By Mark Simon
The Minnesota Twins currently have the best record in baseball this season. There is skepticism about whether their record makes them worthy of being dubbed the best team because the Twins haven’t spent like the Red Sox or Yankees or developed players like the Astros or Rays.
So how are the Twins doing this?
The Twins are winning by hitting home runs at an amazing pace. They have an MLB-leading 106 through 55 games.
But is their offense overachieving? Sports Info Solutions computes an expected batting line using hit probabilities based on the type of batted ball, where balls are hit, and how hard they’re hit.
Comparing a player’s expected stats to his actual stats can show if a player has overachieved or underachieved or has been positively or negatively impacted by his ballpark or the opposing defense.
The Twins player whose expected numbers are the most below his actual numbers is shortstop Jorge Polanco, who would still be having a very good season even if he was just performing to expectations.
Catcher Mitch Garver, currently on the injured list, has also done more than expected in limited playing time.
However other key players, including outfielders Max Kepler and Eddie Rosario, are not overachieving on their batted balls. Kepler is hitting .275 with 12 home runs. His expected totals are a .271 batting average and 12 homers. Rosario has a .278 batting average and .557 slugging percentage compared to expected averages of .280 and .542.
The Twins have the third-best ERA in the American League (3.91) with two starting pitchers posting sub-3 ERAs in Jake Odorizzi and Martín Pérez.
Odorizzi’s 2.16 ERA seems to be a bit low given his 3.02 FIP (an ERA estimate based on strikeouts, walks and home runs allowed). The expected numbers peg him for an opponents’ OPS of .611, 91 points above his actual OPS.
However, .611 would still be a 132-point improvement from last season and put him in position to have a strong season.
Pérez added a cutter to his repertoire this season and that has become a huge pitch for him. Opponents are hitting .119 against it with two extra-base hits on the 318 he’s thrown. It has also been a reliable pitch for him when it’s not an at-bat ender. He’s throwing it for a strike 69% of the time.
In the bullpen, Blake Parker has eight saves despite a strikeout-to-walk ratio of just over 2-to-1. The top performing reliever is 30-year-old rookie Ryne Harper, a 37th round pick in 2011 by the Braves. He has the lowest FIP among their relief pitchers (2.61).
The Twins’ rank fifth in the majors in Defensive Runs Saved. Thanks to Byron Buxton (6 DRS), Kepler (5 DRS), and Rosario (4 DRS), their outfielders are ranked third in the majors with 19 DRS.
The Twins infield rates solidly above-average overall (18 DRS including their Shift Runs Saved) but has one number that stands out in a negative way. The Twins are allowing a .311 batting average on ground balls and short line drives when they use a full shift (when three infielders play on the pull side of second base), the highest in the majors. The MLB average is .237.
Given that the Twins have used full shifts more often than any team, it’s worth watching to see if things will get better for them in this area. It’s potentially their biggest obstacle in trying to shift the balance of power in the American League.
On the latest edition of the Sports Info Solutions baseball podcast, baseball writer Joe Sheehan talked about whether Jorge Polanco was overachieving and much more. You can tune in here.