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Talkin' About Playoff?! (Part 1)

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I set forth to make a very nice story about the Twins chances to make the playoffs and what the numbers really looked like or their chances.  After the story took me all weekend and ended up being decidedly "Gleeman length" at over 7 pages, I decided to break it up into a series.  I've already written the entire thing, so all the numbers will be through today, but this way you won't have to sit through all 3 computer-screen feet of it at one go.  Without further ado...

I set forth to make a very nice story about the Twins chances to make the playoffs and what the numbers really looked like or their chances.  After the story took me all weekend and ended up being decidedly "Gleeman length" at over 7 pages, I decided to break it up into a series.  I've already written the entire thing, so all the numbers will be through today, but this way you won't have to sit through all 3 computer-screen feet of it at one go.  Without further ado...

This time of year is when many people like to look back on the first half of the season and reflect on what has gone well and what has been disappointing (check out Jesse's first half grades below).  Who has surpassed expectations and who hasn't been pulling their weight.

I like to take this time to look forward.  All of our impassioned pleas for Garza/Jones/Slowey, all of our trade searching, all of our angry words aimed at Nick Punto have had one goal in mind:  making the playoffs.  At the beginning of the year, many of us, myself included, believed this was a team capable of making the playoffs.  At 7 games back, the Twins aren't completely done, but just how reasonable is it to expect the Twins to have a shot?  Let's take a look, starting with the whole team's performance so far.

This time of year is when many people like to look back on the first half of the season and reflect on what has gone well and what has been disappointing.  Who has surpassed expectations and who hasn't been pulling their weight.

I like to take this time to look forward.  All of our impassioned pleas for Garza/Jones/Slowey, all of our trade searching, all of our angry words aimed at Nick Punto have had one goal in mind:  making the playoffs.  At the beginning of the year, many of us, myself included, believed this was a team capable of making the playoffs.  At 7 games back, the Twins aren't completely done, but just how reasonable is it to expect the Twins to have a shot?  Let's take a look, starting with the whole team's performance so far.

So Far

Believe it or not, but the Twins have actually scored the 5th most runs in the American League with 451.  That big day in Chicago certainly didn't hurt those numbers, but I was quite surprised to see the Twins place that high.  They rank 6th in the AL with a .337 OBP, 7th with a .270 Batting Average, but 11th with a .400 Slugging Percentage.  Their 10th raked, .737 OPS indicates the number of runs they've scored thus far is probably inflated.  Indeed, had that one day in Chicago been somewhat more realistic, had the scored, say, 20 runs instead of 36, the Twins would plummet to 9th in runs.  Their OPS, though, is quite a bit behind the teams leading them, so there must be other factors in the Twins scoring runs.  The stolen base is clearly one of the most important of these factors.  The Twins are second in the AL with 75 stolen bases behind only the LA Angels.  The Angles have been caught over twice as many times.  The Twins have been caught stealing only 14 times.  The only teams caught fewer times are the Red Sox, Athletics, and Blue Jays.  Of those teams, only the Red Sox have over half as many stolen bases as the Twins with 51.  The Blue Jays have barely a third of the Twins' total with a mere 27.  The Twins' league leading 84% SB success percentage leads the league by far and is well above the line where stealing becomes statistically beneficial.

On the pitching side, the Twins have the 4th best team ERA at 4.17 and have given up the 5th fewest runs at 407.  The Twins starters have put up a 4.55 ERA, good for 7th in the AL and right in line with the league average 4.59.  In 2006, the Twins starters put up an ERA of 4.50, 5th in the AL and reasonably ahead of the 4.75 league average.  The Twins bullpen is 3rd in the league with a 3.45 ERA, much better than the 4.18 league average.  Due to the odd nature of bullpen ERA's, it is important to note the Twins bullpen is 4th in the AL with a .313 OBP against and 6th with a .375 SLG against.  They are 6th with a .686 SLG against and are also 6th in OPS at .686.

Defensively, the Twins have the fewest errors in the AL with 42.  Their Team Defensive Efficiency (DEF, the percentage of all balls in play converted into outs) is a pedestrian .699, good for only 9th in the AL, and 14th in baseball).

The Twins current record (through their Saturday night win against the A's in the third game back since the break) is 48-43, giving them a .527 winning percentage.  Their Pythagorean winning percentage at this point is .551, stating they should be about 50-41 at this point in the season.  The Cleveland Indians are currently playing about 3 games AHEAD of their Pythagorean mark, an unusual turnaround for that club.

Morneau and Hunter

These two have surely been the bedrock of Minnesota's offense this year.  Posting .295/.364/.581 and .301.342/.548 lines respectively, Morneau and Hunter proved to be two of the premier offensive players in the league in the first half and fully deserving members of the AL all-star team.  Hunter, in addition, has continued his time-honored tradition of being an excellent center fielder, and while not maybe quite as spectacular as he once was, he surely hasn't shown much loss of skill yet this year.

Our first second half question, though, is Hunter.  Morneau's current pace seems relatively reasonable to expect over the second half, but Hunter's is much more beyond his norm.  A career .271/.342/.470 hitter, a line Hunter replicates with surprising consistency from year to year, Hunter isn't a sure bet to continue his production.  On one hand, Hunter cooled to the (still very good) .275/.318/.510 line in June, but on the other hand he raised his numbers right back up with a strong .281.314/.594 line thus far in June.  Hunter has long been a player who would go through big hot stretches like this but get balanced out by a cold stretch, but I can't remember a hot stretch lasting this long for Hunter.  What's more, Hunter's .296/.323/.551 second half line from 2006 looks remarkably similar to his 2007 first half line and gives Hunter a full season's worth of games hitting at his current level.

The numbers behind Hunter's performance this year are somewhat inconclusive.  His BA/BIP has risen 20 points from the .300 he put up the past three seasons, but .321 isn't an unsustainable number.  His LD% and GB% have remained completely in line with past seasons as well.  His 18.4% HR/FB ratio is in line with his 18.6% from last year, but above the years before that by several percent.  The only significantly different stat is his pop-up ratio.  Only 5.7% of Hunter's fly balls have been in the infield this year, as compared to 14.8% last year and 17% in 2005.  That would certainly explain his BA/BIP raise and explain more home runs in general.  I don't really know if that is something Hunter can sustain.

Second on the team in VORP with 30.7, only one behind Morneau, Hunter has been, when defense is considered, the MVP of the first half of the season in my estimation.  Hunter holding his current pace AND staying healthy, both unsure things, will be a critical piece of the Twins chances in the second half.

Until Tomorrow

Tomorrow, we'll continue our overview of the Twins with discussions of some of the Twins most popular players and one of their least popular ones, as well as one who many of you probably don't even remember that he's even on the team.