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The Bradbury Award.


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Let me preface this with a disclaimer: I'm Australian. I tell you this because - firstly, that means there might be some colloquialisms in here that you scratch your head about. Secondly, it explains why the man I have named this award after is considered such a folk hero. 

In 2002, Australian speed skater Steven Bradbury competed at the Winter Olympics. He won his heat of the 1000m short track event, scraped through the quarter finals after someone else was disqualified, won his semi final after trailing all the other competitors and watching them crash out and advanced to the final. In the final, he was well off the pace by a good 15 metres. The four medal contenders - all far ahead of him - were jostling as they raced to edge each other out for gold and avoid missing the podium. All four of them crashed, leaving Bradbury unimpeded, and he skated past them all to win gold. Thus, a legend was born. Immediately thrust into the vernacular, in Australia to 'chuck a Bradbury' means to succeed unexpectedly against all odds. The man was featured on a postage stamp. Truly, an icon. Dude has probably never paid for a beer at the local in the last 19 years.

And that brings me to an award with absolutely no merit other than it tickling me, The Bradbury.

The Bradbury is going to be awarded to Minnesota Twins players who have succeeded unexpectedly, maybe even after the successive failures of those who should have succeeded ahead of them. Honestly, the 2021 season was pretty heartbreaking from start to finish, but it has had some exceedingly bright and entertaining moments. I've selected two recipients for this, the inaugural Bradbury Award, as there seemed to be a distinct tale of two players who could have fit the bill - one for a short stretch, one for a longer stretch.

Bradbury Award: Season 2021 Runner Up - Rob Refsnyder.

This award almost got named The Ref. Let's be real, this guy had no business being as awesome he was through the start of the year. Nobody saw it coming. Refsnyder has played for about seven thousand different teams now, mostly being held to the Minors with his brief appearances for the Major League clubs proving underwhelming. He signed a minors deal with the Twins after the 2020 season and started the 2021 year in St Paul, until the Center Field Curse hit and both Byron Buxton and Max Kepler hit the injured list. Despite never playing in the position before, The Ref gof the call-up out of sheer desperation, and proceeded to go on a tear, cracking .320 over 16 games and committing just a single fielding error before he came off second best in a fight against the wall at Camden Yards and hit the injured list with concussion. 

I wish I could say that he performed as well after he returned but that concussion seemed to sap all of his magic powers and he basically finished the year without batting over .200 again, flipping back and forth off the injured list and spending a chunk of time in the Minors. 

Bradbury Award: Season 2021 Winner - Bailey Ober

Bailey Freakin' Ober, man. The only tale of woe that comes close to the Center Field Curse (how far down did we go, exactly? Five? Six?) this year was the dramatic implosion of the Minnesota Twins rotation. On paper, they should have been ready to contend. Kenta Maeda was Cy Young runner up in 2020 so we had no worries about him. Berrìos was coming off another solidly impressive year. JA Happ and Matt Shoemaker were touted to be great value for money additions to the rotation. Dobnak's offseason extension was talked about as putting stability in the rotation long term. Pineda was a workhorse who could guarantee you innings with minimal damage.

And it couldn't have gone any worse.

Maeda was shaky, showing flashes of the ace we'd seen in the 2020 season mixed with an unprecedented lack of command. Eventually he hit the injured list and it was the worst news possible - Tommy John surgery, or a new hybrid version of it, was performed and we now won't see Maeda until the latter half of 2022 in a best case scenario. Pineda went back and forth on the injured list three times even though he did post good innings when he was around. Dobnak looked nothing like the moustachioed folk hero who'd pitched his way from part-time Uber driving into the post-season, and has battled a right finger strain since June. JA Happ was traded away at the deadline after posting a 6.77 ERA in the first half of the year. And Shoemaker was designated for assignment before being sent to St Paul and eventually being released, slinging some interesting accusations about the pitching staff on the way out. He's now causing woe in someone else's minor league system. 

Pineda was proving consistent despite the minor injuries but he and Berrìos alone could not carry an entire rotation. Especially after we traded Berrìos to the Blue Jays for a haul of prospects, essentially saying goodbye to our best and most consistent starter. So, what to do?

Enter Bailey Ober. 

Ober was a surprising addition to the 40-man roster, in a move to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft. He was called up mid-May, and since that date has performed like he's always been here. He's been a steady, quiet performer, starting 20 games and posting a 4.19 over the season. His stuff is - in my personal opinion - a lot better than the 4.19 suggests, and that's backed up by the 9.36 K/9 he posted. He was very carefully managed in pitch count by Baldelli this season - sometimes frustratingly so, but the management paid off. He pitched 92 innings for the year - his highest number ever, Ober finished the year almost entirely avoiding the injured list, only succumbing to a hip strain last week that meant he would miss his final start for the season.

It surely seems like - in a year where every possible thing that could deplete a starting rotation happened, Ober became a reliable mainstay through the season. Would we have seen Ober this year had the rotation not completely fallen apart? Maybe in September callups. But honestly, probably not. He wasn't talked about as a high ranking prospect. However you look at next year's rotation and Ober seems like he's a lock to start - Pineda is a free agent (hello baseball gods, please re-sign Big Mike), Maeda is off long term, mid season fill-ins Gant and Jax don't quite seem up to the task. The only certainties seem to be Ober and new addition Joe Ryan in a rotation that is very much in flux for a Twins team that wants to contend in 2022.

So Bailey Ober, you win the 2021 Bradbury Award. Congratulations. It was an absolute melding of catastrophe that brought you into the team, but I am ever so glad you're here. 

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On 10/2/2021 at 1:08 PM, AceWrigley said:

"Chuck a Bradbury" . . . awesome. Nice article. So does this award come with any hardware? A gift certificate? A free beer in Cleveland at the Thirsty Beaver? Or do we just dub him the "Ober Meister", recipient of the 2021 Bradbury.

Yes.

I think...

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I give Ref Robsnyder all the credit in the world for tackling CF in our hour of need. Unfortunately it became his hour of need when he crashed into a wall trying to play the position.

Ober nearly led the team in games started, due to a variety of factors external to his own ability, Next year, Ober stands a good chance of being a rotation mainstay. Next year, Ref stands a good chance of being 31 years old.

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