Last night, the Twins notched 14 hits, including 3 homers, took 3 walks and landed two men on base through a Tigers error on their way to a 9-3 victory over Detroit.
They also left 8 men on base, which is fine when you get 19 runners. It is not fine when you get, say, 10 runners and a double play, which is what happened to the Twins with stunning regularity all season. Hitting isn't enough (and they didn't exactly do a crapload of hitting to begin with); you have to bring the runners home.
Let's take a gander at some numbers (rankings are AL only, so it's #th out of 14, and BR=baserunners) for the season thus far:
Please note that BR and therefore LOB does not include runners who reached on an error--I wasn't able to locate that stat and I'm not about comb through every last box score to find them all!
Now, the major components of run production are 1) getting runners on, 2) advancing runners around the bases and 3) preserving baserunners until they can score. Hits and walks get runners on. Extra-base hits greatly increase your chances of scoring by simultaneously creating and advancing runners. Stolen bases advance runners, while strikeouts generally do not, and double plays and getting caught stealing eliminate runners already present.
Note that the Twins are about average in walks, strikeouts and total baserunners, but lagging badly in hits and extra-base hits. They've been simply atrocious about grounding into double plays. They're getting a lot of stolen bases, but offsetting them with far too many failed attempts. The combination of too few baserunners and too few means of advancing them has caused our boys to strand more of their runners than any other AL team.
I knew just from watching this season that we'd be near the bottom, but seeing that "14th" pop up still made me cringe.
Some would say (and I'm inclined to agree) that the best way to win a game is to start out right. Here are the first inning run-production numbers:
Hmmm. Interesting. The first thing that grabs me is the lack of strikeouts, but then I remember that our 1-3 hitters usually include Stewart and Mauer, and all becomes clear. Our stolen base success ratio is abysmal in the first inning; that sure doesn't help, nor do all those [censored] double plays. They do take a lot of walks, but again--Stewart, Mauer, 'nuff said. Otherwise, the first inning comes out looking very similar to the overall performance.
One area the Twins have had a lot of success is in extra innings. They have more extra-inning appearances than any other AL team, and have won almost 2/3 of them. The staff ERA of 2.89 in extras certainly has something to do with that, but you still have to score some runs. Did the Twins do a better job of moving and scoring their baserunners, or are we looking at a situation where the excellent pitching held down the opposition long enough for the bats to finally do something?
Don't read too much into some of these rankings--keep in mind they had more chances than anyone else! But I have to say, having your walks total more than half your hits is impressive--unless of course you choose to fault the hitting rather than praise the walking.
The LOB % is what we're really concerned with here. On the one hand, they're doing a lot less of it than many other teams in extra innings. On the other, they're doing more of it than they do in regulation, and they've been really bad in regulation. I'm inclined to call it a wash--the other team's pitching staff is bearing down harder, and so are our hitters, but not to any significant extent. The majority of the praise for our extra-inning successes will have to go to our pitchers.
So what's the core problem, here? I think it comes back to fundamentals.
- Know when to swing and when to take a ball.
- Remember that the hitter's first duty with runner(s) on and less than 2 outs is to advance the runner(s). Reaching base himself should be of secondary concern.
- Correctly identify stealing opportunities, and know how to capitalize.
While we'd all like to see them reduce their caught-stealing incidents, that's the least of their worries now. The first fundamental is probably the most important for these Twins, who have as a group been swinging at lousy pitches with wild abandon all season. The second is vital, too--swinging for the fences when you're no home-run hitter (and most of these boys are no home-run hitters) is counterproductive to the point of idiocy. I laud their desire to come through for the team, but I deplore the means many of them choose.
I wonder if Paul Molitor would like to hang around after spring training next year?