Lineup Full of Underachievers

Through 50 games in the 2013 season, the Twins are sitting on just 22 wins despite winning 4 of their last 5 against Detroit and Milwaukee. At this pace they will finish the season right at 70 wins, which is exactly in the region the odds-makers predicted two months ago. The starting rotation has performed about as expected – below average – and defensively they’ve been ok – as expected. The biggest area they haven’t performed as expected is offensively. Let’s take this as a good sign that this team could still improve to exceed that 70 win total and inch toward that .500 mark or better by season’s end.

As a team, the Twins currently sit 10th in the American League in runs scored per game (4.28), 14th in home runs (42 – only ahead of the Royals who have hit just 28), 13th in stolen bases (20), 14th in hits (413), 14th in batting average (.240), 11th in on-base percentage (.313), last in slugging percentage (.373), and 14th in OPS (.686 – thanks to the White Sox .293 OBP). In a lineup filled with names like Mauer, Morneau, Willingham, Doumit, and Plouffe; offense should not be an area needing improvement. Over the course of a 162 game baseball season, however, statistical trends tend to point toward the norm by the end of the season. This is very good news for a struggling offense on a Twins team that, despite their struggles, is only 6.5 games behind the AL Central leading Detroit Tigers.

Here’s a look at a handful of regulars that are underachieving in 2013, but will hopefully heat up as the temperature does the same:

Left fielder Josh Willingham has perhaps been the biggest disappointment offensively these first two months. The 34 year old his currently hitting just .213 (career = .259) and has struck out every 3.74 plate appearances (career = 4.63 PA/K). He does have 9 home runs, and is right on track with his career norm of hitting a homer about ever 22 PA’s. As the number 5 hitter regains some of his power of old, look for Willingham to improve on his numbers as well.

Speaking of the number 5 hitter, Justin Morneau has produced much more like Joe Mauer than himself so far this season. Although he is currently hitting .293 (career = .280) and striking out just once every 6.87 PA’s (career = 6.50 PA/K), he’s hit just 2 home runs in 213 plate appearances thus far (106.5 PA/HR). His career homer rate is one every 24.3 PA’s, with an extra base hit rate of 10.2 PA/XBH (14.2 PA/XBH in 2013). The encouraging thing with Morneau is that he’s played 48/50 games so far, he’s driving in runs (34 RBI), and making good contact. He’s just not quite back to the power hitting potential he had pre-2010 concussion. If he can even start to resemble that guy, look out hurlers.

After hitting just .113 in his first month of Major League Baseball, rookie Aaron Hicks is slowly climbing in the direction of his offensive capabilities. In May he has raised his average 52 points, and hit his first 6 home runs of his career. On the base-paths, although not being on base much has hurt him, he’s stolen just 4 bases in 5 attempts. This season he’s also struck out once every 3.57 plate appearances, compared to his 4.96 PA/K pace in his 5 minor league seasons. As he gets more and more comfortable in the box, which could still happen this season, look for Hicks to contribute much more at the plate and on the bases.

The other major disappointment this season has been designated hitter Ryan Doumit, who was one of the better hitters on the club last season. Doumit is currently hitting just .216 (career = .269), and has hit 4 home runs at a clip of 41.7 PA/HR (career = 32.2 PA/HR). Part of his struggles could be attested to just plain bad luck, as his current BABIP is only .235, the lowest of his career, compared to his career average of .300. He’s also striking out at a slightly higher rate (5.96 PA/K) compared to his career norm (5.72 PA/K). I would expect Doumit to improve drastically from the plate as the season progresses, as this is not even close to the same player he’s been in the last 6-7 years.

The one factor that curbs my enthusiasm for the potential for offensive improvement this season is the age factor. Of the four individuals mentioned thus far, 3 of the 4 are probably past the peak of their careers. Willingham is 34, while Morneau and Doumit are both 32, and if anything are over the hump in their career path; but I still expect that decline in production to be a little slower than the pace they are currently on in 2013.

The underachieving of younger players like Hicks, Brian Dozier (.212 AVG, .255 OBP), and Chris Parmelee (.215, 4 HR’s, 12 RBI’s) may offer even more hope for the remaining 112 games. Or, it could be a sign of unproven players showing the level of player they are and will be to come.

Either way, if the offense trends one direction from here, there’s no doubt in my mind that it will be a positive direction. As the offense heats up, I expect the club to start winning even more of those 1-run games (currently 7-8) and extra inning games (currently 2-5); pushing their win total in the direction of that 81 figure by season’s end.

Follow Twins Rubes on Twitter @twinsrubes.