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ALDS focus: The Twins have still hit badly with the bases loaded

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In which, for the span of one article, I regretfully put a damper on playoff excitement.

MLB: Minnesota Twins at Cleveland Indians
One of the Twins’ two grand slams on the year. Can the Bomba Squad best that total in the postseason?
David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

The Minnesota Twins and New York Yankees are set to meet in the AL Divisional Series, and while both teams have won 100-plus games this season, they’ve had far from identical production. Sure, both teams have topped 300 home runs, but a major statistical difference is their production with the bases loaded.

In July, I wrote about the Twins’ abysmal bases-loaded production, and an email from a Twinkie Town reader (thanks for the suggestion!) led me to dive back into the stats. While the Twins are no longer last in the league with a .499 OPS, they’re still pretty bad: with two games remaining at time of writing, the Twins are third from the bottom with a .579 bases-loaded OPS, ahead of the Orioles (.568) and Rays (.562).

What makes this playoff-relevant is that the Yankees have been among the top of the league in hitting with the bases loaded, their .985 OPS second only to the Rockies (1.029).

As you might guess, it’s not just OPS which shows the Yankees’ strong bases-loaded hitting and the Twins’ lack of success in the same situation. I won’t give the entire List O’ Revealing Statistics that I did in the July article, but here’s a sampling. (All stats from FanGraphs.)

  • Grand slams: Twins last (2), Yankees tied for fifth (7)
  • Runs: Twins fourth-least (82), Yankees most (152)
  • Batting average: Twins fifth-lowest (.217), Yankees second-highest (.356)
  • Walk rate: Twins last (2.9 percent - that’s FOUR walks; next is the Rangers at 5.1 percent), Yankees tied for 16th (7.0 percent)
  • K rate: Twins 17th (22.8 percent), Yankees lowest (12.7 percent; next is the Braves at 18.4 percent)
  • OBP: Twins last (.231), Yankees second-highest (.386)
  • Slugging percentage: Twins fourth-lowest (.348), Yankees third-highest (.598)
  • wRC+: Twins last (41), Yankees first (148)

I could keep going, but I think that’s enough.

Or maybe not, as we have not looked at individual statistics.

Five Twins have come to the plate at least 10 times with the bases loaded, and they’ve been... just, the numbers.

  • Eddie Rosario (17 PA): 4 hits, .235 OBP, .313 SLG, .548 OPS, 11 RBI, 1 K, 1 SF, 1 GIDP
  • Jorge Polanco (16 PA): 3 hits, .250 OBP, .545 SLG, .795 OPS, 12 RBI, 1 BB, 3 K, 4 SF, 1 GIDP
  • C.J. Cron (16 PA): 2 hits, .125 OBP, .267 SLG, .392 OPS, 8 RBI, 4 K, 1 SF, 3 GIDP
  • Max Kepler (15 PA): 6 hits, .400 OBP, .429 SLG, .829 OPS, 9 RBI, 1 K, 1 SF, 1 GIDP
  • Nelson Cruz (12 PA): 4 hits, .364 OBP, .636 SLG, 1.000 OPS, 10 RBI, 6 K

While Kepler and Cruz have produced regularly with the bases loaded, Polanco’s stats are mediocre, and both Rosario’s and Cron’s are not at all in the realm of “good.”

Compare that to the four Yankees with the most bases-loaded plate appearances (they have three players tied for fifth, so the cutoff is different):

  • DJ LeMahieu (18 PA): 10 hits, .611 OBP, .867 SLG, 1.478 OPS, 24 RBI, 1 BB, 1 K, 2 SF, 1 GIDP
  • Gleyber Torres (17 PA): 3 hits, .176 OBP, .600 SLG, .776 OPS, 2 HR, 11 RBI, 1 K, 2 SF, 1 GIDP
  • Luke Voit (15 PA): 4 hits, .467 OBP, .417 SLG, .883 OPS, 8 RBI, 1 BB, 2 K, 2 HBP
  • Brett Gardner (12 PA): 4 hits, .538 OBP, 1.000 SLG, 1.538 OPS, 1 HR, 15 RBI, 3 BB, 2 K, 1 SF

Much better numbers.

While bases-loaded situations are rare, neither the Twins nor Yankees averaging even one per game, such an at-bat can break open a game or kill momentum, and the Pinstripe Platoon has shown far more success offensively in 2019 than the Bomba Brigade. Again, while these situations in all probability will appear rarely in the ALDS, they’ll be important, and the Twins are going to have to overperform with three men on. It’s doable - Miguel Sano’s grand slam against Cleveland was arguably the most important hit of the Twins’ season - but for Minnesota, it hasn’t been done much so far. That will have to change.