The Big Acq

Well, the Twins have gone and done it. With Highly Obvious Needs in the starting rotation, the Twins went into the off season hunting for a #1 starter, a guy who can dominate and take us to the top. And now they have done it, they have gone out and spent some serious cash on a High Price, High Impact, High Risk Free Agent: Josh Donaldson.

Third baseman.

The Big Acq.

Well.

Donaldson can put the ball in the seats, which is something that the Twins have largely lacked over the last few years, although last year they did happen to set an all-time major league record for home runs.

So the big thing they probably got him for was his fielding. He’s excellent at 3rd, and this will enable Sano to move to first, where he belongs, and where he will replace the departed CJ Cron, who will be playing for the Detroit Twins next season. (Gardenhire, Schoop, Cron.)

Having secured the all-important third base position, the Twins can call this off-season a win. A lot of people were fooled by the Twins saying they were looking for starting pitching. Then, out of no-where: WHAK! Third base! Caught you looking!

Donaldson had a good season last year with the Atlanta club.

(Side note: what would the Atlanta club be called if they ditched their name, (which seems to be offensive to many)? The Atlanta Crackers? That may also be offensive, though there was a minor league Crackers club for quite some time, and they did pretty well. Actually, the Crackers has kind of a nice sound to it, such as in “the Crack of the Bat,” which may be one of the reasons they used it. What else is Atlanta known for? The Atlanta Peaches? The Atlanta Golden Domes? The Atlanta Firemen? The Atlanta Airports? The Georgia Peanuts?)

.259, 37hr, 94rbi, and 4 stolen bases. (The Twins were not busy on the basepaths last season, and Donaldson’s speed will add another dimension to the club.) He should be able to fill Cron’s shoes in the offense department, and he’ll probably be an improvement over Sano at third. Sano, though, moves to first, where he will be a drop from Cron’s fielding acumen. So maybe the fielding all evens out. And is fielding important? Perhaps not as important as planting the ball in the upper deck, but it is pretty fun to watch, and fun to make a nice catch too. Everybody loves a dramatic catch.

Probably, on the scale of What’s Enjoyable About Baseball, an amazing catch beats a home run. Even if it’s an upper deck shot. I’d rather see an amazing catch. A home run is just a long base hit. An amazing catch is super-human.

imho

Anyway. Pencil-in Donaldson at third, Sano at first.

Also pencil-in the Twin Surprises, Homer Bailey and Rich Hill (Homer & Hill) into the tail-end of the starting rotation. There was not a lot of talk about Homer & Hill in the off-season, which made them a perfect target for the Twins Front Office, which enjoys the undervalued and relatively quiet pitching acquisitions.

Which reminds me of Yu Darvish. The highly-coveted-in-the-2017-off-season Yu Darvish, who then was injured most of 2018, and went 6-8 with a 3.98 ERA with the Cubs in 2019. Free agents are a gamble, and free agent pitchers even more so.

Now a third baseman, on the other-hand. A third baseman you can take to the bank. He’s not going to hurt his arm while playing Guitar Hero. Third basemen are rock solid.

I see that Eddie Rosario is still with the club. Good. Let’s not go out and trade him for starting pitching. I know we have a lot of young bats in the minors, Larnach and Raley and the legendary Kiriloff. Are they ready to play in the show? No, not quite. We’ll know when they are ready. They will be pounding at the door. But right now, I don’t hear them knocking. Not yet.

Finally: the 2019 Recap

Congratulations to the Minnesota Twins on winning the American League Central Division. Congrats in particular to Rocco Baldelli, who wins Manager of the Year award in his rookie season. When was that last done? And when was the last time the Twins had the Manager of the Year? (As if we didn’t know.)

The Twins finish the regular season with an respectable 101-61 record. (And congratulations Sid Hartman on having the closest prediction this year!) How did the Twins do it? How did they wildly out-perform all expectations? How is this remotely possible?? Have we slipped into Bizzaro World somehow?

No, it’s not Bizarro World. This is real life. And here they are:

The Top 10 Reasons why the Twins Totally Rocked in 2019

  1. Obviously, they (The Front Office) got extremely lucky. Or — and this must be fairly considered — just maybe they know what they are doing? The free agent pickups of last off-season all produced, and I would be very tempted to label the Brain Trust as geniuses, were it not for their 2018 off-season acquisitions, which were largely terrible. (LogMor? All those pitchers?) And so, for me, the jury is out, still, on whether the Front Office is made of Brainiacs or whether they had a lucky roll of the dice.
  2. La Bomba. With the totally magnificent Nelson Cruz leading the way, the twins launched more rockets than the North Koreans. It was an impressive display. AND we even managed to out-homer los yanquis malditos, 307-306. Kepler hitting 36 was a pleasant surprise. Garver hitting 31 and Polanco hitting 22 were bigger surprises. I wasn’t expecting 32 from Rosario. And Cron and Schoop popped for 25 and 23. Pretty nice line-up.
  3. Latin America! Shades of Calvin Griffith! The Twins looked off shore for baseball talent, and Latin America answered the call. (Okay, Germany also contributed.) Cruz, Sano, Arraez, Astudillo, Adrianza (TripleA), Gonzalez, Polanco, Schoop. And Max Kepler.
  4. Rocco Baldelli. His calm demeanor steadied the club through the rough spots, and his juggling of the pitching staff was worthy of the Flying Karamazov Brothers. Here’s a surprise: Baldelli was ejected twice this season. It’s kind of hard to imagine. How did I miss those games? I imagine the ejections must have been on some obscure technicalities, too many bats in the bat rack, perhaps, or submitting the lineup card in pencil, or wearing illegal socks. That’s it, Baldelli! You’re Outta Here!

It’s hard for me to judge the value of managers. Probably Molitor (Manager of the Year, 2017) would have done just as well as Baldelli, with a club hitting 300 homers. It’s kind of like how the President gets the credit or the blame for the economy, when they don’t have that much to do with it. Maybe the same with managers. I’m sure it’s a hard job, working with 25 guys who want to play and win and all. Not a job I would want. I’d want to email in the lineup card each day, and then watch the game on my computer. My substitutions would appear flashing brightly on a screen in the dugout.

  1. The Bullpen. Our starting rotation was, to be frank, largely unimpressive, and so a good bullpen was a necessity. The Twins were criticized in the off-season for not bolstering their bullpen, but it turned out pretty okay, as they made do pretty much with in-house arms. In fact, an argument could be made that the Twins had one of the better bullpens in MLB in 2019. Possibly. Depends on what numbers you want to look at. But no matter how you look at it, they were better than expected, and that made a huge difference. Was it coaching? Maturity? Health? Magic? Whatever.
  2. Nelson Cruz. Reminded me a bit of… who? Puckett? Killebrew? Nelson had fun out there and set an example of how to play the game. He helped keep the club on an even keel throughout the season, and he pounded the ball in a businesslike fashion. Probably the most important free agent pick up in the club history. Or, I should probably say, one of the most important, with a nod to… Joe Niekro? Chili Davis? Black Jack Morris?
  3. Pitching coach Wes Johnson gets a tip of the cap. Hard to judge his efforts. Team ERA went down from 4.5 to 4.18. I compared the team pitching stats from 2018 and 2019, and I see slight general improvement. What stood out was 452 walks given up in 2019, compared to 573 in 2018. There were 10 intentional walks in 2019, compared to 34 in 2018. Five balks in 2019, none in 2018. Hmmm. Hmmmm. Well, less guys on base = less guys who can score. Maybe Wes told the guys, throw strikes, and that was all it took.
  4. Jake Odorizzi – There were disappointments in the pitching department, but Jake Odorizzi was not one of them. On the contrary. The 29-year-old slab artist dropped his ERA from 4.49 to 3.51 in 2019, and made the all-star team. He had a few health problems later in the season, as pitchers will, but he was a solid dependable starter, and those are in short supply. Definitely the Twins Pitcher of the Year, in my book.
  5. Mad Max Kepler in right field. Stepped up his game in a major league way, from OPS of .727 in 2018 to .855 in 2019. Thirty-six homers, 90 rbis, and a solid outfielder. Is there more to come?
  6. Mitch Garver claimed the catcher spot with another giant step forward in his game, raising his OPS from .745 to (gulp) .995! Yowza. Seven homers in 2018, 31 in 2019. Mitch Garver had a monster season. They say his pitch-framing improved as well. Which is also very important.

There are, of course, numerous Other Factors that could be mentioned. But how much time does one have to go on and on about last season? Times moves on, and there’s plenty to worry about in 2020. For instance, and maybe you better sit down for this… there are rumors that Steady Eddie Rosario might be trade bait? Eddie Rosario? Well, that’s food for thought. I guess there are a lot of young guys in the minors that can swing the bat. They need a chance. But… Eddie? For what? Pitching?

Let me consider that. I’ll get back to you. But how about those Senators? I mean the Nationals. How about them? Congrats to the DC club. Not actually a division winner, but still, by the grace of God, Champions of all Major League Baseball. Dozier gets a ring! Happy to see that. And Kurt Suzuki too!

Let the Hot Stove League Commence!

the race

I was going to call this “breathing space,” with the Twins 5 and a half ahead of the Spiders today, but thought better of it. Breathing space can disappear in the space of four or five games, and there are plenty of games yet to play. Every game is playoff baseball now, everything counts, and everybody feels post-season drawing closer, and closer, and closer. (Cue: music from Jaws.)

Looking over to the National League, I see the Braves, Cards, and Dodgers all on top in their respective divisions. Coincidentally, the three teams that the Twins have already played in the World Series. So: rematch time?

Credit goes to the NY Times for this lovely representation of the Yanquis.

But first, of course, the Twins will need to overcome los Yanquis de Nuevo York.

Which is a tall task for anybody, but particularly for the Twins, who seem to be allergic to all New York teams, past, present, and probably future. Perhaps if we refer to them as the Phillies or the [insert Florida’s NL team name here] or the Diamondbacks… perhaps then we will do better.

With pennant fever raging, the Twins have gotten a few bits of bad news:

First, they lose one of their key starters, Michael Pineda, for the rest of the season, due to PED rule violation. This hurts, as Berrios and Gibson have been struggling of late, while Pinada has been getting stronger. Apparently Pinada took some over-the-counter medication, given to him by a friend, to help control weight issues? I guess that could happen. This must be awful for Pineda. After all, post-season is THE BIG SHOW, everyone plays all year trying to get into post season, and here’s his shot and suddenly, no, he’s out. How many chances do you get to go to the playoffs?

Which makes me wonder what players have gone a lot, and I suppose there are players out there who rarely get the chance. Who are the active players with fewest post-season games in their career? Are there any players out there who have played a long time and never gone to the playoffs? Which baseball team has the longest post-season drought?

Mariners fans; how do you stand it? It’s been 17 seasons since the Mariners have seen playoff ball. Seventeen long seasons. There are young Seattle baseball fans who have no memory of Seattle in the playoffs, and may not even know that playoffs exist. Perhaps they see the Mariners as the baseball equivalent of the Washington Generals? I think that’s the team that goes around the world losing to the Harlem Globetrotters. Anyway. Seventeen seasons. And the Seattle record so far, in 2019: 58-85. And yesterday they lost to the Astronats by the score of, uh… looks like…  21 – 1.

It may be some time before those Mariners get back to the big show.

Ernie Banks, sad to say, holds the record for most games played without seeing the post season: 2528 games, 19 seasons. Ouch. I have not yet found a source that tracks active players in this regard. I might examine the Mariner roster, for starters.

Anyway, besides Pineda, the Twins also may have to do without Byron Buxton, who’s injured his shoulder. There’s some talk of surgery. Byron has been a tough luck player.

And then, finally, the Twins also may have to do without Max Kepler, who also seems to be injured. That would be another tough loss, if he can’t come back. He’s having a heckuva year.

Oh, well. I suppose the Mariners would love to have these problems. There’s lot’s of baseball left to play, let’s just try to win the next one, tomorrow, in Washington. (Almost like a home game!) And let’s try to stay healthy too.

Not a Great Cup of Coffee

In fact, I’ll say it.

A bad cup of coffee.

Mike Palagyi was 21 years old when came up with the Senators for his shot at the majors on 18 August 1939. He had a bit of a rough outing. But I’m sure it wasn’t helped by the fact that three of the four batters he faced were future Hall-of-Famers: Jimmy Foxx, Ted Williams, and Joe Cronin. Probably most rookies would have been a bit intimidated by that, and Mike was a little wild that day.

He came into the game for the top of the 9th inning, with the Senators down 3-1 against the Red Sox. He walked Doc Cramer, to lead off the inning, and then hit Foxx. I’m sure Foxx let him hear about it. He then walked Williams, to load the bases, and then walked Cronin to force in a run. At that point, the manager made the walk to the mound and pulled him. And that was it for Mike. Fifteen pitches. Two strikes. And his career ERA is infinite, as he did not get an out. Wikipedia says he is one of 19 players with a career infinite ERA. Nice to have company in that regard, I guess. I suspect he is the only one of the lot that found three Hall-of-Famers in his cup of coffee. Ouch. Bad enough just having to pitch to Ted Williams. “It was a real nightmare,” Mike said later.

I’m not entirely clear why the Senators called Mike up. He was playing B level ball for Cleveland at Spartenburg in the Sally league that season. Baseball Reference.com says he went 7-6, with a 4.07 ERA. It looks like the Senators acquired his contract and brought him up immediately to see what he looked like. The Senators finished the season with a 67-85 record, 6th place. It seems like they might have been able to run Palagyi out there another time, given him another opportunity, without hurting their chances a lot.

But they didn’t.

Mike played for Greenville in the Sally League the next season, 1940, for Washington, and went 13-15 with a 5.14 ERA. After that Mike was in the military, and after that I see that he played again in 1946 for Montgomery, 2 innings. But his arm “just didn’t have it,” and Mike left organized ball.

And after that? Mike returned to Ohio, where he worked as a plumber and maintenance man until he retired in 1982. He passed away 21 November 2013, age 96.

Good game, Mike.

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.