We are now 42 games into the regular season, so now is a good time to check in and see how the team is doing. First I’ll examine the offense, then the pitching in an upcoming post.
The Twins made a number of moves to improve their lineup in the offseason, aimed at boosting the poor production they got from the middle infield in 2009 and improving their bench. They traded for J.J. Hardy, signed Orlando Hudson, and brought in their old nemesis Jim Thome. Obviously, these moves were not without risk. Hardy was coming off of a rough 2009 season in which he had been demoted in favor of Alcides Escobar, and the Twins sacrificed a young defensive whiz with the potential to develop some pop in Carlos Gomez. Orlando Hudson looked to be a solid signing at just , but the Thome deal was a head-scratcher. What would a team with a heavily left-handed lineup, including two of the best left-handed hitters in the game,need with another lefty power bat? Especially one that should never, ever, ever, play the field, even in an emergency. And while he had been productive in the first half of 2009 for the White Sox, players of Ol’ Jim Jam’s body type and skill set (lots of power, not much speed) tend to fall off a cliff pretty quickly at his age, and there was good reason to think that’s what happened in L.A. (he batted just .235/.235/.235 in 17 plate appearances for the Dodgers). And, let’s face it, whenever the Twins have added an aging veteran at a bargain price, it has never worked out well (Ruben Sierra, anyone?) So, how have these moves worked out so far? Is Bill Smith an idiot, or a genius? Find out, after the jump.
First, let’s look at the offense as a whole. Right now, the Twins are batting .279/.355/.423 with a .778 OPS. Their .346 weighted on-base average is ranked 3rd in the AL (behind the Yankees and Red Sox, of course), and 6th in all of MLB. Their 0.76 BB/K ratio is the best in all of baseball, well ahead of the second-place White Sox’s (!) 0.68 mark. That’s right, our Twins are walking more and striking out less than the two of the most patient lineups in the entire league: Boston (whose 0.58 BB/K ratio is good enough for 4th place) and 3rd-place New York (0.67). They’ve got some power too, with a .147 ISO and 38 home runs. So overall, production has not been much of a problem for this particular group. They’ve scored 209 runs thus far, despite their well-publicized struggles with runners in scoring position (the Twins are batting just .277/.376/.399 with RISP).
As for the new guys, they’ve all been doing pretty well. Hardy has been on the disabled list with a bruised wrist since May 5, and he was batting just .250/.299/.400 before that. That isn’t much of an improvement out of what the Twins got out of their shortstop position last year (Twins’ shortstops hit a combined .261/.307/.372). However, his 13.3 UZR/150 at short (perhaps the most accurate measure of defense over small sample sizes) makes up for his pretty average bat, and is a marked improvement over the Twins’ -1.4 mark last year.
Orlando Hudson, batting .293/.373/.378, has been as good as advertised: an on-base machine with almost no power and well-above average defense (his 17.4 UZR/150 mark is, without looking, the best for a Twins’ second baseman this decade). This is a vast improvement over the automatic outs the Twins trotted out at second last year; namely Brendan Harris, Nick Punto, and Alexi Casilla, whose combined .208/.299/.266 line was only better than the Giants’ second basemen last year.
Jim Thome has been a pleasant surprise. Well, as much as a guy with a career .277/.404/.556 line and 569 home runs can ever be a surprise, I guess. Far from being a washed-up shell of his former self, Jimmers is batting .241/.368/.494 and has a realistic shot at surpassing Harmon Killebrew as the franchise all-time home run leader. Of course, a lot of this is due to the fact that Ron Gardenhire has been using him properly. It’s no secret that Thome cannot hit left-handed pitching anymore, slugging just .431 against southpaws compared to .621 against righties. By sitting him against lefty starters and starting him at DH against righties, Gardy has been getting the most out of the 39 year-old slugger.
It is interesting to note that despite all of their efforts to improve the lineup, the Twins are still hitting about as well as they did last year. Last season, the Twins finished with a .274/.345/.429 line and 0.57 BB/K ratio. Their isolated power was actually a bit higher, at .155, and their 172 home runs set a franchise single-season record. This is probably because, although the Twins on the whole have been getting better production from the perennially-underperforming Delmon Young, other key contributors are struggling. Jason Kubel is batting just .220/.336/.322, and Michael Cuddyer is currently in a bit of a slump as well. Even Denard Span hasn’t been quite the ideal leadoff hitter he’s been in the past, though his .279/.369/.378 line isn’t terrible. With so many regulars in a slump, it’s little wonder the Twins have had so much trouble with runners in scoring position.
If the team does have any real weaknesses, it is at third base. Nick Punto is a steady defender, with a 34.7 UZR/150 so far this year, but he cannot hit, batting just .232/.275/.305 in 92 plate appearances. However, the free agent and trade market for third basemen is pretty thin, so it’s unlikely the Twins will find a suitable upgrade outside the organization. More likely, either Danny Valencia or Luke Hughes (who did a good job filling in for Punto when he was on the DL, but is now on the DL himself with a strained hip flexor) will get the call. However, since the lineup is good enough to sacrifice a little offense for defense, it is unlikely either will get called up before the organization feels they are ready.