The Free Press, Mankato, MN

June 10, 2013

Thoma column:


The Mankato Free Press

---- — Jamey Carroll led off Saturday for the Minnesota Twins. He came to the plate six times and reached base once.

That’s a pretty typical performance for a Twins leadoff hitter in 2013.

The Twins knew when they traded away Denard Span and Ben Revere that they were creating a hole in the leadoff slot. They couldn’t have expected it to be this difficult to fill.

Minnesota leadoff men entered Sunday’s doubleheader hitting a cumulative .176. Even worse, their on-base percentage was .229, and their slugging percentage was a dismal .211.

The average National League pitcher hits .135/.162/.188.

It’s difficult to fault manager Ron Gardenhire for this leadoff failure. He pulled the plug on Aaron Hicks as the leadoff man after just 10 games (.047/.109/.047 hitting first). He’s given Brian Dozier 20 starts (.235/.267/.318); he’s given Carroll 20 starts (.198/.263/.220).

He’s even given Eduardo Escobar six starts, even though there’s no real reason to think Escobar’s a major league hitter, much less a top-of-the-order guy. That’s gotten fairly predictable results: .111/.172/.111.

All of them are hitting worse as leadoff hitters than they are elsewhere in the lineup.

The best leadoff hitter on the team, of course, would be Joe Mauer, but he’s only allowed to hit once in the batting order. Move him to leadoff, and you now have a hole in the second spot in the batting order, and you haven’t fixed anything.

So what to do?

Hicks still looks like the best long-term bet on the current roster to be a leadoff hitter, but one can understand Gardenhire’s reluctance to move him back to the top of the lineup. While Hicks has been better since dropping to the bottom of the lineup, his stats are still south of what one wants to see from a leadoff guy, with on-base percentages in the .280s in other lineup positions.

This may not be solvable with the current roster. My core philosophy with this team is that all decisions should be based more on 2014 and beyond than on 2013. Carroll is not, at age 39, a multi-year answer for any question, and it’s increasingly doubtful that Dozier can hit well enough to stay in the lineup.

Hicks ... there’s good reason to go slow on elevating his role in the offense.

So the Twins figure to limp along without a true leadoff man. And, really, the leadoff production might get better without changing anything.

It would be difficult for it to get worse.

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