• 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. Thrylos's Avatar
      Thrylos -
      Quote Originally Posted by Brock Beauchamp View Post
      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.
      here comes that BABIP conversation again

      Dozier's BABIP in 2013 (.278) was very similar to his BABIP in 2012 with the Twins (.267) and Red Wings (.270). 2011 at Fort Myers and New Britain was around .350, 2010 was .294 in Fort Myers and .304 in Beloit, and in 2009 it was .395 in Etown. Not sure whether the ones around .280 are who he is vs the ones around .350, but because they are the more recent, I tend to believe that he is one of those medium-low BABIP guys.

      If you look at the difference between the 2012 Dozier and the 2013 Dozier, you will notice very similar BAs and higher OBP and SLG%. He doubled his walk rate and close to doubled his HR/FB rate (walks and HRs are not Balls In Play) Interestingly enough, his LD% remained the same, which means that, if anything, if he regresses power-wise, he will be around a .650 (vs .600 in 2012) OPS guy. That's why the Twins should not turn Rosario into a full-time OF, despite what fans want, quite yet...
    1. Brock Beauchamp's Avatar
      Brock Beauchamp -
      Quote Originally Posted by Thrylos View Post
      here comes that BABIP conversation again

      Dozier's BABIP in 2013 (.278) was very similar to his BABIP in 2012 with the Twins (.267) and Red Wings (.270). 2011 at Fort Myers and New Britain was around .350, 2010 was .294 in Fort Myers and .304 in Beloit, and in 2009 it was .395 in Etown. Not sure whether the ones around .280 are who he is vs the ones around .350, but because they are the more recent, I tend to believe that he is one of those medium-low BABIP guys.

      If you look at the difference between the 2012 Dozier and the 2013 Dozier, you will notice very similar BAs and higher OBP and SLG%. He doubled his walk rate and close to doubled his HR/FB rate (walks and HRs are not Balls In Play) Interestingly enough, his LD% remained the same, which means that, if anything, if he regresses power-wise, he will be around a .650 (vs .600 in 2012) OPS guy. That's why the Twins should not turn Rosario into a full-time OF, despite what fans want, quite yet...
      I don't think Dozier is likely to improve significantly on BABIP, just pointing out that he wasn't very lucky in 2013 so regression is not likely to come from that area.
    1. birdwatcher's Avatar
      birdwatcher -
      Quote Originally Posted by dwintheiser View Post
      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...
      Very strong arguments here, hard to find issue with any of this. Please post more often!
    1. DocBauer's Avatar
      DocBauer -
      I know it sounds like an over simplification, but really, the offense can't be worse than last season, and should be better simply from a better health standpoint, and at least a small influx of talent that may not be over yet.

      Mauer doesn't need a sudden surge, though it could happen of course. Just being healthy and producing at a rate he was last year, but over a full season would show improved production in itself. Now, fresher legs and hands certainly could show at least some improvement.

      Willingham healthy, and just hitting at or close to his "career norm" would also be a marked improvement. He doesn't have to duplicate 2012. And I still believe a transition to DH is in order, and he has a perfect mentor in Molitor.

      Arcia will no doubt prove streaky. But the talent is wonderful. And when the smoke clears and dust settles, I believe his numbers will be solid and a bright future is ahead.

      i am on board with Dozier. Even if the power regresses, and it might not, in another posting I commented on other players who develop power later and make adjustments, but even if it does and he shows an increase in Avg and OB%, which he showed n the minors, you've got a really solid contributor.

      Now Presley is nothing special. But there is no question he has more upside than the Clete Thomases of the world. I'm hoping he, or he and a healthy Mastro, can keep the lead off spot from being a black hole until Buxton arrives.

      I see a decent 1 through 5 with some questions in the lower half. The optimistic side of me sees Hicks down there somewhere, as previously stated, showing some speed and power, (with defense) and improving his Avg at least 20-30 points. If so, his combination of skills can still help as he continues to gain experience and find his game. Plouffe is an enigma who is still young enough and talented enough to provide at least a little hope, especially if we can find a nice complimentary player to spell him from time to time and hit LH. Floriman and Escobar as a platoon might bring up production at 9. And while I don't expect Pinto to set the world on fire immediately, there is no question the kid has talent and knows how to hit. Without heavy wear and tear, Suzuki can hit and help at least a little.

      As much as I would love to put faith in Kubel, I can't. He could turn out to be a real steal as a buy low possibility. But unless the Twins go out and sign Drew, or make some other move at SS, I feel the best course of action is a nice role player or two to come off the bench and fit in; e.g. Baker, Betemit, Young, etc.

      The future is very bright with Sano, Buxton, Arcia, Pinto, Rosario and others further down the line. But in the meantime, a healthier lineup of what we have, a couple good role players, and I think we will see at least decent improvement. Someone mentioned a 100 run improvement. Perhaps optimistic, but not unrealistic.
    1. jokin's Avatar
      jokin -
      Quote Originally Posted by DocBauer View Post
      I know it sounds like an over simplification, but really, the offense can't be worse than last season, and should be better simply from a better health standpoint, and at least a small influx of talent that may not be over yet.

      As much as I would love to put faith in Kubel, I can't. He could turn out to be a real steal as a buy low possibility. But unless the Twins go out and sign Drew, or make some other move at SS, I feel the best course of action is a nice role player or two to come off the bench and fit in; e.g. Baker, Betemit, Young, etc.

      The future is very bright with Sano, Buxton, Arcia, Pinto, Rosario and others further down the line. But in the meantime, a healthier lineup of what we have, a couple good role players, and I think we will see at least decent improvement. Someone mentioned a 100 run improvement. Perhaps optimistic, but not unrealistic.
      How about trying to improve the offense by going both ways, acquire the big positional name (Drew) and one or two of the role players? To me, this is the only course of action to have a shot at getting that 100 run improvement (ie, upgraded production is going to have to come from multiple sources, as C/1B/DH combined production is almost certain to drop year over year without a player upgrade).
    1. cmathewson's Avatar
      cmathewson -
      Quote Originally Posted by jokin View Post
      How about trying to improve the offense by going both ways, acquire the big positional name (Drew) and one or two of the role players? To me, this is the only course of action to have a shot at getting that 100 run improvement (ie, upgraded production is going to have to come from multiple sources, as C/1B/DH combined production is almost certain to drop year over year without a player upgrade).
      That's bit strong. What you suggest would increase the odds of an 100-run improvement, but it neither guarantees it, nor does standing pat preclude it. If you take the two- year average of this team with what was essentially the same offense, 50 extra runs is close to regression to the mean. Add Arcia and possibly Sano and you get closer. A Hicks breakout or unexpected Kubel resurgence and you're there. It's not all that likely, but it is possible.
    1. mike wants wins's Avatar
      mike wants wins -
      "the pitching can't be any worse than it was last year"....said everyone on the planet before last year.....
    1. TheLeviathan's Avatar
      TheLeviathan -
      Quote Originally Posted by cmathewson View Post
      Add Arcia and possibly Sano and you get closer.
      Counting on production from young players is extremely shaky ground.
    1. Brock Beauchamp's Avatar
      Brock Beauchamp -
      Quote Originally Posted by TheLeviathan View Post
      Counting on production from young players is extremely shaky ground.
      Sano, yes. But I think it's pretty safe to predict at least a 100 OPS+ from Arcia at this point.
    1. TheLeviathan's Avatar
      TheLeviathan -
      Quote Originally Posted by Brock Beauchamp View Post
      Sano, yes. But I think it's pretty safe to predict at least a 100 OPS+ from Arcia at this point.
      Except that doesn't represent a marked improvement, which is what we're talking about here - improvement on last year. Will he, maybe, provide an extra 200 ABs that improve on Parmelee? Sure, but we're talking about a handful of runs better at that point.
    1. jokin's Avatar
      jokin -
      Quote Originally Posted by cmathewson View Post
      That's bit strong. What you suggest would increase the odds of an 100-run improvement, but it neither guarantees it, nor does standing pat preclude it. If you take the two- year average of this team with what was essentially the same offense, 50 extra runs is close to regression to the mean. Add Arcia and possibly Sano and you get closer. A Hicks breakout or unexpected Kubel resurgence and you're there.

      It's not all that likely, but it is possible.

      I'd like for the Twins to do more to make it even more likely...and make the "possible" more like "probable" with proven major leaguers sprinkled into the lineup and combine that with some creative thinking employing some strategic platoons.

      My original proposal assumed regression to the mean of players like Willingham and Plouffe to get closer to your 50+ run upgrade. The problem is they essentially have downgraded the offense from 2013 at C/1B/DH combined, so there is obviously work to do here for Terry Ryan. Counting on players like Arcia and Dozier to up their numbers from 2013 is too much based on hope in my mind. If there were payroll or prospect-blocking issues, I'd demur.... but there aren't...and they should
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