Where did all the wins go? - Part 2 - The Batters
Today we're going to find out where all the wins went, because it's time for a statistical analysis of the hitters, and it's gonna be ugly. I'll be examining their WAR but also several other stats that I found relevant. This time around, I'm going to use both Baseball-Reference's and Fangraph's WAR measurements and compare them. We'll start with 1B and DHs first:
--My apologies for the small images; if you're on a computer, I recommend right-clicking the images and opening them up in a new tab--
Key: oWAR is Baseball-Reference's measure of how many wins the player's offense is worth. UZR is Fangraph's measure of defense for non-catchers. "F.G. Def." is the percentile of where that player ranks among his peers in the MLB. "BB WAR" is Baseball-Reference's WAR measurement and FG stands for Fangraphs. Finally, the "My WAR" is the measurement I choose for the player - for example, for Joe Mauer 2017, I chose BB's WAR over Fangraphs, and sometimes it could be a mix of the two ratings.
Losing a month of Mauer hurt this team, and he hasn't been the best since he's been back. Joe's OPS has dropped about 80 points, his defense hasn't been as elite as last year, and his power has diminished even further - it's embarrassing to have a 1B who has a 0.88% chance to hit a home run every time up. Joe projects to finish lose 2 more games for the Twins compared to his 2018 form, which is tough to swallow since virtually nobody else is picking up the slack.
Logan Morrison, coming off a career year in Tampa Bay, couldn't be having a worse season. At least Kennys Vargas was able to be a passable DH option last season, as Morrison projects finish over a full win worse than Kennys. Morrison's defense at 1B has been just alright, and he talks a bunch of walks, but that's about it. He can't get hits and when he does, he's not hitting for power much anymore... it's not as though he's getting really old (he's 30), but suddenly he's not looking like a MLB-caliber hitter anymore.
Robbie Grossman has also been a big disappointment. With yet another massive drop in OPS in this group, Grossman's ability to take walks has diminished by about 23%, and with little power and terrible defense, it's not clear what purpose Robbie fills on this team. We're a ways off from Grossman's 2016 .828 OPS and I don't think we're going to see that version of him again.
I stuck with just Fangraph's general defensive metrics for the catchers, as I think they did a good enough job capturing the defensive level of the few players.
Jason Castro's 2017 was underrated, and we're feeling the brunt of missing out on it. That isn't to say he was going to repeat it - his start to 2018 was horrid offensively - but they could really use his defensive abilities out there. Meanwhile, Garver has been ranked as MLB's worst defensive catcher by fangraphs, and I'm sure many here would agree. Mitch's bat has been solid, but also below 2017 Castro's, as he hit more HRs and took more walks. Garver needs to hit a lot better to justify his terrible defense.
Surprisingly, the Twins could use 2017 Chris Gimenez back, as he was surprisingly worth about 1 WAR. His batting average was bad but he took a ton of walks, had the ability to swat HRs, and his defense was mostly solid. Too bad the Twins are using Bobby Wilson as their primary catcher now, who's on pace to be worth -1.0 WAR or even worse if he plays more. All in all, the Twins have lost 4 more games thanks to their catchers... yikes.
Next, the infielders:
Dozier is somehow worth about a win, and most of that is coming from his bat, which has seen a remarkable drop-off from 2017. He's hitting HRs 30% less often, his OPS has dropped by a massive 150 points, and the Gold Glover's defense has been below average this season. He stills brings a decent amount of value to the table, and if he finishes the season at 2.4 WAR, that isn't so bad... but it's his total ineptitude in RISP and high leverage situations that frustrate me the most. He has the ability to be an All-Star 2B but he's inexplicably dropped off a cliff in his contract year.
Meanwhile, the transition from Polanco to Adrianza for the first half of 2018 went rather smoothly. It depends what you make of their defense - Ehire has mostly been regarded as a very good defender, but something has gone wrong this season. Fangraphs thinks he's been a liability out there, which is the type of thing you'd think make Adrianza a massive downgrade. However, his bat has finally come around and while it's nothing exciting, he's been far and away a superior batter from his days as a Giant. With Polanco up, I don't think we have too much to worry about here.
I can't say much about Sano that hasn't already been said. Around the All-Star game last year he began a sharp decline that has resulted him hitting at A ball. His K% rate didn't change much from 2017, but I think that's more due to his second half in 2017 being so full of strikeouts. He needs to figure out how to get his walk rate back to its 2017 form. Fangraphs doesn't like his defense at 3B, and it's possible his next position is 1B or DH.
Wow, there's something positive to talk about here? Eduardo Escobar to the rescue! Eddie's improvement has been rather straightforward, but I am a bit concerned about his rising K% rate. He has improved with taking walks, though. All four of these infielders are considered as liabilities in the field, which has to be a concern. One reason why this team was so good last year was due to our fielding.
Adrianza was worth 1.0 WAR last year, and we're not getting that from the Petit/Motter/Astudillo group. Having Escobar and Adrianza on the bench last year was great for depth purposes - unfortunately Sano's demise and Polanco's suspension used up said depth. That's our 3rd position group with at least -4.0 WAR...
We'll start with the good news first. His name is Eddie Rosario because he's the only thing that's been 'good' about the outfield. Not only has he topped his numbers from an already impressive 2017 season, but he's improved his defense, and by my eye, he's mostly stopped with his inaccurate throws from left field. For all the strikeout concerns some had with Rosario, he strikes out just 17.5% of the time, and only Mauer and Kepler have smaller K% rates. He has some serious pop in his bat and he's close to his first All-Star appearance.
Byron Buxton has obviously been a disappoint, and losing his stellar defense in center field has been detrimental to the pitching staff. Baseball-Reference had him as high as 5.5 WAR last season! Fangraphs had him as the best defensive CF but only at 3.5 WAR, so I chose 4.7 WAR as a middle ground between the two (I thought his defense was worth about 2 wins plus 2.7 oWAR). LaMarre and Cave haven't been black holes in Buxton's absence, but they [actually just Cave] project(s) to finish with around 0.6 WAR. That's not bad, but it's still a big drop-off from what we had last season. About a 5 win drop-off!
I don't get Max Kepler. He vastly improves his K% rate, he's taking a bunch more walks, his defense is getting better... and yet, his third season in the MLB has been even more disappointing than his first two years, which weren't much to talk about either. He seems to be hitting in to the shift and hitting far too many pop-ups and weak flyballs. His sudden weakness to right-handed pitchers is also baffling. Kepler seems to have the ability to be something more than a 1-2 WAR hitter but he just can't figure it out.
I didn't include Grossman here, as I thought he fit better as a DH. The outfield has been worse than its 2017 form, but Rosario is ensuring it's not the disaster all the other positions are.
Adding it all up, the hitters have been -14.6 WAR worse than their 2017 selves. Yikes!!
~~ Summary ~~
Pitchers 3.1 WAR + Hitters -14.6 WAR = -11.5 WAR
The Twins should be about 11 to 12 games worse than they were in 2017. However, that's not the case. The 2017 Twins finished 7 games above .500 and as of the season midpoint, the Twins are 11 games under .500. We're comparing -11.5 WAR to -19 WAR... so what explains the -7.5 WAR gap?
Reasons for the gap:
Strength of opponents (or weakness of 2017 opponents)
Other outside factors (umpires, weather, etc.)
My bad logic
We could get into a whole other argument about the job Paul Molitor has done. I'd rather just cover the manager's affect on the games, like:
-Situational Hitting (bunting)
-Lineup Decisions (lineup placement/resting players)
-Other strategic decisions
-A bunch of other minor factors
There's also the strength of opponents to consider. Even the best teams are going to lose at least 50 games a season, and sometimes the other team is just going to beat you even when your guys play a good game. However, it's debatable that's the problem as the Twins have faced the White Sox, Royals, and Tigers a bunch this season and haven't capitalized on the poor competition.
I think a shout-out to situational hitting and pitching is in order. I mentioned Dozier's terrible RISP numbers (.205/.600 OPS) but also with pitchers losing leads (Rodney's 5 busted saves, can't hold a one run lead). The Twins shouldn't be losing so many 1 run games. These stats are just summaries of the players' performances, and they don't explain when and how the runs score and which players are 'clutch' or not.
So, in the end, the hitters are definitely dragging this team down, there's no doubt about that. Injuries to Castro, Mauer, Sano, Buxton, Ervin Santana, Polanco's suspension, and others have hurt this team. But just looking at their performances, I think it's safe to say they should absolutely be better than this. Nearly all of the hitters have regressed a shocking amount. I think you can partly blame that 7-8 game gap on Molitor - but you could also pin the -11.5 WAR on the front office, because there's only so much Molly can do.
In the end, the Twins need to figure out how to maximize their players and figure out who needs to go (I'm looking at you, Morrison/Dozier/Grossman) and who needs to be fixed (Sano/Buxton/Kepler). The pitching staff has mostly done their part, but maintaining those performances for 2019 will not be as easy as it appears. We assumed the hitters would pick up from where they left off in 2017, but unfortunately they picked up where they left off in the 2016 season. With the front office entering Year 3 and Molitor entering Year 5 in 2019, there are a lot of questions to answer and a whole ton of improvements to be made.
Edited by Danchat, 04 July 2018 - 05:45 PM.