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  • Twins Pitching Staff Has A Sinister Problem


    Parker Hageman

    Last month I wrote that the Twins’ lineup was poised to make life difficult for left-handed pitching. Since that post, the Twins own the second-highest slugging percentage and OPS versus lefties in baseball (.539 and .844, respectively). 

    Unfortunately, there is another lefty problem: their own pitching staff cannot get left-handed hitters out.

    Image courtesy of © Marilyn Indahl-USA TODAY Sports

    Left-handed hitters have decimated Twins’ pitching to the tune of .301/.377/.563, leading to the worst OPS against in baseball. Essentially, they are turning every hitter on the left side into Bryce Harper. 

    In fact, if the season ended today, that .940 OPS against left-handed hitters would be the worst on record dating back to at least 1990. Only three teams have finished the season with an OPS above .900 against left-handed hitters -- the 1999 Colorado Rockies (.917), the 1994 Texas Rangers (.907) and the 2000 Houston Astros (.903). 

    Fortunately for the Twins, the season does not end today -- with all the new rules I had to double-check -- but this is a historically bad pace. In a time where everything is skewed toward pitching, not being able to get hitters out is a huge problem. Since most teams started shifting heavily on lefties, their overall performance has tanked. The current league-wide OPS for left-handed hitters is at .704 -- only 2014’s .701 OPS was worse.

    Unlike the previous situation where the underlying metrics suggested (as Beck famously added to one of his songs), things are going to change, I can feel it, the pitching staff is getting hit hard across the board. Opponents average a 90.1 mph exit velocity, the second highest in baseball, while nearly 46% of the balls put into play are 95 mph or higher, also the second highest. A year ago, as they cruised to a division title, the Twins had one of the lowest marks in either category. 

    The starting rotation is faring slightly better than the bullpen (867 OPS vs 1.049 OPS) but  right-handers Matt Shoemaker (1.023), Kenta Maeda (.980), and Jose Berrios (.961) have a big problem to solve. 

    The 2020 Twins starters kept lefties subdued with a barrage of non-fastballs. Nearly 60% of incoming pitches were not of the fastball variety and lefties had a 495 OPS against them, the second lowest in baseball. This year, while still throwing a high percentage of non-fastballs, left-handed hitters have a 756 OPS against those. Both Berrios (874 OPS) and Maeda (867) are struggling to keep them off of their breaking ball and changeup combinations -- which is surprising when you consider they both finished last year with those numbers 300 points lower. 

    The larger issue is that bullpen, an area in which match-ups can be somewhat controlled, is failing even worse than the rotation. 

    Both Cody Stashak and Jorge Alcala have OPS figures above 1.400 in 36 match-ups against lefties, albeit in lower leverage situations. Alexander Colomẽ has been almost equally as bad (1.156) in 27 plate appearances (17 of those coming in high leverage situations). Perhaps most frustrating has been the performance of left-handed pitchers Caleb Thielbar (1.189 OPS in 20 plate appearances) and Taylor Rogers (.947 OPS in 19 plate appearances).  

    There are adjustments that need to be made. Maeda and Berrios are better than their numbers indicate. Maeda needs to find his release point for his slider and changeup. Berrios needs to determine which combination to use to get lefties out. Shoemaker needs to...do a lot of things. Many of the arms in the bullpen are capable of getting outs and the numbers are likely to improve over a larger sampling. 

    If the Twins can fix this problem --  and do so in a hurry -- they might have a chance to get back in the race.

     


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    Let’s not give the starters a pass. Those numbers against lefties for Maeda and Berrios are totally unacceptable. Over 50% of the at-bats against these two will be lefties. It’s not like you can platoon them like you could a batter with poor splits.

    Twins starters have the second-lowest bWAR in the American League. Only Seattle is worse...and barely worse. Short and/or bad start after short and/or bad start.

    I’ve seen Berrios’s last start defended here, because he only gave up two runs. No. He’s your ‘stud’. He took 105 pitches to get through 6 innings against (by far) the worse hitting club in the league...and in a situation where the club was desperate for a starter to take control and take a game out of the bullpen’s hands. Fail.

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    1 hour ago, jkcarew said:

    Let’s not give the starters a pass. Those numbers against lefties for Maeda and Berrios are totally unacceptable. Over 50% of the at-bats against these two will be lefties. It’s not like you can platoon them like you could a batter with poor splits.

    Twins starters have the second-lowest bWAR in the American League. Only Seattle is worse...and barely worse. Short and/or bad start after short and/or bad start.

    I’ve seen Berrios’s last start defended here, because he only gave up two runs. No. He’s your ‘stud’. He took 105 pitches to get through 6 innings against (by far) the worse hitting club in the league...and in a situation where the club was desperate for a starter to take control and take a game out of the bullpen’s hands. Fail.

    I think the number of lefties in the league is more like 30%, and even that might be high.

    105 pitches in 6 innings:  ~17 pitches per inning and ~6 pitches per out.  Pitches per batter would be less than 6, calculated on the number of plate appearances in the game you are mentioning.  Without looking, I am comfortable guessing the number of pitches per batter was around 4.  I'll take this all day long from a pitcher.  Wouldn't you?  Improving the outcome when a pitcher is performing this well is on the defense.

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    2 hours ago, Dodecahedron said:

    I think the number of lefties in the league is more like 30%, and even that might be high.

    105 pitches in 6 innings:  ~17 pitches per inning and ~6 pitches per out.  Pitches per batter would be less than 6, calculated on the number of plate appearances in the game you are mentioning.  Without looking, I am comfortable guessing the number of pitches per batter was around 4.  I'll take this all day long from a pitcher.  Wouldn't you?  Improving the outcome when a pitcher is performing this well is on the defense.

    Nope, Berrios faces more left-handed at-bats than right-handed at-bats...basically every year he’s been in the league. The information is readily available on Baseball Reference or Fangraphs under ‘splits’. I think your number for lefties is probably low, but in any regard, you’re not accounting for switch hitters and platooning.

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    It's this kind of stuff that is so inexplicable to me about the Twins season so far. It's one thing if one or two guys were struggling in their own separate ways. But to see huge swaths of the team slumping, often in the same way, for no discernable reason, is really baffling.

    How is it possible for like, Kenta Maeda [i]and[/i] Taylor Rogers [i]and[/i] Caleb Thielbar [i]and[/i] Alex Colome to all completely lose their ability to pitch to lefties all at once?

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