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  • Big Question Remains: Will Twins Lineup Score Runs?

    Based on what has been seen this spring, if Minnesota Twins manager Ron Gardenhire still had hair on top of his head he would likely have scratched himself bald trying to figure out how to score runs with his lineup.

    For an entire week leading up to the season, it has felt like a broken record (or skipping iPod, or whatever): How is this lineup going to score runs? There has been little demonstration of power before Saturday’s three home run binge. Timely hitting has been off-the-clock. They haven’t even accidentally manufactured runs.

    The front office members fielding the questions urged patience and downplayed any importance of spring training numbers but the concern is there. “What we’ve done this spring, we’ve seen in the regular season,” Twins assistant GM Rob Antony said in reference to the team’s continuation of the offense’s 2013 scary-bad (in)ability to hit with runners in scoring position that has carried over to this spring.

    In the final handful of Grapefruit League games, Gardenhire has produced several variations of lineup cards, hoping to generate runs and trying different things he suggested came from the computers “upstairs”.

    By “upstairs”, the manager was referring to his baseball operations team that has been slowly building influence with and trust from the field general.

    Jack Goin, the organization’s manager of major league administration and baseball research, says that he and his group have had dialogues with Gardenhire, educating a traditionalist on the modern offensive theories -- such as the importance of having a two-hole hitter with on-base abilities rather than one who is adept at hitting behind the runner, squaring up for bunts or skilled at hit-and-run contact. If implemented, some of these theories could help squeeze a valuable run or two more than the traditional lineups.

    When asked what in his experience changed that made him more receptive to the game theories, Gardenhire balked at the idea that he did not manage by the numbers.

    “Believe me, I love to look at numbers,” he said in his Hammond Stadium office. “I’ve always been into numbers, I go with match-ups and all these things, I also believe in a starting lineup trying to put a consistent lineup down. But I use match-ups all the time. I’ve been a little more old school as far as the lineup, one-two-three, that type of thing, they way I grew up playing ball and these things. I see a lot of different lineups nowadays and I’ve been reading into it a little bit more, talking to our people -- it can come up interesting sometimes.”

    A little over a year ago, his tune was a bit different when it came to generating his lineup.

    "I've always had the thought a No. 2 guy has to be able to take pitches a little bit," Gardenhire told the St. Paul Pioneer Press last March. "He has to be able to protect the guy on base and be an on-base-percentage guy also so your 3-4-5 guys are getting opportunities."

    Nevertheless, when last season started Gardenhire came around to the novel concept that getting extra at-bats for his offensive star would be beneficial to his club. Last year, prior to his concussion, Joe Mauer was batting second for 87 games. There, he got on base at a 38.5% clip and scored 52 runs (however, no one behind him was able to drive him in). There are some who believe a player like Mauer, with his robust on-base percentage, is not hitting high enough in the order at two. With his career .405 OBP, he profiles as a dangerous and incessant table-setter.

    “Joe Mauer leading off?” Gardenhire asked himself the question that he undoubtedly has heard numerous times. “Sure, for a perfect team that’s great. A good team with a solid lineup, Joe Mauer would be a wonderful leadoff hitter but you have to have a lot more hitters in your lineup to let him do something like that. We need him in different roles that just leading off. We need him to drive the ball and all those things. Some lineups it works, some lineups it doesn’t work. Ours? It’s kind of hit and miss.”

    His concern is merited as the unknowns surrounding what the core of the lineup -- the Josh Willinghams, the Jason Kubels, the Trevor Plouffes -- will be able to contribute are numerous. Likewise for further down the order with Oswaldo Arcia and Aaron Hicks.

    This spring, as was the case in the final warm-up game of the year on Saturday, Gardenhire presented the umpire with a lineup card which had Brian Dozier at the top. The right-handed infielder in his third year of major league ball has been criticized as lacking the requisite OBP of the high caliber leadoff hitters. In 231 games with the Twins, Dozier has posted an OBP of .297, though that figure has grown some as his experience has increased. That notion does not faze Gardenhire.

    “I’ve had guys in the one-hole before that aren’t on-base guys,” he said. “When I first started managing it was Jacque Jones and, believe me, he wasn’t a leadoff hitter. But he was also a guy who could make it one-to-nothing really quick; Dozier can do that too.”

    There may be a psychological benefit for getting that early lead but those can be home runs that have not been leveraged to their full potential. Jones hit 20 first inning leadoff home runs in 320 games in his career. Those dingers would probably have been better served if someone was on base ahead of him, say someone who has an over-.400 on-base percentage, right?

    “You know what? Sometime you go with what you got. Prototype, I don’t have a [Denard] Span-type who takes a lot of pitches, so we took Dozier and I feel comfortable with him. I think he’s going to hit .300 and he can drive the ball too. Stick him in there with Mauer right behind him, that’s two guys who I think will do good together and kind of bunch our hitters together.”

    While catcher Kurt Suzuki has played a prominent role in the second spot in the order this spring, perhaps feeding Gardenhire’s lingering need to stick to the traditional lineup roles, Mauer figures to see plenty of starts in the two-hole depending on the match-ups. Gardenhire said that the lineup construction is fluid and will be highly dependent on who is hitting well.

    “It’s wide open, you just move them around,” he said. “As lineups go, if they’re hitting, they’re hitting. I don’t care where you put them when they are hitting. Everybody says stack your best lineups and all of your best hitters but it is good to have balance all the way through your lineups, if you can do that. Yeah we’ve tried a lot of different lineups but ultimately, it gets down to having a bunch of guys together all hitting. When they are doing that, then you are going to say ‘wow, that worked.’”

    And hitting would certainly silence the critics.

    “If we get on a hot roll here, which I hope we do right out of the chute, you guys won’t even talk about who is hitting first or second.”

    Comments 31 Comments
    1. jokin's Avatar
      jokin -
      Quote Originally Posted by Willihammer View Post
      Is it safe to say that Goin talked Gardy out of putting Suzuki in the 2 hole?
      Based on today's batting order? Nope.

      Maybe Gardy really does want to simplify things and have the #2 position player always bat "2" and the #3 position player always bat "3":

      Batters AB R H RBI BB SO LOB AVG
      Dozier, 2B 2 0 0 0 1 0 0 .232
      1- Michael, PR-2B 2 2 1 0 0 0 1 .500
      Suzuki, K, C
      3 0 1 0 0 1 1 .200
      4- Pinto, C
      2 1 1 3 0 1 1 .286
      Mauer, 1B 2 0 0 0 1 0 1 .271
      2- Colabello, PR-1B 1 0 1 0 0 0 0 .349
      Willingham, LF 3 1 1 1 0 0 2 .068
      Escobar, E, LF 1 0 0 0 0 0 1 .279
      Kubel, DH 3 0 1 0 0 1 0 .196
      3- Harrison, PR-DH 1 0 0 0 0 1 0 .000
      Plouffe, 3B 2 0 0 0 0 1 0 .269
      Pettersen, 3B 2 1 0 0 0 0 1 .000
      Arcia, O, RF 1 0 1 0 1 0 0 .250
      Walker, RF 2 1 2 2 0 0 0 1.000
      Hicks, CF 2 0 0 0 0 1 2 .327
      Bartlett, CF 2 0 0 0 0 0 1 .093
      Florimon, SS 2 0 0 0 0 0 1 .185
      Goodrum, SS 0 1 0 0 2 0 0 .000
      Totals 33 7 9 6 5 6 12
    1. jokin's Avatar
      jokin -
      Quote Originally Posted by Shane Wahl View Post
      The problem is that I think Gardenhire's desire to have lineups pretty much set in stone is precisely the opposite of what needs to happen with this current group. Joe Mauer should be batting second and I see no way of getting around that. Currently, this means Dozier should be leading off, even though this is not at all ideal.

      Against righties, I would probably go Dozier-Mauer-Arcia (yes)-Willingham-Kubel-Plouffe-Hicks-Suzuki/Pinto-Florimon, and against lefties Dozier-Mauer-Willingham-Plouffe-Hicks-Arcia-Colabello-Pinto-Florimon

      I think Dozier's bat will improve a bit, and that bit will be in average and thus OBP, so that isn't too terrible. Arcia is huge here. If he is struggling, the lineup could get weird.
      It can't be weirder than having Suzuki bat in the two-hole.
    1. LaBombo's Avatar
      LaBombo -
      Answer: Yes, the Twins will score runs. Dozens of them. Perhaps even several hundred!

      Sorry. Seriously, they'll be bad, just not in 2010 Mariners territory. Unless the wheels come off the wagon they won't be noticeably worse than last year.
    1. Reider's Avatar
      Reider -
      Yeah, they'll score runs, but not enough unless the young guys improve and the veterans put up good numbers.

      Ideally it would be nice if Hicks could get it together at the major league level, so we have a decent lead off hitter.
    1. highlander's Avatar
      highlander -
      I really think Hicks is going to provide a boost. Possibly batting fifth or sixth. I like Ossie but Hicks will have the better year!! Love Mauer in the two hole, but that opens up other problems in a young and weak line up. By the end of the year I expect Florimon to hit in the .250 range with double digit big flys. If Willingham doesn't hit Buxton could be up sooner than projected, but i think Parmalee would get first shot. Watch Hicks is going to be HUGE this year.
    1. clutterheart's Avatar
      clutterheart -
      Quote Originally Posted by Reider View Post
      Yeah, they'll score runs, but not enough unless the young guys improve and the veterans put up good numbers.

      Ideally it would be nice if Hicks could get it together at the major league level, so we have a decent lead off hitter.
      Our expectations for Hicks should be good defense hit around .250 and cut down on strike outs. His value to this team will not be his bat but his glove. Unfortunately the guys to his left and to his right are not going to do him any favors
    1. PopRiveter's Avatar
      PopRiveter -
      The answer at leadoff?
      I gottit!

      Trevor Plouffe.

      I know you're thinking, "What? This commenter doesn't understand the tools a leadoff hitter needs to be successful."
      Fair enough. Ignore that and consider this.
      Trevor Plouffe with the bases empty=.255/.313/.459 with 34 bombs in 695 AB.
      Trevor Plouffe with men on base=.220/.284/.348 with 14 wall-scrapers (likely wind-aided) in 531 AB.

      That's like having Tom Brunansky in his prime when the bases are empty vs. Denny Hocking (in Pat Meares' prime) when anyone is on any base.

      What do you think? Will Gardy be bold enough to eschew coventional baseball wisdom and properly leverage Mr. Plouffe's inability to hit with men on base?
      If not, this could be a long season.

      (Insert laughter and raucous applause as I respectfully drop the microphone and return to my seat)
    1. DAM DC Twins Fans's Avatar
      DAM DC Twins Fans -
      Quote Originally Posted by jokin View Post
      Uhh, good points RB, but the Twins are also heavily betting on rolling a "Hard 8" (get it? CF?) that last year for Hicks was wildly anomalous-
      ....and that now, literally, their only CFer, who will have to not only hit well above the Mendoza line, but, without another quality OF defender on the roster- will also have to carry the defensive weight for the entire OF- every single inning....of every game....
      I agree. When the Twins cut Presley and Parms--that put the OF defense on Hicks. Too much pressure--with some combo of Kubel, Arcia, and Willingham in the corners--Hicks will have to cover everything. too much pressure. Take away any offensive pressure by batting him 8th or 9th and leave him there.

      To me the big question is how many runs will the Twins OF defense give up by allowing gap hits (especially with a fly ball guy like Hughes on the mound). That means more than how many they score.
    1. LaBombo's Avatar
      LaBombo -
      Quote Originally Posted by PopRiveter View Post
      The answer at leadoff?
      Will Gardy be bold enough to eschew coventional baseball wisdom and properly leverage Mr. Plouffe's inability to hit with men on base?
      Bold enough? This is a guy who hangs from the dugout rail with a big wad of eschewing tobacco in his mouth, anxiously waiting for his next chance to give Jack Goin's advice a wedgey at recess.

      But yeah, turn Plouffie loose at the top of the order. If there's a chance we've been holding back a Rickie Henderson minus the average, walks, steals and insufferable arrogance, let's roll the dice. And idea fail = higher draft pick, so win/win...
    1. Dave T's Avatar
      Dave T -
      Let the Buxton countdown begin. Buxton + Hicks fixes the OF defense problem. Adding Buxton means that Kubel and Willingham are never in the lineup at the same time.
    1. Yoshii's Avatar
      Yoshii -
      To me in terms of offense, it all comes down to the 3 young guns: Hicks, Arcia, and Pinto. If these guys can't do it, we are doomed. All 3 have to perform well to the tune of at least 20 HR's, 80 RBI's, and a ~.270 batting average. Somehow we gotta avoid k's and draw more walks with this bunch. Everyone else in the lineup has done it before, and you kinda know what you are getting.
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