The Twins were bad at a lot of things last year, but one underachievement really stands out. The team was 13th in the American League in on-base percentage with a laughable .306 mark. Only the Seattle Mariners (who play at Safeco Field and use whiffle bats) were worse. The .306 figure was the worst for Minnesota since the strike-addled 1981 season. And it came just one season after the Twins placed second in the AL with a respectable .341 OBP.
Last year’s squad was filled with on-base-challenged players. The lack of base runners was a significant factor in the Twins’ failure to score runs and thus, to win games. Fortunately, it looks like the numbers will improve big time in 2012.
First, let’s grimace at how bad the story was in 2011. In the modern MLB, a .300 OBP is pretty much a bare minimum for an everyday player. Ideally, if a player can’t get on base 30% of the time, he should never stay in the Majors long enough to reach 100 PAs, unless he is an Ozzie-Smith-Level defensive superstar. The Twins had not one, not two, but nine players with at least 100 plate appearances who failed to achieve a .300 OBP, and none of them were Ozzies. In descending order, they were: Danny Valencia (.294), Luke Hughes (.288), Justin Morneau (.285), Tsuyoshi Nishioka (.278), Rene Tosoni (.275), Jason Repko (.270), Matt Tolbert (.252), Rene Rivera (.211), and Drew Butera (.210). The Twins finished with the worst record in the AL, while the League Champion Texas Rangers had ZERO players with 100 PAs and an OBP under .300. Somehow, I don’t think that was a coincidence.
Okay, that was depressing. But the good news is that the on-base situation is virtually guaranteed to get better in 2012. Here’s why:
Some of the worst offenders are gone.
Tolbert and Repko will not play for the Twins this year. Rivera was re-signed as a minor league free agent, but he is not likely to see significant time in the 2012 lineup. Butera might not either, now that Ryan Doumit has been signed as the backup catcher. Delmon Young finished his Twins season over .300 (.305), but he was an on-base derelict his entire time in Minnesota. Now the Tigers are the ones who’ll have to worry about that.
All of Terry Ryan’s new offensive acquisitions can get on base.
Say what you will about Jamey Carroll‘s age, the man is an on-base machine. His OBP has topped .350 in five of the last six seasons. In 2010, it was a stellar .379. Carroll’s presence near the top of the order will be a big boost. Doumit will also help. He got on base at a .353 rate last year. True, his career mark is only .334, but that’s still more than .120 points higher than the combined production of Butera and Rivera. Finally, Josh Willingham brings a career .361 OBP to Minnesota. His 2010 OBP was .389.
If I didn’t know any better, I’d be tempted to conclude that Terry Ryan watched Moneyball in the theater this offseason and took some very detailed notes. But seeing as how Ryan was the guy whose team beat the Moneyball A’s, he probably already knew the story.
Some players should improve their OBP because they’re naturally better than that.
Valencia may not be Jamey Carroll, but you can’t judge him by his 2011 OBP alone. In the minor leagues, he was consistently around the .350 level, and his .351 in the Majors in 2011 confirmed that. He should bounce back in 2012. Likewise, Revere has always demonstrated good OBP skills in the minors. Before he got to AAA Rochester last year, he never had an OBP below .371. He may take time to adjust to MLB pitching, but you can look for his percentage to climb quite a bit in the near future.
Morneau should never have made the list above. His 2011 was marred by nasty brain, neck, and wrist injuries. If this were a court of law, I would move to have his 2011 stats stricken from the record. It is absolutely inconceivable that he could finish with an OBP under .300 again. I would stake my reputation as an unpaid, unknown baseball blogger on it. If he’s healthy at all, he should be at least in the .340 to .350 range.
Denard Span‘s .322 OBP was a fluke for the same reason as Morneau’s was. Absent the concussion symptoms, Span is a .370+ OBP guy. And Joe Mauer, who still finished with a very good .360 total, is capable of topping .400 when healthy.
Add it all up, and the Twins’ team OBP should rise significantly next year. And that will have a big effect on the team’s run producing ability. If you’re looking for reasons to be optimistic about 2012, this is a big one. The hitting will improve as more men get on base.
As for the pitching…. that’s a different story.