By Shawn Connolly

With the Boston Flowers returned to the ILB Postseason for the first time since Season 2, it is tempting to assign the responsibility for their successful Season 14 campaign to a new acquisition, Nagomi McDaniel, one of the splort of baseball’s true star pitchers. Indeed, the importance of Nagomi’s stunning 17-3 record cannot be understated, and her 1.30 ERA led the league.

But I don’t believe she was the lynchpin of the team.

Nor do I believe it is team acting captain Margarito Nava, despite xer 40 home runs and impressive 1.025 OPS+. Nor Glabe Moon’s astonishing six-star defense, or even relatively new additions like SCORES BASERUNNER or Zesty Yaboi.

No, dear reader, I come to you today to make the case that the lynchpin of Boston’s success in Season 14 was a largely unheralded player, one who has been with the team since late in that second season. I come to you today to make the case that the lynchpin of Boston’s success… is Nic Winkler.

And to prove it, all we have to do is to see how well the team performed… or didn’t… without him.

Thanks to the advent of Flooding weather, several players throughout the ILB spent part of the season Elsewhere, giving the curious fan a chance to see just how well a team would play without one of their players. The Boston Flowers lost four players to Flooding this season (excepting Gloria Bugsnax’s trip Elsewhere in Season 13, from which xe returned on Day 2):

  • Nic Winkler (swept Elsewhere on Day 6, returned on Day 40)
  • Inez Owens (swept Elsewhere on Day 40, returned on Day 47)
  • Glabe Moon (swept Elsewhere on Day 50, returned on Day 52)
  • Lenny Spruce (swept Elsewhere on Day 62, returned on Day 75)

Obviously no player was lost to the Flowers quiet as long as Nic; he was gone for 35 days (more than a third of the season), as opposed to Inez’s 7 day trip, Glabe’s 2-day weekend, and Lenny’s 13-day jaunt. But is that enough to make him Important to the team?

Bearing in mind that we are talking about pretty small sample sizes here, I would argue that it absolutely is — because the Flowers played demonstrably worse during that 35-game stretch. In the first five games of the season, the Flowers got off to a hot 4-1 start, but starting with game six and Nic’s disappearance, the team stumbled. Boston’s record in games six through forty was 16-19 – a losing record. Upon his return, the Flowers went 30-29 the rest of the way.

So without Nic Winkler, the Boston Flowers had a winning percentage of .457; with him, they improve to .531, a significant increase of .074 points.

How does this compare with other players who were swept Elsewhere? The Flowers went 4-3 without Inez Owens and 46-46 with her, meaning their winning percentage actually improved from .500 to .571 while she was absent. 

Meanwhile, while Glabe Moon was absent the team posted a 1-1 record, but 49-48 with her, a minuscule increase from .500 without her to .505 with her. I for one think the very brief period of her absence makes it hard to draw much conclusion, but nevertheless, there’s the numbers. Glabe’s presence made the team’s winning percentage improve by .005.

Finally, Lenny Spruce’s absence saw the team amass a 7-6 record, compared to the 43-43 record with him; that’s a winning percentage of .538 without the Flowers’ new tree friend compared to a percentage of .500 with him present. Like Inez, the Flowers played very slightly better while Spruce was away.

Now, a moment’s aside – I want to reiterate that the small number of games lost by Spruce, Moon, and Owens means that comparing winning percentages is pretty shaky. I was half-tempted to toss out the figures on Glabe Moon’s absence because she wasn’t even gone long enough for a full turn through the rotation! So there are plenty of quibbles to be had with this data, and I want to be clear that I am in no way claiming that the loss of Inez Owens or Lenny Spruce would somehow improve the Flowers!

What I am claiming is that Nic Winkler’s absence coincided with the Flowers’ worst stretch of play in the season, and had Nic not returned when he did, it is entirely possible that the Flowers would have spent part of the regular season in Partytime.

Which begs the question… why did the absence of Nic Winkler hurt the Flowers as badly as it did?

Winkler is not the team’s best batter, of course, that would be Margarito Nava (or Jacob Haynes on a really good day). He’s not the best defensively-minded Flower; that was Glabe Moon. Actually, most players on the team are better defenders than Nic; he’s a much better batter than fielder. And while Nic is a pretty good baserunner, more than a few Flowers outdo him in that field. So why would his loss cause the team to skid?

Without getting into Forbidden Knowledge, which is A) unavailable to me because I don’t have any Apples on me, and B) y’know… Forbidden, I can only hazard guesses. 

Perhaps it’s his position in the lineup; the #3 hitter in a batting order is traditionally a hitter with enough pop in their bat to keep a pitcher honest, an old-school slugger to try and drive in the leadoff hitter when they hopefully get on base but also patient enough to be able to work a walk – a bad result for a pitcher, as the cleanup hitter in the #4 slot will be trying to drive them home. It’s possible that Lenny Spruce was simply less effective as a #3 hitter than as a #4 hitter.

Perhaps it’s simply that his demonstrably streaky hitting allows him to play above his usual level, so that on a good day Nic Winkler is a much more intimidating presence in the batting box than a look at his hitting stars would suggest. When he’s vibing, he’s pretty hard to stop.

Perhaps. But… maybe it’s something a little less statistic-driven.

Nic Winkler is a local boy from Slouthie made good. Fans from the insular community reliably pack the stands in the Garden to cheer on the kid they watched blossom into a true ILB star. Maybe with Nic gone, those fans stayed home, and it’s that lack of fan support that made the Flowers slump. After all, plants need CO2 to grow, and what better source than a bunch of shouting, drunken Slouthie kids shouting their cheers from the stands?

Perhaps it’s none of those things, and someone with greater mathematical acumen than I could point to a more compelling narrative – or, indeed, disprove my entire theory. But until someone does, I would argue that the numbers don’t lie. Nic Winkler is the lynchpin to the Boston Flowers’ success.

Honestly, it’s as good a theory as any.

Shawn Connolly is some rando from the Internet who found baseball one day and just never left. No one really knows why. He can be found on Discord as DivineCoffeeBinge, or on Twitter as @dcb42. He likes coffee, the Boston Flowers, and tweeting a steady stream of angry nonsense.

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