June 2, 2005

How's the Hitting? (Part 2)

Yesterday I looked at how the Twins' catchers and infielders have done at the plate for the first two months of the season. Conveniently -- since yesterday afternoon's injury fest is too depressing to talk about right now -- I am going to cover the team's outfielders and designated hitters today.

CENTER FIELD    AVG      OBP      SLG      OPS      GPA
Twins .266 .336 .457 .793 .265
League .270 .325 .404 .729 .247

BREAKDOWN: 90% Torii Hunter, 10% Lew Ford

Torii Hunter's 5-for-5 game Wednesday night bumped his season totals all the way up from a putrid .238/.305/.398 to .258/.322/.441, which is right in line with his .266/.319/.458 career numbers. That, along with the fact that Lew Ford has hit .316/.453/.579 in about 10% of the playing time while subbing for Hunter, gives the Twins surprisingly good production in center field.

I say surprisingly good because .266/.336/.457 doesn't look all that spectacular on the surface. However, if you dig a little deeper you'll see that AL centerfielders are having a down year pretty much across-the-board. Not only have the Twins' centerfielders been about 7% better than league average, they rank third behind only Boston and Tampa Bay with a collective .794 OPS at the position.

LEFT FIELD      AVG      OBP      SLG      OPS      GPA
Twins .286 .344 .432 .776 .263
League .276 .337 .426 .763 .258

BREAKDOWN: 90% Shannon Stewart, 10% Lew Ford

While Ford's great hitting while subbing for Hunter brings the team's center-field numbers up, his .261/.292/.432 performance while subbing for Shannon Stewart 10% of the time brings the left-field numbers down a bit. Despite that, and Stewart hitting a mediocre .289/.350/.437 as a leftfielder so far, the Twins have gotten above-average offensive production from the position.

Just like in center field, left field hitting in the AL is down this year. While the average AL leftfielder hit .281/.347/.453 last season, they are hitting just .276/.337/.426 this season, a drop of nearly 5%. Stewart seems to be heating up after a slow start, hitting .316/.373/.518 in May, so left field figures to be a pretty solid offensive strength for the season.

RIGHT FIELD     AVG      OBP      SLG      OPS      GPA
Twins .267 .366 .400 .766 .265
League .269 .349 .446 .795 .269

BREAKDOWN: 85% Jacque Jones, 15% Lew Ford

Despite the excitement over Jacque Jones' hot start, this is where the Twins' outfield has actually been the weakest. Jones' .222/.286/.300 May has him hitting .277/.377/.432 on the year as a rightfielder, and Ford's awful .219/.316/.250 subbing for him 15% of the time drags the collective numbers at the position down even further. Add it all up and the Twins' rightfielders have done very well getting on base -- thanks in large part to Jones' sudden discovery of "the walk" -- but have slugged a combined .400.

Jones' huge April walk total is looking more and more flukish these days, as he walked just seven times in May. I wouldn't expect him to keep up the big gap between his batting average and his on-base percentage, so he's going to have to start hitting for average and power again at some point or the Twins will fall further behind the pack offensively at the position. Ford hitting a little better when he's not in center field wouldn't hurt either.

DESIG. HITTER   AVG      OBP      SLG      OPS      GPA
Twins .265 .333 .386 .719 .246
League .255 .335 .416 .754 .255

BREAKDOWN: 50% Ford, 25% LeCroy, 10% Stewart, 10% Hunter, 5% Tiffee

Here's another spot where the Twins have been surprisingly weak this season. Ford has hit .292 with a .358 on-base percentage while DHing, but he's only slugging .396 with zero homers in 96 at-bats. Matthew LeCroy has provided some power in 25% of the playing time, slugging .533, but he's hitting just .267 with a .333 OBP. Overall, the Twins' designated hitters have been about 4% worse than the AL average.

While Ford isn't a bad DH, the problem is that a lot of his value comes from defense. He is a good outfielder with a strong arm, and is capable of playing all three outfield spots well. But when you stick him at DH most of the time, he has absolutely no defensive value and his otherwise solid hitting (when combined with good defense) isn't anything special. All of which makes this the spot where the Twins could make the easiest meaningful upgrade.

Either by trading Jones while sticking Ford in right field full time or simply platooning Ford and Jones, the Twins could open up DH for a right-handed power bat. It's most likely just wishful thinking, of course, but the opportunity for a relatively clean upgrade at the position coincides nicely with one of the team's biggest needs.

And for those of you who have been e-mailing on the topic recently, LeCroy is not that right-handed bat. While one of my favorite players and a very nice hitter to have on a team, LeCroy just doesn't hit right-handed pitching well enough to be in the lineup on an everyday basis. Against lefties he's great, hitting .262/.354/.476 this year and .302/.363/.518 from 2002-2004, but against righties he has hit just .260/.351/.400 this season and .257/.303/.420 over the past three.

OVERALL         AVG      OBP      SLG      OPS      GPA
Twins .269 .336 .404 .740 .252
League .263 .327 .417 .744 .251

The Twins have been almost exactly average offensively this year, and as a result rank seventh in the AL with 4.53 runs per game. While in years past they've hit for disproportionately high batting averages, the Twins rank just eighth with a .268 average this season. To offset that, they've walked more than usual, ranking fourth in the league. That's what Jones walking in April, Joe Mauer staying healthy, and not having Cristian Guzman and Luis Rivas in the lineup will do for a team's walk rate. Suddenly the Twins aren't quite such hackers.

Here's a nice, neat, position-by-position breakdown using GPA:

POS       AL      MIN        +/-
C .232 .256 +10.3%
1B .263 .286 + 8.8%
2B .245 .216 -11.8%
SS .242 .244 - 0.8%
3B .228 .248 - 8.1%
LF .263 .258 + 1.9%
CF .265 .247 + 7.3%
RF .265 .269 - 1.5%
DH .246 .255 - 3.5%

Essentially the Twins have been excellent offensively at catcher, first base, and center field, horrible at second base and third base, and treaded water everywhere else. I think there is reason to believe the production from here on out will be better at both second base (no more Rivas) and third base (Michael Cuddyer has hit a little after a horrible April), in which case the offense could take a step up between now and the end of the year.

Considering the quality of their pitching and defense, the Twins really would only need to get themselves in the upper third of the league offensively to be considered a championship-level team. I think they can do that, which is why I've been telling everyone who will listen (and some who won't) that this has the potential to be the best Twins team since at least 1991.

Find a good right-handed stick for the middle of the lineup and this offense could really take off. That is, of course, is they can avoid having their key hitters drop like flies, one after another.

Today at The Hardball Times:
- News, Notes and Quotes (June 3, 2005) (by Aaron Gleeman)
- And Let The Screwing Continue (by John Brattain)

Today's Picks (41-38, +$225):
New York (Mussina) -140 over Minnesota (Lohse)
Toronto (Halladay) -150 over Oakland (Etherton)

Saturday's Picks:
St. Louis (Marquis) -140 over Houston (Rodriguez)
Texas (Park) -160 over Kansas City (Lima)

Sunday's Picks:
Chicago (Buehrle) -130 over Cleveland (Sabathia)

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