The baseball season takes place from April to September. In those 180 days, each of the 30 MLB teams plays 162 games. That number doesn’t divide by four neatly, but having played 43 games (as of last night), my Minnesota Twins are definitely past the quarter mark of this season.
Back in 2010, when the Twins finished 94-68 (.580) and won the American Central Division, after 43 games they had a 26-17 (.605) win-loss record. In the awful three years that followed, they had (respectively) records of 15-28 (.349), 15-28 (.349 again) and 18-25 (.419) — all three years falling below the important .500 mark.
What’s astonishing is that this year the Twins… aren’t sucking!
They aren’t blowing the doors off anyone, but their current 22-21 (.512) win-loss record is the best since 2010. More importantly perhaps, watching them this year isn’t cringe-inducing, as it has been the previous three. It’s actually fun to watch Twins games again! (And since we’re hosting the All-Star Game this year at Target Field, it’s nice that we don’t suck!)
There seems no way that we’ll win the division — the Detroit Tigers (27-14) almost certainly will get that honor (again). On the other hand, with nearly three-quarters of the season remaining, anything is still possible. The Tigers could falter (which is what it would take for anyone else in the Division to catch up).
One thing about baseball is how the long season creates a lot of opportunities to turn things around (or to crash and burn). Another thing about baseball is the game of being superstitious (or in some cases of being actually superstitious). Baseball players have been known to do strange things while on a streak. Eating the same food or not shaving are some of the milder forms these practices can take.
Traditionally, one superstition many in baseball follow is not talking about certain things least you “jinx” them. Most announcers will carefully avoid actually saying that a pitcher is throwing a perfect game or a no-hitter.
Viewers are typically treated to shots of the scoreboard (without comment) and will hear euphemisms, such as “he’s faced the minimum number of batters” or that “he’s had five 1-2-3 innings so far.”
Now I’m not superstitious, although I do have a little game I play of touching the outer surface of any airplane I board as I walk (or in the case of skydiving, step) onto it. As the old joke goes, I’m only mildly stitious (not super-stitious).
If the Twins begin to tank after I publish this post, I’m going to feel really bad!
But bravely and boldly daring fate, there are some interesting numbers this year (and baseball is very much a game of numbers — I’m pretty sure no other sport comes close to having the sea of stats that baseball does).
There is, first and foremost, that we’re managing to stay close to the .500 mark. The Twins have not dropped below three games under .500 so far this season.
On the other hand, we haven’t managed to get more than one game over .500 either. But compared to 2011 and 2012, when we never got above .500 all season, it’s reason for hope.
On the other hand, last year, we’d flirted with being two games over twice in April, but then hit an awful 10-game losing streak (May 14 – May 24) and we never came close to .500 for the remainder of the season (finishing that year with a dismal 66-96 (.407) record.
Baseball fans know that the key to winning is good pitching, and the lack of that is the primary cause of the Twins’ lack of success the last few years. Below is a table listing some key pitching stats over the last five years:
Giving up hits to one of every four batters faced is just one thing that makes Twins fan cringe. You can also see how the strikeout rate has been noticeably lower since 2010. Twins pitchers generally do good not walking too many, but this year are walking just over 8% of the batters they face — a high in the seasons considered.
So, great, as usual, our pitching continues to suck. I wish I knew why. Pitching coach Rick Anderson and Manager Ron Gardenhire are widely respected in the sport. It seems as if the front office just can’t find good pitchers. Or maybe the team just can’t afford them.
What has been a bit different this year is what’s been happening at the plate. Below is another table comparing some key batting stats over the last five years:
In fact, team batting stats aren’t all that great, which is why we’re only one game above .500 right now. Two stats that stand out are the Runs/Game (which isn’t too far below that of the winning season 2010) and the walk rate — just over ten percent of Twins’ plate appearances result in a walk! (This also shows up in the slightly higher OBP stat.) In fact, the Twins rank second among MLB teams in taking walks (shows good “plate discipline”).
What’s been kind of exciting this year is the performance of some of our individual batters.
Brian Dozier (my current favorite Twin) has a .263/.377/.480 record at the plate (AVG/OBP/SLG), and he’s not even our hottest hitter. He is, just maybe, one of the best second baseman in the game right now.
Currently we have three guys with a AVG of .300 or greater and nine hitting .250 or better. And we’ve got three guys with an SLG of .500 (although only one of them has a truly significant number of plate appearances).
A big success story this year is Chris Parmelee (.250/.308/.500), who’s hit three very important home runs (one a walk-off win for the Twins!). Parmelee’s career appeared to be on the skids, but due to injuries on the team, he was brought up for one last chance at the majors.
He’s absolutely taking full advantage of that chance! He only has 39 PAs so far, but he leads the team in home run rate (7.69% of PAs result in a HR). On the other hand, he strikes out at a rate of 23.08%, which actually ranks about middle in this strike-out prone team (Twins rank seventh in strike outs among the 30 MLB teams).
So,… dare we dream dreams of post-season? Well, we can always dream! Winning the Division is probably a stretch, but who knows… maybe we get there as a wild-card team. In all honesty, though, I’d settle for a season of enjoyable Twins baseball. Haven’t had one of those since 2010.