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dwade

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  1. How much sleep do you think Rocco Baldelli got Wednesday night? Sure, this is far from his first Opening Day, but there will be plenty of firsts involved in it: His first regular-season lineup card, his first win or loss in charge of a club, and who knows, maybe even his first managerial ejection.Like six other teams, the Twins enter 2019 with a manager looking to complete their first full season with the team. Of the seven new bosses, only one has completed a full MLB season for another team – Brad Ausmus, whose time with the Tigers he’d likely prefer to be stricken from the record – and while the expectations for Cardinals manager Mike Shildt are notably higher than they are for the Rangers’ Chris Woodward, it’s good to have a frame of reference for how first-year managers typically do. Rather than wading through the entire universe of MLB managers, then trying to make judgments about how similar a given era is to the modern game, I’ve looked at the current managerial cohort, all of whom joined their current teams this decade…except Bruce Bochy, who will be stepping aside at the end of this season. (Some managers go out on top, but Bochy – who owns three World Series rings and took the Padres to a fourth – looks set to do the opposite as the Giants are not exactly well-positioned in the NL West.) Managers making their true debut do reasonably well, but generally unremarkably so, in their first season. Their median record, 82-80, in those maiden seasons is unlikely to produce a playoff run; it’s also unlikely to get them pelted with rotten fruit in the streets. Extend that pace over the course of 20 years, however, and you end up in the company of venerable managers like Jim Leyland and Buck Showalter. But what happens when a manager takes over a new team, irrespective of whether they’ve managed before? Virtually nothing: Managers in their first season with a new team pilot them to a median mark of 80-82. No playoffs, no fruit in the streets, live to manage another day as long as you don’t make a habit of it. Still, .494 is a better career winning percentage than Tom Kelly, Eric Wedge, or Larry Bowa had. Mentioning Kelly as a manager who produced below-average results might get you run out of Minnesota on a rail, but it illustrates a meaningful point: If Baldelli wants a long managerial career, he’s better off having up and down stretches rather than being consistently mediocre. Kelly’s highs are obvious and memorable – Flags Fly Forever as the saying goes – but his lows are probably worse and more frequent than most would guess. Of his 13 full seasons as Twins manager – dropping strike-shortened 1994 and ‘95 and his partial season in ’86 – Kelly had 88 or more losses in six of them. Obviously there are myriad factors at play in any manager’s record, many of which are out of their control, and a managerial platoon of Joe McCarthy and Charlie Comiskey couldn’t have redeemed the 1999 Twins, but it’s proof that high enough highs will buy almost any manager the margin they need to have a few abject failures in their career. Assuming he ends up near the median for first-year managers, Baldelli can be expected to win about 81 games. On Opening Day Eve, PECOTA has the team projected for 82 wins, as does Fangraphs, and that feels about right given what the team showed in Spring Training. It would take a miracle of no small scale for him to best Alex Cora’s 108 wins in his first season as manager and a disaster of equivalent size for Joe Maddon’s 101 losses with the 2006 Rays to be in play. This doesn’t mean Baldelli won’t have an impact on the Twins’ performance this year, but what he has will largely determine where in the middle third of the bell curve he falls rather than whether the team is a success or a failure. Click here to view the article
  2. Like six other teams, the Twins enter 2019 with a manager looking to complete their first full season with the team. Of the seven new bosses, only one has completed a full MLB season for another team – Brad Ausmus, whose time with the Tigers he’d likely prefer to be stricken from the record – and while the expectations for Cardinals manager Mike Shildt are notably higher than they are for the Rangers’ Chris Woodward, it’s good to have a frame of reference for how first-year managers typically do. Rather than wading through the entire universe of MLB managers, then trying to make judgments about how similar a given era is to the modern game, I’ve looked at the current managerial cohort, all of whom joined their current teams this decade…except Bruce Bochy, who will be stepping aside at the end of this season. (Some managers go out on top, but Bochy – who owns three World Series rings and took the Padres to a fourth – looks set to do the opposite as the Giants are not exactly well-positioned in the NL West.) Managers making their true debut do reasonably well, but generally unremarkably so, in their first season. Their median record, 82-80, in those maiden seasons is unlikely to produce a playoff run; it’s also unlikely to get them pelted with rotten fruit in the streets. Extend that pace over the course of 20 years, however, and you end up in the company of venerable managers like Jim Leyland and Buck Showalter. But what happens when a manager takes over a new team, irrespective of whether they’ve managed before? Virtually nothing: Managers in their first season with a new team pilot them to a median mark of 80-82. No playoffs, no fruit in the streets, live to manage another day as long as you don’t make a habit of it. Still, .494 is a better career winning percentage than Tom Kelly, Eric Wedge, or Larry Bowa had. Mentioning Kelly as a manager who produced below-average results might get you run out of Minnesota on a rail, but it illustrates a meaningful point: If Baldelli wants a long managerial career, he’s better off having up and down stretches rather than being consistently mediocre. Kelly’s highs are obvious and memorable – Flags Fly Forever as the saying goes – but his lows are probably worse and more frequent than most would guess. Of his 13 full seasons as Twins manager – dropping strike-shortened 1994 and ‘95 and his partial season in ’86 – Kelly had 88 or more losses in six of them. Obviously there are myriad factors at play in any manager’s record, many of which are out of their control, and a managerial platoon of Joe McCarthy and Charlie Comiskey couldn’t have redeemed the 1999 Twins, but it’s proof that high enough highs will buy almost any manager the margin they need to have a few abject failures in their career. Assuming he ends up near the median for first-year managers, Baldelli can be expected to win about 81 games. On Opening Day Eve, PECOTA has the team projected for 82 wins, as does Fangraphs, and that feels about right given what the team showed in Spring Training. It would take a miracle of no small scale for him to best Alex Cora’s 108 wins in his first season as manager and a disaster of equivalent size for Joe Maddon’s 101 losses with the 2006 Rays to be in play. This doesn’t mean Baldelli won’t have an impact on the Twins’ performance this year, but what he has will largely determine where in the middle third of the bell curve he falls rather than whether the team is a success or a failure.
  3. How much sleep do you think Rocco Baldelli got Wednesday night? Sure, this is far from his first Opening Day, but there will be plenty of firsts involved in it: His first regular-season lineup card, his first win or loss in charge of a club, and who knows, maybe even his first managerial ejection. Like six other teams, the Twins enter 2019 with a manager looking to complete their first full season with the team. Of the seven new bosses, only one has completed a full MLB season for another team – Brad Ausmus, whose time with the Tigers he’d likely prefer to be stricken from the record – and while the expectations for Cardinals manager Mike Shildt are notably higher than they are for the Rangers’ Chris Woodward, it’s good to have a frame of reference for how first-year managers typically do. Rather than wading through the entire universe of MLB managers, then trying to make judgments about how similar a given era is to the modern game, I’ve looked at the current managerial cohort, all of whom joined their current teams this decade…except Bruce Bochy, who will be stepping aside at the end of this season. (Some managers go out on top, but Bochy – who owns three World Series rings and took the Padres to a fourth – looks set to do the opposite as the Giants are not exactly well-positioned in the NL West.) Managers making their true debut do reasonably well, but generally unremarkably so, in their first season. Their median record, 82-80, in those maiden seasons is unlikely to produce a playoff run; it’s also unlikely to get them pelted with rotten fruit in the streets. Extend that pace over the course of 20 years, however, and you end up in the company of venerable managers like Jim Leyland and Buck Showalter. But what happens when a manager takes over a new team, irrespective of whether they’ve managed before? Virtually nothing: Managers in their first season with a new team pilot them to a median mark of 80-82. No playoffs, no fruit in the streets, live to manage another day as long as you don’t make a habit of it. Still, .494 is a better career winning percentage than Tom Kelly, Eric Wedge, or Larry Bowa had. Mentioning Kelly as a manager who produced below-average results might get you run out of Minnesota on a rail, but it illustrates a meaningful point: If Baldelli wants a long managerial career, he’s better off having up and down stretches rather than being consistently mediocre. Kelly’s highs are obvious and memorable – Flags Fly Forever as the saying goes – but his lows are probably worse and more frequent than most would guess. Of his 13 full seasons as Twins manager – dropping strike-shortened 1994 and ‘95 and his partial season in ’86 – Kelly had 88 or more losses in six of them. Obviously there are myriad factors at play in any manager’s record, many of which are out of their control, and a managerial platoon of Joe McCarthy and Charlie Comiskey couldn’t have redeemed the 1999 Twins, but it’s proof that high enough highs will buy almost any manager the margin they need to have a few abject failures in their career. Assuming he ends up near the median for first-year managers, Baldelli can be expected to win about 81 games. On Opening Day Eve, PECOTA has the team projected for 82 wins, as does Fangraphs, and that feels about right given what the team showed in Spring Training. It would take a miracle of no small scale for him to best Alex Cora’s 108 wins in his first season as manager and a disaster of equivalent size for Joe Maddon’s 101 losses with the 2006 Rays to be in play. This doesn’t mean Baldelli won’t have an impact on the Twins’ performance this year, but what he has will largely determine where in the middle third of the bell curve he falls rather than whether the team is a success or a failure.
  4. There was a time, particularly during his first stint as Twins GM, that Terry Ryan was a trading partner to be feared, largely because of his ability to turn throw-in prospects into major league contributors. There are stories -- likely apocryphal -- of opposing GMs deeming a low-level prospect untouchable because Ryan had been inquiring as to his availability. The reputation wasn’t without merit: Dave Hollins became David Ortiz; Chuck Knoblauch turned into Eric Milton, Cristian Guzman, Buck Buchanan (who was later spun for Jason Bartlett), Danny Mota, and cash; and Milton was subsequently dealt for Carlos Silva, Nick Punto, and Bobby Korecky. Not every deal came out perfectly, but Ryan consistently extracted enough extra value in trades to give his colleagues pause.It’s easy to look back at the deal that brought Joe Nathan, Francisco Liriano, and Boof Bonser to the Twins for A.J. Pierzynski as an obvious one to make. Joe Mauer was coming off a solid season between A and AA, and it was a foregone conclusion that he would take over behind the plate sooner rather than later. For that to happen, Pierzynski needed to clear out or change positions, and the latter wasn’t happening, so of course Ryan would deal him to clear space for Mauer. But while Mauer was hitting well in the minors -- particularly for his age level -- he wasn’t beating down the doors. As a 20 year old, he hit .338/.398/.434 including a stint in the Arizona Fall League; Pierzynski hit .312/.360/.464 in the majors that season, earning a deserved All-Star selection. And at 26, it isn’t as though Pierzynski was at the end of his career, or even at the end of his prime, so Ryan’s decision to move him after back-to-back great season could have backfired badly had Mauer not made the jump as well as he did. As it turned out, Ryan moved Pierzynski at the absolute peak of his value. While he remained a solid catcher through his age-38 season -- which shouldn’t be glossed over, that’s an incredible achievement -- he never returned to the All-Star Game and only twice put up above-average offensive numbers. In return for this desirable asset, Ryan got a once-prized prospect who had lost a bit of his luster (Bonser), a converted outfielder who was coming off back-to-back seasons of injury issues (Liriano), and a former shortstop who wasn't far removed from shoulder surgery himself (Nathan). A former first-round pick, Bonser had the pedigree to succeed, and (just like many of Ryan’s other finds) he did make contributions to the major league team, even if he was clearly the worst of the acquired players. He gave the 2006 Twins 18 starts and ended the year fractionally above average by ERA+ and with a 1.0 fWAR. Great? Hardly. But he was just 24, so it would have been a solid foundation for him to build on as he rose to being a mid-rotation piece...except that those 18 starts marked the best year of his career. Even if he wasn’t spectacularly bad, Bonser neither generated enough groundballs nor missed enough bats to make it in the majors and a torn labrum in 20009 ended his time with the Twins. Liriano’s arm had already been an issue when the Twins acquired him and it would continue to plague him throughout his career, though to his credit, he has continued to rehab and make it back to the majors every time he has gone under the knife. Still, his career would be typified by terms like “serviceable” and “solid” were it not for his unforgettable rookie season in 2006. His 2006 line is staggering: 3.6 fWAR, 1.00 WHIP, 2.16 ERA, and 10.71 K/9, but that actually undersells how good he was that year. Liriano wasn’t well-suited to pitching out of the bullpen, but that’s how he began the season (even recording a three-out save in a game which the Twins won by 10 runs, because of course he did) which included a three-inning relief appearance after the Tigers bombed Carlos Silva out of an April game. Liriano fared little better, giving up 5 ER in just 3 IP. Look at his numbers once he joined the rotation full time in May, and they’re even better: 1.92 ERA, 0.91 WHIP, 112/28 K/BB ratio, and opposing hitters hit a pathetic .181/.244/.281 off of him. But the arm issues caught up to him once again. He threw just six innings after July 28 and would miss all of the 2007 season recovering from Tommy John surgery. His 2010 season showed glimpses of the form that had made him so unbelievably dominant in 2006, and the fact that he had 31 healthy starts means his counting stats look better, but he never did fully recover the form he had shown. He gave everyone a season to dream on and enough flashes of brilliance to bounce around the league for another decade and counting, but the consistent excellence he showed once seems to be part of his legend rather than his actual legacy. The Baseball Prospectus comment on Nathan prior to the 2003 season began “Nathan continued his comeback from shoulder surgery in 2000, with a year that was impressive only relative to the year before. He was never a great prospect, even before the shoulder woes, but he could be a serviceable innings-eater in middle relief.” Put another way: If you don’t have a player like this in your minor league system, the cupboard is so impossibly bare, it beggars belief. You don’t trade for players like this, they just appear on your AAA roster as if placed there by an occult hand. And to be fair, eating innings is exactly what Nathan did in 2003: His first year as a full-time reliever in the majors, Nathan appeared in just shy of half the Giants’ games, racking up 79 innings in 78 starts. Prior to the 2004 season, Prospectus noted that Nathan had looked leaps and bounds better the previous year than he ever had before -- and how right they were! -- but cautioned that this could be an aberration because it seemingly came out of nowhere. Here, too, they were right: 2003 was an aberration for Nathan, because for the decade following, he never again had a season as bad as 2003 when he was healthy for a full year. 2004 started with a closer-by-committee set-up with Nathan, Juan Rincon, and even a fleeting appearance from Joe Roa before he was relegated to mop-up duty, but by mid-April, the job was Nathan’s to lose. The next time someone besides Nathan would lead the team in saves was 2010, when Jon Rausch stepped in while Nathan was recovering from Tommy John surgery. Like Liriano, there were serious concerns about Nathan’s ability to stay healthy during his time in the minors, but after he moved to the bullpen, those concerns all but vanished. He finished his career with the eighth most saves of all time and appeared in the 54th most games. Of the three players acquired for Pierzynski following the 2003 season, Nathan had by far the best career; taking everyone involved in the deal, only Mauer has a claim at being a better player than Nathan. Whatever the Twins thought they were getting in Nathan, no matter how much Ryan and his staff believed that 2003 was indicative of what he could be, Nathan exceeded even the most optimistic expectations. He filled a hole that had existed since the end of Rick Aguilera’s second stint with the team (Mike Trombley notwithstanding) and held it down through some of the team’s best years post-1991. It’s fitting to see him end such a stellar career as a Twin. The Pierzynski-for-prospects deal is widely considered a heist, Ryan’s Robbery if you will. Some of that is due to Pierzysnki’s decline and some is due to Liriano’s apotheosis in 2006, but given that Bonser added almost nothing and Liriano was more frustration than fulfillment, the idea that the trade was as lopsided as it was confirms just how good Nathan was: If the deal had been a straight Nathan-for-Pierzynski swap, would the reviews be all that much less glowing? Click here to view the article
  5. It’s easy to look back at the deal that brought Joe Nathan, Francisco Liriano, and Boof Bonser to the Twins for A.J. Pierzynski as an obvious one to make. Joe Mauer was coming off a solid season between A and AA, and it was a foregone conclusion that he would take over behind the plate sooner rather than later. For that to happen, Pierzynski needed to clear out or change positions, and the latter wasn’t happening, so of course Ryan would deal him to clear space for Mauer. But while Mauer was hitting well in the minors -- particularly for his age level -- he wasn’t beating down the doors. As a 20 year old, he hit .338/.398/.434 including a stint in the Arizona Fall League; Pierzynski hit .312/.360/.464 in the majors that season, earning a deserved All-Star selection. And at 26, it isn’t as though Pierzynski was at the end of his career, or even at the end of his prime, so Ryan’s decision to move him after back-to-back great season could have backfired badly had Mauer not made the jump as well as he did. As it turned out, Ryan moved Pierzynski at the absolute peak of his value. While he remained a solid catcher through his age-38 season -- which shouldn’t be glossed over, that’s an incredible achievement -- he never returned to the All-Star Game and only twice put up above-average offensive numbers. In return for this desirable asset, Ryan got a once-prized prospect who had lost a bit of his luster (Bonser), a converted outfielder who was coming off back-to-back seasons of injury issues (Liriano), and a former shortstop who wasn't far removed from shoulder surgery himself (Nathan). A former first-round pick, Bonser had the pedigree to succeed, and (just like many of Ryan’s other finds) he did make contributions to the major league team, even if he was clearly the worst of the acquired players. He gave the 2006 Twins 18 starts and ended the year fractionally above average by ERA+ and with a 1.0 fWAR. Great? Hardly. But he was just 24, so it would have been a solid foundation for him to build on as he rose to being a mid-rotation piece...except that those 18 starts marked the best year of his career. Even if he wasn’t spectacularly bad, Bonser neither generated enough groundballs nor missed enough bats to make it in the majors and a torn labrum in 20009 ended his time with the Twins. Liriano’s arm had already been an issue when the Twins acquired him and it would continue to plague him throughout his career, though to his credit, he has continued to rehab and make it back to the majors every time he has gone under the knife. Still, his career would be typified by terms like “serviceable” and “solid” were it not for his unforgettable rookie season in 2006. His 2006 line is staggering: 3.6 fWAR, 1.00 WHIP, 2.16 ERA, and 10.71 K/9, but that actually undersells how good he was that year. Liriano wasn’t well-suited to pitching out of the bullpen, but that’s how he began the season (even recording a three-out save in a game which the Twins won by 10 runs, because of course he did) which included a three-inning relief appearance after the Tigers bombed Carlos Silva out of an April game. Liriano fared little better, giving up 5 ER in just 3 IP. Look at his numbers once he joined the rotation full time in May, and they’re even better: 1.92 ERA, 0.91 WHIP, 112/28 K/BB ratio, and opposing hitters hit a pathetic .181/.244/.281 off of him. But the arm issues caught up to him once again. He threw just six innings after July 28 and would miss all of the 2007 season recovering from Tommy John surgery. His 2010 season showed glimpses of the form that had made him so unbelievably dominant in 2006, and the fact that he had 31 healthy starts means his counting stats look better, but he never did fully recover the form he had shown. He gave everyone a season to dream on and enough flashes of brilliance to bounce around the league for another decade and counting, but the consistent excellence he showed once seems to be part of his legend rather than his actual legacy. The Baseball Prospectus comment on Nathan prior to the 2003 season began “Nathan continued his comeback from shoulder surgery in 2000, with a year that was impressive only relative to the year before. He was never a great prospect, even before the shoulder woes, but he could be a serviceable innings-eater in middle relief.” Put another way: If you don’t have a player like this in your minor league system, the cupboard is so impossibly bare, it beggars belief. You don’t trade for players like this, they just appear on your AAA roster as if placed there by an occult hand. And to be fair, eating innings is exactly what Nathan did in 2003: His first year as a full-time reliever in the majors, Nathan appeared in just shy of half the Giants’ games, racking up 79 innings in 78 starts. Prior to the 2004 season, Prospectus noted that Nathan had looked leaps and bounds better the previous year than he ever had before -- and how right they were! -- but cautioned that this could be an aberration because it seemingly came out of nowhere. Here, too, they were right: 2003 was an aberration for Nathan, because for the decade following, he never again had a season as bad as 2003 when he was healthy for a full year. 2004 started with a closer-by-committee set-up with Nathan, Juan Rincon, and even a fleeting appearance from Joe Roa before he was relegated to mop-up duty, but by mid-April, the job was Nathan’s to lose. The next time someone besides Nathan would lead the team in saves was 2010, when Jon Rausch stepped in while Nathan was recovering from Tommy John surgery. Like Liriano, there were serious concerns about Nathan’s ability to stay healthy during his time in the minors, but after he moved to the bullpen, those concerns all but vanished. He finished his career with the eighth most saves of all time and appeared in the 54th most games. Of the three players acquired for Pierzynski following the 2003 season, Nathan had by far the best career; taking everyone involved in the deal, only Mauer has a claim at being a better player than Nathan. Whatever the Twins thought they were getting in Nathan, no matter how much Ryan and his staff believed that 2003 was indicative of what he could be, Nathan exceeded even the most optimistic expectations. He filled a hole that had existed since the end of Rick Aguilera’s second stint with the team (Mike Trombley notwithstanding) and held it down through some of the team’s best years post-1991. It’s fitting to see him end such a stellar career as a Twin. The Pierzynski-for-prospects deal is widely considered a heist, Ryan’s Robbery if you will. Some of that is due to Pierzysnki’s decline and some is due to Liriano’s apotheosis in 2006, but given that Bonser added almost nothing and Liriano was more frustration than fulfillment, the idea that the trade was as lopsided as it was confirms just how good Nathan was: If the deal had been a straight Nathan-for-Pierzynski swap, would the reviews be all that much less glowing?
  6. There was a time, particularly during his first stint as Twins GM, that Terry Ryan was a trading partner to be feared, largely because of his ability to turn throw-in prospects into major league contributors. There are stories -- likely apocryphal -- of opposing GMs deeming a low-level prospect untouchable because Ryan had been inquiring as to his availability. The reputation wasn’t without merit: Dave Hollins became David Ortiz; Chuck Knoblauch turned into Eric Milton, Cristian Guzman, Buck Buchanan (who was later spun for Jason Bartlett), Danny Mota, and cash; and Milton was subsequently dealt for Carlos Silva, Nick Punto, and Bobby Korecky. Not every deal came out perfectly, but Ryan consistently extracted enough extra value in trades to give his colleagues pause. It’s easy to look back at the deal that brought Joe Nathan, Francisco Liriano, and Boof Bonser to the Twins for A.J. Pierzynski as an obvious one to make. Joe Mauer was coming off a solid season between A and AA, and it was a foregone conclusion that he would take over behind the plate sooner rather than later. For that to happen, Pierzynski needed to clear out or change positions, and the latter wasn’t happening, so of course Ryan would deal him to clear space for Mauer. But while Mauer was hitting well in the minors -- particularly for his age level -- he wasn’t beating down the doors. As a 20 year old, he hit .338/.398/.434 including a stint in the Arizona Fall League; Pierzynski hit .312/.360/.464 in the majors that season, earning a deserved All-Star selection. And at 26, it isn’t as though Pierzynski was at the end of his career, or even at the end of his prime, so Ryan’s decision to move him after back-to-back great season could have backfired badly had Mauer not made the jump as well as he did. As it turned out, Ryan moved Pierzynski at the absolute peak of his value. While he remained a solid catcher through his age-38 season -- which shouldn’t be glossed over, that’s an incredible achievement -- he never returned to the All-Star game and only twice put up above-average offensive numbers. In return for this desirable asset, Ryan got a once-prized prospect who had lost a bit of his luster (Bonser), a converted outfielder who was coming off back-to-back seasons of injury issues (Liriano), and a former shortstop who wasn't far removed from shoulder surgery himself (Nathan). A former first round pick, Bonser had the pedigree to succeed, and (just like many of Ryan’s other finds) he did make contributions to the major league team, even if he was clearly the worst of the acquired players. He gave the 2006 Twins 18 starts and ended the year fractionally above average by ERA+ and with a 1.0 fWAR. Great? Hardly. But he was just 24, so it would have been a solid foundation for him to build on as he rose to being a mid-rotation piece...except that those 18 starts marked the best year of his career. Even if he wasn’t spectacularly bad, Bonser neither generated enough groundballs nor missed enough bats to make it in the majors and a torn labrum in 20009 ended his time with the Twins. Liriano’s arm had already been an issue when the Twins acquired him and it would continue to plague him throughout his career, though to his credit, he has continued to rehab and make it back to the majors every time he has gone under the knife. Still, his career would be typified by terms like “serviceable” and “solid” were it not for his unforgettable rookie season in 2006. His 2006 line is staggering: 3.6 fWAR, 1.00 WHIP, 2.16 ERA, and 10.71 K/9, but that actually undersells how good he was that year. Liriano wasn’t well-suited to pitching out of the bullpen, but that’s how he began the season (even recording a three-out save in a game which the Twins won by 10 runs, because of course he did) which included a three-inning relief appearance after the Tigers bombed Carlos Silva out of an April game. Liriano fared little better, giving up 5 ER in just 3 IP. Look at his numbers once he joined the rotation full time in May, and they’re even better: 1.92 ERA, 0.91 WHIP, 112/28 K/BB ratio, and opposing hitters hit a pathetic .181/.244/.281 off of him. But the arm issues caught up to him once again. He threw just six innings after July 28 and would miss all of the 2007 season recovering from Tommy John surgery. His 2010 season showed glimpses of the form that had made him so unbelievably dominant in 2006, and the fact that he had 31 healthy starts means his counting stats look better, but he never did fully recover the form he had shown. He gave everyone a season to dream on and enough flashes of brilliance to bounce around the league for another decade and counting, but the consistent excellence he showed once seems to be part of his legend rather than his actual legacy. The Baseball Prospectus comment on Nathan prior to the 2003 season began “Nathan continued his comeback from shoulder surgery in 2000, with a year that was impressive only relative to the year before. He was never a great prospect, even before the shoulder woes, but he could be a serviceable innings-eater in middle relief.” Put another way: If you don’t have a player like this in your minor league system, the cupboard is so impossibly bare, it beggars belief. You don’t trade for players like this, they just appear on your AAA roster as if placed there by an occult hand. And to be fair, eating innings is exactly what Nathan did in 2003: His first year as a full-time reliever in the majors, Nathan appeared in just shy of half the Giants’ games, racking up 79 innings in 78 starts. Prior to the 2004 season, Prospectus noted that Nathan had looked leaps and bounds better the previous year than he ever had before -- and how right they were! -- but cautioned that this could be an aberration because it seemingly came out of nowhere. Here, too, they were right: 2003 was an aberration for Nathan, because for the decade following, he never again had a season as bad as 2003 when he was healthy for a full year. 2004 started with a closer-by-committee set-up with Nathan, Juan Rincon, and even a fleeting appearance from Joe Roa before he was relegated to mop-up duty, but by mid-April, the job was Nathan’s to lose. The next time someone besides Nathan would lead the team in saves was 2010, when Jon Rauch stepped in while Nathan was recovering from Tommy John surgery. Like Liriano, there were serious concerns about Nathan’s ability to stay healthy during his time in the minors, but after he moved to the bullpen, those concerns all but vanished. He finished his career with the 8th most saves of all time and appeared in the 54th most games. Of the three players acquired for Pierzynski following the 2003 season, Nathan had by far the best career; taking everyone involved in the deal, only Mauer has a claim at being a better player than Nathan. Whatever the Twins thought they were getting in Nathan, no matter how much Ryan and his staff believed that 2003 was indicative of what he could be, Nathan exceeded even the most optimistic expectations. He filled a hole that had existed since the end of Rick Aguilera’s second stint with the team (Mike Trombley notwithstanding) and held it down through some of the team’s best years post-1991. It’s fitting to see him end such a stellar career as a Twin. The Pierzynski-for-prospects deal is widely considered a heist, Ryan’s Robbery if you will. Some of that is due to Pierzysnki’s decline and some is due to Liriano’s apotheosis in 2006, but given that Bonser added almost nothing and Liriano was more frustration than fulfillment, the idea that the trade was as lopsided as it was confirms just how good Nathan was: If the deal had been a straight Nathan-for-Pierzynski swap, would the reviews be all that much less glowing?
  7. The bright spots for the Twins have been few and far between this season, but they have been there. Joe Mauer’s hot start, Byung-Ho Park’s chase for the Golden Sledgehammer -- HitTrackerOnline’s award for the longest average HR distance -- and the beginning of Robbie Grossman’s Hall-of-Fame run have been unexpected joys. None of these, however, can hold a candle to Eduardo Nunez’s start. Going into Friday’s game, Nunez was hitting .328/.355/.531 with 12 SB, 9 HR, and a team-best 1.5 fWAR. His 139 wRC+ means he’s nearly 40 percent better than the league-average hitters and while his defense isn’t well-liked by the advanced metrics, he has looked better than previous seasons and has been acceptable filling in for Trevor Plouffe and Eduardo Escobar as needed. More than just being one of the most fun players the Twins have on the roster right now, Nunez is one of the very few producing value above what was expected of him. Which, of course, means that he’s the hottest piece of trade bait the Twins have, or so many believe.Nunez has been better in the first 10 weeks of this season than he has been in the rest of his career. Combined. Prior to joining the Twins, Nunez had been worth about -1.7 fWAR due in large part to his terrible defense, though he was consistently about 15-20 percent below league average offensively as well, albeit in very limited playing time. Last season, he was surprisingly effective as a bench bat, hitting .282/.327/.431 in 204 PAs, but he’s taken another leap forward this year, driven largely by 54 point rise in his isolated power. Sustainability is an odd question when it comes to Nunez. His hard-hit rate is up three percentage points, which is good to see, but it’s not enough to explain the fact that his BABIP is nearly 50 points above his career average. He’s hitting more fly balls, and using more of the field, which is always a good thing, but again, it’s not setting the kind of foundation that makes the changes in his game feel like they’ll hold long term. Maybe he sustains it for a full season -- weird seasons like this happen -- or maybe he starts regressing in the summer heat after the best half-season he’s ever had, but either way, it’s hard to look at the first two-plus months of the season and say “this time next season, he’ll probably a similar player.” To understand what the return from trading Nunez would look like, consider a player moved at last year’s deadline. Gerardo Parra was hitting well for the Brewers, .328/.369/.517 with 9 SB and 9 HR. His defense had slipped a bit from it’s previously Gold Glove-caliber level, but probably wasn’t as bad as the advanced numbers said he was. A year younger than Nunez is now, with a far better pedigree, and shockingly similar half-season numbers to Nunez’s current line, Parra was dealt from last-place Milwaukee to a contender that needed help, the Baltimore Orioles. This is pretty much the best case scenario for the selling team, and it netted them... Zach Davies. Even though he was just a 26th round pick, Davies entered the 2015 season as the Orioles’ sixth ranked prospect according to Baseball America -- though he was just the 15th best prospect in the Brewers’ system heading into this year. He’s been serviceable, just a touch below league-average in his 10 starts this season, and he’s 23, so there’s room to project growth. His average fastball velocity sits a hair below 90 mph; one of his top comparables according to Baseball Prospectus is former Twin Anthony Swarzak. So to recap: This trade went about as well as it could have for the Brewers, they gave up a better player than Nunez, and the piece they got back is interesting but ultimately the type of player that can be acquired in a number of different ways. To get a player with a higher ceiling means taking on more risk and getting a player further from the majors. Trades like that happen every year -- my passable known quantity for your potentially interesting dice roll -- and the outcome can generally be summed up with “prospects will break your heart.” Good, bad, and indifferent, Nunez’s profile isn’t unknown in baseball. His career with the Yankees was underwhelming and well-televised, and while his value has risen a fair bit since coming to the Twins, it isn’t as though he has become Yoenis Cespedes. If a team needs a super-utility player who can hit reasonably well, Nunez is definitely on their radar, but that isn’t the profile you give up a top prospect for, and maybe not even a B-level prospect if the team doesn’t have a specific need he’s filling. This is not to say that the Twins definitely should keep Nunez; if Dave Stewart wants to continue emptying out the Diamondbacks’ farm system for questionable returns, by all means the Twins should be willing to facilitate that. Even if someone offers a Davies-caliber player, the team should make that move in an effort to set up for 2017 and beyond. The point is simply that trading Nunez isn’t a pathetically obvious move to make and only a brain-dead fool would miss this chance. The return is likely to be either underwhelming or risky and that assumes there’s a market for him at all. Major league GMs aren’t dumb. Usually. They’re not going to be so dazzled by Nunez’s performance over 210 PAs that they forget to look at the preceding five lines on his Baseball-Reference page. If they do move him, great, there’s nothing better than capitalizing on an asset at peak value. If they don’t, enjoy the fact that he’s allergic to batting helmets and that he has been consistently fun to watch, even when the rest of the team has not. Click here to view the article
  8. Nunez has been better in the first 10 weeks of this season than he has been in the rest of his career. Combined. Prior to joining the Twins, Nunez had been worth about -1.7 fWAR due in large part to his terrible defense, though he was consistently about 15-20 percent below league average offensively as well, albeit in very limited playing time. Last season, he was surprisingly effective as a bench bat, hitting .282/.327/.431 in 204 PAs, but he’s taken another leap forward this year, driven largely by 54 point rise in his isolated power. Sustainability is an odd question when it comes to Nunez. His hard-hit rate is up three percentage points, which is good to see, but it’s not enough to explain the fact that his BABIP is nearly 50 points above his career average. He’s hitting more fly balls, and using more of the field, which is always a good thing, but again, it’s not setting the kind of foundation that makes the changes in his game feel like they’ll hold long term. Maybe he sustains it for a full season -- weird seasons like this happen -- or maybe he starts regressing in the summer heat after the best half-season he’s ever had, but either way, it’s hard to look at the first two-plus months of the season and say “this time next season, he’ll probably a similar player.” To understand what the return from trading Nunez would look like, consider a player moved at last year’s deadline. Gerardo Parra was hitting well for the Brewers, .328/.369/.517 with 9 SB and 9 HR. His defense had slipped a bit from it’s previously Gold Glove-caliber level, but probably wasn’t as bad as the advanced numbers said he was. A year younger than Nunez is now, with a far better pedigree, and shockingly similar half-season numbers to Nunez’s current line, Parra was dealt from last-place Milwaukee to a contender that needed help, the Baltimore Orioles. This is pretty much the best case scenario for the selling team, and it netted them... Zach Davies. Even though he was just a 26th round pick, Davies entered the 2015 season as the Orioles’ sixth ranked prospect according to Baseball America -- though he was just the 15th best prospect in the Brewers’ system heading into this year. He’s been serviceable, just a touch below league-average in his 10 starts this season, and he’s 23, so there’s room to project growth. His average fastball velocity sits a hair below 90 mph; one of his top comparables according to Baseball Prospectus is former Twin Anthony Swarzak. So to recap: This trade went about as well as it could have for the Brewers, they gave up a better player than Nunez, and the piece they got back is interesting but ultimately the type of player that can be acquired in a number of different ways. To get a player with a higher ceiling means taking on more risk and getting a player further from the majors. Trades like that happen every year -- my passable known quantity for your potentially interesting dice roll -- and the outcome can generally be summed up with “prospects will break your heart.” Good, bad, and indifferent, Nunez’s profile isn’t unknown in baseball. His career with the Yankees was underwhelming and well-televised, and while his value has risen a fair bit since coming to the Twins, it isn’t as though he has become Yoenis Cespedes. If a team needs a super-utility player who can hit reasonably well, Nunez is definitely on their radar, but that isn’t the profile you give up a top prospect for, and maybe not even a B-level prospect if the team doesn’t have a specific need he’s filling. This is not to say that the Twins definitely should keep Nunez; if Dave Stewart wants to continue emptying out the Diamondbacks’ farm system for questionable returns, by all means the Twins should be willing to facilitate that. Even if someone offers a Davies-caliber player, the team should make that move in an effort to set up for 2017 and beyond. The point is simply that trading Nunez isn’t a pathetically obvious move to make and only a brain-dead fool would miss this chance. The return is likely to be either underwhelming or risky and that assumes there’s a market for him at all. Major league GMs aren’t dumb. Usually. They’re not going to be so dazzled by Nunez’s performance over 210 PAs that they forget to look at the preceding five lines on his Baseball-Reference page. If they do move him, great, there’s nothing better than capitalizing on an asset at peak value. If they don’t, enjoy the fact that he’s allergic to batting helmets and that he has been consistently fun to watch, even when the rest of the team has not.
  9. The bright spots for the Twins have been few and far between this season, but they have been there. Joe Mauer’s hot start, Byung-Ho Park’s chase for the Golden Sledgehammer -- HitTrackerOnline’s award for the longest average HR distance -- and the beginning of Robbie Grossman’s Hall-of-Fame run have been unexpected joys. None of these, however, can hold a candle to Eduardo Nunez’s start. Going into Friday’s game, Nunez was hitting .328/.355/.531 with 12 SB, 9 HR, and a team-best 1.5 fWAR. His 139 wRC+ means he’s nearly 40 percent better than the league-average hitters and while his defense isn’t well-liked by the advanced metrics, he has looked better than previous seasons and has been acceptable filling in for Trevor Plouffe and Eduardo Escobar as needed. More than just being one of the most fun players the Twins have on the roster right now, Nunez is one of the very few producing value above what was expected of them. Which, of course, means that he’s the hottest piece of trade bait the Twins have, or so many believe. Nunez has been better in the first 10 weeks of this season than he has been in the rest of his career. Combined. Prior to joining the Twins, Nunez had been worth about -1.7 fWAR due in large part to his terrible defense, though he was consistently about 15-20 percent below league average offensively as well, albeit in very limited playing time. Last season, he was surprisingly effective as a bench bat, hitting .282/.327/.431 in 204 PAs, but he’s taken another leap forward this year, driven largely by 54 point rise in his Isolated Power. Sustainability is an odd question when it comes to Nunez. His hard-hit rate is up three percentage points, which is good to see, but it’s not enough to explain the fact that his BABIP is nearly 50 points above his career average. He’s hitting more flyballs, and using more of the field, which is always a good thing, but again, it’s not setting the kind of foundation that makes the changes in his game feel like they’ll hold long term. Maybe he sustains it for a full season -- weird seasons like this happen -- or maybe he starts regressing in the summer heat after the best half-season he’s ever had, but either way, it’s hard to look at the first two-plus months of the season and say “this time next season, he’ll probably a similar player.” To understand what the return from trading Nunez would look like, consider a player moved at last year’s deadline. Gerardo Parra was hitting well for the Brewers, .328/.369/.517 with 9 SB and 9 HR. His defense had slipped a bit from it’s previously Gold Glove-caliber level, but probably wasn’t as bad as the advanced numbers said he was. A year younger than Nunez is now, with a far better pedigree, and shockingly similar half-season numbers to Nunez’s current line, Parra was dealt from last-place Milwaukee to a contender that needed help, the Baltimore Orioles. This is pretty much the best case scenario for the selling team, and it netted them... Zach Davies. Even though he was just a 26th round pick, Davies entered the 2015 season as the Orioles’ 6th ranked prospect according to Baseball America -- though he was just the 15th best prospect in the Brewers’ system heading into this year. He’s been serviceable, just a touch below league-average in his 10 starts this season, and he’s 23, so there’s room to project growth. His average fastball velocity sits a hair below 90 mph; one of his top comparables according to Baseball Prospectus is former Twin Anthony Swarzak. So to recap: This trade went about as well as it could have for the Brewers, they gave up a better player than Nunez, and the piece they got back is interesting but ultimately the type of player that can be acquired a number of different ways. To get a player with a higher ceiling means taking on more risk and getting a player further from the majors. Trades like that happen every year -- my passable known quantity for your potentially interesting dice roll -- and the outcome can generally be summed up with “prospects will break your heart.” Good, bad, and indifferent, Nunez’s profile isn’t unknown in baseball. His career with the Yankees was underwhelming and well-televised, and while his value has risen a fair bit since coming to the Twins, it isn’t as though he has become Yoenis Cespedes. If a team needs a super-utility player that can hit reasonably well, Nunez is definitely on their radar, but that isn’t the profile you give up a top prospect for, and maybe not even a B-level prospect if the team doesn’t have a specific need he’s filling. This is not to say that the Twins definitely should keep Nunez; if Dave Stewart wants to continue emptying out the Diamondbacks’ farm system for questionable returns, by all means the Twins should be willing to facilitate that. Even if someone offers a Davies-caliber player, the team should make that move in an effort to set up for 2017 and beyond. The point is simply that trading Nunez isn’t a pathetically obvious move to make and only a brain-dead fool would miss this chance. The return is likely to be either underwhelming or risky and that assumes there’s a market for him at all. Major league GMs aren’t dumb. Usually. They’re not going to be so dazzled by Nunez’s performance over 210 PAs that they forget to look at the preceding five lines on his Baseball-Reference page. If they do move him, great, there’s nothing better than capitalizing on an asset at peak value. If they don’t, enjoy the fact that he’s allergic to batting helmets and that he has been consistently fun to watch, even when the rest of the team has not.
  10. The 2003 Detroit Tigers are a very worthy successor to 1962 Mets’ crown as the worst team in recent memory, finishing the season 43-119. Nearly 40 years passed between these monuments to ineptitude, but it was worth the wait. They hit rock bottom some 80 games below .500 before a last-season flail netted them five wins in their last six games. At no point in the first half of the season did they break double digits in runs, and they were shut out a total of 17 times. As a team, the Tigers hit .240/.300/.375; their combined 83 OPS+ means they were 17 percent below league average offensively. Yet as bad as their offense was, their pitchers managed to be worse: a combined 5.30 ERA, a 1.51 WHIP, and staggeringly poor 4.8 K/9 all added up to an 81 ERA+. All in, the Tigers posted a team WAR of -1.2. En route to a division title, the Twins beat the hapless Tigers 15 times out of 19 meetings (the second place White Sox went 11-8 against Detroit and lost the division by four games; needless to say, those games were a substantial missed opportunity). They lost close games when their bullpen failed, they lost blowouts when the hitters didn’t hit, they lost pretty much every way imaginable, which is what it takes to get all the way down to 119 losses. The first six weeks of the Twins’ season felt a little bit the same way. They actually pitched moderately well during their losing streak to start the year, but either couldn’t hit or couldn’t preserve the leads they got. Over the first 16 games of the season, they scored 53 runs and allowed 67, making their 5-11 record somewhat puzzling, as the gap of less than a run per game should have -- in theory -- put them closer to .500. Their next 15 games (3-12) made them look like a team with a chance at truly historic ineptitude, as they scored 53 runs in one fewer game, but allowed 93 runs. So through 31 games, the team had been both unlucky and very bad, and the comparisons to the ‘62 Mets or ‘03 Tigers seemed apt. Over the last 15 games, even if the record hasn’t been much better, the Twins are quietly becoming more of the team they looked like they’d be before the season started. They’ve scored 61 runs, just a touch over 4.0 per game or about half a run better than their full-season per-game average, but the pitching has given up 88 more runs and they’ve come in worryingly large bunches. Miguel Sano has five home runs in those games, Robbie Grossman has made a nice first impression, and while there’s still a substantial amount of scuffling in the rest of the offense, it’s getting easier to see how the lineup is supposed to function. Since warm air really does add extra distance to flyballs, and since the Twin Cities are in for a hotter-than-average summer, the Twins should see a few extra home runs now that spring has ended. Yes, it is worrisome that Brian Dozier, Trevor Plouffe, Joe Mauer, Byung-Ho Park, and others look so bad, but it’s a presupposition that the team is bad right now. That they’re at least ahead of a historically bad pace with so much dead weight is a good sign for the future, provided you believe one or more of them will come around before Eduardo Nunez regresses. Contrast this to the Tigers, who were little more than Dmitri Young and the Also-Rans. If he didn’t hit, they didn’t win; though, frequently, they didn’t win even if he did. So, yes, looking at the season to date, the Twins look only marginally better than the Tigers (about 3 percentage points according to both OPS+ and wRC+) but expecting the Twins to improve as the summer heats up isn’t irrational; in fact, it may already be happening. If the Twins are going to avoid being historically bad, however, they’re going to need to start seeing that improvement in the offense soon, because seeing improvement from the rotation takes a good deal of squinting and maybe letting your eyes go out of focus like the old Magic Eye books. Kyle Gibson’s return may help -- it should help -- but it’s hard to guess how much like the old Gibson he’ll look. Jose Berrios will likely return to the majors at some point in the season’s second half, but he too offers an uncertain amount of improvement. Like the Twins’ hitters, their pitchers currently compare favorably to the Tigers’ staff, but the margin is razor thin. If the Twins do end up with the Tigers, Mets, and Spiders as one of the most beatable teams in history, the pitching is going to be a major reason for it. Heading into the middle third of the season, the Twins are on an almost identical pace to the Tigers. If nothing changes, they’ll finish with either 119 or 120 losses, making them one of the all-time worst teams. Injuries could change their course for the worse, but barring a complete health crisis, they’re unlikely to lose more starters than they already have. If I were a betting man, I’d take the under on 120 losses, but until the offense strings together more than two weeks of 4+ runs per game, 100 losses feels very possible. Whether that’s better or worse than being the worst team since those hapless Spiders is a matter of opinion, but if the last few weeks have been an aberration instead of a pattern, the Twins won’t be able to stop fans debating whether they’re one of the most hapless groups to ever take the field.
  11. With almost two full months of the season in the books, the number of Twins fans who believe there’s a playoff run in the cards has dwindled to almost nil. Those left clinging to hope are doing so against all visual and statistical evidence. Some fans are actively rooting for the team to break the Cleveland Spiders’ record for losses in a season (154) to make sure the Braves don’t nick the first overall pick in the 2017 draft, to maximize the probability of a front office overhaul, or because it’s simply more interesting to be a historically bad team than just a typically bad one. But are they just as delusional as those still holding out hope for a postseason run? Long-time Twins fans should know what a bad team looks like. The Twins are headed for 90 or more losses for the sixth season out of the last seven, and from 1993-2000 (less the strike-shortened 1994 season) they averaged 91 losses. But as bad as those teams were -- and they were certainly bad -- they’re actually fairly pedestrian. No one talks about the 1997 or 2014 Twins with disgust, only sadness. However, just three years after they broke out of their nearly decade-long World Series hangover, however, the Twins got an up-close look at a truly horrible team. The 2003 Detroit Tigers are a very worthy successor to 1962 Mets’ crown as the worst team in recent memory, finishing the season 43-119. Nearly 40 years passed between these monuments to ineptitude, but it was worth the wait. They hit rock bottom some 80 games below .500 before a last-season flail netted them five wins in their last six games. At no point in the first half of the season did they break double digits in runs, and they were shut out a total of 17 times. As a team, the Tigers hit .240/.300/.375; their combined 83 OPS+ means they were 17 percent below league average offensively. Yet as bad as their offense was, their pitchers managed to be worse: a combined 5.30 ERA, a 1.51 WHIP, and staggeringly poor 4.8 K/9 all added up to an 81 ERA+. All in, the Tigers posted a team WAR of -1.2. En route to a division title, the Twins beat the hapless Tigers 15 times out of 19 meetings (the second place White Sox went 11-8 against Detroit and lost the division by four games, needless to say, those games were a substantial missed opportunity). They lost close games when their bullpen failed, they lost blowouts when the hitters didn’t hit, they lost pretty much every way imaginable, which is what it takes to get all the way down to 119 losses. The first six weeks of the Twins’ season felt a little bit the same way. They actually pitched moderately well during their losing streak to start the year, but either couldn’t hit or couldn’t preserve the leads they got. Over the first 16 games of the season, they scored 53 runs and allowed 67, making their 5-11 record somewhat puzzling, as the gap of less than a run per game should have -- in theory -- put them closer to .500. Their next 15 games (3-12) made them look like a team with a chance at truly historic ineptitude, as they scored 53 runs in one fewer game, but allowed 93 runs. So through 31 games, the team had been both unlucky and very bad, and the comparisons to the ‘62 Mets or ‘03 Tigers seemed apt. Over the last 15 games, even if the record hasn’t been much better, the Twins are quietly becoming more of the team they looked like they’d be before the season started. They’ve scored 61 runs, just a touch over 4.0 per game or about half a run better than their full-season per-game average, but the pitching has given up 88 more runs and they’ve come in worryingly large bunches. Miguel Sano has five home runs in those games, Robbie Grossman has made a nice first impression, and while there’s still a substantial amount of scuffling in the rest of the offense, it’s getting easier to see how the lineup is supposed to function. Since warm air really does add extra distance to flyballs, and since the Twin Cities are in for a hotter-than-average summer, the Twins should see a few extra home runs now that spring has ended. Yes, it is worrisome that Brian Dozier, Trevor Plouffe, Joe Mauer, Byung-Ho Park, and others look so bad, but it’s a presupposition that the team is bad right now. That they’re at least ahead of a historically bad pace with so much dead weight is a good sign for the future, provided you believe one or more of them will come around before Eduardo Nunez regresses. Contrast this to the Tigers, who were little more than Dmitri Young and the Also-Rans. If he didn’t hit, they didn’t win; though, frequently, they didn’t win even if he did. So, yes, looking at the season to date, the Twins look only marginally better than the Tigers (about 3 percentage points according to both OPS+ and wRC+) but expecting the Twins to improve as the summer heats up isn’t irrational; in fact, it may already be happening. If the Twins are going to avoid being historically bad, however, they’re going to need to start seeing that improvement in the offense soon, because seeing improvement from the rotation takes a good deal of squinting and maybe letting your eyes go out of focus like the old Magic Eye books. Kyle Gibson’s return may help -- it should help -- but it’s hard to guess how much like the old Gibson he’ll look. Jose Berrios will likely return to the majors at some point in the season’s second half, but he too offers an uncertain amount of improvement. Like the Twins’ hitters, their pitchers currently compare favorably to the Tigers’ staff, but the margin is razor thin. If the Twins do end up with the Tigers, Mets, and Spiders as one of the most beatable teams in history, the pitching is going to be a major reason for it. Heading into the middle third of the season, the Twins are on an almost identical pace to the Tigers. If nothing changes, they’ll finish with either 119 or 120 losses, making them one of the all-time worst teams. Injuries could change their course for the worse, but barring a complete health crisis, they’re unlikely to lose more starters than they already have. If I were a betting man, I’d take the under on 120 losses, but until the offense strings together more than two weeks of 4+ runs per game, 100 losses feels very possible. Whether that’s better or worse than being the worst team since those hapless Spiders is a matter of opinion, but if the last few weeks have been an aberration instead of a pattern, the Twins won’t be able to stop fans debating whether they’re one of the most hapless groups to ever take the field.
  12. For much of the past 15 years or so, the Twins have had very easy decisions to make with the first spot in the batting order. Jacque Jones settled there, then handed the position over to Shannon Stewart, who was a fixture atop the order until 2006 when Luis Castillo joined the team. He held the role until 2008 when it was briefly handed over to Carlos Gomez, who promptly hit .246/.281/.345 and lost the job to Denard Span. Span locked the role down, holding it until he was traded prior to the 2013 season. (Strangely in 2011, despite Span’s prowess leading off, the team felt that Ben Revere deserved nearly a full-season look in the lead-off spot; he wasn’t quite as bad as Gomez, hitting .291/.322/.349, but still not good enough to keep the team from reverting back to Span.) Since Span’s departure, Brian Dozier has been the Twins’ lead-off hitter of choice, though at various times he has shared the gig with Danny Santana or Aaron Hicks. Dozier has been a fine choice at the top of the order, posting a .243/.313/.459 line when hitting first, but he’s a little more in the mold of Jones (.289/.328/.471) than Span (.285/.352/.389). Does one type of hitter make more sense than the other given how the rest of the Twins' lineup shakes out?The primary job of a lead-off hitter is to get on base and set the table for the more slugging-heavy hitters to come. This is not news. However, in addition to getting on base, a lead-off hitter is often asked to work the starting pitcher a little bit -- not to the extent of laying off of a hittable pitch, but a nine-pitch plate appearance that ends in a strikeout isn’t an entirely negative outcome since it provides the rest of the team with a sense of what that day’s starter has on offer. As I mentioned earlier this season, taking pitches has been one of the few things that Twins hitters have been doing well, so they have some options: http://i.imgur.com/z6mWJNu.png League Average: 3.89 P/PA So the Twins have some options for patience at the top of the order, but how many of these guys can fulfill the primary task of getting on base consistently? http://i.imgur.com/pnFx3cz.png The obvious name on neither of these two lists is Santana’s. He owns a team-worst (among qualified hitters) 3.56 P/PA and his Gomez-esque .256 OBP is the spared from being the low-water mark by the recently demoted Eddie Rosario’s almost unfathomably bad .227 OBP. Santana’s speed makes him interesting when he’s on base, last night’s TOOTBLAN notwithstanding, but he’s not giving the team enough additional value to justify giving him more plate appearances than literally anyone else. Paul Molitor has had Santana’s usage right for the last week or so: Hit him ninth to limit the damage he can do, and if he does get on base, so much the better. Given the way the season is progressing, it would be interesting to see how Byung-Ho Park or Miguel Sano would do leading off, but that’s not a serious suggestion for the long-term, if for no other reason than it would virtually guarantee than any homers hit would be solo home runs. Oswaldo Arcia and Trevor Plouffe offer only fractional upgrades at best over Dozier, and while Dozier’s no Byron Buxton, he is notably faster on the bases than either of the others. This leaves three serious candidates who can both get on base and take an extra pitch or two on their way: Mauer, Dozier, and Nunez, who have combined to lead off in 29 of the Twins’ 40 games. Nunez has been tremendously fun to watch this year, and he’s as good a bench bat as the Twins have had in recent years, but the other shoe is going to drop with him. His .395 BABIP is built largely on flyballs falling in and isn’t supported by an increase in his hard hit percentage. Even if his BABIP dropped to .320, which would still be good for a career high, it would vastly diminish his suitability to lead off. This all assumes that Nunez even gets consistent playing time once Eduardo Escobar returns, which is far from a given. I have been on the bandwagon to bat Joe Mauer second for about as long as it had wheels and a seat, but I understood the theory behind hitting him third. On those early-2000s teams where “get ‘em on, get ‘em over, get ‘em in” was less a team mantra and more a foundational principle, Mauer was clearly in group three and tasked with driving in runs, then being driven in himself by the actual power hitters. Not his ideal usage, perhaps, but his lot in the lineup anyway. This year’s team was never designed to “get ‘em on, get ‘em over, get ‘em in” and they certainly aren’t tricking anyone into thinking that’s their path to glory. They’ve already hit nearly as many home runs in May (17) as they did in all of April (21) and baseballs fly further in warm weather, so it’s reasonable to assume they’re going to actually start scoring a reasonable amount of runs that way; however, if theycontinue to hit solo home run after solo home run, they’ll need to hit an astronomical number of home runs to actually challenge their opponents. Far better to pull a page out of crazy Earl Weaver’s playbook and hit home runs with people on base. Maximizing the average value of a home run hit by the 3-4-5 hitters means ignoring the relative value of slugging for a lead-off hitter -- the increase in expected runs of having a runner on second or third base with no outs -- in favor of fully optimizing for OBP. It also means pairing the hitter with the highest probability of being on base with the hitters most likely to drive him in. So, not only should Mauer be leading off for the foreseeable future, but Park and Sano should be moved up in the order to maximize the likelihood of both of them getting a chance to hit with Mauer available to drive in. Ideally, the Twins would have another high-OBP hitter with slightly more speed to hit ahead of Mauer, as a lineup of XXXX, Mauer, Sano, and Park would be a nice setup, but that hitter doesn't appear to be on the Twins’ roster right now. As long as the hitter in the second slot, between Mauer and Sano, doesn’t have a proclivity for ground balls, having someone hit there shouldn’t change the expected value of setting the lineup this way much at all. This makes Dozier an ideal candidate to bat second. Yes, he’s not a “get ‘em over” guy, but that doesn’t matter. He has the team’s second lowest groundball rate and there’s virtue in giving Dozier the second most plate appearances on the team since he has typically been an offensive asset. Molitor has sent the Twins out with 36 lineups in 40 games, trying to find something that works, but not once has Mauer lead off with Dozier batting right behind him. A top four of Mauer, Dozier, and either Park and Sano or Sano and Park stands to give the Twins the best shot of scoring an early run and of taking advantage when the lineup turns over thanks to Santana. Given how often the lineup is shifting, it seems fairly likely we’ll see this top four sometime this season, hopefully sooner rather than later. Click here to view the article
  13. The primary job of a lead-off hitter is to get on base and set the table for the more slugging-heavy hitters to come. This is not news. However, in addition to getting on base, a lead-off hitter is often asked to work the starting pitcher a little bit -- not to the extent of laying off of a hittable pitch, but a nine-pitch plate appearance that ends in a strikeout isn’t an entirely negative outcome since it provides the rest of the team with a sense of what that day’s starter has on offer. As I mentioned earlier this season, taking pitches has been one of the few things that Twins hitters have been doing well, so they have some options: http://i.imgur.com/z6mWJNu.png League Average: 3.89 P/PA So the Twins have some options for patience at the top of the order, but how many of these guys can fulfill the primary task of getting on base consistently? http://i.imgur.com/pnFx3cz.png The obvious name on neither of these two lists is Santana’s. He owns a team-worst (among qualified hitters) 3.56 P/PA and his Gomez-esque .256 OBP is the spared from being the low-water mark by the recently demoted Eddie Rosario’s almost unfathomably bad .227 OBP. Santana’s speed makes him interesting when he’s on base, last night’s TOOTBLAN notwithstanding, but he’s not giving the team enough additional value to justify giving him more plate appearances than literally anyone else. Paul Molitor has had Santana’s usage right for the last week or so: Hit him ninth to limit the damage he can do, and if he does get on base, so much the better. Given the way the season is progressing, it would be interesting to see how Byung-Ho Park or Miguel Sano would do leading off, but that’s not a serious suggestion for the long-term, if for no other reason than it would virtually guarantee than any homers hit would be solo home runs. Oswaldo Arcia and Trevor Plouffe offer only fractional upgrades at best over Dozier, and while Dozier’s no Byron Buxton, he is notably faster on the bases than either of the others. This leaves three serious candidates who can both get on base and take an extra pitch or two on their way: Mauer, Dozier, and Nunez, who have combined to lead off in 29 of the Twins’ 40 games. Nunez has been tremendously fun to watch this year, and he’s as good a bench bat as the Twins have had in recent years, but the other shoe is going to drop with him. His .395 BABIP is built largely on flyballs falling in and isn’t supported by an increase in his hard hit percentage. Even if his BABIP dropped to .320, which would still be good for a career high, it would vastly diminish his suitability to lead off. This all assumes that Nunez even gets consistent playing time once Eduardo Escobar returns, which is far from a given. I have been on the bandwagon to bat Joe Mauer second for about as long as it had wheels and a seat, but I understood the theory behind hitting him third. On those early-2000s teams where “get ‘em on, get ‘em over, get ‘em in” was less a team mantra and more a foundational principle, Mauer was clearly in group three and tasked with driving in runs, then being driven in himself by the actual power hitters. Not his ideal usage, perhaps, but his lot in the lineup anyway. This year’s team was never designed to “get ‘em on, get ‘em over, get ‘em in” and they certainly aren’t tricking anyone into thinking that’s their path to glory. They’ve already hit nearly as many home runs in May (17) as they did in all of April (21) and baseballs fly further in warm weather, so it’s reasonable to assume they’re going to actually start scoring a reasonable amount of runs that way; however, if theycontinue to hit solo home run after solo home run, they’ll need to hit an astronomical number of home runs to actually challenge their opponents. Far better to pull a page out of crazy Earl Weaver’s playbook and hit home runs with people on base. Maximizing the average value of a home run hit by the 3-4-5 hitters means ignoring the relative value of slugging for a lead-off hitter -- the increase in expected runs of having a runner on second or third base with no outs -- in favor of fully optimizing for OBP. It also means pairing the hitter with the highest probability of being on base with the hitters most likely to drive him in. So, not only should Mauer be leading off for the foreseeable future, but Park and Sano should be moved up in the order to maximize the likelihood of both of them getting a chance to hit with Mauer available to drive in. Ideally, the Twins would have another high-OBP hitter with slightly more speed to hit ahead of Mauer, as a lineup of XXXX, Mauer, Sano, and Park would be a nice setup, but that hitter doesn't appear to be on the Twins’ roster right now. As long as the hitter in the second slot, between Mauer and Sano, doesn’t have a proclivity for ground balls, having someone hit there shouldn’t change the expected value of setting the lineup this way much at all. This makes Dozier an ideal candidate to bat second. Yes, he’s not a “get ‘em over” guy, but that doesn’t matter. He has the team’s second lowest groundball rate and there’s virtue in giving Dozier the second most plate appearances on the team since he has typically been an offensive asset. Molitor has sent the Twins out with 36 lineups in 40 games, trying to find something that works, but not once has Mauer lead off with Dozier batting right behind him. A top four of Mauer, Dozier, and either Park and Sano or Sano and Park stands to give the Twins the best shot of scoring an early run and of taking advantage when the lineup turns over thanks to Santana. Given how often the lineup is shifting, it seems fairly likely we’ll see this top four sometime this season, hopefully sooner rather than later.
  14. For much of the past 15 years or so, the Twins have had very easy decisions to make with the first spot in the batting order. Jacque Jones settled there, then handed the position over to Shannon Stewart, who was a fixture atop the order until 2006 when Luis Castillo joined the team. He held the role until 2008 when it was briefly handed over to Carlos Gomez, who promptly hit .246/.281/.345 and lost the job to Denard Span. Span locked the role down, holding it until he was traded prior to the 2013 season. (Strangely in 2011, despite Span’s prowess leading off, the team felt that Ben Revere deserved nearly a full-season look in the lead-off spot; he wasn’t quite as bad as Gomez, hitting .291/.322/.349, but still not good enough to keep the team from reverting back to Span.) Since Span’s departure, Brian Dozier has been the Twins’ lead-off hitter of choice, though at various times he has shared the gig with Danny Santana or Aaron Hicks. Dozier has been a fine choice at the top of the order, posting a .243/.313/.459 line when hitting first, but he’s a little more in the mold of Jones (.289/.328/.471) than Span (.285/.352/.389). Does one type of hitter make more sense than the other given how the rest of the Twins' lineup shakes out? The primary job of a lead-off hitter is to get on base and set the table for the more slugging-heavy hitters to come. This is not news. However, in addition to getting on base, a lead-off hitter is often asked to work the starting pitcher a little bit -- not to the extent of laying off of a hittable pitch, but a nine-pitch plate appearance that ends in a strikeout isn’t an entirely negative outcome since it provides the rest of the team with a sense of what that day’s starter has on offer. As I mentioned earlier this season, taking pitches has been one of the few things that Twins hitters have been doing well, so they have some options: http://i.imgur.com/z6mWJNu.png League Average: 3.89 P/PA So the Twins have some options for patience at the top of the order, but how many of these guys can fulfill the primary task of getting on base consistently? http://i.imgur.com/pnFx3cz.png The obvious name on neither of these two lists is Santana’s. He owns a team-worst (among qualified hitters) 3.56 P/PA and his Gomez-esque .256 OBP is the spared from being the low-water mark by the recently demoted Eddie Rosario’s almost unfathomably bad .227 OBP. Santana’s speed makes him interesting when he’s on base, last night’s TOOTBLAN notwithstanding, but he’s not giving the team enough additional value to justify giving him more plate appearances than literally anyone else. Paul Molitor has had Santana’s usage right for the last week or so: Hit him ninth to limit the damage he can do, and if he does get on base, so much the better. Given the way the season is progressing, it would be interesting to see how Byung-Ho Park or Miguel Sano would do leading off, but that’s not a serious suggestion for the long-term, if for no other reason than it would virtually guarantee than any homers hit would be solo home runs. Oswaldo Arcia and Trevor Plouffe offer only fractional upgrades at best over Dozier, and while Dozier’s no Byron Buxton, he is notably faster on the bases than either of the others. This leaves three serious candidates who can both get on base and take an extra pitch or two on their way: Mauer, Dozier, and Nunez, who have combined to lead off in 29 of the Twins’ 40 games. Nunez has been tremendously fun to watch this year, and he’s as good a bench bat as the Twins have had in recent years, but the other shoe is going to drop with him. His .395 BABIP is built largely on flyballs falling in and isn’t supported by an increase in his hard hit percentage. Even if his BABIP dropped to .320, which would still be good for a career high, it would vastly diminish his suitability to lead off. This all assumes that Nunez even gets consistent playing time once Eduardo Escobar returns, which is far from a given. I have been on the bandwagon to bat Joe Mauer second for about as long as it had wheels and a seat, but I understood the theory behind hitting him third. On those early-2000s teams where “get ‘em on, get ‘em over, get ‘em in” was less a team mantra and more a foundational principle, Mauer was clearly in group three and tasked with driving in runs, then being driven in himself by the actual power hitters. Not his ideal usage, perhaps, but his lot in the lineup anyway. This year’s team was never designed to “get ‘em on, get ‘em over, get ‘em in” and they certainly aren’t tricking anyone into thinking that’s their path to glory. They’ve already hit nearly as many home runs in May (17) as they did in all of April (21) and baseballs fly further in warm weather, so it’s reasonable to assume they’re going to actually start scoring a reasonable amount of runs that way; however, if they continue to hit solo home run after solo home run, they’ll need to hit an astronomical number of home runs to actually challenge their opponents. Far better to pull a page out of crazy Earl Weaver’s playbook and hit home runs with people on base. Maximizing the average value of a home run hit by the 3-4-5 hitters means ignoring the relative value of slugging for a lead-off hitter -- the increase in expected runs of having a runner on second or third base with no outs -- in favor of fully optimizing for OBP. It also means pairing the hitter with the highest probability of being on base with the hitters most likely to drive him in. So, not only should Mauer be leading off for the foreseeable future, but Park and Sano should be moved up in the order to maximize the likelihood of both of them getting a chance to hit with Mauer available to drive in. Ideally, the Twins would have another high-OBP hitter with slightly more speed to hit ahead of Mauer, as a lineup of XXXX, Mauer, Sano, and Park would be a nice setup, but that hitter doesn't appear to be on the Twins’ roster right now. As long as the hitter in the second slot, between Mauer and Sano, doesn’t have a proclivity for ground balls, having someone hit there shouldn’t change the expected value of setting the lineup this way much at all. This makes Dozier an ideal candidate to bat second. Yes, he’s not a “get ‘em over” guy, but that doesn’t matter. He has the team’s second lowest groundball rate and there’s virtue in giving Dozier the second most plate appearances on the team since he has typically been an offensive asset. Molitor has sent the Twins out with 36 lineups in 40 games, trying to find something that works, but not once has Mauer lead off with Dozier batting right behind him. A top four of Mauer, Dozier, and either Park and Sano or Sano and Park stands to give the Twins the best shot of scoring an early run and of taking advantage when the lineup turns over thanks to Santana. Given how often the lineup is shifting, it seems fairly likely we’ll see this top four sometime this season, hopefully sooner rather than later.
  15. Few who have watched this team so far would disagree with owner Jim Pohlad’s characterization of the team to the Star Tribune’s Chip Scoggins as a “total system failure.” The offense sits in the bottom third of the league, eight percent below league average; their defense has provided negative value. Their starters, expected to sit around league average, haven’t been close to that modest mark, and the bullpen has caved in, in the absence of Perkins. There are individual successes, but it’s hard to look at a unit on the field and say that they’re performing at or above expectations. What will raise more than a few eyebrows is that Pohlad then gave both general manager Terry Ryan and manager Paul Molitor an unequivocal vote of confidence and while it’s not always immediately clear, it didn’t seem to be the dreaded vote of confidence either. If there was any hope that the disastrous start to the season would result in a change in leadership, it’s gone for at least the rest of the season. To be frank, firing a GM midseason would be fairly out of step with how the Twins tend to conduct business, and that’s before taking into account Ryan’s years of service to the organization. One bad month, even one bad half season isn’t going to earn Ryan a midseason public dismissal. Short of a catastrophic error -- a rules violation during the draft/signing process resulting in a huge fine, releasing Buxton outright without cause, burning down Target Field -- it’s hard to imagine what Ryan would have to do to have his season end before the team’s did. If the goal is to keep the 2016 postseason in play, removing Ryan would do little good. There are no impact free agents available, no one in the draft is going to join the team and add seven wins from June 10 until the end of the year, major in-season trades are far more uncommon now than they used to be, and it’s hard to envision any other move designed to save 2016 that wouldn’t end up weakening the team substantially in the future. Yes, promoting and demoting players to their right levels is exceedingly important for the Twins in both the short- and long-term, but a new GM is actually less likely to make those calls correctly than Ryan is, simply because of his familiarity with the players up and down the system. Paradoxically, if the Twins were playing a little better, perhaps Ryan’s job would be more vulnerable because the marginal utility of changing GMs would be higher. Bringing in someone who had shown an aptitude for working the trade deadline in July and the waiver wire in August would be appealing since the AL looks like it will be decided by a razor-thin margin. (This presupposes that such a person is freely available at this point in the season, but that’s another column entirely.) Out of sheer proximity to the problem, the manager ought to be able to make the types of changes in-season that a GM can’t. But as the team has shown over the last few weeks, new blood isn’t enough to spark the team. Not counting pitchers, the team has had 15 players take the field with Brian Dozier, Eduardo Escobar, and Rosario about the only players who haven’t split a meaningful amount time at their respective positions, so it’s not as if the opening day lineup has been run out for 28 consecutive games and this is the result. Changes are being made, they’re just producing the same outcomes. Moving on from Molitor would certainly shake things up, and unlike Ryan, there are logical candidates available to take over. Gene Glynn, Mike Quade, and Doug Mientkiewicz are all within the organization and were either considered for the managerial vacancy left by Ron Gardenhire or have MLB managerial experience. So whereas Ryan is virtually locked in until the end of the season, Molitor could theoretically be moved. The downside is that it means burning a bridge with a legendary hitter who the players -- at least publicly -- seem to like and to whom they respond. There’s also no guarantee it will work. Glynn and Mientkiewicz have good minor league track records to buoy their candidacies, but there’s a huge difference between motivating a 19-year-old kid whose dreams are still ahead of him to work hard and getting the same response out of veterans like Eduardo Nunez or Kurt Suzuki. Quade did have some time working with the Cubs during their rebuilding phase, but they finished 20 games under .500 during his only full season at the helm, which is hardly a sterling reference. Molitor’s managerial ability is far from a known quantity. Last year’s team overperformed in his first full season by nearly as much as this year’s team is underperforming. He hasn’t shown an unhelpful fetishization of one particular type of player, nor has he proven incapable of handling a bullpen. The obvious warts aren’t there, but that doesn’t make him good, it just makes him not-bad-in-readily-apparent-ways. It may become clear what his deficiencies are as the season progresses, but losing him in service of a vague effort to spur a team that may well have put themselves in too deep a hole to recover from doesn’t seem like a good use of resources. Because, while he may prove himself to be a poor fit for a team that figures to be young and volatile for the next few years, it’s equally possible that he’ll prove to be a tremendous fit even if the team finishes 71-91. Plus, statistically speaking, firing a manager midseason doesn’t make your team appreciably better in the vast majority of cases. It’s a show of force, but if it doesn’t translate to more wins on the field, it can hardly be considered worth doing. Given that he’ll have just one more year on his contract after the die is cast on this season, it seems more than likely that the Twins will give Molitor the full value of his contract, then evaluate his performance from there. Assuming this year finishes in the same vein as it has started -- if not the exact same path -- that will put quite a bit of pressure on Molitor going into the 2017 season, as he’ll have one impressive season under his belt and one fairly poor one. While there is good reason to keep both Ryan and Molitor where they are for the rest of 2016 season, the takeaway here isn’t that Pohlad was right and that Ryan and Molitor are unquestionably the right people for their jobs. Ultimately, Ryan is the architect of a team that has been dire since 2011 (with a brief respite last year) and Molitor is the final authority on game-to-game matters for a team on pace to finish 47-115, the worst mark in franchise history and the Twins’ first 100+ loss team since 1982. And while 115 losses would be embarrassing even given how the season started, that 1982 mark is very much in play. The takeaway here is that, as with virtually everything in baseball, there is a rhythm and a seasonality to leadership changes, and that jumping out of that order doesn’t necessarily produce better outcomes. If the ownership group believes there is even a 1% chance they’ll want to move on from Ryan come the offseason, they should start making that determination now. Do the necessary due diligence and be ready to make a call at the right moment. Taking the time to do the requisite research, let Ryan know what to expect, and positioning to the public for either his return or his departure will go a long way to making sure the 2017 Twins aren’t fighting these same battles. Next week, I’ll take a deep dive into Ryan’s time with the Twins. The highs, lows, and how he stacks up against some of the league’s top architects right now.
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