The 5 Reasons the Minnesota Twins are Above .500
It is May 10, and the Minnesota Twins are a game above .500. Like, what the whaaaat? If you predicted this at the beginning of the season, you are clearly a drunk with a vicious history of masochism. Seek help.
This odd turnaround presents a lot of interesting questions: Were the Mayans right? Is Terry Ryan a wizard? How is this happening?
For brevity and sanity’s sake, will focus on that last question – how is this happening? Here are five reasons contributing to the turnaround.
The Five Ways Minnesota is Above .500
1. Control of the Pitching Staff
Despite having the second highest batting-average-against in the majors (God bless the Houston Astros), the Twins have been able to lower their staff ERA by 0.71 runs from last year. A large portion of this is the fact that the Twins just don’t walk people. The team has issued a league-best 71 walks this season, almost half the total of the Toronto Blue Jays. (Side note: the Twins are also last in the league in strikeouts. They have recorded 174; the second-lowest total is San Diego’s 211. Boston is sitting at 333 on the year, but the Twins just took three out of four at Fenway.)
2. Stopping Opposing Running Games
As the Pioneer Press’ Mike Berardino wrote earlier this week, the Twins have gone from 28th last year in throwing out attempted base runners to leading the league thus far this year. After gunning down only 33 base runners in 151 attempts last season (21.9 percent), the backstops have prevented nine of 16 potential swiped bags (56 percent). This is a combination of pitchers throwing strikes, catchers using improved footwork, and a greater focus on applying tags for middle infielders.
3. Infield Defense
Okay, so most of this is the fact that ye of concrete glove, Tsuyoshi Nishioka, is no longer on the team. Pedro Florimon, Brian Dozier and Justin Morneau have been excellent while Trevor Plouffe has been much improved at third base.
Prior to Thursday’s game, the Twins had not committed a single error since April 26th. The team has committed the fifth-fewest errors in the majors and has the seventh-best fielding percentage. When you build your team’s philosophy around “pitching to contact,” defense seems like it should be a bit of a priority, and the Twins have come through here.
4. Production at the Bottom of the Order
While production 1-6 has been down this year, the 7-9 spots are getting the job done. After last night’s game, the batting average of those spots is up to .262. Thursday, the Twins managed to hit for the cycle with a single from Florimon, double from Aaron Hicks, and a triple and a homer from Oswaldo Arcia. The lead-off spot has posted a solid .191 average, mostly due to Hicks’ struggles at the beginning of the season. Their .632 OPS at the bottom of the order has improved to over .700 this year, setting the table for the top of the order.
5. Less Twin-Killings
Last year, in situations with a runner on first and less than two outs, the Twins hit into 149 double plays in 1,174 opportunities, or 13 percent of the time. Considering the sample size, being two percent above the league average of 11 percent is significant. This year, however, the Twins have hit into double plays only eight percent of the time in those situations. Nothing kills a good rally like a double play (or a Nick Punto at-bat), so a deviation from this wicked trend is a welcome site in Minnesota.
While there is still no way the Twins contend this year, it is encouraging for the future to see them having success now. It is clear that Ron Gardenhire and Terry Ryan have righted the ship by focusing on problem areas, addressing them, and turning an abysmal club into a shockingly average one.
Jim Sannes is the numberFire columnist for the Minnesota Twins and other assorted teams. Like what you see or want to argue? Let him know on Twitter at @JimSannes.