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Friday, October 7, 2011

Please Don't Take All the Power Away

Watching Delmon Young do his best Reggie Jackson impression for the Detroit Tigers this past week has been pretty impressive. No, I don't wish the Twins kept him, but I do wish they would have pulled the trigger when his value was higher. Seeing Robinson Cano, a fellow named Goldschimidt, Ryan Braun and others slug baseballs all over the October sky got me to thinking about the Twins and home run power -- or, rather, the lack thereof.

As you of course know, Young and Jim Thome are already gone. In a good season, they each might account for 20 home runs or so. Michael Cuddyer, who hit 20 this past season to lead the Twins in that category, is a free agent, as is fellow slugger Jason Kubel, who, when healthy, can also hit in excess of 20. There's a very good chance that one or both of Cuddyer and Kubel won't be returning next year. If that happens, what will happen to the Twins' home run power, and what does that mean in terms of success?

I believe that, even if Cuddyer and Kubel go on to other teams for big money contracts, and even if the Twins do not replace these players with other power-hitters, the Twins still could be competitive in 2012, at least in the AL Central. It will certainly be a different style of baseball than we saw in 2010 (I'm discounting 2011 because, after all, the Twins were not competitive from day 1). We won't see very many 3-run home runs because, frankly, there aren't going to be any guys that hit home runs with regularity. I would LOVE to see Justin Morneau rebound and have a 20 home run season, but that frankly seems unlikely after what we watched in 2011. It's probable that Joe Mauer is going to hit more home runs in 2012 than he did in 2011, but I doubt he'll hit 20. I expect we'll see a lot of doubles from him; and that's fine with me, as long as the batting average is high. In short, with Ben Revere probably playing a starting role in the outfield with Denard Span, and with Alexi Casilla back at second base, if this team will work at all offensively, it's going to be based on speed, stealing bases, turning singles into doubles, and turning doubles into triples.

Here's an interesting fact, though: I did a little research going back to 1987, and every World Series-winning team was comprised of at least 1 player that hit 23 or more home runs (with the exception of the 1997 Marlins, the number would have been 25). Not surprisingly, many of the teams had multiple players with 20 or more home runs, and a few teams had multiple players with 30 or more home runs. I acknowledge that some of the years during this time span were marred with steroid use, thereby artificially bolstering the power stats, but even in the last several years, since baseball has been much more proactive in testing athletes, these figures are relatively unchanged. The bottom line is that you need a least 1 major power threat in your lineup if you are going to succeed. (By the way, the 1987 Twins had more power than I remembered: Kent Hrbek hit 34 home runs to lead the team; Gary Gaetti 31; Kirby 28; Bruno 32. Roy Smalley had 8 in 100 games. Smalley would have tied for 5th on the 2011 Twins, incidentally.)

A legitimate power threat gets walked at higher rates (assuming they have a good eye); a legitimate power threat has a direct and positive effect on the batter preceding him in the lineup; a legitimate power threat forces pitching changes; a legitimate power threat ends games. I don't wish to overstate the value of home runs. In fact, doubles and triples are generally fine with me, especially in a stadium like Target Field, where many players already have found hitting home runs difficult. But a home run is still a special, necessary, and game-changing part of professional baseball. Sure, the Twins have many needs to fill in order to have any chance in 2012, including starting and relief pitching, shortstop, backup catcher, and on and on. But without retaining, or acquiring, one or two power bats, it's going to be even more of a tough climb.

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