Breaking Down the Twins Run Scoring: "Little Things" and Double Plays

During the offseason, most of us were excited at the moves made by Bill Smith and the Twins front office to improve offensive production. Orlando Hudson, J.J. Hardy, Jim Thome, all were expected not only to close some of the lineup gaps that have frustrated in previous years (remember the days of Harris, Punto, Casilla in the starting infield?), but also improve depth (Thome). Halfway through the season, we now have a pretty good idea of how these moves worked out. Through 82 games played, the Twins have scored a total of 382 runs, an average of 4.66 per game, good for 14th in MLB, 6th in the AL. In other words, smack in the middle of the pack and well below last seasons 4.96 runs per game (5th in MLB), 4.85 pre-All Star Break (where runs are usually down a bit across the league). Injuries to Hudson and Hardy have played a role, as has regression from Joe Mauer and others. But does this explain the full dropoff in run scoring?

I've posted elsewhere on Beyond the Boxscore (here) and Twinkie Town (here and here), as well as written an article for the Maple Street Press 2010 Twins Annual, in which I have shown that the Twins have consistently helped themselves by 20-40 runs compared to the rest of the league each of the last two years by doing the "little things", running the bases and directional hitting to advance base runners, and this was a key reason the Twins have reached Game #163 both years. Are the Twins still doing the "little things" to score runs? Or is a lack of the "little things" are reason for the dropoff in run scoring?

I'll go into more detail after the jump, but preliminary data indicate that the Twins are doing these "little things" at a similar rate to the last two years, and this compensates for some (but not all) of the league leading tendency for Twins hitters to ground into double plays.

The Twins have scored a total of 382 runs on the season. MLB average (over the same 82 games) is 368 runs scored, so when all is said and done the Twins have scored 14 runs above average compared to the rest of the league. As I've discussed in previous articles, I consider three components of run scoring in my analysis:

  1. "Standard" hitting. This is the largest component of run scoring, calculated based on the actual results for each at bat. For the purposes of this analysis, I will compare my "Total Run Accounting" measure of standard batting to Weighted On Base Average (wOBA) below.
  2. "Little Things" - base running and directional hitting to advance base runners. These are aspects of offense that don't appear in the box score, but we can quantify them nonetheless.
  3. Hitting with runners in scoring position. wOBA is a "context neutral" metric that does not take into consideration when a batter gets a hit. For two teams with similar wOBAs, one would expect the team that hits better with RISP to score more runs.

"Standard" Hitting

The Twins have an overall wOBA of .337, good for 7th in MLB, 5th in the AL. According to fangraphs, this equates to 400 "weighted" runs created (wRC), or 32 runs above average (wRAA). So, based solely on wOBA, the Twins should have scored 18 more runs than they have actually scored. What explains the difference? First, double plays are not included in wOBA. Halfway through the season, the Twins have grounded into a MLB-leading 95 double plays, 7 more than the second place San Francisco Giants and an astounding 31 more than MLB average. I (and many others) have gone into more depth looking at the Twins and why they are grounding into so many double plays, so I'll leave that alone for now. But considering that, on average, grounding into a double play results in about (in some cases at least) a one run decrease in expected runs scored for an inning, this more than explains the 18 run gap. In fact, it leaves us about 10 runs short of our actual runs scored.

Running my "Total Run Accounting" software on the first 82 games of the season, my calculation of "standard batting" is in line with the calculation above. Remember, my analysis takes both context (expected runs based on runners on base and number of outs) and double plays into account. I show the Twins producing almost right at league average, +0.16 expected runs due to "standard" batting, 15th in MLB, 7th in AL, well behind the league leading Boston Red Sox (+81.06) but well above the league doormat Houston Astros (-95.81 runs). In other words, just about exactly where one would expect by only taking wRAA and double plays into consideration.

"Little Things"

Now, about those missing runs. In 2008, the Twins by far led the majors in the "little things", producing +42.2 runs above average, or about four extra marginal wins when all was said and done. The next closest team was the Los Angeles Angels, at +15.2 runs. In 2009, the Twins slipped a little, but still produced +23.5 runs, good for third behind the Angels' league leading +44.5.

So far in 2010, the Twins have produced +10.47 runs compared to league average due to these "little things", sixth in MLB behind the Texas Rangers league leading +26.24 runs. The Twins contributions have been about equal from the two components of "little things", base running (+5.03 RAA, 8th in MLB, considers stolen bases, extra bases e.g., first to third, and outs on the base paths) and directional hitting (+5.44 RAA, 9th in MLB, considers hitting to right side is more likely to advance a runner to third than left field, strikeouts don't advance runners). Stealing bases (-1.09 runs) is a losing proposition (from an expected runs perspective) for the Twins, as it is for all but two teams (Philadelphia at +2.10 and the Mets at +0.31), but overall our total is 6th best in MLB. Of course, according to this metric, never attempting a steal would put us third in MLB...but more on that another day.

Runners in Scoring Position

For the season, the Twins overall line with RISP is .288/.375/.408, a little above the MLB average .263/.351/.409 line. So the Twins have likely scored a few more runs than league average in RISP situations, explaining some of the difference discussed above. Exactly how many runs is something I plan to go into more detail sometime over the next month. But I suspect any additional runs with RISP overall may very well be canceled by the Twins well documented struggles in the highest leverage situations, bases loaded, where a .244/.280/.333 line and 11 double plays in 70 at bats really takes its toll on run scoring.

Summary

Bottom line, even though much of the roster has turned over since 2008, yes the Twins are still doing the "little things" offensively, and this has helped the Twins mitigate the effects of a league leading tendency to hit into double plays. Hopefully for the Twins division title hopes, the "little things" will continue and the double plays will at least return to around league average for the second half of the season. If this happens, we could see an extra 30 runs or so, translating to about an extra three marginal wins when all is said and done.

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