• 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. beckmt's Avatar
      beckmt -
      It has been better except for the starting pitching. We are now on version 2. It may take a few to see what we have.
    1. Tibs's Avatar
      Tibs -
      Quote Originally Posted by mike wants wins View Post
      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.
      No, it's not likely to happen. It wasn't likely to happen with the Rays and Cardinals in 2011 either, and they were better teams than the Twins this year. However, every game should be treated as a meaningful game because you play to win the game.
    1. mike wants wins's Avatar
      mike wants wins -
      Fangraphs:
      2012:
      wRC+: 14th overall
      Fld: 16th overall
      Bsr: 4th overall
      WAR: 18th overall

      2013:
      wRC+: 21st
      Fld: 29th
      Bsr: 12th
      WAR: 26th

      edit: if I read that correctly, they are actually worse at every aspect of the game than last year.
    1. mike wants wins's Avatar
      mike wants wins -
      Quote Originally Posted by Tibs View Post
      No, it's not likely to happen. It wasn't likely to happen with the Rays and Cardinals in 2011 either, and they were better teams than the Twins this year. However, every game should be treated as a meaningful game because you play to win the game.

      I'm not sure what that means. Did I ever say any game was not meaningful? I'm happy to converse on this thread, but now I've lost track of the conversation.
    1. jokin's Avatar
      jokin -
      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.
      I think that SSS was my point- that in trying to draw meta-conclusions from mini-data samples- ie, incremental improvements over a couple months led to false optimism as late as June 25 last year- the definite incremental improvements outlined in this article this year will likely lead to the same false optimism- most of the underlying problems.... and the same problem-behavior-making players are still there.

      The one meta-conclusion we can draw is that the SP still "sucks", and many other data-based performance aspects still "suck" too---only worse than last year--which makes any meta-conclusion that the Twins will be playing relevant games in September---absurd.
    1. TheLeviathan's Avatar
      TheLeviathan -
      Quote Originally Posted by Tibs View Post
      No, it's not likely to happen. It wasn't likely to happen with the Rays and Cardinals in 2011 either, and they were better teams than the Twins this year. However, every game should be treated as a meaningful game because you play to win the game.
      I think you're missing the context of "meaningful". Ryan said that as a way to imply that the Twins would still be fringe contenders in the last months of the season.

      It's hard to see this team doing that with the current slate of issues they are facing. This winning streak has been nice, but these trends have to continue to improve. Unfortunately, there has been a lot of volatility in then instead.
    1. IdahoPilgrim's Avatar
      IdahoPilgrim -
      Quote Originally Posted by jokin View Post
      I think that SSS was my point- that in trying to draw meta-conclusions from mini-data samples- ie, incremental improvements over a couple months led to false optimism as late as June 25 last year- the definite incremental improvements outlined in this article this year will likely lead to the same false optimism- most of the underlying problems.... and the same problem-behavior-making players are still there.

      The one meta-conclusion we can draw is that the SP still "sucks", and many other data-based performance aspects still "suck" too---only worse than last year--which makes any meta-conclusion that the Twins will be playing relevant games in September---absurd.
      I guess we'll find out at the end of the year.

      Let me just ask one question: If, at the end of the year, the Twins have won 75 games (as they are on pace to do), how will you feel? Will you be happy that they have shown improvement in the one category that ultimately matters (W-L)? Or will you be upset that they didn't tank completely and force the organization to adopt a more radical change in approach? Or will it be some combination of both?
    1. mike wants wins's Avatar
      mike wants wins -
      sbk......I know you aren't asking me, but here is my answer:

      if they win 75, I'll be happy if:
      The young guys are better, and it looks like it was not built on Doumit, Morneau, Willingham

      if they win 75, I'll not be happy if:
      Hicks, Plouffe, Dozier are not good, and no progress was made in the starting pitching

      75 really doesn't do much for me personally, it is not bad enough to get the top pick, and it is not good enough for the games to be interesting in September.

      75 really only matters to me in terms of how they get there.....since 75 does nothing for the playoffs this year, the key for me is, how does that 75 indicate they might be likely to do in the next two years?
    1. IdahoPilgrim's Avatar
      IdahoPilgrim -
      Quote Originally Posted by mike wants wins View Post
      sbk......I know you aren't asking me, but here is my answer:

      if they win 75, I'll be happy if:
      The young guys are better, and it looks like it was not built on Doumit, Morneau, Willingham

      if they win 75, I'll not be happy if:
      Hicks, Plouffe, Dozier are not good, and no progress was made in the starting pitching
      So basically you want to finish the year with a realistic hope, based on observable data, that the future is going to be brighter and that the improvements are going to be sustainable. I have no problem with that.
    1. MichiganTwins's Avatar
      MichiganTwins -
      Agree with the last two posts. I think that this season's main objective is to improve as a team, but also evaluate the young guys including Plouffe and Parms. We need to see what we have once our veterans are gone (excluding Mauer.)
    1. Siehbiscuit's Avatar
      Siehbiscuit -
      Quote Originally Posted by mike wants wins View Post
      sbk......I know you aren't asking me, but here is my answer:

      if they win 75, I'll be happy if:
      The young guys are better, and it looks like it was not built on Doumit, Morneau, Willingham

      if they win 75, I'll not be happy if:
      Hicks, Plouffe, Dozier are not good, and no progress was made in the starting pitching

      75 really doesn't do much for me personally, it is not bad enough to get the top pick, and it is not good enough for the games to be interesting in September.

      75 really only matters to me in terms of how they get there.....since 75 does nothing for the playoffs this year, the key for me is, how does that 75 indicate they might be likely to do in the next two years?
      I agree with this as well. We get so involved with Fangraphs and BRef and all the advance stats, but there are so many variables as well. Hicks is a year closer to showing his potential (or lack thereof), we'll no more about Plouffe, Florimon, Parmalee and others. Wins and losses are what matters and having an opportunity in the postseason. Who cares if the stats say the Orioles weren't as good as they were last year. They made the playoffs and had a CHANCE. This year I want as a fan to see improvement in the eyeball test, because I watch the games with my eyes and the product means more watching improvement than just seeing it on a sheet of paper.
    1. YourHouseIsMyHouse's Avatar
      YourHouseIsMyHouse -
      The biggest reason for the success is the power explosion being put on by the Twins. They're hitting lots of HRs now. I think a lot of that comes from the mediocre opposing pitchers, but if they can keep producing runs through this "new" and "unheard of" method to score, we should be good moving forward. I expected this lineup to hit more dingers with Carroll sitting and the loss of Span+Revere. It was a little surprising that we weren't hitting many early. That was mostly because of Doumit, Willingham, and Parmelee starting slow, but they are doing a little better now.
    1. jokin's Avatar
      jokin -
      Quote Originally Posted by sbknudson View Post
      I guess we'll find out at the end of the year.

      Let me just ask one question: If, at the end of the year, the Twins have won 75 games (as they are on pace to do), how will you feel? Will you be happy that they have shown improvement in the one category that ultimately matters (W-L)? Or will you be upset that they didn't tank completely and force the organization to adopt a more radical change in approach? Or will it be some combination of both?
      Well, first off, that's 4 questions, not one!

      Upset that they DIDN'T tank? Huh? Nope. What would have made me happy was for the Twins to do what Boston and Cleveland attempted to do in the offseason. Both of those teams cleared extraordinarily significant payroll room to do a remake/makeover/hole-filling... while maintaining their solid core players and soon-up-and-coming prospects- all without breaking the bank to do so (like the Dodgers and Angels did).

      The positive spin-take on the Twins season thus far taken by the OP is akin to being on a clipper ship in the middle of the Indian Ocean 3 days out to sea and trying to spin positive on the favorable winds and plenty of less-than-tasty MRE rations while ignoring the obvious facts that the boat's radio is Kaput, the auxiliary motor is dangerously low on fuel and the ship is sinking at a rate that guarantees the clipper ship will be at the bottom of the sea in 2 days.
    1. edavis0308's Avatar
      edavis0308 -
      I feel like this team is in for a world of hurt when the bullpen starts breaking down and can't protect the few leads the starters will have. I don't think that is some profound shocking statement to anyone, but our home runs better continue to keep us in more high run affairs. The cut down on errors at the very least has been refreshing.
    1. birdwatcher's Avatar
      birdwatcher -
      Quote Originally Posted by SDTwinkie View Post
      Stop trying to sound smarter than everyone else and enjoy some wins already people!
      Exactly. Coming into the season, if one's expectations were anything above having a team that was in the game more often than not, more fun to watch, a little more likely to win, with a few glimpses of a bright future, then one was setting oneself up for unhappiness.
    1. Riverbrian's Avatar
      Riverbrian -
      Quote Originally Posted by jokin View Post

      The positive spin-take on the Twins season thus far taken by the OP is akin to being on a clipper ship in the middle of the Indian Ocean 3 days out to sea and trying to spin positive on the favorable winds and plenty of less-than-tasty MRE rations while ignoring the obvious facts that the boat's radio is Kaput, the auxiliary motor is dangerously low on fuel and the ship is sinking at a rate that guarantees the clipper ship will be at the bottom of the sea in 2 days.
      I disagree with this paragraph but I liked the way you typed it.
    1. jokin's Avatar
      jokin -
      Quote Originally Posted by Riverbrian View Post
      I disagree with this paragraph but I liked the way you typed it.
      Thanks...I think? I hope I'm wrong in my prediction, it just seems that if a little more of a concerted effort and financial commitment had been made in addressing the holes in the pitching staff and position players- this story would never need to be written. I give Ryan and Gardy credit in changing up some of their old-way, on- and off-field strategies... add the fresh approach and just another couple key cheap position players and 2 healthy and legitimate mid-to-second tier starters and this boat stays afloat well into September, right in the thick of the AL Central Regatta.
    1. stringer bell's Avatar
      stringer bell -
      This is the Tigers year. Cleveland basically did what you are calling for and is hanging with the Kitties for now, but I doubt they hold up. Perhaps next year and certainly by 2015, the Twins will have improved personnel and could challenge the best in the Central. I am pretty confident that the lineup will be very good. I am less confident about the pitching staff.
    1. jokin's Avatar
      jokin -
      Quote Originally Posted by stringer bell View Post
      This is the Tigers year. Cleveland basically did what you are calling for and is hanging with the Kitties for now, but I doubt they hold up. Perhaps next year and certainly by 2015, the Twins will have improved personnel and could challenge the best in the Central. I am pretty confident that the lineup will be very good. I am less confident about the pitching staff.
      Yes, the starting pitching staff situation has not been adequately addressed for yet another year. Unlike many on this board, I don't think it's reasonable to have to wait until 2015- in a brand new ballpark, with a core of 2 former MVPs and 3 potential All Stars trying to bust the doors down to get into the lineup, and crying poor and selling to the public that coming in at around 60% of potentially available payroll dollars is an acceptable trade-off to having "patience" until 2015 or beyond.

      I noticed you left the Red Sox out of your response. I'll take what Cleveland did, at least they are making the effort to get relevant with an intelligent plan and intelligent management to implemet the plan. I would be far more forgiving of the Indians if I was a fan if they fail this year than I am for the Twins for barely make an effort at competing this year.
    1. clutterheart's Avatar
      clutterheart -
      Quote Originally Posted by Willihammer View Post
      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.
      Agree 1000%
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