I decided to do some research recently on why exactly the Twins have not been hitting. Other than being bitten hard by the injury bug this year, my eyes told me that the Twins have showed little patience and made poor contact thus far in the season. I first looked at the team hitting stats on fangraphs last week when the team was hitting much worse, however, much of improvement can be attributed to that 10 run outburst last weekend. I think there is a saying for that, and it has something to do with a blind squirrel and a nut. Yes, the offense is in fact that bad.
My analysis and conclusions after the jump!
We all know that the Twins are one of the worst hitting teams in baseball right now, but the season is still young and they have more injuries than a Purdue football team. So the goal of this post is not to beat a dead horse, but instead provide some statistical analysis as to why the team isn't hitting. (For reference these stats were retrieved from fangraphs this morning.)
My mind has thoroughly been boggled by a team that has gone from one of the best hitting teams the past two years to suddenly one of the worst. From what I had seen the Twins have been popping-up far too many pitches and rolling over too many outside pitches, resulting in a lot of infield pop-ups and ground outs.
That observation was correct, in fact the Twins have posted above average groundball rates (46.6% to a MLB average of 44.8%), and have led all of MLB in INF fly ball % fairly handily with an incredible 15.6% of balls in play going straight up (10.7% MLB average). The Blue Jays have the second highest rate at 14.9%, but that's understandable from a line-up of mashers. This is all despite having an average GB/FB rate, 1.23 to a MLB average of 1.22. What does this all mean? It means the Twins have posted the second lowest line drive rate in the majors, 15.4% to league average of 18.0%, and a shamefully low HR/FB rate of 3.90%, by far the lowest in the majors (9.0% average). This has been done while having a fairly average .285 BABIP (.290 avg). This makes me think that the Twins have received some good "luck" with BABIP, a team with really poor LD% will tend to have below average BABIP as the majority of liners end up as hits. Thus, I predict the Twins will regress in terms of BABIP, resulting in fewer hits unless of course they start hitting some more liners.
The second thing I noticed is that the Twins have been swing freely, showing a lack of discipline at the plate. What I found in terms of discipline and contact rates surprised me, and will probably surprise you.
What is not surprising the Twins have only walked in 6.8% of their plate appearances, third to last in the majors (8.5% MLB avg). But what is surprising is the Twins have the 4th lowest K% in baseball, at 18.4% (20.9% MLB avg). So that means the Twins are putting alot of balls in play, and as we'll see almost too many balls in play.
Surprisingly the Twins have a below average swing rate at 44% pitches seen (45.4% MLB avg). The Twins have swung at a below average rate of pitches both outside the zone (26.3% to 28.1% league avg) and inside (63.6% to 64.6% MLB avg). However, they have the highest contact rate and lowest swinging strike percentage at 84.3% and 6.7% respectively (80.6% and 8.6% MLB avgs). What this means is that while the Twins aren't swinging freely, they are putting far too many bad pitches and "pitcher's pitches" in play, resulting in weak contact. In a way they are being hurt by too much contact. What's worse is that the Twins are the worst fastball hitting team in baseball right now and by a long shot. The Twins are -1.13 fastball runs per 100 below average. The next lowest is the Braves at -.82 fastball runs/100. Opposing pitchers have sought out this weakness throwing the Twins 59% fastballs, which is more than MLB average at 57.9%. However most of the teams that see more fastballs are in the NL, as pitchers will be seeing more fastballs than an AL DH. If it's any consolation, the Twins are the 3rd best slider hitting team so far this year at .56 slider runs/100 above average, however have seen the second fewest amount of sliders at 11.7% (14.4% MLB avg).
The Twins clearly seem to be a team that is pressing right now. They are swinging at exactly the pitchers want them to swing at and getting themselves out. They have seem to lost the ability to be selective and shown the drive to put the ball in play at all costs as apposed to looking for a pitch to drive. They have managed to post a league average BABIP despite having atrocious LD% and IFB%'s, which leads me to believe that the Twins have had a fair amount of BABIP "luck" this year and unless the team improves their approach at the plate and makes better contact we will see the teams batting average stay low and quite possibly lower in the future. The hitting peripherals are not looking good, and I don't see it turning around anytime soon. This is only compounded by a shaky bullpen and a starting staff that has been inconsistent at best and Hiroshima at worst. We can only hope that once the Twins get healthy that they start to hit better, but I share much of the same sentiments on that issue as John Bonnes expresses in his most recent blog entry: http://twinsgeek.blogspot.com/2011/04/whither-mauer.html#links
It looks like it's going to be a long year in Twins Territory this year.