It’s a commonly held maxim that 40 fWAR gives you a pretty consistent opportunity for October baseball. It’s a pretty basic tenet of roster construction. Throughout the Falvey era, the Twins have shown an impressive level of flexibility in ‘how’ they go about trying to construct a 40 fWAR roster. In 2021, there was an increased emphasis on defense, highlighted by the addition of Andrelton Simmons as their starting shortstop. Ultimately, none of that mattered, as everything that could go wrong, did go wrong in 2021. In considering roster construction through the lens of assembling a 40 fWAR team, Minnesota has come up woefully short in a critical area so far this offseason.
Before we dig into that. Let’s look at some data from 2021, and projections for 2022. For the sake of this argument, I’ll use fWAR actual totals from 2021 and ZiPS projections for 2022, acknowledging that projections are problematic and often difficult to draw meaningful conclusions from. With those caveats in mind, however, there are some meaningful conclusions to draw from these data:
- The scale of the 2021 Twins failure was pretty magnificent. Given that they haven’t made significant roster additions, there’s essentially a gap of 10 fWAR between their 2021 projection and actual performance, that’s staggering.
- A 2022 Minnesota Twins offense that is close to its projection has the team in contention pretty much by itself. The Twins’ success will live or die with its excellent offensive core.
- The Twins are not as far as it may feel from a team that can challenge for an AL Central crown in 2022.
It’s equally obvious where the flaws are. The Twins bullpen was horrendous in the first half of 2021, evidenced by a higher projection with the same fungible relievers in 2022. There’s room for improvement there, but only so much from the bullpen.
The Twins’ biggest mistake this offseason was not tapping into the mid-tier starting pitching free agent market, to raise the floor or the rotation.
Looking at the Twins’ primary competition in the AL Central tells an interesting tale. The White Sox are as reliant on their rotation as the Twins are on their offense. Their rotation is projected over 14 fWAR in 2022. The up-and-coming Tigers, project 9.7 fWAR from their rotation. A similar mark for the Twins would put them just under a projected 40 fWAR for the 2022 season. Where did the Tigers get this boost to jump their rotation to 10 fWAR? Signing Eduardo Rodriguez.
The Twins 2022 rotation is inherently unstable. Dylan Bundy is returning from an incredibly poor 2021, Joe Ryan and Bailey Ober had hugely promising debut’s, but their 2022 outcomes are less stable and predictable than say, a Casey Mize or Tarik Skubal, simply due to their small sample sizes in 2021. Why did the Twins front office not aggressively pursue at least one stabilizing starting arm who lives in the 2.0-3.0 fWAR range to stabilize the rotation?
A Blueprint for Success
Let’s use the San Francisco Giants as a point of comparison. Upon initial consideration, comparing the Twins to a 107 win team may seem unfair, but I beg to differ. In 2020, the Giants were a sub .500 team in a shortened season, finishing at 29-31. This improvement mirrors (betters) the Twins improvement from 2018 (78-84), to 2019 (101-61).
The Giants re-upped with three of their starters from 2021. They signed Alex Wood to a two-year, $25 million contract, Alex Cobb to a two-year, $20 million contract, and Anthony De Sclafani to a three-year $36 million contract. These three pitchers combined for 8.0 fWAR in 2021 and project for 7.8 fWAR in 2022. They average, together, $11.5 million per year when considering their contracts cumulatively. Each of these pitchers is likely to accumulate around $16-20 million in value based on their projections for 2022. There is value to be had in the mid-tier starting pitching market, which the Twins chose to ignore. Even signing one pitcher of this profile takes the teams’ projection to just under 39 fWAR in 2022 and does not inhibit your financial flexibility (they’re not spending big on a shortstop anyway, folks).
The Twins front office has built a team that relies on offense and is pre-disposed to take advantage of the value in the mid-tier pitching market. Minnesota is not signing the front of the rotation starting pitchers and has not shown aggression in pursuing pitching upgrades on the trade market. While the lockout has frozen out any additional roster construction since the beginning of December, I’m no closer to understanding their roster construction strategy for pitching, a confounding frustration that may come back to haunt the 2022 Twins.