The Free Press, Mankato, MN

March 26, 2014

Thoma column: Projected lineup is Mauer, Arcia and a bunch of outs


The Mankato Free Press

---- — The Minnesota Twins begin play in earnest in less than a week — weather permitting — and wow, do they have lineup issues.

They scored 614 runs last season, 13th in the 15-team American League and almost 100 under the league average (702). Justin Morneau and Ryan Doumit, two mainstays of the middle of the lineup, are gone; they have essentially been replaced by Kurt Suzuki and Jason Kubel, who hit .232 and .216 (without power) respectively.

The Twins have the great Joe Mauer. They have the promising Oswaldo Arcia. And they have a couple of 30-somethings trying to show that they aren’t washed up (Kubel, Josh Willingham), a few 20-somethings trying to build on a few months of production in recent years (Trevor Plouffe, Brian Dozier), a shortstop who can’t hit (Pedro Florimon) and a tarnished prospect (Aaron Hicks).

This figures to be an ugly season at the plate for the Twins. If 2013 accurately reflected the current abilities of their projected lineup, it’s Mauer, Arcia and a bunch of guys who should hit eighth or ninth — if they belong in a major league lineup at all.

How bad is it? Ron Gardenhire has taken in recent days to hitting Suzuki in the No. 2 spot in the lineup.

As a general rule, I believe batting orders get more attention and argument than they deserve. The worst constructed batting order of a given nine hitters is only marginally less productive than the ideal one. Kurt Suzuki does more damage to the Twins offense simply by being in the lineup than he will do by hitting second.

But this is pretty close to maximum possible error. The current sabermetric theory holds that the best hitter in the lineup (for the Twins, Mauer) should hit second. Suzuki is probably No. 8 for the Twins, ahead only of Florimon.

That said, somebody has to hit second. Mauer is limited to one lineup slot, and while I’d rather it be second, third is acceptable. And Suzuki is hardly the only guy who’s in a more important lineup slot than he deserves.

In that light, Gardenhire’s insistence on hitting Kubel higher than Arcia is frustrating. Arcia can — will — be a big part of the next good Twins team. Kubel will not. I’d rather see Arcia get the extra at-bats.

I’ve said this repeatedly this winter in the blog: The Twins won’t have a truly productive lineup until they can get Dozier out of the top of the order. He spent most of 2013 hitting first, second or third. He should, in a good lineup, be in the bottom third of the order.

That won’t happen with this crew.

Edward Thoma (344-6377; ethoma@mankatofreepress.com) maintains his Baseball Outsider blog at fpbaseballoutsider.blogspot.com. Follow him on Twitter @bboutsider.