This week, I wrote about how a small strike zone always seems to hurt the Twins. My explanation was fairly simplistic:
“The strike zone may have been consistent for both teams, but the Twins react terribly to it, and have for years. First, it hurts the pitcher because the corners aren’t called for strikes — meaning he’s giving up more walks and more hard hit balls than he’s used to. That isn’t consistent for both teams, however, because of the Outside Swing Percentage problems the Twins have: namely, they swing at everything that moves and won’t draw any walks regardless of how friendly the strike zone is.”I wanted to think about this some more. Especially in the context of a conversation we had yesterday: “The way I see it, there are two basic philosophies for building an offense: walks + power, or consecutive hits + speed.”
I’m not about to debate whether these are the only two basic philosophies of building an offense. But what I am going to do is walk through a (rather longwinded) thought about which of these two philosophies produces the better offense — and how that affects the enjoyment of the game.
When you watch an old baseball game, one of the striking things about it is how large the strike zone is. When you’re taught to play baseball, you’re told that the strike zone is “from your armpits to your knees,” and the umpires actually used to call it that way. As a result of the large strike zone, batters had to protect the plate a lot more, and swing at anything that was near the corners, otherwise they’d just strike out.
When you’re swinging like that, it’s supremely difficult to put any power into your swing. (I know this from personal experience — when I played, I never hit a home run, but I also rarely struck out … or walked. Classic Old School Twins Player.)
As a result, old games tended to take less time, and a player’s value was tied directly to his batting average, as opposed to his OBP. (Because it was so much more difficult to walk, a player’s ability to make contact WAS his ability to get on base.) In order to score runs, a team had to sustain a rally. You had to get three or four hits in an inning in order to score a couple of runs. The suspense in these games is palpable (which is funny, considering the fact that they happened decades ago), and the players were forced to trust the players ahead of them and behind them in the order. The BB-K-HR model individualizes the game much more — each of those players was trying to hit his own home run, not sustain a rally for his team.
How does this effect the Twins and their organizational philosophy? The most famous Twins players were swing away hitters. Some of them could put it over the fence, some couldn’t. Some made more contact than others. But none of them kept the bat on their shoulder.
The Twins mastered the art of the old school offensive strategy close to the time it became outdated — and won a pair of World Series for their efforts. Even players who weren’t part of those teams, but were predecessors and part of the mold of “a Twins Player” remained in the public’s consciousness and hearts. Oliva, Carew, Puckett, Hrbek … free swinging, fun loving, old school baseball players. These are what a Twin is supposed to be.
And nothing changed since then. The ownership is the same, just older. The front office is the same, each GM naming his successor and keeping alive the victorious lineage of the ‘87 and ‘91 champions. The curmudgeonly manager of those championship teams finally retired and named his successor, keeping alive THAT victorious lineage.
Of course, the second championship was followed by a decade of dark, dark times. Exactly the kind of times a franchise could use for some serious soul searching, to figure out what direction the organization is going to take. To determine whether or not the game has passed them by, and that changes are necessary.
This soul searching didn’t happen. Nothing changed — instead, after a decade of futility, a new band of young Twins emerged, forged from the mold of old, Classic Old School Twins Players. They swung at everything, and they managed to do it in a row enough to score runs. The Twins re-mastered the art of the old school offensive strategy, just as other teams were mastering the new offensive strategy — walks and power.
The Boston Red Sox — certainly one of the most successful of the new school offenses — represent perhaps the perfect juxtaposition with the Twins. They didn’t maximize their walks + power offense until they added the ultimate DH … a certain David Ortiz. He stepped into their lineup and immediately started blasting balls over the fence and striking fear into the hearts of pitchers everywhere. Before DOrtiz was this feared hitter, he was with the Twins, where he was “forced to swing like a little bitch.” (His words.)
But, at the end of the day, is this Old School Offense that the Twins are employing such a bad thing? The Twins offense won’t score as many runs or be as consistent as the more modern teams, and they’ll probably amass a worse record over the course of the season than the teams willing to spend 2+ times as much money (that’s what it costs to get the good “Three True Outcomes” players). And another World Series may be hard to come by (although anything can happen).
I don’t personally watch baseball every day because I EXPECT my favorite team to be the best one that’s ever been constructed, every day of every year. That’s a bit of an East Coast mentality that’s a bit too oppressive for my tastes. I watch baseball because I enjoy it, it’s entertaining and fun to watch, and it recalls my memories of playing baseball as a kid. And when you’re a kid, not many people are able to hit a home run and everyone hates it when kids are getting walked around the bases.
I don’t LIKE watching a baseball game where every at bat is most likely to be a strike out, walk, or home run. That type of play tends to take a long time, and encourages both the batter and the pitcher to draw out each pitch as long as possible. The “greatest rivalry in sports,” Red Sox versus Yankees, produces nothing but unwatchable games. Every game takes over four hours, and there’s little suspense in wondering which team will amass the most home runs (following walks) over the course of these particular nine innings. I would MUCH rather watch a 2.5 hour game in which 4-5 hits could happen in a row at any time, and whenever someone manages to get on base you have to sit on the edge of your seat as a rally may be about to start. (And because of that, I can get over the fact that the rally only actually starts about 20% of the time. If that.)
I think the modern walks + power offense is a “better” way to go about it. I’d like to see the Twins adopt some aspects of it. But at the same time, I love and appreciate the fact that I root for a throwback team that eschews these modern lessons and plays the game “the way it’s always been played.” There’s something comforting in that.
(And I’m not even old.)4 comments