Reliving the 2017 Season: Minnesota Twins Edition | The Process Report

Reliving the 2017 Season: Minnesota Twins Edition

With the end of the regular season comes a time for reflection for the majority of baseball fans. What went right? What went wrong? You probably have a few ideas where your teams fell short or exceeded expectations, but what about a completely emotionless point of view? Throughout this season I have shown what batter and pitcher production looks like when we regress balls in play to look more like what the players should have seen using exit velocity and launch angle. The offseason will be no different as I take a team by team look at how the season fared for the team, while going a little deeper on a handful of players from each team. The order will mirror next June’s draft slotting so you can expect to find some depression leading to elation here. It’s going to take some time, but I would like to get two to three of these out each week which should allow for every team being covered before our glorious game returns to continue threshing our hearts.

Past: DET SFG PHI CWS CIN NYM SDP ATL OAK PIT BAL TOR MIA SEA TEX TBR LAA KCR STL

Sticking to the interior of this great nation we arrive at the Minnesota Twins. The year started off with virtually everyone in the industry chastising the team for thinking themselves contendery enough to make some low-key solid signings and for not trading one of the better products of the farm system in recent years in Brian Dozier. While the above chart shows that the path was rife with luck it did ultimately end with the team claiming the heated second wild card before a wilder loss to the New York Yankees.

The pitching proved to be a real issue for much of the season, though things looked much tighter at the end when they were at their best. The bats were mostly above average, rarely crazily so, but in that average to good range. There was a mid-season dip with actual equalling the regressed data, but as they dug out for the final run the bats did see exceptionally better results than should have been expected. Other than this stretch performance lined up fairly well. The pitchers went through their own rough patch during the middle-third, but they have a similar story to tell.

The pitching deficiencies show up in full display here as the unit combined to cost the team right around 69 runs. They walked fewer than the average, but they struck out an even lower relative amount with the second lowest strikeout rate of teams reviewed so far. Contact came in at nearly the league average with virtually no disagreement with reality. With all those balls in play it is easy to see the pitcher’s success hinging on whether plays get made or which side gets the puck luck. The bats were considerably better coming in at close to 29 runs above the average. Again we see league average ball-striking, but the bats running a strong walk rate that came with league average strikeouts helped drive this offensive engine.

After what has felt like a mellow decline for Joe Mauer he had a resurgent 2017 that saw strong walk rates that nearly eclipsed his strikeouts, while scorching the ball the rest of the time. He saw some misfortune on those balls in play, but upon regression I have him posting a 119 xwRC+ that worked out to over 32 runs above the average batter. Brian Dozier was also quite productive, though he goes about it in different ways. Where Mauer likes to spray liners, Dozier is looking to yoke pitches to the pull-side and preferably in the air. He reversed Mauer’s misfortune on balls in play, but with the higher strikeout rate the former catcher beat out the current second basemen for top honors.

Miguel Sano and the relatively unheralded Robbie Grossman came in next, albeit, in shortened seasons. Sano missed plenty of time with lower body injuries, while Grossman profiles better as a platoon option. Both proved solid contributors when in the lineup with Sano providing the power and whiff while Grossman walked even more, struck out better than half the time, but with the tradeoff of significantly less power. Other players like Eddie Rosario, Eduardo Escobar and free agent acquisition Jason Castro were each above average bats, though they came with progressively fewer plate appearances. The first two were quite similar in approach, though diverged in actual results on balls in play. Castro walks or strikes out a ton, but does make above average contact.

The weaker links just so happened to be the players that come at the most premium defensive positions. If you have the bats elsewhere you don’t mind taking your lumps at shortstop and center field if the gloves are worth it. In Byron Buxton’s case that is absolutely true. He is a dynamic defensive outfielder who struck struck out a ton, walked a little, while also providing league average ball striking. That is a wonderful player even if the strike outs are ugly. Polanco hasn’t been an elite defender so short might be one position where the Twins have some room to upgrade. Of course, most teams want a good two-way guy on the position so Polanco might be good enough on this team.

Outside of the mid-season dip and subsequent bounceback, Joe Mauer was a steady, strong producer throughout the season. His actual outcomes tended to err on the side of misfortune, but the end of his season did see a prolonged stretch of overperformance, as well. Mauer’s incredible plate discipline is, perhaps, the driving factor that makes him what he is. He walked about half again as often as the league, while striking out a third less often. Add in his ability to spray the ball around with authority, and you can see why teams devote plenty of time to figuring out how to get him out. The future is uncertain with many folks assuming Mauer’s end should have come and gone by now, but his 2017 showed there is still some petroleum distillate in the tum tum and it might not be quite time to revulcanize the tires with anything approaching haste.

Brian Dozier is damn near the quintessential foil for Joe Mauer. Dozier is more direct seeking to pull with power while not minding the strikeout nearly as much. The excess power does lead to very similar walk rates as pitchers hope to avoid mistakes. The righty to Mauer’s southpaw stance forces pitchers to pick their poison most nights. While most think of Mauer as a weaker hitter to Dozier’s overt power you need only look at that xwOBA*. Dozier was better in actuality, but he fell short of the old man when looking at expectations. You can see this thoughout much of the middle two-thirds of the season, or so, when the Twins second sacker outperformed expectations nearly across the boards. Much of this was a prolonged bout that saw him as a worse than average hitter. Things did pick up, but Dozier looks more like a secondary piece than someone that you build your team around. We’ll find out in a year when he hits free agency.

Like most lefties, Eddie Rosario has featured enough of a platoon split throughout his career that he looks like more of a platoon guy than an everyday regular. Without a tremendous glove or the ability to be even a passable defender at a more important position he slots well into a role that most teams feature whether they want to or not. The song remained much the same this past season, except, Rosario put up the best numbers of his life. You can see early on that his average or better results were a bit inflated, but he steadily improved over the course of the season to meet those prior levels rather than seeing the actual results come back to the pack. What was left was a fairly strong, if relatively unknown piece towards the back of the Twins roster. One they will have around for a few more years at acceptable rates. Rosario might not be a stud, but he should be a productive and efficient piece in both fantasy and real life.

The much maligned pitching saw it’s fair share of raves and rants. Veteran bulldog Ervin Santana led the pack mostly through justified weak contact. His strikeouts and walks are around the league average, but it is that hard contact suppression that allows him to continue to find success deep into his career. Jose Berrios stepped forward this year to be the nominal second starter on the club. He walks a little more, strikes out a good bit more, and doesn’t really see hard contact as a tradeoff to those things. As a young man looking to acclimate to the league it could have gone a lot worse than this. The problem with the rotation is that neither of those guys looks like a true ace, and if the team had one that would push each of them down a slot you might have a fairly fearsome rotation. Instead, the team got predictably lackluster results from Kyle Gibson, Hector Santiago and Adalberto Mejia. All three walk too many with or without considering their subpar strikeout rates, and all three give up far too much hard contact.

Acquiring a legitimate ace pitcher via free agency or trade would also have the added benefit of adding one of these not quite good enough starters to the pen as a multi-inning guy that can help soak things up in short starts. Lord knows the Twins pen could use any sort of injection. Hildenberger emerged from the ether to post a fine season, and one that might fly under the radar a little bit more thanks to his worse than expected results on balls in play. Guys like Matt Belisle, Ryan Pressly, Dillon Gee and Alan Busenitz were better than average arms, but either didn’t accrue enough time or just simply wasn’t dominant enough to differentiate themselves from the dozens of other good, but not great relievers in the league. You can see the sheer number of pitchers thrown out there so you can assume the Twins knew of their issues and were hoping to cycle through until they found some useful pieces. That may now be the case as the team enters next season with a better idea of what the in-house guys can provide and what they might need to go find on the market if they hope to repeat their postseason visit in 2018.

Ervin Santana tends to get a bad rap because he’s not really an ace, but that doesn’t make him some scrub, either. For much of the season he was around the average with more time spent looking dominant than worthless. There was a bit of the latter in the middle of the season, and if you’re looking strictly at real results that stretch was longer and worse than the expectations tell us it should have been. Once again he made 30+ starts, and perhaps the largest positive was that he closed the season well in his age-34 season despite facing his most batters since 2011. The Twins aren’t paying him to be an ace, and neither should you in your draft, but that type of binary thinking means that you miss out on a positive contributor that might be able to be had for less than he’s worth. Those qualities seem rare these days.

The last few years have seen Jose Berrios differentiate himself as a legitimate prospect, ascend to the Show, battle ups and downs that showcase just how difficult of a job his is, and finally start to establish himself as the type of pitcher every team would want. Similar to Santana he is not an ace right now. Might never be, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t shown quite a bit to like. He ran a couple of long stretches where he was quite dominant, though there was also plenty of time where he showed a similar departure from the average, but in the wrong direction. There was some underperformance early on, but these two perspectives mostly tracked each other well. There could be another gear here if that middle stretch can be chalked up to tipping pitches, correctible mechanical issues, or trying to grind through some discomfort. Seeing him get back to the good side of the ledger gives me confidence that has been ironed out. If so, you could be looking at a bunch more of the good and a whole lot less of the bad next year, which would leave him as a wonderful option going forward.

For years, Kyle Gibson has stood as the face of the Twins pitching staff. A groundball getter that never blew up a gun, let alone a batter, that was at his best when he could keep the walks to a minimum. Sound familiar? With new voices in the front office you have to wonder how much longer the team wants to keep their old template around when there could be new and improved versions. It might not be much longer if Gibson starts off like he did last year. Those spikes to start the year and then again in the middle of his season just can’t happen on a contending team. Not for any more than the occasional poor start. Luckily for both Gibson, and the club, he was able to coax some relatively strong production out over the last third of the season. During this time he was still something like a league average pitcher. One that saw much better actual results to close out the year, but even if he’s an average or a little worse guy there is room in the rotation. However, the team might have to get creative if it takes him that long to find it again or might not even give him the chance if the start of the season looks like this.

Leaderboards

With only ten teams left to be covered you should have a strong idea of where already reviewed batters slot in amongst the best and the worst. Below, you will find the top and bottom 20 hitters and pitchers so that you can get a feel for what the extremes look like and who claims residency. Beyond that you will find the team aggregate lines, and please note, again, that I have corrected the Royals and Cardinals. Lastly, you will find the combined runs above average for each club.



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