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.)

 

the deep dark dead of winter…

January 2018. It’s been a typical Minneapolis January: dark, periodically below zero, periodically snowing. The days are short and filled with work. The roads are scummy with snow and salt and ice. We had a dumping of snow last week, about a foot, which mocked our puny human efforts to do business as usual. Furnaces always always on. Dry dry dry. Pipes freezing up. Too cold for the dog to do more than run outside and run back in. Sky the same bleak color as the dismal gray snow. Crows, taunting. Cars caked in frosty dirt.

Yes, the dark dead days of winter. The furnace ticking like a bomb in the basement. The tea kettle screeching on the stove. Perfect setting for the HSL.

Local baseball opinion seems very positive about the Twins. After all, they’ve already signed Zach “Tommy John Surgery in 2016” Duke and Fernando “41 year-old” Rodney. (Those are not their actual nicknames, by the way.) Thusly, the bullpen is reinforced for the coming campaign, and the Brain Trust can focus on other needs.

Speaking of which, they are still apparently in the running in the 2018 Yu Darvish marathon. Latest word is that Darvish will sign with someone in early-to-mid 2019. The Cubs — those sly devils — have recently signed former Twins windpaddist Chris Gimenez – of whom Darvish has reportedly said something to the effect of “He’s my all-time favorite catcher.” Clever move, Cubbies. Well played. We’ll just see if that tips the scale towards Cubsland. The Twins, meanwhile, are stocking supplies of Rummy Grapefruit Soda, rumored to be Darvish’s favorite soft drink. (It’s like a chess game…)

The Carl Sandburg mystery continues. Surely a poetic Chicago boy who grew up on the sandlots had a love for one of those-home town clubs? And probably the Cubs?

I thought perhaps something might appear in his published book of letters, but no, not a clue. A few baseball references, but nothing that pointed to the Cubs or the Pale Hose. Letter after letter full of poesy and politics. Disappointing.

I emailed the vaunted Chicago Public Library, and heard back just a day or two later. They reported that they could find nothing in their vast historical archives, their myriad electronic resources — and suggested I look perhaps at Sandburg’s volume of published letters.

Hmmmm.

I have not yet picked up the Sandburg biography, which will probably solve this puzzle on page 8 or so, “... Sandburg, being a Yankee fan, …

For who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FYI, January 31st is the birthday of a few pretty good ball players, and a lot of others as well. Today we celebrate the births of Rasty Wright and Jot Goar, Goat Cochran (Thanks, mom and dad, for that…), and Steamboat Williams. Stuffy Stewart, Pinky Hargrave, Webb Schultz and Honey Barnes. The great Emil Planeta, Mr. Mel Mazzera, Jackie Robinson, Ernie Banks, and Nolan Ryan.

Not a bad day at all for baseball.

playoffs!

Okay, I’d be a terrible baseball blogger indeed if I failed to note that the Twins are in the playoffs. The first team in MLB history to go from a 100 loss season to the playoffs in one season. Quite an accomplishment. And perhaps this says something about the aberrant nature of last season’s death march.

But last season was last season, ancient history. This is the season that counts, and the Twins are in the playoffs. Wooo-hooo!

There’s even a little extra joy in getting to the playoffs in that the Front Office dumped all-star closer Brandon Kintzler at the trading deadline. (Not to mention Jaime Garcia who was both acquired and then de-acquired just before the deadline.) The Front Office was seeming to say that these guys are toast. Wait till next year. But these guys, it turns out, were not made of toast. No indeed.

I, personally, am glad that we play the Yankees. They’ve had our number for years now, and I’d like a little pay-back time.

Congratulations to them Twins. We knew you could do it. Let’s take all the marbles.

maketh hay whilst the sun doth shineth

In other words, hey, those Twins have won six in a row.

Nice.

Just when you count them out, wait, don’t count them out yet. Hey, Falvey! Levine! Don’t count these guys out yet!

A few days back, the brain trust put their thinking caps on and thought, “hey, you know? Maybe we can win something here.” They bolstered their starting pitching with Jaime Garcia from the Braves, and then the Twins promptly lost about five in a row.

And the brain trust suddenly thought, “hey, you know? We’re not going to win anything here,” and, after making one start as a Twin, Garcia was dealt away “to a contender” (the Yankees.) And then closer Brandon Kintzler (2.78, 28 saves) was gone too, to the Nationals. Whereupon, soon after, the boys put together this here little win streak, which finds them within striking distance of winning something again.

Which makes me wonder if Garcia might be available again?

And which just shows that you never know in baseball.

After they traded Garcia away (for a couple of prospects, not so bad) I think it was Molitor who said, no worries, we got this far with what we got, we can go with the horses we have. I paraphrase. But, good point, Molly. We’re not so bad. Not so bad at all.

We just might win something here anyway.

Tonight, Twins 9, Tigers 4.

Obviously, a lot of nice hitting by the Twins. Kepler, Rosario, and Mauer each get three hits, Dozier gets a couple, one of them being a beautiful triple down the right field line. Rosario and Kepler homer. Mr. Kepler has a very nice swing.

Mr. Buxton made a very nice catch in center. And the Twins keep rolling.

Three and a half games out of first.

 

Still no word on which Chicago team Carl Sandburg rooted for.

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.

It is Good to be in First

Well, the Twins won their first game of the season. We need to take a long moment to acknowledge that fact, and to appreciate it. When was the last time they won the opening game of the season? That was just back in 2008, only some 9 years ago. Some of you older readers might remember that game, a 3-2 triumph over the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Livan Hernandez got the win for the Twins, and Mauer, Cuddyer, and Lamb got the RBIs. (Mike Lamb. Third base. Hit .233 in 81 games.)

Here’s to being in first, and getting that first win under our belt. Some of you may recall that the first win was a bit difficult to get last year. But this is a new year, and a new ball club. In their 7-1 win, the Twins put together an impressive rally in the seventh, scoring six runs on three consecutive bases-loaded walks, followed by a couple of singles. Way to be patient up there at the plate! Good eye, Good eye! Walks as good as a hit. Attaboy. I’ll bet the joint was rocking as the balls kept piling up, one after another, inexorably, and the runners slowly trotted from base to base to base. Oh, yeah: Baseball is back, my friends. Baseball is BACK.

In honor of the opening of baseball season, the Library of Congress has a post on their blog, “Champions of America: Early Baseball Card.” There’s a nice picture of the Brooklyn Atlantics in the post, which goes on to say that the Atlantics won championships in 1861, ’64, and ’65, and their season extended into the winter, when they put on skates and played on frozen ponds. I suppose that ice-baseball just didn’t catch on, or we’d be seeing it today.

The post also points to the Library’s collection of early baseball cards, which I believe I may have mentioned here previously. They have a fairly nice collection of about 2000 cards dating from 1887 to 1914. The original collector of these cards, Benjamin K. Edwards, gave the collection to poet Carl Sandburg, who donated the collection to the Library in 1954.

Which made me think that a Chicago guy like Sandburg must have written some poems about baseball. But I only find one tonight:

Hits and Runs

 

I REMEMBER the Chillicothe ball players grappling the Rock Island ball players in a sixteen-inning game ended by darkness.
And the shoulders of the Chillicothe players were a red smoke against the sundown and the shoulders of the Rock Island players were a yellow smoke against the sundown.
And the umpire’s voice was hoarse calling balls and strikes and outs and the umpire’s throat fought in the dust for a song.

 

Carl Sandburg, 1918

I haven’t been able to find any information on whether Mr. Sandburg rooted for the Cubs or the White Sox. It seems like a poet would most likely root for the Cubs. Nelson Algren, on the other hand, I could see him being a White Sox fan.

More research is needed.

Finally, I just came across a nice article in the NY Times, about new Twins Executive Vice President and Chief Baseball officer Derek Falvey. The article gives me hope, unlike many of the articles in the NY Times these days.