Five questions: Minnesota Twinsby Troy Patterson
March 16, 2012
Can Justin Morneau ever be healthy again?
Justin Morneau came into camp and offered some sobering words.
"I don't think there will be a career if it's something I'm dealing with (for the long term). That's the reality of the whole thing. I'm obviously not going to continue to mess around with this if it continues to be a problem."
It is going to be a long season if Morneau can't be the bat at the heart of the Twins order and the long term aspect of losing him makes a struggling franchise's future that much more dire. Morneau has been one of the better players for the past six or seven seasons and has ranked eighth among first basemen from 2006 to 2010 in fWAR. His 2010 was an amazing season: In only 81 he hit .345 with 18 homers for a 1.055 OPS and 5.0 fWAR. Then he incurred a head injury while sliding into second base and missed the remainder of 2010.
In 2011 he managed 69 games, but concussion symptoms returned and he was not the same player.
The Twins need Morneau to be healthy. Without him they can count on only a few players to be better than average. If he struggles, it's possible the Twins have only one or two position players who top league average value.
Can the bullpen do anything right?
The 2011 Twins bullpen ranked dead last in ERA, FIP and xFIP. There is no denying they stunk it up last season. The team felt bringing back Matt Capps to fill the closer role would be best although he has not been nearly the same level of pitcher he was in Pittsburgh. He was apparently dealing with arm issues. If he's healthy he could bounce back, but counting on him for the ninth inning is not a great start.
The Twins felt they took a good risk when they signed reliever Joel Zumaya to pitch setup innings after not pitching since 2010, but with Zumaya already injured and out for 2012 the Twins have felt a huge blow to the bullpen. This loss will result in more innings for Glen Perkins who had the best year of any Twins reliever by far, but also is largely untested in the pen and needs to prove his debut as reliever was not a fluke.
After Perkins things just get ugly with Anthony Swarzak, Alex Burnett, Jared Burton and Kyle Waldrop, who all have trouble striking out hitters. The team is going to have to look outside or risk matching the results of 2011 and losing plenty of games when their starters get pulled.
Is the offense doomed again if Joe Mauer is hurt or ineffective?
We already know the problems with Morneau, but Mauer having constant health problems only exacerbates the issue. A perennial MVP candidate when healthy, Mauer has had issues crop up year after year and last year it took significant time away from his season. With only 82 Mauer games in 2011, the team struggled to get any offense together. The Twins totaled only 619 runs, finishing ahead of only the Seattle Mariners in the American League.
In the time Morneau was out, Mauer played 18 games at first base and although that's a small sample, he looked quite good. The defensive metrics can't tell us anything on so few games, but the Twins may be facing the real truth that Mauer is headed to first base and DH duties before injuries related to the catching position take him down. There is no doubt his bat is good enough to play those spots and the Twins have to do everything they can to get him out there as many times as they can with the troubles the rest of the team is having.
Does the rotation have an ace?
The term "ace" might be a bit meaningless, but the Minnesota Twins don't have a pitcher they can count on to end a losing streak or win a big game. Sure Scott Baker is a good pitcher and Carl Pavano has had a nice resurgence in Minnesota, but neither is that kind of pitcher.
Francisco Liriano has been that guy before, but his 2010 season seems long ago after what he did in 2011. His ERA finished at 5.09 and he had the lowest strikeout percentage of his career, 19 percent. To top that off, he was walking hitters more than ever. There weren't any positives to take away—and then Liriano suffered a shoulder strain. I guess the only positive is the injury was not related to his elbow, which has already had Tommy John surgery.
The team knows what it has in Pavano and Baker, both solid pitchers, but the Twins will be counting on Liriano to return tobeing the 2010 pitcher who dominated a year out from his surgery.
Did the team do anything to add wins?
The Minnesota Twins lacked in all areas of the field in 2011, from pitching to hitting to middle-of-the-pack on defense. The switch from Jim Thome to Ryan Doumit is a minor step back at the DH spot, losing Thome's power. The Twins signed Josh Willingham, but the lost Michael Cuddyer, making that largely a wash.
Twins fans shouldn't be to down, though. Early projections have the Twins doing fairly well in the AL Centra, although not able to compete with the free-spending Detroit Tigers. Based on OLIVER projections, the Twins should add an even 20 wins this season and finish at 83-79, which would be nine wins behind the Tigers and six behind the Red Sox for the Wild Card. This hinges on the bullpen at least being passable and some amount of health from everyone. These may be the five questions, but the most important might be "can the 2012 Twins stay healthy?"
Check out more work from Troy at Roto Savants. You can contact him with questions or recommendations email me or follow @TroyPatterson