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!

Pennant Fever!

Pennant races are a lot of fun.

Gone are the days when the Twins were winning every game and building a 12-game lead in the Division. Looking at the sports pages this morning, what do we find? Those scuttling Spiders from Cleveland have come back up from the depths. With the Twins loss yesterday (5-1 vs the Pale Hose) and the Spider’s win (9-1 over the Royals. Do the Royals have a nick-name? Do they have the worst club name in baseball?) we find the home town boys at 63-41, and those Spiders at 62-42, just a game back. A single game. And August beckons. While the Twins have meandered to a 5-5 record over the last ten, the Spiders have gone 8-2. And over July, while the Twins compiled a lackadaisical 10-11 mark, the Spiders went, uh… 17-4. That’s right. 17-4.

Ouch.

That’s some good ball they’ve been playing over there in Cleveland. And some falling-out-of-first-place ball by the home town boys.

Pennant races are slow motion excitement. (Reminds me of the guy who said that baseball was 3 minutes of excitement crammed into 2 and a half hours.) Pennant races are methodical, clockwork, tumblers falling into place, day after day after day, incremental changes, subtle shifts. Home games vs. road games, off days, double headers, head-to-head play. Injuries and juggling rotations. Prospects up from the minors. Pitchers who are tired and laboring. Maybe a bit of a sore arm here and there. The late summer nights can be steamy. The darkness is approaching. The fans are growing surly and argumentative. Trades are made of promising youth, the organization’s future, for aging mercenaries of the bullpen who will maybe be able to help you today. Desperation is in the air. The pennant race is early playoff baseball. Every day is must win, and you can’t be lulled into thinking that there’s always tomorrow. That’s the peculiar danger of the pennant race. “Still plenty of time.” There’s only time if you win. Every loss kills you a bit. Every win by the other guys is a stab in the back. Tick tick tick tick tick. Time is suddenly gone. Time is ephemeral, fleeting, an illusion. Suddenly, there, the finish line! It’s right in front of you! Watch out!

That’s right. Welcome to the Twilight Zone of the baseball season.

Pennant races can be a little nerve-wracking.

Especially when your team has just gone 10-11, and the other guys don’t ever seem to lose.

Yesterday the Twins traded a promising young first baseman for some aging bullpen help, along with some prospects. Generally, fans here are considering this a win, though there is a lot of doubt expressed on the street about how much bullpen help Sergio Romo will provide. Which seems odd, given that he has 17 saves in 18 save attempts this season for the Marlins, and our bullpen has an ERA of about 4.41, which leaves a good deal of room for improvement. (Our bullpen has somehow created the illusion that it is better than 4.41. Maybe all the guys with 8 and 9 run ERAs have been sent down, and only guys with 2.72 ERAs are left?) I heard a few people say that Romo’s a “soft-thrower” who may very well have prospered over there in the Senior Circuit, where apparently the hitters can be fooled by that soft-throwing shit. That’s not gonna fly here in the American League, they say.

Well, we shall see, we shall see.

To acquire Mr. Romo, 36, and young pitching prospect Chris Vallimont, and a player to be named later, the Twins parted with young first baseman Lewin Diaz, who’s been pounding the ball in 90 games of A and AA ball: .294, 19 home runs, 27 doubles and 62 rbis. The story on him is that he’s having a “bounce-back” season this year, and the Twins would probably not protect him in the off-season by giving him a roster spot, given the Twin’s depth at first base. Given that detail, maybe this was an okay trade. Vallimont, 22, has speed and control and a 3.16 era in 22 starts in A ball.

Still, I hate to see Diaz leave. He’s having a heckuva season, and I have a feeling we’ll miss him in the future, when he’s pounding those soft-throwers over in the National League.

I wouldn’t be a very good baseball GM. I kind of hate trades. In my major leagues, you sign the best guys you can and then you develop them and then you play the game. Would I ever pull the trigger? Well, you can bet I would not trade Brunansky for Herr. That’s for sure.

Today:

Twins 11, White Sox 1
Royals 9, Spiders 6.

Good ol’ Royals.

They should have stuck with the Katz name. What were they thinking?

Kansas City Katz? Kansas City Royals?

You make the call.

 

 

A Morning Cup of Coffee

(4/25/19)

Happy (belated) Birthday Red Bird!

Bird1 - WashTimes9-18-21

James Edward “Red” Bird was born on this date in 1890. He pitched for the Washington Senators back in 1921, at age 31. One game. Saturday, Sept 17, 1921. Relief. Five innings pitched, five hits, 3 runs, a walk, 2 strikeouts. One at bat. One Strike out.

The Washington Times was there to cover the action, and reports that Bird was “well received by the fans,” whatever that means. Perhaps fans then were more discerning, and sometimes booed the new guys coming up from the minors? That seems hard to believe.

The independent minor leagues of the day made baseball ownership a bit more entrepreneurial back then. Or something. Mercantile?  This article, (below,) from the same Times, 13 September, reports that Griffith went out and got some new players at the behest of the fans. (Really?) In any case, for whatever reason, Griffith went out shopping in the minor leagues, and came back with a number of “prospects” for the club. Besides Red Bird, “a southpaw from Shreveport in the Texas League,” there were a couple of pretty good players in that shopping cart: fella name of Goose Goslin, from Columbia in the Sally League, fella name of Ossie Bluege from Peoria in the Three I League.

Bird5 - WashTimes 9-13-21

Also a guy named McIree, a northpaw from Virginia Minnesota (no league.) I wonder if McIree ever made it to the bigs?

All told, Griffith harvests 12 new players from the hinterlands. Nothing like a little new blood to motivate your players and stir a little fan interest at the end of a long season.

Anyway, Bird gets his cup of coffee in the bigs. The reporter is fairly positive about his performance, but perhaps for 31-year-old rookies trying to make it big, you cut them some slack.

He calls Bird “a well put-up southpaw from the Texas League…” I wonder what he meant by that. Was Bird highly touted? A prize catch? A sturdy lad?

Bird comes in in the 5th and does as well as anyone could ask, the reporter says, except for the 7th inning. I guess one bad inning out of five isn’t so bad. Bird gives up a single in the fifth, and hits a batter, but nobody scores. Sixth inning, nobody scores. Then in the 7th, with one out, a walk, a single, and Sewell nails a well-hit triple to left-center. Rice was apparently playing over in right center with Sewell at bat, and couldn’t flag it down. But the hit was a hummer, maybe Rice couldn’t have got it in any case, so what can you do? A sacrifice fly brings Sewell home, and three runs are on the board against Mr. Bird.

“Bird disposed of the foe in good style in the remaining two innings.”

So. Not so bad. One rocky inning. One good hit, really. If Sewell flies out to Rice, maybe nobody scores. Maybe Bird plays a few more games, settles down, has himself a major league career, instead of a cup of coffee. But that’s the way baseball go. I wonder what became of Red Bird after his cup of coffee. Did he stick with the club for the rest of the season? Was he let go the next day?

Baseball Reference.com tells us that Bird went 17-12 with Shreveport in 1921, with a 3.76 ERA. In 1922 he was back with Shreveport, but had less fun, going 9-13, with a 4.59 ERA. In 1923 he started the year with the Shreveport club, then went to Memphis in the Southern League, where he went 11-11, and then on to Mobile. In 1924 he started at Galveston, back in the Texas League, then went back to the Southern League, to Mobile and Nashville. In 1925, Texas league, Waco and then Houston. His record was 19-11 in ’25, but more detail than that is lacking. In ’26 and ’27 the peripatetic Red Bird landed in Fort Worth, and he finished out his career there in the Texas League. Red Bird

I looked around a bit in old newspapers for a picture of Red, but found nothing. Baseball Reference has an old picture, looks like from a newspaper, not very good quality, but the best available.

Red passed away 23 March 1972 in Murfreesboro, Arkansas, at age 81, and he’s buried in Stephenville, Texas, where he was born. Back in the Texas League again.

Good game, Red.

Bird3 - WashTimes9-18-21 (1)

 

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?

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.

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!

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.)