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Why the Twins Crashed Out of First Place to Finish Under .500 in MLB’s Weakest Division

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While mathematically still alive, the Minnesota Twins were eliminated in the postseason battle last weekend. The Twins took a four-game deficit to Cleveland for a five-game run in four days with AL Central leading guards, and lost four out of five. Minnesota lost eight in nine tries this month against Cleveland and was just swept by the Royals in fourth place.

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

The season started well enough for the Twins, who made an esteemed free-agent shortstop Carlos Correa on a team-friendly short-term contract thanks to a cunning craft (e.g. dumping) Josh Donaldson’s contract on the Yankees). They led 4 1/2 games on July 13 and didn’t finish for first place until September 9. Then the bottom gave up.

The Twins 2022 hard evaluation says they may not make it to .500 in MLBweakest division, and when they got a chance to reclaim first place and take down the Guardians themselves for the past two weeks, they withered. Even with Correa there is a lack of championship determination, and that doesn’t even come in the losing streak after the season.

A more forgiving evaluation of the 2022 Twins recognizes that they’ve had a ton of injuries (the Twins put an AL-leading 31 players on the injured list) and that their batters really underperformed in key situations. “Link” is a stat that measures players against themselves. It compares their performance in high leverage situations with their performance in all other situations, and:

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30. cubs: min-8.85
29. Twins: min-5.06
28. angels: min-4.98

To put it simply, Twins batters failed to make the most of the moment this season, time and time again. Injuries played a part in that as inferior batters took those high leverage at the plate, but we can’t be surprised when guys like Byron Buxton and Max Kepler and Alex Kirilloff get hurt. They have visited the injured list often enough in recent years.

Aside from the injuries and lack of hitting in time, the bigger problem is the throwing, and this has been a problem for a number of seasons. The Twins hired Derek Falvey to run their front office in October 2016 and in his six seasons as their chief baseball officer, they ended up with a below-average pitching staff four times. Look at their pitching ranks across the league:

2017

18th

24th

2018

22nd

122nd

2019

8th

4th

2020 (season of 60 games)

4th

3rd

2021

25th

25th

2022

20th

23rd

In Falvey’s six years, the Twins have had an above-average pitching staff during one season of 162 games and one season of 60 games, and that’s it. It takes some time to turn things around and those 2017-18 clubs reflect more what Falvey’s predecessors left behind than Falvey himself, but the 2021-2022 teams are all him and they are not good enough.

Falvey has done his best to trade for starters (Sonny Gray, Kenta Maeda, Joe Ryanetc.) instead of signing them as free agents (Dylan Bundy, YES Happ, Matt Shoemakeretc), although even the trades have been hit or missed. Chris Paddack and Tyler Mahlea were acquired on several runs this season, throwing a total of 38 2/3 innings before getting injured.

The Twins will not have one pitcher enough innings this year to qualify for the ERA title, and while that is not automatically a bad thing (the Shine hasn’t had a pitcher who qualified for the ERA title since 2019), know it’s intentional. Minnesota rarely lets its starting pitchers go through the lineup a third time, which is understandable when you see how most pitchers perform worse the third time through the order. Some figures about Twins starters:

  • 20.1 batters faced per start (second fewest behind the Rays at 19.0)
  • 4.8 turns per start (third least behind the pirates at 4.7 and Rays at 4.6)
  • 41 starts with no more than 18 batters faced (second most behind Rays with 47)

Again, the Rays show that you can pull your starter early and still have success. However, all those short starts put a lot of pressure on the bullpen and Tampa seems to have a never-ending supply of effective power relievers who are shuttled up and down between Triple-A and MLB as needed. The Twins don’t have that. Those short starts expose the bullpen’s weak underbelly.

It is too late to save 2022, but not too late to improve towards 2023, and something must be given. Either the Twins need to work their starters deeper into the game (which requires better starters) or they need to improve their bullpen and overall pitching depth. There are other issues to address, such as keeping players on the field, but throwing below average was a constant during the Falvey era. That has to change.

The good news for the Twins is that the AL Central is baseball’s weakest division and they don’t have to at a lot to get back into the postseason mix next year. Still, missing the postseason this year and potentially finishing under .500 in such a weak division is a concern well into the Falvey era. The Twins run into the same issues every year, and those issues have sunk theirs in 2022.

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