The Twins slow start is among the more surprising storylines to the start of the season. This is a club that has won the AL Central six times in the last ten years and never finished lower than third place (2005 and 2007) during that same period. To put it mildly, the Twins have been about as wildly successful as any club can be (excluding the post season). However, the Twins find themselves in an unusual position, last place.
It is still very early in the season, so normally I would feel it is too early to panic. On the other hand, everything seems to be going wrong for the club. Franchise player, superstar catcher Joe Mauer is on the disabled list with “leg weakness”, an absolutely terrifying “condition” given he had knee surgery in the offseason and is signed to a hefty 184 million dollar deal that runs until 2018. Francisco Liriano is having a completely perplexing year pitching with 18 strike outs to 18 walks, 4 home runs and a downright awful ERA of 9.13. Finally Justin Morneau has started very slowly in April after having serious problems with a concussion last season. It just seems like a year where everything that can go wrong will go wrong for this organization.
The pitching has performed below expectations, however the offense has been downright putrid. The team BA and OBP are low, but what stands out the most is that the Twins have tied the A’s for the lowest HR total in the American League. However, even the A’s have compensated a bit with a few more doubles and triples. The Twins are alone in the cellar with the fewest extra base hits in the majors. This team, with largely the same group of players, finished 5th in the AL in runs scored in 2010.
To this point the only players hitting at or above expectations are Jason Kubel and Denard Span. Even Kubel’s home run rate is down.
First and foremost, a lot of the Twins’ power is generated by Mauer and Morneau. Significantly lower production from one player let alone both would be enough to put a serious dent in the Twins production.
The real trouble with the Twins has been that secondary power producers have also had significantly impaired production.
After a hot start last season Danny Valencia has cooled off significantly to start off this season. While he is taking more walks, his BABIP has dropped almost 100 points. The BABIP drop is significant for power because while his HR/FB rate is virtually identical this season, his doubles rate is down. His doubles rate is affected by his BABIP, specifically, FB BABIP because fly balls that drop in are more likely to become doubles. Valencia had a very high FB BABIP of .186 in 2010, this year it has fallen to a more natural .153. This LD BABIP is a bit low though so Valencia can expect increased power production even if only slightly.
Jim Thome is seeing more time this year but his power production has fallen so far. This should not be that surprising as Thome had an ISO of .344 last season as compared to .258 and .232 the previous two seasons with full time at bats. His HR/FB rate was 33.8%, the highest rate since 2002. However, his 11% HR/FB rate is probably not indicative of what to expect from Thome going forward. He sat in the low 20’s the two seasons before 2011. Twins fans can probably still expect a bit more pop out of Thome going forward but nobody could claim surprise if the 40 year olds productions suddenly hit a very steep drop off.
Delmon Young was an extra base his monster in 2010 racking up 46 doubles, 1 triple, and 21 home runs. He is an extreme ground ball hitter, but still maintained a 10.6% HR/FB rate that has been consistent over a couple of seasons. Delmon is at 0% this year while his LD, GB, FB rates are almost all the same. Delmon figures to open his HR account soon in 2011 (barring continued injury woes) and, based on his numbers, should probably continue to produce home runs at a similar rate as the 2010 season. Delmon has obviously had very unlucky BABIP numbers this season, however he also probably had a very flukey FB BABIP of .233 in 2010. His career FB BABIP is .200, a number that is still very very high. But, Delmon’s career doubles rate is .096 per FB, very close to his rate in 2011. So while Delmon should return to accumulating many extra base hits, he probably is not going to reach 46 doubles again simply because of FB BABIP regression. Delmon has shown remarkable consistently with his 2b and HR rates and should rebound to a level close to pervious production again provided health.
Michael Cuddyer is the final significant producer of power in the Twins lineup that has not met expectations this season. Cuddyer’s home run rate has been pretty close to expectation, however he was a double’s monster last season and has seen a moderate dip in doubles production this season. Cuddyer is also an extreme ground ball hitter who has consistent rates this year, much like Young. Also in similar fashion, Cuddyer has a 2b/FB rate of just under 10% but he has 0 2b on FB this season. His production as far as power is pretty close to what you would expect aside from a few fewer doubles that appears to be the result of nothing but small sample size.
As you can see, while someone could expect lower power production from the Twins this season simply based on slight regression from Valencia, Thome, Young and maybe even Cuddyer if he declines at all due to age, the vast majority of non production can probably be explained away by small sample size and because Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau have not been right. However, small negative adjustments add up and if Mauer and Morneau continue to have problems, the Twins could see themselves out of the race for the first time in a long while. Maybe this is just the year that everything goes wrong for the Twins.