Saturday, February 4, 2017

Minnesota Twins
Season 36:  99-63 won Division, advanced to WS and lost to St. Louis
GM:  zbrent716

Here's what we said about the Twins last year:

As good as their defense is, it's pretty amazing they get as much production as they do (821 runs - 4th). They mostly do it by getting on base frequently (.334 OBP - 4th), and of course, stealing.  But slugging % is right at the league average - KEY TO THE SEASON:  1B Michael Aoki has OPS'd .900+ the last 2 seasons, and they really need him to come through again."

Well, all Aoki did was hit .308/56/149 and win the MVP.  The team's slugging % was league-average again (they were 4th in the AL in runs), they won an AL-best 99 games, and they got all the way to the WS.

Traded a defensive CF for 1 season of Gil Sodowsky, who's got enough left to give them more punch at 3B than the 5 guys they tried there last year.   Other than that, they've concentrated on re-signing some of their own (many) free agents.

In a game obsessed with power hitters and ace starters, the Twins play defense (120 + plays), steal bases (359 last year, to the 2nd-place Cardinals' 197), feature relief pitchers (their 3 primary starters won 4 games last year), and mix/match lineups like no one else (13 DH's, 10 RF's, 6 SS's...not making this up).  It's obviously effective, and endlessly entertaining (unless you're an opposing manager rolling out a catcher with a 49/54 arm, for example).

Let's take a little closer look at one of the Twinkies' keystone strategies - the almost-all-relief staff.

Last year (it probably changes this year with the FA departure of Julio Pettit), they used primarily 2 lefty starters - Ernie Williams and Pettit) - who would go 40 pitches and then give way to waves of righty relievers (plus a sprinkling of 1-batter lefty specialists like Javier Brogna and Carlos Lee).

I can think of 2 advantages they get from this alignment (there are probably more).

One, payroll efficiency.  Relievers command less $ than starters in free agency.  

Two, lefty/righty matchups.  They're hard to arrange in HBD, but I think Minnesota gets more than anyone else does with their staff setup.  They start the 2 lefties, so opposing lineups are going to be stacked with righty hitters.  By about the 4th inning, the Twins bring the RHP's against the RHH's, so they get some good matchups there.  To the degree that opposing managers have lefty pinch-hitters available, they're probably in by the late innings.  And then the Twins use Brogna and's probably only a lefty/lefty matchup here and there in the late innings, but it's a slight edge other teams don't get.  One interesting stat to look at:  in Lee's 64 inning (over 3 seasons) Cleveland career, he had a 5-something ERA.  In his now 142 inning-old Minnesota career, his ERA has been just over 2.00 (and 1.44 last season).  Those numbers of innings are certainly small enough to have some wild randomness in them, and maybe that explains all the variation.  But it wouldn't surprise me if he faced a fair number of RH hitters in CLE and very few in MIN.

In any event, it will probably change up some this year, but there's one outsider's look at the contrarian-ness of zbrent.

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