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The Twins have a Marwin González problem

Pitchers are approaching him differently, and he needs to adjust.

MLB: Cleveland Indians at Minnesota Twins David Berding-USA TODAY Sports

Few people picked the Twins to have the largest division lead in baseball through 35 games. (This is because no one predicts who will lead divisions after just 35 games!) There’s a lot of baseball left to play, but as Luis Torres points out, there’s no denying that Minnesota has been the class of the AL Central so far.

While the Twins have overachieved as a whole, not every player is pulling his weight. One of their largest offseason acquisitions was Marwin González. As a switch-hitter who plays nearly every position, he looked like a bargain at two years, $21 million. Over the last four seasons in Houston, his wRC+ was 112. He’s the prototype of the super-utility guy.

In 2019, his bat has disappeared completely. He’s slashing just .204/.281/.282 for the season, and his 54 wRC+ is among the ten lowest in MLB among qualified hitters. His strikeout rate has jumped to 26.3 percent, well above his career mark of 20.2 percent.

Looking at some of the Statcast numbers, it doesn’t appear that González is dramatically different than when he was more successful. There’s nothing wrong with his quality of contact. His xwOBAcon is .373, which is nearly identical to his 2017 and 2018 stats. His hard hit rate of 47.1 percent is actually well above his career average of 37.5 percent and the MLB average 34.5 percent.

Normally, we might expect his numbers to correct themselves given that he’s hitting the ball as well as ever (when he makes contact, that is). However, the performance decline has more to do with opposing pitchers than anything. Take a look at how the league is approaching him this season.

He’s seeing much fewer fastballs (54.2 percent in 2018, 44.6 percent this year) and much more breaking pitches (28.5 percent in 2018, 38.1 percent this year).

All around the league, pitchers are using fastballs less and breaking pitches more. Fastball usage is down about two percent. Correspondingly, sliders and curves are up by roughly the same margin.

Pitchers’ approaches to González are more dramatically different than the league-wide trend. He is the only qualified batter in MLB to see fewer than 40 percent fastballs.*

Fewest Fastballs Seen

Player Fastball %
Player Fastball %
Marwin Gonzalez 39.3
Jorge Soler 40.0
Dwight Smith, Jr. 42.3
Khris Davis 42.7

As you’ve probably surmised, there is a reason why opponents are loading him up with breaking pitches. He’s simply anemic against them, batting .103 with a .128 slugging and .103 wOBA against break this year. His x-stats aren’t much better: .172 xBA, .254 xSLG, and .183 xwOBA.

Allow Justin Verlander to demonstrate:

Now Tanner Scott:

González is more or less the same kind of hitter he’s always been, but with worse results. He struggled against breaking balls in 2018 as well, with a .192 xBA, .281 xSLG, and .235 xwOBA. That’s slightly better than his current x-stats, but still awful.

No, there’s no major difference in González’s performance against breaking pitches. The problem is quantity. Opposing pitchers have figured out that, given his ineptitude against breaking balls, they should throw him a lot more of them.

The collective plan is working; González isn’t hitting. He’ll need to figure out a way to hit breaking pitches because he’s only going to see them more often. If not, he’ll no longer be a super-utility player— just a regular old utilityman.

*Statcast combines four-seamers, two-seamers, sinkers, and cutters into their fastball category. FanGraphs breaks things up a little more, hence the difference between the two.

Daniel R. Epstein is an elementary special education teacher and president of the Somerset County Education Association. In addition to BtBS, he writes at Tweets @depstein1983