The Anatomy of a Failing Offense
Image courtesy of © Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY SportsLet’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:
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?
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
- Oldgoat_MN, mikelink45, dgwills and 1 other like this