Learning from the Champs: 2014 Minnesota Twins and the 2013 Red Sox
Mandatory Credit: Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports
In 2012, the Red Sox finished last in their division and spent October watching the playoffs from their couches. On Wednesday, the Boston Red Sox won the World Series 4-2 over the St. Louis Cardinals after being the best team in the league throughout the season. What are some things that the Minnesota Twins can learn from this spectacular and speedy turnaround?
The Red Sox scored over 50 more runs over the course of the season than the next closest team, the Detroit Tigers (853 to 796), and 239 more runs than the Twins scored. Having a huge offense is a no brainer way to be successful in the MLB and the Red Sox topped the Twins by wide margins in every meaningful offensive team statistic. However, the Red Sox also crushed the Twins in RISP (Runner in Scoring Position), a common statistic that strongly points to the “clutch” hitting abilities of a team. With the strength of the Red Sox’s offense, it isn’t a surprise to see that the team led the majors with 1559 at bats with a runner in scoring position. But it is a major surprise to see that the Twins had the third most RISP at bats in the MLB, finishing ahead of 8 of the 10 playoff teams. What did the Twins do to capitalize on such a high number of potentially fruit bearing situations? They hit .225/.304/.331 (Avg./OBP/SLG) which ranked them 2nd to last, last, and 2nd to last, respectively, out of all 30 teams. The Red Sox hit .278/.358/.436 and scored 663 runs, meaning they converted 43% of their RISP chances into runs. On the other hand, the Twins scored 435 runs, translating into about a 31% conversion rate. If the Twins scored with RISP at the same rate as the Red Sox, they would have put 173 more runs on the board over the season. Imagine the help that would have given to the Twins starting rotation.
It’s one matter to say that the Twins need to get better with RISP and another matter to fix the problem. Are some hitters just more clutch than others and should the Twins go out and sign them? Or did the Twins’ hitters have an off year? The Cardinals led the league with a .330 average with RISP during the season but only hit .214 during the World Series, likely a huge reason for their defeat. This just goes to show that RISP abilities can come and go at any moment and a team needs to catch lightning in a bottle at the exact right time for it to amount to something. For the Twins to be even relevant in 2014, they can’t let RISP situations slip through their fingers.
It’s also a no brainer that the Twins need to create a much, much better starting rotation. The Red Sox made the playoffs on the strength of a 3.84 ERA from their starting pitchers, whereas the Twins could only muster a 5.26 ERA from their starters. Plus, when the time came during the playoffs, the Red Sox starters lowered their ERA even further to 3.29, proving their ability to pitch in big games when their team needed it the most. Solid top to bottom rotation help from the Twins farm system is further away than fans would hope, but an Alex Meyer call up here and a developing ace there could be the reality within a few years.
It’s no secret that the Twins want to and need to tap into the free agent starting pitcher market to reshape their rotation. But it’s extremely hard to know which available pitchers will perform the best, especially with free agent pitchers who are 30 years of age and up. In December, 2009 the Red Sox signed free agent prize John Lackey to a 5 year/$82.5 million deal. Lackey pitched well, but not great, in 2010 (4.4 ERA), then pitched awfully in 2011 (6.41 ERA) and then missed 2012 after undergoing Tommy John surgery. 2013 was a different story though and he finished with a 3.52 ERA and a 2.88 ERA during the postseason. All of the trouble and underwhelming pitching that Lackey gave the Red Sox during the first three years of his big contract was forgotten with this season’s performance. The Twins will need to dole out a similar long, risky contract to attract the best pitchers in the market. John Lackey is an example of both the positives and negatives of shopping for free agent pitchers. Whoever the Twins sign might stink for a couple of years but they could also be pitching for the team in the World Series a few years down the line too. You never know.
Finally, I’ll let Bert Blyleven sum up what the Twins can truly learn from the 2013 Boston Red Sox.