The last time that the Minnesota Twins reached the 40-win plateau faster than they have in 2015 was 2010. That season, Minnesota claimed its 40th victory just 69 games in. There are more correlations between the 2010 season and this point in the 2015 season for the Twins, however. In several ways, they could almost be called twin seasons.
Minnesota reached the 94-win mark in 2010 thanks to what usually leads to successful seasons: great pitching, productive offense and solid defense. The 2015 season through the Twins’ first 74 games can be characterized by the same things.
The 2010 Minnesota pitching staff compiled a 3.95 earned run average (ERA), improved upon by a fielding-independent pitching (FIP) statistic of 3.91. Those were the 10th- and ninth-best figures in Major League Baseball on that season. The success was largely due to a stellar avoidance of issuing free passes to opposing batters. The Twins led the game in fewest walks issued that season at just 383, 19 of those intentional. That led to a strikeout-to-walk (K/BB) ratio of 2.74, second-best of all MLB teams on the season.
Avoiding walks also allowed Minnesota’s starters to go deep into games. Only three other MLB teams hurled more complete games in 2010, and only six more teams compiled more shutouts. The Twins also finished the season in the top 10 of MLB in runs allowed per game (4.02), saves (40), hit batsmen (47), wild pitches (41), balks (four) and walks plus hits per inning (1.291).
Carl Pavano and Francisco Liriano were the anchors of the 2010 Twins pitching corps. Pavano was tied for second in MLB in 2010 in complete games with seven and shutouts with two. He also ranked third in walks per nine innings at 1.507. Liriano posted the fifth-highest strikeouts per nine innings rate in baseball at 9.438 and his 2.66 FIP was the third-lowest in MLB in 2010.
Through 74 games of the 2015 season, Minnesota’s pitching staff has compiled an even-lower 3.85 ERA. Once again, this is largely due to avoiding four-ball counts. Twins’ pitchers have posted the third-lowest walk figure to this point in the 2015 season. The 2015 Twins’ 2.49 K/BB ratio is good for 10th in the majors right now. Further hearkening back to five years ago, Minnesota is also currently in the top 10 in shutouts, saves, hit batsmen, balks, and wild pitches.
Two current Twins pitchers who have stood out this season, in homage to Liriano and Pavano, are Phil Hughes and Glen Perkins. Hughes has posted the lowest walks per nine innings rate of all qualified MLB starters so far this season at 0.821, making his 6.667 K/BB rate good for fourth. Perkins is tied for the majors lead in saves with 24 so far this season.
Per the usual norm, good pitching statistics are often augmented by superb defensive play. Joe Mauer won the American League Gold Glove award at catcher in 2010, thanks partially to posting the highest fielding percentage (FLD%) of all qualifying MLB catchers that season. Orlando Hudson also had a stellar 2010 with his glove, leading all second basemen in range factor per game (RF/G) and range factor per nine innings (RF/9). Overall, the Twins committed the fifth-fewest errors in the game in 2010 and had the fourth-highest fielding percentage of all MLB teams that season.
Continuing the tradition of solid defensive play at the catcher position, Kurt Suzuki currently leads all major-league catchers this season in double plays turned. Other current Minnesota regulars have had stellar seasons in the field so far as well.
Second baseman Brian Dozier and third baseman Trevor Plouffe are two of the biggest reasons why the Twins have turned 75 double plays through 74 games on the 2015 season. Dozier carries Hudson’s mantle at second base by ranking third among all major-league second basemen in double plays turned. Plouffe is second in the same stat among major-league third basemen. Dozier’s RF/9 is fourth-best so far this season among all MLB second-basemen. His RF/G ranks second. Dozier’s FLD% is also second-best among MLB second basemen.
Plouffe’s RF/9 ranks fifth and RF/G ranks fourth among major-league third basemen. His FLD% is also second-best at his position. Shortstop Danny Santana and left-fielder Eduardo Escobar are also worth mentioning. Santana’s RF/G is fifth-best among major-league shortstops and Escobar is tied for fifth in assists so far this season at his position.
All the fielding and pitching goes to waste if a team doesn’t score, which fortunately for Minnesota wasn’t an issue in 2010. The Twins were sixth in MLB in 2010 in runs scored per game; second in on-base percentage (OBP) and triples; third in batting average (AVG), doubles, fewest strikeouts and hits; fifth in on-base plus slugging percentage; seventh in slugging percentage and ninth in walks.
Mauer also won the AL Silver Slugger award at catcher in 2010, finishing with the fourth-highest AVG, fifth-highest OBP and 10th-best at-bat to strikeout ratio in the majors that season. He wasn’t alone in having a terrific individual season at the plate for the Twins in 2010. Denard Span and Delmon Young also played major roles in powering the Minnesota machine that season.
Span posted the eighth-highest number of at-bats in the bigs on the season, placing ninth in plate appearances as well. He tied for fourth in triples and had the ninth-best stolen base percentage in 2010. Young tied for second in doubles and posted the season’s eighth-highest total of runs batted in (RBI). Part of his RBI success was due to tying for eighth on the sacrifice fly list in 2010.
So far in 2015, the Twins are in the top 10 in fewest strikeouts and are tied for third in triples with 19. Santana is tied for ninth in stolen bases, and Mauer is showing his agelessness by ranking third on the intentional walks drawn list. Dozier has been Minnesota’s most valuable offensive player so far this season, however.
Dozier’s 2.9 offensive wins above replacement value currently ranks him ninth among all MLB players in that category. Hearkening back to Span, he has made the seventh-most plate appearances so far this season. He is tied for second in runs scored and doubles. His 41 extra-base hits are good for third in all of MLB.
It remains to be seen if the Twins will reach the 94-victory plateau and win the AL Central division in 2015 like they did in 2010. If they do, Paul Molitor may win the AL Manager of the Year award, just like Rod Gardenhire did in 2010. They appear to have the defense, offense and pitching to make a run at it.
Either way, Minnesota fans will probably hope that one facet of the 2010 season doesn’t re-appear: a three-game sweep in the AL Divisional Series by the New York Yankees.