Remember how fun the 2019 Minnesota Twins were? How they blasted their way to an AL Central title and into the postseason behind a record-breaking 307 home runs via five 30-plus home-run hitters. Well, this year’s Twins might not be quite as fun most of the time. But they are still hitting home runs.
Yep, that’s right. The Twins are one of the league’s best-hitting clubs. Sixty-five games into the season, they have hit 97 home runs — second-best in all of baseball and just three behind the Toronto Blue Jays, who lead the league with 100 home runs. Of course, the home run number is nowhere near the 133 long balls the 2019 Twins had at this point in the season. But it’s still impressive to see them among the league leaders, especially given that the lineup has been hampered by injuries this season.
Cruz has been showing some signs of aging. But he is still having an impressive year, sitting in the top-five in all of baseball for barrel percentage with 17.1 percent and hard-hit percentage of 55.3 percent, according to Baseball Savant. Likewise, Sanó, despite his cold-streak troubles and high strikeout rate, continues to show he can mash the ball when he gets ahold of one with a 15.2 barrel percentage.
Here are Minnesota’s top home run hitters:
Donaldson has been intensely scrutinized by Twins fans because of his $20-plus million price tag. While Minnesota arguably overpaid for him in free agency, he still has been solid from the plate, hitting a pair of late-inning home runs over the last weeks. His barrel percentage now sits at 16.2 percent, and his 93.1 MPH exit velocity put him in the top 6.0 percent in both categories, respectively.
Byron Buxton was a hitting machine in the first month and a half of the season and put himself in the early MVP conversation. Before he got hurt, he was on pace to exceed all of his previous power stats. His 2.5 WAR still leads the team, and his .772 slugging percentage is .200 points better than his next closest teammate’s.
Despite beginning the year in the minors, Alex Kirilloff and Trevor Larnach may end up being two of Minnesota’s best power hitters. Neither are team leaders in home runs, but both players have the potential to become respectable power hitters as they continue to get more at-bats and develop during their first year in the big leagues.
Kirilloff has been one of the better hitters on the team, according to Baseball Savant. That effort has been led by his expected slugging (xSLG) mark of .601 and 93.3 MPH average exit velocity, both of which are second-best on the team. Larnach has been coming along, too, with three home runs, a .467 xSLG, and .373 BABIP.
Kirilloff and Larnach have already commanded the respect of big-league pitchers early in their careers. As a result, pitchers are treating them like big-league veterans. Kirilloff and Larnach have seen just 38 and 44 percent fastballs, respectively, in their first season. For reference, 54 percent of the pitches Ryan Jeffers saw last year were fastballs, and 58 percent of the pitches rookie Gilberto Celestino has seen have been heaters this year.
Worth noting here is that Minnesota’s best young power hitters are under team control. Outside of Cruz, who will likely be traded by late July, most of the home runs this year are by players who will be in Minnesota until at least 2023. However, a key outlier here is Donaldson, 35, who may regress as he gets older.
It’s not just home runs, either. The Twins have been good at making solid contact and hitting for multiple bases. They have an isolated power clip of .188 according to FanGraphs, which is third-best in the league. According to Baseball Savant, the offense ranks in the top 7.0 percent in hard-hit percentage while also being in the top 1.0 percent in both barrel percentage and a .471 wSLG.
So if the Twins still are still one of the best home run hitting teams, why do the two teams feel completely different? Well, this year’s team isn’t close to the 2019 home run pace, and the current team hasn’t been able to score as much either. The 2019 Twins finished second in baseball in runs scored, but this year’s team is 12th in scoring. In addition, they are one of those worst offenses with runners in scoring position, meaning the Twins often rely solely on the longball for offense.
Additionally, the pitching staff hasn’t been making it easier on a team that isn’t as potent offensively as they were. Even though they are in the top half of the league in runs scored, Minnesota’s minus-50 run differential puts them in the bottom third of the league.
Whether you believe that Major League Baseball is intentionally altering the baseball to drive offense or not, front offices are constructing their lineups with the long ball in mind. As a result, eight out of the 10 top home run hitting teams have records of .500 or better. Although, as we’ve learned with the Twins, just because a team can hit many balls over the fence doesn’t automatically make them a World Series contender.
In a way, it feels like the Bomba Squad may have never left. However, the high home run numbers should make the Twins feel more confident about competing in 2022. Only a handful of players left from the original Bomba Squad are still on the Twins, but the new-look lineup can still be a challenge for opposing pitchers this year and beyond.