Friday, November 24, 2017

From the Handbook: Defensive Statistics

This section of the Bill James Handbook has changed considerably over the years as defensive metrics have been devised, tested and improved.

The Twins player I was most interested in checking out here is Jorge Polanco, the regular shortstop who I believe is stretched at the position.

What these stats say is: He's not great, but he gets the job done.

He's at zero in "bases saved" and -1 in "runs saved," which adds up, essentially, to: He's an average shortstop. Which, if he's capable of being a productive middle-of-the-order bat -- and he hit third regularly down the stretch -- is quite acceptable.

It's worth noting, however, that 14 of the 24 shortstops listed as "regulars" at the position were better in the metrics. He's average compared to the entire set of shortstop innings, but less adept than most the guys who play most of the innings. As one might imagine for a key defensive position, the scrubs bring the average down -- and Polanco is good enough to be better than them.

Eduardo Escobar, in about an eighth of Polancos innings at short, is -2 in runs saved, and Ehrie Adrianza is +1 in about a quarter of Polanco's innings at short. That Adrianza is the best of the trio with the glove sounds right. I'm not convinced that Polanco's better than Escobar, but I'm not sure the difference matters much in either direction.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Happy Thanksgiving

This blog's Thanksgiving photo tradition continues.

Have a good holiday, and thanks for reading.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

From the Handbook: Shifting

Combining two sections here, complilations of how often teams shifted and how successful those shifts were.

By Baseball Info Systems' accounting, the Twins shifted 906 times in 2017, an increase of 71 shifts from 2016. This includes the at-bats in which the hitter gets to two strikes and THEN Miguel Sano trots over to the first-base side of second base. It might be a one-pitch shift, but it counts because the AB ended with the defense shifted.

This puts the Twins pretty much dead center in the AL in terms of deploying shifts. Seven shifted more often, seven shifted less often.

Brian Dozier is spotlighted in the short introductory essay on hits lost and gained to shifts. Dozier faced 225 shifts in 2017, and BIS says he lost 21 hits to the shift -- and gained 24. Few right-handed hitters face as many shifts as Dozier (Albert Pujols faces more, but that's about it), and it doesn't appear to do much for the opposition.


Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Adding to (but not filling) the 40

The Twins added three prospects to the 40-man roster Monday, the deadline to protect them from the Rule 5 draft next month.

The three: Stephen Gonsalves, Zach Littell and Lewis Thorpe. All are starting pitchers; Gonsalves and Thorpe are lefties, Littell a right hander. Gonsalves and Littell shone in Double A in 2017; Thorpe got back on the mound after a series of lost seasons to injury and again showed strong stuff.

Notable for their absences are RHP Kohl Stewart, the No. 4 overall pick in 2013; 1B Lewin Diaz, who got a $1.2 million bonus when the Twins signed him out of the Dominican in 2013; RHP Nick Burdi, second round pick in 2014; and RHP Jake Reed, who has flashed impressive stuff at times as a reliever.

I'm not truly surprised by their omissions.

Stewart has never lived up to his draft position; he reached Triple A last season, but that's more because of the investment made in him by the previous regime. His K-rate is way too low for him to be considered a real threat to crack a major league staff.

Diaz just had his first season of more than 200 plate appearances, and it came in low A. He's not going to get picked in Rule 5 because he's limited to first base defensively and in this age of 13-man pitching staffs nobody's going to carry a position player of such limited use. (If they do, they deserve the 100 losses they're asking for.)

Burdi had Tommy John surgery last summer; if he pitches at all in 2018, it will be late in the season. A team that Rule 5's him can stash him on the 60-day DL this year, true, but then would have to carry him all of 2019. Probably not happening.

Reed is the one of that trio who might be tapped. But between his inconsisency and some arm issues, the Twins have not really treated him as a fast-track relief arm.

I've focused on who didn't get added partly because I've become accustomed to the Twins stuffing their 40 with minor leaguers. That didn't happen this year; the Twins still have four vacancies on their roster. They've left themselves plenty of space for additions, be they via free agency, trade of prospects for veterans or the Rule 5 draft.

Monday, November 20, 2017

From the Handbook: Win Shares

I'm going to skip ahead again today because last week, in conjunction with the AL MVP announcement, Bill James posted this essay dissecting what he sees as a fundamental problem with WAR -- Wins Above Replacement -- and then Joe Posnanski posted this piece to amplify James' points, and ... well, here I am.

WAR was developed about the same time -- maybe a little later -- that James concocted Win Shares. He made Win Shares the basis of his major revision of The Bill James Historical Abstract near the close of the 20th century, followed that with a book to explain Win Shares in detail ("Win Shares" -- an obvious title) and then pretty much dropped out of public sabermetrics. Whatever current cutting-edge analysis he does, he does for the Boston Red Sox. He's far more likely to publish books about crime than baseball these days.

He didn't do a lot to promote Win Shares in the battle for acceptance. WAR won. You can find competing versions of WAR on Baseball Reference and Fangraphs; it's not easy to find Win Shares online.

But I've always preferred Win Shares. I'm sure part of that is that James writes so well. I've never encountered an explaination of WAR that didn't leave me gasping for air as I drown in concepts I can't grasp. James I can follow. I'm more confident I understand Win Shares than WAR.

Anyway ... back to the Handbook. The Handbook annually publishes Win Shares. And Win Shares has a notably different take on who was important for the Twins than WAR does, or at least the Baseball Reference version.

bWAR has Byron Buxton as the most valuable Twin (5.1 WAR). Some other position players: Brian Dozier is at 4.4, Joe Mayer 3.4, Jason Castro and Miguel Sano 2.5 each, Jorge Polanco 2.1, Eduardo Escobar 1.3.

Win Shares has Dozier well ahead of the rest with 26. Mauer has 18, Buxton, Polanco, Sano and Escobar 14 each, Castro 12.

My sense is something of a mixture, and I suspect it of being heavily biased in Buxton's favor because I have maintained for so long that the Twins needed to prioritize outfield defense. I think Buxton's the most important player on this team. I think bWar has that right.

But I think Win Shares is more correct on the rest of them, and in particular Escobar. He's underappreciated by bWAR (in my opinion).

Sunday, November 19, 2017

The Sunday Funnies

The news this week that the Twins radio broadcasts were returning to WCCO brought to mind the legendary Halsey Hall, who was in the radio and TV booths for the first decade or so that the team was in Minnesota.

That's long enough ago that I barely remember him, and I'm old.

Hall smoked cigars in the booth. Herb Carneal used to say: "I don't mind the smell of a good cigar. Unfortunately, those weren't the kind Halsey smoked."

Hall set his jacket on fire with his cigar during one game. 3M soon presented the legend with an asbestos sports jacket. I doubt anybody would do such a thing today.

And Jerry Zimmerman, a light-hitting reserve catcher, supposedly said: "Halsey is the only man I know who can turn a sports coat into a blazer."

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Notes, quotes and comment

Regarding the pursuit of Shohei Otani: There is currently no posting system for Japanese players to come to the American majors, and the MLBPA -- the players union -- is apparently deeply unhappy that as matters stand, Otani will get a pittance compared to what his Japanese team, the Nippon Ham Fighters, will get.

The union on Thursday set a Monday deadline for an agreement on the matter. If no deal on the posting system is struck by then, it will keep Otani from playing in the U.S. next season.

I'll believe that happens when I see it.

---

Two of the players the Twins deleted from their 40-man roster since their season ended have signed with new organizations: utilityman Niko Goodrum with the Tigers, lefty relief specialist Ryan O'Rourke with the Orioles. And pitcher Dereck Rodriguez, son of Hall of Fame catcher Ivan Rodriguez, signed with the Giants as a minor league free agent.

The Twins have yet to add minor leaguers to their 40. The deadline to do so before the Rule 5 draft is Monday.

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The Twins' radio broadcasts are returning to WCCO.

I'm not sure how big a deal this is. 'CCO isn't what it once was, and certainly losing the Twins after the 2006 season was part of that, but radio simply isn't the kingpin of baseball broadcasting anymore.

Still ... Cory Provus laps the field in terms of the four main broadcast voices for this team, and having the games on the clear-channel giant again will make it easier to find the games when traveling in outstate Minnesota.

I suspect this means the Pohlads plan to unload their radio properties. I don't live in range of Twin Cities FM, and I'm certainly no expect on the radio biz, but I'm a bit baffled that they couldn't make a go of a baseball-based FM station.