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Twins Progress Report


Checking in with the local nine with the first month in the books.

@BreakTheHuddle

Josh Willingham has been doing a lot of high-fiving in the dugout this season.

We are one month into the baseball season, and the little things that Twins fans had been holding onto for hope both took a turn for the worse on April’s final day. Joe Mauer, who played every inning of the Twins’ first 21 games of the season, finally missed a game with a knee bruise. He’s expected to be able to DH this evening, so there’s no reason to sound the alarm.

The news concerning Justin Morneau is a different story. He was lifted after two plate appearances last night in Anaheim, citing discomfort in his surgically repaired wrist. The Twins flew Morneau back to Minnesota today to meet with the doctor who performed the surgery to have it checked out. Although Morneau nearly single-handedly earned the Twins a four game split versus the Yankees with his hot bat a couple of weeks ago, he can’t seem to shake the bad luck with his injuries. Clearly, the team didn’t feel like rest was an option, and chose to send him home – a potentially ominous sign.

Thirdly, Twins fans enjoyed the first month of the season without the offensive cesspool known as Drew Butera getting Major League at-bats. But the announcement came today that the Twins were calling up the Legacy Kid to take Morneau’s place on the roster and shore up the catching position.

(Everyone, take a moment to sigh, deeply, and lament this wretched day.)

It’s time to take a close look at what’s gone on in the first month of the Twins season, with a lot of facts, statistics, and witty commentary to put it in perspective. I’ve broken the team into three parts – offense, defense, and pitching – and assigned them grades on how they performed in April.

The Basics:

Twins record: 6-16, 6 games behind the Cleveland Indians for the AL Central lead, 1 game behind San Diego for worst record in baseball. The Twins played some of baseball’s very best in the first month of the season; the Angels, Rays, Yankees, Red Sox and Rangers are all expected to be in the thick of things in September. Baltimore (a team in the Twins’ stratospehere) swept them, and split versus Kansas City. The lone series victory came against the Angels (2-1, April 9-12).

April Highlights: The Twins’ stirring comeback from 6 runs down on April 12th to beat the Angels 10-9… Justin Morneau going 3-for-4 with two home runs in a 6-5 victory over the Yankees on April 18th… The first inning of Francisco Liriano’s season (a 1-2-3 bottom of the 1st against the Orioles, featuring three strikeouts)…

April Lowlights: All of Francisco Liriano’s other innings… Josh Willingham committing two errors in left field in the same game… An 11-2 shellacking at the hands of the Red Sox on April 24th.

Grades:

Offense: C

Category

Rank

Runs

Tied – 19th

Batting Average

6th

On Base %

10th

Slugging %

15th

Extra Base Hits

16th

Everything points towards mediocrity, as far as the offense is concerned. For every good statistic, there seems to be a bad one to counteract it. For instance, the Twins have struck out the 4th fewest times in baseball… and have hit into the 2nd most double plays. The batting average has been good, but they are tied for 24th in home runs, meaning that (other than Willingham) no one is driving the ball.

It's been good to see Span healthy again.

Morneau has had stretches where he looked like the Morneau of old – and the team needs him to get healthy. Span has rebounded nicely from his rocky 2011, finishing the opening month with a .330/.378/.418 batting line. Mauer has just one home run, but is batting .325 and drawing walks at a high rate. Willingham has been carrying the offense, finishing the month with a .347/.447/.681 line with 7 doubles and 5 home runs. Even Alexi Casilla (batting .300) has shown a little bit of life with the bat.

Jamey Carroll, Ryan Doumit and Chris Parmalee had underwhelming Aprils, and should pick it up a tick as the weather warms up. Danny Valencia continues to prove he doesn’t have the discipline (read also: brain) to be a professional hitter. He has one – ONE – walk in 77 plate appearances against 18 strikeouts. He looks like a patient guy when compared to reserve outfielder Clete Thomas, who has zero walks and 13 strikeouts in 23 plate appearances.

A big key to the offense’s continued success will be the health of Morneau (.230/.315/.439) and Mauer… because if Mauer isn’t catching, you-know-who probably is…

Defense: C

Watching a Twins shortstop make sound, fundamental plays has been a breath of fresh air.

I give GM Terry Ryan a lot of credit for addressing the main defensive concern the team had a year ago; newcomer Jamey Carroll is a professional shortstop who makes all the routine plays and takes charge in the infield. After the Tsuyoshi Nishioka Experiment, no Twins fan should ever take that for granted again.

The rest of the defense is a comical mix of superb (Casilla at second, Denard Span in center), average (Valencia at third, the right field conglomerate of Plouffe and Doumit) and terrible (Parmalee at first, Josh Willingham in left field. The Twins are right in the middle of the pack in terms of errors made (14th) and Fielding Percentage (16th). FanGraphs’ UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating) advanced defensive metrics system has the Twins at 14th of the 30 teams.

If Morneau is down for an extended period of time, look for Ben Revere to play left field and Josh Willingham to DH, which ought to improve the defense significantly. An outfield of Revere, Span and Plouffe will be among the most athletic in recent Twins’ memory. While the arms aren’t good, not many balls would fall between the three… and when you’ve got a pitching staff like the Twins do, that’s a necessity.

Speaking of which…

Pitching: F

I’m not just a sourpuss throwing around harsh grades. If the Twins’ first month of pitching doesn’t earn them an ‘F’, I’m not sure how an ‘F’ could be earned by a pitching staff. Here are their rankings through the first month of the season:

Category

Rank

ERA

30th

Strikeouts

30th

Batting Avg Against

30th

On Base % Against

26th

Slugging % Against

30th

OPS Against

30th

Runs Allowed

30th

Quality Starts

30th

Bases on Balls

4th fewest

Collectively, the rotation is 3-12 with a 6.75 ERA, has pitched the 4th fewest innings of any starting staff in baseball and allows opponents to hit .316 against them. Opponents’ OPS versus the Twins’ starters is .903. As a point of reference, last season, Albert Pujols’ OPS was .906. To put it in layman’s terms: the Twins’ starting rotation turns their average opponent into 2011 Albert Pujols.

Gardy has gotten a lot more plump in the last couple of years. His starting pitchers have tried to help him get exercise by making him walk to the mound a lot.

Here are how each of the starters have fared so far:

Pavano: 5 starts, 1-2, 4.91 ERA

Marquis: 3 starts, 2-0, 6.23 ERA

Blackburn: 4 starts, 0-4, 6.64 ERA

Swarzak: 3 starts, 0-3, 6.75 ERA

Hendriks: 3 starts, 0-1, 6.89 ERA

Liriano: 4 starts, 0-3, 11.02 ERA

The average start by a Twins’ pitcher lasts 5 and 1/3 innings, 2nd to last in the game; only the Kansas City Royals are worse in that department.

The bullpen hasn’t actually been that bad; they’ve been asked to throw a lot of innings (72 and 1/3, 6th most in baseball) but have still managed to post a respectable (if mediocre) 3.84 ERA, which ranks them 18th. They are also 13th in Batting Average Against, 12th in OPS against and have walked the 4th fewest batters of any bullpen in baseball.

Sure, Matt Capps inspires zero faith as the closer and Glen Perkins has had a bad month. But Alex Burnett, Jeff Gray and Jared Burton have all been good thus far, Matt Maloney’s numbers are skewed by one awful outing against the Yankees and Brian Duensing is more than capable of improvement.

Coming Up:

After the Twins wrap up with the Angels, they go to Seattle for a weekend series before beginning a 9 game home stand on May 7th. They go on the road for 8 (2 in Detroit, 3 in Milwaukee and 3 in Chicago) before returning home to close the month against the Tigers and Athletics.

Keep in Mind:

The Twins probably (probably) won’t be 12-32 at the end of May. Look for the club to improve their record this month as they ease into some easier competition. The health of Morneau will be important, but not as vital as the turnaround of the starting staff, which desperately needs to begin carrying its weight, lest pitching coach Rick Anderson find himself on the chopping block.

 

E-mail me at BreakTheHuddle@gmail.com, like me on Facebook by clicking on the picture at the top left of the page, or tweet me @BreakTheHuddle. Happy May Day, everybody!

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