Archive for Twins

Brandon Kintzler on Injuries, Respect, and a Bowling-Ball Sinker

Brandon Kintzler doesn’t fit your standard closer profile. The 32-year-old righty isn’t a power pitcher, at least not in terms of missing bats. He averaged just 5.8 strikeouts per nine innings last year while earning 17 saves with the Minnesota Twins. Featuring a sinker that he threw 82% of the time, at an average velocity of 92 mph, he had a 61.9% ground-ball rate and 3.15 ERA.

And then there’s his background. A 40th-round pick by the San Diego Padres in 2004, Kintzler was pitching in an independent league three years later — and not particularly well. The Brewers nonetheless gave him a chance, and he rewarded them by beating the odds and making it to the big leagues. After solid seasons as a setup man in 2013 and 2014, things once again went south. Following an injury-ravaged 2015 that saw him throw just seven innings, Milwaukee cut him loose. The Twins signed him prior to last season.

Kintzler is well acquainted with operating rooms. Since entering pro ball out of Dixie State College, he’s undergone repairs to his shoulder, elbow, and left knee. All have had major impacts on a career that has seen him go from non-prospect to arguably the least-respected closer in the game.

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Kintzler on his sinker-heavy approach: “I think everyone has different stuff. We all have different deception. We all have different… everyone talks about spin rate. I just think everyone is different. What I do works for me. I found out that what makes me successful is attacking with my fastball and forcing action. Could I try to strike out more people? Probably. But that means too many pitches, and I want to throw every day.

“The slider was my pitch coming up through the minor leagues. Read the rest of this entry »


Do the Twins Already Have a Budding Ace?

Though it started with a strikeout and a ground out, the World Baseball Classic appearance by Jose Berrios Wednesday didn’t end well. He allowed a single to the scuffling Nolan Arenado, then hit Eric Hosmer and walked Andrew McCutchen before he was replaced. In essence, the outing encapsulated the ups and downs of Jose Berrios as a pitcher: tantalizing stuff, near-fatal flaws. If you focus on the former, though, maybe the latter is just an adjustment away from being a faded memory.

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Spring-Training Divisional Outlook: American League Central

Previous editions: AL East / NL East.

Opening Day is just over the horizon, though we have to navigate the remainder of the World Baseball Classic and the entirety of March Madness first. In the meantime, let’s continue our look at the upcoming season, with the third of our six divisional previews.

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Miguel Sano, Defensive Superstar

I’m going to be up front with you: that headline is seriously misleading. Based on what we can tell, Miguel Sano is probably not a good defensive player. Last year, though, to try and get the club’s offense going, the Twins decided to try Miguel Sano in right field. Regret kicked in pretty quickly.

He played right field most days for the first couple of months of the season, until a strained hamstring put him on the disabled list for the entire month of June. During the month that the team didn’t have to watch Sano chase balls around the outfield, they decided that they didn’t really want to see that ever again. When he returned to the team at the beginning of July, he was promptly moved back to third base. He split his time between there and DH over the rest of the year.

As a pretty large human being, Sano certainly doesn’t look like an outfielder, and while we only saw him out there for a little over 300 innings, the early returns weren’t particularly positive.

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The Top Prospect Who Technically Isn’t

Byron Buxton was drafted second overall in 2012. Between that point and the loss of his rookie eligibility last season, he was eligible for four rounds of preseason prospect lists. Almost universally, he appeared at or near the top of those lists. Consider, for example, his place among the rankings published annually by Baseball Prospectus during that time frame:

Barring injury, the 2017 season is going to be the 23-year-old Buxton’s first full one in the majors. Under traditional circumstances, there would be a round-the-clock coverage of this budding superstar’s march to the top of every relevant leaderboard. Yet we find ourselves in non-traditional circumstances for a couple of important reasons.

To refresh your memory: in the summer of 2013 — Buxton’s first full season as a professional — we were only a year-plus into the Mike Trout experience and we were decidedly not taking it in stride. J.J. Cooper, writing for Baseball America, stoked the fire of comparisons between Trout and Buxton. As baseball fans are wont to do, the crowd took Cooper’s consideration of the subject to another level, and the layman’s impression of Buxton went from “really good outfield prospect” to “might be another Trout.” Buxton built his own hype in 2013, racking up a .944 OPS across multiple levels. In his first full year out of high school, Buxton’s numbers were great and people were giving reports to prospect writers suggesting he was truly elite.

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What Teams Are Stuck In Between?

To preview MLB spring training, Tyler Kepner examined the competitive “window” status — that is, the realistic possibility for contention — of all 30 major-league clubs earlier this month for the New York Times. Kepner employed four logical window designations: closed, open, closing and opening.

I think reasonable people can mostly agree that the Cubs’ window of contention is open, and the White Sox’ window is closed. The Royals’ is perhaps closing, and the Braves’ is opening (if not in 2017, then soon). While we will not agree on every status, it’s an interesting exercise.

Windows of contention are an interesting concept, particularly in an era of two Wild Cards in each league. How do teams balance the future and present? How do clubs play a so-so hand knowing the unpredictability of the game? Few teams are able to sustain long windows of contention. The Braves of the 1990s and early 2000s and the Cardinals of the 21st century have done it as well as any team in the in the Wild Card era.

It’s also easier to operate if you suspect your window is either completely open or closed. If you’re the Cubs and Indians last deadline, you’re willing to trade significant young assets for impact relief help. If you suspect your window is closed, like the White Sox, you’re willing to deal assets like Chris Sale and Adam Eaton. There’s a clarity in decision-making, in creating a strategy and plan to implement.

Said Texas Rangers GM Jon Daniels to FanGraphs’ David Laurila on charting a course:

“Something our management team has talked about a lot is the mistake we made our first year here, in 2006. We were caught in the middle. We convinced ourselves that if A, B, and C went right, we had a chance to win, and I think you can make the case that, for any team, it’s not a sustainable strategy.”

Being caught in the middle is the most difficult position for a club. Consider, for instance, a team with some relatively young stars at the major-league level. The front office thought this core of players would form the foundation of a contending team, but it’s not surrounded with the requisite depth, prospects or resources to realistically contend and sustain. The White Sox entered the season in that position. In the meantime, they’ve chosen a course. The Angels, Diamondbacks, Marlins, and Twins could all face difficult decisions in choosing paths in the not-too-distant future.

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Is Brian Dozier’s Power Repeatable?

When the offseason began, a Brian Dozier trade looked inevitable. The Twins’ second baseman was one of the majors’ most productive players last season, offering elite power, good baserunning, solid plate discipline and steady second-base defense. That all-around skill set would cost just $15 million over the next two years. So as spring training begins, why is Dozier still preparing to play for a rebuilding Twins club?

Both a steep asking price and an abundance of good second basemen hindered a deal. But these reasons may not fully explain why Dozier is still bound for Fort Myers this month. After all, negotiations often begin with high asking prices before parties find a middle ground. Plus, even though the keystone is now a good offensive position, many teams would net an upgrade by acquiring Dozier. Perhaps there was more at play — namely, doubt in the minds of club executives that the pull– and fly-ball-prone Dozier could repeat his first-rate power-hitting. Consider what Bill James said about Dozier on the second-base edition of MLB Network’s “Top 10 Right Now” series:

“You guys are too high on Dozier. A lot of those home runs are 360-footers that just skim over the wall. I don’t buy that.”

As data from ESPN’s Home Run Tracker affirms, Dozier’s home runs are often unimpressive.

Quality of Dozier’s 2016 Home Runs
Tracker Stat Dozier’s Average Percentile, Hitters 10+ HR Percentile, Hitters 30+ HR
True distance (feet) 396.7 33rd 10th
Exit velocity (mph) 103.5 43rd 16th
Spray angle 28° 20th 10th
All percentiles are based on 2015–16 player-seasons.
Spray angle is calculated as degrees away from the pull-side foul line for both RHB and LHB.

By true distance, exit velocity, and spray angle, Dozier’s dingers often traveled shorter and at a lower velocity than his peers’ blasts, all while keeping closer to the pull-side foul line. When compared only to his power-hitting brethren — those with 30-homer campaigns — Dozier slips under the 17th percentile mark in every stat. Do the pedestrian home-run metrics hint at a coming power outage?

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Who Could Drop Their Arm Slot for More Success?

Yesterday, we identified Jeremy Jeffress as a pitcher who benefited greatly from dropping his arm slot, adding more sink and fade to his two-seamer. The idea was that his four-seamer was straight and possessed below-average spin, so moving from that pitch to a sinker, while dropping the slot, gave him a better foundational fastball. There’s a roadmap there. Let’s follow it.

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Job Posting: Minnesota Twins Advance Scouting Internship

Position: Minnesota Twins Advance Scouting Internship

Location: Minneapolis
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The Twins Quit on Byung-ho Park

On Wednesday, Travis Sawchik wrote about why there are still reasons for optimism surrounding Byung-ho Park, despite a rough first year in the major leagues. The piece was titled “Don’t Quit on Byung-ho Park”, but two days later, the Twins have done exactly that, designating him for assignment in order to clear a roster spot for Matt Belisle.

This is a bit of a surprising decision because, a year ago, the Twins paid a $13 million posting fee to acquire Park’s rights. But that was a different front office with different evaluators, and the new management team in Minnesota apparently decided that Park wasn’t worth keeping on the 40-man roster, so they’ll either trade him or expose him to waivers, where any team who wants to take a shot on the bounce back would be on the hook for the roughly $9 million in guaranteed money he has coming over the next three years.

Given they minimal salary commitment, I can’t imagine Park is actually going to clear waivers. $3 million per year is nothing in this day and age, and with a multi-year deal, there’s some upside with Park that doesn’t exist if you sign, say, Chris Carter, to a one year contract. And as Sawchik noted in his piece, anyone who was thinking about signing Carter to a cut-rate deal should probably be interested in Park too.

Borrowing a couple of tables from Sawchik’s piece.

Barreled Balls
Rank Player Batted balls tracked Barrels/Batted ball %
1 Gary Sanchez 128 18.8
2 Byung-ho Park 123 18.7
3 Khris Davis 357 18.2
4 Nelson Cruz 381 17.8
5 Chris Carter 315 17.8
6 Mark Trumbo 386 17.4
7 Tommy Pham 81 17.3
8 Giancarlo Stanton 248 17.3
9 Chris Davis 313 16.9
10 Miguel Cabrera 437 16.5
SOURCE: Statcast via Baseball Savant
Min. 75 batted-ball events in 2016

And this one.

Avg. Exit Velocity of Fly Balls and Line Drives
Rank Player Batted balls Avg. FB/LD exit velo (mph)
1 Nelson Cruz 381 99.2
2 Tommy Pham 81 98.9
3 Pedro Alvarez 208 98.7
4 Franklin Gutierrez 148 98.2
5 Khris Davis 357 98.0
6 Gary Sanchez 128 97.8
7 Josh Donaldson 408 97.8
8 Giancarlo Stanton 248 97.4
9 David Ortiz 393 97.3
10 Byung-ho Park 123 97.2
SOURCE: Statcast via Baseball Savant
Min. 75 batted-ball events in 2016

Like Carter, Park hits the crap out of the baseball when he makes contact. And, like Carter, he doesn’t make enough contact. But if you’re okay with the swing-for-the-fences-and-whiff-a-lot approach, well, Park actually made more contact than Carter did last year.

Carter and Park, Plate Discipline Stats
Name PA O-Swing% Z-Swing% Swing% O-Contact% Z-Contact% Contact% Zone%
Chris Carter 644 25% 67% 44% 38% 77% 65% 45%
Byung-ho Park 244 27% 67% 46% 44% 77% 67% 47%

Of course, having a lot of similarities to a free agent who can’t find a home isn’t really an argument in favor of Park having a lot of value. Perhaps the Twins decided to DFA Park in part because of the league’s reticence to signing Carter, thinking that perhaps with Carter still willing to sign a one year contract, that maybe Park will slip through waivers. Or, more interestingly, maybe they DFA’d Park because they want to sign Carter themselves; that would be a fun twist to this story.

Of course, that’s pretty unlikely. The reality is that, while Park remains interesting on his own merits, there might not have been much playing time for him in Minnesota. With Joe Mauer and Kennys Vargas ahead of him on the 1B/DH depth chart, Park was probably ticketed for a platoon role, and maybe even a limited platoon role given that Vargas is a switch-hitter who hits lefties better than righties, so Park was only likely to play when Mauer wasn’t in the line-up. Neither Mauer nor Vargas are great players, but Mauer has some franchise icon appeal, and Vargas is both probably better and definitely younger, so giving him the bulk of the DH time is likely a better long-term investment.

Park probably fits better on a team that doesn’t already have a Kennys Vargas to DH, or a local hero making $23 million a year at first base. The power makes him worth another shot, and given the state of several teams 1B/DH positions, I’m pretty sure the Twins will find someone to take the rest of Park’s contract off their hands.

For instance, the Rangers seem to want to give Joey Gallo more time in Triple-A this year, but if they send him back to the minors, they would be penciled in to start Ryan Rua and Jurickson Profar as their 1B and DH options. Sure, everyone still expects them to sign Mike Napoli to play one of those two spots, but Park would still be an upgrade over Rua/Profar at the other position, and give them a cheap source of power while they figure out what Gallo might be.

Alternately, the A’s might also be interested, given that they were hunting for right-handed DHs earlier this winter, and currently have some combination of Yonder Alonso and Ryon Healy at their 1B/DH spots. In a year that is unlikely to result in a playoff berth, taking a shot on Park’s power is probably worth some playing time. Or, if we’re looking for a rebuilding team who needs a DH, the White Sox currently project to have Matt Davidson as their starting DH, and Steamer is forecasting him for a 73 wRC+ and -1 WAR. I would imagine the Twins would rather not trade Park to the White Sox, but if it comes down to waivers, there’s no way Chicago should let him get past them.

Park’s upside is probably something like an average player, so he’s worth the $9 million gamble to see if he can make enough contact to hold down a roster spot. For $9 million with a potential three year payout, there’s just not much risk here, and enough upside for another team to take a low-risk flyer on a guy with serious power. One could reasonably argue that the Twins should have kept him around and hoped to find enough playing time to be the team that got some value out of a potential improvement, but since they just had to have Matt Belisle pitching the seventh inning in a non-contention year, some other franchise will now get to make a bet on Park’s cheap upside.


Don’t Quit on Byung Ho Park

Many of the relatively well known — and relatively expensive — imported bats from foreign pro leagues have adapted quickly and proficiently to major-league pitching in recent years.

We’re familiar with what Yoenis Cespedes and Jose Abreu have accomplished. Jung Ho Kang, when he’s on the field, has silenced questions about his ability to hit velocity. Dae-Ho Lee arrived with more modest expectations but was still a league-average bat (102 wRC+) last year in his first year in the majors, and Hyun Soo Kim posted a .382 on-base mark and 119 wRC+ in his first season in transitioning from the KBO to the majors.

Which brings us to Byung-ho Park. Park came advertised with 80-grade power, according to some evalutors, and he demonstrated last year that the power was very, very real.

Of course, Park didn’t display that power very often, because he didn’t make contact often enough.

Park struck out a lot.

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Do All the Free-Agent Sluggers Have a Home?

It’s true that, if you look at the free agents who remain unsigned this offseason, you’ll find a lot of power still available. Franklin Gutierrez, Mike Napoli, Mark Trumbo: all three produced an isolated-slugging figure greater than .200 last season. All three are projected by Steamer to produce better than a .195 ISO in 2017. All three have yet to find a team for the 2017 season.

Given the general demand for power, you might wonder why so many of these sluggers don’t have jobs yet. A look both at the supply and the demand in the league reveals a possible cause, however: handedness. There might be an obstacle, in other words, to matching those free agents with the right teams.

To illustrate my point, let me utilize the depth charts at RosterResource. What’s nice about RosterResource, for the purposes of this experiment, is that the site presents both a “go-to” starting lineup and also a projected bench. Here’s a link to the Cubs page to give you a sense of what I mean.

In most cases, a team will roster four non-catcher bench players. Looking over the current depth charts, however, I find 15 teams with only three non-catcher bench players on the depth chart (not to mention five additional bench players who are projected to record less than 0 WAR). For the purpose of this piece, let’s refer to these as “open positions.”

Fifteen! That’s a lot. It means we’re likely to see quite a few signings before the season begins. Of course, not all these openings are appropriate for the power bats remaining on the market. Most of those guys are corner types, if they can play the field at all, while some of those 15 clubs have needs at positions that require greater defensive skill.

For example, Anaheim might need an infielder or a third baseman for their open bench spot. The White Sox need a right-handed center fielder to platoon with lefty Charlie Tilson. Detroit needs a center fielder, maybe a right-handed one — and in the process of writing this piece, they got one in the form of the newly acquired Mike Mahtook maybe. If Mel Rojas Jr. can’t play center in Atlanta, they need a (right-handed?) center fielder, too. The Yankees may need a third baseman — and, if not that, definitely someone with some defensive ability on the infield.

So that reduces the number of open positions to 10. That’s 10 slots that could be filled by an offensive piece with little defensive value. Here are the teams that, by my estimation, have an opening for a slugger: Baltimore, Boston, Chicago (NL), Cleveland, Kansas City, Minnesota, Oakland, Seattle, Tampa, Texas, and Toronto.

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Could Scouting Use a Pivot to the Pacific?

The signing of Eric Thames and the projections subsequently produced for him represent two of the more interesting, if lower-profile, developments of the offseason. Since Thames took his quick left-handed swing across the Pacific, he’s become one of the top sluggers in the hitter-friendly Korea Baseball Organization.

If you have 30 free minutes you can watch all 47 of his 2015 home runs thanks to YouTube:

Despite having already played in the majors, Thames is something of a mystery, a curiosity, in transitioning from a foreign professional league. If the projections are accurate, however – and his Davenport translations are pretty close to other, former international unknowns like Jose Abreu, Yoenis Cespedes and Jung Ho Kang – then the Brewers have themselves a steal.

In the cases both of Cespedes and Kang, who played in foreign leagues that draw fewer scouts, analytics played a considerable role in the decision to sign them. Analytics and projections also played a significant part in the Thames signing, as Brewers GM David Stearns told David Laurila in the latter’s Sunday notes this weekend.

Kang was the first KBO hitter to make the jump directly to the majors. There were no direct comparisons. But plenty of South Korean stars had played in the Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball Organization, so the Pirates looked at their production in Japan and then studied the more sizable sample of NPB position players who have played in the majors.

Back in 2013, the A’s were also creative in projecting Cespedes, then a trailblazing Cuban defector, as detailed by Ben Reiter in Sports Illustrated.

“[Farhan] Zaidi built a model that analyzed not just the grades the scouts had given to Cespedes on the usual eight-point scale, but also the scouts themselves. Say three guys have a six power on him, three guys have seven power on him. What kind of minor leaguers or major leaguers do those guys have those grades on?”

The A’s did not miss a chance to scout Cespedes when access was available. The Pirates did send scouts over to evaluate Kang in addition to video analysis (though Kang’s off-the-field issues were apparently not discovered). Still, recent success stories of players signed from foreign pro leagues are analytics-heavy because they’ve had to be. There are few scouting resources committed to South Korea and Japan. Cuba has been difficult to scout due to political reasons.

But what are MLB clubs missing at the professional and amateur levels by not having more of a scouting presence in places like South Korea? And why are such areas not heavily staffed?

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2017 ZiPS Projections – Minnesota Twins

After having typically appeared in the very famous pages of Baseball Think Factory, Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS projections have been released at FanGraphs the past few years. The exercise continues this offseason. Below are the projections for the Minnesota Twins. Szymborski can be found at ESPN and on Twitter at @DSzymborski.

Other Projections: Arizona / Atlanta / Boston / Chicago AL / Chicago NL / Cleveland / Detroit / Houston / Kansas City / Los Angeles AL / New York AL / San Diego / San Francisco / Seattle / Tampa Bay / Toronto / Washington.

Batters
If you were to travel back to the winter of 2013-14 and inform the earlier version of yourself that, in just three years time, Joe Mauer (532 PA, 0.9 zWAR) would receive the worst projected WAR among all Twins starters, the young iteration of you would slap the older one right in the mouth. After that, he’d have some pretty understandable questions about how your journey to the recent past has been made possible and why you’ve chosen to make it. In that intial moment, however, the absurdity of your comments regarding Joe Mauer would overcome him.

On the one hand, this is a negative development for Minnesota. For the past couple years, they’ve typically run payrolls of about $100 million. Allocating nearly a quarter of that to a single win isn’t helpful.

On the other hand, this represents a very positive development for Minnesota — because Mauer’s projection isn’t that bad. Rather, a number of the other projections are just better. For the past couple years, the Twins have lacked an adequate supply of competent hitters and fielders. Regard: last season, their position players ranked 25th by WAR. The season before that? 27th. What the ZiPS numbers here depict is something much more like an average group — with serviceable depth, too.

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The Twins Should Take Jose De Leon While They Can

The Dodgers want Brian Dozier, the Twins terrific second baseman. The Twins, rightfully so, want a lot for an excellent player due just $15 million in total over the next two seasons. Based on public reports, the two sides have agreed that young RHP Jose De Leon would go to Minnesota if a deal gets done, with the current stalemate surrounding what else the Dodgers would have to add to De Leon to get the Twins to make the swap. But while the Twins should obviously extract as much as they can from Andrew Friedman, they’d probably also be wise to not pass up the opportunity to acquire De Leon, since this might be their last chance to get him for a while.

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Falvey and Levine: New Leadership in Minnesota

The Minnesota Twins have a different, and far more analytical, front office than in years past. Following the World Series, the AL Central club formally introduced Derek Falvey as executive vice president, chief baseball officer, and Thad Levine as senior vice president, general manager. Falvey, who has an economics degree from Trinity College, had been an assistant GM with the Cleveland Indians. Levine, who earned an MBA at UCLA, was an assistant GM with the Texas Rangers.

The new leadership team stressed collaboration when I talked to them during the Baseball Winter Meetings.

According to Falvey, he, Levine and (former interim Twins general manager) Rob Antony “shared practices from all three organizations” during November’s GM Meetings. He explained that the newly formed front office “is taking unique things from each place, and trying to blend the best of all operations together.”

Levine concurred, saying, “The combination of those three mindsets can lead us down a path of building a sustainable winner.” The former Rangers assistant GM went on to say that he and Falvey “wouldn’t have engaged in this partnership if we weren’t open-minded to the evolution of what we’ve been exposed to leading to something even greater. It’s not rigid.”

It’s also not without levity. Both are adept at tongue-in-cheek, especially Levine. He piggy-backed his comments with a wry, “We view it as very organic and evolutionary, and we hope that it will continue to grow. For one thing, we brought almonds to this meeting. We did not have almonds. That’s a ‘for instance.’ I’m not saying it’s the extent of what we’re doing here.”

Here are highlights from the Winter Meetings conversations, which took place in a group setting in the Twins suite.

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Impact Players

Falvey: “We factor it all in. Every aspect. We’re not making decisions in a vacuum. We talk about some of the metrics we know and what a player’s value is. We can quantify some of that, but we can’t quantify all of it. It’s our job to be thoughtful about that — the long-term culture that we’re looking to build and how it impacts our team.”

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Today’s Managers on Adjusting to the Home-Run Surge

The 2016 season featured the second-most home runs in baseball’s history. Though a few people around baseball want to attribute it to the placement of power hitters higher in the lineup or better coaching based on better data, the evidence that both exit velocity and home runs per contact are up across the league refutes the first, and the evidence of the latter is minor. It’s a bit of an open mystery, but it’s certainly possible that the ball is different now.

In any case, the fact that homers are up is irrefutable. And it’s on the game to adjust. So I asked many of baseball’s best managers a simple question: with home runs up, how have you adjusted how you approach the game? Lineups, rotations, bullpens, hooks: is anything different for them today than it was two years ago?

*****

Terry Collins, New York Mets: No, really doesn’t. The game has changed, that’s the game now: home runs. And we’re lucky we got a few guys who can hit ’em. That’s where it’s at. As I said all last year, our team was built around power, so you sit back and make sure they have enough batting practice and be ready to start the game. We’ve got a good offensive team. Neil. Getting Neil Walker back, that’s big. David back and Ces and Jay and Granderson. We got a bench full of guys that could be everyday players. We’re pretty lucky.

I watched the playoffs, too, and I know what you’re talking about. I talked to Joe Maddon a couple days ago about how the playoffs may change and he said, ‘We didn’t have your pitching. I’ll leave ’em in.’

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Who Wants Brian Dozier?

Brian Dozier had himself quite the 2016 season. If you want to be technical, you could say he had quite the second half of the 2016 season, but that’s splitting hairs — he was still pretty good in the first half. It wasn’t historically superlative, but for second basemen in this millennium, it was pretty impressive. Now the Minnesota Twins have essentially made him available, and “four to five” teams are said to be interested in acquiring his services. Let’s take a look at who those teams could be.

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The Ongoing Rise of the Pitch-Framing Floor

The Hardball Times Annual. You should buy it! The whole thing is good, probably. I’m admittedly biased because I wrote for the damned thing. My topic this time around was pitch-framing, and the article appears in the book, and in the book only. Everything in there is a book exclusive. That’s the way books work.

Now, here’s the deal: In the interest of maximizing sales, I’m probably not supposed to cover ground I already covered in my essay. But as you’ve presumably heard, the Twins signed Jason Castro Tuesday afternoon, and there’s an angle here I don’t want to let pass by ignored. So, it’s time for some overlap. In the book, I talk about all of this theory stuff in greater detail. But Castro going to Minnesota only further raises the floor of the worst pitch-framing teams.

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Jason Castro Is a Step in the Right Direction for the Twins

Ah, the Twins. So often over the past few offseasons the Twins have been the club whose moves cause a scratching of the head and subdued “Oh, honey” under one’s breath. The franchise has long been stuck in the traditionalist mud. Until this season, at least. In the middle of another poor year, general manager Terry Ryan was finally dismissed, replaced by the dynamic duo of Derek Falvey and Thad Levine, the sort of expensively educated types populating other front offices. The moved marked a time for change… and sweet, sweet analytics!

So, naturally, the Twins’ first move this winter was to sign a light-hitting catcher. Earlier today, the club agreed to a three-year, $24 million deal with Jason Castro. But Castro’s not like the other light-hitting catchers with whom the Twins have burdened themselves in recent years. Whereas Kurt Suzuki and his fellow Minnesota backstops have been bad both on offense and behind the plate, Castro is actually very good at being a catcher. Like, really good. Hence the three-year, $24.5, million contract.

“Nick!” you exclaim, bewildered. “That $24 million is a lot of money for a guy who’s been a below-average hitter for three seasons in a row!” And you have a point, reader. Castro posted a wonderful 129 wRC+ in 2013, and then quickly fell right off the table. Catcher isn’t exactly a premium offensive position, but you’d like to see that 129 again. It’s probably not coming back. That’s more than okay, given how much value Castro provides with his framing.

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