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  • The Twins Lineup Is Producing

    The season is still very young. I don't want to get too wrapped up in early optimism, but something has to be said about the lineup and production thus far, especially considering the generally pessimistic nature I think most of us felt at the close of spring training.

    There was a lot of gnashing of teeth, despite the "they can't be any worse, therefore they must be at least somewhat better" mantra. There are flaws and concerns still to be sure. (I'm not here to necessarily rehash the shortstop argument at length.) But let's take a moment to offer up props where due.

    What impresses me most is that a year after setting records for strikeouts, our Twins are suddenly among the leaders in on-base percentage, something I never dared dream.

    Jason Kubel has gone from a small investment/good flyer to washed up to performing well not only at the plate, but also reminding us that despite somewhat limited range, he is and always has been an OK defensive outfielder.

    The jury is still very much out on Josh Willingham. But even he looked pretty good the first few games after looking like overdone toast in ST.

    What more can be said about Chris Colabello? He's not just a good story any longer, he's become a great story. I've been converted from a hopeful fan of his to an actual believer. At his age, he's just not going to be a long-tenured major leaguer. But he's gone from a small independent league signing news blurb to someone who raked at AA. And still he was doubted. He raked upon his promotion to AAA and was again doubted when he finished in the majors last season. (Again, not the first or last ball player to be ill-fit initially). The Twins tried to do him a favor and ship him overseas; he refused, intent on fulfilling his dream. He's made adjustments, had a great ST, and has become, at least, an early season stalwart in the lineup. I'm just not going to bet against him any longer.

    Despite a couple errors, Plouffe looks much more comfortable at 3B. And while I very much doubt he will continue to hit .300 with a .400 OB, he really looks like a completely different hitter. Has the light finally come on?

    Dozier is proving he is for real. An on-base percentage over a 100 points higher than his early season batting average? Wait until a few more balls find holes. Same with Hicks. Nothing spectacular yet, but he just looks so much more relaxed and competent than last season. Like Dozier, an OBP over a 100 points higher than his BA.

    So far, Suzuki looks like the hitter he used to be. Pinto is showing really good signs. Mauer is Mauer and is just beginning to hit like Mauer. I can't wait to get Arcia back, and probably Hammer as well, though he should be primarily a DH.

    A couple questions and concerns. I still believe Mauer is best in the #3 hole. When do we consider Hicks for the #2 hole between Dozier and Mauer, with his patience and Mauer behind him? And long term, who is our #4 hitter? Even if Hammer comes back strong, he's not a long term answer by any means.

    Despite the angst involved with hoping for a long term solution at shorstop, I think that a batter to hit 4th​ is a primary concern to be addressed soon. But a tip of my cap to hitting coach Tom "Bruno" Brunansky, the staff, and especially the players thus far.
    Comments 41 Comments
    1. Linus's Avatar
      Linus -
      Quote Originally Posted by spycake View Post
      Do leadoff hitters see a different distribution of pitch types? And is Dozier (and the others you mention) just really good at capitalizing on them? Certainly seems logical that players would see a different distribution of pitches batting with men on base, which seems to imply the leadoff hitter's pitches should be special too.
      My first guess is that it is just a fluke - he may not hit another lead off homer the rest of the year. My second guess is that the pitcher may have start of the game butterflies and throws more fastballs, which Dozier likes.
    1. spycake's Avatar
      spycake -
      Hicks was pinch-hit for in last night's game. I don't see him moving up in the order anytime soon (nor should he). I could see Arcia optioned if Willingham gets healthy again.
    1. twinscowboysbulls's Avatar
      twinscowboysbulls -
      It appears once Arcia and Willingham are healthy we will have some nice bench bat options we didn't think we had. If Gardy will play the hot hand and play R/L matchups correctly than I'm fine with all those guys here, but if not, I'd rather see Arcia in AAA.
    1. twinscowboysbulls's Avatar
      twinscowboysbulls -
      Also I'm in the camp that thinks Dozier and Mauer should be flipped in the batting order. More 2 run dingers, if Gardy is okay with 2-0 instead of 1-0.
    1. stringer bell's Avatar
      stringer bell -
      The compromise position would be to send Arcia to Rochester on rehab assignment and wait to see if Hammer or one of Suzuki, Pinto, Colabello, Kubel cools considerably. I don't want to see Arcia on the bench when he can play. If one of the catchers slumps, the other gets more playing time, but I doubt that either will DH much if Willingham returns. I don't trust Colabello in the outfield at all and would rather he was the DH until he slumps. Assuming Arcia stays without a rehab assignment, we have four guys (Colabello, Willingham, Kubel, and Arcia) getting at-bats at the two corners plus DH, with no catcher DHing.
    1. spycake's Avatar
      spycake -
      The Twins low OBP last year was almost entirely a function of their low AVG. In 2013, they actually tied for 7th best in MLB in BB% and isolated discipline (AVG minus OBP) -- the only 4 AL teams above us were playoff teams.

      This year, our OBP and isolated discipline is super-high, but that's mostly fueled by an almost absurd walk rate. Our AVG is still low and very similar to last year, as is our BABIP. I expect our BB% and OBP/isolated discipline to stabilize much closer to last years numbers (BB% could drop by almost one-third and our OBP/isolated discipline .030 points and we could still lead the league in both, to give you an idea how crazy they have been so far this year).

      Seems like low AVG and K% were our bugaboos under Brunansky last year, and both trends seem to be continuing this year in absolute terms, although our relative ranks are somewhat improved in both categories. It will interesting to see how our numbers change if/when the league rates stabilize.
    1. DocBauer's Avatar
      DocBauer -
      Quote Originally Posted by Dantes929 View Post
      " I still believe Mauer is best in the #3 hole. " Why do you believe that? All things considered it actually makes a great deal more sense to bat Mauer leadoff and Dozier 2nd. 5 runs from leadoff spot could turn into as many as 10 runs if Mauer is on when Dozier hits his home runs. Mauer gets on base at a great rate but his power is mostly doubles. Theses attributes beg to be at the top of the order. Why is he best in the 3 hole? Just curious to know your rationale.
      I guess I'm a little old school when it comes to lineups.I remember Downing and Boggs providing the Angels and Red Sox quality Avg and ON with some power but little to no speed. In fact, Boggs is probably a very good comparison to Mauer. Both these guys helped their teams lead off and were effective in a non conventional way. Mauer could perhaps do the same.

      But to my way of thinking, you want a good overall mix of hit/OB/contact in 1 & 2, ideally with a little speed and or power. This lets you set the table as well as put pressure on the pitcher and defense. My school of thought is for a teams very best hitter, Mauer in this case, to hit 3. Your very best overall hitter at 3 accomplishes two goals. One, he can drive in runs. Second, his own good Avg and OB and power helps keep an inning going for the hitters behind him.
    1. spycake's Avatar
      spycake -
      On Colabello, he's still going opposite field with almost everything except grounders and pop-ups.

      The outfield part of his spray chart:
      http://www.fangraphs.com/spraycharts...s1=ALL&vs2=ALL

      actually closely resembles Kubel's:
      http://www.fangraphs.com/spraycharts...s1=ALL&vs2=ALL

      Love the stretch he's on, and will keep riding the hot hand, but he could probably safely settle into a PH/platoon DH/backup 1B type role in the not too distant future, if we wanted to fit Arcia and Willingham back in.
    1. DocBauer's Avatar
      DocBauer -
      Quote Originally Posted by Reider View Post
      I think the better question is when do we consider moving Hicks back to the lead off role and moving Dozier to the #2 spot in front of Mauer. And the answer to that question is when he hits better and gets on base more often. He's just not ready yet. I don't understand why you'd want Hicks to be a #2 guy between Dozier and Mauer. Ideally, I think it makes more sense to have the line up: Hicks, Dozier, then Mauer.

      Well if you are talking long-term, Willingham might not even be a Twin next season (or for the rest of this season for that matter), so he's probably not the guy. This is a tough question for me to answer because you have a group of guys who can hit the ball hard (e.g. Willingham, Plouffe, Kubel, Arcia, Colabello, Pinto etc..), but it's hard to say who's going to go out and take that spot long term. It could very well be a player who isn't currently on the roster.

      As far as the line up producing, I think that is directly attributed to more quality at bats due to good coaching and the players working hard on their craft.
      I agree with you on Hicks at 1, and where I hope he ends up. But he's not hitting well enough yet, obviously. Yet, his OB and much better approach clearly shows he's moved on from where he was last year. My thought on him hitting 2, eventually anyway, was to be protected by Dozier and Mauer. Possibly see a few more fastballs as well.

      And as to cleanup, I also agree that the right guy probably isn't on the roster right now. Whether we make a move yet this year or next off season remains to be seen.
    1. stringer bell's Avatar
      stringer bell -
      The cleanup hitter for the next decade currently has his right arm in a cast from shoulder to wrist.
    1. cmathewson's Avatar
      cmathewson -
      Quote Originally Posted by spycake View Post
      On Colabello, he's still going opposite field with almost everything except grounders and pop-ups.

      The outfield part of his spray chart:
      http://www.fangraphs.com/spraycharts...s1=ALL&vs2=ALL

      actually closely resembles Kubel's:
      http://www.fangraphs.com/spraycharts...s1=ALL&vs2=ALL

      Love the stretch he's on, and will keep riding the hot hand, but he could probably safely settle into a PH/platoon DH/backup 1B type role in the not too distant future, if we wanted to fit Arcia and Willingham back in.
      He turned on one yesterday. I think it's more a matter of hitting the ball where it's pitched. As long as they pitch him away, I hope he keeps going that way (ditto Plouffe). But he has to be ready to turn on the pitch on the inside. On last night's double, Cabrera was playing him 60 feet off the line. He lined it where a normal left fielder would play. So they've been playing him oppo and taking away some hits. As he pulls the ball more, they'll play him straight away more and he'll get more oppo hits.

      I'm encouraged he's showing signs of being able to make adjustments. Last year he was not able to hit the pitch on the inside. With his new stance, he's showing that he can drive it. We'll see how he adjusts as the scouting reports catch up to him. But I'm encouraged so far.
    1. DocBauer's Avatar
      DocBauer -
      Quote Originally Posted by stringer bell View Post
      The cleanup hitter for the next decade currently has his right arm in a cast from shoulder to wrist.
      And you might, and probably are, correct my friend!

      Unfortunately, he does have to get healthy first. Then he has to get back in a groove and continue his march to Target Field. But even then, there are few rookies who jump effectively right in to the 4 hole. I still think the Twins will need to take Hammer money, plus a little more I'm sure, and make a trade or FA move for a veteran bat. Have to confess I still like the idea of Morales. Either this year, or next if he signs a one year elsewhere.
    1. troyhobbs's Avatar
      troyhobbs -
      Hicks belongs at the bottom of the order, I think Dozier might be better in the 2 hole. Eduardo Nunez looks much more like an MLB player than Chris Herman and at least a few other guys on the 25 man (except when bunting). Maybe he can leadoff...? Genuinely shocked at the runs this lineup is scoring though, it can't last can it? Would be sweet if it does.
    1. spycake's Avatar
      spycake -
      Quote Originally Posted by cmathewson View Post
      He turned on one yesterday. I think it's more a matter of hitting the ball where it's pitched. As long as they pitch him away, I hope he keeps going that way (ditto Plouffe).
      I missed that double yesterday, thanks.

      I am pretty new to "heat maps" but this suggests he has actually gotten a fair percentage of inside pitches so far in his MLB career:
      http://www.brooksbaseball.net/h_prof...2014&s_type=13

      More than Willingham or Plouffe, for example. He just hasn't done much with anything outside the zone, on either side of the plate:
      http://www.brooksbaseball.net/h_prof...s=-1&b_hand=-1

      If he can keep a good eye and limit his K's he can be useful, just like Plouffe, but without that pull power I don't know if he'll ever be a notably above average hitter.
    1. Dantes929's Avatar
      Dantes929 -
      "In other words, if he were batting 2nd or anywhere else, it isn't clear that he would still have 5 homers" Almost certainly not but then again I doubt he continues to leadoff every third game with a dinger either. In theory if Mauer is on ahead of him he will get more breaking balls in an attempt at the double play but when ahead in the count will get better fastballs to avoid putting the first two guys on. If Colabello is the real deal, Hicks starts to produce and Buxton turn into what we want them to be Mauer might end up being a good #5 or even #4 to put an OBP guy in between power. Buxton, Hicks, Colabello, Mauer, Sano, Rosario, Dozier, Plouffe, Pinto. A guy can dream.
    1. blindeke's Avatar
      blindeke -
      Quote Originally Posted by longstrangetrip View Post
      Yes, Bruno needs to be given some credit in his second year. Blyleven made a great point yesterday...you can hear Bruno in the dugout yelling encouragement every time a hitter lets a high fastball or low outside slider go by for a ball. He is much more engaged, and it shows.

      "Atta boy!" every time someone took a close pitch for a ball.
    1. Beezer's Avatar
      Beezer -
      I think Dozier is hitting better than his average indicates. I have not looked at any charts or stats but from the eyeball test seems like he is making good contact and having bad luck with his in the park contact happening to be right at someone. I would expect that bad luck to even out a bit over the year and for him to get his average up around .270 or better. If he does hit .270 he might be better off hitting 3rd with the power he is showing and keeping Mauer in the #2 hole. Seems like his OPS is likely to be higher than Mauer's and that might better serve the Twins for him to hit 3rd. I have never liked Joe's lack of power in the 3rd spot and think he is almost ideal as a #2 hitter. It would be great if Hicks could get his average up but he is taking better at bats this year and does not look quite as lost so I think he can get into the .250 range with his batting average and perhaps .350 for onbase. Not wonderful for a leadoff guy but not bad and with his speed it would be nice to see him at the top. For now I think he needs to be at #8 or better yet #9 and develop some confidence. With the production we are getting from the rest of the lineup keeping Hicks and Florimon in the field is a luxury we can afford for the time being and being strong up the middle is important for our pitchers and even the fans as watching bad defense can be even more frustrating than watching strikeouts.
    1. mike wants wins's Avatar
      mike wants wins -
      Since I want wins.....I am thrilled with this offense so far. Thrilled. No way I'd move Hicks up in the order......not until he shows he can hit a little, which he hasn't. I admit to some SSS disease, in almost believing they could win 75+ games this year.
    1. Circus Boy's Avatar
      Circus Boy -
      Quote Originally Posted by ashburyjohn View Post
      Very true. It's not quite the same as the Zen saying about a man not being able to step in the same river twice (the second time it's no longer the same river and he's no longer the same man), but that still comes to my mind.
      Zen. Big hitter. Long flowing robes....
    1. Mave's Avatar
      Mave -
      At his age, he's just not going to be a long-tenured major leaguer.
      Above, referring to Colabello-- who made his debut last year at the same age Jamey Carroll did with the Expos. He is definitely a fun story to follow-- hoping that he, like Jamey, can keep living the big league dream another ten years.
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