Real live baseball (in America) begins tonight, before ramping up on Thursday, leading to the Twins’ opener on Friday in Baltimore. With opening ceremonies in mind, here are the Knuckleballs Twins Predictions for 2012:
Pitcher of the Year: Scott Baker (minor early season DL stint not-withstanding) Baker was the best of a bad Twins pitching staff in 2011, despite missing chunks of the season on the Disabled List. I couldn’t tell you why I think he’s going to be healthy and productive this year (which already seems like a bad idea), but I think he will be great. Jim Crikket thinks that Francisco Liriano will be the best pitcher of the year. His spring numbers were very positive, he limited his walks and earned plenty of strike outs. Unfortunately, if you look back just a little farther to his Winter numbers, they’re terrible. Let’s hope the recent results tell more of a story for 2012.
Hitter of the Year: Justin Morneau “Morneau is swinging like I haven’s seen him swing in a couple of years. Vicious cuts.” – Jim Crikket Again, these are only Spring Training at bats, but ever since Morneau flipped the switch and hit two home runs in a game a couple weeks ago he’s been a man on fire. Moving into the DH position and focusing solely on hitting seems to be working for Morneau. Success in 2012 will help distance Morneau from his 2010 concussion and he could be playing first base everyday by the All-Star Break.
Defender of the Year: I wanted to select Alexi Casilla as the defender of the year, hoping against hope that he will remain focused, healthy, and attentive at second base and play more than 100 games for the first time in his career. Jim wanted to go with Denard Span, because for the Twins to succeed in 2012 Span is going to need to cover huge amounts of ground in the left field and right field gaps (gaps which are now wide open with the move to put Josh Willingham and some combination of Trevor Plouffe and Ryan Doumit in the corners).
Rookie of the Year: Chris Parmelee/Liam Hendriks If Parmelee continues to hit like he did last September and this Spring he’ll be a top choice for the Twins’ best rookie. The other candidate, who made the 25 man roster and will open the season in the starting rotation is Liam Hendriks. Hendriks was probably slated to come up after 5-10 AAA starts, but because Scott Baker and Jason Marquis are not ready to start the season Hendriks gets a chance to showcase his skills earlier than anticipated. If he keeps his spot in the rotation when both Baker and Marquis are back you’ll know he’s pitching well and on track to steal a Rookie of the Year award from Parmelee.
Most Valuable Player: Justin Morneau The engine that makes the Twins go is Joe Mauer, but Mauer is even better with a healthy Justin Morneau hitting behind him, forcing pitchers to attack Mauer allowing him to hit doubles all over spacious Target Field and driving in runs for the Twins. If Morneau comes back and is indeed the hitter of the year, selecting him as the MVP will be as much about what he does as an individual, as what he does in the lineup to help those around him.
Comeback Player of the Year: Francisco Liriano Obviously Justin Morneau is a candidate here if he hits well and helps the team succeed, but after a horrendous 2011, if Liriano returns to his 2010 form he’s one of the best players in baseball. If Morneau and Liriano are both All-Stars, this team will be lucky to two potential comeback players on their squad.
Expected Record: The Marcel projections peg the Twins for just a 70-92 record, relying heavily on the Twins’ 2011 results as a predictor of 2012 success (and a heavy dose of regression to the mean). Even if Joe Mauer’s Cindarella Spring Training Clock strikes midnight and he turns in another injury plagued 2012, simply trading Drew Butera for Ryan Doumit means turning a -1.2 WAR into a 1.2 WAR, 2.4 additional wins, and that’s not even factoring in upgraded seasons the Twins are likely to receive from Denard Span, Alexi Casilla, Jamey Carroll (vs. Tsuyoshi Nishioka), Danny Valencia, and at least half of the Twins’ pitching staff. Assuming then that the 70-92 record is the worst that the Twins could do in 2012, what is a reasonable expectation for the Home 9? My best guess, 82-80, Jim Crikket is more optimistic, suggesting even 86-76 for the Twins. Either way, the Twins are going to be competitive, entertaining and might even be relevant in September. Will any of this come to pass? I don’t know, but we’ve got 162 games to find out. Bring on the baseball!