Minnesota Twins fans have been wondering for nearly two decades what it would cost to get consistently good starting pitching on their team. Turns out, all it costs is losing any kind of offensive momentum. Minnesota’s offense has been underwhelming to start the season. A 57.3 fWAR may be 11th in baseball, but that is inflated by a few outlier games where they’ve run up the score. They are one of the worst-hitting teams in baseball since May 1, with a 1.9 fWAR (18th best in the majors). That isn’t even highlighting the struggles they have had with runners in scoring position or with the bases loaded.
Scoring runs in the aggregate hasn’t been the main issue. Minnesota has recorded 1917 runs scored, 14th in the league. The Twins have had no issue hitting home runs. Their 563 homers are good enough for 8th-best in baseball. That includes a franchise record 18 straight games with at least one home run.
Minnesota’s power numbers may induce Bomba Squad memories, but this team is nothing like that historic offense from four years ago. The Twins have hit 868 home runs since the start of the 2019 season, fourth-best in baseball. Even with this success, it doesn’t seem like Minnesota’s front office is trying to recreate the Bomba Squad every season. They are just trying to put what they view as the best players in the lineup when possible.
Run production almost seemed like an afterthought when the regular season began. After spending most of the year in first place, the Twins dealt with a collapsed starting rotation, inconsistency with most of the bullpen, and a never-ending injured list last season. Shouldn’t the lineup be the one aspect of the team Minnesota could rely on? The Twins lineup has elite potential with the amount of prospect investment they have made with their hitters.
Carlos Correa and Byron Buxton are two of the more well-known names in baseball. Trevor Larnach and Alex Kirilloff have flashed their offensive ability in small doses. And José Miranda hit for power in his rookie season. Top prospects Brooks Lee and Royce Lewis aren’t far from the big leagues either. They also added some respected veterans like Kyle Farmer and Michael A. Taylor to the mix gave the lineup some respectability.
There are good hitters in this lineup. So many that the Twins have been keeping most of their top hitting prospects in the minor leagues even with their potential. Minnesota’s offense is scary when most of the hitters are doing well at the plate. It has no issue showcasing high-end potential because the lineup has a high ceiling.
But the Twins lineup doesn’t have anybody to prevent the bottom from collapsing when things start to go wrong. It’s a boom-or-bust lineup where its biggest issue comes with the high volume of strikeouts. Minnesota leads baseball with a 25.9 percent strikeout clip this season and a 26.6 percent mark since the beginning of May. The team’s 68.2 percent zone swing rate is two percent higher than the league average. The same goes for their 79.6 percent zone contact rate.
There are too many guys who rely on a big swinging approach. Joey Gallo is having a nice bounce-back season with 11 home runs already and a 37 percent career strikeout rate. Taylor has a 33.3 percent strikeout clip. Matt Wallner and Larnach are nice prospects, but they have strikeout rates higher than Gallo this season. Buxton has brought his strikeouts down to 27 percent, but that’s still high.
Trading Luis Arraez to the Miami Marlins this winter had a hidden cost. Not only did they were losing the reigning AL Batting Champion, but the Twins also lost their lineup diversity. There are good hitters in Minnesota’s lineup, but they are too similar. Outside of Kirilloff, they don’t have any pure contact hitters. Even if the Twins would have kept Arraez, these issues would still be here. Dating back to last season, Minnesota still had issues with inconsistent run production.
The Twins are hovering around league average in most other underlying offensive stats. Team exit velocity is at league average while their barrel and hard-hit rates sit close to league average. Fixing the strikeout issues can help generate high exit velocities if Minnesota is taking good at-bats and doing a better job of being selective with which pitches they swing at. Especially since the Twins have a slightly below-average swing rate and a 29 percent whiff rate that’s four percent worse than the league average.
At this point in the season, the team is starting to morph into what it will be throughout the season. The easiest things the offense can do to get back on track aren’t simple fixes. Even getting the offense from the bottom half of the league to slightly above average will directly benefit the rest of the team. Case in point, the bullpen has been asked to protect too many close games.
Reducing the strikeout rate won’t be easy considering the team’s 23rd ranked .283 BABIP this season. The Twins can’t play small ball as a quick fix, either. Even if they get a runner on first and steal second, they have collectively hit the third-lowest singles in the league, ahead of only the Los Angeles Dodgers and the San Diego Padres. As currently constructed, the Twins also aren’t built to play an early-2000s Twins-style piranha game.
Therefore, it’s going to take a teamwide improvement in approach from their lineup. Without any insider knowledge, it’s tough to say if this is a coaching, scouting, or execution problem. Regardless, something needs to change with the hitter’s mentality at the plate. Finding a way to fight off more pitches and being more selective when available will help bring the strikeouts down. It’s all easier said than done, but it might just be the little things that are making a big difference with the hitting.
The Twins lineup just isn’t in a rough stretch or a funk, it looks fundamentally broken. Adding some new prospects like Lewis will help, but it won’t be enough. There needs to be a complete approach reset for most of the Twins hitters to avoid the strikeouts and untimely hitting that have held back the team from fully taking advantage of their situation in an extremely winnable AL Central.