I didn't put together a list of 'Shadow Twins' this year, mainly because I didn't think of it, but also because, by this time, we pretty much know most of the key Twins, don't we? I mean, sure, a certain percentage of us can chuckle at the rage invoked by pointing out - again - how Jason Kendall is one of Joe Mauer's best of-age comps (and this year we could have added the schadenfreude that comes with pointing out that Derek Jeter is also now one of Mauer's best of-age comps, despite being a shortstop instead of a catcher), but do we really need to? The only real mysteries are a) how is Nishioka going to do this year (and a perusal of baseballreference.com comps isn't going to answer that) and b) how's the bullpen going to hold up?
Instead, I got a look at Joe Posnanski's "The 32 Best Players in Baseball in 2011", and it got me thinking...
Why are we so obsessed over knowing (or thinking we know) who the best players in baseball are? Here's a thought experiment to give you an idea of what I'm talking about:
There are 30 teams in MLB, and 32 players on Posnanski's list. Eight of the 30 teams go to the playoffs each year, so how many players from Posnanski's list were on playoff teams last year?
Before I tell you how many, consider these points.
1) I'm guessing nobody would guess that fewer than eight players out of the 32 'best' play for playoff teams -- that goes against pretty much everything we've been led to believe about what makes a good team, or why we should be interested in getting good players. If the eight playoff teams had none of the top 32 players in baseball, then what's the big deal about getting 'good' players, by whatever definition of 'good' you're using to make that top 32?
2) Maybe you'll choose eight or nine or even ten players on playoff teams, figuring that the 'good' players are fairly evenly distributed. That's an interesting argument, and it makes sense from an economic perspective (or at least how we believe baseball economics works, where only the Yankees and maybe the Red Sox have the money to keep all their good players), but it kind of flies in the face of what we think of as how you make good teams, too, doesn't it? If every team has one of the top 32 players, then it's possible to imagine that your team's best player could be the 32nd best player in the league, and you could still make the playoffs. More about this later.
3) If you believe that good teams are made up of good players, then clearly you're going to pick a larger number than ten, or probably even twelve. You might believe that as many as half of the top 32 play for the eight playoff teams, which, considering the theory that good teams are made up of good players, and thus the best teams should have the best players, makes sense.
So, think up your guess, and compare it to the ideas above to see where you fall on the spectrum.
Of the 32 players on Posnanski's list, 15 played for a playoff team last year. Pretty definitive then, right? Option 3 wins the day.
Except...of the 15 players on Posnanski's list, 10 (or 9, depending on how you want to count #27) play for just three of the teams -- the Yankees, Giants, and Phillies.This means that the other five playoff teams are 'splitting' just five (or six) players. And yes, each playoff team has at least one representative in the top 32.
Put another way, the Twins, Rays, Braves, and Reds each have the same number of players in the top 32 as the Brewers, who finished below .500, did. Each has fewer players in the top 32 than the Rockies, who barely finished above .500 last year. And it takes all four of them together to beat the Red Sox in number of players in the top 32, despite the Sox finishing at least a game behind every division winner (in other words, they wouldn't have made the playoffs no matter what division they'd been in, given their record).
Put still another way, the Red Sox, who won 89 games last year, now have four guys on this list (#3 guy Adrian Gonzalez came over from San Diego during the off-season). The White Sox, who won 88 games last year, have zero. Should we write off the White Sox?
Considering this, I realized that the real contributing factor might not be how many 'great' players you have, but how many players you have that contribute toward victory. I figured a more interesting question than, 'who are the 32 best players in MLB' would be 'what's a roster of players you otherwise wouldn't think of who could, if put together, still win you a pennant'? A friend of mine used to do this all the time -- he'd start a simulation game, take a division, pennant, or World Series champion, trade away all their players for lesser known yet still fairly equivalent players, and replay the season to see if they'd still win.
It'll take some time to come up with an actual roster of 'second look champions', but as a quick-and-dirty introduction to the concept, just look at the 2004 Twins roster.