Thursday, December 18, 2008

Average is OK

In my previous post I included a rather clumsily laid out argument against the urgency for the Twins to acquire a "big, RH bat" this offseason. Basically, it was that all the regulars who performed really well last season were lefties - Denard Span, Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau and Jason Kubel. That the righties didn't perform wasn't so much a reflection upon their abilities but rather that they just had a bad year last year, and they'll probably return to their career averages in 2009, which would be just fine.

In assessing how your team, on paper, ought to perform, looking at career averages is better than recent history - the larger the sample size, the better it will represent a player's actual ability. Of course, some players will get hurt, and their replacements will usually be a step down in production (although the Twins were able to fly in the face of that in 2006 and 2008), but you have to plan for the season as though everyone will be healthy and your best players will be on the field every day.

I compiled offensive numbers for the Twins' offensive players as I would use them next year. For everyone between the ages of 25 and 35 and with 3 or more years of MLB experience, I simply plugged in their career averages projected out over a full season of AB. I would expect the younger guys to improve in each of their first three years (like Scott Baker), though some regress (like Boof Bonser) and some more or less repeat themselves (like Delmon Young). Still, I feel improvement is common enough that it is fairly conservative to merely plug in their numbers from 2008 (again, projected over a full season for those who didn't start the year in the Majors). For those older than 35 (er, I guess that's just Mike Redmond), I also repeated last year's numbers, although a further decline from him as he turns 38 shouldn't be a surprise. The caveats:

1. Runs and RBI are tricky individual stats, since they depend on what's happening around the batter, and that cast is always changing over the course of a career. In order to make sure that they'd add up to something plausible, I checked the average number of R/RBI over the past 7 seasons. Typically, there are about 6% more R than RBI, owing to double plays, wild pitches and errors. I decided to multiply the total RBI by 1.06 and take the lesser of that run total or the sum of everyone's average runs. That led to me subtracting runs from several players' averages, mainly Matt Tolbert, Jason Pridie, Buscher/Harris and Denard Span.

2. Jason Kubel's 2006 numbers are a major outlier. Since there is a legitimate physical excuse for them (he wasn't fully recovered from his 2005 knee reconstruction), I decided to compile his career averages without his 2006 numbers.

3. I used some pretty detailed methods to project a combined line for the Brian Buscher/Brendan Harris platoon in my previous post - I simply plugged those numbers in here.

4. Since Jason Pridie doesn't really have any MLB experience yet, I just used his career minor league averages.

Here's what I got:

Denard Span: 650 AB, .294/.387/.432, 191 H, 126 R, 88 RBI, 30 2B, 13 3B, 11 HR, 4 SF, 112 K, 94 BB, 7 HBP
Alexi Casilla: 600 AB, .281/.333/.374, 169 H, 90 R, 78 RBI, 23 2B, 0 3B, 11 HR, 9 SF, 70 K, 48 BB, 3 HBP
Joe Mauer: 530 AB, .317/.399/.457, 168 H, 84 R, 78 RBI, 33 2B, 4 3B, 11 HR, 7 SF, 60 K, 75 BB, 2 HBP
Justin Morneau: 600 AB, .281/.348/.498, 169 H, 88 R, 117 RBI, 36 2B, 2 3B, 30 HR, 8 SF, 100 K, 61 BB, 4 HBP
Michael Cuddyer: 550 AB, .268/.344/.441, 147 H, 82 R, 78 RBI, 32 2B, 5 3B, 18 HR, 4 SF, 117 K, 59 BB, 7 HBP
Jason Kubel: 500 AB, .274/.336/.458, 137 H, 71 R, 80 RBI, 29 2B, 3 3B, 19 HR, 7 SF, 95 K, 50 BB, 1 HBP
Delmon Young: 575 AB, .290/.336/.405, 167 H, 80 R, 69 RBI, 28 2B, 4 3B, 10 HR, 5 SF, 105 K, 35 BB, 7 HBP
Buscher/Harris: 550 AB, .302/.363/.456, 166 H, 65 R, 98 RBI, 32 2B, 1 3B, 17 HR, 14 SF, 85 K, 53 BB, 1 HBP
Nick Punto: 475 AB, .252/.319/.332, 120 H, 62 R, 36 RBI, 20 2B, 5 3B, 3 HR, 4 SF, 88 K, 48 BB, 0 HBP

Mike Redmond: 129 AB, .287/.321/.333, 37 H, 14 R, 12 RBI, 6 2B, 0 3B, 0 HR, 1 SF, 11 K, 5 BB, 2 HBP
Matt Tolbert: 250 AB, .283/.322/.389, 71 H, 28 R, 13 RBI, 13 2B, 7 3B, 0 HR, 2 SF, 42 K, 15 BB, 0 HBP
Jason Pridie: 189 AB, .278/.323/.433, 53 H, 24 R, 21 RBI, 9 2B, 4 3B, 4 HR, 2 SF, 40 K, 12 BB, 1 HBP

Team Totals: 5598 AB, .285/.349/.426, 1595 H, 814 R, 768 RBI, 291 2B, 48 3B, 134 HR, 67 SF, 925 K, 555 BB, 35 HBP
2008 Twins: 5641 AB, .279/.340/.408, 1572 H, 829 R, 791 RBI, 298 2B, 49 3B, 111 HR, 72 SF, 979 K, 529 BB, 36 HBP

This bears out what I guessed shortly after the season ended this fall: while the 2009 Twins will undoubtedly have a lower BA with RISP and therefore score fewer runs, those losses will be mitigated by an increase in power by some players who had underperformed their career averages. Mauer and Morneau add 9 HR to the team total if they show their typical power. By replacing Carlos Gomez in the lineup will full seasons of Span and average Cuddyer, the Twins pick up a ton of walks and 13 HR while cutting about 30 K. Substituting Punto and Buscher/Harris for the AB given to Mike Lamb and Adam Everett also helps.

Fewer runs, but an increase in team BA, OBP, SLG%, HR and BB. The resulting .775 Team OPS would have been 5th in the AL last year after Texas, Boston, Detroit and the Chisox. That, combined with improved pitching and defense, should help the Twins maintain their run differential. The same rules apply for the pitching projections, with these caveats:

1. I'm only averaging bullpen members' numbers as relievers, so we'll use only Boof's half-season in the 'pen to project '09.

2. However, I'm including Guerrier's numbers from his 3 spot starts, since none of them lasted longer than 4 IP.

3. I'm using Jose Mijares' minor league averages.

4. And I'm using Philip Humber's minor league averages - including from his starts.

Scott Baker: 33 GS, 195 IP, 209 H, 92 ER, 25 HR, 145 K, 43 BB, 4.23 ERA, 1.29 WHIP
Francisco Liriano: 33 GS, 190.2 IP, 157 H, 67 ER, 17 HR, 211K, 61 BB, 3.14 ERA, 1.14 WHIP
Kevin Slowey: 33 GS, 196 IP, 197 H, 87 ER, 27 HR, 150 K, 29 BB, 3.99 ERA, 1.15 WHIP
Nick Blackburn: 33 GS, 193.1 IP, 224 H, 87 ER, 23 HR, 96 K, 39 BB, 4.05 ERA, 1.36 WHIP
Glen Perkins: 30 GS, 174 IP, 211 H, 85 ER, 29 HR, 85 K, 45 BB, 4.41 ERA, 1.47 WHIP

Joe Nathan: 71.1 IP, 46 H, 16 ER, 4 HR, 85 K, 22 BB, 2.02 ERA, 0.95 WHIP
Jesse Crain: 69.2 IP, 63 H, 25 ER, 6 HR, 42 K, 23 BB, 3.26 ERA, 1.26 WHIP
Matt Guerrier: 76.1 IP, 77 H, 31 ER, 10 HR, 52 K, 26 BB, 3.66 ERA, 1.35 WHIP
Craig Breslow: 75.1 IP, 61 H, 19 ER, 2 HR, 65 K, 38 BB, 2.27 ERA, 1.31 WHIP
Boof Bonser: 78 IP, 99 H, 51 ER, 12 HR, 83 K, 24 BB, 5.88 ERA, 1.58 WHIP
Jose Mijares: 70 IP, 54 H, 26 ER, 8 HR, 84 K, 40 BB, 3.39 ERA, 1.34 WHIP
Philip Humber: 65 IP, 62 H, 31 ER, 9 HR, 57 K, 20 BB, 4.29 ERA, 1.27 WHIP

Team Total: 1454.2 IP, 1460 H, 617 ER, 172 HR, 1,155 K, 410 BB, 3.82 ERA, 1.29 WHIP
2008 Twins: 1459 IP, 1568 H, 675 ER, 183 HR, 995 K, 406 BB, 4.16 ERA, 1.35 WHIP
2008 Rays: 1457.2 IP, 1349 H, 618 ER, 167 HR, 1,143 K, 526 BB, 3.82 ERA, 1.29 WHIP

How about that! Our 2009 staff puts up numbers nearly identical to Tampa Bay's 2008 squad, which finished 2nd in the AL. With Liriano replacing Livan Hernandez' innings the Twins get a huge spike in K and drop in H and ER. Guerrier returning to form solves a lot of the bullpen's problems. Mijares replacing Brian Bass takes care of the rest (provided he matches his minor league efficiency). And even if he doesn't, I'd be amazed if most of the Twins' starters failed to exceed these projections (for example, if they stay healthy and make 33 starts, at least a couple of them should be able to surpass 200 IP). Increased innings from the starters will lower the toll on the relievers, making them more effective - and more likely to realize their career averages.

The final piece comes from a defensive performance that reverts to the average under the Gardenhire years, at least in terms of how the errors lead to unearned runs. The Twins allowed a ghastly 70 unearned runs in 2008, by far the most of this decade. The average number of unearned runs allowed by the Twins in the last 8 seasons is 54. Improved play by a less green OF should help make up most of that difference. Casilla has made just 2 errors in 38 games at second base in the Dominican Winter League - at that rate, he would make only 8 errors over a full MLB season. And Punto should be an upgrade over the way Everett played last year.

If those things came together to bring the unearned runs back to average, the Twins would allow 671 R in 2009. That would make their run differential +143. According to the Pythagorean Expectation, that would give the Twins a record of 96-66. I may get into 2nd and/or 3rd order wins later on this winter if I'm still this bored and starved for baseball, but you get the idea. If the team the Twins have already assembled can just stay healthy and do what they normally do, they should be strong division contenders to say the least.

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