Even With Willingham, the Twins Have a Long Road

Twins GM Terry Ryan is making intelligent acquisitions to address some of the issues that caused the Twins to fall from being picked in certain circles to go to the World Series down to a 99-game losing disaster. But even with the apparent contract agreement with Josh Willingham, they’re still only about a third of the way to putting a competitive team back on the field.

Few are truly realizing how bad the Twins were last year. It’s not injuries and poor personnel decisions that caused the train wreck but that they were simply bad.

Offensively, the Twins were next to last in the American League in runs scored, OPS and total bases; they were last in home runs.

Their pitching was last in BABip; next to last in ERA; gave up the second most hits and runs; and were last in strikeouts. Their starters didn’t provide depth and the bullpen led the league in allowing inherited runners to score.

Defensively they had the second most errors; were next to last in fielding percentage; and last in defensive efficiency.

On the surface, it’s clear why they were so atrocious, but you need to look at these numbers closely to truly understand the level of awfulness they exhibited in all phases.

It was cyclical. When you combine an injury-ravaged team that doesn’t hit home runs, doesn’t get on base and can’t score with a pitching staff that doesn’t strike anyone out and has a horrific defense behind them, you wind up with 63-99.

Ryan has gotten an adequate part-time backup for Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau with Ryan Doumit; using addition by subtraction, he removed Tsuyoshi Nishioka from the regular lineup; shored up the defense by signing Jamey Carroll and moving Alexi Casilla back to second base where he belongs; and he’s brought in a proven and underrated power bat in Willingham.

When he was with the Marlins and Nationals, the player to avoid in their lineups with runners on base was Willingham—not Hanley Ramirez nor Ryan Zimmerman.

The improved defense will help the contact-centric pitching; the offense will be better with the new players they’ve imported; but the bullpen hasn’t been improved—in fact, it’s been downgraded with the departure of Joe Nathan. No matter how much better the Twins defense is, they can’t rely on their old template of fundamentally sound defenders; functional starters; and a deep, interchangeable bullpen if they don’t have the bullpen arms they once did.

Bullpen performances fluctuate so there’s a good chance of marked improvement; but their starting rotation is still mediocre at best.

Ryan’s made decisions to bring them back to respectability and they’re cheaper. Given how atrocious and overpaid they were in 2011, that’s not all that difficult. Fixing the other holes and bringing them back to where they were for a decade—as an annual playoff participant—will be.

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