7.31.2015

Cliff Lee Twins Legend: An Alternate Trade Deadline History

For the first time in 5 years the Twins are buyers at the deadline, and with the Mariners in town and the Twitter fanbase on fire, I thought it would be fun to to look back at the last big Twins trade that never happened and imagine what it would be like if the Twins had acquired Cliff Lee from the Mariners 5 years ago.

Note: this is a work of fiction, not a genuine attempt at analyzing impacts...I'm not that smart, I'm just a weird guy who likes Alternate History 

7/9/2010
When the Rangers refuse to part with Justin Smoak, the Twins acquire Cliff Lee for Wilson Ramos, Aaron Hicks, Kyle Gibson and Anthony Slama. Minnesota fans rejoice so much that no one notices that Justin Morneau remains sidelined after a collision in Toronto

7/31/2010
Without any more trade chips, the Twins go without a proven closer, despite tempting overtures about emerging Nats closer Matt Capps, trusting John Rauch to save the day, or failing that...Cliff Lee on his off days

9/21/2010
The Twins clinch the AL Central with 12 games to spare, allowing manager Ron Gardenhire to set up his rotation for a matchup with either the Yankees or Rays in the first round. "Cliffy has done real good up here...so he might just be our game 1 starter" says Gardy. "Doi!!!" say Twins fans.

10/12/2010
The Twins finally break their Yankee he'd after Cliff Lee wins Game 5 at Target Field with a 1 run shutout. Says Lee, "it was a bit rough (with the bullpen nearly blowing Liriano's game 2 lead) but we got there in the end, good thing Glen (Perkins) came in in the 8th, you know...he could make a good set up man."

10/20/2010
Backed by the home run power of  Jim Thome, Delmon Young and Danny Valencia, the Twins need only 5 games to beat the Rangers in Arlington and advance to the World Series against the Giants. Asked if he's worried about Cliff Lee's workload, manager Rob Gardenhire replies, "work what now?"

11/1/2010
Twins lose the World Series to the Giants in 5 games, but remain upbeat. "Obviously we would rather have the trophy, but we'll back and loaded next year, that's for sure" pledges Lee.
Still stings, doesn't it Twins fans?
12/14/10
Cliff Lee jilts Minnesota to re-sign with the Philadelphia Phillies. "I never wanted to leave in the first place," says Lee, "obviously it was nice to help Minnesota, but Philadelphia is where my heart lies." Undeterred, General Manager Bill Smith seeks to lock down the squad that brought Minnesota their first AL Pennant in nearly 20 years giving extensions to JJ Hardy (through 2014), Delmon Young (through 2015), and Francisco Liriano (through 2014) and re-signs Jim Thome. 

2/15/11
Spring training for the AL champs starts with high hopes as Justin Morneau and Joe Nathan return as do new Twins Carl Pavano (who had a fine second half with the Texas Rangers) and intriguing Japanese infielder Tsuyoshi Nishioka who Bill Smith hopes could push Alexi Casilla at second base ("he might even be able to spell JJ at short stop" gushes Smith who is eager to offset the loss of fan favorite Nick Punto )


4/7/11
Shame we lost Hardy on this take out slide
Disaster strikes as Nick Swisher slides into second base breaking JJ Hardy's fibula. Manager Ron Gardenhire quickly installs Tsuyoshi Nishioka as the new starting shortstop. A quick RBI triple and lunging grab to his left causes the fan base to erupt with joy as the Twins take a series in Yankee stadium. One fan goes so far as to get a "Nishioka Forever" tattoo.

8/15/11
The Twins have the highlight of their year when Jim Thome hits his 500th Home Run. It's Thome's last before he returns to Cleveland for one final playoff run with his first team. Meanwhile the double play combination of Hardy and Nishioka (or Thunder and Lightning as fans have taken to calling them) offer a ray of hope to compensate for the regression of Danny Valencia and Delmon Young (despite peripheral stats that suggest Nishioka isn't quite as good as his rookie year attests). The team finishes with a 69-93 record, which will give them the fourth pick in the 2012 draft, their highest in a decade.

12/14/11
With a lot of money tied up in other extensions the Twins face a difficult decision between keeping beloved reliever Joe Nathan, former top prospect Jason Kubel, or right fielder Michael Cuddyer who had paced the offense while Morneau and Mauer worked to make a come back. Citing the need for a "proven closer" the Twins resign Nathan (for 3 years), and Kubel (for 2 years). "This year was an anomaly," says Smith who was given a full vote of confidence by ownership, "I don't expect us to have a year like that again, and I'm sure the players don't either."

It wasn't his finest hour, 
4/16/12
Hours after a drunken Delmon Young's anti-semitic tirade in New York and subsequent suspension ("We won't tolerate that" says Jim Pohlad), call-up Ben Revere stuns the crowd with a great leaping catch in left field. Fans who hope a return to the Bronx will remind a struggling Nishioka of his strong April are disappointed when he airmails two throws into the Yankees dugout. Rochester infielder Brian Dozier packs his bags.


8/5/12
With the #4 Pick in the MLB Draft the Twins select
Mike Zunino thereby solving all catching problems
ever...
The Twins end their connection with ALCS hero Danny Valencia by trading him through waivers to the Red Sox. "It's part of the game," explained Manager Ron Gardenhire, "Danny gave us a lot over two years ago, I'm sure he'll give his best in Boston." Some fans, frustrated with the inconsistency of Francisco Liriano, had hoped that the former ace in the making and the big third baseman could bring in significant pitching prospects are left wanting. But many have now turned their attention to the Twins top draft choice: Florida Catcher Mike Zunino ("hey, look at what happened the last time they took a catcher in the top 5...maybe this one won't even get bilateral leg weakness!")


10/1/2012
The Twins finish their season of struggle sliding to 67-95

11/29/2012
Citing their "complete confidence" in Ben Revere the Twins trade Denard Span to the Nationals for Vance Worley and Trevor May. Revere's diving catches and ear-to-ear smile become the face of the Twins.

12/6/2012
The Twins shockingly trade their second outfielder in a week, when the Tigers offer the Twins a random relief prospect to take Delmon Young off our hands, who they think is just the veteran bat they need to finally win the World Series. "THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU" shout Twins fans. A small group of fans chant the same words at Tsyuoshi Nishioka's Air Japan flight back home at the completion of his contract.

2/1/2013
GM Bill Smith gushes about the team's newly revamped pitching staff: "We know that Perkins, Burton and Nathan can do what we need at the end of the game, but we needed pitchers who could get the leads there. I think we have a very deep rotation, Scott [Diamond] took a big step forward, we know what Francisco [Liriano] is capable of, and now with veteran arms like Kevin Correia and Mike Pelfry we have what we need to compete."

Still hurts to see a Twins legend
in rival colors.
7/31/2013
For the first time in over a decade the Twins are never close to contention, due in large part to complete implosions in the starting rotation. The team decides to sell off many of their veteran assets at the trade deadline: Morneau and Liriano head to the Pirates, JJ Hardy goes to the Diamondbacks, Jason Kubel goes to the Cleveland Indians on a short rental. "I guess we're really rebuilding," writes one Twins Daily blogger, "good thing Mauer's locked in at Catcher."



8/19/13 
Joe Mauer sustains a concussion during a make up game against the New York Mets that spells the end of his catching career, and top prospect Mike Zunino struggles a bit when called up to split time with Drew Butera as his replacement. The only shocking silver linings in another disappointing season (66 - 96) are the sudden burst of power from second baseman Brian Dozier, says team closer Joe Nathan, "he's the real deal."

11/11/13
Bill Smith steps down as General Manager admitting, "yeah...I can't believe I lasted this long either," the Twins take the unusual step of inviting back former GM Terry Ryan to replace him. "It's time to turn the page and build from within," says Ryan before looking at a farm system that boasts Miguel Sano, Mike Zunino, Second Baseman Eddie Rosario, and not much else. "Well, crap..." says Ryan afterwards.

12/6/13
The Twins welcome new starting pitchers, Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes at a press conference. On the emerging slew of podcasts, one Twins follower says: "Obviously we'd like to have our own pitchers come up through the minors, but besides [Trevor] May at Double A, our best options are the kid we got for not resigning Cuddyer [Berrios], and Kohl Stewart. So they're all a ways away."


3/22/14
With uncertainty around the aging familiar stars and the unknown new signings, The Twins turn to young talent to highlight their ad campaign, "Bringing Smiles back to Twins Territory". The ads mostly consist of Ben Revere and Brian Dozier smiling brightly at the camera saying, "please come back...please...? You're a very attractive person...I'd like to see you at the ballpark...Please?"

7/15/14
While some stat heads argue that Twins Closer Joe Nathan had been outperformed by set up man Glen Perkins, Nathan is the one player chosen to represent the Twins at their home town all star game. Though he loads the bases, he does deliver a final strike out to lone Rangers representative Kurt Suzuki. "God, he'd be better than Butera and Zunino" carps one Twins fan.

9/25/14
The Twins near the end of their 4th straight 90 loss season despite an all-time record Strike out to walk ratio for new starter Phil Hughes. In their final home game the team stages a moving tribute to Joe Nathan, who, after giving up the closer spot in September to Glen Perkins, gets one last 9th inning against the Arizona Diamondbacks. After the game Nathan says "wait...why didn't I get the Mariano Rivera farewell tour?...screw it! I'm coming back next year!"

12/3/14
Torii Hunter joins the Twins for one final season despite the offer to complete a new soul patrol in Seattle with Aaron Hicks and top prospect Byron Buxton. 

4/3/15
New signee Ervin Santana is suspended for 80 games for testing positive for a performance enhancing drug. Rookie Trevor May is added to the rotation behind Mike Pelfry. "Would have been nice to see a little competition for that spot," says Terry Ryan, "but we like the guys we have."

The Newest Twin...
7/31/15
At the trade deadline the surprisingly contending Twins seem in desperate need of a shortstop (as no one has compared to Hardy and Nishioka), catcher (to replace Butera as the struggling Zunino goes back to AAA) and in the bullpen. Terry Ryan delivers only Tampa Bay Reliever Kevin Jepsen to complement Glen Perkins setting up for Joe Nathan, at the cost of starter prospect Chih Wei Hui. Fans demand a more meaningful move, like the one that got them Cliff Lee 5 years ago.

7.28.2015

Adopt a Prospect 3.4: Why I Like JT Chargois More than A-Rod

More interesting that Target Field
It has not been an easy last two weeks for our Adopted Prospect: Mr. Jon Tiberius Chargois (okay it's Jon Thomas...but give me some nerd slack). He had his worst outing of the year giving up 6 earned runs on three walks and three hits, and the breezy dominance that made Chargois a Florida State League All-Star seems like a distant memory compared to his current form.


And yet, this weekend, as the Twins got snake bitten (again) by the Yankees and their complicated, record-book busting (again) DH Alex Rodriguez, I found myself eagerly turning away from the superlative performances of A-Rod at Target Field, to the minor league box scores for word of Chargois.


It may seem like a silly comparison: Alex Rodriguez, love him or hate him, will go down in the annals of baseball history; JT Chargois will be in this odd little corner of cyber space...but probably, not much else. And while the part of me that loves athletic excellence is inclined to see the very best players do their very best work, a much larger part of me wants to cheer for Chargois much MUCH more than A-Rod.

The reasons I care more about a AA reliever than the fourth most prestigious home run hitter in baseball doesn't depend on the history of a rivalry, or the fact that one is paid by Minnesota billionaires and the other is paid by New York billionaires. It comes back to the fact that Sports is the rare entertainment that demands honesty.

Other entertainments live on the other side of truth. Movies and books are fictional. Music and even visual arts (painting and sculpture) are as much about what people (and record companies) know will sell, rather than purely what people have lived or feel.

But sports demands honesty. Do your best, play fair, and may the best team win. Do that, and we'll root, root, root for the rest of our lives.

Therein lies the problem. A-Rod is fundamentally dishonest: he didn't trust his best to be good enough, he didn't play fairly with those who stayed clean, and he tried to rig the game so his team would be better than the best.

No question, A-Rod is entertaining, powerful and impressive (even more so on PEDs). But that was a fiction. He insisted he was legitimate twice, once while using and once after getting caught in two more moments of dishonesty. If he was a pro-wrestler, or doing some crazy in-depth performance art it could be strangely intriguing, but instead it's just fake, false and infuriating to watch.

That's why I like a middling AA prospect and can't stand one of the best power-hitters in over a century of baseball. Because JT Chargois is not perfect and makes no pretenses about it. His scuffles at AA are part of the game, an honest failure, just as his run of scoreless innings from April to June was an honest success.

I don't like Alex Rodriguez. I don't wish him ill. I don't hope he suffers. I just wish he were more like JT Chargois.

7.17.2015

Cliff Notes for the 2015 Twins: Chapter 3

Again, I've been derelict in my duty--though I was out of the country and away from reliable internets for a while there. Still were back with another nerdy English-Class style recap of the last month (plus) in Twins Territory


Chapter 3: June to the All-Star Break
Plot Summary:
So great was the joy among fans after a shockingly strong June, that the Twins could, to many eyes, have appeared better than they actually were. So it was only slightly surprising that the team stumbled badly in June.


The slide began by dropping two out of three to the Brewers (who had not been terribly impressive) at Target Field. Then the rival Royals ended the Twins' time atop the Central with a sweep (culminating in Torii Hunter's freak out) and the doldrums continued as they dropped two out of three to the Rangers, but in an effort either to stop the slide or to hold on to their quavering place in the attention of local fans the Twins called up the first of their dynamic prospects: Byron Buxton.

Buxton's arrival accompanied the only Twins win in Texas, and despite two losses in St. Louis, his thrilling play and daring speed were on fine display as the team returned to the Twin Cities in excellent form evening the score against the Cardinals, several close games against the Cubs and a crushing of the White Sox. Sadly, a slide against the White Sox also crushed a bone in Buxton's thumb, and he was removed from the lineup as suddenly as he appeared.

Efforts to repeat the magic on a return trip to Milwaukee by calling up another touted prospect in Alex Meyer were unsuccessful. The National League again thwarted the Twins' momentum as the Brewers and Reds squeezed the home town 9 to a paltry 4-8 record against the bottom 3 teams in the NL Central. Meyer was duly demoted and again things looked grim.

The Twins went to the prospect well a third time and called up Miguel Sano for their visit to Kansas City. As a pure hitter, Sano trumped even the heralded Buxton, and his 11 game hit-streak coincided with the Twins sudden offensive rejuvenation as they finished the first half of the season on a 8-3 run, good enough to put them in 2nd place in the division and 2nd place in the entire American League.

Main Character Development:
The true climax of this chapter was the All-Star Game and the two Twins players who went, recognized as being among the best of the best (the 90th percentile of players in the major leagues). First and foremost, the acknowledged top closer in the league: Glen Perkins. Perkins broader acclaim was all the more note worthy for where he had come from: failed starter, unhappy demoted pitcher, after thought set-up reliever, and, as of now, owner of the best Save streak in Twins history (28 in a row). Most impressively, in this chapter of the season he faced 45 batters and allowed only 6 of them to reach base (a .133 OBP against).

Perkins was joined in Cincinatti by second baseman Brian Dozier who was initially left off of the roster. That snub may have been the best thing for him. It begat a voting campaign (No Bull, Vote Dozier); it got his name mentioned consistently in the national press and on cable tv, and it aligned perfectly with an outburst of timely hitting including two walk-off home runs and another in the All-Star Game itself that captured a great many eyeballs across the country and began a genuine grumbling campaign that he might be the league MVP (assuming he both kept it up and found some way of getting Mike Trout to fall into a temporal vortex). What was once a cute photoshop on this blog is now a common talking point (so much so that at a wedding I attended last weekend, both the bride and my grandmother could be found discussing him).

As Perkins and Dozier rise as protagonists, it will be interesting to see what obstacles and conflicts are thrown in their way to create dramatic tension for the rest of the season.

Key Quote/Stat Explained:
Pythagorean Winning Percentage: .528

As any fan can tell you, occasionally the better team loses. Unlucky bounces, dumb umpire calls, a slight stumble on a soggy infield, all of it can turn the game when you least expect it. So there's the Pythagorean Winning percentage, in which the square of the hypotenuse of a right tri...wait, no...that's Pythagorus' Triangle Theorem...when he was brought forward to the present by Doctors Bill S. Prescott and Theodore Logan to watch baseball and party on dude, he (and Bill James) developed an equation to measure how many games a team should win based on both their runs scored and their runs allowed.

To wit:
                      (Runs Scored)^1.83
---------------------------------------------------------
(Runs Scored)^1.83 + (Runs Allowed)^1.83
via baseball Reference

Basically dividing the (approximate) square of a team's runs scored, by the (approximate) square of their runs scored PLUS the (approximate) square of their runs allowed should yield an average result.

So while many Twins fans are dancing joyously at the fact that the Twins have the second best record in the American League, our Pythagorean Winning Percentage can show whether we are really lucky, a little lucky, or even unlucky to be where we are.

The Twins Pythagorean Winning Percentage is .528 (or 52.8%); their real world winning percentage is .551 (or 55.1%), so they've only been about 2.3% luckier than their run total would suggest. So they are actually a solid team with the chance to get better (unlike the White Sox who are below 500 and still 8% luckier than they ought to be).

The one down side is the Twins have a lower Pythagorean Winning Percentage than 8 other teams, including three currently outside of the playoff hunt: the Orioles (7% unlucky), the Blue Jays (8% unlucky) and the Athletics (9.8% unlucky). If those teams see their records normalize a bit, and the Twins drop even a percent in their luck, people dreaming of the playoffs can put a pin in it.

Literary Term to Impress English Majors:
Writers throughout history have relied on a simple belief: everything's better in threes. Hence "The Rule of Three". Things are funnier, easier to remember, generally more meaningful if you combine things in threes: three volume novels; three act plays; three little pigs; three bears; I came, I saw, I conquered; stop, drop, and roll; a priest, a minister, and a rabbi

It doesn't just take three things to fit the rule of three, they should be thematically connected and structured in such a way as to make meaning. So take the Twins June/July call ups: Buxton/Meyer/Sano.
From L-R: Meyer, Berrios, Sano, Buxton
(Good news, Jose: you don't have to worry about this rule)

  1. Buxton comes first, and excites the fan base, we need him and he looks pretty good but it's over early due to the thumb injury. 
  2. Meyer comes second, the fan base is a little less excited, but there's enough mention of his pedigree, status and dominance as a reliever in AAA to make him enticing, and it's over very quickly when he gets hammered by big league bats. 
  3. Sano comes last, and while he's long been one of the two big names in the Twins' system, the structure is set up to make at least a few fans regard another call-up skeptically. So his offensive outburst with power and patience seems like a pleasant surprise, even though he has always looked capable of this.
Obviously, I don't think the Twins intended Buxton and Meyer to have such unpleasant endings to their Major League debuts, but if there was some sort of magical script-writing in all of this, it would be a pretty great use of the Rule of Three.

6.26.2015

Terry Ryan learns the Magic Word

As we tip toe to July, we know that inevitably Twins fans will start to imagine all manner of favorable scenarios, dream sequences and wishful thinking that leads the GM Terry Ryan to make all the right moves and deliver a winner to Target Field.

We Peanuts from Heaven are nothing if not imaginative, but rather than prognosticate any remotely feasible trade scenarios, allow us to write another in our on-going series of creative scenes played against a backdrop of the Twins 2015 season (apologies if you find these scenes tedious...it's what you get from a blogger who's a wannabe playwright/novelist).

[Interior: Terry Ryan's office, as the sun sets on a fine June day with Target Field sprinklers running in the background]

Secretary: Mr. Ryan? Flip Saunders is here to see you.

Terry: Thank you. [Flip Saunders enters, Terry's joy bubbles in his voice, like an impressed grandfather] Flip! Old buddy, ol' pal, how are you!

Flip: Uhh...I'm fine Terry, fine...How are you?

Terry: Pretty good, pretty good! I saw you had a great night during the draft!

Flip: Yeah, we're pretty happy about it.


Terry: Wooowhee! Karl Anthony-Towns and Tyus Jones! Well, I tell you, every one here's just as pleased as punch. Very excited, very excited indeed.

Flip: Thank you Terry.

Terry: Yes, siree-Bob, you're a smart man Flip. And you sure seem to have a way with those fellows from Cleveland. Yup, it's almost like magic...

Flip: Uhh...well, you know how it is Terry, you hang around this business long enough, you build certain relationshi--

Terry: [Cutting Saunders off, Terry now sounds terse and demanding, a hard nosed boss at last] Can the bull Flippy-boy! What do you have on Cleveland? How do you get them to make these asinine trades?

Flip: What?

Terry: Don't play dumb. I've been in this business since before you first sniffed a speed dial. You've got some sort of pull on Cleveland, and I want to know what it is!

Flip: Terry, I assure you, I--

Terry: "Assure me", what an "Ass-U-Are" Flip! I want details and I want them now.

Flip: [Sighs, defeated] Alright, alright, I'll tell you. The magic word is Cumquat.

Terry: Cumquat?


Flip: Yeah, Cumquat. See, at the last GM meetings, I took David Griffin to see this hypnotist, The Great Gaspini. Anyway, I slipped the guy a fiver and he gave Griffin a private session. Anyway, in between making him cluck like a chicken and memorize the entire dance to Single Ladies, he implanted the idea that any time he heard the word "Minnesota" followed by "Cumquat" he would agree with whatever someone was saying.

Terry: So that's how you got Wiggins, Bennett and Jones for 1 Season of crappy Kevin Love and a pair of second rounders?

Flip: To be fair...yes...yes it was...I guess I am a genius.

Terry: Brilliant, brilliant! So I just need to get this Gaspini-guy to do the same thing for me with Shapiro and Antonetti!

Flip: Actually...well...what with this whole West Loop partnership thing we've got going on these days, Glen Taylor, Bill McGuire and the Pohlad boys paid for Gaspini to pull the same thing over on the Indians and AFC Cleveland.

Terry: Not the Browns?


Flip: Pssh...c'mon Terry, they're the Browns, they'll screw themselves anyway. Plus, this is a West Loop deal, so Ziggy can lump it for all I care.

Terry: Hehe, yeah, West Loop Pride. [Calls into the hallway] Dorothy! Get me Chris Antonetti on the line! [Pause] They've got soccer in Cleveland?

Flip: I'm as surprised as you are.

Secretary: Antonetti on line one!

Terry: Just say Minnesota first and then Cumquat? [Flip nods, Terry picks up the phone] Chris, my-boy! How are you?! Terry Ryan here in...Minnesota! Listen, we've got a bit of a pitching log jam here, so I'm thinking it might be time to make a trade: how about you guys take Ricky Nolasco and his contract and we take that short stop of yours, Francisco Lindor?[Pause] Oh, don't be so quick to count me out Chris, after all, Nolasco's no...cumquat!...[Pause] Yeah, I thought you might reconsider. Tell you what, I'm feeling generous today, so if you toss in Trevor Bauer, I'll send you Mike Pelfry and Shane Robinson, how about that....?

[Scene]

6.23.2015

The Cure for the Twins Offense

Though the Twins' offense has struggled to generate many runs in the month of June, their tremendous success in May and the method of their outburst against the White Sox yesterday reminds us all of what has worked for the team all year: Hit Clusters.

Now, the Twins, along with local business partners in the breakfast cereal industry are out to share the secret of their winning ways with the populace at large in this new advertisement for a special Twins Centric Cereal!

[Our first shot is of Twins clubhouse where a dejected looking Kennys Vargas and Byron Buxton sit at the team breakfast table]

Kennys: It isn't easy to be a big leaguer...

Byron: Yeah, and you'd think they'd be able to afford something better than simple toast for us too...

[Brian Dozier enters, with a big smile and, if possible, animated unicorns and ninjas]

Brian: Are you guys tired of your boring breakfasts and wishing you could score more runs?!?

Kennys: That is literally what we were just saying.

Brian: Try HIT CLUSTER CEREAL! A joint venture of the Minnesota Twins, General Mills, and Malt o Meal! The official Cluster-Based Cereal of the Minnesota Twins!!

Byron: Do we have an Official Non-Cluster-Based Cereal?

Brian: Don't change the subject Rookie!! HIT CLUSTER CEREAL contains all the valuable nutrients you need to connect hits together for a big inning!!

[A series of other smiling Twins players appear with the cereal]

Torii Hunter: It's got Single Almonds!

Trevor Plouffe: It's got Double Granola Granules!!

Eddie Rosario: It's got Triple Fiber Flakes!!!

Brian Dozier: Not to mention Home Run Flavor!!!!

Joe Mauer: Sometimes, when I really want to cut loose, I even have some with vitamin rich Milk.

Torii: For the last time Joe, don't flaunt your decadent party life style in front of the kids!

Joe: Sorry...

Brian: C'mon Guys! Try a bite!!

Kennys: Wow! That taste sure comes through in the clutch!

[All the Twins Laugh heartily before the final Voice Over]

VOICE OVER: Hit Cluster Cereal is available for a limited time only, and is part of a balanced breakfast with other great Official Minnesota Twins foodstuffs like "Base on Balls Bread" and "Orange (You Glad We're Facing White Sox Pitchers) Juice"

6.13.2015

Torii Hunter Teaches the Little Things

There's been a lot of cyber ink spilled over the ejection, tirade and now suspension of Torii Hunter for arguing balls and strikes on Wednesday. Rather than debate the justifications for it, or weigh in on the great "inspiration"/"childishness" debate, we'd like to imagine how this little event will affect future Twins franchises.

We take you now to a tape room in the Twins' Fort Myers training compound, some March day in the not-so-distant future. A crew of young prospects, chatter anxiously awaiting the appearance of the franchise legend who will address them today. A hush falls as he enters the room, but the nerves are set at ease when he flashes his trademark mega-watt smile:

"Hey guys! What's happenin'"

"Good morning, Mr. Hunter," they squeak in unison.

Unphased, Hunter sits backwards on a chair, "listen y'all, you can relax. This isn't a big talking too. I'm not gonna lecture you, we just want to go over some of the finer points of your game.

"You've been coming along nicely for a little while now. I know one of you led the Midwest league in homers, and I saw another one hit 97 on the gun yesterday. Real good, man, real good. But to make it to the bigs you've got to know how to lose your cool properly....

"I mean, I've seen the tapes of you guys when you're upset, groanin' and shakin' your heads. That doesn't do anything man! You gotta get wild! You gotta make a point! So let's look at the tape here.



"First, ya gotta start with the little things, light weight stuff, elbow guards, wrist guards, you know, easy stuff. Warm yourself up! You there, McGillacuddy, you're a big fella, but if you start chuckin' the bat and the helmet and everything right away you could strain a forearm, a muscle, how's the manager gonna feel if you have to rest a day because you couldn't be bothered to warm up first?"

"Uhh...not very good..."

"Your damn right not very good!

"Now secondly, don't lose track of your point in this, everything you throw you have to punctuate with another yell, turn back to the ump, the crew chief especially, because that's the umps boss, let him know that it's a protest, it's not a performance, it's a political statement. Yes Diaz?"

"What should we say to them? Should we reemphasize the rule with references to the section and subsect--"

"Nah, they can't think logically about it at that point, just say what's in your heart...let the coaches and the lawyers talk specifics, you do you man, you do you.

"Alright, finally gentlemen, the climax: the jersey toss. Now some might say it's over the top, some might say it's foolish, but this is a special move. It's the point of no return, and think about it, if you want to continue to emphasize your protest what else could you throw?"

"Your shoe?"

"No, Moskowitz, that's a protest common to Iraq and the Arab Peninsula. Do we play on the Arab Peninsula?"

"No, sir"

"That's right, the Bagdad expansion franchise isn't coming in for another three years. Who else?"

"Your belt?"

"Your belt? Stop for a second a think there, Henderson, how exactly is a little ol' Minnesotan lady in the stands gonna feel if you start strippin' down out there?"

"Oh yeah..."

"What about equipment from the dug out?"

"Not a bad idea, Van Nostren! But that's a little played out, and remember you've got teammates and fellow pros out there, don't want to risk anybody's safety. That's why I recommend the shirt toss, it's soft, it's light, it flutters down beautifully after a long throw, its arc and trajectory gives you more time to shout at the umps, it's perfect."

A tentative hand rises from the front row, "But Mr. Hunter--"

"Yeah?"

"Sir, I was just wondering, wouldn't it be safer not to say anything at all and just file an appeal after the game..."

Torii blinks, and stares back at the player. "What's your name, son?"

"Uhhh...Middlecamp"

"Uh-huh, Middlecamp....well you're not on my sheet here, son, I think you might be looking for Joe Mauer's Seminar on Increasing your Midwestern-ness, that's room 203 not 302..."

"Oh, I'm sorry, sir," says Middlecamp, gathering his belongings and heading for the door.

"Its okay, man, its okay, it may be helpful some day. Now the rest of you, let's talk about how much to tip the batboy after he picks up the stuff..."

*AND SCENE*

6.09.2015

Cliff Notes for the 2015 Twins: Chapter 2 "May"

Like my very own students, I'm slow in posting, but by god, I will always deliver these cliff notes...unless I go crazy grading student papers first.

Chapter 2: "May"
Plot Summary:
Just as Twins fans prepared themselves to see the silver lining at the end of April reform into a thunderhead of injuries, incompetence and ineffectiveness, something happened that had not happened for a long time in Minnesota.

The silver lining got brighter.

And brighter.

And brighter.

So bright in fact, that it was hard to see the clouds any more. They opened the month with four straight wins, and after one loss...four more straight wins. They took a series from Oakland, and Cleveland, but surely the Eastern Division would be our downfall...nope: two of three from Tampa, three straight from Boston, and two of three from Toronto.

A chatter filled the air: delight, surprise, disbelief. Are they for real? Fans asked on the rooftops of local bars and restaurants. Can they keep this up? Supporters questioned over cubicle walls and in carpools. How the hell are they doing this? Minnesotans pretended not to wonder, even as cable pundits bellowed it louder than any member of "Twins Territory" ever could.

There was effective hitting to be sure, and consistently strong relief pitching, even simple competence from the starting pitchers was so deeply appreciated it might have been treated like the second coming of Walter Johnson himself. But above all else, there was confidence. There was consistency. And there were wins.

Sure, it might not last, but it was warm, it was joyous, and the silver lining was so bright, you had to wear shades.

Main Character Development:
Would that we could say that it was all about Trevor May in the month of May, but it wasn't.

First, there was the human exclamation mark: Ricky Nolasco! Without Nolasco in the rotation, things seemed to be fine in April, and few if any were gung ho about his return. He has earned as little trust from Twins fans as Scott Boras. And yet, without making much fuss (or exploding in his characteristic exclamatory twitter jamboree) Ricky racked up 26 strike outs in his 6 outings. Did he average more than 5 innings in those appearances...No. But 26 strikeouts! And only 6 walks! He bested Phil Hughes!! He made me love the exclamation mark again!!! UNIRONICALLY!!!

Then there was another, oft debated, warily embraced Twin who returned this year, albeit from other cities rather than the disabled list: Torii Hunter. And while April gave us plenty of stories about Torii the "character" (the leader, the mentor, the clubhouse general, etc.) his actual play in the field was fine but often forgotten. Then he became less of the wise old sage, and more of the totally dangerous Jedi-Master: Torii-Wan-Kenobi. The kind of man who can duel a foe and come out stronger. Can he defend fully? Probably not. But as long as that swing still sings, all manner of things can be forgiven.

Key Quote/Stat Explained:
2 Outs/RISP & BAbip
You'll often hear people say that there's no such thing as "clutch." You can't measure talent under pressure because players are still players, some times they hit, sometimes they don't, some times it rains.

But, as with everything else people say doesn't exist (Sasquatch, the Loch Ness Monster, a Josh Duhamel movie that doesn't stink), once you say it, people are determined to prove you wrong. Hence: the "Clutch" Sections on baseball-reference.

This is where Baseball-Reference stat-heads compile the splits to cover how players and teams perform in key situations that we often refer to as "clutch", situations like: 2 outs and runners in scoring position, and when we see that BAbip (or Batting Average on Balls in Play, aka how often the Twins hit the ball rather than striking out or walking) we see a surprising .320 from the team.

That would be a clutch number. It would mean that when the Twins have a chance to score a run with a hit in a critical situation, they're doing it about a third of time they put the ball in play. That's mighty good.

But it's also a pretty terrible strategy to say "let's get guys in scoring position, and then get two outs because we do really well in those situations!" and BAbip is subject to lots of variables, not just hitters' strengths (i.e. opponents' fielding, pitcher fatigue, etc.).

So why bring it up? Well, like quotes in literature, this can be read two ways. If you have a friend who says "the Twins keep getting hits when it matters", you have to admit they are right. If your friend assumes that means the Twins are going to win the World Series...well...probably not.

Literary Term to Impress English Majors:
Perhaps you've noticed, but while there's a lot of sunshine and silver linings and players defying expectations and "clutch hitting", I'm not entirely on board. Nor for that matter are national writers, local writers, local bloggers, and pretty much anyone who isn't immediate family to the Twins staff themselves.

I want it to be true, oh-sweet-lord-have-mercy! I want it to be true! I want Ricky Nolasco to keep the pitching going and get his arm stronger. I want Torii Hunter to keep hitting and finding his fielding form of old. I want "Clutch" to be real, and for the Twins to bottle it, and sell it to fans for a reasonable price so I can come up big when it matters most in my job. But I have enough experience with literature to know that it's not always that simple.

That's where the unreliable narrator comes in.


An unreliable narrator is someone whose story telling, just doesn't add up. There are contradictions within the action, there are obvious omissions, there are attempts to gloss over somethings that matter and over emphasize things that don't.

There's not necessarily anything malicious in an unreliable narrator. They can be solely interested in undermining the system, or making you laugh, or challenging your preconceptions. They can be tremendously entertaining and enjoyable: Forrest Gump was an unreliable narrator, so was Ted Mosby from "How I Met Your Mother".

If the Twins are telling the story of 2015 to their fans, they may be unreliable narrators. But after a tremendous May,

I'm happy to keep listening.