The Minnesota Twins, by Month (Through June)

At the beginning of June, with two months of the 2004 season in the books, I took a look back at how the Minnesota Twins had played in each month. What I found was a pitching staff that improved from April to May, but an offense that completely fell apart. Now, with the third month of the season finished up, let’s take another month-by-month look at the Twins’ season.

First, here are the basics …

MONTH      W      L     WIN%     RS/G     RA/G     RDIFF
April     15      7     .682     6.05     5.50     +0.55
May       12     16     .429     3.82     4.86     -1.04
June      14     12     .538     4.27     4.42     -0.15
TOTAL     41     35     .539     4.62     4.89     -0.27

I suppose you could look at the Twins’ offensive performance in June in two ways, depending on how rose-colored your glasses are. One way (the one I see) is that, for the second straight month, the offense was very bad, scoring just 4.27 runs per game. The other way is that the offense actually improved by about 12% from May to June, after declining by 37% from April to May.

The part of the equation that is all good news is that the Twins’ pitching staff performed better for the second month in a row, as their runs allowed per game improved by 12% from April to May and 9% from May to June. If the pitchers have a similar improvement in July, the Twins will find themselves among the league leaders in team ERA.

Through three months, the Twins were outscored by a total of 21 runs, or 0.27 runs per game. Yet, as they do every year, they have out-performed the record you’d expect from their runs scored/allowed totals. Using the Pythagorean theorem of baseball, you would expect a team with the Twins’ run totals to have 36 wins and 40 losses, while the Twins actually have 41 wins and 35 losses, a difference of five games. As I talked about last week, the Twins out-performed their expected record by a combined 17 games from 2001-2003, so this is nothing new.

Now, let’s get a little deeper into the team. First, here’s the pitching staff …

MONTH      AVG      OBP      SLG      1B%     2B%     HR%      BB%      SO%
April     .297     .353     .450     19.3     5.0     2.7      7.5     16.8
May       .281     .342     .413     18.9     4.1     2.3      8.6     16.2
June      .267     .309     .431     17.0     4.5     3.6      5.6     18.6

Twins pitchers were a little more homer-friendly in June than they had been in the first two months of the season, but they more than made up for that by upping their strikeouts and cutting way down on their walks. The team walked a total of just 55 batters in 240 June innings, which is phenomenal. To put those 2.06 walks per nine innings in some context, Mr. Control, Brad Radke, has walked 1.70 batters per nine innings during his career.

Here’s a look at the individual pitchers …

                                INNINGS                         GPA
PITCHER                  APR      MAY      JUN         APR      MAY      JUN
Brad Radke              28.0     41.0     40.1        .293     .199     .239
Carlos Silva            31.1     28.0     40.2        .261     .290     .272
Johan Santana           28.1     32.2     37.2        .254     .296     .174
Kyle Lohse              27.2     33.2     31.2        .313     .294     .249
Seth Greisinger         11.1     28.2     11.0        .345     .277     .329
Juan Rincon             12.0     14.0     13.2        .170     .250     .117
Joe Roa                 11.0     17.1     10.0        .267     .213     .296
Joe Nathan              11.0     12.2     12.0        .261     .107     .201
Terry Mulholland         5.2     15.0     13.1        .241     .290     .296
Aaron Fultz             11.2     13.0      7.0        .166     .230     .293
J.C. Romero             11.1     16.0      3.2        .219     .242     .410
Grant Balfour                     5.1     10.0                 .307     .205
Carlos Pulido           11.1                          .313         
Matt Guerrier                              9.0                          .299
Brad Thomas              2.2                          .404         
TOTAL                  203.1    257.1    240.0        .271     .257     .247

This is where it gets interesting. The Twins’ starting pitching was sub par for the first two months of the year. In fact, aside from Radke in May, no starting pitcher had a monthly Gross Productive Average (GPA) allowed below .250 in April or May. It was much different in June, as Johan Santana (.174), Radke (.239) and Kyle Lohse (.249) all had sub-.250 GPAs in June.

Santana was particularly impressive, going 4-1 with a 2.39 ERA in five June starts, with a 46-to-6 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 37.2 innings. Overall, the starting pitchers had a 3.97 ERA in 167.2 June innings. That doesn’t seem all that great, but the totals are dragged way down by the fifth starters, Seth Greisinger and Matt Guerrier, who combined for a 7.58 ERA in four starts. Take those two out of the equation and the Twins’ “front four” had a 3.51 ERA in 22 starts, along with a beautiful 109-to-25 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

Meanwhile, the bullpen, which had been so good in the first two months, fell apart in June. After being guys Ron Gardenhire could count on in April and May, Joe Roa and Aaron Fultz were terrible in June. Fultz was so bad that there’s been talk of sending him down to the minors (or cutting him) of late. Terry Mulholland continued to be Terry Mulholland in June, which is to say he was about as bad as Fultz and Roa. J.C. Romero, the Twins’ #3 reliever for the first two months, was even worse, and was actually so bad that the team demoted him to Triple-A for a brief period.

The lone members of the bullpen who had good months of June were Joe Nathan and Juan Rincon, the two best relievers all year long, and Grant Balfour, who didn’t join the team until mid-May. As I wrote on my blog yesterday, I really think the Twins need to address the problems in the bullpen, and I would start by promoting Jesse Crain (3.20 ERA, 51-to-13 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 39.1 innings) from Triple-A Rochester.

Finally, here is the hidden key to the good pitching, the fielding …

MONTH         DER
April        .661
May          .679
June         .701

That is the rate at which the Twins’ defense turned balls in play into outs. This is, in my opinion, one of the most overlooked aspects of a team. When you look at the amount of runs a team allows, the pitching is always a huge factor, but it’s not the only factor. Once the ball gets put in play (not a home run, strikeout or walk), it is up to the defense to turn it into an out, and their success doing that is extremely important. When singles and doubles start falling in, the pitching staff has to face more batters, rallies are extended, more pitches are thrown, and runners on base start scoring.

Slowly but surely, the Twins’ Defensive Efficiency Ratio (DER) is rising. The DER was above .700 for the first month this season in June, which is good, but only in the sense that you have to walk before you can run. In 2002 and 2003, the Twins had DERs of .714 and .710, so they still haven’t reached those levels in even a single month this year. Still, if they’d been able to maintain a .700 DER for the whole season, instead of just one month, they would rank fourth among all AL teams.

Okay, enough with the pitching and defense. Let’s take a look at the guys who put the runs on the board …

The Incompleat Starting Pitcher
The end of the nine-inning start and how we got here.
MONTH      AVG      OBP      SLG      1B%     2B%     HR%      BB%      SO%
April     .297     .370     .467     17.6     5.6     2.8     10.0     13.2
May       .245     .310     .379     15.7     4.1     2.6      8.0     15.9
June      .246     .307     .414     14.4     4.8     3.4      7.1     18.7

Man, that’s ugly. The Twins were never much for walking, but the last two months have been crazy. They walked in just 7.1% of their June plate appearances and, after walking 8.0% of the time in May and 10.0% of the time in April, they now rank 11th in the American League in walks.

As if that declining pattern wasn’t enough, the team’s strikeouts have risen each month. The Twins struck out 18.7% of the time in June, 42% more often than in April and 18% more often than May. Not surprisingly, their singles rate also fell again.

For years now, Minnesota’s offense has been based around hitting singles and doubles. They’ve never had power and they’ve never been good at taking walks. What you’ve seen the last few months is what happens when a team like that suddenly stops seeing all of those singles dropping. Suddenly there isn’t one thing the offense really does well.

Here’s a look at the individual hitters …

                                  PA                          GPA
HITTER                  APR      MAY     JUN         APR      MAY      JUN
Cristian Guzman          81      119     112        .234     .238     .222
Lew Ford                 69      120     108        .389     .263     .273
Jacque Jones             90      110      92        .309     .228     .214
Doug Mientkiewicz        90      104      96        .269     .223     .190
Torii Hunter             32      102     107        .236     .269     .261
Corey Koskie             76       52      95        .319     .211     .274
Michael Cuddyer          44       95      53        .212     .269     .226
Luis Rivas               66       50      66        .181     .229     .306
Henry Blanco             69       65      27        .284     .144     .144
Shannon Stewart          93       60                .303     .242
Matthew LeCroy           11       54      65        .225     .248     .290
Jose Offerman            66       38      25        .305     .185     .207
Joe Mauer                 6               73        .562              .282
Michael Ryan             23       33      19        .326     .183     .074
Nick Punto               43        6                .265     .075
Alex Prieto                       31       4                 .249     .090
Justin Morneau                    26                         .302
Rob Bowen                10        6                .274     .200
Michael Restovich                  2       9                 .000     .244
TOTAL                   869     1073     967        .283     .234     .242

Yuck. The only player on the entire team who has been a solid offensive contributor in all three months this year is Lew Ford, who is, not coincidentally, leading the team in Runs Created by a huge margin (he has created 42% more runs than anyone else on the team).

Cristian Guzman has been the anti-Ford, putting together three horrible offensive months. The funny thing is, a lot of the Twins fans I talk to seem to be under the impression that Guzman is having a good year, which is probably the result of his decent-looking .278 batting average through June. Make no mistake, Guzman has been awful; he has a .308 on-base percentage and a .371 slugging percentage, which makes his .278 batting average one of the emptiest you’ll see. He is also just 4-for-7 stealing bases, so he can’t even do that well.

Jacque Jones and Doug Mientkiewicz both started the year with nice enough Aprils, but they’ve been disasters at the plate for the past two months. When a team is getting GPAs of .228, .214, .223 and .190 from their starting rightfielder and starting first baseman over the course of two months, that goes a long way toward explaining why they can’t score any runs. Toss in Guzman and you’ve got three spots in the everyday lineup — two that are heavy offensive positions — that simply haven’t given you anything offensively for two entire months.

After missing much of April with injuries, Torii Hunter has come back to play just about every day for the past two months and he’s been his usual, free-swinging, sometimes-power-hitting self, with GPAs of .269 and .261. Corey Koskie and Matthew LeCroy also had solid Junes, while Luis Rivas played out of his mind for about a week before crashing back down to earth, but still finished with a very nice .306 GPA. Joe Mauer returned to the lineup after missing two months worth of action to post a .282 GPA, while also doing us all the big favor of keeping Henry Blanco to just 27 plate appearances all month.

Oh, one final thing about the offense … You’ll notice up there that Justin Morneau has only played in one of the first three months, hitting .292/.370/.542 in 26 May plate appearances. What you don’t see is that Morneau has spent most of the year playing first base for the Rochester Red Wings, destroying Triple-A pitching.

Morneau hit .323/.395/.629 through June, with 19 homers, 20 doubles and 57 RBIs in 63 games. Over the course of a full season, that works out to about 50 homers, 50 doubles and 150 RBIs. And Morneau, unlike the actual Twins hitters, has been a good hitter each month thus far.

Check out his month-by-month numbers at Triple-A …

MONTH      AVG      OBP      SLG      OPS      GPA
April     .398     .451     .711    1.162     .381
May       .303     .403     .561     .964     .322
June      .275     .357     .608     .965     .313
TOTAL     .323     .395     .629    1.024     .335

Meanwhile, Minnesota has gotten a combined .240/.324/.326 out of their first basemen this year, for a .650 OPS that ranks 13th out of 14 AL teams. Their designated hitters haven’t been much better, combining to hit .244/.352/.424 for a .776 OPS that ranks 8th in the AL.

Think maybe the team could find a spot for Morneau’s bat in the lineup? Nah.

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