Angélique Kidjo‘s Celia, a contemplation of Celia Cruz’s African roots, might be my favorite album of the year. Maybe I should’ve chosen a video of her singing “La Vida es un Carnaval” or “Bemba Colorá” or “Sahara” for this, but I wanted to showcase Kidjo’s interaction with her audience at her BBC Proms debut this year. I can’t help but smile every time I watch it. This music, this kind of performance draws hearts together. In the weeks to come, I think we could all use a good reason to smile together.
The Poissonnière was quite excited to see the season’s first blanket of snow on the ground when she woke up this morning, which made me glad. I’ve been trying to help calibrate her sense of cold weather, being very mindful to not describe temps above freezing as “cold,” and resisting some pressure to bundle her up when the fall weather turns chilly. That’s not an easy balance when each parent has pretty disparate thresholds for cold tolerance. But I do think people are generally happier if they don’t view the weather as intimidating or oppressive in some way.
It’s been a while since Twins fans could look forward to the trade deadline with confidence the club was a full-on buyer, so it seems like we deserve a dedicated post to discuss rumors, share wish lists, and react to any deals the front office makes.
For convenience, here’s a hotlink to all MLBTR posts tagged for the Twins.
Bonus points to the Citizen who identifies the pitcher in this photo without cheating.
The 2019 Twins are officially half-baked. No, literally.
The Twins played their last game of the first half yesterday. It was another ugly end to a pretty solid game, which is hopefully sufficient signal to the front office to turn the pan & lower the heat. With the loss, the 2019 club fell from a tie with the 2001 Twins for the third-best winning percentage over the first half of a season since the franchise moved to Minnesota.
I've included the top six for two reasons. First, those are all the clubs with a .600 or above winning percentage in the first half. Second, those teams were not too bad: one pennant, two excellent division champs, a squad motivated by the owner's collusive attempt to contract the team, and the follow-up squad to the 1991 World Champions. The 1991 Twins were, in fact, the next team on the first-half leaderboard, at .566. So, how did these squads fare in the second half?
Here we see the challenge ahead. Each of these teams cooled off in the second half — it's pretty hard to continue winning nearly two-thirds of the games you play. The 1991 Twins make their appearance here, and it makes sense that the top four teams all won their divisions or better. The second half swoon that sunk the '92 Twins is modest compared to the bottom that fell out of the young League of Nations/Soul Patrol team. The 2019 Twins’ postseason odds — 99.3% at the end of the first half — are as encouraging as we’ve seen in years, behind one of the most impressive half-seasons in franchise history. (It beats 2011–2017, that’s for sure.) Oddly enough, their World Series odds increased after the loss yesterday, up to 14.2%.
Even with the bats of ass they've been swinging over the last couple weeks, the Bomba Squad has obliterated the ‘64 Twins’ first half record home run record by 41 bombas. The 166 homers of the first half equals the club's full-season total last year. Not bad. When healthy, there aren't many holes in this lineup. The injury bug has stretched the team thin, but the excellent depth of this roster has helped maintain altitude throughout the turbulence.
The most notable hole appears to be a solid, three-position reserve outfielder. Depending on who is available, Gonzalez, Astudillo, Adrianza, and Arraez have been able to plug holes in the corners, but none of them are natural outfielders. Jake Cave has been beyond mediocre — .176/.299/.243 (49 OPS+) — despite a slightly lower SO% and nearly double BB% over last season. His line drive rate is down from 31% to 24%, and his HR% has dropped 75% from last year. That all adds up to a BABIP .101 lower than 2018. His numbers at Rochester are actually significantly better this year than last season — .327/.370/.536 vs. .269/.352/.403 — which probably explains why he's continuing to be in the mix as guys cycle through the injured list. With three center field-capable starting outfielders, the Twins are in a much better position than they could be, were Cave their only alternative to Buxton.
Meanwhile, Luis Arraez has had an incredible first half. Even though his average finally fell below .400, he's still had one of the best starts to a rookie season in Twins history:
Here's a list of Twins who have equaled or exceeded Arraez' 1.0 rWAR in 200 or fewer PA:
Arraez' hot start has been fueled by a .413 BABIP, which is higher than he's ever managed in the minors. He had a .376 BABIP through 164 PA at Pensacola this year, up from .315 over 195 PA in Chattanooga in 2018. His highest BABIP — .382 over 514 PA — came at Cedar Rapids in 2016. So, a high BABIP seems to be a repeatable skill for Arraez, even if it's a bit overinflated right now.
Finally, depth has been a sore spot in our conversations about the pitching staff. I'll admit that my mind has been shifting from bolstering the rotation to stacking the bullpen in recent weeks. Berríos has been awesome. Kyle Gibson is, at this point, Kyle Gibson. I'm holding my breath that Pineda's improvements hold, Odorizzi's blister heals, and Pérez stays in his May/June form. Two of those guys won't be starting games after September, assuming the season maintains the present course. Much as I hate paying through the nose for relievers — this was a very addressable problem between November and February — bullpen arms are what will allow the starters to stay fresh the rest of the way, and what will shut down strong opponents' lineups after the fifth inning in the postseason.
So, let's finish with a few questions:
- Who has been the most pleasant surprise for you in 2019?
- Who are you really done watching? What is next for that player, if you were GM?
- What patches do you feel the roster most needs?
- Who is on your trade deadline wishlist?
- Who are you willing to part with to bring in talent you hope to acquire?
- What position player will have the best second half?
On Joe Mauer's player page, Baseball Reference lists two transactions:
- June 5, 2001: Drafted by the Minnesota Twins in the 1st round (1st pick) of the 2001 amateur draft. Player signed July 17, 2001.
- October 29, 2018: Granted Free Agency.
This community did not exist before Joe Mauer became a major leaguer. Mauer made his debut on 05 April 2004; SBG started posting at the Old Basement in July 2004. Granted, there were isolated pockets of Twins fans online before Mauer crouched behind the plate, but every one of the well-established communities of Twins fans came into being during Mauer's career. The Mauer Era is the era of critical mass for Twins fans online. The retirement of Joe's number is something of a milestone for all of us.
The seeds of the ongoing revolution in the evaluation of baseball players' performance stretch back to before Joe Mauer was born. By the time Mauer was swinging the bat on St. Paul's sandlots, a few forward-thinking executives had started kicking around these new approaches. By the time Joe Mauer signed with the Twins, those approaches had already jumped from theory to application in the most forward-thinking front office in the game. (That front office was not in Minnesota.)
Joe Mauer's career unfolded in a period in which enlightened baseball executives, baseball bloggers, and a few sportswriters were capable of perceiving how legendarily good Mauer was, but in which traditional executives, old school players, and (especially) sports-writing newspapermen simply lacked the curiosity, imagination, or willingness to appreciate him. The Twins' front office remained so hidebound in its approach that Mauer's own organization was simply not capable of articulating the special abilities of its franchise catcher. In Mauer's own home state, some newspapermen conspired to poison the well, turning a huge percentage of fans against the best pure hitter they might ever see play for their favorite team. Nothing in Joe Mauer's personality suggests he brought this treatment on himself. His "crime" was to be judged a good enough ballplayer to be made a multi-millionaire by the children of a billionaire banker.
Had Mauer's career unfolded exactly as it had, but a decade later, we would know with much greater certainty how amazing he was behind the plate. We know a few things. He threw out 33% of runners attempting to steal against a cumulative league average of 27% during his catching years. Baseball Info Solutions judges him about 17 runs above average in pitch calling. Johan Santana, the best pitcher to toe the rubber for the Twins since Bert Blyleven's heyday and likely the best pitcher in the American League during his own peak, threw more innings to Joe Mauer than any other catcher in his career. The only catcher with whom Johan had a lower OPS+ allowed was Ramon Castro, who caught less than a quarter of the total innings Mauer caught Johan. We can guess other things — Mauer certainly was a very good receiver, and possibly inner-circle great at framing — but we'll simply never know how he compares to the excellent catchers who came after him.
But we do know this: very, very few catchers could hit like Joe Mauer in his prime. Joe Mauer had the fifth-highest peak, judged by rWAR, of any catcher, ever. In ten seasons, from 2004–2013, Joe Mauer hit .323/.405/.468, good for an 135 OPS+. Over that span, which included a debut season derailed by a knee injury, he ripped an average of 28 doubles every year. He got an extra-base hit in 8% of his plate appearances over that stretch, but struck out just 11.2% of the time. He totaled 2051 total bases in a decade of hitting, often banged-up from his duties on the back side of the plate. Of players who caught at least 750 games and had at least 3000 plate appearances, Mauer is 3rd in Batting Runs, 7th in WAR Runs Batting, and 8th in Runs Created.
Joe Mauer was ours. He arrived just as we were gaining the ability to follow baseball with new friends we had never met, who lived far away from the territory reached by the 50,000 watts of WCCO that then still carried Herb's voice. His career was, with the exception of the disappointments his team suffered in the postseason, the career of all of our dreams when we were growing up. Nobody — especially not the cranks at the Star Tribune and their sycophants online — can take Joe Mauer's greatness away from us. We knew it, and we shared it.
Happy Joe Mauer Day, friends.
Let’s right the ship & split the series.
So, it's the last Monday (and day) of the year. Perhaps a book post can give us a little momentum heading into 2019? (Also, hj prodded me to post something here today.)
I've been reading a book that I kinda like, yet am sorta bored with, since November. This book and its author are both new to me, though I know a fair bit about the author, who was the best friend of one of my favorite poets. The book's not the sole reason I won't reach my reading goal for the year, but, well, it's been laborious. I'm not entirely stalled out — I make a little progress every day — but I'm definitely not going to finish it in 2018. It's a prominent book in a certain kind of genre, and 2018 was the 50th anniversary of the author's untimely, unexpected passing. I feel a bit obligated to finish it, both because, while it's not my cup of tea, it's not that bad, and because it seems like something I should read.
When I finally finish it, I've decided to create a new tag in my tracking system — Laborious Reads. I may retroactively tag a few other books like this, too; Chernyshevsky, I'm looking at you.
What books have you laboriously read? What were your initial motivations for reading them? What was your motivation to finish them?
As always, fill us in on what you've read since last time, and what you will be reading as we turn the page to begin Chapter 2019.
Who says a jazz band can’t play dance music? Bixiga 70 was one of my favorite musical discoveries this year — I really dig the horn section’s sound and the many-layered grooves underneath them. Their fourth album, Quebra Cabeça, dropped in October.
Bixiga 70 draws their name from the Bixiga neighborhood of central São Paulo. On the band’s website, baritone saxophonist Cuca Ferreira details the sources of their sound:
From the very beginning, what we have always had in common is African-Brazilian music. Some of us come from Candomblé, others from jazz, reggae, dub, everything. The whole idea of the band has been to take all these different elements that form us, from Africa and Brazil, and create a hybrid from them.
If you enjoyed this cut, you can catch their full Cultura Livre appearance here.
The news finally emerged early this morning: Rocco Baldelli will be the 14th manager since the Twins franchise moved to Minnesota. For the first time since Ray Miller in 1985, the Twins have hired a manager from outside the organization. Baldelli will be just the 4th manager employed by the Twins in the last three decades.
By bringing in Baldelli, the Twins have finally jumped into the modern era. With Derek Falvey (35), Thad Levine (45), & Baldelli (37), management of the club is the youngest it’s been since Andy MacPhail (then 33) & Tom Kelly (then 36) started running the team together in 1986. Twins fans don’t need to be reminded of the accomplishments of that tandem of baseball minds.
At the same time, youth alone is not a guarantee of success. Youth can serve as a proxy for fresh thinking, which the Twins certainly needed when Falvey & Levine were brought in to run the organization’s baseball operations. The early results have been uneven. In some ways, the team is still recovering from Bill Smith’s disastrous tenure as GM, which was compounded by Terry Ryan’s return to the helm and refusal to consider other possibilities.
Falvey & Levine inherited Paul Molitor, an incumbent manager with strong ties to the club going back to his playing days, and by every indication, Molitor embraced a new approach to the game he knows in his marrow. To some, Molitor might seem fated to have been a transitional manager. His coaching career did not include lengthy service in the minor leagues or coaching apprenticeships under managers with a track record of developing future managers. He served under one of the last old-school GMs, and one of the youngest new-school Chief Baseball Officers. Molitor was something of the insider’s outsider, a Hall of Fame player & hometown guy without a long track record for the gig he held. He was open to new ideas, but they weren’t ideas that were organic to his understanding of the game.
Baldelli will be notable for his youth — he is now the youngest manager in the major leagues. What is more important, however, is what Baldelli brings with him. Baldelli was the sixth overall pick in the draft class immediately preceding Joe Mauer’s, the one in which the Twins drafted Adam Johnson second overall. He was a dynamic young outfielder whose career was derailed by injuries, ultimately forced into retirement by mitochondrial channelopathy. Along the way, Baldelli received the Tony Conigliaro Award and played for two organizations — the Rays and Red Sox — known for fresh thinking. His ability to translate his experience into effective support struggling players will be vital to the futures of Byron Buxton and Miguel Sanó. Baldelli’s coaching work in Tampa Bay, particularly his last two years as field coordinator, will give data-driven baseball decisions an organic voice in the clubhouse. Should Derek Shelton remain on Baldelli’s coaching staff, the Twins will double-down on Rays coaching alumni, while Shelton can help his former colleague get familiar with the terrain of the clubhouse.
After years of ossified thinking, which produced mediocre results that were excruciating to watch, the Twins are completing a turn into the future. Welcome, Rocco’s Modern Baseball.
Let’s talk about lunch. Yes, you might just be eating breakfast right now, either at home, or at work, or in your car (I hope not). Bear with me.
I love to eat from the food carts on the pedestrian mall outside my institution's main library. Where else can I get loaded beef & plantain arepas, ayam bakar in a luscious peanut sauce (extra sambal kecap, please) with acar, sticky gua bao, fresh fried falafel, and other decadent morsels within a twenty-yard radius? My wallet doesn't love it quite the same way. Since I apparently have horrible career management skills, that doesn't appear likely to change anytime soon.
So, since I'm likely to get hungry sometime between 0930 and 1630, I bring food from my domicile to my roboticile — almost always supper leftovers from the previous night or two.
For years, I've packed my lunch in a small (approximately 2 cup) Pyrex dish & reusable storage bags, but recently I've felt like trying something new, ideally more compact or space-efficient. Part of my motivation is that the Poissonnier has joined Mrs. Hayes & I as a public transit companion. Part of it is the feeling that I keep rolling the dice with the Pyrex, hoping it won't leak. (I've had the occasional dribbles, but nothing catastrophic.)
I've looked at the various Zojirushi Bento products. They seem pretty nifty, but potentially cumbersome. (I suspect they won’t fit in my Tom Bihn Co-Pilot.) I don’t need the thermal capabilities often, but absolutely require spill-proof storage. The Wirecutter likes insulated lunch bags, which doesn't solve the problem of what to put in that bag; also, I don't want to carry a second bag.
Maybe I missed something, but I don't remember us discussing this before. So, I'm curious — how do you transport your vittles from your coolerator to the place where you spend most of your day reading the WGOM? And, more importantly, what [sniff sniff] do you like to pack?