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  • Minnesota Twins 2012 Season Review

    In their second-to-last game of 2012, the Twins sent Anthony Swarzak to the hill. He turned in a sub par five-inning outing, and the Twins ended up losing by a run, their 95th loss of the season.

    A pitcher who had no business starting a major-league game getting roughed up and putting his capable offense in a hole they couldn't dig out of. Minnesota's 2012 season in a nutshell.

    Now, the above isn't intended as a slight toward Swarzak, whose overall campaign was hardly a disaster. When used in the long relief role, he was perfectly adequate, turning in a 4.05 ERA in 73 1/3 innings out of the bullpen and often effectively bridging the gap after short starts, which were depressingly frequent.

    Swarzak was one of many hurlers who were successful when used in the proper role, which is one of the bigger positive takeaways for the pitching staff this year. Guys like Sam Deduno and Cole DeVries put forth efforts that would have been exemplary for a spot starter, but both were somewhat stretched when forced into more than a dozen games. Brian Duensing was outstanding as a reliever and horrible as a starter. Liam Hendriks dominated the minors but looked overmatched in the majors while the Twins had little choice but to keep trotting him out.

    We'd probably view most of these pitchers differently if they hadn't been pressed so far beyond their expected roles. And of course, this was the result of what was without question the most notable development of the season: The five starters that the Twins expected to comprise their rotation at the beginning of the year (Carl Pavano, Francisco Liriano, Scott Baker, Nick Blackburn and Jason Marquis) combined to make a total of 54 starts.

    There were many factors contributing to the entire preseason rotation being out of the picture by the end of July, and you could argue that many of them were foreseeable. Still, the Twins flipped tails five times with their five starters and when you have that kind of extraordinarily bad luck, you're bound to have a tough time competing, especially when you don't have much starting pitching depth to begin with.

    Many things went wrong for the Twins, but it basically all comes back to starting pitching. Rarely has the culprit for a completely derailed season been so blatantly clear. That's a shame, as it covers up the assorted successes surrounding the relief corps and the offense.

    In the bullpen, Glen Perkins backed up a breakout 2011 campaign with an even better season in which he handled everything thrown his way, taking over the closer role without a hitch after Matt Capps went down. Jared Burton and Casey Fien emerged as legitimate cogs, while Duensing remains one of the league's better lefty specialists. That's a solid, inexpensive core to build around.

    In the lineup, the Twins stayed shockingly healthy all year. In 2011, only two players on the entire team (Michael Cuddyer and Danny Valencia) were able to amass 500 plate appearances; this year seven players topped that mark. From the point that the Twins finally settled on Ben Revere as the right fielder after cycling through several uninspiring options early on, the starting nine remained impressively stable throughout the summer (with the characteristic exception of the middle infield spots).

    Not only were they healthier around the field, they were far more productive. The Twins went from having the second-worst OPS in the AL in 2011 (.666) to ranking ninth at .717 this year. They remained light on power, as they'll finish among the bottom three teams in slugging and homers, but they rank fifth in on-base percentage and are tied for first in stolen bases, which is more their traditional recipe for success anyway.

    On Wednesday night the Twins will wrap up this 2012 season, and they might finish with only three fewer losses than they had last year. That's fairly discouraging, but for those who followed the club, there's just no way to come away with the same sense of all-encompassing ineptitude and frustration. This team's failures started and ended with a rotation that was grossly unequipped for the plights that would befall it over the course of the summer.

    Does that make 95 losses easier to swallow? I guess, for me, it does. Mistakes were made and there's obviously work to be done, but I feel a whole lot better about this organization's outlook going forward than I did a year ago, even if the improvement in the W/L column was negligible.
    This article was originally published in blog: Minnesota Twins 2012 Season Review started by Nick Nelson
    Comments 22 Comments
    1. one_eyed_jack's Avatar
      one_eyed_jack -
      "Many things went wrong for the Twins, but it basically all comes back to starting pitching. Rarely has the culprit for a completely derailed season been so blatantly clear."

      ----That's it in a nutshell. It's tough to win when you're down 5 before half the crowd has settled into their seats. And there were stretches where it seemed like that's what we were dealing with every single night.
    1. beckmt's Avatar
      beckmt -
      Starting PItching yes was the main issue, Left side of the infield for the first month and a half was the second. Valencia was a stone statue at third and Carroll, who was decent does not have average range at SS any more. Couple that with pitch to contact and it was a problem.
      Second issue is pitch to contact philosophy. Most of the top major league clubs have pitching staffs that have stuffIespecially in the bullpen). It does not work every night, but it is better on most nights.
    1. frightwig's Avatar
      frightwig -
      It is some comfort that we can say, "The Twins were the worst team in the league largely because the original pitching rotation was a total wash-out." And Terry Ryan will have an opportunity to fill up to four rotation spots with new acquisitions this winter, if he so chooses. Then again, the one pitcher on the current roster who figures to have a guaranteed starting spot next spring, Scott Diamond, probably performed over his head this year; and what are the chances that Terry Ryan really can fix the rest of the rotation with quality pickups in one off-season?

      "We need practically a whole new starting rotation," is a pretty daunting thought.

      If we're reasonably lucky, the rotation next April will have Diamond + two above-average acquisitions + Hendriks + Deduno/DeVries or some NRI bargain find. Maybe that will be good enough to compete in the 2013 AL Central, maybe not. Either way, it might be the last shot with this lineup core. Heading into 2014, most of the Twins' best players will be older than 30, and Ryan will have to decide on whether to re-sign Morneau and keep or trade Willingham and Span (if he hasn't traded either of them, already).

      Are we hoping to see the front office continue to build around an aging core in 2014 and beyond? If it turns out that Morneau, Span, and Willingham will be leaving in the next year or so, what then? Unlike 10 years ago, the Twins farm system doesn't seem to promise much help in building the next winning team, anytime soon.
    1. Brock Beauchamp's Avatar
      Brock Beauchamp -
      54 starts out of the expected rotation.

      OUCH.
    1. Rick Blaine's Avatar
      Rick Blaine -
      does any one honestly believe Ryan will sign any top line pitchers? I predict he'll get a Jason Marquis clone or two, resign Baker, Pavano and Capps and give Nick Blackburn every opportunity in the world to make the rotation and say they are all healthy and that the Twins will be ready to compete!

      Frightwig-- I think we have a lot of good 'exciting' prospects in the minors right now--just not a lot of pitchers in that category.

      Thanks TwinsDaily for the birthday wishes
    1. Brock Beauchamp's Avatar
      Brock Beauchamp -
      Quote Originally Posted by Rick Blaine View Post
      does any one honestly believe Ryan will sign any top line pitchers? I predict he'll get a Jason Marquis clone or two, resign Baker, Pavano and Capps and give Nick Blackburn every opportunity in the world to make the rotation and say they are all healthy and that the Twins will be ready to compete!
      Nick Blackburn is not on the 40 man roster. He'll get a shot at the rotation next spring but he's not going to be added back to the 40 man just because he's there and has a pulse.

      Teams don't go through the process of taking a guy off the 40 man with the expectation that he'll be coming back to the MLB roster any time soon.

      And after Pavano basically phoned in the second half of the season and gave the impression that he didn't care about coming back and pitching, I really doubt the front office is in any kind of hurry to bring him back. Ditto for Capps. You don't give a reliever $6.5m when he's been injured for most of the season and was pretty mediocre the season before that.
    1. JB_Iowa's Avatar
      JB_Iowa -
      95 losses would only be easy for me to swallow if I felt like they were genuinely overhauling this organization -- or at a minumum, genuinely evaluating every underpinning of this organization (philosophy, policy, procedure and personnel).

      I'll wait and see what they say on Friday but if it doesn't appear that there will be some genuine shake-up and review in this organization then 95 losses this year aren't any easier to swallow than 99 last year. It's just the same old, same old.
    1. Forever34's Avatar
      Forever34 -
      I don't know what to think going forward. Last year it was easy to write off the terrible season as an abiration caused by the ungodly amount of key injuries. This season it is harder to be optomistic since the flaws are obvious and there is no clear fix. Hopefully Baker will be fully recovered and we can resign him because that would fill at least one spot in the rotation. The bullpen looks strong and the lineup apart from the middle infield is solid. The farm system seems stronger although most of the talent is at the lower ranks. I wouldn't advocate blowing up the team but trading a key block like Morneau or cog like Span wouldn't be a bad idea.
    1. Boom Boom's Avatar
      Boom Boom -
      The starting rotation is the obvious culprit, but the Twins haven't provided any recent evidence that they're willing to invest in it. Big league teams have to face the big league reality that big league pitchers cost big league dollars. If the Twins try and rebuild their rotation with cheap youngsters and scrap-heap veterans, it'll be lather, rinse, repeat for 2013.
    1. old nurse's Avatar
      old nurse -
      Quote Originally Posted by Boom Boom View Post
      The starting rotation is the obvious culprit, but the Twins haven't provided any recent evidence that they're willing to invest in it. Big league teams have to face the big league reality that big league pitchers cost big league dollars. If the Twins try and rebuild their rotation with cheap youngsters and scrap-heap veterans, it'll be lather, rinse, repeat for 2013.
      The Twins are not going to be able to sign a top of the rotation pitcher this year as a free agent. Right now there is not one on the market. The suspects mentioned by many of the posters are good pitchers, but not great. Not a one that has won 20 games once or 15 twice. When you look at the history of free agent pitchers it is littered with more busts than potentially great pitchers rising into stars. To invest in a star power pitcher, the Twins will have to trade for a pitcher and hope he develops into one. Do you trade a Sano, Rosario, Kepter or Buxton for that player? That is what it would take to get a pitcher capable of being a star. Look what Washington gave up to get Gonzales.
      The scrap heap includes players not happy with what was offered and may sign a one year deal to prove themselves.
    1. Boom Boom's Avatar
      Boom Boom -
      Quote Originally Posted by old nurse View Post
      Quote Originally Posted by Boom Boom View Post
      The starting rotation is the obvious culprit, but the Twins haven't provided any recent evidence that they're willing to invest in it. Big league teams have to face the big league reality that big league pitchers cost big league dollars. If the Twins try and rebuild their rotation with cheap youngsters and scrap-heap veterans, it'll be lather, rinse, repeat for 2013.
      The Twins are not going to be able to sign a top of the rotation pitcher this year as a free agent. Right now there is not one on the market. The suspects mentioned by many of the posters are good pitchers, but not great. Not a one that has won 20 games once or 15 twice. When you look at the history of free agent pitchers it is littered with more busts than potentially great pitchers rising into stars. To invest in a star power pitcher, the Twins will have to trade for a pitcher and hope he develops into one. Do you trade a Sano, Rosario, Kepter or Buxton for that player? That is what it would take to get a pitcher capable of being a star. Look what Washington gave up to get Gonzales.
      The scrap heap includes players not happy with what was offered and may sign a one year deal to prove themselves.

      This is exactly the approach the Twins have had for as long as I can remember. And it hasn't produced a whole lot.

      I think Span will be traded for a pitcher, but I think Twins fans will be disappointed with the kind of pitcher that Span will bring back. I don't see them trading any of their young position prospects. What I see is a #3 or 4 added through a Span trade, and another Ponson/Ortiz combo brought in. Maybe the pitching will develop over time, but certainly not in time to compete in 2013.
    1. Winston Smith's Avatar
      Winston Smith -
      IMO the first thing they do is get a deal done centered around Span for Shields. Then add another decent starter in FA and you at least have a start at a decent rotation. Until the rotation is fixed not much else matters.

      Friday we will find out nothing is really wrong and things will continue as usual. Liddle may retire likely replaced by Redmond, that will be the big change. They'll talk a lot about the All Star game.
    1. LastOnePicked's Avatar
      LastOnePicked -
      Quote Originally Posted by Boom Boom View Post
      I think Span will be traded for a pitcher, but I think Twins fans will be disappointed with the kind of pitcher that Span will bring back. I don't see them trading any of their young position prospects. What I see is a #3 or 4 added through a Span trade, and another Ponson/Ortiz combo brought in. Maybe the pitching will develop over time, but certainly not in time to compete in 2013.
      I'm not convinced that trades are Ryan 2.0's speciality. The time to trade Span was before the deadline when he carried a hot bat and glove -- when there were many possible contenders for an extra wild card that needed defense, OBP and speed for a postseason run. Going into Spring Training, many teams believe that they can develop a young player who's roughly equivalent to Span. And as for Morneau, no one in the league will touch him over the offseason. He'll have to prove himself all over again in 2013, and with his injury history, it will likely be too late by August. Too bad Ryan passed on a post-deadline deal for Morneau with the then-hasty Dodgers. No, Ryan missed valuable windows for trades already -- I expect great dissapointment again on that front in the offseason.
    1. TheLeviathan's Avatar
      TheLeviathan -
      Not to be a contrarian, but I'm less encouraged this year than last year. Last year at least you could point to massive injury issues derailing the team. But this year they were the worst team in the AL and most of their lack of "luck" was in a rotation that was suspect going into the year. (Hell, I'd argue many of the guys we replaced our "bad luck" with were better anyway!)

      This offense was not even in the top half of the AL even with a remarkably healthy group, a few surprising players to emerge, and a couple career years. And that's the group we are counting on to be "capable" enough to make a playoff run? Yeek.

      No, to me this team is worse off than they were a year ago at this time. Worst in the AL, fairly lucky season for health and individual production, no impact talent in the high minors for at least part if not all of next season, and a high degree of unlikelihood of major free agent signings? Yeah, I'm not more encouraged.
    1. ashburyjohn's Avatar
      ashburyjohn -
      Quote Originally Posted by Brock Beauchamp View Post
      54 starts out of the expected rotation. OUCH.
      And yet, with the exception of a healthy Baker, I'm not sure how much closer to contention the team could have been with 162 starts by this quintet. You can't roll back the calendar with Pavano, Liriano and Marquis weren't that much different for their new teams, and there was always the option to let Blackburn start 32 times but why would you.

      If the goal is getting back to .500 then I suppose the focus can be solely on the starting staff. But if contending (or better) is the aim, you can't really ignore the offense, which was overall not even quite average: 700 runs scored in a league that averages 716 (going into tonight's final game), and OPS+ at 99 so that you can't really blame timely hitting despite comments like that from Gardy. Too many black holes and hustling table-setters in the lineup, to really excel.
    1. Brock Beauchamp's Avatar
      Brock Beauchamp -
      Quote Originally Posted by ashburyjohn View Post
      Quote Originally Posted by Brock Beauchamp View Post
      54 starts out of the expected rotation. OUCH.
      And yet, with the exception of a healthy Baker, I'm not sure how much closer to contention the team could have been with 162 starts by this quintet. You can't roll back the calendar with Pavano, Liriano and Marquis weren't that much different for their new teams, and there was always the option to let Blackburn start 32 times but why would you.

      If the goal is getting back to .500 then I suppose the focus can be solely on the starting staff. But if contending (or better) is the aim, you can't really ignore the offense, which was overall not even quite average: 700 runs scored in a league that averages 716 (going into tonight's final game), and OPS+ at 99 so that you can't really blame timely hitting despite comments like that from Gardy. Too many black holes and hustling table-setters in the lineup, to really excel.
      The Twins probably would have been a bad team if their rotation stayed healthy but they wouldn't have been awful. If the pitching staff is even just below average instead of abysmal, the team probably finishes with a win count in the low to mid 70s.
    1. ashburyjohn's Avatar
      ashburyjohn -
      Quote Originally Posted by Brock Beauchamp View Post
      If the pitching staff is even just below average instead of abysmal, the team probably finishes with a win count in the low to mid 70s.
      Below average starting, below average offense, middling defense and bullpen? Yeah, 75 wins sounds about right. I'm not sure where that insight really brings us, however.
    1. Brock Beauchamp's Avatar
      Brock Beauchamp -
      Quote Originally Posted by ashburyjohn View Post
      Quote Originally Posted by Brock Beauchamp View Post
      If the pitching staff is even just below average instead of abysmal, the team probably finishes with a win count in the low to mid 70s.
      Below average starting, below average offense, middling defense and bullpen? Yeah, 75 wins sounds about right. I'm not sure where that insight really brings us, however.
      That the Twins really need a lot of help to be good again.
    1. Nick Nelson's Avatar
      Nick Nelson -
      Quote Originally Posted by ashburyjohn View Post
      700 runs scored in a league that averages 716 (going into tonight's final game), and OPS+ at 99 so that you can't really blame timely hitting despite comments like that from Gardy.
      I think there's some truth to Gardy's observation. The Twins ranked 5th in the AL in OBP and 1st in stolen bases, yet ranked 10th in runs scored. That points to inefficiency in pushing runners across, any way you slice it.

      Unlike Lev, I see quite a bit of upside in next year's offense compared to this year's. Beyond hopefully overcoming that run-scoring efficiency, you look for:

      * Full healthy season from Justin Morneau, who only in the second half has started looking his old self.
      * Full year of Trevor Plouffe, who's a year further into his prime, and no Danny Valencia.
      * Another year of progression for Ben Revere.
      * Chris Parmelee continues to blossom in a more full-time role.
      * Maybe you find a way to get SOMETHING from the middle infield.

      None of those things are givens, but nor are any of them particularly unrealistic. And it's not like anyone was really playing way over his head. Willingham and Doumit, maybe, but they've been quality hitters throughout their careers.

      The Twins were a lot healthier than last year in the lineup but they weren't uncommonly healthy. Compared to their 7 players with 500+ PA, the Tigers had 6, the White Sox had 7, the Royals had 6 and the Indians had 6. I think you're letting that 2011 campaign, which was one of the most ridiculous injury years in franchise history, shade your perspective a little too much. Certainly everyone's health here as we reach the end of the season has to be viewed as a positive harbinger.
    1. ashburyjohn's Avatar
      ashburyjohn -
      Quote Originally Posted by Brock Beauchamp View Post
      That the Twins really need a lot of help to be good again.
      Then we're back to the point of my first response, which is that the original rotation getting only XX starts is not really the core of the problem; that just hands Gardy and Ryan an excuse. "How could we win, when our rotation got only XX starts?"

      The starting pitching has to be fixed, and (as George Orwell's buddy just said) nothing else matters much until that happens. Necessary, yet not sufficient.
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