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Okay, time to take a look at Lewis Thorpe. This is, afterall, the reason we all woke up this morning, right? Thankfully for all involved, we can skip the lengthy preamble and just get into the analysis. Like Dobnak, whom I covered in this space last week, Thorpe made his MLB debut for the Twins last season (though he started the year off in AAA, whereas Dobnak basically covered every level in the organization in 2019). Let’s take a look at Thorpe’s results from his MLB stint: • 27.2 IP (essentially the same sample as Dobnak) • 10.08 K/9 (yes, please) • 3.25 BB/9 (that’ll play) • 6.18 ERA (yikes) • 3.47 FIP (okay, let’s take a look at the BABIP, HR rates, and other batted ball tendencies) • 4.14 xFIP (so he had a lower than league average HR/FB rate, but honestly ½ of a run isn’t much in this small of a sample, it’s a difference of 1.5 ER allowed in 27 IP) I see a number of things I want to look at here, and we will see where this takes us: • Swinging Strike Rate: 11.8% • Zone Percentage: 44.3% • BABIP: .438 • HR/9: 0.98 • HR/FB: 10.3% • Line Drive Rate: 31.3% Let’s start with his plate discipline numbers to see whether we think these strikeout and walk rates, which are the stuff aces are made of (a quick a dirty thing to do to identify elite skills is to subtract the BB/9 from the K/9; anything over 6 is great). Let’s start off with the walks and underlying control skills. Thorpe was in the strike zone with 44.3% of his pitches in his limited MLB innings. Among qualified starters, he would have ranked 17th, just behind Yu Darvish and just ahead of Lance Lynn. As I mentioned last week, there were 61 qualified starters, so the top 20 is the top 1/3rd. It’s also worth mentioning that his BB/9 in nearly 100 AAA innings was 2.34 in 2019 and in AA and AAA in 2018, he compiled 130 innings with a 2.5 BB/9. I think it’s safe to say Thorpe has great control and can likely be relied upon to avoid free passes. On to strikeouts. Thorpe has consistently delivered a K/9 in the double digits throughout his time in AA, AAA, and MLB in 2017 (10.50), 2018 (10.92 in AA; 10.80 in AAA) and 2019 (11.12 in AAA, 10.08 in MLB). I’m happy to report that his swinging strike rate during his MLB stint backs this up. His 11.8 swinging strike rate would have been 22nd among qualifying starters (again, right around the top 1/3). As I noted with Dobnak, it is not particularly common for the same pitcher to post strong control numbers and miss a lot of bats. Here is the list of pitchers who had a zone percentage of at least 44.3% and a swinging strike rate of at least 11.8% (if you read the Dobnak post last week, this will look familiar). • Gerrit Cole – 16.8%/45.2% • Max Scherzer – 16.4%/45.6% • Justin Verlander – 16.1%/45.2% • Lucas Giolito – 15%/47.2% • Yu Darvish – 13.4%/44.5% • Charlie Morton – 12.9%/45.1% • German Marquez – 12.7%/46.6% • Walker Buehler – 12.1%/46.5% • Joe Musgrove – 12%/45.5% Still good company, just as it was for Dobnak last week (and I’m on board with prying Musgrove away from Pittsburgh). Okay, so he’s in the zone and missing bats. Those skills have consistently translated to strikeouts and walks (for pitchers in general, and for Thorpe since he was promoted to AA in 2017). So if he’s so great why did he post an ERA of more than 6 runs per nine innings? I know a lot of people won’t like to hear this, but he was unlucky. Pitchers cannot control everything that happens, and particularly in small samples some bad luck can really torch your ratios. For starters, he allowed a .438 BABIP. The highest BABIP among qualified starters was .347 – one hundred points lower! That’s a fluke. Thorpe also only stranded 66% of his baserunners. Only three qualified starters had lower strand rates, and none of then posted a K/9 over 8.5 (Musgrove had the lowest strand rate in the major leagues; more evidence that he'd be a great add). He was helped a bit by having a relatively low HR/FB, particularly given the fact that he allowed a lot of hard contact (39.8%), and the BABIP was fueled by a 31.3% line drive rate. It’s likely intuitive to anyone who has read this far, but line drives are by far the most likely type of batted ball to result in a base hit. Again, though, so much of all of this is dependent on such a small sample that it’s hard to know if that’s really who he is. If those line drives turned into fly balls he’d likely see his BABIP come down, but he’d also likely allow more home runs. It’s also feasible that a pitcher who misses bats like he does can figure out how to induce weaker contact, especially if he relies more heavily on his slider. A commenter noted on the Dobnak post that Dobnak had faced some weaker offenses. That’s also true of Thorpe, who faced AL central foes for the majority of his appearances. Something to keep in mind. Honestly, he’s a lot like Dobnak. The biggest difference between the two (aside from pedigree) is that Dobnak had good fortune with batted balls and Thorpe had bad fortune. All-in-all, I’d say Thorpe gives us plenty of reason to be excited about the possibilities for the back end of the rotation in 2020. The Twins don’t need all of the potential starters on the 40-man to be great, and they appear to have put together a system full of high variance, high upside arms. Not a bad place to be.
So we whiffed in FA and now we have the feeling that we never really had a chance and no one wants to come here! Boo hoo! People say trade the prospects. Wait a minute - they have to come here. They have no choice. For six years they are ours. So lets play them. Cleveland where our FO was trained moved their prospects up to their team and have had a good winning record for a few years now. Forget where they were in the minors - many teams are now running players out at a much younger age - see Acuna (22), Soto (19), Tatis 20, Jimenez (23), Lindor (22), Corey Seager (21), Corea (21), Gleyber Torres (22)... Forget the lets play keep them in the minors for years and push them forward. Noah Syndergaard is one of our targets and he is 26 and came in to the league at 22. Many players have started young and succeeded: Vada Pinson, RF: 19 years, 247 days in 1958 (Reds) ... Sibby Sisti, 2B: 19 years, 265 days in 1940 (Bees) ... Brooks Robinson, 3B: 19 years, 332 days in 1957 (Orioles) ... Rogers Hornsby, SS: 19 years, 351 days in 1916 (Cardinals) ... Adrian Beltre, 3B: 19 years, 363 days in 1999 (Dodgers) Lewis is still our number one rated player - put him at 3B if you want to put Sano at 1B. If he is not ready put Kiriloff, Rooker, or Raley at 1B. If Wade or Kiriloff is better than Cave then replace cave. Put Kiriloff or Larnach in LF since people complain about Eddie Rosario. If Lewis is going to take Marwin's place give him time at all the positions. Then package Gonzales, Rosario, and Cave and instead of trading prospects trade these players for Boyd or some other starter. I want to see the team start to push the envelop and get away from scraping up the crumbs at the end of FA. In other words, what is the plan?
The minor league report says that Devin Smeltzer has been optioned back to Triple A. It would seem that the Twins will add a pitcher to the active roster, but which one? My best guess is Lewis Thorpe, who has worked out of the bullpen for the Twins, is left handed and who has been optioned for more than ten day (eligible to be recalled).
We have all heard the complaints (legitimate to me) about the use of names like Redskins, Indians, and Braves professional sports teams. I will not go into the reason these are offensive and the degrees of offensiveness attached to each. What I am interested in is where the Indians are when it comes to the ball field. The photo I have put up with this is from my relatives in WI. I found the following list of American Indian professional players - http://www.baseball-almanac.com/legendary/american_indian_baseball_players.shtml. Louis Sockalexis is the first, a Penobscot from Maine, who played in the 1897 – 1899 era and the massacre at Wounded Knee was in 1890 – perhaps the end of the major plains wars. The last acknowledge battle was 1914 in Utah – Ute/Mormon war. So imagine we have an Indian playing baseball in the major leagues and other Indians performing in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. How crazy is history. Louis was a track and football star like soon to be legend – Jim Thorpe, but his career was derailed by alcoholism, but his athletic feats were still prodigious and if racism did not mix with alcohol he might have been more than a footnote in our history. Erroneously he is credited with the Cleveland Indian name – he played for the Cleveland Spyders. As the following short biography describes he was certainly an influence on the name - http://sabr.org/bioproj/person/2b1aea0a Out of 48 American Indian Ballplayers 29 played by the year 1930. The most famous includes Jim Thorpe, a member of the Sac and Fox nations, who is often cited as the greatest athlete in American History. His greatest fame came when he won the decathlon and the, now defunct, pentathlon in the same Olympics (1912) and recognized as the world’s greatest athlete. He was a star in the Carlisle Indian School where he played football at the highest level as a running back, kicker, and defensive back. He is in the Football hall of fame. His baseball career was less well documented and sad. He lost his Olympic metals for playing professional baseball for the New York Giants and because he did not understand the connection that existed at that time he had given up his amateur status and lost his Olympic medals because of those seasons (which included a world series). As a very poor man from a destitute family he was simply earning the money he needed to survive. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jim_Thorpe The baseball Hall of Fame includes another famous Indian – Albert (Chief) Bender – the pitcher that Connie Mack said he wanted on the mound for any and all important games. He pitched for the Philadelphia Athletics and distinguished himself as a true Ace. Bender was from the village of Crow Wing, near Brainerd, MN and a member of the Ojibwe nation. Chief Meyers (notice the nickname pattern) was a Cahuilla Indian from CA and played 10 years for the New York Giants (principally) with a nice but not Hall of fame career. Looking through the remainder of the list there are some very recognizable names who are listed as American Indian – Pepper Martin of the Cardinal Gashouse Gang, Rudy York, who starred for the Tigers, Cal McLish, Choctawm who I got to see pitch for the Indians, and recently – Kyle Lohse, Nomlaki Wintun, Jacoby Ellsbury, Navajo, and Joba Chamberlain, Winnebago. Today’s players are seldom acknowledged by baseball for their heritage, it is an important part of who they are. Again, I have no idea what percent their heritage is to make this list. But the point I would like to make is that we have lost a lot of potential on the Indian Reservations due to lots of errors in our cultural wars and from a baseball perspective we have made a mistake by not investing in the reservations to develop new players for the future. We have clinics in the Caribbean, and in South America, but nothing on the major reservations. With the money generated by the logos and teams that carry the Indian culture as a part of their corporate structure, shouldn’t they pay a royalty to the tribes, maybe through scholarships or baseball schools. Out multi-racial baseball landscape needs to include all races and this is an opportunity that has been overlooked for too long.