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Do the Minnesota Twins Have a Right-Handedness Problem?

The 2019 Minnesota Twins had one of the best offenses of all time. After adding Josh Donaldson to the mix, the Twins are poised to be even better in 2020. With their four best batters being right-handed, though, it’s worth asking the question: Do the Minnesota Twins have a right-handedness problem?
Image courtesy of © David Berding-USA TODAY Sports
Where the Minnesota Twins most excelled at the plate last season was against left-handed pitching. Against lefties in 2019, the Twins led baseball with an OPS of .872. Against righties, the Twins posted an OPS of .817. While still an excellent number, this was significantly worse than their numbers against lefties. In fact, the 55 point OPS difference between pitcher handedness was the second largest in the American League in 2019, trailing only the Chicago White Sox who were 67 points of OPS better against LHP than RHP.

While the Minnesota Twins are pretty evenly split in handedness throughout their lineup (five righties, three lefties, and one switch), what really makes the difference for them in their worse performance against left-handed hitters is that their best hitters are right-handed.

According to their OPS numbers, the three best hitters on the 2019 Minnesota Twins were Nelson Cruz, Mitch Garver, and Miguel Sanó. Now after adding in Josh Donaldson, the four best Twins’ hitters will be right-handed. Let’s look a little bit further into the impact that their right-handedness could have on the Twins next season.

Attached Image: Screen Shot 2020-02-02 at 4.36.10 PM.png

From their platoon splits shown above, it’s clear (according to OPS) that each of the Twins’ top four hitters have performed much better against left-handed pitching than they have against right-handed pitching. This is a common thing for a platoon split as batters will typically perform better against pitchers of the opposite handedness. Moving to the right side of the chart with 2019 numbers, Cruz, Garver and Sanó followed their career trends by hitting worse against RHP than they did against LHP. While they did still hit really well against RHP, this trio didn’t quite hit the all-world numbers that they did against lefties.

Donaldson was the unique one of this bunch, who actually hit better against RHP than he did against LHP, only the second time in his career that he hit for a higher OPS against righties than he did against southpaws. Will he be a .917 OPS hitter against righties in 2020 like last year, or will 2019 prove to be an outlier?

The other factor that comes into play with the Twins’ right-handedness is the prowess of right-handed pitchers in the American League. In 2019, 11 out of the top 15 starting pitchers in the American League according to fWAR were right-handed, including each of the top seven starters.

This extends further to possible playoff matchups for the Twins. In the event that the Twins face the Yankees in the playoffs they would need to go up against Cole, Severino and Tanaka, all right-handers, with James Paxton being their only lefty. Against the Astros? Verlander, Grienke and McCullers are all right-handers as well. While the Minnesota Twins offense is poised to be great, so is the rest of the upper echelon of the American League. Things like platoon splits could be what makes the difference for the Twins in a playoff matchup, and with all of the Twins’ right-handers, this could potentially pose a problem.

Do you think the Minnesota Twins have too many right-handed hitters? Do you think this could pose any issues for them in 2020? Leave a comment below and start the conversation!

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25 Comments

Pretty good balance with Kepler, Arraez, Rosario all left handed. Polanco has more power left handed. Back ups are Avila, Cave left handed and Adrianza, Gonzales switch hitters. IMHO roster well balanced. 

    • gil4, Twins33, Craig Arko and 14 others like this

I don't consider guys with a career OPS in the mid 800s versus right handed pitching a problem. That's still really good production and coupled with the left handed bats (and switch hitters) the Twins offense will be very dangerous no matter who is on the mound.

    • Twins33, h2oface, Dman and 4 others like this
I am absolutely giddy about this so called "problem".
    • Steve Lein, h2oface, Dman and 7 others like this

I thought perhaps Stu had changed his handle but the joke was not as cleverly written.

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Matthew Taylor
Feb 03 2020 08:15 AM

 

Pretty good balance with Kepler, Arraez, Rosario all left handed. Polanco has more power left handed. Back ups are Avila, Cave left handed and Adrianza, Gonzales switch hitters. IMHO roster well balanced. 

 

Agree that roster is well balanced and mentioned that in my piece. When your four best batters are right handed and you're relying on all-world offense with no real pitching additions made, things like a platoon split changing your offense from elite to very good could make the difference.

    • blindeke likes this

To be honest it was something that had crossed my mind as well but after looking into it, it didn't seem to be much of an issue.I thought you made a good point and one I hadn't considered about the playoff pitchers we will face.That does make it more of an issue when and if we get to that level but it does seem minimal compared to our potential pitching issues. In the end I think there is a healthy balance in this lineup and we might have lefties on the way by the end of this year if things go well on the farm for the top prospects.

    • gagu and wabene like this

They used to have a right-handedness deficiency with mostly lefties in the lineup, but that's no longer the case. They're extremely well balanced now.

    • ashbury, Craig Arko, tarheeltwinsfan and 2 others like this

If the biggest issue we have is that our batters are worse against righties than lefties, and that the "worse" is still coming in at a 800+ ops I'll take it everyday of the week and twice on Sunday

    • Steve Lein likes this

Remember this year relievers have to face 3 batters or until the end of the inning.So you cannot run into a bullpen in a big situation (like bases loaded and 0 outs) where the oppenent could play matchups with a superior pen.Twins have a nice problem to have.

    • tarheeltwinsfan and wabene like this

 

If the biggest issue we have is that our batters are worse against righties than lefties, and that the "worse" is still coming in at a 800+ ops I'll take it everyday of the week and twice on Sunday

 

The end of your comment reminds me how much I miss Sunday double-headers!

    • gagu likes this

What's your solution, cut Cruz, Donaldson, Garver and Sano ...or trade them for left handed batters ..

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Matthew Taylor
Feb 03 2020 09:27 AM

 

What's your solution, cut Cruz, Donaldson, Garver and Sano ...or trade them for left handed batters ..

I'm not at all saying that there needs to be a solution or anything needs to change. Do think it's worth asking the question and potentially something that could show it's head in 2020, though.

    • gagu likes this

well, their best two hitting prospects both swing from the left side, so if this actually emerges as an issue there may be some in-house options to adjust the formula.

 

I'm not too concerned about it, because while Cruz & Donaldson do have a noticeable splits, they still hit righties very well. Garver & Sano have smaller splits and again, both still hit righties well. This isn't like Kepler having a career OPS of .680 against lefties and needing to protect people.

 

 

    • Matthew Taylor likes this

 

The end of your comment reminds me how much I miss Sunday double-headers!

"And on the 7th day God said, 'Let there be rest...Except for those who play 18 innings.' And it was good."

    • gagu likes this

As others have said, the Twins left-handed (and switch) hitters are no slouches.

 

Non-issue.

Here's to hoping JA Happ starts two games against the Twins in their next playoff series against the Yankees.
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TouchEmAllGuy
Feb 03 2020 11:14 AM

Non-issue. Lineup is well balanced. Our left-handed and switch hitters can also hit major bombas.

Not a problem.
But I do think we need an upgrade at SS.
Not a problem.
But I do think we need an upgrade at SS.
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Matthew Taylor
Feb 03 2020 01:31 PM

 

Pretty good balance with Kepler, Arraez, Rosario all left handed. Polanco has more power left handed. Back ups are Avila, Cave left handed and Adrianza, Gonzales switch hitters. IMHO roster well balanced. 

 

I agree with you and mentioned that in the article. The point I'm making is that their 4 best hitters are right handed which could come into play when games matter the most. Sometimes it's the slimmest of margins that can make a difference in games, and handedness could end up being a factor.

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Cap'n Piranha
Feb 03 2020 02:33 PM

 

I agree with you and mentioned that in the article. The point I'm making is that their 4 best hitters are right handed which could come into play when games matter the most. Sometimes it's the slimmest of margins that can make a difference in games, and handedness could end up being a factor.

 

The issue in your article is that you state "what really makes the difference for them in their worse performance against left-handed hitters is that their best hitters are right-handed".Based on the OPS stats you provided, all four of the Twins best hitters not only in 2019, but for their entire careers have been better against righties than the Twins collectively were last year.The Twins were worse against righties because they gave 600 PA's against lefties to Gonzalez, Rosario, Polanco, and Arraez who all OPS'd below .800 against lefties, compared to 1,761 PA's against righties to Buxton, Cave, Adrianza, Schoop, Gonzalez, Astudillo, and Cron, all of whom OPS'd below .800 against righties.

 

Having 4 guys who are merely very good against righties in contrast to being death against lefties isn't the problem--the problem is the bottom of the order needs to be better.A full season of Arraez and Kepler (.887 and .845 OPS against righties) will help, as might a late season call-up of Rooker (1.024 OPS against righties) or Kiriloff (.816 against righties in a lost season), or possibly even a trade for a left-handed corner outfielder, should injuries mount.

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Matthew Taylor
Feb 03 2020 02:56 PM

 

The issue in your article is that you state "what really makes the difference for them in their worse performance against left-handed hitters is that their best hitters are right-handed".Based on the OPS stats you provided, all four of the Twins best hitters not only in 2019, but for their entire careers have been better against righties than the Twins collectively were last year.The Twins were worse against righties because they gave 600 PA's against lefties to Gonzalez, Rosario, Polanco, and Arraez who all OPS'd below .800 against lefties, compared to 1,761 PA's against righties to Buxton, Cave, Adrianza, Schoop, Gonzalez, Astudillo, and Cron, all of whom OPS'd below .800 against righties.

 

Having 4 guys who are merely very good against righties in contrast to being death against lefties isn't the problem--the problem is the bottom of the order needs to be better.A full season of Arraez and Kepler (.887 and .845 OPS against righties) will help, as might a late season call-up of Rooker (1.024 OPS against righties) or Kiriloff (.816 against righties in a lost season), or possibly even a trade for a left-handed corner outfielder, should injuries mount.

 

I appreciate the conversation.

 

I'm not denying the fact that Sano, Cruz, Garver and Donaldson still hit really well against RHP. But being elite and being really good are two different things, and with the rotation the Twins have it might require elite offense against RHP to make a run.

Not a problem.
But I do think we need an upgrade at SS.

This is sarcasm right? Polanco is a top 10 shortstop in baseball. His defense isn't ideal but he was still one of the most valuable players on the team last year.

I appreciate the conversation.

I'm not denying the fact that Sano, Cruz, Garver and Donaldson still hit really well against RHP. But being elite and being really good are two different things, and with the rotation the Twins have it might require elite offense against RHP to make a run.


I don’t follow your argument. Are you saying the Twins need to upgrade their already really good lineup? How do you propose they do this?
One thing not mentioned is Target Field plays well to right handed power and the Twins are appropriately constructed.