"Let us go forth a while, and get better air in our lungs. Let us leave our closed rooms...
The game of ball is glorious."

--Walt Whitman

Friday, May 27, 2005

See Ball, Hit Ball

"They couldn't break a chandelier if they had batting practice in a hotel lobby."
--Bill Lee, in reference to the Anaheim Angels

Woo-hoo!, we thought, coming into the season. This year we've got Jacque Jones to smack the ball to right, Shannon Stewart to smack the ball to left and center, Joe Mauer to smack the ball all over the field, and Justin Morneau to reduce the ball to its component atoms. We've also got Torii Hunter's 20+ homers, Lew Ford's signature doubles, a third baseman whose sporadic hot streaks are positively scorching, and a rookie shortstop who hit .332/.417/.892 in AAA last year. It's gonna be a great year!

Well, hell, we think now. What happened?

Are they just plain not hitting? They're hitting .270 as a team, actually. Not the best in the league, but in the top half. The team with the best record in the league, the despicable Whine Sox, are hitting only .251. But batting average, as we all know, is a deeply flawed measure of offensive performance. Let's dig deeper...

AL Avg417136462162236141.327.738
AL Best465171712663727198.359.829
AL Worst 38110327180949108.295.664

I've highlighted the categories in which the Twins dip below the league average. One thing becomes immediately apparent--our boys are hitting, and walking, but they're not hitting for extra bases and the double plays are killing them. Note that they are the league worst in hitting into double plays. 49 extra outs in 46 games, my friends. Ouch.

Now, let's examine the same stats, but only for situations with runners on. They're still getting all those singles and walks--what's happening afterward?

AL Avg1886121191223669.349.780
AL Best22679332393727106.397.877
AL Worst 151471314594951.293.671

GDP, predictably, remains the same, as does SAC. Both require runners on. This time I'm calling out the categories where the Twins are above average. Note that the Twins lead the league in OBP with runners on. That does not sound like a team with offensive woes, does it? But too many of their extra-base hits (including homers) are coming with bases empty, and of course the double plays are still a serious concern. Additionally, the walks, which will only rarely cause a run to score directly, inflate the team OBP. Still, how does a team that gets more hits, walks and sacrifices than the norm with runners on have such difficulty scoring, even with a rash of double plays?

The simple answer is, they may be moving the runners along, but they're just not bringing them home. They are particularly inept with bases loaded. Only one team has had more bases-loaded at bats than Minnesota's 55. Of those 55, the Twins have squeaked out ten hits, 3 walks, and four sac flies, for 31 runs. Sound good? Consider that there were 165 baserunners involved in those at-bats, and only 31 scored. We've got ourselves a 18.8% success rate. Ouch, again.

Obviously, it's easiest to score with a runner on third. But I found something very interesting when I looked a little more closely at the Twins performance with the coveted runner 90 feet away. With bases loaded, which includes a runner on third, we have the 18.8% success rate. With runners on second and third only, it rises to 30.1%. With runners on the corners, it jumps to 40.6%. With a runner on third only, it soars to a mind-boggling 86.4%.

Shouldn't it be easier to score runs with the bases loaded? Or with two in scoring position? Especially when your team is having a hard time hitting anything but singles? The simple answer is yes, it should. But it isn't. Not for these Twins.

Is it the pressure? Are they swinging too hard, or too early? Are they too desperate to impress? Are they too afraid of failure? Is it just bad luck that will even out as the season goes on?

I wish I knew.

2 rejoinders:

SBG sounded off...

A three run double every now and again would be nice, wouldn't it.

TwinsJunkie sounded off...

I vote for the luck that will even out.