How far are the Twins from contention? One side looks at their dismal record and wants a complete makeover. The other looks at the team's players and thinks they’re just a couple of arms away from a pennant race. Which is it?
Let’s do some back-of-the-napkin figuring. As of right now, the Twins are 111 runs under .500. Not wins under .500, but runs under .500.
That isn’t good. The Indians are the only American League team that’s worse. The three teams who have the most runs over .500 also happen to be the division leaders. The outlier is the Orioles, who are 45 runs under .500 but still have a shot at the wild card. But for the most part, the teams that are around 40 runs over .500 have a decent chance at a playoff spot.
So how do the Twins, in 2013, get from -110 to +40? Can they? Is that realistic?
It ain’t easy, but the Twins are both blessed and cursed by the same trait – they’re starting pitching is truly dreadful. That’s not breaking news, but just HOW awful they are is both stomach-turning and hope-inducing.
They’re the worst team in the American League, and it’s not particularly close. The starting rotation’s ERA is currently 5.56. Next worst is almost a full half run better. The AL average is more than a run better. The median team is 1.2 runs better. And the best team, the Devil Rays, is more than two runs better per game.
So where’s the hope? It’s in some simple math.
The average AL starting rotation pitches about 990 innings, or about 110 full games worth of innings. If the rotation improves to just second worst in the AL, that’s worth 55 runs. A move to mediocrity brings them another 110 to 130 runs. That at least sounds close to contention.
It turns out both sides are right. The Twins are dismal. And they’re a few non-terrible arms from contention. So the argument shifts: how tough is it to cobble together mediocre starting pitching?
That depends on who you talk to. The Orioles might say it’s not that daunting, considering their rotation improved from dead last in 2011 to 9th this year with nothing more than a couple of cheaper free agent pickups. On the other hand, the Royals haven’t been better than the 10th best team in the AL since 2003, which is also the last time they were contenders.
Twins optimists might point to Scott Diamond, a Rule 5 pickup, as an example of how decent starting pitching can come from where one least expects it. Twins pessimists might point to the other ten players who have started atop the mound at some point this season. None have thrown even 100 innings as a starter. None are likely to. If the front office could find pitching talent, wouldn’t they have found some in the 107 games started by those pitchers?
I’m not sure I know the answer. But watching the last few weeks of the season and seeing the performances of Liam Hendriks, Sam Deduno and hopefully Esmerling Vasquez could – and probably should – play a part in the overall direction of the franchise this season.
So maybe neither side is right, at least not yet.
Twins Daily has two different stories on this weekend's games between the Beloit Snappers and the Cedar Rapids Kernels. The Snappers are the Twins farm team that is loaded with prospects and Jim Crikket's story has some great pictures and insights on them. There is also a lot of speculation that the Twins could adopt Cedar Rapids as their farm team next year, and "Mr. Horrorpants" wrote a more whimsical story about visiting a team whose mascot is Mr. Shucks.