The Minnesota Twins have actually played better than most people expected, including fans of the team, after two 60-win seasons.
At the same time, this team has been frustratingly bad. There have been times where they threaten to reach .500, and then will go on a losing streak and seem to be out of it…only to creep toward a winning record again.
There is still reason to believe that the team will get better over time. Minnesota has two of the best prospects in the game—Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano—marinating in the minor leagues and young players in the big leagues that could turn into something special.
Trevor Plouffe, 27, has turned into a quality power hitter. Chris Parmelee, 25, could be following in his footsteps. Aaron Hicks, 23, is a great defensive player with some offensive upside. Brian Dozier and Pedro Florimon, both 26, make a nice double play combo. And Oswaldo Arcia, 22...oh man is he going to be good!
Things are even looking better on the pitching side of things. Sam Deduno has found some control, Kyle Gibson looks as good as advertised and Kevin Correia is going deep into games.
There are three telling statistics, however, that indicate why Minnesota has had trouble breaking .500 this season: men left on base per game, defensive efficiency ratio and team earned runs average.
Men left on base per game
The Twins could create a small city with all the guys they’ve left on base this year.
I’m dead serious.
According to TeamRankings.com, this team leaves 7.57 men on base per game. Not literally, of course. It’s not as though Josh Willingham’s legs and part of his torso were left stranded on third or something like that. But leaving seven to eight guys on base per game is atrocious.
How bad is it?
Well, only the Detroit Tigers leave more men on (7.84) per game. This is sort of surprising considering that Prince Fielder, Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez are in that lineup, but it may explain why the Cleveland Indians remain in contention for the AL Central crown.
Anyone that has watched the Twins this season could have guessed that they were having trouble getting runners across. It seems like every game they play they leave the bases loaded or men on the corners at least once.
It is absolutely maddening.
Part of the reason for this is that the team employs a lot of players that have gone on hot streaks but do not hit well consistently.
Ryan Doumit, Chris Parmelee and Brian Dozier are three prime examples. All three players have hit seven or eight home runs this season, but also bat around .230. Doumit has hit for the cycle (over the course of two games, but who’s counting?), Parmelee has hit two home runs in a game and Dozier hit dingers in three-straight games.
None of those guys have hit for average, however, and that means that players like Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau and Trevor Plouffe, who hit around .333, .300 and .280, respectively, never make it home.
A slumping Josh Willingham and a struggling Aaron Hicks also don’t help the cause.
The bottom line is that Minnesota’s lineup needs to be more consistent in order to avoid leaving nearly eight runners on base every game.
Defensive efficiency ratio
Defensive efficiency ratio measures how many outs each team records in each defensive opportunity. In essence, teams that turn a lot of double plays and commit few errors have a good DER (der!).
This may be a little bit surprising given that Florimon and Dozier have connected on the double play combination, something that few predicted would happen before the season, but youth in the outfield and instability at the hot corner are cause for concern defensively.
Plouffe’s bat has been great so far this season (.268/.336/.447 with 7 home runs), but he is still a sub-par third baseman. He has a negative-9 total zone Rtot, which means he allows nine more runs than the average player at his position. Part of this is due to his six errors this season, a majority of which are airmailed throws or poorly played grounders.
The other half of this is the relative inexperience in the outfield. Hicks and Arica are rookies, and Parmelee is in his third year with the Twins but has already played in more games this year (71) than he did last year (64).
Hicks is incredibly athletic and is probably the least culpable of the trio. He has occasionally taken a bad route or mistimed a leap, but in general, he’s pretty sound defensively.
Parmelee plays the ball off the wall exceptionally well and has a strong arm, but he has thrown the ball to the wrong player from time-to-time and has also overthrown the second baseman at times.
Arcia has had his fair share of sweet catches this year, but he will go on an occasional adventure in the outfield and has lost a ball or two in the sun.
These events add up, of course, and they must be taken care of if the Twins want to be considered an elite defensive team once again.
Oh man…this is bad. It really is.
Only two other teams in Major League Baseball, the Baltimore Orioles (who lack a true ace) and the Astros (for obvious reasons), have a worse team ERA than the Twins, who sit at 4.40 according to MLB.com.
Again, the eyeball test will tell you this.
Let’s first acknowledge that, for the most part, Sam Deduno, Kyle Gibson and Kevin Correia have gotten the job done.
On the other hand, Mike Pelfrey and Scott Diamond are both coming off surgery and appear to tire at around 80 pitches. P.J. Walters had a few good starts and then got lit up. Vance Worley is in Triple-A. Pedro Hernandez appears destined for the bullpen.
And then the bullpen…man oh man!
Glen Perkins has been lights out (20 saves this year, 18 in his career before that), Anthony Swarzak has been good enough in long relief that he might get another shot at starting and former St. Paul Saint (yes, that’s right) Caleb Thielbar has an ERA of zero. 0.00. Z-E-R-0.
After that, it gets bad.
Brian Duensing started the year off well, but he gave up four hits and three earned runs in his last outing against the New York Yankees.
Ryan Pressley has given up 15 hits and seven earned runs in his last five outings.
And Jared Burton went from being one of the most reliable setup men in baseball to one of the worst, giving up 14 hits, six walks and eight earned runs in just 8.2 innings pitched.
This is, perhaps, the most glaring statistic and one that must be fixed if Minnesota wants to be a winning team again.
All three of these statistics are alarming, for sure, but they are pretty easily explained.
Minnesota has a lot of young hitters that have shown power at the plate, but they need to produce more consistently.
Similarly, there is a lot of inexperience in the outfield, and sometimes, the balls heading out get lost in the sky and the ones coming in are either thrown too far or to the wrong person.
Finally, pitching has to improve across the board in order for this team to compete.
There are promising players in Minneapolis, and as soon as they reach their potential, a lot of these problems will work themselves out.
Tom Schreier covers Minnesota sports for Bleacher Report and is a contributor to Yahoo! Sports.