What Went Wrong?
Now that the season is over for the Twins, it’s time to do what baseball fans do best: complain about why the season went wrong and blame everyone we can. I got started down that path earlier this week, when I posted an article complaining about the epidemic of injuries and another one that points the finger at Bill Smith. A few weeks ago, I wrote about the sneakiest culprit of all: those cursed pine trees.
But plenty of other things went wrong for the Twins this year, and for the sake of completeness, I’d like to list as many as I can.
It’s normal for baseball players to have some good years and some bad years. Hey, even the great Babe Ruth had a down year back in 1925. True, he still hit .290/.393/.543 and socked 25 homers in less than 100 games. But that was a down year for him. The point is, it is to be expected that a few players on any given team will not put up their typical numbers from time to time.
But it comes as a bit of a shock when nearly every player on a team has a down year at the same time. Players like Jason Kubel, Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, and Alexi Casilla had down years because of injuries. But even the guys who did not get hurt had bad years. Danny Valencia‘s slash line fell from .311/.351/.448 to .246/.294/.383. Carl Pavano (pretty much the only other Opening Day regular player who didn’t get hurt at some point) saw his ERA rise from 3.75 to 4.30. Fellow starting pitcher Brian Duensing may have been overachieving with his 2.62 ERA and 1.20 WHIP in 2010, but he’s certainly a much better pitcher than the 5.23 and 1.52 figures he put up in 2011. Even Drew Butera saw his average dip from .197 to .167.
This year was Tsuyoshi Nishioka‘s first in the Major Leagues, but I think you’d have to count it as an off year for him, too. At least, I hope it was an off year. Because if this was a good year for him, I really don’t want to see a bad one.
If one player has an off year, no problem. Everyone else can make up for it. But if just about every player on the roster is slumping, the team’s going to have a bad year no matter how healthy they are.
This next one could probably fit under the first category, but there were so many off years in the Twins bullpen that it deserves special mention. Joe Nathan gets a mulligan because he pitched this year after major elbow surgery. But the other pitchers don’t have that excure. After giving up just six homers in 73 innings last year, Matt Capps surrendered 10 in 65.2 innings this year. The Wilson Ramos trade would look a lot better if Capps had been able to carry the bullpen through its early struggles this year, but it seemed like every time he took the mound in a save situation, an opposing batter circled the bases shortly afterward. Jose Mijares was even more disappointing. His WHIP jumped from a respectable 1.31 to an alarming 1.69. After striking out nearly a batter per inning the previous two years, Mijares whiffed just 30 in 49 innings this year. Alex Burnett is just 23 years old, so he is still learning how to become an effective MLB pitcher. But it’s disturbing that he joined in the backsliding, too; his ERA rose from 5.29 to 5.51.
When the Twins let Matt Guerrier, Jesse Crain, Brian Fuentes, and Jon Rauch walk away, they were gambling that the other players in the ‘pen would pick up the slack. If they had, then all of those personnel moves would look brilliant. Instead, it was obvious early in the season that something was wrong.
Nasty Early Schedule
Someone in the Twins organization must have done something to anger the schedule makers prior to the season. Whatever the reason, Minnesota started out with the most brutal slate of games that I can remember any team ever playing. 30 of their first 45 were on the road (it would have been even more, if not for a couple of rainouts). Before the first week of May was over, the Twins had to travel to play every single team in the AL East – a Herculean task, given the terrible time the Twins have with those guys.
To be fair, the schedule evened out over the course of the season. When all was said and done, the Twins had 81 home and 81 road games, and they played AL East teams just as often as Chicago, Cleveland, and Detroit did. So when all was said and done, the Twins didn’t have it much tougher than anyone else did. But the fact that all of those tough games came early was a downer. It dug the Twins in a pretty deep hole right from the beginning. When the team is 17-37, it’s hard for fans – and probably even for players – to get excited about anything. Which brings us to…
When a team starts losing, it tends to keep losing. This is true even for talented teams like the Twins. Morale suffers from constant losses, and the sense of hopelessness builds. Now, I know that MLB players are highly-skilled, and highly-paid professionals. I do not mean to imply that the Twins took a cue from Randy Moss and started taking plays off. I’m sure they kept trying very hard to win. But there has to be a subconscious effect to the losing that spreads a general malaise around the clubhouse. That’s why the losses spiral out of control.
It’s hard to show evidence for this, but you could look at Delmon Young as an example. When the Twins traded Delmon Young to the Tigers, he jumped from a loser to a contender, and he seemed to be rejuvenated by the change. In his first at bat as a Tiger, Young mashed a homer off Francisco Liriano. In fact, he hit eight homers with Detroit after only hitting four with the Twins in nearly twice as many at bats. Either he coincidentally snapped out of a power slump, or the winning atmosphere changed something in him.
Hopefully I covered all of the big ones. If you can think of something I left out, or if you think I’m way off base about something, please let me know in the comments. If I forgot something, I’ll write another article to cover it.