The Minnesota Twins are one of the best teams in the American League and in all of baseball. A number of players are having great individual seasons that are worthy of attention. And yet, they have two players selected as MLB all-stars.
This column presents 5 thoughts on the game, the process and the deserving members of the Minnesota Twins.
Polanco was voted in as the starting shortstop for the American League, and that honor was richly deserved. Odorizzi had to wait longer, but eventually his named was called, too, as a member of the A.L. pitching staff.
The story is well-told at this point. The Twins traded a little-known shortstop prospect last season for the opportunity to pay the final two years of Jake Odorizzi’s contracted services before the right-hander could file for free agency. Odorizzi pitched well down the stretch last year and finished with a 4.49 ERA. But he’d proclaim to anyone who would listen that he was disappointed in himself for the season and called it the worst of his career.
The cerebral righty worked on himself and on his craft over the winter, including work with the Florida Baseball Ranch. This season he’s shaved almost two full runs off that earned-run average and is pitching like the co-ace of the Twins’ staff.
He’s still the high-fastball, breaking ball, split-changeup guy he was when the Twins traded for him, but this year he’s reached a new level of performance — and sustained it. Currently he holds his own career-best in categories like ERA (2.73), strikeout rate (27.6%), opponent batting average (.208) and Win Probability Added (2.17). He’s also one win away from his career-high (11), and you’ve got to like his chances of breaking that mark.
Odorizzi will make some money this winter in free agency, but that’s a topic for another day. For the moment in front of us, a congratulations to the right-hander from Southern Illinois, for joining Polanco as a worthy all-star representative for the Minnesota Twins.
Mike Trout is first among American League outfielders win Wins Above Replacement, as measured by FanGraphs, with 5.4 WAR. The powerful Joey Gallo is second, at 3.6 WAR. Both of those guys made the All-Star team for the A.L.
Max Kepler is third on that list, with 3.0 WAR, and he’s not on the team.
Put another way, Max Kepler has created more WAR than several of the players selected ahead of him for the Midsummer Classic — starters George Springer, Michael Brantley, Hunter Pence (the starting DH), and reserves like Mookie Betts, Whit Merrifield and Austin Meadows.
The Twins made a bet on Kepler over the winter and the German left fielder has over-delivered. He’s crushing pitching to the tune of .269/.344/.548, and his 21 home runs and 53 RBIs as of July 1 might stand out more if he wasn’t on a team full of mashers. Max Kepler legitimately has a case as one of the top-5 or -10 best-hitting outfielders in the American League.
If you’re going to present a case that Kepler is a deserving all-star, I won’t argue. If you’re going to try to put him on the team, I’ll ask you: Who is he going to replace? Here are the A.L. outfield reps.
OF: Mike Trout, Angels
OF: George Springer, Astros
OF: Michael Brantley, Astros
OF: Mookie Betts, Red Sox (player vote)
OF: Joey Gallo, Rangers (player vote)
OF: Austin Meadows, Rays (player vote)
OF: Whit Merrifield , Royals (MLB choice)
Here’s my point. Those are 7 great players.
I love stats, and it’s the prism through which I view Major League Baseball. But it’s OK with me that the All-Star Game is about more than picking which players accumulated the best stats over the first 3 months of the season.
A listener to the SKOR North Twins show on Monday shared with us a couple stats about Kepler. They were shared in response to a question about the first-half performance of some of the best players in the game. It turns out, Kepler has outperformed Red Sox star and reigning MVP Mookie Betts in many major offensive categories, including Weighted On-Base Average and Weighted Runs Created-Plus (hat tip, Drew).
And while I appreciate the sentiment, I think we all should acknowledge that Mookie Betts is an all-star, even after a slow start to the season. All-Star Games are, to me, a product of what you’ve done so far this year in addition to the body of work accumulated over previous seasons. Having a name won’t get you a free pass to have a bad year and still get selected. Or at least it shouldn’t. But I — a stats-loving internet baseball writer and host of a radio show about the Twins — have no problem with a name getting you a head start.
Market the game, push the stars and celebrate excellence. I just want what’s good for baseball.
I’m not even upset by the White Sox getting 3 all-stars to the Twins’ 2. I’m just setting the record straight.
We’ve talked all year about how good and deep this team is. It will getting better and deeper after a trade or two in July, and the Twins will make a play for October. How poetic that the 53-30 Twins have:
a) the second-best record in the A.L.;
b) an 8-game lead in their division;
c) more home runs and more home runs per game than any team in baseball;
d) the A.L.’s best run differential (+113); and
e) Only 2 players considered to be All-Stars
OK, so maybe some Twins player will be added as we go along here. And maybe the time off would be nice for a lot of guys — especially catchers and those dealing with minor injures. And maybe the response to this alleged “snubbing” will turn out to be a net positive (see: Kepler, Max, and the Instagram post in which he said simply, “eyez on the prize.”)
Eddie Rosario having a great year necessarily diverts attention from Kepler, which borrows attention from Nelson Cruz, which downplays the contributions of Byron Buxton, etc. It’s probably bad for the All-Star marketing of a Minnesota team to have many players putting together good seasons. Good recipe for October, but a bad recipe for mid-July, perhaps.
Stars stand out on bad teams when they’re surrounded by guys that aren’t pulling their weight. On the 2019 Minnesota Twins, apparently, stars blend in.