Friday, April 18, 2008
(I posted my thoughts on the Thursday night Twins game, and the Twins minor league notes, earlier. To check them out, scroll down, or click here.)
It is being talked about more and more with each passing game. The Twins have hit just seven home runs in the season's first sixteen games. Kansas City has also hit seven homers, and Oakland has hit just six. The San Francisco Giants have hit seven homers as well, the only team in the National League with a number that low. Justin Morneau has hit four of the team's homers, and Jason Kubel has hit the other three.
In the past, it never really bothered me. The Twins always seemed to have guys that could hit a lot of doubles and they could score some runs. But to this point, it appears that the Twins could have an alarmingly few home runs. Getting Michael Cuddyer back and healthy will help. I happen to believe that Delmon Young will start hitting some home runs. I still am of the belief that Joe Mauer and Mike Lamb can each hit 12-15 homers this year. In other words, I'm not completely concerned that the Twins will not hit home runs all season.
However, this is a topic that I can't help but think about. Justin Morneau hit 30 or more homers the last two seasons. When he hit his 30th home run in the 2006 season, he was the first Twins hitter to do so since four of them did in 1987. I can't help but ask why. Here are a few reasons I've come up with, but your input would be greatly appreciated.
THE KEY REASON
I'll call it the Blame Kirby philosophy. Kirby Puckett became a Hall of Famer by inside-outing pitches. He could take pitches off the inside corner at his knees and line them to right field. He could hit the right center field gap. As he got older, and got into his fourth and fifth seasons, he learned to start pulling the ball when necessary and hit for some more power. Also, Puckett was the definition of a hacker at the plate. He swung at pretty much everything, and still got hits. But Puckett was a great hitter who could hit home runs, not a home run hitter. I happen to think that there is some thinking that all hitters should pattern their game as similarly to Puckett's as they can. Let's not forget that because Puckett hit the ball very hard and low, he hit into a lot of double plays too!
Since Puckett's playing days, the Twins as an organization have focused their hitters on inside-outing the ball, hitting it the other way, slapping the ball. If you strike out too much, you aren't going to stay in the lineup. Hit the ball hard the other way, and you will be successful. Chuck Knoblauch used this philosophy to become one of the best 2B in the game for most of the '90s. Paul Molitor hit that way. Joe Mauer hits better when he is hitting the ball the other way.
Now, there is nothing wrong with the philosophy at all. It works for many players. But as Gardy likes to say, "We don't make robots." But they try to, at least with the hitters. You hear it almost daily/nightly from Dick Bremer and Bert Blyleven. Look at Delmon Young's swing. He tries to hit pitches on the inside corner to right field. He's a natural hitter, so he can still get hits doing that, but how much fun would it be to see him anticipate the pitch on the inside corner, get it, and take a huge swing and see how far into the left field bleachers he can hit it?
Like Puckett, Young is a hacker. That isn't always a bad thing. Puckett, Alfonso Soriano, Vlad Guerrero there are plenty of examples of that being OK. But the Twins have not really appreciated the beauty of the walk. Matt Lawton used to get on base 38% of the time, even if he hit just .270, and he was under appreciated. David Ortiz took walks. The Twins encourage aggressiveness. Now, in reality, I don't have a problem with that, but I also don't want the team to encourage Joe Mauer to start swinging more. Bobby Kielty was never really given a good shot at regular playing time with the Twins because he was so patient at the plate. The 2008 Twins team not only has very few home runs, they are dead last in the league in drawings walks. Think about that... poor on-base percentage and no power. That is a horrible combination.
Back to Ortiz, he's the perfect example of a guy who was held back by the Twins hitting philosophy. Tom Kelly wanted him to slap the ball to left field for singles. What happened when Ortiz went to Boston and was allowed to just swing hard? He became one of the most feared hitters in baseball. And he knew why. And he told people why. As he said in an interview, "The Twins wanted me to swing like a (expletive)." That is the Twins philosophy.
Another example is Torii Hunter. He was told by Kelly (and let's be honest, Gardy is an extension of Tom Kelly) to hit the ball the other way, just like Kirby did. Once Hunter started just swinging more aggressively, the home runs came, and what we found is that he didn't have to sacrifice batting average to add the power. Hunter loves bashing Tom Kelly any chance he gets.
Justin Morneau may take a few big swings and miss, maybe even miss badly, but I like that sometimes he is trying to give the Twins some quick runs. Jason Kubel has flown out to the warning track several times already this year to go with his three homers. Getting out is never a great thing, but I like the fact that Kubel is taking some good at bats, and when he swings, he is swinging hard with the goal of hitting it a long way.
Kirby Puckett was one of those once in a lifetime types of players (of which there are apparently many). He became a Hall of Famer by swinging at everything, getting a lot of hits to the opposite field, and eventually learning to hit for some power. His success with Tom Kelly as manager led to, I believe, a thought that that is the type of hitter everyone should be. Again, not a bad thing. Shane Mack had a few very solid years living by that thinking. But in today's game, there has to be a power factor, a few guys in a lineup that can hit a home run at any time. Do the Twins have that? I think they've got about six guys that could hit 15 or more homers, and that would be good. But outside of Justin Morneau, they really don't have any hitter that strikes fear in the opposition at this time.
The scary thing is, there aren't really any of those types of hitters in the Twins system either, unless Chris Parmelee keeps crushing the ball the way he is right now.
What do you think? Am I off base? Do you think there are other situations in place that have kept the Twins from being a team known for power hitting for the last 20 years?