9.14.2014

The Great Twins Scotch Bet: Part 3, That Sinking Feeling

Hint...it's not looking good.
Backstory: Each year, my wife, father-in-law and I place a small wager on the Twins final record. The victor gets a glass of excellent scotch, the losers get to pay for it.


It's been about 10 games since my last update (give or take a double header), and with just two weeks to go in the season, it seems like I ought to check in and see how things are looking.

Gouger's Bet: 75-87 or better
Smelly's (my) Bet: 70-92 to 74-88
Stinky's Bet: 69-93 or worse

2014 Twins 63-86...on pace for 68 Wins
Here's how the Twins need to fare in their last 13 games for us each to win

If the Twins win 6 games or less, Stinky wins
If the Twins win 7-11 games, I win
If the Twins win 12 or more games, Gouger wins.

Me watching the bullpen
I truly admire my father-in-law. He genuinely thinks that the Twins have a shot every year, he is genuinely disappointed every time they fail to live up to his expectations, and he is genuinely happy to buy us scotch.


I, however, feel utterly dumbfounded. I mean...really...my first update post, 22 games ago, had the Twins in need of just 13 wins to make me happy...here we are, about three weeks later, and they haven't even gotten to half of that total. We aren't battling the most dangerous teams in the world, and yet we are getting kicked in the nuts as consistently as a peanut farmer at a mule pen.

It's half full...I swear!
It's half-full!!!
Forget who we play for the next week, the big question is, do I have any chance at all?


The Twins are returning home for the next 9 games, this week that includes six games against the Tigers and Indians, both of whom are in the thick of the Central Division title race. 

While the Twins have had some success against the Tigers this year, even I can't delude myself into thinking that we can get more than a win against them this week...after all, we aren't playing the Tigers from July with the Twins from May, and then there's the whupping Cleveland foisted upon us this past week...which makes me even more dour.
My best chance is for the Twins to sweep the Diamondbacks next week (one of the few teams even more woebegone than we are) and squeak a couple wins this week...but I'm not hopeful...

9.02.2014

The Great Twins Scotch Bet, Part 2: 1 out of 3 ain't Bad

Thank You Delmon...Thank you
As the Twins celebrate the workers of the world by beating the crab-cake consuming, wanna-be Lords of the American League, Baltimore Orioles (in a game punctuated by Joe Mauer exploiting Delmon Young's defense like the cold blooded despot that he is), it's time to check back in on our annual scotch bet.


Yes, it's been 10 games since my last update which means that we are now down to just 25 games left in this season and this year's scotch bet. So where do we stand?

Gouger's Bet: 75-87 or better
Smelly's (my) Bet: 70-92 to 74-88
Stinky's Bet: 69-93 or worse

2014 Twins 60-77...on pace for 71 Wins

Yes, I'm still, marginally ahead here...thank you very much Chairman Mauer for absolutely annihilating Orioles pitching today, and no thanks to you bullpen for beginning the overworked implosion that you have so rightfully earned.

Here's how the Twins need to fare in their last 25 games for us each to win

If the Twins win 9 games or less, Stinky wins
If the Twins win 10-14 games, I win
If the Twins win 15 or more games, Gouger wins.

Things are looking up...get it? Get it?
Now, you can start to see the challenge here...my father-in-law needs the Twins to post a winning record over the final month of the season, in the heat of a playoff race, at a time when the bullpen is exhausted, the starting pitching is inconsistent and the opponents are desperate not to have any bad losses.


Good thing he's such an optimist.

So...Who do we play for the next 10 games? Chicago at home for 2, the Angels at home for 4, the Indians on the road for 3, and one spare game in Chicago.
Who has the edge? Call me crazy, but I'll say me. The Twins have a winning record against exactly one team left on their schedule...and it's the White Sox. If they grab two of those three and one from the Indians, they'll be in a good place for the next set of ten (featuring more White Sox, more Indians, and the surprisingly Twins-averse Tigers). Provided that the Angels don't crush our souls, I could well be on my way to sweet, sweet scotch.
Welcome back, Gulf of Tonkin
What matters most this week? It has to be the bullpen. With the offense by turns effective and exhausted, and the starting pitching in "Gibson, Hughes, prepare to lose" mode, it rests on the increasingly underrested bullpen arms to save the day. So here's hoping that Logan Darnell, Lester Oliveros, Michael Tonkin and AJ Achter are up to the challenge.

9.01.2014

Cliff Notes Guide to the 2014 Twins: The Insistent Out of Tune/Of a Broken Violin on an August Afternoon

Chs. 4-5: July and August
The fledgling, flickering hope alive in the hearts of the Twins and their fans at the end of June was doused with the frigid realization of inadequacy. The pivotal moment established by the previous chapters' foreshadowing was for the "All-Star Game" to be held in the middle of July. 

Yay! The Party's Over!!
In hosting the party, the Twins had their moment to seize relevance and prominence, to rise up to a stature and status which has so frequently seemed out of their reach. When they threw the doors open to their guests they were confronted with the truth that they cannot hope to compete with the shining stars of the baseball firmament.

Like Tom Buchanan in The Great Gatsby or the Narrator in Proust's In Search of Lost Time the Twins are party-goers without an ounce of composure or self-reliance. Hidden away in a corner of their stadium until the final moments, they emerge just in time to see the celebration end. Yet when everyone leaves, the team collapses into a disheartened funk. Pulling themselves out of the doldrums to win just 3 of the next 10 games, leaving their fans disappointed and the team itself broken.

But, in a cruel twist of fate, the team is not allowed to creep back into anonymity, awaiting another spring and fresh start. Instead they are subjected to an extended August road trip, through the repeated self-flagellation of sporadic hitting and consistently implosive pitching. Moments of triumph (including an outburst of 32 runs against a vaunted Tigers team) are tempered by the now blatantly inverted hierarchy of the team's past glory, as former fools and patsies the Kansas City Royals repeatedly batter the squad.

Character Development
Kendrys Morales/Sam Fuld/Kevin Correia/Josh Willingham--These chapters are often paired together because they feature the departures of four previously significant characters. Each of these characters was fraught with contradictions that are both enticing to some readers and maddening to others (witness the previously mentioned Morales and his dualism: i.e. symbol of contender status/presence on a losing team). Tellingly, when each character exits the team clubhouse these moments aren't regarded with celebration, despair, or even much surprise. Instead they appear to be the annual sacrifices to whatever deity drives Twins' Baseball operations: a constant memento mori for their teammates and a simple transaction to their fans.

Bam-Bam & Dan-San
Kennys Vargas/Danny Santana--While all the fixation on veterans around the trade deadline, and in the departure gates of the Minnesota airports serves to bring a glowering gloom over everyone, two of the most prominent replacements offer hope and opportunity. Kennys Vargas and Danny Santana (substituting in for Kendrys Morales/Sam Fuld respectively) also feature prominently in this volume's awareness of cultural differences, shifting the clubhouse away from non-descript veteran white guys to young latino players, a mirroring of the nation's demographics as a whole.

Trevor May--While Vargas and Santana emerge as options within the line-up, May is an intriguing study in the cyclical nature of expectations and reactions. Prior to the expulsion of Correia, a great many fans were clamoring for May's ascendency to the major league roster. Upon his arrival, May sputters, gags, and behaves precisely as you would expect an uncertain young man to behave. In his (admittedly small) sample of performance, he appears to be every bit the mockable man that the aforementioned Correia was, providing the clearest link between this team and the second section of TS Eliot's "Portrait of a Lady"--from which the title came.

Kurt Suzuki--The other figure with the clearest gain from these two months is new catcher Kurt Suzuki. One of the two Twins to attend the aforementioned awkward all-star party, Suzuki parlayed his early success to fondness from fans and a long term contract. However, these moments of growth and personal victory are balanced by the knowledge that many other longer-term Twins signing (including the recently departed Willingham) have collapsed.

Key Quotes/Stats Explained
Cumulative WAR for Morales/Fuld/Correia/Willingham-- 1.1 
Cumulative WAR for Vargas/Santana/May/Schafer-- 2.7
WAR (or Wins Above Replacement) is often the go to quote/stat for fans to trot out, yet the creation of the number is a rather complicated and differ depending on which equation (or translation of the equation you cite).

Generally speaking, things that positions players do to create runs (including drawing walks, getting various kinds of hits, and stealing bases) are multiplied by their relative weight or importance (home runs matter more than singles, etc.) and adjusted in relationship to their position on the field (with center fielders/short stops getting greater credit than first basemen and DHs). Those positive numbers are compared to the average player in the league to create a viable means of judging one player against another.  [Meanwhile pitchers are judged almost entirely on preventing runs, largely through runs allowed during their innings pitched]. While the best players might have a +8 WAR, the average starter would be around 2, while the average bench player would be between 0 and 1.9

Within these chapters the Twins removed four players from consistent play and gave their time to four others. The four who left totaled 1.1 (though Kendrys Morales' -0.7 pulled that down significantly), while the four who stepped up totaled 2.7 (again undermined by Trevor May's -0.9). The broad take away is that, even though it does not translate into immediate results in the "win column", this shift is for the best for the Twins and their team. However, the net gain amongst hitters (+2.5) fails to compensate for the net loss from Correia to May (-0.7).

Literary Term to Impress your Teacher/Attractive English Major Friend:
Mmm...that's a good pastiche
Our recent literary and cultural history has leaned heavily on satire and parody. The Daily Show uses satire to deliver a pointed critique on common styles of tv news programs. The "Scary Movie" franchise uses parody to expand on cliches and tropes in horror movies to the point of making them explode in absurdity. But the Twins' use neither of these, preferring instead to use pastiche, which again uses styles and habits of others, but does so for the purpose of honoring and complimenting the initial creator, rather than mocking them. Like TS Eliot--whose "Portrait of a Lady" poem builds off of Henry James, Christopher Marlowe and Jules Lafourge--these chapters of the Twins' 2014 season pay homage to the wealth of talented athletes who played on the field during the all-star game, and the restarted franchises who regained their talent through creative destruction.

8.29.2014

Designated Everything

Most of the wise and trusted Twins blogs have noted that while the team's current offense, to put it politely, sucks harder than a Super Powered Hoover. Yet, they say, help is on the way from the prospect ranks--even if many of them are currently injured.

That's a big but...
However, all that hope for the future comes with a caveat as big as Kenny Vargas' backside. To wit: most of the good hitters are not terribly athletic and have serious questions about their defense. Sure we may have boppers, but what do you do with a team that has nine potential designated hitters?

The obvious answer is just to designate a bunch more positions and let a whole raft of back up people hit. Creating a roster (around 2016 that looks like this)

C-Kurt Suzuki
1B--Joe Mauer
2B--Brian Dozier
SS--Danny Santana
3B--Miguel Sano
LF--Eddie Rosario
CF--Byron Buxton
RF--Aaron Hicks
Pitcher--Anything with an arm...heck a slot machine will do.
Designated Hitter--Kenny Vargas
Designated Hitting Catcher--Josmil Pinto
Designated Hitting Left Fielder--Trevor Plouffe
Designated Hitting Right Fielder--Oswaldo Arcia

Now, critics will point out that this is...you know..."breaking the rules of the game"

BUT! Perhaps there's another way. After all, you don't really need a good outfield if your pitchers induce strike outs and ground balls. So, and prepare to suspend your disbelief fans, what if, in a crazy mixed up world of my own imagination, where up is down, left is right and the Twins hire a manager who decides to use platoons (I told you it would need a major suspension of disbelief), you try to use these players strategically?


Consider the 7 claimants to the "DH" role right now as well as the two most athletic "outfield prospects" who aren't totally at sea with a bat:
Joe Mauer, Kenny Vargas, Josmil Pinto, Oswaldo Arcia, Trevor Plouffe, Chris Parmelee, Miguel Sano, Eddie Rosario, Aaron Hicks.
Where do you think you're going?

If you assume that we can count on two years of Suzuki at Catcher (which apparently is also expected to be a Josmil Pinto free zone), Dozier at Second, Santana at short and stop gaps replaced by Bionic Byron Buxton in Center, then we have five spots left to play with (in order of least defensive danger): DH, First Base, Left Field, Right Field and Third Base

Here's how those 9 players rank in terms of OPS in their Major League Careers or the last season of the minors (biased I know...but hey, if you expect quality analysis from me, you clearly didn't read my "Joe-Mauer-could-play-better-if-he-became-an-amateur-stand-up-comedian" post)
OPS Versus Righties
Sano (.975)
Mauer (.922)
Vargas (.844)
Pinto (.813)
Arcia (.799)
Rosario (.705)
Parmelee (.704)
Plouffe (.674)
Hicks (.543--though .746 all year at three levels)

OPS Versus Lefties
Sano (1.027)
Pinto (.892)
Vargas (.828)
Plouffe (.807)
Mauer (.748)
Hicks (.746 majors....854 all year at three levels)
Parmelee (.710)
Rosario (.630)
Arcia (.620)

So, like I said, that's not perfect, indeed it's a big fat set of assumptions...i.e. that hitting lefties in Triple A or Double A is equivalent to major leagues (Josmil Pinto's gap from the AAA Lefties to Big leaguers is a whopping 206 points to the worse at .686...though that still puts him ahead of Arcia)

Still, I think that if we assume A) he doesn't come back as a shell of his former self and B) he can still throw the ball, that Miguel Sano is going to be a full timer no matter what. Preferably at third base the hardest of our five positions defensively and the one he would play better than everyone else on the list

That leaves 8 guys for four spots, and here's where my idea comes into effect what if we had not one platoon, not two platoons, BUT FOUR PLATOONS!!! The platoons would be based on both the opposing pitcher, and whether or not we have a fly ball pitcher going ourselves. 

Take a break Joe...literally whenever
you want.
Here's how I could see it
Versus Lefties with a Fly Ball Twins Pitcher
DH-Pinto
1B-Vargas
LF-Mauer (or Plouffe if Mauer needs a rest day)
RF-Hicks

Versus Lefties with a Ground Ball Twins Pitcher
DH-Pinto/Vargas (whoever's hotter)
1B-Mauer (or Vargas if Mauer needs a rest)
LF-Plouffe
RF-Hicks

Versus Righties with a Fly Ball Twins Pitcher
DH-Pinto
1B-Mauer (or Vargas if Mauer needs a rest)
LF-Arcia
RF-Rosario

Versus Righties with a Ground Ball Twins Pitcher
DH-Pinto
1B-Vargas
LF-Mauer
RF-Arcia

A couple of pros to this approach. 
Thanks for the memories, Chris
1--It clarifies value to the team pretty quickly: Parmelee doesn't care any of these sets of four so if someone is willing to give you a prospect with a pulse take it. Rosario only cracks one line up, and theoretically you should be able to find a solid defensive outfielder who can handle right handed pitching at a steady clip, so see if he has any value too.
2--It allows you to start thinking about defensive liberty. Vargas has some background at first, but I would bet that Josmil Pinto could figure things out there as well as Matthew Lecroy did and be a third catcher, and Mauer's still a bit of an athlete (we hope). If Mauer could do a little time in Left, all of a sudden, Trevor Plouffe is expendable.
3--You have a more structured schedule to keep Mauer healthy. Less time against lefties will be better, especially as Joe gets older. And, if/when bullpens are used and right handed relievers come in...who's that sitting on the bench with a bat in his hands? What's that...a former MVP and batting champion? How about that!

And, just to show I can acknowledge my own failings, I'll admit a few weaknesses too...
I stubbornly still have faith
in you Hicksy.
1--My data set is totally messed up: no debating that, but I think it's reasonable to say that after years of hearing that "help is on the way" from the minors and looking at prospect rankings, this is a reasonable assessment of potential at the majors
2--I assume that everyone will reach their potential: yup, I do. They won't, but I teach public school, I have to think about potential more than existing skill or I'd go nuts.
3--Mauer in Left? I mean....Mauer in Left??? Again, point taken, there's every chance that the Twins/Mauer would never consider such a deal with the risk of a wall, or another outfielder, or a beer bottle at risk of hitting his head and ending his career. However, I would say that Mauer is still a fine athlete, even with the wear and tear, and that historically left field is perhaps the least exposed position on the diamond...maybe Josmil Pinto could figure it out, maybe Adam Brett Walker will develop so fast that we have a whole other problem, but for now that makes the most sense to me.


8.25.2014

Put your hands together for Joe Mauer!



Since returning from the disabled list, Joe Mauer has been quietly reassembling himself, like a hitting terminator emerging from the blazing hell fires of suckitude, back into the consistent--if robotic--man we all know and respect.

Mauer mid-rehab stint
While the hitting was something we all thought could return, we're glad to see that Mauer's defense has also been less terrible than in the past. We like to imagine that the reason for this is that Mauer has finally taken our advice and begun using his prime position at first base to develop his chops in a second career: stand-up comedian.

His time on the Disabled List was clearly beneficial to crafting a solid two minute set, and we at Peanuts from Heaven are proud to imagine the totally fake, and utterly made-up Joe Mauer comedy set, so everyone, please welcome to the Target Field first base bag....Joe Mother-Loving Mauer!

Mauer: Hello, it's a real pleasure to be here tonight. You seem like a, uhhhhhhhhh, very nice, you know, group of people. I'm going to say some things that I find comical, and I, uhhhh, hope you like them.

Okay. Start out with a classic here...
Knock-knock....
....
knock-knock...
....
It'll be faster if I do both parts, so, uhhh, who's there?
...Joe Mauer...
....Joe Mauer who?...
...My name's Joe Mauer and, ummmmmm...I'll be your first base comedian tonight...
.....
....
okay...
...
Have you ever noticed how much fun it is to play baseball?
.....
I have.
....
Do you know what I like about playing first base?
...
When guys in the clubhouse talk about girls, I can say that I've just been to first base with a lot of people....
...and it's not a lie...
...because lying would be wrong....
....
That's uh....that's...that's pretty great, you know.
...
Thank you.
...
So I, uhh, I had some milk before the game today.
...
Do you like milk?
...
You should try some, it's really great. and uhh...helps you build strong bones.
...yeah...
...
I was uhhh, on the disabled list recently you know?
And the thing about the disabled list is that it's sort of like being on the naughty list with Santa.
Except instead of a lump of coal, you get a massive radiating pain in part of your body and a tidal wave of insults from fans who think you're an overpaid cry baby.
...
Okay, that's my time...Your next comedian is Brian "You might be middle-infielder" Dozier.

8.23.2014

Counting Down to Year 2 of the Great Twins Scotch Bet

The Winner with her scotch
Alright, I'm about to go back to work which means I'm going to ignore all my actual responsibilities and focus instead on the joys of blogging about baseball--woo personally destroying the education system!

Okay, for the last two years my wife, father-in-law, and I have made a simple bet. How many games will the Twins win this season? The winner gets a glass of great scotch paid for by the losers. Last year my wife won by expecting the Twins to underperform and received a glass of 25 year old Talisker Single Malt Whiskey. A drink she described as "a delightful mouth punch from Jean-Luc Picard in a smoking jacket", with a finish I described as "an echoing hulk smash"

That's fancy English major talk for "really-really-good."

So this year we're doing the same thing again. And, true to form, my wife was pessimistic, my father-in-law was optimistic and I was realistic.

Our Bet Range
Stinky (my wife) Fewer than 70 wins
Smelly (me) 70-74 wins
Gouger (my father-in-law) More than 74 wins.

Why do I bring it up? Because, as of today the Twins have only 35 games left to go this season and have a record that stands at 57-70 which means the following

If the Twins win 12 games or less, Stinky wins (for the second straight year)
If the Twins win 13 to 17 games, I win
If the Twins win 18 or more games, Gouger Wins.

Why should you care? No earthly reason really--unless you like people making snooty comments about scotch. They're like people who make snooty comments about wine, except they have higher alcoholic volume drinks and so get much more poetic, much faster!

Also it helps to focus my writing each week to think about who the Twins face and how it may turn out:


What's the Twins current pace? 72 Wins-90 losses Right in my sweet spot...enough to start me dreaming about the Balvenie 21 Year Old-Port Wood...Dark enough to haunt my dreams, old enough to drink itself.
Who do we play the next 10 games? Detroit for 3, Kansas City for 3, Baltimore for 4
Who has the edge this week? Definitely Stinky. The Tigers and Royals are in a pitched battle for the Central crown while the Orioles are again defying expectations at the top of the AL East. Maybe the Twins can take a game in each set...but I'm pretty much banking on at least one sweep.

Who matters most this week? I had a whole thing written about our lackluster offense, and then they blew up for 20 runs last night. Still, with the Tigers scuffling and some inexperienced lefties on the schedule this week, it would be a great time for Kurt Suzuki, he of the .877 OPS versus Lefties, to return to his sweet swinging ways...at least it would for me.

7.29.2014

What the Twins' World Needs Right Now

The trade deadline is looming over the heads of Twins fans right now. Like a honed knife's edge, like a hunter's net, like a disapproving parent at the doorway of a kegger thrown by their independent child: it's looming.

At least that's my feeling. And I admit it's a weird one. After all the Twins are sellers (again) in a seller's market (witness the hauls for relatively unimpressive talents thus far). We should be confident. We should be beaming with pride. We should be the belle of the ball, fending off suitors for our valuable assets. Sure they aren't that valuable, but who cares? It's the trade deadline, value is inflated and we've got what other teams want.

So why does the deadline worry me so much?

Twins War Room (artist depiction)

Because I feel like we need to get something great out of it, far more than any contending team does.

Because I feel like we need a win. And if they aren't coming from the field, then they need to come from the smoke-filled rooms where deals are made. (Though I suppose, since smoking bans went into effect the rooms are probably just filled with smug self-importance.)

It's not that surprising or worrying that the Twins are sellers. It's not surprising that the season is in tatters and we're all debating what they can steal from some desperate rival's hands. What is surprising is that I'm nervous about it, and I'm all too resigned to seeing the deadline pass with another unimpressive whimper.

After three years of supporting management's decisions, I'm dumbstruck. I've supported patience and measured responses. I've supported building from within. I've supported the cautious investments in low-end free agents. But now I've got nothing, and I'm desperate.

I can't figure out why woefully struggling players trot out to the field long past their sell-by date. I've got no idea why our young players are accepted as consistently inconsistent. And I'm at an utter loss to understand why prospects are left to languish in the minor leagues when there's no better rival for the position in the bigs.
My cat has already given up
In short. I'm a Twins fan. And I am desperate.
We need a win here. We didn't just lose 7 games on the home stand. We lost a year of development for Sano. We lost half-a-year for Buxton. We lost a couple months of Meyer and May learning the big league routine. We lost a chunk of cash on Pelfry and Nolasco. We lost the feel good memories of Bartlett, Kubel and Matty G. We lost the hope of a consistent Arcia, a burgeoning Pinto, a resiliant Hicks. We are in a constant state of losing Joe Mauer: day by day, sore inch by sore inch, percentage point by percentage point, insult by insult...until, I'm convinced, some day he wakes up and either can't play or can't wait to play anywhere but here.

We might be the unluckiest team in baseball, but right now we are definitely losers. And we're starting to feel like we're always going to be losers (hence the widely reported swing towards apathy this last week). This feels like a chance, a golden chance to get a win. But that's the problem with feeling like losers: even when you have a golden chance to win...you start expecting that you WILL LOSE.

That's why the trade deadline's looming. This is our chance to turn Josh Willingham and Kevin Correia and Kurt Suzuki into Gold* (See note below). But there's that nagging fear that they'll turn into a flaming bag of poo instead. After all, when you're as desperate as I feel right now, you don't make the best choices.

We need a win right now. I want us to win right now. And I have very little confidence that we will.

But hey...If I wanted to feel confidence on a regular basis I wouldn't be a Twins fan. If I was on the point of collapsing into apathy or anger I wouldn't keep using the "we" pronoun when talking about a team that has never employed me or asked my opinion about anything.

*Honestly, I know they aren't worth gold and no GM would give us gold, but if we could get a couple pieces of bronze, and an opportunity to see a piece of silver from the vault, I'd call that a win.