The Most Disappointing Team in 2016…The Minnesota Twins

The 2016 Minnesota Twins

Record: 59-103 (5th in AL Central, 15th out of 15 in AL, Worst record in MLB by 9 games)

Pythagorean Record: 66-96

Runs Scored: 722 (9th in AL)

Runs Allowed: 889 (15th in the AL)

Prior Season Record: 83-79

Manager: Paul Molitor

Hype: After many years of mediocrity, a change in manager led to the Twins’ first winning record since 2010 and there was hope that the mix of phenoms and vets could launch them into contention.

The Gory Details: Rookie manager Paul Molitor led a youth movement to a winning record in his first season, and more was expected in 2016, especially since the Twins would have a full year of mega-uber-super prospects Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton.

Those kids, combined with solid second baseman Brian Dozier, shortstop Eduardo Escobar and outfielder Eddie Rosario, all under 30, meant the majority of the Twins position would be young and talented.

Joe Mauer would return at first, of course. He was no longer a power threat (mostly due to his home park), but he could still get on base and hit doubles. Mauer hit just .265 but was sure to improve, right?

Minnesota also dipped into the overseas market and signed Korean slugger Byung Ho Park. They felt confident enough in their lineup to trade suddenly spare Aaron Hicks to the Yankees for a backup catcher.

The rotation and bullpen for the Twins weren’t knockouts, but it was felt good enough to get by. They spent a lot of money on Phil Hughes and Ervin Santana, which belied their skinflint reputation. Santana missed time with an injury, but came back healthy and pitched well down the stretch. Ricky Nolasco, another earlier free agent signing, was also scheduled to return in 2016. Plus, Kyle Gibson, a former hot prospect, was now a reliable starter.

Glen Perkins was a fan favorite. The lefty closer was a great personality and a good reliever, and steadied the rest of the bullpen core.

So, with high expectations, the Twins entered 2016.

Soon, it was evident that all was not well.

Park was more of a DH than anything, which meant Sano had to play somewhere, and right field was the choice at first. Rosario wasn’t that great of a defender, and backup Oswaldo Arcia was also more of a placeholder. Buxton could hold his own in center, but had to cover a lot of ground. A. Lot.

What was worse than the defense was the offense. For all of the high apple pie in the sky hopes, they came out of the gate totally flat. In their first 9 games, Minnesota scored 14 runs. They only gave up 36, a reasonable four runs a game, but because they couldn’t get men across the plate they started out 0-9.

Even worse, on April 10th, Glenn Perkins blew a save in just his second appearance, and never pitched again during the season thanks to a bum shoulder.

After those nine losses, the Twins kinda held their own the rest of April. They were just 10 games under .500 on April 30th, but that’s still left them 7-17 and already 9 ½ games behind in the AL Central.

The offense was bad, but the pitching and defense was starting to spring major leaks. Kevin Jepsen inherited the closer role from Perkins, but he was a so-so reliever that had a good year on paper in 2015. Saves were blown, leads were lost, issues were had, columnists wrote columns.

May begat crooked numbers, but for the other team. The Astros scored 16 runs off Phil Hughes and a lot of pitchers who belonged in AAA on May 4th. The next game, the White Sox pounded the Twins for a 10-spot. More often than not, Twins pitching gave up six or more runs.

Minnesota also couldn’t catch the ball. Sano was not a good outfielder. Rosario was challenged on defense, and had a .218 OBP in mid-May, so Max Kepler came up from the minors to replace him. The infield was leaky at best and horrific at worst (especially in converting batted balls to outs), and even reliable Kurt Suzuki was having troubles behind the plate.

At the end of May, the team was 15-36. Three rotation members (Hughes, Gibson, and Tom Milone) missed starts. Ricky Nolasco was making every start, but pitching horribly. It just was bad.

Of course, the Twins panicked, like they always did. Buxton and Sano were sent out. The Twins used Danny Santana, who was counted on to be a middle infielder, in center. Kepler was doing well, but to replace Sano, Robbie Grossman was acquired.

Grossman may have been the worst outfielder in major league baseball in 2016. With advanced metrics, one can measure ‘route effectiveness’, which gives you an idea of how well an outfielder sees the ball and moves towards it. Grossman made a mockery of that stat. He’d be the guy who would travel from Seattle to Boston not by I-90, but via Nevada, Arkansas, and Delaware.
The losses piled up. At the All-Star game, Minnesota was 32-56, and going nowhere. Changes had to be made.

Terry Ryan was the architect of the Twins’ great squads in the 2000’s. He had  a lot of homegrown talent at his disposal and used it to his advantage. He retired, but his successor spit the bit and the Twins called him back in desperation. It hadn’t worked really, which led to the 2014 firing of longtime manager Ron Gardenhire. Molitor’s success in 2015 gave Ryan and his backers hope.

Yet the debacle that was unfolding in the Minnesota summer was too much. Ryan was let go soon after the All-Star break. Molitor was spared, and rightly, because he was trying to make a soufflé with rotten eggs and curdled milk.

Of course, the Minnesota media weren’t keen on blaming Ryan, a pal to columnists and others during the good times. They questioned players like Mauer, who still had some lingering concussion issues that affected his power and batting eye, and basically said the team didn’t have the ‘will to win’. Well, I think every player has the will to win – the talent to win is another story. Especially if the talent is out of position.

The Twins started to re-tool, for real. Jepsen was released (from closer to no sir). Arcia was traded. Buxton and Sano came up. Others left, kids came up. Pitching was still bad, the offense was weak and no one could catch the dang ball. Escobar and Rosario lost their jobs. Mauer was a shell of himself. Park was a bust, and spent time in AAA. There was only one thing worth talking about.

Brian Dozier.

Dozier was an oddity as a middle infielder. He was a low average / high power player that you’d normally find as a corner outfielder. This season, he had raised his average to about .260 and went on a rampage, swatting home runs left and right. Dozier finished with 42 home runs, and only had 99 RBI because no one else could hit.

As the season wound down, it was clear that Kepler, Sano, and Buxton could definitely develop into major league players, if given time. Young Jorge Polanco solidified the shortstop spot, at least offensively. (His defense, well…)

The pitching, though, was just a clusterflop. Santana had a pretty decent year, all things considered. But Gibson (5.04 ERA) took a step back. Hughes (5.95) was bad and got hurt. Nolasco (5.13) was traded, and the Twins got Hector Santiago in return, who was no better (5.58). Milone struggled and was hurt (5.71), and guys like Tyler Duffey (6.43), Pat Dean (6.28), and Jose Berrios (8.02) were all in the rotation.

The bullpen was just as bad. The numbers weren’t eye-poppingly horrible, but no one except 31-year old retread Brandon Kinzler was trustworthy, especially after the Twins dealt Fernando Abad to Boston.

When all was said and done, the Twins had a 59-103 record that they totally deserved. Last in runs allowed, a horrible defense, and an mediocre offense that looked better than it was thanks to Dozier.

What happens now? The Twins hired Texas assistant Thad Levine as GM. Molitor will be back, but is probably on thin ice. The team will require patience, health, and luck to get back to .500 in a few years. Will the fans be patient? Will ownership? We shall see.

Chicken Wolf All-Stars:  Without Brian Dozier, who had 6.5 of the team’s 16.7 WAR by offensive players, the Twins could have lost more than 110 games, maybe 115. Kepler had a nice rookie year with a 2.4 WAR, validating the patience the Twins had with the Dutch player.

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