Welcome to the Thursday edition of The Cooler, where everything is always relative. Let’s get to it:
*If you are busy rationalizing Thursday’s weather forecast because we will *almost* reach zero degrees and the “feels like” temperatures are at least better than they were Wednesday, I have some great news for you: Add a few degrees of internal warmth with the knowledge that less than two weeks from today, Twins pitchers and catchers report to spring training.
Now, they probably aren’t taking you with them to Florida. But desperate Minnesotans have often taken solace in the first hint of the return of baseball — and the eventual release from winter’s constrictive embrace.
So let’s start the day with a leftover thought from TwinsFest and associated activities last weekend and this quote from General Manager Thad Levine: “We see a chance for massive improvement on this team if some combination of Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano, Jonathan Schoop and Michael Pineda return to their previous performance levels,” Levine said. “We really have perhaps an unusual abundance of variance and volatility on this team.
Levine went on to say that if all or most of those players are contenders for Comeback Player of the Year, the Twins will be in great shape.
You can read this one of two ways — either as wishful (almost desperate) thinking or as realistic optimism. I would say it’s at least unusual for a team to have so many viable comeback player candidates, but the numbers at least show the potential is there — and that Levine is spot on when he talks about “variance and volatility.”
Consider that in 2017, Buxton (5.2), Schoop (5.2) and Sano (2.5) combined for 12.9 wins above replacement (per Baseball Reference). And that in 2018, they combined for a WAR of 0.6 (with Buxton and Sano both in negative territory).
Also figure in that Pineda, when healthy, historically has delivered a WAR of between 2 and 2.5 over a full season and that he didn’t pitch at all in 2018. Throw in Jason Castro if you want. The Twins catcher probably isn’t accomplished enough to be a comeback candidate, but he posted a 2.5 WAR in 2017 and 0.0 in a mostly injury-filled 2018.
That’s 17 wins the Twins could add from five players. Now, that’s not the same as just projecting 17 more wins and penciling in the Twins for 95 victories should those players return to previous levels of performance, since the players who stood in their places for the 2018 Twins delivered some value.
But they do speak to the boom-or-bust potential of the 2019 Twins, a team that could win 70 or 90 games and not be surprising in either case.
*Jackie Robinson, one of the greatest players and almost certainly the most important player in MLB history, would have turned 100 years old today. The New York Times is leading the way with multiple tributes to his legacy.
*Karl-Anthony Towns hit the game-winner for the Wolves in overtime, but the star of the game was point guard Jerryd Bayless. He played 43 minutes and was a plus-17 in a two-point victory, finishing with 19 points, 12 assists and seven rebounds. Not bad for a fourth option at point guard with Jeff Teague, Derrick Rose and Tyus Jones all injured.
The only thing to be mad about is that he missed a potential game-winning jumper at the end of regulation, denying us the chance to write the headline: “They went to Jerryd … and said Bayless out.”