Friday, February 05, 2010

Hudson acquisition addresses Twins' biggest need.

In 1996 the Minnesota Twins scored a massive 877 runs. Today, this still represents the high-water mark for the ballclub’s offensive flood and only the 1936 Washington Senators scored more in the franchise history with 889 (and they did so in an impressive 153 games). That year’s Twins lineup boasted some of the game’s finest on-base machines: Leading off was Chuck Knoblauch’s .448 OBP, fifth best in the AL. Batting third was future Hall of Famer Paul Molitor who exercised a healthy .390 OBP. At cleanup was the sophomore Marty Cordova - fresh off a Rookie of the Year season - procuring a .371 OBP and had yet to be sidelined by a vicious tanning booth injury. Bridging the top of the order in Knoblauch to the heart of the order in Molitor and Cordova was the 24-year-old Rich Becker and his robust .372 OBP.


Part of the reason the franchise’s lone offensive juggernaut is frequently forgotten is that the pitching and defense allowed a stunning 900 runs, the most in the team’s history since relocating to the prairie, and finished a distant 4th, 21.5 games behind the Cleveland Indians. Nevertheless, this 1996 club holds the blueprints to one of the game’s offensive truths: Get production from your two-spot, score a ton of runs.


I expanded on this subject matter at length in the TwinsCentric Offseason GM Handbook*:  


In 1986, Bill James constructed a poignant analysis on lineup composition and revealed that the total runs scored and second spot in the batting order had the strongest correlation among any player in the lineup -- more than leadoff, third or cleanup.  Mr. James noted in his 1986 Baseball Abstract that “many managers tend to waste the second spot in the order by putting somebody there who isn’t one of the better hitters on the team...Too many managers will say ‘bat control’ as if these words were a magic wand, and place some .260 hitter with a secondary average of .150 batting second…”


What Mr. James was trying to convey was that a sizable portion of baseball managers were submitting lineups that 1) had an excellent on-base oriented leadoff hitter, followed by a guy that 2) would slap the ball the other way or lay down a bunt thereby advancing the runner but surrendering an out, followed by 3) the team’s best hitter. Conceding the out was not advantageous for an offense. His solution to create an optimal lineup, one would want to enlist as many hitters in a row that avoid making outs – regardless of the out’s so-called productivity.


Since Becker’s 1996 campaign, the Twins have not had significant production from the two-spot. In fact that season’s team was the last one to have an OBP above .350 in the two-spot. This has been partial due to personnel and partial due to managerial decisions to implement a contact-heavy, sacrificing mentality.


Later on in the same article, I noted:


“Fast forward to 2008 - 22 years later – where Twins manager Ron Gardenhire unwaveringly presented a lineup card that embraced Weaver’s logic and opposed the method Mr. James’s research recommended. His use of Alexi Casilla that season reflected the long instituted Weaverian belief that a two-hitter should be an avid bunter as Casilla was the only AL representative among the top ten with 13 sac hits. What’s more, Casilla was the only nonpitcher

(aside from the light-hitting Wily Tavaras) to be on that list as well. This should speak volumes towards A) the belief in Casilla as a hitter and B) the capricious handling of precious outs by management...


…This past season, however, the levy finally broke completely. The average batting line from the number two spot in the American League was .277/.337/.430 (767 OPS). In other words, the average number-two hitter was creating outs 66.2 percent of the time. The Twins meanwhile, hit .262/.306/.394, getting out in a whopping 69.4 percent of their plate appearances.”


That 69 percent of plate appearance by the number two hitter that resulted in outs was the third highest in the AL. Only the lowly Royals and Mariners recorded more outs from their lineup’s second spot. This lack of production was glossed over because the lineup scored runs in bunches based on the presence of Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Jason Kubel and Michael Cuddyer. While this was a good thing, I implored the Twins to consider how many runs they were passing on neglecting to improve the two-spot, making it an essential Offseason To-Do List item.


 “The makeup of a two-hitter can be debated, but a strong contributor’s worth cannot be wholly ignored. There is no telling how many runs were lost or potential rally’s shortened because of poor at-bats by the team’s two-hitters. Had the Twins in 2009 employed a similar hitter to that of Boston (Pedroia), New York (Damon) or Texas (Young), there may have been more opportunities for the middle of the order to drive in more runs. Therefore, in 2010, the organization should attempt to acquire an adequate candidate that can perform duties of a high-caliber number-two hitter. As it stands, that person needs to come from outside the organization.”


That person did indeed come from outside of the organization. As of Thursday night, now with the one-year, $5 million contract to second baseman Orlando Hudson, the Twins can cross that gaping need off of their agenda.


As outline in length here on Wednesday, Hudson has numerous appealing qualities that the organization called for. While holding a career .348 OBP, in the last three seasons Hudson has greatly improved on this mark, posting a .366 OBP while walking in 10.1% of his plate appearances since 2007. Although I do not foresee Hudson’s OBP reaching quite the same level as it did in the offensive-friendly NL West upon transitioning back into the AL, he’s extremely capable of owning the highest OBP out of the Twins’ two-spot since Rich Becker. Inserting Hudson’s potential of an OBP of .350 or above behind lead-off hitter Denard Span (.390 career OBP) and in front of Mauer (.408 career OBP) and Morneau (.350 career OBP) will give the Twins a chain that will avoid needless outs and should commence pumping out runs ad nauseam.


*You haven’t purchased the TwinsCentric Offseason GM Handbook yet?! It’s only $7.95 right now! Go! Go do it now.