July 17, 2014

Reviewing the Twins’ first half: Hitters

mauer dozier bartlett

After getting on base at a .353 clip and averaging 5.5 runs per game in April to inspire talk of a new, ultra-patient offensive approach the Twins have a .310 on-base percentage and 3.9 runs per game since May 1. Overall they're in the middle of the pack in offense, walking a lot and hitting a bunch of doubles but struggling to hit for average or home run power. Before the second half gets underway here's a hitter-by-hitter look at the individual performances ...

Brian Dozier: .242/.340/.436 in 424 plate appearances

I once mocked people for thinking Brian Dozier had star-caliber upside, because he was elderly for a prospect and never showed power in the minors, but now at age 27 and three seasons into his Twins career he's one of the best all-around second basemen in baseball. And a power hitter, too. In the minors Dozier was a high-contact, low-power hitter with a .298 batting average and a grand total of 16 homers in 365 games, but he's taken the opposite approach in the majors.

Dozier has hit just .242 with 79 strikeouts in 92 games, which no doubt played a part in his being overlooked for the All-Star game, but that comes with 18 homers and 52 walks for a .777 OPS. Among the 27 players to start at least 50 games at second base this year Dozier ranks 11th in on-base percentage, seventh in slugging percentage, and seventh in OPS. And in Twins history his 115 adjusted OPS+ is the highest by a second baseman since Todd Walker in 1998.

Being among the top 5-10 offensive second basemen in MLB is impressive enough for a guy who hit just .232/.286/.337 in 48 games at Triple-A as recently as 2012, but Dozier has also made the transition from poor-fielding shortstop to good-fielding second baseman. Add it all up and Dozier ranks fourth among all MLB second basemen in Wins Above Replacement behind only Robinson Cano, Ian Kinsler, and Chase Utley. He was the Twins' best player in the first half.

Joe Mauer: .271/.342/.353 in 339 plate appearances

Joe Mauer's move from catcher to first base was supposed to keep him healthier and hopefully lead to an increase in offensive production, but instead he struggled throughout most of the first half before going on the disabled list with a strained oblique muscle. Mauer's first half was ugly overall, but the injury came at a particularly bad time because he was quietly starting to turn things around and look like his old self.

In the 20 games prior to going on the disabled list Mauer hit .320 with nine doubles, including a 12-game hitting streak that he took with him to the DL. Those are baby steps, of course, and Mauer's increased strikeout rate and surprisingly unimpressive defense at first base suggest that perhaps last year's season-ending concussion may still be an issue. Brain injuries don't just vanish with the start of a new season, after all, and so far he's been a replacement-level first baseman.

Trevor Plouffe: .245/.317/.409 in 334 plate appearances

He looked like a totally different hitter in April, sacrificing power for batting average and plate discipline while using the opposite field far more than ever before, but Trevor Plouffe eventually turned back into Trevor Plouffe. He batted .218/.272/.379 with 48 strikeouts and 15 walks in 53 games after May 1 and his overall mark of .245/.317/.409 is nearly identical to his .243/.305/.414 line from 2011-2013.

What has changed are Plouffe's defensive numbers. Ultimate Zone Rating previously pegged him among the majors' worst fielders, but he graded out slightly above average in the first half. As an average defender with a .725 OPS he's a decent starting third baseman, but I'd bet on his UZR dipping into the negatives by season's end and he's now a 28-year-old career .241/.304/.411 hitter after hitting .258/.320/.405 in the minors. Funny how that works.

Kurt Suzuki: .309/.365/.396 in 311 plate appearances

Available for a one-year, $2.75 million contract this offseason because he hit just .237/.294/.357 from 2010-2013 while struggling to throw out base-stealers, Kurt Suzuki posted career-highs in batting average, on-base percentage, and OPS in the first half on the way to making his first All-Star team at age 30. He also received a ton of credit for "handling" the Twins' pitching staff, but the numbers and particularly pitch-framing data don't really back up that notion.

Suzuki was a promising young catcher for the A's, but quickly wore down after huge workloads early in his career. My theory is that playing his way out of a full-time gig actually helped him physically, so it'll be interesting to see what happens if he starts 5-6 times a week in the second half. The signing has worked out better than anyone could have expected, especially since the Twins' other free agent catching targets, A.J. Pierzynski and John Buck, have had brutal years.

Eduardo Escobar: .271/.313/.404 in 274 plate appearances

After beginning the season in a utility role Eduardo Escobar took over for Pedro Florimon as the starting shortstop and hit .328/.362/.479 through the end of May. That came as a complete shock from a guy who hit just .228/.280/.307 in the majors and .269/.319/.358 in the minors prior to this season. And sure enough Escobar's magic wore off and he finished the first half by hitting .221/.269/.338 in his final 37 games.

Even with the predictable slide to end the first half Escobar was an above-average hitter for a shortstop and graded out well defensively according to Ultimate Zone Rating. Still, his terrible track record and ugly 57/16 K/BB ratio this season are strong reasons for skepticism that he can be a starting-caliber shortstop, although given the Twins' underwhelming alternatives he should get a chance to prove himself one way or another in the second half.

Josh Willingham: .212/.362/.410 in 199 plate appearances

Josh Willingham got hurt right away and then returned from the disabled list on fire in late May, hitting .316/.467/.632 with five homers and 14 walks in his first 17 games. Then he went into a prolonged slump that carried into the All-Star break, hitting .122 with 33 strikeouts in his final 26 games of the first half. Even with that brutal stretch his season totals are still decent, but when combined with terrible defense he's been a below-average corner outfielder.

Investing three years and $21 million in Willingham looked like a brilliant move after one season, but in the next two seasons he's hit .209/.348/.380 while missing 96 of a possible 256 games. He's a prime example of why multi-year contracts for mid-30s players are so sketchy and it's hard to imagine the Twins getting anything of value for him in trade. That ship sailed two offseasons ago, when they refused to consider moving Willingham coming off a career-year.

Oswaldo Arcia: .222/.312/.371 in 189 plate appearances

Oswaldo Arcia, much like Willingham, was injured one week into the season and then performed very well upon coming off the disabled list in late May only to slump horribly. His slump can be traced back to an ankle injury, although certainly Arcia has shown himself to be capable of extreme ups and downs without any other factors playing a part. His power remains very good, but he's yet to show any semblance of plate discipline or ability to handle left-handed pitching.

The good news is that he's still just 23 years old. The bad news is that even in the minors he couldn't hit lefties or control the strike zone. Through his first 143 games as a big leaguer Arcia has hit just .221/.266/.331 off lefties and his overall K/BB ratio is a pathetic 173/39. He continues to possess a ton of long-term upside, but tapping into it will prove difficult unless he makes some big strides in those two areas.

Chris Colabello: .246/.295/.427 in 183 plate appearances

Chris Colabello got off to an extremely fast start, fell into a brutal slump that got him demoted back to Triple-A, and has fared well in limited action since rejoining the team following Mauer's injury. Blended together he's been a slightly below average hitter with good power and horrible strike zone control, posting a 56/11 K/BB ratio after debuting with a 58/20 mark in 55 games last season. At age 30 he's a marginal big leaguer best suited for a part-time role.

Jason Kubel: .224/.313/.295 in 176 plate appearances

After making the team out of spring training and hitting .400 through 10 games Jason Kubel batted .168 with zero homers and 49 strikeouts in the next 36 games before being released in early June. Providing a home for his comeback attempt wasn't an idea without merit and the price was certainly right, but he looked totally washed up and by the end had trouble simply making contact at the plate. And yet Kubel still has a higher OPS than Kendrys Morales.

Sam Fuld: .285/.367/.380 in 159 plate appearances

Picked up off the waiver wire in mid-April as an Aaron Hicks alternative, Sam Fuld has exceeded expectations offensively while showing that he still has the wheels to be a standout defensively at age 32. He's definitely played well over his head, but thanks to his speed and defense Fuld has generally been a solid backup outfielder and with Hicks looking like more of a question mark than ever the Twins figure to give him plenty of action in the second half.

Josmil Pinto: .222/.323/.407 in 158 plate appearances

After an excellent September debut Josmil Pinto picked up where he left off this year as one of the Twins' best hitters, but then he fell into the first slump of his career and immediately got demoted to Triple-A so the team could make room for Morales. Pinto's defense may be bad enough that he'll never stick as more than an emergency catcher, but he's a 25-year-old career .265/.349/.464 hitter through 64 games as a big leaguer and deserved a much longer leash.

Aaron Hicks: .198/.338/.262 in 156 plate appearances

For the second straight season the Twins handed Hicks a starting job without any backup plan and for the second straight season he hit below .200 to lose the gig. Along the way this time he gave up switch-hitting only to take it back up again weeks later and is now at Double-A, where his performance in 2012 convinced the Twins he was ready to make the jump to the majors. Hicks has shown that he can draw walks, but everything else--including defense--is in major question.

Chris Parmelee: .271/.304/.400 in 148 plate appearances

It's time to give up on Chris Parmelee developing into an impact player. For all the optimism that surrounds any decent stretch the former first-round pick puts together he's a 26-year-old career .251/.318/.396 hitter in 800 plate appearances and hasn't shown the ability to control the strike zone versus big-league pitching. There's probably a role for him in the majors as a platoon first baseman or corner outfielder, but that's always a very deep player pool.

Danny Santana: .328/.366/.448 in 143 plate appearances

Called up from Triple-A in early May despite hitting just .268/.311/.381 with poor plate discipline, Danny Santana hit .330 for the Twins while also being thrust into center field duties with little previous experience at the position. Before suffering a knee injury he showed a great arm, elite speed, and surprising pop, but a 27/7 K/BB ratio hints at the same overall lack of readiness that his minor-league numbers did even if there's no denying his first 37 games were impressive.

Kendrys Morales: .229/.254/.328 in 138 plate appearances

Morales' strong first week quieted talk of his being rusty after sitting out two months waiting for a better contract, but since then he's hit .198 with a 17/3 K/BB ratio in 27 games. There was always good reason to wonder if he was even an upgrade over the demoted Pinto and so far he certainly hasn't been, although recently Morales has at least shown some signs of life. At a cost of $8 million the Twins overestimated how good they'd be and how good Morales would be.


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  • Doofus

    I think 2 out of the 3 Morales, Willingham, and Arcia can put up solid enough numbers in the second half. Escobar is going to be a wild card if he can hit .280 or not with doubles power. if Fuld and Santana can at least continue to get on base at a.330-.340 pace they can be serviceable at the top of the lineup. Mauer, Plouffe and Suzuki will put up solid if unspectacular numbers so we should continue to be a middle of the road offense the rest of the way. I think Colabello and Parmelee could make for an interesting Platoon tandem if Willingham or Morales gets traded (Chris Parmabello).

  • WilliesWorld24

    Good work, Aaron. Interesting article and timing given all the Twins optimism the last few days – suggesting that they are a 10 game run from being in the hunt. Heavy AAAA lineup with very little upside. Agree that Mauer may take a few years to recover from a brain injury. Concerned that management does not understand where they are in the rebuild process. Unfortunately, even if they did, the club lacks MLB assets to move for prospects other than Suzuki – and bet they resign (wrong move) rather than trade. Lineup help is over a year away – what moves would you make to help build for Buxton, Sano, and crew?

    • ML

      “…the club lacks MLB assets to move for prospects other than Suzuki.”

      Glen Perkins is their top asset to move for prospects. Smart last place teams trade all start closers.