Monday, April 29, 2019

Down Under to the Show

Over the course of the past decade the Minnesota Twins have shown some scouting prowess in their findings down under. From the early stories of Peter Moylan and Liam Hendriks, to a recent hat tip pointed at James Beresford, Australia has produced big leagues in a Twins uniform. Although Todd Van Steensel displayed some nice minor league numbers, he got to Minnesota by way of the St. Paul Saints. The system still has more talent from down under, and one could be on his way north soon.

Lewis Thorpe has worked four times in 2019 for Triple-A Rochester. After two very bad outings against the same Lehigh Valley club to start the year, he’s settled in as the pitcher that previously appeared on top 100 prospect lists. Thorpe’s last two outings have seen him work 13.2 IP with a 1.98 ERA and .497 OPS against. He’s fanned 24 batters and walked just one. To call his work dominant would be putting it lightly.

As a lefty, Thorpe isn’t the traditional soft-tossing type. This is a guy who can blow the fastball by professional hitters, and his career 10.9 K/9 is plenty indicative of that reality. Since returning from both Tommy John surgery, and then mononucleosis, Lewis has picked up right where he left off. His walk rate hovers around 3.0 BB/9 which is probably a bit higher than you’d like but combatting that with solid hit and strikeout rates make for a strong profile.

To date Thorpe has just eight career starts at the Triple-A level. At just 23 years-old, that’s plenty impressive, but it’s also not a seasoned amount that reflects an immediate need for a promotion. Given the volatility at the back end of a starting rotation, we know that a need will arise in Minnesota sooner rather than later. Long term the Twins would like to see Thorpe come up and stick, but a spot start or something to get his feet wet could soon be on the horizon.

Over the past year we’ve seen Zack Littell, Kohl Stewart, and Stephen Gonsalves all make their debuts for the Twins. Thorpe trends more heavily towards the highly-touted prospect that Gonsalves resembles and could be handled in a similar fashion. That would mean he’d be destined for a later season role in which he’d stick long term. If the current level of production remains though, it’d be plenty logical for Rocco Baldelli to run him out on a day he simply needs a starter.

Back in February I opined that Thorpe was the guy to watch this season. He’s done very little to pump the brakes on that notion and making it a reality in the immediate future continues to become something to keep an eye on.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Eddie Bombing the Baseball

It’s April 24 and the Minnesota Twins have played 21 games during the 2019 Major League Baseball season. In that time, left fielder Eddie Rosario has taken the American League by storm being a co-owner of the home run lead, and he’s spearheading an offensive outburst not generally seen around these parts. It wasn’t long ago that Rosario looked the part of an All Star, but where is all of this coming from?

Through 21 games, Rosario has already tallied ten dingers on the season. That puts him on pace for over 70 on the season, and it’s the fastest any player in Twins history has ever reached double-digits. When you’ve got that much power production this quickly it becomes hard to fly under the radar. At the 2018 All Star break Twins fans saw Rosario own a .311/.353/.537 slash line with 19 homers however, and that story didn’t have an entirely great ending. Figuring out how this may be different is key for the continued success of the budding star.

After racing out to gaudy numbers in 2018, Rosario finished the season owning just a .622 OPS in his final 45 games and sending another five balls out of the park. His year ended in the middle of September and the tale of the first half seemed like a distant memory. Fast forward to today and we’re once again in the midst of a hot start. The .274/.315/.679 slash line is a pretty one, but there’s a couple of inputs to the batted ball profile that should make us smile.

As a free swing who tends to expand the zone, and rarely take walks, we need to view Rosario’s approach through a different lens. He’s chased 42% of the time in 2019 and whiffed on 11% of pitches. Neither of those occurrences are beyond career norms, and his 79% contact rate is a new high. When making contact in the zone, he’s doing so at nearly 90%, essentially daring opponents to throw strikes. It isn’t where he’s swinging though, as much as it is how he’s making contact.

On the season Rosario owns a career best 39.7% hard hit rate. This is a 3% improvement from 2018 and is a 7% jump from his career average. On batted balls, only 39% are being hit on the ground with 50% being fly balls and 10.3% being line drives. Elevating the ball is certainly a positive trend, and it’s a direct reflection of a significant launch angle increase. On base hits during 2018, Rosario had an average launch angle of just 13.5 degrees. This season, that number is all the way up to 22.3 degrees.

From a spray perspective, you could call Rosie the left handed Brian Dozier. All the way up to a 52.9% pull rate, all but one of Eddie’s home runs have been hit to the right side of centerfield. The concentration on power was strong that way in 2018 as well, but the final pull percentage landed at 43.4%. This isn’t to say that Rosario won’t find success going the other way as pitcher’s attack him more on the outside. What we can see immediately is that Eddie is putting strong swings on balls he can yank to his strong side.

For now, we’re dealing with a small sample size. Knowing how much action is left this season, we’ll have plenty of time for this to all normalize. The early season power surge is reflective of a guy getting more loft while hitting the ball significantly harder. That’s a straightforward path to these types of results, but it’s comforting to note that the results aren’t coming with the caveat of an approach that has changed in any negative or impactful way.

Lost in all this offensive narrative is that Rosario has regained a focus in the outfield that rounds himself into something special. Putting up six defensive runs saved through his first 165 innings, and notching four outfield assists in the early going, he’s again a guy you don’t want to test in the grass either.

I’d be willing to bet any sum of money that Rosario won’t wind up with 70 home runs in 2019. He’s not going to hit 10 every 20 games, and there will be a month or weeks in which he experiences a real slump. For a guy that looked to display his absolute ceiling a season ago however, it’s comforting to see that even if that may be the height of things, the floor is a pretty darn good player as well.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Hip Hip Jorge, Polanco has Arrived

We’re only 20 games into the 2019 Major League Baseball season, but Jorge Polanco is currently the fifth most valuable hitter in baseball by fWAR standards. The Twins shortstop has a cycle to his credit, nearly paired that with another, and has been on an absolute tear out of the gate. For a guy who was always expected to be carried by his bat, the production isn’t that surprising, but the level in which he’s producing is a bit shocking to say the least.

Coming up through the Twins system, there was plenty of questions regarding where Polanco would play. He had the athleticism and quickness for shortstop, but his arm strength and glove work left some to be desired at such an important role. Starting out in the organization as a 16-year-old, he bounced between the middle infield and some brief outfield work until 2014. Getting in 117 starts at short between High-A and Double-A that year, it looked like he’d found his home. Then 2016 happened. After playing 64 games for Triple-A Rochester at second, he was promoted to the big leagues as the regular shortstop. It didn’t go well.

During his first full time experience with the Twins, Polanco turned in a -8 DRS and -9.8 UZR in just over 400 innings at short. From there, he’s worked incredibly hard to make that a thing of the past. North of 1,100 innings in 2017 saw just a -1 DRS, and in a suspension shortened 664 innings last year, that -1 number was replicated. Working with the small sample size of 162 innings in 2019, Polanco owns his first positive DRS tally of his career.

We’re here for the sexy part of this story though, and everyone knows that’s offense. Minnesota’s shortstop owns a .392/.452/.716 slash line and his .478 wOBA is 6th among qualified hitters in all of baseball. Sure, the sample size here is equally small, but there’s less than five players going better offensively than Jorge Polanco is right now.

It’s painfully obvious how nice the production is, but the real questions are how, and will it continue? Jorge currently owns a 42.9% hard hit rate which is easily a career high and is 14% higher than his career average. He’s also elevating the ball more, combining to get it off the ground over 80% of the time. That’s helped to not only produce extra base hits but has him looking at a career best 12.5% HR/FB ratio.

Like many of his teammates, Polanco’s swing chart hasn’t changed too drastically. He’s up slightly in his swinging strike rate, but chase rates and swing percentages are all along career norms. If there’s an outlier, it’s that Polanco has increased his contact percentage by about 7%. Aggressiveness and ambushing opposing pitchers is a blueprint that this Rocco Baldelli team has bought into, however. Minnesota has the lowest pitches per plate appearance tally in baseball, seeing just 3.68 on average.

As the season goes on, Polanco’s greatest adjustment will be like one many in this lineup will see. If their current attack focuses on jumping early, they’ll need to make sure pitches still warrant swinging at. With opposing pitchers looking for soft contact and to generate more swinging strikes, they’ll likely need to work down in the zone, or serve up fewer enticing offerings altogether. If Polanco can keep honed into an eye allowing him a career best 9.5% walk rate, he should be able to discern what is being wasted on him early in counts.

There’s no reason to believe that Jorge Polanco, or any hitter in today’s game, is going to hit remotely close to .400 over the course of a season. From a batted ball profile though, hitting the ball harder, higher, earlier, and on better offerings is a recipe destined for success. We’ll see regression, but the only question is whether that trends towards a more stable level, or just average career norms. Right now, I’d bank on that being closer to the former than the latter.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Have Hildy, Won’t Travel

Fairly, the Minnesota Twins bullpen has been a lightning rod of discussion in 2019. From talks about what more could be done, to the breakdowns that have cost the club a couple of games, this group will remain under the microscope. With the bright lights on them, internally developed arms have been the anchors at the back of the group. Arguably the most impressive reliever has been Trevor Hildenberger, and that’s a development Twins fans can get behind.

Hildenberger was a 26-year-old pitching at Triple-A Rochester in 2017. He owned a 1.57 ERA across 171.2 minor league innings pitched, and as a 22nd round pick out of Cal Berkeley, was never lauded as a top prospect. Despite an impressive 10.5 K/9 and 1.4 BB/9 in his time on the farm, he needed to scratch and claw his way up the ladder to the big leagues. Owning a low-90’s fastball, this was a sidearmer that does it through deception more than velocity. Plenty of things can go wrong for a guy like that, and after initial success, they did.

As a rookie in 2017, Hildenberger quickly became one of Paul Molitor’s favorite options out of the bullpen. Across 42 innings he posted a 3.21 ERA backed by a 3.02 FIP and 9.4 K/9 with a 1.3 BB/9. Essentially, he continued to be everything he was on the farm and then some. Going into 2018, Molitor continued to rely on his new toy, but this time likely rode him right into the ground. Posting a 2.06 ERA through his first 36 games, Trevor had been used in almost half of the Twins contests for a total of 39.1 IP. From June 30 forward, Molitor turned to Hildenberger another 37 times for a total of 33.2 IP that saw him turn in a 9.36 ERA.

Fast forward to 2019 and we’ve got a fresh Trevor Hildenberger with a few more pen options to turn to. On the season, Trevor has thrown 7.2 IP allowing no earned runs, striking out 11.7 per nine, and giving up free passes at just a 2.3 BB/9 clip. To put it mildly, Hildenberger has been nothing short of exceptional. We have been down this road before however, and Minnesota will need to monitor workload to avoid a second straight season of burnout.

The Twins have played 19 games thus far, and Hildenberger has pitched in 11 of them. The 19 inherited runners Trevor has been handed is the most in baseball, and his 14 inherited runners stranded is five more than Rangers reliever Shawn Kelley, who comes in second. Operating as the Twins fire man, Hildenberger has come in during the highest of leverage, and slammed the door at a relatively high clip.

It’s not so much that it’s a surprise Minnesota is getting solid production out of Hildenberger. He’s proven capable of performing in big moments for significant stretches over the course of his major league career. What we’ll need to keep tabs on, and be mindful of, is how much this could factor into potential issues down the stretch. Right now, Hildenberger, Taylor Rogers, and Blake Parker have been assets for Baldelli. Ryne Harper has been a nice surprise, and there’s some potential reinforcements on the way. Generating more production that that of just four or five arms is a must, however. Another option must emerge so that it’s not always on Hildenberger to carry the load.

Good news is that Minnesota looks to have their developed relief star back to himself in 2019. The flip side is that they’ll need to avoid going down a similar path to what took place a year ago. For now, though, take solace in the fact that when a sidearming righty runs in with runners on, they’re likely to wind up failing to cross home plate.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

The Future is Now with Bowman 2019

Once a standalone competitor of the Topps Company, Bowman was acquired following the 1955 Major League Baseball season. Fast forward to 1989 and Bowman has become a staple in the card collecting space. Focused on delivering minor leaguers or up and coming prospects, the yearly offerings are gobbled up like candy by those interested in the hobby. Bowman Baseball 2019 hits shelves on April 17, and this new offering is not expected to be any different.

For each mainstream Bowman offering, the collecting focus is placed on a few key areas. First and foremost, the cards producing the highest level of desire are those designated as a player’s “1st Bowman” card. Chrome holds more value than paper base cards, and colored parallels generate an even higher level of scarcity. Obviously, the autographed cards carry the highest premium, and the collector’s focus is to view the product through the lens of a stock market. With many unproven players, holding until a certain level of production creates the most value is where Bowman draws most of its allure.

The Twins have one of the best farm systems in baseball, but many of their top prospects are already beyond “1st Bowman” cards. At any rate, there’s plenty to be excited about here for Minnesota fans.

Base Set

Split into base sets featuring both prospects and big leaguers, Minnesota is well represented in Bowman Baseball 2019. On the big-league side, there’s rookie cards of Willians Astudillo and Jake Cave. The veteran duo includes Jose Berrios and Eddie Rosario. Looking at prospects, Minnesota touts Brusdar Graterol, Brent Rooker, Royce Lewis, Alex Kirilloff, and Ryan Costello’s 1st Bowman card. Each of the prospects also has a chrome version to chase.


Bowman isn’t a checklist focused on inserts, but there’s a handful of subsets to be made from the master. The Top 100 and Talent Pipeline inserts are mainstays, and Sterling Continuity returns this year. You can find Kirilloff, Lewis, Graterol, Rooker, and Nick Gordon represented among these offerings. Each of the insert cards should be of the chrome variety.


Bowman is traditionally a hit driven product, with the chrome prospect autographs carrying the biggest premium. There’s no relics in this product, and everything will be signed on card. You can expect a couple of players to be offered through redemptions.

The Twins have two cards in the chrome prospect autograph checklist. Costello debuts his 1st Bowman autograph, and Andrew Bechtold joins this group with his 1st as well. Royce Lewis will have signed versions of his Top 100 card, and Brusdar will offer up his signature on the Bowman Sterling set. With just four total autographed cards in the entire product, group breaks should have you picking up the Twins on the cheap.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Equality, the Minors, and a Trailblazer

Today is a day like many other days during the Major League Baseball season. There’s both day and night games, and teams across the nation have scheduled contests. Unlike other days, today is a day in which every major leaguer will wear number 42. Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier, and his digits forever remain retired paying homage to his efforts. More than just a color barrier though, this is a story of equality. Although baseball has come a long ways in that vein, there’s still one large stain on the sport.

The reality is that minor league baseball is the lifeblood of future major league generations. It’s on the farm that baseball dreams are realized, and the players earning those promotions are effectively rising towards the ultimate goal. Regrettably, minor league baseball is classified as an apprenticeship, stifled on an earnings scale, and publicly lobbied against in respect to livable conditions. It’s been a problem for years, and the discussion is finally heating up.

Exactly one month ago today, a writer from Michigan flipped the conversation on its head. Emily Waldon, an emerging talent recently hired by The Athletic, penned a piece that effectively dropped a bomb on Minor League Baseball as a whole. No longer was the discussion regarding the minor league pay scale cordoned to select avenues of Twitter or held back by the small audience passionately discussing the topic. Waldon’s piece, in which she talked with a handful of people directly impacted by the harsh reality, reached and audience a long time coming.

When the story originally came out, the Tweets we’re shared thousands of times. The lines were poured over, the story itself was retold and rippled throughout baseball. Waldon not only presented factual and accurate information, but she did so in a way that was conveyed with the utmost journalistic ability. Heartstrings were tugged, action was demanded, and thought was provoked.

Emily didn’t know she’d be here, she didn’t realize this would be a path she’d blaze, and she certainly couldn’t have predicted being this catalyst. “Honestly, I never had the goal of being involved on the minor league circuit, it just sort of fell in my lap…The track that led to the farm system was purely to fill a need for the site I was writing for and just sort of unfolded from that point.”

Even after writing such an impactful piece, Waldon realizes this isn’t about her and sees the issue as something needing to be addressed. Rather than credit what has taken place, or acknowledge the necessary discussion sparked, this has just been the culmination of work she is passionate about. “There have been many people before me who have written about these issues. My piece was really just a move to try and shed more of an honest light into how the season goes for the players and their families.”

It's because of her ability, track record, and previous work that this was even able to come to fruition. “I've wanted to write that piece for a long time. The issue and biggest challenge was gaining enough trust from the players for them to give me their experiences.” Clearly, it’s not lost on Waldon that there’s much more than a story being uncovered here, and the lasting impact is something that is an actionable goal when the dust settles.

As we jump back to today, change has occurred and while it isn’t monumental in number, it’s massive from an impact standpoint. Just three days after Emily’s report the Toronto Blue Jays announced that minor leaguers would receive a 50% pay raise. Obviously MLBPA Executive Director Tony Clark approved of the decision, but it’s one that the major league union needs to put more pressure on. Working towards a livable wage presents a competitive advantage for Toronto’s organization, and while that shouldn’t be a driving factor, it making a production-based impact for even one prospect would provide significant return on investment.

Staying true to how she has represented herself, Waldon saw the reaction to her piece through the eyes of humility and gratefulness. A landscape altering article, from the hard work of someone who has risen to national prominence on her own, the reaction was simply thankfulness. ” The response blew me away. It's what I wanted but had no idea what to expect. Players were very pleased, and I received a lot of good feedback from team officials, as well. I was very humbled by how well it was accepted.”

For as much good has come from this reality being placed in a greater light, and for as much notoriety has been shed on the abilities of Emily Waldon, this is just the beginning. The Toronto Blue Jays took swift and measured action, but right now, they are alone. Minor League ballplayers are still grinding away at their craft. Small cities across the country play host to teams with a couple thousand fans in attendance. Although not every one of these players is the next Mike Trout, each of them is putting in the work to help their organization achieve the ultimate goal.

Discussing equality doesn’t always take place regarding the same circumstances. There’s never going to be a time in which any avenue of society should cease striving to be better. We’re always working towards something, and with this story Emily can end us like this, “My hope is more players get on board with what the Blue Jays have done. The players aren't expecting Major League salaries, but they need to know their organizations support them enough to boost compensation.” No one is looking for a change that shatters expectations, but the game of baseball continuing to be one that does truly breed equality needs to trickle down a few levels farther.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Developments Starting Strong for Minnesota

Over the winter, the Minnesota Twins invested heavily on their infrastructure throughout the organization. Not only were a handful of new coaching and developmental staff brought in, but new technology was introduced to generate more production out of the same players. We’re just a couple weeks into the 2019 season, but there’s some very promising developments that have taken place on the 25-man roster.

Any number of storylines could be generated from the early performances a handful of Twins players have put up. Without a bit more substantiation to the numbers though, I think it’s just worth noting some of the eye-popping production that has taken place thus far.

Jorge Polanco began his 2019 with a bang, becoming the 11th player in Twins history to hit for the cycle. Just a couple days later, he missed the feat by falling a double short. Through nine games, his 0.8 fWAR is tied for 8th in baseball, and is already half of his career best season (2017). A 51.6% hard hit rate is almost double his career average, and the contract extension is looking like a massive bargain for the Twins.

Mitch Garver owns the second highest fWAR among Twins position players, and his 16.7% barrels/plate appearance ranks 6th in all of baseball. He became the third player ever to hit two home runs off Jacob deGrom in a single game, and his offensive prowess looks as evident as ever. Behind the dish his defensive adjustments have been evident and generating extra strikes by presenting a stronger zone has seemed to show up plenty.

Jose Berrios has been as advertised. A dark horse Cy Young candidate, his 0.7 fWAR is tied for third in baseball among pitchers. Command has been sharper than it’s ever been, and the addition of a devastating changeup has him looking like a whole new level of lethal. Across three starts, he’s absolutely dominated the two better teams (Cleveland and Philadelphia), en route to posting a 2.18 ERA. He’s looked the part of a staff ace for a while, but the emergence to a true ace is something that would be more than welcomed.

Byron Buxton is familiar with slow starts, but 2019 hasn’t been anything close to that. He’s batting .292 and owns an .846 OPS through his first 26 plate appearances. Looking more aggressive at the plate, Buxton has sat on pitches to generate a career best 33% hard hit rate. He’s laid off the breaking ball down and away, and he’s ripping off doubles at an impressive pace. Staying healthy will remain a key focus here, but it looks like the breakout we’ve been waiting for is finally upon us.

We’ll need to wait for things to play out in order to draw any concrete conclusions this season. With over 150 games still to go, we’re just getting started. If any of these early indications for the Twins turn out to hold significant weight as the schedule draws on though, we should be in for quite the ride.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Twins Pen Proving Prowess

Going into the 2019 Major League Baseball season there were few areas on the Minnesota Twins 25-man roster that looked more questionable than the bullpen. After bringing in Blake Parker and no one else, the front office turned away from opportunities to significantly bolster their relief corps. We’re just eight games in at this point, but so far, it appears the decision to look internally may be a warranted one.

Despite Minnesota having a ridiculous amount of off days to kick off new year, Rocco Baldelli has turned to relievers for a grand total of 30.0 IP thus far. Across those innings, the new skipper’s faith has been rewarded to the tune of a 2.70 ERA, good for sixth best in baseball. From there, the secondary numbers tell a more cautionary tale, but it’s in avoiding real damage that the group has succeeded.

Coming into the game at key points following a starter’s initial work, avoiding blow ups or added opportunity is the goal of a reliever. Although the ERA of the group is a shiny tally, the strikeouts and walks are a bit concerning. Minnesota relievers have fanned just 7.8 batters per nine innings (22nd) and have allowed 5.1 walks per nine (7th worst). Dancing around the danger is a result of the ball staying in the yard. Owning the second-best HR/9 rate (0.30) in the big leagues, along with a major league best 3.0 HR/FB rate, has helped the pen to keep runners stranded.

Usually working with runners on base is a less than idea reality, but if you’re going to work around it, generating soft contact is a must. The 19.5% hard hit rate is a major league low by nearly 7%, and it’s allowed this group plenty of opportunity for outs when the ball is put in play. Over the past two seasons, the Twins have shifted more than almost any other team in baseball. By playing to the percentages, while generating suboptimal contact, you can expect a good deal of success.

Obviously as the season goes on and the sample size grows, a 5.0 BB/9 rate won’t be sustainable. Minnesota needs guys coming on that can put the ball by hitters and send them back to the dugout. Given the relative uncertainty of the group and specific pitchers, handing out free passes is also not a good plan. Those things do need to change, but there’s a pretty good skeleton to work from at this point.

Baldelli, and Wes Johnson, will be tasked with empowering their staff all season long. Parker is far from a proven closer, May is still getting settled, Mejia is new to relieving, and Harper is still more story than track record. Trust will be built up well into the summer, but it’s also been displayed early. Between letting Adalberto Mejia come back after a long outing to get pivotal outs against the Phillies or asking curveball master Ryne Harper to get out of a high leverage jam ,the Twins staff is setting forth a plan with eyes on October.

Given the relative volatility of relievers, and even more so when they are green and unexperienced, keeping regression at bay is a must. Taylor Rogers looks like a bonafide star, and Trevor Hildenberger has become a proven commodity. The rest of the group following their lead and giving Rocco a greater sense of comfort should build rapport for necessary work months from now.

The Twins relievers have been great in the results department to date, even if there’s warts under the surface. The opportunities will remain present, and the belief in these guys from the front office will be a key focus the rest of the way.

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Twins Taking the Expected Ones

Starting 2019 with two divisional series gives the Minnesota Twins some immediate opportunity. Rocco Baldelli’s club took the opening series against the AL Central favorite Cleveland Indians, and they’ll now have a chance to grab more important victories against the Kansas City Royals. Looking back at 2018 and how it played out, it’s clear that the key to this club taking the next step lies in grabbing the victories they’re supposed to.

Last season the AL Central was historically bad. Minnesota played into that futility, but they certainly didn’t find themselves in the doldrums inhabited by the White Sox, Tigers, and Royals. Knowing how bad those three clubs were, it was important for the hometown club to get fat while competing against them. They accomplished that feat going 12-7 against both Chicago and Detroit, but a 9-10 record against Kansas City certainly wasn’t going to get it done.

Looking over the results put up against the competition, there’s lots of area for extra wins to be squeaked out. The Royals are the most notable club in which Minnesota must wallop, but the reality is that they need to play much better against everyone outside of the division as well. Baldelli is going to want to improve upon an 8-12 interleague record and being on the wrong end against too many American League foes was a suboptimal reality.

Beyond the teams they lost too, it was the losses themselves that were unfortunate as well. In one run games, the Twins went 15-21 a season ago. There’s a decent amount of luck in close games, but there’s also bullpen factors that generally didn’t play in favor of the Twins. Blowout games had last year’s club looking at a 20-22 record with a -39 run differential. Although not incredibly lopsided, the run differential led to a Pythagorean win total of one game less than where they ended up.

It’s unfortunate that Minnesota doesn’t see Cleveland more while they’re dealing with injuries here in the early going. They do get Kansas City for two though, and then have ten games against the Blue Jays and Orioles within a two-week span to end the month. It’s those opportunities that have the potential to be season defining for this collection. Beating teams they should needs to be a mantra in 2019, and there’s a trio of opponents within the division that fall into the same category.

There’s no reason to draw significant conclusions from the early going in a 162-game regular season, but the reality is that taking care of business from the get-go sets up a road that is much more manageable down the stretch. Baldelli can’t let this team leave April with a record reminiscent of the 9-15 they were last season, and there should be plenty of opportunity for them to be much better than that.

Monday, April 1, 2019

Small Tech Making Big Changes

You can probably take a jog down memory lane and remember the baseballs of your childhood that had the built-in computer chip. With that tiny little display embedded between the seams, hurling a pitch and looking for your velocity was a practice plenty of kids partook in. The problem was that the technology wasn’t well developed and had an accuracy level that left a lot to be desired. Fast forward to today and we have high speed cameras and radar guns all over baseball fields at every level. What’s maybe most impressive though, is how accurate the bite sized offerings are.

While in Florida for Spring Training this year, it was impossible to miss the amount of technology at play all over the fields. From your traditional radar guns, to those high-speed cameras, and even accessories on bats themselves, the game has changed to incorporate data at every turn. When looking to accomplish these things however, it’s always worth wondering what the accuracy level is going to be from a product designed with a smaller footprint.

One of the most notable new pieces of tech I came across was the Pocket Radar. I was able to get my hands on the Smart Coach Radar recently, and the results were beyond impressive. Utilizing the Smart Coach in conjunction with the Pocket Radar app, readouts displayed clearly, concisely, and with a great deal of accuracy. There was little need to assume guesswork or room for error given the suggested velocities and being able to throw with what equated to a bonafide radar gun was a blast. I’m not at the point in my life where throwing 80 miles per hour is a reality anymore but being able to track speeds was something I hadn’t experienced since college.

This tool isn’t just fun and games though, and the advanced technology built into the app has significantly more than the casual user can consume. Being able to export, analyze, and collect data through both the device and application take the information to a whole new level. The Smart Coach Radar isn’t just for arm strength either, as it can measure exit velocity on batted balls as well. Truly a whole field approach to its functions, this is a tool any coach should have in their repertoire.

Obviously, the use on big league diamonds is far more nuanced than what I put the device through in my own personal testing. That said, it should be noted that the barriers necessary to overcome prior to feeling comfortable with the tool are incredibly low. You can get as far into the weeds with the information as you’d like, but the simplicity and ease of understanding remains present throughout the process.

Pocket Radar offers two different products designed for baseball, with the Ball Coach being the cheaper ($299) entrant. The functionality at its core remains the same, but it’s the Smart Coach ($399) that really amps up the ability to generate in depth information. Certainly, you’d need to assess what needs for the tool you have, and the company does a great job providing a product comparison defining key features, but there isn’t a wrong choice here.

Gone are the days of technology taking steps backwards when looking for similar functionality in a smaller accessory. Pocket Radar has pushed the boundaries of what can be expected out of a traditional velocity tool, and the immediate feedback is provided in one of the most usable offerings ever.

Check out which offering may be best for you directly from Pocket Radar.

A Weekend of Foreshadowing in Minnesota?

In what equates to the smallest of sample sizes, the Minnesota Twins thumped the Cleveland Indians all over the diamond to begin the 2019 season. Jose Berrios, Jake Odorizzi, Michael Pineda, and Martin Perez baffled Tribe hitters, and the home team looked like one worthy of competing in the AL Central division. Sure, this Terry Francona lineup was watered down in almost every way imaginable, but that’s really the backbone of this argument isn’t it?

Through his team’s first three games, Francona has needed to trout out Eric Stamets, Max Moroff, and Jordan Luplow for meaningful at bats. Brad Miller started at second base despite being inked to a deal just a week ago, and Tyler Naquin struck out in six of his seven at bats. 23-year-old Jake Bauers is the starting left fielder after being moved on from by the Rays, and Roberto Perez looked as much like Drew Butera behind the plate as he did standing in front of it.

Sure, Francisco Lindor is not in this current lineup, and Jose Ramirez is still probably shaking off some lingering effects caused by a near-serious injury. All offseason though, the talk of this team surrounded the possibility of dealing one or both of Corey Kluber and Trevor Bauer, which only further highlights the notion of pitching and not much else. Lindor and Ramirez are truly an elite tandem for the Indians, but can they be expected to top what amounted to career years a season ago? Even if they do, with a watered-down sum of parts, will it matter for Cleveland?

We are nowhere near a point that conclusions can be made regarding the Twins, Indians, or the division. This small of a sample size only gives us numbers that are fun to illogically dream upon. The opening that was wondered about over the offseason appears to at least be a potential reality as the games begin to matter. The Twins did what they needed to in taking a series at home from the reigning division winner. They did so by executing in multiple facets of the action, and it was a ball being put in play away from a sweep.

For both clubs, we’ll need to at least head into June before any real conclusions can be drawn. Rocco Baldelli will continue to have his team prepared on a game-by-game basis until that point, but you can bet the goal will also be to put distance between themselves and the club that did little to stay on top. Ownership for the Indians has publicly stated that players like Lindor may not be affordable for the long haul, and we’ve already seen them fail to supplement for an offseason. Further lack of fan interest and an emergence from this Twins club should continue to spell disaster for the 2016 runner up, and in Twins Territory that’s all we can hope for.

It certainly helps that the bottom trio of divisional opponents should spend the year in the doldrums, but the reality is that Minnesota was always going to need to knock off Cleveland for any real run of significance. Doing so out of the gate is something to build upon, and they’ll have plenty more opportunity to do so as the year progresses.