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  • Will the Twins Make Life Difficult for Left Handed Pitching?


    Parker Hageman

    Left-handed pitching was a bane to the Minnesota Twins’ existence in the shortened 2020 season. Is this trend really going to continue this year?

    Image courtesy of David Berding-USA TODAY Sports

    In 2019, the Twins posted a .349 slugging percentage against left-handed pitching. Only the Mariners and the Cubs fared worse. It was expected to be an anomaly. After all, almost the exact same lineup walloped lefties with a .521 slugging percentage. What’s more, they anticipated having healthy contributions from Josh Donaldson and Mitch Garver.

     

    As Aaron Gleeman wrote earlier this month, the 2021 roster was designed with right-handed thump up and down the lineup.

     

    “I expect us to be able to put a group out consistently that makes life difficult for left-handed starters,” manager Rocco Baldelli told him. “We can throw some very good right-handed hitters out there, and our goal is to just have good at-bats. … I think right now, where we sit, we should be able to go out there and have those at-bats that we want to have.”

     

    The season is just a few weeks old but so far the trend set in 2020 has continued into this season: they are slugging just .347 after the doubleheader in Oakland on Tuesday.

     

    Before you panic, consider that Twins hitters are doing almost everything right and not being rewarded appropriately. They have the highest amount of batted balls hit 95 miles per hour or higher (44.9) and they have the second highest exit velocity average (89.7). If you trust the process, then the extra base hits will surely follow. For the analytically optimistic, however, Baseball Savant notes that the expected slugging is closer to .439 which would place them closer to the middle of the pack.

     

    What is concerning is that the balls aren’t going anywhere.

     

    While they are rocketing off of their bats and the optimal speed (95+) and angle (10-30 degrees), the ones that are hit in the air aren’t traveling. Their fly balls against lefties are averaging 301.4 feet, second lowest in the game. This is not that far off from their 314.4 feet from 2020, to be sure, but it is certainly not headed in the right direction if they wish to improve upon their slugging totals from a year ago.

     

    Last year, when they did make that optimal contact, their fly balls averaged 425 feet of travel, highest in baseball. This year it’s just 379.5 feet, 25th out of 30 teams.

     

    So far this year lefties have challenged the Twins’ hitters. After staying in the zone just 45.9% of the time in 2020, they are filling it up at a 52.8% clip in 2021, perhaps unafraid of having damage done. Another notable change from last year is how left-handed opponents are using their fastballs against Twins’ hitters. In 2020, they stayed away from the inner-half of the zone (42.7% of fastballs were thrown inner-half, lowest in MLB). This year, they are going inside more often with the fastball (50.3%).

     

    It’s difficult to say anything is really driving this decline in distance. It’s possible that the colder weather is playing a role or the new baseball is shaving off a dozen or so feet. Maybe there is too much topspin on their swing. Or a combination of everything.

     

    It is still early in the season -- one that will hopefully stretch well beyond last year’s parameters -- so most of the results could be attributed to a small sample size. If they continue to hit the ball hard, the extra base hits will surely follow.

     

    But, as Baldelli said, health is the one true wild card for this lineup. With Miguel Sano and Nelson Cruz both ailing and Josh Donaldson seemingly on a knife’s edge with every sprint, the ability to hit the ball hard against left-handed pitching could quickly become an issue.


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    speed off the bat is not the statistic I look to.  Hitting the ball to a defensive player no matter how hard is not good.  MLB batters are supposed to have some control over where they put the ball and I am not seeing anyone but Arraez, Cruz, Simmons, and Buxton so far, searching for hits with their ABs.  Others are still in Bomba heaven.  

    No one wins a game because they had the highest exit velocity or the longest HR.  Hits and runs are the offensive keys. 

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    I agree. Maybe if we can beat the shift once in awhile. I've watched every game. Seems like other teams are able to!? I know I will get pounded for this, but give me a lineup that is top of the league in batting average over a team high in batted balls over 95 mph. Though a good mix would do.

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    Parker, it's your article. Don't be so sensitive. My proposal is to not swing for the fences and move runners over or bring them in. Of course swing with intention, but put ball in play. If the goal as you stated is to only try to hit the ball as hard as possible. Well that will lead to many slumps and ugly at bats. Since ytou are soo smart in some many ways..lol....what is your proposal?

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    Please don't misquote me or puts words in my mouth. Who said aim?....oh you did. Cmon Parker I'd hope you are better than this and watch a game or two. Or as you say in the article "swing as hard as you can.works for Sano"

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    Above all, learn to allow other opinions. Don't be so sensitive about your shortcomings please. Also don't put words in your commenter mouths. Actually read th initial comment. No need to be passive aggressive. I am also entitled to my opinion. No need to try and belittle someone just because they maybe smarter than you.

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    Don't be so sensitive about your shortcomings please.

     

     

    Just making sure you (and others) understand that hitting the ball hard is often a qualifier for getting hits. And getting lots of hits frequently means a high(er) batting average.

     

    For example, the Minnesota Twins have the league's highest percentage of batted balls over 95 mph (43.7%) AND the baseball's fourth highest batting average (.253) right now. 

     

    Pretty crazy considering the bad luck they've had against lefties, huh?

     

    Obviously, and I mentioned this in the article, not every hard hit ball becomes a hit but if you do it consistently over a larger sample size, the results are usually positive.

     

    Your original comment made it sound as if there is a choice between hitting the ball hard and having a high batting average. I guess what I am asking you then is, what do you propose they change? You don't think they are currently trying to hit the ball AT fielders, right? 

     

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    I suggest a more rounded approach as stated earlier. Hard hit, exit velocity, but also going opposite field, hitting behind a runner, shortening a swing with 2 strikes. Hard hit percentage doesn't always equall winning and runs. Ie...6-11. But sometimes as a other, you may want to read comments as we take time to read your article, which I appreciate. Batting average was below .244 going into game by the way when article was written. What do you propose, swinging all out every swing with the idea of only having a top 5 hard hit rate?

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    I suggest a more rounded approach as stated earlier. Hard hit, exit velocity, but also going opposite field, hitting behind a runner, shortening a swing with 2 strikes. Hard hit percentage doesn't always equall winning and runs. Ie...6-11. But sometimes as a other, you may want to read comments as we take time to read your article, which I appreciate. Batting average was below .244 going into game by the way when article was written. What do you propose, swinging all out every swing with the idea of only having a top 5 hard hit rate?

    This sounds like the old "Twins Way" mentality that was preached to every player during the Gardy and Ryan years. Remember how they wanted guys like David Ortiz to hit to the opposite field instead of hitting for power? You can even look at a guy like Buxton who came up to the majors around the end of Gardy and Ryan's tenures. They were coaching him to slap the ball on the ground and try to beat out infield singles. I prefer the current version of Buxton to that version, and I prefer the current organizational philosophy of prioritizing power over hitting to the opposite field.

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    First, I cannot comment on what I have seen because FSN/BSN left HULU and I won't see any games as I refuse to go back to my cable company which had the worst service known to mankind.  I was going to comment, Parker, that I recall prior years where the ball wasn't flying out of Target Field the first month of so of the year, but I see that you have already mentioned that.

    I also want to point out that one of our hard hitters is no longer here, thus, some of these stats were due to change.  Granted, he was a lefty so that wouldn't apply to what the original article was dealing with.

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