Three games against the 1st place Minnesota Twins (did you have that in your pre-season predictions?) await the Yankees of New York. There are two things we can always count on when the Twins play the Yankees:
One: The Twins will always lose to the Yankees.
Two: Byron Buxton is one of the most fun players to watch in baseball. He is among the fastest MLB players and one of the best, human highlight reel defenders. (Literally. I checked Statcast to confirm both of those claims.)
But here are some things maybe you didn’t know on which you can keep an eye this weekend:
(Enormous preface: Stats on May 3rd can’t be trusted as just over one month is way too small of a sample size to bank on anything. It was two years ago this May that I had people telling me Starlin Castro was one of the best 2nd basemen in baseball, and it was this time last season I had people telling me Didi Gregorius was the best SS in baseball. That being said, big swings in stats are worth looking at if there’s been a philosophical change or a change in approach. Many smart people regret ignoring the changes that JD Martinez, Kevin Turner, and Daniel Murphy made a few years back.)
That being said, in no particular order…
The Twins are all in on modeling other teams’ successes. Their GM never played pro ball, holds an MBA and their hitting coach never got above A ball. Their manager is a former player who played in the show (but wasn’t a star) and is young enough to communicate with active players. If this formula sounds familiar, it should because it’s worked pretty well over the past decade for other teams, and it’s working in Minnesota thus far.
The Twins, as one would expect from the previous paragraph, do not bunt and do not steal bases. They do, however, hit the ball in the air very hard. They currently lead MLB in fly ball %, pulled ball %, SLG %, and adjusted OPS. And the approach is working: besides having the best OPS+ in MLB, they’re 7th in MLB in runs per game which is impressive considering they’re about league average in OBP. Should they add a high OBP player in July, it may have a big impact for them.
As you may also expect, they are aggressive on the bases. A big myth among the intellectually lazy is that analytically driven teams aren’t interested in team speed and base running. Reminder: Good base running isn’t about stolen bases, it’s about advancing when you can without running into outs. The Twins do that well: They’re below the league average in running into outs on the bases, and they’re 6th in MLB in taking extra bases when the opportunity exists.
Defensively, they shift more than all but two teams, one of whom is the Astros. And if you’ve been paying attention over the past 5 years or so, if the Astros do it, you probably should too.
In other words, the Twins are exactly the kind of team that Yankees’ broadcasters hate (sans David Cone, of course). Which is exactly why they’re doing well.
Keep an eye on Jorge Polanco. Polanco leads all MLB shortstops in WAR, OPS+, and SLG, and is 2nd in OBP. So far this season his K% is significantly down from last season while his BB% is significantly up, which has led to a .393/.606 OBP/SLG slash line (WOW). His batting average on balls in play is well above his career average, so he may certainly have luck on his side, but he’s worth watching closely. It’s also possible the aforementioned James Rowson has changed Polanco’s approach and it’s paying dividends, perhaps long term. Or he can turn out to be this season’s, Ian Desmond. Either way, it’s worth watching.
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