• Twins Reversing Some Ugly Trends

    Ron Gardenhire has the Twins playing betterOn Sunday, the Minnesota Twins played their 54th game of the season, meaning that they are now officially one-third of the way through their 2013 schedule. This milestone presents a good opportunity to review what has taken place thus far. How has the season matched up to expectations, and to the club's stated initiatives?

    The most noticeable trait of this team has been the brutal starting pitching. Improving last year's horrendous rotation was frequently called out as the front office's top priority during the offseason, but so far this reconfigured unit has, astoundingly, proven worse. The lineup has also mostly failed to live up to its potential, even with Joe Mauer at the top of his game.

    Still, compared to the last two seasons, the positives in this campaign have been almost overwhelming. Even after enduring a 10-game losing streak, the Twins are on pace for 75 wins, which would put them within shouting distance of .500 -- the unspoken goal for this bridge year.

    This improvement has been made possible in spite of the rotation's struggles because the Twins have been remarkably successful in three areas they have heavily emphasized. I think these impressive strides deserve recognition.

    1) Better Start

    Last year the Twins lost seven of their first nine games and by the end of May they were already 15 games below .500. In 2011, they went 17-36 over the first two months. Digging those kinds of holes is a fast path to irrelevance.

    This year, although they've been far from great, the Twins have been able to offset their bad stretches by bunching victories. Few would call them contenders in the AL Central, but then again, they are only 4.5 games out of first place.

    Terry Ryan said he wanted his team to be playing meaningful games in September, and at this point they're on track to do so.

    2) Better Fundamentals

    Above and beyond the recent losing, you got the sense that the miscues and mental gaffes from players young and old really began to grind on Ron Gardenhire and Co. An organization that has long prided itself on doing "the little things" had drifted a great distance from it's previous identity.

    Whether it's personnel or coaching, the difference this year has been stark. Playing smart and avoiding mistakes can be difficult things to quantify but, by the eye test, the Twins have been markedly better in execution and are on pace to commit 41 fewer errors than in 2012.

    3) Better Health

    Cutting down on injuries is a tricky task since they are more a function of luck than anything else. Sometimes, players get hurt. And sometimes injuries happen in rapid succession. That's been the story of the past two years, so perhaps the reduction of injuries this season is simply a sign that the Twins' run of bad breaks has come to an end. They also shook up their medical staff during the offseason, dismissing head trainer Rick McWane and promoting former assistant Dave Pruemer, so perhaps that too has been a factor.

    Either way, the Twins have (knock on wood) avoided the disabled list almost entirely this year. Darin Mastroianni's broken foot has been the only truly significant injury, and when your backup center fielder is the only guy missing extended time you can count your blessings.

    The improved health has been apparent in the lineup, where Trevor Plouffe recently became the first regular to land on the DL (he expects to return after the minimum). The improved health is even more evident in the rotation. The Twins have three starters on pace to reach 150 innings, which would match their total from 2012 and 2011 combined.
    This article was originally published in blog: Twins Reversing Some Ugly Trends started by Nick Nelson
    Comments 64 Comments
    1. greengoblinrulz's Avatar
      greengoblinrulz -
      Twins have reversed the stolen base problem as they are tied for 3rd with only 26 attempts against & 8th in CS w/35%
      Dozier/Florimon have played great defense also, big difference from past 2 yrs. Not a fan of looking @ errors for defensive tracking but their UZR is far improved.
      I say they've almost done it with mirrors as nobody other than Mauer has been impressive. Bullpen as a whole has been solid but how long wil that last at the rate they're bein used/overused by Gardy's reluctance to let pitchers go deeper.
    1. jokin's Avatar
      jokin -
      You've invited and illustrated the danger of drawing meaningful trends from small sample size over-performances. Just a week ago today, Sunday, the Twins were on pace to just about match last season's 66 total wins.

      But then, playing 7 games against 2 of the worst teams in baseball changes the whole outlook. Milwaukee is 7-22 since May 1, that's a .241 clip, by contrast, Miami is actually BETTER, 8-21 over the same period. Seattle is a little better than these 2, but the Twins were very fortunate to miss King Felix and draw 2 alleged SP guys who are hanging on by their fingernails just at staying in the league.
    1. clutterheart's Avatar
      clutterheart -
      Extend Gardy!
      After the 10 game losing streak I was ready to write him off as a causality of the rebuild. But the team keeps believing and seeming to care about each-other. As long as the team keeps playing good ball, they are fun to watch and relevant.
    1. clutterheart's Avatar
      clutterheart -
      Quote Originally Posted by jokin View Post
      You've invited and illustrated the danger of drawing meaningful trends from small sample size over-performances. Just a week ago today, Sunday, the Twins were on pace to just about match last season's 66 total wins.

      But then, playing 7 games against 2 of the worst teams in baseball changes the whole outlook. Milwaukee is 7-22 since May 1, that's a .241 clip, by contrast, Miami is actually BETTER, 8-21 over the same period. Seattle is a little better than these 2, but the Twins were very fortunate to miss King Felix and draw 2 alleged SP guys who are hanging on by their fingernails just at staying in the league.
      I think this is the premise of the article. Last year the team would lost these games. And really, when you look at where this team was just a few weeks ago, its amazing we can say the Brewers and the Mariners are OVERMATCHED by the mighty Twins.

      They are not the dregs of the league. And this is an improvement. - Sure, its not a great standard, but in the season of low expectations, I'll take it.
    1. howieramone's Avatar
      howieramone -
      Quote Originally Posted by greengoblinrulz View Post
      Twins have reversed the stolen base problem as they are tied for 3rd with only 26 attempts against & 8th in CS w/35%
      Dozier/Florimon have played great defense also, big difference from past 2 yrs. Not a fan of looking @ errors for defensive tracking but their UZR is far improved.
      I say they've almost done it with mirrors as nobody other than Mauer has been impressive. Bullpen as a whole has been solid but how long wil that last at the rate they're bein used/overused by Gardy's reluctance to let pitchers go deeper.
      Disagree.
    1. jokin's Avatar
      jokin -
      Quote Originally Posted by clutterheart View Post
      I think this is the premise of the article. Last year the team would lost these games. And really, when you look at where this team was just a few weeks ago, its amazing we can say the Brewers and the Mariners are OVERMATCHED by the mighty Twins.

      They are not the dregs of the league. And this is an improvement. - Sure, its not a great standard, but in the season of low expectations, I'll take it.
      Baby steps are a good thing. But, I think the premise was taken a bit too far. First off, the ugliest trend of all, Starting Pitching, is also the most critical change to making the team successful. And that trend is WORSE, not better.

      And then there's this:

      This year, although they've been far from great, the Twins have been able to offset their bad stretches by bunching victories. Few would call them contenders in the AL Central, but then again, they are only 4.5 games out of first place.

      Terry Ryan said he wanted his team to be playing meaningful games in September, and at this point they're on track to do so.

      The same things were written as late as June 25th last year when the Twins were only 7.5 games out. "Buyer or Seller at the Deadline?" headlines were quite commonplace. As last year, that just is not realistic given the current Starting Rotation, lack of reliable SP depth, Gibson on an "almost-used-up-already" innings limit and a near-certainty that one or more of the current SP crew will have a break down of some kind. That, in turn, cascades over to the 'Pen, which will end up suffering statisically under the overuse issues and regression to the mean concerning the unsustainable HR/FB rate, same as it ever was.
    1. birdwatcher's Avatar
      birdwatcher -
      The dramatic improvement in run differential is what stands out to me. The team is competing game to game this year on a fairly consistent basis. My eyes tell me that the main reasons for this are better execution, better starting pitching, and better depth. The ERAs and batting averages are ugly, but the baseball has been better than last year.
    1. IdahoPilgrim's Avatar
      IdahoPilgrim -
      Quote Originally Posted by jokin View Post
      You've invited and illustrated the danger of drawing meaningful trends from small sample size over-performances. Just a week ago today, Sunday, the Twins were on pace to just about match last season's 66 total wins.
      And you've illustrated the same thing by using as your basepoint a Twins record following a period of small sample size under-performance (10 game losing streak). Recall that before that streak they were above .500, including a decent road trip that included Boston and Detroit.

      Bottom line is that the Twins don't suck this year. They're not a good team, and there are clearly areas which need to be addressed in the off-season, but they are a better team than last year, which is what the whole point of this article is and which deserves to be recognized and given credit.
    1. mike wants wins's Avatar
      mike wants wins -
      Twins starting pitching is 2nd to last in the AL in WAR, 4th worst overall. Like ERA better? 2nd worst in the AL, 3rd worst overall. Like xFIP better? 3rd worst in the AL, 3rd worst overall.

      I'm not sure how the pitching "trend" is better.

      As for meaningful games in September, at this rate, they'd be 10 games back entering September, right? Would that make their games meaningful to them?
    1. jorgenswest's Avatar
      jorgenswest -
      After 54 games...

      team OPS+ is 93 (2012 was 98)
      team ERA+ is 94 (2012 was 85)

      Maybe Gibson and Arcia can help boost those numbers a little in then next 54.
    1. jorgenswest's Avatar
      jorgenswest -
      Park factor trends after 54 games...

      2013 1.055 (11th)
      2012 1.044 (10th)
      2011 0.944 (21st)
      2010 0.962 (19th)

      Do we still think Target Field is a pitcher's park?
    1. IdahoPilgrim's Avatar
      IdahoPilgrim -
      Quote Originally Posted by mike wants wins View Post
      Twins starting pitching is 2nd to last in the AL in WAR, 4th worst overall. Like ERA better? 2nd worst in the AL, 3rd worst overall. Like xFIP better? 3rd worst in the AL, 3rd worst overall.

      I'm not sure how the pitching "trend" is better.

      As for meaningful games in September, at this rate, they'd be 10 games back entering September, right? Would that make their games meaningful to them?
      To be fair, he says right up front at the start of the article that the starting pitching is still brutal. The title of the article refers to other areas where he does see improvement, in each case I think justifiably.

      I concur that we are not going to be contending in September, so "meaningful" is a stretch. Personally I'd be happy hovering at or slightly under .500, which is still entirely possible.
    1. Monkeypaws's Avatar
      Monkeypaws -
      Quote Originally Posted by greengoblinrulz View Post
      Twins have reversed the stolen base problem as they are tied for 3rd with only 26 attempts against & 8th in CS w/35%
      Dozier/Florimon have played great defense also, big difference from past 2 yrs. Not a fan of looking @ errors for defensive tracking but their UZR is far improved.
      I say they've almost done it with mirrors as nobody other than Mauer has been impressive. Bullpen as a whole has been solid but how long wil that last at the rate they're bein used/overused by Gardy's reluctance to let pitchers go deeper.
      4 times this season Pelfrey has had the wheels come off in the 6th inning after 5 very good innings. Sometimes Gardy leaves them in too long.
    1. big dog's Avatar
      big dog -
      Quote Originally Posted by Monkeypaws View Post
      4 times this season Pelfrey has had the wheels come off in the 6th inning after 5 very good innings. Sometimes Gardy leaves them in too long.
      This has been my impression as well- Pelfrey and Corriea have both been left in games long enough to see things collapse. Whether that made sense at the time or not, I have not thought that refusing to extend pitchers was the problem.

      At this point I think Pelfrey's only role with the team is long relief, if that. He's a five-inning pitcher at best. Given that he only has a one-year contract, how long should the team continue letting him go six and build up his strength when the results tend to be brutal?
    1. mike wants wins's Avatar
      mike wants wins -
      Quote Originally Posted by sbknudson View Post
      To be fair, he says right up front at the start of the article that the starting pitching is still brutal. The title of the article refers to other areas where he does see improvement, in each case I think justifiably.

      I concur that we are not going to be contending in September, so "meaningful" is a stretch. Personally I'd be happy hovering at or slightly under .500, which is still entirely possible.
      Bah, you are right. I must have been actually paying attn to my work call when I read the opening.....

      I think the big issue, for the future, is that the Twins is still a team made up of old guys that will not be part of the future (in key roles), and young guys that don't look all that good (some are not bad, but none look really good). I think that's part of why they beat up on Seattle, they don't have any of those older, good players that MN does. Milwaukee is pitching free, frankly. They look a lot like what I expect this team to look like in a couple of years. Four or five really good hitters, 10 bad hitters, and only one or two good starting pitchers. Let's hope Ryan and team are right about May and Meyer.....

      *edited for speeeeling and other various typos
    1. Willihammer's Avatar
      Willihammer -
      Only 4.5 games out. If there had been a guy available this past offseason who A. filled the Twins need for starting pitching and B. was coveted by the Tigers, they might have made a direct, albeit "marginal" dent in that gap. A shame no such free agent pitcher fit both of those criteria.
    1. SDTwinkie's Avatar
      SDTwinkie -
      Quote Originally Posted by sbknudson View Post
      And you've illustrated the same thing by using as your basepoint a Twins record following a period of small sample size under-performance (10 game losing streak). Recall that before that streak they were above .500, including a decent road trip that included Boston and Detroit.

      Bottom line is that the Twins don't suck this year. They're not a good team, and there are clearly areas which need to be addressed in the off-season, but they are a better team than last year, which is what the whole point of this article is and which deserves to be recognized and given credit.
      Exactly. Is the original poster trying to argue that his smaller sample size is more representative than the current larger sample? Stop trying to sound smarter than everyone else and enjoy some wins already people!
    1. stringer bell's Avatar
      stringer bell -
      With the exception of the big first baseman, I'm liking the power being displayed by this club. I should also add that I expect Plouffe to hit a lot of homers in the second half. Mauer, Doumit, the middle infield, Parmelee, and Hicks all look like double digit producers. Eventually, some of those long balls will come with runners on base and turn around some games that have been hopeless cases previously.
    1. Tibs's Avatar
      Tibs -
      Quote Originally Posted by mike wants wins View Post

      As for meaningful games in September, at this rate, they'd be 10 games back entering September, right? Would that make their games meaningful to them?
      Ask the 2011 Cardinals or Rays if they are playing meaningful games if they are 10 games back in September.
    1. mike wants wins's Avatar
      mike wants wins -
      Quote Originally Posted by Tibs View Post
      Ask the 2011 Cardinals or Rays if they are playing meaningful games if they are 10 games back in September.

      Sure, it can happen. Name the pitcher on this roster that is going to make that happen. Gibson will be shut down by then, so don't name him. It just isn't likely, or even a little likely, to happen.

      I'm happy they are slightly better than most of us thought they would be. I am. But that's not going to cloud my judgement about what I think is likely to happen in the future.
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