There are multiple reasons to explain the Twins’ recent offensive woes, and the most notable among them might be an expected one: they have cooled off considerably in the clutch. As of late May, the Twins were hitting .299 with runners in scoring position and .286 with two outs and RISP, and both marks were among the best in MLB. Just a month later, those overall numbers have dipped to .288 with RISP and .256 with two outs and RISP, meaning June has been pretty brutal for the Twins in the clutch.
(Sweet “Walks will haunt” Dome photo via @KirbysLeftEye).
Clutch hitting, however, was something most of us figured wasn’t sustainable. That’s an ebb and flow thing. For a bigger picture look at why the Twins aren’t scoring runs — at 4.17 per game they rank 10th in the American League after scoring 4.41 per game to rank 5th in the AL a season ago — a simple stat stands out: walks, or lack thereof.
The 2014 Twins walked 544 times — 3.36 times per game, ranking 2nd in the American League. It was a big part of the reason they had a team on-base percentage of .324, also good for second in the AL. And when you have more guys on base, you score runs.
The 2015 Twins have walked 181 times — 2.41 times per game, almost a full walk less than last year, to rank 13th among the 15 AL clubs this season. As a result, their team OBP has dipped to .302, also 13th in the AL, even though the team batting average from year to year (.254 last year, .249 this year) is not much different.
It’s hard to say if it’s a shift in approach by Twins hitters, a reflection of some patient hitters no longer being part of the team, a shift in approach from opposing pitchers to throw more strikes and force the Twins to hit, a little bit of sample size/luck … or some combination of some/all of these things.
If we take a little bit of a deeper dive into the numbers, we do find that the Twins are not going as far into at bats this season as they did last season.
Last year, Twins hitters saw 3.99 pitches per at bat, which was higher than the league average of 3.86.
This year, Twins hitters are seeing 3.77 pitches per at bat, lower than the league average of 3.82.
Being aggressive and going after pitches earlier in the count aren’t necessarily bad things, since it can lead batters to get more favorable pitches to hit. But if Twins hitters are swinging early and making outs — or even swinging early and having about as much success when putting the ball in play as they did when they were taking more walks — the results aren’t pretty.
And in the case of the Twins this season vs. last year, I’d say the correlation between 1 fewer walk taken per game and about 1/4 of a run scored fewer per game is pretty strong.