I sit here on the Wednesday of February the 13th, the same day that pitchers and catchers have reported for the Twins, pretty much stuck in my dorm as the classes on my campus were canceled for the 3rd straight day due to snow. At this point, I actually want to go to class because there is something inside me that craves work of some sort and the amount of MLB The Show and Grand Theft Auto that I have played over the last few days would make any sane human nauseous. The solution, of course, is to humbly offer another article to the Twins Daily powers that be in the hope that they approve of my sacrifice and allow me to post another day.
It was brought to my attention the other day that, by xwOBA, the unluckiest hitter in all of MLB in 2018 was Logan Morrison. Let me back that up a little because I’m sure my dad just had an aneurysm trying to read “xwOBA”. Let’s start with the wOBA part before x gives it to ya. wOBA stands for weighted on-base average and it does what slugging and OPS try to do, it calculates the value of a hitter with the understanding, as the opposite of what Thomas Jefferson once proclaimed, that not all hits are created equal. Slugging and OPS attempt this also, but both stats assume that the value of hits is linear, which is to say that OPS believes a homer is exactly twice as valuable as a double or a triple is exactly three times as a good as a single.
While OPS thinks this, wOBA understands that this is simply not true and instead calculates the importance of these outcomes with their correct value. If you want to read a piece that goes into more detail about wOBA and how it is calculated, Fangraphs has a great article about it that can be found here and I would highly suggest reading it before moving on in my article. As a quick rule of thumb, an average wOBA is about .320 while an above average wOBA is about .340 and a below average wOBA is .310.
But we aren’t just talking about wOBA here, we’re talking about xwOBA! What the hell is that x doing there and what does it signify? Thanks to Statcast data, we can calculate more precisely how much luck is involved in the game. xwOBA only cares about the quality of the contact being made and couldn’t give a rats ass about the actual outcomes of the hits. So a screaming line drive that finds the right fielder's glove may not count for anything during the game, but xwOBA thinks that the guy who hit the ball got unlucky and probably will not continue being unlucky going forward if they are capable of hitting the ball like they currently are. xwOBA specifically uses the term “quality of contact” which encompasses exit velocity along with launch angle to determine how lucky or unlucky a certain hitter was. If you want to read more about it, I have another article for your curious mind that will extend the length of time you spend on my article.
Now that all of that is out the way, let’s take a look at what xwOBA says about some choice Twins and their 2018 seasons. I’ll be looking at a handful of the most successful Twins players along with who I have deemed their “brother” or someone who had the same or a very similar 2018 xwOBA as them. Numbers are pulled from Baseball Savant here.
Nelson Cruz and Aaron Judge
Isn’t that a tasty comparison? The defier of father time put up a ridiculous .392 xwOBA in 2018, a number just a hair north of noted destroyer of baseballs, Aaron Judge. Despite putting up a wRC+ that was his lowest since 2014, there should be nothing to worry about for Cruz as he continued to annihilate balls at a ridiculous rate and he should provide some serious production in the middle of a Twins lineup that has more power in 3 spots than any of the mid 2000’s team had in the entire lineup. They might have to start handing out helmets in the left field bleachers for safety reasons.
Joe Mauer and J.T. Realmuto
While it is great to see Mauer’s name here, it came with some decent scrolling down the list. Cruz was ranked 7th in MLB by xwOBA, but the next Twin comes in at 56th place and he doesn’t even play for the Twins anymore. Wow, that got really sad, let’s spin this in a more positive light. Mauer’s xwOBA says that the dude got robbed hardcore last year as he only put up a .319 wOBA compared to an xwOBA of .350. An unusual feat mainly because hitters like Mauer are prime candidates to be enemies of xwOBA due to their ability to hit the ball to the opposite field. These more “well-rounded” hitters tend to have lower xwOBA numbers because xwOBA does not account for defensive positioning and at the game level, well-hit balls that xwOBA would like are generally pulled and can be gobbled up consistently by the shift. Although, Mauer was such an extreme opposite field guy that the consistency of his hits actually ended up biting him. Oh yeah, and he was as good as J.T. Realmuto in this category, so go trade for that, Philly.
C.J. Cron and Giancarlo Stanton
You hear that, Yankees fans? Cron is as good as Stanton, open and shut case. Even though probably just about everyone and their mother forgot that Cron was traded from the Angels to the Rays before the 2018 season, he saw a good amount of success with his new team as he translated his “looks like a guy who can whack the crap out of the ball” skills into “actually is a guy that can whack the crap out of the ball” skills. The Rays DFA’d Cron after the season in an effort to recreate the Corey Dickerson fiasco the year before, which led to Derek Falvey waking up from his slumber immediately and punching the “Get Old Rays 1st Baseman Button” he keeps near his bed. Cron put up a respectable .345 xwOBA in 2018 and looks to continue his success with the Twins into the future.
Logan Morrison and Daniel Murphy
So far, we have two guys that are no longer on the Twins and two guys who just got here, I don’t know what to make of that. As mentioned before, xwOBA feels pretty bad about Morrison’s 2018 and wants to cheer him up with some Jameson, a high-quality steak, a movie on Netflix, and some decent exit velocity numbers. His xwOBA of .340 is a good .057 higher than what his wOBA actually was. As mentioned before with Mauer, Morrison is a prime case of why these numbers aren’t exactly perfect. We all saw him last year refuse to hit the ball the other way and instead groundout to the 2nd baseman directly into the shift over and over. And while the quality of the contact might have been good, the assumption that his luck would change was false. He probably deserved a little better, but I am really glad that he is off the team now.
Jake Cave and Whit Merrifield
We have quite an interesting pairing here, like when a high school jock starts dating a band girl. Jake Cave was acquired in an incredibly low profile trade before the season but then forced his way onto the major league team and is now probably in the future plans for the Twins due to his ability to hit the snot out of the ball. Despite a hilariously lopsided 33.0% K percent and a BABIP that would make Christian Yelich blush, Cave’s ability to hit the ball a country mile could hold up and allow for him to grow into a more well-rounded batter. With Whit Merrifield as his xwOBA sidekick, Jake Cave will continue to swing hard and hit hard or not at all.
Eddie Rosario and ...Ian Kinsler?
For a stat that is called “expected wOBA”, this pairing sure is unexpected. Rosario was easily the most productive Twins hitter in 2018 as he continued to put up solid wRC+ numbers while Kinsler was… not productive at all. Kinsler’s hitting went even farther into the toilet following an already disappointing 2017 year as he put up a wRC+ of 93 in 2017 and followed that up with an 87 wRC+ in 2018. Despite this pretty serious disparity, xwOBA has both guys pegged at a .299 clip that would be consistent for Kinsler but incredibly concerning for Rosario. Also, despite similar numbers in 2017 and 2018 for Rosario, xwOBA was much more of a fan of him in 2017 when they had him pegged at a .334 clip that was more in line with how he actually performed that year.
The good news is that there aren’t that many Twins players that look due for regression in 2019 based off their 2018 numbers, but the bad news is that the reason for that is because their xwOBA numbers were poor across the board. Even though some players like Cruz and Kepler should see bumps in their production, using past performance to predicate future success is an inconsistent measurement and let’s be honest, using the eye test is just much easier to do instead. And my eyes are telling me that the Twins offense in 2019 should be pretty tasty.