The Wholly Unfulfilling Explanation for the Twins by Jeff Sullivan May 14, 2015 A while back, after one of those occasions where someone accused us of writing about the same teams too much, I checked to see which teams had been written about here most and least often. I had to depend on accurate author tagging, which hasn’t always been consistent, but based on the tags, we’ve written the most about the predictable teams — Boston, New York, Oakland, and so on. The other end was interesting, if also predictable. Not as much about the Astros, although more lately. Not as much about the Padres, although more lately. There’s been comparatively little about the Rockies. And, there’s been comparatively little about the Twins. One thing we can say is that, right now, the Rockies suck. But the Twins? The Twins are demanding devoted and focused content. Not that we thought things were going to be this way. This year’s Twins were projected to be bad, and that was before Ervin Santana got suspended. Seven games into the season, the Twins found themselves six games out of first place, with a run differential almost twice as bad as the next-worst in the American League. But, since then, it’s been a month. Over that month, the Twins have tied for the league’s best record, with twice as many wins as losses. As things stand, the Twins have the eighth-best record in baseball. They have a better record than the Nationals. They’ve closed the gap on the Tigers and Royals. There’s competitive baseball in Minnesota. It’s the damnedest thing. But now I have to write the kind of post I don’t like to write. The Twins aren’t good. This isn’t keeping up. I want there to be reasons to believe, but the indicators are what the indicators are. I apologize for the statistics. They’re in charge of me, not the other way around. The other day, Dave wrote about the unclutch A’s. That shouldn’t be misread as “the A’s are unclutch”; rather, the A’s to this point have had mostly unclutch performances. It’s actually kind of amazing. The A’s are seven wins short of what BaseRuns thinks their record should be. No other team is short by more than three. Billy Beane didn’t assemble a great team, but he assembled a team better than this record, and now it probably doesn’t matter. Oh well. The Twins are the opposite story. They’re not as extreme as Oakland, but they’ve cleared their BaseRuns record by four wins already. Think of it like this: by actual record, the A’s are seven games worse than the Twins. By BaseRuns record, the Twins are four games worse than the A’s. That wouldn’t mean anything to any of the players. And obviously BaseRuns isn’t perfect. But only a fool would try to argue that BaseRuns is broken. I know, however, that for many, BaseRuns is kind of obscure. Even if it’s become a familiar concept, it’s not something we can simply calculate on our own at home. So for these purposes, we can stay a lot more simple. Look at this graph. On the y-axis, 2015 team winning percentage. Easy! On the x-axis, team batting OPS – team pitching OPS against. So, simple OPS differential. There are the Twins, in yellow. Their record is better than the best-fit line would suggest, because while the Twins have more wins than losses, they also have a higher OPS against than OPS for. It stands to reason that would be a bad thing. The Twins aren’t the team furthest from the line. But, they are separated. And seasons — full seasons — tend to balance these things out. Here is last year’s plot: Pretty solid agreement. OPS differential tends to tell the story, as easy as it is. Of some note: 2015 Twins OPS Differential: -0.033 Win Percentage: .559 2014 Twins OPS Differential: -0.045 Win Percentage: .432 By pitching and hitting and fielding, this year’s Twins haven’t been markedly better than last year’s Twins. Last year’s Twins were an also-ran. So where have these early wins been coming from? As with the A’s, you have to consider clutch performance. And if you don’t like the word “clutch”, you can think of it instead as good timing. The Twins have had pretty good timing. Unusually good timing. Below is a plot of high-leverage performance compared to low-leverage performance. It combines performance by hitters and performance by pitchers. I found the wOBA differential for each team’s hitters, and then I subtracted the wOBA differential for each team’s pitchers, such that the higher the resulting number, the better a team’s overall timing. Dave looked at something like this for Oakland, but he only considered pitchers. The Padres have had the best timing. The Mets have almost had the best timing. And the Twins are almost even with the Mets, with the third-highest mark in baseball and the highest mark in the American League. Compare them to the miserable Indians. The Indians have had godawful timing. It’s tried to ruin them. The Twins have just been riding the wave. But these are the things you just can’t expect to sustain. Not nearly to such extremes. And it’s not like the Twins have, say, an Andrew Miller/Dellin Betances combination that might allow them to slightly over-perform the underlying numbers. Glen Perkins is legitimately good, but let’s not go crazy. Something funny takes shape if you look at the Twins’ depth chart. They’re projected to win 45% of their remaining games. The lineup is projected for a .309 wOBA. The lineup right now has an actual .308 wOBA. The bullpen is projected for a 3.93 FIP. The bullpen right now has an actual 3.93 FIP. The rotation is projected for a 4.11 FIP. The rotation right now has an actual 4.45 FIP. In this sense, the Twins have actually under-achieved. According to the projections, Twins starters will pitch a little better, but the team will still win fewer games. Getting better while getting worse. If the Twins carried their current BaseRuns performance through the whole year, they’d finish with 72 expected wins, and a run differential of -87. The Twins’ full-season projection? It’s 73 expected wins, and a run differential of -75. It’s more or less the same. The Twins have been what one would’ve expected the Twins to be. In all ways except for one way, where that one way is the most important way. The Twins have been the predictable Twins, but a little bit of good timing can make a mediocre team look impressive. I’m sorry to say I don’t see it keeping up. I’m sorry to say I’m not buying the Twins. These are the arguments that nobody likes, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be made. The good news for Twins fans is simply that record matters more than everything else. The good news is wins have been there, more often than losses, and all a fan can ever ask for is enough of a glimmer of hope. The glimmer for Minnesota is still glimmering, while other teams expected to be bad have been out-and-out bad. As long as there’s a chance, it doesn’t really matter what the chances are.