Why the Twins fell out of first place and could finish under .500 in MLB’s weakest division

Why the Twins fell out of first place and could finish under .500 in MLB’s weakest division

Although mathematically still alive, for all intents and purposes the Minnesota Twins were eliminated from postseason contention last weekend. The Twins trailed Cleveland by four games for a five-game, four-day series with the AL Central-leading Guardians, losing four of five. Minnesota lost eight of nine tries against Cleveland this month and just got swept by the Royals in fourth place.

“I’m not ready to talk about the season like it’s behind me,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli told MLB.com after Monday’s loss, which put his team seven games behind the Guardians with 15. for playing. “I don’t think it’s appropriate. We still have guys in the clubhouse who are ready to work and who are ready to play, and we still have games to play.”

The season started off well enough for the Twins, who landed prized free-agent shortstop Carlos Correa on a team-friendly short-term deal thanks to a canny trade (namely, getting rid of Josh Donaldson’s contract with the Yankees). They were 4 1/2 games up on July 13 and tied for first place on September 9. Then he gave up.

The harsh assessment of the 2022 Twins says they may not finish .500 in MLB’s weakest division, and when presented with the opportunity to reclaim first place and defeat the Guardians in the last two weeks, it was withered. Even with Correa, there’s a championship-caliber lack of resolve, and that’s not even going on the postseason losing streak.

A more lenient assessment of the 2022 Twins acknowledges that they dealt with a ton of injuries (the Twins have put an AL-leading 31 players on the disabled list) and their hitters actually underperformed in important situations. “Clutch” is a stat that measures players against themselves. Compare your performance in a high-leverage situation with your performance in all other situations and:

30 puppies: minus-8.85
29 Twins: minus-5.06
28 Angels: minus-4.98

Simply put, Twins hitters have failed to catch up time and time again this season. Injuries played a part in that because inferior hitters were taking those high-leverage plate appearances, but we can’t be surprised when guys like Byron Buxton and Max Kepler and Alex Kirilloff get hurt. They have visited the disabled list quite often in recent years.

Beyond injuries and a lack of timely hitting, the biggest issue is pitching, and this has been a problem for several seasons. The Twins hired Derek Falvey to run their front office in October 2016 and, in his six seasons as general manager of baseball, have finished four times with a pitching staff below league average. Look at his pitching ranks across the league:

2017

18

24

2018

22

122

2019

8

4th

2020 (60 game season)

4th

3rd

2021

25

25

2022

twenty

23

In Falvey’s six years, the Twins have had an above-average pitching staff through a 162-game season and a 60-game season, and that’s about it. It takes some time to turn things around and those 2017-18 clubs are more reflective of what Falvey’s predecessors left behind than Falvey himself, but the 2021-22 teams are all him, and not good enough.

Falvey has done his best job trading starters (Sonny Gray, Kenta Maeda, Joe Ryan, etc.) instead of signing them as free agents (Dylan Bundy, JA Happ, Matt Shoemaker, etc.), though even the trades have suffered. . or lose Chris Paddack and Tyler Mahle were acquired at different points this season and pitched a combined 38 2/3 innings before getting hurt.

The Twins won’t have a pitcher who pitches enough innings to qualify for the ERA title this year, and while that’s not automatically a bad thing (the Rays haven’t had an ERA-qualifying pitcher since 2019), know that it is. intentional. Minnesota rarely lets its starting pitchers go through the lineup for the third time, which is understandable seeing how most pitchers perform worse the third time in the order. Some numbers on the Twins’ starters:

  • 20.1 batters faced per start (second fewest behind the Rays at 19.0)
  • 4.8 innings per start (third fewest behind the Pirates at 4.7 and the Rays at 4.6)
  • 41 starts with no more than 18 batters facing each other (second-most behind the Rays with 47)

Once again, the Rays show that you can get your starter out early and still be successful. However, all those short starts put a lot of pressure on the bullpen, and Tampa seems to have an endless supply of effective power relievers who move up and down between Triple-A and MLB as needed. Twins don’t have that. Those short starts expose the bullpen’s weak spot.

It’s too late to save 2022, but not too late to improve for 2023, and something has to give. Either the Twins have to let their starters work deeper into the game (which would require bringing in better starters) or they have to improve their bullpen and overall shooting depth. There are other issues that need to be addressed, like keeping players on the field, but below-average shooting has been a constant throughout the Falvey era. That has to change.

The good news for the Twins is that AL Central is the weakest division in baseball and they don’t have to do also plenty to get back into the postseason mix next year. Still, missing the postseason this year and possibly finishing under .500 in such a weak division raises concerns this far into the Falvey era. The Twins continue to face the same problems every year, and those problems sank their 2022.

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