How the Twins' Offense Has Turned Itself Around
Being a Minnesota Twins fan requires a disgusting amount of patience. I mean, heck, the name of our numberFire season preview for the team was "Waiting for Buxton." The team's last trip to the World Series was 1991 (my birth year for gosh sakes), and their last trip past the ALDS was 2002. It's been a while.
This season, though, a strange thing has happened. This pain-staking patience has seeped from the fans and straight into the veins of the players. It's kind of like Spiderman 3 where the venom suit takes over Topher Grace's body. I'm just hoping Jason Kubel isn't as big of a d-bag as Grace's character.
The Twins are drawing walks at a rate higher than any other team in the majors, including the Moneyball-afficionados Oakland and Tampa Bay. And, shockingly, it's working. The team entered play Wednesday third in the league in runs scored per game, trailing the Chicago White Sox and the Los Angeles Angels. This is the same team that finished 25th in the league last year and 13th in the AL in runs. It's mind-boggling.
It should be noted that all of this production is without the regular production of my boo, Joe Mauer. Mauer has just a .304 wOBA and a strikeout percentage of 26.7, which is 9.2 percent higher than any other season in his MLB career. Mauer's line-drive percentage is still a solid 28.3, so he should be fine. But the team's production without Mauer doing Mauer things is even more intriguing.
If you were to simplify the Twins' turn-around in one phrase, it would be this: they've stopped swinging the bat. The Twins have the lowest swing percentage of any team in the majors at 39.5 percent. The Blue Jays are second at 41.3, and the league median is 45.4. Last year, the lowest total was the Red Sox at 43.7.
This strategy isn't just on pitches outside the zone, but those that are strikes as well. The Twins do lead the league on swings at pitches outside the zone (24.1), but they also have the lowest swing percentage on strikes (57.9). They have kept the bat on their shoulders, and it has worked.
This is all almost as if the team has taken Mauer and cloned him, making 12 little, gorgeous on-base machines. From the start of his career in 2004 to now, Mauer has the eighth-lowest swing percentage of anybody in the major leagues at 37.4. This has resulted in three batting titles and a career on-base percentage of .404. He ranked first last year in swing percentage and third the year before that.
One possible strategy that may be mildly analogous to this is one you see in college basketball. As a Northwestern Wildcats fan, I have seen my share of poor offenses. How do those poor offenses keep themselves in games? They slow the pace down and limit the sample size of a game. It restricts the advantage the other team has over you. For a batter, if you can't make good contact with a pitch (which is probably true for a good chunk of the Twins batters), why not limit the sample size of balls that you swing at? That's beyond the obvious advantages of making the opposing hurler throw additional pitches and waiting until they make a mistake.
When your team struggles as much offensively as the Twins did last year, sometimes you have to get creative. That's what they've done. Now, the question is whether the team can keep this patience up and force their way on base at a rate high enough to keep their run production where it has been. Now, if they can convince opposing teams to stop beating the living poo out of their starting pitching, then, my friends, they may exceed some expectations.