June 19, 2005

Context and Expectations

The mood among Twins fans seems pretty down right now. In addition to the usual complaints that surface throughout a baseball season (the bullpen, the manager, plate discipline, etc.), I have been hearing a surprising amount of negative talk about Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau, as well as an overall frustration with the team's play.

Any complaints about Mauer or Morneau right now are due entirely to ridiculously high expectations, because while they have both struggled at times this season, the fact is that they are each having very good years. In fact, if you take into account that they are in their first full seasons in the big leagues and are 22 years old and 24 years old, respectively, their seasons might even be considered excellent.

Remember back in February, when I did position-by-position "State of the Twins" entries that included three statistical projections for each player? The interesting thing about how Mauer and Morneau have played so far this season is that their offensive numbers are almost identical to their "average" projections.

JOE MAUER                AVG      OBP      SLG
Average Projection .304 .368 .456
Actual 2005 Numbers .292 .367 .427

Average Projection .277 .346 .515
Actual 2005 Numbers .274 .330 .503

In short, Mauer and Morneau have played almost exactly how they should have been expected to play. Mauer is hitting for a good batting average and controlling the strike zone, but showing mediocre power. Morneau is flashing big-time power and hitting for a solid batting average, but has been extremely inconsistent.

No one has higher expectations for Mauer and Morneau than I do. I have long said that Morneau has the potential to be one of the elite power hitters in all of baseball, and I have also said that Mauer has a chance to be one of the greatest catchers in baseball history. But if you were expecting either of those things this season, that goes far beyond high expectations.

Mauer is having one of the best offensive seasons ever for a 22-year-old catcher and has thrown out 42% of attempted basestealers. Morneau is on pace for 25 homers and 95 RBIs despite missing two weeks in April after being beaned in the head, and he's hitting .297/.369/.604 against right-handed pitching. If anything, what they've done so far this season has made me more confident than ever about their long-term greatness.

Similarly, the Twins are getting dangerously close to having a lot of people view their first half as a disappointment. The reality is that they have played very well this season, but their good play has been masked by the fact that the White Sox have won 68% of their games. Take a look at how the Twins' current record compares to their record at this point in past seasons:

YEAR      W      L     WIN%
2002 37 30 .552
2003 38 29 .567
2004 37 30 .552
2005 38 29 .567

In other words, the Twins are right where they've been after 67 games during the past three seasons. The Twins have the fourth-best record in the league and are on pace for 92 wins. They won 94, 90, and 92 games while winning three straight American League Central titles. The difference this time around is that the rest of the division isn't rolling over for them, and 92 wins might not be enough to take home the title. They are finally learning what it's like to be a good team in a good division.

Today at The Hardball Times:
- News, Notes and Quotes (June 20, 2005) (by Aaron Gleeman)

Today's Picks (59-53, +$490):
Oakland (Haren) +120 over Seattle (Sele)

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