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James Richter

It's the Pitching. But, C'mon...

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In my last post, I investigated whether the offense was really as bad as it has looked so far. I discovered that, since the Home Opener, the Twins have been swinging the bats well enough to average about 5 runs/game. They have been held back by an extremely low BA with RISP and high rate of HIDP, each of which is likely to revert to the mean over a large enough sample. Once that happens, we should be left with an above-average offense for 2012-2013.

The news is not so good on the run prevention side, though that is also significantly better than it would appear.

In all of baseball, only the Brewers have allowed more than the Twins 10.23 H/9. You might expect that poor fielding range would be a contributor to that, as it is in Milwaukee. But in fact, the defensive metrics generally view the Twins’ defense favorably so far, rating them average to slightly above in most cases. Their 14 errors and .983 Fielding% rank in the top half of MLB, and they’re on pace to allow just 37 unearned runs - less than half last year’s total. The defense isn’t a problem, either.

That leaves the pitching, and that has been brutal. The Twins’ staff ranks at the bottom of MLB in runs allowed, ERA, FIP, xFIP, tERA, SIERA, BAA, HR/9 and LOB%. Their BABIP against, though high for April, isn’t much different from last year’s league average of .294 - another indication that the defense hasn’t hurt them. Despite Francisco Liriano’s struggles finding the strike zone, the staff as a whole has an excellent 2.56 BB/9, so at least they’re doing that right. 21.9% of their balls in play have been line drives, a rate that places them in the bottom third of the league, though still ahead of good pitching teams like Texas, Tampa and Oakland.

Their very low K/9 is going to put pressure on their defense all year. But even so, things shouldn’t be this bad. They are mainly because of two factors which, like the offensive problems of BA with RISP and HIDP, should eventually revert to the mean.

First is their LOB%. Right now it’s at 66.8%, nearly 2% lower than the next worst team. Last year’s pitiful staff was also worst in the Majors, but at 69.1%. Now, 2.3% may not seem like a big difference, but it adds up quickly. It means that 1 extra guy is scoring for every 43 who reach base. With the Twins’ WHIP at 1.42, they’re giving up at least 13 baserunners per nine innings pitched. So that terrible strand rate translates to nearly 1 more run allowed every 3 games than last year’s dreadful staff. This factor does a lot to explain why their FIP (5.13) is half a run lower than their ERA (5.64).

Second is their HR/FB. Typically, 1 out of every 10 or 11 flies will leave the yard. For the Twins, it’s been 1 out of 6. Last year’s godawful staff allowed homers at pretty much the normal ratio, which is why their FIP, xFIP and SIERA were all about the same (while FIP uses the HR/FB pitchers actually had, xFIP and SIERA use the average rate, which results in more accurate predictions). Interestingly, the Twins’ xFIP (4.34) and SIERA (4.32) for April were almost exactly the same as their totals from 2011 (4.33 and 4.27). Remember, those numbers are still 30th out of 30 teams. But they look a hell of a lot better than 5.64.

If the Twins’ ERA was where xFIP and SIERA say it should be, they would have allowed 96 R in April. Along with the 87 runs they scored, that would make their expected record 10-12. But as I pointed out last time, the offense swung the bats well enough to have scored 86 runs in the 17 games following opening weekend. Add those to the 5 they got in Baltimore and the 10 they scored on Sunday and Monday, and you’ve got a team that should be .500, just a game back in the AL Central standings.

Ultimately, I don’t think .500 will cut it, but it’s more in line with my expectations of the abilities of these players. With Scott Baker and Joel Zumaya lost for the season and Liriano and Matt Capps lost in the woods, the Twins desperately need a high quality addition to both the rotation and the bullpen. That will cost them something; whether they feel it’s worth the price will depend on how quickly they can start matching their on-field results with what the formulae say they should be producing. If they don’t make a move, we can expect them to remain the worst staff in baseball. But even so, they should be better than this.
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