Why Do the Twins and Guardians Approach Offense In Polar Opposite Ways?

Photo credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Last season, the Minnesota Twins and Cleveland Guardians were opposites offensively. The Twins front office constructed a lineup that prioritizes patience. They laid off pitches outside the zone and swung hard at pitches inside it. Minnesota’s approach led the league in strikeout percentage (26.6%) while manufacturing the most strikeouts by a team in MLB history with 1,654. Joey Gallo (42.8 percent strikeout rate), Michael A. Taylor (33.5 percent strikeout rate), and Matt Wallner (31.5 percent strikeout rate) were the primary contributors to the team’s record-setting strikeout rate.

The league average strikeout rate was 22.7 percent last season. Of the 17 Twins position players who had 150 or more plate appearances last season, all but three had a strikeout percentage higher than the league average. The only players who had a sub-22.7 percent strikeout rate were José Miranda (15.8 percent over 152 plate appearances), Donovan Solano (22.2 percent over 450 plate appearances), and Max Kepler (21.6 percent over 491 plate appearances).

In contrast, the Guardians ranked last in MLB in strikeout rate, punching out 18.7 percent of the time. Of Cleveland’s hitters who had 150 or more plate appearances last season, only four had a strikeout rate higher than the league average. Although the Guardians struck out less, that doesn’t mean they were a better team offensively.

Despite striking out 512 more times than Cleveland last season, the Twins generated a .312 on-base percentage (OBP), ranking 12th in MLB. On the other hand, the Guardians ranked 23rd in baseball despite putting more balls in play. The Twins also ranked seventh in MLB in Weighted On Base Average (wOBA), while the Guardians ranked 27th. Surprisingly, Minnesota generated more offense despite striking out at an alarmingly higher rate. Quality balls put in play were the driving force behind the team’s success.

Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABIP) is a statistic that measures how often non-home run batted balls fall for hits. Last season, the Twins ranked 10th in MLB with a .304 BABIP, while the contact-skilled Guardians manufactured a .292 BABIP, ranking them 21st. The Guardians could not manufacture hits on balls put in play because most were hits on the ground for easy outs.

Cleveland ranked sixth in MLB in Ground Ball Percentage (GB%), pounding 44 percent of balls hit into the dirt. In contrast, the Twins ranked 27th in MLB in GB%, hitting just 39.8 percent of balls on the ground. Unsurprisingly, the Twins ranked fifth in MLB with a 39.3 percent Fly Ball Percentage (FB%), and the Guardians ranked 28th, hitting just 34.7 percent of balls in the air. The Twins capitalized on putting balls in the air, securing a 15.4 percent home-run-to-fly-ball ratio (second in MLB), while the Guardians ranked last in MLB, hitting a home run on only 8.2 percent of fly balls.

The Twins rank fifth in Isolated Power (ISO), which measures a hitter’s extra bases per at-bat. Unsurprisingly, Cleveland ranked last in MLB, with a well below league average .131 ISO. Minnesota finished tenth as a team in Wins Above Replacement at FanGraphs (fWAR) with 24.8, and the Guardians finished 19th with 15.1, the result of the two teams existing on two immensely different ends of the offensive spectrum. The 2023 Twins reaped the benefits of their high-strikeout, high-power offensive approach, winning the AL Central by nine games over the second-place Detroit Tigers.

Given Cleveland’s lack of offensive results, will the two teams again operate on different ends of the offensive spectrum in 2024?

Although success from both approaches will fluctuate season-to-season, there is reason to suspect Cleveland will sacrifice contact for more power in 2024. During the 2023 trade deadline, the Guardians sent frontline starting pitcher Aaron Civale to the Tampa Bay Rays for left-handed, power-hitting first baseman Kyle Manzardo.

During his time in the Rays and Guardians minor league systems last season, Manzardo, 23, hit 17 home runs in 351 at-bats. Manzardo could begin the season at Triple-A Columbus. Still, FanGraphs’s STEAMER projection system predicts he will hit 14 home runs in 361 plate appearances next season. Though STEAMER projects him to hit less than 15 home runs next season, Manzardo could easily top 20 home runs with extended playing time.

The Guardians poached third base prospect Deyvison De Los Santos this offseason from the Arizona Diamondbacks in the Rule 5 Draft. Despite not having the most potent contact tool, De Los Santos has a 70-out-of-80 grade raw power tool on FanGraphs. STEAMER predicts the 20-year-old will hit just seven home runs over 230 plate appearances, assuming he will hit poorly in MLB. Like with Manzardo, if De Los Santos can hit major league pitching, he could top 20 home runs next season.

Cleveland also acquired left-handed hitting outfielder Estevan Florial from the New York Yankees for pitcher Cody Morris. Despite not performing well in various stints with the Yankees from 2020 to 2023, the 26-year-old outfielder has a 60 out of 80 and is projected to hit nine home runs over 310 plate appearances.

Cleveland’s acquisitions of Manzardo, De Los Santos, and Florial indicate the Guardians are prioritizing implementing power into their lineup construction. Although Gallo and Taylor have departed the Twins, the organization will continue to value a high-strikeout, high-power approach at the plate next season. Production is unpredictable from season to season. Still, expect the Twins to stay toward the top of the league in strikeout and home run rate and the Guardians to regress toward the mean.

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