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!

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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.)

 

Mid-summer ball

Well, will you look at that.

Here we are, past the all-star break, and those plucky Twins are hanging in there.

Who would have thunk it?

It seemed widely assumed that the Twins were as terrible as their 2016 campaign indicated. Also widely assumed that the Twins would be selling off bits of the club to contenders after the all-star break.

Well, that may still happen. The Brain Trust is a bit surprised that the Twins are still in contention, but they are not forsaking their long-term plans for short-term glory. Which seems like a good plan to me. I’m always in favor of long-term plans over short-term glory. (Hence the lack of short-term glory.) I’m also a guy who likes to stand pat. You got this far with these guys, see how far they will go.

Twins are taking it on the chin tonight, 6-3 against the Tigers, with the game about over. Not good to lose when Santana is the starter, but those things happen. We’ll be back at them tomorrow.

Here’s a few interesting statistics:

Record this season: 48-46
Record last season: 35-59

OPS this season: .737
OPS last season: .738

ERA this season: 4.80
ERA last season: 5.08

FIP this Season: 5.02
FIP last Season: 4.57

Rank in fielding percentage and double plays this season: 2 in both (out of 15)
Rank in fielding percentage and double plays last season: 15 in both (out of 15)

interesting.

Saturday evening, April 30th, 1904: “Brilliantly played Game”

The millers won a tight one in Louisville yesterday, 2-1, a “brilliantly played game,” according to our man in Louisville, though there were four errors in the game. Gene Ford got the win, giving up 6 hits and a walk while striking out five. Ford also scored the winning run in the sixth, getting a hit, going to second on a sacrifice, to third on an error, and coming home on a fielder’s choice. It’s miller time!

The colonels lone run came in the second. Brashear singled, then went from first to third on an infield out, a grounder to short. Not sure how that’s possible, but there it is, black and white. Brashear must have blazing speed? Anyway, he then scored (probably easily) on a fly-ball out. Denny Sullivan tied it up for the millers in the bottom of the frame (YES, the millers are batting last, though the game’s in Louisville. What’s up with that?) hitting a long home run (!) into the center field pasture.

Catcher Weaver has a cannon for an arm, apparently, catching four of the five colonels attempting to steal. McNichol was at third again, and handled eight changes without “a skip.” He also dazzled in a double play in the ninth: with runners on first and second, Hart hit a stinger down to McNichol. He stepped on third for one and tossed across to Lally, but too late to catch the speedy Hart. Lally, though, noted that the runner from first had rounded second and was headed to third, and he gunned the ball back across the diamond to McNichol, who applied the tag for the out. Score that 5-3-5, folks, and some heads-up ball by the millers. The colonels love to run too, apparently.

Meanwhile, our scribe gets a few column inches to provide analysis, and, yes, the millers are speedy. Speedy speedy speedy. Everybody agrees. Can we give it a rest for awhile?

Our scribe is highly optimistic that the club will come home from this road trip above the .500 mark. It’s a shame that they only got to play one game against the Columbus team, because the millers clearly outclassed the Ohioans, and they probably would have won two or three games, if they could only have been played. (Instead of just losing the one game, which was, I guess, an anomaly.)

The pitching has been good, though Ford reported late, so he’s still a question mark. (Analysis apparently done pre-game, as Ford rocked the colonels.) Katoll’s arm, meanwhile, is still said to be in good shape, but Watkins “intends to save Big Katoll until warm weather arrives.” But his arm is fine. But he doesn’t want to take any chances. But his arm is healthy. (Why do I think that Katoll’s got a bad arm? I don’t know, but I suspect he won’t make it through the season. Watty should be looking for more pitching.)

McNichol and Demontreville are having a good contest for third base, with McNichol playing a bit better, but Demontreville has not been released yet because of Fox’s sickness. It looks like Watty will hang onto them both for two or three weeks. Fox is in there playing, yesterday, but I guess Watkins like to have a little depth on the bench.

Hitting is a concern. Only 51 safeties in six games, our analyst reports, which, using a little 1904 sabremetrics, breaks out to just eight and a half hits per game: “This is not good enough batting to suit the fans entirely, but six games is hardly a criterion of the team’s real strength.”  Yes, I think I get what he’s trying to say. He’s right. Hardly a criterion.

Finally, catcher Weaver looks good, as does Leslie. Our reporter thinks that Leslie will probably play most of the games, as long as he keeps hitting.

—-

Meanwhile, at UW Madison, it’s the same old same old.

“Seranaded the professors?” I can imagine what that was like. But I’m not sure what happened with the “vaudeville performance.” Why do I suspect that beer was heavily involved with this? Anyway, thank the lord that the police were on hand to break up the shenanigans. I suspect that that’s the last we’ll hear of Mr. Larue of Chicago and Mr. Davies of Davenport.

“Holy Cow!”

…as Halsey Hall used to say.halsey-hall-wcco

Pitchers and Catchers report to spring training tomorrow!

Did you know that Halsey used “Holy Cow” in his Home Run call long before Harry Caray used it?

Yes, Halsey originated the “Holy Cow!” exclamation. Credit where credit is due.

My favorite story about ol’ Halsey is the time in 1968 that he set the press box on fire with ashes from one of his big cigars.

I was lucky to grow up listing to the Twins games on the radio, summer after summer, Herb Carneal, Halsey Hall, and of course, Hamm’s, the beer that refreshes.

hamms-beer-bear-and-twins

There’s a nice little write up about Halsey on the Society for American Baseball Research website. Good stories? Holy cow! In fact, the local SABR chapter is the Halsey Hall chapter. I wonder if they could add Herb Carneal into the name? Check out their February 2017 newsletter for a nice “Who Lived Here” trivia question.

Anyway: Pitchers and Catchers report. Spring is here. At last.

2016 Opening Day!

2016 Baseball America Baseball AlmanacThe baseball gods have been chiding me, these last few weeks. Or perhaps prodding would be a better word. I came across a free copy of Baseball America’s 2016 Almanac the other day, for one. I’ve not seen this publication before, and it’s an old-school compendium of everything baseball in 2015, overflowing with detailed statistics on the game at all levels. It may even cover high school ball, I haven’t thoroughly investigated the back pages yet. If I don’t carry it gently, statistics fall out like confetti, leaving a trail of data behind. Best to keep it in a plastic bag. There’s more than anyone could possibly want to know, in here, and in a font that punishes the older crowd with the weak eyes and out-dated eyeglasses. I can’t imagine that they sell a lot of these. It’s a pretty limited market. And isn’t this all online? But I like it, it’s nice to have, it’s got a solid feel to it, and – I don’t know how they did this – but when I flip through the pages I can smell the dark green grass of summer evenings. Honest.

1916 Spalding Baseball GuideAnd I can’t help but nod a bit in the direction of Spalding’s Base Ball Guide of 1916. It would be fun to compare the two. I’ll put that on my ever-growing list of things to blog about.

I also picked up a free copy of David Halberstam’s Summer of ’49 just yesterday.

And a few weeks ago I picked up two books, Deadball Stars of the American (and National) League, published by our friends at SABR, and waiting for me on the $2 shelves at my nearby Half-Price Books.

Plus, of course, there’s Spring Training, coming and now going, and I see today that the StarTribune writers have made their forecasts for the coming season.

playing for keepsAnd I just finished, (a couple weeks ago) Goldstein’s Playing for Keeps – A History of Early Baseball. (Rather scholarly, that.)

And I finally acquired a Japanese baseball card I’ve been wanting.

So.

Could I maybe take the time, or make the time, to blog a bit?

Obviously, no, not so much. There is a crushing shortage of available time.

And yet, here I am. I cannot let the season begin without making a prediction.

The local Knights of the Keyboard are not so much impressed by our hometown boys and their 19-11 springtime mark. A couple of the scribes pick them for second, three of them say third place, and one says fourth. The high-water mark on record is the 87-75 prediction, good 2nd place. The doubting Thomas pegs them at 79-83, and a 4th place disaster.

Well, maybe they are right. After all, these are the fellows that follow this club, day and night. They get paid to know all about the Twins.

But, what the heck, it’s Spring, and sometimes you just gotta show a little faith and a little confidence. Maybe they don’t quite have the pitching for a 97 win season. But I’m saying the boys finish first, and win 93 games. 93-69, good enough for first, the Junior Circuit Gonfalon, and a place in the big show against the Cubbies. You heard it here first.

1991 Twins Championship

Ya gotta believe.

Happy Birthmonth, Frank Chapman!

Looking at today’s baseball birthday’s I see that Ducky Medwick was born today, in 1911. His parents named him Ducky, but most people called him Joseph Michael. How could you not like a ballplayer named Ducky? Joe Medwick c fr sm - 1937 - Dixie Premium

Ducky was a member of the famous “gashouse gang,” the Cardinals teams of the ’30s, and he could hit the ball some. He won the Triple Crown and NL MVP in 1937, when he hit .374 — yes, .374 — with 31 home runs and 154 runs batted in. He finished up with a lifetime batting average of .324.

In the 1934 World Series Medwick got taken out of the seventh game in, in Detroit. Apparently the Tigers fans didn’t like the way he slid hard into third base after hitting a triple, and were throwing a lot of garbage at him out in left field in the bottom half of the inning. (The Tigers fans were used to a more genteel style of play, such as Ty Cobb used to show them, where he would slide carefully into third base on a triple and then dust off the opposing third baseman after the play was over.) Anyway, in order to get the play going again, and, they medwick in left pelted 1934 world seriessay, for Ducky’s own safety, Judge Kennesaw Mountain Landis, baseball Commissioner, who just happened to be there that day, ordered Medwick off the field. To be fair about it, he also ordered the Tiger third baseman out of the game too, a guy named Marv Owen.

Above you see a picture of Ducky standing out in left, the fans pelting him with garbage, an image from the newsreel available on shutterstock. After the game, (which the Cardinals won, 11-0, winning the series,) Medwick said “Well, I knew why [the Tiger fans] threw that garbage at me. What I don’t understand is why they brought it to the park in the first place.”

A good question.

This is Charlie Ferguson, Philadelphia Pitcher in the 1880s. This is not Frank Chapman, but perhaps Charlie knew Frank? In any case, Frank probably dressed something like this when he was pitching for the A's that day.

This is Charlie Ferguson, Philadelphia Pitcher in the 1880s. This is not Frank Chapman, but perhaps Charlie knew Frank? In any case, Frank probably dressed something like this when he was pitching for the A’s that day.

And what about Frank Chapman? Frank was born sometime in November, (might as well call it the 24th) in 1861, and broke in with the Philadelphia Athletics in 1887, the starting pitcher on 22 July against the Cleveland Blues. Chapman gave up six runs, four earned, in five innings of work. Eight hits, two walks, four strikeouts, and oh for two at the plate. He got credit for a complete game, as Blues starter Mike Morrison declared a forfeit, with the Blues ahead by two, after a heated argument with the umpire. So, complete game, but he doesn’t get a victory or a defeat. I wouldn’t have thought that was possible.

That was it for Frank Chapman’s career in the bigs. Perhaps he was disenchanted with the experience. But another odd thing about this is that for years they thought Frank Chapman was Fred Chapman, (who was born on 24 November) and this appearance by Fred Chapman would have been when Fred was just 14 years old, making him the youngest player ever to play in the majors. (Such as it was.)

But it wasn’t Fred after all, as shown in research by SABR guy Richard Malatzky. So, well, never mind. It just goes to show, you never know. Who’da though you could pitch a complete game and not get a win or a loss? That’s the way baseball go. You just never know.

Which led me to Joe Nuxhall, who is actually the youngest guy (or so we believe at this point in time, to the best of our knowledge) ever to play in major league ball. Joe was just 15 (well, 15 years and 361 days, to be exact) when he pitched two-thirds of an inning for the Reds on 10 June, 1944.

Joe got the first guy out in that game. But then gave up five walks, two hits, a wild pitch, and five runs before being pulled. In 1945 Joe decided to finish high school, and then he went back to baseball, and came up with the Reds again in 1952, and was a pretty decent pitcher for them, making the All-Star team in 1955 and ’56.

Anyway. Happy Birthday Ducky, Fred, Frank, and Joe Nuxhall too, (a bit late on Joe, July 30th.) Good game, all.