OPENING DAY HAS ARRIVED! As we all collectively rejoice/boogie, I thought it would be fun to send out the offseason Power Rankings with a bang! Starting next Monday, the Monday Morning Madness will return, likely to much acclaim and fanfare. I'll release monthly Power Rankings, designed to rank the best performances from the best Twins players each month. Now that you are fully up to speed on my schedule, we can get to actual rankings.
I thought it would be fun to try to project the top 10 players by WAR for the upcoming season. I've meticulously combed my list and I'm ready to project. These are simply wild guesses, but if it makes you feel better, you can imagine me standing next to a giant computer, like this:
There, now my credentials have been confirmed. I'm using rWAR (Baseball Reference) because they use ERA instead of FIP to calculate their pitchers' WAR and I prefer their fielding metric. I also prefer to project actual performance instead of projected performance. That would lead to projected projections and I'm not willing to make anyone dizzy right now. Let's start.
10. Josh Willingham - 0.3 in 2013, Projected 1.3 in 2014
If only there were a way to designate a hitter who just bats and doesn't field. If that were possible, I'd rank Willingham higher on this list. I think he bounces back offensively, at least to an extent, closer to his 2009-2011 production and short of his 2012 production. In those three seasons, he was worth roughly 2.5 oWAR. Back then, his defense was just bad, not Delmon, so he finished with WARs in the 2.5 range. His defense has deteriorated to the point of liability and his overall WAR will greatly suffer as a result. Of course, he'll still be better than he was in 2013, so I guess this is good news?
9. Pedro Florimon - 2.1 in 2013, Projected 1.5 in 2014
Florimon's WAR comes almost entirely from his defense. He was worth -18 runs as a batter last season, but his oWAR was slightly saved by some solid baserunning. I don't think his offense will improve and I'm not sure he can hit enough to maintain that baserunning value. Florimon hit .201/.262/.314 in the second half. His defense is great; that's what keeps him in the lineup. For now, anyway. This projection basically takes his 2013 season and removes a mess of games because I think the Twins wise up and either give Eduardo Escobar some time at short, or they promote Danny Santana when he's ready. Either way, I don't see Florimon scuffling through 446 plate appearances in 2014.
8. Aaron Hicks - 0.7 in 2013, Projected 2.0 in 2014
You're surprised that Hicks had a positive WAR last year, aren't you? You're questioning the concept of WAR, aren't you. You're closing this window, aren't you? WAIT WAIT! Hicks earned a positive WAR due to adept baserunning and solid, but sometimes shaky defense. His overall offensive WAR was positive because of the baserunning, so don't get too upset about that figure. His poor hitting was certainly accounted for, I promise you. I expect Hicks to improve his hitting and fielding in 2014 while maintaining his solid baserunning. I don't expect a full breakout just yet, but I think Hicks gets incrementally better and looks like a solid overall player by the end of 2014.
7. Josmil Pinto - 0.7 in 2013, Projected 2.0 in 2014
It's hard to project Pinto any higher because we don't know how much playing time he will receive at the beginning of the season and we don't really know how his defense will rate. If the concerns about his defense manifest, he could finish with a lower WAR. He's not going to hit like he did last September, but he could easily surpass what Oswaldo Arcia did in 2013 (.251/.304/.430), which was good for 1.0 oWAR in just 97 games. I hope the Twins intend to play Pinto more than 97 times in 2014 and I think he will post a better OBP than Arica, if nothing else. If he can reach 2.0 oWAR, his positional score and defensive rating could be a wash, leaving him right at 2.0 overall.
6. Glen Perkins - 2.1 in 2013, Projected 2.1 in 2014
Perkins has been very consistent over the past three seasons, posting 2.1, 1.3 and 2.1 rWAR over that span. The dip in 2012 had a lot to do with a shocking 5 unearned runs, which don't hurt his ERA but is reflected in his WAR. Perkins has actually gotten better in the past three seasons, raising his strikeout rate to elite territory while maintaining a sparkling walk rate. I see no reason to project Perkins any lower than before, as he will continue to be a dominant reliever. He'd be higher on this list, but it's hard for closers to amass a high WAR total due to their low innings totals.
5. Ricky Nolasco - 1.8 in 2013, Projected 2.1 in 2014
Nolasco actually had a 1.8 WAR in 2012 as well, making him the most consistent player in the history of the World. He was on pace to surpass that figure, but getting traded to the Dodgers and by proxy, Dodgers' Stadium, deflated his WAR due to a favorable new home ballpark. Nolasco's new home ballpark is a lot more similar to his old home in Miami than his temporary home in Los Angeles. Since Nolasco is the de facto Ace for the Twins, I expect him to reach 200 innings with an ERA in the 4.00-4.20 range. If that happens, he'll finish with a slightly higher WAR in 2014.
4. Oswaldo Arcia - -0.5 in 2013, Projected 2.5 in 2014
Arcia was a league-average hitter as a 22-year-old rookie in 2013. He only played 97 games and got shuttled between AAA and Minnesota three times. With a more stable slate of games ahead of him, Arcia could nearly triple his oWAR of 1.0 in 2013. I think that he rounds into a .260/.330/.450 hitter in 2014, roughly equivalent to what Coco Crisp and Stephen Drew hit in 2013. Those two were worth about 3.5 oWAR apiece. Both missed more than 30 games as well. If Arcia can hit the figures I think he can hit, his oWAR could be just North of 4.0.
Defense. Ok, there's no way to sugarcoat this. Arcia is a bad defender right now. I had hoped he'd look good in Spring Training, but he hasn't. I have long-term hope for Arcia in the outfield, but 2014 doesn't look promising. If that's the case and he's an awful outfielder in 2014, his dWAR will greatly drag his overall WAR down, leaving him in the 2.5 range. He's going to be a good hitter. Hopefully he can round into a better fielder because it would be a shame to have to hear about how overrated Arcia is due to his shoddy defense.
3. Phil Hughes - -0.7 in 2013, Projected 2.8 in 2014
Oh God, what am I doing?!? I clearly have a good feeling about Hughes in 2014. To reach the number I have projected, he'll need to throw a career-best 200 innings and post an ERA in the 3.75 range. Whoa boy. Hughes' best season was 2012 when he threw 191.1 innings and had an ERA of 4.19. He was brutal last year, but I'm willing to ignore that because...well, I want to. This isn't science, how many times do I have to say that? If Hughes had been just unfortunate with home runs in 2012 instead of woefully and borderline unfairly unfortunate, his ERA could have easily been in the 3.75 range and he might have lasted longer in games (he did make 32 starts).
I think Hughes stays healthy in 2014, makes 30+ starts and looks generally good. This projection could look really bad in either direction, as Hughes has a huge range of potential outcomes in 2014. I'm optimistic. I was really optimistic about Aaron Hicks at this time last year, in case you were wondering.
2. Brian Dozier - 3.8 in 2013, Projected 3.8 in 2014
I'm going to hold steady on Dozier in 2014. I think he'll hit for slightly less power, but his BA and OBP will improve. It will all be a wash when it comes to actual value, although it wouldn't shock me if his OPS+ ticks up just a bit. I see no reason to downgrade his defense at this time, as Dozier is still a young man and looked really solid last season.
1. Joe Mauer - 5.4 in 2013, Projected 5.6 in 2014
I'm projecting a slight dip in dWAR due to his move from catcher to first. While I think he will rate as a good fielding first baseman, the move down the defensive spectrum (a complete shift from one end to the other) will hurt his overall figure. He'll still hit like a champ and rack up value. He should play more games in 2014, so that helps. I'm blindly projecting a .500 slugging percentage because I love being let down. If he hits that number with his typical .320 BA and .400 OBP, his oWAR will be over 6.0 but the defense/position will drag him down slightly. Better power, more games but a less valuable defensive profile all add up to a slightly more valuable Mauer in 2014.
Remember, I was standing next to that giant computer; I know what I'm talking about. What do you think of my
guesses predictions? I feel pretty confident. If these figures prove accurate, the Twins could be pretty good in 2014. If I'm wrong, they'll be even better because I'll have undersold these players, right? Optimism! Check back tomorrow as I'll have instant analysis of today's game just a mere one day after it happens. Honesty!