Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Twins Projections Bring Interesting Expectations

As the winter draws to a close, storylines for the upcoming season don't quite write themselves yet. Sure, teams are solidifying their Spring Training invitee list, but the bulk of what is to come, has yet to get here. That puts us in the midst of Prospect List and Projection season. There's no shortage of pieces out there on either, but it's the projections that bring the most intrigue for the 2017 Minnesota Twins.

Coming off a season in which the club lost 103 games, a franchise worst, there's no team that needs to get back on the horse sooner than Paul Molitor's club. After an exciting first year at the helm, Molitor often looked lost and overmatched while his club's performance only sank him them further into the doldrums. The resounding sentiment around Twins Territory however, is that the club is nowhere near as bad as the results indicated a season ago.

What's interesting is that most projections would agree with that line of thinking. Fangraphs has Minnesota tabbed for 74 wins, Baseball Prospectus' PECOTA numbers suggest the Twins win 79. I offered up a belief here at Off The Baggy that they'll win 80, and beat writer Brandon Warne suggested as much as well. Looking at all avenues, the belief appears to be that this club can win something in the range of 70-80 games in 2017.

Although a losing season would still take place if projections are accurate, the Twins would be looking at something like a 15 to 20 game win differential from the 2016 season. A significant boost to be sure, it's more reflective of a roster that severely underperformed a year ago. With the maturation of young bats like Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton, combined with even mediocre elevation in pitching performance, this club should see a significant turnaround.

Then there's the reality that opportunity exists among the competition. Most projections see the AL Central as a desolate wasteland outside of the World Series runner-up Cleveland Indians. It's really hard to contend that point. The Twins are a team that realistically seem like the largest wild card of the bunch. Detroit is aging but still has talent. The White Sox have committed to a full on rebuild, and the Royals are seemingly treading water but still staying afloat.

At the current juncture, and really at any given point, projection systems are far too often seen as a gold standard. Rather than simply operating with the understanding that the numbers are trying to tell a story, we look at the outcomes as a definition of what is to come. I think most importantly, and especially this season, the numbers are telling us the only thing we really know is that Cleveland once again will contend.

It's probably a fool's errand to look at the Minnesota Twins as they'll travel north from Fort Myers and hope for a Wild Card berth. If that were to happen however, the spectrum between 70 and 90 wins would be one that Paul Molitor's club absolutely capitalized on in the highest form. All indications are that the dumpster fire that presented itself a season ago has cooled, and interesting baseball should take place far more often than it shouldn't.

Given the unpredictability of the AL Central as a whole, and how the Twins fit into that picture, a sense of enjoyment should follow as we approach the upcoming year. If excitement and optimism reign as signs of Postseason fun, enjoyment should define a year that includes growth and once again sees the needle point upward for the home nine.

As I stated a while back, this organization is past the point of a rebuild. Top prospects have graduated from the farm and now must develop into difference makers and contributors. As that transition takes place, supplementing with outside talent is a way in which the organization can continue to build and contend. Although we likely won't see that in this calendar year, the projections tell us it's not as far off as previous results would make it seem.

So, while you're enjoying the smorgasbord of numerical offerings that this point of the offseason provides, remember not to get hung up on the numbers themselves, but try to understand the story they are telling you. We know little about how the AL Central is going to play out, the Minnesota Twins should be in the thick of it, and that may still end up not being ideal. What it is very likely to resemble however is progress, and that's something we should find enjoyment in all the way up until September.

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