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Back of the Napkin: How Far Are The 2013 Twins From Contention?

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How far are the Twins from contention? One side looks at their dismal record and wants a complete makeover. The other looks at the team's players and thinks theyíre just a couple of arms away from a pennant race. Which is it?

Letís do some back-of-the-napkin figuring. As of right now, the Twins are 111 runs under .500. Not wins under .500, but runs under .500.

That isnít good. The Indians are the only American League team thatís worse. The three teams who have the most runs over .500 also happen to be the division leaders. The outlier is the Orioles, who are 45 runs under .500 but still have a shot at the wild card. But for the most part, the teams that are around 40 games over .500 have a decent chance at a playoff spot.

So how do the Twins, in 2013, get from -110 to +40? Can they? Is that realistic?

It ainít easy, but the Twins are both blessed and cursed by the same trait Ė theyíre starting pitching is truly dreadful. Thatís not breaking news, but just HOW awful they are is both stomach-turning and hope-inducing.

Theyíre the worst team in the American League, and itís not particularly close. The starting rotationís ERA is currently 5.56. Next worst is almost a full half run better. The AL average is more than a run better. The median team is 1.2 runs better. And the best team, the Devil Rays, is more than two runs better per game.

So whereís the hope? Itís in some simple math.

The average AL starting rotation pitches about 990 innings, or about 110 full games worth of innings. If the rotation improves to just second worst in the AL, thatís worth 55 runs. A move to mediocrity brings them another 110 to 130 runs. That at least sounds close to contention.

It turns out both sides are right. The Twins are dismal. And theyíre a few non-terrible arms from contention. So the argument shifts: how tough is it to cobble together mediocre starting pitching?

That depends on who you talk to. The Orioles might say itís not that daunting, considering their rotation improved from dead last in 2011 to 9th this year with nothing more than a couple of cheaper free agent pickups. On the other hand, the Royals havenít been better than the 10th best team in the AL since 2003, which is also the last time they were contenders.

Twins optimists might point to Scott Diamond, a Rule 5 pickup, as an example of how decent starting pitching can come from where one least expects it. Twins pessimists might point to the other ten players who have started atop the mound at some point this season. None have thrown even 100 innings as a starter. None are likely to. If the front office could find pitching talent, wouldnít they have found some in the 107 games started by those pitchers?

Iím not sure I know the answer. But watching the last few weeks of the season and seeing the performances of Liam Hendriks, Sam Deduno and hopefully Esmerling Vasquez could Ė and probably should Ė play a part in the overall direction of the franchise this season.

So maybe neither side is right, at least not yet.
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