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Should the Twins be favored to win the Central right now?

Posted by Supfin99 , 13 February 2019 · 1,127 views

Everyone assumes the Indians are a slam dunk to win the division again this year. But should they be runaway favorite? Looking at their roster I see a couple of huge advantages. The rotation might be the deepest in baseball, accumulating 5 plus War form 3 starters, 4 guys were above 3.9 WAR, which is where the top Twins starter, Berriios, resides. Their 5 started accounted for just over 20 WAR last season. The Indians also have the best left side of the infield in baseball with Lindor and Ramirez. Those 2 combined for just under 16 WAR. So just from rotation and left side of the infield the Indians are already at 36 WAR. That’s amazing and it already puts the Twins at a huge deficit..

But let's look a little deeper and play the what if game. I'm not seeing really any regression from the rotation or from Lindor and Ramirez. They are all proven commodities and very talented. But word just came out that Lindor strained his calf and will most likely miss the beginning of the season. Maybe he misses a little time and even when he comes back it takes a little while to get his feet under him. Maybe this makes him a 6 WAR player.

Lets look where the Twins will be in these same positions. Last year Berrios came in at 3.9 WAR. His peripheral stats were very similar to Clevinger who came in at 5.2 WAR. Clevinger stats were 200.0 IP 164 H 71 R 67 ER 67 BB 207 SO 13 W 8 L 1.16 WHIP 3.02 ERA. Berrios was 192.1 IP 159 H 83 R 82 ER 61 BB 202 SO 12 W 11 L 1.14 WHIP 3.84 ERA. As you can see IP, H, BB, SO and WHIP are all very similar. Their FIP was 3.52 to 3.84 and BABIP was .267 to .263. They were very similar pitchers. My point is that Jose is not very far from being a 5 WAR pitcher. Jake Odorizzi came in at 1.6 WAR last season. Jake seemed to struggle for most of the season and had career highs in walks and WHIP. But he still had less hits than innings pitched and and the 2nd best k/9 rate of his career. Jake could easily improve to a 3 WAR player which he has done twice in his career. Michael Pineda is a complete unknown coming off surgery and only pitched 12 innings last year. When healthy he has been a 1.5 to 2.5 WAR player. Lets say he stays moderately healthy and outs up a 2 WAR season. If Gibson pitches like he did last year he will produce a 4 WAR season again. That puts the Twins at 14 WAR thru the 1st 4 spots in the rotation. Now at 20 to 14 in WAR it doesn't seem so bad. This is also assuming full health form all 4 Cle starters. They have all been very healthy and consistent in their careers but that also means they have pitched a ton of innings over the last few years. Kluber has pitched nearly 1100 innings over the last 5 years and will turn 33 in April. Bauer has pitched nearly 900 innings over the last 5 years. Carrasco is at 850 innings over the last 5 years and will turn 32 before opening day. I'm not predicting injury or fall off but it happens. Even without it the Twins have too make up 6 WAR.

So based on the assumptions above the Indians will get roughly 14 WAR from Lindor and Ramirez. What can the Twins get from Polanco and Sano? Jorge was a 1.5 WAR player for half a season. He slashed ..288/.345/.427 for a .772 OPS. I really think that is what he can do over a full season. Sano has had 2 season above 2 WAR in his career. Now if Miguel comes all the way back to what he did as a rookie we are looking at a 4 to 5 WAR player but I think that is too much to ask. But if he can be solid, draw some walks and punish mistakes a season like 2017 when he was .264/.352/.507 is possible with 30 to 35 homers. That brings in 2.5 WAR. That would leave the those 2 at 5.5 WAR combined. Still along way from the 14 that Lindor and Ramirez put up.

Thru these spots I have the Twins trailing by roughly 15 wins. So where can they make it up? Well I believe the Twins are better at every other position. The Indians outfield right now is scheduled to be one of the worst in baseball. The 4 players predicted by MLB.com to get a majority of their starts are Leonys Martin, Tyler Naquin, Greg Allen and Jordan Ludlow. Huh? Who? Martin is a speed guy who turns 31 before the season starts and has played more than 95 games in a season just once in the last 4 years. The other 3 are complete unknowns who have no track record either in the majors or the minors of being anything more than league average. If they get 5 WAR combined from this group it will be a blessing. The Twins on the other hand could have one off the better outfields in baseball. In 2017 Buck played 140 games and put up a .727 OPS and still was a 5 win player. For Buck the only stat that matters in games played. If he can play 150 games it means he stayed healthy and produced at least enough at the plate to stay in the lineup. at 150 games played he is at least a 5 WAR guy because of his amazing defense. Kepler came in at 2.8 WAR last season and his OPS was only .727. Nearly everyone in and out of baseball believes that Kepler has more to offer. His peripheral stats all point toward to a better season. Cody Bellinger was worth 4+ WAR last season with an .814 OPS and 25 homers. Kepler is a better outfielder and in a good season at the plate can out up at least those numbers. Getting 4 WAR out of Max is very possible. Eddie put up a 3.6 WAR last season and that should be his career average. That puts the Twins at 12.5 WAR from the outfield and doesn't account for the fact that our 4th OFer, Jake Cave would most likely be the best option on the Indians. Our 5th OFer, Lamont Wade would almost assuredly start this season for the Indians.

Just from the outfield the Twins have already cut the WAR deficit to the Indians in half. Now lets look at the rest off the lineup. The Indians projected starters at 1B, 2B, DH and C according to MLB.com are Jake Kipnis at 2B, Carlos Santana and Jake Bauers will share 1B and DH and the catching positions will be platoon between Roberto Perez and Kevin Plawecki. Like the OF there is a staggering lack of talent here for a contending team. The Indians traded Yan Gomes who had the 8th best OPS for a catchier last year at .762 and 7th best WAR of 2.6. Replacing him is the duo of Perez and Plawecki, neither of who has ever been a full time catcher. Perez career high for at bats in a season is 248 in 2017 and that produced an OPS of .664 and a WAR of .8. Plawecki high was 238 AB and an OPS of .685 and WAR of 1.3. Best case scenario has these 2 combining for 2 WAR and it could be a lot worse. Perez produced a negative .5 WAR last year in 179 AB. Carlos Santana produced the 2nd lowest WAR of his career last season at 1.7 but still had 24 homers and drew 110 walks so he has value. He could bounce back to be a 3 win player but also turns 33 in April. Jake Bauers is a young guy acquired from Tampa that really struggled with average and getting on base but showed some pop with 11 homers and 22 doubles in 323 AB during his rookie season. It seemed curious that Tampa would give up on Bauers so quickly but we have learned from our own experience with them that they tend to be right in cutting ties with young players. (See Young, Delmon) At second is Kipnis who I thought was on his way to being a star 5 years ago. He has not and his last 2 years have nearly identical OPS of .704 and .705 and a total WAR of less than 2. He turns 32 in April so a big bounce back is doubtful. The combined WAR of these 3 positions will be less than 7 and could be much worse. If Santana and Kipnis' last years are just the beginning of the decline they could both be less than league average. The catching platoon has the ability to also be less than average. Bauers may never learn to hit for enough average to be a regular.

On the Twins side we will have Schoop at 2B, Cron and Cruz at 1B and DH and Castro and Garver splitting the catching. Schoop struggled in the Baltimore cess pool and then really struggled after the trade to Milwaukee. Schoop is just 1 year removed from being one of the best 2nd basemen is baseball in 2017 putting up a .841 OPS with 32 homers and 35 doubles for a WAR of 5.1. Even during last years struggles he still his 21 homers. His 2017 season may prove to be an outlier but a return to .270/.310/.470 seems very probable. Jed Lowrie produced an .801 OPS last year with 23 homers and that was worth 4.8 WAR. I think the possibility of Schoop producing at least 3 WAR is very strong with a good chance at 4 or higher. Cruz has been at least a 2.9 WAR player every year for the last 5 years. Now his stats were all down last year but that is from 3 excellent years prior and he still produced an OPS of .851 with 37 homers. Both of which would have led the Twins. He will turn 39 half way thru the season but unless he just falls off a cliff a 2 win season is probably the floor with a 3 win season much more likely. Cron had a career year last year with an OPS of .816 and 30 homers and a home run every 16 at bats. It may not be a complete outlier as his previous 2 season produced OPS of .792 and .742 with home run rates of 1 every 25 at bats and 1 every 21 at bats. The home run rate did improve this last year but it is part of a 3 year trend for him. He may not hit 30 again but with 500 AB 20 to 25 is definitely possible to go with an OPS in the upper 700's. That should put him right around 2 WAR again. Lastly the catcher spot where Castro is returning from a knee injury which is not good for a guy turning 32 at that position. Castro has been a .700 OPS guy for his career and is an excellent pitch framer. Garver is has his own injury concerns after suffering a concussion that ended his season. Garver was playing excellent and put up a .749 OPS during his rookie year. I think these 2 at least have the ability to be equal to the Indians catchers and put up a combined 2 WAR.

Adding it up I think the best case for the Indians is they get 7 WAR from these 4 positions and for the Twins the worst case scenario they get 9 WAR. I say the Twins receive a total 4 additional WAR from these spots than the Indians. That leaves the Indians ahead by roughly 3 to 4 wins before we look at the bullpen. The Indians have a great 1 in Brad Hand but the rest of their bullpen has question marks after letting Andrew Miller and Cody Allen leave in FA. The Twins have Taylor Rogers who nearly matched Hand last year in value. The Indians will be relying on a 34 yr old Dan Otero who was terrible last year and 37 yr old Oliver Perez who was fantastic. The Twins will be relying on Trevor May who was brilliant in a small sample size but is now 2 full years removed from Tommy John surgery. Hildenberger and Reed both struggled but have definite chance for improvement. Reed has been a very good reliever for most of his career and is only 30. His speed on his FB was down last year so lets hope it was due to an injury. Hildenberger was terrible in the 2nd half last year with an ERA of 9 and a .325 average against. Prior to that in his 1st 90 innings his career ERA was in the low 3's. I like the Twins chances of having a better bullpen when all is said and done. Their bounce back candidates are much more likely due to history and age. There really isn't a regression candidate unlike the Indians who heavily relied upon Perez last year and will so this year.

I know that WAR is not a perfect measuring too and it can differ across websites but I think this is interesting. I would have the Indians as about 3 wins better than the Twins right now. But almost all of the Indians WAR is tied up in just 6 players. If any one of them suffers a season ending injury that would kill their chances. Lindor is already off to a bad start with the calf injury and he is instrumental to their success. Most of their pitchers have thrown a ton of innings the last 5 years and 2 of them are in their 30's. The rest of their team will be average at best and could be down right bad. From the farm I believe the Twins are set up to be able too call on reinforcements if needed. There are many options to fill the rotation or bullpen including Stewart, Thorpe, Romero, Mejia, Littrell, Gonzalves. The Indians don't have this. Their top pitching prospect in Triston McKenzie and he could be dynamic but he has made just 16 starts above high A. The Twins also have lineup replacements that could be ready either by May or August in Gordon, Rooker, Wade, Raley and maybe even Kirilloff. The Indians have 1 OFer, Oscar Mercado who may be able to help. I know the Twins have a lot of What If questions that have to go right for them to win the division. But they aren't Hail Mary type of What Ifs. Kepler needs to take the next step, Berrios needs to continue his progression, Buck and Sano need to bounce back to just being decent again at the plate or in buck's case even below average will do. May continues to look like last year as he moves farther away from his surgery. Gibson and Rosario repeat their years. Schoop have a little bounce back. Polanco produces over a full year. Not all of these will happen but I definitely think enough could, since like I said we are only hoping for either a return to career averages ir some to take the logical next step.

  • IndianaTwin likes this



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Very insightful.
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IndianaTwin
Feb 13 2019 07:05 PM
Good stuff here. Another advantage the Twins actually have is that they have a better minor league system to use to for mid-season improvements, either from potential call ups or from using them for a mid season trade for MadBum or whoever.