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  1. There is no more frustrating word to me in modern baseball than analytics. I love and fully embrace the new avenues in which we are able to evaluate and prepare in regards to the game of baseball. Unfortunately, boiling it down to a buzzword as “analytics” has become, leads to little more than a quick note suggestive of being well versed in actual understanding. This World Series is about two organizations that are fully capable of turning up their nose at those instances. Let’s not be naïve, the Los Angeles Dodgers have the second highest payroll in baseball for the 2020 season. It’s not as though Dave Roberts’ team is starved for talent. Similarly built organizations like the New York Yankees (1st) and the Boston Red Sox (3rd) find themselves at home, however. One key difference for the Dodgers is talent utilization. On Sunday night, settling in for a game seven against the Atlanta Braves, Los Angeles started Dustin May. He was used as an opener with Tony Gonsolin working as the bulk arm. Quickly into the action the broadcast wondered whether that decision came from the manager or the front office. The likely reality is that the answer is simply both. Suggesting that modern evaluation for baseball success is hidden behind computer computations and that the game is played on paper wildly misunderstands analytics. The point isn’t to simply plug in the components of a calculated answer, but instead best position yourself based upon expected outcomes and marry that with the game on the field. Certainly, the Dodgers have paid for their fair share of talent, what they also know is how to best utilize it in order to capitalize on the effectiveness. There’s an incredible amount of nuance when it comes to how teams deploy information. Some quick digging shows that Los Angeles shifted 55% of the time in 2020. That was more than any team in baseball, one of only two organizations to do so more than 50% of the time and was the same standing they were in for 2019. Defensive positioning is just one call out that can reflect a progressive way of playing the game. The reality is that there’s more than one way to squeeze out opportunity in the win column. Take a look at the Tampa Bay Rays for example. They’ve long been considered *the* organization when it comes to deploying competitive advantages through analytical assessments. With the 28th highest payroll in baseball this year, they played to an American League best record and represent the league as the 2nd best team in the sport. Defensive positioning isn’t the way in which Tampa found themselves locking down a competitive advantage in 2020. They shifted just 33% of the time, 19th overall in the game. They didn’t bludgeon their way to being an offensive juggernaut. Hitting just 80 dingers they were only 14th in baseball, but the 9.4 fWAR compiled led to a top 10 offense within the game. The Rays made sure to value outs. In over 4,000 plate appearances this year not once did they sacrifice bunt. Where Tampa put things together in 2020 was on the mound. That’s an interesting revelation because they don’t have a Clayton Kershaw or Gerrit Cole. The Rays made an incredible swap (and partly thanks to Pittsburgh’s poor talent evaluation) in turning Chris Archer into the Tyler Glasnow package. Beyond the man with the hair and Blake Snell though, the Rays rotational is relatively nondescript. Their bullpen, however, is another story. In 2020 the Rays owned the best bullpen in baseball generating a combined 3.6 fWAR. By now you’d hope the names are more widely known, but from Castillo to Anderson, and Fairbanks to Curtiss, it’s a unit made of lockdown arms. What Tampa has done is rely on their own ability to develop arms rather than pay or reach for answers. Aaron Slegers and John Curtiss were castoffs from other organizations, Anderson was targeted in trade as was Fairbanks, and Castillo was internally groomed. What happens in Tampa Bay remains reliant upon open communication and buy-in from everyone involved. Being able to suggest that length from a starter isn’t as necessary as quality. Having the opportunity to deploy any arm at any time or doing away with traditional norms tied to specific roles, those are all instances that numbers back but can’t convey. By understanding how to gain a statistical advantage and then being able to deploy it is where the next stage of the game is taking us. Right now, we’re still too stuck on analytics being some catch-all descriptor, and there’s still a vocal old-guard looking to tear down progression. In all ventures however, the goal is progress. We’re seeing that in this sport, and the World Series will highlight it. This isn’t about a top and bottom spending team. It’s about two organizations that best utilized all of the talent they had at their disposal. For more from Off The Baggy, click here. Follow @tlschwerz
  2. It’s a bit unfortunate that 2020 has dealt the world the hand it has. On the sports front, and baseball in particular, the year has looked nothing like a traditional schedule. With Minnesota putting together arguably the most talented roster in franchise history, it’s unfortunate we didn’t get to see it perform over a full 162-game slate. What still matters however, is that all that talent is at the disposal of Rocco Baldelli when the games become win-or-go-home. The most likely opponents for the Twins in the Wild Card round of the Postseason look to be the New York Yankees, Houston Astros, or Cleveland Indians. We know the field at this point, and there’s no reason Minnesota can’t be excited about facing any of these teams. In reverse order though, here’s how I’ll argue the stack up, from easiest to toughest. 7. Toronto Blue Jays (Batting 18th Pitching 18th Fielding 18th) Somewhat of a surprise team, the Blue Jays have competed in what has been an up and down AL East this season. New York looked like a minor league team depending on which lineup you caught them with, and the Red Sox took ownership of the Orioles doldrums positioning. Toronto doesn’t do anything all that well, but they don’t have any glaring problem areas either. Bo Bichette is a stud, and right now Teoscar Hernandez has assumed the production intended for Vladimir Guerrero Jr. Hyun-Jin Ryu has looked the part of the ace he was hoped to be, but they haven’t got much help on the pitching front elsewhere. Ken Giles isn’t coming back either, and the bullpen is plenty beatable. 6. Houston Astros (Batting 22nd Pitching 11th Fielding 28th) What a difference a year makes. Houston was probably always going to be seen as tough despite the fallout from their cheating scandal due to the number of weapons that can hurt you. Their problem is that many of them have been a shell of themselves, and the pitching isn’t there either. Gerrit Cole is gone and Justin Verlander is done. George Springer and Michael Brantley have hit, but Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa have been awful. You can’t let this team beat you, they have the talent to do so, but it isn’t the scary Astros anymore. 5. Oakland Athletics (Batting 10th Pitching 8th Fielding 3rd) Taking the Athletics down a notch was the massive loss of Matt Chapman. He’s a superstar and arguably the best defender in baseball at third base. There’s still thump in their lineup with Matt Olson and Marcus Semien, but one through nine isn’t where they’ll beat you. This team can pitch in the rotation and the bullpen, while converting outs at a high clip defensively. Oakland isn’t a team to take lightly but the +53-run differential and overall win tally seems to be aided by a very mediocre AL West. 4. Cleveland Indians (Batting 16th Pitching 1st Fielding 2nd) By now Twins fans have seen enough of the Indians to know what expectations are. The club can once again pitch, shocker, but they still can’t hit. Jose Ramirez has looked like an AL MVP candidate, but the middle of the order still features a black hole in Carlos Santana. The outfield production is atrocious, and they’ll rely on beating teams in low-scoring affairs. This isn’t a group you want to see in October. Shane Bieber, Zach Plesac, and company can shut down any lineup. That said, there’s warts here and Minnesota has already handled them to the tune of a 7-3 record in 2020. 3. Chicago White Sox (Batting 1st Pitching 9th Fielding 9th) The rivalry has certainly been renewed, and it doesn’t matter who wins the division, the Southsiders will be coming for Minnesota plenty in the years ahead. The Twins split the season series with Chicago, and while a couple of those contests were lopsided, Rick Renteria’s club has the bats to do plenty of damage on their own. I think this unit is still a year away from settling into their own, but a series going up and down that lineup on a nightly basis would be as tense as it gets. Lucas Giolito is not an arm that has owned the Twins, and the rotation is barren behind him and Keuchel. Still though, it’s the bats that make this club worthy of a no-fly zone. 2. New York Yankees (Batting 7th Pitching 14th Fielding 13th) Going on season numbers for the Yankees are relatively hollow considering the amount of time they were without key players. Now a healthy Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton have returned, and all bets are off. Gerrit Cole is an ace in every sense of the word, and Masahiro Tanaka is plenty consistent in his own right. I actually don’t think New York’s rotation is that much better than Minnesota’s but turning to Cole twice in a short series could be the trump card. There are questions as to whether Judge and Stanton have enough at bats to feel comfortable, but both are capable of going off at any time. Throw in Luke Voit and D.J. LeMahieu and you’ve once again got an opponent to avoid. 1. Tampa Bay Rays (Batting 11th Pitching 10th Fielding 8th) Maybe I’m overrating the Rays a bit given the opportunities they had against a more lackluster Yankees lineup, but this feels like the most complete team in the American League. Kevin Cash has this club clicking on all cylinders, and most of the names are guys a national landscape would gloss over. Brandon Lowe is a superstar, while Willy Adames has finally started living up to his potential. Tyler Glasnow is a problem on the mound and Nick Anderson may be the best reliever in baseball. Up and down this roster is a group of guys that constantly embody next man up, and anyone is capable of producing on a nightly basis. It’d be a fun narrative series for the Twins, but not one I’d want to willingly sign up for. *Overall ranks based on Fangraphs fWAR totals MORE FROM TWINS DAILY — Latest Twins coverage from our writers — Recent Twins discussion in our forums — Follow Twins Daily via Twitter, Facebook or email
  3. Needing a starting pitcher, the Minnesota Twins front office send minor leaguer Jermaine Palacios to the Tampa Bay Rays for Jake Odorizzi. Palacios had some hype but was never a top prospect, while Odorizzi had been largely mediocre and was set to turn 28. It’s hard not to see more upside in a big-league starter under team control, but this leap forward has been immense for the former Tampa starter. Odorizzi was often chided for his efforts by Twins fans last season. He posted a 4.49 ERA backed by a 4.20 FIP. The 8.9 K/9 and 3.0 BB/9 were right in line with career norms. On a bad team he was hardly a large issue and generally pitched better than the surface level numbers suggested. In 2019 he’s gone gangbusters though, and he’s made his first All Star game to show for it. Cooling off some over the last few weeks, Odorizzi still owns a 2.73 ERA and 9.9 K/9 across 85.2 IP. His FIP and xFIP suggest a bit more regression could be coming, but there’s a visible change that’s been made by the pitcher Minnesota trots out as their number two starter. Having been a low 90’s guy his whole big-league career, Odorizzi has added two mph of velocity under the tutelage of Wes Johnson and is now averaging 93.1 mph on the pitch this season. Not only is he throwing harder, but Odorizzi has shifted his repertoire to flip a career high number of sinkers, taking away from both his cutter and splitter. This new version of Odorizzi is giving up a career high percentage of hard-hit balls, but he’s missing bats at record marks as well. The 12.4% whiff rate is a new high-water mark, while his contact rate is down to just 74.3% and the zone contact rate stands under 80% (78.5%) for the first time in his career. A slight jump in hard hit rate could be explainable through the increased velocity, but even still with that development, missing more barrels is the key component here. Over the course of his career Odorizzi has averaged 1.2 HR/9 and has never been below the 1.0 mark. Through his first 16 starts he’s allowed just eight homers and is at 0.8 HR/9 on the season. Shedding hits and walks as well, the 1.074 WHIP stands out on its own. Having been integrated into the Twins system a year ago, and now working with a pitching thinktank that’s been overhauled, he’s reaping the rewards. Next season Odorizzi will find himself on the open market for the first time in his career. The Twins have a couple of holes in their rotation that they’ll need to commit arms to. We don’t yet know how the club will navigate the trade market but extending a guy they already have in house may certainly make some sense. Last season Jake Odorizzi was getting his feet wet with Minnesota and simply going through the motions he had always practiced to compete. This season he’s been given a few new tools that have taken his game to the next level and everyone involved has benefitted from it. For more from Off The Baggy, click here. Follow @tlschwerz
  4. What They Do Well Like Minnesota the Rays can pitch. The 12.1 fWAR is 1st in baseball and is largely bolstered by Charlie Morton. Blake Snell has taken his lumps at times this season, and he’s coming off his worst outing of 2019 (0.1 IP 2 H 6 ER 4 BB 0 K vs NYY). After losing Tyler Glasnow to injury much of the Rays rotation has been in flux. They employ the opener often and getting to Jose Alvarado or Emilio Pagan on the back end has been key. Despite not having the same offensive chops as the Twins, Tampa’s lineup is no slouch either. Their 12.9 fWAR is eighth in baseball and fifth in the American League. Owning just the 19th best ISO in baseball (.171) the approach is more of a team effort to score runs rather than living on the long ball or extra-base hit. What They Do Not Do Well Looking at a team this solid we’re nitpicking a little when attempting to find significant flaws. The lineup construction here is not one built to come from behind, however. Being in the bottom-third of baseball when hitting the long ball doesn’t provide many quick avenues to get back in a game. They also hover around the midpoint in regards to doubles, so it’s no surprise that their total runs scored check in at just 18th in the sport. Individuals of Note While Blake Snell gets the headlines as the reigning AL Cy Young, there’re two guys vastly more important for the Twins to key in on over the next few games. Wednesday starter Charlie Morton has been arguably the best free agent acquisition in baseball and leads the league in ERA. Houston turned him into a strikeout monster and his 1.025 WHIP suggests opportunities won’t come often against him. Morton has allowed more than two ER in just three of his 16 starts, and he’s held opposing lineups scoreless five times this season. On the offensive side of things, it’s former top prospect Austin Meadows. Acquired in the exchange for Chris Archer, Meadows has a .930 OPS. He has cooled just a bit since returning from the injured list in early May, but the .850 OPS still makes him a dangerous hitter. His 146 OPS+ is one point higher than that of Minnesota’s Jorge Polanco. Recent History As noted above, Minnesota and Tampa Bay squared off the last two days of May and first two of June. After a 14-3 drubbing in game one, Minnesota came back to take three in a row from Tampa. Minnesota is dealing with some missing pieces right now, but the hope would be that a return of one or two could have the Twins adding favorably to their 24-13 home record. Ending Thoughts Tampa is again a good squad and facing their two best hurlers isn’t going to provide any breaks for the Twins. Kyle Gibson is coming off an ugly outing against the Red Sox and will need to set the tone against Snell. Odorizzi faces his former organization and looked a bit lackluster his most recent time out. Minnesota’s lineup has slowed of late but getting right following the off day and against a good team at home, would be a great thing to see.
  5. Fresh off their first losing week of the 2019 major league baseball season the Minnesota Twins welcome the Tampa Bay Rays to Target Field for the first time in 2019. These two clubs hooked up at the end of May for a four-game series and the Twins took three of four. However, thanks to an 11-run drubbing in game one, Rocco Baldelli’s squad was on the short end of the run differential stick. Tampa comes to Minnesota having dropped six of their last ten playing against the Athletics, Yankees, and Angels. They’ve been near the top of a strong AL East division for much of the year, and the +85 run differential has their Pythagorean W/L at 48-30.What They Do Well Like Minnesota the Rays can pitch. The 12.1 fWAR is 1st in baseball and is largely bolstered by Charlie Morton. Blake Snell has taken his lumps at times this season, and he’s coming off his worst outing of 2019 (0.1 IP 2 H 6 ER 4 BB 0 K vs NYY). After losing Tyler Glasnow to injury much of the Rays rotation has been in flux. They employ the opener often and getting to Jose Alvarado or Emilio Pagan on the back end has been key. Despite not having the same offensive chops as the Twins, Tampa’s lineup is no slouch either. Their 12.9 fWAR is eighth in baseball and fifth in the American League. Owning just the 19th best ISO in baseball (.171) the approach is more of a team effort to score runs rather than living on the long ball or extra-base hit. What They Do Not Do Well Looking at a team this solid we’re nitpicking a little when attempting to find significant flaws. The lineup construction here is not one built to come from behind, however. Being in the bottom-third of baseball when hitting the long ball doesn’t provide many quick avenues to get back in a game. They also hover around the midpoint in regards to doubles, so it’s no surprise that their total runs scored check in at just 18th in the sport. Individuals of Note While Blake Snell gets the headlines as the reigning AL Cy Young, there’re two guys vastly more important for the Twins to key in on over the next few games. Wednesday starter Charlie Morton has been arguably the best free agent acquisition in baseball and leads the league in ERA. Houston turned him into a strikeout monster and his 1.025 WHIP suggests opportunities won’t come often against him. Morton has allowed more than two ER in just three of his 16 starts, and he’s held opposing lineups scoreless five times this season. On the offensive side of things, it’s former top prospect Austin Meadows. Acquired in the exchange for Chris Archer, Meadows has a .930 OPS. He has cooled just a bit since returning from the injured list in early May, but the .850 OPS still makes him a dangerous hitter. His 146 OPS+ is one point higher than that of Minnesota’s Jorge Polanco. Recent History As noted above, Minnesota and Tampa Bay squared off the last two days of May and first two of June. After a 14-3 drubbing in game one, Minnesota came back to take three in a row from Tampa. Minnesota is dealing with some missing pieces right now, but the hope would be that a return of one or two could have the Twins adding favorably to their 24-13 home record. Ending Thoughts Tampa is again a good squad and facing their two best hurlers isn’t going to provide any breaks for the Twins. Kyle Gibson is coming off an ugly outing against the Red Sox and will need to set the tone against Snell. Odorizzi faces his former organization and looked a bit lackluster his most recent time out. Minnesota’s lineup has slowed of late but getting right following the off day and against a good team at home, would be a great thing to see. Click here to view the article
  6. This was supposed to come out yesterday, but I hit "Save Draft" instead of "Publish," so here it is now. The Twins have only had four games since their last off day. However, they have been perhaps the biggest games of this season so far. Facing Tampa Bay's pitching staff was a true test and the results are proof that the Twins are a top team this season. The Good Taking three out of four games from a very good Tampa Bay Rays team. This series included a lot of bright spots for the twins including standout performances from some important pieces. José Berríos had a strong outing going 6.2 innings while the Twins would win 5-3 on a 2-run RBI single by Eddie Rosario in the 9th of game two of the series. Taylor Rodgers would get the win in that game by relieving Berríos and going 2.1 innings. In game three, the Twins scored 6 as a team, and only allowed 2 runs. In the final game of the series the team once again put up a big number, 9 runs, but needed almost all of it as their bullpen gave up 7 runs 6 of those being earned. Some of those wins didn't come easy, but they came against a very strong ball club on the road. They also came in-a-row and setup the team nicely to roll into Cleveland for a three game series against the Indians. The Bad Game one of the series featured the Twins worst loss since April 30, when they were shutout by the Astros 11-0. Starter Martín Pérez opened strong with a clean first and second inning, but had trouble with his control in the third where he gave up 2 walks, 3 singles, 2 doubles, and 6 runs before being replaced by Zack Littell. Littell would protect the rest of the bullpen by going 4.1 innings, but gave up 8 runs, all earned, in the process. Littell also was optioned to triple-A to make room for the returning Mitch Garver. Another bad from this series is Max Kepler going 0-13. Kepler will look to rebound in Cleveland, a place that he has hit well in historically. The Ugly I almost put game one of this series under ugly, but I think the true ugly in this series was Tropicana Field. Miguel Sanó once again had a home run stolen by the unusual overhead obstacles, this time by a speaker. Two exciting young teams at the top of the MLB, the home team only a few games back from the Yankees, and only 51,448 fans attended over 4 games. That's 12,862 per game. Tropicana Field's max capacity is 42,735. It's a weird, echoey monstrosity that has unfortunately been the home of one of the best products in baseball over the last decade. It is criminal how poor that stadium is and I hope for the fans sake that they can relocate into Tampa Bay proper instead of St. Petersburg, but it might be more likely that they find a whole new home city soon.
  7. Devin Smeltzer got the call for his big-league debut against the Milwaukee Brewers on Wednesday night at Target Field. His promotion was in part because Michael Pineda needed an IL stint, but also because the front office decided to juggle the rotation a bit. Without changing up the order, each starter was bumped a day allowing Minnesota’s top four arms to square off with one of the best teams in the American League. The Rays currently sit at 33-19 and have largely been led by unexpected performances, and pitching that has been top notch. Reigning AL Cy Young winner Blake Snell has been great again, and even in losing Tyler Glasnow after an amazing start, they’ve gotten strong contributions from Charlie Morton, Ryne Stank, and Yonny Chirinos. The complete pitching staff boasts baseball’s best fWAR at 9.3. The Yankees come in second at 8.6 and Minnesota lands in the top four at 8.1. Tampa’s 2.93 ERA is the lowest in baseball and they strand runners at a big league-leading 79.1% rate. No matter what avenue you explore, this Rays pitching staff is getting the job done. Maybe most integral against the powerful Twins is that 11.3% HR/FB rate, the second lowest total in baseball. Tampa hurlers are the only team in the majors allowing less than one HR/9 (0.88) and they’ll need to flex that metric against Minnesota’s bats. Zeroing in solely on the bullpen, Tampa owns the third lowest ERA, second lowest HR/9, and a HR/FB rate only trumped by the Athletics. To put it simply, getting past the starter isn’t the only challenge here, and sending the ball over the fence is beyond a tough ask. Then there’s the likely place balls will land when the Twins hot bats come into St. Petersburg, the outfield. Tampa’s outfield is second in baseball with 19 DRS, one spot ahead of the Twins and their 17 DRS. Kevin Kiermaier is maybe the only player in the sport that can hold a candle to Byron Buxton, and he’s been flanked most often by Avisail Garcia and Tommy Pham, who have both put up strong metrics of their own. So, what does this all mean? Well, the Twins are going to need production from their guys on the mound, and they’ll need top notch defensive efforts facing the fifth most potent offense (in terms of fWAR) across baseball. On top of that though, they’ve blasted their way through the competition and that’s where the Rays keep opponents at bay. Baldelli’s crew hasn’t been free swinging, and they aren’t up there with many empty at-bats, but will the big blasts come and how often will we see them? You can’t deny that the Twins are in the driver’s seat for the AL Central Division title. They aren’t going to look ahead to the postseason at this point, and the results of this Tampa series likely will have no bearing on October baseball. For an early season test of the working blueprint though, this is the narrative to keep an eye on.
  8. Today, the Pittsburgh Pirates and Tampa Bay Rays completed the deal that sent Chris Archer to the Buccos. With a PTBNL up in the air, Shanez Baz ended up being the final piece to the blockbuster. This whole situation remains relevant in the context of the Minnesota Twins due to conversations surrounding the Rays former ace and Minnesota slugger Miguel Sano. Over the summer there were multiple headlines that linked the two organizations with regards to trade talks. Twins fans were down on Sano coming off injury and poor decisions this offseason. Even with those developments however there seemed to be plenty of voices that hoped Sano could be the centerpiece of a swap. 1500 ESPN's Darren Wolfson quickly shot that down suggesting Tampa had "no interest," and there should've never been a belief to the contrary. Fast forward to where we are today, and we've now seen it took a trip to Single-A Fort Myers for Miguel to once again look motivated in the big leagues. Weight issues aside, his buy in and commitment towards being as great as he can be has long been the crux of his issues. Making the large leap, based on a very small sample size, that he's on the right track now, plenty still remains up in the air for Sano. Regardless of what Sano rounds into though, and even considering that being an All Star level slugger, Tampa was going to command a haul. Tyler Glasnow, Austin Meadows, and Shane Baz have all appeared on national top prospect lists. Giving that trio some Minnesota context, the Rays would've been targeting something along the lines of Fernando Romero, Alex Kirilloff, and Stephen Gonsalves. Even if you don't know prospects, that's a group of names that likely ring a bell for most casual Minnesota followers. The reality of the situation is that while Archer hasn't yet reached the pinnacle of what you'd hope he can be, there's a strong possibility that an ace level talent lies within. At 29 years old, he is under contract through 2019 and the combined $20MM in team options through 2021 are more the team friendly. Simply put, there isn't a pitcher on the open market that will equal Archer's level of enticement for the next couple of seasons. This is really a situation where hindsight isn't necessary. Miguel Sano was never going to be enough to land Archer, but it was silly at the time and is now as well. Had the Twins shifted to include the prospect package above, things would be quite dire given the performance throughout 2018. Although this same squad should have a very real opportunity to compete in 2019, it's players like those mentioned in that prospect package that should begin to establish themselves as regular big leaguers in 2020. Having Archer while depleting the system and not seeing the fruits of those labors would be a tough pill to swallow. It'll be interesting to see how this all works out for the Pirates. Pittsburgh still has some nice pieces on the farm, and they've graduated some solid players, but they're in a middle ground that I'm not sure Archer solves. Tampa is chasing the top of a very good division and adding that much talent is going to make the road much easier for them in the future. For more from Off The Baggy, click here. Follow @tlschwerz
  9. Over the weekend, the Minnesota Twins missed out on Yu Darvish as he joined Chris Gimenez and the Chicago Cubs. While I feel a bit disappointed Derek Falvey and Thad Levine didn't position themselves better with a six year offer, it's now a moot point. At this juncture a pivot to available free agents and the trade market has become a new reality. On the latter point, Minnesota's most available asset seems to be Max Kepler. It's worth wondering though, is that a good thing? A season ago, Kepler put up his highest OPS in the big league (.737), and got in his first full major league season. Coming into the 2016 season, Kepler debuted on all three (Baseball America, MLB, and Baseball Prospectus) Top 100 prospect lists, and ranked 30th, 44th, and 60th respectively. After putting together a steady upward trend in the minors, the belief was there that Minnesota had a real big league talent on their hands. While the .737 OPS is more than serviceable, it also leaves a bit to be desired. What I'm nearly certain about, is that Kepler is capable of harnessing that ability. In 2017, Kepler became a platoon player down the stretch. With the Twins in the midst of a postseason race, Paul Molitor decided he simply couldn't have a player with a .453 OPS against left-handed pitching garnering significant at bats. Despite the .828 OPS against righties, only two of Kepler's 19 homers came off of southpaws, and he racked up a 40/7 K/BB ratio. Looking back to 2016, the numbers improve but hardly jump off the page. In his rookie year, Kepler compiled a .595 OPS against lefties with two of his 17 homers and a 34/10 K/BB. In short, Kepler owns a 74/17 K/BB against same-handed pitchers in the big leagues, and he's hit just four of his 36 longballs off of them. You'd be hard pressed to argue Kepler deserves more than a platoon situation with those numbers (though I did find it frustrating at times in 2017). What's also fair to suggest is that he's a 25 year-old unfinished product who's shown an ability much better than what the big leagues have seen. Having never played Triple-A, Kepler's two best seasons in the minors came at Double-A in 2015, and High-A in 2014. Against lefties in those two campaigns he posted an .863 OPS (1 HR 15/12 K/BB) and a .691 OPS (1 HR 26/3 K/BB) respectively. The Double-A numbers are inflated some due to a season with 13 triples, but they are also buoyed by an approach that saw him walk more times than he struck out for the first time in his big league career. During 2017, Kepler slightly decreased his chase rate, with slightly increasing his swinging strike percentage. His contact slipped slightly, but was on par with his career averages. His hard hit rate remained static, and the only notable dip among batted balls was a 3% drop in HR/FB ratio. What could be an untapped area of improvement is one of contention for Kepler, his launch angle. In 2016, the average on base hits fell at 10.4 degrees. That number came in at just 8.8 degrees a year ago. Parker Hageman of Twins Daily actually looked in depth on this topic as it pertain to Kepler last March. Kepler's approach is to line the ball, with backspin, or get right with ground balls. With the power and stroke he has, a heightened launch angle would likely bring a good deal more success. What should be somewhat common sense is that a 25 year-old, highly regarded prospect, is far from a finished product. For Kepler to maximize his output in Minnesota however, the results will first need to change against pitchers attacking him from his side of the plate. There's a few keys for him to get there, with contact and launch angle being two of the avenues. What wouldn't be shocking is if it came together relatively quickly, and the German born big leaguer had a breakout season in front of him. After making his way through Elizabethton at age 19, it took him stops at Cedar Rapids and Fort Myers before truly settling into his own. It wasn't until 2015 as a 22 year-old at Double-A that Kepler posted his first full season .800 OPS on the farm. That's hardly a knock on ability as much as it is a highlight of a growing process. Entering his third season with the Twins, and just the second as a regular out of the gate, seeing another leap forward would hardly be a miracle. That's where the crossroads of what to do next comes in. Although there's still ample arms available on the market, Minnesota has been heavily connected to the trade market. With names like Chris Archer, Julio Teheran, and Jake Odorizzi among those thrown about, Kepler could be an enticing return. Derek Falvey and Thad Levine will have to decide what they see going forward however. In any trade scenario, you're going to have to give to get, but is the breakout coming for Max and just how big will it be. For me, I'm still a bigger believer of Kepler's long term future than I am of Eddie Rosario. Kepler's trajectory suggests one of growth, while Rosario's has some gaping holes that can continue to be exploited. If Minnesota is to deal Max for pitching, I'd hope the return is also substantial and that he's viewed as a cornerstone piece. Zack Granite and LaMonte Wade are both nice fallback options, but I'd hesitate to put them in the same realm as Kepler projects to be. With just over a month until meaningful games get started, I assume we'll have clarity which direction this narrative falls soon enough. For more from Off The Baggy, click here. Follow @tlschwerz
  10. Year In Review Year after year, as free agent after free agent left the Rays, we would see stories about how the Rays successful run was over and a betting line that matched it. And year after year, that meant easy money for anyone betting the "over." Finally, last year, that was not such an easy call when a value of 88.5 was established, a higher number than even the World Series Champion Boston Red Sox had to beat. Sure enough, it all went to hell. Their pitching mostly held up, finishing with a 3.56 ERA. But the Rays finally ran out of patches for their lineup, scoring 88 runs fewer than the year before and sinking to last in the American League in runs scored. By midseason, they had traded away their ace, David Price. They finished with just 77 wins, their lowest total since 2007, when Rays were still preceded by "Devil." And then things got worse. The changes this offseason were probably more symbolic than impactful; they may not cost the Rays many wins this year, but the message is clear: their window of opportunity slammed shut. Both their GM, Andrew Friedman, and their manager, Joe Maddon, bailed on them for more promising (and - surprise - cash-rich) teams. (The lesson? It turns out that in the long run in MLB being richer is better than being smarter. And if you doubt it, just watch where the smart guys end up going.) There are also plenty of changes on the field. They turned over their starting shortstop, second baseman, catcher and two outfielders and replaced them with...well, mostly with patches and prospects for the next rebuild, which they hope to start sooner rather than later. Vegas Says "I won't make that mistake again. They're done. But they still have a pretty good pitching staff." - 78.5 wins. Beating Vegas On the one hand, this franchise has been underestimated for most of the last eight years by the betting public, so I can't blame anyone for betting the over. But two things lead me to the "under", one spiritual and one practical. Spiritually, it's hard to rally when hope has left the building. Sure, an organization can embrace a "last stand" mentality, but that usually requires a cause a little more noble than a third-place finish. If the Rays don't thrive immediately, there is going to be enormous pressure to continue to look at the future. The team already consists of more than their share of "stop gap" players, and that's the sort that are easily traded away for some future chits. And sooner or later, they're going to get around to wondering just what kind of return Evan Longoria and his technicolor contract can fetch. And practically, this looks like the worst team in the AL East. Personally, I don't think they're going to be all alone in that regard; one of the other four will likely unexpectedly flame out. But the worst team in a division can have quite a bit of room to sink below their Vegas total. So I'm not sure I would bet on it, but put me down for the "under".
  11. They've been the sabrmetric darling for years, and Vegas finally bought in last year - just in time for things to fall apart. Vegas noticed and further noticed the offseason in which the Rays looked like they were embracing a rebuilding philosophy. So how about this year?Year In Review Year after year, as free agent after free agent left the Rays, we would see stories about how the Rays successful run was over and a betting line that matched it. And year after year, that meant easy money for anyone betting the "over." Finally, last year, that was not such an easy call when a value of 88.5 was established, a higher number than even the World Series Champion Boston Red Sox had to beat. Sure enough, it all went to hell. Their pitching mostly held up, finishing with a 3.56 ERA. But the Rays finally ran out of patches for their lineup, scoring 88 runs fewer than the year before and sinking to last in the American League in runs scored. By midseason, they had traded away their ace, David Price. They finished with just 77 wins, their lowest total since 2007, when Rays were still preceded by "Devil." And then things got worse. The changes this offseason were probably more symbolic than impactful; they may not cost the Rays many wins this year, but the message is clear: their window of opportunity slammed shut. Both their GM, Andrew Friedman, and their manager, Joe Maddon, bailed on them for more promising (and - surprise - cash-rich) teams. (The lesson? It turns out that in the long run in MLB being richer is better than being smarter. And if you doubt it, just watch where the smart guys end up going.) There are also plenty of changes on the field. They turned over their starting shortstop, second baseman, catcher and two outfielders and replaced them with...well, mostly with patches and prospects for the next rebuild, which they hope to start sooner rather than later. Vegas Says "I won't make that mistake again. They're done. But they still have a pretty good pitching staff." - 78.5 wins. Beating Vegas On the one hand, this franchise has been underestimated for most of the last eight years by the betting public, so I can't blame anyone for betting the over. But two things lead me to the "under", one spiritual and one practical. Spiritually, it's hard to rally when hope has left the building. Sure, an organization can embrace a "last stand" mentality, but that usually requires a cause a little more noble than a third-place finish. If the Rays don't thrive immediately, there is going to be enormous pressure to continue to look at the future. The team already consists of more than their share of "stop gap" players, and that's the sort that are easily traded away for some future chits. And sooner or later, they're going to get around to wondering just what kind of return Evan Longoria and his technicolor contract can fetch. And practically, this looks like the worst team in the AL East. Personally, I don't think they're going to be all alone in that regard; one of the other four will likely unexpectedly flame out. But the worst team in a division can have quite a bit of room to sink below their Vegas total. So I'm not sure I would bet on it, but put me down for the "under". Click here to view the article
  12. Throughout the past couple months David Price has had to deal with rumors of being traded. He already told the media about a month go that he didn't like hearing the rumors. He just wanted the Tampa Bay Rays to make up their mind. It's unclear if Price will be dealt because the Rays have less than a week to trade him. David Price is an ace and could be in the talks for Cy Young this year with a 3.08 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 183 strikeouts, and 11 wins over 163 innings. It's hard to get rid of a pitcher like that because the Rays need something big in return. The another problem with this trade is that the Rays are starting to get on a hot streak. The Tampa Bay Rays have been playing some great baseball this month and are now 7.5 games back in the AL East and 4 games back in the AL Wild Card. When the rumors started circulating about Price being traded, the Rays were done and looking towards next year. Now they might want to keep Price around throughout the rest of the season because there's a good possibility that the Rays might make the postseason and go far. I'm glad there's only less than a week left until the Trade Deadline because then the rumors stop until this offseason. Hopefully the Rays keep David Price as their ace and continue strong until the end of the season. But if the Rays trade him this week, I hope they trade him to a contending team because I would love to see Price with a ring at the end of this season.
  13. Throughout the past couple months David Price has had to deal with rumors of being traded. He already told the media about a month go that he didn't like hearing the rumors. He just wanted the Tampa Bay Rays to make up their mind. It's unclear if Price will be dealt because the Rays have less than a week to trade him. David Price is an ace and could be in the talks for Cy Young this year with a 3.08 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 183 strikeouts, and 11 wins over 163 innings. It's hard to get rid of a pitcher like that because the Rays need something big in return. The another problem with this trade is that the Rays are starting to get on a hot streak. The Tampa Bay Rays have been playing some great baseball this month and are now 7.5 games back in the AL East and 4 games back in the AL Wild Card. When the rumors started circulating about Price being traded, the Rays were done and looking towards next year. Now they might want to keep Price around throughout the rest of the season because there's a good possibility that the Rays might make the postseason and go far. I'm glad there's only less than a week left until the Trade Deadline because then the rumors stop until this offseason. Hopefully the Rays keep David Price as their ace and continue strong until the end of the season. But if the Rays trade him this week, I hope they trade him to a contending team because I would love to see Price with a ring at the end of this season.
  14. The Stanley Cup. The MacNaughton Cup. The Dukes Cup? The Twins and the Rays have a standing tradition called the Knutson Classic in which the two teams vie for superiority in the meaningless Grapefruit League games. The Twins and Red Sox have their Mayors’ Cup, which is the battle for Fort Myers, however, that does not have the same, um, interesting trophy. The Pioneer Press’ Mike Berardino tweeted out a picture of Dukes’ Cup, the trophy that is awarded to the winner of the Knutson Classic. It is, well, interesting: For those who were thinking that the cup may have once been property to the former Ray, Elijah Dukes, it is not. Apparently, the Knutson Classic is named for Dukes Knutson, a longtime press box attendant at Tropicana Field. According to La Velle Neal, Knutson was also originally from Duluth and attended the University of Minnesota. With three games to go, the Rays are up 3-rip on the Twins and will earned the right to drink out of the beloved trophy (if they so choose).
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