You can’t predict baseball; but at least I tried.
Before the season began, I revealed five bold predictions for the 2015 Minnesota Twins season. For the most part, they’re not coming true due to the team’s surprising success. With just one month left in the regular season, I though it would be a good time to look back on April’s predictions and see how they all played out.
Prediction 1: Trevor Plouffe improves on strong 2014 season, traded in-season
A lot of this prediction came true. Plouffe slashed .258/.328/.423 in 2014 while being a top five third baseman across the Majors in both runs batted in and extra base hits. He is on pace to drive in 87 runs, which will eclipse his career high of 80, and is currently fifth among all third baseman and sixth in extra base hits. The 29-year-old is also fourth among third baseman in fielding percentage, after finishing 14th last year. As predicted, Plouffe has continued to prove he is one of the better players at his position in the entire sport, but he clearly wasn’t traded in season.
He is under team control for next season, so the idea of trading him wasn’t based on the Minnesota Twins assumed last place finish but more based on the arrival of Miguel Sano, the best third base prospect in baseball. Sano has been a monster since his arrival to the Majors and he has quickly emerged as a candidate for AL Rookie of the Year. The 22-year-old Dominican native has launched 14 homers and driven in 40 though 49 games, mostly serving as the designated hitter. These astounding numbers prove why Plouffe’s future with Minnesota is in question.
Plouffe probably avoided the trade block this summer because the Twins found themselves in playoff contention and it looks like they’ll hang around for the month of September as well. Inserted as the team’s regular number five behind Sano, it would have been foolish to mess with the heart of the order. Had Minnesota been out of the race, the smart move could have been to cash in by dealing their starting third baseman.
Discussions on the long term future of Plouffe will probably heat up this winter. He is clearly one of the better hitting third baseman across all of baseball and with Sano ready to step in and play the field, there might be a team that value’s the veteran a bit more and winds up paying the Twins and general manager Terry Ryan a good price for Plouffe.
Prediction 2: Josmil Pinto is the regular starting catcher by the end of season
This prediction is clearly very wrong and it seems like Pinto will go the entire season without making a single appearance at the Major League level. A lot of bad luck does play into this situation.
It didn’t seem likely that Kurt Suzuki would reproduce his 2014 All-Star season, where the veteran backstop slashed .288/.345/.383, and he did suffer a massive decline. Suzuki is currently batting just .237, which is 20 points below Pinto’s career average in his 78 games in the big leagues. Leaving the door even more open for Pinto, backups Chris Herrmann and Eric Fryer are hitting .165 and .167 respectively in 2015.
But even with the door open, injuries have kept the 26-year-old off the field. Pinto hit .357 during Spring Training but didn’t make the Opening Day 25-man roster because a concussion limited him to just seven live games in the spring. After getting off to a strong start with the Rochester Red Wings (AAA), another concussion in early June put him on the self for weeks and he only recently returned to game action. His return hasn’t been met with the same success, hitting .184 over his last ten games.
He’ll be 27 at the start of next season, making him very old for a “prospect” and it might be time for Minnesota to look somewhere else. The backup catcher situation does desperately need to be addressed with both Herrmann and Fryer failing to hit .170, but Suzuki is beginning to get a grip on his job once again, batting .264 with 12 runs batted in over 20 starts in August.
This seemed like a very reasonable prediction going into the All-Star break. Gibson and Hughes both had eight wins, which got them halfway to the 32 win mark and both men were firing on all cylinders. Hughes was 8-2 in his last ten decisions after going 0-4 in the month of April and Gibson had won each of his last four starts, posing a 1.30 ERA over the outings. If their trends had continued into the second half, getting to 16 wins each would have been easy for the duo.
But both pitchers have seemingly hit a wall. Gibson has just one win since the break and Hughes is currently on the disabled list. With just one month to go in the 2015 season, they’re sitting at 19 wins and will come well short of 32. Getting 16 wins each might be a good goal for the pairing to set next season. Only 25 pitchers even hit 15 wins last year, so if two men on one team can do it, it’s a massive boost to any pitching staff. If both Hughes and Gibson are healthy, there’s no question it’s possible.
As for Ricky Nolasco, he is 5-1 but has been limited to just seven starts due to multiple injuries, most recently an ankle issue. But don’t let the good record in the small sample size fool you, Nolasco had a 5.51 ERA in those games and was winning because of great run support. It’s likely that the wins and losses would have eventually balanced out if he kept pitching and allowing runs at that rate.
Prediction 4: Joe Mauer hits .310 again
This isn’t going to happen with Mauer currently hitting .271, but the average shouldn’t fool anybody because Mauer has still had a very productive 2015 season.
Mauer is finally healthy. Staying on the field is one reason why the three-time batting champion is leading the Twins in hits despite a lackluster average. He’s also been incredibly clutch. Mauer is batting .320 in high leverage situations, .360 with runners in scoring position and .500 (6-for-12) with the bases loaded. The converted first baseman has played a big role in Miguel Sano’s success, accounting for 25% of the runs that the rookie has driven in. All-Star second baseman Brian Dozier is the next player that Sano has most frequently driven in, accounting for just four of the 40 runs produced (10%).
It’s possible that the batting title caliber threat that the Twins thought they inked to a long term extension will no longer resurface, but Mauer has played a huge role in Minnesota’s turnaround this season. It would hard to picture the Twins still in a playoff race with Mauer out of the picture, no matter how much money he costs.
Prediction 5: The Twins win 77 games, still finish in last
Minnesota will most likely finish above the 77 win mark this season and they will also avoid last place in the AL Central. It was very hard to picture the Twins losing 90 games for a fifth season in a row with all their young prospects ready to make the jump as well as a few other factors that were involved, but the division has been disappointing as a whole.
The Detroit Tigers are below .500, which is something that nobody saw coming and the Chicago White Sox were supposed to make their jump into the playoff race after a strong offseason netted them Jeff Samardzija to join Chris Sale at the top of the rotation. With the Cleveland Indians also not living up to preseason expectations, it has opened the door for the Kansas City Royals to completely run away with the division.
But a weak AL Central isn’t why the Twins are in the playoff hunt. Minnesota is above .500 against every division in the American League, including their own, and they’ve shown that they can play with anybody.
If all the Twins got this year was 77 wins, it still would have been a massive step forward in the right direction and better days would have been ahead with such a young core. But those better days might be right now with a wild card spot up for grabs.