Thursday, December 31, 2015

Where Do They Fall? 2016 Twins Over/Unders

The Minnesota Twins finished with an 83-79 record in 2015, surprising many, and sticking close to a playoff race up until the final series. In large part, that record was accomplished due to timely performances by some fresh faces. While regression was expected in certain areas, the slack was picked up in others.

As we close the book officially on 2015, the season ahead provides a lot of excitement for the Twins. Looking to expand upon their success a season ago, they will once again need big performances in many different areas. Standing firm with what they have for the most part this offseason, Terry Ryan and Paul Molitor will be looking for big internal contributors.

Similar to 2015, there's some serious regression candidates in the year ahead, just as there are some likely breakout performers. Possibly the largest difference is where they are expected to come from. If 2015 was the year of the hitter for the Twins, it should be on the mound that the biggest impact is felt in 2016.

Here's some insight as to what numbers are likely to be replicated, who should be counted on, and where Minnesota may fall short in the year ahead:

Eddie Rosario over/under 122 games played:

A season ago, Rosario made his big league debut on May 6. He was called up with the intentions of helping the Twins through a brief period of injury need. Instead, he stuck, slashed .267/.289/.459, and played in 122 games for the Twins. There was probably no one higher than myself on Rosario a season ago, but it's 2016 that provides reason for caution.

Rosario has been a free-swinger his entire professional career, but he took it to new levels in the big leagues. Whiffing on 15% of pitches, while chasing out of the zone nearly 50% of the time, there's two big detractors pulling him down. His slugging percentage will be continued to be bolstered by his triple ability, but the power numbers were the best he'd put up in years. His defense will keep him around, but I'd expect Max Kepler to creep into his every day playing time.

Prediction: Under

Joe Mauer over/under .280 batting average:

As much has been made of Mauer, his career slide, and his transition to first base, I still believe there's a very professional hitter there. Whether Mauer returns to a shape of his former self this season or not depends somewhat on his deployment by Paul Molitor. There's no doubt he's going to be the every day first basemen, but where he hits in the lineup is integral.

After experiencing a third straight year of decline, Mauer's 2015 average finished at .265. He batted in the top three of the Twins lineup far too often however, and the slide backwards should make all the difference. Hitting him fifth or lower as I have suggested would be conducive to putting him in situations with runners on base, a situation he has excelled in during his career. Allow him to force pitchers to come to him, and then let Joe go to work. I don't see it happening immediately, the Twins aren't big on change, but if they want the production it should happen sooner rather than later.

Prediction: Over

Jose Berrios over/under 20 MLB starts:

This season, the Twins will enter the year with some of the best pitching depth in the big leagues. That's not to confuse numbers with quality, but rather to suggest they will have the ability to remove ineffective parties at their choosing, and have options waiting. No doubt the best piece that won't begin the year in the rotation is Jose Berrios.

He's going to begin the year at Triple-A Rochester, where he owned a 2.85 ERA in 12 starts a season ago. Should he get off to a fast start, he'll make significantly less starts than that in upstate New York this time around. Berrios has a legitimate argument for the AL Rookie of the Year, and getting 20 plus starts will be paramount to him displaying his ability. To generate that number, he'll need to be up in the big leagues sometime in May, and I don't see any reason he wouldn't be.

Prediction: Over

Byungho Park over/under 30 home runs:

The Twins big splash this offseason was the acquisition of Korean superstar, Byung Ho Park. In winning the big and signing him to a four-year, $12 million contract, Minnesota is expecting good things. No doubt there will be a transition period, but if Jung Ho Kang of the Pirates showed us anything in 2015, it's that the KBO talent can definitely play in the major leagues.

Park strikes out a significant amount more than Kang did, however, he's also viewed as a much greater talent. After hitting over 50 homers each of the past two KBO seasons, the Twins are hoping his power makes Target Field look small. Obviously it's a stretch to believe he's going to launch 50 any time soon in the states, but his power should play just fine. Give Park a bit of the season to settle in, and he'll be a power threat in due time. Unfortunately for the Twins, I think his second year longball total trumps the first one.

Prediction: Under (but just barely)

Over/under four Twins pitchers with double digit wins:

Not surprisingly, the Twins have not have more than two pitchers win double-digit games in a season since 2010. The last 15 game winner was Phil Hughes in 2014, but you must go back to 17-game-winner Carl Pavano in 2010 to find the next. Between injuries and lack of quality outings, Twins starting pitching has left plenty to be desired.

In the year ahead however, I'd expected Twins pitching to look something like it did in 2010 when the dust settles. That season, Minnesota had six double-digit game winners, and Pavano with 17. In the season ahead, I'd be far from surprised to see two Twins pitchers push for fifteen wins, with a handful of others coming in over 10. With the organizational depth, and a rotation filled out using good not great arms, Minnesota's offense should be afforded the opportunity to compete on a nightly basis.

Prediction: Over

The AL Central will be won by a team with over/under 90 wins:

A season ago, the Kansas City Royals took the AL Central title with 95 wins. They used a hot start to get them through a couple of rough patches, and eventually went on to knock off the 90-game-winning New York Mets. Baseball saw just one division, the AL West, crown a champion with less than 90 wins a season ago. That may change in the year ahead, but the Central could be one of the inclusions.

At the top, the Royals are going to rely on their strong bullpen and repeat performances from 2015. The loss of Alex Gordon will no doubt hurt, and they should see more competition at the top. Cleveland remains a trendy and interesting pick to compete, while Detroit and Chicago have both added pieces in big ways this offseason. The Twins have done little to fix their bullpen, but could rely on internal options to provide the change. In total, the division should more evenly beat up one each other. Expecting any one team to run away with it, or anyone to fall off for that matter, shouldn't be a reality.

Prediction: Under (again just barely)

Now just a couple of months away from Spring Training, we will start to see some of these narratives played out sooner rather than later. Regardless, much of how the Twins season goes in 2016 will come from an internal choice to adapt and improve from within. Just how aggressively things are handled remains to be seen.

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