3 X-Factors for the 2020 Twins
Image courtesy of © Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports1. Byron Buxton
Buxton could single-handedly dictate whether the Twins are eliminated or championed in October. The Twins were 53-25 when Buxton started and 48-36 when he didn’t in 2019. After saving 24 runs and receiving MVP votes in 2017, Buxton hit .156/.183/.200 in just 28 games in 2018. With a new manager and service time manipulation behind him, he broke out and hit .262/.314/.513 with 44 extra-base hits in 87 games last year. His magical season ended Aug.1 when he separated his shoulder colliding into the wall at Marlins Park.
Buxton has moved swiftly in his recovery from labrum surgery and even took live batting practice Wednesday in Fort Myers. Buxton ranked fourth among centerfielders in success rate added in 2019, per baseball savant, and his 26 outs-above-average in 2017 ranked first among all defenders. Buxton was always an elite defender, but his career high 114 OPS+ in 2019 suggests that his immense upside as a prospect has not disappeared. Max Kepler is a plus defender in right and can keep his legs fresh with Buxton in center. Starting further back toward the warning track and getting regular days off should help Buxton stay healthy in 2020, and if he does, the sky is truly the limit.
2. Lewis Thorpe
Thorpe first pitched in the Twins’ system in 2013 and has posted phenomenal strikeout numbers in every year since. In five seasons in the minors, Thorpe put up a 3.50 ERA with 10.8 strikeouts and 2.9 walks per nine. The Twins are seemingly very high on him even after he allowed 19 runs in 27 2/3 big league innings in 2019. Righties hit .330/.371/.549 off him in 97 plate appearances. Thorpe’s swing-and-miss stuff played well though as he struck out 31. The underlying numbers suggest that bad luck was a key contributor. Thorpe had a 3.47 FIP, almost three full runs below his ERA.
Thorpe’s elite stuff shined through slightly in his debut. His 11.8% swinging strike rate would’ve ranked 22nd among qualified starters, ahead of Madison Bumgarner, Mike Minor, and Sonny Gray. Thorpe’s slider and curveball were rated highly through the minors and translated decently into the majors. His slider was swung on and missed 44% of the time and generated just a .285 expected wOBA. He threw his curve 86 times and got only 15 swinging strikes. His upside as a mid-rotation starter would be welcomed with open arms to this club, and he has a serious opportunity to hold a rotation spot before Opening Day.
3. Jake Odorizzi
Odorizzi was a quiet key to the Twins’ success in 2019. He allowed a sterling .620 OPS in the first half en route to his first All-Star Game. The Twins went 21-9 in 30 Odorizzi starts and his ability to shut down right-handed hitters especially shined in the AL Central. Odorizzi held the Indians to a .177/.278/.304 line and just four runs in 22 1/3 innings. He struck out 32 White Sox in 22 innings with a 2.86 ERA. Odorizzi struck out a career high 10.1 per nine while posting the lowest home run per fly ball rate among pitchers with 150 or more innings pitched (8.8%).
He had a treacherous July and allowed 19 runs in 23 innings. Take out Odorizzi’s start against the Yankees on July 24 (4 IP, 9 ER) and his ERA on the season drops to 3.07. That would’ve ranked 12th among pitchers with at least 150 innings, and firmly ahead of Stephen Strasburg, Walker Buehler, and Shane Bieber. Odorizzi started game three of the ALDS and pitched five strong innings, holding the potent Yankees to two runs and giving the Twins a chance to extend the series. Averaging just 5.3 innings per start in 2019, Odorizzi put in more work at the Florida Baseball Ranch this winter and is looking to take another step in 2020. If he posts another 131 ERA+, the Twins will flirt with 100 wins again.
Who do you think is the Twins' biggest X-factor for their success in 2020? Comment below!
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