During Ron Gardenhire's nine-year tenure as manager of the Minnesota Twins, the team has won the AL Central six times. They've never finished lower than third, and their lowest win total was 79 in 2007 - the only time Gardenhire's team failed to finish above .500.
Their division has never been a powerhouse, but the Twins have won over 90 games four times since 2002. This includes last season, when the Twins won 94 games before being swept by the Yankees in the ALDS.
Now, with a quarter of their 2011 season in the books, Minnesota is by far the worst team in baseball.
It's certainly worth noting that Twins catcher Joe Mauer, one of the league's best players, has been limited to just 38 plate appearances due to a leg injury. Their other slugger, first baseman Justin Morneau, has been struggling with shoulder and neck problems stemming from a concussion that limited him to 81 games last season.
So their two best players are dealing with injuries, but does that excuse the team's poor performance so far?
I don't think it does. In fact, I believe the Twins would still be a last place team with a healthy Mauer.
Jason Kubel is currently the only Twins regular with a wOBA over .325. He's certainly having a decent season, but it's been carried a bit by a .377 BABIP. He doesn't do a great job of drawing walks, so his current value comes primarily from an inflated batting average and a decent ISO. As his BABIP drops, and his batting average subsequently follows, the team's lone bright spot will start to blend in a bit more with his surroundings.
Beyond Kubel, it's pretty ugly. Denard Span has been wonderful defensively, and he's been decent enough offensively (.315 wOBA) to be a positive contributor. Delmon Young has also been pretty good with the glove, but not nearly good enough to make up for his offensive shortcomings. Young's current slash stats are .192/.238/.233. Everywhere else in baseball, that line is awful. In Minnesota, it's about average.
Nobody on the Twins roster has an ISO over .200. Kubel's four home runs have him tied with Michael Cuddyer for the most on the team. They currently have seven players with a sub-.300 OBP after at least 70 plate appearances. Looking at total value, including defense, Kubel and Span are the only players on the roster with a WAR higher than 0.2. Eleven players have provided negative win value.
Speaking of wins, the Twins only have thirteen of them, and it's not like they're simply losing a bunch of nail biters. Their run differential is minus-92. Despite only having two less wins than the Houston Astros, their run differential is twice as bad. This is insane. To further emphasize this:
The Houston Astros have the league's second worst run differential. They've currently scored 47 less runs than they've allowed. The Minnesota Twins have scored 92 less than they've allowed.
Using this data, Minnesota's Pythagorean W/L record is 11-29. Based on their current pace, the Twins would finish with 498 runs scored and 871 runs allowed. That's a minus-372 run differential, which would be the worst in Major League history. They've only managed to score more than five runs in a game twice this season. They've allowed ten or more runs on eight occasions.
The topic of runs allowed brings us to pitching, the other aspect in which the Twins are failing miserably.
Despite posting a sub-4 xFIP (3.96) only once in his four year career, I'll say Kevin Slowey is a pretty good pitcher out of courtesy for Twins fans. Injuries have limited Slowey to zero starts and just fourteen average innings this season. I guess this is worth noting, though I don't think anyone believes a healthy pitcher with a career 4.16 xFIP is going to make much of a difference for a team this bad.
Five Minnesota starters have thrown over 40 innings this year. Combined, those five pitchers have a WAR of 0.9. For a point of reference, 43 individual pitchers have a WAR of 1.0 or higher. 43 pitchers have individually provided more value than Minnesota's entire starting rotation.
Only one of these starters, Nick Blackburn, has an ERA+ above 100. Two of them, Carl Pavano and Francisco Liriano, have an ERA+ below 70. Scott Baker's 1.30 WHIP is the only one above the league average, and Pavano is the only starter walking less than three batters per nine innings.
In the bullpen, Glen Perkins has been stellar over 20.2 innings. Closer Matt Capps has been good, and he's walking only .5 batters per nine innings. Over his 364 inning career, that number is 1.68. In all likelihood, he'll probably get a bit worse as the season continues.
As for the rest of the bullpen? Abhorrent. Dusty Hughes, having thrown only 10.2 innings, is the only other Twins reliever with an xFIP below five. Eight of them have a K/BB ratio of less than two.
Basically, everything about this team is horrible. Yes, they've always been a small ball team built around Mauer and Morneau. However, Morneau missed half the season last year, Mauer posted his worst 110+ game season since 2005, and the team still won 94 games. The rest of these guys can't be that bad.
It's important to remember that there's still 75 percent of the season to be played. I expect the offense to improve. Enlarging the sample size to include the past few years, it's entirely unrealistic to expect this team to score less than 500 runs. Mauer will be back at some point, and I hope Morneau eventually makes a successful comeback.
The pitching is a bit of a different story. It will probably improve, but I wouldn't be surprised if it didn't improve much. Just glancing at their peripherals as a staff, the guys who are struggling are nowhere close to league averages, and none of them have strong enough track records to suggest a big turnaround.
It depends on how quickly the offense begins progressing towards their mean, but it wouldn't be a huge surprise to see the Twins move out of the AL Central cellar. The White Sox certainly aren't impressing anyone, and the Royals are playing well beyond their true talent level with just a seven game advantage over Minnesota.
Still, for now, they're baseball's worst team by a huge margin. They're playing like one of the worst teams ever. Barring an extremely drastic turnaround, it's difficult to imagine this season playing out as anything less than their worst, by far, under Gardenhire.