20 Over

36 wins, 16 losses.

20 games over .500.

When was the last time the Twins were 20 games over .500?

Well, I can’t say for sure, but looking back at the Twins records over the years, I notice that in 2010 the Twins finished the season at 94-68, 26 games over. And they were 92-60 on September 22nd. 32 games over. So. Not so very long ago, really, in baseball time. Just nine years ago. That was the season when Morneau was hitting .345, with 18 HR and 56 RBIs and then he got the concussion on July 7th that changed his life. Damn. That was the season when Delmon Young hit .298 with 21 hr and 112 rbi. Orlando Hundson played second base, seriously, hit .268 with 133 hits. Who remembers Orlando Hudson? Anybody? Buhler?

Anyway, Joe Mauer hit .327 (pre-concussion days as well,) JJ Hardy played shortstop, Jason Kubel was in the outfield, Danny Valencia was at third, and Cuddyer was at first (post-Morneau). Pavano won 17 games, Liriano 14, Kevin Slowey, 13. Brian Duensing won 10 in relief. Scott Baker won a dozen. Jon Rauch was our closer, got 21 saves. Wow, this seems like ancient history, and it’s just nine seasons ago. Matt Capps also had 16 saves that year. Matt Capps! I think Rauch must have got hurt, there.

Then, in 2011 the Twins turned it around and went 63-99. Morneau hit .227, and probably shouldn’t have been out there playing. Nishioka hit .226 at shortstop, till he got hurt. Yes, Nishioka, that was his season in the sun. Drew Butera played 93 games at catcher and hit .167. Yes, that’s right. Not a typo. .167. Butera was really known more for his defense than his bat. I guess Mauer must have got hurt. Concussion? Mauer played 82 games and hit .287. Delmon Young, .266, 4 hr. Jim Thome came on board and hit a dozen. Cuddyer hit .284 with 20 hr and 71 rbi. Chris Parmalee came up for a cup of coffee and hit .355 in 76 at bats. Pavano, 9-13, Duensing 9-14, Liriano, 9-10. Capps went 4-7, with 15 saves. Well, need I go on? 2011 was not a good season. And following on the heels of 2010, it was particularly brutal. And the sudden demise of Morneau and Mauer, that was just brutal. Ouch.

It’s remarkable, really, how quickly things can go south.

2010: scored 781, allowed 671
2011: scored 619, allowed 804

But.

2019, so far: scored 315, allowed 204.

That’s correct, folks. It’s still May, and the Twins have scored 315 runs.

It’s been a pretty good month.

Good enough, in fact, for the Twins to capture the number 4 spot on the MLB power rankings. Yes. That’s right. Number 4. That’s how good we are right now, according to the MLB power rankings. Right behind the Astros, the Dodgers, and the Yankees.

Number 4 is ours. All ours. We are 4th!

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No Longer the Best in Baseball

Whew.

Houston: 27-15   .643
Cubbies: 24-14   .632
Dodgers: 27-16   .628
Twins:     25-15   .625

Still, not so bad. Not bad at all.

The air was a little thin up there. Maybe I need to take some of the blame, as the Twins have lost 3 of 4 since I noted that they had the best record in baseball. I was asking for trouble, there.

Still. Not bad at all. We’ll take it.

Happy Birthday, Pythagoras!

Yes. It’s true.

First baseman and first baseball sabermetrician Pythagoras was born on this very day, 13 May, 570 BC. It was a Tuesday. Pythagoras’s father was out at a ball game at the time, a double-header, and his mother swore that things would be different with young Pythagoras. No baseball for him. It would be art and poetry and philosophy.

But such was not the case. Baseball apparently ran in the family bloodstream, on the father’s side of the family, at any rate.

Pythagoras grew up loving baseball, and he played first base for the Samos Philosophers, in the Cycladian Association, back in the 550’s. He could hit the ball a long way, and was known at the time for calculating just exactly how far the ball had gone.

After his playing days were over, Pyth practically invented sabermetrics, and his famous “Pythagorean Standings” are still used to this very day in hot-stove leagues and bars all across America.

Pyth passed away in 495 BC, from a severe case of indigestion, at the age of -75.

After Pythagoras passed away Samos built a baseball park in his honor. There was a Pythagoras Park in Samos from roughly 480 – 440 BC.

The site is now just an empty lot, but the pitcher’s mound has been preserved, with a round marble stone on top of it, etched with “Pythagoras Park: Pitcher’s Mound.”

Some say that Pythagoras is buried beneath that stone. But I happen to think that that’s pretty far-fetched.

Good game, Pythagoras!

 

Phils Clobber Twins!

Well, yesterday, when I started writing this up, the Twins were on a pace to win, like, 130 games this year. But then they lost yesterday, and we knew 130 games was crazy unrealistic anyway, so now we are back on to reality, and on pace to win 107.99 games, which is still pretty good, we’ll take that, thank you very much.

But, of course, It’s Early. And early trends do not reliably predict future performance. So we’ll play them one game at a time, see if we can get to 5 – 2 today. (And back on pace to win 115.714285714 games.)

I was just about to write about what a good start the Twins were off to, and I wondered when was the last time the boys got off to such a good start? Well, as you undoubtedly recall, the 2017 Twins — yes, all the way back to 2017. Remember those guys? Mauer and Dozier and Grossman and los dos Santanas and Colon and Kintzler? Remember those guys? — anyway, they started off the season 5-1, which is where we would have been if we would have won yesterday. 2002? Also a 5-1 start. In ’68 and ’65 the boys jumped off to a 6-1 start. I guess we’re not going to match any of those records, but 4-2 is better than 2-4, so we’re sufficiently happy.

Yesterday they lose to the Phillies, 10-4. Looking at the box score, what jumps out first is 3 errors. Well, those things happen. It was a very bad weather day in Philly, drizzly/rainy and cold, and both teams had to contend with that, but it seems like the weather or something else got in Odorizzi’s way: he only went 2/3rds of an inning, gave up 2 hits, 3 walks, 5 runs. Not a quality start. The boys narrowed it to 6-4 in the top of the 5th, but that was all she wrote. Perez gave up a couple more runs, and Mejia yielded a few, and game over.

The other thing that jumps out from the box score is the Polanco line: 5 1 5 1. Jorge goes 5 for 5, which is an awfully nice day at the plate. AND he hits for the cycle, which is the first time that’s happened for the Twins since Cuddyer did it in 2009. Hitting for the cycle is an odd thing. Nobody tries to hit the cycle. Nobody stops at second if that’s what they need to complete the cycle. It’s a somewhat meaningless event. But still: cool. But I think the cycle is overshadowed by a 5 for 5 day. To sum up: kudos to Polanco for 5 for 5 and the cycle. “Keep up the good work.”

This seems like a math-heavy post, so we’ll just touch briefly on the Pythagorean Theory of Baseball. You all know Pythagoras, of course, who was a geometry guy, I think, his real life job was as a geometrist. You could make good money at that, back in the day. But his true love was baseball, or rather, the early Greek form of baseball, which was called something else back then, but was basically a form of baseball, an early Greek-style form of baseball, so we’ll just call it baseball. When he was young he played a little ball with the Samos club, you could look it up, and after that he took up geometry in a big way, and kind of became known for that more than for his early days with Philosophers. (Good glove, no hit. Tended to overthink things out there at the plate.)

Pyth was obviously good with numbers, (or what they used for numbers, back then. This was before actual “numbers.”) and he paid attention to numbers, and he was, like the first early Greek-form-of-baseball sabermetrist. And he noticed or worked out that he could get a pretty good estimate of a team’s winning percentage by comparing the number of runs they scored to the number of runs they allowed. That simple. Like I said, it was an early form of sabermetrisity. They didn’t have a lot of data to work with but they did have runs and wins and losses. (They were not called runs back then. They were called ducats. I don’t know why. Basically the same thing, though.)

We move ahead, then, years later, many many years later to the famous American psychologist, writer and philosopher William James. James “rediscovered” this Pythagorean formula, back in the 1880s, I believe, while following the fortunes of the Beaneaters in Boston. I think he wrote a paper about it, using a slightly updated version, removing the ducats.

Ever since then, countless others have tinkered with the basic formula, trying to improve its accuracy and get their name on a formula.

The”general use” version of the Pythagorean formula currently is:

I’m sure there are other versions that factor in lefty righty splits during rain delays in day games during July before a road trip to the east coast. And probably more complicated versions than that.

But, using this very simple, very basic, very very old formula, you are generally able to make a pretty darn good estimate as to a teams winning percentage. The trick, of course, is to know how many runs they will score in the season, and how many runs they will give up. At this point Pythagoras threw up his hands and said, “that’s why we play the games!” And he was so right about that.

You’ll find a team’s Pythagorean Results listed in some of the more detailed standings sheets that you might see in the sports pages, and maybe even online, telling you, based on how many runs they’ve scored and given up, what their record should be. Teams will often be a few games above or below their Pythagorean record. Seems like the Twins are usually a few games below. Chalk it up to weather conditions or luck or bad base running or whatever. Maybe the boys ease up when they have a big lead, so as not to rub it in. That would affect their Pythagorean standings. But Pythagorean standings don’t win pennants.

That’s why we play the games.

first win of 2018: check

Always nice to get that first one done. Always feels good. And somewhat a relief.

(That shadow lurking in the background is the memory of the 2016 season.)

 

Yesterday the Twins knocked the Orioles, 6-2. Sano hit his first of the season, a solo shot in the first. Six nothing till the ninth, and the boys were working on a no-hitter with two-outs in the 8th. Gibson tossed six hit-free innings, striking out 6 (while also walking 5.) Pressly worked the 7th and 8th, and gave up the hit. Gabriel Moya gave up a two run homer in the ninth. Moya was acquired from the Diamond Backs for catcher John Ryan Murphy and rocked double A ball last year, earning a late season call up.

Berrios pitches for the Twins today, and I rate our chances with him on the mound as good.

I wonder what happened to John Ryan Murphy? The Twins traded Aaron Hicks for him, after a season where he batted .277 in 155 at bats with the Yankees. He was a second round pick by the Yankees, made steady progress through their minors, hit .270 and  then .246 at AAA. Then .146 for the Twins, followed by .236 and .222 at triple A. Then to Arizona, and I see he’s up in the bigs to start the season. Curious.

 

2018 Forecast

I’ve taken a pensive scan through the 2018 edition of the Twins, and at last come up with my 2018 prediction.

The positives I see:

  • Starting pitching – reinforcements have arrived, and Odorizzi and Lynn are, I think,  upgrades. And perhaps Berrios will continue to improve: (+2)
  • Third base – where maybe young Sano can somehow stay healthy this season: (+2)
  • Center field – where we hope to see continued Buxton improvement (+1.5)
  • DH – Where Logan Morrison brings some consistency and a substantial upgrade from last year’s rotating cast: (+2)

This puts the Twins 7.5 games up from last season. Let’s call it eight. That puts them at 93-69 at year’s end.

On the downside:

  • I’m not convinced yet that the bullpen has been improved.
  • Is Mauer really back?
  • Who’s out there at short?

So there’s a few questions heading into the season, but I counterbalance these with

  • Brian Dozier seems to be headed to free agency: will he up his game?
  • Our pitch-framing catcher is back
  • Can Eddie Rosario take his game even higher?

All together, I see all these questions as a break-even proposition. And that still leaves as at 93-69 at year’s end.

But wait. There’s the Hubris penalty.

  • I rounded up from 7.5, I might just as well have rounded down. Philosophically, it’s always better to assume the worst. (-1)
  • And then there’s just my general historic and well-documented over-confidence about the Twins. (-1)

And so this puts the Twins at 6 games up from last season, and 91 – 71 at season’s end.

Sound reasonable?

Unfortunately, Baseball Prospectus’s PECOTA projections say today that the Twins will finish at 82 -80 this season, scoring 789 runs, and giving up 784. Last year the Twins scored 815, and gave up 788. I’m not sure how they figure this club is going to score less runs than last year, but I’m sure they’ve put in all the numbers, the pitchers, the health factors, wind direction, economic conditions, seismic activity, global warming, bird migration patterns, oil prices, and bat velocities, and so 789 is probably a pretty good guess. Perhaps they know some things I don’t.

Still, I’ll be surprised if this team doesn’t score more, and give up less. There may be other factors that they’ve overlooked and that I took into account. Time will tell who’s right about this.

The hometown StarTribune stable of baseball mavens are just slightly more optimistic than the Prospectus stat-machine:

  • Pat Reusse: 89-73
  • Jim Souhan: 89-73
  • Chip Scoggins: 87-75
  • La Velle E. Neal III: 86-76
  • Sid Hartman: 85-77
  • Phil Miller: 83-79

Again, they probably are blessed with a wealth of arcane “inside” knowledge, drawn from deep within the inner sanctum of the clubhouse, that mere mortals not able to access. But I still think that they are being overly cautious. Probably because they have professional reputations at stake, and, as baseball writers, well there’s always a lot to criticize and they are happy to do so. And that, my friends, leads to a warped perspective, and a life of unhappiness.

I wonder if they write articles at the end of the season, talking about their forecast and the final outcome? Well, we shall see, gentlemen. We shall see.

 

By the way, here it is, baseball season, game 3, and it’s 26 degrees here, and there’s icy snow on the sidewalks, and there’s more snow predicted in the next couple of days.

I Protest!

It Is Good To Be In First.

Well, so much for the run at best season-opening winning streak. The Twins drop today’s game, 6-2 in Chicago. Given recent history, we are well satisfied with a 4-1 record to start the season. Curious about fast starts, I did a little research and found that the ’87 Brewers and the ’82 Braves hold the “modern” record, both starting their seasons 13-0. The all time mark is held by the St. Louis Maroons of the old Union Association, who started the 1884 season with a 20-0 mark.

The Brewers failed to make the playoffs in ’87, and the Braves were eliminated in the playoffs. The Maroons, however, were the Union Association champions in 1884, finishing the season with a impressive 94-19 record.

The Maroons mark is a bit suspect, though, due to the nature of the Union Association, which many say was not a true “major league.” (The other leagues at the time referred to it as the “Onion Association.”) The Union Association only lasted the one season. Four of the original 12 teams folded during the season, and one moved. And so perhaps the 20-0 mark is a bit suspect, perhaps not an actual “major league” record. However, there’s no denying that it’s still quite a nice start to a season.

I was unable to find a picture of the legendary Maroons of ’84, so here’s a picture of a slightly later edition. A dapper bunch. The Maroons joined the National League in 1885, and played there in 1886 as well, before moving on to greener pastures in Indianapolis. (The old St. Louis Browns of the American Association were too much competition for the Maroons. It was a Brown town.)

[How can there not be a picture of the ’84 Maroons? Ridiculous. There’s gotta be one out there. But, so far, unfindable. I have a sneaking suspicion that the Cardinals organization is to blame.]

But: I digress.

It’s nice to start the season with a few quick wins. However, talking baseball with Ghost today, we decided that it doesn’t have the same impact as starting the season with a string of losses. Starting with losses at the start of the season is like the kiss of death. If you start your season 0-9, you are, unfortunately, pretty well done for the year. There’s no coming back. But if you start out 9-0, it seems like soon enough you find your self in second place, or clinging to a tenuous lead. Early season losses seem to have a greater impact than early season wins. This probably says something profound about the nature of human existance, but it’s a bit late in the day to go down  that road. Suffice to say that even though things are good now, it’s a long way to Tipperary.