The Free Press, Mankato, MN

April 28, 2014

Thoma column: The Twins have an Aerosmith offense (Walk This Way)


The Mankato Free Press

---- — We sure didn’t see this coming during spring training, when the Twins were struggling to score more than once a game in Florida. But we’re about a month into the season, and the Twins are plating more than 5.5 runs a game.

And they’re doing it, in essence, by not swinging the bat.

Dave Cameron of FanGraphs posted on Thursday a detailed analysis about how the Twins have, almost to a man, abruptly slashed their swing rates. It’s fascinating in a nerdy way: Joe Mauer swings, over the years, at pitches less often than anybody in baseball, and suddenly he’s more a hacker than Brian Dozier, Aaron Hicks, Kurt Suzuki and even Trevor Plouffe.

Swinging less and walking more: The Twins entered Sunday with nine more walks than anybody in the American League, this despite having played fewer games than anybody else above league average. They’re below average in batting average and below average in slugging percentage but tops in on-base percentage.

What’s more, Cameron says, it’s not about the opposing pitchers. The Twins are seeing, he says, the eighth highest percentage of pitches in the strike zone in baseball.

The Twins are seeing strikes. They’re just not swinging at all of them.

Plouffe is particularly striking. The broadcasters have latched on to his increased willingness/ability to go up the middle or to right field rather than trying to pull everything, and that is indeed true. But he’s also swinging at 7 percent fewer pitches, from 43 percent to 37 percent.

Presumably Plouffe is being more selective about what he takes a cut at, but in the process he’s also waiting just that sliver of a second to be sure. And the result is that he’s pulling fewer outside pitches on the ground to shortstop and either taking them or smacking them to right.

The only one of the Twins’ regulars whose swing rate had risen from 2013 in Cameron’s analysis is Chris Colabello, and that increase was a mere 1 percent. Mauer’s rate was dead even, 38 percent, and Pedro Florimon was down just 1 percent. Everybody else was down at least 4 percent.

Which helps explain innings like the eight-walk rally against Toronto on April 17, or the six-walk, one-hit “explosion” against the Tigers bullpen on Saturday. The Twins are more willing than they’ve ever been to let the opposing pitcher beat himself.

It’s hell on newspaper deadlines — Saturday’s game lasted 3 hours, 13 minutes, and broke a streak of three games that had lasted more than 3:30 — but it’s productive.

Edward Thoma (344-6377; ethoma@mankatofreepress.com) maintains his Baseball Outsider blog at fpbaseballoutsider.blogspot.com. Follow him on Twitter @bboutsider.