What happened to all the Twins' bunt hits?

Leave a comment

Last year the Twins tied the all-time MLB record
for bunt hits in a season with 68, while no other team managed even 40.
Carlos Gomez led baseball with 30, which would have ranked sixth among teams,
and Alexi Casilla was second in the AL with 16 despite playing only 98
games. Along with Gomez and Casilla combining for 46 bunt hits, Nick
Punto chipped in seven, Joe Mauer, Denard Span, and Matt Tolbert had
four apiece, and nearly five percent of the Twins’ total hits came via
bunt.

This season has been a much different story,
as the Twins rank just sixth in bunt hits and are on pace to finish
with fewer than half as many as they had last year. Much of the
decrease in bunt hits comes from Gomez being relegated to the bench for
32 of 77 games after starting 143 times last season and Casilla playing
his way back to Triple-A, because they obviously can’t rack up bunt
hits from the dugout or Rochester. With that said, bunting less often
even when they’re in the lineup has also been a factor.

Gomez laid down a bunt in 11 percent of his plate appearances last
year, reaching safely 45.5 percent of the time to become just the fifth
player since 1959 to bunt for at least 30 hits in a season. This year
Gomez has bunted in just six percent of his plate appearances while
reaching safely 27.3 percent of the time. In other words, he’s bunted
about half as often and done so about half as successfully. Much has
been made of Gomez’s decline at the plate, but bunting accounts for
nearly the entire change.

Gomez is hitting just .225 with a .358 slugging percentage on
non-bunts this year, which while terrible is no worse than last season
when he hit .233 with a .348 slugging percentage on non-bunts. In terms
of actual hitting
he hasn’t changed at all, but the difference is that bunts accounted
for over 20 percent of his hits last year and Gomez batted .455 when he
laid one down. This year bunts have accounted for just eight percent of
Gomez’s hits and he’s batted just .273 when he lays one down.

Twins fans have heard all about Gomez’s supposed potential
offensively since the team acquired him as the centerpiece of last
offseason’s Johan Santana trade, but through over 900 plate appearances
in the majors he’s hit .227 with a .337 slugging percentage when not
bunting. Those are putrid numbers and cast serious doubt on Gomez’s
ability to develop into an impact hitter, but the good news is that he
remains one of the game’s fastest players and is a career .433 hitter
when dropping a bunt down.

Because of his great glove in center field Gomez will always have value
regardless of how poorly he’s doing at the plate, but given his success
bunting and how horrible he’s been when swinging away it makes no sense
for him to be laying one down half as often this year. Hitting coach
Joe Vavra surely has him focusing on putting together better at-bats
and taking the ball the other way, which have the potential to make him
a competent hitter, but in the meantime his only real weapon has gone
missing.

Casilla bunted almost as often as Gomez last year, laying one down
in nine percent of his trips to the plate, and was nearly as successful
by reaching safely on 43 percent of his attempts. In addition to the
bunting Casilla was also more successful than Gomez on non-bunts,
hitting .265 with a .368 slugging percentage. Those non-bunt numbers
still weren’t good, but they’re positively Mauer-esque compared to
Casilla hitting .162 with a .210 slugging percentage on non-bunts this
season.

As a team the Twins have gone from bunting once every 36 plate
appearances and reaching safely 40 percent of the time in 2008 to
bunting once every 51 plate appearances and reaching safely 28 percent
of the time this year. That might not seem like a huge difference and
certainly the lineup’s dramatically increased power is a much more
important change overall, but when it comes to the light-hitting speed
guys like Gomez, Casilla, Tolbert, and Punto all struggling the lack of
bunts is definitely curious.

The Cubs will soon announce a five-year contract extension for Theo Epstein

CHICAGO, IL - JULY 27: Theo Epstein (R), President of Operations for the Chicago Cubs, talks with head football coach Jim Harbaugh of the University of Michigan before the game between the Chicago White Sox and the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field on July 27, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Jon Durr/Getty Images)
Getty Images
1 Comment

Carrie Muskat of MLB.com just tweeted that the Cubs will soon announce a five-year contract extension for president Theo Epstein. Bob Nightengale of USA Today reports that it’s worth in excess of $50 million.

He’s earned it. When he took over the Cubs in October, 2011 the Cubs were a last place team with an aging roster and a front office that was several years behind the state of the art in every conceivable way. Last year the Cubs made the playoffs and this year they are baseball’s best team by a large margin and the franchise looks poised to continue its success for some time.

So, yeah, I’d say locking Theo up is a good idea.

What’s on Tap: Previewing Wednesday’s action

BALTIMORE, MD - SEPTEMBER 21:  Starting pitcher Clay Buchholz #11 of the Boston Red Sox throws to a Baltimore Orioles batter in the first inning at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on September 21, 2016 in Baltimore, Maryland.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Rob Carr/Getty Images
1 Comment

The Red Sox will once again attempt to clinch the AL East after failing to do so on Tuesday night. They can seal the division with a win against the Yankees or a Blue Jays loss to the Orioles on Wednesday evening.

Clay Buchholz will take the hill for the BoSox against Yankees right-hander Bryan Mitchell in a 7:05 PM EDT start at Yankee Stadium. Buchholz hasn’t exactly been Mr. Reliable this season, holding a 5.00 ERA with an 87/53 K/BB ratio in 133 1/3 innings. However, he has been in three of four starts since returning to the rotation earlier this month. Over those four starts, he owns a 3.97 ERA and a 15/8 K/BB ratio in 22 2/3 innings.

Meanwhile, at the Rogers Centre, the Jays will send out Francisco Liriano against the Orioles’ Chris Tillman in a 7:07 PM EDT start. Liriano has been much improved since coming to the Jays from the Pirates, so the Orioles will have their hands full.

As for Wild Card action, the Royals can be eliminated if they lose to the Twins or if the Orioles beat the Jays. The Yankees can be eliminated by losing to the Red Sox and the Orioles defeating the Jays. In the National League, the Marlins can be eliminated by losing to the Mets or the Giants beating the Rockies.

The rest of Wednesday’s action…

Arizona Diamondbacks (Shelby Miller) @ Washington Nationals (Gio Gonzalez), 7:05 PM EDT

Boston Red Sox (Clay Buchholz) @ New York Yankees (Bryan Mitchell), 7:05 PM EDT

Chicago Cubs (Jake Arrieta) @ Pittsburgh Pirates (Jameson Taillon), 7:05 PM EDT

Baltimore Orioles (Chris Tillman) @ Toronto Blue Jays (Francisco Liriano), 7:07 PM EDT

Cleveland Indians (Zach McAllister) @ Detroit Tigers (Michael Fulmer), 7:10 PM EDT

New York Mets (Seth Lugo) @ Miami Marlins (Jose Urena), 7:10 PM EDT

Philadelphia Phillies (Adam Morgan) @ Atlanta Braves (Mike Foltynewicz), 7:10 PM EDT

Minnesota Twins (Ervin Santana) @ Kansas City Royals (Jason Vargas), 7:15 PM EDT

Milwaukee Brewers (Chase Anderson) @ Texas Rangers (Cole Hamels), 8:05 PM EDT

Tampa Bay Rays (Blake Snell) @ Chicago White Sox (Miguel Gonzalez), 8:10 PM EDT

Cincinnati Reds (Anthony DeSclafani) @ St. Louis Cardinals (Mike Leake), 8:15 PM EDT

Oakland Athletics (Sonny Gray) @ Los Angeles Angels (Alex Meyer), 10:05 PM EDT

Los Angeles Dodgers (Jose De Leon) @ San Diego Padres (Luis Perdomo), 10:10 PM EDT

Colorado Rockies (Tyler Chatwood) @ San Francisco Giants (Jeff Samardzija), 10:15 PM EDT