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  • Twins Up the Middle Players Lead Offensive Struggles


    AJ Condon

    The Twins aren’t getting the same production from the up the middle players on the field (C/2B/SS/CF) that played a big part in their offensive success a year ago. Between players not continuing their success from last year and new backups not performing like the former, the up the middle players aren’t getting as much production.

    Image courtesy of © David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

    The offense hasn’t looked like the Bomba Squad that set a home run record last year, or was up there for best offenses in the league. For starters, it’s no secret to any fan that players like Mitch Garver, Jorge Polanco, Luis Arraez and Byron Buxton aren’t producing like they did just a year ago.

    As a team, the Twins just aren’t getting the same production from those up the middle players. Last season the Twins ranked first in team OPS at the catcher position, fifth at second base, seventh at shortstop and 8th at centerfield.

    Currently, the Twins rank fourth worst in team OPS by players up the middle.

    https://twitter.com/MLBRandomStats/status/1299067399019393027?s=20

    That is broken down by being ranked 23rd at catcher, 18th at second base, 26th at shortstop and 21st at centerfield.

    Catcher

    Mitch Garver showed last season that he was one of the best catchers in the league, offensively that is. While playing just 93 games he ranked second in HRs, sixth in RBIs and first in OPS of catchers who played at least 15 games.

    In his 17 games played he is .154/.262/.212 with just one home run and two RBIs, an immense drop off. Garver’s drop in numbers can be explained by a couple things. First off, he isn’t barrelling the ball like he was last season. His exit velocity has actually increased by .1% but he is barreling the ball only 3.4% of the time compared to 15.5% last season when he was in the top 4%.

    On top of that he isn’t hitting the ball in the “sweet spot” as much either. That has dropped from 33.6% to 27.6% while his strikeout rate has increased 15% from last season!

    He’s pulling the ball a lot more frequently this season which allows for more of a shift to be played on him. Though his chase rate has dropped, he seems to be whiffing at pitches at a significantly higher rate than his career. This season, his whiff rate is at 33% compared to a career 24.2%.

    The numbers Garver put up last season were obviously going to be tough to match, but it was tough to predict this big of a drop-off.

    It isn’t just Garver’s fault. Last season, the Twins’ got solid production from their back-up catcher in Jason Castro. With the lower usage of Garver, Castro was the number two option for the Twins and he was able to hold his own compared to Garver’s career year.

    Though his numbers were nothing special, he had an OPS of .767 which was higher than 23 other teams catcher’s OPS. He totaled for 13 home runs, knocked in 30 runs while batting .232. Alex Avila has been a different story on offense. He has just six hits and only one of them being a home run.

    It’s pretty evident by watching games that the catcher position hasn’t come close to the production we got from it just a year prior. The difference between Castro last year and Avila this year has been more hurtful because it looks as though Avila will be playing close to half the games. It didn’t help when Garver was removed from a game and placed on the 10-day IL.

    Middle Infield

    Another area the Twins have lacked this year is their middle infielders. Jorge Polanco has taken a drastic step backwards in his power game. Last season he broke out for a total of 69 extra-base hits including 22 home runs. This year, in 31 games, he has just seven. While his average is sitting at .275, his OPS has dropped from .841 to .682.

    The guy I was really excited for this year has also been brought back to Earth after he was a menace at the plate the season prior. Luis Arraez wasn’t going to match his numbers from last year, but they’ve dropped more than I would’ve expected.

    No one expected him to bring the power aspect to the plate this year. He grinds his at-bats and finds ways to make it on. This year hasn’t gone as well. He’s played in 23 games so far and is striking out at a 12.2% rate compared to 7.9% last year.

    Though he is still getting a good amount of hits, his average has also dropped, which was expected.. He is hitting .284 compared to .334 last season. That has played apart in his drop of OPS where he sits at .665 compared to his .838.

    Centerfield

    Throughout the past season and a half, the centerfield position hasn’t been held by just one player. Byron Buxton is the Twins starter out there, but injuries have held him from getting much action in his young career. In turn, the position has also been held by Max Kepler and Jake Cave.

    Last season, the Twins combined for an OPS of .821, which ranked eighth, from the centerfield position. This season it’s dropped all the way down to .646. This year the position has been held by Buxton and Cave who hold an OPS of .681 and .627, respectively.

    The drop in OPS by the center fielders can be explained in part because of how successful Kepler was last season and the amount of games he played out in center. Buxton also was having a solid season in limited time holding an OPS of .827.

    Is this just a slow start from these up the middle players? Will they be able to turn things around late in the season and in the playoffs? It is detrimental to get these guys back to their form in order to make a deep playoff run. Let me know what you think in the comments below!

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    "Luis Arraez wasn’t going to match his numbers from last year, but they’ve dropped more than I would’ve expected." That's an interesting take as I saw preseason predictions of Arraez possibly flirting with hitting .400 in this short 60 game season. Of all you mention struggling, I see Arraez as the closest to getting where he was projected. Not sure what happened to Garver. His approach seems off, letting hittable strikes pass with no noticeable intent of swinging. It seems the league has figured out Garver and he needs to adjust accordingly.

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    Will second the above comments about Arraez. Would be interested in learning what his average was say the first 20 games and then the last dozen? He came out of this screwed up spring/summer camp not hitting anything like last year. But the batter I have seen the last week plus is much more similar to what we expected. Personally, I have confidence that will continue and by year end, Arraez will have an average well over .300.

     

    As for Buxton, well he had a short streak of hitting very well before again going down with an injury. The real disappointment, as you mention, has been Garver. Was last year a fluke? Or is this year terrible due to the weird circumstances? Expect we will know a year from now...assuming baseball has a normal 2021 season. If last year was a fluke, the Twins are fortunate to have two very good catching prospects approaching being ready.

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    Except for catching we don`t have decent back up in case someone is injured, slumping or just needs a rest. We really need Lewis to take that step & they need to expose him to CF to help fill in. We really hurt when we need Kepler to fill in

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