All stats current as of Friday, July 17.
The Minnesota Twins are 50-40 and the American League’s top wild-card team in the middle of July.
I just wanted to type that sentence to see if it looked as crazy as it sounded in my head.
As a Twins fan, the 2015 season has been odd and surprising and enjoyable and endlessly flummoxing. Twins fans are oscillating between waiting for the other shoe to drop and convincing themselves that they always knew these shoes were baller as hell.
A few minutes ago, as I sat here, nursing a beer and trying to determine how to go about describing this particular Twins-fan feeling, “Once in a Lifetime” popped in my head. I don’t believe it was accidental.
First comes the positive: “You may find yourself in a beautiful house, with a beautiful wife / And you may ask yourself / Well … how did I get here?” And then, of course, the inevitable negative: “And you may tell yourself / ‘This is not my beautiful house’ / And you may tell yourself / ‘This is not my beautiful wife.'”
These lines capture the essence of the 2015 Twins; I always thought they would be good by 2015, and in a particularly vulnerable moment I can convince myself that they are good in 2015. But this team? These players?
We may ask ourselves: well, how did we get here?
(Spoilers to follow.)
(Spoiler alert: It’s cluster luck.)
As Matt Trueblood wrote in his BttP Twins preview, last year’s Twins boasted a surprisingly potent offense—fifth in the AL in runs scored—for a team that finished 70-92 and at the bottom of the AL Central.
According to OPS+, the 2015 Twins have had three above-average hitters—Brian Dozier, Trevor Plouffe and Torii Hunter—who have played the bulk of the season. (Eduardo Nunez, who has a wOBA of .347 and a career-high ISO, has only appeared in 37 games and hit 116 times.)
Dozier has been a revelation. The 28-year-old Mississippi native has become more aggressive in 2015 and it’s paid off: Dozier has compensated for the 3.8% drop in his walk rate by out-slugging his 2014 breakout season by 103 points. The end result? A wOBA of .362, up from .340 last season. If it wasn’t for the insane things Jason Kipnis is doing, the Twins would have the finest second baseman in baseball.
(Here in Minnesota anyway, Dozier has also pretty clearly claimed the “Fan Favorite” championship belt, which Joe Mauer wore until he had to go and accept the hundreds of millions of dollars he was offered and sustain multiple brain injuries. What a jerk.)
The recent addition of Miguel Sano—who (knock on wood) has seemingly arrived as a fully-formed cleanup hitter and has hit a bananas .350/.469/.600 in his first 49 plate appearances—has bolstered this relatively thin lineup, adding the legitimate clean-up hitter Twins fans have been missing since Justin Morneau.
Eddie Rosario has looked comfortable, though not yet electrifying, and if/when Oswaldo Arcia, Kennys Vargas and Byron Buxton can stay healthy and semi-productive, this team looks downright cool! Like the kind of cool we could have been if we had just kept Carlos Gomez!
All in all, the Twins’ offense is still relatively inept: they rank 12th in wOBA and wRC+ in the American League and 11th on the base paths, according to Baserunning Runs. The Twins have unwittingly compiled a “stars ‘n scrubs” lineup with Dozier and (fingers crossed) Sano as the only possible stars. Torii Hunter’s like a Red giant, maybe.
The hope—irrational dream?—is that the well-stocked prospect pantry can transform into a veritable feast, to belabor an ill-advised metaphor.
(Spoiler reminder: It’s just cluster luck, homey.)
The pitching staff is pretty sad, honestly, but getting less sad by the day. It’s only like 2/5 sad, which for the Target Field-era Twins is pretty good.
Trevor May has impressed, putting up a 3.15 FIP and 4 K/BB ratio in 84 1/3 innings, and Kyle Gibson has (somehow) put up good numbers despite lacking strikeout stuff and inducing tons of ground balls—some of which skip toward Danny Santana, who’s to fielding what a three-year-old is to painting.
Ervin Santana is back from his suspension, which he incurred due to an accidental anabolic steroids binge (it can happen to anyone), and, like Sano, his arrival should function as a de facto “deadline deal,” buoying a thin staff in need of some consistency. Aside from a shaky four-inning, three-homer outing against the Tigers, he’s looked sharp since he’s been back.
The problem, as always with these Twins, is that the front office has stockpiled pitchers who can’t miss bats and then forced them to pitch in front of defenders who can’t turn batted balls into outs.
The good news is that, one way or another, we’ve got center field covered: Aaron Hicks has been tremendous with the glove, as was Buxton in his brief stint there.
The bad news is that there are two other outfield positions, and the Twins have filled them with Hunter, a 39-year-old who can no longer field, and Rosario, a rookie whose natural position is second and is learning left field on the fly.
But: it used to be way worse! Remember Delmon Young, Michael Cuddyer, Jason Kubel, et. al.? Their collective UZR just read “crime against humanity.” We’re going places, people.
(Big spoiler reveal: Cluster luck for the win!)
Alright, folks: a lot has been written about this crazy Twins team, and as much as it’d be fun to come up with some newfangled theory or statistic to explain their unexpected success, I’m going to tell you what you already know: the Twins have been lucky as all hell, specifically when it comes to cluster luck.
As Jeff Sullivan and like every other baseball writer has written, these Twins have had impeccable timing, both offensively and defensively: the Twins have scored 24.9 runs more than expected and have allowed 34.2 runs fewer than expected. All told, that’s a 59.1 run swing in the right direction for Minnesota—the largest positive differential in the majors by a mile.
And, unlike some of those teams—like the Cardinals or the Blue Jays—the Twins’ incredible timing has come both at the plate and in the field. To my eyes, anyway, these numbers confirm what it’s been like to watch the Twins in 2015: when they’re hitting or in the field, it’s just working out. Call it clutch, call it cluster luck: either way it’s working.
There are only 72 games left and the Twins have won 50; their playoff odds are 36% if you include the coin-flip game. As they say, those wins are in the bank. Paul Molitor will not have to return them to the luck gods. And, in the first half of the season, the Twins have been successful while putting out what is likely their worst 25-man squad; they should only improve, roster-wise.
As a statistical or analytical explanation, luck and good timing can feel “wholly unfulfilling,” as Sullivan put it.
But as a fan, the randomness, the uncertainty, the crazy “can-this-last” nature of the 2015 Twins season has been wholly thrilling.
Maybe it’s time to stop trying to make sense of these Twins. Maybe it’s time to just enjoy the ride.
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