Monday, January 14, 2013

Benchmarks for 2013: Lineup construction

Joe Mauer should be bumped up to the second spot
in the Twins batting order.
The Twins at this point have three vacant defensive positions: Center field, second base and shortstop. They also have significant vacancies at the top of the batting order, having traded Denard Span and Ben Revere.

Figure that these six men are, barring injury, essentially set for regular play: Joe Mauer (catcher); Justin Morneau (first base), Trevor Plouffe (third base), Josh Willingham (left field), Chris Parmelee (right field) and Ryan Doumit (designated hitter). Other than Mauer, who led the American League in on-base percentage last year, those guys are better at finishing rallies than starting them. Their offense is more slugging percentage than OBP. And they're all pretty slow. There's not a prototype leadoff hitter in the pack.

And, as we've seen in the center field and middle infield segments of this series, the candidates for those open slots aren't necessarily suited to be table-setters.

Ron Gardenhire's batting orders have been frequently criticized. I don't often join in that criticism because I believe that the batting order is less important than having the right nine guys in the order. The inning with the most runs scored is the first inning, which makes sense because that's how lineups are generally built; the inning with the least is the second inning, because traditional lineups put weaker hitters at the end of the lineup. And if you average the first and second innings, it comes out even with the other innings.

But ... if two of the winners of the open positions wind up hitting first and second full-time with well-below offense, that's a problem. Each lineup slot gets about 20 more plate appearances, over the course of the season, than the next one; having a guy who should be hitting eight or ninth hitting first or second is giving up a lot of outs.

And if the winners of the three open slots are Darin Mastroianni, Brian Dozier and Pedro Florimon -- hardly unlikely -- that's three guys who probably ought to be hitting eighth and ninth. They can't all hit there.

My take:

There's good reason to hit Mauer third, but there are other hitters capable of filling that role. There's nobody close to Mauer in terms of handling a table-setter role. He's not particularly fast, but that's a secondary concern compared to his .400 on-base percentage.

So put Mauer in the two-hole. The shortstop, presumably either Florimon or Eduardo Escobar, should hit ninth. That leaves the leadoff slot and the eighth spot for the center fielder and second base. This isn't optimal, but it's better than putting two below-average hitters in the slots that get the most at-bats.

The endgame

Eventually, Aaron Hicks is supposed not only take over center field but the leadoff spot. Even if he wins the center field job this spring, however, it will probably behoove the Twins to ease him into a key offensive role. Brian Dozier theoretically might be able to fill a top-of-the-lineup slot, but he didn't hit well enough as a rookie to count on him doing so. Jamey Carroll is acceptable, but he's not a multi-year solution. Nobody else in the field of contenders for center field, shortstop or second base profiles as leadoff or No. 2 hitter.

A realistic goal for Gardenhire this year is developing one top-of-the-order guy. Two would be ideal — two of them would let Mauer, the team's best hitter, hit third — but the raw materials may not be there.

1 comment:

  1. If Gardy bats Mauer second, he should be fired. Not only does that mean Mauer, the Twins best hitter, will see fewer runners on base but so will whoever replaces him in the number three spot. I don't think giving more RBI opportunities to Ryan Doumit by batting him 5th instead of 6th makes up for that.

    Mastroianni and Carrol are far from ideals as leadoff and second hitters. But they are going to be adequate. As you point out, the bigger question comes if Hicks or Benson win the center field job. Its not clear either of them should be leading off in the major leagues.

    But the Twins would probably be better off with Parmelee or even Plouffe batting second than moving Mauer up into that spot. You want Mauer swinging the bat with someone on base and he will see almost twice as many runners on base in the first inning if he bats third rather than second.