Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Who sucks, why, and what can we expect? (hitters edition)

There's a lot of things wrong with the Twins' offense so far, clearly, and since I'm prone to overreaction I'm basically in full on panic mode.  Ok, not really.  But the Twins have definitely sucked.  Perhaps we should look into this.

Let me warn you right here:  if you think discussions about swing rates and ground ball ratios are boring you should just check out now because we're going to dig into this on a player-by-player basis.  If K-rate, chase percentage, and BABIP are things you either don't understand, are scared of, or just plain hate you should leave at just go look at boobies.  Now for the rest of you poindexters who stuck around, let's get out our abaci and our protractors and hunker down in mom's basement and see what we see.  All stats as of April 12, pre-game time.  All nerd stats from fangraphs.

Joe Mauer (.233/.303/.267) - No real secret here, but his numbers are low because his Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABIP) is low, but that's because he's hitting almost exclusively ground balls so far this year.  His 80% ground ball rate is the highest in all of baseball, while his 4.0% line drive rate puts him at 209th out of 213 players who qualify for the batting title.

His swing rates, contact rates, and walk rates are generally around his career averages so it doesn't appear anything has changed as far as his approach, which is good, but there is one interesting anomaly.  Of the pitches thrown to him so far this year, 14.8% of them have been curveballs which is almost double what he's seen in his career, and that's the pitch he has the most trouble with according to the numbers (other than a cutter which you don't see as often).  Could just be a weird blip due to early season pitching match-ups, but could be the league has identified something.  It's probably meaningless, but it's worth watching.

Justin Morneau (.258/.303/.355) - Interesting to note that he's not hitting with power (his current ISO - which measures power without regard to batting average - would be bar far the lowest of his career) and he's also not striking out at all - just  once this year with one of the lowest K% in the entire league.  He's also not walking at anywhere near his usual pace.  This can be traced to the fact that he's making contact nearly every time he swings the bat - currently at 87.5% contact rate, a career high and 10% higher than his career average.

The real issue, though, is how often he's making contact when he chases - 85.0%, up from 68.1% last year.  He's seeing fewer pitches in the zone, and although he is chasing less than last year when he does chase he's making contact far more often, and unless you're Kirby Puckett, Yogi Berra, or Vlad Guerrero it's much harder to make solid contact when you're going after a bad pitch.  I haven't noticed if he's taking weaker swings at bad pitches simply to make contact, but it's something I'll be watching.  I suspect he just needs to get back to unleashing on every swing - his misses will go up, but so will his power and his walks.  That's what the Twins need.  Assuming his brain is working ok and will allow that to happen.

Delmon Young (.188/.212/.219) - Similar to Mauer he's not getting any hits because he's not hitting any line drives, just 8.0% so far.  Dissimilar to Mauer his balls in play aren't limited to grounders because he's hitting both fly balls and ground balls, but none of the GBs are getting through and none of the FBs are going anywhere, thus the lack of both hits and power.  Despite his swing and contact rates remaining relatively similar to last year he's actually striking out more and walking less, which I didn't think was possible.  Of note is that out of every five pitches Young sees only two of them are in the strike zone.  Pitchers know he'll chase so they aren't giving him anything to hit.  If his approach doesn't change it's going to be a tough year.

Denard Span (.286/.342/.400) - maybe the only player on the entire roster who hasn't been an offensive disappointment.  Worth noting is that is walk rate is just 7.9%, down from last year which was down from the year prior and down from the year prior.  Bizarrely, as the years have gone by he seems to be seeing more pitches in the strike zone, but swinging at fewer strikes and more balls with his swing % at balls outside the zone at a career high.  His numbers have the potential to get even better if he can recapture some of his plate patience he showed earlier in his career because the balls he does hit he's hitting much better and much harder.  Perhaps that's what he needs to break through the "slightly above average lead-off hitter" he's been for his career.  Also needed:  less getting picked off.

Danny Valencia (.194/.265/.290) -  Nothing in Valencia's numbers suggests any kind of regression from last year.  His swing and contact rates are similar and if anything he's showing improved plate patience.  His line drive, ground ball, and fly ball rates are also all right where you'd expect.  The only big difference is a huge drop in BABIP from .345 last year to .200 this year.  While .345 means he was a little bit lucky last year, the .200 (with the rest of the numbers basically the same) means he's been tremendously unlucky this year.  No worries about Valencia, he's going to be fine. 

Jason Kubel (.300/.323/.367) -  The .300 average looks nice but there are some pretty big red flags here.  First, his BABIP is .391 even though his line drive rate is currently at a career low mark of 17.4% - that's a whole lot of luck coming into play.  Second, the complete lack of power is disturbing, as are the zero walks.

Two things Kubel has always been able to bring to the table, even when struggling, are his power and his plate patience and now they're both gone?  His double tonight is just his third this year and he's still looking for that first home run.  Based on his career averages he should have triple the XBH by now.  And the walks?  He's been solidly right at a 10% or so walk rate his whole career, and now nothing?  He's being extra aggressive for some reason this year with rises in his swing rates at both balls in the zone and out of it and it's translating into no walks.  I don't know why he's suddenly trying to become Delmon Young, but this shit better stop or I'm burning my Kubel shirt.  Don't change who you are when it's (at least sort of) working.

Mike Cuddyer (.107/.194/.107) -  He's 3-3 tonight with three singles so that will help the average number at least.  That's not all that concerning because with a BABIP of just .136 you know his average is going to come up significantly, but I'm not so sure what's going on with the slap hitting nancy routine.  His contact rates are mostly similar, so it's not that he's changed his approach, but for some reason he's swinging about 7% less on balls in the strike zone, and making contact about 2% less that usual.  It's almost as if while Kubel is getting more aggressive and getting away from his strength, Cuddyer is trying to be more patient which goes away from his.

Similar to Mauer, he's seen a huge increase in curve balls so far this year (from 8.2% career average to 16.2% this year) which leads me to believe this whole curve ball thing is nothing more than statistical noise due to seeing a higher percentage than average of curve ball pitchers so far, but it's worth noting that, again similar to Mauer, Cuddy always struggles against curves, so maybe things turn around when pitch mixes return to more standard levels.

The one impressive thing about his season is no matter how shitty it is, Cuddy has managed to keep his streak of being quoted in every single Twins article ever since he arrived in the big leagues intact.  Seriously, every article.  Guy's a bigger media whore than Chuck Sheen.

Jim Thome (.167/.250/.444) -  It doesn't really matter to me what the numbers would say about Thome, I'm not going to worry about him unless I start seeing signs of aging, like not being able to catch up to a fastball or not being able to sustain an erection.  At this point his 9.1% line drive rate and 63.5% fly ball rate are both really awful numbers and are leading to his piss poor BABIP of .200.  He's not punishing fast balls the way he usually does, but really right now he's not punishing anything (except that pitch from poor Jerry Blevins) so we really don't have enough data.  Kept a sharp eye on which pitches Thome is hitting hard to know what to expect the rest of the year, like the 80 mph change he just hit off Tim Collins for a single, that's the kind of pitch an old man who can't catch up to a fastball will crush.  Not saying that's him, but it's something to watch.

Alexi Casilla (.167/.211/.278) -  His BABIP is just .200, which would make you think his performance is bound to get better just due to luck, but he doesn't walk (ever), he has no power (ever), and, get ready for this one.....he hasn't hit a single line drive all year.  Basically all he does is bound the ball into the ground and hope to god he finds a hole (not dissimilar to Chuck Sheen) or hits the ball so shittily he can use his alleged speed to get on base.  I guess.  I don't know.  I don't even get this guy.  I think I'd rather have Punto back.  Or Denny Hocking.  Or Jeff Reboulet.  At least he had a mustache.  I'm tired and drunk.

And that's the end. I think what we can really take out of this is that this team sucks.  Or, this team has seen a lot of curveballs and they can't hit them.  Of the starters they've faced Ivan Nova, A.J. Burnett, Gio Gonzalez, Brett Anderson, and Brandon McCarthy are all big curve guys, with Burnett, Gonzalez, and McCarthy among the league leaders in % of pitches thrown that are curves.  I'm not sure what that means.  Probably something.


Lost reader said...

This blog sucks. Why? You haven't been funny since 2009.

WWWWWW said...

I think you're confused, I've never been funny.

Chri534 said...

I enjoyed the article. Then again, I've never read anything else by you. I only came here because I followed the link in The Morning Bark. But any article that mentions Kirby and is also anti-Alexi is good in my book. The Denny Hocking reference pretty much sums up my feelings on that whole thing.

Now write up something about why the Twins should sign Bonderman. What? I'm the only one who wants that? Oh well, I'm not changing my mind and you can't make me.

Anonymous said...

I think the Twins will eventually hit but I do believe that both Mauer and Moreanu are two of the
most overrated hitters in baseball. We need someone like Dan Gladden to plant his foot up these guys' butts and get in their face. One more thing: when are the Twins ever going to rid themselves of Scott Baker? He has stunk for years now and he still is on the roster.

Anonymous said...

I'm embarrassed to say that statistics / sabremetrics scare the bejesus out of me. I'm just not smart, I guess.

That being said, I read this entry in its entirety and laughed while doing so--some at my own stupidity but mostly at your jokes. So, well done, DWG.

Also, please GOD, I need Delmon to do well this season. He'll get better, right? Right?