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Twins Progress Report: May


Checking in with the Twins a third of the way through

@BreakTheHuddle

High school outfielder Byron Buxton could become a Minnesota Twin on June 4th.

Next Monday, June 4th, the Twins will have the second selection in the 2012 MLB Draft. Unlike enlightened sports such as basketball or (nowadays) football, there is no structured rookie pay scale, meaning top choices are not based so much on talent as they are on their likelihood to sign a contract . As loony as mock drafts can be, many have the Twins selecting Georgia high school outfielder Byron Buxton – and my guess is, this will come true.

Ideally, it would be nice if the Twins would get a pitcher, perhaps a seasoned, near Major-League ready one, such as Mark Appel of Stanford or Kevin Gausman of LSU. But the Twins organization has liked 5 tool, high school outfielders in the past (think Ben Revere, Aaron Hicks and Chris Parmalee) and college pitchers with some pedigree are generally tougher to sign. The MLB Draft doesn’t generate nearly the buzz the other Drafts do – but when the present is bleak, you can’t help but dream about the future.

The Twins have the day off today, having completed their month of May by sweeping the Oakland Athletics, a series capped yesterday afternoon by Francisco Liriano (of all people) pitching a superb six innings en route to a 4-0 victory. The mood has been brightened the past few days, partially because the Twins got to face the punchless Oakland lineup, sporting a collective .210 batting average through 51 games.

At the end of April, I concluded the Progress Report by saying the Twins wouldn’t keep playing at a 6-16 clip for much longer – that would’ve put them at around 14-36 at the end of May. They far exceeded that – by four games, actually! Despite ending the month on a positive note, there’s still plenty to be concerned about in Twins Territory.

The Basics:

Twins record: 18-32, 12-16 during the month of May. The Twins are 10 ½ games behind the White Sox in the division, and percentage points ahead of the Chicago Cubs and San Diego Padres for the worst record in baseball. The month began with a road trip out West in which the Twins were historically anemic, and continued with a series loss to the Angels at home before earning a split with the Blue Jays. The Twins lost two to the Indians, took two from the Tigers, beat the Brewers 2 out of 3 times in the border battle and dropped two straight series (one to the Sox, one to the Tigers) before closing the month with a sweep of the Athletics.

May Highlights: The promotions of Scott Diamond and P.J. Walters (more on them later)… The May 7th promotion of SS Brian Dozier, giving us a look at the club’s first impact rookie in years… Nick Blackburn’s May 17th trip to the Disabled List, Jason Marquis’ May 21st release… Josh Willingham’s two out, walk off home run to beat the A’s on May 29th.

Finally, something he doesn’t suck at. He hit 94 on the radar gun. No, really.

May Lowlights: Drew Butera’s callup on May 1st… The aforementioned West Coast trip, during which the Twins tallied nine hits over a four-game stretch, the fewest for any team in a four-game stretch in modern MLB history (according to the Elias Sports Bureau)… Jason Marquis May 20th start versus the Brewers, in which he allowed 8 runs on 8 hits and 2 home runs in 1 and 2/3 innings… Drew Butera’s scoreless 8th inning of relief in that game, ensuring him a spot at the top of any statistical chart showing the Twins’ 2012 pitching statistics because he “leads the team” with a 0.00 ERA… Matt Capps ruining my sister-in-law’s birthday by blowing a 3-2 9th inning lead on May 27th.

Grades:

Offense – May: D, for the Season: C-

Category

Rank (May)

Rank (Season)

Runs

24th

25th

Batting Average

27th

22nd

On-Base %

21st

14th

Slugging %

26th

25th

Extra Base Hits

22nd

18th

 

In May, the Twins were outslugged by 13 of the 16 teams in the National League – you know, the one where the pitcher comes up to bat once every nine times. The offense averaged fewer than 4 runs per game, rendering it difficult to win, because they were usually down by four or more after the first three innings (more on that later).

Josh Willingham cooled a bit, batting .227/.314/.363 in the month of May and striking out 30 times in 91 at-bats. He still showed himself to be a professional hitter, however, hitting 5 home runs, drawing walks and coming up with some clutch hits. Joe Mauer, bless his heart, played in all 28 ballgames during the month of May, batting .273/.400/.384 for the month. The home runs are still few and far between (2 on the season thus far) but he has displayed the ability to hit doubles and draw walks. Ryan Doumit is also a patient hitter, with a May on-base percentage near .400.

The Twins’ team, in fact, drew more walks in the month of May than any other team in baseball, which they capitalized on by… hitting into 31 double plays, extending their league-leading total to 54 for the season. And despite having so many men on first, the Twins are still just 21st in baseball in stolen bases.

The infielders – Casilla, Dozier and Carroll – were a bit cold, and the cumulative outfield glob of Mastrionni, Komatsu and Plouffe was also underwhelming. The offense has shown signs of life, but had a rough month – the inability to get the big hits to bring runners in is troubling, especially when the pitching is as bad as it’s been.

Defense – May: C+, for the Season: C+

Dozier’s callup meant he would get to play shortstop on a daily basis, and he’s responded by playing well there – according to FanGraphs, his Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) is above league average for shortstops. This move meant Carroll got to move to third, a vast improvement defensively over the struggling Danny Valencia (who was demoted May 10th). Casilla has been the best defensive second baseman in baseball (again, according to UZR), meaning the infield defense has improved significantly from last year.

Mauer has been serviceable at first base, and Justin Morneau has started slowly over there, but given his history he should be back in the groove in a month or so. The outfield has been a problem – Willingham is one of the worst defensive outfield qualifiers in baseball, which makes perfect sense if you’ve ever watched him amble after a fly ball. Span has been below average to this point, which is surprising – the advanced metrics usually love him. Revere covers a lot of ground, but he three-hops throws from medium right field to second base, and that scouting report has already made it around the majors.

Mauer, Doumit and the insufferable Drew Butera have held their own behind the plate, rounding out the look around the diamond. The Twins have made the 9th fewest errors in baseball this season and own the game’s 8th best fielding percentage. The defense has been okay when pitchers have been able to keep the ball in the yard.

Pitching – May: D, for the Season: D-

Category

Rank (May)

Rank (Season)

ERA

29th

30th

Strikeouts

29th

30th

Batting Avg Against

29th

29th

On Base % Against

29th

29th

Slugging % Against

28th

29th

OPS Against

29th

29th

Runs Allowed

28th

29th

Quality Starts

29th

Bases on Balls

13th fewest

3rd fewest

 

At first blush, it may appear that a ‘D’ might be a bit generous for this pitching staff – but hear me out.  One of the pitchers who contributed mightily to those numbers (Marquis) is gone; two others (Blackburn and Liam Hendriks) have been banished to the minor leagues. The starting rotation currently consists of Diamond, P.J. Walters, Cole Devries, Francisco Liriano and Carl Pavano. While Liriano has been terrible (until yesterday) and Pavano has been rocked while dealing with shoulder issues, the other three have been solid.

Many Twins fans I know call him “Fat” Capps instead of Matt Capps. Mean, yes. Fun, yes. Justified? Absolutely.

Special attention must be paid to Diamond and Walters. Combined, in 9 starts, they’ve accounted for 8 quality starts. The rest of the Twins’ starting pitchers have combined for 9 quality starts in 41 games. Diamond is 3-1 with a 2.27 ERA in 5 starts; Walters is 2-1 with a 2.96 ERA in 3 starts. While DeVries is getting by with smoke and mirrors, it appears that these two might stick and be solid contributors. Without them, the Twins might be 10-40 right now… a scary thought.

The bullpen slipped a bit in May, with Jared Burton, Jeff Gray and Anthony Swarzak all posting ERAs north of 5.50. Capps was actually solid (despite the blown save) and Perkins, Duensing and Burnett all had good months. The bullpen has still thrown the 3rd most innings in baseball (172 and 1/3, or nearly 3 and 2/3 innings per game) but has held its own despite being overworked.

Coming Up:

The Twins go on the road for three in Cleveland and three in Kansas City before coming home for 9 games’ worth of interleague play (3 each against the Phillies, Cubs and Brewers).  They travel to Pittsburgh and Cincinnatti before returning home to close the month at home against the White Sox and Royals.

Keep in Mind:

The key to the next month is whether or not Diamond, Walters and DeVries can continue giving Ron Gardenhire competent starting pitching. Without that, not much else matters. Trade chatter will ramp up throughout the month of June, but don’t expect dealing to begin until July. The Twins will stick with Liriano as long as they can in order to try and showcase him to a potential suitor. More outings like the one we saw on Wednesday (6 innings, no runs, nine strikeouts) ought to help immensely.

Predicted record at the end of June: 31-46 (13-14 in 27 June ballgames).

 

BreakTheHuddle is a fan of the Twins, Timberwolves and the 13-time World Champion Green Bay Packers. Reach him at BreakTheHuddle@gmail.com, @BreakTheHuddle on Twitter or leave a comment below!

 

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