Can the 2013 Twins Compete? You Betcha!

I think that it is pretty safe to say that nobody expects the Minnesota Twins to be close to contending in 2013.  As a matter of fact, a lot of fans and experts would find the new Accuscore predictions that were released today and show the 2013 Twins with a predicted record of 72-90, optimistic.

I usually do not try to predict the way the Twins will finish with an analysis.  The last time I did it was in the aftermath of the Santana trade and before the 2008 season, when the sky was supposedly falling (you can find that analysis in parts:  Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.)  My quite unorthodox calculations predicted the team to have an 89-73 record, while everyone was predicting a sub .500 record.   That season, as in this season, the major breaking point is Starting Pitching. 

When I was asked before Spring Training by Cardinal70.com in their playing pepper series, my prediction (gut feeling) was that the Twins will compile an 86-76 record and will be competitive in 2013.   Additionally, I recently noted the good energy that I saw this team have in Fort Myers, which makes me optimistic for 2013.  Add to this, this excellent analysis by Phil Macky at ESPN 1500 based on individual projected performances that project the Twins to win 80 games in 2013, and it was about time to look at the possibilities formally.

I looked at it in 2 different ways and this post is part one, looking at the possibilities of the new starting rotation.  The second way will be a WAR- and RAR-based analysis that will be presented some time this weekend or so, otherwise this post will be a monster.

This analysis is pretty unorthodox but pretty close to what I did before the 2008 season.  I am looking at the differences of the Twins' rotation in 2013 vs the Twins' rotation in 2012 (Starting pitching is the driver of the Twins' performance folks... They led the AL Central in position player WAR by a lot, 25% ahead of the second team, in 2012.)

I am looking at the following two measures for each starting pitcher in 2012: 

  • Bill James' Game Score (which is what I used to tabulate my Spring Training Dashboards, and use the same convensions for above average, below average and average as there; explanation is here)
  • Earned runs a pitcher allowed in each game
  • Then I tabulate the number games that each pitcher had game scores better than, worse than or average; and the number of games that each pitcher allowed 2 runs or less, 3 to 4 runs and 5 runs or more.  (Note:  The Twins scored about 4.3 runs a game, so =< 2 runs is high probability or win and 3-4 runs good probability for a win.)
  • The 2012 Twins' starters used for the calculations are Pavano, Blackburn, Liriano and Marquis
  • For the 2013 Twins' startes I used the 2012 numbers for Correia and Worley and the 2011 for Pelfrey and Harden 
  • I assume that the rest of the rotation in 2013 (Diamond, De Vries, Deduno etc) will perform as in 2012.

Here are the results by pitcher:

It is obvious that the 2013 rotation had many better games in 2012 and would have kept the Twins competitive in most of their games (4 runs or less) than the 2012 rotation.  But how much?

  • The 2013 rotation had above average game scores 48.3% of the time vs 23% for the 2012 rotation
  • The 2013 rotation allowed less than 2 runs in 42.7% of games vs 26% for the 2012 rotation
  • The 2013 rotation allowed less than 2 runs in 82.2% of games vs 61.2% for the 2012 rotation

What does this mean in wins for the 2013 Twins?

  • In 2012 the Twins starting pitchers won 41 and lost 72 games 
  • Extrapolating based on above average game scores the 2013 rotation will win an additional 23 games for a total of 89 wins
  • based on less than 2 runs allowed 2013 rotation will win an additional 26 games for a total of 92 wins
  • based on less than 4 runs allowed 2013 rotation will win an additional 15 games for a total of 81 wins
  • These 3 average to 87 wins, giving the 2013 Twins a projected 87-79 record.

So here you have it.  These Twins can compete in 2013.

Next: WAR and RAR-based analysis


Random Spring Training Thoughts: 3/26/2013

I arrived North a tad too late from Fort Myers last night, so I did not quite had time to compile my last Spring Training report, so here it goes:

  • Mainly a drills day over at the Minor League fields yesterday with no games or scrimmages schedules.   Interesting to see Ray Olmedo, who was cut earlier in the morning participate in drills with the position players who will likely stay at Fort Myers for extended spring training and get assigned to the Rookie leagues.   Most of them are young Latin American players and I suspect that Ray was helping with the translation.
  • Back at Hammond Stadium Mike Pelfrey pitched a very good game (the only earned run should had been unearned because Morneau should have been charged with an error when misplayed what would have been the third out of the inning.)   When I look at the return of someone from injury I look at 2 things:  Velocity of fastball and command of the breaking ball.  And Pelfrey had them both.  His fastball hit 94 mph (at Hammond so subtract a couple) and he had excellent command of his high 70s curve.  He changed speeds effectively, mixed and matched pitches well and provided a good glimpse of why he was considered a top of the rotation prospect for a long time.  Good to see him back and I am certain that he will help the Twins this season.
  • The only roster battle left is one for two pen spots among three relievers (who may all make it if Liam Hendriks' injured hand proves to be worse than it seems) who severely underperformed and underwhelmed this spring training and all have 40 man roster spots:  Alex Burnett, Casey Fien and Trevor Robertson.  Robertson (who admittedly has been unlucky this Spring because the ball seemed to bounce the wrong way every time he pitched) had a very sub-par outing yesterday.   The main problems were that his fastball velocity was 85-88, with the fast Hammond Stadium radar, that made it flat and hittable and he could not command his breaking ball.  As I mentioned above regarding Pelfrey, those 2 things are red flags for me as far as potential injury is concerned.   On the other hand, Robertson yesterday said the he felt alright.  We shall see.   Regardless, with Anthony Swarzak and Tim Wood returning from injuries in a couple weeks, the two relievers who will make the squad will be under the microscope.
  • Ecstatic to see Wilkin Ramirez making the club.  He has been the most consistent Twins' player with the bat this Spring and his defense was occasionally impressive (including a diving catch today against Baltimore.)  He will provide a RH bat with some pop off the bench and potentially a platoon partner for Chris Parmelee at RF.  Ramirez is not on the 40-man roster so a transaction needs to take place to open a spot for him.   This could be a trade involving Drew Butera, Jamey Carroll (who is practically unnecessary now with the emergence of Eduardo Escobar) or the removal from the 40-man roster of the reliever who loses the battle for the last pen spot or Caleb Thielbar or BJ Hermsen.
  • One very hopeful observation for the coming season (and I actually asked others who agreed with me so it is not just me) :  The overall energy of the team this Spring seems to be much better that it was last Spring.  The mood seems to be much lighter.  Players were pretty loose around the batting cages when waiting for others to bat or when were catching the ball at the OF during batting practice, or at the dugout.  Even Gardenhire who last Spring was fairly grouchy was cracking jokes and was engaged in conversations with fans.  This makes me very hopeful for this set of Twins as far as this season goes.   Just a feeling I cannot describe, but it is pretty much there.
  • Four games are left now, including the last 3 with the Red Sox in Fort Myers.   Byron Buxton's guest star appearance will be the talk of the day tomorrow, while the next order of business will be the appointing of the opening day starter.  As far as I am concerned I think that it will be either Vance Worley or Kevin Correia depending on their next appearance (or Worley's next appearance) so we will know the earliest tomorrow.
  • Another Spring comes to the end and another season is coming to be.  Let's hope it is better than the last one and the Twins sweep Detroit in the first series to make a strong statement as far as the division is concerned. 


Random Spring Training Thoughts from Fort Myers: 3/24/2013

Today the Twins beat the Toronto Blue Jays 14-5 at Hammond Stadium with about a week remaining at Spring Training; meanwhile there were AAA vs AA and A+ vs A scrimmages at fields number 2 and 3 on the minor league side.  Here are my thoughts and observations of the day

  • A  lot of great performances today, including Joe Mauer's 6 RBI day that included a HR at dead center and Aaron Hick's 4 for 4 day, but the performance of the day happened at field number three and was witnessed by about 50 people, including Twins' General Manager Terry Ryan.  During the high A vs. A matchup that included stars in the making like Miguel Sano, Byron Braxton, Travis Harrison, Jorge Polanco, Kennys Vargas etc, a little known 10th round draft pick stole the show.  DJ Baxendale, who was the Twins' 10th round pick from the University of Arkansas last summer and has been stretched to be a starter this season retired all 9 A players he faced, striking out 8.  Only second baseman Aderlin Mejia was retired on a 3-1 ground out.  Not a small feat, because the Cedar Rapids' lineup started with Buxton, Polanco and Harrison.  Baxendale's stuff was absolutely filthy and his control was perfect (he had only one called ball the whole game).  Two seam sinker with a lot of motion, a sharp breaking ball and a change up that had a life of its own.   I will be very surprised if he does not move fast in the organization.   This was one of the single most dominating pitching performances I have ever seen at any level of play.  It was as if a major leaguer was pitching against Rookie league kids.  Definitely someone to follow this season in Fort Myers (even though I suspect that he might end the season in New Britain.)
  • Speaking of, this Fort Myers squad will score some runs and will be a serious contender in the Florida State League.   Sandwiched between Miguel Sano and Kennys Vargas, at the clean up spot today was Mike Gonzales, the Twins' 9th Round pick in 2008.  For the ones not familiar with Gonzales, he has had his up and downs (mostly downs) mainly resulting from lack of discipline and hard time controlling his weight.  Last season he played with the Miracle and was mediocre.   This would be his make or break season and looks like he will repeat the high A tour to start the season.   The 25 year old is in probably the best shape of his career and actually is dwarfing Vargas, if that is possible.   I expect a break through season from Gonzales this year.
  • Alex Meyer pitched for the AA team against the AAA and the little I got to see him (the A vs high A matchup was the center piece of the day) he looked pretty good with a great fastball and impressive command.   Luke Bard who pitched for the Cedar Rapids team also pitched pretty well, but he was eclipsed by Baxendale.
  • At the Stadium it was an overcast and very windy day and lots of home runs resulted.  PJ Walters got the node for the Twins and he just did not have it today.  Plus he ran out of gas pretty quickly.  I don't think that the threw anything harder than 80 mph in his last inning.   His fastball was clocked at 88-91 in the first innings and this was about 2-3 mph less in actuality because of the Fort Myers radar.    He is not ready to start the season in the majors at least as a starter.  Just not there yet.  
  • Brian Duensing was solid other than the home runs and Jared Burton was impressive.   I am not sure that Josh Roenicke will make the team;  I feel that it is a battle of 2 spots between him, Tim Wood and Jim Pressly and the other two have been better, even though Roenicke had a good appearance today.  Since he can pitch multiple innings, maybe will slide in the Swarzak role while he is on the DL.  His fastball touched 94 mph and his breaking ball was effective today.
  • I have the feeling that Pedro Florimon and Brian Dozier are pretty much enshrined as the starting middle infielders and from now until the opening day it is a matter of them to get to know each other.  Second day in a row that started in their respective positions.
  • Chris Parmelee had another lackadaisical performance.  I don't know if he feels that there is no way that he will not make the team, but the level of effort is just not what it should be at this point.  Hasty plate appearances and swinging at bad pitches is not the way to make people feel that you deserve a position among the best 13 position players of the Twins.
  • More cuts will be coming soon and I think that Ray Olmedo, Brandon Boggs, Jeff Clement, Dan Rohlfing, PJ Walters, Tyler Robertson and maybe one of Casey Fien and Alex Burnett will be it.   One week until opening day and the slate should clear pretty quickly.