MLB Breakdown: Minnesota Twins

by Bill M on March 12, 2013 · 0 comments

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After contending pretty much the entire decade of the “oughts,” the Twins franchise suddenly became old and injured the last two seasons.  Face of the Franchise, Joe Mauer, struggled with some sort of syndrome for an entire season and 1B and 2006 MVP Justin Morneau had lingering post-concussion symptoms for three years.

On top of that, their pitching philosophy of getting soft-tossing, pitch-to-contact, control guys that nobody else wanted started to become obsolete.  The arms today throw a lot harder than even 5 years ago and the hitters have had to adjust.  You have to have crazy movement, ability to change speeds, and control to be able to get by with what the Twins’ pitchers had for “stuff,” and their guys just haven’t been good enough.

They spent the offseason obtaining power pitching prospects Alex Meyer and Trevor May and adding strikeout specialist Vance Worley and hard throwing Mike Pelfrey to the current rotation.  They couldn’t completely abandon their old ways, however, as they also signed Kevin Correia.

I don’t believe the Twins front office expects to compete for a division title, but they do expect to be more competitive.  Let’s see what I think.

OFFENSE/DEFENSE

Projected lineup (from MLB Depth Charts):

1

CF

Darin Mastroianni

2

2B

Jamey Carroll

3

C

Joe Mauer*

4

LF

Josh Willingham

5

1B

Justin Morneau*

6

DH

Ryan Doumit**

7

RF

Chris Parmelee*

8

3B

Trevor Plouffe

9

SS

Pedro Florimon, Jr.**

BENCH

C

Drew Butera

1B

Jeff Clement*

IF

Eduardo Escobar**

OF

Wilkin Ramirez

(*indicates left-handed batter **indicates switch-hitter)

The Twins traded two CF options in Denard Span and Ben Revere in the offseason.  That leaves Darin Mastroianni to take over the position and leadoff for Span.  Mastroianni was put on waivers by the Blue Jays about a year ago and signed by the Twins.  He doesn’t have any power in his profile, but put up some huge SB numbers in the minors, including 70 between HiA and AA in 2009.  He actually showed some good patience in the Blue Jays organization, but he went with an aggressive approach in 2012.  The results were to be expected.  He had a poor OBA (0.326) and a horrific contact rate (72%), especially bad for a guy with negligible power expected to hit high in the order.  He could steal 30 bases, but he’ll be below replacement level overall.

Jamey Carroll is pushing 40, but he showed no signs of slowing down other than literally in speed metrics.  He still made excellent contact (86%), took some walks (10%), had ZERO power (1 HR and 20 total extra-base hits), and pounded the ball into the ground (56% GB rate).  I want to say he has no business in a starting lineup, but those are actually at least replacement level for 2B, probably better.  He’s better than plenty of other starting 2B I’ve seen so far, and I’m only halfway through the league.

Joe Mauer is the Golden Boy.  He was drafted first overall in 2001 out of Cretin-Derham Hall High School in St. Paul, MN, became a star in the majors pretty much immediately, and signed an 8-year/$184M contract prior to the 2011 season.  Then something odd, actually unheard of happened.  He contracted some kind of knee condition labeled “Degenerative Changes” and went on the DL for what was described as “Lower Leg Fatigue” to start the season.  He was the talk radio du jure at the time, “did the Twins screw themselves with that contract or what?” [Screamed in the classic desperate talk show host manner].  His struggles played a major role in the team’s struggles that year, but he rebounded to close to pre-condition form.  The indicators that changed were slightly lower contact rate (career low 84%) and a higher GB rate (53%, actually a holdover from his 2011 struggles).  Double-digit HR will be the best you can hope moving forward, but he’s still probably got a batting title and more 0.400+ OBA seasons ahead.

Josh Willingham appeared to have a breakout season in 2012, hitting 35 HR and knocking in 110 runs, but the reality is that he’s always had the skills.  He has great power, on full display his entire career, even in the minors (0.512 SLG).  He’s always taken a walk (11.8 BB rate, 0.362 OBA) and put the ball in the air at a sufficient rate to hit HR (40+%).  Teams were just reluctant to give him regular playing time because he’s a liability in the OF and he strikes out a lot (20+% his entire career).  He finally was able to put the talent together with opportunity and health in 2012, that’s all.  He actually had a similar season with the A’s in 2011, but he fell just short of the milestones that would have gotten him more attention.  As long as he can stay healthy, expect more of the same.

Justin Morneau won the AL MVP in 2006 and finished second in 2008.  He was without argument one of the most dangerous hitters in the game from 2006 through July of 2010.  In the midst of a career year (1058 OPS at the time of the injury) he sustained a concussion hitting his head on the knee of the shortstop on a play at 2B.  It was a completely freak occurrence, but it cost him the rest of the season and essentially sabotaged his entire 2011 season with lingering post-concussion symptoms.  He was able to play fulltime in 2012, but he was a fraction of the player he had been.  He’s still as good as say Freddie Freeman of the Braves, which is something to be said for how good he was.  The worry is that this may be what Justin Morneau is now.  That said, he’s only 31, so the book isn’t written yet.  Still, I’m not willing to bank on any more than 2012.

Ryan Doumit finally found himself in the perfect role in 2012.  He “can” play catcher and corner OF, but he really shouldn’t do either regularly.  He’s not very good in the field, and he gets hurt often when he does because he plays with abandon.  Yet, he fits the new DH mold of having some guys with positional flexibility to share DH and spell regulars on occasion.  Doumit is especially nice for the Twins because Mauer needs more rest that most catchers.  Having Doumit allows them to easily keep Mauer in the lineup at DH or 1B.  I actually expected a little more out of Doumit in terms of OPS (777) without the rigors of fulltime catching, but he did legitimately develop his power stroke (34 2B and 18 HR).  Expect more of the same, only maybe with a little better OBA and consequently OPS.

Chris Parmelee started 2012 the way a decent prospect should, he was a 4th OF.  He struggled to take hold in the majors, being impatient and swinging and missing too much, so he ended up on the AAA shuttle.  He absolutely mashed in the 64 games he played in AAA to the tune of a well supported 1102 OPS in 64 games.  He never really made it happen at the highest level, but he’ll get a chance to show what he’s got because the Twins would like to keep prospect Aaron Hicks in the minors until June to avoid starting his free agency clock.

Trevor Plouffe has the power you want out of the Hot Corner, but it comes with the understanding that he’s probably not going to develop much in the way of BA or OBA.  He misses too many balls (78% contact rate) and doesn’t have enough patience (8%) to be even average in either of those slash ratios.  He also doesn’t play the best defense in the world.  That said, a 750 OPS with 25-30 HR is not the worst player to have on your roster.

Pedro Florimon, Jr. is a switch hitter, but that’s about the only offensive upside in the profile.  He plays decent defense, though, so batting 9th, he’s not the biggest liability.

ROTATION

1

RHP

Vance Worley

2

RHP

Kevin Correia

3

RHP

Mike Pelfrey

4

RHP

Liam Hendriks

5

LHP

Brian Duensing

Vance Worley barely averages 90 mph on his fastball, but he has struck out 7.8 per 9 IP so far in his major league career.  There were studies done after his rookie year that said his strikeout rate was higher than expected given his number of “swinging strikes,” and that manifested itself as his K/9 fell from 8.1 to 7.2 last year.  While the dominance abated, he induced more GB (46% up from 39%), so there is growth there.  He was dogged by bone chips in his elbow, but they have been removed.  He’s not a good #1 pitcher option, but he should be good for an ERA in the low 4s, maybe below 4.

After watching him be far less than mediocre for his two years with my Pirates, Kevin Correia signing a 2-year/$10M contract with the Twins was one of the more shocking events of the offseason.  His days of passable K/9 are long gone.  He’s basically just a big, soft-tossing righty that’s very hittable.  He will be less than replacement level, without a doubt.

Mike Pelfrey is the classic example of a guy who can throw hard (93-94) but can’t miss bats.  In his case, it’s because he never developed a lock down breaking ball, but he does do a pretty good job of keeping the ball on the ground (46%-53%) with his power sinker.  Coming off TJ surgery last May, he’s way ahead of schedule to start the season in the majors, but they’re saying he’s ready.  If he ends up with an ERA less than 4.50, consider it gravy.

Aussie Liam Hendriks fits more the classic Twins pitching philosophy.  He doesn’t throw hard (90-91) or miss many bats (5.5 K/9 in the majors so far).  He dominated at the lower levels and killed AAA last year, so there may still be development, but letting him do it at the MLB level could have brutal results.

Brian Duensing had some success as a RP early in his career (3.38 ERA), but his days as a starter have not been so rosy.  He’s another pitch-to-contact guy that has a small margin for error.  In fairness, his FIP has been closer to 4.00 than the 5.00 ERA’s he’s posted the last two years, but this is still not a good profile.

Scott Diamond is currently questionable for the start of the season after having bone chips removed from his elbow in December 2012, but he will definitely go into the rotation as soon as he’s able.  He is an ultra-version of the Twins traditional pitching (4.9 K/9, sub-90 fastball), but he actually has elite level control (1.6 BB/9) and GB rate (53%).  Avoiding hard contact despite not having overpowering stuff, Diamond could actually be their #1 pitcher when he returns.

BULLPEN

CL

LHP

Glen Perkins

SU

RHP

Jared Burton

SU

RHP

Casey Fien

MID

RHP

Josh Roenicke

MID

RHP

Alex Burnett

MID

LHP

Tyler Robertson

LR

RHP

Tim Wood

After floundering as a starter, Glen Perkins moved full time to the bullpen in 2011 with smashing results.  He pumped his FB over 95 mph on average, resulting in a K/9 of 9.8 since joining the pen.  He also lowered his BB/9 to an elite 2.0 BB/9 in 2012, so while you don’t often see lefty closers, he’s got the goods.

Jared Burton bounced around the Reds organization for a decade, getting into 164 MLB games along the way.  He even looked like a future closer after a great 2008, but injuries and ineffectiveness sidetracked his development.  He regained momentum with the Twins last year with a 2.18 ERA.  FIP says to expect regression (3.34), but he had nice 8.0 K/9 and 3.4 K/BB ratios.  He should provide a low 3s ERA in a high leveraged environment.

Casey Fien performed well in the minors, and had a nice 2012 (2.06 ERA, 8.2 K/9, 2.3 BB/9).  It was a small sample, however, so expect something closer to his 3.19 FIP or even higher.

Josh Roenicke had an extremely lucky 3.25 ERA with the Rockies last year, and somehow they figured it out and put him on waivers.  His FIP was 4.76, and that should truly be the expectation.  Alex Burnett is a hard throwing lefty who is but basically exactly like Roenicke.  Tyler Robertson is a soft-tosser who should only be used in garbage time, while Tim Wood throws hard but has a hard time finding the plate.

CONCLUSION

The Twins are going to score some runs.  They are strong at 3-6 in the order and not completely awful otherwise.  The problem is that this is the worst pitching staff I’ve seen so far, and it’s not even close.  Perkins is the only pitcher worthy of his role on the entire staff.  They are just awful.

All is not doom and gloom, however.  I haven’t spent much time talking about the farm in this series, and I don’t plan to start with any details now.  However, be patient in the Twin Cities, help is on the way as the Twins have a lot of high upside in the organization.

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