One of the things that has always bugged me about the Twins, or at least this current, 2001-present version, is that a large number of the hitters seem to have no discernible plan when they step into the batter's box.
Minnesota has some patient hitters, of course, but they also have some first-class hackers, guys who swing at anything that moves way too often. As someone who is a big believer in working counts, taking pitches, drawing walks and getting on base, this infuriates me.
Today, I thought I'd take a look at the actual numbers this year, to see if they matched up with my personal observations. So here are the pitches seen per plate appearance by Twins hitters (with at least 50 at-bats) this season ...
Jose Offerman 4.13
Joe Mauer 4.11
Shannon Stewart 3.95
Doug Mientkiewicz 3.84
Michael Cuddyer 3.82
Michael Ryan 3.79
Matthew LeCroy 3.76
Lew Ford 3.75
Torii Hunter 3.74
Henry Blanco 3.71
Corey Koskie 3.68
Jacque Jones 3.65
Luis Rivas 3.48
Cristian Guzman 3.42
There are, I think, some interesting stuff to be found in those numbers.
For one thing, my frustration with the at-bats of Cristian Guzman and Luis Rivas is probably warranted. They are the only two guys on the whole team seeing significantly fewer pitches than the team average. Jacque Jones is third-worst as far as seeing pitches, and he's probably the #1 offender when it comes to what my eyes see, but his actual numbers are significantly better than Guzman's or Rivas'.
Corey Koskie is fourth-worst, with just 3.68 pitches seen per plate appearance, and that really surprises me. I went and looked at his previous seasons and here's what I found ...
His 2002 and 2003 P/PA numbers would have ranked him right at the top of the team leaders, and that's where I would have expected him to be this year. Instead, his 3.68 P/PA is the lowest total in his entire career, as he came into this season having seen 3.90 pitches per plate appearance.
Going up to the top of the list, I see something I love ... Joe Mauer is second the team (and first among everyday players) with 4.11 P/PA. Mauer has done about a million things to impress me already this year, so this just adds to the list. Still, a 21-year-old rookie being second on the team in P/PA looks pretty good to me.
Mauer's P/PA numbers definitely match my personal observations of him -- he strikes me as incredibly patient. Mauer almost always takes several pitches in an at-bat and it seems to me that he has zero fear of falling behind in the count or hitting with two strikes.
Once he's been in the league for a while and the umpires start to respect him a little more (and they will, once he starts making All-Star teams and such), I could see Mauer getting tons of calls in his favor and really becoming a walking machine. As it stands now, he doesn't seem to be getting the borderline calls in his favor, which is perhaps why he only has eight walks in 73 plate appearances, despite being so selective.
Here's an interesting fact that agrees with the P/PA data ... Mauer has swung at and put in play the first pitch of an at-bat exactly one time all year, and he hit a single on the pitch. He's hitting .321/.441/.643 once he gets ahead of the count 1-0 in an at-bat.
Some other stuff from the team P/PA numbers ...
Jose Offerman is actually leading the team with 4.13 P/PA, which is probably to be expected. At this point in his career, Offerman is basically looking to draw walks. He can't hit any more (hasn't hit above .270 since 1999) and doesn't have any power (has never slugged above .450), so getting to first base via four balls is his goal.
To his credit, he has accomplished his goal so far this year, with 22 walks in 128 plate appearances. That's .173 walks per plate appearance, which is nearly 60% higher than Mauer's walk rate. Offerman's please-walk-me approach is basically the only thing keeping him from being a huge disaster, because while he can't hit, play defense or run, at least his .346 on-base percentage means he does a decent job avoiding outs.
The other team leaders in P/PA are Doug Mientkiewicz and Shannon Stewart, neither of whom are surprising. Mientkiewicz is, to me, the most patient hitter on the team, particularly when he's actually hitting well and pitchers aren't just throwing him strikes and daring him to hit them.
His yearly P/PA numbers have been incredibly consistent ...
*2000 is left out, because he only played three games that year.
Mientkiewicz at his best is the guy who showed up in the second-half last year, hitting .305/.438/.433 with 48 walks and just 20 strikeouts. The guy this year is taking about the same amount of pitches and walking nearly as often, but he just can't get any hits to drop.
Shannon Stewart is the guy Twins fans talk about being "patient" the most. That was apparently a big selling point when they got him last year -- that he would be so patient atop the lineup that it would rub off on other people. I really don't think it has, but that's not Stewart's fault.
He's been very patient at the plate, seeing 3.95 P/PA this year and 3.76 P/PA with the Twins last season. Of course, the guy they traded for him, Bobby Kielty, saw 3.93 P/PA during his time with the Twins. And yeah, I know, Kielty has hit like Jose Offerman for the past year. I'm just saying ...
How all of these Minnesota hitters compare to each other in P/PA doesn't tell us a whole lot, I suppose. I mean, if the whole team is a bunch of hackers, someone has to be the most patient hacker of the hackers, right? So let's take a look at how they match up with some other hitters in the American League ...
Jason Varitek 4.31
Frank Thomas 4.24
Casey Blake 4.23
Mark Bellhorn 4.22
Johnny Damon 4.19
Jermaine Dye 4.16
Jose Offerman 4.13
Joe Mauer 4.11
Now, Mauer doesn't have a ton of plate appearances this year, so he's not among the leaders. Still, he's taking pitches right along with the league leaders, which is fantastic to see out of a 21-year-old rookie. Incidentally, the AL leaderboard in P/PA is a pretty nice mix of power hitters, leadoff men and guys who just take a ton of pitches, which is why I think P/PA is a fun, interesting and meaningful stat to look at.
Mientkiewicz's 3.84 P/PA ranks 37th in the AL, surrounded by a few Yankees; Jorge Posada (3.91) and Bernie Williams (3.89) in right in front, and Hideki Matsui (3.82) right in back. Cristian Guzman and his measly 3.42 P/PA rank fourth-to-last in the AL, while Luis Rivas would rank eighth-to-last if he had enough plate appearances to qualify.
Interestingly, the majority of the other hitters among the league "trailers" in P/PA are actually very good hitters -- Aubrey Huff, Mike Sweeney, Ivan Rodriguez, Vernon Wells, Javy Lopez, Vladimir Guerrero. Guzman fits in more with guys like Alex Sanchez (seeing the fewer P/PA in the league at 3.04) and the hitter Twins fans probably wish Guzman would become, Carl Crawford (3.54).
So what have we learned? Well, Offerman, Mauer, Stewart and Mientkiewicz are patient, Koskie is taking a lot fewer pitches than in the past, and my eyes aren't playing tricks on me with Jones, Rivas and Guzman.
By the way, in the words of Mills Lane, Let's Get It On!
Today: Mark Buehrle (7-2, 4.49) vs. Carlos Silva (8-4, 4.04)
Tomorrow: Freddy Garcia (4-7, 3.20) vs. Brad Radke (4-3, 3.32)
Thursday: Jon Garland (5-5, 4.84) vs. Johan Santana (6-4, 4.38)
San Diego (Sweeney) +220 over Arizona (Johnson)
Cleveland (Westbrook) -110 over Detroit (Knotts)
Chicago (Buehrle) -120 over Minnesota (Silva)
Total to date: -$2,420
W/L record: 115-149 (1-1 yesterday for -15.)
*****Comments? Questions? Email me!*****