Monday, November 9, 2020

Pair of Rebound Candidates for Twins


After the 2019 Major League Baseball season gave us the Bomba Squad, there was plenty of regression expected for the Minnesota Twins lineup. Knowing the group hit a Major League record of homers made it unlikely for a repeat in 2020. Now coming off the weird season that was, there’s a pair of contributors the Twins need back in form.


It’s hard to draw any definitive conclusions based on a 60-game season, and even less so when dealing with injuries or missed time. The slate in and of itself resulted in little more than September action, and with a handful of untested players, the competition was different as well. That said, I’ll make the argument that the greatest avenue for success regarding the Twins lineup in 2021 is a resurgence from Mitch Garver and Jorge Polanco.


Maybe Nelson Cruz is back, maybe he isn’t. Josh Donaldson is an elite talent when his calves are cooperating, but the injury prognosis isn’t one we can predict. That same line of thinking follows uber-talented centerfielder Byron Buxton as well. It’s the backstop and shortstop though, that resemble keys to an offense never really defining a launch this season.


Looking back at the leadup to 2020, I think it was wildly suggested that Garver wouldn’t replicate his .995 OPS from 2019. He has always had a good bat, and has a great mind for hitting, but the .630 slugging percentage was truly otherworldly. That said, projecting him to post a .511 OPS would’ve been a foolish undertaking as well. Assuming the truth lies somewhere in the middle, getting the New Mexico native back to an .800 OPS in 2021 is a must.


A couple areas where things fell off for Garver in his batted ball profile start with the hard-hit rate. It dropped roughly 6%, and he hit line drives nearly 10% more often. The lack of elevation combined with a lesser burst behind the batted ball resulted in more outs and a severely diminished HR/FB ratio. Mitch was also clearly not himself when swinging. A disciplined and contact driven hitter through and through, he jumped his whiff rate up to a career worst 13% while posted a 64% contact rate (15% below his career average). Knowing he was put on the shelf with a muscle injury, there’s plenty of reason to believe that could be the cause for such a slide.


Moving out from behind the plate we get to Jorge Polanco. On one hand the Minnesota shortstop had a career year as he made impressive strides defensively. On the flip side, he parlayed an .841 OPS from 2019 into just a .658 OPS in 2020. Clobbering 22 homers last season, just four balls left the park this year for the Dominican native. It was clear he was often slapping at the ball with no strong base below him. The results turned him into little more than a singles hitter with a mediocre average.


Polanco saw a massive dip in his hard-hit rate, dropping from 39.5% all the way down to                 a career worst 24.3%. With a batted ball profile that generally generates gap power, traditional doubles were now outs with a lot more batted ball activity that never began with a high probability for success. Unlike Garver, the plate discipline metrics didn’t change much. For Polanco, this was almost entirely a reflection of a process lacking solid contact. Like the Minnesota catcher though, Jorge was dealing with an injury. Undergoing offseason ankle surgery there should be hope that was what was ailing him and causing a change in his abilities.


Neither of these two players are going to be replaced in the 2021 Minnesota lineup. While Ryan Jeffers stepped up in Garver’s absence, he’s more a tandem duty player until the 26-game sample size is substantiated and forces more of a lead role. Polanco is entrenched as the Twins shortstop, and even top prospect Royce Lewis may not immediately challenge that. Getting production from these two key areas, something that was missing a season ago, is an absolute must.