First Place!

Well, yes, it’s good to be in first place.

Long-time Twins fans know that it is a rare occurrence for the boys to come out of the gate at 1-0. We know that a jump-start like that is something to be embraced and celebrated. 1-0! Undefeated! First Place!

First Place, thanks to Jose Berrios 7.2 innings of 2-hit 10-k ball, and Marvelous Marwin Gonzalez 2-rbi double in the bottom of the 7th. The Cleveland club’s pitcher, Kluber, was nearly as good, four hits over seven innings. But no, he could not match Berrios on this opening day, and the Twins emerged triumphant from a game played in mid-season form.

The Twins now stand 26-34 on opening day. 2-9 in the last 11 years. Those have not been good years. They’re 11-12 in home openers. It’s always a struggle. We are a northern team, and so, after spring training down there in Florida, it takes us a few games to get acclimated to the Great North Woods again.

After a day off to rest on laurels, we take on the Spiders again, Saturday and Sunday afternoon. Day games! Let’s play two!

Quick Twins Trivia question: Which Twins pitcher started the most season openers?

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Three Days till Summer!

Opening Day beckons.

(Longest Post Ever?) (I’m finally hitting my stride!)

And with Opening Day comes Opening Day forecasts, predictions, prognostications, divinations, hariolations, augury, presagements, vaticinations, estimations, calculations, mantologies, prophesizing, soothsaying, conjecturing, and plain old wild guesstimating.

I thought I’d look back at my opening day predictions, those made while I’ve been blogging, and see how I’m doing. And, just for fun, (and because I’m competitive,) I thought I’d compare my record to that of the mavens who are following baseball for a living for the local news rag.. And so I looked up the predictions listed in the StarTribune Baseball Preview section for the past four seasons, and charted them with mine:

First of all, only four seasons of predictions? When I’ve been “running” this blog for, what, six or seven years? I don’t have any explanation for that. But them’s the facts.

Adding up the differences, I’m at +44 over 4 seasons, which makes my average +11 per season, which in some ways seems pretty on-target: I am wildly optimistic. But perhaps not totally unhinged from reality.

I think statistically it might make sense to throw out the high and the low, and work with the ones in between. (Though with such a small data set, that’s probably not a good idea.) But, taking that route, we forget about 2016, the season in hell, and 2017, when I over compensated for 2016. Which leaves us at +13 over two seasons, or 6.5 games over per season. Now that sounds more like it. While I am still too optimistic, I do have a somewhat firmer grip on reality. (Though maybe I should have thrown out the season when I nailed it, on the nose? Well, let’s not over-think this.)

The predictions of the professionals are interesting. Is Pat Reusse the best at this because his predicted results total only 1.75 games off reality over four years? Or is he the worst at this, as he’s off by double digits every year, in one direction or the other. You make the call.

Who were the winners over the four years? Well, it’s between me and Phil, I would say. He was closest to the mark two years, and I was closest to the mark two years. Now, when he was closest to the mark, he was off by an average of 12.5 games, and when I was closest to the mark, I was off by -1.5 games. But does that make me a better guesser than Phil? Does that make him a bad person, and me a baseball genius?

Again: you make the call.

I have to say that Phil suffers by being closest during the 2016 season in hell, when everyone was wildly wildly insanely optimistic. And the Twins rolled over and died like dogs.  [shudder…]

But. Well…

Anyway. So it goes. Basically, when it comes to baseball, nobody knows anything. I have a feeling that someone said that before me, some baseball guy. Yogi? If I’m the first, though, you may quote me.

And so, anyway, hows about 2019?

Well, let’s take a look at the Twins lineup.

Catcher: Pitch-framing Castro, and the youngster, Garver. And the Amazing Astudillo
Castro was injured most of last season. If he’s healthy, he’s starting, and you have to think this is a plus from last season. Right?
Garver gained experience last year, but also suffered a concussion. Showed a pretty good bat last season, but can he come back from the injury? The Twins have a bad history with concussions. They don’t like us. Astudillo. Well, we all love Astudillo. And he is amazing. What else can you say?
I call this, One Step Forward.

First Base: C.J. Cron is the starter. Acquired as a free agent from Tampa Bay, and played for the Angels for a few years before that. Initials stand for Christopher John. C. J. has a nice ring to it, and is better than Chris Cron or John Cron, both of which sound kind of funny. What were his parents thinking? Perhaps they always wanted a kid they could call C. J.
C. J.’s season-by-season major league HR totals over his career go like this: 11, 16, 16, 16, 30. His OPS went up from .741 to .816 last season. His batting average has been pretty consistent, but his slugging percentage went up from .437 to .493 last season. What’s the deal? Does Tampa Bay have a hitters park, compared to LA? No. More home runs in LA. Minnesota’s park is less than LA, more than Tampa Bay. So we’ll be optimistic. This is an upgrade from Mauer at first, who had a .729 OPS last season.
Backing up Cron we have the Mysterious Sano, and Tyler Austin, who people (around here) talk about a lot, I’m not sure why yet. He showed some power last year, 9 home runs in 123 at bats, hitting a shade over .230. The jury is out on Mr. Austin. People seem to think that he can unload.
One and a half steps forward.

Second Base: Jonathon Schoop, another free agent acquisition who’s been receiving a lot of positive attention in these parts. Last year with the Orioles and the Brewers, he hit .233 with 21 HR in 473 at bats. In 2017, though, it was .293, 32 HR, and 105 rbis. So what happened last year? Well, there was an injury. If we see the 2017 Schoop, we got a great deal here. Last year the Twins had Bull Dozier at second, and he had an off year. I’m a Dozier fan, and so I’m calling this a slight step forward. But Dozier had a terrible year last year, so this has got to be an upgrade. And Mr. Schoop has a lot of upside, there’s a lot of potential for this to be a big upgrade.
Backing up the Schoop is Marvelous Marwin Gonzalez, carrying some Divisional Championship Magic Dust from the Houston Astros. (I can’t believe I just wrote those words.) Gonzalez has a lot of street cred. He hit .247 last year with Houston, with 16 HR, and 489 at bats. Most of his games were in left field, but he also played shortstop, second base, third base, and first base. So a nice acquisition. He’s got a lifetime .264 average with Houston, and hit .303 with 23 HR in 2017. He’s going to want at-bats, I think, to be a happy ball player. I guess we should expect to see him play all over the field.
Let’s take one step forward.

Shortstop: Jorge Polanco, who also started last year, and for the Twins even, after he served his time off for PED. Polanco has had troubles in the fielding department, but it’s hard to tell how that will go. This season will tell us a lot about Mr. Polanco. He swings a pretty good bat, hit .288 in 302 at bats, a .773 OPS. and he’s hit about .300 this spring. I’d have to say we’re better off with a whole season of Polanco. Does fielding matter? Well, we’ll see.
Backing up Mr. Polanco is Ehire Adrianza. I like Ehire. He hit .251 last season, with a .680 OPS. I don’t have anything solid really, to base my Adrianza appreciation on, but it seemed like last year he was always surprising us. In a positive way. He needs a nickname, though. El Cabong? Needs more thought.

Who was El Cabong, and how did he pop to mind?
Funny.
After internet research, I find that I spelled it wrong, so that’s why we didn’t recognize it. El Kabong was the alter ego of Quick Draw McGraw. “Of all the heroes in legend and song, there’s none as brave as El Kabong.” He would hit the villains with his acoustic guitar. Ka-Bong!
But, I digress.

There’s some talk in recent days that Adrianza might be traded, what with Marvelous and Amazing and him being out of options. But I hope not. But that’s the way baseball go. I’m holding onto the El Kabong nickname for now.
Waiting in the wings, top prospect Royce Lewis, who’s a-coming. Maybe he’ll be El Kabong.
One step forward.

Third Base: Dare we pencil in the Mysterious Miguel Sano’s name here? All-star team in 2017, MIA in 2018. What can we look for in 2019? Last year was pretty dismal, especially given expectations: .199 – 13 – 41. OPS of .679? Yup. In 299 at bats. Sent down to Class A! Fort Myers! Where he hit .328 in 77 at bats. Yes, last season was Miguel Sano’s own personal season in hell. Bad health. Bad habits. There was a sexual harassment thing at the beginning of the season that left a cloud, I’ll bet. All in all: ugh. Kabong!

This season they say that he reported to camp “in the best shape of his career.” Our New Manager went down to visit him in the off-season. They talked about life, perhaps. Its twists and turns. They say Sano appreciated the gesture. They say maybe he’s turned the corner, ready to be the player he could be. They say a lot of things.
But: surprise! He’s hurt. Got a “laceration” in winter ball that hasn’t healed correctly. Needed further treatment this spring, and now he’s out for a month or so.
The jury is out. You have to think that with a healthy and revitalized Sano at third, the Twins will be much much better than last year. Right? That just makes sense. Don’t it?
Marvelous Marwin backs up Sano, along with the Amazing Astudillo.
Surely a healthy and productive Sano would be worth four or five steps forward? He could be a truly exceptional player. But let’s say three, just to be on the safe side. Three steps forward.

Left Field: Steady Eddie Rosario. I think most teams would be happy to have Steady Eddie in left. Hit .288 with an .803 OPS. 24 HR. Excellent fielder. Aggressive. Young. Fast. Shows up for Game, every day. Possibly a marginal advantage in the coming season, with maturity, though he had such a great season last year that we’ll call it even.
Jake Cave backing him up, along with Marvelous Marwin. Cave impressed everyone last year, hitting .269 – 13 – 45 in 283 at bats as a rookie. There’s a Law firm of youngsters waiting in the wings, name of Wade, Rooker & Baddoo. We’ll be seeing these guys in the very near future.
Even.

Center Field: Byron Buxton? He only made 64 games last year due to injuries, and when he played, he hit… .156? Yes, that’s right. .156. With a .383 OPS. Another season in hell. Byron K. Buxton. Difficult to fathom.
Well, I’m going to have a little faith in Mr. Buxton. I don’t know what all went on last year. Let’s chalk it up to injuries. It’s a new day, in a new year, and Mr. Buxton will be healthy, get 550 or so at bats, and we’ll all live happily ever after.
Max Kepler backs up the Buxt in CF.
Again, you would think the addition of a healthy productive Buxton would be worth four or five steps forward. But again, we’ll call it
three steps forward. (See? I am Mr. Conservative.)

Right Field: Max Kepler. Excellent defensively. Plus: 20 HR, 58 rbis. Only hit .224, but I believe he’s a better hitter than that. Twins daily tells us he only had a .232 BABIP last season, so you know that’s going to improve. We’re really very happy with Mr. Kepler in right, and would not be at all surprised if he gave us a bit of improvement over last year’s numbers.
Jake Cave backs up Max in right. And waiting in the wings is a perfectly good prospect, name of Alex Kirilloff, just waiting for an opportunity to succeed.
One step forward.

Designated Hitter: Nelson Cruz. 38-year-old Cruz hit 37 HR last season, with .850 OPS. Even if he rapidly ages during 2019, when, statistically, he’ll become 39-year-old Nelson Cruz, he should be better than the cast of characters we had as DH last season. The departed Robbie Grossman hit .273 last season, with .751 OPS. We should do better than that.
Two Steps forward.

Relief Pitching:
Taylor Rogers, Trevor May, Trevor Hildenberger, Ryne Harper, Fernando Romero, Addison Reed, Adalberto Mejia, Blake Parker. And others. The pen is, as they say, “a little unsettled.” For instance, Ryne Harper, who’s not even on the roster. He’s got 13 strikeouts and no walks in 10 innings this spring, with a 0.00 ERA. And then there’s Preston Guilmet, also not on the roster, who’s got 15 strikeouts this spring in 9+ innings. And Matt McGill, who went 3-3 last season, with 3.81 ERA in 56 innings. So, we’ll see, we’ll see who heads north.
Much will depend upon how the new manager handles this assembly. Last year I thought our bullpen was okay. Statistics seem to indicate otherwise. But statistics are tricky things, as we’ve seen. And who are you going to believe? Me? Or a bunch of sneaky made-up numbers?
And, anyway, it’s a new year, and basically anything can happen here. Some might say our bullpen is like a ticking time bomb, but I’m thinking it’s more like an IED, that may or may not go off. How’s that for positive? And so what if we don’t have a closer? Who needs ’em?
But, let’s take 4 steps back.

Starting Pitching:
Jose Berrios
Kyle Gibson
Jake Oderizzi
Miguel Pinada
Martin Perez?

To start the season, at any rate. Jose Berrios is for real. Kyle Gibson might be for real. Oderizzi, Pineda, and Perez are Very Large Question marks. Just when I was on the verge of being overconfident, I look at starting pitching and I see nothing but danger. There’s a few youngsters that we may be seeing during the course of the season. But our starting pitching is an accident waiting to happen. I hope I’m wrong. I’m sure these guys are good. They’re professionals. Right? Spring has shown glimmers of promise. Right? But still… [shudder.]

Looking on the bright side: our starting pitching was pretty miserable last season too. So how much worse can it get?

Take three steps back.

Manager: Holy Cow, to quote Halsey Hall, the Twins have a new manager! And he’s got a great baseball name, Rocco Baldelli. Rocco Baldelli. Rocco Baldelli. I like it. With the new manager, a new pitching coach: Wes Johnson, who was coaching at the University of Arkansas last year. (They reached the CWS (College World Series) .)

Okay, Paul (Manager of the Year, 2017) Molitor, vs. Rocco Baldelli. Oddly, not a quick call on that. You’d Think that Molitor would have the advantage, and you’d think a rookie big-league manager might be a step down from last year. Maybe. This could go either way. Molitor had a lot to contend with last season, with lots of injuries on the club. Key Players were MIA. Given all that, 78-84 is probably a pretty good record. And on that basis, I’m going to say this is a small step back for the club. After all: he’s only the manager.
One step back. Because he’s new.

 

So. Put it all together, and what do you get?

Catchers: +1
First base: +1.5
Second base: +1
Shortstop: +1
Third base: +3
Left field: even
Center field: +3
Right field: +1
DH: +2
Relief Pitching: -4
Starting Pitching: -3
Manager: -1

total: +5.5 (if my math is right.)

Now let’s factor in my penchant for overly optimistic forecasts: -6.5

and we get a -1. A bit worse than last season.
And so the forecast for the coming season should be about 77-85.

But that can’t be right.

Obviously, I was way too conservative on improvements that are coming in the infield and at DH. And really, there’s not enough data yet to use that -6.5 with any degree of confidence. So let’s throw that out. Data be damned.

It looks to me like the Twins pitching is going to keep them out of contention. Berrios and Gibson and …pray for rain?
But the offense should be quite a bit better, too.

And so: Official 2019 Final Prediction: 86-76

Addendum: the baseball gods smile down on me today: I find THREE baseball forecasting magazines in a little free library just down the street!

More on this development later.

And, by the way, who is the Greek/Roman/Norse god of baseball, anyway?

comings and goings

First, Happy Birthday to Robert Moses Grove, born on this date in 1900.

lefty-grove-3c-fr-txt

Well, what can you say about Lefty Grove? One of the greatest pitchers to ever play the game, if not THE greatest. (I am partial to Walter Johnson, but I grant that an argument could be made for Lefty.) 300 wins. 3.06 lifetime ERA. Nine ERA titles. Seven strikeout titles. Two triple crowns. An MVP award. Those are all pretty good marks. And then consider that Grove didn’t pitch in the majors till he was 25 — he pitched five seasons for the old Baltimore club in the International League, from 1920 – 24. He went 108 – 36 with the Orioles before joining Connie Mack’s Athletics in Philly in 1925.

lefty-grove-mechanics

From 1928 to 1933 Grove played with some pretty good Athletics clubs, and fairly dominated the league:

(League leading marks in bold.)
1928 – 24 wins, 8 losses, 2.58 ERA, 183 K
1929 – 20 wins, 6 losses, 2.81 ERA, 170 K
1930 – 28 wins, 5 losses, 2.54 ERA, 209 K
1931 – 31 wins, 4 losses, 2.06 ERA, 175 K
1932 – 25 wins, 10 losses, 2.84 ERA, 188 K
1933 – 24 wins, 8 losses, 3.20 ERA, 114 K

I guess it doesn’t get a whole lot better than that. Happy Birthday, Lefty!

On the flip side, Kirby Puckett passed away on this date in 2006.

kirby-pucket-3d-fr-txt

It just seems totally wrong that Kirby Puckett is gone already. It seems like he was just out there in center field, just yesterday. Damn.

Seems like everyone loved Kirby from day one. (Day one was May 8th, 1984. Kirby started the game batting lead-off, playing centerfield (replacing Darrell Brown) and went 4 for 5, with a stolen base and scoring a run.) He was the sparkplug on those World Champion teams. He loved the game and he had fun out there. And we had fun watching him play.

We got to watch Kirby-ball for 12 seasons before his career was cut short by glaucoma. In those 12 seasons Kirby got 2304 hits, received MVP votes 9 times, played in 10 all-star games, and finished with a career .318 batting average. He also earned 6 gold gloves in centerfield, and also has the Twins’ second longest string of plate appearances without hitting a home run – 583 plate appearances in 1984, no home runs. (The longest string is by Rod Carew: 591 plate appearances in 1972, no home runs.)

On top of everything else, there was the ’91 World Series. Game 6 was Kirby, game 7, Jack. One for the ages.

Finally, Kirby also had one of the top all-time best baseball names. Kirby Puckett. Almost too good to be true.

Kirby was just 45 years old when he passed away.

Hey, Kirby, good game. Touch ’em all.

kirby-puckett-1987-c-fg-fr

The Big Train Leaves the Station…

Happy Birthday to Walter Johnson, the Big Train, born on 6 November 1887. We get to Walter Johnsonclaim him as an ex-Twin, since he played his entire career, 21 years, with the old Washington Senators.

Johnson’s accomplishments are legendary, and far too numerous to mention. His 417 wins are second most in baseball history (Cy Young – 511), and his 3,508 strikeouts stood as the top career mark for 55+ years. His record of 110 career shutouts is still the high-water mark. He had 12 twenty win seasons, including a string of ten in a row, and twice won more than 30 games. The Senators of Johnson’s time were generally not a very good club, finishing in the second division about half the time.They finished second in 1912 and 1913, when Johnson had his 30 win seasons, but they finally made it to the World Series in 1924 and 1925, Johnson’s 18th and 19th seasons.

I could go on talking about his accomplishments, but I’ll wrap up by pointing to Johnson’s reputation as a kind and gentle man.

walter-johnson

You’ll note the wicked side-arm motion he had there. The Twins could use a guy like this right about now. Yes, indeed. More about Johnson from SABR, of course…

Johnson was one of the first five players elected to baseball’s Hall of Fame. He died at age 59, on 10 December 1946.

Good game, Barney.

Two good Walter Johnson quotes:

“Can I throw harder than  Joe Wood? Listen mister, no man alive can throw any harder than Smoky Joe Wood.”

 

“I throw as hard as I can when I think I have to throw as hard as I can.”

And Ty Cobb said,

“His fastball looked about the size of a watermelon seed and it hissed at you as it passed.”

Spring Training Update – 1 April 1904, Friday evening

Usually it’s April showers bringing May flowers, but spring is early in the southerly climes of Champaign, Illinois, where everything is coming up roses.

The members of the team are a little stiff and sore as a result of their first few days practice, but they are in a cheerful mood and good fellowship prevails all around.

Frank J McNichols c - Salt Lake Herald - 1 Sept 1901

Lally is apparently quite stylish covering first base, and McNichol, “the coast player,” is doing some great work over at third base. The guy has an arm like a cannon, apparently. (I found a nice shot of Mr. McNichol in the Chronicling America collection, from 1901, the Salt Lake Herald.)

Out in the garden, the outfielders are frolicking, covering a lot of ground out there, even with muddy conditions, and pitchers Thomas and Owens are impressing the manager:

 

Both are now ready to go into a championship game and it seems certain that they will do better than ever this season… Minneapolis can be expected to have the best pitching staff of the association this year… in fact there will not be a weak spot on the team…

Also, Watkins tutelage around the batting cage seems to be having some effect:

All the men are stepping in to meet the ball, and all have their eye on the ball.

I imagine that Watkins stressed that point, as every manager does. Keep Your Eye On The Ball. I can remember my dad telling me that. KYEOTB. It’s that simple. I suppose you could generalize from this point, and think for a moment how important that is in the big picture, the game of Life. How can you expect to hit anything if you don’t keep your eye on the ball?

All you kids out there, reading this: Keep Your Eye On The Ball. It’s a simple game, really.

baseball

Comings and Goings…

Happy birthday to ol’ Diz.

dizzy-dean

Dizzy Dean, born on January 16th, in 1910. I remember watching the game of the week on TV in the 60s, with Dizzy and Pee Wee Reese calling the game. Everyone loved Dizzy Dean.

dizzy-dean-and-pee-wee-reese-2

But ol’ Diz could pitch a bit too. He came up in 1932 with the Cardinals, at age 22, and won 18 games, leading the league in strikeouts. The next year he went 20-18 and led the league in strikeouts again. In his third year he went 30-7 – the last National Leaguer to win 30 – and led the league in wins and strikeouts. In 1935 he went 28-12, and lead the NL in wins and strikeouts again. In 1936 he went 24-13, and in 1937 he went 13-10. What happened in ’37? In the ’37 all-star game Earl Averill hit a ball off Dean’s foot. Reportedly, when told that his toe was fractured, Dean replied, “Fractured, hell, the damn things broken!”

Dean reportedly tried to come back too soon after his injury, and changed his pitching motion to avoid landing on his injured toe. He hurt his arm, lost his blazing fastball, and was pretty much done as a pitcher.

The Cubs bought his contract in 1938, and he went 7-1 for them, helping them win the pennant over the Pirates, and winning a crucial 2-1 game against the Pirates on the 27th of September.

dizzy_dean

Diz pitched a bit for the Cubs till 1941, when he retired at age 31.

And, on the other side of the coin, stepping out on the 16th was Rudy Hulswitt.

Born in 1877, he passed away in 1950. The only reason I know anything about Rudy Hulswitt is because I noticed him on his T-206 baseball card, from back in the day, when he played with St. Louis, in ’09 or ’10. He played shortstop and hit about .253 lifetime.

Rudy Hulswitt - t206(Okay, he hit exactly .253 lifetime.)

I like his card, his cap pulled down low. He looks like he means business.

Hulswitt led the league in put-outs by a shortstop in 1902 and ’03, he was also third in the league with assists in ’03, but he also led the league that year in errors, with 81. That’s a lot of errors. Sounds like the guy might have had great range.

After his playing career was over, Rudy did a bit of coaching. I saw one picture of him coaching with one of the Boston clubs.

Good game, Rudy.