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Regression For Twins Is Likely, But Not Inevitable

I have some bad news. You probably already know it, at least in the back of your mind. The success of the Minnesota Twins up to this point is not sustainable. At least, not in its current form. They are playing better, without question, but probably not well enough to stay above .500 or near the top of the division.

The good news, though, is that their play could easily improve to a point where winning baseball over the balance of the summer is perfectly plausible.
Image courtesy of Kevin Jairaj, USA Today
As Rotoworld’s Matthew Pouliot pointed out on Twitter, the Twins have the fourth-best record in the American League despite ranking 12th in runs allowed per game and dead last in FIP. By Pythagorean W/L, their expected record would be below .500 at 17-18.

Outside of newcomer Jose Berrios, the only starters with an ERA south of five are Ervin Santana and Hector Santiago. The bullpen had the makings of a ticking time bomb, and we’ve already seen some hiccups. On the other end, Miguel Sano has been their only truly outstanding hitter. To this point, almost any other regular has been disappointing in some sense.

Reviewing Minnesota’s roster and its performance through mid-May, this doesn’t look like a contender. A far cry from the 100-loss abomination in 2016, of course, but not a team that’s likely to hang with the big boys through September.

That could change.

While present trends portend it, a drop-off is not necessarily inevitable. That's because certain factors would serve to offset any imminent decline or regression to the mean.

For instance, there is the arrival of Jose Berrios. If his sensational season debut on Saturday was any indicator of things to come, he's a big game-changer for the tenability of this starting corps.

With two immediate needs in the rotation following Wednesday's rainout (Saturday and Monday), Adalberto Mejia and Kyle Gibson could both be heading back. At least one of them will be. At the end of camp, some believed Mejia and Gibby could be the staff's two best starters.

If either of them benefitted from a reset and comes out on track, that's a major boost. Both pitched well in Triple-A.

Phil Hughes is maintaining a delicate junkball balancing act, but he's going to hang in there unless things really go off the rails. What the Twins need is enough true mid-rotation guys to make him effectively their No. 5 starter. It's not a huge stretch.

The bullpen is a tough nut to crack. Either Matt Belisle has gotten his worst ball of the season out of the way, or he's cooked. We'll see. These dire control issues are absurdly uncharacteristic.

Ryan Pressly's stuff is way too good for that ERA. He was utterly filthy his last time out, hopefully a good omen. But he's awful tough to trust right now.

Brandon Kintzler is very solid, though I maintain skepticism about his outlook at closer. Taylor Rogers and Craig Breslow are proving well suited for their roles. Justin Haley is Justin Haley.

This bullpen could use a reinforcement or two, and they may be available in short order. J.T. Chargois was at last check starting a rehab assignment in Florida. Nick Burdi has been beyond dominant in Chattanooga, with a 0.61 ERA and 19-to-4 K/BB in 15 innings. He's a candidate for a direct promotion to Minnesota.

A sleeper might be Alan Busenitz, the hard-throwing 26-year-old acquired along with Hector Santiago in last year's Ricky Nolasco trade. After tossing 3 1/3 innings of one-hit, scoreless relief for Rochester Wednesday night, he has a 2.25 ERA and 21-to-8 K/BB with with five hits allowed in 15 frames.

The Twins have some fire to call upon in the late innings. Granted, it's wild fire. But as any Game of Thrones fan will tell you, wild fire can be an excellent way to ambush opponents.

On offense, the cavalry isn't as strong, but it doesn't need to be. The Twins lineup figures to improve on its own. Miguel Sano isn't going to slow down at this rate. Brian Dozier has brought a good approach to the plate and should start seeing more results. Same for Max Kepler and Jorge Polanco. Joe Mauer is on the upswing. Eduardo Escobar is an awfully nice plug to have around.

Things have shaken out favorably for the Twins thus far, sure, but the wins are already in the book. If they merely play .500 from here on out they're an 83-win team. It doesn't exactly take a blind leap of faith to see them exceeding that clip from here on out with just a few good breaks.

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34 Comments

Sano has 2.3 fWAR through 34 games, 2nd best in the AL and on pace for 10.96 WAR/162. If he keeps it up the whole year, and never slumps or gets hurt, obviously that would be a huge lift. Does it seem probable? Steamer projects 3.3 fWAR the rest of the season; ZiPS just 2.3 fWAR. He may not slow down that much, but he'll probably cool off to some significant degree. Something like 4-5 WAR the rest of the season seems more likely than 8+ WAR.

 

The rest of the lineup already seems to be performing about as well as I'd expect. Dozier has a 115 wRC+, matching his ZiPS projection for RoS and a bit higher than Steamer. Kepler and Rosario are meeting their projections. Vargas probably won't get much better if he doesn't get back to drawing walks. Grossman does draw walks but doesn't bring much else to the game. Polanco's line might improve some if his BABIP goes up, but his peripherals are as good as you could reasonably expect. Castro is what he is. Mauer has been hot in May, while pulling a lot of groundballs but posting a 50% HR/FB (LOL). Do I believe that Good Joe Mauer is back to stay? Come on.

 

I think Buxton is the one hitter who could get significantly better this season. On the other hand, his 96 wRC+ this month is already higher than his projections, and he's stopped drawing any walks for some reason. .242/.242/.515 (0 walks, 29.4 K%, 25% HR/FB) may be about as good as he gets this year.

 

On the pitching side... yeah, I don't see how it's not going to be the undoing of the team. Of course Santana is a prime candidate for big regression, even if he's not traded in July. Santiago is a back-end guy who depends on the team defense to prop him up--and it's been great, but he can't rely on the defense to always be there for him, as much as he does. Hughes is barely hanging on. If they can fix Gibson, great, but he was a marginal starter last year, too. Berrios had a nice outing in the bright glare and shadows last Saturday afternoon (although his xFIP for the game was 5.64), but after last season I'm still skeptical that he can make the jump until I see him pull it together for at least a couple months.

 

Meanwhile, the bullpen is one of the weakest in the league but somehow has been getting by because it has just 3 blown saves (tied for 3rd-AL). You know that's not gonna last.

 

There is some good young talent on the roster, and maybe the Twins can be contenders within a few years if Sano/Buxton/Kepler/Polanco reach their potential and Falvine are able to overhaul the pitching staff, but is it happening this year? It would take a lot of luck, and Falvine choosing to keep Dozier and Santana--and I'm not sure that I want to see that happen, either. Honestly, I hope the regression kicks in well before the trade deadline, so there's no doubt about whether the Twins should be sellers.

    • Mike Sixel likes this
I think we're already seeing the regression. The pitching is spiraling out of control.

They still haven't played every team. They have three solid starters that SHOULD be good. The bullpen is a mess. Who knows what the lineup will be. No rhyme or reason why certain people are batting certain places at certain times and not sure how you can arrange it so the Twins do get their hits and walks more strung together. 

 

See how they fare against ALL the teams. They MIGHT have a chance with their own divisional play, if they can get a 4th solid starter and the bullpen under control. But lots of holes, or lots of pieces not filling those holes...correctly.

 

I think Thylos has it right on the pitching but I quibble a little regarding the hitting. The Twins need someone to step up and be that consistent middle of the order bat to hit either 3 or 4 along with Sano.

 

And that should really be the "All-Star second baseman" who was supposedly worth more in trade than the Dodgers offered.Unfortunately he sucks on big time situations, like today, when he came up with 2 on and 2 out twice and left all 4 on base.But he has been great in hitting solo HRs when the game is not on line.About addition by subtraction time as far as Dozier is concerned...

    • jun and Doomtints like this
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Nick Nelson
May 18 2017 05:21 PM

 

And that should really be the "All-Star second baseman" who was supposedly worth more in trade than the Dodgers offered.Unfortunately he sucks on big time situations, like today, when he came up with 2 on and 2 out twice and left all 4 on base.But he has been great in hitting solo HRs when the game is not on line.About addition by subtraction time as far as Dozier is concerned...

 

Someone is bound to fight this one and show the exceptions, but the numbers don't lie. Most of his homers are with no one on base or with the Twins win already assured. He could do some damage on the right team where people ahead of him are always on base, probably, but on the Twins he is useless. He is probably the least feared 40 home run hitter in history.

    • Thrylos likes this

 

 

 

Sure.Those are 2 PAs from years past.

 

How about his 2 PAs today with men on? 

 

Or his .192 last season and .200 this season batting average in high leverage situations?

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Nick Nelson
May 18 2017 05:58 PM

Dozier drove in 99 runs last year and had an .856 OPS with RISP. What are you people talking about 

 

Dozier drove in 99 runs last year and had an .856 OPS with RISP.

 

Which dropped down to .739 with 2 outs and RISP, .672 in high leverage situations, and .532 in "Late and close" situations.

 

That's what "we people" are talking about...

 

And BTW, Here is the big one about his HR last season:

Men on: 12 HR / 248 AB (20.7 AB/HR) .Nobody on: 30 HR / 367 AB (11.5 AB/HR)

His career numbers: Men on 35 HR in 1104 AB (31.5 AB/HR), nobody on: 87 HR in 1732 AB (19.9 AB/HR)

 

Numbers do not lie.


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