Monday, April 26, 2021

The Twins Are Good, Right?


I have been a big proponent of retiring anything to do with the Bomba Squad moniker from 2019. Let seasons evolve on their own. The 2021 team was supposed to be good, they are on paper, but will it take shape?


We are not yet through the month of April and I keep harping on the runway left for the 2021 season. Minnesota has played just over 12% of their games, and they are chasing a White Sox team that is just 4.5 games clear of them right now. That’s all to outline the current positioning isn’t dire. The problem is that the production just hasn’t been there.


Rocco Baldelli has gotten less than nothing from his catching tandem, and the left field situation has been a mess. Expecting Byron Buxton, Josh Donaldson, and Nelson Cruz all to be good was a pretty solid bet, and that’s played out as expected. Miguel Sano is currently on the IL, and while the numbers haven’t yet worked in his favor, the process is more than working.


The point we’re quickly getting to is wondering when things click?


If there’s three chief areas of concern, it’s the two previously outlined and the bullpen. Alex Colome was always going to regress from his otherworldly 2020 numbers, but his career production suggested that a baseline was hardly something to scoff at. Instead, he’s been historically bad while being more hittable than at any point during his career. The middle relief looks inept and holding onto small deficits just hasn’t been doable.


Looking at the lineup, Baldelli can’t continue to get an empty lineup spot from multiple positions. Mitch Garver no longer punishes lefties or fastballs, and while Alex Kirilloff is just a few games in to his first promotion, he’s currently dealing with an 0-fer. Whether it’s a longer leash for Ryan Jeffers, who has also been bad, or a big game for Kirilloff, the Twins need things to break their way.


This hasn’t been the Bomba Squad for quite some time, and the lineup doesn’t need to launch balls into the seats for opportunity to win. Luis Arraez and Andrelton Simmons provide plenty of good contact-based opportunities, and it’s on Minnesota to start capitalizing with what’s in front of them. Despite having the second worst record in baseball, the run differential is only -9 and the pythag presents a better 9-11 story.


Maybe it’s been bad luck, but it’s time to start creating their own. If the expectation was for this team to be good coming into the year, 20 games shouldn’t change that. At some point though, results have to follow.

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

The 60 Game Season Ruined Us


It’s April 21 and the Minnesota Twins are 6-10. They have looked every bit as poor as the record indicates and their Postseason odds have dropped below 50% at FanGraphs. Let’s take a step back and breathe though.


Being that it’s April 21, the Twins have yet to play more than 10% of their total schedule in 2021. They have been at Target Field for just two total series on the year, and they’ve also had a three-day hiatus due to Covid. Byron Buxton, Nelson Cruz, and Josh Donaldson have all been in the starting lineup together just twice, and injuries have ravaged the club early.


That’s not to say things are entirely worth casting aside. The lineup still looks as lethargic as it did to end the 2020 Postseason. Rocco Baldelli has made some head scratching decisions in regards to managerial moves, and a team that was expected to be good has fallen flat. It’s in that last revelation that reality lies, however.


Going into 2021 the Minnesota Twins were expected to be good. Not just by Twins fans, but analysts and national writers across the sport. With that being the case, there shouldn’t be a substantial alteration in that belief due to the results of 16 games. Baseball is a marathon, not a sprint, and the 60-game season we dealt with in 2020 might have ruined us.


During a sprint, each game is worth over-analyzing and diving into moves that could cost each club on a more substantial level. In a marathon that is a 162-game slate, there’s room for nuance. The same Oakland Athletics team that Minnesota was swept by in a doubleheader on Tuesday night started the season 0-6 only to go 11-1 since. On May 23, 2019, the Washington Nationals were 19-31, 50 games into their season. They went on to finish 93-69 and win the World Series.


There’s no sugar coating it, the Twins have been bad. They’ve even been very bad. The bullpen has not looked good, the outfield has been a mess, injuries have bit them, and the lineup could use whatever infusion the Bomba Squad has left from it. All of that is true, but it’s simply too early. That can change in an instant, and it may wind up getting late early on the season but being willing to bet on a good team coming together is a logical stance to take.


Covid is still going to dictate parts of this season in same form or fashion, but the calendar is not one of them, and 162 games are on the docket. Let’s get to at least one-third of them being completed before we make any sweeping assessments.

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Twins Tinkering With Lineups

The Minnesota Twins have now played nine games in the 2021 Major League Baseball season thus far and are scheduled for their tenth today. They haven’t had a fully healthy roster for a full game yet, but batting order positions are starting to take shape. Where and when should we consider questioning them?


For most of his tenure as the skipper for Minnesota, Rocco Baldelli has opted to bat lefty Max Kepler in the leadoff hole. He’s a non-traditional fit there as speed isn’t his game, and he is more of a power player than high batting average guy. Through nine games this year Kepler hasn’t batted higher than cleanup and he’s been slotted in as low as ninth.


Looking at all options, the ideal fit for Rocco would seem to be Luis Arraez. The former second basemen turned utility man has played all over the place in 2021 and will continue to get reps in the outfield at least until Alex Kirilloff is promoted. In seven of his 10 starts he’ll have led off, but curiously he’s also batted 9th on the other three occasions. This is where the weirdness comes in.


From purely a speculative standpoint it seems that Baldelli is looking to shield Luis from left-handed pitchers. Despite an .890 OPS in his career against righties, that drops to .645 against lefties. The caveat here however is that Arraez loses power and average against southpaws, but he still owns a career .371 OBP against them and is synonymous with solid at bats.


Before making any determinations, it’s worth bringing up the emergence of Byron Buxton. I have long believed he was primed for a breakout 2021, and so far, that’s looking to be selling things short. Playing otherworldly, and especially at the dish, he’s now drawing starts in the leadoff spot. Traditionally that would make a lot of sense given his speed and gap potential, but things are a bit different for him in recent years. Buxton has found his power stroke.


For Byron there’s a few tendencies that run opposite of what Arraez is capable of. While Byron absolutely has thirty homer power potential, he’s still not going to be the on-base asset without hitting for a relatively high average. 2020 was an outlier for sure, but the walk rate is never going to be something Minnesota’s centerfielder hangs his hat on. More alike the former leadoff guy in Kepler, Buxton is plenty capable of putting a charge into a ball and generating extra-base hits.


This all may become moot in a few days when Josh Donaldson returns to the Twins lineup, but I think there’s some concrete decisions that can and should be made here. Luis Arraez bats leadoff when he’s in the lineup. It shouldn’t matter where he plays, who is pitching, or what day of the week it is. Don’t overthink it, let your table setter set the table. From there, Buxton has earned his way into the two-hole. That’s a spot occupied lately by the likes of Kyle Garlick. Minnesota is a bit stretched offensively in left field right now, and Garlick is fine, but he’s a bottom third hitter. Buxton should be batting in a run-producing position while still allowing him the ability to be on base for the bigger boppers. Donaldson is going to hit here when he returns, but then moving Buxton to third makes a good deal of sense.


Lineup construction is certainly nuanced, and it really only matters in the first inning and on a relatively minute scale. That said, Arraez should be generating as many at bats as he can for Minnesota, and Buxton should always be in a spot to come up and drive runners in.

Sunday, April 4, 2021

One Pitch Speaks Volumes for Garver

It was a beautiful Easter Sunday in Milwaukee for the Minnesota Twins as they pounded out eight runs against the Brewers. One notable takeaway was what backstop Mitch Garver did in sending a ball over the fence.


A season ago the Twins got just 23 games from their catcher that posted a .995 OPS a season prior. Garver dealt with an intercostal strain most of the year and he simply was not the same hitter. Typically pulverizing opposing fastballs, he saw 217 of them in 2020, and it resulted in little success. Of those offerings, he swung 86 times, whiffing 29 times, or nearly 34% of the time the bat left his shoulder. Beating him with heat was far too easy.


Rewinding for context, Garver saw a whopping 839 fastballs in 2019 and swung at 303 of them. Of those 303 swings, he missed just 48 times, or just north of 15%. A jump of over 50% year over year is substantial, and while the now 30-year-old backstop may not be the .995 OPS hitter he was in 2019, he’s also certainly not the .511 OPS hitter he was in 2020.

Now fast forward to that pitch from Adrian Houser in the 5th inning of Sunday’s game. The Brewers starter attacked Garver with a first pitch fastball registering at 94.3 mph, one of the hardest balls he threw all day. After taking a walk in his first plate appearance, Garver sat on the heat and clubbed the pitch 102 mph going the opposite field and leaving over the right field wall.


In 2019 when things were going right for Mitch, he posted a 47.3% hard hit rate and went up the middle or opposite field roughly 50% of the time. Last season the hard-hit rate dropped to 41% and he used the opposite field a measly 13.9% of the time becoming essentially a dead-pull hitter. That’s a logical strategy for someone dealing with core muscle issues, given the necessity to cheat and get the bat around.


At the end of the day, it was just one swing and maybe it ends up being a small footnote rather than indicative of what’s to come. I’d be willing to be however, that Mitch is in line for a season with an OPS back north of .800, and Minnesota will have two of the best hitting catches in baseball while being anchored by the man known as Sauce.