State of the Twins

When a team is 12 games below .500, it would seem that pessimism would be more in the cards than a steadily brewing excitement. However, for this Twins team, they are on a bit of a roll lately. Over the last month, the offense has been significantly better. All told, they actually are a slightly above-average on the season, hitting .255/.325/.395 for a 100 OPS+. Yes, hitting continues to be down in the league, so that’s pretty solid patience and power overall for the team. This is despite guys like Danny Valencia, Brian Dozier, Alexi Casilla, Clete Thomas, Erik Komatsu, Darin Mastroianni, and Chris Parmelee being disastrous at the plate.

You’ll notice I didn’t include Jamey Carroll in there and that’s because despite his low average and complete lack of power, his OBP currently sits at .336 and his infield defense continues to give him value. Things past that look pretty optimistic actually. Denard Span is hitting .288/.358/.393 (110 OPS+) and contributing his usually above-average defense. Ben Revere’s value is obviously boosted by his average, with a .339/.369/.417 line (119 OPS+) still providing little in the way of patience or power. His .364 BABIP is high, but it’s fully possible with his speed and propensity for ground balls that he can sustain a fairly high BABIP the way a hitter like Ichiro did for years.

Joe Mauer has felt the criticism much of the season, but his .407 OBP ranks 6th in all of baseball and 2nd in the AL behind Paul Konerko’s .441 mark. Yes, the .425 slugging percentage is disappointing and it is hard to not feel Mauer is overpaid, but he remains an elite performer at the plate. I would venture to suggest that when it comes to recent long term contracts, the outcome can be far worse–think Alfonso Soriano or Vernon Wells. If he is a Wade Boggs-type the rest of his career (.328/.415/.428 hitter, 131 OPS+, around Mauer’s numbers this year–not to start a conversation about Mauer’s Hall of Fame potential or anything), I would not complain.

The real surprise has been Trevor Plouffe, who picked up his 12th homer last night. Plouffe’s hitting .232/.306/.535. Since May 14th, he’s hit .305 with a .768 slugging percentage and as Parker Hageman shows, there is a reason for this power. The OBP remains low, but his .303 isolated slugging percentage is outstanding. It, in fact, would only trail Josh Hamilton, Adam Dunn, and Carlos Beltran in the majors if Plouffe qualified for the batting title, placing him above the best hitter in baseball (Joey Votto, who currently sports a jaw-dropping .362/.485/.657 line, but seems to get ignored with all the focus on Hamilton) and others like Mark Trumbo, Carlos Gonzalez, and teammate Josh Willingham.

Oh yeah, he’s been pretty good too. Willingham’s .398 OBP ranks 4th in the AL, while his .564 slugging ranks 7th and his .962 OPS ranks 11th. He also ranks 6th in fWAR with 2.3, 4th in wOBA with a .413, wRC+/OPS+ (166/165) and 3rd in offensive rWAR (2.6). And that’s to mention Justin Morneau, who’s OBP is disappointing (.313) but his isolated power (.248) is also quite impressive.

That currently gives the Twins three of the better power hitters in the league–a rare position. Between those three, the Twins have gotten 35 home runs so far. Of course, the problem is that they have little power outside of that and have hit 49 homers as a team, while their pitchers have allowed 79. In fact, opposing hitters are batting .286/.339/.461 against Twins pitching. The offense may be on the brink of being above average, but the pitching staff is still a total mess overall.

It remains a hittable staff that doesn’t miss bats (5.84 K/9) and whose 5.15 team ERA would be the worst in baseball if Coors Field hadn’t turn into a pinball machine again (5.41 team ERA for the Rockies). In the AL, the Indians are next with a 4.43 ERA–that’s how big the gap is.

My real point here is that while the bats have turned alive and there are many positives for Twins fans and the organization in that way, the pitching is such a mess that this remains a team in flux. I still believe that over the course of the year, this is a team unlike to go anywhere. They remain 8 1/2 games out of first in the division. Their -69 run differential remains the worst in baseball. This is not my attempt to be overly cynical, but my fears that the good in the Twins season will lead the organization to make long-term steps backwards by not properly viewing themselves as sellers at the deadline.

I am in agreement with various beat-writers and bloggers that the Twins don’t need to rush to trade Willingham given that he’s on a 3-year, $21 million deal that’s looking like a steal right now. Unless they are blown away with an offer, they don’t need to follow the push of the national media to view him as a trade target. However, they should consider trading other pieces, like Ryan Doumit, Carl Pavano, Matt Capps, and yes, Morneau. Even Span should be considered depending on the offer.

I do realize that it actual becomes harder to sell to the fans rebuilding when the team looks to be playing more positively, but Terry Ryan needs to see the long-term picture. With their recent draft, the Twins rightly targeted upside with both #2 overall pick Byron Buxton and the load of pitchers they took with potentially big arms. Along with Miguel Sano, Eddie Rosario, and Oswaldo Arcia, these picks could combine to be the future of the franchise that leads the next resurgence–but not for several years.

That means identifying reasonable value right now for the franchise to hold onto. Morneau is 31 and is making $14 million. If he can be moved, it should be considered for two reasons. One is financial flexibility, but the other is Chris Parmalee. Parmalee’s potential and growth continue to be stalled with him sitting idle on the bench for game after game. The Twins need to let him start regularly in AAA or find a way to give him a real shot at the big league level, given how he recently performed at AAA. Trading Doumit, Morneau, or even both would certainly do that. As noted, it would be a tough sell on the fans, but the state of the team remains such that Ryan should remain focused on the future and ready to make difficult decisions–the biggest being a seller and not a buyer. This is a team that can still give some reasons for hope, but they are not a likely winner right now. It’s best to try and make them one as soon as possible and for a sustained period of time again.

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