Thursday, April 5, 2012

Your 2012 Minnesota Twins Season Preview: A Rational Roundtable Discussion

Tony Davis: 75/1.
“Moneyball,” the recent Academy Award nominee for “Best Picture,” taught viewers one golden rule regarding baseball: Statistics matter. It is possible for teams to base projections off of numbers and mathematical equations. Batting average, OBP, ERA, WHIP, and hundreds of other statistical categories define the game of baseball in the modern era. For the sake of this season preview, let’s focus on one ratio. 75/1. These are the current odds for the Minnesota Twins to win the World Series in 2012. 
No, that isn’t a stat, but that figure is derived from the many poor statistics the Twins recorded last season.
Minnesotans understand the meaning of the phrase, “winning isn’t everything.” If we didn’t, the suicide rate for the “Land of Lakes” would skyrocket, leading to a potential government-issued shutdown of all major sporting events in the Twin Cities area, or in the least, a much more morbid news headline following the 45-7 jolting the Packers gave the Vikings the night before.
Winning is, however, very important. It’s the reason we watch, it’s a large part of the reason we attend games, and it’s the reason I am part of this discussion. It may not be wise to invest a substantial percentage of one’s time and money into a gamble with odds as low as 75/1, but that’s exactly what I intend to do, as I do every year, for this team. I will watch almost every night, I will attend several games, and I will purchase merchandise to display my pure dedication to inevitable disappointment.
SilkyJ: Alright, guys, its that time of year. The sun is shining, the snow is long ago melted, the grass is green, and baseball is back in Minnesota. After a disappointing 2011 campaign that saw the Twinks end with a 63-99 record, good enough for worst in the American League, things can only get better for our beloved ball club. Right? Right????

The lineup has gone under some renovation after the departure of both Jason 'Kube-Smash' Kubel and Michael 'Cuddlier' Cuddyer in the offseason. The Twins added a few players from free agency, and promoted a few players from within the organization. The opening day 25-man roster looks like this (nicknames added by me on the fly, and are subject to change):

C Joe 'Fragile' Mauer,
1B Chris 'Parmesan' Parmelee,
2B 'Sexy' Alexi Casilla,
3B Danny 'Hide Your Daughters' Valencia,
SS Jamey 'Old Man Christmas' Carroll,
LF Josh 'The body is weak, but the spirit is' Willingham,
CF Denard 'Lets get Denarded' Span,
RF Trevor 'Souffle' Plouffe,
DH Justin 'Porno' Morneau

On the bench:
C Ryan 'Who's Mitt?' Doumit,
OF Ben 'The British are Coming!' Revere,
IF Sean 'Edgar Rice' Burroughs,
IF Luke 'Most normal name ever' Hughes.

Starting Pitchers:
Carl 'Pavstache' Pavano,
Francisco 'Franchise' Liriano,
Liam 'Christina' Hendriks,
Nick 'Charbroiled' Blackburn.

Matt 'Fat' Capps,
'Glengarry' Glen Perkins,
Brian 'We Got 'er' Duensing,
Jared 'LeVar' Burton,
Matt 'Baloney' Maloney,
Alex 'Burnt' Burnett,
Jeff 'Shades of' Gray,
Anthony 'So where's Zak?' Swarzak

In addition to this roster, Jason 'Buick' Marquis will begin the season in AA with the Rock Cats, and 'Moonshot' Scott Baker will begin the season on the 15 day disabled list.

Well, there it is. For better or for worse, there is the Twins opening day roster. Which part of the roster worries you the most? What are the keys to success for the Twins this season? Which one player's improvement from last year's debacle is most critical for the success of the Twins?

To me, the most worrisome segment of the Twins roster has to be the bullpen. The bullpen last season was a disaster, and I see that little has been done to fix it. The additions of Jared Burton, Matt Maloney and Jeff Gray do not inspire the most confidence, and the subtraction-by-non-subtraction of Matt Capps is considerably worrisome. Last season, only two pitchers that saw significant action in the bullpen had a sub-4.00 ERA. Those would be Glen Perkins and Phil Dumatrait, who is noticeably missing from the roster. Factoring in the recent plague of injuries in Minnesota, we can expect that the majority of the starters will be placed on the DL for some period of time this season. If the opening day roster is any indication, Liam Hendriks figures to be the '6th starter' once injuries happen, but after that? Duensing and Swarzak have both seen time as starter. Promoting them to the rotation would make an already thin bullpen damn near anorexic. Is there potential help in Rochester? Anthony Slama, Scott Diamond and Jeff Manship all saw time in the bigs recently. Who knows, one of them could suddenly put it all together.
Bruff McGruff: Hey fellas. I've found it. The reason for hope this season. The reason we may compete for the AL central title and a chance at one of those coveted first-round sweeps at the hands of a much better team. That reason is.....momentum. That's right, the Big Mo. We've got it right now. We're rollin'. We won three of four to finish the season last year (including that thrilling 1-0 walkoff victory over the Royals in Game 162). We stomped through the Grapefruit League in March. According to latest reports, Joe and Justin have not tweaked any knees or bumped any heads on low clearances since camp broke yesterday. We've got our blue chippers in the lineup, a couple new proven performers (read: Not past their prime or named Tony Bautista) in Willingham and Doumit, and...

Okay, yeah, I just looked at the pitching staff and threw up into a garbage can. I can't talk myself into this.

I'm hoping we once again avoid a 100-loss season, although most of the top-tier projection protocols have us pegged right around that 72-90 sweet spot into which our beloved Twins (please, for Craig Finn's sake, don't call them Twinkies) nestled for most of the '90s. That bullpen is an absolute mess. Aaron Gleeman put his money on Jared Burton as the guy with the best chance of emerging as a reliable arm
out of The Failed Starter (Duensing), The Spot Starter (Swarzak), The Waiver Guy With The 9.16 2011 ERA (Maloney), The Waiver Guy With The 4.89 2011 ERA (Gray), and The Guy Who I Swear Has Sucked For Like Six Seasons Already But Is Apparently Still Only 24 So He Still Has Potential Or Something (Burnett). And I guess, after referring to this motley crew by their baseball-appropriate names, I tend to agree with him.

And it's not like it matters who pitches the 6th through 8th innings anyway, because whenever Fat Capps comes in, we're a Kelly Johnson grand slam away from losing by the time he's thrown a dozen pitches anyway. Ugh. At least Perkins is good, and signed for relatively cheap this offseason. Can we talk about something else?
Tony: Here are my top three storylines entering this season.
1. The most important offseason acquisition is…

Terry Ryan. The Twins did not make a large splash in free agency this offseason, as expected. Their big signings were Josh Willingham, who replaces Cuddyer/Kubel, Ryan Doumit (please, no more Butera), and a few pitchers here and there to sprinkle into the bullpen. For this, Terry Ryan is easily the most important addition to the Twins organization this year.
Ryan never truly left after his resignation in September, 2007. He remained senior adviser to the organization, but was replaced as general manager by Bill Smith. This transition seemed to pass smoothly until last year, when it became evident the farm system was not as strong as years past. When injuries hit the Twins hard, there were no answers from AAA to help mend the wounds from an output standpoint. Ryan’s greatest asset is his ability to build from within, using the minor league affiliates to bring players up.
This has historically allowed the Twins to remain contenders year in and year out, with a relatively low payroll. For instance, the Twins average payroll between 2000 and 2007 with Ryan at the helm was about $38 million, towards the bottom of the league. They won the division 4 of those years. While Bill Smith also had success, winning the division in ’09 and ’10, he did it with a payroll average of 83.25 between 2008 and 2011, and did it with players who originated from Ryan’s farm system. Most importantly, the team was going in a negative direction as payroll went up. Hopefully Ryan helps turn this around, starting this year.
2. The biggest problem facing this team is…
The pitching staff, and it’s no secret. The Twins haven’t had a true ace starter since Johan Santana left after 2007, and as Silky mentioned, last year was a mess. The Twins had the second highest ERA in the majors at 4.58. Only Baltimore was worse (4.89). Minnesota managed to be last in opponent’s batting average (.281) and strikeouts (940), as well. Now we know why Spence was throwing up in a garbage can. Every year the Twins expect their young pitching staff to step up and improve, and every year they fail. This will be the downfall of the Twins this year.
3. The biggest reason for optimism is…
Recovery from injuries. Mauer and Morneau combined to play in only 151 games last season. Kubel, Cuddyer, Span, and others all spent significant time out with injuries. Assuming this is at least a little better this year, the Twins lineup should be much more like the 2010 squad, which was second in batting average and 6th in total runs. Even without Kubel and Cuddyer, Willingham and Carroll should fill in nicely, as should Doumit and Parmelee.
Finally, guys, here are a couple questions I would like your opinions on:
1. The Twins are in a bit of a youth movement this season with Chris Parmelee, Liam Hendriks, Ben Revere, Luke Hughes, etc. Which young guns will make it into the lineup on a daily basis come July?
2. What are your predictions for this year?
My prediction is an overall record of 75-87, but with added optimism regarding the injuries and young players. This team is headed in the right direction again. The injury scenario will be better, and Gardy is still a more than capable manager. There is always a chance a few pitchers step up, maybe the M&M boys come back strong, and suddenly we’re riding an ace in Liriano and two former MVPs to an American league pennant! Anything can happen…
75/1. We comin’.
SilkyJ: Great point about statistics, TD. Statisticians like Bill James have revolutionized the game of baseball, and have introduced new ways of thinking about the game. Every year, Bill James releases statistical projections for every player in the league. Here's what he had to say about the Twins starting lineup:

POS Player (BA, OBP, SLG)
CF Denard Span (.288/.361/.379)
SS Jamey Carroll (.274/.353/.332)
C Joe Mauer (.326/.412/.466)
1B Justin Morneau (.288/.369/.494)
RF Josh Willingham (.248/.352/.460)
DH Ryan Doumit (.275/.335/.443)
3B Danny Valencia (.278/.328/.420)
2B Alexi Casilla (.264/.331/.347)
LF Ben Revere (.280/.325/.326)

These projections are optimistic, and would suggest our main guys returning to form after injuries. It's worth noting, though, that the opening day lineup has shifted from this slightly. Chris Parmelee has been added as the starting first baseman after posting an absurd .355/.443/.592 split in 21 games last September, and has shown no signs of letting up this spring. It's reasonable to think that those numbers will fall back to earth, but even a 100 point drop across the board will still be better than Josh Willingham's projection.

That kind of production from Parmelee at first base would allow Justin Morneau to become the everyday designated hitter. Removing him from the field will help prevent re-injury, and should lead to stronger numbers from the DH position. This, in turn, would move Ryan Doumit to right field and Josh Willingham to left, squeezing out Ben Revere and his lack of power from the starting lineup. Josh Willingham will be returning to his more natural left field position, and will provide the power output we expected, but never actually saw, from Delmon Young.

The infield's plate production ought to be an improvement, too. Tsuyoshi Nishioka has been sent to Rochester to find his bat and his glove (I don't know how much that will help... he clearly left both in Japan). He has been replaced by Jamey Carroll, and his reliable OBP. We know what we're getting from Casilla, but I'm fine with that at the 8 or 9 spot. The big question mark seems to be Danny Valencia. Danny was a revelation when he came up from Rochester in 2010, but disappointed in his first full season last year. Bill James seems to think that this year's Danny will be a mix of both the 2010 and 2011 versions.

As I alluded to above, I think Chris Parmelee will have the biggest and most immediate impact of a younger player this year. Ben Revere will receive his fair share of playing time, but I don't think he will be an everyday starter (that is, until someone gets hurt. It's a question of when, not if). As I mentioned earlier, I believe Liam Hendriks will be the odd man out in the Twins starting rotation, but he'll impress early on and find his way into it. I'm not saying 2006 Liriano levels of awesomeness, more like... not-Nick-Blackburn levels. The biggest names in the youth movement are yet to come, however. I think next season we'll finally see Kyle Gibson in the bigs, we may see some Aaron Hicks this year, come September, and in a couple years, Miguel Sano will be taking the majors by storm.

Dammit I'm looking ahead again. I can't help it, its in my nature.

Bringing it back to this season, we will be improved, but I don't think we'll be contenders. I believe we're destined for .500 ball this year, but I'll be damned if I'm not gonna watch anyways.
Bruff McGruff: I wish I could share in your guys' optimism a little more.
I do agree, Silky. Billy James' numbers do seem attainable (if we treat our starters like a bunch of bubble boys), but still pretty optimistic. Don't quote me on this, but I think the James numbers don't take health into account...or at least not nearly as thoroughly as, say, the ZiPS projections put out by Dan Szymborski, which looked like this earlier in the offseason:
C Mauer 121 G, .302/.380/.432
OF Willingham 120 G, .247/.347/.450
DH/1B Morneau 98 G, .272/.348/.456
OF Span 124 G, .273/.342/.367
OF/C Doumit 102 G, .256/.319/.404
2B Casilla 111 G, .261/.324/.361
SS Carroll 128 G, .266/.341/.322
3B Valencia 151 G, .260/.305/.392
OF/IF Plouffe 142 G, .244/.296/.398
OF Revere 147 G, .276/.322/.325
1B Parmelee 156 G, .243/.311/.357
IF Hughes 97 G, .229/.288/.363
(and for fun)
C Butera 86 G, .216/.263/.311 (GROSS.)
Lower than the James numbers almost across the board. Now, those do not look like numbers that a +.500 team would put up, unfortunately. BUT, I do think we'll have more than three everyday players surpass 100 games played this year--last year, only Valencia, Revere, and Cuddy topped the mark.
I like the nod towards Terry Ryan as our most important off-season pickup, and of the players he acquired, I think the Doumit signing has the best chance of causing a positive "domino effect" on down the roster. The Willingham-for-Cuddyer swap is basically a wash, as Cuddy has a little better outfield range and arm, but Willingham is a little more potent at the plate (and makes $3M+ less per year). Our '06-'07ish lineups, with their Tiny Tyners and Lew Fords and Red Dog Redmonds, were cute and fun to cheer for. But I'd much prefer a lineup with 6-7 hitters who compare favorably to Ryan Ludwick and Asdrubal Cabrera rather than Otis Clymer and Johnny Gooch.
(BIG) If he can stay relatively healthy, I like the Doumit move because of his versatility--on Dan Barreiro's show today, Ryan said he'd like to see Doumit catch "a couple times a week," which could make for some interesting lineup choices at the DH and 1B spots. I am also waaay more comfortable with Revere/Plouffe as the 4th OF and Doumit as backup catcher this year than I was with Repko and Butera in those roles when we broke camp last year. And I also think the bounce-back-ability of our biggest offensive threats is the biggest reason for optimism with this year's squad. I think Justin's good for 25 homers and Parmelee will surprise by hitting 20, even with the right-center death zone at Target Field, and I think Willingham and Doumit combine to hit 40+ dingers, provided they both play 120+ games. There should be no way we only score 619 runs (only 3.8/game!) again this year.
That said, any improvement we see in offensive output could easily be wiped away by a piss-poor bullpen that may find a way to deteriorate further from the already league-worst 4.51 ERA they posted last season. Outside of Perkins, the men who make up our Opening Day bullpen combined for a mark of 1.7 Wins Above Replacement in 2011. That means our pen got us a win and a half more than a AAA roster's bullpen would have. Scotty Baker by himself had a WAR of 3.9. I wasn't kidding earlier when I said this could get ugly, and I might throw up.
You know what else would be nice? Having a starter get to double digits in wins this year. Apparently we didn't have any of those in 2011. Wow. As much as I wish Kyle Gibson could have stayed healthy and entered the fray for a rotation spot this year, we have to hope for a big comeback year from Frankie Franchise (who, Ryan said today, was locating his fastball much better this spring than he was last season). Liam Hendricks SHOULD be better than the last Aussie starter I had the pleasure to see in a Twins uniform in person, but that's really not saying much. Pavano eats innings, and when he's bad, he's really bad. (He gave up 0-2 ER 12 times and 5+ ER 10 times in 33 starts last year)
That said, I think the key to the Twins achieving relative success this year (like, .500 ball) rests in the elbow of Scotty Baker. He was almost twice as good as our next best pitcher in terms of Wins Above Replacement while only posting about 75% as many starts as our other rotation guys. The health of the guy that has been our most reliable starter the past 2-3 seasons could mean 82-84ish wins if he can start 30 games and 74-76ish wins if he misses any significant time.
If Scotty's healthy...
If many of our returning starters perform as they've shown they can....
If the bullpen can somehow hold it together...
Well, you know what they ("they" meaning nobody) says: You can't spell "diffident" without a couple ifs. Shield your eyes and let's start the season.
The 2012 campaign kicks off at 2:05 pm central time tomorrow at beautiful Camden Yards in Baltimore, It's Pavano vs. Jake "Cy" Arrieta.


  1. What's up Spence (and other contributors I don't think I know, insofar as I don't recognize your nicknames)! So I've added this shindig to my blog list. Just wanted to say good stuff so far, keep up the nice work! I've been looking forward to a nice big Twins season preview post from you and was not disappointed.

    As for your question about the "young guns" on the team, I think Hendriks is going to play by far the biggest role. Baker's latest setback is concerning to say the least, and I'm not very confident in both Blackburn and Marquis remaining competent the whole way through. I think Hendriks is destined to be in the rotation more often than not this season.

    And I gotta say I disagree with you guys on Parmelee. He put up some great numbers last September, but also had a .390 BABIP, so a lot of it was more luck than it was skill. He's also never played above the AA level before last fall and might still feel a bit in over his head at this point. I hope he sticks around, but if I were a betting man I'd predict he'll be shipped off to Rochester within a month or so and we'll be rocking a Mauer/Morneau/Doumit tag team at 1B.

  2. Welcome ChoneZone! Thanks for the love!

    I agree with you on the pitching front. Today's news of Baker's rehabilitation issues is worrisome. I'm personally preparing for Moonshot Scott to have Tommy John, and for Liam to become part of the starting five. How soon 'till we see Wimmers or Waldrop up in the bigs?

    Great point about Parmelee's high BABIP. I tried to account for a precipitous drop in production with my '100 point drop' in the article, but what if it's worse? I'm still more confident than last season. If Mauer/Morneau/Doumit are forced into a tag team at first, who is the extra man to fill in? Well, I see Mauer and Doumit at catcher, Mauer, Morneau and Doumit at first, and Morneau and Doumit at DH. The missing man? Either Ben Revere or Trevor Plouffe. On those instances where Doumit must take his place in the infield, I see either Revere or Plouffe plying his trade in the outfield. Both have experience, and would provide a flimsy (at best) stopgap should Parmelee disappoint at first base.