Sunday, May 31, 2015

Twins Record is No Fluke

The last couple posts I compared how the Twins pitching and hitting had changed this season compared to 2014, based on the number of runs teams scored by game. To repeat that information through 46 games:

Twins Scoring:

14 games >=6
21 games 3-5 runs
11 games <=2

18 games >=6 runs
14 games 3-5 runs
14 games<=2 runs

Twins Opponents Scoring:

19 games >= 6 runs
18 games 3-5 runs
9 games <=2 runs

11 games >=6 runs
17 games 3-5 runs
18 games <=2 runs

The Twins at this point in the season last year were a .500 team. But if you look at their numbers, they had been held to 2 or fewer runs 2 more times than their opponents and their opponents had scored 6 or more runs 5 more times than the Twins. They probably should have been about 7 games under .500 if they had not gotten some breaks.

In 2015, by contrast to 2014, the Twins have held their opponents to 2 or fewer runs 4 more times than their opponents have and allowed 6 or more runs 7 fewer times. That would put them about 9 games over .500. Very close to where they actually are.

At least based on this comparison, it does not appear that the Twins are living on borrowed time. Instead the improvement in their pitching really has transformed them into a team capable of contending. Its certainly possible that they will once again collapse, but, unlike 2014, there isn't any real reason to expect it.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Twins Offense is About the Same as Last Year

Yesterday I did a comparison of the Twins pitching based on how they have done in limiting runs in individual games. I thought looking at how the Twins offense had done would be useful. I am looking at the first 46 games so that the numbers can be compared to yesterday's pitching numbers.


18 games >=6 runs
14 games 3-5 runs
14 games<=2 runs


14 games >=6
21 games 3-5 runs
11 games <=2

While the Twins have scored 6 or more runs four more times this year, they have also scored 2 or fewer runs three more times. There has been really little difference in the offenses contribution to winning individual games.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Simple Comparison Shows Reason for Twins Improvement

Here is a comparison of how many runs the Twins' pitchers have allowed in games this year compared to last year:

11 games >=6 runs
18 games <=2 runs
17 games 3-5 runs

19 games >= 6 runs
9 games <=2 runs
18 games 3-5 runs

In short Twins pitchers have given up 6 or runs in a game 8 fewer times while limiting the other team to 2 or less runs 9 more times. I don't think you need to look any further to understand why the Twins record was 23-23 last year and 28-18 this year. In fact, you might ask why the difference isn't even larger.

Its really pretty simple why the Twins are contenders this year. For the first time in many seasons, no one is in the rotation by default. Far from it. Milone is a major league pitcher stuck at AAA only because there is no room for him. And that is even after losing their most accomplished pitcher in Santana. It shows once again that Tom Kelly was right, you are only as good as your next day's pitcher. And that makes the Twins pretty good.

Monday, September 30, 2013

How the Twins Won

Note: This was written on March 31st,2013, the day before the season opener, as a fantasy look-back at how the the Twins might win. I decided not to publish  then, but to save it for the end of the season. Here it is unedited. 

How did this happen? Six months ago the Twins entered the season projected to finish last in the division for the third straight year. How did they end up not only winning the division, but winning it convincingly?

The "Aceless Rotation"

It turns out you don't need an ace who pitches only once every five games. You need five pitchers who keep you in every game. The Twins went into the season with a bunch of castoffs and redemption projects. Four key pitchers started the year on the disabled list and one, Mike Pelfrey, probably should have.

Instead of a single ace, for the first time in three years the Twins had three pitchers get over 200 innings pitched.  Vance Worley, received in trade for Ben Revere, was the opening day starter. Scott Diamond missed his first start recovering from off-season surgery, but that was the last game he missed. Kevin Correa, a widely panned off-season signing, started 33 games for the first time in his career. 

But it was the depth behind those three that allowed the Twins to overcome injuries and some early season struggles.  Mike Pelfry pitched well until his velocity started to fall, instead of improve. Once it was apparent he had come back a bit too quickly from Tommy John surgery, hs replacement, Rich Harden, stepped right in and dominated as a starter for the last three months of the season. Cole DeVries, before going down with a sore elbow in early August, kept the Twins in every game and was on a pace for 200+ innings. Kyle Gibons stepped in to finish out the month before being shut down for the season when DeVries was ready to pitch again.

In short, it was a rare game where the Twins were out of it after six innings. The starters didn't dominate, but they all consistently gave the team a chance to win.

Six Innings and Over

The real key to the Twins pitching success was the bullpen. Teams had to get their runs in the first six innings because, once the Twins starter left, their chances of scoring on the Twins bullpen were very slight. Glen Perkins was solid as a closer, but the setup and middle relief guys were almost as dominant. Rule 5 pick Pressly dominated the 8th inning. He got help from Rafael Perez,  Jared Burton, Anthony Swarzak and Brian Duensing who were all in the game as early as the sixth inning when starters faltered. Rich Harden dominated in the bullpen before moving to the rotation and Mike Pelfry was equally dominating once he regained his velocity with some rest.  While not as dominating, Fien and Roenicke did a more than adequate job keeping chairs warm for injured players. The Twins bullpen was expected to be a strength and it was both very good and very deep. 

Hicks, Parmelee, Plouffe and Arcia

The emergence of Hicks, Parmelee, Plouffe and later Arcia transformed the Twins lineup into one of the most feared in baseball. Hicks skills in the leadoff spot eclipsed even his predecessor Denard Spans,  as he not only got on base but started to show his power by the end of the year. Parmelee's emergence as a .300 hitter with 25 home runs made it possible that this is Justin Morneau's last year as a Twin. Plouffe's demonstration that his home run burst in 2012 was not a fluke, gave the Twins a number 8 hitter with over 30 home runs. When Morneau went on the DL for a week in late June, the Twins called up Arcia to play right field. He started hitting and never stopped. When Morneau came back, the Twins sent Drew Butera packing as third catcher and Ryan Doumit got most of his at bats as a backup catcher and bat off the bench. Arcia, Parmelee and Morneau rotated through the DH spot.

Mauer, Morneau and Willingham

Mauer and Morneau are both top candidates for American League MVP and Willingham is not that far behind. Morneau started out the year the way he did in 2010 before he had his concussion and never stopped, except for his brief stint on the DL in early July. With 40+ home runs, 120 RBI's and a .340 average he should be a shoe-in for MVP. Except that he plays first base and his teammate Joe Mauer, a catcher,  won the batting title hitting .360 with a career high 30 home runs. He had an amazing .480 OBP, which accounted for some of Morneau's RBI's. Willingham repeated his 2011 season with  35 home runs, but got over 100 RBI's for the first time in his career.

Defense up the Middle

Focusing solely on pitching and offense would be a mistake. One of the key changes from last year was the defense up the middle. While Pedro Florimon never provided any offense, his defense first with Brian Dozier, and then with Levi Michael at second base, gave the Twins a stable middle infield for the first time in a long time.  Michaels swift rise through AA and AAA took everyone by surprise. His defense is what got him the job, but he hit well enough to hold down the number two spot in the order the last two months of the season. With Hicks and Mauer at the other two key defensive spots, the Twins had gold glove quality defense at every position up the middle.

The Bench

The Twins depth became a huge asset as the season moved along. Escobar and Carroll gave the Twins solid backups at every infield position. Escobar has even shown he is a plus defender in the outfield.  Doumit, while not a great defensive catcher like Butera, provides the Twins with a switch hitting bat on the bench when he isn't catching. Mastroianni can play all three outfield positions and his offense plays at both leadoff and number two spots. He also pinch runs.

Scouting and Player Development

The Twins had four first round choices emerge this year as part of the core of the team. Hicks, Parmelee, Plouffe and Michaels are all first round choices that some people have written off as failures in the past. Scott Diamond and Ryan Pressly were rule 5 draft choices who played key roles this year. 

Baseball is an unpredictable business and no one would have predicted this. But the Twins are now in the playoffs with the American League's best record. Lets hope they end this run the same way they did in 1992 when they went from last to first and then won the World Series.

Monday, April 01, 2013

Saying Goodbye to Justin and Gardy

This season is likely the last as a Twin for Justin Morneau and it ought to be for Ron Gardenhire.

The Twins apparently declined an offer from Morneau to open negotiations on a contract extension. That makes sense. If Morneau does well enough, he will be a sought after player at the trade deadline. If he doesn't, the Twins don't want to extend his contract. With Parmelee in right field and Arcia almost ready to get a chance, the Twins don't really have a need for Morneau unless they are in a pennant race this year. Which brings us to the second goodbye.

Ron Gardenhire's last minute decision to move Mauer into the number two spot is at best puzzling. Aside from it being a really bad idea, it reeks of panic. From the start of spring training, Gardenhire seemed determined to go with Brian Dozier at second base. But it was obvious that whoever was at second also had to fit into the second spot in the order. Its now apparent that Gardy never really had confidence in Dozier's ability to hit there. Yet, he had an established number two hitter in Jamie Carroll that he never really gave any opportunity to win the starting job. The result is that he has two number nine hitters and no one to bat second.

Apparently he waited until opening day to set the top of his lineup. But you have to wonder if he really never let Terry Ryan know before this that Dozier's bat didn't play in the number two spot, even if his fielding at second did. Its as if spring training was used with one plan and suddenly it changed.

Dozier was a disaster last year. Yet Gardenhire seems to be repeating the mistake.  Worse, its not clear that he isn't just pandering to reporters and bloggers opinions. "You want to see Mauer bat second? Why not? We aren't really going anywhere anyway." Unfortunately under Gardenhire that is likely true, no matter how many quality pitchers Terry Ryan finds. Players like him. Writers like him. Fans like him. But he seems to lack any ability to make judgments about players.  This last minute decision makes Gardenhire look like he is just mucking around, clueless as to what to do rebuild a team other than throw players out there and hope for the best.

Today is the start of what's going to be a long season that could get stranger and stranger as Gardy sees the edge of the approaching cliff. I just hope Terry Ryan doesn't feel the need to jump overboard with Gardy.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Comparing Last Year's Opening Day Lineup to This Year's

Here is the lineup for last year's opening day:

Span (CF)
Carroll (SS)
Mauer (C)
Morneau (DH)
Willingham (LF)
Doumit (RF)
Valencia (3B)
Parmelee (1B)
Casilla (2b)
SP Pavano

This year's lineup:

Hicks (CF)
Carroll/Dozier (2B)
Mauer (C)
Willingham (LF)
Morneau (1B)
Doumit (DH)
Parmelee (RF)
Plouffe (3B)
Florimon (SS)
SP Worley

Here is how that lineup stacks up:


Span was a better leadoff hitter than Hicks will likely be this year. That is aside from being a proven veteran with a lot less possibility of failing.

Carroll was also a better number two hitter than Dozier. Although there is not a lot of reason other than normal aging to think this year's version of Carroll will be any better or worse than last years.

Joe Mauer should be Joe Mauer. There have been some suggestions he will step up his power, but that is probably mostly spring training chatter.

Willingham replaces Morneau in the cleanup spot. This is how the year ended last year. Unless Morneau goes back to hitting like an MVP, its likely Willingham will be better than Morneau turned out to be last year. Certainly better than Morneau's start.

Morneau replaces Willingham. Again, this is likely to be an improvement in some ways, but not compared to expectations. Morneau will not likely match Willingham's home run output, but then Willingham didn't project to hit 35 home runs last year either.

Doumit should be Doumit.

Parmelee replaces Valencia. Parmelee projects as a much better hitter, but then Valencia was expected to be much better than he was.

Plouffe replaces Parmelee.  Plouffe will likely hit better than Parmelee last year. But that is not a very high bar. The enthusiasm for Parmelee's bat is based on his AAA performance, not what he did against major league pitching.

Florimon replaces Casilla. Casilla was a better hitter than Florimon is ever likely to be. Again, not a high bar.

Overall the Twins offense should be as good, if not better, than last year.It could be a lot better if Hicks, Parmelee and Plouffe are all productive hitters.


Mauer and Willingham are the only defenders returning at the same position. Morneau is a better defensive first baseman than Parmelee. Casilla was better then Dozier is likely to be at second. Florimon is a big improvement at shortstop over Carroll. Plouffe and Valencia are probably comparable defensive players, but Valencia had more experience. Strangely, Parmelee is likely an improvement defensively in right field over Doumit. Span, as a veteran, was a better center fielder than Hicks to start the year.

Overall, the Twins defense has improved with Florimon at shortstop and Morneau back at first. Dozier and Hicks are close enough to their predecessors that it won't make a huge difference. Of course this compares to the start of the year and  Ben Revere was on the bench.

It appears the Twins position players have improved from a year ago and they may be better than they at any point last season.


This year's starter, Vance Worley, actually looks better than Carl Pavano, who was last year's starter. But last year the Twins started with Capps as the closer and Perkins as a setup guy. Its not clear they have the same quality in the bullpen.

The Twins pitching has them projected to finish last again in the division. But their everyday lineup is likely stronger. Whether that will be enough to compensate for the pitching is the real question.  

Friday, March 29, 2013

Five Keys To Twins Success, Key Five: Bullpen

The Twins bullpen is the final key to their success. As mentioned earlier the Twins success depends on closer Glenn Perkins shortening games to eight innings. But the Twins starting pitching is not going to get them to the ninth inning on their own very often.

Last year, the Twins bullpen was one of its strong points.

Jared Burton, emerged last year as the Twins primary setup guy. Aside from Glen Perkins he is the only returning player who spent the whole year in the bullpen.

Brian Duensing bounced between the rotation and setup guy last year. He needs to emerge as a major contributor in the bullpen this year.

Anthony Swarzak was a swing man last year, moving between long relief and the rotation. He starts the year on the disabled list, but the Twins need for him to emerge as a stable part of the bullpen.

Casey Fien and Tyler Robertson were called up in early July and late June respectively. Fien was a solid middle reliever. Robertson is a lefty specialist. He is almost unhittable by lefties, but struggles against right handers.

Brian Roenicke was picked up off waivers from Colorado. He is projected as another middle inning guy.

Ryan Pressly is the last member of the bullpen. He was taken in the rule 5 draft. He was shifted to the bullpen in the minor leagues last year, pitched well in the Arizona Fall league, showing velocity into the mid-90's, much higher than he had as a starter and had a great spring training.

Performance by the bullpen, with a few exceptions, is always uncertain. But with the Twins starting pitching, they can't afford many bullpen meltdowns. They are going to need six innings from their starter, two innings from the middle relief and a lights out performance by Glenn Perkins.

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