Thursday, June 09, 2011

Its not (just) the bullpen

Twins bullpen - 13 losses
Twins starters - 35 losses

The problem isn't just the bullpen or even mostly the bullpen. 

There seems to be a tendency among sports writers/bloggers/fans to blame the Twins bad start on whatever will justify that person's off-season concerns. The reality is that the Twins performance has fallen off across the board, defense, pitching and offense. So lets start with the offense, which is last in the league in runs scored. This is a result of a decline form 2010 of 14% in hits, 17% in runners on base and .22% in total bases per game. So what is responsible for that decline? One way of looking at this is to compare what positions account for these declines from last year to this year. 

The only positions who have not declined in all three categories (hits, on base and total bases) are center field and right field. With Denard Span (and Ben Revere) the center field positions offensive output has increased across the board. Right fielders have produced more hits and runners, but had a slight decline in total bases. But the real question is which positions account for the biggest share of the decliine.

Not surprisingly the catching position leads the way, but not in all three categories. Its second in TB, while the biggest dropoff there has been from left field. The dropoff in left field is second in hits and third on getting on base. The offensive decline at these two positions account for over half the offensive decline in every category. 

What is surprising, is that, for all the complaints about shortstop, the fall off from offense at second base has been greater in all three categories. In fact, the drop off at shortstop for OB is less than every position except RF and CF. And only third base joins those two with less dropoff than shortstop in TB.  Only in terms of hits has shortstop declined more than the team average. 

I have thought that a big part of the problem was Justin Morneau's struggles. But while there has been a fall off at first base, its not nearly as great as it would appear from comparing Morneau's stats. The fall off at first base is greater than average at TB and OBP, but there are four positions in each case that are worse. In terms of hits, it is actually above average with 5 positions worse.  On the other hand, the DH spot has been a bigger problem than first base in every category.

So where does that leave us? If we put players names on the positions with the greatest falloff  they would be Mauer, Young, Nishioka and Thome/Kubel. Of course given the way the lineup has been juggled in response to injuries its hard to put individual names on the production from either year.   What is interesting is that third base is not that much worse than last year (this is largely because it wasn't as good last year with Punto et al as Valencia's numbers indicate), nor has shortstop been a huge problem on offense. And while Morneau's struggles are a problem, Young's have been a much bigger problem.

The reason the Twins still have some hope is that a lineup with Mauer, Morneau and Young hitting the way they did when healthy last year will produce a lot more runs, fewer one run games and fewer opportunities for the bullpen to blow a lead.  And if the bullpen stops blowing leads, they have a chance to catch up to the rest of the central division in a year when there is considerable balance across the major leagues.

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