Pundits do not like the Twins very much this year. In fact, the level of respect the Twins are getting from the national press is fast approaching Rodney Dangerfield levels.
Check out the preseason MLB Power Rankings by Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal. He has the Twins listed 28th out of 30 teams, barely beating out the A’s and Astros. Even the Orioles are ahead of the Twins! And the White Sox are a mind-boggling seven slots above Minnesota, despite the fact that they’re relying on a guy who hit .159 last year as a key component of the lineup. If there’s anything positive in this article for the Twins, it’s the fact that Rosenthal spends the first 12 paragraphs talking about how bad he is at making preseason predictions.
ESPN has a problem with the Twins, too (article requires a subscription to read in full). Instead of just arbitrarily ranking Minnesota as a last place team, they used math and computers to do so. According to their simulations, the Twins can expect to win 70 games this year. If absolutely everything goes right, and they reach their 95th percentile of success, they might win 86. Only the Orioles have a lower expected win total or ceiling in the American League.
Now, to be fair, the Twins did lose a lot of games last year. It would be silly to expect the pundits to predict a Twins World Series parade in 2012. But are they really that bad? Sure, it’s largely the same squad that lost 99 games in 2011. But it’s also the same core group of players who won 94 in 2010. They managed to replace their biggest offseason losses (Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel) with comparable players (Josh Willingham and Ryan Doumit). And they scored a massive upgrade at shortstop by replacing Tsuyoshi Nishioka with Jamey Carroll. Judging by last year’s WAR totals, that move alone should add 3.5 victories to the Twins’ win column. And if you consider that nearly every player on the roster had a career worst year in 2011, the chances are that at least a few of them will rebound; in other words, the only way that the Twins really are one of the worst teams in the league is if Danny Valencia, Denard Span, Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Francisco Liriano, Brian Duensing, and Matt Capps all fail to make any improvement. The law of probability would say that at least a couple of them will be better.
So while the Twins are by no means a great team, they’re a better team than people are giving them credit for. They’re just going to have to earn respect the hard way.