In the past when I’ve written these note posts, I’ve started them out with a look at the standings and playoff odds. While the Twins are not yet officially eliminated, that’s merely a formality at this point. So I won’t go through all that to start off, today.
Instead, I thought it might be interesting to step through some of the not-so-obvious, but impactful, things that contributed to the 2022 team’s fall from contention. We’ve discussed the biggest issues – the bullpen weakness early in the year and the lack of clutch hitting in the second half, combined with too many short starting pitching outings and injuries throughout. I won’t focus on those because they’ve been discussed in great depth.
Let’s look today at four other contributing factors, beginning with:
1. Bad Baserunning
Baserunning has always been (and remains) a tricky thing to objectively measure. Somewhat like measuring defense, it’s important to be able to evaluate both the plays made and not made in the overall assessment of baserunning. As a result, we tend to rely on a variety of stats to evaluate it.
In 2022, just about any way you want to measure it, the Minnesota Twins have been one of the worst baserunning teams in baseball.
Perhaps you prefer stolen bases as the measure of a team’s baserunning ability. The Twins are ranked last, with 31. That total, if it holds to the end of the season, would be tied for the 3rd-fewest steals in a season by a club since 2000, trailing only the 2016 Orioles and the 2019 Bomba Squad Twins, and tied with the 2005 Athletics. More than that, though, is that the Twins have also been terrible the few times they’ve attempted to steal. They’ve been thrown out attempting steals 17 times, giving them a 65% stolen base success rate that ranks 29th.
In addition to those 17 outs given away on the bases, the Twins have been thrown out on the bases 50 other times, tied for the fifth-most of any team per Baseball-Reference. Sixteen of those have come at home plate and another 18 have come at 2nd base. The Twins rank 26th with 111 bases taken, which are the sum total of their advancements on fly balls, passed balls, wild pitches, balks, and defensive indifference. Twins baserunners have advanced more than one base on a single and more than two bases on a double about 40% of the time they’ve had the opportunity, which ranks 18th.
Using run expectancy, we can estimate the value of those non-stolen base baserunning plays with the FanGraphs’ statistic, Ultimate Base Running (UBR). By UBR, the Twins rank 25th with –6.9 runs below average. It will probably not surprise anyone that has watched the Twins this season that Gilberto Celestino and Gary Sánchez “lead” the way in this measure, with –2.7 and –2.3, respectively.
Finally, UBR is combined with weighted stolen base and ground ball double play data to make up FanGraphs’ all-encompassing baserunning component to Wins Above Replacement (WAR), BsR.
By that, the 2022 Twins rank 29th with –15.0 runs below average from baserunning. Only Washington is lower with –22.0. Byron Buxton has been far and away Minnesota’s best all-around baserunner this season, with +4.3 BsR, and only Kyle Garlick joins him as being more than a full run above average. On the opposite side of the distribution, seven Twins have graded at least 2.0 runs below average, “led” by Gio Urshela and quickly followed by Carlos Correa, Celestino, Sánchez, and José Miranda.
2. Giving Away Bases for Free
If you played any kind of amateur baseball, you’ve probably heard of the concept of free bases. As a player growing up, I recall coaches at every level from Little League to College preaching the importance of limiting the number of free bases — walks allowed, hit by pitches, balks, stolen bases allowed, wild pitches, passed balls, and errors — our team gave our opponent. Preaching about limiting them is logical as giving the opponent extra bases and outs does almost nothing but hurt your chances of winning.
For the 2022 Twins, the first part of the season was pretty decent in this department. Through the middle of July, Minnesota ranked 11th by allowing about 4.73 free bases per game (league average was 4.99) and had played to a .537 winning percentage over that stretch.
As the injuries piled up and the Twins' daily lineup became more and more filled with replacements from St. Paul and the waiver wire, the team’s ability to play the type of clean, fundamental baseball that limits these kinds of things eroded.
Since July 23, Minnesota has averaged about 5.15 free bases allowed per game, which ranks 22nd, and they’ve played to sub-.400 winning percentage.
A difference of 0.42 per game might not seem very significant. But, just take a look at the clubs on the opposite ends of the spectrum in the charts above. The ones that score well in limiting extra opportunities for their opponents (left side) are all in the playoff hunt and all the teams that do this poorly (right side) are not.
3. Handling #9 Hitters
Continuing on the theme of self-inflicted wounds, have you noticed the Twins seem to have a propensity for allowing the bottom of the opponent’s lineup to kick-start rallies? I first became aware of this in relation to the debate about starting pitchers being allowed to face the opposing lineup a third time. I remember a couple of instances with Joe Ryan and Sonny Gray, specifically, where they cruised through about five innings and looked poised to get a third time through opportunity, but then gave up hits or walks to the bottom of the opposing order and created tough spots as the lineup turned over.
That made me curious if these were one-offs that I happened to catch or a trend. Statcast search makes it easy enough to put together some queries. Here’s what I found:
Overall, the Twins are in the top third when it comes to handling the bottom third of the opposing lineup. But, they have had a weird inability to handle #9 hitters, showing nearly 50-point differences in OBP and wOBA. That has been even more the case for Twins’ starters, who rank 5th-best in limiting the bottom third of the lineup overall, but just 26th against #9 hitters.
Within that, I found what might be a contributing factor to the way the Twins have managed their starters’ workloads. When facing the bottom of the opposing lineup the second time, Twins starters have been some of the least effective in baseball. Against #9 hitters a second time, they have been second-worst, allowing a .319/.363/.504 (.373 wOBA) line to this point, which is roughly the same in shape and total production as what All-Star Xander Bogaerts has produced for Boston this season.
I don’t know if there is much we can point to that explains this or that it means much going forward. But, it probably does help to explain some of the early pitching changes we’ve seen and bemoaned. It stands to reason that when the organization’s philosophy is predisposed to not let starters see the opposing lineup a third time to begin with, it’s even harder to give a starter an opportunity to face the top of the order a third time when there are men on base.
4. Manfredball Misery
The 2022 Twins have had more than their fair share of excruciating losses. That comes with the territory when you go 20-25 in one-run games. Related is the club’s 5-10 record in ballgames that go to extra innings. Only four teams have fared worse in extra innings than Minnesota, whose record includes going 3-6 against AL Central opponents and 0-4 against Cleveland.
Overall in extra innings, the Twins have been outscored 22-19. Whereas they have hit a combined .247/.316/.401 (.314 wOBA, 11th) overall, in extra innings their line has been just .173/.304/.293 (.252 wOBA, 29th). Those numbers reflect a significant power outage. Just three of the team's hits in extra innings have gone for extra bases.
The opposite has been true for the pitching staff. Where they have allowed opponents to produce .243/.310/.405 (.312 wOBA, 17th) overall, in extra innings they’ve allowed .316/.402/.468 (.356 wOBA, 21st).
5. Twins Links
- Louie Varland was named the Twins Minor League Player of the Year by Baseball America
- Varland and fellow Minnesota native Matt Wallner had large cheering sections in attendance for their Target Field debuts, writes Betsy Helfand of the St. Paul Pioneer-Press
- Davy Andrews dives into the numbers behind Carlos Correa’s summer slump and his strong finish to the season for FanGraphs
- Rocco Baldelli will be the Twins manager in 2023, says Derek Falvey. MLB.com
- Byron Buxton will undergo arthroscopic surgery to clean up his ailing knee and Do-Hyoung Park detailed the extensive training and rehab regimen Buxton endured to try to stay on the field
- If you’ve wondered why the Twins’ official website is twinsbaseball.com, instead of twins.com, there is quite a backstory. The domain was recently sold to MLB after a long standoff
6. Around Baseball Links
- Valuing the production of two-way star Shohei Ohtani for MVP debates is difficult. Mike Petriello broke down the components of WAR to compare Ohtani and Aaron Judge for MLB.com
- Jayson Stark wrote about the possible impacts of the coming rule changes for The Athletic
- Petriello also had a great Twitter Thread exploring shifted defensive alignments that will still be legal with the new rules. While I’m against shift limitations on principle, I don’t think this particular rule change will be all that impactful on the field
- Chris Gilligan used Baseball-Reference’s Championship Leverage Index to explore how the new, expanded playoff format may have contributed to less drama in pennant races this year for FanGraphs
- Emma Baccellieri had the story of how the minor leagues unionized for Sports Illustrated, led by a small group of players that includes two former Twins: MLB pitcher Trevor Hildenberger and minor-league pitcher Tom Hackimer