Despite owning a 25-21 record, Rocco Baldelli’s team is seen to be even better by using the Pythagorean win-loss evaluation. With 217 runs scored and 172 runs allowed, their record could be as strong as 28-18, which would put them comfortably ahead of the competition. Although that evaluation is reflective of only actual results, it’s hard to overlook the missed opportunities for Minnesota.
A season ago it seemed that the Twins struggled mightily with runners in scoring position. They had a slash line of .244/.319/.385 which produced a .704 OPS. That came in nearly 40 points lower than the league average .741 OPS and was a big reason why the club could seemingly never came back from deficits. They weren’t much better with the bases loaded, producing a .716 OPS in comparison to the .758 league average, but they’d beg for those numbers in 2023.
Through the first 47 games this season, the Twins are an astounding 5-for-43 with the bases loaded, and have produced a paltry .289 OPS in those spots. Not a single batter has recorded an extra-base hit, and Twins hitters have an 13/4 K/BB in those spots. With a league average .737 OPS when the bases are loaded, it’s hard to quantify just how terrible Minnesota has been.
What makes things a bit more puzzling is that Minnesota’s struggle seem to be isolated just to when the sacks are full. If there are runners in scoring position, essentially keeping first base free, the Twins shine. Their .871 OPS in those scenarios is more than 100 points better than the .749 league average. Converting runners on second and third base is how teams build leads, but the Twins apparently don’t want to just blow things open.
When discussing high leverage the term clutch is often mentioned. That’s a difficult term to put into numbers, but Baseball Reference does so by looking into win probability added and assessing situations. With two outs and runners in scoring position the Twins have a ridiculous .952 OPS this year. They have clubbed 25 extra-base hits in those spots with 12 of them being home runs. That number is more than 200 points above the league average .735 OPS and shows they can get the job done when an inning is on the line.
It’s hard to believe just how bad Minnesota is with an extra runner on, and it’s worth wondering if the pitcher is more locked in with nowhere to put the batter. The Twins are even worse when they have more leeway afforded to themselves. With no outs and the bases full, they are a stunning 0-for-7. With one out they are 2-for-12, and with two outs they are just 3-for-24.
At some point it would stand to reason that positive regression can come from Minnesota. After all, it’s unlikely that a good team performs so poorly in key spots over the course of a full season. What is concerning though, is that the approach for many Twins batters trends towards a negative outcome in big spots. Only the Giants and Mariners strike out at a higher clip than Minnesota, and the Twins 12.8% whiff rate is the highest in baseball. If pitchers know they can get the ball by Baldelli’s hitters when it matters most, avoiding damage is easier to do.
Clearly manufacturing runs is not the problem for Minnesota given their results with runners in scoring position. They shouldn’t be looking to chip away at bases loaded opportunities by opting for sacrifice bunts. Instead, players that come up have to be looking for an opportunity to put the ball in play and generate action rather than clearing the bases altogether.
There is no greater opportunity to blow a game open than when you have an opposing pitcher on the ropes. This season we have watched Minnesota allow the opposition to escape jams and keep games close more times than anyone wants to count. Flipping more of those scenarios in a positive manner will undoubtedly lead to tallies in the win column, and if it’s a trend that can be ended quickly, there’s still plenty of runway to benefit for the rest of the year.
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