Part of what makes baseball such a special sport is that it, more than any other sport, is almost completely driven by numbers. Numbers will teach us who are the superstars of our sport and will expose players who are not. Because of this, it only seems fitting for my second blog post on Twins Daily to take a look back on the 2019 season and choose one number for each Minnesota Twins hitter that I think best encapsulates the season for that player. The players discussed in this post were the top 10 team leaders in plate appearances this season.
1. Jorge Polanco
GAMES PLAYED. In a Minnesota Twins season ravaged with injuries where the Twins saw 5 of their top 6 batters in fWAR spend time on the injured list, Polanco was the one constant in the Twins lineup. Polanco played in 94% of Twins games this season which actually undersells his availability as 2 of his 9 games on the bench came in the final week of the season when the Central had already been wrapped up. In a season where Polanco was an AL All-Star starter and a team leader in many batting statistics (R, H, 2B, 3B) it was difficult to not assign a hitting statistic as Polanco’s number, but as the old adage goes, “the best ability is availability” and Polanco’s availability was the most significant contribution to the Twins this season.
2. Max Kepler
OPS VS. LEFT HANDED PITCHING. Prior to this season, Max Kepler struggled mightily against left-handed pitchers. From his MLB debut through the end of last season, Max had posted a career .605 OPS versus left handed pitchers, well below league average. He performed so poorly versus southpaws that there was much talk through his early development that he might be limited to a platoon-type role with the Twins. This year, though, Kepler turned it all around and posted a well-above average .880 OPS versus lefties, even better than his excellent .845 OPS versus righties. Last offseason, Kepler signed an extremely team-friendly 5-year, $35M contract. If he continues to mash lefties the way he did in 2019 that contract will only continue to look better and better.
3. Eddie Rosario
PITCHES PER PLATE APPEARANCE. This is the first number on this list that should be taken negatively. While Eddie Rosario posted a career high in R, HR and RBI this season, what I will remember most from Rosario’s 2019 season is his impatience at the plate. A huge gripe among Twins’ faithful this season was Baldelli’s stubbornness with keeping Rosario in the cleanup spot all season. It was maddening to have Kepler, Polanco and Cruz work the opposing pitcher into 7 or 8 pitch ABs and mount a rally only to have Rosie bail the pitcher out with a pop out on the first pitch of the at bat. The 3.51 P/PA illustrates this feeling perfectly as he finished dead last on the club in this statistic.
4. Nelson Cruz
OPS. This was by far the easiest number for me to choose in this exercise. Anytime a player finishes with an OPS greater than 1, you know they had a special season. Not only did Cruz finish with the 2nd highest OPS in the American league this season, he finished with the 4th highest OPS EVER for a 38-year-old baseball player (behind Barry Bonds, Ted Williams and Ty Cobb). Cruz was an unbelievable addition to this Minnesota Twins ball club. Most times when a team signs a 38 year old, they bring him in to be a veteran presence and a mentor in a young clubhouse. While Cruz was a great mentor and a fan-favorite, he was brought in to mash and he indeed mashed in 2019.
5. C.J. Cron
OPS AFTER JULY 6 THUMB INJURY. C.J. Cron, more than any other Twins player this season, had a Jekyll and Hyde season. Unfortunately for Cron, the Hyde to his Jekyll was completely injury related. Prior to July 6, C.J. was having a very solid season for the Twins as evidenced by his .821 OPS in 331 plate appearances. After management’s bungling of his thumb injury, though, Cron’s play suffered significantly as he saw his OPS dip 121 points and his K% increase from 19.3% to 25.6%. Hindsight is always 20/20, as they say, but I would love to see how Cron’s 2019 season would have played out if Baldelli & Crew would have allowed Cron’s thumb to heal completely instead of rushing him back into the lineup as they did.
6. Jonathan Schoop
BATTING WITH BASES LOADED. There was a lot of talk this season about how poorly the Twins performed in bases loaded situations, and rightly so. While the Twins were second in baseball this season with a .832 overall OPS, they managed to wind up 28th in baseball with a .568 OPS with the bases loaded. Nobody embodied this struggle with bases loaded better than Jonathan Schoop who ended the season with a goose egg in AVG, OBP and SLG% this season with the bases loaded in 8 trips to the plate. Of all the wild things that happened this Twins season, their complete ineptitude with the bases loaded tops the list for me, and Jonathan Schoop is the poster boy for it.
7. Marwin Gonzalez
NUMBER OF FIELDING POSITIONS PLAYED. When Marwin Gonzalez signed with the Twins on February 22, Twins fans were excited to bring in a good player who has played in pressure games on the biggest stage. What excited Twins fans most, though, was the versatility that Gonzalez would bring to the club, and we saw that play out all season. With so many injuries popping up throughout the year, Gonzalez’ ability to play anywhere on the diamond allowed the team to continue to fill in a potent lineup even without its biggest stars for much of the year. Gonzalez was able to fill in for Sano at third base for a month to start the season, fill in for Cron when he was hampered with his thumb injury, and ended the season playing in the corner outfield when Buxton’s shoulder injury forced Kepler into CF. Marwin certainly didn’t have his strongest hitting season and suffered his fair share of injuries throughout the year, but his ability to fill in across the diamond and in the outfield covered up a lot of holes and made Rocco Baldelli’s job a heck of a lot easier filling out his lineup card.
8. Miguel Sano
OPS AFTER JUNE 27. On June 26, the Twins suffered a 5-2 loss at the hands of the Tampa Bay Rays in 18 innings. The bigger story that day, though, was Miguel Sano going 0-for-7 with 3 strikeouts. It was his second 0-for-7 performance in the last 10 days and brought his season batting totals down to .195/.278/.761. At this point, much of Twins twitter was clamoring for the Twins to send Sano down or even outright cut him. What Twins fans didn’t know, though, was that Sano was going through a complete swing transformation with hitting coach, James Rowson, and literally learning a completely new swing on the fly. Well, Rowson’s coaching and Sano’s hard work paid off in a big, big way as Sano posted a .271/.376/.618 line with a .994 OPS beginning the day after his 0-for-7 Tampa Bay performance through the end of the season. Needless to say, there’s not much clamoring from Twins Twitter for Sano to be cut anymore.
9. Luis Arraez
AGE. There are so many numbers that you could come up with for Arraez’s 2019 season and I wouldn’t blame for you picking any of them. The .334 average, the .399 OBP, the 29 (!!!) strikeouts, Arraez had a truly special season. The number that I settled on for “La Regadera”, though, was his age of 22. The Twins were able to generate an everyday second baseman and leadoff hitter from a rookie and with the way he has put up excellent numbers at every level of baseball in which he has played, there is no reason to believe that his 2019 season was any sort of mirage. Arraez’s 2019 season would have been considered incredible from a 32 year old, the fact that he put up the numbers he did at 22 years old should excite Twins everywhere.
10. Mitch Garver
OPS. It’s nice when you get to end an article like this with a player who had one of the greatest seasons of all time by a catcher and posted numbers that will blow away even the casual baseball fan. The number that encapsulates Garver’s 2019 season the most for me is his .995 OPS. This not only led all catchers this season (min. 350 PAs), but placed him 17th all-time in OPS for a catcher in a season (min. 350 PAs). Health certainly slowed down the end of Garver’s 2019 season, and unfortunately Garver wasn’t able to showcase his skills in front of a national audience in the postseason, but if Garver continues to hit the way he did this season he will become a household name in no time. Not bad for a guy who just finished his second full season in the majors.
What makes this list fun is that there are many different numbers that could be chosen for each hitter. I would love to hear in the comments what numbers you would have selected for the players I highlighted.