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?

Advertisements

Jackie and Pee Wee, and the Latest One-year Free-agent Haul

Reading an article about Chadwick Boseman in the New York Times, I followed a link to this article on the NBC Sports website, The Embrace, by Joe Posnanski. Nice article. Did it happen? Sounds like yes to me. 

Meanwhile, back in the 21st century, the Twins have added their annual batch of budget free agent gambles:

  • Jonathan Schoop, 2b, age 27: Hit .293 – 32 – 105 with Baltimore in 2017. Then, last year, .233 – 21 – 61 with Baltimore/Milwaukee. 2019: ??? One year deal.
  • C.J. Cron, 1b, age 28: Hit .253 – 30 – 74 with Tampa Bay last year, which was a pretty big jump up for him. One year deal.
  • Nelson Cruz, DH, age 38: .256 – 37 – 97 last season with Seattle, which are low water marks for him over the past five seasons. One year deal.

After the Logan Morrison signing of last off-season, (along with the rest of that season’s crop) well, we have our doubts. As you undoubtedly recall, LogMor hit .246 – 38 – 85 with Tampa in 2017. With the Twins in 2018 (one year deal) he went .186 – 15 – 39. What happened there? Well he had hip surgery late in the season. Perhaps that was a problem all year long? It’s a mystery. Good luck in the free agent market this year, LogMor.

Also last off-season brought the free agent signings of Fernando Rodney, Lance Lynn, and Zach Duke. All traded during the course of the season.

And so forgive me if I look skeptically at this latest crop of one-year deals. I hope these guys are still around in September, when the games count, but it will not be too surprising if they are dangling trade bait at that time.

the 2018 season: so long, it’s been fun…

I hope you don’t think that I’ve lost interest. Not. At. All.

It’s just that life is pretty full right now.

But I have to take a moment to wish Paul Molitor well. The Twins Brain Trust fired him today, which is the eventual fate of all managers, practically. From Manager of the Year and a brand new three-year contract in October 2017, to former Twins Manager in October 2018.

That’s the way baseball go.

There’s some talk about him staying with the team in some capacity. I’d be surprised if that would happen.

Molitor didn’t have much of a chance for success this year, when you consider the Twins season. Did Ervin Santana ever pitch? Sano and Buxton were largely MIA with assorted injuries. Shortstop Polanco: suspended for half a season. Their pitch-framing catcher: out most of the year. Their free agent off-season pickups were largely disappointing. This is not a recipe for success. This is a recipe for “So long, see you later, thanks for everything.” The Twins finished the season a lackluster 78-84, second place in the Hapless American League Central Division, behind the Spiders of Cleveland.

It was a annoying and dull season. The Front Office threw in the towel and became a retail operation in July, selling players for whatever the market would bear. Goodbye Mr. Dozier, thanks for everything. So long, Mr. Escobar. You were a pleasant surprise and we wish you well. Joe Mauer donned the tools of ignorance for one last at-bat, last game of the season, and everyone expects it to be his last. So long, Joe. Thanks for all the great baseball. Wish we could have taken you to the World Series. But that’s the way baseball go.

I am squarely on the fence regarding the Twins brain trust, Levine and Falvey Inc. Their moves so far have not inspired a great deal of confidence. But – to be fair – I’m willing to give them a few years for their efforts to come to fruition. I’m not about to show them their walking papers after one disappointing and injury-plagued season. Nope. I believe in giving a guy a fair chance to succeed.

And now they’ve got a chance to pick a manager. Here’s a Golden Opportunity to show me something.

Spring Fever!

Well here it is, Spring Training, 2018 edition.

Ain’t it grand?

The Twins of Minnesota are 4-4 so far, not that that matters at all, unless, of course, you are 0-8, in which case it would plant a nagging seed of doubt. 

The Twins continue their quest for Quality Pitching by signing free agent Logan Morrison, a hard throwing… uh… designated hitter/first baseman.

This helps our pitching by ensuring that our pitchers don’t have to face him this season, as he might very well have found a spot with some other American League team.

Additionally, this helps fill that troublesome hole at DH, where the twins only had Vargas and Mauer and Grossman and Sano and whoever to plug in there. Seriously, though, last year’s DHs only hit about .237 with a .711 OPS, (reliable sources tell me) so there was considerable room for an upgrade. And so Welcome Logan Morrison. And I refuse to call him LoMo.

In other spring news, the Twins best player, Brian Dozier, says that he’ll be a free agent after this season. Kind of a surprise, since he is their best player, and you might think that they might try to keep their best player.

But no, that’s not how the game works. It’s much more complex than that. I’m missing out on the intangibles, I guess, and the metrics, and the inner game. I am an old fashioned fan from a bygone era. That’s not the way things work in century 21.  I guess there’s a lot of angles on this that I am just not paying attention to. No, all I see is a guy who leads by example, a guy who works his butt off 162 games a year, is a great fielder and has a lot of pop in his bat and has contributed a TON to the success of the club and been a bargain on the bottom line.

Oh well. I’d best appreciate him while he is here.

The Twins have added some pitching in this off season. I’ve made mention of other acquisitions in previous post, but since then they’ve traded young prospect Jermaine Palacios for the wiley veteran Jake Odorizzi.

Odorizzi has a 40-38 3.83 lifetime mark, he’s 27 years of age, and went 10-8 with a 4.14 ERA last season with the 80-82 Tampa club. The trade has been greeted with some skepticism by Twins loyalists. Probably the fact that it came soon after the Twins failed to sign Yu Darvish added to the sour grape flavor of the trade. However, Twins fans are a resilient and hopeful lot, and so there is some talk that the Twins Brain-trust notices some statistical data that seems to indicate that better days are ahead for Mr. Odorizzi.

Not that this matters, as — in this case — Odorizzi is a Junior Circuit veteran, and I’m sure someone has studied this, and I’ll have to look for the answer, but, as the pitchers in the National League get to pitch against pitchers, rather than against designated hitters, I wonder, on average, how that rewards their ERA and other stats?

Answer: Well in 2007 there was an article in the NY Times (Alan Schwarz, 7 January 2007) that looked at this. There probably have been more since, and by more Sabermetric publications, but for me I think the NY Times is sufficient. Looking at 29 pitchers that moved from the National League to the American League, and 28 pitchers that moved from the American League to the National League, he found that National League pitchers that moved to the American League had their ERA increase by .70. (Pitchers that moved from the American League to the National League decreased their ERA by .85. Probably got an extra bit of boost from sheer exuberance.)

Which perhaps helps to partly explain why Mr. Darvish decided to go with a National League club, rather than the Twins.

[Again, [[editorial comment]] it would be nice if the Ameican League gave up on this “Designated Hitter” experiment, and went back to letting the pitchers bat. But I digress.]

Speaking of Darvish, I notice:
a.) he’s 6’5″ tall. I had no idea. 220 pounds. In pictures he somehow doesn’t look so big.
b.) he’s sick. Hasn’t pitched yet for the Cubbies. “No worries” he says. Still. Is that any way to start the season? Hope he feels better soon.

Literary Corner

I finished reading The Player: Christy Mathewson, Baseball, and the American Century, by Philip Seib, months ago. So long ago I can’t remember what I was going to say about it. Oddly, the book has Tampa Bay Times News Library stamped on it. How it got to Half Price Books in Maplewood is anybody’s guess. And why would it ever wind up in a newspapers “News Library” anyway? Maybe Christy Mathewson is still newsworthy down there, or perhaps it’s just a review copy. Anyway, this was a good book.

“At one point he was offered a chance at some easy money by lending his name to a Broadway bar. All he had to do was let it be called “Christy Mathewson’s” and show up for 10 minutes once or twice a week. He was told he could make thousands of dollars a year from the venture. He turned it down, later telling his mother, “If I had to make money that way, I wouldn’t want any.”

Well, I guess the times have changed a bit.

The book presents a pretty well-rounded view of Mathewson, who does seem to have been quite a likable guy, besides being one of the best pitchers in the history of Organized Ball. One funny thing is that he got along famously with his manager, John McGraw, who was no choir boy. In fact the two lived together for quite awhile.

Christy Mathewson2.gif

Seib does a nice job of setting Mathewson and baseball within the context of the time, which adds emphasis to Mathewson’s role in popularizing the game. The book is an easy enjoyable read, and full of enjoyable anecdotes and baseball history. This was a great book to pick up in the cold darkness of the dead of winter. Thanks, Mr. Seib!

Mathewson would definetly get a spot in my starting four:

1. Walter Johnson, with that big side-arm heat of his.
2. Christy Mathewson
3. Bob Gibson
4. Three-finger Brown or Sandy Koufax
5. Lefty Grove (Kind of crazy having him be number 6, but really, how can you pick?)

Also in the running:

Grover Cleveland Alexander, Ed Walsh, Nolan Ryan, Warren Spahn, Dizzy Dean, Bob Feller, and Jim Bouton. (Hey, pitching isn’t everything.)

 

Yu Lose!

And so the rumor surfaces today that the Yu Darvish race is finally over, and that the Cubs, the lowly woebegone Cubs, are, for once, victorious. .

The MLB Cubs website says 6 years, $126 million, and a new ultra-high-definition 1000-inch TV for his palatial locker.

 

On the bright side, well:

  1. The Twins have saved a whole lot of money.
  2. The Twins are now able to spend heavily on ten or fifteen 36-year-old former major league pitchers who think that maybe they’ve till got one more season to play.
  3. Money that would have been spent on Yu Darvish-based promotions: saved!
  4. He’s in the National League, where he’ll probably do very well, as they have pitchers batting in that league about 10% of the time. And so we won’t have to play against him very much.
  5. We won’t be forced to watch an ancient 36-year-old Yu Darvish laboring through the last years of his fat contract.
  6. Nor will we have to worry all the time about his most valuable arm being healthy.

Seriously, the Chicago Cubs have won the booby prize here. How many pitchers with huge free-agent contracts ever win, say… 18 games in a season? I ask you. Well, let’s look at a few of the top contracts for pitchers.

David Price – $217 million contract with the Boston Red Sox:
went 17-9 in 2016, with a 3.99 ERA
went 6-3 in 2017, with a 3.63 ERA

Clayton Kershaw – $215 million contract with LA Dodgers
2014: 21-3, 1.77 ERA, Cy Young, MVP
2015: 16-7, 2.13
2016: 12-4, 1.69
2017: 18-4, 2.31

 

 

 

Max Scherzer – $210 million contract with the Washinton Nationals
2015: 14-12, 2.79
2016: 20-7, 2.96, Cy Young
2017: 16-6, 2.51, Cy Young

Zack Greinke – $206.5 million with the Arizona Diamondbacks
2017: 13-7, 4.37
2017: 17-7, 3.20

Justin Verlander – $180 million with the Detroit Tigers
2013: 13-12, 3.46
2014: 15-12, 4.54
2015: 5-8, 3.38
2016: 16-9, 3.04
2017: 15-8, 3.36

There. Aren’t we fortunate that we didn’t waste our money on any of these guys?