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The Twins will be a .500 team this season. That's if you put your faith into PECOTA, an algorithm developed by Baseball Prospectus that predicts the number of wins each Major League Baseball team will have.

PECOTA, which stands for Player Empirical Comparison and Optimization Test Algorithm (easy enough to remember), uses historical data to project how teams will perform and it has the Twins pegged for an 81-81 record next season. That forecast has them at second place in a weakened AL Central behind the Cleveland Indians, projected to go 97-65.

The rest of the division isn't expected to be competitive, with the Chicago White Sox at 73-89, the Detroit Tigers 68-94 and Kansas City Royals 66-96.

Last season, PECOTA expected the Twins to go 79-83, and they beat that by six victories, going 85-77 on their way to a wild-card berth.

PECOTA projections tend to be conservative in nature, which makes this season's forecasts so notable. The projections have the defending World Series champion Astros at 99-63, the Yankees at 96-66 and the Dodgers at 99-63. Throw in the Indians and that's four teams projected to reach at least 96 wins, which is an aggressive number by PECOTA standards.

The projections seem to account for the fact that Ervin Santana will miss the start of the season after undergoing surgery on the middle finger of his pitching hand, a procedure that will keep him out the next 10 to 12 weeks. Santana is projected to make 23 starts. He made 33 a season ago. Santana is expected to have a 4.76 ERA, 1.41 walks and hits per innings pitched and 0.7 WAR.

It should come as no surprise that center fielder Byron Buxton and second baseman Brian Dozier are expected to be the Twins' top position players. Buxton, thanks to his defensive prowess, has an expected WAR of 3.6 while Dozier is at 2.6. Both are above-average-to-good numbers. Dozier led the team last year with a 4.7 WAR; Buxton and Santana were second at 4.3.

It should also come as no surprise that starting pitching is projected to be a weak spot. The starting rotation is expected to contribute only 3.9 wins above replacement — just .3 more wins than Buxton alone. Of course, that number could change should the Twins make one final splash in the lagging free-agent market, especially if they end up signing Yu Darvish, who had a 5.2 WAR last season, according to Baseball Prospectus.

Chris Hine is the lead writer for North Score, the Star Tribune's new sports analytics beat. Find his stories at startribune.com/northscore.


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