Hello, all. It’s my first post here at MLB Mayhem so I feel like I should preface that a little bit. I’m a sophomore studying business at the University of Minnesota, though I am from Orange County. I’ve been writing about baseball since my junior year of high school and have grown, and developed through it ever since. I’m a Red Sox fan at heart, though through writing I’ve become more objective and have started to appreciate baseball a whole lot more, becoming more of a fan of players than teams.
Anyway. The Twins! Yes, the Twins. How could anyone possibly forget they’re a professional baseball team? Well, it seems like most of the players did. At 59-103, the Twins ended up with the worst record in baseball, following a stunning 83-79 season in 2015. Hope looked to be on the horizon for the Twins, as it seems they had a few interesting players backed up by one of the best, and deepest, farm systems in baseball. A putrid fourth-worst FIP in the league at 4.57, combined with the third-worst Defensive Runs Saved in the league at -49, completely crippled this team. Miguel Sano took a significant step back, looking closer to Wily Mo Pena than Giancarlo Stanton. Byung Ho Park has a bit of a swing and miss tendency. Joe Mauer continues to be stale nostalgia and a sunken cost disguised as an advertisement. Glen Perkins went down as reliever prices skyrocketed. Phil Hughes remembered how much simpler life was when he threw batting practice, and Jose Berrios reminded us all of why we should never put faith in any of the Twins’ pitching prospects.
While offensively the team was not as much of a travesty as defense and pitching…it wasn’t great. The team was eleventh in the AL in wRC+ with a collective 95, and came second to last in WAR. As it stands right now, the Twins are projected to be the sixth-worst team in baseball. Which, hey, that’s something. This article isn’t meant to berate the Twins. In fact, they have a very capable executive at the helm right now in Derek Falvey. This is more a suggestion of where the Twins ought to go, given their current assets, including their farm system and the product on the field.
The first thing I’d like to acknowledge; defense matters. It’s been tough to quantify defense in the past, however there are ~new~ stats coming out, changing how we evaluate defense. Take for example, the 2016 Twins. They gave away 49 defensive runs. If we equate every ten runs to a win, that’s a 4.9 win difference. Add that to their 12.9 batter WAR total (defense is baked in), and all of a sudden you’re looking at a 17.8 WAR offense which finishes…tenth in the AL. It sounds bad, but all the teams in front of them were competitive the entire season. The three teams in front of them would have been the Rangers, Orioles, and Astros respectively. What else would improve the Twins by 4.9 WAR? Well, Carlos Correa and Miguel Cabrera both finished 2016 with that WAR total. But for a team like the Twins, you can’t quite afford to pry Miguel Cabrera away from the Tigers. And nobody will ever be able to pry Correa away from the Astros. But there are cheaper ways. Justin Turner probably isn’t a Twins target, and that’s ok. But someone like Carlos Gomez could be had for a lot less than he used to cost, for example. And I’m excited about their early interest in Jason Castro, one of the best pitch framers in the league. It’s difficult to buy defense in this year’s free agent class, truthfully. But on the trade market, Adam Duvall could be had for not much. The White Sox will be selling Adam Eaton, and a few weeks ago it looked like Nick Markakis and Ender Inciarte could be prime targets. These are just suggestions, nothing definitive, no solid proposal. But defense is still not valued like it could be; the 2015 Royals and 2016 Indians were able to take advantage of how cheap defense was, and benefitted immensely. For a small market team like the Twins, putting a high value on defense while the market still undervalues it could provide an enormous advantage. With front offices becoming smarter and smarter, any team needs any advantage they can get.
To be clear, I am 100% advocating that the Twins go for it these next few years. They were able to accrue a ton of minor league talent in Miguel Sano, Byron Buxton, Jose Berrios, and Max Kepler. This is part of a young core that the Twins need to build around. Selling makes sense, yes, but when do you decide to actually go for it? This was supposed to be the group that did it. It’s been underwhelming so far, yes, but the Twins can’t afford to wait another five years to be competitive. Brian Dozier just hit 42 home runs and was worth 5.9 WAR. In the last month of the season, Buxton slashed .287/.357/.653 and would have finished with ~3+ WAR if he had gotten to play a full season. Max Kepler looks like he’ll be an average position player, which is immensely valuable. And Miguel Sano is still a season removed from having a 150 wRC+ in 80 games. Last December, Berrios was unquestionably one of the top-two pitching prospects in the league, going toe-to-toe with Lucas Giolito. What we saw from the Twins last year, was undoubtedly the far end of their projection. Even Byung Ho Park held his own for a bit and still has the potential to be a huge power bat in the middle of the Twins lineup.
Unfortunately where the team really, really struggles, and I mean really struggles, is pitching. Phil Hughes struggled to a 5.95 ERA and then had thoracic outlet surgery, which, if baseball history has shown us anything, is the kiss of death. Ervin Santana was surprisingly terrific, and was worth 3.2 WAR. Given what Ervin Santana is making compared to other #3/4 starters on the market, he has a lot of surplus value. I agree with Falvey that Santana should be built around. Tyler Duffey, we’re not going to talk about. Kyle Gibson still has a major league gig because the Twins need someone to throw those innings, and they traded Alex Meyer, a still intriguing lottery ticket. The thing that all these pitchers have in common is they fit “The Twins Way”, and yes, this is an actual thing. It encourages pitchers to pitch to contact, which is why the Twins consistently rank in the bottom percentile for strikeouts. But they also don’t have a catcher that helps their pitchers out; they had Kurt Suzuki, one of the worst pitch framers in the league. And Tyler Duffey had a 3.89 xFIP in 133 innings despite a, ahem, 6.43 ERA. And he was an incredibly intriguing pitcher in 2015, as well. So we did talk about Tyler Duffey, who is most likely a #4 starter, but somebody, once again, has to pitch those innings. And he still has an excellent spin-rate on his curveball. Kyle Gibson has three average to above-average pitches, but has a bad fastball. Let’s ditch “The Twins Way” and let Gibson throw his slider more. And his changeup. Let Berrios do what he does best, because, and it was obvious all year, he looked like a totally different different pitcher this year than years before. And I’ll bet it has to do with developing him like every other Twins’ starter. Trevor May looks like a future weapon out of the pen. There is an obvious glutton of talent here. As insane as it sounds, yes, there is a lot of talent. It just hasn’t been brought out due to this weird, incorrect organizational philosophy. The Twins need strikeouts. Sign Rich Hill. Trade for Brandon McCarthy. Try your hardest to sign Greg Holland. Develop your organizational pitching, convert potential failed starters into relievers. There is value here. This is not a 59-win team.
With improved defense through trades or free agency, the pitching should get better. It’s intuitive, and also why we don’t use ERA, but instead ERA estimators. The pitching should get better because I have faith in Derek Falvey. There is real, tangible talent. Trust and develop your young talent, but build around it. Take that burden off the young guys. There’s a lot to like here. This is nearly the same team that won 83 games two years ago. Yes, most of it was luck, and regression was due, but there was real talent there. They were sleeper picks for the Wild Card last year. It’ll be interesting to see how they decide to approach their situation, but if I’m Derek Falvey, I’m going full steam ahead.