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The Anatomy of a Failing Offense

How could we have all been so wrong? Riding a wave of offseason optimism into the beginning of 2018, Twins fans wouldn’t have been unreasonable to be confident about the state of their team's young offensive core, on the back of an incredible second half of 2017 resplendent with breakout performances.
Image courtesy of © Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports
Let’s take a trip down memory lane to a better time. Here’s a look at some key offensive metrics in the final few months of 2017 compared to the beginning of this season:
Attached Image: Comp.png
So here’s the thing. It’s possible we may have seen the best two-month stretch from a Twins offense we will see, like, ever. Partial exaggeration aside, how often does your team lead the league in almost every offensive category for any significant length of time with so many young players experiencing simultaneous breakouts and hot streaks?

Most Twins fans thought the offense would regress from its stratospheric ascent. In spite of this, almost no one would have predicted that they would be a bottom 5-10 offense. So what has gone wrong for the offense? What has worked? And what can we expect moving forwards?

Outfield Excellence
There has been plenty to be excited about for Twins fan so far. Eddie Rosario and Max Kepler have held the offense up with solid performances across the board. Despite Rosario looking like he was playing fruit ninja at the plate in the first week or so of the season, he has been outstanding ever since. Through Tuesday, Rosario has put together a .302/.325/.523 line, with a truly insane 3.4% BB% and a wRC+ of 126. Rosario has picked up where he left off in 2017 and is playing at a borderline All-Star level. Rosario is a top 40 player in league by wOBA (.360). If he had even moderate plate discipline, his offensive value would be enormous. Even so, among outfielders, Rosario ranks 16th in the league in fWAR at 1.4. This appears to be who he is as a hitter, remarkable considering some were calling for him to be traded or released in favor of Zack Granite after a poor beginning to 2017.

Did you know Max Kepler is 6’4? I don’t think I knew Max Kepler is 6’4. Kepler has taken a massive step forward in 2018. After being tipped to be a potential breakout candidate preseason by the likes of Keith Law, Kepler has significantly improved his approach against lefties.

In 2017, Kepler was dire against lefties. He put together a .152/.213/.240 line with a 30 K%, a 5.1 BB%, and a wRC+ of 16. Yikes. Fast forward to 2018 and Kepler has taken around half the ABs he took against lefties in 2017, with striking results. Kepler has put together a staggering .353/.414/.725 line with a 13 K%, 10 BB%, and 11 extra base hits. Kepler leads the league as a LHH vs LHP in SLG (.725), OPS (1.139), ISO (.373), and wRC+ (201) To put that into context, only two MLB players have a higher wRC+ this season, Mookie Betts at 212, and Mike Trout at 201.

Granted this sample is less than half of Kepler’s plate appearances. His number against lefties will likely stabilize and drop, but it’s still a remarkable performance.

Other Highlights
Other Twins hitters have carried the offense at various points throughout the season. Eduardo Escobar had an outstanding March/April, putting together a .301/.348/.578 line with a 142 wRC+. Escobar has been struggling of late, but has shown signs of getting back in the groove, notching a multi-hit game against the Royals on Wednesday night.

Prior to his DL stint (which until Thursday evening, looked to be coming to a close), Joe Mauer had returned to excellent form. His .404 OBP ranked 9th in the majors, his BB% of 16.8% being largely unappreciated (7th in MLB). Paul Molitor finally took the step of switching Mauer and Dozier in the batting order before Mauer’s injury and Dozier’s slump derailed any opportunity to examine the progress and success of the move.

The Disappointing
Brian Dozier’s recent seasons with the Twins have been punctuated by streakiness. He has typically had huge second halves. In the second half of 2017 Dozier went on what has, for him, become a characteristic tear. He put up a .304/.394/.591 batting line with a .287 ISO and wRC+ of 158. Impressive. After a hot start to 2018, Dozier has been wretched at the plate. Dozier got on base at a .319 clip in March/April and is down to a .303 clip in May. Prior to Wednesday night’s game against the Royals, his last home run has come on May 11th against the Angels.

Throughout the course of the season, Dozier has performed around 10% worse than a league-average hitter at his position, an even more stark contrast considering his all-star caliber second half performance in 2017. Dozier is actually striking out less in 2018, but he’s also walking less. Dozier has hit an increased number of ground balls thus far in 2018, and is pulling the ball less.

Whatever the mechanical issues behind Dozier’s struggles at the plate (he has commented in not getting into his legs during his swing), his sub-par performance has had a massive impact on a Twins team missing a significant number of their young core of offensive talent.

Injuries and Suspensions
Since the beginning of the season, the Twins have been without Jorge Polanco (128 wRC+ in second half of 2017). The Twins have missed a month of Miguel Sano (124 wRC+ in 2017), and have lost Jason Castro for the season (who was performing horribly but also owned a BaBIP of .216, compared to .318 in 2017). Minnesota has also had to contend with a hamstrung Byron Buxton (.300/.347/.546 in the second half of 2017) either limping throughout uncompetitive plate appearances or being shelved on the DL.

The Twins have a lot to answer for in their handling of Buxton. Knowing his first half struggles in 2017, Buxton should have had a rehab stint before joining the big league team. Additionally, allowing him to not fully heal from a broken toe not only resulted in him putting together an offensive line more representative of a pitcher (.156/.183/.200), but will have the additional impact of the Twins needing to use Ryan LaMarre and Robbie Grossman more significantly in the outfield, the former of who has not hit for the Twins since his strong start, the latter being a disaster in the outfield. Buxton owns a wRC+ of -3 in 2018, a truly remarkable feat of incompetence which now seems to have very little to do with him and much more to do with questionable decision-making surrounding how his injuries have been handled.

Bottom of the Order
One of the greatest challenges the Twins offense has combated this season is a lack of depth. Injuries and suspensions have plagued the Twins, but the players called on to replace injured and suspended players have truly struggled.
Attached Image: Bottom.png
It’s worth noting that only one AL club has a worse performance from its number nine spot (White Sox) and the Twins are outperformed in the metrics by a ton of NL clubs…where the pitcher hits. The primary strength of the Twins lineup in the second half of 2017 was its depth. Throughout the lineup, the offense was producing at a high level, without having hitters producing at a superstar level. With so many injuries and suspensions in 2018, the Twins' lack of upper-level minor league hitting depth has been exposed. Gregorio Petit, Ryan LaMarre and Bobby Wilson, although serviceable, are the not type of players who can meaningfully contribute consistently to a viable and competitive major league offense.

General Trends
Other aspect of the Twins offense I was keen to dig into were some other more general offensive outcomes. The Twins have had a difficult time hitting with runners in scoring position. This tends to stabilize over the course of the season. In spite of this, there is a pretty obvious RISP discrepancy between the 2017 and 2018 offenses.
Attached Image: Trends.png
It’s also worth noting that the Twins SLG with RISP is a real pain point. Not only are the Twins having fewer desirable outcomes with RISP, they are additionally having fewer high impact outcomes in those situations. It seems obvious to connect the lack of offensive depth with these outcomes. While these numbers will likely improve with Mauer (maybe) and Polanco set to return at some point this season, it may be too late for the 2018 team if they have a poor home stand with several forthcoming series against AL Central teams.

While the Twins have plenty to be excited about for the future offensively, 2018 is off to a disastrous start. What do you think is at the root of the Twins offensive struggles? Who are you most disappointed and excited by, both now, and for the future?

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28 Comments

"Buxton owns a wRC+ of -3 in 2018, a truly remarkable feat of incompetence which now seems to have very little to do with him and much more to do with questionable decision-making surrounding how his injuries have been handled"

 

This sounds like excuse making for Buxton.Yes, the injury should have been handled differently, but he sucked before he got hurt.

    • Mike Sixel, h2oface, TheLeviathan and 2 others like this
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theBOMisthebomb
Jun 01 2018 12:22 PM
As Dozier goes, so go the Twins. If Dozier heats up and hits one of his hot streaks, things might not look so bleak.

The sad part is the timing of the offense going in the tank while the pitching has been good and then the offense scores 8 runs a game the last two and it coincides with the pitchers having their worst games of the season. Just the way it is now. I still believe the talent is there.They just need to get healthy and out of this funk.

Before the season we all heard, and even said, that 2018 was the beginning of the Twins' future. Sadly, this may be correct. I'm afraid that the future is going to look a lot like 2018 in too many ways: disappointing Buxton, uninterested and underachieving Sano, etc.

 

Not only have the last two months soured me on the 2018 season, they have gutted my optimism about the coming five years and even made me much less interested in following prospects, who figure to disappoint us once they come up regardless of their minor-league credentials.

    • Mike Sixel and birddog like this

ESPN had an article over the winter that said the Twins averaged over 6 runs per game over that same time period.The article stated that rate is basically unsustainable, so expect some regression.Boy were they right.

 

Now I expect some regression the other way.Dozier will heat up.Polanco will hit when he gets back, Kepler will improve against RHP (but probably drop some against LHP but that is OK since there are more RHP), and if Buxton ever gets healthy there is no way he can be as bad as he has been.You get some of the table-setters on base more often and then the middle of the lineup finds it a lot easier.  

 

The only question is, when does the change start?If it's not until August again it might be too late.

    • glunn, jokin and Oldgoat_MN like this

This actually makes me feel better--things are bound to average out.  Right?  Right?

Biggest disappointments

Polanco suspension
Castro injury
Mauer injury (though he has a great ave and obp)
Sano injury
Buxton injury

Morrison slump (power numbers and walks ok but ave and obp about 50-70 points lower than ideal.

Dozier slump (power numbers down just a little but ave and obp down enough the last month to be a problem)

Grossman slump his obp needs to be .360 or so to be a value for the team with defense and power and average not hos strengths. He is walking more lately but he still needs to get his average to the .269-.290 range to have a useful obp.

The good
Escobar i hope they extend him

Kepler same as last year against rhp and mashing lefties. Cool

Rosario most consistant hitter???? But yeah, he is. And in a great way too.

Garver the yo yo ....up and down he is holding his own and contributing

Petit....WTF...who is this guy...well in 11AB or so he has a .900 OPS so he makes it as a positive.
    • glunn, mikelink45 and DocBauer like this

Buxton's hitting is all on him. He has been in the league for over 3 years, now. Time to stop babying him. He was not injured for the start of the year. Take out the about 50 toegate at bats, and he is still horrible for 2018. Buxton, himself, injury excepted, needs to become a consistent hitter in this league, and that is on him and his mind.

    • Danchat, mikelink45 and JaleelWhite FanClub like this

Why do people keep saying the Polanco will hit when he gets back or even be an upgrade?Polanco's numbers may be entirely linked to PED's!We don't know.So, making an assumption that he will hit or play well is a really bold assumption.

    • mikelink45 and adorduan like this
Dozier shouldn't be a surprise. It's the story of his career at this point. He's terrible for significant stretches of the season, then goes off for a few weeks to make his stats look resptable.

I've been calling him overrated for about two years now, and I'm typically only met with insults. He's never been great defensively (it's beyond me how he won a gold glove). He kills the team by demanding the lead off spot, and the most plate appearances. He Ks in every close and late PA.

There is a reason why they couldn't get anything for the guy, despite a bargain contract and what appears to be elite production on paper.

He's been the marquee player now during how many 90+ loss campaigns?

He's a nice player, and would fit well on a lot of teams.....but he's just not as good as he is perceived to be.
    • mikelink45 and Platoon like this

 

Morrison slump (power numbers and walks ok but ave and obp about 50-70 points lower than ideal.

 

Morrison should have never been signed. With him on the roster, the Twins started the season with 5 left handed hitters plus two switch hitters. The only pure right handed hitter on the roster of any consequence is Dozier. 

Plus, he was Regression Candidate Prime of all the free agents.

    • mikelink45 likes this

I thought the front office had made all the right moves to make this the most exciting and winningest team we've had in a long time. Lots of biggest disappointments: 

 

Morrison has been the huge disappointment though I still think signing himfor so little was a good move. He may heat up in 2nd half enough to get a prospect at the trade deadline. Dozier is what he is, an excellent half-season player. Buxton is the perennial slow starter who may never get started due to injuries and. Sano has started to come on of late but has proven he can not last a season at closer to 300 than 260. Polanco's suspension could have been a huge part of our frustration.

 

As mentioned, Rosario is our best--and whowould'vethunkit--our most consistent hitter. Escobar and Kepler have been mostly positive. But that's it for the positives.

 

We have no one to step up from AAA and often times our lineup resembles AAAA more than MLB. I have no desire to pay to watch them, and while away on vacation for a week, I am not missing a thing. I am tired of hearing "still a lot of baseball left". Other than the last two games our starting pitching appears to be much improved, but our hitters are way too undisciplined and will get themselves out when not thrown strikes. Even if we start to score runs like the end of last year, I do not believe we will catch the Indians for the division or any other team for the wild card.

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JaleelWhite FanClub
Jun 01 2018 04:22 PM

 

Buxton's hitting is all on him. He has been in the league for over 3 years, now. Time to stop babying him. He was not injured for the start of the year. Take out the about 50 toegate at bats, and he is still horrible for 2018. Buxton, himself, injury excepted, needs to become a consistent hitter in this league, and that is on him and his mind.

 

AMEN!!! The Buxton excuse making has to stop. On this site and within the Twins organization. He deserved a demotion prior to the injury, but everyone worried about his psyche and were relying solely on a hot few months at the end of last season. The, "He's turned a corner. Bring on the All-Star selections" opinion was touted everywhere as a sure thing.

 

He could very well figure things out (I'm for sure hoping so), but it's high time the player himself takes his share of the blame.

    • h2oface likes this

The person I am most disappointed in is you Jamie Cameron. You should of ended with the fruit ninja joke. It's pure gold. As Jerry told George in Seinfeld, you need to use the old Vegas showmanship trick of leaving the room after a comedic high note.

Second and Third place would go to Buxton and Sano. They are about at that 1000 at bat mark and should be hitting their prime. Instead we're seeing more injuries and regression.

Very Excited about Rosario and Kepler. They just keep on getting better. 

It kind of seems like we're at a turning point. Either these young guys figure out how to be contending team, or we have too many busts and start over.

IIRC there was much talk at the ASG break last season that the Twins were going to start seeing the weaker half of the AL teams in the second half of 2017. Would this have anything to do with their uptick in offensive output during the later part of last year? Me thinks it might have. As for Dozier. I remember last year when some were wondering whether Ervin S. was a league ace. He isn't, but we were so desperate for one some considered that a possibility. The same goes for Dozier. A decent player, seems a good clubhouse guy, and like a micro brewery has turned himself into a nice little niche product. Power hitting second baseman. But to me he falls into the 'but if' descriptive. 'But if' Brian Dozier is your offensive leader, how good is your offense? He's a nice solid ball player. But he won't carry you to the top of the mountain.

That first graphic is shocking - hadn't realized the Twins were that awesome to finish out 2017.

 

Optimist says maybe they'll do the same in 2018. 162 games will have peaks and valleys.

 

Why do people keep saying the Polanco will hit when he gets back or even be an upgrade?Polanco's numbers may be entirely linked to PED's!We don't know.So, making an assumption that he will hit or play well is a really bold assumption.

I mean, it's possible, but I think it's fair to say that Polanco could be in a slump as well, plus his defense can range from average to mediocre, so it's not guaranteed that his suspension has hurt the team has much as some think it has.

    • ashburyjohn and h2oface like this

 

Dozier shouldn't be a surprise. It's the story of his career at this point. He's terrible for significant stretches of the season, then goes off for a few weeks to make his stats look resptable.

I've been calling him overrated for about two years now, and I'm typically only met with insults. He's never been great defensively (it's beyond me how he won a gold glove). He kills the team by demanding the lead off spot, and the most plate appearances. He Ks in every close and late PA.

There is a reason why they couldn't get anything for the guy, despite a bargain contract and what appears to be elite production on paper.

He's been the marquee player now during how many 90+ loss campaigns?

He's a nice player, and would fit well on a lot of teams.....but he's just not as good as he is perceived to be.

The rest of the league has figured him out.He is half a year player.What do you trade for that?

This is not an uplifting posting, nor should it be.Look where we are.So Dozier will go crazy for a while - big deal the season is 162 games.What do we grab hold of as an anchor going forward?I don't know.The most dependable players over the last two years are Rosario who is constantly criticized and Escobar who is consistently projected as a bench player. 

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LeatherAntenna
Jun 01 2018 08:11 PM

The rest of the league has figured him out.He is half a year player.What do you trade for that?

Dozier shouldn't be a surprise. It's the story of his career at this point. He's terrible for significant stretches of the season, then goes off for a few weeks to make his stats look resptable.
I've been calling him overrated for about two years now, and I'm typically only met with insults. He's never been great defensively (it's beyond me how he won a gold glove). He kills the team by demanding the lead off spot, and the most plate appearances. He Ks in every close and late PA.
There is a reason why they couldn't get anything for the guy, despite a bargain contract and what appears to be elite production on paper.
He's been the marquee player now during how many 90+ loss campaigns?
He's a nice player, and would fit well on a lot of teams.....but he's just not as good as he is perceived to be.
in my mind kind of strange posts about Dozier. Goes off for a few weeks to make his stats respectable? If he could do that “going off” like turning hot and cold water off on a faucet then he is more talented than any of us know. A marquee player for how many 90+ loss campaigns? I doubt his bat knows how many losses there are in the loss column. Couldn’t get anything for the guy? I doubt that is true with 70 HRs the last two seasons. I think a few teams would appreciate that, maybe 28 or 29 teams. He’s just not as good as he is perceived to be? Depends on the poster I guess.
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LeatherAntenna
Jun 01 2018 08:16 PM

The rest of the league has figured him out.He is half a year player.What do you trade for that?

apparently teams haven’t figured him out for half of his year. It also tells me that they the teams haven’t figured him out really at all. Or if they had they would shut him down the whole year. Why else would you let him excel for half of a year? This logic is mind boggling.
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LeatherAntenna
Jun 01 2018 08:26 PM
And Escobar just hit his second tonight moments ago! Good for him!! Maybe Dozier will learn something.
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Brock Beauchamp
Jun 01 2018 09:09 PM

 

The rest of the league has figured him out.He is half a year player.What do you trade for that?

It's pretty amazing how the league has figured out Dozier for 81 games a season for five years running now.

 

I'm not saying Dozier will rebound to previous levels but I was tired of hearing this argument in 2014. It's kinda ridiculous to hear it in 2018.

    • mikelink45 and Sconnie like this
Scored 7 runs or more, 4 of the last 5 games. Sano has knocked in 10 of 32 runs scored, with Dozier crossing the plate 8 times. Escobar and Rosario have been the other major contributors to the scoring improvement lately.

Looks like 3-4-5 should be Sano, Rosario, Escobar (order tbd)... another hitter to be on base at the top of the order and Grossman at the bottom would improve further.

Looks like they miss Mauer, but maybe Kepler and his 330 obp in the lead off or second spot could improve further...
    • jokin and h2oface like this
More articles on Failing Offense please!
    • ashburyjohn, Sconnie and Tom Froemming like this

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