Thursday, April 7, 2016

A Deceptive Plate Approach For Twins

The 2016 Major League Baseball season is upon us, and it's still very, very new. What that means is that any analysis at this point is dealing with extremely small sample sizes. For the Twins though, it's pretty apparent there's a new approach at the plate, and the way in which offense is going to be generated. Through the first few games, some things have worked, and others haven't.

Having began the season in Baltimore, the Twins were afforded the benefit of playing in a hitter's park against some less than stellar pitching. Facing Chris Tillman on Opening Day, one could assume that Minnesota would have some opportunities. Secondary starters Yovani Gallardo and Ubaldo Jimenez fall under that same line of thinking as well; none of them would be your proverbial ace types.

In fact, the first two don't really strike anyone out either. Tillman totaled just 6.2 K/9 in 2015 while Gallardo pushed across 5.9 K/9 a season ago. The expectation would be opportunities for Minnesota. Unfortunately, through their first two games against the Orioles, the Twins turned in outs by way of the K for 23 of their 54 outs (43% of the time). To say that's not good is an understatement.

Strikeouts were going to be a higher total this season than in those of the past due to the Twins lineup construction. Brian Dozier set a club record a season ago, and he's now paired with power hitters Miguel Sano and Byung Ho Park for a full season. Trevor Plouffe strikes out his fair share, Eddie Rosario chases everything, and Joe Mauer topped the 100 strikeout plateau for the first time in hs career a season ago. Those power hitters have contributed to the Twins strikeout total while only Plouffe has put a ball in the seats thus far.

As the season goes on, the Twins bats will no doubt catch up. They are going to strike out, and they are going to hit home runs. What needs to shift is the ratio in which the two of them happen. A single home run per every 23 strikeouts isn't going to be conducive to winning a bunch of games, and it's something I'm guessing the Twins are aware of.

The silver lining in all of the strikeouts however, is the guy who has been sent down the most, Byron Buxton. Despite leading the team with five strikeouts, Buxton has spent the most time at the plate this season. Seeing 18 pitches against Tillman, and 23 against Gallardo, the Twins rookie phenom has worked counts and put himself in a position to capitalize. Both of his doubles off of Gallardo in game two were no doubt a by product of understanding his opportunity to swing.

Through his career, Buxton has generally been a slow starter. His .209 average in 2015 through 46 games is indicative of that trend, and it goes back through many of his minor league stops as well. The hit tool is exceptional and is going to continue to rear its head. The more pitches Buxton sees, and the longer he is able to extend at bats, the more expedited you can expect his transition to be.

Right now, it's far too early to blow the strikeout issues the Twins have faced as an epidemic. It's no doubt something to be aware of however. It was obvious that Paul Molitor's club was going to swing and miss this season, but the ratio it is currently happening needs to change drastically. Through the first bit of action, more at bats like the young Buxton may do the Twins some favors.

Disaster is what takes place if the Twins continue to trot back to the dugout without rounding the bases first. As the weeks turn into months, we'll have to hope that shift starts to take hold.

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