With the majority of the 2012 season in the books, the sub-.500 Minnesota Twins need to start thinking about improving their weaknesses.
Traditionally, the Twins were known for top-rate defense, quality pitching and small-ball hitting tactics. This formula helped the Twins win six American League Central Division Championships from 2002 to 2010.
Since the departure witnessed in the injury-plagued, fundamentally-inept 2011 season, the Twins of 2012 have steered the franchise back to the old way of doing things. However, the recovery from the sickness of 2011 is not completely over. The Twins have several areas that they must improve in order to even reach .500 in 2013.
The following article theorizes several key areas that the Minnesota Twins must improve for next season.
Despite adding the success of Scott Diamond (10-5, 2.95 ERA) and Sam Deduno (4-1, 3.33 ERA) to their starting rotation, the Twins have the worst starting pitching in the AL. A title that they have possessed all season.
The starting pitchers are 31-57 (worst in the AL) with a 5.43 ERA (worst in the AL), 798 HA (worst in the AL), and 114 HRA (worst in MLB). All horrendous numbers that need to be improved if they want to compete next season. Diamond and Deduno certainly are a step in the right direction. With Blackburn, Duensing, and Pavano having sub-par seasons, the Twins need to start thinking about picking up at least two strong starting pitchers.
They certainly could get much better pitching for the same money that they pay Blackburn and Pavano, who will be finishing their seasons elsewhere.
While the Twins might currently be ranked in the middle of the pack for many notable offensive categories, their record of 51-72 says otherwise.
The Twins' biggest offensive production issue has been scoring clutch runs. To date, the Twins have won by blowout 12 times, in turn to lose by one run 20 times. Blowouts are great, but nothing is more devastating than losing by a single run.
Besides not coming through with key runs, the Twins simply have a hard time scoring. For instance, when Minnesota scores one to four runs in a game, they are 10-45 (.181), while they are 31-21 (.596) when they allow one to four runs in a game. To compare to potential playoff bound teams, consider the following:
Next season, the Twins need to be winning at least a third of their one-to-four scoring games, and win around two-thirds of games that they allow one to four runs. This will be done with clutch hitting and stingy pitching.
Like their offensive production, their defense looks okay on the surface, but upon further investigation is a different story.
In normal, run of the mill stats, the Twins look pretty solid on defense. They currently have the ninth (of fifteen) best defense with 76 total errors, a team fielding percentage of .984 and they lead the AL in double plays with 148. This sounds okay.
However, consider Defensive Efficiency Rating (DER), a method of measuring a defense's effectiveness through its efficiency of converting hit balls into fielded outs. From that standpoint, the Twins have the fifth-least effective defense in the AL. They are only better than Cleveland, New York, Kansas City and Detroit. New York and Detroit have much more productive offenses and stronger pitching than Minnesota. Hence, they are still better teams than the Twins.
Ineffective defense, streaky offense and lack luster starting pitching all add up.
The Twins' relievers have been overworked this year. In the first month of baseball in 2012, relievers had as many as wins as starters (RPs 3-4 versus SPs 3-12). For a while, the relievers were the only somewhat-positive aspect of the Twins pitching staff.
Fast forward to late August.
The steady bullpen continues to win more, yet it is still overworked. Consider the following chart that indicates over-usage and specific weaknesses that relievers possess.
In order for the Twins to be a .500 club next season, the bullpen needs to continue winning games, but should lower their ERA and BAA. Clearly, high IP and inflated Innings per Appearance (I/A) are not their fault, but the fault of a largely unreliable starting rotation.
Correlated to timely run production is the ability to successfully advance runner(s) on offense. Currently, the Twins are third-worst in the AL for runners left on base, worst for runners left in scoring position and second worse for hitting into double plays.
The Twins clearly are failing to get runners home, or at the very least, over to second base successfully. Leading the AL in ground-out double plays is not helping their cause either. Over time, failing to execute the little things in a game will add up over the course of a season.
If the Twins want to improve next year, they need to start jumping on base runner opportunities.
Side note: Sure, the stat lines indicate that the Twins are highly ranked for sacrifice flies. Yet, a lot of runners are being left on base, especially in scoring position.