The Twins finished the season’s first month with a 17-12 record and are the only team in the AL Central with a winning record as the calendar flips to May. They sit 3.5 games ahead of Cleveland (13-15) in the standings after the recent 6-4 homestand. While it’s certainly better to play good ball at the start of the season than the opposite (more on Chicago below), banners aren’t hung after 29 games. Nonetheless, the Twins have improved their overall outlook from before the season.
Overall, I’d assess the season’s first month as a solid B that could have been even better. The stretch through Boston and hosting Washington left some things to be desired, as did the last two games in New York. Those things happen over the course of 162 games.
The Twins kick off May with an important road trip through Chicago and Cleveland, then the rest of the month is a high level of difficulty with the Padres, Dodgers, Blue Jays, and Astros all on the docket. They’ll also be testing the depth of their starting pitching, with Kenta Maeda and Tyler Mahle both heading to the injured list with arm ailments. Neither figures to be back in the rotation for a few weeks, which creates regular opportunities for Bailey Ober and Louie Varland (presumably).
Let’s get to today’s notes.
Carlos Correa Will Be Fine
Carlos Correa has been a notoriously slow starter throughout his nine seasons. Statistically, the season’s first month has been his least productive with a career .271/.344/.443 (.338 wOBA) slash line. Correa typically strikes out and pops out a bit more than usual and walks a little less than usual in April as he settles into the season and locks in his discipline and timing. Consistent with inconsistent timing, he also tends to hit the ball to the opposite field more and pull it less early in the season.
Through his first 106 plate appearances this year, Correa has generated some concern with a very poor .202/.283/.351 (.282) cumulative line that has made him a replacement-level player for the season’s first month. While that certainly is not an ideal way to kick off a big free-agent contract, I suspect that Correa will be the offensive player that he has always been in the end. It was pointed out on Twitter this past weekend that Correa has had 100 plate appearance stretches that were this bad, and in some cases worse, in every season of his career.
Carlos Correa is 97 PA into the 2023 season with a 0.624 OPS. Is it time to worry? Probably not. Correa has had 100 PA stretches worse than this in almost every season of his career, some of them far worse. pic.twitter.com/I2V07HND1u— TwinsData (@TwinsData) April 29, 2023
This one just happened to come at the start of the season where we can see his numbers reflect that stretch on a daily basis. So far, Correa’s numbers fit his prior patterns, although perhaps to a deeper degree. His strikeouts are up and his walks are down just slightly as he’s chased out of the zone a bit more than he usually does. The more impactful factor though has been his batted ball profile, in which he’s running a pop-up rate that’s more than double his career average and hitting pitches the opposite way about double the rate he did last season.
Those popups and the opposite field contact seem to be related to Correa getting busted up inside by opposing pitchers, which we’ve discussed in game thread comments. About 37% of the pitches Correa has seen have been located inside and he’s hit just .132/.214/.132 against them, with no extra-base hits. To that point, here is his spray chart against inside pitches:
You can see clearly that it’s pulled grounders, infield pop-ups, and weak flyouts to right field. I’m not a swing mechanics expert, so I can’t explain what needs to change for him to get right, but sometimes it just takes some time to get locked in. Given his history, I expect that he’ll figure it out.
So Will José Miranda
The other Minnesota hitter who has caused some concern with a slow start is third baseman, José Miranda. Miranda took a breather yesterday and through his first 117 plate appearances has hit .243/.308/.355 (.297). The watch area for Miranda is usually about his swing decision-making. He has very strong bat-to-ball contact skills that lead him to occasionally expand his zone and put pitcher’s pitches into play for outs instead of letting those go by in search of something to drive.
That hasn’t been the issue so far this season. Miranda has been patient and has not been chasing more than expected. His walk rate is up a bit (7.7%), his strikeout rate is down (to a very good 13.7%, 91st percentile) from last season, and his chase rate is in line with last season (31.3% vs. 32.7%).
Similarly to Correa, this seems to mostly be a matter of timing with Miranda. His overall contact quality numbers (exit velocity, max exit velocity, barrel rate, etc) are largely in line with last year’s and as a result, his expected wOBA, per Statcast is exactly the same as it was last season, .317. Miranda’s results have been held down, though, because he’s been hitting more ground balls (47.3%). Also, like Correa, Miranda has been particularly susceptible to four-seam fastballs, hitting just .172 and slugging just .276, and swinging and missing on almost 40% of his swings against them.
Perhaps as the weather warms, Miranda will be better able to be on time against velocity and drive those pitches on lines and in the air, as opposed to topping them into the ground. He had a solid week last week, popping three home runs, suggesting that better days are ahead. Not pressing when the numbers aren’t what you want is difficult and he’ll need to continue trying to be patient and exercise good strike-zone judgment to bounce back after his April struggles:
Joe Ryan’s Mr. Splitty
Entering the season, a lot was made of Joe Ryan’s offseason time spent at Driveline working to develop his secondary offerings. Ryan had toyed with a big breaking, sweeping slider at the end of last season and there was a lot of excitement about Ryan mastering that pitch to complement his outstanding four-seam fastball.
Through five starts, Ryan has been excellent (and fortunate to get lots of run support), working to a 2.81 ERA over 32 innings with 36 strikeouts and just 4 walks. It’s been Ryan’s splitter – also a new pitch that he developed at Driveline – that’s been the standout secondary.
The split change is a nice piece to add to raise his ceiling.— Chris Langin (@LanginTots13) February 21, 2023
Joe Ryan would prefer batters who swing left-handed swing and miss at his pitches more.
This is a good idea.
He averaged 6" of VB off the heater with his Cambio last year.
He's looking to double that (12"+) in 23' pic.twitter.com/Dn9saGYE6i
Ryan has thrown his splitter 26.8% of his pitches, almost twice as often as he’s turned to his sweeper (14.9%). Developed as a replacement for his well below-average changeup (+1.5 run value per 100 pitches in 2022), Ryan’s splitter has been excellent (-2.9 runs/100 pitches), outperforming even his vaunted fastball on a per-pitch basis. He’s allowed just 5 singles in the 36 plate appearances that have ended on the splitter, and drawn a whiff on 25% of the swings against it. The new sweeper, on the other hand, has been inconsistent (+2.3 runs/100).
While the results have been great, the splitter also adds a dimension that was previously absent from Ryan’s profile – a pitch that can get ground balls. With his riding fastball and previous secondaries, Ryan had an extreme flyball profile (~34% vs. 23% league average). While that’s still going to be true, Ryan has generated a career-best 37.8% groundballs so far this season, thanks in large part to the new split and its above-average downward movement (38.8 inches per Statcast, gravity effects included). By comparison, Ryan’s old changeup had well below-average downward break (29.9 inches) and was, therefore, fly ball prone.
From a physical stuff perspective, you can see that both of Ryan’s new secondaries are substantial improvements from before:
In case you missed a couple of non starting-pitching related transactions yesterday, Alex Kirilloff was activated from his rehab assignment and optioned to St. Paul.
Alex Kirilloff’s rehab assignment with Triple-A St. Paul is done, but he won’t be joining the Twins. The plan looks to be for him to be optioned down and stay with the Saints.— Do-Hyoung Park (@dohyoungpark) April 30, 2023
Reliever Trevor Megill, who had been removed from the 40-man roster earlier in the week after a miserable start to the season was sent away in a small trade to Milwaukee, who will try their luck at consistently unlocking Megill’s considerable raw stuff.
- Much was written about the Oakland (for now) Athletics stadium and location situation, which you can catch up on with these useful backgrounders from Tim Kawakami of the Athletic and Mike Baumann at FanGraphs. I also really enjoyed this op-ed piece in the Nevada Independent by John Mehaffey that scrutinized the numbers included in the Athletics’ Las Vegas proposal. Let’s just say they are optimistic.
- Friday and Saturday were “pile-on the White Sox” days. If you’re into such schadenfreude (as I am), then I offer you these. Fangraphs – The White Sox are Utterly Terrible. MLBTradeRumors – Is the White Sox Season Already Lost?
- Here’s hoping the Twins don’t let them up off the mat with the series starting tomorrow.
- In good news, White Sox closer Liam Hendriks is cancer free and has already made an appearance on the extended Spring Training backfields in Arizona.
- The Atlantic League will be testing some additional new rules including a Designated Runner, the Double Hook DH, and limiting pickoffs to a single disengagement with the pitching rubber in a plate appearance.
- I always enjoy David Laurila’s interviews with players for FanGraphs and he had posts with Sonny Gray and Pablo Lopez recently. Gray’s interview, in particular, is a fascinating look into the evolution of pitching strategy thanks to technology and analytics. And… he didn’t have much good to offer about his time with the Yankees.
- Zach Crizer and Hannah Keyser with Yahoo! Sports had a great look at how teams are having success by trying to have their pitchers be less precise in the strike zone, led by… the Rays, as always.
- MLB.com Twins beat reporter Do-Hyoung Park has everything you need to know about the Twins’ new “Land of 10,000 Rakes” fishing vest home run celebration, which was christened yesterday by a mammoth 453-feet moonshot by Byron Buxton.