A Decade of Difference from Twins Walkoff Ways
Image courtesy of © Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY SportsThe 2009 squad hit a grand total of 172 round-trippers. Only four guys launched more than 15 on the year, and in the decisive 6-5 walkoff victory just two balls left the park for the home team. One of them came from a traditional slugger in the form of Jason Kubel, while the other was deposited into the very first row of the left field seats by Orlando Cabrera. No, the 2009 Ron Gardenhire club was not a Bomba Squad in any right, and how they played would be seen as a massive outlier today.
In watching the replay of that game, it became increasingly obvious just how much of an extinct skillset guys like those defined as Piranhas encapsulated. Nick Punto, Matt Tolbert, Brendan Harris, and Alex Casilla are all defined by that mold. Speedy, defense first, light hitting bats were littered throughout that Minnesota lineup. Although bunts weren’t entirely prevalent over the 12 innings played that evening, they were a staple of the season.
The aforementioned Punto dropped down a whopping 13 sac bunts on his own in 2009. Denard Span was on his heels with 12, while Tolbert rounded out the top three reaching double digits with 10. Fast forward to the analytical age, and objectively the launch angle revolution that was 2019, and the decade couldn’t have produced a more opposite result. Last season Minnesota had a grand total of 10 sac bunts, and no one player owned more than two of them.
Obviously, it makes little sense for the likes of Miguel Sano, Mitch Garver, or Nelson Cruz to cede and out in an at bat, but that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t have been encouraged in previous seasons. As a guy who’s always been viewed as a bomber, Cruz has a total of just two sac bunts to his credit in more than 6,900 career plate appearances. Sano has never been asked to drop one down in just north of 2,000 trips to the dish.
Being shocked that home run hitters aren’t dropping down bunts is rather unimpressive. Where the trend is positive though comes through in a guy like Jorge Polanco. During his first full big-league season back in 2017 there we seven instances in which he gave up an out. That number dropped to three the next year and was just two in 2019. Obviously, Jorge has grown a substantial amount as a hitter, but the climb to a .773 and eventually an .841 OPS is reflective of a guy that should be swinging the lumber.
If there’s a guy cut from a cloth that early-2000’s Ron Gardenhire would have salivated over, it’s definitely Byron Buxton. Although it’s clear he’s got pop in his bat, the speed profile and slow start would likely have caused him to be utilized differently. Buck’s largest total of sac bunts, five, came in the 2017 season under Paul Molitor. Since then, he’s been asked to drop down outs just three times in the past two campaigns.
The takeaway here seems to be two-fold. One, it’s painfully obvious that there wasn’t a more drastically different set of Twins teams than the two separated by 10 years. The Bomba Squad became synonymous with pulverizing the baseball and beating teams into submission. The 163 group played 44 one-run games and nearly split them down the middle. Two, we can see that the sport has continued to move away from a station-to-station approach. You can effectively advanced bases in a multitude of ways, but by giving up the one finite commodity in the game to do so is a losing proposition.
Thanks to Out of the Park Baseball 21 we're getting a glimpse of the 2019 and 1991 Twins squaring off. It'd be a pretty stark difference to see the style of the 2009 club thrown into the ring as well. Eras change how competition is handled, and it'll be interesting to look back after advancements take place ten years from now.
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