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Leadoff Candidate Conundrum

Recent years have seen a shift in the evolution of the leadoff hitter. Gone are the days of needing a speedy player to swipe bases in front of the power hitting middle of the order. Teams are more focused on players getting on base to start an inning.

Last year's World Series clubs, the Cubs and the Indians, are slated to start Kyle Schwarber and Carlos Santana in the lead-off spot. Both of these players don't exactly scream speed. However, they do get on base and can be a threat out of the leadoff spot.

Minnesota is also trying to decipher which player should be featured at the top of the order. Here are four candidates to consider:
Byron Buxton, CF
Minnesota's speedy outfielder has many of the tools to be a weapon out of the leadoff spot. Buxton is one of the fastest players in baseball. As recently as the 2013 season, Buxton stole 55 bases while primarily being used as a leadoff hitter. It's an interesting situation because Buxton could end up being used in multiple line-up spots throughout his career.

Joe Mauer told the Pioneer Press, "Buck’s so talented he could hit anywhere in the order and probably do pretty good. It’s fun to have that type of speed at the top of the lineup." Molitor will likely start the season with Buxton as the number nine hitter so he can be a "second leadoff hitter." This will also put less pressure on the budding star in his sophomore season.

Brian Dozier, 2B
Dozier seems the candidate most likely to start the year in the leadoff spot. Last year, he hit 27 of his 42 home runs as the first batter in the order. He did this in 73 starts. For his career, he has hit .250/.317/.496 with home runs in 23% of his games. Dozier's career batting average of .246 doesn't exactly scream leadoff hitter but he has gotten on base over 32% of the time.

Dozier also adds the ability to steal bases. Over the last two seasons, he has averaged 17 steals per season. "I just love the leadoff spot," Dozier said. "Just like Mollie, I like to ignite, get things going." Throughout his career, Dozier has been a very streaky hitter. If Dozier is in the midst of a cold spell, other hitters might be given the opportunity to take over the leadoff spot.

Joe Mauer, 1B
With a new analytic baseball operations department, Mauer could take over the leadoff spot. He is the most experienced hitter in the Twins line-up and he posted a .363 OBP last year. Derek Falvey's former team, the Indians, used Carlos Santana in the leadoff spot for over half of their games last season. Mauer batted leadoff on eight occasions last year while going 5-for-32 (.156 BA) with 10 to 4 strikeout to walk ratio.

It might make the most sense to have Mauer be the leadoff hitter against right-handed pitching. I made the argument that it might be time to use a platoon system with Mauer so he would be getting the majority of his at-bats against righties. This would allow right-handed hitters like Kennys Vargas and/or Byungho Park to see more at-bats against lefties.

Robbie Grossman, OF
Grossman might be a sleeper pick to be the lead-off hitter. With a Rosario-Buxton-Kepler projected outfield, Grossman will likely make the team as a fourth outfielder. One injury to a starting player and his role would quickly become more important. If Dozier goes cold or Buxton slumps, Grossman might find himself at the top of the pile.

Last year, he posted a .386 OBP which was almost 40 points higher than his career number. Grossman's defense was so poor in the outfield that the new front office might search for different candidates. It also seems likely for him to regress closer towards his career totals for getting on base.

Who do you want to see get the majority of the leadoff at-bats? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.


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67 Comments

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Old Twins Cap
Mar 13 2017 08:37 PM

You had me until Grossman.I figured the fourth guy would be Polanco.

 

If they bat Grossman lead off, I will follow the Brewers this year.

 

cheers,

    • Mike Sixel, TheLeviathan, woolywoolhouse and 5 others like this

I want the highest OBP guy to hit lead off.And that is the highest 2017 and not 2016 OBP guy.If I had to look at my crystal ball, I'd say Polanco.

    • Mike Sixel, Oldgoat_MN, TheLeviathan and 2 others like this

The Twins don't have an ideal leadoff hitter. Let Dozier lead off until somebody else steps up. He likes hitting leadoff and is an elite baserunner (8th best in the majors from 2014 to 2016, according to Fangraphs). Mauer prefers not to lead off and got on base only two more times per 100 PA last year. Not enough to make up for the base running difference. Maybe Buxton moves up by the middle of the season.

 

The Indians and Cubs don't have an ideal leadoff hitter either. In a couple of ways, their choices are a lot like Dozier. Santana is a superior OBP guy and Schwarber will probably get on base a lot. They both hit for power. The only difference is that they won't run the bases nearly as well as Dozier. 

    • Blake, Yossarian, tarheeltwinsfan and 4 others like this
For those of us a bit longer in the tooth, you might recall Brian Downing batting lead for the Angels back in the 80's. He could hit, provided power, and gave the Halo's quality OB%. This would provide an arguement for Mauer to do the same for the Twins, though his obvious deterioration would limit power numbers, or so it would seem. And YES, Grossman could be a very similar option here, DH or OF here and there, when Mauer sat against LHP. It's really not a bad idea.

I don't like Dozier there, though he can do it, simply because his overall ability, production and power seems to scream hitting lower to drive in and manufacture runs.

I believe Buxton is the best and most dynamic choice, all things being equal. I have felt for a while now that he just might be a top of the order 1-2 hitter before sliding down to the #3 spot eventually as he aged a bit more, gained additional experience, and his power continued to develop. But I could easily him in the 9 hole to begin the season, lessen pressure, let him just play and let the game come to him more before moving up top.

In an ideal situation...and it's not far fetched at all...the ideal situation would be Buxton or Polanco hitting first and the other hitting second. Which variation is better I don't know. Throughout their individual milb careers, each has been a top of the order hitter, though Polanco has invariably been dropped to the 3 hole on each of his team's the past few seasons as one of the best, most consistent and clutch hitters on his team. Either scenario offers very interesting combinations for these two. (And drops Mauer/Grossman to an OB%/hitting spot closer to the bottom third).

I would continue to work Buxton at the top throughout ST. 1 or 2, he will eventually be there. But if the season started tomorrow, I'd probably bat Polanco 1.
    • DJSim22, Oldgoat_MN, mikelink45 and 2 others like this

 


I would continue to work Buxton at the top throughout ST. 1 or 2, he will eventually be there. But if the season started tomorrow, I'd probably bat Polanco 1.

 

I'm very optimistic about Polanco's bat. He is definitely a candidate for the leadoff spot and I wouldn't complain if they put him there. I also like a scenario where Polanco protects Sano. He puts the ball in play a lot. That'll put pressure on the pitcher during Sano's AB if Mauer and/or Dozier have already reached base.

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Rhino and Compass
Mar 14 2017 12:03 AM

i think with a growing team like this one, we should all expect all of these guys to get some run at the lead off spot. Who sticks is less likely to come down to performance in that particular, important role.

 

Also, I always appreciate when a writer can find an image with the three exact guys he wants in the same picture. As someone who has dealt with the Getty Images lotto, kudos.

    • Oldgoat_MN likes this
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bluechipper
Mar 14 2017 12:07 AM
I think Buxton is the heavy favorite to open the year batting leadoff.
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HitInAPinch
Mar 14 2017 01:47 AM

 

For those of us a bit longer in the tooth, you might recall Brian Downing batting lead for the Angels back in the 80's

I remember Rick Monday leading off in the 70's....

    • ToddlerHarmon and TheGiantTeapot like this
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HitInAPinch
Mar 14 2017 01:51 AM

Buxton has the speed, no question.I also think there are better options for leadoff hitter.Buxton's getting better, no question.At this point of the year, I'd rather see that OB% guy in front of him. 

    • DocBauer likes this

I am a traditionalist and really like a guy leading off that can get on base and run if needed so I like Buxton there. I also know he is not ready yet to be that guy.

    • mikelink45, PDX Twin and ken like this

Bill James has demonstrated that your best OBP guys should lead off and hit 4th and that your expected runs from an inning skyrocket if you get the leadoff guy on base.

 

James also has demonstrated that most major league managers don't understand the 3rd spot in the order, believing that spot should be reserved for your premier hitter, when in fact, it is almost the opposite.  Instead, it should be the spot you slip your power hitting guy that strikes out a lot (unless you aint got those).

 

I think the Twins lineup should be:

 

1. Mauer/Grossman  Let them work the pitchers deep into counts and get on base.  They have enough power to keep the pitchers honest.

2. Polanco

3. Dozier

4, Sano

5. Kepler

6. DH Platoon

7. Rosario

8. Casto

9. Buxton  Hopefully he develops the OBP to move to the top of the order.

    • Mike Sixel, LA VIkes Fan, DocBauer and 5 others like this

I think eventually Buxton takes over as the leadoff hitter but I don't want him penciled in there now just because.I want him to start the year off in the 9 hole and force his way higher in the lineup by having good ABs and learning pitch selection.

    • LA VIkes Fan and laloesch like this

What about Kepler?  Career minors .363 OBP (and .302 AVG / .376 OBP leading off an inning). Averages 15 steals / 162 games at 82% clip.  These are better lead-off numbers than Polanco.  Are we only against this because of the fluky 17 homers he hit in 400 MLB AB last year?

 

Also I predict that by some point next season, Granite will be our primary leadoff hitter.  Long-term I see Buxton hitting in RBI slots.

    • Dantes929, DocBauer, tarheeltwinsfan and 1 other like this

 

Bill James has demonstrated that your best OBP guys should lead off and hit 4th and that your expected runs from an inning skyrocket if you get the leadoff guy on base.

 

James also has demonstrated that most major league managers don't understand the 3rd spot in the order, believing that spot should be reserved for your premier hitter, when in fact, it is almost the opposite.  Instead, it should be the spot you slip your power hitting guy that strikes out a lot (unless you aint got those).

 

I think the Twins lineup should be:

 

1. Mauer/Grossman  Let them work the pitchers deep into counts and get on base.  They have enough power to keep the pitchers honest.

2. Polanco

3. Dozier

4, Sano

5. Kepler

6. DH Platoon

7. Rosario

8. Casto

9. Buxton  Hopefully he develops the OBP to move to the top of the order.

I'm with except by your own definition Sano and Dozier would swap places. Sano struck out 36% of the time in 2016 and Dozier had 21 points better OBP.

 

    • Oldgoat_MN, ToddlerHarmon and youngtwinsfan like this

Grossman/Mauer - high OBP but less pop. If Bux hits like last September, he should be in the middle of the lineup. To start the season:

 

RHSP  

1B Mauer (L)

SS Polanco (S)

2B Dozier ®

3B Sano ®

DH Vargas (S)

RF Kepler (L)

C Castro (L)

LF Rosario (L)

CF Buxton ®

 

LHSP

LF Grossman (S)

3B Polanco (S)

2B Dozier ®

DH Sano ®

1B Vargas (S)

RF Kepler/Rosario (L)

SS Escobar (S)

C Backup ®

CF Buxton ®

 

Move Buxton up the lineup quickly if he keeps hitting like September. He'd fit nicely in the six hole or even the two hole.

    • ToddlerHarmon likes this

I would also put in a vote for Kepler to at least be considered. Walked more than he's struck out in the minors the past 2 years with a good IsoD for the spot. But I envision him more as a future #3 or #5. He's not that guy quite yet for those spots, but throw in his running ability and leadoff isn't too far fetched for me.

 

That said, the guy is either Dozier or Buxton. Polanco wouldn't be bad either, but I think he slots in at #2 almost perfectly.

    • Respy likes this
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diehardtwinsfan
Mar 14 2017 08:32 AM

Probably not a bad idea to bat Buxton and Kepler lower in the order to start the year... now that said, Buxton (I think) is having a good spring and definitely one to keep an eye on. If he hits well to start, I'd bump him up sooner than later.

I am old school.  I like speed.  I like the disruption.  I remember the Rickey Henderson, Maury Wills batters that distract and worry the pitcher, hurry up the defense and generally make the other team uncomfortable. 

 

Buxton

Polanco

Sano

Dozier

Park

Kepler

Mauer

Castro

Rosario

    • NotTorii and TheGiantTeapot like this
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Willihammer
Mar 14 2017 09:16 AM

In what universe does it make sense to give Buxton more PAs than Dozier?

    • Mike Sixel, TheLeviathan, hybridbear and 1 other like this
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Willihammer
Mar 14 2017 09:17 AM

Or literally, anyone else on the team, with the possible exception of Castro.

    • Mike Sixel and HitInAPinch like this
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LA VIkes Fan
Mar 14 2017 09:37 AM

Buxton is a bad choice as a lead off whether you go old school - he has speed but doesn't walk enough - or analytics - his OBP isn't anywhere near where it needs to be to lead off. Add to that his previous struggles and the extra pressure that comes with leading off (remember Aaron Hicks) and batting him lead off simply sets him up for failure AT THIS TIME.  He might get there eventually but's he's not ready NOW. The number nine hole is the perfect spot for Buxton at his present stage of development. I personally think that he will develop into an Adam Jones type hitting in the middle of the order rather than a lead off hitter, but that remains to be seen.

 

I think the right call is a modified version of that put together by mlhouse with a Polanco leading off, followed by the Mauer/Grossman platoon and with Sano hitting three and Dozier four.  Ideal lineup against RH pitching:

 

Polanco

Mauer

Sano

Dozier

Kepler

DH (Park or Vargas)

Rosario

Castro

Buxton

 

Bench: Escobar, Grossman, Garver, Granite (or Stubbs, OMG I hope not)

 

Against LH Pitching:

 

Polanco 

Grossman (DH or 1B/OF)

Sano

Dozier

Park or Vargas (DH or 1B)

Kepler

Garver

Rosario or Granite

Buxton

 

Bench: Mauer, Castro, Escobar, Rosario or Granite

 

Mauer can play against some LH starting pitching (it's going to happen anyway) and be in the 5 hole as either the DH or IB with Grossman as the DH and Park/Vargas on the bench. When Escobar plays SS, 2B or 3B, he hits 7 and everyone moves up one spot.  Granite hits 8 or 9 and when he plays instead of Kepler, everyone moves moves up unless Kepler is the DH.   

 

 

 

In what universe does it make sense to give Buxton more PAs than Dozier?

Funny. I imagine the same universe where Punto, or Casilla or Tolbert or even Everett got more at bats in games than Mauer, Morneau and Cuddyer.  At least it is still possible Buxton could prove to be the right choice.

    • hybridbear, ToddlerHarmon and Respy like this

I like having as many dangerous hitters at the top of the order as possible. Having a Schwarber or Santana type guy at the top provides big advantages in the late innings. Focusing on how someone does leading off an inning is focusing on the wrong thing, I think. He's only guarenteed to lead off 1 inning. It's nice to have a guy who can work the count and make the pitcher work right out of the gate, but also be a threat to take that first pitch, get-me-over fastball 400 ft into the bleachers.

 

Then late in the game when it's close and you're scratching for runs you want to have a dangerous guy up as soon as the line up turns over. You want a guy with some extra base pop and RBI skills to help drive in 2 out runs when someone at the bottom of the order gets on. And you want to follow him up with another good hitter. I never understood the Punto, Casilla, etc. 2 hole hitter. Why would you turn your line up over and have a guy who can't hit sitting there trying to drive in those big runs. Put your best hitters at the top of the order and give them as many PAs as possible throught the year to maximize the damage they can do.

    • DocBauer and ToddlerHarmon like this
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ashburyjohn
Mar 14 2017 11:56 AM

To me, Buxton's swing during the last several weeks of the season suggests that he is lobbying for the #3 hole, not leadoff.

    • Sconnie, DocBauer, HitInAPinch and 3 others like this
I start Buxton at 9 until he has sustained success.

Even in Dozier's great season last year, Mauer was on base 2 percent more. So Mauer leads off and hopefully some of Dozier's HR have guys on base. Facing a lefty, we can probably find a better lead off hitter than Mauer unless his numbers revert towards career numbers vs LHP

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