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The Twins and SLG


Last month I pointed out that the Twins had a terrible on-base percentage last year but were likely to improve in that department this year. Now I’d like to discuss my second favorite percentage: slugging percentage.

American League hitters combined to slug .408 in 2011. The Boston Red Sox led the league, and all of MLB, in slugging percentage with .461; perhaps that’s not surprising given that they play in a park where the right field fence is just 302 feet away from home plate and the 310 foot left field fence is tailor-made for doubles. The Rangers were close on their heels at .460. After that were the Tigers, the Brewers, the Cardinals…. and about 20 other teams before you get to the Twins, who were 28th in baseball at .360. Only the Padres (.349) and the Mariners (.348) slugged worse than the Twins. It’s nice that the Twins weren’t last place, but the Padres and M’s are a pretty low bar to set. Those two organizations are pitching-first teams that play in defensive parks and don’t spend much time building their lineups.

Who led the Twins in slugging last year? If you don’t worry about  a minimum number of plate appearances, it was pitcher Scott Baker. Baker knocked a single and a double in five at bats to finish with a nice round .600 SLG. Chris Parmelee managed a .592 mark in his September callup, and another pitcher – Francisco Liriano – came in third with a .500 mark in three PAs. Among players who had enough PAs to qualify for the batting title, Michael Cuddyer led with .459, two points lower than the Sox’ team mark. Jim Thome contributed a .476 SLG in 288 PAs, and Jason Kubel (401 PAs) finished at .434. No other Twin, regardless of number of at bats, finished above .400.

So let’s sum that up. Other than two pitchers who raked a couple of fluke hits and three guys who are no longer with the team, the only Twin who slugged above the league’s average mark was the rookie Parmelee. That’s not a very encouraging sign for the future of Twins power!

Unlike the situation with on-base percentage, the Twins’ newcomers probably won’t provide much of a boost. Josh Willingham b0asts a .475 career SLG, which is a slight improvement over Cuddyer’s .451. On the other hand, Ryan Doumit‘s .442 doesn’t quite replace Jason Kubel’s .459. Jamey Carroll is an on-base machine, but his career SLG is a laughable .348.

The fringes of the Twins lineup will be filled with slap hitters. Denard Span (.387 career SLG), Alexi Casilla (.337), and Ben Revere (.301) are all expected to be regulars in 2012. None of them is a threat to hit any kind of extra base hit other than the occasional triple.

Thus, if the Twins are to have any improvement in their slugging situation, it will have to come from the heart of their lineup. The only current Twin who has ever led the league in this category is Joe Mauer, who earned an incredible .587 SLG three years ago. That was probably an outlier, but his career mark of .471 is .103 points higher than his total last year. If Justin Morneau is healthy, he’ll provide a boost, too. The first baseman is usually a threat to slug .500 or better, and he was at an otherworldly .618 before being hurt in 2010. Finally, Danny Valencia will need to do better. His SLG dropped .065 points from 2010 to 2011.

Of course, the Twins as a team probably do not care what their slugging percentage is; their primary interest is in scoring runs. The reason I call attention to slugging percentage is really just to show how weak the team was in one facet of run scoring: power. It certainly is possible for a powerless team to score runs without much power (the 1987 Cardinals come to mind), but there is a lot less room for error if you can’t count on your middle-of-the-order guys to come up with a key double or home run every now and then. The only way to score without power is to get on base a lot and play small ball, which makes the on-base situation much more important.