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Other Baseball Today, 04:35 PM
I've been to 41 MLB parks with 40 since 1993. I missed 5 or 6 starting in the early 1990s when I landed my first computer job and then jo...
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I thought I should set up a thread for minor league signings. Use this thread to post when the Twins sign a minor leaguer or when a forme...
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Free Agency / Re-Signings 2020-21 Offseason

Other Baseball Yesterday, 08:34 AM
Free agency is likely going to be a really slow burn this year, but I still think it's worth having a thread to discuss signings. ...
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Kim Ng - First Woman to be Hired as GM in Baseball History

Other Baseball Yesterday, 06:34 PM
Monumental hire by the Marlins. Congrats to them and good luck to HER!
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Too Many Twins Hitters Are Sacrificing Power for Contact

Last year, it seemed as though the Twins' philosophy at the plate could more or less be boiled down to a simple mantra: grip it and rip it. They were aggressive early in counts, they swung hard, and they punished opposing pitchers on a daily basis.

I don't know if that philosophy has materially changed this year, but the numbers certainly suggest it has.
Image courtesy of David Richard-USA TODAY Sports
Under the terminology of MLB's Statcast system, a "Barrel" is defined as "a well-struck ball where the combination of exit velocity and launch angle generally leads to a minimum .500 batting average and 1.500 slugging percentage." In other words, it is the highest quality of contact.

In 2019, the Twins led all of baseball in Barrel % at 10.1%. In 2020, they rank 21st in baseball at 6.6%. They've dropped from third to 13th in Average Exit Velocity (AEV).

What is causing this drop-off in detonations for the Bomba Squad? One might surmise it is the result of injuries forcing lesser players into the lineup, and that is certainly a partial factor, but hardly the driving force. The biggest problem is that many of Minnesota's key sluggers from a year ago are hitting the ball with minimal authority, seemingly because they are sacrificing power for contact.

The prime example is Jorge Polanco. He's been one of the toughest hitters in the majors to strike out, ranking in the 97th percentile for both K-rate and whiff rate. But his Barrel % and AEV are both in the 7th percentile. His Hard Hit % is in the 5th.

Attached Image: polancostatcast.png


Last year, Polanco piled up 69 extra-base hits and slugged .485. This year he's at eight and .388. He has improved his zone coverage and is making more contact, but there's little evidence that he's benefiting from it.

Next up: Max Kepler, who often accompanies Polanco at the top of the lineup. Kepler too has been tough to fan this year – he's in the 89th percentile for whiff rate and 72nd for K-rate. But he too has lost some punch. His Barrel % is below average (48th percentile) and his AEV (36th percentile) and Hard Hit % (30th percentile) are around the bottom third of all hitters. Last year he was solidly above-average in all three categories.

Attached Image: keplerstatcast.png


Even Eddie Rosario, who sometimes reflects the embodiment of a "grip it and rip it" approach, has really come to profile as more of a slap hitter. He's been very tough to strike out (87th percentile for K-rate) and doesn't have much swing-and-miss in his game (71st percentile for whiff rate) ... but every Statcast measure rates his quality of contact as low. He's 24th percentile in Barrel % and around the bottom third for AEV and Hard Hit %. His xwOBA, xBA, xSLG ... all well below average.

Attached Image: rosariostatcast.png


Finally it's worth mentioning Luis Arráez. His profile this year is more typical and expected, but it's worth calling out the stark contrast: 95th/99th percentiles for strikeouts and whiffs, 22nd/4th percentiles AEV/Hard Hit %.

Attached Image: arraezstatcast.png


Whereas Miguel Sanó and Nelson Cruz are both swinging out of their shoes, striking out frequently but plastering the ball upon contact, nearly every other Twins player falls starkly on the other side of the spectrum. The result, as we're seeing, is an offense that has not been particularly threatening or intimidating on whole.

Many fans have wondered whether the change in hitting coaches may be a contributor to the team's offensive drop-off. The answer, based on these insights: maybe. James Rowson seemed to be a champion of the aggressive approach that spurred the lineup's success last year, but that's not to say Edgar Varela isn't.

One way or another, several Twins hitters could benefit from taking a page from Cruz and Sanó – often the lineup's only productive players of late – and sacrificing some contact for power.

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16 Comments

It could be that some hitters just aren't feeling comfortable in the batter's box and haven't got their swings to click yet. Whatever it is, it sure made this weekend against the Tigers frustrating.

    • mikelink45 and DocBauer like this

This article scratches the surface, but I'd feel better to think that their hitting philosophy is more situational than depicted here. If the batter has power, grip it and rip it when the count is favorable, then go a bit more with the pitch when it's two strikes. If it's two outs and nobody's on, extra bases are worth gambling for even with two strikes. Et cetera et cetera. And of course if opposing pitches take steps to counteract this basic strategy, take steps yourself, until the next round of changes.

 

If our power hitters from last year are selling out early in the count, then yes I would question the strategy. I haven't researched whether we're getting many dink-and-dunk balls in play early in the count. If instead the low-power hits are coming late in the count, after hittable 2-0 pitches got swung through, then there's the problem.

    • mikelink45, blindeke and dbminn like this

I think there are a few factors this year, number one the ball not traveling as far. 2- Twins batters just not seeing ball very well this year, too many swings at balls in the dirt or well outside.  With the limited experience I have had playing, would think player needs confidence in ability to make solid contact with ball first before power comes. Just not catching up after limited preseason. The triple off Maeda was a good example, a few weeks ago batters were swinging and missing at that pitch, the Detroit batter recognized the pitch and was able to make solid contact.

    • Danchat likes this
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twinbythebay
Aug 31 2020 12:12 PM

 

I think there are a few factors this year, number one the ball not traveling as far. 2- Twins batters just not seeing ball very well this year, too many swings at balls in the dirt or well outside.  With the limited experience I have had playing, would think player needs confidence in ability to make solid contact with ball first before power comes. Just not catching up after limited preseason. The triple off Maeda was a good example, a few weeks ago batters were swinging and missing at that pitch, the Detroit batter recognized the pitch and was able to make solid contact.

I thought this might be the case as well, but when I looked it up on Fangraphs, the Twins' O-Swing% (which is the % of balls outside of the strike zone that they swing at) is actually down compared to last season (32.6% in 2019, ranked 10th in MLB vs. 30.1% in 2020, 15th in MLB). Furthermore, their Z-Swing% (which is the % of balls in the strike zone that they swing at) is WAY down compared to last season (70.8% in 2019, 4th in MLB vs. 65.9% in 2020, 23rd in MLB). Overall, they're making about the same amount of contact when they swing in 2020 vs. 2019. This suggests that they're not being aggressive enough this season since they're looking at significantly more strikes without swinging.

 

It seems like this could be coaching related... Perhaps they've been preaching more patience at the plate this season? Although, I'm not sure why they would want to change their approach after last season's success at the plate. It could also just be that they've only played 35 games and are still honing their eyes at the plate. Or maybe it's simply a matter of more plate appearances going to more patient hitters, since free swingers like Schoop and Cron are no longer on the team.

    • Crackedfungo likes this

Maybe the batters just stink this year, maybe the ball is not as juiced as last year.contact is not bad, but somehow this does not look like the same team as last year.if Kepler is trying to make more contact is .224 BA is not much of a positive.  

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Nick Nelson
Aug 31 2020 01:21 PM

 

This article scratches the surface, but I'd feel better to think that their hitting philosophy is more situational than depicted here.

For sure. I'd never claim to be a nitty-gritty nuts and bolts hitting analyst like Parker. This is a very high-level overview, sparked simply by my reaction to going over the Statcast charts for a number of hitters throughout the lineup and noticing this striking trend. It matches my eye-test, which has been telling me they are frequently making very weak contact in situations where last year they were keying in and crushing.

 

To your point about the situational spots, I went through some Baseball Ref numbers and found that while the Twins are still very successful when ahead in the count, the biggest discrepancy is in even counts.

 

Last year: .292/.299/.528

This year: .233/.244/.378

 

Is this meaningful? Who knows. The sample is obviously small. But it kinda jibes with my perception that a certain tentativeness is at play in situations where hitters seemed much more comfortable & authoritative last year. 

    • ashbury and dbminn like this
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Nick Nelson
Aug 31 2020 01:22 PM

 

Maybe the batters just stink this year, maybe the ball is not as juiced as last year.contact is not bad, but somehow this does not look like the same team as last year.if Kepler is trying to make more contact is .224 BA is not much of a positive.  

The thing about the ball not being as juiced is that everyone's hitting the same balls. The Twins aren't just worse than they were last year -- they're vastly worse relative to the competition. I mean for cripes sakes the Royals and Tigers have been better offensive teams this year. 

    • h2oface and Danchat like this
I wonder if the twins hitters are just seeing different pitches this year. Less fastballs, more pitches with spin etc....
    • ashbury, DocBauer, dbminn and 2 others like this

I had a similar thought over the past week... it seems like the Twins have have been hitting a lot more lazy fly balls than usual. Only Cruz and Sano have been consistently getting the barrel on it. 

Have to Wake Up Bat!-Bats, they are sick.

    • lukeduke1980 likes this
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Aerodeliria
Aug 31 2020 06:25 PM

Oh, this is the opposite conclusion of what I had imagined! In any case, let's call up some recruits.

Yeah it seems to me that if it was just the hitters trying to get base hits instead of home runs then you'd think they'd have better batting averages, but they don't, infact it seems like their averages are down by quite a bit. So I really think the league has adjusted to them and are pitching them differently and the twins hitters have yet to adjust to the adjustments. Because the first week seemed like they came out smashing, Kepler with two bombs in the first game etc.... So I think the guys are still swinging for the fences it's just they aren't getting the pitches they want as often in order to do that. I think the only hitter who has been able to adjust is Cruz, and I remember him hitting a lot of just singles in those first couple of weeks. I think he took what they gave him. Just my opinion.
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Crackedfungo
Aug 31 2020 06:54 PM

It is curious.My eyes see a great deal of meat balls allowed to pierce the strike zone without a serious swing.They aren't swinging at more crap low and away.They are NOT SWINGING at pitches that are grooved (nor with any authority when they do).Seems like they are 'taking' too many pitches.The question is whether someone is telling them to do so......

Last year they attacked first pitches, specifically fastballs.I wonder if they are getting less fastballs based on that, which then leads either missing breaking balls or sometimes taking get me over breaking balls.It is important to note that in a normal season we would be just over a month in, fighting for first and we would say give them time.However, this year we are over half way through the season and we are in panic mode.  

 

Could the players have a different idea, or the hitting coach that is possible.It could be this year more thoughts at getting deeper into counts has been a plan to get into pens sooner with shorter starts.Now we are in the second month starters are going deeper so if that was the plan first month maybe they can change it up.  

 

I pointed out in another article that Polonco's numbers last year were loaded from first 2 months, and what he did rest of year is much more on par with what he is doing this year.I do not feel what he is doing is much different from last year, I think pitchers adjusted to him when he crushed for 2 months.Teams changed approaches against him, giving much less fast balls.In general, you are seeing much less fastballs early in counts against Twins hitters it would seem.  

2020 team

OPS .713 (22nd)

wRC+ 92 (22nd)

OBP .312 (23rd)

 

2019

OPS .832 (2nd)

wRC+ 116 (3rd)

OBP .338 (6th)

I gave ZERO doubt the short ramp up has affected our hitters. I say that with confidence based not on simple speculation, but we've seen MANY good hitters across baseball struggle or start slow.

But what jumps out to me is a couple things I've heard recently. Gleeman spoke on the podcast a couple days ago that many of the normal statistics in regard to last season are surprisingly the same. (Skipping details). There was also a comment that Rowson leaving didn't change the central philosophies already in place, FWIW.

I caught part of the Tuesday pre-game with an interview with a ML reporter...forget who now...who stated many of the same things. But he stated a couple key points that caught my attention.

1] For whatever reasons, Kepler and Rosario are FAR behind their previous production against LHP. When Buxton, Garver and Donaldson are out, that difference becomes magnified when Schoop and Cron numbers are considered from last season.

2] I don't recall the exact numbers, so forgive me. But he essentially stated the Twins were seeing something like 10-15% fewer FB than last season. So the opposition has adapted so the Twins hitters were now needing to adapt. He felt the Twins hitters had the ability to do so...maybe playing to his audience, maybe not...and also commented how few total AB each player had. This meaning, in a normal year, slumps and adjustments would normalize.

I agree. The problem is, we have about a month left in the rest of THIS season. So it may not be coaching. It may not just be health and attrition. It may be more about who can make adjustments the most quickly.

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