Saturday, July 11, 2020

Minnesota Twins 2020 Season Preview


       My pre-season picks are always terrible. A lot of the time I pick the favorites to win, because, they normally do. However, there was one thing from last year that I was proud of, and that was my pick for the Twins to win the AL Central. Was I expecting a 101 win season? Probably not. Was I predicting five different 30-home run hitters and three more with at least 20? No. However, I got one surprise pick right, and I am happy with that. About the Twins, the team you clicked on this article to read about, they have a potent lineup, with the Bomba Squad still intact, but the pitching staff, especially the rotation, needs improvements, and quick.

       Offseason additions: 3B Josh Donaldson, RHP Kenta Maeda, LHP Rich Hill, RHP Tyler Clippard, C Alex Avila, RHP Homer Bailey, RHP Cory Gearrin, RHP Matt Wisler, RHP Jhoulys Chacin, LHP Danny Coulombe.

       Offseason subtractions: RHP Kyle Gibson, 1B CJ Cron, 2B Jonathan Schoop, C Jason Castro, LHP Martin Perez, RHP Ryne Harper, RHP Sam Dyson, RHP Kohl Stewart, RHP Brusdar Graterol, RHP Trevor Hildenberger, IF Ronald Torreyes.

       Rotation
Jose Berrios made his second consecutive all-star team, and finished with a career best 3.68 ERA and 200.1 innings. He struck out less batters than normal (195), and saw a .7 drop in K/9 from 2018 to 2019. Berrios had a rough end to the season, raising his ERA from 2.80 on July 31st to 3.68 in his last 10 starts. Berrios has a career exit velocity against of 86.4 mph. Jake Odorizzi, now 30 years of age, had a career season, making his first all-star team, with a 3.51 ERA and a career high 178 strikeouts in 159 innings. An issue with Odorizzi is that he averaged about 5.1 innings per start, leading to Odorizzi not qualifying for the ERA title despite making 30 starts. The pitch that got Odorizzi the most swing and misses was, oddly enough, his fastball. The pitch had a 30.8% whiff rate. Michael Pineda will miss the first 36 games of the season after being suspended late last year (PEDs). In his first season back from Tommy John surgery, Pineda had a 4.01 ERA with 140 strikeouts in 146 innings. "Big Mike", standing six-feet and seven-inches tall, has seen a 2.1 miles per hour drop in fastball velocity since 2016. Kenta Maeda was acquired from the Dodgers in an awkward deal that was originally part of the Mookie Betts trade but ended up being separate. Maeda struck out 169 batters in 153.2 innings with a 4.04 ERA last year. In his four year MLB career, Maeda has a 3.87 ERA. Still, Maeda had a career best 3.26 xERA last year. The shutdown will allow Rich Hill to return from an elbow injury. Now 40 years-old, Hill can still strike batters out, with 72 Ks in 58.2 innings for L.A. last year, with a 2.45 ERA. Hill has a K/9 of at least 10.2 in every season since 2013. The Twins will be Hill's ninth team. Hill allows really soft contact (84.6 miles per hour exit velocity and a 27.7 hard hit %) and still puts great spin on the ball, with a 2919 rpm spin rate on his curveball. The Twins signed Homer Bailey as well to bring in another veteran presence. Bailey had a 4.57 ERA with 149 strikeouts in 163.1 innings for the Royals and A's last year, the latter two categories being his best since 2013. Bailey's improvement was thanks to a split finger, a pitch with a batting average against of .182. Randy Dobnak received national attention after randomly getting the start in Game 2 of the ALDS, and also being a former Uber driver. In his first nine games (five starts), Dobnak had a 1.59 ERA with 23 strikeouts in 28.1 innings. The veteran additions will likely push the 25 year old out of the rotation. Jhoulys Chacin could make the team out of the bullpen. The Brewers' ace in 2018 after making a league-leading 35 starts with a 3.50 ERA, Chacin found himself getting released after he had a 5.79 ERA in 19 starts. That rose to 6.01 after a stint in Boston. Overall, Chacin had 101 strikeouts in 103.1 innings. Chacin's hard hit percentage has rose by 14.1% since 2017.

       Bullpen
Taylor Rogers took over the closer role from Blake Parker, who didn't finish the season with the team. Rogers, who can pitch multiple innings if needed, had a 2.61 ERA with 90 strikeouts and a WHIP of exactly 1.000, plus 30 saves in 69 innings. Rogers' curveball, a pitch thrown less than 15% of the time, is deadly, with a .043 average against and a lot of horizontal movement. The Twins acquired Sergio Romo mid-season from Miami, where he was the closer. Romo had three saves in Minnesota to put his season total up to 20, marking the 4th time he's hit that mark in a season. In 22.2 innings for the Twins, Romo struck out 27 with a 3.18 ERA. Romo allowed hard contact just 23.5% of the time, which was the best in the league (minimum 150 batted balls allowed). Trevor May, an ex-starter who has had issues in the past with staying on the field, pitched in a career high 65 games last year, with a 2.94 ERA and 79 Ks in 64.1 innings. May's fastball had a batting average against of just .150. Tyler Duffey, another ex-starter, also had a breakout year while only focusing on pitching one inning. Duffey struck out 82 batters in 57.2 innings for a 12.8 K/9, when his previous career high was 8.5. He had a 1.006 WHIP and a 2.50 ERA. Duffey had a wOBA against of .254. Tyler Clippard is the only guy on the Twins that will top Rich Hill's soon-to-be nine team feat. Clippard will have played for ten teams by the time he makes his Twins debut, and he is five years younger than Hill. For Cleveland last year, Clippard had a 2.90 ERA with 64 strikeouts in 62 innings. Clippard allowed an average exit velocity of 85 miles per hour. Zack Littell, who the Twins acquired from the Yankees in 2017 for Jaime Garcia, had a 2.68 ERA with 32 strikeouts in 37 innings. Littell threw five different pitches last year, but three of them (change-up, curveball, sinker) were thrown a combined 16 times. Batters were 5-for-5 with three doubles against those three pitches, hence why Littell doesn't throw them often. Former 13th round pick Cody Stashak debuted, striking out 25 in 25 innings, with a 3.24 ERA. In seven Spring Training innings, Stashak allowed three hits with no runs. Along with Dobnak and Chacin, Devin Smeltzer could be a spot starter. A cancer survivor acquired for former face-of-the-franchise second baseman Brian Dozier, Smeltzer had a 3.86 ERA in 49 innings over 11 games (six starts). Smeltzer's fastball has an above-average spin rate of 2433 rpm. The final spot is a competition between Matt Wisler and Lewis Thorpe. Thorpe, Minnesota's 10th best prospect, per MLB Pipeline, debuted in 2019 with a 6.18 ERA and 31 strikeouts in 27.2 innings over 12 games (two starts). The Austrailian lefty has a slider with a super low 1956 rpm spin rate. He has the advantage on Wisler because of his handedness. Wisler spent 2019 between the Padres and Mariners, and he opened games for the latter. Overall, Wisler struck out 63 batters in 51.1 innings with a 5.61 ERA.

       Catchers
The Twins let Jason Castro walk because of Mitch Garver's breakout season. Garver hit an insane 31 home runs in just 93 games, with a .273 average and a .995 OPS, to pick up a Silver Slugger award. Garver had a hard hit percentage of exactly 50%, with a .573 xSLG. The Twins signed Alex Avila, who was a part of a three catcher tandem in Arizona. While he only had a .207 average, Avila had a decent .774 OPS. Avila's father, Al, is the GM of the rival Tigers. Alex has spent parts of eight of his eleven seasons in Detroit, but not all under his Dad. Avila is a good pitch framer. Willians "La Tortuga" Astudillo can play third and first base as well as catcher. Currently sick (COVID), Astudillo hit four home runs with a .268 average. Astudillo does not walk or strikeout, with a K% and BB% under 4%.

       Infielders
The Twins' big offseason move was to sign the Bringer of Rain himself, Josh Donaldson, to a four year, $92 million deal. A club option for a fifth year is included. A three-time all-star and MVP winner, Donaldson spent 2019 in Atlanta, where he hit 37 home runs with 100 walks, a .259 average and a .900 OPS. While crushing the ball (92.9 average exit velocity), Donaldson showed teams that he can be a great defender at third, with eight outs above average, a six outs improvement from 2018. The acquisition of Donaldson, plus CJ Cron signing in Detroit will force Miguel Sano to make a move to first base. Sano hit a career high 34 home runs with a .923 OPS. Another player currently sick with the coronavirus, Sano has missed time in previous seasons, and has never played in 120 games in a season. Sano had -5 outs above average last year. He hits the ball harder than anyone, just beat out Aaron Judge of the Yankees to be first in the league with a 57.2 hard hit%. He also lead the league in average exit velocity (94.4 mph) and barrel percentage (21.2%). In a 60-game season, it is possible for someone to hit .400. Luis Arraez is a big sleeper to do so. Talking over at second base from Jonathan Schoop, Arraez hit .334 in a 92 game rookie season, with an .838 OPS and a 6th place finish in Rookie of the Year voting. On the exact opposite side of the strikeout spectrum from Sano (who had a 36.2% K%), Arraez struck out just 7.9% of the time, the least in the league (minimum 350 PA). Jorge Polanco is another player who broke out, and made the all-star team. Polanco, who was suspended in 2018 for PEDs, came back and hit 22 home runs with a .295 average and .841 OPS. Polanco's four stolen bases were second on the team. His average exit velocity went up by 3.1 mph, to 87.0 mph. Marwin Gonzalez is a super utility player that spent a lot of time at left field. Listed as an infielder, Gonzalez hit 15 home runs with a .264 average and a .736 OPS, the latter two being slight improvements from 2018. While he likely won't recreate his amazing 2017, Gonzalez's average exit velocity of 90.4 mph in 2019 was a 3.9 mph improvement from '17. His best position defensively is the crowded third base, with four outs above average last year. Ehire Adrianza brings a switch-hitting bat and is a fine back-up infielder. Adrianza hit five home runs with a .272 average plus a .765 OPS in 83 games at five different positions (right field and the infield).

       Outfielders
The Twins shifted their outfielders after Byron Buxton was injured, moving Eddie Rosario from left to right, and Max Kepler adjusting to center field, while Gonzalez played left. Buxton, the fastest player on the team and maybe even the league, had a 30.3 ft/s sprint speed, and has hit as high as 30.9 ft/s in a season (2015). Buxton is also a great defender with 12 outs above average in 87 games (in 2017, his only full season, Buxton had 26 OAA). At the plate Buxton was good, but not great. He hit 10 home runs with 14 stolen bases and an .827 OPS. Rosario had a career high 32 home runs and 109 RBIs, but his .276 batting average and .800 OPS were both drop-offs from the previous two seasons. Rosario has lowered his strikeout rate, which was down to 14.6% in 2019. Kepler, the final starting outfielder and one of the few Germans in the league, hit 36 home runs with an .855 OPS, and was their playoff lead-off hitter. Kepler is a good defender, with seven outs above average (four in right, three in center). Jake Cave, who along with Zack Littell is a former Yankee prospect, saw a decrease in home runs from 2018, down to eight, and in batting average to .258, but his OPS of .805 was the higher of his two seasons. Cave had an average exit velocity of 90.5 mph. 2019 was the first season that Nelson Cruz did not play the field, and was solely a DH, not even playing outfield when the Twins were in the National League. In just 120 games, Cruz hit 41 home runs, which was the fourth time he's hit at least 40 home runs. He's hit at least 22 in each of the last 11 seasons, with 30 home runs in seven of them. A six-time all-star and three-time Silver Slugger winner, Cruz hit .311 with a career high 1.031 OPS. Now 40 years-old, Cruz had a league leading .644 xSLG, with a 19.9 barrel percentage.

       Projected Opening Day Lineup
RF Max Kepler (L)
SS Jorge Polanco (S)
DH Nelson Cruz (R)
LF Eddie Rosario (L)
3B Josh Donaldson (R)
C Mitch Garver (R)
3B Miguel Sano (R)
2B Luis Arraez (L)
CF Byron Buxton (R)

       Projected Rotation
Jose Berrios (R)
Jake Odorizzi (R)
Kenta Maeda (R)
Rich Hill (L)
Homer Bailey (R)

       Projected Bullpen
Taylor Rogers, closer (L)
Sergio Romo (R)
Trevor May (R)
Tyler Duffey (R)
Tyler Clippard (R)
Zack Littell (R)
Randy Dobnak (R)
Devin Smelzter (L)
Cody Stashak (R)
Jhoulys Chacin (R)
Lewis Thorpe (L)

       Projected Bench
C Alex Avila (L)
C/3B Willians Astudillo (R)
UT Marwin Gonzalez (S)
IF Ehire Adrianza (S)
OF Jake Cave (L)

Baseball-Reference OOTP Simulator Stats:
54-43 record, 2nd in AL Central
Most home runs: Max Kepler (24)
Highest batting average: Mitch Garver (.294)
Highest OPS: Mitch Garver (.899)
Best ERA, starters: Jose Berrios (3.30)
Best ERA, relievers: Tyler Duffey (2.10)
Most innings pitched: Jose Berrios (131.0)
Most strikeouts: Kenta Maeda (123)
Best K/9: Tyler Duffey (10.5)

Record through 60 games, last five seasons:
2019: 40-20
2018: 27-33
2017: 32-28
2016: 18-42
2015: 33-27

       Prediction
The Twins have one of the best lineups in baseball, especially for slugging. While they got out-slugged in the ALDS by their kryptonite, the Yankees, the Twins still beat the Yankees by one home run, to set the record for most team home runs in a single season, with 307. The rotation is an issue, but the Twins brought in productive veterans Kenta Maeda and Rich Hill, plus Homer Bailey to improve that. The bullpen is very underrated, with good pitchers like Rogers, Romo, Duffey and May. Expect the Twins to be able to recreate their 2019 season, and win the AL Central, although the Astros or Yankees will block them again from the ALCS.

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