The Twins finished with 85 wins last year. At the current moment (writing as of 7/2/18), the Twins are on pace to win just 70 and lose 92. You can only scratch your head and wonder:
Where did all the wins go?
This is the first part of two articles focusing on the Twins pitching through Game 81 (July 2nd). In this statistical analysis, I'll be comparing Twins' WAR from 2017 to 2018, trying to match up position by position to see how things have changed. WAR is obviously not a perfect stat, so I've included others as a way to measure if WAR does things right. (all stats taken from Baseball-Reference.com)
First, the starting rotation:
The first thing to note: I'm comparing 81 game stats to 162 game stats. I am making the assumption that the current 2018 players will repeat their first half performances in order to compare them to their 2017 peers. Obviously there's no way they'll all play the exact same and it's likely none of them will double their WAR like I've projected, but for the sake of the analysis, we'll have to roll with that assumption.
So, for example, Jose Berrios is projected to be exactly as valuable as 2017 Ervin Santana was if he continues his 2018 performance at the exact same pace. Berrios has the better peripherals, however, so I expect he could top Santana's 2017 season.
Meanwhile, 2018 Kyle Gibson is projected to be twice as good as 2017 Berrios... I haven't supplied sample sizes here, so Berrios' 2017 looks lower WAR-wise, but that seems to be because he pitched several games at AAA, and you're not going to accumulate WAR there. Jake Odorizzi has been a small improvement from Mejia, as the two pitchers have surprisingly similar stat lines. Odorizzi has been better at getting Ks and keeping a few more runners off the bases.
Do you think the Twins could use Fernando Romero back in the big league rotation? I sure do. I think he could easily top his current 7.7 K/9 and improve as the season wears on, but the inning limit is concerning. They're not going to be getting better starts from Mejia or Slegers. Meanwhile, Lynn brings up the rear and he's the only one who's lagging behind a 2017 peer - yup, Bartolo Colon! That's embarrassing.
I've summed up all the rest of the Twins starters (which was a massive list in 2017) into just their WAR, so guys like Phil Hughes, Tim Melville, Nick Tepesch, Aaron Slegers, and the crew netted -2.2 WAR... yuck. The 2018 Twins scrub starters (Mejia/Littell/Hughes) were a far more tolerable -0.5 WAR, which projects to finish at -1.0 WAR on the season.
All in all, the rotation appears to be worth nearly 3 more wins than it was in 2017. Does that sound right to you? In my opinion, that seems about right. They're a definite improvement on 2017 but the back end (Odorizzi/Lynn) have left me wanting more.
Next up, the bullpen:
Before Rodney blew his last two saves, he was around where Kintzler was (at 0.5, projected to finish at 1.0), but he's dropped closer to replacement level as he's struggled lately. While Rodney gets strikeouts, he allows too many baserunners and he's got a fine margin for error - something Kintzler never seemed to struggle with. Remember Kintzler only played 4 months for the Twins in 2017 as he was traded, and his WAR in Washington doesn't count here.
A full season of Hildenberger seems to be worth a full win according to my calculations. While his strikeout numbers are down from 2017, he's been mostly effective with a few bouts of incompetence early on. Speaking of that, inconsistency seems to plague Reed, who was untouchable in April but is now nearing replacement level. Not good for the reliever making $7.5M this season. Taylor Rogers was great for the first half in 2017, but his second half was mediocre to average. Current Rogers is just OK and his numbers against both lefties and righties have declined.
Duffey was the mop-up guy last year, but even in low leverage situations, he wasn't good. Zach Duke was a solid signing who should end up netting at least 0.4 WAR, though his WHIP concerns me. Ryan Pressly, on the other hand, seems to fluctuate by month whether he's totally dominant, totally hittable, or something in between. That's at least better than what we got from him last year.
Matt Belisle somehow ended up adding positive value in 2017 as he defied the odds as the Twins closer down the stretch after an awful first half. Unfortunately, current Belisle seems to be nowhere near that form. I've lumped up all of the rest of the 'pen arms together, and the news isn't good - the motley crew from 2017 comprised of Gee, Boshers, Busenitz, Breslow, Tonkin, Haley, Turley, and the rest somehow projects to be a full win better than 2018's crew of Hughes, Magill, Belisle, Duffey, Busenitz, Slegers, and the rest.
Added all up, the 2018 bullpen projects to be just 0.2 wins better than the 2017 'pen... which is a definite disappointment after adding Rodney, Reed, and Duke in free agency, but at least that's not a negative number.
So all in all, the pitching appears to be 3.1 wins above where they finished in 2017. Not bad, and if you told me at the beginning of the season that this was the case... I'd be ecstatic. Clearly the Twins would be able to at least take on the Yankees and Astros in the playoffs...
But a bloodbath awaits. Tune in tomorrow (actually later today (July 4th)) for part 2 where we do what could be considered an autopsy of the offense. From what I've calculated so far... I think WAR does it justice. Until then, Danchat out!
-- Feel free to leave a comment and ask about the process to calculate this, which WAR stats look questionable, or any other notable notes. --