Last Updated: 2018-02-25
What a difference a year makes. The Minnesota Twins easily flew under their season win total with my favorite bet of the 2016 season. After losing 103 games, the Twins rebounded in a big way to be a participant in the AL Wild Card game. They were a major underdog to the New York Yankees in that game and did lose, but an improvement to 85 wins was quite an accomplishment.
There were quite a few people in Minnesota’s corner last season from a futures standpoint, as the Twins had a 66-96 Pythagorean Win-Loss record during the worst season in Minnesota Twins history. The Twins lost 104, 110, and 113 games during their years as the Washington Senators. I didn’t buy in and I was way off in my assessment. PECOTA was all about the Twins from Day 1, as a regression in their awful defense created some positive projections and a lot of the market fell in line with that forecast. It wound up being the right side.
As we go into the 2018 season, I really don’t know what to expect from Minnesota. Full disclosure here that this is a team that could repeat last season’s run, but could also finish with 85+ losses. I think this is an extremely high variance team. After all, the Twins were 50-53 going into August and went 35-24 the rest of the way to play at Yankee Stadium in the one-game playoff. Unlike last season, the alternate standings metrics are against the Twins, with an 83-79 Pythagorean Win-Loss record and an 81-81 BaseRuns record. The Twins were 45-43 at the All-Star Break with a -60 run differential. Their one really good month, August, coincided with the start of Cleveland’s 22-game winning streak, which left the division crown nothing more than a pipe dream.
Many are taking for granted the idea that the Twins will be the only pseudo contender in the AL Central to challenge the Indians. As a result, there has to be some built-in inflation because Minnesota certainly appears to be more of a polished product than the White Sox, Tigers, and Royals, all of whom could very well lose 90+ games this season. A total of 57 games against those three teams should, theoretically, allow the Twins to pad their record a little bit. The Twins were 34-23 against those teams last season.
Let’s see if we can put this puzzle together and find out what to expect in the Twin Cities this year.
Season Win Total Odds:
5Dimes: 83 (-110/-110)
BetOnline: 82.5 (-130/100)
Bovada: 82.5 (-145/115)
Additions: Logan Morrison, Jake Odorizzi, Fernando Rodney, Addison Reed, Zach Duke, Tyler Kinley, Michael Pineda, Brock Stassi, Taylor Featherston, Gregorio Petit, Ryan LaMarre, Nick Buss, Myles Jaye, Matt Magill
Losses: Anthony Recker, Matt Belisle, Bartolo Colon, Dillon Gee, Glen Perkins, Hector Santiago, Chris Gimenez, Nik Turley, Byung Ho Park, Buddy Boshers
It has been an interesting offseason for the Twins. They took advantage of a soft free agent market to grab Fernando Rodney and Addison Reed at very good prices. The Michael Pineda gamble won’t yield much of a return this season, but a cheap 2019 season relative to his upside could be fun.
Just before posting these, the Twins picked up Logan Morrison on the cheap. Morrison will assume DH duties while Joe Mauer plays first base most of the time. It was a solid signing and another example of why being patient was so important for teams this winter.
The losses aren’t overly significant. Some bullpen arms were lost, but the Twins quickly replaced those.
The best addition that the Twins made was hiring Josh Kalk for the front office. The Twins have been embracing a different front office philosophy since hiring Derek Falvey away from the Cleveland Indians. It makes sense for the Twins, who are in a fairly small market by MLB standards, to have a lot of really smart people making decisions and looking for inefficiencies. Kalk did a lot of pitching work in the Tampa Bay front office and was a pioneer with PITCHf/x data.
Why bet the over?
The Twins were a pretty good offense last year and only got better in the second half when Byron Buxton got it all figured out. Miguel Sano is a great offensive player, but the future star of this team is Buxton. The 24-year-old added a .300/.347/.546 second half slash line to his elite defense. After a horrible .216/.288/.306 slash in the first half, Buxton put all the pieces together in the second half. He still struck out a ton and didn’t walk much, so the sustainability is in question, but his contact quality took a massive step forward. Buxton was also 29-of-30 in the stolen base department. He already has a high floor as a player with elite defensive skills and speed, but offensive gains could catapult him into the stratosphere of five or six wins above replacement player. Buxton accounted for 24 defensive runs saved, which is just ludicrous, and a 13.1 UZR/150. *If* the hitting can be league average or better over the course of a season, we’re talking about a stud.
Brian Dozier proved that his 2016 spike was no fluke. Dozier posted his second consecutive five-win season last year. He slashed .271/.359/.498, with a noticeable drop in SLG, which was to be expected after his 42-homer season in 2016. He made up for that drop by walking 11.1 percent of the time and the lower number of home runs allowed his BABIP to climb. Dozier was less effective on the bases and as a fielder, but had such a good offensive season, that his value didn’t drop off too far. He should still be in prime position for a 4+ fWAR season with his offensive ability at a position where offense isn’t commonplace.
Miguel Sano was limited to 483 plate appearances last season due to injuries. He still slashed .264/.452/.507 with 28 home runs. His offensive numbers went up across the board as he walked more and hit for more power. His contact quality also increased, as evidenced by a .375 BABIP. He also played mostly passable defense at third base. He hasn’t played a full season since 2015 and missed all of 2014, but Sano is a feared hitter when he’s in the lineup.
The supporting cast will define the position player group for the Twins. Because of Buxton’s defense and speed, Dozier’s offense, and Sano’s offense, those are all high-floor players. A guy like Eddie Rosario is tougher to figure out. Rosario slashed .290/.328/.507 in what was a breakout season for him with 28 HR in 589 PA. Rosario, like most Twins, carried a high BABIP of .312. He cut his strikeout rate by more than six percent and walked more often, though 5.9 percent was still way below league average. Rosario never really hit for a lot of power in the minors and had 23 HR in 828 PA prior to last season. Even with some regression, which is to be expected, Rosario should be a two-win player with an average to above average offensive profile and average to slightly below average defense.
Joe Mauer seems to be back. He still doesn’t hit for any power, but Mauer’s .384 OBP led to his best offensive season since 2013. Mauer’s contact-oriented approach is a big help on a team that does have a lot of guys that swing and miss. At least Brian Dozier and Miguel Sano walk to offset the strikeouts, but most of the roster walks at a below average clip, so Mauer’s good plate coverage and high average is a big help.
Logan Morrison brings a good skill set to the table. He posted a .363 wOBA with a 130 wRC+ as he joined the ranks of players obsessed with launch angle. Morrison went from a 34.7 percent FB% in 2016 to a 46.2 percent FB% in 2017. The end result was a lot more dingers. He has always been a guy with good power when he has been able to elevate, with some solid HR/FB% totals, but he took it up another level last season. He also made more hard contact than ever before and set a career-best in BB% at 13.5 percent.
The rest of the offense is full of guys with skill sets all over the map. Eduardo Escobar hit 21 homers. Jason Castro didn’t hit for any power, but drew walks. Jorge Polanco made a lot of contact, but didn’t have a ton to show for it. Max Kepler narrowly missed hitting 20 HR. The bench remains in tact with Robbie Grossman, who was above league average offensively last season, and Kennys Vargas, who still seems to have a bit of power upside.
The Twins were dealt some bad news when Ervin Santana had to undergo surgery to repair a problematic finger. Navigating through the first 4-to-6 weeks of the season without Santana won’t be easy for a team that lacks starting pitching depth. Fortunately, Jose Berrios’s development last season is a good starting point. Berrios posted a 3.89 ERA with a 3.84 FIP and a 4.51 xFIP last season. We don’t need to worry about the xFIP with Berrios, who has great raw stuff and won’t give up a lot of homers. He hasn’t at any other stop and his 2016 debut was the outlier of his career thus far. Berrios was better in the first half with a .219/.289/.365 slash against than the second half with a .252/.335/.393 slash against, but those were still solid second-half numbers. He does have some platoon problems, which will hopefully get ironed out this season as the youngster turns 24 in May. There is a lot to like about this upside and arsenal.
Jake Odorizzi can provide some solid innings for the Twins. Odorizzi was one of the pitchers hurt the most by the league’s launch angle craze. He’s also been a dude to allow a lot of homers, but he also allows a lot of fly balls and anything hit in the air that Byron Buxton can get to is caught. Odorizzi has regularly been a guy to post a better ERA than his advanced metrics, so he’s not a favorite of mine, but I can’t argue with three straight years of 2.0 fWAR or better from 2014-16.
Did the light come on for Kyle Gibson last season? His year-to-date numbers were not good, but he held opposing batters to a .306 wOBA in 76.2 innings of work in the second half. His strikeout rate went from 13.6 percent to 22.1 percent and his walk rate went from 10.1 percent to 6.9 percent. Gibson’s fastball command greatly improved in the second half, which led to the improved production. We’ve seen him be a tale of two splits in the past, so the potential is there.
The rest of the rotation will have to be cobbled together without Santana, who had a 3.28 ERA last season in 211.1 innings of work. Adalberto Mejia, Aaron Slegers, Stephen Gonsalves, and Tyler Duffey will have to figure things out. We could also see Kohl Stewart early in the year.
The bullpen is pretty decent here. Fernando Rodney had better numbers than his 4.23 ERA last season. He had a 3.03 FIP and a 3.71 xFIP. A 61.1 percent LOB% was his undoing as a reliever and that is such an important stat for relievers. If you see a high ERA, you’ll usually see a low LOB%. Addison Reed was a fine signing after another solid year with the Mets and Red Sox last season. Reed struck out exactly a batter per inning and had excellent peripherals.
Trevor Hildenberger was very good in his 37 appearances with a 3.21 ERA, a 3.01 FIP, and a 2.92 xFIP. If Tyler Duffey works in relief, he’s a bounce back candidate with a 4.94 ERA, but a 3.72 FIP and a 3.80 xFIP last season. Taylor Rogers is a very effective left-hander. I do actually like this bullpen.
PECOTA nailed it about the team defense. Byron Buxton is the best defensive center fielder in baseball. Jason Castro doesn’t provide a ton of value with the bat, but he’s a solid pitch framer and a good defensive catcher. Joe Mauer still plays well at first. Most of the rest of the roster can play something that resembles league average defense. Defense could be a strength for the Twins that may provide some surplus value.
Why bet the under?
As I was looking through the Twins’ offensive stats from 2017, one thing really stood out to me. There were several players that had extremely high batting averages on balls in play. As I expected, the Twins were a pretty significant outlier in the batting average department. Using Baseball Savant’s absolutely incredible Statcast database, I did a little bit of digging. The Twins had an expected batting average of .239, but had an actual team batting average of .260. That is based on launch angle, exit velocity, and distance. It was the third-highest discrepancy in the American League.
So, as you would expect, the Twins were also another outlier in the xwOBA – wOBA department. xWOBA stands for expected wOBA, once again, based on launch angle, exit velocity, and distance. The Twins had an expected wOBA of .316, but their actual wOBA was .335. That was tied for the second-highest discrepancy in the AL.
This should come as no surprise. Brian Dozier had a .300 BABIP, which was 20 points higher than his 2016 showing and 24 points above his career mark. Byron Buxton, who has the speed to carry high BABIPs, was well above the normal range at .339. His would appear more sustainable than Dozier’s, but the .378 BABIP he had in the second half was among the highest in the league and definitely not likely to continue. Miguel Sano does hit the ball incredibly hard, but he had a .375 BABIP after posting a .329 BABIP the previous season. Joe Mauer went from a .309 BABIP in 2015 to a .301 BABIP in 2016 to a .349 BABIP in 2017. His walk rate was pretty consistent with those previous two seasons, but the huge BABIP climb is why he was able to post a .384 OBP and such a fine offensive season. Jason Castro only hit .242, but he had a .318 BABIP, which was 14 points above his career mark, which is skewed by a .351 BABIP in 2013. He didn’t crack .300 in the BABIP department each of the previous three years.
There should be wide-scale BABIP regression for the Twins. The reason I went to the Statcast data was to see if there was something that changed from a contact quality standpoint or something organizationally. The Twins were sixth in average exit velocity, so it stands to reason that they could be one of the league’s better offenses in the BABIP department, but not to the extent that they were last season. The Twins actually dropped in average exit velocity from 2016 to 2017, but went from a team BABIP in 2016 of .300 to .306. So I don’t see any sort of organizational change, other than to say that it looked like an outlier type of season.
New addition Logan Morrison could be another BABIP casualty. He hit 38 HR, had a 46.2 percent FB%, and still posted a BABIP of .268. That seems a little bit high given the batted ball distribution. Fly balls do go for more home runs, but they also go for fewer hits. Projection systems actually trump up his BABIP because they don’t recognize the launch angle changes that can allow him to carry a high home run rate. They’re using multi-year sample sizes of batted ball distribution and Morrison elevated a lot less in the past. It makes it hard to project players like this, but I certainly wouldn’t put Morrison down for a higher BABIP.
Less offense means really bad things for this pitching staff. While Ervin Santana’s presence is important, let’s not ignore the fact that Santana was one of the league’s most fortunate pitchers. He had a 3.28 ERA with a 4.46 FIP and a 4.77 xFIP. He stranded 79.5 percent of baserunners and allowed just a .245 BABIP. We don’t often see numbers like that from pitchers without elite stuff and we certainly don’t see that type of strand rate without super-elite command or a high strikeout rate. Santana has neither. His loss hurts in that he was clearly the second-best starter on this team, but regression was coming for him anyway. He’ll also miss the first month-plus of the season.
I’m selling Jake Odorizzi stock. Minnesota’s ballpark was fourth in slugging percentage for right-handed hitters and fourth in slugging percentage for left-handed hitters. That doesn’t seem like a great place for a guy that allows home runs at an alarming rate. Odorizzi’s 10.1 percent walk rate just exacerbated the home run problem. He also dealt with a bad back last season that seems to be a progressive issue judging by his pitching performance. His BB% has risen each of the last two years and so has his home run rate. I’m not really buying that he is a big upgrade for this team.
Jose Berrios should be fine and his metrics supported the season that he had, but we also have to wait and see if his 2017 was legit. Judging by his minor league numbers it should be, but he’s now the unquestioned ace of this staff and will have a lot to live up to. Especially because the other guys in the rotation are Kyle Gibson, Adalberto Mejia, and Aaron Slegers. This is a pretty bad rotation. And, frankly, Berrios isn’t front-line material as of yet either. The stuff is, but the performance is not. Last year’s 3.89/3.84/4.51 pitcher slash is more like high-end #3 or above average #2 starter performance.
Defensively, the Twins should help out the pitching staff, but we’ve also seen Byron Buxton play the role of Crash Test Dummy a few too many times and he’s had a lot of injuries in his path to the big leagues. He had some more last season as a big leaguer. He’s a major part of this entire cog. The standard rule of thumb is that every set of 10 defensive runs saved equates to one win. On that alone, Buxton was more than a two-win player defensively. He has to stay healthy. It is imperative for this team. We often think about how much to adjust a team for the loss of a player in other sports. I’m not saying that Buxton was the sole catalyst behind Minnesota’s 26-game improvement from 2016 to 2017, but he played a massive role, especially as his offense improved. He’s one of the most important players to his respective team this season in all of baseball. That is not an exaggeration.
I’m not convinced with Eddie Rosario’s breakout. Guys that don’t walk are never going to draw my appreciation after a season like that because they are so BABIP and barrel-dependent. Rosario’s value last season was in his .312 BABIP and his .507 SLG. Rosario overachieved by 39 points per Statcast in the wOBA department. Again, I do need to point out that wOBA values are a little bit different at Statcast than at Fangraphs, where he had a .349 wOBA. Either way, he was an overachiever. Dozier was another big overachiever with a .338 xwOBA at Savant and a .370 actual wOBA. Buxton and Sano were also overachievers. This offense was very fortunate last season as far as I can see and the offense is what carried the team.
I do like the bullpen, as mentioned, so I can’t find a ton of faults with it. We do have to wonder about its upside with Fernando Rodney as the closer. I think this will be a group that works a ton of innings, so we’ll see how all of those guys handle the workload.
Pick: Over 82.5 (-130; BetOnline)
The Twins have a relatively high floor by playing three doormats in the AL Central a combined total of 57 times. I mostly just don’t want to get burned here. I will not be the least bit surprised if the Indians are the only team above .500 in the AL Central. I will not have a play on the Twins, but if I was forced to do so, I would go over the total. The recent addition of Logan Morrison deepens the lineup and provides a measure of sustainability because he is another guy that walks and hits for power. Because the Twins have to outslug everybody, that helps.
We’re still wondering if Miguel Sano will face any discipline for his alleged actions against a former team photographer. I’m still not a huge believer in the overall sustainability of this offense. But, I love the direction that they’re going under Derek Falvey and I’d rather err on the side of caution. They may contend for the Wild Card, but they’re not a threat for the division as far as I’m concerned. Also, a Byron Buxton injury seriously lowers my projection for this team. If the offense is real, that’s cool, but the defense is and this staff desperately needs that.
One final caveat: The Brewers made some enormous strides on the pitching side by looking at things differently. Average to below average starters like Jimmy Nelson and Chase Anderson suddenly made the leap. Don’t underestimate what somebody like Josh Kalk can mean to a team. I’m not sure if it happens instantaneously or not, but it is something I will be watching closely going forward.
-END OF 2018 PREVIEW-
Over the past three years of writing MLB previews, I’ve made it a point to highlight the ones that are the strongest opinions. The 2016 Minnesota Twins fell under that category. That was a bad team and it played out exactly how I expected with a 59-103 record and a team that was painful to watch night in and night out. That one was basically in the bankroll by the end of May. The Twins were 15-36 heading into June and it wasn’t going to get a whole lot better. The Twins were also 13-36 over their final 49 games, just to put the cherry on top.
Something strange is being projected in Minnesota, though. Those that go by the PECOTA projected standings will notice that the Twins are forecasted to go 80-82, with the majority of the improvement coming on the defensive side of the ball. It is worth mentioning that the Twins were -49 in defensive runs saved and had the second-worst UZR in baseball. Only Oakland was worse. Fielding projections are much better this season.
Furthermore, as we often see with teams that are really, really bad, Minnesota’s Pythagorean Win-Loss and BaseRuns record painted a little bit different of a picture. Minnesota was awful, but their Pyth W-L record based on run differential was 66-96. Their BaseRuns record was actually 71-91, which was the second-biggest jump aside from Tampa Bay, who was 68-94, but 81-81 per BaseRuns. BaseRuns is a context-neutral standings metric based on outcomes. The Twins should have allowed 0.24 fewer runs per game and should have scored 0.13 runs per game more. That would have accounted for 60 runs in the run differential. Alas, the Twins were bad and they didn’t do a ton this offseason to improve.
The Twins were 15-29 in one-run games and lost by five or more runs 33 times. Those are generally outliers that tend to regress to the mean. While there are no playoff aspirations, it seems like the numbers and the models are suggesting a bounce back for the Twins.
Season Win Total Odds
BetDSI: 74.5 (-120/100)
BetOnline: 74.5 (-115/-115)
5Dimes: 74.5 (100/-130)
Additions: Matt Belisle, Jason Castro, Craig Breslow, Ryan Vogelsong, Nick Tepesch, Drew Stubbs, Ben Paulsen, Chris Gimenez, Ehire Adrianza
Losses: Kurt Suzuki, Trevor Plouffe, Tommy Milone
This looks like the offseason of a team just waiting on its prospects to develop. Plug and play veterans and hope for the best. Jason Castro is a pretty big addition. Castro hasn’t been a useful hitter in three years, but he gives the Twins a massive upgrade as a receiver. He’s a very good pitch framer and the Twins have been horrendous at that in recent years. How bad? I’ll let Jeff Sullivan of Fangraphs explain. It’s never a bad thing to add relief help like Matt Belisle and Craig Breslow, who has reportedly lowered his arm slot.
Drew Stubbs is a fun addition for a team that sucked defensively. Stubbs isn’t much with the stick, though he can carry some value in a platoon capacity against lefties as a guy with a little bit of tread left on the tires defensively. Ben Paulsen raked in the light air of Coors, so we’ll see what he does in Minnesota, where the high limestone wall in RF suppresses lefty power.
Trevor Plouffe felt like an underrated player in his time with Minnesota, but he’s off to Oakland. Kurt Suzuki went to Atlanta. Meh.
Why bet the over?
Well, it seems a lot of projections like the Twins. It’s pretty easy to see why, to be quite honest. The defense will be better, the offense is okay, but the fact that the Twins were nine games better by Pythagorean Win-Loss and 12 games better by BaseRuns is a good starting point. Losing 100 games is really hard to do, but the Twins did it. Teams just get buried by the standings. Minnesota got off to a bad start and that was that. It became more about the next season and players knew that. It’s not a surprise that it played out the way that it did. Looking solely at two of the standings metrics that suggest regression, the Twins will be better.
Now, the question is, will they be better enough to go over their win total? Well, they have some good young talent that is a year older, beginning with Miguel Sano. With Trevor Plouffe gone, we’ll see Sano back at the hot corner. I think that’s a good thing because he’s more accustomed to playing there. He’ll never be a good defender, but he lost 15 pounds over the winter. Even while striking out 36 percent of the time, Sano posted a 107 wRC+ because he hit 25 HR and walked almost 11 percent of the time. One of the things that can be hard to wrap one’s head around with regards to advanced stats is that strikeouts are minimally more detrimental than any other kind of out. High-strikeout guys usually have power and usually draw walks. That evens out the negative value of a strikeout. Sano struck out in 36 percent of his plate appearances and still posted an OBP that was nearly league average. With about 1.25 seasons worth of plate appearances at the MLB level, Sano owns a .249/.346/.489 slash with a .357 wOBA, a 124 wRC+, and 43 HR. There’s a lot to work with here, especially if the defense can play somewhere within a standard deviation or two of league average.
Hindsight will have some things to say about whether or not the Twins should have pulled the trigger to send Brian Dozier to the Dodgers for Jose De Leon. First-year GM Derek Falvey, yet another of the top-level executives around the league to come from the Indians, opted to hold on to his second baseman. Dozier is signed for two more years at a very reasonable contract and is coming off of a career year with a 132 wRC+ and 42 dingers. He also stole 18 bases. He’s also an average or slightly better defender. That’s a really great building block for any team and the Twins are fortunate to have him.
Joe Mauer still gets on base at an elite rate with a .363 OBP last season. He just has next to no power. Mauer’s positional value is pretty low because he’s a light-hitting first baseman. His skill set would play much better at catcher where most guys are a negative offensively. He still has tangible value to this lineup, even if it’s not coming through in the advanced metrics. Mauer would be a good choice as a leadoff hitter with his OBP skills, but I don’t see Molitor going that route.
If you like the Twins, it’s because you buy into the upside of guys like Jorge Polanco, Max Kepler, Byron Buxton, and Kennys Vargas. We know that Sano should hit. Dozier will hit. Mauer is what he is. It’s these four guys that will dictate how the Twins do offensively. We’ll start with Polanco, who posted a 102 wRC+ last season. He was an awful defender, so that cut into his overall value, but the 23-year-old showed decent contact skills and a little bit of gap and extra-base hit power with his speed. Kepler hit 17 HR and played decent defense with five defensive runs saved in RF. He didn’t have a lot of contact quality, so his .261 BABIP weighed down his slash line. He posted some great BABIPs in the minors, so there’s some upside here offensively. For example, all of the projection systems have him as an above average bat this season and he could be a two-win player.
Byron Buxton was once the top prospect in all of baseball. A series of injuries coupled with looking overmatched at the MLB level has caused his stock to drop. Buxton struck out in 35.6 percent of his plate appearances last season, but he did hit 10 homers and steal 10 bases to show a glimmer of hope. He’s only 23 and he already plays a plus center field, so his offensive development will dictate his ceiling. He’s never really walked much, but he’s had a lot of contact quality at the MiLB levels and has great speed. Those are skills that play. Kennys Vargas posted a 120 wRC+ in 177 plate appearances last season and he’s penciled in as the DH this season. Vargas slashed .230/.333/.500 with 10 HR in a short sample size. He’s always had the power element and he works a ton of counts, so there’s value there, as long as he isn’t asked to play the field.
Being bad defensively is a major problem when the pitching staff isn’t very good. A team like the Royals elevated a bad staff by making a lot of plays. A team like the Twins was even worse because a bad pitching staff had no help. The pitching staff still isn’t very good, but there are some silver linings. For starters, Ervin Santana won’t miss the first 80 games of the season. Santana missed the first 80 games of the 2015 season and posted a 4.00 ERA with a 4.17 FIP and a 4.42 xFIP. This past season, Santana made 30 starts and posted a 3.38 ERA with a 3.81 FIP and a 4.21 xFIP. He was one of few Twins pitchers that actually outpitched the effects of the bad defense. He did that by inducing a lot of weak contact and he improved his K/BB rates.
The regression of Kyle Gibson was a disappointing thing to see last year. Gibson went from a 3.84/3.96/3.95 pitcher slash in 2015 with 2.5 fWAR to a 5.07/4.70/4.50 pitcher slash in 2016. His K rate went down, his BB rate went up, his HR rate ballooned, and his BABIP against went from .287 to .330. Because home runs don’t count towards BABIP, that was a really significant increase. It would have been anyway, but it’s magnified with the fact that allowing two more HR in 47 fewer innings should have kept the BABIP below .330. If Gibson can bounce back with a different defensive alignment, that would be really helpful towards the win total.
Hector Santiago has a beating heart and throws left-handed. Jose Berrios is only 22 and has some upside, even though his rookie season didn’t show a whole lot of it. This is a kid that put up very good numbers at each level of the minors. If the Twins defense is better, as expected, that helps a guy like Berrios. Trevor May is a guy that I really like, but the Twins sent him to the bullpen last season. He’s back in the mix for a starting spot this year. He has fared better as a reliever in his MLB career, but he missed quite a few bats in his stints as a starter. The command wasn’t quite there, especially facing the lineup the second and third time through, but doing some relief work isn’t a bad thing. There are additional reps and it can be easier to maintain consistency. I think he winds up back in the pen, but he could be a helpful piece in the rotation if he gets there.
The Catch-22 with May is that the bullpen really needs him. Right now, it looks like Brandon Kintzler is in line for save chances. He’s a pitch-to-contact ground ball artist, which can have some value in a back end capacity, so long as the team can field. He posted a 3.15/3.61/3.48 pitcher slash in 54 appearances. This is not a bullpen that misses a lot of bats, hence the importance of May, but it’s a bullpen that won’t allow a ton of baserunners via walks, so that’s a plus. It would help to get Glen Perkins back, but he only worked two games last season and is still dealing with some shoulder discomfort.
Why bet the under?
Phil Hughes pitched through a lot of discomfort last season before he couldn’t take it anymore and had thoracic outlet syndrome surgery in July. The success rate of this procedure was addressed a bit by Nick Lampe at Beyond the Box Score a few years ago. Matt Harvey, Royals prospect Kyle Zimmer, and Tyson Ross are others that have undergone this procedure and are working their way back. We’ll see how Hughes looks in his comeback effort, but I’m going to assume that it won’t go well. Even if it does, what is the actual ceiling for Hughes?
This is a problem that runs through the entire Twins rotation. The only guy with a ceiling that he has never reached is Jose Berrios. We already know that Hector Santiago isn’t any good. Santiago got away from Anaheim, where his fly ball style can work with the marine air of Angel Stadium, and wound up in Minnesota, where his home run rate ballooned. Santiago also left road parks like Oakland and Seattle behind. He posted a 4.70/5.31/5.46 pitcher slash on the whole and a 5.58/5.82/6.08 with the Twins in 61.1 innings.
Ervin Santana is the front man of this rotation, but he’s more Blaze Bayley than Bruce Dickinson. More Gary Cherone than Sammy Hagar. Shout-out to you if you get both of those references. Santana posted a 3.38 ERA last season, but that coincided with a drop in HR rate, while pretty much everybody else’s around the league was going up, and his highest K% in the American League since 2008. Color me skeptical.
Kyle Gibson really regressed last season. I think he honestly needs a change of scenery and a chance with a better defensive team. Gibson made some significant arsenal changes in 2015 that worked well. He increased the use of his changeup and threw fewer sliders. Last season, he threw fewer changeups and more sliders. I’m not sure how the Twins are doing from a player development standpoint and I think Gibson could underscore some of the problems that they have in that area. He gives up a ton of pull-side contact and that’s why lefties killed him to the tune of a .325/.392/.495 slash. Righties hit more home runs than lefties. He’s 29, so I don’t know how much development is left, but last season’s performance was really bad.
There’s absolutely no pitching depth here. With Hughes coming back from a significant procedure, the Twins are looking to Ryan Vogelsong or Tyler Duffey, another young-ish guy that I like that hasn’t really developed in the organization. This is the worst starting rotation in the American League to me. Unless the defense really improves dramatically, I just don’t see this group faring a whole lot better. That doesn’t even include the bullpen, which is a mess without Glen Perkins. Trevor May is the only guy that can consistently miss bats. Michael Tonkin has some swing-and-miss stuff, but nothing in the form of command. The pitching staff is horrendous. Adalberto Mejia may help in the middle of the year, but most of the usable starting pitchers in the system are in Double-A or lower.
Byron Buxton needs to prove it to me before I buy in. Years of lighting up minor league pitchers have not translated to the big leagues. To his credit, Buxton posted a .812 OPS in the second half of the season and his walk rate increased to nine percent, but I’m not buying into the offensive profile yet. Defensively, he’s quite solid and that should help, but he’ll cut into that value at the plate. Similarly, Max Kepler hit 17 HR, which is great, but he also posted a 93 wRC+ and a .313 wOBA because he made a lot of poor contact. He posted a .695 OPS in the second half as pitchers figured him out.
Jorge Polanco is a decent offensive piece, but he was -8 DRS in 406 innings at shortstop and posted UZR metrics that would make Tom Emanski come out of retirement and bring Fred McGriff with him. Shortstop is kind of a premium defensive position, if you haven’t noticed, and he was not good there. It seems unlikely that he would be good there this season. League average per Inside Edge Fielding data on plays that have a 90-100% success rate was 96.9 percent. Polanco was at 94.9 percent. Plays made 60-90% of the time had a 72.9 percent success rate. Polanco was at 66.7 percent. There are some small sample sizes in there, but he’ll need to improve greatly to be an asset there and I don’t see it.
Brian Dozier hit this big power surge in his 2013 season when he hit 18 home runs. From 2009-12 in various stints across the minors, Dozier hit 19 home runs in 1,738 plate appearances. They say that power is the last thing to develop, which is fine. Dozier hit 42 bombs last season. His ISO went from .209 to .278. His HR/FB went from 13.1 percent to 18.4 percent. Basically, pop ups became home runs. Dozier posted a 19.7 percent IFFB% in 2015 and a 13.2 percent IFFB% last season. He also hit more fly balls overall. Are these power gains sustainable? Probably not. Is 30 reasonable? Sure. Forty, however, is not. He slugged 102 points higher last season than he had in the previous season, which was then a career high. I don’t see a repeat of last year’s six-win season for Dozier. Something more like his 2014 season with 4.7 fWAR makes sense, or maybe even lower with the new offensive environment we’re playing in. I think Dozier regresses and a Twins team deficient in so many other areas can’t have that.
Season Win Total Pick: Under 74.5 (+100; BetDSI)
I don’t see it. I realize that some defensive gains should come, but this team has the worst starting rotation in the American League in my mind. The bullpen is one of the worst. The defense will be better, but I don’t know how much. The offense has a lot of variance in my mind. Things could improve if Buxton goes off or if Sano starts mauling pitchers like he can, but the supporting cast doesn’t impress me very much with a low-OBP, high-SLG approach.
I’m also not a big fan of Paul Molitor and I really wonder how much development he and his coaching staff can get out of these pitchers. My biggest issue with the Twins in recent years has been on the player development side. Guys get to the big leagues, have various levels of success, and then regress. Some have had great success in the minors and have fallen flat in the pros.
The Twins weren’t as bad as last season’s 59-103 mark. The Pyth W-L and BaseRuns both painted a prettier picture. I still don’t see a team capable of winning 76 games. They’re in the low 70s for me and that’s with a floor that is a lot lower. This is a transitional year for the organization. One of my biggest criticisms with the Twins has been on the player development side. Derek Falvey comes from one of the best in Cleveland. He’ll whip this organization into shape, but it will take time. There needs to be a complete overhaul from the scouting staff to rookie ball and everything in between. I think that bleeds over into the product on the field.
The Twins will be a lot better, but sixteen wins is a lot to ask. I’m going to take the under and consider this one of my strongest bets of the season win total series.
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