On the defensive/pitching side of the ledger, Minnesota allowed 804 runs – the second-highest in the American League behind only Baltimore. At the plate, they managed to score just 619 – the second-fewest ahead of only Seattle. It is simple enough: In order to become a competitive team again, this year’s squad needs to shave off runs allowed and increase the runs scored.
Yes, the 2011 Twins scored less frequently than your standard World of Warcraft participant but there are plenty of reasons why fans should anticipate a boost in runs scored in 2012. One such reason more offense by the Twins should be expected is because of the overhaul at the top of the order.
From this chart below, you can see that based on a team’s ability to get their first two hitters in the order on base regularly, their scoring tendency increased:
|Lead-off & Two-hitter (2011)|
Of course, there are a lot of variables that go into a team’s ability to generate runs that extend just beyond the first two hitters. For example, while the Rays were able to set their table extremely well, the team’s bottom of the order, spots seven through nine, hit a paltry .216/.219/.330 throughout the season. This top heavy production likely cost Tampa some runs over the year. On the other hand, the Detroit Tigers had the opposite effect. Their top of the order, starting with Austin Jackson, had a difficult time getting on base. Instead of getting runners on from the top of the lineup, the middle of Detroit’s order – hitter’s three through six – mashed to the tune of .305/.369/.482. This led to 787 runs, the fourth-highest in the American League last year. With the exception of those outliers, a team’s offense and their performance at the top of the order is fairly intertwined.
Obviously, a team like the Red Sox, Yankees and Rangers have a consistent lineup from top to bottom while teams like the Orioles, A’s and Mariners had holes everywhere. A team bursting with hitting is likely going to score more runs. In many ways, the Twins were no different from those bottom-feeding clubs. Injuries diluted the lineup so much it became as potent as a watered-down liquor bottle in the cabinet of a high school kid’s parents’ house.
Even with a thin lineup, the 2011 Twins top of the order lacked any means to jumpstart the offense. Denard Span started the season off well but the concussion greatly reduced his production before he was sidelined. His replacement, Ben Revere, was learning on the job and posted a .310 on-base percentage – a very lackluster rate for a leadoff man. In the two-spot, Alexi Casilla posted a .322 on-base percentage but he too was injured and the spot in the order was given most often to Trevor Plouffe, who had a .305 on-base percentage. So even with the dilapidated lineup in the season’s second-half the Twins did not provide the middle-of-the-order much of an opportunity to drive in runs.
It is clear that if the team wants to compete in 2011, they need to score runs. With Joe Mauer claiming to be in excellent physical condition this spring and Josh Willingham entering into the picture, the heart of the order should be at the very least incrementally strong than it was a year ago. The trick is having a pair of hitters that can be on base for the big sticks to do their work.
While he admits there have been some good days and bad days when it comes to his recovery, for now, there is optimism that Span is ready to go. An owner of a career .361 on-base percentage, when he has been healthy, he’s been one of the game’s best lead-off hitters. Even though he has had a down year in 2010, he appeared to be on the path to a rebound season in 2011: Prior to his collision with Royals catcher Brayan Pena, he was holding an OBP north of his current career rate.
Following Span in the order will likely be new addition Jamey Carroll. Carroll is a prototypical number two hitter – able to get on base as well as move runners over by hitting behind them. Provided that he can play serviceable defense in the twilight of his career, he should be a solid contributor out of the two spot.
With Span and Carroll as the lineup’s opening acts, the Twins should be climbing the on-base chart and, as such, should be scoring more runs and thereby closing that important 200-run differential chasm.