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A Few Random Twins Thoughts Part III


This is a continuation of a hit series of threads about the Twins. I kid, I believe only two or three people replied to the last one, but I digress. I would put these thoughts in a blog, but there seems to be even less attention paid to takes made in that area.

1) Buxton is in the throes of a horrible slump. He did show that his wheels are okay when he ranged far into the gap last night and made a diving catch. Slowing down seems to be the bigger problem just watching when he tries to leg out a grounder. We all know that he isn't 100% and we know that the Twins have opted to give him frequent days off to keep him performing (hopefully) throughout the entire season. I never was fully on board with this idea, but I'm not quite willing to say the slump is because he isn't 100%. All I can say is 100-110 games of April Buck is worth it. 100-110 games of May Buck isn't.

2) I realize that the weather has mostly been lousy and that school isn't out yet, but I am embarrassed to see so many empty seats for a first-place ballclub that has been exciting and dramatic. 

3) Max Kepler enters today with an .802 OPS, second best among regular AL right fielders. He's been good in the field, good running the bases, good in clutch RBI situations, even good against left handed pitching. He has passed Buxton for the highest WAR on the team (per BBRef). I have suggested that perhaps Max could make the All-Star team this year. He's definitely been the most consistent player over the course of the season.

4) I belong to a "cousins group", no not to discuss the exploits of the Vikings quarterback, it consists of my cousins and my cousins' cousins. We are all baseball fans and we agree that the Twins bullpen has gotten too much work. For a variety of reasons, all of the pitchers in the rotation are poor bets to get much more than 150 innings and some (Chris Archer) seem destined for a lot less. While the rotation has been a pleasant surprise, they still need someone to give them innings and I don't expect it to be a callup from the minors.

5) Alex Kirilloff is hitting well over .300 at St. Paul. He only has two extra base hits so far, a double and a homer. I haven't seen many of his at-bats, but he needs to be driving the ball. I hope he's made some loud outs and is hitting the ball hard. He could be a key piece to the puzzle for the second half.

6) With homers down dramatically, the skills of Luis Arraez seem much more vital. He is producing now so much that his OPS is in the top 20 despite negligible power. I remember last year, the TV guys had Joe Nathan on for an inning and he commented that if Arraez got the at-bats and stayed healthy, he could get 3000 hits. That has stuck with me. 

7) While the Twins seem to have adjusted to "humidor baseball", they lack one facet that should be of higher importance when small ball is emphasized--they have poor team speed. This translates to few stolen bases, more rally-killing GDPs. If stolen bases take on a higher priority, it would also help if the combination of Twins pitchers and catchers weren't almost helpless in limiting the running game. Adding Urshela, Correa and Sanchez certainly hasn't helped in the team speed department. 

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Regarding #4 I do believe we have a potential problem in that we are managing the bullpen somewhat traditionally with lots of one inning appearances while embracing a different approach to starting pitching. Namely get them out of there before they face the third turn in the order. I’m fine with that but then you need more relievers to pitch multiple innings otherwise the numbers just don’t add up. 

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As for number two on the list, I have been to six Twins games so far this season. Four have been brutal winter/wet weather, one decent weather for a Saturday game, and this past Monday was a pleasant spring night (a bit cool yet manageable). I've attended two Saints games and the weather has been awful for both. I'm guessing this is a fairly representative weather sample. Add the poor weather with hangover effects from COVID, some people still staying away from Minneapolis, and live attendance not having the appeal of previous generations and we have our current Twins attendance scenario. 

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Max is a bright surprise.  I had just about given up on my favorite player and decided he needed to be traded for a nearly worthless piece, but then this happened.  I noticed he started to hit a few balls through the shift which was one of my top frustrations with him and then things started picking up.  One game he got a hit to the left side of 2nd base and the next at-bat they were playing him nearly straight away.  I think, don't keep statistics well in my head anymore, this may have been when he started to do much better.  I love the "new style" of baseball where they work for a basehit and Luis Arraez - type players have value.

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20 hours ago, Mike Sixel said:

And there are STILL people that want to bench Kepler for Lewis or others (and yes, saw this just two days ago). 

I'll admit I was definitely on the "I'm over Kepler" train and couldn't have been more wrong.  

For all the flack "nerdy" baseball gets, the Twins are executing it how it's supposed to work.  Using analytics doesn't necessarily conclude that strikeouts are ok and you should always hit homeruns, it's about finding market inefficiencies and exploiting trends.  So what have the Twins done?

They know teams are throwing more breaking balls so they are being more patient, working counts in their favor.  Waiting back means they have to use the whole field more....so they do.  A lack of homeruns and long-balls means you need to be willing to run and bunt more often....and they are.  Pitching is dominating so what do the Twins emphasize?  Defense!  Don't hurt yourself in the field and get extra outs compared to your opponent and you win more often.

Kepler is a great example.  The coaches leveled his swing, producing more line drives, and he's producing better contact.  This is what analytics does.  For those in the back who need it one more time, :)

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Kepler has turned a corner it would seem. If so, that is a big development for the Twins' chances to play in the postseason. Of course, a productive player like Kepler needs to be in the line up a lot, but not sure that limits the options for a role for Lewis as he is being groomed it would seem for a super utility role (3B, LF some occasional duty in CF, RF, SS) It would appear that Lewis' near term AB's with the Twins would be those Nick Gordon is currently getting.

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With very few exceptions it has been close, low scoring game after close, low scoring game. So far Twins have been on the winning side but last night shows how easily it can flip the other way. As far as Buxton goes, I wonder if he is being pitched differently than earlier when he literally carried the team through a critical stretch. Now its 0fer after 0fer. If they can win the next 2 series against KC and Det that would be a heck of a run and should provide some breathing room headed into June which is a totally different schedule. Only Central opponent in the whole month is a healthy dose of Cleveland.

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Some very good points @stringer bell

Deffo agree with Kepler. He has been my favorite player for awhile now and good to see him get back to where we all know he can be; fantastic start to the season and I have faith he will continue to do so. Just looks way more confident at the plate than he has in a long time.

And need some more speed on the basepaths, but speed from my experience is something that can't be taught unfortunately.

Overall I like where are as a team and with some minor adjustments in a couple areas, I think we have a bright outlook this season. Not going to be easy to fend off the Sox but I think we can if we stay focused and healthy.

 

 

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6 minutes ago, Number3 said:

With very few exceptions it has been close, low scoring game after close, low scoring game. So far Twins have been on the winning side but last night shows how easily it can flip the other way. As far as Buxton goes, I wonder if he is being pitched differently than earlier when he literally carried the team through a critical stretch. Now its 0fer after 0fer. If they can win the next 2 series against KC and Det that would be a heck of a run and should provide some breathing room headed into June which is a totally different schedule. Only Central opponent in the whole month is a healthy dose of Cleveland.

I don't have the numbers to know for sure but it seems like Buxton is seeing a lot of pitches low and outside. In the dirt over the plate etc.  They are staying away from pitching him inside it seems to me.  He still gets a pitch or two in his hotspot or close to his hotspot generally early in the count.  I think he is going to need to adjust to low and away. 

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I like to see them adapting to the game in real time. My guess (without having actual experience) is that base stealing and the running game take extra time to learn how to master so they've spent their time practicing other things, like beating the shift, etc... I have seen instances this year where it didn't make sense NOT to attempt a steal. When being throwing out is not the worst outcome. Like when you are on first, there are 2 outs,  and the next 2 guys on deck are both hitting around .200. In the particular instance I am thinking of (can't remember who it was) the batter got a hit that would have driven in the runner from second. Instead of a run generated, the next guy got out. 

I also see people jogging back to first when the pitcher throws over indicating that he didn't have nearly a large enough lead. You don't need to actually steal the base to be effective. You can induce pitchouts, advance on the occasional bad throw to first, throw off the pitcher's (and sometimes the hitter's) concentration. 

I think for a team like the Twins to succeed, they have to play all of the small games within the game well. That's how they will beat the teams that have more raw talent. They're doing a pretty good job this year with defense, working counts, using the whole field, experimenting with their RP usage (which is risky and maybe not a long term thing, but things are going well so far). I hope they start working on other tricks soon as well. 

It's a fun season so far. 

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I don't know if I have pen envy or what but it seems like our division for the most part has better pen arms than we do.  Or maybe phrased a better way is arms that throw harder.  I know the Tigers pen arms had some trouble yesterday as well but it also seems like they had shinny 1.00 or 2.00 ERA's most of the time.  Probably just a case of grass is greener for me but it would be nice to have a few high octane arms in the pen.  Ultimately it was the pen that gave that game away for us and won it for Detroit.  So maybe that is skewing my perceptions as I know our pen had a top WPA rating it just seems so shaky to me though.

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1 hour ago, GNess said:

Kepler has turned a corner it would seem. If so, that is a big development for the Twins' chances to play in the postseason. Of course, a productive player like Kepler needs to be in the line up a lot, but not sure that limits the options for a role for Lewis as he is being groomed it would seem for a super utility role (3B, LF some occasional duty in CF, RF, SS) It would appear that Lewis' near term AB's with the Twins would be those Nick Gordon is currently getting.

Lewis is not being groomed for a super utility role.  He is the SS on opening day of 2023.   Rocco is on MLB radio once a week.  I think the show is loud outs.  He said they will give him a few games at 3B and LF but the majority of games will be at SS because that's in the team's best interest as well Royce's best interest.  

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4 minutes ago, Dman said:

I don't know if I have pen envy or what but it seems like our division for the most part has better pen arms than we do.  Or maybe phrased a better way is arms that throw harder.  I know the Tigers pen arms had some trouble yesterday as well but it also seems like they had shinny 1.00 or 2.00 ERA's most of the time.  Probably just a case of grass is greener for me but it would be nice to have a few high octane arms in the pen.  Ultimately it was the pen that gave that game away for us and won it for Detroit.  So maybe that is skewing my perceptions as I know our pen had a top WPA rating it just seems so shaky to me though.

The Twins have come back in more games than they have given up a lead late.  Having said this, I have the same perception as you have shared.  However, I am debating in my own mind if that velocity is that important given it has become quite common.  Control, a secondary pitch, and movement on the FB are still key elements.  I never though Stashak would survive but his control and movement makes him pretty darn effective.  Of course, there are lots of other pitchers who are dominant with modest velocity.  There are many pitchers like Kershaw and Greinke who remain effective after losing velocity.  Obviously, it's great when they have velocity and all the other elements like DeGrom but are we too focused on velocity.  Candidly, I am not sure.

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13 minutes ago, Dman said:

I don't know if I have pen envy or what but it seems like our division for the most part has better pen arms than we do.  Or maybe phrased a better way is arms that throw harder.  I know the Tigers pen arms had some trouble yesterday as well but it also seems like they had shinny 1.00 or 2.00 ERA's most of the time.  Probably just a case of grass is greener for me but it would be nice to have a few high octane arms in the pen.  Ultimately it was the pen that gave that game away for us and won it for Detroit.  So maybe that is skewing my perceptions as I know our pen had a top WPA rating it just seems so shaky to me though.

Yes, there are a lot of hard throwers in most bullpens these days. 95 is the new 90, and so a guy like Jax has an average fastball (peaking at 95-96). The Twins do have Duran's premium heat and one of Megrew's pitches hit 100 in his first outing in KC, but they don't get to 97-98 as often as many bullpens. Joe Smith, Coulombe and Thielbar don't light up the gun, but by and large have been effective. 

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If there's one encouraging thing about Buxton's slump, it's that he's only had 10 strikeouts in the 12 games. I mean that's not elite or anything, but that's pretty typical. That would be the the one stat I'd find alarming.

I was ready to get rid of Kepler too. Not because I didn't think he could play, just because I thought as a corner outfielder, his production was pretty easy to replace for a much cheaper price tag. It's possible in a month or so the TWINS might find themselves in that exact situation with Larnach, Kirilloff, Lewis, Celesitino and maybe even Wallner or Martin taking off, but clearly the rest of the league is struggling at this position. Kepler certainly is more valuable than I assumed in March. Mea culpa; I posted that fairly regularly too.

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14 minutes ago, ToddlerHarmon said:

I think the future is bright on team speed, with Lewis and Martin complementing Buxton, Kepler, Celestino, Gordon, and Polanco. That may not translate into steals, however.

Stolen bases have been devalued in recent years. In the big picture, they aren't that important, but I think getting guys into scoring position without using an out should become a higher priority with scoring and home runs down so dramatically. Buxton and Gordon are the only two Twins right now that I would saw have top 25% speed. Kepler, Polanco, Celestino would be above average with the remainder of the position player falling below average. I would hope that additions to the position player side of the roster would include players with plus speed. 

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6 minutes ago, stringer bell said:

Stolen bases have been devalued in recent years. In the big picture, they aren't that important, but I think getting guys into scoring position without using an out should become a higher priority with scoring and home runs down so dramatically. Buxton and Gordon are the only two Twins right now that I would saw have top 25% speed. Kepler, Polanco, Celestino would be above average with the remainder of the position player falling below average. I would hope that additions to the position player side of the roster would include players with plus speed. 

I was disappointed when they drafted Cavaco because the guy I wanted was Corbin Carroll and his 70-grade speed and great bat were available when we took Cavaco.  Caroll is #13 on MLBs top 100 and he will probably debut early next year.  His OPS is 1142 at the moment.  Buxton / Lewis / Caroll and Martin would be crazy athleticism.  I went from disappointed to perpetually POed. 

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4 minutes ago, Mike Sixel said:

I don't judge anyone that doubted Kepler before the season. It's the people still saying he should be replaced I just don't understand at all 

Agree. I will throw this in, though. Kepler has a history of some pretty sudden deep valleys. Picture if he puts a 1-16 up against the Royals this weekend. The fairly gaudy numbers would not look so good and the doubters would be all over Max.

In the past two months, Jorge Polanco had a nice stretch bookended by snags and Gary Sanchez seemed to be coming out of it only to go 3-21 this past week. Especially with diminished offense a good week can make us forget struggles and a bad week or more (Byron Buxton) can erase great counting numbers. 

Players do what players do. It takes sustained performance for a long time to really change their career profile. 

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What a difference a year makes. We are well positioned for some great trades to help us get over the top this year. Corner outfield and middle infield are great strength's to trade from this year. We obviously need more pitching. Starting and bullpen. It will be interesting to see who gets moved, and who we acquire. Do we move corner OF and Middle IF from the minors, or from the majors? Do we move fringe or do we move stars. Falvey and Levine will have an interesting next 8 weeks. 

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3 hours ago, Mike Sixel said:

I don't judge anyone that doubted Kepler before the season. It's the people still saying he should be replaced I just don't understand at all 

I don't think this was directed at me but I also don't know where I fall on the spectrum. I was one of those who doubted Kepler before the season. (Doubted isn't a perfect word to describe my thoughts). 

I simply felt that he had not earned every day playing time based on a very poor performance last year and I felt it would be incredibly risky to declare him an every day player going into 2022 without a safety net. 

I felt at minimum he needed to compete against others or share playing time with others to establish the better performer.

I was never an advocate for removing him from the roster because of his potential to fix whatever happened last year but I didn't believe he should be a roadblock to the opportunity of a Larnach, a Celestino, A Garlick, or a whoever. I also didn't think his presence or contract should stop the team from bringing in someone else.

I was never concerned with Kepler being a part of our 4 or 5 player OF group going into the season. I was definitely concerned about Kepler being part of a 2 person OF group who didn't have to check the lineup card to see if they were on it.

RF simply wasn't locked up in my opinion. 

Fast forward to today on May 26th, 2022. I love how Kep is going the other way more often this year. His performance has been much better and I hope it continues.  My concerns about him have lessened and I believe he is earning playing time.

However, I'm still not ready to give him must play every day status but that is status I only grant to the elite players anyway.

Kep's numbers are still not good enough to throw away any of Larnach, Celestino and Garlick by restricting their opportunity. They are all earning the right to compete.

It's a great problem to have and proof that you can have a 26 man roster full of players who can all play. There is never a reason to go down with the ship with any struggling player. You can feed multiple players effectively. 

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