We often comment on whether current Twins are good, average or bad hitters by using OPS. The problem I see is we're using a broad average for everyone not broken down by position. I looked around the Internet and found an article in ScoreSheetWiz where the author had taken the average of the top 30 players in each position over the last 3 years and averaged their OPS. That should give you what the average starter in MLB does at that position by taking out emergency fill ins, utility players, etc. and sounds like a good basis for comparison. Here's the comparison to current Twins, based on their performance for this season to date. I've also put their career OPS in parenthesis with the YTD comparison where they'd been around long enough to make that meaningful. The positions go from lowest to highest by MLB average OPS.
|Position||Average OPS||Current Twin OPS/(Career)||Difference|
|Catcher||.748||Garver .889 (.834)||Plus .151 (+ .86)|
|Jeffers .720||Minus .028|
|Shortstop||.749||Simmons .576 (.688)||Minus .173 (-.061)|
|Second Base||.763||Polanco .797 (.774)||Plus .034 (+.011)|
|Centerfield||.777||Buxton 1.176 (.751)||Plus .409 (-.026)|
|Kepler .759||Minus .018|
|Third Base||.805||Donaldson .840 (.875)||Plus .035 (+.070)|
|Arraez .747 (.793)||Minus .058 (-.012)|
|Corner OF||.819||Kepler .722 (.759)||Minus .097 (-060)|
|Larnach .676||Minus .143|
|Rooker .750||Minus .069|
|First Base||.859||Kirilloff .722||Minus .137|
|Sano .746 (.819)||Minus .113 (-.040)|
I thought this was kind of interesting and helps explain where our holes are forward. For example, Arraez is a below average hitting starter this year either at 3rd or left-field, about average in 2nd base, but career wise above average at 2nd base, average at 3rd, and below average for corner outfield. Since he adds no surplus defensive value, he really needs to OPS >.800 if he's not going to play 2nd base. Kepler is a little tougher to evaluate since his bat is clearly significantly below average for a corner outfielder, and a little below average for centerfielder, but he does offer surplus defensive value in a corner outfield spots, not so much centerfield. That's why I think is an ideal 3rd or 4th outfielder, but not 1 of our top 2. The 2 Rookies are way below average but this is their 1st year so you hope for improvement and it's a small sample size. Same for Kirilloff. Sano is also a below average hitting starter at 1st Base who doesn't offer any surplus defensive value. I didn't bother with guys like Jake Cave (.508 (.735)) or Willians Astudillo (.721 (.738)) since they are way below an average starter unless they play shortstop, and even then they're not very strong. Both are classic back end roster filler and we should be looking for upgrades like Gordon, Refsnyder and others.
I do think this helps explain why we're having trouble scoring runs. We only have 3 above average hitters for their position now that Cruz is gone, Donaldson, Polanco and Garver, and only Polanco really plays every day. Most days we're liable to only have 2 players who are average or better hitters for their position. The batting order is really weighed down by poor performance at the corner outfield spots, centerfield when Buxton isn't there (even worse when someone other than Kepler is playing centerfield), and shortstop.
I guess this tells me 4 things 1st, re-sign Buxton. He is critical to the order. 2nd, I was wrong about Donaldson. He is pretty valuable at the plate and Arraez is not an adequate replacement. 3rd, we need better hitting corner outfielders and Kepler is not the answer. The current strategy of playing Rooker and Larnach every day is the right one because those guys have to improve to give us more balance in the order. 4th, Arraez is probably best used as a utility player with Polanco the better hitter and better fielder at 2nd base. He's a good utility player, more of an average hitter for a starter, and we can get him 400 – 500 bats to utilize his on-base skills by playing him at a variety of spots.
We talk a lot about how the pitching has to improve to truly contend. I postulate the lineup has to improve as well. I think most contending have average or better hitters for their positions in at least 5 or 6 of the 9 spots. We have 4 if you assume that someone like that Cruz is the DH, a position where I was unable to find an average OPS. otherwise 3. The current lineup isn't good enough to compete and absolutely isn't good enough if the pitching is below average. Helps explain this year's performance and helps us know what we need to do for next year.