Reasons the Twins Offense Will Turn it Around
Image courtesy of © Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Minnesota is also second in the majors, leaving an average of 4.2 runners in scoring position per game. Scoring position. Per game! Not only has the Twins offense suffered overall (particularly their power numbers), they have struggled to drive home runners at a frankly unsustainable rate. This has to get better, right? Here’s some evidence that it will.
Top of the Order
Joe Mauer has had a strong start to the season. He is currently getting on base at a .439 clip, good for seventh in MLB. At the top of the lineup, Brian Dozier is trending in the opposite direction. Dozier sat on Wednesday after managing a .203/.250/.250 line in his last 15 games. Justin Morneau (who has been excellent in the booth during the Toronto series) made mention of Dozier losing the reliance on his legs. Dozier has often been a streaky hitter for the Twins, prone to mediocre first halves and explosive barrages of home runs after the All-Star break. The Twins should consider letting Mauer lead off and Dozier hit second when he gets back on track.
John Olson, of the excellent Twins Daily ‘Four Six Three’ blog pointed out today that unexpectedly, Max Kepler and Eduardo Escobar have been in scintillating form at the plate for the Twins. Leading the team with a .919 and .918 OPS respectively. It’s difficult to fathom where the Twins would be without their two most consistent offensive contributors so far.
As of Wednesday night, Kepler has managed an impressive .300/.364/.556 line with a BB% of just over 9%, while cutting his K% in half from 20.1% to 10.1% and increasing his ISO from .182 in 2017 to .256 in 2018, a remarkable start for a player Keith Law tipped to break out in 2018. What is perhaps most impressive about Kepler’s performance is his improvement against lefties. In his first 20 PA Kepler has managed a .316/.350/.632 line, compared to .152/.213/.240 effort in 2017. While this probably isn’t sustainable, it’s clear he’s made an adjustment.
Escobar is an equally remarkable story. A throw-away in a trade that was deemed of little value to the Twins when Francisco Liriano was traded to the White Sox, Escobar has transformed from future utility infielder, to Minnesota’s version of Eric Gordon, 6th man of the year. In Escobar’s first full season with the Twins (2014), he managed a .275/.315/.406 line with 6 HR. So far in 2018, Escobar has put up a .299/.344/.575 effort with 4 HR, off the back of a 21 HR season in 2017. Escobar is a free agent at the end of 2018. While the majority of Twins free agency talk has centered around its young core, locking up Escobar, an increasingly key offensive contributor and overwhelmingly liked clubhouse presence, should be a priority for the front office.
After slow starts. Eddie Rosario and Logan Morrison are heating up. Morrison is .286/.400/.476 in his last seven games. Rosario had an outstanding home stand in what was a rough six game stretch for the Twins. In his last seven games, Rosario has caught fire, hitting .360/.385/.800! With three home runs. Worryingly for Rosario, he is regressing in some of his plate discipline peripherals from 2017. Through the first month of the season, Rosario is swinging at more pitches outside the strike zone, making significantly less contact on pitches outside the zone (62% in 2018 compared with 72% in 2017), and has a career high 16.3% SwStr% (career low 11.9% in 2017). Rosario will never be selective, but thus far, has given up too many strikes too readily.
Injury Question Marks
The health of Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton is undoubtedly a major issue for the Twins in attempting to turn around their slow start. Predictably, the narrative around Sano has re-shifted to his weight. I’m not here to engage in that. The overriding outcome for Sano in recent months (including the end of 2017) is he has been unable to stay on the field consistently. Despite his historic strikeout totals, the Twins lineup is more potent with him in it.
Buxton’s departure from the Twins offense has been interesting. It’s provoked narratives around the Twins ‘lacking spark’. I’m not sure how much spark the Twins have had from a .476 OPS so far in 2018. While not slipping to the depths of his initial 2017 slump, Buxton has not caught fire (or even warmed up) yet. Where he is irreplaceably missed is on defense, where the combination of his single-handed propping up of the outfield and the cascade of mediocrity replacing it is evident. The discrepency is magnified by Robbie Grossman lumbering around in right field, awkwardly misplaying hops and fly balls alike.
Much was made of Jorge Polanco’s half-season suspension and its impact on the Twins season. Perhaps the most noticeable effect is the lack of bench depth. With Escobar occupying an everyday role, Ryan LaMarre and Gregorio Petit are now the Twins go-to bench depth for outfield and infield respectively. As a super-utility bench bat, Escobar had an fWAR of 1.7 in 2017. LaMarre and Petit will become more and more noticeable, the longer they are pressed into service for the Twins.
The Twins are beginning a four-game set against the White Sox at the end of the week. Several writers have commented on how well Minnesota should perform against the Sox, Detroit and Kansas City, with over 50 games remaining against the three in 2018. Chicago, like Minnesota, has had one of the worst pitching staffs in MLB this season. If there’s a series for the offense to get on track, it’s here.
It’s also worth noting that the second half of 2017 was truly outstanding. The Twins experienced breakout and extremely high quality offensive performances from half the lineup at once, most notably Buxton, Polanco, Rosario and Dozier. While the first month of 2018 has been defined by consistently poor execution throughout the team, should we be surprised to see some regression for an offense which was firing on all cylinders for the last few months of last season?
What are your thoughts on the Twins offense so far in 2018? What are the bright spots? Who do you think will turn it around? Who do you think will continue to struggle?
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