Friday, June 04, 2010

Twins need to set tables in Oakland

Thursday night’s loss to the Seattle Mariners dropped the Twins to a 13-14 record away from Target Field, lending credence to the notion that the good bats may have failed to accompany the team on their flight from the Lindbergh terminal. 

Without a doubt, the Twins have run headlong into some superior pitching. The Mariners have had the luxury of trotting out two of the dirtiest pitchers in baseball, Cliff Lee and Felix Hernandez, but also have received fine performances from Doug Fister and Jason Vargas. If tough pitching isn’t enough to slow a lineup, Safeco Field is a notoriously emasculating ballpark. As such, Minnesota will vacate the Northwest having scored just one run in each of the past three games.

One of the problems has been the lack of production from the top of the order. After taking strike three in his final at-bat to finish the series inSeattle 1-for-15, Denard Span’s average away from Target Field slunk to .186. Likewise, JJ Hardy and Matt Tolbert, Orlando Hudson’s two-hitter replacements, also went 1-for-15 with a walk in the injured second baseman’s absence. A combined 2-for-30 with two walks from the top gives the meat of the order little to work with. 

Certainly, with Hudson out due to a wrist injury, it greatly diminishes the table-setting capabilities (his 39 runs scored leads to the team) but Span has been almost nonexistent all season when playing on the road. This has been detrimental to the scoring process. As one of the league’s premier lead-off hitters, Span has reached base to lead off an inning 40 times, the most in baseball. According to, Span and the Twins score 1.15 runs per inning when he reaches base. Conversely, when he fails to reach the Twins score just .49 runs per inning. With a .460 home on-base percentage Span is doing most of this damage at Target Field. When traveling however, Span has exhibited a lowly .262 on-base percentage leading to fewer opportunities to drive him in. 

It is not as if Span has a skill set that is more conducive to his home environment, like Vladimir Guerrero’s hefty advantage in the heated bandbox in Arlington or the opportunistic right field wall at Yankee Stadium which inflated Johnny Damon’s overall totals a year ago. After all, Target Field has been an offense inhibitor as well. Basically, he has been coaxing fewer walks (12% BB% at home versus 9% on the road) while not making as solid of contact (22% line drive rate at home versus 14% line drive rate on the road) so it is easy to see where the drop in on-base percentage originates. In the end, Span’s road woes seem to stem from either a bout of small sample size bad luck (identified by a below average BABIP of .206), the psychological influence of traveling or perhaps a little of column A and a little of column B. 

The Twins high-octane offense has been driven by the combination of Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau but that vehicle has been fueled by the ability of Span and Hudson to reach base regularly. Only this seemingly potent output is quelled on the road as the average of runs scored per game drops nearly a full run outside of the 612 area code (5.2 to 4.2). With a three-game series in Oakland starting tonight, the Twins need some signs of life from the top of the order, starting with Denard Span, in hopes of finishing the West Coast road trip with a winning record.