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  1. Like many other Minnesota Twins, Max Kepler enjoyed a banner 2019 regular season en route to over 100 victories. Kepler assumed the leadoff position in the batting order and flourished. He hit 36 homers and drove in 90 runs and played good defense in right field. Kepler also more than held his own against left handed pitching, hitting .283 with an .880 OPS against southpaws. The season, however, didn't end well for the Berlin native. He was injured and slumped in September and the team was swept out of the playoffs by the Yankees. Max was 0-10 in the 2019 playoffs. Since the breakout season, Kepler has not fared well. Max's OPS fell from to .760 in 2020 and is .692 this year. Kep has spent time on the Injured List both in 2019 and this season, including ten days on the COVID list. He's particularly struggled against left handed pitching making 2019 look like an extreme outlier in that regard. Kepler remains a good defender and is an adequate center fielder as well as well above average in right. Kepler's injuries and illness have given other players a chance. Career minor leaguers Rob Refsnyder and Kyle Garlick have fared well in limited roles and certainly done better against lefties than Kepler. Top prospects Alex Kirilloff and Trevor Larnach have gotten an opportunity and shown that they are ready to hit big league pitching. Quite suddenly, there is a case to be made that Kepler shouldn't be getting regular play when everyone is healthy (I know it never seems to happen, but it might). Kepler is signed for two more years, at $6.75m in 2022 and $8.5m in 2023. That is more than reasonable for an above average starting corner outfielder, but is a lot to pay for a utility or platoon outfielder. Unfortunately, the trio of Larnach, Kirilloff and Kepler all hit left handed. Early results show the two rookies as handling southpaws better than the more veteran Kepler. What to do with Max?
  2. The Twins face Oakland this after noon in the finale of a difficult road trip to the West Coast. The Twins are currently 6-10, having lost eight of their last nine games. They've lost two doubleheaders and three extra-inning games. Sixteen games is roughly one-tenth of a season and the Twins have had spotty pitching, poor hitting and have also made too many defensive mistakes. In other words, they have been a bad ball club. The opponent today, the Oakland Athletics, started slowly, but is now perhaps the hottest club in baseball having won ten straight games. The lineup is swinging well, they have a decent pitching staff and a fine defensive team. Today's starting pitcher matchup features Frankie Montas versus Kenta Maeda. Montas was drilled for seven runs in his first start, but has been outstanding since. The Twins counter with Maeda, who has been okay, but not dominant in his three starts. It would be a good time for Maeda to toss a gem, given the struggles of the team's hitters. Lineups and Comments: Minnesota (6-10) Arraez 2b Donaldson 3b Cruz dh Buxton cf Polanco ss Astudillo 1b Cave lf Rooker rf Jeffers c Pitching: Maeda 1-1 3.07 ERA Oakland (11-7) Canha lf Laureano cf Lowrie 2b Olson 1b Chapman 3b Moreland 1b Murphy c Brown rf Andrus ss Pitching: Montas 2-1 4.91 ERA Riddle is now on the COVID list for unspecified reasons, replaced by Telis (yet another catcher). Sanó is listed by ESPN as day-to-day. I don't know what his injury or illness might be. The fact that the team has a day off tomorrow and returns home for a series might be why the changes that have been made were made IMHO. I expect more roster moves when the team gets home.
  3. Luis Arraez was a human adrenaline shot for the 2019 Minnesota Twins, providing 2.1 fWAR in 92 games. That value was driven nearly entirely from his .334/.399/.439 slash line, which amounted to a 125 wRC+ and comparisons to Tony Gwynn. Arraez is clearly mature beyond his years with his ability to handle the bat, but his defense is among the team's worst. Earlier versions of this Defense Evaluation series summarized the two position players that had the least defensive value in 2019 - Eddie Rosario in the outfield, and Jorge Polanco as an infielder. Luis Arraez was both in 2020, logging 130 innings in LF, and 555 innings across three infield positions (2B, SS, and 3B). Arraez has to be evaluated differently than Rosario and Polanco, as his versatility created four smaller sample sizes. Even with that caveat, there are still troubling signs to be taken from his 2019 defensive performance that could lead to greater negative impact with his new role as the 2020 starting second baseman. Luis Arraez in 390 innings at 2B (-4.8 Def, -8 DRS, -22.6 UZR/150, -6 OAA) I'll begin with evaluating Arraez's primary position of second base. FanGraphs is no fan of Arraez at this position, with a brutal -8 DRS and -22.6 UZR/150. Among all second basemen that had at least 350 innings, Arraez had the second worst UZR/150, trailing only Isan Diaz of Miami. His DRS was tied for the third-lowest, along with Dee Gordon and Rougned Odor. One deeper component of his defensive rating was his -3.1 RngR (range runs), where he also ranked for third lowest among second basemen with at least 350 innings played. Statcast is in line with FanGraph's assessment of Arraez at second base. In the new infield outs above average (OAA) metric that debuted last week, Arraez was tied for the 7th lowest OAA among infielders with -6 in limited innings. Other second basemen with -6 OAA were Jason Kipnis and old friend Brian Dozier. As I pointed out in the Jorge Polanco evaluation, the most concerning part about the new Statcast data is how the Twins infield is playing to each other's weaknesses rather than strengths. FanGraphs and Statcast both point out that Arraez has an issue with range at second base, and the chart below shows where Arraez struggles the most. Nearly all of the negative outs above average Arraez collected in 2019 were to his left, in the direction of Jorge Polanco and his -16 OAA. Polanco also has a negative -3 OAA mark when he fields a ball towards Arraez. According to my Minnesota Math (first and last Blyleven reference, I promise), adding two negatives creates a larger negative. Balls heading up the middle may spell disaster for the 2020 Twins infield. Statcast does deem Arraez do be above average when fielding balls behind him, and I can recall a few times last season when he scampered on pop-ups in shallow center field that impressed me. However, it's still a very negative light to have -6 OAA in 390 innings played. His weakness of range coincides with Polanco's lateral inabilities, making the up-the-middle infield defense a huge question mark for next season. Luis Arraez across other positions - 161 innings in LF (-0.5 Def, 0 DRS, 3.6 UZR/150, -3 OAA) - 130 innings at 3B (0.8 Def, 1 DRS, 7.8 UZR/150, -1 OAA) - 35 innings at SS (-0.3 Def, -1 DRS, -30.8 UZR/150, 0 0AA) I'll summarize brief findings about the other positions Arraez appeared at last season, as there isn't a large amount of innings to declare most things definitive. Arraez was forced into left field when Rosario spent some time on the IL, and learned on the fly. There were definitely some moments when he looked look a guy that was faking it until he was making it. FanGraphs wasn't extremely critical of Arraez the outfielder, as he had a positive UZR/150 in left field. Statcast rated him -3 OAA as a left fielder, with -2 OAA coming on balls hit back, which lines up with some plays I can recall Arraez retreating towards the wall. I'm fairly confident that if he played more innings in left field, more metrics would reflect Arraez as a below average outfielder. Arraez as a shortstop should be merely glossed over. He had a whopping 35 innings that resulted in a very poor UZR even with the small sample size. If there are concerns about Arraez as a second baseman, it doesn't make a large amount of sense to make him a fit at shortstop, beyond a potential injury replacement. Third base is probably the most intriguing position for Arraez. He doesn't have the strongest arm in the world, but FanGraphs rated his 130 innings as slightly positive with a cumulative 0.8 Defense Runs Above Average (Def), and a 7.8 UZR/150. Statcast had Arraez at -1 OAA at third, but that was significantly better than his OAA in left field and second base. So where should Arraez play? Going forward, Arraez will provide plenty of future value with his ability to make contact and get on base. His versatility came into play when injuries struck the 2019 team, but it isn't safe to bank on Arraez as a plus defender at any position he plays. It's always a benefit to have options, even if he isn't gold glove caliber anywhere across the diamond. Unfortunately, it appears the Twins are reducing his versatility in 2020 by placing him as the full time second baseman. Arraez will be at the position where he had the worst grading from both FanGraphs and Statcast, and where his ability to range toward Polanco is greatly limited. However, with less than one year of experience under his belt, it makes sense to try Arraez out at the position he played throughout the minor leagues. The benefits of keeping Arraez at second base are increased stability for the player, and the chance that he still improves at his young age. Looking at the roster, there are larger holes to plug than second base. However, in my post about Polanco, I proposed an infield game of musical chairs based on reducing the negative impact of Polanco's -16 OAA performance at shortstop. 3B - mix of Gonzalez/Arraez (with the other taking a place in multi-positional musical chairs) SS - new defensively skilled acquisition to be named later 2B - Polanco 1B - Sano I'll continue to plug this alignment if the Twins fail to sign Josh Donaldson. From the perspective of Arraez, this infield positioning would bring two benefits. Having shared duty with Gonzalez at third base would maintain his valuable versatility, while ensuring the bulk of his innings appear at the position where he was arguably graded most favorably. Arraez is still young and still has to gain a large amount of innings at various positions before we can be 100% confident about his future defensive ability. It's highly unlikely that Arraez isn't starting at second base on opening day. His bat will provide enough value at the keystone position, but the Twins shouldn't rule out the prospect of keeping Arraez as a versatile multi-positional everyday player.
  4. 127 feet, 3 3/8 inches - the distance between third base and first base. In other words, the distance Miguel Sano might be asked to move this season. Even the casual Twins fan following the 2020 offseason knows that the front office is in talks with free agent 3B, Josh Donaldson. And before that, there were reports at the beginning of November the Twins were interested in Todd Frazier, also a free agent 3B option. It was assumed, and then reported on, that if the Twins were to acquire a 3B, that would mean Miguel Sano would shift from 3B to 1B - a common cycle in MLB history for big slugging right handed hitters who typically move from 3B to 1B, then finally to DH by the end of their careers. It got me thinking, how have other players before Sano fared in their transition from the hot corner across the diamond to man first base? In the below post I will show some recent examples (in the last 20 years) of players who did just that. My focus will be on Albert Pujols, Miguel Cabrera, Edwin Encarnacion, and Ryan Zimmerman. I will be evaluating them in two different ways: 1. Their defensive and offensive metrics in their last season as a full time 3B 2. Their defensive and offensive metrics in their first season as a full time 1B The defensive metrics I am using are a combination of your typical, pre-analytics, back of the baseball card stats, errors and fielding percentage, and more modern metrics like defensive runs saved (DRS), ultimate zone rating (UZR), and UZR/150 which is just that stat scaled to an average number of chances for a season. *Note: You can find more info on these stats from Fangraphs. I realize they have their limitations ie. UZR doesn’t factor in shifts and is a "relative positional average" compared to the other players in the league at that position, some positions are obviously harder to play than others as is the case here. But nonetheless, this is what we are going to use for this exercise. As a rule of thumb, negative (-) = bad At the end of this article, I will present my conclusion based on my findings from this exercise and ask for the community’s opinion on which position does Sano give the Twins the most value. Miguel Cabrera: Let’s start with Miguel Cabrera who Sano drew early comparisons to at the beginning of his career. Cabrera started as a SS with the Marlins but quickly converted to 3B and stuck there until 2008 - his first year in Detroit. He was a full time first basemen until 2011, then the Tigers moved him back to 3B for the 2012 and 2013 seasons (his back-to-back MVP seasons) before ultimately moving him back to 1B for good in 2014. He was never a strong defensive 3B (career -58 DRS and -5.6 UZR/150) Offensively in 2007, his last year on the Marlins, Cabrera was solid, of course, with a .320/.401/.565 and 34 homers. Defensively however, that was a different story. In 1,310.2 innings he committed 23 errors, had a fielding % of .941, -19 DRS, and -5 UZR/150. In 2008, his age 25 season, he moved to first base full time (for the first time). His metrics relative to his 1B peers were much improved from 3B. In 1,245.2 innings his fielding % was .992, -7 DRS, and a -4.2 UZR/150. Not gold glove worthy but no doubt an improvement from the prior year. Offensively, his stats took a “dip” but he was still a very solid player. His overall WAR, however, you will notice was nearly cut in half from 5.2 to 2.8 - something to keep in mind as you determine the overall value of a 3B vs. 1B. Albert Pujols: Personally, Fat Albert is one of my favorite baseball players of all time. As I kid, I wore #5 because of him. I know nobody cares - so moving on. Drafted as a 3B in the 13th (!!!) round in 1999, Pujols quickly made his way to the majors making his debut in 2001. He made the Opening Day roster after H.O.F. 1B Mark McGwire said not putting Pujols on the team “would be one of the worst moves of his (Tony LaRussa’s) career”. Pujols is a little odd compared to the rest of the group because the Cardinals never really had a true position for Albert until he moved to 1B full time in 2004. In years 2001 - 2003 he played 3B and LF because the Cardinals had *checks notes* 34 year old Tino Martinez at the first sacker in 2002. So, for the data below I combined his 3B metrics from 01 and 02. In total, he played 96 games, 727.2 innings, committed 16 errors, had a fielding % of .938 and -6.9 UZR/150. (DRS apparently was not tracked prior to ‘03). In his first year at 1B in 2004, his age 24 season, he made the transition flawlessly. In 1,338 innings he had a positive 7 DRS and 3.7 UZR. Offensively, he was a monster winning a silver slugger, finishing top-3 in the MVP voting, and was an All-Star. Pujols of course remained at 1B the rest of his career, picking up Gold Gloves in ‘06 and ‘10 before ultimately limping out the rest of his days as the Angels DH. I think Sano would take even a fraction of Pujols’ career as his ceiling. *Note a couple things about Pujols and Cabrera: They both transitioned from 3B to 1B at relatively young ages. Miguel Sano will be 27 in May, 2020. If he moves to 1B, he will be older than both these players when they made the switch. Ryan Zimmerman: Drafted as a 3B, the Nationals first ever pick in a Major League draft was Ryan Zimmerman. Mr. National. I am sure he enjoyed the 2019 World Series win more than anyone. It was fun to see him get there. He made his Major League debut in the year he was drafted (2005) and played 3B until 2013. Overall, he was a VERY solid 3B (Gold Glove winner in 2009, if you care about those things) where he posted a positive 52 DRS, and 33.5 UZR for his career in 9925.2 innings. Shoulder injuries led to his downfall. However, we are going to focus on his last year at the position and his subsequent move across the diamond. In 2013, his aged 28 season, Zimmerman played 1,245.2 innings, committed 21 errors (.945 fielding %), and a -13.7 UZR/150. Offensively, he was solid posting a 124 wRC+ in 633 PA’s. This is all coming off of a shoulder surgery after the 2012 season, mind you. At the end of the 2013 season, he was having injury issues again to the point where 2014 was basically a wash. His spot at the hot corner was taken by a fella by the name of Anthony Rendon. So in 2014, Zimmerman played in LF. It wasn’t until 2015 he took over at 1B. His first year at 1B was solid defensively when he played. He only got into 93 games but played 792.1 innings of 1B, only made 4 errors (.995 fielding percentage), -1 DRS, and -.1 UZR/150 - not bad! Offensively, he was barely above league average. It wasn’t until 2017 where he returned with authority. Again, keep in mind his health. Overall, a very good transition over to 1B from 3B for Zimmerman. Edwin Encarnacion: Last on this list is the parrot-keeper himself, Edwin Encarnacion. Edwin has had an interesting career to say the least. People forget he started as a 3B (albeit a butcher of one, more on that in a minute). Edwin was drafted in the 9th round by the Reds in the year 2000 as a 3B. Does anyone know who the Twins selected #2 overall that year? Bonus points if you do. It was Twins legend, Adam Johnson (who?) Adam Wainwright and Chase Utley were taken later in the first round. Sorry to pour salt in the wound... He played there through his 2010 season, his first full one on the Blue Jays. I think they said, uh, yeah, I’ve seen enough. In 95 games, 841.2 innings he made 18 (!!) errors. But somehow *only* posted -4 DRS and a positive .5 UZR/150. After that he pretty much was positioned as a part-time DH and 1B. His first “full” year at 1B was in 2012, his aged 29 season, when he broke out offensively. He played 68 games at first, 583.1 innings and was serviceable despite a -9.2 UZR/150. Note, it is tough to use this stat for less than a full season’s worth of data. For his career at 1B he played 4,170 innings from 2011 - 2019 and was not awful with -20 DRS across all years and a -3.8 UZR/150. (A hot take of mine was that the Twins should have signed him for the 2020 season. Obviously, that didn’t happen but imagine that lineup). Comparatively, his 3B career numbers (hold your laughs) were -52 DRS, -48.4 UZR, and 114 errors across 5,751.2 innings. He was a much better relative 1B than 3B. Miguel Sano: Now, you probably are wondering, what is the point of this if you can’t compare it to Miguel Sano himself? Well, here you go. Across 91 games in 2019 at 3B, Sano committed 17 errors (.926 fielding percentage), -5 DRS, and a -19.9 UZR/150. If you are like me and watched every game this year you might say something along the lines of “ only -5 DRS, it felt more like - 50”. Kidding, kidding. Honestly, I felt when Sano first came back from his injury, his defense was fine. He tailed off as the year went on. If he is average or slightly below average, with his bat, I think the Twins are OK with that. They know he is not going to win any Gold Gloves. Many questions remain: Is he better off at 1B than 3B long term? What Sano defensive position gives the Twins the best chance to succeed in 2020? Now, many things go into this. Especially with how the Twins play baseball. Keep in mind they shift often and Sano plays all over like diamond sometimes asked to play the SS position with lefties up. I have no doubt that the Twins have their own metrics where they grade their players, but, we as fans, have Fangraphs. Just for fun, I pulled up Sano’s career defensive metrics at 1B. Again, SUPER small sample size. He’s played 233 innings there, -2 DRS, and a -5.3 UZR/150. That is without really knowing how to play the position properly. Seems on the surface less of a liability than having him at 3B. You would assume that if the Twins made the decision to put him at 1B for *good*, they would dedicate the time and effort to train and coach him. Can we get Ron Washington, the infield guru, on this Twins staff PLEASE? If he can get Chris Pratt to play 1B, he can get Miguel Sano to as well (Moneyball joke). Conclusion: Now that we all have the facts in front of us, I will present to you my opinion that literally nobody asked for. I believe seeking a defensive upgrade at 3B would improve the overall team drastically. It would be preferred that the player has at least equal offensive metrics to CJ Cron, since that is who is ultimately being replaced here. Josh Donaldson is the dream scenario (believe me, I am praying to the baseball Gods daily). But, a player like Todd Frazier also could be a fit. Not to mention, trade possibilities (Kris Bryant, anyone?). Doing this exercise also gave me a lot of optimism that players can make the switch on the fly to 1B and have done it without being too much of a liability, and in most cases above, much less a liability at 1B than 3B. Some of the arguments against moving Sano are that he is too young (Pujols and Cabrera were younger) and that he has more value as a 3B (2 of the 4 players listed above had a better WAR in their first season at 1B than their last at 3B). I think it’s easy. Move him to 1B. I would love to hear your feedback. What position do you think Miguel Sano should play in the 2020 season, and why?
  5. As I mentioned in Part 1 of this Defense Evaluation series, the Minnesota Twins were in the bottom third of teams when it came to aggregate fielding ability. The first post in the series focused on the team's weakest position of LF, manned by Eddie Rosario. I determined that while Rosario had a terrible year defensively, it can be alleviated with a healthy year of Buxton and Kepler, along with mixing him in at RF on occasion. Now that Statcast has released it's Outs Above Average (OAA) metric for infielders, we can evaluate a new subject with a stronger level of panic. The Minnesota Twins have one of the weakest infields in the game when it comes to defense, led by Jorge Polanco. Unlike Rosario, Polanco does not have defensive darlings around him that mask his weaknesses The unfortunate truth is that his shortcoming actually match up with Sano and Arraez, painting a troubling picture of what the Twins infield defense could look like in 2020. Let's jump into how Polanco is graded, how this impacts the infield defense picture, and potential steps to improve it in 2020 and beyond. 2019 SS - Jorge Polanco (-3.9 Def, 1 DRS, - 15.7 UZR/150, -16 OAA) Jorge Polanco is a great player, valued at 4.0 fWAR. However at age 26, his defensive ability at shortstop has graded out as poor nearly every year of his career. You can often find Polanco when sorting by the bottom of defensive leaderboards. Polanco had the lowest UZR/150 among qualified shortstops in 2019, according to FanGraphs. His UZR/150 has remained negative in every year since he's been a starter, but the trend is concerning over the past three years: 2017: -5.7 UZR/150 2018: -11.3 UZR/150 2019: -15.7 UZR/150 This morning, Polanco had the dubious honor of reaching the bottom of another defensive leaderboard. When you sort Statcast's new Infield Outs Above Average metric, Jorge Polanco is the first face you see after filtering for the lowest value, at -16. He's tied with Vladimir Guerrero Jr. for the lowest in the MLB, and followed by Fernando Tatis Jr. and Didi Gregorious (both at -13). Statcast shows that Polanco struggles with balls hit laterally, but his weakest area is balls that are hit in front of him, where he has a -9 OAA. That was his largest area of drop-off in 2019, compared to his 2017 and shortened 2018. I'm not sure how Polanco can rapidly improve handling balls hit in front of him, apart from playing in on the dirt. Maybe he struggles with charging weakly hit balls. Perhaps the Twins positioned him further back so he could reach more balls in play to his left and right. And yet, those balls hit to his left and right were also a concern. The concern grows when you consider his teammates at 3B and 2B. Sano has an OAA of -5, with -1 attributed to balls hit in Polanco's direction. Arraez has a worse OAA (-6) with less time spent in the infield, and his OAA is weighted heavily by balls hit to his left (towards Polanco). When you factor in the limitations of Polanco's lateral movement to both sides of the infield, the below average defense of Sano and Arraez rapidly compound into a mess. The Twins 2020 IF defense is not loved by Statcast, with a cumulative OAA of -20, even when factoring in Marwin's +7 OAA at 3B last season. That's generous, because Gonzalez is the starting 1B as of early January. It's clear to see why the Twins were/are interested in Josh Donaldson. Donaldson posted an OAA of 8 with the Braves at 3B in 2019, with +3 OAA on balls hit in Polanco's direction. On Statcast paper, that would help neutralize Polanco's -4 OAA on balls hit toward third base. Sano would be shifted to 1B, where he's no clear bet to play Gold Glove-caliber defense, but does have a cumulative 1 OAA at the position dating back to 2016 in 223 innings. Looking beyond Donaldson, and even 2020, the case for Polanco to be shifted away from SS is compelling. Polanco has been defined as one of the league's worst defensive shortstops for multiple seasons in multiple metrics. The fact he's currently recovering from offseason ankle surgery doesn't exactly help matters. I would argue that the decision to move Polanco from SS to 2B - and sooner rather than later - could help matters. His new position would allow him more time to reach balls hit in, and would help with his limited range. The shift would require an offseason addition(s), as there's no clear internal SS replacement for 2020. If the Twins aren't able to sign Donaldson, I would target defensively skilled shortstops. Miguel Rojas, Nick Ahmed, and more come to mind - but that's another blog post for another day. That could result in the new defensive alignment of: 3B - mix of Gonzalez/Arraez (with the other taking a place in multi-positional musical chairs) SS - new defensively skilled acquisition to be named later 2B - Polanco 1B - Sano That new alignment may look like nonsense to some of you, but running out the current infield depth chart is recipe for disaster. Moving Polanco away from his natural position of SS is a matter of when, not if. He's under team control through 2025, and I can almost guarantee he won't be manning SS in the latter years. Why not minimize his defensive liability in 2020, when all recent defensive statistics suggest the time may be now?
  6. Judging the fielders in the age of shifts is a difficult challenge. As I read about Sano – should he move to 1B I am constantly trying to evaluate what the qualities are for those two bases. 3B – quick reflexes (believe me the ball gets to 3B quick) and a strong arm. 1B – reflexes of a different type, not grabbing missiles, but rather erratic throws, short hops, flexibility to stretch and grab, and still a range for fielding the position. 1B have that strange responsibility for “covering the base” when a runner is on, anticipating throws from C and P. It is a very challenging and underestimated fielding position. For generations we have put the big lunking Ted Klusewski or Dick Stuart at the base and just said throw at the body and he will be okay. Keith Hernandez and Joe Mauer were fielding examples at 1B, but Brooks Robinson, Nolen Arenando would not be mistaken for those 1B rolemodels because they are the gold standard for 3B. Sano is not quick but seems to have the reflexes for third and the arm to respond when balls bounce off his body. What now we shift and suddenly he is a SS – does anyone see him as a SS? He moves towards the “hole” and he has more area to cover. Now we need foot speed as well as reflex. The SS and 2B positions have now overlapped and the challenge for the players today is to make the turn at second base coming from so many new angles. Of course, in the launch angle age there is a major decrease in DPs. We used to judge these positions by range and athleticism – thing Ozzie and the 2B/SS was a tandem – Groat and Mazeroski, Fox and Aparicio, Grich and Belanger, Whitaker and Trammell (why is Trammel in the HOF and not Whitaker?), Robinson and Reese, and Morgan and Concepcion are examples. We had Versalles and Bernie Allen… In 2015 Dave Schoenfield wrote – “In 2015, the MLB average was 7.8 strikeouts per nine innings and 2.9 walks; in 1955, it was 4.4 and 3.7. That means more balls in play and more baserunners in 1955, although even with fewer home runs per team in 1955, the overall number of double plays has remained steady: 121 per team in 1955, 125 per team in 2015.” Fascinating stats show that the GDP leader stats do not really change from year to year. Ernie Lombardi (Mr Slow feet) 26 in 1933, Manny Machado 24 - 2019. https://www.baseball-reference.com/leaders/GIDP_leagues.shtml What has changed is the fact that 2B now a hybrid SS. Is Polanco a good SS in the old system? How does he and Arraez fit the new paradigm. Do we need to consider changing the names of the positions? Are players really interchangeable at these positions?
  7. Game 2 of the four game series between the Twins and Rangers in Arlington. Today it will be Minor versus Odorizzi, a matchup of surprise All-Stars. Runs should be hard to come by at least while the starters are on the mound.Minor had a lousy July (20 earned runs in 27.1 innings), but has thrown fifteen shutout innings so far in August. Odorizzi has similarly bounced back from a tough patch and has won his last two decisions and pitched effectively in his last three starts. Both bullpens have had issues since the All-Star break. The Twins' pen will be rested because Pineda and Smeltzer combined to pitch all nine innings yesterday. There probably will be an additional arm in the bullpen for the Twins, since Devon Smeltzer was optioned back to Rochester after his four-inning appearance last night. While Minor's splits vs. left and right handers are pretty inconsequential, it figures the Twins will load up with right handed bats against the Ranger lefty. Yesterday's play did not affect the pennant race. Both Minnesota and Cleveland won. Minnesota still holds a half game lead going into play today. The Tribe faces New York at Yankee Stadium again tonight. You might detect a halfhearted "go Yankees" from me, but I'll try to keep that on the down-low. Picks to sit and picks to click: Polanco has struggled some offensively, particularly against LH pitching, if I'm managing the Twins, I rest Jorge against the tough left hander. Arraez has a .320 slugging percentage versus lefties--all of his hits vs. same-side pitchers are singles--and with the Texas heat, every possible player should get a break, so Schoop (.861 OPS vs. LH) for the rookie. Mitch Garver had raked against southpaws all year. I expect a couple hits including at least one extra-base hit. Marwin Gonzalez has been raking, especially from the right side and I expect his late-season surge to continue. Go Twins!! Twins Garver c Arraez LF Polanco DH Sanó 3B Kepler cf Cron 1B Gonzalez RF Schoop 2B Adrianza SS Odorizzi p Rangers Choo DH Santana 1B Andrus SS Calhoun LF Mazara TD Odor 2B DeShields cf Kiner-Falefa 3B Mathis c Minor p
  8. The Twins battle the Royals today in game three of a four game series, currently tied 1-1. On the mound Duffy (KC) vs. Berríos (MN). We're two-thirds through the month of June and predictably there have been some slumps and swoons from the Twins. Of note, Pérez has a 5.91 ERA, Parker is at 10.20 and Magill at 11.88 this month. Hitters OPS: Castro .588, Schoop .646, Rosario .704, Sanó .737, Garver .747. Going well in June, Berríos 1.31 ERA, Duffey 1.00 ERA in 9 IP, Rogers 1.13 in 8 IP with 5 saves. Hitters: Kepler .299 with a 1.084 OPS and Cruz .293 with a 1.043 OPS. Schoop held out with a sore ankle today, so a limited bench. Lineups: Twins Polanco ss Cron 1b Cruz dh Rosario lf Astudillo c Kepler cf Sanó Arraez 2b Cave rf Berríos p Kansas City Merrifield cf Lopez 2b Gordon lf Soler rf Dozier 3b Cuthbert 1b Duda dh Arteaga ss Gallagher c Duffy p
  9. While Max Kepler hasn't exactly been consistent this year, I think his season has gone very well. After the excellent series against the White Sox, Max's OPS is .889, second only to Shin-Soo Choo of the Rangers among AL right fielders. Kepler's WAR is listed as 1.6, again second among AL right fielders (behind Mookie Betts). We are just about to the 1/3 mark of the season. Multiplying the traditional stats by three would yield a season of .276, 36 homers and and 99 RBI. I guess that would be pretty good! Batting at the top of the lineup a 3 or 4 game snag could end up being a 1-20, but right now Max is rolling. Combined with his very good defense and youth (26 years of age), it looks like the Twins made a good move extending Kepler.
  10. I recently moved to the Anaheim area and was lucky enough to be able to attend Tuesday evenings' game (5/21/19). I also was able to get to a Dodgers' game a few weeks ago against the Nationals. I've been watching the Twins all season on TV (the 5pm start and 8pm finish of the weekday games is glorious), and I am always confident that we are going to end up having a shot to win any game as long as we keep it within 2 or 3 runs because our lineup is beautiful (so deep). The Twins won handedly last night as you all know, but throughout the game something about the team just does not give me that championship edge feel. Especially when I was just able to see a squad like the Dodgers mash the ball around and seemingly always be in control of the game. (I am 'young' and have never seen a Minnesota championship, so I may just be thinking it is never going to occur for any of the teams that I love.) There are so many things to love about the team especially on the offensive side, it feels like runs can be scored at absolutely any part of the lineup with so many great on base percentages and guys mashing balls all over the gaps and out of the park. Maybe this bullpen just doesn't do it for me. Maybe they will clean it up. What do the Twins need to give them that edge? Do you think they already have all of the pieces for a championship run? If we are missing something, what and how do we acquire? GO TWINS GO
  11. With the announcement that Nelson Cruz suffered a wrist injury yesterday, my immediate thought was who would replace him in the lineup and on the roster if he had to go on the injured list. It would appear to me that the answer is the much-discussed Miguel Sanó, who is on his third and last stop in his rehab program. Much has been written about Sanó. I wish to confine this discussion to the ballplayer between the lines. The other stuff has been beaten to death IMHO. What will the Twins get when a healthy Sanó is on the active roster? Sanó came up to the big leagues with much hype in 2015. He was going to be the power hitter the Twins hadn't had since Harmon Killebrew. Another comparison, because of size, was Frank Thomas. Sanó's rookie year was excellent. Despite being called up only at midseason, he was a contender for Rookie-of-the-Year. His traditional state line--.269 BA, 18 homers, 52 RBI was very good. Double the homers and RBIs for a full season, and there is a perennial All-Star, future Hall of Famer. Plus, he was only 22 years of age. A deeper look at his rookie stats was probably even more encouraging, while Miguel struck out over 100 times (in a half season), he also walked more than 50 times, giving him a solid OBP of .385. His OPS was a stellar .916 which yielded an OPS+ of 149. After a minor injury, Miguel only played 11 games in the field, so we couldn't be sure about his defense. For his superior half-season of work, Miguel Sanó was voted the Twins' Player of the Year. 2016 started with Sanó installed as the new right fielder. He was never competent or comfortable there and it seemed to affect his hitting. After a month and a half of futility in right field, Miguel moved back to third to demonstrate a rocket arm, but less-than-soft hands. His metrics at third came in below average, but at least he could hit. Well, the hitting didn't go as well either. Sanó ended up playing in 116 game, having an OPS of .781 with 19 homers and 51 RBI as the Twins flailed and failed and lost over 100 games. Sanó missed over 30 games due to injuries. Again, a deeper look into Sanó's numbers is a mixed bag. In 160 additional plate appearances, Sanó only hit one more homer than 2015, his walk rate plummeted while his strikeout rate stayed basically steady. The batting average ended at .236 and his OBP fell to.319. Sanó was a deserved All-Star in 2017. He came to camp as the third baseman, healthy and came out of the gate on fire. His first-half stats were outstanding--.276, 21 homers, 62 RBI and his defense at third was satisfactory. The strikeout rate remained about the same (35%), but he also walked 44 times, a big improvement over 2016 and the OBP was .368 at the break. Since the 2017 All-Star break, Miguel Sanó hasn't been very good. The combined numbers from the second half of '17 and 2018 are .211 BA, 20 homers, 56 RBI. OBP at .292, slugging .408, with an OPS of .700. The walk rate is below 10% and the strikeout rate is 38%. These are not future Hall-of-Fame numbers. They aren't even starter numbers. In addition, according to metrics (and my eyes) Sanó remains a below-average third baseman, despite a plus-plus arm. To summarize this rather elongated prologue, Sanó's on-field performance has been a roller coaster. He started looking like one of the brightest stars, faded, came back to that level again and faded again. Does this up-and-down have to do with injuries? Certainly. The point here is to suggest that the Twins shouldn't be counting on Sanófor too much. Expectations of another Frank Thomas or Miguel Cabrera should be tempered by now. I think they should expect more than they gotten since the All-Star break of 2017. They should get more than Mark Reynolds-like production. If the strikeouts keep coming and the homers are too infrequent, he can still be optioned. This club looks like at least a contender for postseason. If that is the case, they shouldn't be playing guys based on potential or upside. Miguel Sanó is at a crossroads in his career (in my opinion). He soon will have a chance to step on stage with a good team and help them make postseason, and maybe have success there. He's now 26 and shouldn't be judged on what he might do, he should be judged by how he is actually performing on the field.As a Twins fan and a baseball fan, I hope he can find his earlier success. As someone who has seen a lot of hyped players come and go, I am a bit skeptical.
  12. The Twins played their 39th game this season yesterday. Their record remains the best in baseball (by percentage points), despite a 5-3 loss to Detroit. While 40 games is closer to the 1/4 mark, there are more than 24 hours between games to consider where the Twins are and what changes (if any) should be made. Obviously, with that good record, the weaknesses aren't too glaring and the strengths are pretty evident. Why are the Twins 25-14? Power and pitching are the easy answers. They are on a club-record pace for long balls, with a lineup that legitimately could have eight or nine 20-homer hitters. Starting pitching has been well above expectations, as well, with José Berríos putting up ace numbers, while probably the two biggest surprises are Jake Odorizzi and Martín Pérez, both of whom have been outstanding. The bullpen has, on balance, gotten the job done. There have been hiccups in the 'pen, especially callups and middle inning guys, but one can only point to a game or two where the bullpen is to blame for a loss. If Marwin Gonzalez is considered part of the bench, the Twins have a deep and versatile group of players to fill in. Gonzalez has gotten over 500 plate appearances every year since 2016 while playing multiple positions. Willians Astudillo and Ehire Adrianza also play multiple positions and either of the two primary catchers are hitting well right now. Garver can also play multiple positions. The team's defense is far better with centerfielder Byron Buxton playing full-time and healthy. The three new defenders in the infield have been very good, as well. Super-utility player Gonzalez has been the principal 3rd baseman and probably will be until third baseman Miguel Sanó returns. Here is one person's thoughts on problems for this club: 1) Bullpen--Blake Parker has gotten the job done as a closer, Taylor Rogers has continued to be an outstanding late-inning arm. Beyond that, there are questions. Trevor May has been OK as a 7th-8th inning guy, but he's been inconsistent. Trevor Hildenberger has faltered recently. It doesn't appear that the manager trusts any of the other bullpen pitchers with high-leverage situations. Another arm or two is needed, if the Twins want to get to October and win games in postseason. 2) Starting depth--The front four starters have been great. Miguel Pineda has struggled, but shows signs of shaking off the rust. Beyond that, it appears the Twins best hopes to bolster their starting rotation are in AA (or just promoted to AAA). Teams almost always need more than five starters and the cupboard is pretty bare beyond #5 for the Twins. 3) Speed and a backup outfielder--Way down the list, but the Twins have only one real threat on the base paths. Buxton has all but two of the teams stolen bases and demonstrates his blazing speed running out extra-base hits and tracking fly balls. Jake Cave is a major league player, but is essentially a backup corner outfielder and he is backing up two left-handed hitting corner outfielders. It would be helpful if the Twins had a speedy, good defensive outfielder who hit right handed and handled LH pitching. These are my thoughts at almost 40 games. I wonder how they'll change after 81, the halfway point.
  13. The Twins have ridden the roller coaster during the Paul Molitor era. Up in 2015, way down in 2016, a peek at the playoffs in 2017 and now way down in 2018. The roller coaster claimed a front-office victim in longtime GM Terry Ryan two years ago and now there has to be some heat on field manager Molitor after this season's extreme disappointment. The complaints about the old regime included being too "old school", including pitch-to-contact staffs, not using advanced metrics, cookie cutter approaches to hitting, and of course, not spending enough to bring in and keep talent. Fair complaints all, I think. However, in the Levine/Falvey era, we see little real progress and a real lack of talent in the upper minors. This year's crop of September call-ups is among the most uninspiring in recent memory. I believe there are two keys to being competitive and sustaining that competitiveness for a number of years. The first is pitching. Levine and Falvey are supposed to be pitching guys. They have acquired pitching, but with mixed results at best. Their best talent at the top levels of the farm system doesn't have many, if any, outstanding talents. Addison Reed, Zach Duke, Lance Lynn, Jake Odorizzi didn't move the needle much for the big club this year. Perhaps they have suffered from some bad luck and just need to add quality until it sticks and stays. All I can say is this, the Twins rank in the bottom third of almost every meaningful pitching stat. You don't win year after year with far below average pitching. The other component which is missing in my opinion is defense. For the last two years, the Twins have gone with a primary shortstop who is well below average defensively, couple that with a revolving door in center field this year, the trading of the regular second baseman and the season-ending injury to primary catcher Jason Castro, and you have a toxic mess turning outs into outs. Further, and if there is one complaint about Molitor that sticks, it is this. The team has been woeful at executing fundamental baseball. I'm talking about throwing to the proper base, making needless throws, failing to hit cutoff men and the like. Add in that opposing baserunners are taking extra bases like free gifts and this is tough to watch. I think the front office needs to commit to pitching and defense in a big way this offseason. That would include making every effort to keep their most gifted defender (Byron Buxton) in Minnesota and on the field as much as possible. Secondly, I think the Twins need a defensive-minded shortstop, with the idea that Jorge Polanco can move to what I think is his natural position, second base. On the pitching front, more and better arms to augment the so-so rotation (I think Gibson/Berrios/Odorizzi is fine for #2-4) and a questionable bullpen. I like May/Hildenberger/Rogers, but more is needed included a closer. The Twins have been in the baseball wilderness long enough. They need to have a solid plan for improvement, stick with it and stay relevant not for an occasional year, but consistently. I think the long suffering fan base deserves it.
  14. For years baseball played with shortstops that could cover a lot of ground and if they hit well it was a bonus - Marty Marion and Ozzie Smith made the hall like this. Mark Belanger was the glue of Earl Weaver's championship Orioles and Zoilo Versalles brought the Twins to their first World Series. Now we masquerade SS with all the shifts but still we look at Lindor and Correa and other great gloves with great arms as prototype shortstops. Notice how many professional athletes began as Shortstops - that includes Sano. Because the best athlete was the SS. On a site called Dick's Pro Tips the little league teams are given this advise - "Arguably, this should be one of your best defensive players. The shortstop should show great range and the ability to field sharply hit baseballs. Choose someone who has an above-average arm, as many of their throws will be a great distance." Some might argue catcher and they get a lot of points, but they do not have to move as fast and as many directions, catch hops, drives, popups, and bad hops. Nor do they turn DPs. Think about what happens when a shortstop blows a catch, misses on a DP, or drops a pop up. We can put big oafs that hit Homeruns at 1B and even 3B, but not at SS. We can put good gloves with limited range at 2B (hate to say that since I played 2B), but at SS we want quickness, range, and arm. It is a position that demands a lot and is involved in a lot. I bring that up because Polanco is really disappointing this year. I do not have a stat that tells me how much offense is needed to offset bad defense. He has now reached 50 Errors at SS, not counting other positions, in 3 years. Too many. His fielding percentage, his errors, and his defensive WAR are all near the bottom. If the Twins are going to move up in the standings, we have to move up in the quality of each position and Jorge is not cutting it right now. Do we have hope that will change?
  15. I've not followed this season as closely as I would have liked, but it has been disappointing for sure. In reading the posts after the Twins traded a quarter of their roster, mostly for prospects, it seemed that the back channel conversation was about when the Twins would be good enough to contend. I think they can as soon as next year. First of all, the lineup has a lot of young veterans who could (and should) make a step forward next year. Sano and Buxton have had high expectations, but only about a season and a half of good results between the two of them--Sano's rookie year and first half of 2017 and Buxton's second half of '17--Kepler hasn't become even a good player despite excellent tools and a great swing, Rosario has broken out, Polanco missed half a season with a suspension. I think three or four of those five could be All-Stars or near All-Stars next year. I'm thinking that an acquisition or two of pitchers with what is coming back next year will make the mound corps pretty good. Berrios has a ways to go, but he's had a handful of dominant starts, Gibson has been very good, and even when he doesn't have his best stuff, he's given the team a chance to win. Add a solid starter and then pick from Meija, Pineda, Gonsalves, Odorizzi, maybe Stewart and Slegers to fill out the rotation. In the bullpen, a veteran arm or two with Rogers, Moya, Hildy, a perhaps revitalized Reed are the start of a good pen. There is money to spend so that shouldn't be a problem. Catching should be better with Castro and an improved Garver manning that duty. There seem to be three or four "super teams" and Cleveland is also very good, but things can change pretty quickly. I certainly hope that the FO approaches 2019 with the idea of contending. I'm too old to wait for rebuilds lasting several years!
  16. I'm trying to catch up with the Twins after being too darn busy to catch more than a few innings most days. I took a few minutes on a cloudy Sunday morning to look at some statistics. It occurred to me that for the first time in quite a while, the Twins have a player at each position who could be considered a "regular", although calling Grossman the regular DH is a bit of a stretch. Anyway, I took the time to compare each Twins regular with the rest of the American League at their position using OPS and WAR as the two measuring sticks. Here are the results: DH--Robbie Grossman 6th in OPS, 3rd in WAR (11 qualified) C--Jason Castro 10th in OPS, 4th in WAR (250 PAs, 13 qualified) 1B--Joe Mauer 8th in OPS, 5th in WAR (12 qualified) 2B--Brian Dozier 5th in OPS, 6th in WAR (15 qualified) SS--Jorge Polanco 12th in OPS, 10th in WAR (250 PAs, 14 qualified) 3B--Miguel Sanó 5th in OPS, 7th in WAR (15 qualified) LF--Eddie Rosario 6th in OPS, 11th in WAR (13 qualified) CF--Byron Buxton 18th in OPS, 8th in WAR (18 qualified) RF--Max Kepler 10th in OPS, 6th in WAR (13 qualified) My quick and dirty analysis: With the upticks in performance by Buxton and Polanco, there really aren't any "black holes" in the lineup, but there aren't really any All-Stars either, despite Sanó making the All-Star team in July. This is a group that will get better with experience (I'd consider five of the nine starters to be "young"). The Twins have a player at eight positions that is top half at their position in at least one of the two measures and every player has a positive WAR. The Twins problem IMHO is not position players.
  17. We are all painfully aware of Byron Buxton's struggles at the plate to start the season (rightfully so). But I was curious about how he has been doing in the field. Just watching, he appears to be doing very well, but wanted to see if the stats were backing that up, and they exceeded my expectations! Per Baseball Reference.com, here is where Buxton ranks at this point in the season: Defensive WAR: .6 (5th) Putouts in OF: 2017 AL 82 (3rd) Fielding %: 100% (1st) Total Zone Runs as CF/OF: 2017 AL 11 (1st) Range Factor/game: 2017 AL 3.32 (1st) So it appears that he has not taken his issues at the plate to the field. And beyond that, he is having a "gold glove" start to the season, defensively. Others thoughts?
  18. The Twins finished April of 2017 with a 12-11 record. They had one winning month in 2016 and only two in 2015 when they finished over .500. Here's my take on a decent first 23 games: Sano--The single biggest reason the Twins are above .500 is the hitting a fielding of Miguel Sano. He's been fine at third base and he's been a force with the bat. He crushed it on the recently completed road trip and was mostly responsible for both wins against the Royals, hitting two homers and driving in nine runs in two games. Defense--There has been an overall improvement. The starting outfield of Kepler, Buxton and Rosario covers a lot of ground and they all have good throwing arms. There hasn't been much time in the outfield for Grossman or Danny Santana. As mentioned above Sano has been more than OK at third and Jorge Polanco has been very good at shortstop. Brian Dozier and Mauer have been about was expected at second and first, so overall the infield has been pretty good. Catching defense has been upgraded with the twosome of Jason Castro and Chris Gimenez. All in all the Twins have gone from one of the worst defensive teams in MLB to pretty good and beside one notable botched rundown, they have been fundamentally sound. Starting pitching--Ervin Santana is a candidate for Pitcher of the Month. He's been beyond outstanding. Hector Santiago has also pitched over his head in April. The rest of the rotation? Blech! Supposed second starter Kyle Gibson is winless and hasn't reached six innings in a start. Phil Hughes looks like an end-of-the line veteran getting by on substandard pitches with the help of fast outfielders and pretty good command. Fifth starter A. Meija didn't make it through April although it looks like he has enough stuff to stick in a rotation eventually. Bullpen--While most of the numbers don't look gaudy, the Twins have survived with a bullpen full of question marks. "Closer" Brandon Kintzler has been fine and for the most point the setup guys have held the lead. Ryan Pressly got knocked around early, but seems to be coming out of it. There isn't a lot of talent or upside in the bullpen, but so far they've been OK, although just about every reliever has had a bad outing that skews their stats. Disappointments--The aforementioned Kyle Gibson has been bad nearing brutal. "Established" players Brian Dozier and Joe Mauer have done little in the first 23 games and Byron Buxton is far below the Mendoza Line. Buxton seems to be coming out of his early season funk and Dozier had a slow start last year before exploding for the final four months of the season. Mauer doesn't even walk that much anymore. It appears Mauer's decline is continuing. In summary, the pitching staff looks ripe for regression (a bad thing for the team), but quite a few things have gone well and would appear to bode well for the future. Sano, in particular, looks like he has taken the leap to star or superstar. There should much more to cheer for and talk about in the coming months and years.
  19. While the Twins have gotten nothing out of John Ryan Murphy, the New York Yankees have given Aaron Hicks a considerable amount of playing time. Today Hicks is in the lineup again and this is his 74th game for the Pinstripers (out of about 90). While Hicks has played quite a bit, so far he hasn't hit. He's batting .197 with a .568 OPS through today. Hicks has spent a majority of his playing time in right field. It is interesting that Hicks isn't even hitting left handed pitching. He's only hitting .151 vs lefties with a .432 OPS. Either the Yankees really believe Hicks will "find it" or they have given up on this season and want to give Hicks a real chance to show what he can do. The All-Star break is a game away and I find it almost surreal that the winningest franchise in MLB history would have a regular corner outfielder below the Mendoza line this late in the season. It is interesting to compare how the Yankees have handled Hicks compared to the handling of young Twins outfielders, including Buxton, Rosario, and Oswaldo Arcia. Hicks, like Arcia, is out of options and in his mid-20s. In a roundabout way, Hicks is replacing Alex Rodriguez, who has sat most days in the past two weeks while Hicks plays right field and Carlos Beltran supplants A-Rod as the DH. Apparently, the Yankees think their lineup is better with Hicks replacing a guy who has first ballot Hall of Fame numbers while the Twins seemed to think that guys in their organization were better with higher ceilings than Arcia (I do too). I am having a hard time not gloating about Hicks. I have maintained since Hicks' rookie year that he couldn't/wouldn't hit enough to be a major league regular corner outfielder. Incidentally, Buxton's OPS this year is higher than Hicks. Time will tell if the Yankees patience and investment of playing time will pay off. I do wish Hicks well.
  20. Yep, the Twins are bad. They almost certainly will lose 100 games and finish last in the AL Central. Management has been trashed regularly on Twins Daily and has deserved the scorn of the fan base. Articles have been written and several threads have discussed trading just about every veteran on the roster. I submit to everyone that the position players aren't that bad and not that much needs to be done. There is enough talent to score plenty of runs. Pitching, on the other hand, is a problem. The only home grown pitcher in the rotation for more than a year is Kyle Gibson. Tyler Duffey has had a couple of moments, but his numbers this year don't inspire confidence. There is talent but I don't know when or if it will ever develop. The bullpen has evolved a bit this year. The supposed end of the bullpen has imploded almost completely--Glen Perkins has a career-threatening injury, Kevin Jepsen was just DFAed, and Trevor May has been both injured and ineffective. I think that reforming the pitching staff is Problem #1 and Problem #2 is defense. All of that has to do with suppressing runs. Last year, for whatever reason, the rotation and bullpen performed much better than it had in all of the 90-loss seasons. They ranked in the middle in runs allowed. This year the Twins are last by a long ways in runs allowed. They are something like 1-34 when they score less than four runs. Too many veterans occupy spots in the rotation and too much money is invested in them. Some of those guys need to go. They are over thirty and most likely will never be better than they are now. The Twins bullpen has traditionally carried several guys who depended on their defense to make plays behind them. The bullpen has evolved somewhat, but isn't that effective. What transactions need to happen? I think at least one of Nolasco/Santana has to go. The live arms in the minors need to be tried, even if they aren't that effective. On the trade front, several players could go. I just saw an article on mlbtraderumors.com that lists Kinzler as a sneaky trade candidate, Abad could be on several team's radar and several position players might be gone--Nuñez, Suzuki, Plouffe (if healthy), perhaps Grossman--and most of this is addition by subtraction or moving on to the next season. The team could get better fast in scoring runs if Sano, Buxton, and Kepler live up to the hype and become solid regulars or better than that. Maybe the pitching and defense can get better fast. IMHO, it's harder to project pitchers than position players. I don't think it's a rebuild, it is a recasting.
  21. Perhaps no Twin better typified the mid-2000s teams than Nick Punto. The nibbliest of the piranhas, Punto played every defensive position over the course of his career except pitcher and catcher, and played most of them better than the average major leaguer. In fact, he had nearly 4000 chances to make a defensive play, and made just 84 errors. Defensive stats have evolved substantially since Punto came into the league, but they’re all fairly unanimous in showing that Punto was a positive asset defensively no matter where he played. The fact that his inclusion in the lineup on a game in and game out basis was as controversial as it was is a great testament to the fact that he was 1) versatile 2) a strong defender and 3) a virtual waste of a plate appearance. For his career, he was about 23 percent worse than the average major league hitter and that includes his inexplicable, galling 2011 when he was 25 above average for the Cardinals after having been 32 percent below average for the 2010 Twins. Perhaps no season serves as a better example of the Punto paradox than 2007, when he was the worst qualified hitter in baseball, but still managed to eek out a positive WAR thanks to his defense and adequate baserunning. Punto’s glove was too good to leave on the bench, the Twins believed, but putting him in the lineup meant sacrificing elsewhere, which ought to sound very similar to the situation the team is facing this year with Miguel Sano. No one is unclear why the Twins want Sano’s bat in the lineup, not after what he showed in his 335 PAs last year. By wRC+, Sano was one of the 10 best hitters in baseball (min 300 PAs) last season, and if that doesn’t buy someone a guaranteed spot in the order, absolutely nothing will. But the presence of Joe Mauer and Trevor Plouffe, and the acquisition of Byung-Ho Park means that Sano will now be judged by both his offense and his performance in the outfield. The Twins may have hoped Sano would be further along in his development as an outfielder by this point, but there was no way he was going to be anything other than a work in progress for most of 2016. His ill-conceived dive on Tuesday night that cost the Twins a run showed that his instincts are still coming along, but he’s already gotten on base multiple times in one game twice in the three games so far this season, so the yin and yang of 2016 Miguel Sano is already on full display. Much as we wondered how bad Punto’s offense could be before Ron Gardenhire would stop penciling him in the lineup, the question that will almost certainly face Paul Molitor at points his season is how bad can Sano be in the outfield while still providing enough of a reason to keep him in the lineup. In 2009, Adam Dunn turned in the worst defensive season by any outfielder since 2000. He was 44 runs below replacement defensively that year, though he split time between the outfield corners and first base, where he was also execrable. He hit 38 home runs, walked in over 17 percent of his plate appearances, and was 42 percent better than league average on offense to compensate for being an unhidable butcher in the field, and managed to produce a 1.1 WAR that season. Clearly the Nationals were hoping for an overall better result from Dunn in his first year with the team, but it’s hard to argue that they got anything other than what they should have expected. If Sano matches Dunn, he’ll still be an offensive star, but he’ll give the Twins less overall value in 162 games than he did 80 last year. Is that acceptable? It’s certainly not desirable, but will the cumulative effect of having Park, Mauer, and Plouffe in the order along with Sano produce the surplus value the Twins want? Possible, but still suboptimal even still. There is a pretty clear model for the player the Twins would like Sano to be as long as he’s learning the outfield: Manny Ramirez. Ramirez wasn’t just bad when he was learning his position, he was hilariously terrible in the field for most of his career, and yet, since 2000, Ramirez is one of only two players to have a season where he was worth -25 runs or worse defensively and still post a WAR of 2.9 or higher. He did four times (Hideki Matsui was the only other to do it, and he did it just once) between 2000 and when his career functionally ended in 2009. Ramirez’s 2005 season was the sixth worst defensive player-season of the new millennium at -32.6 runs below replacement, but he hit 45 home runs, was 52 percent above league average offensively, and helped anchor a Red Sox offense that scored an MLB-best 910 runs. 2.9 WAR certainly wasn’t his high water mark, but it was good enough to help the Sox secure a playoff spot. Unlike Dunn -- whose offensive profile more closely matches Sano’s than Ramirez’s does -- Ramirez wasn’t a strictly three true outcomes threat that season, as he hit .292/.388/.594 to help drive up his overall value. If Sano ends up being the next Manny Ramirez, the Twins should be elated even with the accompanying defensive frailties, but betting on that career arc is awfully optimistic. As mentioned above, Sano’s skill set is similar to Dunn’s: Hit for great power, walk a lot based on the fear you instill in opposing pitchers, and strike out an impressively high number of times, which means that in order to produce the type of value the Twins need Sano to produce to be competitive this year -- and, in truth, in the future as well -- he’ll either need to keep his defensive value above -20 runs below replacement or add a high batting average to his offensive arsenal. It wouldn’t surprise me a bit for this to be the worst season of Sano’s career. He ought to get better and better in the outfield as he gets a feel for different parks and as his instincts kick in, which means that even if his offense stagnates (if you can call repeated seasons at 40 percent above average stagnation) his overall value will continue to rise. Living between 10 and 20 runs below replacement would position him in the Ryan Bruan or Giancarlo Stanton realm of being far better on offense than on defense, but valuable enough in total to make a serious MVP case in years of exemplary offensive performance.
  22. "You never know what you're gonna get" (from Forrest Gump), this little witticism also applies to baseball players. Every front office projects what their prospects will become, but it is never a sure bet. Consider two current Minnesota Twins: Brian Dozier came to the Twins as a shortstop, thought to be fundamentally sound in the field, but without great tools. As a hitter, he had never hit below .274 and never exceeded nine homers in a season, with his top year yielding at .320 average in a year split between advanced A ball and AA. Typical middle infielder profile. Sometime in 2013, the scouting report changed--Dozier has become a second baseman and a guy with a low batting average, but with the most extra base sock for his position in major league baseball. It could be argued that from the start of 2014 (or perhaps midseason of 2013) until the All-Star break in 2015 that Dozier put together elite numbers based on his power numbers. Overall, despite the low batting average and middling overall OBP, Dozier has established himself as a hitter based on his extra-base hits. Since 2013 he has compiled 105 doubles and 69 homers from second base. Now, lets look at Oswaldo Arcia: Coming through the system, the most used comp for Arcia was Bobby Abreu, a fine hitter with some power. Arcia hit his way throught the minors, always as a young player for the league. He topped out at 17 homers in 2012, splitting his season between A+ and AA and hitting a combined .320. As a Twin, Arcia has become a true home run threat, hitting 34 homers (including some prodigious long balls) in under 800 plate appearances in 2013 and 2014. However, the batting average and more importantly strike zone discipline have diminished dramatically. Both players have increased their power numbers at the highest level, but lost something in the transition. Dozier hasn't cracked .250 for batting average and this season set the club strikeout record. Arcia's K percentage is much higher than Dozier's and he seldom takes a free pass, in fact this year for the Twins Arcia didn't get a non-intentional walk (65 PAs). I think the Twins would be happy if both Dozier and Arcia became more complete hitters, even if it costs a few home runs. In Arcia's case, I think his time in Minnesota will end if he doesn't modify his approach (and results), while with Dozier, becoming someone who uses the whole field more often would be an adjustment to the adjustments that major league pitchers have used on him.
  23. After the back-slapping is done at Twins Way, the general manager should have time to take a long, hard look at the season that just played out. The Twins won 83 games and were competitive. The season was highlighted by one fine month (May) and a pluckiness that kept them from sinking too far when times got tough. The Twins pitching improved more than their metrics indicated while offensively the team scored more runs than their numbers indicated. The Twins scored 695 runs, while the league averaged 710. In 2014, the club scored 715 runs, ranking in the top half of most offensive statistics except for home runs. What changed? Plenty. In 2014, the Twins had better than average performance from a player at all nine positions. In 2015, they managed to have players with an OPS+ above 100 at three positions, and only one player (Miguel Sano) whose numbers could be classified as well above average. The team was dead last in on-base percentage and their top hitter had a batting average of .265. The 2014 had more than 100 more walks than the 2015 team, while accumulating 65 more strikeouts. Somehow the 2015 group finished in the middle of the pack in runs scored, but overall offense took a severe downturn. Part of that can be explained by personnel--the Twins got more than 450 at-bats from Eddie Rosario, who provided first-rate defense in the outfield corners instead of playing lumbering DHs and first basemen in the outfield. Regression hit the Twins hard as well. 2014 newcomers Santana and Vargas along with Oswaldo Arcia all struggled and were banished to the minor leagues, with Arcia not even being recalled when rosters were expanded. Full-time regulars Dozier and Plouffe saw their seasons fall off after seeing career bests in 2014. 2014 All-Star Kurt Suzuki came back to earth with a BA 40 points lower and his OPS+ falling from 104 to 67. Pitching was more of a mixed bag. The Twins' rotation wasn't great, but wasn't the embarrassment that previous editions had been. Only Kyle Gibson made it through the season without missing a start, but every starter had good moments. The bullpen, which all along seemed to be a weak link, was aided by the addition of a couple of guys via trade and one guy via demotion from the starting rotation. Also assisting in the staff's improvement was better, more athletic defense, particularly in the outfield. Still, the Twins still ranked last in strikeouts and first in hits allowed while yielding the second-fewest walks, a continuation of the much-maligned "pitch-to-contact" meme from previous seasons. Looking at the roster, it is a combination of veterans and young players with a couple (Dozier and Plouffe) in between. Suzuki, Mauer, and Hunter are all in the second half of their careers, while youngsters handle the other positions. The pitching staff had many over-30 guys pitching, including almost all of the bullpen. In general, the offense needs to improve by getting on base more. Too much of the team's power is concentrated in right handed hitters, and more speed would help. On the mound, more power arms are needed. There are specific questions that need to be answered, as well. Here are five questions that need to be answered in the off-season and my takes on each one: 1) What will Trevor May's role be for the 2016 Twins? May is one of the top arms on the Twins. While he wants to start and profiles to be a good one, I think he should be in the bullpen as the eighth inning guy, and perhaps as the closer. His stuff "played up" in the bullpen and he had several outings that were dominant. 2) How can the Twins augment the catcher position? Kurt Suzuki had a 67 OPS+ and his backups were dreadful at the plate. Suzuki was among the worst at throwing out base stealers (his pitchers didn't help much) and there were too many unblocked pitches. I think there are two options--acquire a backup from outside the organization or get a starting replacement also from outside the organization. I don't know who that player is, but I think a lefty hitter who is respectable defensively. Ideally, Suzuki should either share time or be the backup. 3) What of Torii Hunter? Hunter was a valuable presence who provided 22 homers, but he hit .242 with a .701 OPS at a premium offensive position. Hunter has stated that he doesn't want to be a part-time player and the Twins have top prospect Byron Buxton and minor league Player of the Year Max Kepler perhaps ready to help next year. Oswaldo Arcia also figures in here. 4) Is it time for Trevor Plouffe to be traded? He has led the club in RBIs the last two years, provided steady and improved defense and has become a team leader. However, Miguel Sano looks the part of a superstar and shouldn't be a DH at 22 years of age. I think that it is in fact time. Plouffe is a good player, but he shouldn't stand in the way of Sano. The Twins could perhaps fill the catcher gap by trading Plouffe. 5) Rick Nolasco is still under contract for two more years. He's been a total disappointment for the first two years of his contract. Can the Twins get out from under his contract? It would be great if Terry Ryan could slough off the contract, but I doubt it. I think Nolasco enters the 2016 season as one of the guys in the Twins rotation. That, in my opinion, seals the deal that May starts in the bullpen. It also indicates that JO Berrios and Tyler Duffey will have a mountain to climb in order to make the rotation to start the season. While it seems silly not to have the best arms starting the season, every rotation goes through changes over the course of the season. I see only eight guys on the short list of starters in the Twins' organization, including May. That isn't too much depth and might not be enough.
  24. I'm jumping the gun by a day, but the Twins are approaching the All-Star break and they certainly qualify as contenders. After beating Detroit today, they are tied for the second best record in the league at eight games over .500. One can't help but be a little optimistic about the Twins chances for the last 74 games. Today was a high point, not only hammering Detroit's starting pitcher, but also the mid-game announcement that Brian Dozier would indeed make the 2015 All-Star team, all on the heels of the startling comeback the earned the Twins a near miraculous victory on Friday night. However, there are obvious flaws on the team. The leading percentage hitter currently is Joe Mauer, hitting in the mid-.270s and until this home stand the Twins had struggled to score runs for the better part of six weeks. We've seen a bullpen that is far from dominant and still have unsettled and unproductive positions (catcher and shortstop). The starting staff continues to allow far fewer runs than their peripherals would suggest. Since the Twins outstanding month of May, analysis has focused on how the club is winning and also if they can sustain that performance. Most analysts still think the club is suspect. A good example is Baseball Prospectus, which provides a Postseason Probability for each team. They currently peg the Twins at 21.6%, lower than the Tigers (2.5 games behind the Twins) and the Indians (4.5 behind Minnesota). This is supposedly scientific analysis. The team is far different that the one that opened the season in Detroit. Eddie Rosario has claimed an outfield spot, Aaron Hicks appears to be here to stay this year, and several members have changed in the bullpen. The rotation has added Ervin Santana to the rotation. I think more changes are in the offing. Either by trade or promotion, I think the bullpen will continue to be redone. Byron Buxton figures to return to Minnesota after a rehab and perhaps an option to AAA, Oswaldo Arcia has begun to pound the ball at Triple A, I am still not convinced the Twins are a playoff team, but it looks like they could easily be in it for the two and a half months. I'm predicting a couple of moves that will fortify the bullpen (perhaps trading for a lefty reliever and promoting a hard thrower) and also perhaps a trade for a catcher, who could help this year and beyond. I would expect improvement from the offense, combined with a bit of regression from the rotation. I have predicted 85 wins for the club since they broke camp in Florida. I hope that number is reached although I'm not sure if it will be enough to gain admission to the post season.
  25. I don't pay much attention to All-Star voting. I know that no Twins will be voted in, and I agree with that decision. Further, I know that Brian Dozier isn't in the Top 5 in voting at his position. However, with each passing day I am more and more convinced that Dozier both could be and should be in Cincinnati for the All-Star game next month. Last year I had hopes until the last day that Dozier would be named as a late sub for a middle infield injury because he was already participating in the Home Run Derby and the game was in Minneapolis. This year, I have hope he will be named to the squad and think that he deserves the honor. Dozier supplies power and extra-base sock from the second base position. He is a fine base runner and a good defender. Let's look at the numbers, shall we? Fueled by a high number of walks, Dozier's OBP is tied for third, trailing the guy who should start (Kipnis) and Dustin Pedroia. He is the leader in slugging and second in OPS (behind Kipnis). Dozier also leads all AL second basemen is home runs, runs, and RBI. Brian is also second in WAR, again behind Kipnis. Now for the downside. There is big competition at second base. Defending batting champ Jose Altuve is a fine player, as are Pedroia and Ian Kinsler. Robbie Cano also has been a perennial All-Star, but this year has struggled mightily. Altuve leads in the voting and Kipnis is a near guarantee to be in Cincinnati. Dozier would have to prevail over All-Stars Pedroia and Kinsler to make it as the third second baseman. The best thing that could happen would be for Kipnis to overtake Altuve, but it doesn't look like that will happen. The best way for Dozier to make the All-Star team is for him to keep producing. With less than a month to go before selections are made, he certainly has stepped up his game and I hope he gets the deserved honor.
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