The Twins are now 7-7, and although no conclustions statistically can be made through 2 weeks of baseball, I have noticed a few things following the team every day:
- Kyle Gibson has been a bright spot in the Twins rotation thus far in the season, coming off a disastrous rookie campaign which saw him post a 6.53 ERA in 51 innings. He pitched 8 strong innnigs today coming off a nice start last Friday, and has now given up just 2 earned runs in 19 1/3 innings. He’s not going to strike many hitters out as a sinkerballer, but when he’s on, he will induce lots of groundballs—the Twins turned 2 double plays behind Gibson today. Obviously his numbers will regress and his 0.93 ERA won’t hold, but if he’s able to pitch deep into games while inducing ground balls and walking as few batters as possible, he could provide a much needed competent middle- to back-end of the rotation starter.
- Shifting! Today in top of the 4th inning, when the score was still 0-0, Gibson coerced ground ball outs out of Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion in back-to-back at bats. As stated it doesn’t sound noteworthy, but it is indeed noteworthy because both balls were scalded right up the middle—Edwin’s even hit the mound. They had hit written all over them and they were turned into outs—not because of great plays by Dozier or Florimon, but due to pre-pitch shifting put on by the Twins. Now, advanced stat-heavy teams like the Tampa Bay Rays and Oakland A’s have been doing this for years, but this is a big step in the right direction for the Twins. They gave shifting some lip service in spring training as Paul Molitor mentioned trying to implement it early in the season, but I took it with a grain of salt because the Twins as an organization have as much affinity for advanced thinking as I do for the Green Bay Packers (read: they hate them). However, it worked today and if Gardy sees it in action a few times, he might just start to like it.
- The Twins acquired former Yankee infielder Eduardo Nunez for minor-league pitcher Miguel Sulburhan last week, and tonight Nunez will make his Twins debut, starting at third base. This move is mostly inconsequential, but may signal some type of competition for Pedro Florimon who has been one of the worst hitters in baseball thus far, slashing .094/.194/.156 going into today, good for a whopping 0 wRC+ (wRC+ is a measure of a player’s value at the plate, adjusted for situations such as RISP and park effects. 100 is average and 110 means the player is 10% better than league average.). By no means is Nunez a slugger either; he’s hit .267/.313/.379 over the course of his 270 game big league career. Ultimately, it will come down to just how much the Twins can stomach Florimon’s putrid offensive showing, as he is one of the best defenders at shortstop in the American League while Nunez has been worth -36 runs as a defender over the course of his career.
- Against the predictions of many projection systems, writers, and myself, the Twins offense has been pretty good so far, and that is a function of their newfound plate-discipline. So far, they are 7th in baseball in runs scored with 70 even though they are only 22nd in team batting average. The key is their .340 team on base percentage, which ranks 3rd in baseball so far. Just looking at the track records of most players playing everyday for the Twins would suggest this won’t hold up, but Brian Dozier’s walk rate has jumped as his approach has gotten markedly better since the beginning of last year, and the most obvious case of newfound plate discipline is Trevor Plouffe, who appears to have completely overhauled his hitting approach over the offseason. Plouffe used to be a dead-pull hacker who carried on base percentages in the .300 range, below league average. So far, that has all changed as he’s been more receptive to dumping singles into right field and patiently working counts in his favor while taking some walks in the process. If he ends up hitting .309 this year, I’ll eat my hat, but if his average falls closer to his career marks (in the .240-.250 range) while keeping his newfound affinity for the walk, he could turn into a very useful everyday player at age 27.
- Josmil Pinto, the Twins top catching prospect, made the team out of spring training after a scorching-hot September callup with the Twins last year in which he hit .342/.398/.566. That won’t last (if it did, he would be one of the 3 best players in baseball), but he has been playing almost everyday and delivering at the plate. He’s been very patient at the plate, with a .356 OBP so far, and has been slugging the ball at an exciting rate with 3 homers already on the year, just missing a fourth today as he blasted a double off the top of the wall. Most of his games played have been out of the DH spot, but if it turns out he can catch competently enough to start there 80-90 times a year (defense, rather than hitting, has always been the problem in the eyes of scouts and prospect-rankers), he could very well turn into another nice piece going forward.