Membership preview: 2 numbers that stood out to me during José Berríos' gem
Plus a thought on an important ingredient to a championship-caliber team
Readers of the 5 Thoughts column, welcome back. Pretty interesting start to the 2021 Minnesota Twins season, and we’re looking forward to much more baseball ahead.
For those who haven’t heard the news, I just started a new venture as the radio host of Twins Today, which you can hear locally on Sunday mornings from 10am-noon during the baseball season on WCCO.
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Here’s a preview of the first 5 Thoughts column that I sent to members earlier this week. If you’d like to get on that list, sign up here or get in touch with me.
1 – Have yourself a day, José Berríos
If you missed Saturday’s game you missed my absolute favorite type of ballgame: a classic pitcher’s duel. Well, this one isn’t a classic in the old-timey sense — there was velocity and insane movement, complete dominance by two starting pitchers, and yes, neither of them made it out of the 7th inning. Otherwise, though, a true marvel to watch. You’ve no doubt read and heard a lot since then about Berríos, who will get the ball when the Twins welcome fans to Target Field on Thursday, so I’ll just point out two numbers that really stuck out to me in his pitching performance.
As in, miles per hour. That’s what the righty topped out at Saturday night in his gem of a 6-inning outing. That’s up two full miles per hour from his average fastball velocity in 2020, according to Brooks Baseball. There’s more to pitching than velocity, but I would say it’d be awfully impressive if Berríos has found another gear with his heater at this stage of his career – a year after he added 1.5 mph to his average fastball velocity in 2020 – in addition to refining his command and deployment of a nasty breaking ball. Which brings us to…
As in, Berríos saw 13 swings from his opponent when he threw a breaking ball, and 9 of those swings got nothing but air. If you didn’t swing, I wouldn’t blame you; but Berríos also got 4 called strikes in addition to the 9 whiffs on his curveball on the night.
Great performance and an encouraging start to the season for him. I also understand Baldelli’s explanation for pulling his star pitcher with a no-hitter going. (Did anyone get a chance to ask Blake Snell what he thought of the move?) Baldelli said that this early in the year they weren’t going to let Berríos throw the 115-or-whatever-number of pitches it would require to complete the no-hitter, so falling short of that, does it matter if it was 6 innings or 7 innings? Would us outsiders have been less upset if Berríos cruised through 7 innings and then got lifted with 96 pitches? Instead, Taylor Rogers came in and dutifully dispatched the great lefties and significantly hampered the Brewers’ hopes of a comeback.
2 – Ego Management
One minor (hidden?) theme that I’ve seen manifest in the early goings this season has been the suppression of individual egos for the greater good of the team. Everybody wants to be seen as selfless. Well, most everybody, anyway. But far fewer people would actually freely embrace the things that represent self-sacrifice in the spirit of boosting the squad. (If you believe that you are one of these rare people, ask yourself how you might react if your boss asked you to take a permanent 50% pay cut for the same amount of work, because it would be good for the organization.) My point is that it’s easy to talk a good game and strikingly more difficult to act in a selfless way, professionally.
That’s why it impresses me that I can think of three instances that immediately jump to mind on the 2021 Twins. Jorge Polanco had to cede shortstop duties to free agent acquisition Andrelton Simmons, when the longtime infield captain of the Angels chose to seek employment elsewhere this winter. The Twins nabbed him up on a one-year deal, Polanco was bumped to second base, less than two years after signing a 7-year extension on his contract with the Twins.
Sure, I believe that it might be easier to act selflessly when you have a long-term financial commitment and also when the person who is “replacing” you is legitimately the best of a generation. And still, I didn’t read one cross word from either Polanco or the other selfless actor in this position shuffling, Luis Arraez. (Part of this, I’ll freely admit, maybe be that clubhouse access during a pandemic is nil, and Rocco Baldelli was able to speak first for each player before either one publicly addressed the changes going on in the clubhouse for themselves.) I don’t know where exactly the credit must be placed but there’s probably enough to go around to multiple parties for this one. A situation that could have been a little messy or uncomfortable strikes me at this point of the young season as neither.
Polanco, for his part, has always been a bat-first baseball player, dating back to his days as a prospect in the Twins’ system. He was a little stretched at shortstop because of arm and range shortcomings, slight as they may have been. He just played a position where many of his peers are solidly above average fielders. While I believe that he made improvements over the years and the more recently released defensive metrics have been unfairly critical of a shortstop who frequently has played through pain and lower-half injuries, it’s plainly obvious that Simmons is a significant upgrade at the position.
Polanco, 27, took a step back in a weird and shortened season in 2020, so I’m curious to see how he rebounds with the bat. Because I fully expect that he will.
3 – Josh Donaldson injury not as bad as feared?
4 – Team Wins over Financial Gain?
A sample of the new Twins Today show, Sunday mornings from 10am-noon:
5 – Nelson Cruz is hard to explain