Thursday, May 31, 2007

The Greek Gods of Walks?

Yesterday's game brought to a close one heck of an exciting sweep over the Chicago White Sox. In the series, the Twins outscored the Sox 26-12 and also managed to pull themselves two games over .500. Yesterday's win included many good subplots for discussion. The seven runs were impressive. The bullpen was amazing again, picking up after a terrible three-inning outing from Scott Baker. Jason Miller, Matt Guerrier, Pat Neshek, and Joe Nathan combined to allow no hits in six innings while striking out three and walking two. However, one thing stood out above all others: the patience of the Twins hitters.

There are many things that the Twins offense is known for and one of them is perhaps the most overdone catch phrase heard in sports in years (PIRANHA POWER!). But they don't have much of a reputation for patience. When it comes to walking, they aren't often mistaken for the Boston Red Sox or the Oakland Athletics. In fact, out of the Twins hitters, only Joe Mauer is really amongst the elite in terms of patience.

Thus, it was very interesting for this team to score seven runs on only seven hits along with eight walks. Walks were the theme of the game, which was eventually won by a bases-loaded walk by Torii Hunter in the bottom of the ninth that has roundly been attributed to David Aardsma not having enough time to warm-up. Hunter was clearly surprised with the walk, telling reporters, "I didn't know what to do. It was weird, man. That was something totally different. But I like it. We won."

However, Hunter was just the part of team effort in patience. Nick Punto was the standout, walking three times in the game to give him a team-leading 26 on the season. Punto is only hitting .237, but he still holds a fairly decent .337 on-base percentage, giving him a very impressive 0.100 isolated discipline. Interestingly, Punto's average has suffered because of his terrible hitting at home. Punto is hitting .320/.407/.400 on the road and only .177/.269/.219 at home. This is quite unusual, as from 2004-2006, Punto hit .293/.350/.415 at the Dome and only .241/.313/.296 on the road. While his overall offensive performance has been putrid over the past two months, Punto continues to take solid at-bats and his 30/26 strikeout-to-walk ratio is very good for him and its likely that those extreme splits will even out in due time.

Other than Punto and Hunter's walks, Jason Bartlett, Michael Cuddyer, Justin Morneau, and Jason Tyner all took walks, with Tyner's coming in the ninth and helping to set up Hunter's game-winning walk. The walks clearly haunted the White Sox, as five of them came around to score. Cuddyer is another important standout. He walked only 5 times in April but has drawn 16 in May. Cuddyer's solid month has raised his hitting line to a very good .302/.380/.484 with 37 RBI.

The team itself has been pretty good overall in terms of patience, as they came into the game with a .342 OBP to go with a team .276 average. That's a 0.66 isolated discipline, up slightly from the 0.60 they finished with last year. Overall, the Twins' .342 OBP ranks 7th in the majors while their 178 walks now rank them 14th. For a team that prides itself on being scrappy, the progress over the last month towards more patience, seen with hitters like Punto and Cuddyer, is a positive one for the Twins and certainly has contributed to their recent streak of series wins.

When an offense can wear down a pitcher, the way great offenses like Boston's do, and force them out of a game early, that team tends to win a lot. They can even drive an opposing manager so crazy that he relents to proclaiming, "I'm going to get fired? Good. Is this team going to get better having me out of there? I'd be too happy with it."

This has been the recent trend for the Twins, especially in the just-completed series against Chicago, which was displayed prominently in the win yesterday. Hopefully, when the Twins face the Oakland A's this weekend, they can mirror Billy Beane's "Moneyball" focus on patience while walking away with the series.

5 comments:

the Dragon said...

Props to Nick N, who on SBG called the Walk. I had thought similar, but he had the guts to post it :-)

Nick M. said...

Nick N. loves to get on SBG and let everyone know the greatness of Punto (just kidding). Here's to hoping the Twins keep drawing walks in such a fashion.

the Dragon said...

Punto MUST be good, contrary to common belief, otherwise WHY would they keep pitching around him?

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