Five Takeaways from the Minnesota Twins April

 

The Record is Not a Fluke

The first half of the season has been a pleasant surprise to many Twins fans. After finishing 2016 with the worst record in baseball, the Twins have gotten off to a good start, posting a 12-11 record through the first month of the season. While it might be easy to think this success will be short lived, there are some good indicators that would suggest that the Twins might be able to keep this up.

One of the best signs is the Twins +4 run differential, which is right on par for where a team that’s one game above .500 should be. Usually a team’s run differential early in the season is a great way to gauge how well the team might preform as the season goes on. A good example of this from last season was the Philadelphia Phillies, who started 2016 by going 22-15, despite their -25 run differential. After that point, the Phillies went on to have a 49-71 record for the remainder of the season and finished 20 games under .500.

 

Miguel Sano is Legit

If you had to take a guess as to which player was leading MLB in Average Exit Velocity through the first month of the season who would you guess? Giancarlo Stanton? Aaron Judge? Miguel Cabrera? If you were to guess any of those players you would be wrong. The player who is actually leading MLB in Average Exit Velocity so far in 2017 is Miguel Sano, and it’s not even close. In April, Miguel Sano posted a staggering 99.3 MPH average exit velocity, which is 3.5 MPH higher than the next closest hitter.

While other hitters, like Judge and Stanton, are getting more publicity for some of their hard-hit home runs, Sano is able to top this leader board by generating hard contact more consistently than any other player in baseball. According to Baseball Info Solution’s numbers posted on Fangraphs, Miguel Sano is making hard-contact on 55.3% of batted-balls, which ranks second only to Nick Castellanos. However, the more impressive stat is Sano is making soft-contact on only 2.1% of batted-balls, which not only ranks first in MLB, but is less than half that of Jay Bruce’s 5.3% who is second.

The best part about it for the Twins, is all this hard-contact has translated into great offensive production from Sano, who has hit 7 home runs and has 25 RBIs, along with a .316/.443/.684 slash line through the first month of the season.

 

Buxton Still has a Long Way to Go

Coming into this season, the Twins had very high expectations for Bryon Buxton to finally put all his tools together, and become one of the best players in baseball. A big reason for this optimism came from Buxton’s success after being called up last September, where he produced a .287/.357/.653 slash line, along with 9 home runs over the course of 28 games. Many experts believed that Buxton had finally clicked, and he was about to become the great hitter that the Twins had hoped he would be.

However, all this optimism vanished almost instantly once the 2017 season started. Buxton was striking out at a record pace of 51.1% through the first half of April. Along with his staggering strikeout rate, Buxton had only drawn 2 walks over that same time frame. While this would be bad for any player, it is especially worse when it’s coming out of the team’s 3rd spot in the order, and from a former number 1 overall prospect. It appears that Buxton still has the biggest need for improvement in his plate recognition, but there are many things he needs to work on to become a more consistent hitter.

Since getting moved down to the bottom of the order, Buxton has stated to show some signs of life from his bat. Over the past week and a half, Buxton has gone 6 for 19, while drawing 7 walks and only striking out 5 times. While this might be a good sign, only time will tell if Buxton will ever develop into the player many thought he could be.

 

The Outfield Defense is Elite

One of the most exciting parts of watching the Twins this season has been their tremendous defensive play in the outfield. From the highlight reel catches by Buxton and Max Kepler, to the amazing arm on Eddie Rosario, the Twins outfielders continue to dazzle fans game in and game out, and it turns out that defensive metrics love them just as much. Thus far in 2017, the Twins outfield ranks 4th in Major League Baseball in Defensive Runs Saved (DRS), a metric that is used to show how many runs a team or player has saved when compared to the average MLB team or player at that position. Throughout the month of April, Twins’ outfielders have accumulated 6 DRS. To put that into perspective, over the course of the season, Minnesota’s outfield defense alone would create an estimated 3 or 4 additional wins over the average MLB outfield.

Part of what makes them so successful is how frequently they can catch balls that are hit into the outfield. To date, the outfield has caught 70.7% of balls hit into the outfield, which ranks second in MLB. This is a great asset for a team like the Twins that has two of the most extreme fly ball pitchers in MLB in its starting rotation in Phil Hughes and Hector Santiago.

 

Jorge Polanco Might Bring Stability to Shortstop

Since the start of the new millennium, outside of quarterback for the Cleveland Browns, no position for any team in American sports has had more turnover than the Twins have had at shortstop. Over the past 14 seasons, the Twins have had 12 different players as their opening day starting shortstop. It has been and absolute nightmare for the Twins in trying to find a reliable player to fill in that spot. The good news for Minnesota is they might have finally found a player, in Jorge Polanco, who is showing signs that he can be a good option for the team going forward.

Through the first 99 games of his MLB career, Polanco has been a solid contributor at the plate, generating a 105 OPS+ (100 being MLB average), and a .276/.334/.412 slash line. Polanco possesses a good approach at the plate, and has had success hitting both right-handed and left-handed.

While his offensive numbers are respectable, Polanco seems to be having even greater success on the defensive side of the ball playing shortstop.  Up to this point in the season, Polanco is leading American League shortstops with 4 DRS, and is second in all of MLB, behind only Addison Russell. This has come as a bit of a surprise as Polanco has always been thought of as more of a second baseman, but he’s trying to prove everyone wrong and show that he has what it takes to stay at short. It will be interesting to see if Polanco can keep up his defensive play at shortstop as the season progresses.

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