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2020 Minnesota Twins Top-5 Regression Candidates Via xwOBA


After such a great showing of the bats in 2019 it’s probably prudent to expect at least some individual regression. Bringing in a potent bat like Josh Donaldson certainly helps, but can we really expect players such as Mitch Garver, who put up career years, to do the same in 2020?Predicting how much regression or improvement a player will show from year to year is a difficult task, especially with as many young players and breakthrough performances as we saw last season. But today we’ll attempt to do just that by looking at 2019 numbers. Specifically, we’ll turn to Baseball Savant’s statcast numbers and look at Twins batters’ wOBA and xwOBA stats. Weighted on-base average (wOBA) is good for showing a batters actual results while expected weighted on-base average (xwOBA) uses batted-ball data (exit velocity, launch angle, etc.) which gives a better picture of what the results should have been based on how the ball was hit. If a player’s wOBA significantly outperforms his xwOBA we might expect some regression (for reference, the 2019 MLB average for wOBA was .320 while xwOBA was .319).

 

Before we get too deep into this exercise, it’s worth pointing out just how good the Twins hitters are. I previously wrote about Barrel rates (balls hit hard at optimal launch angles) and the likes of Nelson Cruz, Miguel Sano, Mitch Garver, and new friend Josh Donaldson are plastered all across the leaderboard. Even if the ball changes, we should expect plenty more bombas (is this nomenclature still cool?) in 2020. But we’ve got a job to do, so let’s do it!

 

Regression Candidates

 

Byron Buxton - .340 wOBA vs. .309 xwOBA

 

Should we be concerned about the pretty significant looking .031 difference between Buxton’s wOBA and xwOBA? Probably not. For his career Buxton has outperformed his xwOBA by .019 and there’s seemingly a good explanation. Buxton can fly (100th percentile sprint speed) so he can not only leg out some grounders, but more importantly take plenty of extra bases with his speed (stretching would-be singles into doubles, etc.). He also had career high exit velocity (89.3 mph) and launch angle (19.5), so things are looking good.

 

Verdict: Speed kills, just stay healthy.

 

Mitch Garver - .405 wOBA vs. .380 xwOBA

 

Garver comes in second with a .025 difference. Next to no one is expecting Garver to repeat his 2019 numbers (.995 OPS!) and his .380 xwOBA is still in the top 9% of the MLB. His barrel rates are elite and even with some regression he should be among the best hitting catchers in the league.

 

Verdict: Keep pouring on the Garv Sauce!

 

Luis Arraez - .360 wOBA vs. .336 xwOBA

 

Arraez is the first regression candidate who warrants some legitimate concern and I hate it. There’s something seemingly magical about Arraez as he shifts around in the batter’s box and scans the defense for holes to hit through. And he hit .334 last year! But a Statcast darling he is not. His hard hit percentage of 22.1% is in just the fourth-percentile while his 2.7% barrel rate is in the ninth percentile. And while we’re not here to talk about defense, he places in the bottom 3% in Outs Above Average.

 

However, Arraez does show some skills that may allow him to beat his xwOBA. Although he doesn’t hit the ball hard, by putting the ball in the air he does hit a lot of “flares” (30.7% flare/burner rate compared to MLB average of 24.8%), meaning he gets a lot of hits that go over the infield but fall in before outfielders. Of course, outfielders may continue to move in on Arraez, but hopefully he can develop enough “pop” to hit some over their heads.

 

Verdict: Should probably be somewhat concerned, damn you Statcast!

 

Miguel Sano - .379 wOBA vs. .363 xwOBA

 

I’m happily back to being unconcerned. Sano murdered the ball in 2019 (100th percentile hard hit % and exit velocity) and is another member of the barrel club. He’s also outperformed his expected stats throughout his career and will spend another year under the mentorship of Nelson Cruz. He showed significant improvement in the second half and seems fully committed to getting the most out of his talent. Improvement seems more likely than regression.

 

Verdict: All is well, let it Sano!

 

Max Kepler - .355 wOBA vs. .342 xwOBA

 

Kepler had a breakthrough year in 2019, hitting 36 home runs and he rounds out our potential regression list. Some of Kepler’s power could be zapped by a less-lively ball, but like Sano he has outperformed his xwOBA throughout his career. He’s also entering what should be his physical prime so he should be just fine.

 

Verdict: The wunder-kid should continue to awe.

 

All in all, although some degree of individual regression is to be expected, it shouldn’t be much. The addition of Josh Donaldson should certainly help. In 2019 he actually underperformed his xwOBA of .387 with a .377 wOBA and put up career highs (Statcast era) in barrel % and exit velocity. And then there’s Nelson Cruz. With a ridiculous .417 wOBA we might expect some luck, but no, Cruz’s xwOBA was .418! It certainly looks like 2019’s historic offense isn’t going anywhere.

 

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Arraez concerns me the least. Could Luis "regress" to a .300 hitter? Is that even regressing? His hand eye coordination and strike zone knowledge will continue to propel him to being a valuable member of the Twins.

The thing about Arraez regressing to around .300 is that it may put him below an .800 OPS which just isn't that special of a player when paired with the defense he put up last season. It's not like he'd lose his job or anything with those kinds of numbers, but a future of Royce Lewis at SS and Polanco shifting to 2B becomes very real.

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Fangraphs just dedicated an article on Arraez: https://blogs.fangraphs.com/luis-arraez-sui-generis/.

 

Summary is because of his insane plate discipline, his lack of power is not the hindrance it seems. So long as he keeps putting balls in play all the time, he'll at least be an average offensive player. Average being his floor with this plate discipline

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When I saw the headline I thought I was going to not like the article, but you flipped it on me.  I agree with Buxton, those singles he turns into doubles really affects those things.  I agree Arreaz numbers may not look great, but he is not the type of hitter that numbers can predict, if they could he would not even be a MLB player.  He follows the hit where they are not, not hit as hard as can.  Sure a 5 hopper through the hole may not look great, or a slap flare over the infield, but he gets on that is what counts.  

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I expect a little regression overall for just about everyone as I think the ball may be different. But that would affect everyone, not just the Twins.

 

The counter arguement, however, is that despite some career years, the guys who had them are still so young overall "progression" is still very viable. Maybe less bombas but more doubles, better BA and OB, for example.

 

I expect Garver to be nearly as effective/productive, but with more PA. So while there may be some regression, the overall numbers/production will be there.

 

I know I should worry about Arraez, but I just can't bring myself to. At 23 he's going to naturally develop at least a little more pop. His eye and approach aren't going to change. If anything, they should get better with experience. We often talk about power, speed and athleticism. But that natural "hit" ability is also a tool/talent. And he has that in spades. Even with some regression, he is going to be valuable.

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