With just two games left in the 2012 season, the near-.400 Minnesota Twins need to start thinking about their 2013 campaign.
Once laying claim to the AL's top-ranked defense, reliable pitching and timely hitting helped the Twins win six American League Central Division Championships from 2002 to 2010.
The 2012 Twins season tried and failed to regain this winning formula.
At the end of the 2012 season, the Twins find themselves in largely the same position that they did at the end of 2011. Here are some reasons why the the Minnesota Twins have a long climb from the cellar in 2013.
Much of the problem for the Twins this year was unreliable starting pitching.
Despite a noticeable turnaround in late May, the Twins will finished the 2012 season with one of the worst rotations in all of baseball.
Part of the early-season success was due to the resurgence of Scott Diamond, who despite being the Twins' best starter this season, is not really an ace.
The Twins rotation needs a true ace as their No. 1 starter. I would argue that ever since they lost Johan Santana in 2007, the Twins have been lacked such a pitcher.
The Twins' relievers have been overworked this year. In the first month of the season, relievers had as many as wins as starters. For a while, the relievers were the only somewhat-positive aspect of the Twins pitching staff.
The steady bullpen continues to improve, but remains largely over used. Consider the following chart that indicates over-usage and specific weaknesses that relievers possess.
The Twins bullpen certainly has done their part to eat up innings and win. However, their ERA and BAA is nothing to be proud of at this point.
While the Twins might currently be ranked as above average in many offensive categories, their record of 66-94 does not reflect this.
The Twins' biggest issue on offense has been scoring clutch runs. To date, the Twins have won by blowout 12 times, yet have lost 20 one-run games.
Besides not coming through with key runs, the Twins just have a hard time scoring.
For example, when Minnesota scores one to four runs in a game, they are 15-70 (.176), while they are 39-25 (.609) when they allow one to four runs in a game.
This illustrates how little they actually score. When you include shutouts, the Twins have scored four runs or fewer in 60% of their games. On the other hand they have allowed five or more runs in 55% of their games. Not a winning combination.
The Twins pitching is not good enough to hold the other team at zero to three runs every game. They have a long way to go.
Another season is coming to a close and another in which the Twins had about far too many different combinations playing 2B-3B-SS.
The ten players who have filled in at 2B-3B-SS combined for .240/.294/.342, to go along with 70 doubles, eight triples, 30 homers, 183 RBI, 203 runs scored and 42 stolen bases.
Not too impressive when you consider that ten supposed big leaguers combined for that.
Sure Plouffe hit 23 home runs this year, but he hit half of those in June.
Defensively, the 2B-3B-SS platoon was not very impressive either. Twins second basemen combined for 18 errors (third worst in AL); third basemen combined for 24 errors (fourth worst); and shortstops combined for 25 errors (second worst in AL).
Not surprisingly, the Twins were tied for the worst 2B-3B-SS platoon in the AL.
This year, the Twins have had one of the worst run differentials all year.
To date, the Twins have been outscored 697-826, a differential of 129. Ineffective defense, streaky offense and lackluster starting pitching all add up.
As mentioned, the Twins are not scoring enough runs to sustain a largely ineffective pitching staff. On average, the Twins score four runs per game while their pitching and defense allow over five runs per game. As previously mentioned, the Twins have lost
However, consider Defensive Efficiency Rating (DER), a newer statistical method of measuring a defense's effectiveness through its efficiency of converting hit balls into fielded outs.
From that perspective, Minnesota is tied with Boston for the fifth-least effective defense in the AL. They are only better than Cleveland, New York, Kansas City and Detroit. Teams that are either just a poor as the Twins are or have much better offensive production to offset the noneffective defense.
The Twins have a long way to climb.