Runs Scored: 92 (4.00/game)
Runs Allowed: 99 (4.30/game)
Some of you might remember I did a few of these month end reports last year until the exercise just became too damn painful. Since they seemed to generate some good conversation, I thought I would resurrect them this year.
Well. That was...not bad I guess. Just one game under .500 after two losses to Detroit to end the month. While they haven't reminded anyone of contenders, this April was certainly better than last season's 6-16 catastrophe. As usual in baseball, things didn't go exactly as anticipated, so let's look at what happened in April with our favorite baseball team.
The Twins' offense has been unexpectedly poor for fairly predictable reasons. That sounds a little contradictory, but consider: we were reasonably hoping for a league average offense. However, if things were going to go badly on that side of the ball, it was going to be because of a general lack of power, poor performances from the young players, and a punchless middle infield. Check, check, and check.
The Twins are averaging 4 runs a game, nearly half a run below league average. Target Field has a little to do with this, but not everything. They are hitting for a poor average (.239 vs. .255 league average), but are very close to league average in OBP thanks to a pretty good walk rate, led by Josh Willingham and Aaron Hicks, but really decent patience throughout the lineup. The big problem, as it often is for the Twins, is the lack of power. Their .355 SLG is worst in the league by a significant margin, is .056 below league average, and they also trail the rest of the league in Isolated Slugging (SLG-BA).
The power problem, as it often is, is twofold. They lack great power hitters, and their non-power guys aren't just low power guys, they are no power guys. Of the 9 guys with the most PAs on the team, 5 of them have combined to hit one (1) home run.
Josh Willingham has been the offensive standout for the Twins (Editorial comment: trade him!), with a .944 OPS and five of the teams 15 homeruns. Joe Mauer was hot, now he's cold, but overall is doing OK. He'll probably have a Joe Mauer season. A couple of the bench guys have done well in low PAs (Escobar, Ramirez), and everyone else has been varying degrees of disappointing.
However, by far the most disappointing thing is this: we really didn't expect to contend this year. Given that, the one thing we wanted to see was some of the younger, less experienced guys show that they could hold down a position going forward for the next few years. Could Trevor Plouffe consolidate from last season and show improvements? Could Chris Parmelee use his hot stretch in AAA last year to springboard to a regular role at a corner position in the majors? Could Brian Dozier be the second baseman for a few seasons? Could Aaron Hicks establish himself in center field?
It's early. That is true of everything discussed in this article. However, the answer to all of the questions in the preceding paragraph is no. Not one of those guys has stood out positively so far, and that's very disappointing. With the exception of HIcks, none of those guys are particularly young, they all had some major league experience coming into the season, and they all had the opportunity to establish themselves. Plouffe has shown a bit of pop, but has an OPS+ of 87 and has been something of a butcher at 3rd base. That isn't helping. Parmelee has a 64 OPS+ which is unplayable at shortstop, never mind in a corner. Both his OBP and SLG are below .300. Dozier's 69 OPS+ isn't much better, and in a testament to the lack of options, has been leading off for the last couple of weeks.
Aaron Hicks has been truly terrible. After a 2-43 start to the season, he improved slightly over the last couple of weeks, and his walk rate is pretty good. But his overall line is still .113/.229/.127. Yikes. Add a hundred points to each of those numbers and he's still awful. No reason to give up on him yet, this is his first 83 PAs in the majors, straight from AA, so being overwhelmed isn't too shocking. He could still emerge as a quality center fielder. But right now, he's as big a drag on the offense as there is on the roster. He's probably been lucky that Mastroianni has been injured (and Joe Benson has been awful at Rochester), otherwise he likely would have been demoted by now,
This is the better news. Primarily led by the bullpen, the Twins have been better then league average in runs allowed (4.30 vs. 4.39). I think most of us expected the pitching staff to be bad again this year. Perhaps not to the level of last season's disaster, (it's hard to be _that_ bad), but still.
The starting pitching has been, in total, about as expected. Which is to say, not very good. Vance Worley and Mike Pelfrey, two guys who the Twins were hoping would provide league average innings toward the front of the rotation, have been terrible. Both of them are sporting ERAs of north of 7, with unimpressive peripherals. Realistically, neither has been as bad as those ERAs, with Worley sporting an xFIP of 4.31 and Pelfrey a (still awful) xFIP of 5.62.
Scott Diamond has been alright in his return from injury; despite a crazy high .400 BABIP, he's pitched to a 95 ERA+, and his xFIP is better than his ERA. The 5th starter role has been split between Liam Hendriks (mediocre in two starts and back in Rochester) and Pedro Hernandez (looked pretty good last time out). This isn't a minor league report, but Kyle Gibson was fantastic in his last start, and might be a couple of good starts away from a call-up.
That brings us to the shining star of the rotation so far: Kevin Correia. The much maligned (by me, among others) Kevin Correia. He's averaged over 7 innings a start and has a 2.23 ERA. Wow. Much like Worley isn't really _that_ bad, Kevin Correia hasn't been _this_ good either. His 4.24 xFIP is probably a better indicator of how he's pitched, though even that is better then I expected. His peripherals are a study in extremes. He's walked nobody (1.2/9), hasn't given up homers (2 in 36+ innings), and doesn't strike guys out (3.7/9). He's been the anti-TTO pitcher so far. All of these numbers will normalize somewhat.
In many ways, it's a classic Twins rotation. Very stingy with the walks (the staff as a whole leads the league in this department), but also not striking anyone out. (Scott Diamond has the highest K/9 among the starters at 5.4). Correia in particular has managed to limit home runs, but the staff is 2nd in the league in HR/9 at 0.7. So far, they've hung in there, and while I expect Worley to get better results, and Correia to get worse results, the starters as a whole are going to have to miss more bats to have a chance going forward.
The Bullpen has been probably the brightest spot on the team thus far. Steve Adams wrote a good piece yesterday about the pen's relative luck in limiting homeruns. Even given that, though, they've gotten excellent work from the pen. Jared Burton and Glen Perkins have been terrific at the back end (irrational modern bullpen usage commentary: Glen Perkins is 6th on the team in relief innings pitched. 6th! That is all). Anthony Swarzak has been very good in a long relief role, keeping the team in games and saving arms. Brian Duensing has been effective in what has become something of a LOOGY+ role. There are a couple of time bombs--Ryan Pressley and Josh Roenicke have xFIPS north of 5 with ERAs under 2. Obviously, even more with relievers then other players, one month is an insanely small sample size. So far so good for the pen though; they are league average in allowing inherited runners to score, and their own run prevention efforts have been terrific.
I'm never sure how to address defense. Obviously, a team that doesn't get strikeouts requires a good defense to have any chance at success. The Twins...I dunno. What do you think? They seem about average overall to me, but it's hard to say. They are toward the top of the league in most unearned runs allowed.
UZR generally likes the infielders (except Plouffe), especially Brian Dozier. It hates the outfielders in total, and Hicks has been especially bad by this metric. Other measures show other things. (Hicks has positive dWar according to Baseball-Reference, for example). The only things that really seem noticeable to me are that Plouffe has been bad at 3rd base, and the corner outfielders are slow. Dozier has looked better than I expected at 2nd.
So there is my recap of April, 2013. What has caught your eye this month?