Tuesday night’s 2-1, 14-inning loss to the Royals was the breaking point — or at least the latest breaking point — for some Twins fans who have watched their squad sputter this season largely because of an anemic offense.
Considered a strength going into this season after the young Twins lineup ranked No. 7 in MLB last season with 815 runs scored, the offense instead has produced the second-fewest runs (202) in the majors entering play Wednesday.
They’ve played fewer games than every other team in baseball, so on a per-game basis they rank in the mid-20s. But still: it’s bad. The Twins are scoring almost exactly one run fewer per game this year than last: 5.03 in 2017 to 4.04 this year.
As I set out on a brief journey to examine the “why” instead of just the “what,” I hit some dead ends. Maybe they aren’t walking as much, I wondered at the outset? Nope, their walk rate last year (3.66 per game) is nearly identical to this year (3.62). Maybe they aren’t getting as many extra-base hits? Again, it’s nearly identical.
What about clutch hitting? Maybe we’re getting closer to the problem. The Twins are No. 13 in batting average with runners in scoring position and No. 16 in slugging percentage with RISP this season. The Twins were No. 11 and No. 9 in those categories a year ago, so this should account for at least a little of the discrepancy.
But we don’t get to the real answer until we simplify even more and look at the most direct way to score a run: the home run.
Last year’s Twins were middle of the pack when it comes to the long ball. That’s what 206 home runs in a season gets you these days — a No. 16 ranking. But that was plenty, particularly when considering some other factors.
This year? The Twins entered Wednesday with just 48 home runs in 50 games. They went from 1.27 homers a game to 0.96 so far. That’s a problem already. And here’s the bigger problem within that problem:
Last year, of the Twins’ 206 home runs, 84 came with men on base and 122 were solo. So 41 percent came with runners on base. The breakdown: 55 two-run homers, 25 three-run homers and four grand slams. That adds up to 323 runs scored off home runs out of 815 — a full 40 percent of their runs, and almost exactly two runs per game coming on home runs.
This year, of the Twins’ 48 home runs, only 16 have come with men on base with 32 being solo. So that’s 33 percent with runners on. And of those 16 with men on base, 14 were two-run shots to go with 1 three-run homer and one grand slam. I count 67 runs coming via the home run — 33 percent of their total runs, and just 1.34 runs per game on homers.
They’re scoring about two-thirds of a run fewer per game on home runs this year than they were last year. There’s two-thirds of the problem for an offense that’s scoring one run fewer per game overall.
It’s not rocket science. The Twins need Miguel Sano, Brian Dozier and friends to start hitting more bombs and to do it more frequently with runners on base.