Monday, April 11, 2011

Good Pitching Beats Bad Hitting

Twins 2, Athletics 1

5 runs in 3 games.

I know the A's have good pitching. Brett Anderson, Gio Gonzalez and Brandon McCarthy are all former top prospects who look poised to make good on their promise. The A's relief corps was a strength last year, and they used free agency to add a prominent member from each of the Twins' (Brian Fuentes) and Rays' (Grant Balfour) dispersed bullpens. Despite the slew of errors they committed in the 1st week of the season, the A's have a solid defense, with average or better defenders at just about every position. It was tough to score on them last year, and it looks like it's going to be even tougher this year.


That doesn't account for the magnitude of offensive ineptitude we saw on display this weekend. The Twins were already in a horrific funk from their opening road trip, and the A's excellent run prevention merely exacerbated was already a big problem. Now, through 3 series, the Twins rank 2nd to last in the AL in BA, OBP, SLG% and WAR, and dead last in HR, IsoP, SB and BB%. That means they aren't getting on base, and when they do, it's only to 1B, and then they stay there.

At the end of Saturday's game I was stewing a bit to have allowed only 2 runs in 2 games and yet lost one. (And those 2 runs! BB, WP, E on a pickoff attempt, SF was how the damage was done on Friday. The next day, it was a 2-out single, WP, E6. Those are 2 excellent illustrations of how to give away a run to the other team.) But by the end of the weekend, I was just happy the Twins had managed to get through their home opening series without being swept.

Why is this happening to the offense right now? I have a theory. It may be a bit simplistic, but check this out:

Guys who had 60+ PA in Grapefruit League games:
Danny Valencia - .194/.265/.290, HR
Luke Hughes - 1 for 7
Denard Span - .286/.342/.400, HR
Jason Repko - 0 for 2
Jason Kubel - .300/.323/.367
Tsuyoshi Nishioka - .208/.269/.250, SB
Alexi Casilla - .167/.211/.278, SB
Total: .224/.278/.317, 6 2B, 2 HR, 2 SB

That's lousy. Though, in fairness to Repko, what are 2 AB? And to Hughes, that was a loud out in the 8th inning on Friday night. Valencia deserves to have a better line - he's been robbed a few times already. Nishioka was struggling with the MLB strike zone - lots of called 3rd strikes - but when he put the ball in play he was 5 for 16. Casilla should get about 200 more AB before we decide whether he can hit or not. You'd like to see more power from Kubel, but the average is there, and he's come through against some tough LHP. Span is doing fine. They're off to a slow start; as a group, their OPS should be at least .100 points higher.

Guys who had <60 PA in Grapefruit League games:
Matt Tolbert - 1 for 5
Delmon Young - .188/.212/.219
Justin Morneau - .258/.303/.355
Jim Thome - .167/.250/.444, HR
Drew Butera - 1 for 4
Michael Cuddyer - .107/.194/.107
Joe Mauer - .233/.303/.267
Total: .203/.258/.270, 7 2B, HR

Now, at a glance, that may not seem to be too much worse than what the other guys are doing. But, with the exception of 9 decent (for them) AB from Tolbert and Butera, this is the heart of the order. On a day when Thome is the DH, they hit 3-7 in the lineup (or 2-6 now that Nishioka is on the DL). Their combined OPS should be more than .300 points higher. They're struggling to hit line drives. Most of them are having trouble getting the ball out of the IF. They look out of sync at the plate. When several of those guys were being held out of the spring lineups for various injury reasons, we kept hearing that the goal was to get them ready to play on April 1st. It doesn't appear that they accomplished that goal.

They will break out eventually, of course. It may not happen this week - Kansas City is off to a hot start and Tampa Bay has good pitching and defense, too. But the Royals have a terrible lineup, and the Rays are the only team in the league hitting worse than the Twins. There will probably be a bunch more low-scoring games, but the Twins should win a few.

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