Jose Berrios' slight adjustments have had big payoffs, as 23-year-old thrives in Minnesota's rotation.
Stop me if you’ve heard this before.
Jose Berrios entered 2017 with his career arc somewhat in doubt. Formerly a top prospect, he’d struggled—no, he had outright failed—in his first extended look in the majors, and despite his youth and his raw stuff, even his most enthusiastic supporters were forced to admit that big changes were needed if he was going to turn himself into a valuable big-league hurler.
Minnesota's hitting and defense look ready for prime time, but the pitching remains a mess.
Monday was an off day for the Twins, and boy did they need it. As of Friday night they sat atop the American League Central, the unlikely owners of a 34-29 record following a disastrous 103-loss season. Then the second-place Indians came to town for a three-day, four-game series at Target Field and swept the Twins out of first place, thoroughly thrashing Minnesota by a 28-8 aggregate score. In less than 48 hours the Twins went from surprising division leaders to looking like merely something that the defending American League champions had to step over on their inevitable climb back to the playoffs.
Hitters like Miguel Sano, Marcell Ozuna, and Starlin Castro refuse to make things easy on pitchers.
We are, inarguably, living in the Golden Age Of Offensive Platitudes. Russell A. Carleton tossed out several of them in one recent column: “Sit fastball. Swing hard. Strikeouts don’t matter.” The Pirates say “OPS is in the air,” which is really just the Cubs’ “there’s no slug on the ground,” but stood on its head. Josh Donaldson wants you to “just say no to ground balls,” which is unimaginative but clear enough.
Modern offense comes down to launch angle and exit velocity, and to maximizing extra-base power (especially home runs) in order to make up for an unabating upshoot in strikeout rate. To be a great hitter in the modern game is nowhere near easy, but it’s fairly simple. Most teams, and many individual players, have dedicated themselves to breaking down hitting to the simplest set of basic ideas possible, so that batters can adapt to the unprecedented velocity and sheer stuff of modern pitchers as deftly as possible.
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Defensive positions need not be as they have always been.
The Angels and Twins played a four-game series over the weekend. It was a matchup of two teams with plenty in common—low preseason expectations, a good positional corps somewhat wasted by too-thin pitching, and yet surprising (if modest) early-season success. In one small and strange way, however, it was also a meeting of two teams at opposite ends of a philosophical spectrum.
With left-handed batters at the plate, the Angels’ second basemen play deeper (on average) than those of all but one other team (the Mariners). The Twins’ second basemen (we’re talking mostly about Brian Dozier here) play the shallowest against lefties.
BP is coming to Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Minnesota, and New York. Join us!
One of my favorite things about being a part of Baseball Prospectus is interacting with you, our readers. You are an extension of what we do—with a collective, driving thirst for baseball knowledge that is unparalleled on the internet. And while talking to you all either in our chats, comments section, Bat Signal, or various social media platforms is great, we like to get out there and see you in person as well. Yes, you. So each year, we schedule a number of ballpark events so we can all hang out together in the cathedrals of our collective choosing.
Keynan Middleton vs. Byron Buxton, and the camera angles that showed it.
The Angels and Twins were tied 1-1 after six innings on Thursday night. Jorge Polanco led off the top of the seventh inning with a single, knocking Angels starter (and former Twins prospect) Alex Meyer out of the game. Eddie Rosario greeted rookie reliever Keynan Middleton with a well-struck fly ball to center field, but Shane Robinson made a good read and a rolling catch, sending Polanco back to first base.
Taking stock of the Twins' young outfielder after his first 162 games in the majors.
Max Kepler was a project, albeit an expensive one. He left Germany as a 16-year-old in 2009 to sign with the Twins for $800,000, the largest bonus ever given to a European-born amateur. Back then Kepler was a lanky center fielder who oozed athleticism, raw tools, and inexperience, and for the next several years the Twins set about trying to mold him into an actual baseball player. Kepler made his pro debut in 2010 and spent three seasons in rookie-ball, upping his OPS there from .689 to .714 to .925, at which point the Twins promoted him to low Single-A for 2013.
DRA, examined through the lens of MLB's surprising ERA leader.
As you know, different pitching estimators tend to agree on which pitchers are good and which ones are not. The interesting cases are when they disagree—strongly. In those situations, the proper response is not to decide which one is “correct” (to the extent there is such a thing), but rather to look at why they disagree.
On a related note, people have recently asked for us to do more explaining of how Deserved Run Average (DRA) works. Often, it’s easiest to do that with an example.
Today, our example is Twins right-hander Ervin Santana. Santana has a 1.80 ERA, a 1.80 RA9, a 4.00 FIP, and a cFIP of 102, but a DRA of 2.74. He is striking out 6.4 batters per nine innings, walking 3.5 batters per nine innings, and giving up just under one single home run per nine innings.
ERA and RA9 suggest an extraordinary pitcher; FIP and cFIP see an average pitcher, and DRA sees him somewhere in between, as a very good, but not-as-good-as-his-RA9 pitcher. Why the difference in opinion?
FIP and cFIP, as you know, look only at home runs, strikeouts, hit batsmen, and walks. Santana gives up a below-average number of home runs, generates fewer strikeouts than average, and gives up a tad more walks than average. Home runs count for more than the other aspects, so he comes out as an average-ish pitcher overall.
DRA sees a more interesting profile. Santana has a left-on-base percentage of 91 percent and a batting average on balls in play of .136. If you look at Santana’s player card, you’ll see that he has played in hitter-friendly stadiums (pitcher park factor, or PPF, of 107), faced roughly average opponents (oppTAv of .258), and most importantly of all, has held batters to a True Average of .173. Since the league TAv is .260, this is an incredible amount of damage control on contact.
Teams have smartened up about sacrifice bunts, but every once in a while managers just can't help themselves.
We don’t really do this kind of thing very much anymore. Saber-slanted baseball writing used to consist largely of criticizing poor strategic choices made by teams, either within games or over the course of a season. We won that war, though. Teams are so much smarter these days that kvetching about a bad sacrifice bunt or intentional walk here or there feels a bit like hosting a Memorial Celebrity Rabies Awareness Pro-Am Fun Run Race for the Cure.
Here’s the thing: it is good to be reminded, now and then, that rabies is still out there. If you pretend the disease has been permanently eliminated, or that it doesn’t pose a real public danger, you end up with anti-vaxxer movements among people who call themselves “dog parents." With that in mind, I want to talk about two bunts laid down last Tuesday night, why they were misguided, and why it matters.
Hicks struggled over four seasons with the Twins and Yankees, but he's one of the best hitters in the majors so far in 2017.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Aaron Hicks leaned forward at his locker and asked teammate Didi Gregorius about his tweeting. He wanted to know about the 140-characters-or-less game summaries Gregorius has been posting on Twitter after Yankees victories. Instead of using Hicks’ name, Gregorius has been using a certain emoji.
“Hey, Didi,” Hicks said. “Who am I supposed to be?”
Gregorius, sitting nearby at a card table, laughed and put a look of pretend surprise on his face.
“Who are you supposed to be?” Gregorius asked, still pretending. “I mean, you’re Aaron Hicks!”
Hicks wasn’t letting him off the hook: “What’s my emoji?”