Thursday, July 15, 2010

What's To Come

What can we look forward to from this Twins team that has staggered into the All-Star Break?

They still ought to be able to win the AL Central. It's a bit of a fluke that they're not in 1st place now. Even with their recent fade coinciding with season-best play from the White Sox and Tigers, the Twins still have the best run differential in the division. And that's with large swaths of the roster having middling or subpar seasons.

Look through the Twins' stats. Compare what they're doing so far in 2010 with their career averages and their career bests. The only hitters having career-best years are Justin Morneau and Delmon Young. (Morneau has always been a great hitter through the first 4 months of the season, though, so his .345/.437/.618 line isn't outlandishly better than the .311/.379/.570 hitter he's been at this point over the last 4 seasons - he's had some good luck, and he's made some improvements. Young was always thought to have this sort of potential, and posted similar numbers in the 2nd half last year.) Everybody else is underperforming to some degree relative to their career averages. That suggests to me that, at the very least, the present rate of offensive production (4.6 R/G) is sustainable.

As for the pitchers, Carl Pavano, Brian Duensing and Jon Rauch are all having exemplary seasons, and Alex Burnett is exceeding expectations so far. Francisco Liriano, Kevin Slowey, Ron Mahay and Matt Guerrier are putting up similar numbers to what we might expect from their career averages. Everybody else has room for improvement. Especially Nick Blackburn. So the pitching ought to be able to at least maintain the first half rate of 4.4 R/G.

That means that the floor for this team by season's end should be 751 runs scored and 685 runs allowed. That differential results in a 1st order Pythagorean winning percentage of .546, good for 88-89 wins.

Then look at the strength of schedule the Twins face in each half. The middling numbers and 46-42 1st half record were amassed against rather strong competition. 18 games against the Yankees, Rangers, Red Sox and Rays. 12 against NL contenders: the Braves, Mets, Phillies and Rockies. 17 against the White Sox and Tigers. But just 14 games against last place teams, and another 15 against the Royals and Brewers. The aggregate winning percentage of the teams the Twins played in the 1st half was .511.

The 2nd half looks a bit more inviting. The Twins finish their divisional schedule with 6 against the Tigers, 9 with the Royals, 12 against the Indians and 13 vs. the White Sox. They have 4 game series with the Rays, Blue Jays and Orioles. In the AL West, they'll face Texas 7 times, Seattle and Oakland 6 times, and the Angels 3 times. That group has a combined winning percentage of .486.

That makes the 2nd half about 5% easier than the 1st half. Let's say those opponents score 5% fewer runs and allow the Twins to score 5% more runs. That would get our boys to the end of the season with 768 RS and a devilishly good 666 RA, for a Pythagorean W% of .571, good for 92-93 wins.

As for the competition, the Tigers are in big trouble. Right now, they're about 4 wins ahead of their expected W%, meaning that they've been pretty lucky so far. They have the best home record in the AL, thanks in large part to a 9-game interleague home stand against the cellar dwellers of each of the three NL divisions. They are a poor road team, though, and in the 2nd half, they'll have to play 40 of 76 games away from Detroit, including 11 games at the Yankees, Red Sox and Rays.

They have a very shaky rotation after Justin Verlander. Their lineup is dependent upon a couple of standout rookies whose performance to date drastically exceeds anything their minor league track records would have predicted. The clock is going to strike midnight on those guys at some point in the next couple months, and when it does, it will leave the Tigers with just 4 formidable hitters in their lineup. The Tigers will fall by the wayside; I expect them to have a losing record in the 2nd half, and it will be touch and go as to whether they finish the season with more wins than losses.

The White Sox don't have it quite so tough. They're already done playing the Rangers and Rays, and have just 3 games left with the Yankees. They get to play Seattle and Oakland 15 times, and Baltimore 7. The toughest thing for them will be the AL Central match-ups: they only have 6 games each left against the Royals and Indians, but have to play the Twins 13 times and the Tigers 14. That adds up to a 2nd half opponent W% of .509 - pretty close to what the Twins had to face in the 1st half. They also have to play the majority of their games on the road.

The 25-5 run the Sox have been on is just ludicrous (27 QS in 30 games? No losses by more than 1 run? Unsustainable, to say the least.) They're not really that good. On the other hand, they're not as bad as they showed in the first 2 months of the season. They would seem to be capable of sustaining their rates of scoring and run prevention, which would lead to an expected record of about 87-75.

The AL Central is still there for the taking. The Twins need to take advantage of their softer 2nd half schedule. More than anything, they need to take care of business in their 13 head-to-head meetings with the Sox. We can expect Kenny Williams to do something to improve Chicago's chances. Bill Smith must make a corresponding move in order to keep the relative strengths of the teams in balance. It's certainly within the Twins' means to do that.

Cheer up, Twins fans. Things have been lousy for 3 weeks or so. But they're bound to get better.

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