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American League Two-a-Days: Minnesota Twins

LiveBall Sports previews the American League this week.

Team Synopsis: Minnesota Twins

2013 record: 66-96
2013 runs scored: 614
2013 runs against: 788
2013 pythag. record: 63-99

The Twins were a terrible team last year, a year in which everyone expected them to struggle.  In spite of a nice rebound year for Joe Mauer, a downballot MVP guy, the Twins bottomed out and finally sold off all their veteran pieces.  Trading Justin Morneau to the Pirates signaled the end of an era.  The Twins had been tied to that roster contractually ever since they won the division in 2010 and paid Joe Mauer the moon to stay in town.

Mauer’s contract still looks okay as he approaches the mid-way point.  He’s still one of the best players in baseball.  Credit the Twins for not pulling back on payroll, but going out to the free agent market and bringing in RHP Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes to help out now.

Who is having a good spring?

2B Brian Dozier has picked up where he left off last season, flashing power in 2013 for the first time.  Dozier is in the conversation for second best 2B in the American League, after Robbie Cano.  He put up roughly the same slugging percentage as Ian Kinsler while playing 81 games at Target Field, a pitcher’s park.  German-born OF Max Keplar hasn’t played against the big leaguer’s much, but his prospect status makes his team-leading 6 hits notable.  Phil Hughes has been sensational in two spring starts.

Reasons to be optimistic about the 2014 Twins

There are lots of reasons for optimism.  The inefficient spending is finally off the books, although you can call into question giving $50 million to Ricky Nolasco.  Two years ago, the Twins were an unathletic group who swung too much, didn’t walk or hit for power, and was trying to play like this as defenses around the league were getting better positioned and more athletic.  Last year’s team was a much more athletic, patient bunch.  They were an injured group last year, so this year, the offense could be an actual asset.  It wouldn’t be terribly shocking if the Twins posted a league average or better runs scored.

At the same time, this is the best the Twins pitching has been in three seasons.  There’s no top end starter on this staff, but Hughes, Nolasco, Kevin Correia, Mike Pelfrey, Scott Diamond, Sam Deduno, and Vance Worley are all mid-rotation types.  A lot went wrong for the Twins on the pitching end last year, and the five guys above who were on the team last year were surrounded by the worst fill in players imaginable.  The Twins are better across the board this year, and with the AL’s best farm system, more help is on the way soon.

Reasons to be realistic about the 2014 Astros

Joe Mauer is on the back end of his career, and the first domino to fall is his full-time move to first base.  And just like that, the AL’s best catcher is no more.  Mauer is still a star at first base, but he’s replaced by Kurt Suzuki.  That’s not an upgrade.

Every pitcher in the Twins rotation is still going to get bombed from time to time.  They might not finish dead last in strikeouts in the AL again this year, but they won’t finish too much above last.

Ultimately, the Twins just have a long way to go.  They were -174 in run differential last year.  Even an 100 run improvement makes them just a 73-75 win team.

The Projections

The Fangraphs projected team WAR for the 2014 Twins is 25.3, 14th in the American League.  Their 12.9 Batters WAR projection is last in the AL. Their 12.4 Pitchers WAR projection is 14th in the AL.  Cool Standings projects the 2014 Twins to win 70 games, a 4 win improvement over last season.  Joe Mauer is the Twin with the best 2014 projection with an average WAR projection of 3.2.  Ricky Nolasco is the pitcher with the best average projection at 2.8 WAR.

The Twins vs the rest of the AL Central

The AL Central is an above average division this year.  The Tigers enter the season with one of the best statistical profiles of any team.  The Royals and Indians are above average opponents with some downside potential.  The Twins should be improved, and have the consensus best farm system, which should help avoid a repeat of the end of last year when they were running a sub-MLB lineup out.  The White Sox are more volatile this year than last, and will have some upside to go with the worst downside in MLB.

LiveBall Sports Projection for the 2014 Minnesota Twins

The projections are really down on the Twins this year, but (spoiler alert) I’m going to go aggressively against the numbers on most of the AL Central teams this year.  The numbers view the Twins as a terrible team, and last year they were a terrible team.  But on the offensive end, the Twins aren’t as inept as the numbers are making them out to be.

The Twins haven’t made it by any stretch, but I’m going to pick them to approach .500 this year, and steal a bunch of wins that people are giving the Indians and Tigers.  We’ll go 78-84 for Minnesota this year, and I think they’ll be over .500 at some point after the all-star break.  Not all of that is one year improvement, but stripping out some factors (and players) who doomed the Twins last year should help in the long run.

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