It's Not the Offense
by, 04-29-2012 at 02:22 AM (1255 Views)
If I’d told you before the season started that, 20 games in, Denard Span would have a .386 OBP, Joe Mauer would be hitting .329 and Justin Morneau would have an IsoP of .236, plus newcomer Josh Willingham would have a 1.114 OPS, what would you have expected the Twins’ record to be? Better than 5-15, I hope. There are a lot of reasons why it is that poor, and some of them are not easily solved, but I don’t believe the offense is one of them.
Ultimately, it’s about scoring runs, and the numbers there are not good. The Twins have crossed the plate just 77 times in their first 20 games, putting them on pace to score 624 runs. Unless they pick it up, we’ll be facing 100 losses again at the end of September.
Fortunately, they have picked it up. Since forgetting to bring their bats to the opening series in Baltimore, the Twins have hit .279/.343/.419 with 11/14 SB. If you plug their offensive numbers from the past 17 games into a simple formulation of Runs Created, you get just over 5 runs/game, on pace for about 820 runs on the year. That’s a lineup that can contend in a weak AL Central.
Sadly, the formula hasn’t been reflective of their real-world performance. They’ve actually averaged 4.2 runs/game over their last 17, a pace for 686 runs on the season. With this pitching staff, that will probably leave them at least 10 games under .500. There are two major reasons for this discrepancy between the formula and what’s really happened over the last 3 weeks. Happily, neither is likely to be a problem over the long haul.
First, though they’ve hit well overall, they’ve had a lot of trouble cashing in on their scoring opportunities. Since Baltimore, they’re hitting .241 with RISP. In 2011, they hit .249 overall and .248 with RISP, and the AL as a whole hit .257 overall and .258 with RISP. With a large enough sample size, the numbers will even out. Unless you believe there’s something inherently un-clutch about the Twins’ hitters. I don’t.
Second, there are the double plays. The Twins have already hit into 22 DPs, a rate of 1 for every 11.5 baserunners. The other 13 teams in the AL have combined to hit into 200, about 15 apiece, a rate of 1 for every 16.3 baserunners. Just in case you think there’s something about the Twins’ hitting style that makes them more likely to hit into DPs, last year’s horrific offense did so at a rate of... 1 for every 16.5 baserunners. Given enough time, the frequency of Twin-killings should normalize.
Not only are they hitting into more than their share of DPs, they’re doing it disproportionately in games where it hurts the most. The Twins had 8 of them turned against them in 4 games they lost by a single run. Had they been able to redistribute one rally-killing DP away from each of those games (such as Sean Burroughs’ on Wednesday or the dicey call on Doumit’s sinking liner on Friday), it’s not hard to imagine them having 3-4 more wins than they do right now. And, given the strength of their early-season opponents and their disastrous starting pitching, 8-9 wins at this stage would be a decent accomplishment.
I would expect their BABIP to come down somewhat over the course of the season. Even so, this lineup appears to be capable of producing at least 750 runs over 162 games. That’s a strength - the average AL team scored 723 runs in 2011. The Twins’ typical starting 9 earns about $54M combined. Doumit is the only guy in that group who isn’t under contract or team control for 2013. The other 8 could all be back for a combined salary of... about $54M.
This team’s troubles sit squarely on the pitching side. They may not be solvable this year, but there will be an opportunity to mostly wipe the slate clean next offseason. The quality and stability of the offense gives them the opportunity to devote just about all of their resources to upgrading the pitching. They’ve got big problems this year, but I wouldn’t dismantle the offense and write off 2013 yet.