Full disclosure: I’m currently reading “The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable.” Whenever I read books of this magnitude — and really, this book might be a life-changer — my immediate thoughts tend to get snarled up in key themes of the book at hand, even though the information hasn’t been fully processed yet. I don’t offer that disclaimer to come off high and mighty. on the contrary, I offer it so that at any point in this relatively short post, if you find yourself thinking I’m full of it, that’s perfectly fine and you might be right.
That said, one of the central (and I’ve found to be true) tenets of the book is something like this: The most dangerous things in life are the things we don’t know and aren’t able to predict — and we, as humans, don’t like to readily admit we don’t know the cause of things. As such, we have a tendency to view history in a way that retroactively attaches meaning to things as a means of making them seem more explainable and less volatile — thus preserving our notion of order.
The reality is that we often don’t really know.
There are many good examples (and better explanations) of this notion in The Black Swan. In an attempt to satisfy two things on my mind at once — that book and the problems of the 2016 Twins — let’s explore for a moment how that idea from the book can be applied to this team.
Namely: the 2016 Twins, so far, are a mess. Patrick Reusse summed it up pretty well earlier this week: their only problems are hitting, pitching, fielding, baserunning and managing. Other than that, this 8-18 bunch is off to a great start.
When a team that has high (or at least modest) expectations, such as these Twins did at the start of the year, we logically look for reasons why things have not gone according to plan. Statistical factors such as poor hitting with men in scoring position to start the season and rough performances in late-game bullpen situations are easy to point to, but they don’t get to the heart of the “why?” when it comes to explaining why players who were expected to perform better have not performed better.
For that, we have to delve into larger questions about roster construction. Did the Twins overvalue players? (You could make that argument, as I have). Did management place too much faith in young players? (You could make that case). Have injuries and bad luck played a role? (Sure, that’s a valid argument, too). But in building a case for any of those things, you’re likely to come back to the same point: nobody really knows. We can only make educated guesses that attach a retrofitted narrative to explain a bad start.
Another theory that emerges in the context of roster construction, as offered up by plenty of readers: The Twins miss retired outfielder Torii Hunter and his leadership. This tends to get snickered at or dismissed by those who prefer a statistical analysis, though again there’s this idea that it’s awfully dangerous to pretend you know something when really you don’t.
So let’s at least say this here: it is entirely possible that the Twins miss Hunter and his leadership. It is entirely possible that it is not a coincidence that the last three teams he’s played for (Angels, Tigers and Twins) have experienced a dramatic drop-off in performance the year after he departed the team. It is entirely possible there is some sort of group dynamic that permeates a team, whereby one player’s energy has a profound effect on the mood and enables whatever it is that helps a team get a clutch hit or a clutch out. It is entirely possible that dance parties are just as important as obsessively watching tape of failed at bats. And it’s entirely possible that Hunter is uniquely qualified by force of personality, performance and experience to lead in a manner that nobody on the 2016 Twins can.
I say none of this sarcastically. I’m open to it.
What’s entirely true is that I don’t know. And I’m not afraid to admit it.