Wednesday, April 20, 2016

The (Un)expected Twins Asset

Just a handful of games into the season long journey, the Minnesota twins no doubt got off to a rocky start. Losing their first nine games, and being swept in three consecutive series, the hometown nine had very little to hang their hats on early. What's worth noting though is that the Twins problems have been relatively one-sided, and a past problem area has actually been a place of strength.
Going into this season, I suggested that the Minnesota pitching staff would be better than you think. One of the first things national writers generally want to point out is the Twins lack of a clear ace. While they aren't wrong at all, they are somewhat misguided in the need for one. Looking at the landscape of the AL Central, it was pretty fair to suggest the Twins five had the ability to be no worse than middle of the pack in regards to the competition. So far, things are looking to be on par with that assessment.

In Minnesota's losses thus far, the issues have been related to strikeouts and lack of offensive punch, not in getting behind by a boatload of runs. One and two run leads have seemed insurmountable, and Twins starters have taken more than their fair share of tough luck losses.

As things stand currently, Twins pitching as a whole owns a 3.38 cumulative ERA. This is split between the rotation made up of a sum better than it's parts, and a bullpen that has plenty of reason to succeed. That total ranks them 5th in the American League, and behind only the White Sox and Royals among AL Central competitors.

In the AL looking at just starters, the Twins fall behind just a bit. The group owns a 3.79 ERA, good enough for 8th in the league, but again behind only the Royals and White Sox among division competition. Twins starters have done a great job limiting walks, as their 2.68 BB/9 puts them at 5th in the AL and behind the Indians and White Sox when looking at AL Central foes. Again, without a Chris Sale or Corey Kluber at the top, this Twins group is getting the job done.

Of course, as has generally been the case for Minnesota, the strikeouts aren't there at all. With just 6.58 K/9, the Twins rank dead last in the American League. It's a position they've grown relatively accustomed to, and with no true strikeout pitcher, one they'll remain in at least for the foreseeable future. On the surface though, it's hard to be disappointed in the overall results that the starting staff has produced.

Then there's the bullpen, and this is where things get a bit interesting.

On the season, Minnesota's relievers own a 2.59 ERA (6th best in the American League). That tally includes ugly numbers from Glen Perkins and Casey Fien, as well as mediocrity from Kevin Jepsen. The small sample sizes will aloow those stats to continue to be driven down, but being that low nonetheless is a testament to this group. Where the pen really impresses is in the strikeout category.

For 2016, the Twins relief corps owns a 10.15 K/9, good enough for 5th in the American League, and only .40 K/9 off of the vaunted Royals pen. At the end of 2015, the Twins relievers owned a 6.85 K/9 as well as a 3.95 ERA, significantly worse numbers than where they currently find themselves at.

Any time a big league team is under .500, you're in a less than desirable situation. That being said, if there was one thing the Twins were expected to do, it was produce on offense. This team was going to hit, and hit for power. That hasn't completely shown up yet, but the fact that the pitching is there to support it when it does, is no doubt a great thing.

I'm not sure I'm ready to suggest I saw this coming, it hasn't been much of a sample size thus far. That said, knowing Jose Berrios, Tyler Duffey, Nick Burdi, and J.T. Chargois are there to pick up the slack when Minnesota needs them, you have to feel good about who's on the mound for Paul Molitor in 2016.