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The Minnesota Twins proved the MLB is the best sport

MLB> NFL, NBA

Before the start of the NFL season, we already knew a few teams that had no shot at winning the Super Bowl, never mind clinching a spot in the postseason. Once the season began, the Bears, 49ers and Browns all had virtually no chance of making the playoffs.

The NBA is even worse. Due to the super teams, only a handful of squads have an opportunity to reach the Finals. According to ESPN’s NBA Basketball Power Index, the Lakers, Kings, Suns, Pacers, Knicks, Nets, Hawks and Bulls have less than a five percent chance to make the postseason. Keep in mind the season has not even started, and eight teams are already considered irrelevant. Another 12 or so teams, who could make the playoffs, have little to no chance at winning the championship.

2016 was a year to forget for Joe Mauer and the Twins (AaronGleeman.com)

In 2016, with a record of 59-103, the Minnesota Twins finished with the worst record in baseball. Today, the Twins will be playing the New York Yankees in the AL Wild Card game. Minnesota became the second team in MLB history to have the number one pick in the MLB Draft and make the playoffs in the same year.

The 2008 Rays, who competed in the World Series, were the only other team to accomplish this outlandish feat. The Twins are also the first team to lose 100 games and then go to the playoffs the next year.

Imagine if the Nets or Browns made the playoffs this year. Except, what the Twins did is even crazier because in the NBA, 53.3 percent of teams make the postseason, and in the NFL, 37.5 percent make it. Only 33 percent of the 30 MLB teams get the chance to compete in October.

A 59-win team just made the playoffs the next year, with essentially the same exact roster. America’s pastime allows all 30 franchises to have a shot at reaching the postseason, while the other major sports can eliminate teams before the first game. So how exactly did the Twins manage to do this?

They learned how to field

At the end of the 2016 MLB season, the Minnesota Twins tallied 126 errors, which was good for worst in the league. In just 80 games on the field, Miguel Sano led the team with 18 errors. In 60 games, Jorge Polanco was right behind Sano, racking up 15.

This season, Minnesota finished first in the AL in fielding percentage. They made 48 less errors than in 2016. In 88 games, Sano cut his errors in half. Max Kepler and Byron Buxton both finished in the top five in total zone runs for their positions. According to Baseball Reference’s definition, total zone runs is “the number of runs above or below average the player was worth based on the number of plays made.”

The best defensive centerfielder, Byron Buxton (Star Tribune)

A major factor for the Twins having the opportunity to play the Cleveland Indians in the ALDS is Byron Buxton. Defensively, nobody is better in centerfield than the 23-year-old from Georgia.

The former number two overall pick in the 2012 MLB June Amateur Draft, Buxton led all centerfielders in total zone runs, and finished third in defensive runs saved (DRS), which is, “how many runs a player saved or hurt his team in the field compared to the average player at his position” (Fangraphs). Buxton’s 24 DRS was the most among centerfielders. The Twins 2016 leader in DRS was Joe Mauer, with six.

Nobody covers more ground than this kid. Buxton’s .951 Revised Zone Rating, or “the proportion of balls hit into a fielder’s zone that he successfully converted into an out” was the best in the majors (Hardball Times). He also ranked top five in out of zone plays, OOZ, which measure the number of plays a fielder makes on balls that were considered out of his zone.

Byron Buxton’s 2017 Defensive Ranks

STATISTICRANK AMONG CF’S
DEFENSIVE WAR1ST (3RD OVERALL)
DEFENSIVE RUNS SAVED1ST (3RD OVERALL)
REVIZED ZONE RATING 1ST (1ST OVERALL)
OUT OF ZONE PLAYS2ND (5TH OVERALL)
RANGE RUNS1ST (2ND OVERALL)
PLUS MINUS RUNS SAVED 1ST (3RD OVERALL)
TOTAL ZONE RUNS1ST (1ST OVERALL)

 

They hit for a better averagE

Last year’s Twins team really wasn’t that bad on offense. For all AL teams, they finished fifth in steals, fifth in walks, fourth in doubles, eighth in homers and first in triples. The problems stemmed from their averages, as well as an inability to score with runners on.

Minnesota finished 11th in batting average in and 11th in on base percentage in 2016. In 2017, the Twins finished fourth in both of those categories. Miguel Sano, who finished last year with a .236 batting average, ended the year at .264. The legend, Joe Mauer, had a rough 2016 and only hit .261. This year, Mauer led Minnesota with a .305 batting average. Buxton’s average also rose nearly 30 points.

Eddie Rosario took the biggest leap of all the Twins. In 2016, Rosario hit .269 with only 10 home runs and 32 RBIs. His breakout 2017 stat line included a .290 average, 27 home runs and 78 RBIs.

2016-2017 Minnesota Twins Offensive Ranks

 

STATISTIC2016 AL RANK2017 AL RANK
RUNS9TH 3RD
SLUGGING PERCENTGAE9TH6TH
BATTING AVERAGE11TH 4TH
OBP11TH 4TH
RUNS WITH MEN IN SCORING POSITION AND TWO OUTS14TH 3RD
BATTING AVERAGE WITH RUNNERS ON13TH 4TH
BATTING AVERAGE WITH BASED LOADED15TH 2ND

 

The Pitching improved

The 2016 Twins finished dead last in the AL in hits allowed, runs allowed, home runs allowed, earned runs, shutouts and saves. In regards to saves, the Twins only had 26 of them, and converted a save 56.6 percent of the time. It’s pretty hard to be worse than that.

5 complete games, 3 shoutouts for Ervin Santana (Sporting News)

This year’s Twins pitchers weren’t great, but they were much better. After posting a 5.08 ERA in 2016, they bounced back with a 4.59 ERA, which isn’t great, but they were able to knock off about half a run per game. The bullpen racked up 40 saves, and converted 66.7 percent of them.

Ervin Santana was the Twins’ best pitcher in 2017. He finished the year 16-8 with a 3.28 ERA. He was the only Twins pitcher to throw over 200 innings. The Twins finished second in the AL in complete games and shutouts. Santana ranked first in the league with five complete games, and also first in shutouts with three.

The Magical Run continues

With virtually the same roster, the Minnesota Twins were able to win 27 more games than they did in 2016. The MLB is the only sport in which the worst team of the previous year can make a run at the postseason with the same players. In a power surge year, the Twins only hit six more home runs this year than in 2016. The pitching was pretty similar both years, and the only thing that changed offensively was timely hitting.

Minnesota, who started the year 22nd in payroll, have a tough task going up against the New York Yankees, who currently rank second in payroll. Fortunately, this is the MLB, and anything can happen in a one game playoff. Ervin Santana will be on the bump, facing Luis Severino. Whether Minnesota wins or loses, their season was an absolute success, and proved that every team has a shot in the MLB. It is fair to say that coach Paul Molitor will be earning a few votes for AL Manager of the Year.

 

Featured image by MPR News

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