If ZiPS has anything to say about it, the Twins offense is going to suck this year.
This happens almost every year. Let me rephrase that: this happens every year. ZiPS is notorious for how regression plays into their formulas, and the results are safe if often pessimistic projections. Blocking out their .248/.369/.511 call on Jim Thome, since he's not actually with the Twins, ZiPS thinks that seven Minnesota position players will have league average seasons or better: Justin Morneau, Joe Mauer, Jason Kubel, Delmon Young, Michael Cuddyer, Denard Span and Tsuyoshi Nishioka.
On the surface that looks acceptable. I wouldn't argue with the statement "Seven everyday position players for the Twins will produce at a minimum league average rate". It's once you see the numbers that things get a little sour, because if our guys play those number of games and/or hit for that triple slash, things will get messy. Still, here's how our "everyday" lineup would look, according to ZiPS.
If for any reason that looks good to you, that's because it is. If this was your batting order every single day of the year, you could do worse. Still, while I expect Span's on-base percentage, and both Cuddyer and Valencia's whole lines to be better than what they are (at least, these are my biggets areas of disagreement), ZiPS has laid down a word of caution for Twins fans going into this summer: things might not be as sweet as they were last season, for one main reason. Bench depth is still an issue (I'll let you follow the link to see how terrible our bench would be), and suffice it to say ZiPS doesn't like Ben Revere, Joe Benson or any of the other minor leaguers that could provide help either.
Using Baseball Musing's lineup analysis tool, the above lineup would average 5.1 runs per game, or 826 runs over a full season. That would have placed second in the American League last season, eight runs better than Boston but still 33 runs shy of the Bombers.
Then notice the games played for Morneau: 117. Then get on to that lack of depth I mentioned--throw in plate appearances from Drew Butera (61 OPS+), Jason Repko (71 OPS+), or any other player you like and suddenly those 5.1 runs per game is a pipe dream. If it were up to ZiPS, the Minnesota Twins would field a league-average offense, good for about 4.5 runs per game (720 over a full year).
Take it all for what you will. Personally, while my projections for the 2011 Twins will likely come in a bit higher in most areas, I think the cautionary tale that ZiPS tells should ring true. They don't predict the Twins to be a team to be reckoned with, and that includes the pitching projections. Depth, and even the addition of another quality player or two, would go a long way in making this summer's team not just better, but an actual contender. While at this time I can still see the Twins winning the division, a lot of things will need to go right for them to be a threat next October.
Other ZiPS observations:
- In full time action, ZiPS has Revere stealing 39 bags while getting caught 17 times (70% success rate).
- Nishioka, meanwhile, would steal 38 bases in 156 games, while also getting caught 17 times. While his triple slash isn't terrible here's hoping that if he finishes in that range, we're seeing a marked improvement in the second half of the season.
- Morneau is given 24 home runs in his 117 games. Only Kubel's 21 bombs top the 20-homer plateau, with Young (18), Cuddyer (15) and Mauer (14) rounding out the top five.
- Interesting lines from position players of note: Joe Benson, Ben Revere, Trevor Plouffe, Chris Parmelee, Aaron Hicks.
- Scott Diamond, as his minor league track record would suggest, is projected as a starter. I'm not sure he'll get much more than a spot start or two, especially if Carl Pavano is brought back into the fold. If Diamond sticks, I'm confident that most of his time will be coming from the bullpen, where there will actually be a spot or two to compete for in spring training.
- Only Francisco Liriano, Scott Baker and Kevin Slowey come in around league average or better for production from the starters. The bullpen is dire, with Matt Capps, Jose Mijares and Joe Nathan as the only plus pitchers. For what it's worth, the Nathan projection is the only one that I worry might be optimistic...even if only for the prediction that he'll pitch 45 innings. I'm just not sure where he'll be at this year.
- Interesting projections for starters: Kyle Gibson, Liam Hendricks, Nick Blackburn, David Brombers. For the bullpen: Alex Burnett, Anthony Slama, Jim Hoey, Billy Bullock.