It’s the All Star Break, which means the 2012 season is more than halfway done. We’re far enough along that nobody can complain about small sample sizes anymore. So how good or bad are the 2012 Twins? Let’s break it down and see.
The Twins have plenty of problems this year, but none of them are behind the plate. Joe Mauer and Ryan Doumit have formed what is arguably the best catcher tandem in Twins history. From an offensive perspective, that might not even be arguable. Mauer boasts a stellar .326/.419/.446 line, and his hitting numbers have been climbing steadily since he ended an early May slump. Doumit holds a .286/.343/.453 line that would be the envy of any almost catcher other than Mauer, and his performance has impressed the team enough that they extended his contract for two more seasons. The Doumit/Mauer combination allows the team to keep two strong hitters in the lineup almost every game and at the same time allows both men to take a break from the rigors of catching by DHing of playing first base. Even third string catcher Drew Butera has been solid, with a career-best .242 average and a key three-run homer on his hitting resume.
HOMEWORK ASSIGNMENT: Keep up the good work.
EXTRA CREDIT: A fourth batting title for Mauer would be icing on the cake. He heads into the break tied for fourth in the AL with Adrian Beltre, and his .326 average is just 15 points behind leader Mike Trout.
If not for Trevor Plouffe‘s breakout season and Jamey Carroll‘s scrappy defense, this unit might get a failing grade. Brian Dozier has been shaky in the field with 13 errors, and he still has a long way to go before he figures out Big League pitching. Dozier is still a rookie, so we should remain confident that he will eventually put it all together. Unfortunately, it is becoming clear that we cannot say the same for Alexi Casilla. Casilla will turn 28 this month, and he has still not shown the ability to consistently get on base. For a player with no power and only slightly above average defensive skills, getting on base is key, but Casilla’s .273 OBP shows he is failing to do that. At first base, Justin Morneau has had an up and down year. He experienced a brief power surge in May, but his inability to hit left-handed pitchers (.124 average against LHP) has allowed opposing relievers to turn him into an automatic out. On the positive side, Plouffe is tied for the team lead with 19 homers, despite not playing much at all in the season’s first month. He has not been a big asset defensively, but he has shown enough competence at third base that we don’t have to worry much about him. And his hitting has been truly impressive. Finally, Carroll has been exactly the player the Twins expected when he signed. He doesn’t get many big hits, but he draws walks and does an excellent job at 2B, SS, and 3B. His combined 9.7 UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating) shows that he is a net asset in the field.
HOMEWORK ASSIGNMENT: Keep giving Dozier plenty of playing time – it will pay off in the future.
EXTRA CREDIT: Find a way for Morneau to start hitting again. A 10 game hitting streak heading into the All Star Break provides some hope this will happen.
Denard Span and Ben Revere are two of the best defensive outfielders in the American League. Span has put up a 11.5 UZR/150 (UZR per 150 games), and Revere has topped exceeded even that impressive number with a UZR/150 of 24.4. Clearly Revere’s amazing range makes up for his below average throwing arm. He also brings solid on-base skills (.350 OBP) and blazing speed running the bases (18 steals). Josh Willingham is arguably the team’s first-half offensive MVP. He is tied with Plouffe for the team HR lead, and his .913 OPS is tops on the team. Backup outfielder Darin Mastroianni has shown some flashes of talent recently. In limited playing time, he has a .355 on-base percentage, and he may be even more fun to watch on the basepaths than Revere. On days when Willingham is the DH, Revere, Span, and Mastroianni combine to form an outfield with truly elite defensive range.
HOMEWORK ASSIGNMENT: Keep getting Revere on base.
EXTRA CREDIT: Give a September callup to Oswaldo Arcia. The 21 year old prospect earned a ticket to AA last month, and he has hit well since that promotion. He won’t be ready to play full time in MLB for at least a year, but he is an exciting prospect already on the 40 man roster, so the Twins might as well serve him his first “cup of coffee.”
Starting Rotation: F
It’s too bad that F is the worst grade given out by the American school system, because the Twins’ starting rotation actually deserves a G or an H. You need only look at the stats to appreciate how truly awful this unit has been. Twins’ starters finished the first half of the season as the worst in the AL in nearly every category: wins (22), losses (39), ERA (5.68), runs allowed (310), WHIP (1.51), strikeouts (276), strikeouts per nine innings (5.48), WAR (0.7), and hits allowed (543). The Jason Marquis experiment was a failure to the surprise of absolutely nobody (except perhaps Marquis and the Twins’ front office). Equally unsurprising are the continued struggles of Nick Blackburn, who has not put together a solid Major League season since 2009. Perhaps the only real surprise is the emergence of Scott Diamond, who owns nearly a third of the rotation’s victories (7) despite only making one seventh of the team’s starts. Without Diamond, the already bad 5.68 ERA would balloon to 6.32, and the rotation would have a WAR of -0.5.
But there are signs of hope even for this beleaguered bunch. Francisco Liriano has a 3.12 ERA since June 1, just in time to hit the trade market. And a string of unheralded AAAA prospects, from P.J. Walters to Sam Deduno to Cole DeVries, have given the Twins some unexpected quality starts. Whether they can keep it up remains to be seen.
HOMEWORK ASSIGNMENT: Trade veterans for young starting pitchers. The rotation is so terrible that no Twins player should be considered untouchable on the trade market if teams are willing to send some young hurlers this way. At the very least, Liriano and Carl Pavano, both of whom are scheduled to hit free agency, should be dealt.
EXTRA CREDIT: Cut ties with Blackburn. No matter what, the Twins will be paying him until 2014, but there’s nothing that can be done about that. The sooner they end the constant cycle of bad starts, injuries, and stints in the minor leagues, the better.
The Twins’ bullpen seems like it has been fairly effective, but that’s only in comparison to the 2011 Twins bullpen or the 2012 Twins starting rotation. The unit has a 3.64 ERA, which is actually fourth worst in the AL. And like the starters, they have failed to strike out opposing hitters: no MLB bullpen has struck out fewer than the Twins’ 6.23 batters per nine innings. Since relievers often come on in men-on-base situations where a strikeout would save a run, that is a disappointing number. Two pitchers who are not a problem are Glen Perkins and Jared Burton. Both have been close to dominant as late-inning setup men, and both have filled in well for injured closer Matt Capps (despite a blown save for Perkins on Sunday). Capps has improved over his 2011 edition, though he still lacks the strikeout pitch that a truly good closer needs. The other relievers are essentially innings-eaters.
HOMEWORK ASSIGNMENT: Heal Capps, get him into a couple games to prove he’s okay, then stick him on the trading block.
EXTRA CREDIT: Once Anthony Slama comes off the DL, send him on the first plane to Minnesota. It is truly foolish that he has been stuck in the minors for so long.
The Twins are not the worst team in baseball, or even one of the worst. At the All Star Break, Seattle, Houston, San Diego, Colorado, and the Chicago Cubs all have worse records than the Twins, and Kansas City and Philadelphia are essentially just as bad. But this is definitely not a good team either. Minnesota began this season with zero margin of error. In order to be a contender, every one of a multitude of things would have had to go right. Obviously, that did not happen.