Twins Daily Roundtable: Fixing the Offense
Image courtesy of Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY SportsJohn Bonnes
The bad news is that Brian Dozier has not been good. And I’m not talking about “versus expectations.” I’m talking about straight up “not good”. He isn’t (.223 BA) hitting. He isn’t (.300 OBP) getting on base . He isn’t (.394 SLG) hitting for power.
The good news is it’s not unusual for Dozier to pair a pretty mediocre or crummy half season of hitting with a fantastic half season of hitting:
Brian Dozier, 2017, 2nd half: 985 OPS (1st half: 745)
Brian Dozier, 2016, 2nd half: 990 OPS (1st half: 786)
Brian Dozier, 2015, 1st half: 841 OPS (2nd half: 639)
You can make a case for a lot of bounceback candidates to give the Twins lineup a surge. Joe Mauer, Miguel Sano, Jorge Polanco, Logan Morrison, Byron Buxton – an optimist can foresee a flicked switch on any of them. But the path of least resistance is for Dozier to do what he has done each of the last three years: go on a three-month killing spree.
To me, it's clearly Byron Buxton. If he gets back into the same zone he was in last July-through-October, when he hit .309/.358/.538 with 12 homers while going 16-for-16 on steals, he completely transforms the offense.
Not only is that stellar individual production, but it also can infuse a contagious type of energy that reverberates. I think we saw that dynamic play out to some extent in the latter months of 2017 as Minnesota made its run. A healthy and thriving Buxton is exactly what this sleepwalking unit needs.
Lots of valid answers to this question, but I'm going with Brian Dozier for three reasons.
1) The absence of right-handed hitters Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton makes this team even more unbalanced than it already was. Without Dozier being a threat, the offense is susceptible to being shut down by even pedestrian southpaws.
2) It's easier to play with a lead, and when Dozier's hot he's causing damage early. He had a .908 OPS in the first three innings last season. If the runs don't come early, this 2018 team seems to tighten up as the game unfolds.
3) He's a great baserunner. How many outs have the Twins run themselves into over the past few weeks? Brian's not the fastest guy around, but something that sets him apart from some of the other potential answers to this question (Mauer, Morrison) is they're base cloggers. It'd be great to see Dozier go on one of his homer binges, but at this point I'd even settle for him simply sparking some rallies.
To me, there are three candidates who could take over this line-up in the months ahead and propel the team towards a division title. Those three names are Byron Buxton, Brian Dozier, and Miguel Sano. In the first half of last season, Sano showed how dangerous he can be if he is making consistent contact. Fast forward to the end of last season and Buxton seemed to have it all figured out at the plate. It wouldn’t surprise me if either of these players impacts the offense in the second half but…
Brian Dozier has to be the spark plug. He is the one that needs to get this offense moving in the right direction. There have some signs of life for the club against some good pitching in Cleveland and the first game with the Red Sox. Dozier still has dug himself quite the early season hole but you know he wants to snap out of it. Especially since he is in a contract year.
For me, it's undoubtedly Brian Dozier. Dozier is remarkably streaky, has had monster second halves in the last two years, and may well do so again in 2018. Currently, he's virtually a non-contributor to the Twins offense. Consider the following numbers comparing Dozier in 2017 to 2018 Dozier:
.359 OBP, .498 SLG, .362 wOBA, 125 wRC+, 5.0 WAR
.309 OBP, .397 SLG, .309 wOBA, 93 wRC+, 0.7 WAR
Dozier has carried the Twins offense for much of the last two years. This year he's a 7% below average hitter for his position. His numbers are brutal for someone the Twins expected to rely on and who gets the most at-bats for the entire team. While Dozier may have made the Twins thoughts on extending him to a long term contract much more clear, they have zero postseason hopes unless he gets hot and stays hot the rest of the way.
When the lineup has been as collectively bad as it has been (besides Escobar and Rosario), it would be really hard to put that on one guy.
But I will: Brian Dozier. Career low batting average, 19 points below his career average. 17 point below his career OBP. Lowest slugging and OPS since his rookie year.
The leadoff hitter sets the tone for the offense and he isn't getting it done.
Now Dozier isn't alone when it comes to disappointments. Logan Morrison has been really bad. Miguel Sano has been disgusting at the plate. Byron Buxton could be a spark, but he hasn't been healthy. Jason Castro, before the knee injury, was a disaster. Robbie Grossman provides nothing.
But it comes down the Dozier. Unless he gets right, the Twins have no shot (and it's already only a slim shot).
I mean, there are so many pieces to the offense that are important. Coming into the season, the assumption was that the Twins offense would be one of the best in the league. To this point, Eduardo Escobar and Eddie Rosario have been the two that have gone above and beyond expectations. They (probably) can't provide more than what they have done. It would be nice if they kept it up.
It's clear that having Joe Mauer around is also important because it seems the quality of at bats up and down the lineup has improved through osmosis. If the Twins are going to make a run, Brian Dozier is the key. We've seen what he can do in the 2nd half. He's done it four straight years. Hopefully it can happen again.
The other key might be Jorge Polanco. Almost forgotten since spring training, the Twins could really benefit from Polanco putting up the kind of numbers he put up over the final two months of the 2017 season.
Even with Eddie Rosario and Eduardo Escobar hitting at elite levels so far, the rest of the Minnesota Twins lineup has been so lacking that it hasn’t mattered much. Their collective OPS ranks ninth in the American League and they’re scoring only 4.26 runs per game, good for tenth.
Even worse is their performance near the end of games, demonstrated by their 3-13 record in one-run contests and that they’ve endured eight walk-off losses already. From the seventh inning on, Twins hitters have managed just a .668 OPS, which is basically Miguel Sano level production this year and he just got demoted all the way to A-ball as he’s seemingly forgotten how to hit a baseball.
So, what’s been missing? I’d argue it’s an All-Star caliber #3 or cleanup hitter as those spots in the Twins lineup currently rank in the bottom third of nearly every hitting category in the AL.
Know who that guy is? You should, because he was one of their All-Star representatives last year and I’ve already mentioned his name. Sano clubbed 21 home runs and had a .908 OPS in the first half of 2017 and they’re going to need him to step back into that role, and soon, for there to be any hope in 2018.
With Miguel Sano out of the picture currently, I think the answer has to be Brian Dozier. Getting Joe Mauer back is great, but he’s more of a defensive asset. Dozier bringing some semblance of his offensive prowess is a must.
He’s always been a streaky hitter, but it’s time for him to get going. In a contract year, I’d have hoped for a bit more consistency. After Dozier, I think getting a level of fair production out of Logan Morrison would be nice. He’s flashed reason to be optimistic that things will turn around, but the production hasn’t followed just yet.
I don’t think we can expect much, if anything, from Miguel Sano for a while and it would probably be unfair to load up Byron Buxton with that kind of responsibility before he even shows up for a rehab game.
I’d go with Max Kepler.
Kepler has been streaky, but the talent is there. I think if he can start consistently contributing some pop and getting on base with regularity, that would do a lot for the Twins’ offense.
The most important player for invigorating the Twins offense remains Brian Dozier. Dozier has been the Twins' offensive leader over the last four seasons and his performance so far this year has been sub-par to put it nicely. However, as Dozier has show in the past, he has the potential to get hot and carry the offense. With Dozier's recent move down to the five spot in the order, it might help him regain his focus and become the All-Star level hitter he has been over the past few years.
If you missed any of the previous roundtable discussions, here are the links:
Romero’s Rotation Spot
Top Prospect Timelines
Minnesota’s All-Star Selection
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