Wednesday, March 02, 2011

The Core Four

In 2009, the Twins scored 817 runs, ranking them fourth in the American League. They hit 172 home runs, which -- while below the league average -- marked their highest total in the past six years and an increase of 61 from the prior season.

They managed this relatively gaudy offensive production despite underwhelming performances from such regulars as Alexi Casilla, Nick Punto, Joe Crede, Delmon Young and Carlos Gomez.

The lineup's overall success in '09 was keyed by four players that comprised the heart of the lineup: Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel. Each of the four posted an OPS of .862 or higher, went deep at least 28 times and drove in at least 94 runs, transforming an otherwise sub par offense into one of the best in the league.

Last year, the Twins' lineup featured greater balance, but scored 45 fewer runs and hit 30 fewer homers. To pinpoint this drop-off in production we need look no further than those four players.

Mauer struggled with injuries and adjustments to his new home park; his home run total dropped from 28 to nine and his OPS dropped by 160 points. Morneau was tremendous over the first half of the season but didn't play a game after July 7, finishing with career lows in home runs (18) and RBI (56). Cuddyer never seemed to get his power swing going, tallying less than half as many home runs as the previous year (from 32 to 14) and posting the lowest full-season slugging percentage of his career (.417). Kubel saw his OPS drop from .907 to .750.

In my opinion, the lineup has gotten worse around these four players since last year. I see Alexi Casilla and Tsuyoshi Nishioka as offensive downgrades from Orlando Hudson and J.J. Hardy, and I have a hard time expecting the same kind of production from the likes of Jim Thome and Danny Valencia.

Even if those auxiliary players don't pan out as the team hopes, though, it doesn't mean the offense can't be more productive overall. If the four players at the heart of the order can move closer to their 2009 levels of production, they can change the entire complexion of the lineup, especially with Delmon Young now adding another legitimate power bat to the mix.

Whether or not these hitters can rebound will be largely dependent on health. It seems fair to say none of the four were completely healthy last year, and unfortunately three of them are already dealing with injury issues this spring that have prevented them from being able to take the field for a game thus far.

If the "Core Four" can put these pesky problems behind them and remain relatively healthy throughout the summer, they could easily be the difference between a mediocre lineup and an upper-echelon one.


Anonymous said...

Acknowledging that the Twins have decreased in power over the last year and will presumably do so again, I'm not convinced this is going to translate directly into losses. I don't consider myself an expert in the slightest, but I'll do my best to not be that guy who gives some unsubstantiated opinion and says something along the lines of "you're an idiot for not seeing things my way" to everyone else. Anyways, it seems to me that the Twins are increasingly going to have to focus their strengths on getting on the basepaths to begin with. They currently have four guys who spent all/most of last year in/near the .300's(Mauer,Morneau,Valencia, and Young), and a few other guys that have been there before (Span, Cuddyer), not to mention a new player who hit extremely well in Japan(you're guess is as good as mine as to what .346 in Japan translates to in pro ball). My point being, as much as the Twins are possibly on the decline for power, they bat for average and get on base very well across the board. And that was with sub-par performances in those categories from Span,Kubel,and Cuddyer. It seems like a stretch to count the Twins out offensively for a team that hits as well as it does in terms of getting on base. And though I'll be the first to admit that I don't have the obscure and specific statistics to back up my opinions (and that's all it is, an opinion), the Twins feature alot of upside if some of the aforementioned guys can rebound after last season. Let's say they do, Valencia keeps up the offensive prowess(unlikely though it may be), and Nishioka's stats translate well from the Japanese leagues. That's a helluva lineup in terms of getting on base. Does that work on alot of assumptions? Yes. But, it's not too unreasonable to suggest that there should be some improvement across the board this year overall in terms of run production. And, as always, I'm open to hearing other people's perspectives on this.

Brad said...

Just to take it one step farther on anonymous (which I agree with you almost 100%) but the reason we want those guys on the basebaths is because Target is not a Home-Run hitters park. With Hardy and Hudson (normally speed positions) Thome and others clogging up the base paths, the Twins dropped remarkably in first to thirds, and second to home. Not to mention what it did with our steals. Gardy likes playing an agressive style of ball on the base paths, and with the likes of what our roster consisted of, he couldn't do it. I think it was pretty obvious how slow the Twins were vs NY in the Division series. Posada behind the plate, we should run on him all day, as did Texas did in the ALCS. And the pressure they put on NY was in my opinion the reason they won. said...

More so than the middle infield reshuffling, I still maintain that Morneau/Mauer health will dictate this year's outcomes. And although that is a side-issue to this post, it remains a huge issue for the Twins.

sean said...

Joe Mauer 2004-2009: .327/.408/.483
Joe Mauer 2010: .327/.402/.469

If that's struggled, I'll take it.