|Sportsbook||Win AL Central||Win AL Pennant||World Series|
|Over/Under Season Win Total: 92.5 (BetOnline)|
The historic pace that the Minnesota Twins offense carried over the first couple months of the season eventually regressed, but not enough to keep the team from winning its first AL Central Division title since 2010. When the Twins got to the playoffs and faced the Yankees, the outcome was inevitable, simply because the Twins just can’t seem to beat New York in the postseason, but it was a wildly successful year.
The Twins fell one win shy of setting a new franchise record for regular season wins with 101. They spent 182 days in first place and were never more than one game behind after April 18. The Twins were 38-18 through May and had a 10-game lead by Memorial Day. Eventually, that lead was cut to zero, as the Indians tied the Twins for the division lead on August 9 and August 11, but Minnesota ultimately prevailed by a full eight games over their closest competitor.
As a team, the Twins got their slugging percentage up over .500 by April 20. It took until June 26 for Minnesota’s slugging percentage to fall below .500. The lineup even flirted with .500 into September. Including the Steroid Era, the Twins wound up with the second-highest SLG ever as a team. The #1 spot? The 2019 Houston Astros. The Twins did finish the year #1 in something, though. They hit one more home run than the Yankees and hold the all-time record with 307.
The revamped front office and player development staffs have made a tremendous impact. Hiring local with former Indians assistant GM Derek Falvey was a brilliant idea, as was bringing in cerebral ex-Tampa Bay Ray Rocco Baldelli to manage. The Twins went unconventional with pitching coach Wes Johnson, who had no MLB experience, but was a highly-regarded college pitching coach at Arkansas, Mississippi State, Dallas Baptist, and Central Arkansas. The Twins hired PITCHf/x guru Josh Kalk. Teams that go heavy in the analytics have been handsomely rewarded and the results for teams like the Brewers and Twins speak for themselves.
The Twins are set up really well. Baldelli was the AL Manager of the Year. Johnson oversaw a pitching staff that made enormous strides from 2018 to 2019. The offense remains in tact and the punching bags of the division are still there, though the White Sox appear better this time around. Minnesota was 28-10 against the Tigers and Royals.
All of that being said, the Twins are not a lock to keep up last season’s pace. A 23-win improvement year over year is very hard to sustain. A 55-26 road record is tough to repeat. A 23-12 record in one-run games is as well. The baseball is likely to be very different this season after all of the press it received last season. Can the Twins be as successful without the ability to play Home Run Derby?
Will the pitching staff’s improvements carry over to the next season? As you’ll see, the differences were staggering. Regression from one or both of those areas could make it really tough, even with the margin for error that comes with 38 games against the Tigers and Royals. When we’re talking about high win totals, you have to consider the ceiling and the floor. The floor remains relatively high, but don’t be surprised if the ceiling is lower than it was last season.
|BaseRuns Run Differential||+184 (5.75/4.61)|
|3rd Order Win% Record||96.7-65.3|
|Record in One-Run Games||23-12|
|Additions: Cory Gearrin, Jhoulys Chacin, Josh Donaldson, Rich Hill, Homer Bailey, Tyler Clippard, Cody Asche, Jack Reinheimer, Wilfredo Tovar, Danny Coulombe, Caleb Thielbar, Alex Avila, Blaine Hardy, Juan Graterol, Ryan Garton, Jair Camargo, Kenta Maeda, Hunter McMahon, Matt Wisler|
|Losses: CJ Cron, Trevor Hildenberger, Kohl Stewart, Sam Dyson, Jonathan Schoop, Kyle Gibson, Ian Miller, Ronald Torreyes, Ryan LaMarre, Martin Perez, Brusdar Graterol, Luke Raley, Ryne Harper, Stephen Gonsalves, Sergio Romo|
Another strong offseason for the Twins, which is why opinions are so low on the Indians and so high on the Twins. The reigning AL Central champs got better with the pickups of Josh Donaldson and the depth at the back of the rotation with Rich Hill, who won’t be ready until midseason, and Homer Bailey. Tyler Clippard is also an excellent signing for the bullpen because he had great splits against both sides last season and won’t be affected by the three-batter rule.
The early February acquisition of Kenta Maeda was huge for a rotation that does have some question marks. The cost of doing business was a high-upside arm in Brusdar Graterol, but he would have had less of an impact on the 2020 season than Maeda.
None of the losses are overly significant. It is a shame that former first-round pick Kohl Stewart didn’t work out, but he’ll get a better chance in Baltimore with a clean slate. CJ Cron was a one-trick pony with power and not much else and Schoop was essentially the same way. The Twins are better now than they were last season and that should be the goal of every winter.
Furthermore, another offseason of study and improvement with the current roster, the front office and analytics department additions, and a second year for Rocco Baldelli. It’s hard not to be impressed.
The Twins weren’t just about power. It was a huge part of the equation with the all-time leading total of 307 home runs, but the Twins also hit the ball extremely hard and avoided strikeouts. That is critically important. Producing a lot of high-velocity contact and barreled balls is a great attribute, but having the opportunity to do that more often with a contact-focused lineup adds that much more to the offensive outlook.
Minnesota was first in baseball in xwOBA, which is Expected Weighted On-Base Average, a statistic produced by looking at the batted ball types, exit velocities, and launch angles, among other things. The better the contact quality, the better the expected outcome. The Twins finished at .347 in xwOBA, a full seven points better than the Astros, who actually led the league in SLG and wOBA.
Those numbers are unlikely to go down this season. Nelson Cruz led all of baseball in average exit velocity and Barrel% among qualified hitters. Josh Donaldson was sixth in Barrel% and fourth in average EV. If we lower the requirement to 250 PA, Miguel Sano was second, pushing Cruz to third. Mitch Garver was 39th. CJ Cron graded well in the exit velo and Barrel metrics, but he didn’t walk much and was a low-average, low-OBP guy to go along with the high SLG. As a team, the Twins were third in average exit velocity with the Yankees and Red Sox ahead of them.
The Max Kepler breakout that many were waiting for came, as he hit 36 homers and led the Twins with 4.4 fWAR. He did carry a rather low .244 BABIP with that extra power bump, but still managed a .336 OBP with a 10.1% walk rate. Kepler’s never been one to run a high BABIP, but there is room for improvement to a degree this season.
Nelson Cruz doesn’t age. The big man slashed .311/.392/.639 with a .417 wOBA and a 163 wRC+. He’s a DH and even with the positional adjustment, he managed 4.3 fWAR. Jorge Polanco gave the Twins a third four-win player with decent defense and a .295/.356/.485 slash line. Mitch Garver could be the gem of them all with 31 homers in just 359 PA and an 11.4% BB%. He posted a .404 wOBA and a 155 wRC+.
There’s Miguel Sano, who hit 34 homers and got back on track with his 439 PA. Byron Buxton remains an elite center fielder and manages to carry just enough offensive value. Eddie Rosario hit 30 homers, but suffered from a big BABIP drop to bring his OBP down to .300. He could bounce back. Now the Twins also add Josh Donaldson, who posted a .377 wOBA and a 132 wRC+ last season.
I’ve talked about this before, but teams that are average or better at every position have a huge leg up on everybody else because it is extremely rare. There are below average players all over baseball and most teams have at least a couple of them in the starting lineup. The Twins essentially have zero. They make a ton of hard contact, hit for power, and make a lot of contact in general. This offense is poised for big things again, even if the baseball is deader this season.
Smart teams around the league are piling up on dudes that hit the ball really hard. Strikeouts are not the major sticking point they used to be because those guys walk and also make violent contact when they do hit the ball. You know what’s scary about the Twins? They have a bunch of dudes that make violent contact and don’t strike out a lot.
To me, this is about as complete of an offense as you can get and this group is right there with the Astros and Yankees as far as AL teams go.
Remember what I said in the intro. The pitching improvements were dramatic from 2018 to 2019. The Twins went from 22nd in ERA at 4.50 to ninth at 4.18. They went from 22nd in FIP at 4.39 to fourth at 4.03. They went from 23rd in xFIP at 4.33 to fifth at 4.27, which is a sign of the offensive environment that we had last season. Their K% jumped 1.5% and their BB% dropped 1.9%. Those are all huge changes. They may very well stick around with Wes Johnson’s influence and a numbers-driven front office.
They also may not. This unit defines the ceiling for the Twins. The offense is going to be good and among the best in baseball. If this pitching staff can sustain last season’s gains and possibly even improve upon them, the Twins are going to the playoffs again. If they avoid the Yankees in the first round, they might even win a series.
Jose Berrios did not end the season on a high note. After a brilliant first half with a 3.00 ERA and a .285 wOBA against, Berrios’s second half saw a 30-point jump in batting average, a 35-point jump in OBP, and a 40-point jump in SLG. Berrios’s K% did go up from 21.6% to 25.2%, but his BB% rate also went up from 4.8% to 7.8%. Berrios’s command drop was the biggest development, as his BABIP went from .276 to .333 and his HR/FB% went up from 11.5% to 12.6%. Berrios’s IFFB% (pop up rate) went from 16.9% in the first half to 6.9% in the second half.
Berrios saw a velocity drop in July and August that did come back in September and his one October start, so maybe it was a mechanical problem. Maybe it was a dead arm period. But we found that Berrios with diminished velocity wasn’t the same guy. I’ll be watching him very, very closely early in the season.
Are we sure that Jake Odorizzi has completely turned a corner? Odorizzi went from a 4.49 ERA, 4.20 FIP, and 4.87 xFIP in 164.1 innings for the Twins in 2018 to a 3.51 ERA, a 3.36 FIP, and a 4.33 xFIP in 159 innings in 2019. His K% went up from 22.8% to 27.1%, a theme among Twins pitchers with more focus on getting punchouts across the organization, and his BB% dropped from 9.9% to 8.1%. For the second straight season, Odorizzi kept his HR/FB% low, but he is also an extreme fly ball guy.
Odorizzi’s SwStr% went from 10.2% to 12.7%, so the strikeout increase seems pretty legit, but he also got away with a good amount of hard contact, as he rated about average in Exit Velocity and Hard Hit%. The strikeouts were a lifeline for Odorizzi and maybe the biggest key for the Twins rotation this season. If Odorizzi isn’t above average, they will need more from Berrios and Kenta Maeda.
In order to compensate for the questions with Berrios and Odorizzi, the Twins filled a need and got Maeda. There are two very different sides to the coin with Maeda, who owns a career 3.87 ERA with a 3.71 FIP and a 3.76 xFIP across 589 innings with the Dodgers. The first is that Maeda goes from one smart organization to another and I can’t help but think being unshackled in terms of innings restrictions and competition is a positive for him. The Twins are a good fit for Maeda overall, especially with a decent defensive roster. It isn’t on the level of the Dodgers, but it’s still more than fine.
The second is that Maeda will no longer be protected by Chavez Ravine. In 303.1 home innings, Maeda allowed a .217/.274/.361 slash with a .273 wOBA. He had a 3.23 ERA with a 3.43 FIP and a 3.62 xFIP. In 285.2 road innings, Maeda allowed a .237/.305/.411 slash with a .306 wOBA. He had a 4.54 ERA with a 4.01 FIP and a 3.91 xFIP. So he went from very good at home to a little bit above average on the road and will now face an extra hitter with the DH.
It is worth noting that 25 of the 40 home runs that Maeda allowed on the road came in his first two seasons, so he did make some strides in those road efforts, despite the 5.12 ERA he had last season. A 65.5% LOB% was a big reason for that. I do think Maeda is something of a higher-variance addition, but I think his absolute floor is league average, which is better than most of the options for the Twins.
Homer Bailey goes from Oakland Coliseum to Target Field, so that worries me. He had a solid 4.11 FIP last season, but I’m not buying a lot of that stock, considering he worked 160 innings for the first time since 2013. Guys like Randy Dobnak and Devin Smeltzer are in line for a lot of starter innings with Michael Pineda suspended and Rich Hill recovering from elbow surgery. A lot hinges on Berrios, Maeda, and Odorizzi this season.
The Twins bullpen was way better than expected last season, as the team was fourth in SIERA, first in FIP, and a rather unlucky 10th in ERA. I am looking for some regression here. Closer Taylor Rogers was unbelievable with a 2.61/2.85/2.84 pitcher slash and a 32.4% K% to go along with an excellent 4% walk rate. Rogers, though, only had a 10.9% SwStr%. He had an 11.3% SwStr% in 2018 and had a 28.9% K%. Not that I’m expecting a big drop, but he likely won’t perform as well in the K% department and that means a decrease in his 86.2% LOB%.
Trevor May had a 2.94 ERA with a 3.73 FIP and a 4.15 xFIP. He became more of an extreme fly ball guy, but cut his home runs, worked around walks, and his BABIP was 65 points lower in 2019 compared to 2018. The light came on for Tyler Duffey, who almost doubled his K% to 34.5% and ran a 15.4% SwStr%.
On one hand, way too many players improved for this to be a coincidence and it is entirely possible that the Twins have found a magic code, especially with the overall increase in velocity. On the other hand, it is tough to expect all of these guys to be that good again.
Positives & Negatives
Rocco Baldelli is already one of my favorite managers in baseball. I saw him make some very proactive decisions in games against the Indians and he seems to be a perfect blend of analytics and a player’s mentality, as he isn’t that far removed from being an outfielder in the Rays organization. That being said, I would like to see even more aggression. The Twins were fourth in most plate appearances against the third time through the order versus a starter. The Mets, Nationals, and Indians were first, second, and third and boast elite rotations. The Twins do not have an elite rotation. Not surprisingly, opposing batters hit .296/.347/.478 against the Twins in those plate appearances. That .825 OPS was in the middle of the pack, but it felt like an unnecessary risk. On the plus side, Berrios was the most frequent 3TTO guy and he was pretty decent overall. Kyle Gibson and Martin Perez were both awful and they are gone. Odorizzi was really bad at it, but he only had 130 of those plate appearances.
The Twins are doing a lot of things right. They’ve put forth a big investment in analytics and have made some outside-the-box hires, like Baldelli and pitching coach Wes Johnson. The proof is in the pudding. They won 101 games last season and were the most dominant team in baseball for a time. Every area of the team improved dramatically. Now we wonder how much improvement is left and if that new bar can be kept as high as it was last season.
Pick: Over 92.5
This line looks too low to me. The Twins are better than they were last season with the additions of Donaldson and Maeda. These smart teams get better or sustain their performances as the analytics take hold because they put the right people in position to translate that information to the players.
The Twins are innovating. They are sharp. They are smart. And they are spending. They added Maeda and his salary. They added Donaldson and a big free agent deal. They are making moves. They aren’t playing the role of a smallish-market team. They are proactively trying to improve the roster while they have the chance, with no regard for what happens with the upcoming CBA mess. Fortune really does favor the bold. And the Twins are bold right now.
This could very well be the best offense in baseball. I realize that the Twins padded their numbers against the Tigers, Royals, White Sox, and Orioles, but they’ll have that chance again. The contact quality 1 through 9 in the lineup is virtually unmatched. The Twins are also among the teams best equipped to deal with a different ball if there are changes.
The Twins won 101 games last season, got better, and their alternate standings metrics were still comfortably over this win total line. The White Sox are better, but not 13 games better. The Indians are probably not winning 93 games. The Tigers and Royals are still doormats. With 76 division games last season, the Twins won 50 games. I find it hard to believe that they can’t get at least halfway to this win total with those division games. That leaves another 86 games to get enough wins to go over.
This one is on my shortlist as a bet as the spring goes along. I want to see how healthy the Twins rotation is going through the ramp up for the season because that group is thin on depth and a little bit low on ceiling. For now, I do like the over as a pick and it will likely be a bet before the teams head out for Game 1 of 162.