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Why were the Twins’ DHs so bad last season?

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In which I aim to pin the blame on someone for the Twins’ horrible, no good OPS at DH in 2017.

MLB: Minnesota Twins at Detroit Tigers Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

You may have seen this tweet recently:

Randball’s Stu mentioned it on Friday morning. It’s an interesting factoid in-and-of-itself, but it got me wondering... why was that OPS so bad?

The Twins employed 14 different players as their DH for at least one game in 2017. The largest percentage of those at-bats went to OBP specialist Robbie Grossman, and seven of the other guys only played a single game at the position. Below is table showing how many games each player played at the position last season.

Twins at DH in 2017

Player Games Played
Player Games Played
Robbie Grossman 63
Kennys Vargas 30
Miguel Sano 25
Eduardo Escobar 20
Joe Mauer 13
Mitch Garver 5
Jorge Polanco 2
Ehire Adrianza 1
Chris Gimenez 1
Niko Goodrum 1
Zack Granite 1
Max Kepler 1
Eddie Rosario 1
Danny Santana 1

That adds up to 165 games, which means there was an in-game substitution a few times. As mentioned, Robbie Grossman had the most appearances, clocking at at 38% percent. That was followed by Kennys Vargas at 18%, Miguel Sano at 15%, Eduardo Escobar at 12%, and Joe Mauer at eight percent.

Grossman would have had the greatest impact on the overall number, and despite his on-base skills, he is not much of a slugger. Both his total OPS, and his OPS as a DH were .741, which isn’t great, especially from a DH, but is above average, which means someone else probably brought the number down. Grossman got on base at a .361 clip, while his slugging percentage was only .380 overall. For what it’s worth, he did slug .404 specifically as a DH, with a lower OBP of .337. Maybe the next guy on the list is at fault?

The next man was Kennys Vargas, and he probably isn’t the culprit either. While he didn’t put up a significantly better OPS than Grossman, he was slightly better at .758. Unlike Grossman, Vargas’s OPS was a bit worse when he was specifically playing DH, coming in at .735, but he was more of a slugger type, putting up a .444 slugging percentage and only a .314 OBP. Still, Vargas was also above the Twins’ average for DH, so he doesn’t seem to be the low team-OPS culprit.

Miguel Sano had the next most DH appearances, and his OPS was much, much higher than either of the guys who were ahead of him, clocking in at .859. That OPS was mostly due to Sano’s massive .507 slugging percentage. Last season, though, he was a noticeably worse hitter as a DH than when he played the field. His OPS as a DH was only .555, with a OBP of .294 and a slugging percentage of .261, He was clearly a part of the problem with the Twins’ low overall OPS at DH, but I suspect Sano wasn’t the only one.

Eduardo Escobar is the next contender, and oh god, please don’t be him. I love that Escobar. Good news: it’s probably not him either. His total OPS was only .726, but still higher than the number LEN3 quoted for all DHs. As a DH, he actually did a bit better. His OPS at the position was .738. So um, yeah, not him either.

Joe Mauer is next, and it has to be his fault. After all, Twins fans blame everything on him. Sorry to disappoint you, Blame Mauer Bot, but its not Mauer either. His overall OPS was .801 in 2017, and as a DH it was .733 — still above average. Maybe all the other guys were terrible?

No one else really played a statistically significant amount of games at DH. Mitch Garver could certainly be a suspect, as he had a paltry .636 OPS over, but he also only played DH five times, and held a .774 OPS at the position. We can’t blame him. Jorge Polanco played two games as the DH, and although his overall OPS was .723, as the DH, he had a .286 OPS. He’s another possible culprit, but he only played two games there, and probably shouldn’t play there much in the future. We’re halfway through the possible suspects now.

The other seven guys to log a game at DH only played a game there each. They are Ehire Adrianza (.707 OPS overall, .000 as DH); Chris Gimenez (.731 OPS overall, 5.000 as DH); Niko Goodrum (.170 OPS overall, .000 as DH); Zack Granite (.611 OPS overall, .000 as DH); Max Kepler(.737 OPS overall, 1.100 as DH); Eddie Rosario (.836 OPS overall, .500 as DH); and Danny Santana (.591 OPS overall with the Twins, .000 as DH). Most of these small samples are low enough that it could drop the average. Did these guys get enough time in the position to really have any responsibility, or is it all Sano?

All of this is really just my long-winded way of saying the Twins probably (and thankfully) won’t have the same issue at DH in 2018.

Logan Morrison is now projected to pick up about 75% of the DH appearances for the Twins, according to Fangraphs. In 2017, Morrison’s OPS was .868 — a career high. His career average is still .763, and his 2018 projection is .789, both of which would be a huge improvement over the 2017 Twins.

Now for the bad news: Morrison was a worse hitter as a DH last season. He only played 17 games there, but did slug .780, so it would still be an improvement for the Twins, assuming he can outperform his career numbers. As a DH, for his career, he has an OPS of only .714, which really isn’t an improvement at all for the Twins.

It’s safe to assume that when Morrison is not the DH, it will more likely than not be Mauer, Sano, or Grossman filling the position. Two of those guys won’t be a huge drop off, but putting Sano in that spot could be dangerous. Or maybe it isn’t?

When it comes to his DH performance, 2017 was a down year for Sano. As a DH in his career, his OPS is .776, and that includes his downright awful 2017. The previous season, 2016, was better, but still unacceptable, with a .674 OPS. In 2015, however, he played primarily at DH, and had an OPS of .908. Perhaps he will continue to trend lower, and end up without a long-term position. After all, what team will keep a DH with a slugging percentage lower than his weight (in 2017, at DH, Sano slugged .261, his weight is officially listed at 260, but we know better).

Long story short, The Twin’s abysmal DH performance last year seems mostly on Miguel Sano, and a bunch of guys who played there only occasionally. A lot of those guys aren’t even on the team anymore. It is almost inevitable that the Twins will be much improved at the position this season, since they added an almost full-time DH who has better numbers, and Sano probably won’t be as bad when he does DH. I hope.