Clete Thomas, pictured closer to the ball than he was on many swings.
RandBall commenter and contributor Jon Marthaler sent this e-mail to us earlier today:
Talker on which I'd like to read your opinion: The Twins pitching is a bag of hammers. But every single position player is under contract for next year. Ignoring the 12 doomed men of the pitching staff, are you happy enough with the 13 position players to start 2013 with the same group?
It caught our attention as both a nice diversion from the Penn State news and also because we hadn't considered that simply stated fact about every position player being under contract (or at least team control) next season. Sure enough, though, if we accept a typical starting 9 as this, he is correct:
1. Denard Span (CF)
2. Ben Revere (RF)
3. Joe Mauer (C/DH)
4. Josh Willingham (LF)
5. Justin Morneau (1B)
6. Trevor Plouffe (3B)
7. Ryan Doumit (C/DH)
8. Brian Dozier (SS)
9. Jamey Carroll (2B)
In fact, everyone except Morneau and Carroll is also signed/controlled through 2014 by various means, including arbitration.
So the question is, assuming the Twins don't make a trade involving one of these hitters, are they good enough (along with the bench guys) to roll out without upgrades going into 2013 -- thus allowing the Twins to focus 100 percent of their attention, or something close to it, on pitching this offseason. (Note: Marth surely knows some of the Twins' 12 pitchers aren't terrible. But his point is well-taken).
Do we think this lineup is good enough to compete if the pitching is dramatically upgraded? Well, that’s a complicated question. Let’s dip our toes into the numbers:
The Twins have scored 405 runs in 95 games this season (4.26 per game), which is ninth in the AL. The overall numbers are not terrible, but they are below average.
However, when the Twins started 10-26 through May 15, they scored just 120 runs in that 36-game span (3.33 per game). In going 30-29 since then, they have scored 285 runs in 59 games – a full 1.5 runs more at 4.83 per game. How good is that pace? It’s the same pace the Yankees are on for the full season, which is to say it’s the fifth-best in all of MLB
Can we simply dismiss those first 36 games? Not entirely, but there are compelling reasons to at least focus more on the last 59. Think of how much the lineup has changed. The right field carousel that involved Erik Komatsu and Clete Thomas is gone. Ben Revere was sent up-and-down at the start of the year and didn’t get a permanent recall from Rochester until May 16 (playing May 17). Trevor Plouffe started hitting (four homers in the back half of May) and took over third base from the dispatched and slumping Danny Valencia. Brian Dozier debuted May 7, and while his overall offensive numbers are not great, he has added (at times) a little more punch to the bottom of the lineup and made it so Alexi Casilla and Jamey Carroll do not play at the same time when everyone is healthy. Also, Joe Mauer was perhaps dealing with the lingering effects of a foul-tip during the early part of May and was hitting overall just .270 with 1 homer and 15 RBI through May 15. Since then, he’s hitting .372 with 5 HRs and 30 RBI.
Of course, to rely solely on the last 59 games would be to unrealistically project Plouffe’s scorching June over an entire season, gives Mauer numbers better than his career averages, and assumes Ryan Doumit will always hit .317 with a .491 slugging percentage (which he has done since May 15). … Then again, you could also realistically expect Dozier to improve next season and maybe even think Morneau, with another bunch of at-bats, could inch closer to his pre-concussion form.
So, Jon, our short answer is: Yes. We believe the Twins lineup, with a better pitching staff, is good enough to make this team at least competitive within the AL Central again. Terry Ryan doesn’t seem completely sold, saying recently, “"I don't want to berate my own organization here, but I have to be honest: We're not scoring runs [consistently].” But we’re not so sure. If the Twins could come close to maintaining a 4.83 runs/game average, they would be right in the range they were during all of their division-winning seasons between 2002 and 2010 (they had between 768 and 817 runs in all six years they won the AL Central … their pace over the last 59 games would put them at about 783 for a full season).
That said, trades could still be made this season and the final 60-plus games will give us a better answer and larger sample size to determine how many bats (if any) need to be added to the stable of arms brought in for 2013.