Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Regression Causing Twins Problems

A season ago, the Minnesota Twins lost 90 games, finished dead last in the AL Central, and watched as longtime manager Ron Gardenhire got the heave-ho. In the middle of all of the negativity however, there were three players who contributed at a level that could not have been imagined. Fending off regression with every at bat, they helped to pace a bad Twins team. Now, as the expected regression has set in, they are at the root of many of the Twins problems.

The most unlikely breakthrough candidate last year was the shortstop turned outfielder that put himself in the midst of the Rookie of the Year race. Danny Santana slashed .308/.343/.492 in 101 games with the Twins. Adding seven home runs and 40 RBI, Santana was incredibly productive at the plate. With Aaron Hicks struggling at the plate, it was Santana that would take over the centerfield role. Things were going great, but many advanced stats suggested it wasn't meant to be.

Owning a .405 BABIP (Batting average on balls in play), Santana's success never seemed sustainable. On top of waiting for that hammer to fall, his outfield defense left plenty to be desired. Sure the speed was there, but playing out of position was relatively apparent. Santana owned a -2 DRS (defensive runs saved) and had a -5.4 UZR (ultimate zone rating). As a whole, it was smoke and mirrors at its finest.

Fast forward a year, and everything has blown up at once. After winning the Opening Day shortstop spot, Santana has been demoted once and has been deserving of it happening a second time for quite a while. He's been worth a horrible -12 DRS and -4.8 UZR at what is considered his natural position. Santana has also 15 errors (5th in MLB), despite playing significantly less games than the rest of the group. His .221/.241/.306 line at the plate is nothing short of ugly as well.

The perfect storm (or maybe imperfect) has hit for Santana, and left a gaping hole at shortstop. Not only can't Santana hit or field, but Minnesota is void of secondary options as well. While Eduardo Escobar is an upgrade, he's more backup material than anything. Jorge Polanco has the bat for big league action, but looks to be nearly as much of a defensive liability. Minnesota invested heavily in both Nick Gordon and Wander Javier, but neither are anywhere close to the big leagues. For now, Santana isn't the Twins shortstop of the future, and there isn't one in sight.

From the middle of the diamond to the position behind it, Kurt Suzuki is also becoming a problem for the Twins. After playing out of his mind in 2014 and securing All Star honors, baseball has reversed course for the former Athletics backstop.

Much like Santana, Suzuki was benefited by an out of whack BABIP. At .310 a year ago, Suzuki was enjoying the highest mark of his career. It help to push his slash line to an impressive .288/.345/.383 mark. His 61 RBI were his best total since 2010, and the Twins locked in the veteran with a two year extension.

Considering the market for capable veteran catchers, the new deal wasn't exactly the problem. Between the extensive regression, and the lack of development, Minnesota now finds themselves in a bad spot however. Suzuki was not going to keep his 2014 pace, but his .225/.283/.300 2015 slash line is ugly. He continues to be a bad defensive catcher and has been worth -3 DRS on the season. Throwing out just 19% of base runners on the year, he's one of the worst receivers in the big leagues.

Minnesota has watched as Stuart Turner has failed to develop at Double-A, batting just .206/.292/.291, and Josmil Pinto has been unable to stay healthy at Triple-A. With the farm being void of options, the combination of extending what is now a horrible catcher, and having nothing to pair him with, has become disastrous.

Rounding out the problematic group of regression is none other than another young phenom, Kennys Vargas. After bursting onto the scene during the Future's Game at Target Field, Vargas was inserted into the Twins lineup to provide some pop. The first basemen was promoted from Double-A and went on to hit .274/.316/.456 with nine home runs across just 53 big league games.

Unlike the first two candidates on this list, Vargas wasn't seen as such a significant cause for concern when it came to taking a step back this year. What he has done however has no doubt hurt the club that counted on him being a power bat as the DH in the middle of the lineup. Batting just .245/.277/.365 in 47 games, the Twins have demoted Vargas twice (with the most recent being all the way to Double-A).

The Twins made a pretty big mistake in demoting Vargas the first time in the midst of the young slugger figuring things out. However, he has since not been able to rebound and continues to be the power bat the Twins wished they would have been able to make work. In a lineup struggling to score runs, the power that was believed to be there with Vargas is haunting Minnesota more nights than it isn't.

As an organization, the Twins are still in a good place. They are competing a year before they should be, and they have some good pieces going forward. With the regression of three players holding down key roles however, Minnesota must address the problems before they can take what might end up being the vital next step. There doesn't appear to be answers for either of the first two from within, and salvaging the third should be a priority. As the Twins look to complete their turnaround, these storylines will remain worth monitoring.

1 comment: