How the Twins Reshaped Their Identity in a Half-Decade
Image courtesy of Brad Rempel-USA TODAY SportsThe worst thing that happened to the Twins in 2013 was Joe Mauer's concussion. No question. That drastically altered the franchise's course, and couldn't have been avoided. But more broadly, there were a lot of things to hate about that season.
The five pitchers to receive the most starts for Minnesota were Kevin Correia, Mike Pelfrey, Scott Diamond, Sam Deduno and Pedro Hernandez. Opening Day starter Vance Worley posted a 7.21 ERA in 10 starts and was gone a year later. A punchless lineup produced only 614 runs, and nobody hit even 20 homers. Chris Parmelee, Pedro Florimon and Clete Thomas (!) all received 300+ PA.
It was a terribly built team that performed terribly, getting outscored by 174 runs. And as Twins fans rung in the new year of 2014, they had little concrete reason to hope for better days ahead. Ron Gardenhire had received a two-year extension in November, despite overseeing three straight seasons of 95+ losses. Terry Ryan remained firmly entrenched in the GM's chair.
Today, as we head into 2019, all has changed. The Twins have a new manager, new front-office leadership, new personnel everywhere, and a completely new set of guiding philosophies.
I think this is reflected best by the dramatic reshaping of the pitching staff.
In 2013, the Twins had zero starting pitchers with a swinging strike rate in the double digits. Rookies Kyle Gibson and Cole De Vries (who made two starts) tied for the team lead at 8.2%. The rotation collectively averaged 4.9 K/9.
In 2019, the Twins currently have four slotted starters. Here are the SwStr% and K/9 rates from their most recent seasons:
Jose Berrios (2018): 11.3%, 9.5
Kyle Gibson (2018): 11.5%, 8.1
Jake Odorizzi (2018): 10.2%, 8.9
Michael Pineda (2017): 12.1%, 8.6
We can throw in Fernando Romero as the fifth starter for now (10.6% swinging strikes, 7.3 K/9), and you've got a full rotation where the lowest whiff and strikeout rates are better than the highest in 2013. Sure, this is reflective of the game's general evolution to some extent (MLB's overall swinging strike rate was up from 9.4% in 2013 to 10.7% in 2018), but it also speaks to the front office's refreshing focus on stuff, velocity and missed bats. At almost every stop, they have sought and elevated pitchers with high-powered arms. Pitch to contact is dead.
The Twins now pack much more firepower on the offensive side, too. As mentioned, the 2013 team – a mixture of light-hitting profiles and fading former sluggers – had zero players reach 20 homers. The projected 2019 Twins lineup has six players projected to hit 20+ (per FanGraphs). If Miguel Sano gets healthy and rebounds, you've got two of baseball's hardest-hitting players potentially coming at you back-to-back:
Through the additions of Nelson Cruz, Jonathan Schoop and C.J. Cron (not to mention Jake Cave, Tyler Austin, Logan Morrison and others) the Twins have clearly emphasized building a threatening lineup full of aggressive, ferocious swingers. If it means sacrificing some OBP and defense, so be it. It's a bold gambit, but at least it's an assertive one.
I don't know if the 2019 Twins will be successful. No one does. But I do know this much: They will be wildly different in terms of fundamental composition than those bland, lackluster teams that sucked the life out of Target Field in the earlier part of the decade.
For that, I'm very thankful. And excited. Suddenly, we're only five weeks away from pitchers and catchers reporting to Ft. Myers.
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