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  • Birthday 04/25/1986

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    Editor of GoGonzoJournal.com, Outlaw Journalist, Sports Fan, Web Designer, and Marketing Consultant
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  1. Theoretically, he'd have an impact in more games and could pitch just as many innings out of the bullpen as as a starter. Also, those outs would be more valuable than some of those against hitters most professional bullpen arms could get out.
  2. With the Tampa Bay Rays set to make the 2019 MLB Playoffs and turn the 115-year-old approach to playoff rotations on its head, it’s well past time for questioning the effectiveness of the traditional approach to postseason pitching. But it’s the Minnesota Twins and José Berríos who present the most interesting postseason pitching situation. This was originally published at FoulPlaybyPlay.com. The Tried and Not-so-true Approach I get it. Put your best pitcher out there in Game 1 of a playoff series to give him the best chance to pitch in as many games of the series as possible. But is that really the best way to go? We’ve seen Madison Bumgarner win three World Series games, but not every team has a Madison Bumgarner. In fact, most MLB teams don’t have a Madison Bumgarner. Most MLB teams’ best pitcher isn’t their best pitcher against every MLB team. The Tampa Bay Rays aren’t even the best example of a playoff team without a bonafide number one starting pitcher, or ace. They have 2018 Cy Young Award-winner Blake Snell, who’s struggled in 2019, especially against the Yankees recently, but Brent Honeywell, Jr. might be even better someday. The Rays will still probably run an opener out there at some point if they make the postseason, but they shouldn’t feel the need to start their best pitcher in their first playoff game. The Minnesota Twins shouldn’t either. Their ace is undoubtedly José Berríos, but even he’s a question mark, especially when it comes to throwing a new baseball with seams harder to grip in cold, October weather. Berríos himself has proven to struggle late in the season, with his career strikeout-to-walk ratio plummeting from 5.13 in March/April to 1.88 in September/October. That could be a mute point if Berríos continues to mow down batters into September, but that isn’t evidence that the Twins’ best shot to win the American League Division Series is to start Berrios in Game 1—or at all for that matter. If the American League standings remain unchanged and the Twins win the pennant, they’d play their first postseason game at cavernous Target Field. It’s 29th in runs allowed and 28th in home runs allowed. That’s crazy considering the Twins are leading MLB in home runs with 140 through 73 games. Meanwhile, Boston’s Fenway Park is 12th in allowing runs and 25th when it comes to allowing home runs. Yankee Stadium is 28th and 22nd, respectively, and Minute Maid Park in Houston is 11th and 11th, respectively. Basically, regardless of whom Minnesota faces in the American League postseason, its coaching staff will want to consider the ballpark factors and opponents’ past success against its starters. If they do, they’ll find José Berríos shouldn’t necessarily start Game 1 of the ALDS or any playoff series. Play Aces like a Poker Hand…Slow Baseball’s been going about postseason pitching all wrong because instead of treating aces like aces in the hole, they’ve been playing them as if they’re bluffing—like they’re over-representing their hand as if they’re already beaten. And that could just be scared managers succumbing to the uncanny and inexplicable commitment to tired traditions in baseball. After completing a 162-game schedule providing plenty of data like ballpark and head-to-head splits repeatedly indicating that any pitcher or group of pitchers can win any game when put in a proper position to succeed given the circumstances, why is all that ignored as soon as the postseason begins? Twins vs. Tampa Bay Rays Just for fun, let’s assume the Twins face the Rays in the ALDS, a best-of-five series. At most, Berríos would be able to pitch two games, but should he, and if so, which games should he pitch? Judging from a simple analysis of pitching splits over a career, Odorizzi would be the Twins’ best option to start Game 1 of the ALDS against Tampa Bay at Target Field and Game 4 at Tropicana Field. Odorizzi has allowed the lowest OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage) to Tampa Bay’s hitters, and is second to only Berríos in OPS allowed at Target Field. Odorizzi also has the lowest OPS allowed at Tropicana Field—a measly .655—while Berríos is considerably better at Target Field (.645 OPS allowed at home) than he is at Tropicana Field (.812 OPS allowed). Michael Pineda’s .796 OPS allowed in Tampa Bay would be a perfect fit in Game 3 at The Trop, with Berríos taking the hill in Game 5, if necessary. Twins vs. Boston Red Sox Berríos doesn’t makes sense as an ALDS Game 1 starter against Boston either, even though he’s allowed an OPS of just .625 when facing the Red Sox and proved he can get them out on Monday, going eight innings and surrendering just five hits and one earned run. His .645 OPS allowed at Target Field is also a team-best, which is why he should only be pitching at Target Field, but not necessarily in Game 1. Kyle Gibson is better at Fenway Park (.450 OPS allowed) than he is at Target Field (.757 OPS allowed). In fact, he’s the Twins’ best option to pitch Game 3 of any American League playoff series in which Minnesota has home field advantage and doesn’t include the Rays. His .593 OPS allowed in Houston is lowest on the team, as is his .647 OPS allowed in Yankee Stadium. But who should the Twins start in Game 1 against Boston? Answer: Martín Pérez. Pérez’s .738 OPS allowed at Target Field is second-best on the team, and his .548 OPS allowed to Red Sox hitters is best on the team and 77 points lower than Berríos’. He gives the Twins the best chance to beat Boston in Game 1, and setting Berríos up to pitch Game 4 at Fenway Park (.871 OPS allowed at Boston) instead of Game 5 at Target Field (.645 OPS allowed) is setting him up for failure. Twins vs. New York Yankees To finally end the Twins’ playoff curse against the Yankees, it’ll take Michael Pineda pitching Game 1 at Target Field. His .689 OPS allowed against the Yankees is second only to Jake Odorizzi’s, who should only pitch in Minnesota because his .684 OPS allowed at Target Field is much better than him working the upper part of the strike zone with his sneaky fastball in the little league ballpark that is Yankee Stadium against the biggest hitters in baseball. Pitching Game 2 would line Odorizzi up to pitch Game 5, at home, if necessary. Pineda pitching Game 1 lines him up to start Game 4 in familiar Yankee Stadium, where he has the second-best OPS allowed amongst Twins starting pitchers. Kyle Gibson would pitch Game 3, and Berríos could be used out of the bullpen in high-leverage situations against lefties. That’s right. José Berríos is a bullpen arm against the Yankees—and the Astros. Twins vs. Houston Astros Martín Pérez is the perfect pick for the Twins to start Games 1 and 4 in an ALDS against the Astros. His .711 OPS allowed against Houston is second only to Odorizzi’s, and his .655 OPS allowed at Minute Maid Park is also second to only Kyle Gibson’s .593 OPS allowed in Houston. Games 2 and 5 should go to Odorizzi, where his .684 OPS allowed at home will pair well with his team-best .689 OPS allowed to Houston’s hitters. Gibson should get Game 3. Bad Arguments Against People will incorrectly argue that Martín Pérez beating Justin Verlander is less likely than Berríos doing so. But it was Jake Odorizzi getting the shutout win over Verlander, pitching seven innings on April 29. And it was Pérez getting a win over Houston, pitching eight innings of four-hit, shutout baseball on May 1. Berríos backed him up with a win the next day, pitching seven innings and allowing two earned runs on seven hits. People will incorrectly argue that not pitching Berríos as a starter in potential ALDSs against Houston and New York would negatively affect his ability if asked to start in the ALCS. But this, like any other, and especially in the randomness of the postseason, is a sport you approach one game at a time. You can’t worry about the ALCS until you get there. Also, it’s more likely, given the season thus far, that Minnesota meet either Houston or New York in the ALCS. Speaking of, how does this all look in a seven-game series? ALCS: Twins vs. Yankees In a seven-game series against the Yankees, do everything the same. Start Pineda in Games 1, 4, and 7, Odorizzi in Games 2 and 5, Gibson in Game 3. Pineda’s last action in an ALDS against Tampa Bay would be in Game 4 (if necessary), so he’d pitch on regular rest in Game 1 of the ALCS. ALDSs against Boston and Houston wouldn’t pose any problems. Use José Berríos out of the bullpen against lefties. ALCS: Twins vs. Astros Start Pérez in Games 1, 4, and 7. His last game in an ALDS against Boston would have been Game 4 (if necessary), so if it went five games, he’d start on regular rest. Start Odorizzi in Games 2 and 6, and give Game 5 in Houston to Gibson and his team-best .593 OPS allowed at Houston. Use José Berríos out of the bullpen against anyone but George Springer (6-for-12 with two extra-base hits) and Alex Bregman (4-for-7 with three extra-base hits). ALCS: Twins vs. Rays Start Odorizzi in Games 1, 4, and 7, unless he has to pitch Game 5 against the Yankees or Astros in the ALDS. If that’s the case, start Berríos in Games 1, 4, and 7, whose last game in an ALDS would be in Game 4 against Boston, which would be regular rest if it went five games. Start Odorizzi in Games 2 and 6, if necessary, and Pineda in Game 3. ALCS: Twins vs. Red Sox Pitch Pérez in Games 1, 4, and 7. His last action in an ALDS would come in Game 4 against Houston, so if it went five games he’d start on regular rest. Start Berríos in Games 2 and 6. That keeps his .871 OPS allowed away from Fenway. Gibson pitches Game 3. So José Berríos doesn’t make sense as a Game 1 starter for the Minnesota Twins in any American League playoff series unless Jake Odorizzi is unavailable. Forget all that in the World Series, though, but worry about that when you get there.
  3. Anyone else feel like this acquisition was influenced specifically by Schoop's AL Central success, especially against Cleveland starters? Also, given the deep free agent market for middle infielders, the one-year deal being signed so soon in free agency seems to indicate Falvine fully intend to give Nick Gordon a shot to be an everyday player in 2020 if not before.
  4. The Minnesota Twins’ acquisition of second baseman Jonathan Schoop has been considered by most as a low-risk, high-reward move by general manager Thad Levine and president Derek Falvey. It is that, but going ignored is the immediate impact the move has on the Twins’ chances in the American League (AL) Central Division. The AL Central was really bad in 2018. Three teams posted winning percentages below .400, which was one more than the rest of Major League Baseball (MLB). Cleveland, the eventual division champions, were seven wins better than the Twins within the division despite winning the season series over Minnesota 10-9. The Twins just weren’t good enough in games against the AL Central’s worst teams in 2018, especially at the plate. The addition of Schoop for one season at an affordable $7.5 million salary addresses that issue. Schoop Scorches the AL Central The AL Central rosters as of this writing bode well for Schoop and the Twins. Over his career, Schoop has a combined batting average of .357 against Minnesota’s division opponents in 168 at-bats. In fact, the only team in the Central with which he’s “struggled” is the Twins, with a .275 batting average but .833 on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS). Let’s look at how Schoop has fared against the AL Central teams the Twins will have to beat to make the playoffs. Kansas City Royals (32 AB, 12 H, .375/.394/.406) The Twins didn’t win nearly enough games against the AL Central’s worst team last season. Minnesota lost the season series to Kansas City 10-9, allowing four more runs than they scored over the course of those games. Minnesota was considerably worse on offense against the Royals than the rest of the league, as evidenced by its sOPS+ of 95. Schoop could make an immediate impact in games against the Royals. Schoop wouldn’t mind if Danny Duffy returns healthy for Kansas City, having accrued eight hits in 16 career at-bats against him. He has two hits in six at-bats against Ian Kennedy, too. While Schoop hasn’t shown much power against the Royals (0 HR, 1 2B) his .394 OBP would be a welcome addition for a team that only reached base at a .347 clip against the Royals last season. Chicago White Sox (28 AB, 12 H, .429/.433/.571) There wasn’t a divisional opponent the Twins struggled with more than the White Sox. Despite winning the season series 12-7, relative to the rest of the league, the Twins were terrible at the plate against the White Sox. The Twins’ sOPS+ of 91 was only better than their performances against five other teams. Schoop again can make an immediate impact. Schoop’s career batting average (.429) and on-base percentage (.433) against the White Sox is better than what he’s posted against any other AL team. Only his slugging percentages against Houston and Texas are better than the .571 slugging percentage he’s posted against White Sox pitching. Schoop especially likes hitting against Carlos Rodon and newly acquired closer Alex Colome, against whom he’s a combined seven of 19 with five RBI. Detroit Tigers (49 AB, 18 H, .367/.404/.531) The Twins were 12-7 against the Tigers in 2018, too, but only hit them as well as they did Cleveland relative to the rest of the league. Schoop, however, has hit Detroit pitching pretty well, especially Michael Fulmer. In eight at-bats, Schoop has four hits including a home run, a double, and four RBI. Schoop also has four hits in 12 at-bats against newly acquired free agent Matt Moore, whom the Tigers intend to use as a starter. Cleveland Indians (59 AB, 18 H, .305/.311/.441) While Schoop hasn’t hit Cleveland pitching like he has the rest of the AL Central, he’s still a potential upgrade at his position against them. With the performance the Twins got out of the second base position last season, it wouldn’t take much. Only production by Twins’ catchers and designated hitters were worse than the production they got from second basemen last season, and Minnesota’s .365 slugging percentage from second basemen was worst amongst its roster of hitters. Schoop will have an immediate impact on games against Cleveland’s ace, Corey Kluber, against whom he is four of 12 with a double and a homer in his career. He’s also six for 11 and has driven in four against Cleveland starter Trevor Bauer. Against Danny Salazar, Schoop has two hits in five at-bats. Coincidence Schoop's now a Twin? I think not.
  5. Will baseball writers take that into consideration, though? Injuries aren't typically considered valid excuses when considering HOF worthiness. For what it's worth, Mauer's career WAR is four better than Kirby Puckett's, but Puckett had four more All-Star appearances, three more Gold Gloves, one more Silver Slugger, and two more World Series Championships, including an ALCS MVP Award.
  6. Baseball quite literally is not making ballplayers like Joe Mauer anymore. In fact, he’s potentially the last of a bygone era, during which striking out was still frowned upon by coaches and downright despised by some players. Joe Mauer hates striking out — so much so he struck out just once in high school. Even as Major League Baseball evolved into a game with more pitchers throwing harder and nastier pitches than ever before, Mauer refused to change his approach and was good enough to not only get away with it, but force defenses to adjust to him just as Barry Bonds before him. Mauer received one of the most extreme defensive outfield shifts in baseball, and he got his hits despite it. Of the top 21 seasons in overall strikeouts in MLB history, Mauer played in 15. He struck out more than 100 times just once, and his OPS+ was under 100 in just two seasons of his career. But some still think Mauer was overpaid given the expectancy for him to catch full-time. Addressing Mauer’s Haters Mauer, a soft-spoken, Minnesota-nice guy, has his share of haters who think he should have cowboyed up and got behind the plate to earn his $23 million every year despite a concussion issue that not only threatened his career but his life off the field. An issue that reappeared this season upon a dive for a ball at first base and might be responsible for Mauer’s indecision regarding his playing future. Mauer’s haters should know over the course of his career, the Twins paid Joe just $374,856.42 more per win above a replacement player than the Marlins and Tigers paid Cabrera, and the Tigers still owe him at least $154 million. The Twins paid just $728,825.30 more per win above a replacement player than the Cardinals and Angels have paid Pujols, who’s still owed $87 million. If you average the WAR of both Cabrera and Pujols over their last seven years across the remaining years of their contracts, their cost per win above a replacement player balloons to $381,619.65 and $80,136.39 more per WAR than Joe, respectively. Not being overpaid relative to his fellow first basemen won’t make Mauer a first-ballot Hall of Famer like Pujols and Cabrera, but it doesn’t hurt. The Hall of Fame Question Most will say Mauer’s six All-Star appearances and 2,123 hits aren’t enough. Most will say he never won a playoff series. Most will say his 55.1 career Wins Above Replacement (WAR) isn’t even as good as another former Twin (David Ortiz, 55.3) despite it being top-100 all time amongst Hall of Fame position players and 151st all time in MLB history, according to Baseball Reference. Mauer’s integrity and humility are Hall-of-Fame caliber, however. Unlike Ortiz, who failed a 2003 performance-enhancing drug test, Mauer’s legacy is unquestioned and untarnished. Although Mauer only played in the post-steroid era of Major League Baseball (the drug policy as we know it was first implemented and enforced in 2004), he’s someone who might have benefited from steroids and had an “opportunity” to use them after sustaining a knee injury in his rookie season. At 21, Joe knew better, and at 28, when his body struggled recovering from surgery and then fell ill with pneumonia, Mauer probably never even considered using steroids. Mauer came back in 2012 to lead the league in on-base percentage (OBP), beating his 2011 OBP by 56 points (.420). His .351 OBP in 2018 is the worst of his career and was still the 50th-best in baseball and 10 percent better than the MLB average (.318). He was top-10 in league OBP and batting average seven times and top-10 in Adjusted OPS+ six times in his career. Mauer’s .3063 career batting average is, ironically, identical to his Hall of Fame manager’s, good for 138th-best all time. But Paul Molitor has 1,196 more hits than Joe. Regardless, Mauer’s career batting average is sandwiched between Hall of Famers Ernie Lombardi and George Kell, and is better than that of the next-best hitting catcher of his era, Buster Posey (.306). Mauer’s the only catcher ever to win three batting titles, too. But what makes Hall of Famers is their relative dominance of their respective eras. Barry Bonds didn’t have to beat Babe Ruth in career home runs; he just needed to dominate his era like Ruth his. Mauer is a Hall of Famer given his place amongst his peers. When compared to his peers, from 2004 to 2018, Mauer’s batting average ranks ninth, between Mike Trout and Buster Posey. His OBP is twelfth, between Hall of Famer Chipper Jones and Bryce Harper. His Weighted Runs Created (WRC) is tenth, whereas Posey ranks 94th. On an All-MLB 2004–18 Team, Mauer would clearly be the catcher, and he’s probably the fourth-best first baseman of his generation, behind Miguel Cabrera, Albert Pujols, and Joey Votto — all first-ballot Hall of Famers. Mauer’s numbers aren’t first-ballot-Hall-of-Fame worthy, but the way he represented the game of baseball and himself on and off the field is worthy of first-ballot consideration, which he’ll receive. Joe might even be a victim of the Hall of Fame shrinking the length of time players stay on the ballot from 15 years to 10. Mauer won’t be eligible for induction until 2023 at the earliest, but judging from the lack of retirees expected this season, he could benefit from a lack of competition. We don’t know if this is Adrian Beltre’s final season, and if it isn’t, Mauer could be sharing the ballot with holdovers from previous years, not including Bonds or Roger Clemens, who will fall off the ballot in three years. Even if Joe isn’t voted into the MLB Hall of Fame by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, he will most certainly get support from the Hall of Fame’s Veterans Committee. One way or another, Joe Mauer is a Hall of Fame player. Personally, I’d like to see if he’s a Hall of Fame manager.
  7. The one sport that stands to benefit most from advances in technology is America’s Pastime. My colleague Ben Beecken shares that sentiment and understands baseball’s big problem and how to solve it. But as a semi-traditionalist baseball fan, I’m not ready to take the umpires off the field in favor of robots. This was originally published at Grandstand Central. Something must be done, obviously, and Major League Baseball owners are apparently pushing Commissioner Rob Manfred to make “bold” changes to address what they believe to be a pace-of-play problem caused by the increased employment of defensive shifts. But baseball doesn’t have a pace-of-play problem; it has a lack-of-action problem that an electronic strike zone can solve without taking umpires’ jobs. Increased Action Makes Pace of Play Irrelevant “Time flies when you’re having fun” they say, and that goes for a three-plus-hour-long baseball game, too. Shortening the game or speeding it up isn’t going to make the game more appealing to young people. You need action to appeal to the all-time low attention spans of young people, or they’ll just find their entertainment on that computer in their pocket. MLB isn’t providing that action and hasn’t for a decade or so. Thus far this season, MLB’s collective batting average is .248 — the 21st-worst league batting average since 1871, according to Baseball Reference. Runs are down to 1956 levels, but on-base percentages, upon which run production depends, have remained steady, according to ESPN’s Buster Olney. But there’s never been more strikeouts in the bigs. The league is on pace to break the strikeout record set last year, and the year before that, and in each of the eight years prior. That’s a decade’s worth of record-setting strikeout totals, so no one should be surprised by how often professional hitters are failing to hit. And you can’t blame defensive shifts for strikeouts. This idea that the increased employment of defensive shifts has forced hitters to alter their approach at the plate to increase their “launch angle” and “exit velocity” to hit over the shift is ridiculous. Defensive shifts don’t force hitters to do anything except exactly what hitters have been expected to do since the game’s inception: hit it where they ain’t. If any professional ballplayer could bunt these days, and every one of them should be capable, or if managers valued baserunners over extra-base-hit potential, defensive shifts would all but disappear except for pull-happy, power hitters who aren’t paid to bunt — ever. The defense is the one taking a risk by shifting; most hitters risk nothing except their batting averages trying to hit over the shift and into the stands. We shouldn’t want more hitters bunting, however. We should want more action occurring from hitters hitting — or better yet, driving the ball. Some of those hitters, like the Cubs’ Daniel Murphy, have explained why they don’t bunt against the shift despite having a gimme single if they can get it in play past the pitcher on the vacated half of the infield. Murphy’s reasoning is that he’s more valuable to his team pursuing extra-base hits rather than occupying first base and waiting for another two teammates to hit singles to score him given his lack of speed. “It’s really difficult to get three hits in one inning,” he told ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick, citing “how good pitchers are now” as a reason. The Evolution of Pitching is to Blame for Baseball’s Problem Young fans are avoiding baseball because it’s boring. Hitters can’t hit because pitching is too good. Many hitters, like former MVP and batting champion Justin Morneau, say a hitter can expect one hittable pitch per plate appearance, and hittable pitches are fewer and farther between in today’s MLB than ever before. Batters aren’t looking to get the ball in the air more often to avoid hitting into defensive shifts. Batters are looking to get the ball in the air more often because there are fewer pitches thrown they are physically capable of hitting hard in the air. There are fewer pitches thrown that have extra-base-hit potential.Since 2002, swings on pitches outside the strike zone have increased 12.7 percent, resulting in an all-time low contact rate and all-time high swing-and-miss rate. In 2010, 50.2 percent of all pitches thrown in MLB were in the strike zone, according to FanGraphs. This season it’s down to 47.9 percent, and despite the percentage of swings at pitches in the zone at an all-time high over the 11-year history of this research, the contact percentage on those strikes is at an all-time low. Contact on pitches outside the strike zone is also at an all-time low, but why? Reliance on Relief Pitchers Contributes to Baseball’s Problem Before defensive shifts became the norm and launch angle was ever uttered, the approach to pitching had already evolved immensely in MLB. John McGraw had a dedicated relief pitcher on his New York Giants roster as early as 1905, according to the research of Bryan Soderholm-Difatte for “America’s Game.” That tactic became more popular in the 1920s after Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown’s career was shortened considerably having served as the Cubs’ ace starter and ace reliever from 1908 to 1911. Even though the lengths of MLB pitchers’ careers were shortened by the now-incomprehensible number of innings pitched over a hundred years ago, there are still pitchers calling for starters to go longer in games and ignore pitch counts. Hall of Fame pitcher Bert Blyleven reminding MLB’s aging audience that starters were expected to finish games as recent as the 1980s should consider how effective he and his peers were the third and fourth time through a lineup instead of calling it evidence that throwing more pitches leads to fewer injuries. Real research conducted by real physicians found that throwing fastballs, not curveballs, is linked to Tommy John surgery, according to Sports Illustrated’s Ian McMahan. Blyleven made his living with his curveball, which is why he’s a terrible spokesperson for getting rid of the pitch count and treating today’s starting pitchers like it’s 1971. Over his career, Blyleven allowed an OPS of .679 when pitching to opponents for a third time and a .711 OPS when seeing hitters a fourth time in a game. That’s respectable, but according to Total OPS+, or tOPS+, Blyleven’s teams, on average, would have been better off had Blyleven never pitched to a hitter a third or fourth time. That is, of course, if there was a relief pitcher on the team with a better tOPS+ when facing hitters for the first time in relief than Blyleven’s tOPS+ when facing hitters a third or fourth time in a game. In 1971, at age 20, Blyleven’s tOPS+ against batters in their third plate appearance of a game was a fantastic 77 (the further below 100 the better a pitcher was in that particular instance). Only Minnesota closer Tom Hall was more effective in his first time facing batters as a reliever than Blyleven was facing batters a third time as a starter. And while Blyleven struggled a bit when facing batters a second time (107 tOPS+), he certainly had a good feel for his curveball when they stepped to the plate a third time. Blyleven’s struggles the second time through lineups persisted throughout his career, but he actually got better as the game went on because he was throwing mostly curveballs, not fastballs. In 1986, Blyleven allowed an .853 OPS to hitters in their second plate appearance. But in their third plate appearance, opponents’ OPS was down to .733 and back up to .828 in their fourth look at Bert. So Blyleven, besides a knuckleballer, is the last person who should be calling for today’s pitchers to go longer in games because he was spending the early innings “finding” his curveball so he could throw it more often and more effectively late in games while pitchers today are throwing far more fastballs and fast breaking balls than he or anyone else in his era was throwing. Reliance on Velocity Contributes to Baseball’s Problem Since the 1980s, when the curveball gave way to the slider as the breaking ball of choice, pitchers have been throwing more fastballs and are understandably less effective against hitters a third and fourth time given that approach, losing their velocity and, in turn, movement. A curveball is difficult to track regardless of inning, but a fastball can be timed in a single plate appearance and exploited in the next. Sliders and cutters slide and cut less with less velocity, which is lost by pitchers faster in games these days due to the volume of fastballs and fast breaking balls thrown. Since pitchers have been relying on fastballs more so than breaking balls, and rather effectively given the aforementioned statistics, pitchers ought not throw as many pitches as a curveball specialist given the medical research previously cited. Hence the advent of the pitch count. Managers want to keep their starting pitchers healthy and able to start every five days, and the pitch count provides them with a guide for attempting to do so. But managers’ number one priority is winning ballgames, and throwing four or five electric arms at a lineup instead of one or two increases their chances to win games and preserve the health of their pitchers. But it doesn’t matter how fresh the arm or how electric the stuff if pitches thrown in the strike zone aren’t called strikes. Reliance on Humans Contributes to Baseball’s Problem Baseball purists like my attorney and Blyleven think it’s the human element home plate umpires provide that makes the game of baseball great. Each home plate umpire having his (and “his” sadly is the proper pronoun, at least in MLB) own unique, strike zone does make the game great. It sparks dugout chatter and builds camaraderie as teammates badmouth that day’s enemy behind the plate while trying to figure out the one 60 feet, six inches in front of it. Then questionable calls lead to looks of “whoa” directed at the home plate umpire, culminating in confrontation and eventual ejections followed by the truly inspired, laid-bare performances in response, as if these men, like all great thespians, forget they have an audience. Now that’s drama. There’s nothing more entertaining in baseball than a player or manager getting their money’s worth after being tossed from a game. Maybe a three-homer game or a straight steal of home could rival Ron Gardenhire’s red-faced rants or the legend of Lou Piniella’s interpretive, dirt dances, but hitting for the cycle pales in comparison. An ejection can invigorate both a team and crowd for the entirety of the game like winning a fight in hockey. The cycle climaxes with a curtain call lasting a few minutes, while the ejected entertainers, also deserving of a curtain call, make for a lonely locker room to find some semblance of solace in a cold shower and comfort food. Frankly, I think the decline in ejections has been detrimental to baseball and contributed to baseball’s problem attracting young fans, who have gravitated toward the soap operatic drama of soccer instead. Bad actors with no respect for the theatre of sport are taking advantage of baseball’s dwindling drama thanks to a surplus of soccer drama performed by characters like The Zlatan — too unreal for even MTV’s Real World. The advent of replay has scrubbed the sport of baseball relatively clean when it comes to disputing plays on the bases, and that’s an unfortunate but necessary sacrifice to get the calls right. An electronic strike zone will have a similar effect, removing some of the drama that makes a baseball game both joyous and enraging for all involved. I like when an incorrect call goes my team’s way as much as the next fan, and I scream at the television when an umpire or official misses one. Officiating-hating is part of the fun for fans of all sports. There’s a problem, though, when pitches outside the strike zone are called strikes in a game where even the best players fail seven out of 10 times. It makes a game ESPN’s Tim Kurkjian calls “the hardest game in the world to play” even harder for hitters. Reliance on Spin Rate Contributes to Baseball’s Problem Pitches these days are harder to hit than they’ve ever been. On average, they’re being thrown harder than they’ve ever been. Fastballs, split-finger fastballs, sinkers, sliders and even change-ups are being thrown harder in 2018 than they have since 2007, which is where FanGraphs’ dataset starts. Pitches are moving more, too. Sliders, on average, have more horizontal movement than ever, with a focus on spin rate making pitches move more and making it harder for hitters to recognize pitches.Not only has fastball velocity increased almost annually in MLB, but almost every pitch is being thrown faster than ever before. So not only are we expecting MLB hitters to hit the nastiest pitches ever pitched, but we’re expecting them to hit the highest volume of nasty pitches despite an inconsistent strike zone that changes everyday, or twice daily for doubleheaders. The players are quite literally playing by different rules every game, and while Babe Ruth and Ted Williams dealt with similarly subjective strike zones in their eras, neither they nor the umpires of the day had to track an exploding slider or sinking and cutting fastballs thrown in the mid-90s all game, every game. Williams was subjected to defensive shifts, though, and they didn’t ruin the game back in the 1940s and won’t now. The Solution to Baseball’s Problem Baseball is a contact sport in that it requires contact between bat and ball to provide audiences action. “Strikeouts are boring. Besides that they’re Fascist,” as Crash Davis correctly claimed in Bull Durham. “Throw some ground balls. It’s more democratic.” Contact equals action, and a lack of contact is a lack of action. Baseball’s problem attracting young fans is a result of that lack of action, not pace of play. You could shorten games to a two-hour time limit and without contact, the game would still be boring to young people. But the game wasn’t boring when Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire were launching steroid-fueled bombs into the stratosphere back in the 1990s because we had contact — epic contact. Since ending MLB’s performance-enhancing drug policy is unlikely, using technology already available and already being used to train umpires to provide players with a consistent strike zone will lower chase and swing-and-miss rates, increase contact rates and, in turn, increase action. If baseball wants to attract young fans, instead of Commissioner Manfred altering the rules to limit defensive shifts or defensive positioning, he should consider implementing an electronic strike zone that’s consistent from game to game, umpire to umpire. The most fun I have watching the lowly Twins is when Logan Forsythe runs out to left field from second base to serve as a fourth outfielder and then running back to the infield. Players are probably getting more exercise than they ever have in the history of the game, and movement is action. Defensive shifts are the most interesting thing baseball’s had to offer since the Steroid Era. That is until Tampa Bay’s use of relief pitchers to start games becomes the norm so starters can relieve the “openers” and face hitters during their higher-leverage plate appearances the second, third and fourth time through the lineup. But instead of hitters figuring out a starting pitcher in their second or third at-bat, they’re figuring out a new pitcher in their second at-bat. If you thought strikeouts were out of control now, just wait until flamethrowing relievers are facing hitters at their most vulnerable — their first plate appearance — and then starting pitchers come in and make hitters relive the horror of their first plate appearance all over again. Not only do both hitters and pitchers have to figure each other out throughout the course of a game, but they have to figure out the home plate umpire as well. Pitchers test the edges of the plate to see how wide the umpire’s strike zone is that day, resulting in plenty of pitches thrown out of the strike zone slowing play to a halt. A ball off the plate that doesn’t entice a swing is a complete lack of action, and a ball off the plate that does entice a swing tends to result in poor contact and little action. Until pitchers are forced to throw strikes, why would they? Greg Maddux carved out a Hall of Fame career pitching out of the strike zone, and he didn’t have the velocity or wicked movement pitchers feature today. So what’s the answer to baseball’s problem? No, not robots, but technologically enhanced umpires. I’m not talking about creating special headgear that projects the strike zone on a see-through visor like Google Glasses and makes blue look like RoboUmp, although that’s a cool option. That way home plate umpires still feel useful and in control of the game, with technology assisting the umpire in calling a consistent strike zone instead of dictating balls and strikes. Technology is a tool humans should use to do work better; it should not be a means to do away with work altogether. A less cool but effective option would be to put a microphone in the ear or a buzzer in the pocket of home plate umpires that indicates when a pitch is thrown in the electronic strike zone, and the technology is close to doing so accurately. That way hitters come to the plate every game knowing exactly what a strike is and is not, so they swing at more strikes instead of chasing balls incorrectly called strikes, which will result in more contact, better contact and fewer strikeouts despite defensive shifts. It will also give managers one less reason to argue with umpires, which, unfortunately, might be one of the last reasons left. But the electronic strike zone will make a three-plus-hour game more appealing to the short attention spans of young fans.
  8. Escobar is the left fielder. My bad. I thought that would have been more obvious, though.
  9. Ehire Adrianza has no business playing shortstop everyday, and Gregorio Petit has no business on an MLB roster. Ryan LaMarre should be nothing more than a fourth outfielder and pinch runner. And it’s way past time for the Minnesota Twins to call up Nick Gordon. This was originally published at FoulPlaybyPlay.com. The Ehire Adrianza Problem On Wednesday night in Minneapolis, Ehire Adrianza started at shortstop because Logan Morrison’s back was still a bit stiff, moving Miguel Sano to first base and Eduardo Escobar to third. Miguel playing first makes a lot of sense, but Adrianza being in the lineup with Gordon hitting .357 at AAA Rochester just doesn’t compute. Adrianza even had two doubles and drove in a run before booting a ball that led to a four-run sixth inning. Adrianza wasn’t given an error on the play. How I don’t know, but it was the play that forced the Twins to go to its bullpen, specifically, the overused Ryan Pressly. Pressly has appeared in 31 of the Twins’ 58 games, and he’s starting to show signs of fatigue. In his last three appearances, he’s allowed three earned runs over two innings, allowing four hits and a walk. The Pressly problem I’ll save for another rant. This rant is about never seeing Gregorio Petit and Ehire Adrianza in Twins uniforms again. Even if Gordon struggles to hit in the bigs, which hasn’t been a problem for him at any level, he’s better defensively and on the bases than Petit and Adrianza right now. Gordon is an Upgrade Defensively at Shortstop Adrianza is three runs below average over 1,200 innings at shortstop. Petit is 48 runs below average over 1,200 innings. And while I don’t have access to the same stat for Gordon, Baseball Reference does tell me his range factor per game (3.46) is higher than Adrianza’s (3.28) and Petit’s (2.67). Gordon is an Upgrade on the Bases It’s also safe to assume Gordon to be a better base runner than both Adrianza and Petit. I can’t tell you how many runs Gordon is worth on the bases, but I can tell you he’s faster than Adrianza and Petit. Baseball Prospectus’ editor Aaron Gleeman indicates as much with regards to Adrianza on Twitter. Adrianza and Petit have each cost the Twins a run on the bases this season and have combined for three stolen bases on four attempts. Gordon is seven of 11 on stolen base attempts this year. Gordon is an Upgrade at the Plate I know what you’re thinking: “It doesn’t matter how good Gordon is on the bases if he’s not on base.” Well, his batting average at AAA is higher than Adrianza’s on-base percentage and Petit’s batting average. Gordon is hitting .357 with an on-base percentage of .379. Adrianza’s on-base percentage sat at .281 at the time of this writing, and Petit’s average is .308 in 30 plate appearances. The Lineup with Gordon Assuming Morrison and Joe Mauer become available soon, which seems to be the case, you might think Adrianza’s playing time will diminish, and that’s true. But until Byron Buxton is healthy, which could take considerable time, LaMarre will still play center field, where Max Kepler is 35 runs above average over 1,200 innings to LaMarre’s -56. That’s a difference of 91 runs over 135 games. I don’t know about you, but I’d also rather have Nick Gordon’s bat in the lineup instead of LaMarre’s. LaMarre might be hitting a respectable .288 with a .681 OPS, but just three of his 18 hits have gone for extra bases. Consider this: Joe Mauer, 1B Brian Dozier, 2B Eddie Rosario, RF Miguel Sano, 3B Eduardo Escobar, LF Max Kepler, CF Logan Morrison, DH Mitch Garver, C Nick Gordon, SS I think this lineup is better defensively, better on the bases and better at the plate than Paul Molitor’s, but I’m not the reigning American League Manager of the Year. Molitor might not be able to convince president of baseball operations Derek Falvey and general manager Thad Levine to call up Gordon, and I don't know what they're doing claiming Taylor Motter, but Molitor should be in their ear every day, because it’s way past time for the Minnesota Twins to call up Nick Gordon.
  10. The Minnesota Twins reportedly offered Yu Darvish $100 million over four years to be the ace of their starting pitching staff. Instead, president of baseball operations Derek Falvey and general manager Thad Levine invested almost the same amount of money in three players who make them better than Darvish could have. This was originally published at FoulPlaybyPlay.com. Darvish signed with the Cubs for five years and $126 million guaranteed and for good reason. He’s projected to be worth 2.8 WARP for the Cubs. And the Cubs are one of those teams, along with the Astros, with their championship window wide open. The Twins’ championship window is just opening, but thanks to some clever spending, that window is expected to open up even more for the Twins this season. On March 4, Jim Bowden reported that the Twins would be unlikely to sign any of the top remaining free agent starters on the market, including Lance Lynn, who declined a qualifying offer from the Cardinals in the amount of $17.4 million. Six days later the Twins signed Lynn for one year at $12 million. Lynn called the two-year, $12-million offer from the Twins “non-starter” just days earlier, but a lack of long-term offers with Spring Training in full swing made a one-year deal worth $12 million look pretty good for a pitcher entering his second season removed from Tommy John surgery. Overnight, according to Baseball Prospectus’s PECOTA projections, the Twins went from 82 wins and out of the playoffs to 83 wins and in. But despite an appearance in the American League Wild Card game last season, the Twins were projected as a .500 team prior to spending the money they had reserved for Darvish. In another affordable surprise, Falvey and Levine scored free agent first baseman and designated hitter Logan Morrison for one year and $5.5 million. Morrison hit a career high 38 home runs last season -- good for 2.8 WARP. He’s been projected to be worth one win more than a replacement player. The Twins wouldn’t have likely traded for Jake Odorizzi had they landed Darvish, either. He’s been projected to be worth .7 wins above a replacement player at a measly $6.3 million this season and is still eligible for arbitration next year. Add it all up and you’ll find Morrison, Odorizzi and Lynn to be worth just a tenth of a win less than Darvish at $1.2 million less than the Twins were willing to pay Darvish. Consider the 1.2 wins added by the combination of Fernando Rodney and Addison Reed at the back of the Twins’ bullpen, and you not only have a playoff-bound roster, but a formidable playoff foe that can shock an American League divisional champion. Remember, they could get Michael Pineda back for the playoffs. They’re paying him just $2 million this season while he recovers from Tommy John surgery. If Jose Berrios becomes the ace arm the Twins expect entering the playoffs, they’ll have a starting pitcher who can win them a Wild Card game. And even if he isn’t the ace the Twins expect, Ervin Santana or Lance Lynn could win that game. The Twins’ rotation can now hang with anyone in a five- or seven-game series. A playoff rotation of Santana, Berrios, Lynn and Odorizzi can finally hang with the Yankees’ Tanaka, Severino, Gray and Sabathia or the Astros’ Keuchel, Verlander, Cole and McCullers. The Twins are going to be one of the top three teams in runs scored with the addition of Morrison. They were second in runs scored in the second half last year without Morrison. They’re also going to be one of the top three defensive teams in baseball, which will make Lynn, Odorizzi, Reed and Rodney very happy to be in Minnesota. Falvey and Levine won the offseason for the Twins. They recognized the perceived values of free agents were inflated for whatever reason -- whether it be collusion or analytical analism -- and they were rewarded for not overpaying Darvish. They managed to do all this without adding a single contract beyond 2019. The Twins enter the season with a franchise-record payroll around $130 million, but will have just under $56 million on the books entering the epic offseason that will likely feature free agents Clayton Kershaw, Josh Donaldson, Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, Nelson Cruz, Charlie Blackmon, Dallas Keuchel, Zach Britton, Cody Allen, Craig Kimbrel and Andrew Miller.
  11. I have a ticket for the Touch 'Em Pub Crawl and Twins/Jays game on Saturday, Sept. 16 if anyone is interested in taking it off my hands so I can go to RiotFest Chicago. John said I just have to give him your name and it will be there for you at the first stop at noon.
  12. Anyone want a ticket to the Touch 'Em All Pub Crawl and Twins game Sept. 16?

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