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Escobar resigns with Arizona

Minnesota Twins Talk Today, 05:42 PM
Its a three year contract for around 21 million. If this is true then the Twins low balled him. Let's see the details as they come out.
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Week 7: Vikings vs. Jets

Minnesota Vikings Talk Today, 04:57 PM
We're certainly in the soft part of the schedule now. My only concerns today: 1. Whoever the Jets decide to line up against Alexander wi...
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NBA 2018-19 Thread

Minnesota Timberwolves Talk Today, 04:57 PM
You all probably know I’m a Lakers guy by now. But, I like you guys, so I want to keep talking hoops on TD. This season is going to be F...
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Article: Offseason Primer: Who Needs a First Baseman Anyw...

Minnesota Twins Talk Today, 04:43 PM
The Twins are still waiting for the official word from Joe Mauer on whether or not he’d like to continue his playing career, but anybody...
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Article: Offseason Primer: The Core Seven (?)

Minnesota Twins Talk Today, 04:30 PM
At the All Star break in 2017, I wrote up an article discussing the Twins Core Four. During the Twins recent poor seasons, there was a lo...
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Max Kepler Improving His Approach in 2018

Max Kepler, in and of himself, is a marvel. Not too many European players make it to the major leagues. Kepler signed for the Twins for around $800,000 in 2009. Nine year later, he looks like he’s on the cusp of a major offensive breakout which could propel the Twins’ already excellent outfield to one of best and most balanced in the majors. None of this is news, however, the terms of Kepler’s offensive improvement are intriguing.
Image courtesy of © Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Kepler put up decent numbers in 2017. Through 147 games he managed a .243/.312/.425 line with 19 HR and 69 RBI, nice. Digging a little deeper into Kepler’s 2017, there were some troubling trends. Kepler’s BB% decreased, down to 8.3%, while his K% remained consistent, around 20%. Kepler’s wOBA remained remarkably consistent to its 2016 figure, an unremarkable .315.

Hitting Lefties
It’s also been well documented that Kepler really struggled against lefties. It’s important here to take a step back and realize just how horrible most lefties are against lefties. Justin Morneau, one of the best left-handed Twins of all time, hit just .253 against lefties. Joe Mauer, Mr. 2,000 himself, has a career .290 average against lefties. He is an exception. My point here is simply that it’s not unusual for left handed hitters to have extreme splits in their offensive numbers. Unless your name is Ichiro Suzuki (.330 career avg. against LHP), the struggle is real. In 2017 however, Kepler was truly rancid against left-handed pitching. In 125 ABs he managed a .125/.213/.240 line with a 5% BB% and a K% of 30. Rough.

By contrast, against righties in 2017 Kepler put together a strong .272/.343/.484 line with almost double the walks and almost half the strikeouts. Kepler’s hitting of lefties is a little like the Vikings O-Line going into 2017, it doesn’t have to be great, because there’s a lot else to like. It just has to be good enough.

This spring, Kepler spent significant time with the aforementioned Morneau, who had similar splits early in his career with the Twins, before improving significantly against LHP later in his career with the Twins. So far, the results have been encouraging. Through an incredibly small sample, Kepler is hitting .250/.400/.500 against LHP, and has yet to strike out. Time will tell if Kepler is improving against LHP, but in a lineup dominated by left-handed bats, it’s an important step to maximize Paul Molitor’s lineup flexibility.

Pitch Recognition
Another area of interest in digging into Kepler’s numbers is pitch recognition. It’s been noted repeatedly that opposing pitchers are going after several young Twins hitters (most notably Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton) increasingly with breaking pitches. Here’s a look at Kepler’s results against pitches he saw at least 200 of in 2017.
Attached Image: Kepler1.png
Looking at the numbers, it’s evident that Kepler was struggling significantly to recognize and react to breaking pitches. Hardly uncommon for a young hitter, but for the sake of comparison, Byron Buxton hit .206 and .250 against sliders and curveballs respectively, in 2017. Now let’s look at the early returns from Kepler’s 2018.
Attached Image: Kepler2.png
*Info does not include data from the Puerto Rico games.
Please don’t hit me with the ‘small sample size’ comments. I get it, it’s incredibly early. Kepler however, is showing some improvement in recognizing breaking pitches, evidenced by destroying two for homeruns against the defending champion Houston Astros in a game the Twins tried extremely hard to throw away. It’s early, but be encouraged. Overall, Kepler’s early start shows several promising trends. His BB% is up to 16%, his K% is down to under 10%, and his OBP is up 60 points to .381.

Launch Angle and Exit Velocity
The last noticing on Kepler’s hot start is how the ball is coming off the bat. Mike Berardino wrote an excellent article in March detailing Kepler’s approach at the plate.

“For me, it’s not about launch angle, it’s about getting my bat head in the zone as early as possible”, Kepler offers to Berardino.
What Kepler is referring to squaring up the ball, the plane of his swing, and generating excellent bat speed.

Launch angle is to hitting as framing is to catching, it has become THE encompassing soundbite in a skill set made up of dozens of important factors. Exit velocity is actually a better predictor of outcomes for hitters. The harder you hit the ball, the better things are likely to go. In 2017, Kepler’s average exit velocity was 88.3 mph. Early in 2018, it’s up to 91.8 mph. Drilling down to isolating breaking pitches, the contrast is even more stark. In 2017, Kepler’s exit velocity on sliders and curveballs was 86mph. Thus far in 2018, it is 97.9 mph. That’s not the kind of difference you can generate unless your pitch recognition has improved significantly.

It’s still incredibly early in the season, particularly for the Twins (who are several games behind everyone else!) Kepler’s start however, should have Twins fans excited, as it appears he has made some important adjustments throughout the offseason. What do you think Kepler’s ceiling is this year? What kind of numbers are you expecting from him?

I’m excited to be contributing regularly at Twins Daily with a new column. Here’s the concept: Typically, the productivity of the average American plummets on a Friday afternoon. I am looking to take full advantage with a weekly amalgam of thoughts on the Twins to be released every Friday as folks are looking to pass the time between actually stopping work and heading home or to happy hour.

Typically this will focus on a player of interest. However, I’m eager to write about what folks want to read about, so if you have a question or an idea, please leave it in the comments or hit me up on Twitter @J_D_Cameron. Thanks for reading!

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10 Comments

If he hits lefties at a .250 clip this year and knocks his K% down say to half or so from last years total that would be huge!  He is a solid all around ballplayer.Love him in a Twins uni.Whatever he and Morneau were/are working on seems to be registering with Max. 

I still wish that Molitor would allow the kid to hit against lefties in key spots.I understand the why, I just don't agree with the decision.Show some confidence in the kid and see where it takes you.

    • Blake, Twins33, tarheeltwinsfan and 1 other like this

 

I still wish that Molitor would allow the kid to hit against lefties in key spots.I understand the why, I just don't agree with the decision.Show some confidence in the kid and see where it takes you.

I would understand Molitor batting for Kepler if the other bats were working. Right now, though, seems like a bad decision.

    • wsnydes likes this

One particular danger of the small sample size here is *which* lefties he has faced and how that compares with past years. Have the Twins faced the same elite quality lefties so far this year that they always face over a full season and, to the extent they have, has Max hit against them?

    • Danchat likes this

According to Fangraphs 5 pa against L 1 walk 1 double. Way to early analytical pronoucements

 

Max seems like a player who has the ability to take coaching and effectively make adjustments.

The other difference too is that Joe Mauer only bats left handed by choice and the same with Justin Morneau who also was not a true left hander either and threw right.

 

Max is a true lefty through and through and i understand his struggles.My brother and I used to get beaned / plunked all the time in little leagues because the righties weren't used to throwing to lefties.it sucked.

Kepler is soon approaching the often-mentioned benchmark of 1000 major league at bats.The key for me with Kepler is always going to be walks and strikeouts.He put up pretty decent numbers in the minors (0.68 BB/K).His early return this year of 8 walks and 4 K's is promising so far.I still feel he will turn into an exceptional and hopefully long-tenured Twin.

    • tarheeltwinsfan likes this
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tarheeltwinsfan
Apr 21 2018 07:39 AM

Good article JD. Thanks.

    • Tom Froemming likes this
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Tommygun921
Apr 21 2018 10:18 AM
I was interested to see how Morneau would be able to help Kepler. Hopefully it continues to be a positive influence.

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