The Twins have (barely) made it through the first month of the season with an unfortunate 6-16 record. I thought I would contribute to the fanposts by taking a look at what went right (not much) and what went wrong (a lot) in April, and how things might develop over the coming months. It's a bit scattershot, but I hope you enjoy.
Offense: 3.95 R/G, 10th in the American League. (League average is 4.34 R/G)
Pitching/Defense: 5.64 R/G. T13 in the AL. (League average is 4.34 R/G)
Wow. That's bad. Can't parse any of that to look good. So far, about the only good news for the Twins is that their injured players, about whom there were serious concerns (Mauer because of the litany of injuries and the wear of catching, Span and especially Morneau because of the lingering and poorly understood nature of concussions) have been healthy and fairly productive through the first month of the season. At least until Morneau left last night's game against the Angels with a wrist injury.
Joe C., who reported that Morneau was headed back to Minnesota, also pointed out that the Twins have played more 1-run games than any other team in the AL. 10 games with a 4-6 record. This is not good news; it means they are 2-10 in games decided by more than 1 run. That is the hallmark of a bad baseball team. Records get closer to .500 the closer the games; bad teams will be better in 1-run games then they are in other games, good teams will be worse. The Twins have managed to squeak out a respectable number of wins in 1-run games, but are getting hammered otherwise.
Let's start with the relative good news:
Despite lagging significantly behind league average in scoring runs, the Twins were essentially league average in OPS and OPS+ in April. They are 4th in the league in BA, 6th in OBP. As usual, their slugging lags, but they are 3rd in the league in 2B+3B. On the bad side, they are last in the league in home runs.
Further bad news: Twins who are at or above league average in OPS:
That's the list.
And I believe that is one of the reasons they lag behind in runs scored. Absolutely no depth to the lineup in April. No matter how well Willingham is hitting, he only comes up when it's his turn.
Another issue is that the Twins are tied for the league lead in GiDP. This is just the nature of their hitters; I don't think this will change.
On the other hand, they have NOT been hurt by their performance with RiSP, or (aside from the DPs) with runners on base. Their OPS with RiSP is exactly what it is overall, and they are hitting better with men on base then with the bases empty. I don't know whether this is good news or bad news; if this were the cause of their struggles scoring runs, I would be more confident that it was temporary.
Going forward, things should get better. Really only Josh Willingham is hitting significantly better than we might expect. Mauer is back to doing his thing, as Jesse wrote about a few days ago; Span seems to have returned to his previous level but isn't doing anything outrageous. Morneau is the wild-card, and we should know more soon about the wrist. Alexi Casilla (after 3 hits last night) is probably at about the top end of his range as an offensive player. This is probably about what Chris Parmelee is, though there is some hope for improvement.
But...Danny Valencia might not be that good, but he isn't THIS bad. Doumit has never hit this poorly in a full season before. Plouffe is no star (or even a starting level player) but nobody is this bad. Jamey Carroll is hurting them; the one thing he's supposed to be able to do (get on base), he's barely scraping league average, and he is utterly powerless. It might get better, but it also might be that he's done.
This is not a great offense, but it has been underperforming. If Morneau doesn't miss too much time, I think they have a good chance at finishing the season at roughly league average in runs, barring further significant injury. (A major problem for the Twins is that they don't have a lot of options. Only Brian Dozier as far as prospects are concerned might be ready to help this season).
Gack. The pitching, particularly the starting pitching, has been awful. There is no bright spot. (Best ERA+: Carl Pavano, 83). As a staff, they have done their usual good job at limiting walks, but, also as usual cannot miss bats, and as a group, just seem to lack the stuff to get guys out consistently. The minimum quality start (6 and 3) is a ray of sunshine so far for this group.
They have given up the most hits in the league, they are 2nd in the league in homers allowed, and last in strikeouts by a wide margin. (Fully 1 strikeout per game less than the next worst team, and nearly 2.5 Ks less per game than league average. That is killer).
They are getting beat up in all situations, but especially with men on base. They are on pace to give up 250 homers, which would be insane. (And won't happen). And it hasn't been a few outlier games. They have only given up double figures in runs once (11 to the Red Sox). It's. Every. Game. They have yet to hold an opponent under 3 runs (exactly 3 twice).
Look, I'll get to (a little) optimism in a minute, but the truth is this: the Twins have a bunch of starting pitchers who throw the ball over the plate with marginal major league stuff. That is not a recipe for success. Those guys get hit. Hard. Jesse has run a couple of pieces this year delving into pitch-FX stuff for particular starts, and has tried to parse success and (mostly) failure for these guys, but as much as I love data, sometimes it's too granular. When the margin for success is so thin, it effectively disappears. Strikes + Mediocre Stuff + Guys Who Get Paid To Hit. = Sore Necks. That's where we are, and that isn't going to change.
But...they aren't this bad. Nobody is this bad. They won't continue to give up this many homers. Their BABIP is not too far above league average, but it spikes with men on base. That won't continue (at this rate) either. This is going to be a bad pitching staff all year, but it won't be this bad. They are currently giving up 1.3 runs per game more than league average. I think they will get it within a run. Liriano will be better. Blackburn will be better. Marquis probably isn't really this bad. The entire rotation needs to be rethought and revamped in advance of 2013, but all of these guys won't finish below replacement level.
I'm going to stop here. I was going to delve into the defense, and also talk more specifically about the bullpen and and the pitchers individually, but I've gone on too long.
One final note: the Twins played .273 ball in April. They will have to play better than .400 ball in order to avoid a 100 loss season. Whaddya think?