Monday, June 22, 2015

Grading Paul Molitor's Early Returns

We are now coming up quickly on the halfway point of the 2015 Major League Baseball season, and for the Twins this year, things have been notably different with Paul Molitor at the helm. Ron Gardenhire was given a tough deck of cards to play with the past few years, but Molitor has innovated early, and it's been a welcomed addition to the organization.

After being named the next Twins skipper, many suggested that Minnesota was once again going with the easy internal option. Stick to the "Twins Way," choosing Molitor would allow Ryan to continue many of the same practices he always had. While there were those outside of the organization considered, it was always believed to be Paul's spot to lose. So far, that has been absolutely the right choice.

Early in spring training, and even through a tough couple of weeks to begin the season, Molitor began to put his stamp on this team. Shuffling the lineup to put it in a position to best succeed, handling pitchers in a different manner, and squeezing what he could out of a team that was no doubt over performing, the Twins were better for their new manager.

While as a whole things have been different under Molitor, there have been a few very welcomed moments that have stuck out in the early going. Often, Glen Perkins was not used in key situations during years past. As the best reliever on the team, Molitor has put Perkins on the mound for non-save situations as well as four-out work. To this point, it's lead to a major league leading 23 straight saves, 100% conversion, and a 1.48 ERA.

Outside of the bullpen, Molitor also flashed some new age thinking while the Twins traveled to St. Louis for an interleague series this season. Batting the pitcher in the 8th spot, something only Joe Maddon has done previously, Molitor created a run in game one against the Cardinals. Although it doesn't always work out the way you draw it up, it was Molitor's innovation that led to the Twins being in a position to benefit.

The club has shifted often this season, being right around the middle of the major leagues in doing so. Aggressiveness on the basepaths has seemed heightened as well, with more runners being sent home in an effort to squeeze out extra runs.

Although there has been a significant amount of good, Molitor has also been bullish in some respects, and that should be noted as well.

With lineup innovation being one of the most notable changes early on in his tenure, Molitor has also showed a hesitancy when it comes to moving around his big names. Joe Mauer continues to bat third most nights for the Twins, despite struggling to offer production in the role. Hitting .413/.524/.540 with runners in scoring position, Mauer is a black hole in every other situation (.184/.221/.279). Profiling more like a six or seven hitter, Molitor to the detriment of his offense, has yet to make that switch.

When it comes to the lineup and defensive construction, Molitor has also made some curious decisions. As recently as the series with the Chicago Cubs, the Twins skipper forced Eduardo Escobar's bat (slashing .242/.267/.368) into the lineup by playing him in left field. Making routine catches circus-like, the infielder is generally out of position, and takes poor routes to the ball. With Shane Robinson as the fourth outfielder, Molitor would be best served to leave either Eduardo Nunez or Escobar on the bench when they are not playing shortstop.

As a whole, there has been far more positive than negative, and you'd be hard pressed to make the argument that much of the surprise this season isn't due to Molitor's style. The Twins manager has squeezed wins and production from places otherwise not tapped into, and Minnesota has been an early season surprise because of it. As this team grows and continues to improve going forward, Molitor being at the helm should be a big boost.

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