AL CentralAnalysis

Minnesota Twins: Not Good, but Good Enough?

Past the midway mark and the Minnesota Twins are technically still contending

Editor’s Note: All stats are accurate up through the first half of the season.

After an underwhelming first half of their season, the 50-48 Minnesota Twins are still somehow 2.0 games ahead of the 47-49 Cleveland Guardians. Following an embarrassing sweep by the visiting Baltimore Orioles, the All-Star Break couldn’t have come at a better time – and since then, the Twins have started with a series sweep of the Athletics and a series split with the Mariners in the second half.

Hovering around .500 is apparently good enough for the division lead, but it doesn’t inspire much confidence. With this unique opportunity to contend, what are the Twins doing right, and ultimately what’s going wrong?

The Good

The 2023 Minnesota Twins aren’t the same squad your dad remembers. Unlike in years past, it’s the pitching that’s keeping any postseason hopes alive.

Among all Major League teams in the first half, the Twins were first in bWAR (6.6), FIP (3.70), SIERA (3.75), and WHIP (1.165); second in fWAR (12.8), strikeouts (870), and runs allowed per game (3.74); and third in ERA (3.68). They were a top three MLB team in BA (.228), OBP (.292), SLG (.377), and wOBA (.291), and MLB’s best in Statcast’s expected counterparts, xBA (.228), xSLG (.382), and xWOBA (.296). Clearly, this team can pitch, but who’s leading this revolution?

Minnesota’s Big Three

All-Stars Sonny Gray, Pablo López, and breakout starter Joe Ryan lead baseball’s best rotation with a combined 6.6 bWAR, 7.8 fWAR, and 363 strikeouts across 317.2 innings. At this rate, the Twins may have two pitchers reach the 200-strikeout mark in the same season for just the second time in team history. López’ 245-strikeout pace would also match Johan Santana’s total in his 2006 Cy Young campaign.

In case it’s not clear just how good these three have been for Minnesota, their current 13.9 fWAR pace would be the most for three Twins starters since 2004. Johan Santana, Brad Radke, and Carlos Silva combined for 14.4 fWAR that year and led the team to a third consecutive division title. That also happens to be the year the team earned its most recent playoff victory.

Back then, the Twins went a combined 29-25 through those first 54 starts. This year, the Twins have a 28-26 record in the trio’s first 54 starts. The 2004 team finished the year 92-70, first in the AL Central. To match that record this year, Minnesota will have to finish 47-24. The pitching has demonstrated they’re more than capable, but how about the offense?

Pablo López pitched his first career complete game shutout July 5th to complete a sweep of the Royals (via @Twins on Twitter)

The Not Good

Unfortunately for the Minnesota Twins, their offense isn’t having the same level of success, and the frustration is mounting. To make matters worse, veterans and rookies alike are seemingly stuck in endless slumps.

One bright spot: the lineup’s 10.0% barrel rate is the best in the AL, and third best in the Majors. With 115 home runs the Twins rank fifth in the AL and eighth in baseball, so offense still appears dangerous. But their bark is certainly worse than their bite.

Through the first half, the Twins have produced -0.7 bWAR, 9.3 fWAR, a 98 wRC+, .310 wOBA, and just 4.18 runs per game. Beyond the below-average run production, Minnesota is on pace to break the MLB strikeout record (currently 1,596). Their inability to put the ball in play has resulted in scoring three runs or fewer in 45 of their 91 games (49.5%). In those 45 games, the Twins are 10-35, which is a roughly 36-win pace across 162 games. If pitching gets so much credit for success, who shoulders the blame on offense?

Couple Cold Bats

Veterans Byron Buxton and Carlos Correa are exemplifying the team’s boom-or-bust tendencies as much as anyone. To go along with a 13.9% and 11.4% barrel rate respectively, they’ve hit 26 of the team’s home runs. But on the flip side, both players are striking out at or near career-high rates. At their paces, Buxton would finish the season with 155 strikeouts, and Correa would have 144, setting new highs for both players.

To more clearly illustrate how Buxton and Correa’s seasons are going, simply see Wins Above Replacement. Buxton has 0.8 bWAR and 0.7 fWAR in 73 games, while Correa has 1.1 bWAR and fWAR in 80 games. For reference, in 2021 Buxton had 4.6 bWAR and 4.1 fWAR through 61 games. The same year, Correa had 7.2 bWAR and 6.2 fWAR in 148 games.

Both players have histories of battling injuries, and both have missed time this season. Buxton’s knee has kept him from playing the field the entire first half, but he’s also missed time due to back and rib issues. Correa has missed time due to back issues of his own, and some relating to a plantar fasciitis diagnosis (left foot, opposite the suspicious ankle).

One June 22nd, Byron Buxton became the first player in the Statcast era with two 460+ foot home runs in the same game (via @Twins on Twitter)

It’s worth noting that because of injuries keeping Buxton out of center field, his elite defense has been absent, and the designated hitter spot in the lineup has been clogged with poor production. That said, is there anything the Twins could do to pick up the slack while Buxton and Correa heat up?

Second Half Outlook

Things may look for the Minnesota Twins this season, but not all hope is yet lost. To the dismay of baseball teams on the east and west coasts, the AL Central is pathetically weak. As bad as the Twins have been this season, the rest of the division has been so much worse.

The catalyst for the desired change could be a roster shakeup, and with the trade deadline less than a month out it’s something to keep an eye on.

Getting Gooder

To take command of the AL Central, the Twins have important decisions to make. Some things are simply out of the team’s control, but the first thing they can do to improve in the second half is to choose between Joey Gallo and Max Kepler. Both are left-handed hitting corner outfielders, but Gallo has a 108 OPS+, 111 wRC+, and a 40.9% strikeout rate. Kepler has just an 88 OPS+, 90 wRC+, and just a 23.0% strikeout rate. Defensively, Gallo has slipped, but Kepler is still an above-average defender in the outfield. It’ll be interesting to see if potential deadline buyers have any interest in either.

Joey Gallo watches his Twins-leading 15th home run fly in Baltimore on July 1st (via @Twins on Twitter)

The next move the team should make is finding a lefty masher. Minnesota’s .654 OPS, .288 wOBA, and 25.8 K% against left-handed pitching are near the worst in baseball. Outside the organization, Nationals outfielder Lane Thomas is a previously mentioned potential trade target. Against lefties, he has a 1.073 OPS, .454 wOBA, and a 187 wRC+, easily dwarfing the Twins in 2023. The asking price has certainly increased, but for two and a half years of control, it’s worth a call.

One last thing the Twins desperately need is a healthy Byron Buxton. Michael A. Taylor is an excellent defensive substitute, but his 34.0% strikeout rate and 82 OPS+ and 83 wRC+ are hindering the offense. Getting Buxton back in center field will improve the lineup, and open up the DH slot. For Buxton, the value he brings defensively in addition to his offense is the reason he’s the franchise cornerstone. Without his defense, poor offensive production doesn’t give the team much.

AL Central is the Twins to Lose

If the pitching can hold up, the bats come alive, and the front office can supplement the roster, the path to the playoffs lays before them. If the Twins’ front office truly believes in 2023 as a contention year, now is the time to make the final additions and subtractions.

While it’s never wise to discount Tito’s Guardians, the Twins could still take command of the AL Central. The Guardians had the easiest first-half schedule, but the Twins have the easiest slate remaining. A modest six or seven-game win streak could be all it takes to wrap up the division.

The Twins will begin the second half of their season Friday, July 14th in Oakland against the Athletics.

Featured Photo: @Twins on Twitter

Patrick Javier

A Minnesota native and Black Hills State University graduate, Patrick is a lifelong Twins fan, Latin cuisine enthusiast, and amateur cactus gardener. He's currently living the Mile High Life™ in Denver, Colorado where the views are great but the local team is not. Follow on Twitter and Instagram: @OGPapatron.

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