If you’re a long-time reader, a follower on Twitter, or otherwise know me in any substantial way, this won’t be news, but in case none of that is true, here’s the piece of information you most need in order to understand this article: My eldest son, Emerson, died on March 28th. We held his funeral and buried him a week later, on Opening Day.
I don’t tell you this so that you’ll feel sorry for me. Nothing in this broken world is perfect, not even the tragedy of my son’s death. He was diagnosed with hypoplastic left heart syndrome (HLHS) when my wife was 20 weeks pregnant. Somewhere just past 30 weeks, we also found out that he had at least some hydrocephalus—fluid buildup in his brain, the extent and clinical impact of which would be impossible to know for a while. He had open-heart surgeries when he was four days old and five months old, and a kidney surgery tucked neatly in between. We found out when he was a little over a month old (from doctors conferring during rounds, not knowing we were able to hear them) that there was only a 50 percent chance of Emerson surviving that first surgery and the period immediately afterward. He needed a tracheostomy tube and ventilator support for two years, had the trach for another six months. He never ate, except via feeding tube and pump, directly to his stomach. He never learned to walk or talk. He needed glasses and hearing aids. At two and a half, he was finally diagnosed with Kabuki Syndrome, a genetic disorder that affects multiple systems within the body, and which finally helped his doctors paint a complete picture of his myriad issues.
The Braves and the Twins slouch toward the first overall pick, while Jaime Garcia almost pulls a Velasquez.
The Thursday Takeaway
It’s early, we say. Indeed it is. For the Braves and Twins, the season is but nine games old. Yet they have been a very long nine games for both teams; a fruitless and unforgiving nine games. All 18 games have ended in losses. The two teams both lost on Thursday.
Does "three contributing rookies" correlate more closely to "rebuilding team" or "really good team"?
Flying cars, beaches in Kentucky, and Lucas Giolito—the future is going to be awesome. At the same time, we have no idea exactly how things will turn out. Still, armchair prognosticators and analyst-experts alike do our best. As such, the Baseball Prospectus staff published predictions for the 2016 season. As was noted by readers—and discussed briefly on Effectively Wild—the Twins have two interesting facets to their seasonal predictions. First, the top three predicted finishers in the American League Rookie of the Year voting are all members of the Twins: Byron Buxton, Jose Berrios, and Byung-Ho Park. Second, the Twins are projected to win just 78 games by PECOTA, but the staff predicts that they’ll come in fifth in the American League Central.
The best question here is this: Could the Twins be both a team with the three best rookies in the American League and also be a last-place team? There’s only one way to find out. (Just kidding, there are probably three.) But here’s one way: We can go back and look at previous years’ Rookie of the Year voting, examine the other teams that have had multiple ROY candidates, and see how they've fared.
I’m not looking for anything so strong as running the table for all three top spots in the Rookie of the Year voting. (Spoiler alert, that hasn’t happened in the past 30 years.) All I want is to find two or more rookies who received 5 percent of the vote. As such, I looked at the past 30 seasons—going back to the 1986 campaign. In the end, I found 15 teams in the past 30 seasons who fielded two players (or more) who earned 5 percent or more of the Rookie of the Year votes.
A closer battle in Philadelphia, urination in Queens, and another year of Ricky Nolasco clogging up your Probable Starters options.
Ricky Nolasco takes Twins fifth-starter role
That one of the largest free agent contracts in Twins history belongs to none other than Ricky Nolasco can be used as a stand-in for several larger points. It can be an example of how extreme the market for free agent pitching has become; it can be ammunition for fans frustrated with the front office; it can be a cautionary tale about the volatility of middle-of-the-rotation pitching. And in addition to representing all of the above, Nolasco and his contract can now represent something else—the Twins’ fifth starter.
Is Byron Buxton's defense as valuable as PECOTA says?
It happened on June 10, 2013.
Byron Buxton, playing center field for the Low-A Cedar Rapids Kernels, took a stride to his right, then, realizing the ball was ticketed for the gap in left-center, raced some 85 feet back—I measured—to meet the ball before it completed its descent, diving headlong on the warning track to snare it.
No, really: The Twins pitch to contact. (Still. For now.)
The Twins’ penchant for pitching to contact is one of the most consistent organizational philosophies (and by now, one of the most tired tropes) in baseball. For the last five years, the Twins have had the lowest team strikeout rate in the American League, every year. The league’s aggregate strikeout rate has shot up over that span. Strikeout accumulation has become the top run-prevention priority of every organization, as teams have come to understand that there’s no more reliable way to slow an opposing offense than missing a lot of bats. The Twins, though, keep plodding along at the bottom of the league.
It would be unfair to pretend that the team hasn’t noticed this league-wide trend, or that they’re actively resisting it. Indeed, a great 2013 piece by Ben Lindbergh here at BP provides some strong evidence that 2011 is roughly the exact moment at which the Twins began committing to the strikeout, just like everyone else. Here’s the problem: That commitment manifested itself only in the pitchers they sought out as prospects. In trades and in the Draft, the team has started seeking out young power pitchers, guys who throw hard and miss bats.
Using PECOTA + context to handicap this year's MVP, Cy Young and Rookie of the Year races.
February is too early to try to predict major baseball awards. Hell, August is often too early to try to predict major baseball awards. Nevertheless, in celebration of the release of PECOTA, I’m here to take my hack at things. Though I’ve never been an especially successful prognosticator in the past, I find the old cliché to be true: “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again (using better data).”
We can use PECOTA’s advice to help project a player’s upcoming performance, and while most people gravitate towards the WARP totals and the slash lines, those aren’t the only tools in the toolbox. We can use the percentile projections to see what the system figures the high end or low end of a player’s performance range might be. We can use the Breakout/Improve/Collapse/Attrition percentages to gauge the ways in which performance might shift from history. And we can look at component and peripheral pieces, filtering out the items we think might be most or least variable, and adjust our assessments accordingly.
With a little back-of-the-napkin work, we can also attempt to add the appropriate context to the data PECOTA provides. If MVP or Cy Young voting was a WARP sorting exercise, it’d be painfully simple to predict. Fortunately, it’s neither the sorting exercise or simple to predict. Contextual factors such as how the player displays their value in attention-grabbing ways (shout out to homers and strikeouts) and how a player’s team performs make it just a bit more difficult to choose an award winner based on numbers alone.
What Kyle Gibson does that is almost, but not quite, unique.
Kyle Gibson had Tommy John surgery on September 7, 2011. The Twins won that day, but they had lost the five games prior to that one, and they would lose the next 11, as they hurtled toward a 63-99 car wreck of a finish. It didn’t much matter, since Gibson wasn’t quite on the doorstep of the majors when he went under the knife, but it would turn out to be bad timing. See, Gibson was back on the mound in miraculously little time, making seven rehab appearances for the Twins’ Gulf Coast League club in July 2012. By the end of that month, though, the Twins were far from contention again, and they traded the expiring contract of Francisco Liriano to the White Sox. Gibson debuted in Minnesota on another losing team a year later, but the ships had passed in the night. Improbably, the Twins developed two pitchers with the same radical, nearly unique approach to their craft within just a couple years of each other, but the pair never shared a starting rotation.
The circumstances change, but the Twins never do. Is that their problem?
Three previously rebuilding teams had good seasons in 2015. The Cubs and Astros were each the second-best team in their league according to third-order winning percentage, and the Twins, despite the AL’s second-worst third-order record, won 83 games and stayed in the Wild Card hunt until late September. It was Houston’s first winning season since 2007, Chicago’s first since 2009, and Minnesota’s first since 2010. All three have positioned themselves as contenders in 2016, to varying degrees, and each is eager to tell you how great it is to be done with the hard endeavor of trading so many todays for a better tomorrow.
The most unpredictable division in baseball is particularly unpredictable this offseason. Breaking down how each team might (?) see itself.
If you set out to list the five most surprising and the five most disappointing teams of 2015, there’s a good chance you would name at least four of the five American League Central clubs along the way. The Royals, you know about, but don’t forget the Twins, whom Sports Illustrated foresaw losing 100 games, but who were eliminated from the playoffs only on the final Saturday of the season. The same publication also picked the Indians to win the World Series, but Cleveland went 81-80. Personally, I picked the White Sox to win the division on the heels of their aggressive winter—but Chicago won 76 games. And PECOTA’s pick to cruise into October was Detroit, but the Tigers’ competitive window closed a year early, and they went 74-87.
I mention this because, if confounding expectations was the theme of the 2015 season in the AL Central, utter inscrutability might just be the theme of the winter there. I wouldn’t know where to begin forecasting next season’s standings in that division, and the major reason for that is that it’s virtually impossible to tell what any of the five teams are going to do with their offseasons. In most of the other divisions, there are clear favorites or co-favorites, and the objectives of at least three or four teams are very clear. Not in the AL Central. Let’s examine these teams one at a time.