Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Passing The Grade: The Twins Breakdown


In 2015, the Minnesota Twins exceeding expectations by an immense amount. Expected by man to once again finish at the bottom of the AL Central and hope to stave off 90 losses, first year manager Paul Molitor had his club doing anything but. While ultimately the club came up just shorty of the playoffs, it was a season of much more good than bad.

Going into 2016, the year in which the Twins should begin to be a serious contender once again, understanding who contributed most is important. Taking a look at the roster, it's time for you 2015 grades to be handed out. Sticking mostly to 25 man roster guys (with a few exceptions), here we go:

Catchers:

Kurt Suzuki (C-)

Suzuki headed into 2015 fresh off of a stellar 2014 season. An All Star and recipient of a shiny contract extension, the bar needed to be reached was set incredibly high. Unfortunately, Suzuki reverted back to what he's been in the big leagues, a run of the mill veteran catcher. Owning a -0.1 fWAR on the season, Suzuki was a defensive liability (throwing out an MLB worst 15% of base stealers), and he did little at the plate. He'll be back in 2016, but he has some serious improvement to work on.

Chris Herrmann (D)

It's hard to fault a guy like Herrmann for being on a big league roster. He doesn't belong there, and it's indicative of the Twins catching issue. He isn't anything special behind the plate, and his .146/.214/.272 slash line across 45 games was pathetic. Crazy enough, he produced a higher fWAR (0.1) than Kurt Suzuki in 2015.

First Base

Joe Mauer (C)

If you've yet to gather it yet, a C is being used as the middle ground, and that's exactly where Joe Mauer was in 2015. Owning a 0.3 fWAR, he was just above replacement level for the 2015 Twins. The power numbers were up, but everything else was down, and he's here to stay. Forget the contract (it doesn't matter at this point), Minnesota needs Mauer to replicate his success with RISP across a few more situations in 2016. His .309 BABIP (batting average on balls in play) was the lowest of his career, but his 29.2 hard hit percentage is probably a large part of the culprit there.

Second Base

Brian Dozier (B+)

While we've reached into the B tier for the first time, this grade should have been even higher. Dozier looked like a legitimate MVP candidate on the way to his first All Star game, and then the second half came. For the second year in a row, he's collapsed down the stretch, and it was a massive detriment to the Twins playoff hopes. In total though, Dozier owned a 3.4 fWAR and his 28 homers were a new career high. 2016 needs to be a more consistent and full season from Dozier if the Twins are going to make October noise.

Shortstop

Eduardo Escobar (B)

The Twins had faith in Danny Santana despite him being primed for regression. When everything hit the fan in the field, Escobar was there to pick things up. He carried the club offensively in September, and made any notion of a Troy Tulowitzki trade seem silly. Earning the spot for the foreseeable future, Escobar compiled a 1.5 fWAR in just 127 games. No longer just a utility man, the Twins continue to cash in on Francisco Liriano's return.

Eduardno Nunez (C+)

A guy that could have been a DFA candidate prior to the season, Nunez actually came up big for the Twins. Providing positional flexibility, he also brought the lumber more often than not. In limited at bats, he hit .282/.327/.431 with four homers. His 1.1 fWAR was among the Twins leaders, and his inexpensive contract made it all the more enticing.

Third Base

Trevor Plouffe (B)

For the second season in a row, Plouffe has improved as a whole. Likely a late-peaking player, Plouffe should be in line for a new contract this offseason. Whether or not the sides can come to a deal would seem another story. Plouffe followed up his 3.6 fWAR 2014 with a 2.5 fWAR this season. He set career highs in games, runs, RBI, and hits. Another solid season for a player the Twins once viewed as reaching the end of his rope.

Miguel Sano (A-)

Somewhat out of whack by playing only a portion of the year, it's hard to overvalue the production that the slugger gave the Twins. 2.0 fWAR, 18 homers, and 52 RBI in just 80 games, a full season would have been unreal. The strikeout numbers are likely going to set a Twins record (possibly as soon as next season), but his hard hit rate (43.2%) makes him incredibly dangerous each time he steps in the box. Whether he DH's for the next couple of years or not, Sano is already an incredible asset in Minnesota.

Outfield

Aaron Hicks (B-)

Making a monumental leap forward (as I'd suggested he would), Hicks became a regular for the Twins this season. Figuring things out at the plate, and continuing to be a defensive stud, he produced a 1.5 fWAR. Hicks will likely move to right field when Byron Buxton is ready to take over full time, but his outlook for the future has shifted. Once seeming like a lost cause, it would now appear he could be a legitimate 20-20 guy.

Eddie Rosario (B+)

With the other big names making debuts for the Twins in 2015, Rosario tends to get lost in the crowd. However, he put together a season worthy of ROY consideration on his own. His 2.3 fWAR was earned through his ridiculous defensive ability in left (both assists and DRS ranking among MLB's best), and his free swinging tendency. On base issues are still there, and he's going to need to strike out less in the future, but it was a great start for the Puerto Rican.

Torii Hunter (C+)

Hunter's grade is somewhat difficult to quantify for the Twins. He provided an immeasurable asset in the clubhouse, but was relatively mediocre on the diamond. His power played at times, but his dismal August was unfortunate. He picked things up in September, but there's no denying he was a defensive liability throughout the season. Hunter will be welcomed back by the Twins in 2016 if he wants in; I'm not sure he should be.

Byron Buxton (C-)

In his first 46 games at the big league level, Buxton was actually worht -0.5 fWAR. Coming almost entirely from his struggles at the plate, this season was more about growth than anything for Buxton. Now with an offseason to prepare for what he saw, expect 2016 to showcase more of the elite tools we've heard about. Showing off plus defense, and a better approach to conclude the season, Buxton's future remains bright.

Shane Robinson (C)

Brought in as a fourth outfielder prior to some of the farm graduations taking place, Robinson absolutely did his job this season. He provided the Twins with outfield depth, and even hit for the first few months. He played above replacement level (0.2 fWAR) and was exactly what Minnesota expected of him.

Rotation

Phil Hughes (C+)

After an impressive first season with the Twins, Hughes was bound to take steps backwards this season. He continued to walk no one, but he also struck out batters at a much slower clip. Allowing what was trending towards (if not for DL time) a career high in home runs given up, Hughes has plenty to work on in the year ahead.

Ervin Santana (A-)

The suspension shot Santana's season down before it began, but once he was back on track, the Twins big payday looked great. Spare a couple rocky starts early, it was Santana down the stretch that looked every bit the part of an ace. Striking out batters at an impressive clip, while owning a sub 3.00 ERA across his final handful of starts, the Twins have to be excited about the top of their rotation in 2016.

Tyler Duffey (A)

After being tagged by the best offense in baseball, Duffey looked like a major league vet. He was striking batters out, he wasn't allowing runs, and his curveball was confusing major league hitters. Forcing himself into the rotation discussion for 2016, Duffey's debut was much more impressive than could have been expected.

Tommy Milone (B)

As somewhat of a swingman, Milone's role became more defined as the season went on. Becoming more of a reliable starter and more entrenched in the starting five, Milone was able to settle in late. He put up his fair share of clunkers, but he should be looking at an arbitration pay day from the Twins.

Kyle Gibson (A-)

It's hard to suggest that Kyle Gibson did anything but take a massive step forward in 2015. He was one of the Twins most consistent pitchers, and he was able to come up big when needed most. he set career highs across the board, and when the dust settled, ended up being the Twins starter called upon most by Paul Molitor. He may be trade bait going forward, but if not, he's going to help solidify what is a much improved rotation.

Mike Pelfrey (B-)

More often than not the subject of Twins pitching vitriol, Pelfrey was an integral part of this team. While he put up his fair share of clunkers, and he wasn't good on the road, it was often Pelfrey in big spots that kept the Twins afloat. Finally producing a season worthy of the money Minnesota had paid him, Pelfrey can enter free agency owning an ERA in the top third of the American League in 2015.

Ricky Nolasco (D+)

It's hard to grade a guy that can't stay on the field, but hopefully the Twins take care of that problem this offseason. Nolasco put together a nice stretch of starts prior to his ankle injury, but then missed the majority of the season. He returned in the final week and looked the part of a bad pitcher he has been for the vast majority of his Twins tenure.

Bullpen

Blaine Boyer (B+)

The season is over, so we can now take a breath on Boyer. His ERA was significantly better than his FIP (fielding independent pitching) suggested it should have been, at this point it doesn't matter however. A lottery ticket out of spring training, Boyer was a low cost option that gave the Twins way more than they could have bargained for.

Neal Cotts (C)

Acquired for next to nothing from the Brewers, the Twins can't be too disappointed with the production. His numbers with Molitor's club were less than impressive, and I'm not sure he should be in the fold heading into 2016. Either way though, Cotts was markedly average in every way.

Brian Duensing (D)

Once again, the Twins offered Duensing arbitration over the offseason. Once again, Duensing proved to be the pitcher that doesn't miss enough bats, and provides very little out of the pen. His ERA was ugly, and his peripherals did little to help an already bad Twins bullpen. It would seem to be an egregious mistake if Duensing is asked to come back in 2016.

Casey Fien (C-)

Fien has been bumped from his setup role by the Twins, but still remains one of the better arms in their pen. That's indicative of the state in which the bullpen was in, as well as Fien's own struggles. He had an ok year as a whole, but he blew up big too often, and generally was hard to trust down the stretch. He'll be back in 2016, but needs to be a part of a better core.

J.R. Graham (D+)

Hidden and then over-exposed, Graham followed the tumultuous path of a Rule 5 draft pick. In a bad bullpen Molitor and Neil Allen had little choice but to deploy Graham at times. He held his own for the most part, but looked the part of a guy that had never pitched above Double-A. He'll head to Triple-A in 2016, and his next big league experience should be a different story. More beneficial to him than the Twins, Graham's experience this season should help his development long term.

Kevin Jepsen (A)

You probably can't overstate just how valuable Jepsen was the Minnesota. He came in at a critical time and gave the Twins everything they could have hoped for and then some. Saving games, pitching in high leverage, and being next to a sure thing in the 9th, Jepsen was a massive asset down the stretch. Under team control in 2016, Jepsen's acquisition was one of the best moves Terry Ryan has made in a while.

Trevor May (A-)

Converted from a starter to help a bullpen in desperate need, May was even better in relief. He ended up owning the 8th inning and operating as the Twins setup man. Giving the bullpen a strikeout punch with heightened velocity, May looked the part of a lock down reliever. He's going to be brought into spring training as a starter, but there's no guarantee that's the role in which he leaves it.

Ryan O'Rourke (C-)

Initially called upon to be a LOOGY (lefty one out guy), O'Rourke was quickly asked to do more. In a bad bullpen, having specialized arms is farm from an awarded luxury. While having to pitch in less than advantageous situations, he was exposed and looked the part of a minor leaguer out of place.

Glen Perkins (B)

Much like Dozier above, this is a grade that should be so much higher for the Twins opening day closer. Perkins was lights out prior to the All Star Break, and earned another trip to the game. Following that point though, he was nothing short of horrendous. Blown saves, DL stints, and ineffective pitching, Perkins hurt the Twins by continuing to trot out to the mound. Had the bullpen been in a better place, Minnesota would have been better off telling Perkins to head into the offseason about a month early.

Michael Tonkin (C)

Tonkin was jerked around by the Twins more than any other minor leaguer this season. Called up and down multiple times, eventually pitching in 26 games, he has the ability to stay. Ending with a 3.47 ERA, he should be given a shot out of the gate in 2016, and likely provides a higher ceiling than some of the options that Molitor had at his disposal this season.

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