Walking and Winning


The brutal start to the Twins 2011 season continued today as the Twins suffered a humiliating 10-5 loss at the hands of the Royals. Francisco Liriano looked good, but many of the baseballs hit by the other team ‘had eyes’ which led to an ugly 6-run 4th inning and Liriano’s day was done after a leadoff walk in the 6th. The Twins managed to put up a crooked number in the 5th inning, but finished the game with only 5 runs marking the 11th time in 11 games that they’ve failed to score more than 5.

I work a day job, and I also happen to be my company’s social-media expert so I spend a lot of time on Twitter during the day. Over the past few days my Twins-related Tweets have turned decidedly negative as I see less and less to be excited about with regards to the team. The pitching is there, the bullpen has been better than expected so far, but the offense has be absolutely dismal. Here’s a little perspective on how dismal it’s been.

These stats are all through 10 games, doesn’t include today’s loss:

76 hits – (25th in MLB, two of the teams with fewer hits have played 1 less game)

14 Doubles – (24th in MLB)

3 HRs – (30th in MLB)

28 Runs – (30th in MLB)

22 Walks – (30th in MLB)

.33 K/BB – (29th in MLB)

.228 Team Average – (25th in MLB)

.279 Team OBP – (29th in MLB)

.296 Team SLG% – (30th in MLB)

49.8 GB% – (5th highest in MLB)

Listing all of those stats off is, frankly, embarrassing as a fan. If you put the team’s offensive performance in terms of WAR (wins above replacement-level), they’re worth -0.6 as a team…I’ll let that sink in. I think the stat that gives me the most pause is that the Twins, a normally patient and discerning bunch of hitters, have taken the fewest walks and have the 2nd worst BB/K ratio in Major League Baseball. A casual fan might dismiss the walk as relatively unimportant, but it’s importance cannot be understated, especially when you’re not hitting.

I went back and looked at the stats since 2008 to see which teams drew the most walks over that period of time. I was not so surprised to find that the Rays (1,971), Red Sox (1,937) and Yankees (1,890) have drawn the most, and teams like the Astros (1,336), Mariners (1,340) and Royals (1,361) have drawn the least. The Twins are 13th on that list. My main point here is that the teams who’ve drawn the most walks have, in general, had a vast amount of success over the last 3 years and the teams who’ve drawn the least have, in general, been terrible. Plate discipline does play into team success.

Even in terms of their own recent team history the Twins have been exceedingly impatient at the plate so far this year, striking out three times as often as they’ve walked. Twins’ hitters have had a full-count in 50 plate-appearances so far this year and in 10 of those PAs, they’ve walked, in 12 of those PAs they’ve struck-out and in the other 28 PAs they have a combined batting average of .152 (6 hits).

Here’s another one that will blow you away… after 0-1 counts, Twins hitters have worked a walk 2 times, struck out 41 times and have managed to get a hit only 34 times. Even in 2-1 counts, they’ve struck out more times (14) than they’ve walked (8).  Part of me wants to chalk it up to some good pitchers they’ve faced (Ricky Romero, Kyle Drabek, CC Sabathia, Brett Anderson, Gio Gonzalez) but the reality is that they’ve faced some average and below-average pitchers too (Francis and Davies most recently) so the whole “they’ve faced some good pitchers” argument doesn’t really hold a lot of water.

I’m not really sure why we’re seeing such impatience by the Twins but it could be that as this whole-team offensive funk has progressed, they’ve started to press at the plate. Last year’s team drew the 8th most walks in the Majors and were tied for the best BB/K ratio at 0.58. I guess I take a little solace in the fact that not many of the main components from last year’s team have changed, this year’s lineup is more or less similar to last year’s. Perhaps it is just an early season funk and the Twins will snap out of it, who knows. What I’m suggesting is that when you’re slumping, a little plate discipline wouldn’t hurt. Seeing more pitches and having the pitcher on the mound throw a few more pitches both usually lead to good things offensively and can help guys get “out of their heads” a little. I’m guessing that when we start to see Twins hitters work a few more walks, the offense will come around shortly thereafter, which will hopefully lead to some winning baseball.