Minnesota Twins: Anatomy of a Collapse, Should We Have Seen This Coming?
There's no doubt that 2010-2011 has been extremely disappointing for Minnesota sports fans.
The Timberwolves again failed to hit 20 wins, the Wild missed the playoffs yet again, and the Vikings look to be in a free fall after being within one 14-men in the huddle penalty from the Super Bowl only 18 months ago.
It would seem that things couldn't get any worse.
But hope springs eternal and the time is right for baseball, the one constant within the Minnesota sports landscape.
With the new stadium smell still hovering over Target Field the expectations have been the greatest for the local nine. What was supposed to be a season full of hope appears to be falling in line with all of the other professional teams as the Twins are in the midst of the single greatest turnaround in franchise history—the problem is this turnaround is in the negative direction.
Taking a look as what has transpired for the Twins since they were last swept by the New York Yankees in the divisional round of the playoffs it might be all that surprising that the team is struggling.
A Disabled List That Looks Like an All-Star Roster.
While this one is an easy one to see, the Twins will get no sympathy from their competition.
According to Baseball-Reference.com so far this season the Twins have used 19 players in the field as well as 19 different pitchers.
Manager Ron Gardenhire has had to cobble together so many different lineups that the organization had to make room on the 40 man roster in order to call up the latest addition. Once Brian Dinkelman, who has been playing in both the outfield and at second base, makes his major league debut with the Twins he will be the 20th player used by the team.
Currently the team has six players on the 15-day disabled list: Jason Kubel, Jim Thome, Joe Nathan, Glen Perkins, Kevin Slowey and Francisco Liriano.
Add to that total Joe Mauer and Nishioka Tsuyoshi who are currently on the 60-day DL.
For Thome and Slowey this is the second time on the DL this season.
Nathan, Mauer and Thome have combined to play in 13 All Star games, and Kubel, who is currently leading the team with a .310 batting average, is probably the best bet as the only Twin to make the mid-season classic this year.
A Dwindling Talent Pool from the Farm.
There has not been any diamonds in the rough for the Minnesota Twins in 2011.
Last season that diamond was third baseman Danny Valencia who batted .311 with seven home runs in 85 games for the Twins. Valencia, who made his major-league debut on June 3rd, 2010 was just what the Twins needed in the second have of last season, especially after losing Justin Morneau on July 7th.
This season the Twins have called up infielders Luke Hughes, Trevor Plouffe, outfielders Ben Revere and Rene Tosoni, catchers Steve Holm and Rene Rivera and pitchers Anthony Swarzak, Phil Dumatrait, Eric Hacker and Chuck James.
Typically manager Ron Gardenhire tends to cultivate younger players by limiting their playing time finding ways to maximize their success and easing them into the lineup. A luxury he has not had this season.
So far the best of bunch may be Swarzak who has pitched 21 innings in five games, including three starts and has a 3.43 ERA. In his last start he stopped a four game losing streak when he pitched six innings against the Royals in an 8-2 win. His previous start was even more impressive when he threw eight shutout innings, allowing only one hit in a 1-0, 10-inning win over the Angels.
Hughes who led the team in home runs and RBI during spring training has not been able to replicate that success after being called up when Nishioka Tsyuoshi broke his fibula. In 26 games Hughes is only batting .213 with one home run.
Plouffe started out looking like he might be the Danny Valencia of 2011, but has since faded and is currently hitting only .200 in 18 games and had committed four errors.
With a little more playing time recently Revere has his average up to .275, but only has one extra base hit in 18 games.
Lack of Production from the Veterans
There were several players that had very good statistics in 2010. So far in 2011 they have failed to perform to the same level.
Delmon Young was getting consideration for MVP with his bat last season when he led the Twins with 112 RBI, hitting 21 home runs and finishing with a .298 batting average. He has struggled this season and is currently hitting below his weight at .222 with a single home run in 36 games.
In the first half of the season last year Justin Morneau was having another MVP-like season. When the Twins lost him for the season with the concussion he was leading the Twins with a .345 average, 18 home runs and 56 RBI. His return in 2011 has been slow batting only .236 with four home runs and 20 RBI. The upside is he doubled his home run total on May 31st, hitting two of them against the Tigers in Detroit.
Danny Valencia came up in June last year and hit .311 with seven home runs and 40 RBI. This season he currently second on the team with hit five home runs and 26 RBI, his average is only .227.
In 2010 Jim Thome led the Twins with 25 home runs. He was hitting them out once every 11 at bats. So far this season he has been on the DL twice, and has four in 76 at bats—moving the frequency to once every 19 at bats. Currently hitting only .237 this is the third lowest batting average over his 21 seasons. Hopefully with the weather heating up so will Thome's average.
Perhaps the biggest disappointment has been the absence of Joe Mauer. Last season Mauer led the team with a .345 average. So far in 2011 he has been limited to nine games and a .235 average. Hopefully he is taking the opposite approach that Morneau took last season and will come back to have an MVP-like second half of the season.
A Team in Need of Extending Spring Training
During the exhibition season there were too many players with too few at bats and innings in the field. This has led to a less than ready roster once the season opened.
Nursing a variety of ailments several key players for the Twins were limited seeing little action during spring training.
Jim Thome only played in 12 games, getting 29 at bats and hit only one home run this spring.
Michael Cuddyer was limited to eight games, hitting .238 with only 21 at bats.
Justin Morneau, easing his way back for the concussion that ended his season last July, was limited to 33 at bats in 11 games hitting only .152.
Recovering from a December knee surgery, Joe Mauer was limited to 20 at bats in eight games. The strategy of limiting his play in order to allow him to be fresh for the start of the season back fired as Mauer is currently on the 60-day DL.
On the flip side the two players with the most playing time in the spring have not performed as well as expected.
Danny Valencia and Luke Hughes led the club with 65 at bats during the exhibition season. Valencia has struggle to get his average anywhere near the .311 he hit last season. Hughes led the Twins with six home runs and 15 RBI in the spring has only six RBI and one home run in 75 regular season at bats.
The Defense Rests—Literally!
While the Twins may not have always made the spectacular defensive plays that show up on ESPN's Web Gems, they have always made the routine play flawlessly and did not beat themselves.
That is until 2011.
Since manager Ron Gardenhire took over the Twins in 2002, according to FanGraphs.com, the team has the fourth highest fielding percent in baseball at .985 and the best in the American League.
This season the Twins have a .982 fielding percentage having committed 37 errors so far ranking them 24th in the majors.
Alexi Casilla and Danny Valencia lead the team with five errors a piece.
Michael Cuddyer, who has averaged 5.1 errors per season, already has three in 51 games.
Trevor Plouffe, who had the chance to claim the shortstop position because of Casilla's slow start, has three errors in 15 games and has been regulated back to the bench as Gardenhire awaits the return of Nishioka Tsuyoshi.
No Power, No Problem, No Hitting for Average—Disastrous
Between 2001 and 2010 the Minnesota Twins ranked 25th in baseball in home runs.
Over that same time period they had the fourth highest batting average at .272, allowing them to finish 12th in scoring despite the lack of power.
So far in 2011 the Twins have dropped to 29th in the league in home runs ahead of only Oakland, but their batting average is currently hovering around .240, good for only 25th in the league.
The Twins success in the Gardenhire era has a high correlation to batting average. There should be no surprise that with the worst batting average since 2002 that the Twins have the worst record to go along with it.
Starting Pitching Has Been Up and Down
The Twins starters have not been as effective so far in 2011.
Francisco Liriano, whose recent history has been like a roller coaster, has taken his pitching to new highs, and lows. From the worst ERA among the starters to pitching only the fifth no-hitter in Twins history, to ending up on the disabled list.
The starters in 2010 went 73-50, a .593 winning percentage with a 4.17 ERA. They had nine different pitchers start a game over the season.
So far in 2011 they have a 15-24 record, a lowly .384 winning percentage with a 4.48 ERA and have had six different pitchers start a game, and surprisingly Kevin Slowey has not been one of them.
After leading the team, and the American League with seven complete games, Carl Pavano finally got his first complete-game victory of the season, the 100th career win of his career.
The Turnover of a Bullpen
From 2006 to 2010 the Twins bullpen had a 3.61 ERA, second only to the San Diego Padres. In 2011 the Twins bullpen has plummeted with the worst ERA in baseball at 5.39.
In the previous five seasons Matt Guerrier led all Twins pitchers with 340 appearances, the next closest was Jesse Crain with 279. That's 619 appearances for both pitchers, an average of 123.8 appearances each season.
While the Twins bullpen has struggled, Guerrier has pitched in 28 games for the Dodgers and currently has a career-best 3.14 ERA. Crain has a 2.59 in 23 games for the White Sox, his lowest ERA since his rookie season in 2004.
Bill Smith failed to re-sign the team's top two bullpen guys after the 2010. Crain got a $2 million raise in Chicago, while Guerrier signed a three year, $11 million deal in Los Angeles.
For roughly another $4 million the Twins should have been able to keep at least one of these relievers. A small price to pay when you consider the Twins are paying Michael Cuddyer $10.5 million, Joe Nathan $11.25 million, and Joe Mauer $23 million this season.
Are the Twins Suffering from an Air of Complacency?
The Minnesota Twins have been a very good team since Ron Gardenhire took over for Tom Kelly in 2002.
Over the past nine years there has only been one losing season to go along with six division titles.
The 94 wins the Twins has in 2010 were the second most during Gardenhire's tenure.
Minnesota has done such a great job of putting together effective rosters that perhaps the front office became over confident in their ability to cobble together a World Series lineup.