Sunday, April 27, 2008

What's Not Working - The Offense

Last year we watched the Twins struggle all year because of an anemic offense. The bats finished third to last in the American League in runs scored (718), and they might have been lucky to finish that high considering that they were second to last in OPS (On-base Plus Slugging). New General Manager Bill Smith responded by overhauling the offense, replacing five of the nine lineup spots with new players.

The result? Would you believe it's worse? As of today, the offense ranks second to last in the American League in runs scored. And their OPS is actually 57 points worse than it was last year. Five of the positions in the lineup rank among the worst in the league at their position:

Right Field – 628 OPS ranks 11th in the AL
Michael Cuddyer has been hurt, so 1/3 of these at-bats went to Denard Span, and while Span might develop into a decent option in center field, he can’t provide the production of a bopper that typically mans right field. It’s also worth noting that while Jason Kubel (who got another 1/3 of the at-bats here) flashed some power in a hot start, he limps into this homestand with a discouraging .259 batting average and a gut-wrenching .281 On-base Percentage (OBP). The only guy who walks less than him with that many at-bats is….

Center Field – 639 OPS ranks 12th in the AL
The popular wisdom after Carlos Gomez remarkable first week with the Twins was that he would struggle at times this season, but he was just such a weapon that he had to be on the roster. We were mostly right. He’s struggling. And he’s a weapon. We’re just not sure for which team.

In 94 AB this season, Gomez has just 2(!) walks, which is why his OBP is just .271. For some context, the average OBP in the AL is .334. The median team OBP of a lead-off hitter is .351. No team has finished with an OBP lower than .286 from their lead-off hitters in this century. This isn’t just bad. This has a chance to be historically bad.

Shortstop – 523 OPS ranks 12th in the AL
To be fair, the Twins basically punted on this position offensively the minute they signed Adam Everett. He’s never been anywhere close to productive offensively but was supposed to be a defensive whiz. With Everett hurt, the at-bats have basically been split between Matt Tolbert and Nick Punto:

Matt Tolbert - 33 AB - 706 OPS
Adam Everett - 27 AB - 437 OP
Nick Punto - 24 AB - 367 OPS

April is hardly the time to panic. But when it is time to panic, this looks like a pretty good place to consider a change.

Third Base – 618 OPS ranks 14th in the AL
Not much is going according to plan for Mike Lamb so far this year. He was wooed by the Twins with promises of getting a chance to bat more versus left-handed pitchers, but so far only had 13 at-bats against them. And he traditionally feasts on right-handed pitchers, but is hitting just .246 against them with very little power. Lamb has had months like this – last May his OPS was just 598 – but it sure would be nice if it didn’t happen in his first month of a multi-year contract with a new team.

Left Field – 600 OPS ranks 14th in the AL
The Twins biggest offseason acquisition has been their biggest disappointment so far. It looks like Delmon Young is trying to work on driving the ball to all fields and control the strike zone, which would be great if it was working. Instead, he’s striking out just as much, walking just as little, hitting 30 points below his career batting average and slugging 100 points worse. And most of that damage has been inflicted immediately following Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau in the lineup.

The good news is that it sure looks like he’s trying to improve, and at 22 years old, he’s got a good chance of eventually making the adjustment that could lead to stardom. But that sure isn’t happening this month, and recently manager Ron Gardenhire has moved him lower in the lineup.


ubelmann said...

The result? Would you believe it's worse?

Yes, this was the warning we were given before the season from the track records of the players involved. Many people were quite dismissive of statistical preseason projections without providing a real basis for why the projections would be biased against the Twins.

Even if you thought that PECOTA was pessimistic (if things continue this way, PECOTA will begin to look optimistic by comparison), the Replacement Level Yankees Weblog took six different projection systems, threw them into Diamond Mind Baseball, and simulated a bunch of seasons. Averaging it all together (before the season started, of course) they came up with an average of 723 runs scored for the Twins. Compared to the 718 runs last year, that's basically the same exact level of offensive ineptitude.

Last April, for instance, they scored about 115 runs, which is just about where they will be at for this April. The offense likely won't stay this bad, since at this rate they'd score more like 600 than 700 runs, but there's no way it's going to be a good offense, and it has very little chance of becoming even an average offense.

That the offense is offensive is not only completely believable--it was completely predictable. We lost our most valuable position player from last year and were banking on all of our top hitters to both be productive and healthy, not to mention big steps forward from a pair of 22-year-olds. This is not the stuff that sure-fire improvement plans are made from.

DAM--DC Twins Fan said...

Remember Cuddyer who was batting clean-up before he was hurt missed over half the games. Offense will get better--Cuddyer will be healthy--Delmon will adjust to new team.

Key question is will starting pitching produce quality starts that do not overtax the pen.


TT said...

As a practical matter, less than a month of the season is over. The Twins went 10-15 in their last 25 games last year. So compared to last fall, they are actually doing better.

I don't know that the current numbers have much meaning except that it is not an auspicious start. And that is hardly limited to their hitting. Only two AL teams have given up more runs per game than the Twins.