having a terrific #9 hitter plants a negative seed in the psyche of the opponent. As in "WTF? The bottom of the order is supposed to give me a chance to breathe!" Buxton gets on, steals a base, and holy crap, look what's coming up.

Edited by birdwatcher, 22 May 2019 - 09:15 AM.


#17 birdwatcher

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Posted 22 May 2019 - 09:11 AM

 

I haven't felt compelled to comment on here despite following this site for several seasons - but this week's podcast got me fired up. I side with John on this issue and think that this topic should be discussed further - maybe next week's podcast? 

 

If I have one pet peeve with the new data and analytics driven era of baseball (although in general I love it - I'm a math guy) it is that it treats players as a line of data - a collection of numbers that can be moved around the field, and can be moved up and down a lineup, and they will remain the same - given enough time. While I believe this to be true over the course of a decade for a solid player (say Joe Mauer for example). I would argue this is flawed thinking to apply it to all players in all situations. 

 

If you look at Joe Mauers career splits, he is shockingly steady. It's difficult to find a meaningful difference in his statistics - the answer is a .300 BA no matter what the situation. Given this knowledge, it's easy to assume that you should construct a lineup ordering your hitters from best to worst and let it play out for 162 games. At the end of the year you get 10 more runs (or one more win) and a pat on the back from your boss.

 

The problem is that players are human. They go through slumps, they may have eaten some bad chicken last night, or didn't sleep well, or they simply don't like the spotlight to be on them, or they feel extra pressure with runners in scoring position. A good manager is one who picks up on these things and constructs a lineup to help his players perform their best.

 

AJ Hinch said about his leadoff hitter George Springer in an SI article, “George’s energy, personality and enthusiasm set the tone for this team” and Altuve was quoted as saying “George is the heart and soul because of who he is on and off the field. We feed off his personality and his energy.” None of these things are included on baseball reference.com and these are the things we lean on our manager to figure out and utilize.

 

Rocco has the home team playing with that "it" factor - call it chemistry - call it whatever you want, but it's noticeable. I think John is right - Rocco is in a position to know where to place guys in the order, let's let it play out longer before we go full nerd and start clamoring about a slight inefficiency in the numbers. 

 

Really nice post. Write more please.


#18 frankiefranchise

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Posted 22 May 2019 - 12:02 PM

Really nice post. Write more please.

 

Be careful what you wish for. I have a tenancy to rant (only to my closest friends).

 

I did more thinking about this and decided we should take a look at the numbers. In general, there are three things that stand out to me based on the available statistics.

 

1. He is having a good year.

2. He doesn't seem to be significantly affected by leading off an inning or having RISP (or runners on base in general). 

3. When he is placed at other spots in the lineup, it appears to have a significant effect on his production, though the sample sizes are small. In addition, the results of these lineup changes don't follow a trend (i.e. he crushed it in the 5th spot, but the 3rd spot was a disaster). Some of this could be attributed to his mechanics and state of mind during his time in that spot, however, the cause of that could very well have something to do with his spot in the lineup. (it's a chicken and egg dilemma).

 

I'd summarize this as confusing. The results are mixed. Therefore, I still think it's better to let him really get in a groove before making a change.

 

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#19 Don Walcott

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Posted 22 May 2019 - 01:35 PM

Batting 9th is Buxton's 4th best spot in the order by OPS, about equivalent to when he bats 1st. His best spots in the order by OPS are 5th, 7th and 6th. So should we bat him 5th, because that's been his best spot historically? Probably not. I don't think this "history" makes much of a difference one way or another. But if you want to base your decision on history or data, he should not be batting 9th.

 

And I don't know where this idea that Buxton can't handle pressure is coming from (that's assuming batting higher in the order would put additional pressure on him at all). I would bet that the vast majority of any "pressure" on Buxton has come from him being a #1 pick, being a #1 prospect, and being over-hyped his whole career. Has that affected his performance? i don't know, but I would be very doubtful that it has. He looks to me like a very strong personality who can handle expectations and pressure. He does not look to me like a guy who'll fall apart as soon as we put him in the #1 spot in the order. I'm hoping that this year has proven to all of his doubters on this web site that last year was a lost year due to injuries -- bad luck. He's back on course as if 2018 didn't happen, and he's following up on an excellent 2017 season.

 

I think Kepler's doing just fine in the leadoff spot vs. right-handers. I'm not anxious to replace Kepler there because of anything Kepler has done wrong. I want to see Buxton bat leadoff because he is one of the most exciting players in baseball, his skill set would work very well leading off, and he'll get to bat more by leading off. I don't think he's mentally weak or fragile, and I'm not worried about the effect of moving him up on the order on his psyche. I'm excited for him in what looks to be a huge breakout year, and I'm rooting for more success for him (and more ABs).




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