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Entries in Minnesota Twins (25)


Spoiled M&Ms

As the Twins play out the string, looking to end an eight-game losing streak and avoid the ignominy of a 100-loss season, the M&M boys watch helplessly from the dugout.

Justin Morneau has endured a nightmare year in which he continued to feel the effects of a concussion suffered in 2010 while also having surgery to repair a herniated disc in his neck. He continued his game of human Operation today by having procedures to remove a cyst from his left knee and a bone spur from his right foot. Joe Mauer, meanwhile, missed time with leg weakness and a stiff neck and was recently shut down due to pneumonia. Altogether, Morneau (-0.3 WAR) and Mauer (1.7 WAR) made $37 million while combining for 1.4 Wins Above Replacement. Last year, they teamed up for 10.7 WAR.

Morneau never looked healthy or comfortable at the plate in 2011, batting .227/.285/.333 and hitting just four home runs in 288 plate appearances. His strike-zone judgment took a tumble, with his chase rate climbing from 30 percent to 34 percent, and the fly balls that he hit were downright tame. Morneau's average fly ball distance fell from 315 feet in 2010 to just 292 feet in 2011. For comparison, Alexi Casilla's average fly ball distance this season is 296 feet.

With an ailing Morneau unable to drive the ball, his slugging sweet spot low and inside all but disappeared:

Morneau's in-play slugging percentage by pitch location, 2010

Morneau's in-play slugging percentage by pitch location, 2011Mauer's offensive malaise wasn't nearly as severe -- his .287/.360/.368 slash in 333 PA was basically league-average production in a year in which run-scoring dipped yet again. But even so, his power declined markedly for the second straight season. Mauer mashed 28 homers and slugged .587 in 2009, and followed that up with a campaign that more closely resembled his previous work (nine HR, .469 slugging percentage). This year, he went deep only three times. Not surprisingly, his average fly ball distance is down, too:

2009: 330 feet

2010: 315 feet

2011: 306 feet

Mauer's biggest problem this season came against breaking stuff. He chased more curveballs and sliders in 2011, and managed just two extra-base knocks:

Mauer Vs. Curveballs and Sliders

2009: 20.1 Chase Pct., .330 Slugging Pct.

2010: 23.8 Chase Pct., .377 Slugging Pct.

2011: 27.7 Chase Pct., .247 Slugging Pct.

2009-2011 MLB Avg for non-pitchers: 30.2 Chase Pct., .361 Slugging Pct.

Mauer hit a ground ball 71 percent of the time that he put a curveball or slider in play, the fifth-highest rate among MLB batters. That goes a long way toward explaining why his overall ground ball rate spiked from under 50 percent in 2009-2010 to over 56 percent. If he's a catcher who dabbles at DH and first base, his bat is still quite valuable. If he's mostly or entirely a 1B/DH, then the Twins are in trouble.

With Morneau owed $28 million combined in 2012-13 and Mauer making $23 million annually through 2018, the hopes of the franchise rest upon their achy backs. The M&M boys need to get healthy. Otherwise, the next decade of Twins baseball could melt right in Bill Smith's hands.


Mauer's Off-Speed Judgment Off

Joe Mauer of the Minnesota Twins lost his ability to hit sliders and curve balls decently in 2011.  From 2008-2010 Joe hit .275/.327/.349 on those pitches combined.  They obviously give him trouble, but if that's the worst a batter is going to hit on a pitch or pitches, he's probably doing okay. In 2011, Mauer hits .178/.186/.191 on those two pitches.  What happened?

Even though Joe didn't hit all that well on those pitches, he showed decent strike zone judgment on them.  From 2008-2010, he only took 28.5% of them for strikes, and chased 20.9% out of the strike zone.  You can see that in his swing rate on those pitches:

Joe Mauer, swing rate on sliders and curve balls, 2008-2010.In 2011, 42.5% of those pitches go for called strikes, and he's chasing 30.3% out of the zone.  Again, you can see the difference in his swing rate heat map.

Joe Mauer, swing rate on sliders and curve balls, 2011.He's clearly taking pitches at which he should be swinging, and trying to hit too many pitches off the corners and edges.  He putting a higher proportion of these pitches in play, 60.2% versus 50.2% in the three previous seasons, but because he's making contact on pitches outside the strike zone, those balls in play are turning into outs, as he has a meager .218  BABIP.

Joe Mauer's batting eye made him an MVP candidate.  As far as these two pitches are concerned, he lost that eye this season, and it's responsible for a large portion of his fall off.


Thome Reaches 600 HR Club

In the sixth inning of last night's Twins/Tigers contest, Jim Thome flicked a Rick Porcello fastball over left field wall. One frame later, he went to the opposite field again on a Daniel Schlereth curveball, joining Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, Ken Griffey Jr., Alex Rodriguez and Sammy Sosa in the 600 home run club. Not bad for a former 13th-round pick who signed for the equivalent of about $27,000 in present-day dollars.

While Thome has pulled his share of moon shots to right field, last night's history-making homers highlight his all-fields slugging. Thome has the second-highest slugging percentage and second-most homers on pitches hit to the opposite field since 2002, according to Fangraphs, with Thome trailing only Ryan Howard in both categories. To center field, Thome has the third-best slugging percentage (behind Howard and Barry Bonds) and has the fourth-most dingers (Alex Rodriguez, Albert Pujols and Howard are one through three).

All of those homers hit to center and the opposite field are a product of Thome's ability to thump pitches thrown down the middle and on the outside corner. Since 2008 (the first year for which we have data), Thome has the third-best slugging percentage in the game on middle and away pitches:

Thome's in-play slugging percentage by location on middle and away pitches, 2008-2011

League average in-play slugging percentage by location on middle and away pitches, 2008-2011

Thome's .577 slugging percentage on middle and away pitches from 2008-2011 is bested by that of just Adrian Gonzalez (.587) and Pujols (.608).

Any time a player hits a nice, round milestone, talk tends to turn to his Hall of Fame prospects. The truth is, Thome didn't need to pass the 600 HR threshold to bolster his Cooperstown Credentials.

Thome has been a patient, powerful force at the plate for more than a decade and a half, and his career 71.1 Wins Above Replacement place him between Johnny Bench and Paul Waner for 45th all-time among position players, according to Baseball-Reference. Dozens of guys ranked lower on the list have been elected to the Hall of Fame. When Thome does get the call, his all-fields power will be a major reason.

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