Today, June 1, marked the 1/3 point of the 2014 baseball season for the Twins. Fifty-four games in, now seems like to a good time to look back at my predictions for the season. I had two team predictions for the season: offense would be terrible and outfield defense would be terrible. Though the latter prediction turned out to be true, it seems fairly obvious at this point that the offense has vastly exceeded my expectations.
Looking at the roster at the end of spring training, I had very little confidence that the team would be able to consistently score runs. Their two biggest offensive acquisitions were Jason Kubel and Kurt Suzuki. Kubel was arguably the worst player in baseball in 2013, and Suzuki was fairly terrible at the plate as well. There were major question marks with the incumbents as well. Joe Mauer was recovering from a concussion, Florimon has always struggled, and Willingham has been injury-prone. For the Twins to have even an average offense, they needed basically all of the young players (Plouffe, Dozier, Pinto, Arcia, Hicks) to take major steps forward.
As it turned out, the offense has been mildly effective so far this year. At the team level, the key seems to be this rather strange decision to not swing. As a team, the Twins have by a fair margin the lowest swing percentage in all of baseball. This low swing percentage has translated to a large number of walks - they are currently second in all of MLB in walk rate. So in spite of having fairly low batting average and slugging, their on-base percentage has been respectable, which has buoyed their overall offensive performance. I don't know if credit for this philosophy is due to hitting coach Tom Brunansky, new coach Paul Molitor, data analyst Jack Goin, or maybe the ghost of Harmon Killebrew. But it has been effective, and has allowed the Twins to be respectable on offense.
In addition, on an individual level the Twins have been able to ride hot bats throughout the season. Early in the year Kubel and Chris Colabello carried the team. When they cooled off, Dozier and Escobar picked things up. And just as Dozier has started to fall back to earth, Willingham and Arcia have both provided big hits after returning from the DL. Plouffe has been pretty solid all season, and Suzuki has continued to exceed expectation.
Right now, the Twins are on pace to score 690 runs this year, which is a 76 run improvement over last season. That is quite an accomplishment considering the few moves that were made to improve the offensive side. They are currently on pace for a 78-84 record, which I think would be a incredibly successful season. Though I expect there to be some drop off going forward, it seems likely that this team will avoid a fourth consecutive 90-loss season. If the pitching staff can make some improvements and the offense doesn't drop off too much, this teams has a shot to stay near .500 for the rest of the season. That would vastly exceed my prediction for this year, and I'm not complaining one bit.