5 Surprises in Minnesota’s 2021 ZiPS Projections
Image courtesy of Tim Heitman, USA Today Sports1. Healthy Arraez Heading for AL Batting Title
2021 ZiPS Projection: .313/.371/.406, 32 2B, 5 HR, 3.2 WAR
No. 1 Player Comp: Cecil Travis
Entering the 2020 season, Luis Arraez was coming off a tremendous rookie year and expectations were even higher for his sophomore campaign. His first 10 games were rough as he hit .212/.289/.502 without a single extra-base hit. He dealt with a knee injury throughout different parts of the season, but he seemed to put it all together over his final 22 games. During that stretch, he hit .367/.398/.481 with nine doubles and 12 runs scored.
Just like the 2020 projections, ZiPS pegs Arraez to lead the American League in batting average. His 3.2 WAR is also the highest on the team among position players as he finishes just ahead of Josh Donaldson, Nelson Cruz, and Max Kepler. It would certainly be exciting to have a healthy Arraez fighting for a batting title, but the Twins will likely want one of the other star players to lead the team in WAR.
2. Polanco Bounces Back
2021 ZiPS Projection: .279/.333/.440, 32 2B, 17 HR, 2.8 WAR
No. 1 Player Comp: Buddy Bell
There has been plenty of discussion this winter about what role Polanco should serve with the 2021 Twins. Will he be the team’s everyday shortstop, or does it make sense to bring in another option and shift Polanco to a utility role? During the last two off-seasons, Polanco has been forced to undergo ankle surgery and that’s a consideration for the team when planning for the future. Last year, Polanco posted career low marks in batting average, OBP, and slugging percentage.
Looking at ZiPS for Polanco and the projections clearly have him inline for a bounce back season. His projected slugging percentage would be six points higher than his career mark and his 17 home runs would only trail his 22 longballs in 2019. Also, he has accumulated 30 doubles or more in every season he’s played at least 130 games. Defensively, there were some improvements last year, but he has finished eighth among AL shortstops in SABR’s SDI in each of the last two seasons.
3. Maeda Set for Major Regression
2021 ZiPS Projection: 4.12 ERA, 135 1/3 IP, 154 K, 45 BB, 2.2 WAR
No. 1 Player Comp: John Montefusco
Maeda’s first season in a Twins uniform went about as well as it could possibly go. He finished runner-up in the AL Cy Young Voting after posting a 2.70 ERA, 161 ERA+ and a MLB leading 0.75 WHIP. It was everything the Twins hoped for when they traded for him and the best news is, he is under team control for the next three seasons. His season might have been the most dominant performance by a Twins starter since Johan Santana was traded away.
It seems highly unlikely for Maeda to be able to replicate his 2020 numbers during the 2021 campaign. The season will include more than 60 games and his 2020 totals were far superior to any previous season in his big-league career. ZiPS has his ERA 37 points higher than his career mark. Another oddity is that ZiPS has him scheduled to make eight appearances out of the bullpen, which would be similar to his time in Los Angeles. Maeda should outperform his ZiPS projections and Twins fans better hope he isn’t needed out of the bullpen.
4. Pineda Pitches Under 100 innings
2021 ZiPS Projection: 4.58 ERA, 92 1/3 IP, 84 K, 20 BB, 1.1 WAR
No. 1 Player Comp: Dave Eiland
Pineda’s time in Minnesota has been marked by one season where he was recovering from Tommy John surgery and parts of two seasons where he missed time due to a suspension. Last season, he made five starts and allowed 10 earned runs in 26 2/3 innings (3.38 ERA). Since joining the Twins he has posted a 1.16 WHIP and a 115 ERA+. The 2021 season can mark his first time pitching a full season for Minnesota, but the projections aren’t exactly kind to his performance.
Injuries have been part of Pineda’s professional career and that’s why ZiPS limits his projected innings pitched. In fact, there are over 10 pitchers projected to pitch more innings than Pineda for the 2021 Twins. His career ERA is 4.02 and he has only posted one season with an ERA higher than his projected 4.58. Another intriguing note is the fact Pineda can be a free agent following the 2021 season. Will he perform better in a contract year? Or will the Twins be willing to work out an extension?
5. ZiPS Loves Randy Dobnak
2021 ZiPS Projection: 4.53 ERA, 137 IP, 91 K, 37 BB, 1.6 WAR
No. 1 Player Comp: Dick Drago
Dobnak’s first two seasons in Minnesota have seen some ups and downs. Back in 2019, his rookie season was unbelievable as he posted a 1.59 ERA with a 1.13 WHIP across 28 1/3 innings. This culminated in the team turning to him for a Game 2 start in the ALDS. Last year, his ERA rose to 4.05 and he had a 1.35 WHIP while seeing his strikeout per walk total be cut in half. Eventually, he was optioned to the team’s alternate training site, but he was part of the team’s Wild Card roster.
In an absence of a minor league season, the minor league writers at Twins Daily held a minor league draft last summer. One of the biggest takeaways from that draft was how much ZiPS loves Randy Dobnak. His projected career WAR total was the highest in the draft and it helped Steve to walk away with the best overall team. Among pitchers, Dobnak is projected to have the team’s third highest WAR as he only trails Berrios and Maeda.
What other surprises were in the Twins 2021 ZiPS projections? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.
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