• Finding Optimism in the Offense

    No one would deny that this has been a relatively aggressive offseason for Terry Ryan and the Minnesota Twins. Already we've seen them sign two starting pitchers to larger contracts than they've ever given a free agent in the past, and they followed up by adding Mike Pelfrey on a two-year deal. On top of that, there are some whispers that the Twins might still be pursuing another arm to round out the rotation.

    Of course, the club's efforts to improve the offense have been far less ambitious. The additions to this unit have amounted to a DH who posted a .610 OPS last year and a catcher who checked in at .627. Both those figures make Minnesota's .692 team OPS in 2013,which ranked 12th in the AL, look stellar.

    While the starting rotation was undoubtedly the team's most glaring weakness, run-scoring has clearly been an issue for the Twins and nothing they've done so far this winter is obviously going to alleviate that problem. But if you look closely, there are plenty of reasons to believe the lineup can be significantly more potent in 2014. Let's list a few:

    A stronger Joe Mauer.

    There's a lot of concern that Mauer's overall value could be dinged significantly by his move from behind the plate. That's a legit gripe, but we also might surmise that the transition to a less physically demanding position will lead to improvement in Mauer's offensive game. He's dealt with a ton of lower-body injuries related to catching over the years, and it's hard to believe those haven't had a cumulative effect on his ability to drive the ball at times. With stronger legs underneath him, the elite batsman may be able to produce more power than we've seen outside of that miraculous MVP campaign in 2009.

    Prospects on the scene.

    Josmil Pinto might be on the roster out of spring training. Same goes for Miguel Sano, though he's a less likely candidate. And of course Byron Buxton, the consensus top prospect in baseball, could be in the mix for a midseason promotion if he jumps out to a hot start in Double-A. The Twins have been ushering in a pretty ordinary group of young hitters over the past few years, but these kids -- particularly Sano and Buxton -- are top-flight talents that are really capable of making a difference.

    Center field has to get better.

    Led by the overmatched Aaron Hicks and the under-equipped Clete Thomas, Twins center fielders hit .230/.295/.349 in 2013. That damage was magnified because the paltry production often came at the top of the order. In the coming season, the position is bound to contribute more to the offense, whether it's Hicks bouncing back, Alex Presley holding his own, or Buxton entering the fold at some point.

    Full year of Oswaldo Arcia.

    Arcia had his ups and downs last year, with some notable stretches of extreme contact issues. At the end of the day, though, his performance was quite impressive for a 22-year-old getting his first taste of major-league competition. In 378 plate appearances, the Venezuelan slugger hit .251/.304/.430 with 14 homers. If you factor in some improvement as he adapts and puts in a full year's work, he could be a real asset in the middle of the lineup.

    Josh Willingham will rebound.

    Willingham endured by far the worst season of his career in 2013. Hampered by a nagging knee injury, he managed just 14 homers while batting .208 with a .709 OPS in 111 games. Hammer has dealt with injuries in the past, but they've never affected his performance like this. Since becoming a full-time player in 2006, he had registered an OPS of .810 or above every single year. He might be in a state of decline at age 35, but considering his consistent track record, there's no reason to expect anything resembling last year's ugly numbers unless the injury bug bites hard again.

    Jason Kubel could deliver, if used properly.

    Throughout his career, Kubel has been a liability against left-handed pitching -- a point of frustration when he's played for managers who refused to platoon him. Prior to 2013, he generally crushed righties, and clearly the Twins are banking on a rebound to previous form. What's nice is that, while Doumit grumbled at times last year about a lack of playing time, Kubel's incentive-laden minor-league contract might increase Ron Gardenhire's willingness to use him in a part-time role or to cut bait if he's not producing.

    More moves to come?

    We're still almost six weeks away from pitchers and catchers reporting to Ft. Myers. Numerous players remain available on the market and the Twins still have plenty of money to spend if they so choose. There's no reason to assume they're done adding hitters, including guys who could provide a real jolt.
    This article was originally published in blog: Finding Optimism in the Offense started by Nick Nelson
    Comments 31 Comments
    1. Willihammer's Avatar
      Willihammer -
      Mastroianni too. People seem to forget he OPSed nearly the same as Hicks last ST, when he was healthy.
    1. Jdosen's Avatar
      Jdosen -
      Quote Originally Posted by Willihammer View Post
      Mastroianni too. People seem to forget he OPSed nearly the same as Hicks last ST, when he was healthy.
      I think suggesting Mastroianni could have a (relative) bounce back year is fair, but to cite his spring training numbers (or anyone's for that matter) is misguided in my opinion. It's such a small sample size and the outcomes have such high variation that a good or bad spring training numbers-wise is likely just noise.
    1. Brandon's Avatar
      Brandon -
      Plouffe, Parmalee or Colabello could have a break out season as a DH, bench or at 3B. Sano could come up and add to the offense too. I expect several of these things to happen, but will there be enough improvement on the offense to put us into contention.
    1. Otwins's Avatar
      Otwins -
      No AB's for Clete Thomas and Doug Bernier will help. If Plouffe and Parmelee are struggling again they can be replaced easier this year by Sano, Kubel. If Centerfield is as bad as last year they may just bring up Buxton. So I think there is some hope for improvement by subtraction.
    1. Physics Guy's Avatar
      Physics Guy -
      Nice article Nick. I tried to make some of the same arguments in the Florimon thread. I'm curious to see how others respond. I had forgotten completely about Kubel. Hopefully he provides some insurance in case Parmelee finally proves he can't cut it (which I'm starting to feel is true).
    1. Kwak's Avatar
      Kwak -
      It appears we fans will have to suffice with the tone of this story--"they can't all be as bad as they were last year!" After some weather as brutal as the baseball, hope is starting to look pretty good right now.
    1. jokin's Avatar
      jokin -
      Quote Originally Posted by Physics Guy View Post
      Nice article Nick. I tried to make some of the same arguments in the Florimon thread. I'm curious to see how others respond. I had forgotten completely about Kubel. Hopefully he provides some insurance in case Parmelee finally proves he can't cut it (which I'm starting to feel is true).
      I have my doubts about both of them. I hope to be proven wrong. Kubel's swinging numbers decline is concerning and Parm's ship appears to have sailed- this was a guy that needed to play everyday to answer the question once and for all, it never happened- with Mauer now at 1B (not that Parm was great there) and Kubel and Hicks (eventually) needing playing time and saving the 4th OF spot for Presley- I wouldn't be surprised if Parm is DFAd in ST.
    1. Miraclemat's Avatar
      Miraclemat -
      Seems to me the only realistic "hope" is a full year of Arcia. The rest are based around the improvement of guys who have a proven track record below that improvement level.
    1. dgwills's Avatar
      dgwills -
      Quote Originally Posted by Miraclemat View Post
      Seems to me the only realistic "hope" is a full year of Arcia. The rest are based around the improvement of guys who have a proven track record below that improvement level.
      I don't think you use the title "Finding Optimism" if you really believe the offense will be greatly improved, but the points are valid. Willingham just needs to move towards his career averages. With the young players you just never know. Most likely they will struggle. I think most Twins fans would be happy with a league average offense.
    1. cmathewson's Avatar
      cmathewson -
      Joe often talks about the toll catching takes on his hands. The year he won the MVP, he came in May 1 driving the ball like we've never seen him, which he attributed to "fresh hands". That is as much of a benefit to moving out from behind the plate as stronger legs, especially the way he hits.

      Besides Arcia, who will surely benefit from more ABs and a better understanding of the league, I look to regression to the mean. In most cases, they performed well below their career averages last year, so regression looks much more like progression. Willingham is the best example. His year was wrecked by injuries. Kubel and Suzuki also had injury-plagued years. I don't know what to make of Plouffe, but he has to be a bit better. Both Dozier and Florimon performed better than their career averages last year, so regression looks like slippage to me. Then again, I don't expect a lot from them anyway.
    1. Brock Beauchamp's Avatar
      Brock Beauchamp -
      Quote Originally Posted by cmathewson View Post
      Joe often talks about the toll catching takes on his hands. The year he won the MVP, he came in May 1 driving the ball like we've never seen him, which he attributed to "fresh hands". That is as much of a benefit to moving out from behind the plate as stronger legs, especially the way he hits.

      Besides Arcia, who will surely benefit from more ABs and a better understanding of the league, I look to regression to the mean. In most cases, they performed well below their career averages last year, so regression looks much more like progression. Willingham is the best example. His year was wrecked by injuries. Kubel and Suzuki also had injury-plagued years. I don't know what to make of Plouffe, but he has to be a bit better. Both Dozier and Florimon performed better than their career averages last year, so regression looks like slippage to me. Then again, I don't expect a lot from them anyway.
      I agree with the rest but I really hate that people are using Dozier's entire 2013 and predicting regression. It's only a piece of the story.

      Dozier was abysmal the first two months of the season, posting a .609 and .513 OPS in April and May. Then he changed his stance with Bruno and posted an OPS around .800 for the rest of the season. That wasn't a fluke. You can draw a line in the sand the day Dozier made that change to his approach and he was a different player after that day.

      He finished the season with a .726 OPS. Given what happened last season, if he stays healthy, I think a .710-.730 OPS is his floor with a ceiling of around .800. Predicting regression below .726 doesn't make any sense given why he improved last season.
    1. tobi0040's Avatar
      tobi0040 -
      he mauer
      Quote Originally Posted by cmathewson View Post
      Joe often talks about the toll catching takes on his hands. The year he won the MVP, he came in May 1 driving the ball like we've never seen him, which he attributed to "fresh hands". That is as much of a benefit to moving out from behind the plate as stronger legs, especially the way he hits.

      Besides Arcia, who will surely benefit from more ABs and a better understanding of the league, I look to regression to the mean. In most cases, they performed well below their career averages last year, so regression looks much more like progression. Willingham is the best example. His year was wrecked by injuries. Kubel and Suzuki also had injury-plagued years. I don't know what to make of Plouffe, but he has to be a bit better. Both Dozier and Florimon performed better than their career averages last year, so regression looks like slippage to me. Then again, I don't expect a lot from them anyway.
      I think this is good article, however I think you have to view Mauers move as a net neutral. We are basically changing out Morneau for Suzuki-Pinto. I expect Mauer to be better because he will stay healthier and play more, but we can't assume .270 with 17 hr out of this platoon.
    1. halfchest's Avatar
      halfchest -
      I like the offenses chance to be a bit better but nothing makes me think they're going to improve too much. Hoping Mauer stays healthy for 150 games I the number 1 way to improve the offense. Also no one is really due for regression except maybe Pinto. Dozier won't likely be the guy we saw the second half but I'd bet his overall numbers will resemble last years and could improve a bit.

      Even slight improvements at 3B and outfield positions could be huge and seem realistic to expect. The real improvements should be 2015.when the roster consists of some combination of these players:

      Outielders
      Hicks, Buxton, Arcia, Pressly, Rosario, Parmelee

      Infielders
      Dozier, Sano, Santana, Florimon, Escaobar, Mauer, Parmelee, Rosario, Plouffe

      C
      Pinto, Hermann? Turner in AA or AAA maybe?

      DH
      Parmelee, Arcia, Plouffe?

      Could be a nice lineup out of that crew come 2015. Also depending on what the Twins do for spending the rest of this offseason, they could likely afford to add a Free Agent either to solidify SS or add a power bat at DH. (Still have my fingers crossed that Plouffe or Parmelee could help us out there)
    1. TheLeviathan's Avatar
      TheLeviathan -
      I would suggest that if this is the best optimism we can find within the organization (I think it is), that the results of Nick's search is the strongest evidence yet that the team needs to go outside the organization for help if it believes it can contend.
    1. Winston Smith's Avatar
      Winston Smith -
      Better players would help!
    1. Heimer's Avatar
      Heimer -
      Just a gut feeling. I can see the twins scoring 100 more runs next year. I don't see them contending until 2015 but they be around .500. I expect Mauer, hammer, CF, and Arica better but i can see him go down to AAA once or twice during the season.
    1. Rosterman's Avatar
      Rosterman -
      Arcia will be familiar with the league, but the league will also be more familiar with him.

      2015 promises to be big, but it would help if the propsects of that year get lineup time this year.

      The Twins have not stop striking out so much, move runners, MAYBE steal some bases, and ALL hit for their average or better. That's a lot to ask.

      Hopefully the starters will keep the team in the game better than last year, yet the batters must also help the rotation out by putting more early runs on the board, too...which brings up the question when playing another team...who DOES have the best starter on the mind today. The Twins still lack a super starter to go against another (co
      ntending) club's super starter.
    1. dwintheiser's Avatar
      dwintheiser -
      That's part of the problem of living in Minnesota -- even if you've got the hot water of optimism, by the time you throw it in the air, it freezes into the snow-and-ice of reality. Point by point:

      - Mauer may end up stronger at first base then he's been at catcher, but people seem to keep forgetting that Mauer's MVP year happened in the Metrodome and that Target Field simply isn't the same kind of ballpark for offense. Plus, Mauer's going to be 31 next year -- he's still got some good seasons left in him, for certain, but predicting a breakout season past 30 is a sucker's bet. Speaking of which:

      - Predicting that Willingham will rebound is extremely optimistic, given his age. The two big problems with older players is that 1) they lose skills, especially hand-eye coordination, and 2) they have a harder time staying healthy and recovering from injury. Willingham's 2012 should not be considered a baseline; it's the healthiest he's ever been in a big league campaign and the best season of his career. Willingham is much more likely to 'rebound' to a 115 OPS+ than a 130, which while improved, won't be so far improved that you'll notice much.

      - If you think Josmil Pinto is going to be the opening day starter at catcher, you' haven't been watching this team while Ron Gardenhire has been the manager. With very few exceptions (Mauer, primarily), Gardenhire strongly prefers veterans to young players, which means that unless Suzuki washes out in spring training, he's almost certainly going to be given the starting job for the first two months of the season. Given Suzuki's career OPS+ of 86, I'm not expecting he'll set the offense on fire.

      - You might think center field should get better, but as recently as 2011, center was a serious offensive weakness, despite the presence of Ben Revere (72 OPS+) and Denard Span (90 OPS+). The club scored 619 runs that season, versus 614 last year. Yes, injuries were a factor, but they always are -- the collection of players available for 2014 simply isn't deep enough to withstand any problems.

      - Hey, I want to believe that Kubel's return to the Twins is the harbinger of a return to 'good old days', but there's little reason to think it will. For starters, with the Twins carrying 12 or even 13 pitchers on their roster, there simply isn't room for a platoon DH who can't play the field, so it's possible that Kubel won't even be on the roster to start with. Even if he is, as a part-time player and pinch-hitter (and Kubel has been a horrible pinch-hitter in his career, with a BA/OPS of .220/667 in the role), he's simply not going to play enough to make much of an impact.

      Even with all that said, the offense could easily still improve from the barely-above-600 runs it has scored two of the last three seasons. But the Twins scored 700 runs in 2012 and still lost 96 games. Unless the changes to the pitching staff bring a ridiculous increase in the Twins' ability to prevent run scoring (akin to the 671 runs scored they allowed in 2010), even a hundred-run improvement in the offense isn't going to give the team a winning record, much less put them in playoff contention.

      The rebuilding continues...
    1. cmathewson's Avatar
      cmathewson -
      Quote Originally Posted by Brock Beauchamp View Post
      I agree with the rest but I really hate that people are using Dozier's entire 2013 and predicting regression. It's only a piece of the story.

      Dozier was abysmal the first two months of the season, posting a .609 and .513 OPS in April and May. Then he changed his stance with Bruno and posted an OPS around .800 for the rest of the season. That wasn't a fluke. You can draw a line in the sand the day Dozier made that change to his approach and he was a different player after that day.

      He finished the season with a .726 OPS. Given what happened last season, if he stays healthy, I think a .710-.730 OPS is his floor with a ceiling of around .800. Predicting regression below .726 doesn't make any sense given why he improved last season.
      Good point on Dozier. At times he was the Twins best hitter last year. It would be great if he can continue the strong hitting he had in the last four months. I just know that much of a hitters' success is based on luck, so statistically, he should regress. It's a lot better story to say he will regress from the last four months than from his whole season of stats.
    1. Brock Beauchamp's Avatar
      Brock Beauchamp -
      Quote Originally Posted by cmathewson View Post
      Good point on Dozier. At times he was the Twins best hitter last year. It would be great if he can continue the strong hitting he had in the last four months. I just know that much of a hitters' success is based on luck, so statistically, he should regress. It's a lot better story to say he will regress from the last four months than from his whole season of stats.
      He will probably regress power-wise (nobody saw that coming) but his BABIP was only .278. If anything, he was slightly unlucky on batted balls in 2013.
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