Michael Schneid. 18th August, 2011 - 2:46 pm
The Minnesota Twins opened a beautiful new ballpark, Target Field, to kick off the 2010 season. To celebrate, they won the American League Central Division, but were unceremoniously swept in the first round of playoffs by the Yankees.
Following a typically quiet offseason, the Twins started 2011 slowly and have become one of the big disappointments in the MLB.
The Twins have primarily used the same five starters in their rotation over the last two seasons – Brian Duensing, Scott Baker, Francisco Liriano, Nick Blackburn, and Carl Pavano (Kevin Slowey was also part of 2010 rotation). Last season, Carl Pavano (3.75) and Francisco Liriano (3.62) each had ERAs under four. This year, only Scott Baker (3.21) is below four.
Liriano has an ERA of 5.12 with an 8-9 record, a year after winning 14 games. Carl Pavano won 17 games last season and is currently 6-9. The starting rotation has struggled this year and are currently 21st in FIP, compared to 10th in 2010.
The bullpen was an expected strength with the return of Joe Nathan, who missed the 2010 season. They added Matt Capps at the trade deadline last year, so with both men at end of the bullpen, starters seemingly needed to go 6-7 innings of quality pitching and the Twins would be in good shape on run prevention.
But the Twins were never expected to have an elite set of pitchers and they would need to put up strong numbers offensively.
Minnesota is currently ranked 23rd in runs scored (469), 27th in OBP, 26th in SLG, and 26th in OPS. In 2010, the Twins ranked 6th with 781 runs, 2nd in OBP, 7th in SLG 5th in OPS.
So now to state the obvious – the reason for the Twins struggles is the offense. But why? Where? What is the root of the struggles?
It does not help that Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau have each played in just 62 and 58 games respectively. Mauer has an OPS of .686, down from .871 in 2010 and 1.031 in 2011. Injuries might be taking their toll on the catcher.
Morneau did only play 81 games last year due to a concussion, but hit well when he played with an OPS of 1.055 and 18 homers in just under 300 at bats. This season, he has an OPS of .619 and one homer in every 58.5 at bats compared to his career average of one homer for every 20.1 at bats.
There was more consistency and depth across the board in 2010. Mauer, Jim Thome, Delmon Young, Michael Cuddyer all contributed to an excellent offensive season for the Twins. In 2011, Cuddyer leads the team in BA, HRs, RBI, OBP, and hits. The depth of production behind him is simply not there. The offense relies heavily on Cuddyer, a hitter who is preferably the third or fourth best bat in a lineup.. The guys you want to trust and lean on have been injured, Young has struggled and recently traded to Detroit, while the years of Thome carrying a lineup are behind him.
Delmon Young has long been a disappointment, but he seemed to turn a corner in 2010. Young had an OPS of .826 with 21 homers in 2010, but his numbers dropped dramatically in 2011 to an OPS of .662 and the AB/HR ratio fell from 27.1 to 76.3.
Only Danny Valencia and Cuddyer have player in over 100 games. The lineups have been inconsistent and so has the offensive production. Ron Gardenhire has been forced to play a lot of young and inexperienced guys like Tsuyoshi Nishioka, Trevor Plouffe, Drew Butera and Ben Revere.
You would not have necessarily predicted it this past winter, but veteran infielders Orlando Hudson and JJ Hardy clearly had a lot more value to the Twins than GM Bill Smith thought. The team just has not filled the offensive holes left by injuries to Morneau and Mauer, while the pitching staff has underachieved compared to 2010.