Thursday, April 19, 2007

Power and Inconsistency

The offensive show the Twins have put on in their series against the Mariners has the Twins’ in the middle of an offensive upspring after a slow start to the season. And when the Piranhas are biting, Mauer and Morneau are emulating the original M&M boys and Cuddyer and Hunter have broken out their boom sticks, the Twins’ offense seems unstoppable. And yet, despite that aura, just like last year, the offensive can quickly lose it’s potency, something the team demonstrated when it started out the season by scoring only 23 runs in their first seven games.

So what’s the problem? Why were the Twins the only team in the top half of the Majors in runs scored to have an equal number of games where they scored between four and seven runs and where they scored three or less? Counting the three Twins’ playoff games, they had a bad offensive game (less than three runs) more often than they had a good offensive game (between 4-7 runs). There were eleven teams that scored three or less runs in more games than the Twins. Not one of them finished better than 18th in runs scored.

Those teams all had a lot of offensive issues, unlike the Twins, who lead the Majors in batting average, were eighth in on base percentage and were seventeenth in slugging, all respectable showings. And seventeenth isn’t that bad when you consider that the offense depended on four players with sub .400 slugging percentages. The effect of those players, however, becomes clearer when you look at isolated power, a metric for power that factors out singles.

And in isolated power, the Twins’ true offensive deficiency becomes clear. As a team, they had all the power of the computer nerds ruining baseball, finishing in second to last, with an isolated power of .138, ahead of only the Pirates. Not at all surprising considering how many at bats the homerless Jason Tyner received (not to mention Punto, Castillo and Bartlett).

Therein lies the Twins’ problem and the source of their inconsistency, both this year and last year. Intuitively, it makes sense, as well. Without power, runs are harder to come by, as a team needs to hit more singles it score than it would doubles or home runs. So when the Twins were stringing together single after single and consequently are leading the league in average, they were eighth in runs scored. This year, with Punto and Bartlett starting slowly, they’re only ninth in average and consequently, fifteenth in runs.

That drop demonstrates the danger in an offense that relies too much on batting average due to its lack of power. If the Twins can’t duplicate their team average of 2006, their offense of 2007 is going to be worse. And how likely is it that Joe Mauer is going to once again hit for an average few catchers have ever obtained? Or that Nick Punto is going to duplicate a year where his average was 34 points higher than his career mark? The same type of questions can be asked about Justin Morneau, Jason Tyner and Jason Bartlett.

All of this goes to show that the problem with Piranhas as predators is that it takes the entire school to strip all the meat off. If only one or two are biting, then they only inflict flesh wounds. And if the Twins’ Piranhas aren’t able to duplicate their 2006 averages, then the little bites that they do take out of opposing pitchers will be too infrequent to do any real damage. At that point, the offense will go from “inconsistent” to “awful”, if those bites are infrequent enough. If you have any trouble remembering what that’s like, just think back to 2005, when the Twins were last in Isolated Power, 23rd in average and 25th in average. And then start praying that all the Piranhas continue biting.


Anonymous said...

well said... I for one am REAL nervous about Punto in 2007. Tyner, on the other hand, looks like he could linger in the .270-.290 range this season -- but how does he get the playing time?

JimCrikket said...

Very legitimate points. I think, however, that the hope (and at this point, that's all it really is) is that White and Kubel will supplement the power produced by Mauer, Cuddyer, Morneau and Hunter more so than they (or anyone else) did last year.

If they do, that puts legitimate extra base threats in the 7th and 8th spots in the order many games. Of course, if the two of them end up platooning, it only adds one such threat.