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  • The Twins are Winning by Walking

    Despite the fact that more than half their games have been on the road and five of their seven series have been against clubs that finished with winning records last year, the Twins are above .500 after 21 games.

    They've managed to win despite starting pitching that has been astonishingly bad. Nearly everyone expected improvement from the rotation after large offseason investments were made, but so far the Twins have gotten a 5.91 ERA from their starters, a regression from last year's 5.26 mark.

    The key to the early success has been outscoring the opposition, specifically by getting on base more often.

    This was well exemplified in Thursday's series-clinching victory against the Rays. Three of the first five hitters to face Erik Bedard reached on a free pass, and all three ended up scoring to give Minnesota a lead it would never relinquish.

    As we approach the end of April, the Twins are leading the Majors in walks taken. This continues a shift toward increased plate patience that we've seen in the past few seasons. As you can see below, the lineup has been gradually reshaping its reputation.

    Here are their MLB ranks in walks since their postseason run began in 2002:

    2002: 25th
    2003: 20th
    2004: 17th
    2005: 19th
    2006: 22nd
    2007: 19th
    2008: 22nd
    2009: 12th
    2010: 8th
    2011: 27th
    2012: 10th
    2013: 7th
    2014: 1st

    During their glory years, the Twins frequently had one of the better team batting averages in the league, but they almost always ranked in the bottom half in terms of walks.

    The lopsided philosophical emphasis on limiting walks for pitchers versus a lack of emphasis on drawing walks for hitters always seemed to represent a blatant contradiction in the coaching staff's approach.

    The Twins have always viewed the base on balls as a dangerous weapon for the opposing offense, but consistently failed to deploy it as a featured component of their own offensive attack. Now they are, and it's paying off.

    One of the central concepts in sabermetrics is that the most important aspect of scoring runs is getting on base. The Twins are reinforcing that now.

    They currently rank second in the American League in scoring despite ranking eighth in batting average and 10th in slugging. But thanks to their propensity for drawing the free pass, they lead the league in on-base percentage.

    The high volume of base runners has created plenty of opportunities to drive in runs. Obviously guys like Chris Colabello, who leads the AL in RBI, have been taking advantage, but as a team the Twins are hitting only .256 with runners in scoring position. The bottom line is that if you put enough men on base, you're going to score runs, even if your lineup lacks a bunch of dominant hitters.

    Is the increase in walks reflective of the Twins embracing this notion? Tom Brunansky, who took over as hitting coach last year, was a guy who relied on the free pass during his playing days, helping him put together an impressive career as a batsman despite a .245 lifetime average. When you consider that the Twins have had their two highest MLB ranks for walks in the last 13 years during Brunansky's two years as an instructor, it's hard to downplay his influence.

    That's especially true when you look at some of the specific examples. Trevor Plouffe, who has struggled with plate discipline for most of his career in the Majors (and Minors, for that matter) has 14 walks in 21 games and a .412 OBP. Brian Dozier had a 7 percent BB rate during his first two years with the Twins; he's at 16 percent early this season.

    Perhaps the most noteworthy is Josmil Pinto, a rookie who entered this season with only 40 games played above Double-A. He's drawn walks in nearly a quarter of his trips to the plate (22.5 percent), which not only gives him the team lead but ranks second in the majors behind Jose Bautista.

    As spring came to a close, it was clear that the Twins weren't going to dominate offensively based on talent alone. Under such circumstances, a good team with smart coaches alters its overall approach to gain advantages in other ways.

    That's what we've seen from the Twins. Brunansky, the rest of the coaches and certainly the hitters themselves deserve a lot of credit for that. Hopefully they can continue to utilize that edge this weekend against the Tigers, who (somewhat surprisingly) have the fourth fewest walks of any AL team.
    Comments 25 Comments
    1. Arky Vaughn's Avatar
      Arky Vaughn -
      I'm so confused. I have read hundreds of posts from people criticizing Joe Mauer for taking walks. The only offensive value a player has is how many home runs and RBIs they have. Now you are trying to tell me there is value in talking walks. Talk about cognitive dissonance. I just don't know what to believe. Can there really be value in not making outs?
    1. tobi0040's Avatar
      tobi0040 -
      Quote Originally Posted by Arky Vaughn View Post
      I'm so confused. I have read hundreds of posts from people criticizing Joe Mauer for taking walks. The only offensive value a player has is how many home runs and RBIs they have. Now you are trying to tell me there is value in talking walks. Talk about cognitive dissonance. I just don't know what to believe. Can there really be value in not making outs?
      I am confused as well. In key situations, we were told Joe should try and hit a HR, which he has done in 2% of his plate appearances over his career. Instead of getting on base.

      Now we are winning because of walks.
    1. crarko's Avatar
      crarko -
      It's actually the head-first slide into first after the walk that's firing everybody up. Joe doesn't do that because of the concussion risk.

      Science; easy and fun.
    1. twinsfan214's Avatar
      twinsfan214 -
      I assume the two other posters are being ironic. Sabermetrics says to get on base, the key being "it doesn't matter how".
    1. MileHighTwinsFan's Avatar
      MileHighTwinsFan -
      Taking quality at bats is part of what sustains an offense and destabilizes opposing pitching. The lack of options out of the bullpen for the Rays late on Wednesday carried over to Thursday. Having more men on base creates more opportunities to score, which in turn wears down a pitching staff. The approach the Twins are taking is going to be critical to their competitiveness for the entire season.

      The concern I have is whether Arcia and Willingham will undermine this approach when they return. Their very high strikeout rates could be a detriment. Losing Pinto's walks in favor of Arcia's strikeouts could be a negative.
    1. DJL44's Avatar
      DJL44 -
      Willingham has always taken a fair share of walks. Arcia hasn't but maybe he'll learn now.
    1. Taildragger8791's Avatar
      Taildragger8791 -
      Quote Originally Posted by Arky Vaughn View Post
      I'm so confused. I have read hundreds of posts from people criticizing Joe Mauer for taking walks. The only offensive value a player has is how many home runs and RBIs they have. Now you are trying to tell me there is value in talking walks. Talk about cognitive dissonance. I just don't know what to believe. Can there really be value in not making outs?
      Just playing devil's advocate here, but the article was talking about getting previously marginal hitters to draw walks because they aren't going to beat anyone with the stick consistently. Mauer isn't a marginal hitter (ignoring the last few weeks) and certainly has the ability to beat even great pitchers swinging. That was his perceived responsibility in the batting order for years, whether or not it was true.
    1. USAFChief's Avatar
      USAFChief -
      Quote Originally Posted by twinsfan214 View Post
      I assume the two other posters are being ironic. Sabermetrics says to get on base, the key being "it doesn't matter how".
      Can you show us where saber metrics says that it doesn't matter how you get on base?
    1. Twins Twerp's Avatar
      Twins Twerp -
      Quote Originally Posted by USAFChief View Post
      Can you show us where saber metrics says that it doesn't matter how you get on base?
      Ya it was that part where Jonah Hill was whispering to the Indians gm about getting on base and he says doesnt matter how. Moneyball=sabrmetrics. Or it was in Genisis 1: "And on the seventh day God said it doesnt really matter how you get on base, so long as you are on first base after thou at bat."
    1. jokin's Avatar
      jokin -
      Quote Originally Posted by MileHighTwinsFan View Post
      Taking quality at bats is part of what sustains an offense and destabilizes opposing pitching. The lack of options out of the bullpen for the Rays late on Wednesday carried over to Thursday. Having more men on base creates more opportunities to score, which in turn wears down a pitching staff. The approach the Twins are taking is going to be critical to their competitiveness for the entire season.

      The concern I have is whether Arcia and Willingham will undermine this approach when they return. Their very high strikeout rates could be a detriment. Losing Pinto's walks in favor of Arcia's strikeouts could be a negative.
      If Arcia continues in the manner with which he was playing before his injury, he won't be around long enough to mess up Pinto's PAs, he'll be back in Roc. In contrast, you underestimate Willingham's strong ability to get on base, a career .360 OBP. His usually high BB% was even better before he broke his wrist, a career high 17.4%. And he also has a high HBP rate, Willingham gets what the Twins are trying to do this year as a team, it's been part of his career MO.
    1. crarko's Avatar
      crarko -
      Attachment 7266

      Saber metrics; i.e., mine's bigger.
    1. Hosken Bombo Disco's Avatar
      Hosken Bombo Disco -
      Quote Originally Posted by Twins Twerp View Post
      Ya it was that part where Jonah Hill was whispering to the Indians gm about getting on base and he says doesnt matter how. Moneyball=sabrmetrics. Or it was in Genisis 1: "And on the seventh day God said it doesnt really matter how you get on base, so long as you are on first base after thou at bat."
      Also in the Sabermetrics bible I think I saw this passage:

      "And that Thou shalt not run Thyself out of innings, and that He who steals shall steal no longer, but depend upon the labors of the next batter…"
    1. Brock Beauchamp's Avatar
      Brock Beauchamp -
      This looks more real by the day. Five runs scored today...

      On four hits.

      Oh, also eight walks.
    1. Wookiee of the Year's Avatar
      Wookiee of the Year -
      Quote Originally Posted by Nick Nelson View Post
      The lopsided philosophical emphasis on limiting walks for pitchers versus a lack of emphasis on drawing walks for hitters always seemed to represent a blatant contradiction in the coaching staff's approach.

      The Twins have always viewed the base on balls as a dangerous weapon for the opposing offense, but consistently failed to deploy it as a featured component of their own offensive attack. Now they are, and it's paying off.
      I have to assume it goes back to the lazy philosophy that walks are the pitcher's fault, and that doesn't recognize plate discipline for the valuable skill it is.

      It's nice to see the wind changing direction; thanks for the analysis, Nick.
    1. diehardtwinsfan's Avatar
      diehardtwinsfan -
      Quote Originally Posted by USAFChief View Post
      Can you show us where saber metrics says that it doesn't matter how you get on base?
      I tend to agree with what I think you are implying here.

      I think getting walks are a great thing, but unless the bases are empty, a single is going to have more value than a walk simply b/c the runners can advance more than one base.

      I see walks as valuable in that they increase the pitch count of the opposing pitcher and they help accomplish what offenses all want, to not make outs. and getting them in large quantities is a good thing... but at the end of the day, when there are runners on, a hit is far more effective.
    1. Brock Beauchamp's Avatar
      Brock Beauchamp -
      "Not making an out" is not synonymous with "hits are equal to walks".

      There are varying degrees of not making an out. What's most important is that you don't make the out at all but that doesn't mean everything after that point is equal.
    1. twinsin17's Avatar
      twinsin17 -
      It sounds like we are talking about wOBA. http://www.fangraphs.com/library/offense/woba/ In short, wOBA places a value on each hitting event - BBs, 1B, 2B, 3B, HR - based on their actual run value. Kind of like OPS but better because it recognizes getting on base is more valuable than how many bases the hit results in. In the Twins case, what wOBA does not account for is that we are replacing outs (not hits) with BBs. Maybe we should create a new metric TwOBA. Go Twins!
    1. Alex's Avatar
      Alex -
      A very similar article, but focuses on swing rates: http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/the-t...an-dont-swing/
    1. drivlikejehu's Avatar
      drivlikejehu -
      The value of the various possible outcomes has long since been established by linear weights and its descendants (including wOBA). It is only called "wOBA" because it is expressed in terms comparable to on-base percentage; walks aren't treated any differently than in other linear weight measures. They are clearly less valuable than a single, and by a decent amount.

      However, both a walk and a hit avoid the same negative value of an out.
    1. crarko's Avatar
      crarko -
      I guess I'd choose to not give the wins back, even when they derive from that inferior base on balls.
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