Sneaky Good: How the Twins Have Played Better Baseball

"Raise your hand if you deserve more playing time." Mandatory Credit: David Richard-US PRESSWIRE

In case you've missed it -- and you can be forgiven considering the boys are still 12 games under .500 -- the Twins have been surging of late. Of course, surging is relative, as the club has been 17-16 since the beginning of July (31-29 if we shift our paradigm to June 1 on). Essentially, the offense has pounded the ball and the pitching has continued to be relatively lackluster.

But has the pitching been as bad as it was when the Twins finished April with a record of 6-16? Was the offense the sole purveyor of baseball goodness? Let's take a look.

It may come as a surprise that the Twins (tied with the Angels) led all of baseball with 138 runs scored (5.3 per game) in July, but it's true. Where else was the Twins offense ranked? Let's peek:

.346 team wOBA (#1 overall)
263 hits (tied-#1 w/ Royals)
28 stolen bases (tied-#3 w/ Brewers and Nationals)
15.4 percent K rate (#1 overall for lowest)
.287 batting average (#1 overall)
.349 on-base (#2, behind Cardinals .362)
114 wRC+ (#4 overall, behind Angels, Cardinals, and Yankees)
22.7 percent line drive rate (#5 overall)
8.2 percent pop-up rate (#6 overall -- fewest)
11.2 percent HR/FB rate (#17 overall)

The surprising thing is that the Twins were this productive with only 26 home runs (essentially one per game). That's a pretty good total for an otherwise punch-drunk Twins club, but it ranked the boys in the lower half of the MLB over July. It also may look odd to see a number 17 overall show up in the positives, but it means the boys -- starting to sound like Luke Hughes here -- weren't overly lucky or reliant on the long ball, which bodes well for the future.

The offense wasn't entirely terrific in July, though:

28 groundball double plays (#2 overall)
7 caught stealing (tied-#9 w/ Rangers and Cubs)
.320 BABIP (tied-#4 w/ Mets)
31 infield hits (#2 overall, behind Brewers)
9 bunt hits (#2 overall, behind Brewers)

Nothing extraordinarily bad, but a lot of it makes sense. The club was fourth in GB/FB rate (1.48), and since grounders rarely become extra-base hits, we don't see the Twins exactly lighting it up in the slugging department, although the line drive rate does provide a good counter-balance. As a result, the Twins have become the Twins of yore, with a few boppers but essentially a group of grinders working counts, making good contact, and moving up the bases with relative proclivity. The one possible downfall is the 40 combined bunt and infield hits -- though maybe FanGraphs classifies one as the other? -- because those aren't necessarily a consistent form of offense (although the Twins did have 33 and seven in June, respectively).

So with all this considered, I would come to the conclusion that this is a nicely balanced Twins offense. It's not too reliant on power, speed, or average, but is a group of guys that make consistent contact, take enough walks, and can pop the ball out of the park often enough to keep the other team honest. I think Trevor Plouffe's emergence has helped a ton on this front, as the offense seemed to be languishing right in the middle of the pack (or lower) prior to his surge.

But how has the pitching stacked up? Let's first tackle the positives:

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That's not a mis-print/coding error. There really weren't any positives in July, unless you count the sixth-most strikes thrown.

So of course, with the patchwork rotation the club has employed, negatives abound:

6.4 K/9 (#29 overall, ahead of only White Sox)
3.2 BB/9 (#17 overall)
1.4 HR/9 (#6 overall -- most)
.294 BABIP (#15 overall)
43.4 percent groundball rate (#22 overall)
13.2 percent HR/FB rate (#8 overall)
4.78 ERA (#6 overall -- worst)
4.78 FIP (#1 overall -- worst)
4.49 xFIP (#1 overall -- worst)
.268 batting average allowed (tied-#4 -- worst, w/ Mets)
1.42 WHIP (tied #5 -- worst, w/ Orioles)
21.6 percent line drive rate against (tied-#10 -- worst, w/ Yankees and White Sox)

Yikes. So not only are the Twins still among the worst at whiffs and giving up the long ball, they aren't exactly unlucky. Just flat out bad, really. A .294 BABIP suggests lady luck has even sided with the hurlers, resulting in about a league-average strand rate, and the worst marks once all is adjusted (FIPs). The groundball rate is disheartening, because Scott Diamond is carrying this staff as one of the 5-10 best groundballers in the entire game. The walk rate is equally disappointing, as middle-of-the-pack won't cut it for a team that's been top-five in the major leagues for something like 20 years running. The pitching staff -- more accurately, the rotation -- will need incremental improvements over the offseason for Terry Ryan and company to sell any hope to the ticketholders.

With that said, even adding guys like Kevin Millwood, Bartolo Colon, or Joe Blanton would be big enough improvements that this improving offense should be able to team up with to try grab one of those wildcard spots next season. For now, we just sit back and enjoy the offensive ride, and the climb to third place.

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