Potential Implications of the Twins Playing in the Grapefruit League South in 2020

Mandatory Credit: David Berding-USA TODAY Sports

Last Thursday, Minnesota Twins players Josh Donaldson and Mitch Garver met with the media over a conference call more or less to give a State of the Twins address.

Many topics came up in the call which lasted over 30 minutes, with the last and most expounded upon being the potential of playing an ostensibly truncated 2020 season in Cactus League stadiums and Chase Field — all in Arizona.

On Friday, Bob Nightengale of USA Today outlined an amended plan being discussed by MLB which would replace the existing American and National Leagues for 2020 with the Cactus and Grapefruit Leagues. Essentially, it’d be playing the regular season under spring training alignment, with teams grouped by proximity, with the Twins playing in the Grapefruit League South with the Boston Red Sox, Atlanta Braves, Tampa Bay Rays and the Baltimore Orioles.

Then, once pennant winners for each league were determined, the two would meet in the World Series in November, possibly in a domed stadium though it’s unclear what the actual need would be there since Arizona and Florida still have good enough weather to still play then.

Both Arizona and Florida typically have temperatures in the 70-80 degree range during the day in November, so the domed stadium issue probably isn’t as pressing as it would be otherwise.

Anyway, here are some key takeaways from the plan:

The Twins would play in a much tougher division than the AL Central

True enough, the Orioles lost 108 games in 2019. That was their second-most in a season since becoming the Orioles prior to the 1954 season, with only the 2018 team (115 losses) trumping that total.

And maybe the Orioles aren’t necessarily looking to make much noise whenever the 2020 season gets underway, but the rest of the Twins’ proposed division would be a marked improvement from the AL Central.

Let’s have a look, first at 2019 results and then 2020 projections via Fangraphs and Baseball Prospectus:

AL Central, 2019

  • Chicago White Sox (72-89)
  • Cleveland Indians (93-69)
  • Detroit Tigers (47-114)
  • Kansas City Royals (59-103)

Aggregate W-L, winning percentage: (68-94, .420)

AL Central, 2020 projection via FG

  • Chicago White Sox (83-79)
  • Cleveland Indians (85-77)
  • Detroit Tigers (67-95)
  • Kansas City Royals (72-90)

Aggregate W-L, winning percentage: (77-85, .475)

AL Central, 2020 projection via BP

  • Chicago White Sox (83-79)
  • Cleveland Indians (87-75)
  • Detroit Tigers (69-93)
  • Kansas City Royals (68-94)

Aggregate W-L, winning percentage: (77-85, .475)

Grapefruit League South, 2020 projection via FG

  • Boston Red Sox (85-77)
  • Atlanta Braves (87-75)
  • Tampa Bay Rays (90-72)
  • Baltimore Orioles (60-102)

Aggregate W-L, winning percentage: (81-81, .500)

Grapefruit League South, 2020 projection via BP

  • Boston Red Sox (86-76)
  • Atlanta Braves (83-79)
  • Tampa Bay Rays (88-74)
  • Baltimore Orioles (62-100)

Aggregate W-L, winning percentage: (80-82, .494)

In addition, four of the five AL playoff teams last year would be in the Grapefruit League, as would three of the contenders in the NL — including the World Series-winning Washington Nationals. Yes, simple math says that’s 70 percent of last season’s playoff teams.

The divisions would also be top-heavy, as Fangraphs’ projections have the top-three teams — Twins excluded — averaging 87.3 wins with Baseball Prospects’ not far behind at 85.7.

As a result, the Twins would probably be expected to take a significant hit to their playoff odds. Stats wizard Jeremy Frank ran an OOTP simulation over a 162-game season:

In it, the Twins are the second Wild Card team with an 87-76 record — apparently beating the Nationals in a Game 163 for the right to another elimination game against the Rays, who go on to win the World Series. By comparison, Baseball Prospectus projects the Twins to win the existing AL Central with a 94-68 record, while Fangraphs also has them winning, but with a tempered 89-73 record.

It’s also worth noting that there almost certainly would not be a full 162-game schedule played in this instance, and of course, things can be even zanier in smaller sample sizes.

Nevertheless, this would probably be the most significant impact to the 2020 Twins, all things considered.

The path to the World Series would still go through the New York Yankees

It’s no secret the Yankees have been the Twins’ kryptonite for as long as pretty much anyone can remember.

Since the turn of the century, the Twins are a staggering 44-94 (.319) against the Yankees in regular-season play.

In the playoffs, it’s even worse. The Twins are a staggering 2-16 against the Yankees in Octobers, and the team as a whole hasn’t won a playoff game since Joe Mauer‘s rookie season (2004). In fact, Johan Santana beat the Yankees on Oct. 5, 2004 — and the Twins have gone 5,670 days since winning a playoff game.

Luis Arraez was seven years old the last time the Twins won a playoff game, for instance. Former Twins pitcher Brusdar Graterol was six.

The brain trust of Derek Falvey and Thad Levine have the Twins on a path to sustained winning — but fans won’t see it as an overwhelming positive until the team makes more noise, including winning in the postseason against the Yankees.

Those Yankees, by the way, would almost certainly be in the way again in 2020 no matter how the divisions align. Even with their starting staff taking a significant blow with injuries to Luis Severino and James Paxton as well as the continued suspension of Domingo GermanFangraphs has them winning 94 games — third-most in MLB — while Baseball Prospects is even rosier at 97 wins, trailing only the Astros (98) and Dodgers (103).

This would probably be the added boost MLB needs to implement the universal DH

There’s pretty much no other way to handle the “DH or not to DH” issue in 2020 with over half (eight) of the 15 teams in the Grapefruit League residing in the American League under normal circumstances. The writing has been on the wall for quite some time that baseball would be looking to implement this strategy, and this could be the push needed to finally get it through.

And while NL fans and baseball purists would rebuff such an ideal, the fact of the matter is that pitchers have never and will never hit to a level even remotely close to their position-playing contemporaries.

MLB pitchers hit .128/.160/.162 last year — a minus-18 wRC+. Non-pitchers hit .256/.327/.443 — a 100 wRC+ that represents a 118-point gorge between the two.

If you’re wondering what a 118 wRC+ hitter looks like, Jorge Polanco‘s mark last year — as an AL All-Star game starter, mind you — was 119.

There’s simply no good reason to allow pitchers to keep trying to hit. It’s time to rip that Band-Aid off.

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