Monday, April 25, 2011

Three-Bagger: Morneau, Nathan, & Span

* The biggest star for the Twins in their abbreviated sweep over the Indians this past weekend was Justin Morneau, who returned from an extended battle with the flu and went 4-for-8 with four RBI. Though he seemed lost in his first couple weeks of action before falling ill (to be expected after an eight-month hiatus), Morneau looked more like his old self in the Cleveland series, coming through with big run-scoring hits in key situations and consistently hitting the ball with authority -- even on fouls and outs.

Jason Bay, another Canadian who had his 2010 season ended in July by a concussion, went deep for the Mets on Saturday, marking his first homer since suffering the brain injury. We're still waiting for Morneau to achieve that milestone, but it can't be far off with the way he was crushing the ball on Saturday and Sunday.

* After struggling in his first handful of appearances, Joe Nathan was relegated to to a low-leverage role in the bullpen. The ninth inning of Saturday's game, with the Twins leading by seven runs, fit the bill.

It wasn't exactly a save situation, but Nathan slammed the door on Cleveland with his most impressive outing this season. He retired the side in order while striking out two, including Orlando Cabrera on perhaps the best slider I've seen him throw all year.

This one outing hardly has me declaring Nathan fit to retake a late-inning role, but it's a step in the right direction. Building confidence with performances like this might be as important as anything to the right-hander's recovery.

* One of the most frustrating aspects of the Twins' slow offensive start has been their allergy to walks. After ranking fourth in the American League in free passes last year with largely the same group of hitters, they entered this past weekend ranked dead last.

Perhaps no one has been more emblematic of this lack of patience than Denard Span. The leadoff man is hitting the ball well, with a .318 average through 20 games, but he's drawn only five walks in his first 90 plate appearances – less than 6 percent.

Year
BB%
2008
12.1
2009
10.3
2010
8.5
2011
5.6

As you can see from the table above, Span's ability to take walks has steadily declined since he debuted in the majors four years ago.

As of today, his OBP sits at .356 thanks to a robust batting average. That’s an acceptable mark for a leadoff man, but it appears as though the days of Span getting on base at a .390 clip are over, and if he can’t keep sneaking grounders through the infield with regularity his OBP could dip to mediocre depths.

13 comments:

Ben said...

After ranking fourth in the American League in free passes last year with largely the same group of hitters

Except a lot more plate appearances from Butera, Hughes, Casilla, Repko, Holm, and Tolbert.

There's a synergy involved when it comes to team walks - the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. When we're back to the A lineup, I think the walks will come back.

Chris said...

I love reading you posts Nick, but you needed to think this last part out a bit. Clearly the difference is Morneau and Mauer. Mauer walked just over 11% of the time last year (a down year for him) while his replacements have walked 0 times in 45 AB. Morneau is walking just over 6% as compared to 14% last year (over 10% each of the last 3). As Ben stated, 0 walks in 61 AB for Tolbert/Hughes don't help either. When they get healthy their numbers will get better.

Span is a concern, but .390 OBP for him may have been an outlier. If he can stay around .360 we should be satisfied. A .300 average last year would have put him right around .360 OBP.

Nick N. said...

I didn't say Span was the reason for the team's drop-off in walks, I said he was most emblematic. Mauer has been out of the lineup and Morneau has been figuring things out, but Span's lack of patience even while succeeding in other aspects of the game has been most surprising to me.

And at his current rate he would not post a .360 OBP with a .300 average. It would be .338, which is barely better than the mediocre mark he posted last year. And this is a guy who has only once in his career hit over .300.

Josh said...

I had a whole post on how Span's new aggressive approach at the plate was paying off for him and so forth, and then I checked the advanced stats and saw that his pitches/plate appearance are almost the same as last season.

But right now his line drive % is up and his BABiP is back where is was 2 years ago. So maybe some of it is approach, but it looks like most of it is his "luck" is returning closer to career averages. Hopefully, he'll be able to pick up a few more walks and push the OBP back up to career averages too...

Anonymous said...

Regarding to Span, I think it has to do a lot in how the league adjust to you and vice-versa. When he came up, he was hitting over 300 as a rookie. So opposing pitchers went OK, careful with this guy, and stopped throwing easy strikes to him. Span went ultra-patient, as he should do, and started getting a lots of walks. Starting last year, the league adjusted back, knowing that he would take pitches, and went back to throw first pitch strikes to him. As a result he was behind in the count, had to chase nasty pitches, and his avg. went down. He adjusted back, being a little more aggressive, and his avg. went back up again. This shows that he is a good intelligent hitter, who has the ability to adjust to what the pitchers give him. I think this is the least of the worries for the Twins right now.

Nick N. said...

Hopefully, he'll be able to pick up a few more walks and push the OBP back up to career averages too...

I certainly think Span could keep his average in the .300 range this year; he looks a lot better at the plate. But right now he's too dependent on hits to get on base.

This shows that he is a good intelligent hitter, who has the ability to adjust to what the pitchers give him.

Interesting take.

cy1time said...

The only Span stat that I care much about is Runs. The Twins woeful start at the plate have them last in the AL in runs scored. When we start hitting as a team, we'll turn the lineup over more frequently, Span will start scoring more, and this will all take care of itself. I still think that he'll get to 100 runs this year.

Nick N. said...

When we start hitting as a team, we'll turn the lineup over more frequently, Span will start scoring more, and this will all take care of itself. I still think that he'll get to 100 runs this year.

Gotta get on base to score runs. If Span keeps hitting .320, he'll be fine. If his average slinks down to career norms, he'll need to start finding other ways to get on if he wants to cross the plate 100 times.

cy1time said...

I think that we quibbling, Nick. We're also talking about a small sample size for 2011. Across 85 ABs, one hit is equal to just under 12 points of batting average. Two more hits in those 85 ABs we'd be talking about how he's crushing his career batting average. His 2011 OBP is currently .356 with a career rate of .366. One more time on base and he'd be right at his career number. If you buy into the small sample, he's also slugging a little over his career number, meaning a few more ABs for 2-3-4 hitters while he's in scoring position.

You are right, he has to get on base to score. Assuming a healthy season, I still think he'll get on base enough to get to 100 runs.

Was at Saturday's game, so I couldn't see Nathat's pitches were, but the hitters looked overmatched against Nathan. That was nice to see. Let's hope that's the start to a return to form for him.

Matt said...

Span always looked "trustworthy" in the past. Like, he never really looked overpowered or overmatched, due to quick hands (he waits back really well) and a good eye. He sort of lost that last year.
Let's wait on the walks. He looks to be seeing the ball well this year, and it shows in his hitting. The walks, hopefully, will come. Kind of tough when Butera/Casilla/Tolbert/etc. are slotted in around you, though.

1d363cd4-6f81-11e0-b355-000bcdcb5194 said...

Span on Sunday lead off the game working to a full count. Twins hitters actually did a good job working the count early on with Carrasco.

Joe said...

Does anybody else think that pitchers are attacking the strike zone harder, considering Minnesota's current difficulties driving in runs?

As a pitcher, I wouldn't mind shooting for a strike-out or pitching to contact when the 2, 3, 4, and 5 guys are struggling with men on base.

With exception to Kubel, of course. He's on fire.

Anonymous said...

I said it a year ago when all the "expert" writers/bloggers said it was the right move.....W. Ramos 2 for 2 w/ two homeruns tonight vs. the Mets. Currently carrying a 1.067 OPS. Right-handed power bat that the Twins desperately needed- a year ago, let alone now. Smith, irrespective of the other questionable moves he has made that ended up as a wash or slightly + or -, deserves to be canned forthwith, as this club is now handcuffed to too many fat salaries to players past their peak, and, he couldn't comprehend and evaluate the fact that a singles/doubles-hitting catcher with the wrong body frame for his position is now the defacto lead $184 mil. anvil that will sink the Twins for the rest of the decade.