Catching up to heat has been a problem thus far
Last Saturday afternoon, I sat at Target Field and watched the Twins fall to the visiting Pittsburgh Pirates. On that day, the Twins banged out a whopping three hits en route to the 6-2 loss.
From my perch in the upper deck behind home plate, I seemed to notice the same pattern over and over (and over) again: Twins batters always severely behind in the count. Before the plate appearance could even begin in earnest, the count would be 0-1, 1-2, or 0-2. This got me thinking about the proliferation of various counts, and I was convinced that the Twins must be hitting out of extremely disadvantaged ones thus far in 2021.
Baseball Reference to the rescue…
-Over 6,391 PA in 2019, Twins batters were ahead in the count 35% of the time when the action event transpired, even 34%, and behind 31%. In the pandemic-shortened 2020 (2,168 PA), it was 36% ahead, 33% even, and 32% behind. This year? 33% ahead—34% even—33% behind.
In other words, no significant difference over the past three years in terms of count percentage (I’m guessing this may be somewhat constant for each team every year). There went my theory of “always being behind in the count” when putting bat to ball. So, I decided to poke around a few other offensive splits to see what I could find:
-Not long again, Rocco Baldelli referenced the bats potentially heating up as start times shift from day to night. Well, in ‘19 the offense slashed .266/.335/.472 beneath the sun and .272/.339/.507 under the lights. Then, in ‘20, it was .248/.312/.434 by day and .238/.317/.424 under the cover of darkness. It all averages out to—about no difference at all. Foiled again.
-What about the RHP/LHP splits everyone seems to be talking about? Two years ago, the Bomba Squad mashed lefties (.285/.351/.521) and were just fine against starboard hurlers (.264/.333/.484). Last year, both categories decreased—.244/.318/.456 vs RHP and .236/.309/.349 vs LHP. So far this year, it has been .234/.302/.406 against righties and .243/.310/.338 against lefties. So yes, put up against peak Bomba Squad the current group struggles mightily against left-handers. But compared to last year? Not enough to account for the severe drop-off in total offense.
-A final interesting split I discovered was performance versus “Power Pitchers” (top 1⁄3 in K’s) and “Finesse Pitchers” (bottom 1⁄3 in K’s). In 2019, Twins bats were okay against the fast guys—.245/.325/.442—but brutalized the pitch-to-contact crowd—.292/.350/.538. Last year, both dropped considerably: .210/.283/.352 against power; .251/.319/.442 against finesse. Most eye-opening is this year, in which performance against low-K guys is up again (.263/.323/.454) but performance against high-K aces has been abysmal (.162/.248/.274). Anecdotally, the amount of fastballs swung through seems to support those figures.
Of course, as is the case with almost everything in baseball, it is never “just one thing” that solves a problem. Usually, small percentage increases across the board ultimately get the job done. But in a league obsessed with velocity, the ability to batter fastballs around the yard will certainly need to trend upward for this team to start putting crooked numbers in line scores again. Hopefully, Wednesday’s 10-run outburst in Cleveland is the first step in that direction.