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Planning A Mauer Platoon

Joe Mauer has been a mainstay in the Twins line-up for most of the last 13 years. He's won an MVP and three Gold Gloves while being selected to six All-Star teams. However, the All-Star version of Mauer has been missing from Target Field in recent years.

Mauer will turn 34 next month and he is turning into the elder statesman of the Twins clubhouse. A younger core of players is surrounding him and this could mean a shift in playing time. Mauer has two years remaining on his monster contract so he's not going anywhere but the Twins might need to start adjusting to an aging Mauer.
Image courtesy of Brad Rempel, USA Today Sports
Batting Order Options
Mauer made his spring debut on Wednesday while batting in the second spot. Manager Paul Molitor is still trying to decide how the line-up will shakeout before the season begins. Byron Buxton or Brian Dozier will likely start the year in the lead-off spot and other players like Mauer are dependant on who starts at the top.

"How Buxton comes along, how that's going to affect Dozier in some regard, there's just a trickle down there in where people could go," Molitor told the Pioneer Press. "I still like Joe up there somewhere, against right-handed pitching in particular."

Is Molitor hinting at something more with Mauer? Will he sit more against lefties? Could he drop in the order against same-sided pitching?

UPDATE: After yesterday's game, Mauer did suggest that he is open to batting further down in the line-up. "I'm open to anything, really," Mauer said. "Whatever helps us score more runs, I'm for it. Wherever that may be."
Numbers Dropped Against Lefties
During the 2016 campaign, Mauer hit .272/.383/.410 against right-handed pitching in almost 450 plate appearances. His numbers dropped against southpaws as he hit 48 points lower and got on base 29% of the time. In 2015, Mauer hit .267/.327/.393 against left-handed pitching including 14 extra-base hits in 191 at-bats.

There were plenty of holes in his swing against lefties. There were only two zones where he hit at least .200 when facing southpaws and one of those areas was out of the strike zone.
Posted Image
Image courtesy of FanGraphs

Other First Base Options
Besides Mauer's dropping numbers against lefties, there are other options in camp who could platoon with Mauer. Kennys Vargas and Byungho Park both have a chance at making the roster. Each of them might be a better option when it comes to facing southpaws.

Vargas, a switch hitter, has hit .302/.360/.474 against lefties in over 211 MLB plate appearances. His .834 OPS is 141 points higher than his total against righties. Park suffered through plenty of struggles during his MLB rookie campaign. However, he is off to a good start this spring as he has two home runs. If he is able to stay healthy this season, he could be a player to watch.

New Men At The Top
During his first two years as manager, Molitor has controlled the line-up construction on a daily basis. According to the the Pioneer Press, he was having "regular batting order discussions with Jack Going, the Twins' director of baseball research."

With newly created baseball operations department, Thad Levine and Derek Falvey might have more of a say in line-up creation. This will remain to be seen in the year ahead. Molitor wasn't hired under the current regime so it will be interesting to see how their relationship develops over the course of the 2017 season.

Put yourself in the manager's chair. Should Mauer be platooned this year? What is the Twins optimal line-up against right-handed and left-handed starters? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.

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20 Comments

So the question is should we roll out an 800 plus OPS guy against lefties or a 710 OPS guy?

Easy answer. The question is, will the Twins sit a guy they are paying $23m? I hope the new regime doesn't factor in contract. This will be a good litmus test.
    • nytwinsfan, hybridbear, djvang and 3 others like this

Here's hoping Molly takes more input into the lineups this year. The past couple it seems he's pulled them out of a hat that looks like this...

madHatter

 

 

Is Molitor hinting at something more with Mauer? Will he sit more against lefties? Could he drop in the order against same-sided pitching?

 

In the last 2+ months of 2016, he didn't start a game started by a left-handed pitcher. (I haven't gone into B-R.com, but I know he didn't make starts against Sale, Quintana, Rodon and other left-handers. That transition has already happened.

    • Mike Sixel, Mike Frasier Law, Cory Engelhardt and 4 others like this
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theBOMisthebomb
Mar 01 2017 11:31 PM
I can sniff the end of the Mauer era. Hopefully they will at least explore the platoon option seriously and honestly.
    • caninatl04 likes this

Obviously Mauer should be platooned routinely. With Grossman and Vargas and/or Park, Mauer should almost never be hitting against lefties.

 

I'd like to see a bench of:

Garver or Murphy

Grossman

Escobar or Adrianza

Park

 

With Vargas at DH and Mauer at 1B.

 

I know they won't do that, because it doesn't provide enough defensive flexibility in the outfield, but I wish they would. It would work better if we had a better defensive fourth outfielder like Granite instead of Grossman.

    • tarheeltwinsfan and caninatl04 like this
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HitInAPinch
Mar 02 2017 02:55 AM

"regular batting order discussions with Jack Going, the Twins' director of baseball research."

 

This.I don't think the Twins lineups will be looking like the"traditional" lineups anymore.

    • Mike Frasier Law likes this

Sano could end up at DH soon as well, further increasing competition for playing time among the Mauer/Park/Vargas group.

 

Sano could end up at DH soon as well, further increasing competition for playing time among the Mauer/Park/Vargas group.

 

You are far from the only person to say this, but I don't see any indication he can't handle the position for at least a year or two, if not longer, depending on his weight control.  It seems pretty clear Molitor and Falvine are going to try to keep him at 3B if it is at all pasable. Otherwise that is one more soft bat in every lineup (i.e., Escobar or Adrianza).

    • Cory Engelhardt and HitInAPinch like this
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tarheeltwinsfan
Mar 02 2017 07:37 AM

Sano will stay at 3B. His arm is a rocket launcher. He can field a ball hit in front of him very well. I don't think his lateral movement is all that bad. Besides, there is no one any better at 3B in the Twins system, all things considered.

    • DocBauer likes this

1.) Agreed that the Mauer platoon has already begun and that it will escalate. I'm looking forward to it - I'm excited to see a Mauer who is being used correctly get his numbers up. No reason he can't hit .300 if he's used more judiciously - the days off will help him stay healthier too. And even in the platoon he's still playing 75% of the time and is a great bench bat for late-inning situations.

 

2.) Sano will be at 3B most days but if he were to play all 162, I imagine he would get somewhere around 30-40 games at DH too? Likely on days Mauer sits and Vargas/Park is at 1B. Those days will see Polanco move over to 3B and Escobar/Adrianza at SS. That lineup will still be pretty nice: Buxton R, Dozier R, Sano R, Vargas S, Grossman R, Kepler/Rosario L, Polanco R, backup catcher R, Escobar S.

 

3.) I know many are counting down the days until Mauer's contract ends but I think we should be thinking about life beyond that contract. Mauer's current deal is an albatross but the Twins don't have tons of 1B prospects extremely close and Mauer is still a productive player when used correctly. Unless Sano is really unable to play 3B (and I think he's got 4-5 years there), the Twins don't have a can't miss prospect who needs to be at 1B in the next three years (Diaz hasn't made low A yet and is raw). You can really see the Twins having Mauer around until 2020 as a platoon 1B with any number of RH guys (the only real LH competition is Palka, who can play OF supposedly and may not be able to get his K issues down anyway). A two year extension at age 35 seems appropriate ($5-$7 mill per year?), especially for one of the best Twins of all time. 

 

Some of that is dependent on Mauer wanting to be here and play but (and I know this is a surprise) he is from here and has two little kids starting school in a few years. His brother is in the organization (and seems in line to potentially be the next Twins manager) and Twins spring training is even close to Mauer's FL place. The only team that seems like a comparable fit are the Rays. I don't get the sense that Mauer is a guy who needs to be an all-star to keep playing and I think he likes the rhythms of the the season. If he can stay healthy, it may seem like a nice late-career role.

 

Yay optimism!

    • gil4 likes this
To me, pausing for a moment to simply state the obvious that everyone is healthy and producing at some sort of expected or anticipated level, what to do with Mauer is not about the platoon, but simply where to hit him at.

Either Vargas or Park will be the other half of this scenario, and spend time in the DH spot. (Barring a surprise player joining the fold). Mauer sits against LHP with Vargas/Park playing 1B and Grossman is the RH DH that day. (*Grossman also play a little OF here and there-TBD)

You can make a strong arguement for the Mauer/Grossman spot to be second in the lineup after Polanco or Buxton. It makes a ton of sense. Ideally, at some point, you'd really like to see Buxton and Polanco both at the top of the order with Mauer/Grossman further down the lineup in either the 6th or 7th hole, providing solid bats and OB behind the power hitters, and getting OB ahead of the bottom of the order.
    • LA VIkes Fan likes this

 

In the last 2+ months of 2016, he didn't start a game started by a left-handed pitcher. (I haven't gone into B-R.com, but I know he didn't make starts against Sale, Quintana, Rodon and other left-handers. That transition has already happened.

He did start against a few lefties during that time -- dating to the all-star break, he faced Matt Boyd, Eduardo Rodriguez, Blake Snell, Jose Quintana.

 

He was also sitting more frequently beginning in August due to his quad issue.  When he sat 3 straight games in late August, that wasn't a platoon thing, it was an injury thing.  Later, Mauer sat for 16 of the season's last 20 games overall -- I'm not sure if it's particularly meaningful that he sat for 8 LH SP during that stretch.

 

I think the transition has maybe begun, but I don't know that it has advanced to the point suggested by your comment.

    • USAFChief and rghrbek like this

Counts and Mauer in 2016:

 

- If he gets ahead in the count (230 PA): His OPS is in peak-Pujols range (1.135). Weirdly, his OBP is higher than his slugging - lots of walks.

 

- If he is even or gets behind in the count (346 PA): this is where the power comes in. His average and OBP are low but he had more HRs and more 2Bs in counts he was even or behind than when he was ahead (granted more opportunities but you'd expect a bigger swing the other way).

 

Seems to speak to approach. When he's behind in the count, he's looking to drive a ball somewhere and doesn't worry as much about making an out. When he's ahead, he looks to maximize getting on base and is more likely to look for singles than extra base hits.

 

This makes me like him in the #2 hole. With a Buxton type annoying pitchers, Mauer is more likely to get ahead in counts and be able to create "lots of ducks on the pond" situations.

    • goulik likes this
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Bill Brown69
Mar 02 2017 10:02 AM

Biggest trouble with Mauer in the 2 hole is he seems to be a guy that is bothered by somebody trying to steal. I have seen more crappy swings from him in those situations that every other AB combined in his career. It is almost like when the runner takes off there is a switch in his head that forces him to swing. The biggest problem is he is such a good hitter that he does make contact and fouls off a lot of pitches that would have been balls and that he would have never swung at otherwise.

A true advocate of analytics would lead to a completely different order versus LHP and RHP. I envisage Mauer starting the year hitting second against RHP. Against LHP he would not be in the starting line up, but might come on to PH / defensive substitute when the opposition brings on RH relievers.

 

He did start against a few lefties during that time -- dating to the all-star break, he faced Matt Boyd, Eduardo Rodriguez, Blake Snell, Jose Quintana.

 

 

OK, he had four starts against left-handers in the second half... my bad. 

OK, he had four starts against left-handers in the second half... my bad.


No prob. You were right that he did sit against some, but most of those overlapped with his injuries. I would guess that Molitor and Mauer have yet to have "the talk" about platoons.

Too bad it's not like 5th grade, where they take the right handed hitters and left handed hitters into different rooms and show them a video that explains it all. :)
    • IndianaTwin likes this

 

A true advocate of analytics would lead to a completely different order versus LHP and RHP. I envisage Mauer starting the year hitting second against RHP. Against LHP he would not be in the starting line up, but might come on to PH / defensive substitute when the opposition brings on RH relievers.

 

Would they? Batting order is shown not to matter all that much, frankly. A true advocate would realize that, and then wonder, other than a few tweaks here and there, if there are other things to worry about, and whether or not the general "comfort" of not too much change is better. I don't know, but I'm not sure an advocate of stats would necessarily endorse tons of change based on the handedness of the pitcher. Also, since pitchers rarely pitch past inning 7 anymore, 28% of all at bats will come after the starter leaves the game. What if the handedness changes for the RPs?

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jorgenswest
Mar 02 2017 09:33 PM
My concern would be this will turn into Mauer sitting only against tough lefties. While true that a mediocre lefty would be easier for Mauer to handle it is also the kind of pitcher that Vargas might crush. If Mauer faces any lefties at all, it should be those that might be more difficult for Vargas or Park. They need to make sure they crush mediocre pitchers.

Until other players on the Twins roster are clearly better than Mauer, Molitor will continue batting him high in the order, with a few more days off against lefties thrown in.

 

Buxton, Polanco, Kepler, Rosario should all be in the bottom half of the order, let them gain confidence and earn a higher spot. Lets also see how Mauer and the young Twins players do, maybe this discussion will have more relevance in September and next year.


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