In 2009 our Twins won 87 games with the help of game 163, and luckily for us 87 wins was enough to at least make an appearance in the playoffs. This usually isn't the case. Nevertheless, WAR agrees with the win totals as Minnesota's hitters and pitchers were a combined 37.9 wins above replacement.
A team full of replacement-level players is still expected to win 49 games. Those additional 38 wins give us, you guessed it, 87 wins.
It gets tricky when you want to predict how your team will do next season because you have to take so many things into account. Like Dave Cameron said over at FanGraphs on Monday:
Injuries, clutch hitting, variance in run distribution – all of these are subject to extreme amounts of regression, and they all had a significant impact on how some teams performed last year, both in terms of "raw" wins and losses and things like runs scored and runs allowed. You cannot just look at a team’s prior year won loss record – or even their pythagorean record – make some adjustments for the off-season transactions, and presume that’s a good enough estimator of true talent for the 2010 team.
So, what are we left with? Projections. What do next years's WAR projections say about Minnesota's 2010 win totals?
Regression is a big part of trying to project accurately, and that's where we lose almost a whole win off of Mauer's value alone. Still, a 7.3-win catcher is a luxury no matter what way you look at it, and it predicts Joe for a .336/.419/.536 triple slash. That's still pretty good. But I've been wrong before.
Morales, on the other hand, may not have the value in his bat but that will be more than made up for by the extra time he'll be putting in behind the dish now that Mike Redmond's tenure is over. Butera, or whatever catcher the Twins choose to use as their third-string guy from time to time next summer, won't be likely to contribute positively in very limited time.
This is an area that can still be upgraded, particularly at third base. A full season by Morneau and a moderate rebound at the dish by Hardy (projected at .263/.323/.426) and there are already two 3+ win players in the infield, which is a great start.
Last season Joe Crede was 1.9 wins above replacement, but that was entirely due to his fielding. Grabbing a guy who can play more often and get on base more often, even if he doesn't play the premium defense Crede did, would still constitute something more than a marginal upgrade over whatever combination of third basemen the Twins could use.
Surprisingly enough Punto's defense, versatily and the positions involved make him worth the contract he's playing under. In 2008 he was a 2.5 win player. He struggled early in 2009 in all phases, but a decent push at the end of the season at the plate and surprisingly resurgent defense made him the super utility player he's been for the Twins for years. With a marginal improvement he can be a 1.6 win player and, at second base, that's more than acceptable.
Bill James projects Danny Valencia to hit .276/.323/.447 next season, over 282 plate appearances. Right now not only do I doubt that Valencia would get that much playing time, but I doubt he'd be able to match James' optimistic hitting line. If he did manage it, somehow, and played decent defense besides, he'd easily out-perform my 0.3 WAR projection.
To me, some of these projections look a little optimistic. Over at FanGraphs, Span's .301/.385/.399 projected line looks ideal, especially over 151 games. This, however, isn't the largest difference for an outfielder between '09 and the '10 projections--that honor goes to Young. Young's projected impact at the plate, improved to .291/.326/440 would be a career-best and would off-set his terrible defense to make him a win-neutral player. At face value that's not great, but anytime a player can be 1.3 wins better than he was the previous year it's a big improvement.
None of the available in-house backout outfielders figure to make much of an impact, which isn't much of a surprise. This is where signing a versatilve veteran for a million or two as a backup, a guy who would be worth even just one win, makes a lot of sense.
Cuddyer's second career year in '09 means some regression is likely, but in regards to Kubel I think this is probably the one pessimistic projection. Even if he spends most of his time as a designated hitter, which he should, it's easy for me to see Jason duplicating (if not improving) on the offensive numbers he put up last summer. If he can do that, Kubel could be a 3+ win player again.
Side by side, on position players alone our 2010 (23.3 WAR) projections have us as a single win better than their 2009 (22.3 WAR) counterparts. Any good sabermetrician will tell you that marginal wins in the upper-80's are always the most difficult to come by, because usually they require you to pay more money. At least in the Twins case we're finding this to be true, because although it's circumstantial we already know that next summer's opening day payroll will be far and away a franchise record.
Tonight we'll look at the pitching side of things to give us a complete picture. A pitching staff worth 15 wins means the Twins could be an 87-win team again in '10. A 20-win staff would mean a 92-win team. At least on paper.
I'll see you tonight!