Scenes from Spring Training: A day with the Twins, Part 3

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Twins Win.jpgThe game itself was your standard spring training affair (I decided to go with a more inspiring pic).  Shaky pitching, shaky defense and a lot of guys you’ve never heard of in the late innings. Unlike the Mets-Nats game on Sunday, there weren’t a ton of exciting prospects on either team to look forward to, so I just sort of let the game wash over me.  Random observations:

  • Because veterans like Albert Pujols don’t hump it across Florida for spring training road games — especially when they have a bad back — Joe Mather got the start at first base. I had a really, really strong urge to go up to him in the clubhouse afterwards, pull a Borat and ask him (in a foreign accent) if he thought he had a good shot at winning the starting job to break camp;
  • Colby Rasmus started the game with three strikeouts and a homer and came to bat late with a chance to make a full house. Sadly, he grounded out 6-3, robbing us of a truly fantastic batting line;
  • The National Anthem singer was out sick with laryngitis (seriously) so they played a tape of an instrumental version of the song and had the crowd sing it.  At first I was impressed. You don’t hear that everyday and, really, when you get 8,000+ people singing in unison it kind of works out.  By the time we got to the “Oh say does that Star Spangled” windup I was starting to get creeped out by the “Triumph of Will” vibe to it;
  • Heading into the top of the third, Orlando Hudson and
    Justin Morneau run out to the field together. Hudson avoided the chalk line, hopping over it. Morneau stepped right on it.  I can only assume that Morneau will be crushed by a falling anvil at some point this season for taunting the Baseball Gods;

  • Tony La Russa (a) held a really long mound meeting; and (b) made a pitching change in the middle of the inning. I know the guy can’t help himself, but maybe someone should tell him that he chairs a committee designed to do away with such game-lengthening conduct;

  • They announced that yesterday’s crowd — 8,228 souls — was the largest in Twins spring training history.  Worth noting, however, that there were tons of Cards’ fans at the game. So much so that when the crowd sang “Take me out to the ballgame,” the words “root, root, root for the Cardinals were unmistakable.  Twins fans: you got pwned in your own park;

  • Great moments in pinch running history: Delmon Young hit
    a triple and was replaced at third by Nimitz-class first baseman Brock
    Peterson. I’m guessing Peterson — the kind of guy who I’m guessing has been described as “hulking”
    at some point in his life — doesn’t get much pinch running duty;

  • The next inning someone — I think it was Matt Tolbert; I probably need to start keeping better score — pinch ran for Nick Punto, and scored a run while executing a wholly unnecessary slide into home plate (the ball was somewhere north of Orlando at the time). It was like he was screaming “look
    how great a pinch runner I am!”

  • In the sixth inning the PA played “YMCA.” In the seventh — in addition to “Take me out to the ballgame,” they played “Sweet Caroline.”  Between that and the Jimmy Buffet and James Blunt songs they played before the game I was thinking of taking a hostage;

  • At some point late in the game La Russa lost his
    DH when he moved him to second base. Query: was it a mistake, was it simply one of those things you don’t care about in spring training or — and this is my guess — was Tony “the genius” La Russa trying out a bold new strategy for interleague games? Stupid? Stupid, you say?  This is Tony. La. Russa. 
    He
    saw you at the paddock before the second race outside the men’s room
    before he placed his bet. He saw you before you got up this morning.

  • The game ended on a pickoff at first base. 7-6 Minnesota, though it’s hard to care about the results of a spring training game.

If you read Monday’s installments you know what came next. That’s right, babies: gangbang.

Don Mattingly thinks pace of play can be improved by changing views on strikeouts

Miami Marlins manager Don Mattingly sits in the dugout prior to a baseball game against the Los Angeles Dodgers in Los Angeles, Monday, April 25, 2016. (AP Photo/Kelvin Kuo)
AP Photo/Kelvin Kuo
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Marlins manager Don Mattingly has one potential solution to the pace of play issue: change the way people value strikeouts, the Associated Press reports.

Strikeouts have been rising steadily since 2005. Then, a typical game averaged 6.30 strikeouts. In 2016, there were 8.03 strikeouts per game. There are many explanations for this phenomenon. For one, teams are searching specifically for young pitchers who can throw hard — like triple-digits hard. They figure they can teach them the other pertinent skills in the minors. Second, Sabermetrics has shown that a strikeout is only marginally worse than an out made on a ball put in play. Sometimes, the strikeout is preferable, especially if there’s a runner on first base with less than two outs and a weak hitter at the plate. Sabermetrics has also shown home runs to be the best and most efficient way to contribute on offense. Furthermore, younger players tend to focus more on power in order to get noticed by scouts. Unless it’s paired with other elite skills, a scout isn’t going to remember a player who hit the ball into the hole on the right side, but he will remember the kid who blasted a 450-foot homer.

Here’s what Mattingly had to say:

Analytically, a few years back nobody cared about the strikeout, so it’s OK to strike out 150, 160, 170 times, and that guy’s still valued in a big way. Well, as soon as we start causing that to be a bad value — the strikeouts — guys will put the ball in play more. So once we say strikeouts are bad and it’s going to cost you money the more you strike out, then the strikeouts will go away. Guys will start making adjustments and putting the ball in play more.

[…]

If our game values [say that] strikeouts don’t matter, they are going to keep striking out, hitting homers, trying to hit home runs and striking out.

Simply believing strikeouts are bad won’t magically change its value. However, creating social pressure regarding striking out can change it. Theoretically, anyway. Creating that social pressure is easier said than done.

There is a dichotomy here as well. Home runs are exciting. Strikeouts and walks are not. Often, though, the three go hand-in-hand-in-hand. A player actively trying to cut down on his strikeouts by putting the ball in play will also likely cut down on his strikeout and walk rates. There doesn’t seem to be an elegant solution here. Wishing for fewer strikeouts, walks, and homers doesn’t really seem to give way to a more exciting game.

Sean Doolittle: “Refugees aren’t stealing a slice of the pie from Americans.”

ANAHEIM, CA - JUNE 25:  Sean Doolittle #62 of the Oakland Athletics pitches during the ninth inning of a baseball game against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on June 25, 2016 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images
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In the past, we’ve commented on Athletics reliever Sean Doolittle and his girlfriend Eireann Dolan’s community service. In 2015, the pair hosted Syrian refugee families for Thanksgiving and their other charitable efforts have included LGBTQ outreach and help for veterans.

Athletes and their significant others have typically avoided stepping into political waters, but Doolittle and Dolan have shown that it’s clearly no concern to them. In the time since, the Syrian refugee issue has become even more of a hot-button issue and Doolittle recently discussed it with Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times.

I think America is the best country in the world because we’ve been able to attract the best and brightest people from all over the world. We have the smartest doctors and scientists, the most creative and innovative thinkers. A travel ban like this puts that in serious jeopardy.

I’ve always thought that all boats rise with the tide. Refugees aren’t stealing a slice of the pie from Americans. But if we include them, we can make the pie that much bigger, thus ensuring more opportunities for everyone.

Doolittle, of course, is referring to Executive Order 13769 signed by President Trump which sought to limit incoming travel to the United States from seven countries: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. A temporary restraining order on the executive order was placed on February 3, a result of State of Washington v. Trump.

Doolittle spoke more about the plight refugees face:

These are people fleeing civil wars, violence and oppression that we can’t even begin to relate to. I think people think refugees just kind of decide to come over. They might not realize it takes 18-24 months while they wait in a refugee camp. They go through more than 20 background checks and meetings with immigration officers. They are being vetted.

They come here, and they want to contribute to society. They’re so grateful to be out of a war zone or whatever they were running from in their country that they get jobs, their kids go to our schools, they’re paying taxes, and in a lot of cases, they join our military.

Around this time last year, Craig wrote about Doolittle and Dolan not sticking to baseball. They’re still not, nor should they be. Hopefully, the duo’s outspokenness inspires other players and their loved ones to speak up for what’s right.

[Hat tip: Deadspin’s Hannah Keyser]