Thursday, April 17, 2014

Twins Notes

The Twins are now 7-7, and although no conclustions statistically can be made through 2 weeks of baseball, I have noticed a few things following the team every day:

  • Kyle Gibson has been a bright spot in the Twins rotation thus far in the season, coming off a disastrous rookie campaign which saw him post a 6.53 ERA in 51 innings.  He pitched 8 strong innnigs today coming off a nice start last Friday, and has now given up just 2 earned runs in 19 1/3 innings.  He’s not going to strike many hitters out as a sinkerballer, but when he’s on, he will induce lots of groundballs—the Twins turned 2 double plays behind Gibson today.  Obviously his numbers will regress and his 0.93 ERA won’t hold, but if he’s able to pitch deep into games while inducing ground balls and walking as few batters as possible, he could provide a much needed competent middle- to back-end of the rotation starter.
  • Shifting!  Today in top of the 4th inning, when the score was still 0-0, Gibson coerced ground ball outs out of Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion in back-to-back at bats.  As stated it doesn’t sound noteworthy, but it is indeed noteworthy because both balls were scalded right up the middle—Edwin’s even hit the mound.  They had hit written all over them and they were turned into outs—not because of great plays by Dozier or Florimon, but due to pre-pitch shifting put on by the Twins.  Now, advanced stat-heavy teams like the Tampa Bay Rays and Oakland A’s have been doing this for years, but this is a big step in the right direction for the Twins.  They gave shifting some lip service in spring training as Paul Molitor mentioned trying to implement it early in the season, but I took it with a grain of salt because the Twins as an organization have as much affinity for advanced thinking as I do for the Green Bay Packers (read: they hate them).  However, it worked today and if Gardy sees it in action a few times, he might just start to like it.
  • The Twins acquired former Yankee infielder Eduardo Nunez for minor-league pitcher Miguel Sulburhan last week, and tonight Nunez will make his Twins debut, starting at third base.  This move is mostly inconsequential, but may signal some type of competition for Pedro Florimon who has been one of the worst hitters in baseball thus far, slashing .094/.194/.156 going into today, good for a whopping 0 wRC+ (wRC+ is a measure of a player’s value at the plate, adjusted for situations such as RISP and park effects.  100 is average and 110 means the player is 10% better than league average.).  By no means is Nunez a slugger either; he’s hit .267/.313/.379 over the course of his 270 game big league career.  Ultimately, it will come down to just how much the Twins can stomach Florimon’s putrid offensive showing, as he is one of the best defenders at shortstop in the American League while Nunez has been worth -36 runs as a defender over the course of his career.
  • Against the predictions of many projection systems, writers, and myself, the Twins offense has been pretty good so far, and that is a function of their newfound plate-discipline.  So far, they are 7th in baseball in runs scored with 70 even though they are only 22nd in team batting average.  The key is their .340 team on base percentage, which ranks 3rd in baseball so far.  Just looking at the track records of most players playing everyday for the Twins would suggest this won’t hold up, but Brian Dozier’s walk rate has jumped as his approach has gotten markedly better since the beginning of last year, and the most obvious case of newfound plate discipline is Trevor Plouffe, who appears to have completely overhauled his hitting approach over the offseason.  Plouffe used to be a dead-pull hacker who carried on base percentages in the .300 range, below league average.  So far, that has all changed as he’s been more receptive to dumping singles into right field and patiently working counts in his favor while taking some walks in the process.  If he ends up hitting .309 this year, I’ll eat my hat, but if his average falls closer to his career marks (in the .240-.250 range) while keeping his newfound affinity for the walk, he could turn into a very useful everyday player at age 27.
  • Josmil Pinto, the Twins top catching prospect, made the team out of spring training after a scorching-hot September callup with the Twins last year in which he hit .342/.398/.566.  That won’t last (if it did, he would be one of the 3 best players in baseball), but he has been playing almost everyday and delivering at the plate.  He’s been very patient at the plate, with a .356 OBP so far, and has been slugging the ball at an exciting rate with 3 homers already on the year, just missing a fourth today as he blasted a double off the top of the wall.  Most of his games played have been out of the DH spot, but if it turns out he can catch competently enough to start there 80-90 times a year (defense, rather than hitting, has always been the problem in the eyes of scouts and prospect-rankers), he could very well turn into another nice piece going forward.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

MLB Biker Gang

One of my favorite things to do when watching a baseball game is look a player’s physical appearance and personality and decide what else they could possibly be doing.  For instance, I imagine Joe Mauer being one of those kids in class that doesn’t say much, sits in the front, doesn’t say a word, never acknowledges anyone, won’t carry on any type of conversation with you and always ends up pulling an A.  One of the most common things I think about random big leaguers is that they would fit right in in a biker gang.  Beards, questionable tattoos, intimidation, bad haircuts.  That screams biker gang to me.  That being said, I really don’t know how one operates.  I had a dirtbike when I was a kid that I rode maybe 20 times and I’ve never seen an episode of Sons of Anarchy.  So I’m just going to wing it.

Adam Lind—Just look at that facial hair, shaved head combo.  He looks like a skinhead.  I’m not saying he’s moonlighting as a member of Hell’s Angels, but I’m not saying he’s not.  That guy looks like he would be absolutely ruthless on a Fatboy, just revving that engine right in everyone’s fucking face. 

Jonny Gomes—Going with anyone on the 2013 “Bearded Brothers” Red Sox team is kind of a copout, but you can’t not mention him on a list like this.  You absolutely would not want to be on the wrong side of this guy in a biker brawl, and he definitely owns at least 6 leather vests and pairs of assless chaps.

Jayson Werth—He’s a doppelganger for one of the most famous pro wrestlers of all time (for those of you who didn’t watch wrestling every week from ages 9-13, I’m talking about HHH) and has one of the most masculine beards in the history of baseball.  This guy rolls up to you on his hog with a beard like that and kindly requests to join the gang, you don’t even have to initiate him; he is more than qualified.

Jon Rauch—Every gang needs an intimidating presence.  An enforcer, if you will.  And since he presumably won’t be doing his enforcing with his 88 mile per hour fastball, he would be a pretty good one.  Imagine a biker bar.  Two gangs, no love lost.  You can cut the tension with a knife.  And then Rauch stands up from his stool, all 6 foot 10 of him, with his neck tattoo and all-around axe murderer look—“You got a problem?”  I completely made this situation up out of thin air, I’m intimidated.

Yasiel Puig—He’s not someone you would immediately think of when putting together a badass biker gang, but he meets all the criteria.  Batshit crazy, built like a Depression-era brick government building, pulled over going 110 MPH with his mother in the passenger seat (!!!!!!).  No rival gang wants to fuck with this crazy.

Mark McGwire—Every biker gang needs the elder statesman.  The one all the younger bikers look up to.  You know he’s been through a few wars.  Broken a few beer bottles over motherfuckers’ heads.  But now, he’s the voice of reason.  The old sage.  He’s no Jon Rauch, but he once hit 70 dingers, and still employs a goatee that COMMANDS respect.

Dustin Ackley—His stature and demeanor on the field scream “henchman” to me.  He just seems like the kind of biker gang member, based solely on looks, that would absolutely be down to get super illegal with his activities.  Anything for the boys, anything for the boss.  I can see him being hyper all the time, always scheming the next heist, always knowing what the rival gang is up to, and most importantly, always ALWAYS being the first guy to agree with the leader.

Bryce Harper—Every gang needs the up and comer.  The guy poised to take over when the boss steps down.  Harper is that guy.  He’s been a phenom his whole life.  Ok, now I know what you’re thinking to yourself.  He’s Mormon.  He got mad when a reporter asked if he was going to drink in Canada.  I hear all that.  And my counter is that this is my blog, and if I want to imagine Bryce Harper being the top biker gang leader prospect on the board, I can do that.  And I am.  He’s young, sure.  But every biker bar he walks into, he commands respect.  He oozes confidence out of every one of his pores.  He already has questionable tattoos.  That’s a future ringleader of a badass biker gang if I’ve ever seen one.

Josh Donaldson—He looks intense.  He looks intimidating.  He looks like an asshole.  He has a HORSESHIT haircut.  Donaldson could absolutely fill the role alongside Puig of being a straight up loose cannon out there on a hog, even in the context of bikers.  I can picture him in the middle of a brawl at some bar with 50 Harleys parked outside and sawdust on the floor, and that’s really all you need.

Friday, April 11, 2014


North Dakota-1 Connor Gaarder (Dillon Simpson, Jordan Schmaltz)   11:23

In a word, I was petrified.  I know how this ends.  Of course, the game isn’t over.  But it may as well be.  Sports fatalism is unhealthy.  Yet it has become the norm.  Games are watched, seasons upon season wane away, waiting for the other shoe to inevitably drop.  It almost always does.  I was a child the last time it didn’t.  It feels as though it just did.  One ripple of the net signals the drop of the guillotine on the season, on the high hopes of raising one more gold banner.  The surrender of a lead that took over 50 minutes to show up surely is a bad sign.   Each tick of the clock, each dump of the puck feels like a march towards another season’s immediate end.  I remember saying I was swearing off sports.  This anxiety, over something which I have no control, is not logical.  Sports fatalism is an unhealthy thing.

Minnesota-2 Justin Holl (Kyle Rau, Brady Skjei)   GWG SHG19:59

The screen space upon which I am typing this has been empty, save for a blinking curser, for over 15 minutes.  I didn’t know what to do or think then.  I still don’t.  Equal parts disbelief, relief, exhilaration, joy.  A Hollywood executive would deposit this script swiftly in his waste paper basket upon reading the ending.  “19:59. Yeah, right.  He hadn’t scored since when?  Yeah, ok.  Yeah, well thanks.  We’ll let you know.”  This is what keeps me coming back.  Last night was the one ball you square up all weekend.  You can have 20 shitty at bats, but the one time you square one up and the ball jumps off that bat, that’s what you keep going back for.  19:59.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Twins Notes Through 8 Games

Finally baseball is upon us!  The Twins have now played 8 games after the conclusion of today’s 11 inning contest against the A’s and stand at 3-5, which is about where I would have pegged them.  Here are some initial thoughts.  Keep in mind, small sample size DOES apply here.

3 Up

1. Trevor Plouffe—After his encouraging 2012 campaign in which for 6 weeks in June and July he hit 42 dingers (rough estimate), he turned in a pretty uninspiring 2013 season in which he hit .254/.309/.392 with only 14 home runs in 129 games.  Coming into this spring training, he was the incumbent at third, but had all world prospect Miguel Sano breathing down his neck with a potential debut ETA of midseason.  As we all know, Miguel’s elbow exploded (RIP), and the job was again handed to Plouffe, probably for the last time.  Through a week of games, it appears he has seized the opportunity at age 27 with a much improved approach at the plate.  His whole big league career, he’s been a dead red pull hitter with little to no plate discipline.  Now I hope we all know not to get too worked up about 8 games, but Plouffe is now hitting the ball a lot less to the pull side and instead shooting it into right field for singles and doubles.  If he can continue this approach, and keeps taking his medicine for his allergy to walks, he could be worth keeping around in some capacity as a utility man going forward.  I’m encouraged.

2. Chris Colabello—Colabello’s story is something right out of a Disney movie.  The 30 year old rookie 1B/DH was signed out of an independent league (not unlike the one the St. Paul Saints play in) and has spent the balance of 2012 and 2013 in the minors, raking at AA and AAA and winning the International League MVP last year as a 29 year old.  However, upon his big break he had about as much success at the plate as I do hitting on girls at the bar (read: not very much).  He did hit 7 homers, but slashed a reprehensible .194/.287/.344 while striking out in 32% of his plate appearances.  Not good.  In the offseason, he was reportedly offer upwards of $1M to play in South Korea, but turned it down for one last longshot at his dream.  After unexpectedly coming north with the big club out of Spring Training, he has hit as well as anyone could have ever imagined through one week, driving the ball to right center on a consistent basis and sharing AL Player of the Week honors with Josh Hamilton after leading the world in RBIs through a week of games.  It’s patently obvious that RBIs aren’t the best stat when it comes to predicting future performance, but his newfound competence in dealing with big league pitching, especially after being so out of place last year, is certainly encouraging.

3. Jason Kubel—After signing with Arizona after the 2011 season, Kubel hit 30 bombs in hitter friendly Chase Field in 2012 and appeared to be entrenched in his prime of being a slightly above average power hitter.  However, he was absolutely awful last year in Arizona, and Cleveland after being DFA’d by the D’Backs, and most people (including yours truly) wrote him off as done.  Instead, he signed with the Twins and came north despite a pretty bad spring, and has shown there’s still a little tread left on his tires after hitting a few doubles through week one.  As long as Gardy keeps him out of the outfield as much as possible as well as on the bench against lefties, Kubel could turn into a nice grab off the top of the scrap heap.  Is it likely to continue?  I don’t know, but he has looked as though he still belongs in the big leagues through a week.

3 Down

1. The Starting Pitching—The Twins starters, as per usual in the past 3 years, have been horrid in the first week.  The two guys they signed to bolster the historically bad rotation, Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes, have not lived up to the billing the Twins gave them in their pressers, with respective ERAs through a couple of starts of 9.00 and 7.20.  Off the top of my head, only #5 starter Kyle Gibson and Kevin Correia have turned in respectable starts so far this season.  As with everything written about baseball in the first month, the small sample size disclaimer applies, but the first week of games have not been encouraging in that regard.  Keep an eye out for Alex Meyer and Trevor May if things keep going this way.

2. Aaron Hicks—Everyone knows his story.  Concisely, his rookie season last year was horrible.  But as déjà vu would have it, he had another nice spring training and was given the starting Centerfield job for the second year in a row.  He even had a couple of nice games in the opening series against the White Sox, but his line is back down to .200/.300/.280 for the year and he has again looked almost helpless when made to hit from the left side of the plate.  Keep in mind that it’s still so early that his going 3-4 tomorrow hypothetically would raise his average to .276, but his early showing has again not been good. 

3. The Twins management (or lackthereof) of the DL—The more things change, the more they stay the same.  Over the weekend, Oswaldo Arcia and Josh Willingham were both injured, Arcia with a sore wrist and Willingham with a sore hand after being hit by a pitch.  Gardy was quoted over the weekend as saying he’s (paraphrasing here) sick and tired of playing with a short bench due to the organization’s stubbornness in DL’ing guys.  It appears those words were hollow as both players are still on the active roster.  It would appear that they’re not able to play either, as in the 9th inning today, light hitting utility infielder Danny Hemmerling Eddie Escobar pinch hit instead of Arcia.  It worked out, but Escobar should never be your first option off the bench.