Monday, April 27, 2020

Baseball is Ready to Unite Us All

We’re now quickly approaching May 1, a time in which Major League Baseball originally was slated to resume for the 2020 season. COVID-19 has continued to disrupt those plans, and the lack of sports has become frustratingly difficult. However, when we do get resumption (and that remains inevitable), I can’t help but reflect on two big returns.

As things stand, we still have no idea when baseball will be back. The Coronavirus pandemic has dealt body blows to our country and around the world. Continuing efforts to react and respond to the situation has left resumption of what was once normal everyday life a complete secondary goal. That being said it seems that May will be a pivotal month for baseball.

Today Jeff Passan wrote about the return of Major League Baseball, some of the ideas in place, and most importantly that the reality is trending from an if to a when. May could be the month that lays groundwork for future answers. We’re still likely a ways from seeing plan put into action, but having actual blueprints drawn out is a very integral part of the process.

We have seen baseball halted before, not like this, but invoking similar feelings. There have been wars, tragedies, and events that have reach far beyond the diamond. When trying to anticipate what it may be like when we hear “Play ball!” again, I’m quickly drawn back to a pair of East Coast experiences.

If you think about the hurt that 9/11 brought to the country, there are few greater pains than a mass killing in the name of hatred. I was just 11 at the time, but I know when we further distanced from the actual event that September 21 night in Queens was a big one. Mike Piazza hit a home run to dead center that shook the entire nation. I’m not a New York fan and supporting either of the Major League franchises there will never happen. I do know however; the country needed that homer.

Years later Boston was at the center of an attack. With bombs going off during one of the most prolific events in the world, not only did the Marathon come to a halt, but so too did a city. I remember tracking the news about a manhunt that had people shuttered in their homes and led to the eventual capture of a coward hiding in a boat. The surreal emotions brought on by the initial impact and days that followed were truly mind boggling.

When we had resumption of sport in the Massachusetts epicenter there he was, former Twins castoff David Ortiz. By this time Big Papi had become Boston. He was a fan favorite and will go down as one of the best hitters to ever play the game. After honoring all the brave men and women that vowed to keep the city safe, Ortiz did as he often does and gave us the “This is our f****** city” level of emotion.

I don’t think suggesting a worldwide pandemic is along the same lines of hatred these other two instances sought out to prove, but there’s a unifying factor when we experience something together. The nation, and world, are going through this same event in a very similar way. Sports provide a distraction that allow us to turn from everyday life, and we can come together through fandom that unites people from so many different backgrounds.

Give me flags flying, flyovers causing chills, and maybe the pop of the mitt bringing a tear to an eye. We likely won’t be in the ballparks to witness it, but baseball will be back, and we’ll all be better for it.

Monday, April 20, 2020

Fleeting Second: Brian Dozier’s Awesome Flash

I found myself thinking through recent Twins history today and considered how much volatility there has been in terms of consistency. The Twins have been mostly bad, but when good, the performances have came and went rather quickly. 2020 truly looks like an open window, but it is Brian Dozier that I latched onto as the pinnacle of the roller coaster.

After debuting in 2012 as a shortstop, Dozier quickly flamed out at the position after just 84 games there in his opening salvo. He would relocate to second base and it wasn’t until 2015 that he began to make his mark. He was an 8th round pick, and despite an appearance in both the Home Run Derby (2014) and All-Star Game (2015), he didn’t crack an .800 OPS until 2016.

That was the year, at age-29, that it seemingly all came together. Dozier reinvented himself into a dead-pull hitter that was determined to find the quickest way over the left field fence. His 42 homers that season were the most by any Twins player during a single year not named Harmon Killebrew. He became a slugger despite a smaller stature, and he had risen to be called one of the best second basemen in the game.

It really wasn’t since peak Robinson Cano that baseball had seen someone like Dozier. Brian wasn’t the prototypical uber-prospect, and he certainly wasn’t a five-tool player either. Like Cano, he was an offensive stalwart at an otherwise starved position. Around the league second base had become a destination for poor armed shortstops and was generally a position that you could find someone sitting right at league average.

The 2016 Twins were abysmal in every sense of the word. They won just 59 games and manager Paul Molitor couldn’t get any more out of that squad if he tried. Thanks to Dozier’s dinger derby, there was at least something to tune into on a nightly basis. Unfortunately, much of his accomplishment was lost nationally in the vein of his club being so bad. He’d go one to follow up that performance with 34 dingers in 2017, a year in which Minnesota made the Postseason.

Now having played for both the Los Angeles Dodgers and Washington Nationals since, Dozier’s career has already begun a downturn. He did post a .771 OPS last season while playing in 135 games and eventually winning a World Series ring. He had to settle for a minor league deal heading into 2020, but the expectation would be that he’d make the San Diego Padres Opening Day roster.

I’m not sure if we’ll see Brian reach that .800 OPS plateau again or not, but he was a late bloomer that gave us one of the highest peaks in Twins history. The unfortunate reality is that it came during a period of extreme lows and the contributions proved hollow in the grand scheme of things.

Thankfully, Dozier was a fan favorite and will not soon be forgotten in Twins Territory. His career will likely come to an eventually end being a rather nondescript one, but the memories will remain among the fondest to take place at Target Field. It will be interesting to see what we get from him in those nice new Padres threads, and what there is yet to come in the future.

It will not be a career that’s celebrated with substantial accolades when he hangs em up, but it’s incredible to think how good he was, even if it was for such a brief time.

Monday, April 13, 2020

Jake Odorizzi’s Impending Payday

Prior to the 2020 season the Minnesota Twins needed to shore up their starting rotation. Rather than giving Jake Odorizzi a multi-year contract they handed him a qualifying offer. Agreeing to the $17.8MM deal may have left something on the table, but new developments mean Odorizzi could be in an interesting spot.

We have no idea what baseball is going to look like this year, or whether it will look like anything at all. Make no mistake, Major League Baseball will get creative to capture some of those revenues, but ultimately the season could be lost. With the agreement between the league and MLBPA that would mean Odorizzi becomes a free agent once again.

Going into 2021 the Twins could not extend Jake a qualifying offer. He’d have no draft pick compensation tied to him, and he’d be free to negotiate with any other organization. It’s one thing to say he’d be coming off a 3.51 ERA 3.36 FIP and career best 10.1 K/9. That’s a bit disingenuous though given then numbers were posted back in 2019. The 2020 season is and was an opportunity for substantiation, and should it not be played it’d be fair to wonder what true value actually is.

It would be foolish to suggest that Odo wasn’t an already solid pitcher prior to the season he had in making his first All-Star Game. In seven big league seasons he had posted a 3.95 ERA 4.22 FIP and 8.3 K/9. With a 102 ERA+, he was just slightly above average, but right in the general consensus of what you’d expect from a mid-rotation arm.

You aren’t paying $20MM per season for what Jake Odorizzi was, but you’d certainly pay that for the 29-year-old’s performance, and what you hope lies ahead. Now he’ll be 31 in 2021 but that obviously comes with the caveat of a full season having been spared in terms of mileage. Projecting forward is definitely an exercise that teams will need to be both bought into and have a general consensus as to what expectations will be.

I think Minnesota saw the qualifying offer as a likely acceptance from the former Rays arm, and it always made sense for them to go down that path first. They could have pursued a long-term deal had he denied it but saving themselves future risk made sense as a first course of action. Should they be pushed into a long-term scenario a few months from now, I’d also wager it’s a pact they’d likely make.

Derek Falvey and Thad Levine have pushed the Twins chips into a win-now mode of sorts. Kenta Maeda and Josh Donaldson are both stars on the opposite side of 30. Failing to continue pairing them with an overall talent level near the top of the big leagues doesn’t seem indicative of the current direction. Odorizzi could certainly have a hefty price tag should he be able to renegotiate a lengthier deal, but Minnesota already has helped him to take the next step and keeping him hear to make an even greater one seems sensible.

Maybe Odo will never receive the $17.8 million payday he agreed to for the season hanging in the balance. He should be in line for an even greater sum, and while there will be plenty of projecting it’s value, the Twins would seem wise to be a destination for him.

Monday, April 6, 2020

Catching Up on Baseball Reading

I’m not exactly sure why I didn’t put something like this together in the past, but there’s definitely more time on all our hands as the world responds to a global pandemic. Baseball allows us to consume the sport in so many different avenues, and while I appreciate your readership both here and on Twitter @tlschwerz, there’s been more than a few great books on the game that have come out in recent years.

With the analytical age being almost entirely focused on the consumption of information, we are now being provided content that can act as an avenue for knowledge advancement. Still rooted within the confines of the sport, there are literature works of art that challenge the way we think and push the boundaries for what is to come.

These authors are well known within the baseball world, and some of them have worked directly on the biggest stages of the sport. In no particular order, here’s a list of some recommendations I would have:

The Arm – Jeff Passan
With the emergence of Tommy John regularity over the course of the past few seasons there has been no better depiction of what has taken place and why. Passan dives into doctoral recommendations and advice, while cataloging just how we got here.

Smart Baseball – Keith Law

Start with why bunting may be a dying art and add in how to squeeze the most out of the only finite parameter in the sport, your 27 outs. Law provides knew ways to think about execution and outlines solid arguments as to why they make sense.

The Only Rule Is It Has To Work – Ben Lindbergh & Sam Miller

What happens when you allow to analytically driven minds to completely architect and steer a professional team? This book has your answer. Two Baseball Prospectus minds are given the keys to do as they please and this blends real personalities with calculated decisions.

The MVP Machine – Ben Lindberg & Travis Sawchik

Much like Lindbergh’s previous entry on this list, The MVP Machine is a must for number crunching fans. While the book does highlight both the Astros and Red Sox World Series runs, the message is clear. It isn’t about finding the diamond in the rough as much as it is creating that player. Because of data, organizations now can do just that.

The Inside Game- Keith Law

Following a similar thread as the one explored in Smart Baseball, Law is out to find the why behind the what. Baseball produces decisions at a blistering pace, and some of them are more well received than others. Understanding why a choice was the correct one, why it wasn’t, and what drives it all is a fascinating case study that can reveal plenty about ourselves.

Swing Kings – Jared Diamond

After analytics paved the way as a new buzz word, it stepped back for launch angle to take over. As more balls than ever leave the yard Swing Kings is there to analyze the trend and what players are saying in regards to staying power. This isn’t as much of a wheel reinvention as it’s billed, and the positive results suggest there’s plenty of reason to buy in.

If you’re looking for more of a biography or story based read, here are some of my favorites in that category:

Papi – David Ortiz
The Phenomenon – Rick Ankiel
Juiced – Jose Canseco

What are some of your favorites?