Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Twins Tinkering With Lineups

The Minnesota Twins have now played nine games in the 2021 Major League Baseball season thus far and are scheduled for their tenth today. They haven’t had a fully healthy roster for a full game yet, but batting order positions are starting to take shape. Where and when should we consider questioning them?


For most of his tenure as the skipper for Minnesota, Rocco Baldelli has opted to bat lefty Max Kepler in the leadoff hole. He’s a non-traditional fit there as speed isn’t his game, and he is more of a power player than high batting average guy. Through nine games this year Kepler hasn’t batted higher than cleanup and he’s been slotted in as low as ninth.


Looking at all options, the ideal fit for Rocco would seem to be Luis Arraez. The former second basemen turned utility man has played all over the place in 2021 and will continue to get reps in the outfield at least until Alex Kirilloff is promoted. In seven of his 10 starts he’ll have led off, but curiously he’s also batted 9th on the other three occasions. This is where the weirdness comes in.


From purely a speculative standpoint it seems that Baldelli is looking to shield Luis from left-handed pitchers. Despite an .890 OPS in his career against righties, that drops to .645 against lefties. The caveat here however is that Arraez loses power and average against southpaws, but he still owns a career .371 OBP against them and is synonymous with solid at bats.


Before making any determinations, it’s worth bringing up the emergence of Byron Buxton. I have long believed he was primed for a breakout 2021, and so far, that’s looking to be selling things short. Playing otherworldly, and especially at the dish, he’s now drawing starts in the leadoff spot. Traditionally that would make a lot of sense given his speed and gap potential, but things are a bit different for him in recent years. Buxton has found his power stroke.


For Byron there’s a few tendencies that run opposite of what Arraez is capable of. While Byron absolutely has thirty homer power potential, he’s still not going to be the on-base asset without hitting for a relatively high average. 2020 was an outlier for sure, but the walk rate is never going to be something Minnesota’s centerfielder hangs his hat on. More alike the former leadoff guy in Kepler, Buxton is plenty capable of putting a charge into a ball and generating extra-base hits.


This all may become moot in a few days when Josh Donaldson returns to the Twins lineup, but I think there’s some concrete decisions that can and should be made here. Luis Arraez bats leadoff when he’s in the lineup. It shouldn’t matter where he plays, who is pitching, or what day of the week it is. Don’t overthink it, let your table setter set the table. From there, Buxton has earned his way into the two-hole. That’s a spot occupied lately by the likes of Kyle Garlick. Minnesota is a bit stretched offensively in left field right now, and Garlick is fine, but he’s a bottom third hitter. Buxton should be batting in a run-producing position while still allowing him the ability to be on base for the bigger boppers. Donaldson is going to hit here when he returns, but then moving Buxton to third makes a good deal of sense.


Lineup construction is certainly nuanced, and it really only matters in the first inning and on a relatively minute scale. That said, Arraez should be generating as many at bats as he can for Minnesota, and Buxton should always be in a spot to come up and drive runners in.