Indians' lone challenger in Central adding value

The Twins are playing the Tribe's game

Alex Hooper
March 13, 2018 - 5:56 pm

Target Field is beginning to become Progressive Field West Campus.

With former Cleveland Indians Assistant GM Derek Falvey now with the Minnesota Twins, the Tribe’s top – and really only conceivable – challenger for the American League Central crown has begun to mirror their foes’ penchant for surplus value.

It has seemed as if Minnesota has been in on a majority of top free agents in the bewildering 2018 off-season. Their reported top target, righty Yu Darvish, unsurprisingly took a big contract from the big market Cubs, but consider the Twins’ haul.

Projected to receive four-years, $60 million by Fangraphs crowdsourcing, righty Lance Lynn recently signed on for one-year, $12 million. At one time a potential Indians target, first baseman Logan Morrison took $6.5 million and an $8 million vesting option for 2019, after hoping for around $20 million. Reliever Addison Reed was expected to get around $27 million by that same source, but took just south of $17 million.

With the projected dollar amount per 1 WAR being $11.1M, Minnesota has spent just $33.3M on 5 WAR, essentially 2 WAR/$22.2M in surplus value.

Seeking surplus value is by no means a novel concept, but it just so happens that the Twins are executing flawlessly.

Falvey, armed with an economics degree, is playing the game he learned from the Indians organization and trying to turn the tables, but with tangible room between the two foes, how much ground are the Twins actually making up?

Fangraphs still projects the Twins for an 82-80 record with a +11 run differential in 2018, 11 games back of the Indians, and 5 games back of the projected 2nd wild card in the Toronto Blue Jays.

Again, these are all just projections, and the Twins are the posterboys for recent defiance of projections, becoming the first team to jump from 100 losses to the playoffs the next season. Surely no one in the Cleveland front office discounted a further step forward for Minnesota, but with a conservative off-season, it would seem the only thing that could take the defending champs down.

There is plenty of room to project the Twins forward, too.

Byron Buxton is already the game’s best outfielder and base-runner, and has begun an incline towards being a good hitter. The former second overall pick is still a below-average hitter, posting wRC+ of 86 and 90 the past two seasons, including his lowest K% and highest BB% over his three season career in 2017.

Even as a below average hitter in 2017, Buxton posted a 3.5 WAR, around the same value he is projected to hit in 2018. Steamer projections have Buxton with an incremental increase in all three slash numbers, with a higher wRC+ (97) and lower WAR (3.0). ZiPS sees a regression in every number but the wRC+, which it projects again at 90.

Despite a pretty awful start, the 24-year old has three seasons under his belt before most have one, and has improved as a hitter each season since. It is interesting to see his projections plateau so early.

Buxton also says he plans to take more chances on the basepaths in 2018 after a season in which he made just two outs as a runner.

If any player would single-handedly push the Twins past the Tribe this season, it would be Buxton, but recent acquisition Jake Odorizzi could have his say as well.

The right-hander was dealt from Tampa to Minnesota as Falvey and the gang have tried to stock up on starting arms, their position of least depth. Odorizzi was a 2-3 win player in the three seasons prior to 2017.

As Travis Sawchick noted, Odorizzi is a fan of elevating fastballs, which has gone poorly for the 27-year-old, and the league as a whole when following that strategy. For Odorizzi himself, his numbers have plummeted as the elevation revelation has spread, while his HR/FB numbers have trended up.

With some sort of adjustment, Odorizzi could plausibly return to form, while Steamer is not convinced.