2023 Minnesota Twins MLB season predictions, odds and preview

By Adam Burke  (VSiN.com) 

March 11, 2023 08:30 AM

Minnesota Twins 2023 Season Preview

The Minnesota Twins are likely to be a polarizing team heading into the season. There is a path in which everybody stays healthy and they win the AL Central Division. There is another path in which the offense isn’t good enough, the team battles injuries and another losing season takes place. There is certainly a third option that lies somewhere in the middle, but my guess is that you’re going to find people that love the Twins and others that don’t love the Twins.

The fascinating swap of supreme contact hitter Luis Arraez and dependable near-ace Pablo Lopez was just one of many headlines grabbed by the Twins this offseason. They also were the team to finally sign on the dotted line with Carlos Correa, whose six-year contract is a far cry from the 13-year pact he originally agreed to with the Giants.

Minnesota upgraded the rotation with Lopez, upgraded at catcher with Christian Vazquez and effectively goes into the season with the same roster otherwise. Following a 78-84 season, is that enough to swing the balance and keep the Twins from their third consecutive non-contending campaign?

Explanations of the stats used in this preview can be found in my “MLB Stats to Know” article.

2023 Minnesota Twins Odds

(odds from DraftKings as of Mar. 8)

World Series: +4000

AL Pennant: +1800

AL Central: +225

Win Total: 83.5 (-105/-115)

Make Playoffs: Yes +130 / No -155

Minnesota Twins Offense

All things considered, the Twins still had a really good offense last season. Their 107 wRC+ ranked ninth and seven of the top nine batters in plate appearances had a wRC+ of 111 or higher. The one that led the team in plate appearances was the aforementioned Arraez, who is now part of the keystone combo with Jazz Chisholm Jr. in Miami. Correa was the team’s most productive hitter with a 140 wRC+, so he would have been another notable loss, but Minnesota brought him back at something of a bargain price.

What will define the season for Minnesota is the health of Byron Buxton. He posted a .224/.306/.526 slash with a 136 wRC+, but he was once against limited to just over a half-season’s worth of plate appearances. When he’s been out there, Buxton has been extremely productive, but he hasn’t had more than last season’s 382 plate appearances since 2017. Minnesota signed him through the 2028 season for seven years and $100 million prior to 2022 and got the value they were looking for, but he wasn’t able to stay healthy again.

Buxton hit 28 homers in his 92 games, as the power bump we saw in 2021 carried over to 2022. Over his last 153 games, Buxton has hit 47 home runs while playing terrific center field defense. He is a budding superstar, but he can’t stay on the field enough to realize his full potential. Minnesota was 47-39 when Buxton started and 31-45 when he didn’t.

Correa’s ankle seemed like more of a long-term concern than a short-term one, but those two guys are the standouts here. That said, the Twins get good offensive production from several other sources and Vazquez, while maybe not the same hitter as Gary Sanchez, is definitely a huge defensive upgrade. Gio Urshela, Jose Miranda, Jorge Polanco and Nick Gordon all posted wRC+ marks between 111 and 119, so they all graded as above-average hitters. Alex Kirilloff hit at every level in the minors but hasn’t quite caught on at the MLB level just yet. Joey Gallo is a very nice buy-low piece on a one-year redemption deal after his worst season as a pro.

Gallo is actually quite interesting because he walks a ton and could add a power element that was missing when Buxton went out. Beyond Buxton, Correa led the team with 22 homers and nobody else hit more than 16. With Gallo, Max Kepler and Kirilloff, the Twins actually have the chance at being basically league average or better at every spot in the lineup. It all depends on who bounces back and who stays healthy.

This projects to probably be in the running as a top-10 offensive unit again and should improve defensively as well with Vazquez and Gallo. The ceiling for the offense will be defined by Buxton’s ability to stay healthy, but the depth is better, particularly if some of the guys have bounce-back performances.

That being said, Arraez batted .316 with a .375 on-base percentage and made a lot of things happen at the top of the lineup. He also only struck out in 7.1% of his plate appearances and this will be a group that strikes out more with Gallo in the mix. There were also guys like Correa and Gordon who posted high BABIPs that drove up their on-base percentages. 

Minnesota Twins Pitching

This is the part of the team that could really give Minnesota a good chance at getting back to the postseason if everything goes as planned. Kenta Maeda returns from Tommy John surgery and Lopez slots in as the No. 1 starter. In between, you’ve got 2022 trade acquisitions Sonny Gray and Tyler Mahle, as well as Joe Ryan, who showed a lot of signs of being a strong middle-of-the-rotation guy last season.

Let me start by saying that I’m not as convinced about Lopez as others. The 2022 season was the first in which he was worse at home than he was on the road. Marlins Park is a place where fly balls go to die and Lopez has had problems on the road. In 226 innings, he has a 4.54 ERA with a 4.25 FIP. Like I said, 2022 was the exception and he had a 3.00 ERA with a .293 wOBA against in 93 innings, which were all career-highs. His FIP is also a little bit impacted by his first two seasons, as he’s really blossomed over the last three years.

That said, he has a career 3.45 ERA with a 3.39 FIP in 284 innings at home in what has been a terrible venue for hitters. Target Field plays differently based on the time of year. He also doesn’t have to go on the road and face offenses like the Braves, Phillies and Mets at the same rate. There are also durability questions, as last season was the first in which he threw at least 112 innings. I think he’s good. I don’t think he’s great. Will that be enough?

That depends on the supporting cast. Gray was really good over 119.2 innings with a 3.08 ERA and a 3.40 FIP. He started to elevate his sinker a little more and not just be a pure ground ball guy. He did that in Cincinnati and saw more strikeout upside. He’s also leaned in a lot more with the curveball, but he saw drops in K% and SwStr% last season. It didn’t impact his numbers negatively, but his Hard Hit% did spike 7.2% from 2021 when his ERA was over a run higher because of a home run spike pitching in Cincinnati.

Ryan had a 3.55 ERA with a 3.99 FIP, but he had one huge blow-up with 10 runs allowed in 4.2 innings against the Padres and five of his 20 home runs. He allowed two or fewer runs in 17 of his 27 starts. Mahle only made four starts because he got hurt after being one of Minnesota’s big deadline acquisitions. Maeda is back after missing all of 2022. He’ll turn 35 on April 11, so I don’t know how much we want to expect from him, but the Twins can replace 25 starts from Chris Archer and go back to using Chris Paddack (out until after the All-Star Break post-Tommy John), Bailey Ober and Josh Winder as depth options.

The elephant in the room is the bullpen. The Twins blew 39 leads last season. They blew a bunch of them against Cleveland. By the numbers, Minnesota had an average bullpen that ranked 16th in ERA and 14th in FIP. They were even fourth in FIP in the second half, yet managed to record only eight saves. The reluctance to use flamethrower Jhoan Duran on back-to-back days made it tough because bullpen roles were thrown into a state of flux.

On the whole, the numbers weren’t bad, especially for the high-leverage guys. Duran was incredible with a 1.86 ERA and a 2.22 FIP. Caleb Thielbar and Griffin Jax were both very solid. Emilio Pagan gave up too many homers, but he did miss a lot of bats and projects as a positive regression candidate.

It is surprising to me that Derek Falvey wasn’t more proactive in addressing the bullpen, but the stats suggest that some dudes just got unlucky, like Thielbar with a .324 BABIP and a 69.4% LOB%. Falvey was a longtime executive for the Indians and that was an organization that didn’t panic. If the stats had bad luck indicators, they would trust their reports and expect a bounce-back season.

The Twins also have Jorge Lopez, who was stellar for the Orioles, but bad for the Twins, for the full season to define those bullpen roles. Admittedly, I don’t love this group, but the results were worse than the numbers and the Twins did run bad as a whole pitching staff with men in scoring position.

Miscellaneous Notes

To expand on that last point, the Twins had the seventh-highest wOBA against with RISP, including the second-highest number of home runs allowed. On the flip side, the Twins' offense was exactly league average with RISP with a 100 wRC+. Oftentimes, the records of fringy teams are defined by what happens in high-leverage situations. That was the case with the Twins last season.

That’s why they were four games worse than their Pythagorean Win-Loss and BaseRuns records. Minnesota was also 20-28 in one-run games, which ranked 25th in win percentage.

There was also a huge discrepancy between defensive metrics for Minnesota. The Twins were +25 Defensive Runs Saved per The Fielding Bible, but -18 Outs Above Average per Statcast. I tend to trust Statcast more, but that’s a huge difference.

Player to Watch

SP Joe Ryan: Relative to his peers, Ryan is not a household name. That means we could find a little more betting value on him throughout the season. He was also a 60% fastball guy last season but worked on some new pitches this offseason, including a slider with a different shape and more of a splitter. I’m not sure I’m enamored with him trying to induce more grounders in a post-shift world, but I can see the appeal to him. He always had a lot of swing-and-miss coming up through the minors, though health was an ongoing concern, as it is for most guys. He still had an above-average swinging strike rate and over a strikeout per inning last season, but I think his goal is to improve his chase rate and I agree with that notion. I don’t think we should be surprised if Ryan is Minnesota’s best starter this season.

Minnesota Twins Season Win Total Pick

I’m surprised to see the Twins and White Sox with the same win total odds since PECOTA loves Minnesota and dislikes Chicago. As I wrote in the intro, I can see the reasons for optimism about the Twins. They return the bulk of a top-10 offense and Buxton is healthy, at least for now. The rotation looks substantially better with Lopez and the return of Maeda, especially because the starting staff was the biggest area of need last season.

Another reason I’m surprised with this win total number is because the Twins were four games better by Pythagorean Win-Loss last season and BaseRuns last season, suggesting they should have been 82-80. Add that to PECOTA’s lofty projection of 88-74 and it’s interesting to see the Twins and White Sox lined as equals, though Minnesota does have a shorter price to win the AL Central. Of course, they also have a longer price to win the World Series and haven’t won a playoff series since 2002. In fact, the Twins are 2-21 in their last 23 playoff games dating back to 2003.

I just find the Twins to be unreliable. Aside from the juiced ball year of 2019 when the Twins led the league in home runs, they’ve squandered some talented teams with a lot of the same personnel, especially the last two seasons. I think they have a wide range of outcomes this year and I don’t want to be on either side of this win total. If I had to bet it, though, I’d bet the under and assume Buxton is hurt and other hurdles get in the way.

Lean: Under 83.5

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