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Where We Are, Where We Are Going, By the Numbers

Posted by alskntwnsfn , 14 August 2014 · 728 views

Our Minnesota Twins enter today with a record of 54-65, tied for 12th in the AL with Boston, and bringing up the rear in the AL Central. The Forums and Blogs could fill volumes about what has transpired, what should have happened, and where we can go from here. However, I'd like to take a more quantitative approach and look at the team versus the rest of the league to see what we can deduce about the team and where they are losing the most ground. Based on this data, I'll comment a bit on what this means going forward.
Here's the your 2014 Minnesota Twins in a nutshell (through 8.13.2014):

Win-Loss Record: 54-65
Pythagorean Win-Loss Record: 56-65
W/L Rank in AL: T-12/15
Payroll: $84,912,500 (11th/15 in AL)

Hitters and Fielding
AL Runs Scored Rank: 8th/15

Weighted Runs Created (wRC+) by Position (100 = league average, definition):
Position: Twins, AL, and Diff.
C: 108, 94, +14
1B: 90, 107, -17
2B: 115, 91, +24
SS: 97, 85, +12
3B: 94, 99, -5
LF: 91, 102, -11
CF: 114, 103, +11
RF: 86, 98, -12
DH: 88, 102, -14
All Pos: 97, 99, -2
Runs/G: 4.20, 4.23, -0.03
Fielding%: 0.985, 0.984, +0.001

Pitching

AL Runs Against Rank: 12th/15

Starters: Twins, AL, and Diff.
Starters ERA: 4.97, 3.99, +0.98
QS Ratio: 44%, 51%, -7%
xFIP: 4.20, 3.91, +0.29
K/9 & BB/9: 6.0 & 2.5, 7.3 & 2.8, -1.3 & -0.3
BABIP: 0.319, 0.299, +0.020

Bullpen: Twins, AL, and Diff.
Bullpen ERA: 3.28, 3.63, -0.35
xFIP: 4.04, 3.75, +0.29
K/9 & BB/9: 6.9 & 2.7, 8.3 & 3.3, -1.4 & -0.6
BABIP: 0.291, 0.292, -0.001
W/L in Relief: 17-13, 18-17, -

Total ERA: 4.35, 3.86, +0.49
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So what can we say about these numbers? The starting pitching has largely failed this team. Currently the starters' ERA is nearly a full run above the league average. The offense has been excellent from "up-the-middle" positions but production from the corner positions (and DH) lags far behind the rest of the league.

Let's dig a bit further, starting with the hitters. The most obvious thing is that Joe Mauer has really hurt this team since moving to 1B. It's hard to overstate this enough. He accounts for 27% of the payroll and the team is trailing the league average 1B by 17 wRC+. Hopefully this will change, and he's been hot recently since returning from the DL but these numbers look back, not forward. We could look at a variety of hitting metrics here, but wRC+ is a good one that incorporates overall hitting contribution. If not for Kurt Suzuki's unexpected, above-average play it would look even worse. What else? Traditionally, offensive production comes from the corners and the DH. We are significantly lacking at four of these five positions (but still below average at all five). Injuries to Willingham have hurt. Arcia has been banged up but has largely been a bust this year (injuries haven't helped). Still I'm glad he's getting a chance to play despite his struggles. Rather than use the DH as a position to stash a defensively-limited, stud hitter, they have again used it as a position to plug in whomever Gardy wanted in the lineup that day that he didn't have room for. A DH by committee usually isn't a good sign, certainly not if you're "saving" it to rest the legs of a below average 1B or feature below average hitters at every corner position. The Twins have been pleasantly surprising up the middle, getting above average production from Suzuki, Santana, Dozier, and Escobar (and Fuld, essentially). These guys have largely offset poor production from "power" positions allowing us to rank in the middle of the pack in runs scored overall.
Which brings us to the pitchers. This is where the Twins are losing the most ground to their competition. More specifically, it's the starting pitching. Despite good seasons from Phil Hughes and Kyle Gibson, the rest of the rotation has been way below average. Our starters have been a little unlucky as evidenced by their xFIP and BABIP, but still, they strike out less batters, get taken out sooner, and provide fewer QS (quality starts) than other staffs. The bullpen has actually been better than the league average. However, further analysis suggests they may be getting somewhat lucky. Like the starters they strike out fewer hitters, but have a much lower BABIP and their ERA is well below what would be expected from their FIP. They've also managed a better record that the rest of the league; however, this is more likely a by-product of poor starting pitching performances (i.e. less opportunity to blow leads and more opportunity to vulture come-from-behind wins).
What does this mean going forward?
The first order of business is to decide what 2015 will be about. Will they attempt to win the division or use it as a "transition" year? In any case, the rest of 2014 must allow the team to assess what pieces can contribute at SP and the "power" positions. Finally, I think it would be wise to consider the bullpen. There's a good chance they'll regress. It falls off tremendously after Perkins. If they are to compete for the division, let alone in the postseason, they really need two or three above average arms in the pen. Right now there aren't any complementary bullpen arms who are (well) above average.

Personally, we should have relatively low expectations for 2015. The Twins will likely be trying to assess the same issues next year. In my opinion, the best we can hope for is to find one to three players who can be fixtures at power positions (Sano, Vargas, Arcia). Unfortunately, they don't have any power prospects in the upper levels beyond the aforementioned guys. On the staff, Nolasco has to improve, obviously, but they also need to fill in two other positions (assuming nobody gets hurt, which never happens with pitchers right?). Maybe Meyer and May can do that, but it's asking a lot to go 2-for-2 with top pitching prospects out of the gate (health issues aside). And the bullpen... they need to find two or three upgrades there as well. Maybe Stephen Pryor, the art school phenom or Nick Burdi? Do all that, stay health... and we can win the division next year. But as you can see, the odds do not look good by expecting minimal injuries and getting production upgrades from all those positions.
As good as the farm system is, they are still a few years away. The best thing this team can do would be to deposit the money it saves from shedding contracts in the bank and wait until 2016 (or the trade deadline in 2015 if things are going better than expected). In the meantime, try out the rookies (Vargas, Sano, Buxton, Pinto) and take flyers on some AAAA players. Remember, Jose Bautista, Chris Davis, Nelson Cruz, Brandon Moss, Chris Davis, Dallas Keuchel, Colin McHugh, and Tyson Ross were all picked up for next to nothing. If they can find one or two of these guys it could set us up for 2016 to sign a few vets and compete. The Twins can offer playing time at several positions after this year if we don't lock ourselves into expensive veterans with limited upside in 2015, which will probably be another rebuilding year.

*All stats come from Baseball Reference and FanGraphs.
Note: I apologize for the lack of formatting in the data, I realize it makes the data much harder to read. I made several attempts to align the data to make it easier to read but it would always get reset by the blog editor prior to publishing. If anybody knows how to construct/import tables in TD's blogging application, feel free to PM me.

  • Danchat likes this



Really interesting analysis. It really points out the conundrum the team is in- they're only a few players short but they're the hardest players to find.The Twins need a #1 starter along with a second starter than can pitch #3 or 4, #4 and #5 hitters that can drive in runs, and another power arm or two in the bullpen.  Unfortunately, that means they're only 3 or 4 players short but they have to come in and be 3 or 4 of the best 5 players on the team.

 

The best comment was that the team has to decide what 2015 will be about.  If they try to find these players from the minors it's a transition year, if thy want to contend that they need to sign FAs or trade minor leaguers with good upsides for established vets. It will be interesting to see which way they go. My guess is the team will bring up the younger players and hope they develop so they can contend in 2016 and beyond.

Surprisingly, it's not the rotation that concerns me for 2015. I like Hughes, Gibson, Nolasco, Milone, May, Meyer, Pelfrey and a couple secondary "just in case" options available. Mostly young, talented, and potentially the deepest and best SP staff in years. My concerns are the offense and bullpen. Mauer being Mauer for at least 140 games, hopefully 150, is HUGE. Dozier is for real. Arcia is wild, but young, and immensely talented. Hopefully the lightbulb goes on in 2015, or at the very least, the dimmer switch gets turned way up. I like Vargas a lot. He has a nice swing, decent contact, power and OB from both sides. I think it's just a question of how soon holes get closed and adjustments get made. Suzuki could lose 50 points off his Avg, still make decent contact and have a decent OB and be a helpful bat in the bottom third of the order. Pinto could greatly assist the overall production from the C spot. Plouffe has really grown, and I don't think he's hit his ceiling yet. Of course, he is keeping the hot corner warm for Sano. Escobar and Santana have simply done everything we could have dared dream; hit, play defense, perform, and perform well without going up in a puff of smoke that so many expected. The problem offensively is one nice veteran, power, RBI bat to consistently hit at the 4 spot behind Mauer. This is key. It allows Arcia, Vargas, and others, to hit 5 and lower to fill out and deepen the lineup. We could make a major trade. However, if we can, I'd rather find a quality FA to fill this spot/responsibility and hold down one of the corner OF spots. I'm not ready to trade prospects just yet for that "piece" we need. I'd rather wait one more year before going down that path. The bullpen, to me, is a conundrum. We have a premium closer. We have a very solid guy in Fien who I really like, though I'm not sure he's really the 8th inning guy you want to count on. I'm high on Thielbar and like Deunsing. I think Darnell might be a really good LHer for the pen, who can get SO's BTW. And there are a couple other LH options who could help. From the right side, we have Swarzak, down a little this season but known and reliable, along with possibles like Deduno, Pino and now Pressly. The minors offer Tonkin, Achter, Oliveros and Guerra. The real bite here is these guys all offer real ability and potential, and are all having excellent seasons. But is there ONE that makes you feel comfortable pairing them with Fien to give us that 7-8 inning duo we can count on? On the one hand, you want to audition each of them and give them their shot. On the other hand, you really want to sign that one really good FA setup guy to help solidify things.

"The most obvious thing is that Joe Mauer has really hurt this team since moving to 1B. It's hard to overstate this enough. He accounts for 27% of the payroll and the team is trailing the league average 1B by 17 wRC+. Hopefully this will change, and he's been hot recently since returning from the DL but these numbers look back, not forward."

 

I think you are being immensely short-sighted when it comes to Mauer.This year 1B has been Mauer + replacement players.We all know that his wRC+ would be higher if Mauer had been healthy all season.

Also, it makes no difference which position produces the runs.You might think of adding the runs that Dozier produces at 2nd base and adding them to the runs that 1B produced (+24-17=+7)and say that the Twins are doing very well in the power department at those positions.

Well done, Andy.Hopefully the picture would have been brighter with a full year of development for Sano and Buxton.I do think you understated how bad the defense is.

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alskntwnsfn
Aug 15 2014 06:51 AM
Hey! Lonestar! I could have gone into more detail there, but had to draw the line somewhere. My overall sense is we are slightly below average, when factoring in range and consistency, but not too bad. Not elite, on most days, but not terrible.

As for Mauer... He has a wRc+ of 100, so exactly league avg, not great for a 1B but better than our alternatives. Playing through injuries might explain some of that but lots of other players play through stuff too. He's definitely better than what he's showed this season.

Also, we don't need to be above avg at every position. But we can't be below average at all the positions that are supposed to be productive either, not if we want to sniff 90 wins.

I also agree with other comments that we could see some regression next year from our middle positions. However those guys have definitely earned the right to be penciled in for 2015.
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alskntwnsfn
Aug 15 2014 08:27 AM

 

I think you are being immensely short-sighted when it comes to Mauer.This year 1B has been Mauer + replacement players.We all know that his wRC+ would be higher if Mauer had been healthy all season.

Also, it makes no difference which position produces the runs.You might think of adding the runs that Dozier produces at 2nd base and adding them to the runs that 1B produced (+24-17=+7)and say that the Twins are doing very well in the power department at those positions.

 

I am being fair and reasonable when it comes to Mauer. He has been league average, but has been 7% below the league average 1B. Given his contract, he needs to be have a wRC+ well above 107 if we are going to have a top 5 offense. This isn't to say Joe's bat and his contract will continue to be an albatross. He's a potential HOF'er. He's likely to improve on his numbers this year and next, but we can't expect a +.870 OPS next year either. It's possible, but unless Joe gets some help even a decent season from him won't matter enough. 

 

You are correct in stating that it doesn't matter which position produces runs, however, Dozier's production has nothing to do with Mauer or the other corner positions. Poor production from the corners and DH spot is why we haven't been above league average (in offense) since 2010 (when we had Morneau, Cuddyer, Thome, Kubel (in his prime), and Delmon's only decent season). That's plain to see, and yes, they've tried to address it, somewhat half-heartedly, through signing Willingham/Doumit and giving Parmelee and Arcia playing time. But it hasn't worked out very well, and even at the time expecting big things from all those players was far from a sure thing.

 

The pitching staff has been an even bigger issue and mgmt decide to spend most of its money there (and on Joe's contract). So I'm not going to second too much. I thought they should have signed Nelson Cruz or Mike Morse because those deals were so team friendly, but maybe they did and they chose to go elsewhere.  

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Paul Pleiss
Aug 16 2014 05:00 PM

Mauer hasn't hurt the team since moving to first base. He's having a sub-Mauer year, but that's a product of him being healthy. When you compare him to other 1B in the league his numbers aren't going to match up the way you typically thing of 1B guys. That's not Joe Mauer. Expecting him to become a power first, low average guy because he moved from out behind the plate is silly.

 

He's Joe Mauer. He takes walks, hits singles, shows doubles power and works the count. That's valuable. It's valuable at catcher, it's valuable at first base, it's even valuable when he's DHing.

 

Don't worry about where the runs come from so much as long as we're scoring them.

 

When Joe had to move behind the plate, the options became find a place to play Joe, or not play Joe. Playing him at first base is significantly better than not playing him, or having him be the everyday DH. Keep running him out there, he's Joe Mauer, and he's going to do Joe Mauer things (and that doesn't include hitting for power).

 

Don't focus on his 23 mil price tag. That is money already spent, money spent when the organization thought he would be a catcher for at least a few more years than he has been before moving out. Separate the production on the field from the contract. Once you ink someone to a deal, it becomes almost meaningless to talk about the money. Joe Mauer is a Twin, and they paid to keep him a Twin. Anything they get from him going forwad is a plus. At first base, at DH, anything he does is value added to the team.

 

He's not hurting the team, he's a big part of the team's success, be it as limited as it may be this season (and for the last few).

 

Where in AK are you? I lived in Kodiak for a couple years. Not too many Twins fans, or baseball fans in general, that I came across in AK.

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alskntwnsfn
Aug 18 2014 10:37 AM

Well, I guess I disagree about Mauer. He is having a sub-par year, that was my point. I don't expect him to hit 30 HRs but he needs to be around 290/370/440 in order to help the offense in any meaningful way. His contract is tough because it limits the amount of money we have available to do other deals. I'm not mad about him 'not earning his money', I don't care, it's not my money. But it does suck that Mauer will hamstring us financially for years to come.

 

I'll still root for him and with the concussion, he's where he needs to be, but that doesn't change facts. 

 

I lived in Juneau for 10 years but moved back to MN last year. Been to Kodiak once. Flew over the airport twice before that. Tough weather out there.