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.

6.08.2015

Adopt a Prospect 3.3: Interest Spike

Once a month we check in on our adopted prospect, JT Chargois, bring him soup, pat him on the back, whisper sweet nothings about his rapidly improving performances to Terry Ryan in the hopes that he becomes a pitcher ready to make meaningful contributions to the Twins in the near future.

When last we checked in on JT Chargois he was starting the long road back to pitching domination.

That road got a little shorter in the interim.


Chargois was promoted to Chattanooga on May 26th. To be sure the literal road from Chattanooga to the Twin Cities is shorter than the one from Fort Myers (about 700 miles shorter), but it's also metaphorically shorter (what with the higher level of competition and all), and even setting that aside a promotion this quickly into the season, a promotion back up to the level that many of his peers are already at, speaks to just how close Chargois is to getting his game back where he wants it to be (he's now half-a-year younger than his competitors rather than nearly a full year older).

He ran off a month worth of outings without allowing an earned run. He boosted his strike out records (due, we have no doubt, to particularly spiky curve ball). And he doubled his save tally as he became more and more comfortable with high leverage and late innings.


So is it fair to say that interest in JT "Spike" Chargois is..."spiking"?

Yes...but a better question is: what will Chargois do now that interest has?

After all, anyone can get an interest spike. (Hell, random lurkers make my page look popular on utterly random days.) But the better consideration is what I should do with those new eyeballs. How I can keep their attention and remain memorable.

Spikes are great on lots of things: punk-rock-jewelry, stegosaurii, Curveballs of Doom, but on interest graphs...they're aberrations, nothing more, nothing less.

So, what next for Chargois? Well...he started off in Chattanooga with a rocky outing, loading the bases on three singles, and though he didn't cede a run, it was more base runners than he'd allowed since the ugliness of April 13th (the last time he gave up an earned run). And like that unfortunate outing, he's been better but not amazing in his two outings since. He'll have a hard time cracking through the supremely talented relief corps in Chattanooga, but other pitchers will see interest spike, other outings will show his gifts.

We call Chargois "spike" for his talent, his pitch and (ideally) his demeanor, not for mere flashes of greatness. We trust there will be a long and positive Chattanooga season ahead of him, even though the fun of Ft. Meyers is firmly in his rearview mirror.

5.19.2015

Cereal and Statistics

I tend to spend my mornings with four things: a bowl of cereal, a cup of tea at hand, my MLB At Bat app and a folded over copy of The Economist magazine.


As I gorge on both carbs and information, I'm happy to know that the Twins have room to grow and that seemingly every night someone out does themselves (even if someone else does worse). But I'm also happy to balance the Twins in one corner of my mind and world events (like Greek debt defaults and Indian corruption trials) are squarely in another.

So it's a little startling when those two worlds actually do collide.

At the start of this month The Economist published an article entitled "Every step they take" about the ease with which advanced statistics have permeated the sports world, in particular the plethora of statistics that the MLB Network can show on an average broadcast. From pitch speed and curvature to fielder reactions, speed and routes.

None of what they covered will be terribly groundbreaking to the most hardcore of Twins fans. The folks who analyze the team and read amateur blogs know about such statistics already, there's little that I (or a bunch of International foreign affairs nerds) can add to it.


Not the cover of this article,
but appropriate.
But what I can say is that when the world of statistical analysis collides with the world of my breakfast table, we've crossed a threshold. This isn't references to Moneyball or "advanced statistics" that make oblique allusions to the wider world of baseball knowledge. This is detail. This is substance. This is specific and detailed analysis smack dab in the middle of mainstream media.

The Twins may be using more advanced metrics under Paul Molitor, they may not. Terry Ryan may have turned a corner in his evaluation systems, he may not. But when statistical analysis is offered openly to students in Sri Lanka and professors in Peru and bureaucrats in Burundi and shopkeepers in Slovakia, then you are past the "wait and see" stage. You're past the "consider all aspects" phase. Statistical analysis isn't advanced knowledge, it's mainstream, and if evaluations and judgement aren't made on those metrics...well...

Put it this way,  I'd like the front office of my favorite baseball team to be as well informed about recent advances in baseball statistics as people half-way around the world who've never seen a game, but who love to read.

I hope they are, I hope Ryan and Molitor talk about such topics, I hope I'm underestimating them. And if not...they can always come over to my house for breakfast.

5.10.2015

Adopt-a-Prospect: A Long Road

J.T. ChargoisWhen last we checked in on JT Chargois he was starting a long and vital season on his road to recovery and professional debut. Working back from injury is never easy, as Chargois found out to his detriment on his second outing.

After 23 pitches against the Tampa Yankees on April 13th, Chargois had retired one batter, acquired a 27.00 ERA, and faced his first major set back in his comeback.

Conveniently though, a comeback doesn't begin and end with a single appearance, nor does a season, nor does someone's status as a prospect.

That's one of the problems with tracking prospects as carefully and chronicling their ups and downs. The peaks feel monumental and the valleys feel canyon-esque. We get so excited by a strong week that we demand a call up, and so disappointed by a poor showing that we may fear the worst.

But it's a long road to the majors, and an even longer road back from injury. That's what we see in JT Chargois.

Since his lousy April 13th, Chargois has made 9 appearances, each for a single inning, and bit by bit he's dropped his ERA, dropped his WHIP, and boosted his strike outs. He hasn't allowed an earned run, he's yielded 8 base runners and notched 10 strike outs, he's become a valuable cog in the Fort Myers bullpen, and begun to establish a bit of reliable form.

There's more to come, obviously. More success and more challenges. There will be other outings as abysmal as the one in Tampa, and many more innocuous ones besides. But above all else, there will be more. And as he returns form injury that's enough to be getting on with.