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    sampleSizeOfOne reacted to Hans Birkeland for an article, This Team is Just the Timberwolves   
    The Minnesota sports scene is an odd mix. You have the over-performing Vikings that figure to take a step back this year with some difficult salary cap constraints, the underperforming Twins with a seemingly playoff-ready roster including three frontline pitchers (four if you’re a big Bailey Ober fan) and multiple superstar-level bats (in theory) complementing perhaps the best closer in the game in Jhoan Duran. Then there are the Timberwolves, who combined immaturity and odd roster fits to form a .500ish team that lost in the first round of the playoffs.
    If the Twins could channel any of the Vikings’ more-than-the-sum-of-its-parts mojo, they would be considered World Series contenders. Obviously, they haven’t to any degree, and they may not even win the dreadful AL Central. They’ve become the Timberwolves, and the comparison runs pretty deep. You can break it down player by player:
    Byron Buxton as Karl-Anthony Towns: The longtime superstar who battles injuries and maddening slumps. Buxton does appear to have a much better head on his shoulders, though.
    Carlos Correa as Rudy Gobert: The key acquisition that cost a lot and while good, hasn’t played to the level he had established earlier in his career, perhaps due to injury. Came to the team with some baggage.
    Alex Kirilloff as Naz Reid: The burgeoning offensive force who doesn’t play much defense and has missed time with wrist injuries.
    Royce Lewis as Anthony Edwards: The young superstar and former number overall pick who has taken his lumps on his way to the top. Charismatic and doesn’t get in the way of the other big guns.
    Jorge Polanco as Mike Conley: The seasoned vet who doesn’t have the legs he used to, but still gives a professional performance despite the clown show going on around him.
    Jhoan Duran as Jaden McDaniels: Freak athlete at the top of his field. Seems calm; isn’t.
    Joe Ryan as Kyle Anderson: Has an odd shooting/throwing motion, but makes up for it with elite ability to put the ball where it needs to go.
    Max Kepler as Jordan McLaughlin: Seen once as a rising contributor with a great skill set for what the team needs, but has faded with his weaknesses exposed (contact quality and shooting ability, respectively).
    Trevor Larnach as Jaylen Nowell: Lightning in a bottle on occasion, but injuries and inconsistency have clouded his future with the team.
    Sonny Gray as Taurean Prince: Hired gun and veteran emotional leader who gives amazing performances mixed in with inexplicable control issues. Plays about 75% of the time.
    Pablo López as Nickeil Walker-Alexander: Acquired in a trade for a popular (or at least high-profile) player who shows all the tools to be a scoring prevention genius, but too inconsistent to really get there.
    Eduoard Julien as Nate Knight: Some intriguing upside if only he weren’t such a bad defender.
    Matt Wallner as Luka Garza: Some real offensive skills, but the team is stacked at his position and his defense isn’t great.
    Jorge López as Austin Rivers: Got some run early on, but a little erratic and slipped down the pecking order.
    That was fun, but the similarities run even deeper. The Wolves tended to play well against the good teams in the league, splitting the season series against the champion Denver Nuggets, Philadelphia, New York, Memphis, Golden State and Miami while winning series against Cleveland, both LA teams, Sacramento, Dallas (prior to tanking), New Orleans, and Atlanta.
    They also lost series to Portland, Washington, Charlotte, and most egregiously, Detroit. Sound familiar? The Twins have played at their worst against the Guardians, White Sox, Angels, Nationals, and now the Tigers. Like the Wolves, they play well when expected to lose, like when facing the Yankees, Astros, Blue Jays, Padres and I’ll even throw the Dodgers in there, since that was one inch from being a series win on the road and two inches from being a sweep. They’ll probably surprise us one way or the other in the Boston series.
    Both teams also lost a vocal leader in Patrick Beverly and Wes Johnson, though those impacts are arguable.
    Mainly, both teams have alternated weeks where they were ascending and unstoppable with weeks where the sky has fallen by virtue of key injuries, strange officiating and most importantly, lifeless offense that looked unsalvageable.
    With that said, the Wolves were never too far off of a playoff spot, and considering their star power and assortment of quality defenders following the DeAngelo Russel trade, they were seen as somewhat of a dark horse down the stretch, with Memphis and Sacramento looking like upset candidates should the Wolves meet them in the playoffs.
    The West wasn’t a great conference, like the AL Central, and a .500 record was good enough to get to the dance. But, as we know, Reid fractured his wrist, McDaniels his hand, and Gobert was limited by back troubles when the playoffs began. To make matters worse, the Wolves ended up facing the eventual champion Nuggets in the first round of the playoffs, and got steamrolled in five games.
    That may sound grim to compare a tragic season that began with such high hopes to the Twins, who at the very least don’t seem to let immaturity get the best of them (can you imagine Correa taking a swing at Joe Ryan?). But the Wolves won a playoff game. Baby steps.
  2. Like
    sampleSizeOfOne reacted to Ted Wiedmann for an article, The Twins Hitter Set to Benefit Most from Shift Ban Isn't Who You Think   
    With the new shift ban coming into effect in 2023, several Minnesota Twins’ hitters could stand to benefit. Joey Gallo, perhaps the face of the new rule change, is certainly one player who could see increased production. Max Kepler is another very pull-heavy hitter who could potentially see his numbers increase with a now more open right side of the infield. A lot of the focus of the shift ban has been directed to left-handed hitters, and understandably so.
    The shift against left-handed hitters was quite apparent, as it often involved a second baseman in right field and sometimes four outfielders, making baseball traditionalists sick to their stomachs as none of the players were seemingly in the spots they were supposed to be. 
    There is one Twins hitter who might benefit most from the shift ban that I have rarely seen mentioned. He may not be an obvious shift victim candidate due to his physical profile and offensive production in the last couple of seasons, but he stands to gain more from the rule change more than players like Kepler and Gallo. That hitter is Byron Buxton.
    Believe it or not, Byron Buxton is not only the most pull-heavy hitter on the Twins but also the most pull-heavy player in all of baseball. According to Statcast, in 2022, out of hitters with 300 plate appearances, Buxton had the highest pull% in MLB at 54.2%. Gallo was eighth in pull% at 48.4%, and the league average pull% is 45.9%.

    Teams noticed this pull-happy tendency from Buxton and adjusted their defenses accordingly. In 2022 among hitters with 250 plate appearances, Buxton was shifted 78.8% of the time, good for 34th most in MLB but second most among right-handed hitters, only trailing Eugenio Suarez of the Seattle Mariners. 
    The shift impacted Buxton dramatically. Contrary to standard thought, Buxton only hit .188 (13-for-69) on ground balls, despite his world-class speed. His shift and non-shift splits were jarring as well. In the 301 plate appearances against the shift, Buxton registered a .312 wOBA. When there was no shift, Buxton’s wOBA was .517 in only 81 plate appearances. The league average wOBA is .316, so a .517 wOBA in an 81 PA sample is astounding. His .205 difference in shift versus non-shift wOBA was the biggest in all of baseball among players who received at least 15 plate appearances against both the shift and no-shift.  
    While it is impossible that Buxton can sustain a .517 wOBA, it may have been understated how much he can benefit from the shift ban. While the strikeout rate may limit him from reaching the elite tier of hitters in MLB, Buxton makes as consistent and hard contact as anyone. He ranked in the 97th percentile in average exit velocity, 97th percentile in barrel%, and 93rd percentile in hard hit%. 
    His .224 batting average in 2022 may have disappointed some, but I would be shocked if it stays that low in 2023. Being able to hit ground balls again opens up new avenues for all hitters, particularly for ones like Byron Buxton, who runs like the wind. So while this new era of baseball defense may take some below-average hitters to average ones, it may also take the Twins’ superstar into a class of his own.  
  3. Like
    sampleSizeOfOne reacted to Seth Stohs for an article, Arraez and Buxton Named to First All-Star Teams   
    While some may believe that they should be starting in the All Star game in Los Angeles next week, both Luis Arraez Byron Buxton have been named to their first All-Star games. 
    On Sunday, Byron Buxton hit his career-high 23rd home run. While he is hitting just .215 with an on-base percentage teetering around .300, his power and slugging make him a huge threat in a lineup. And his defense, of course. According to Darren Wolfson, Buxton was asked to participate in the Home Run Derby, but declined. 
    Despite going 0-for-5 on Sunday, Arraez has a huge lead in the American League batting title race with a .348 batting average. 
    Congratulations to both on a special moment in their careers. Watch as manager Rocco Baldelli informs the team of the player's All Star status. 
    Jhoan Duran has given up runs in his most recent appearances. He had to have been considered. Maybe even Griffin Jax, who has emerged as arguably the team's top reliever right now, received consideration. Either way, that is a strong 1-2 punch in the back of the team's bullpen. 
    Carlos Correa is another Twins player that could be an All Star. 
    Maybe those three are "snubs" (or maybe not), but there are likely to be players added to the rosters over the next week for injuries or other reasons. 
    Join us in congratulating two new Twins All Stars and share your thoughts. 
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