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We're Back: The Opening Day Lineup for the Twins

Here we are. The Twins will open their season in less than three weeks. My feelings on their lineup change almost daily. This is my current winner.

For the sake of this article, let’s say the Twins open with the White Sox or Indians. That means they will see Shane Bieber, Mike Clevinger, or Lucas Giolito. All right-handers. Here we go.
Image courtesy of © Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports
1. Luis Arraez, 2B

Since 1950, three rookies with at least 350 plate appearances have hit .320 or higher in their age-22 or younger season:

Luis Arraez hit .334 in 2019. Albert Pujols hit .329 in 2001. Mike Trout hit .326 in 2012.

Batting average can be misleading. A player who hits .330 with a .350 on-base percentage is less valuable than a player who hits .280 with a .375 on-base percentage. A walk is just as good as a single. Arraez passes the test. In the A.L., only Trout, Alex Bregman and fellow rookie Yordan Álvarez had a higher on-base percentage than Arraez (.399) in 2019.

He should lead off.

2. Josh Donaldson, 3B

In a shortened campaign, your best hitters should see the plate as much as possible. In 2019, Donaldson tied Nolan Arenado for the 19th highest OBP (.379), tied Kris Bryant for 37th in slugging % (.521), and finished seventh with 100 walks.

Since 2013, Donaldson ranks seventh in walks (541), 15th in OBP (.376), and 11th in extra-base hits (430). He primarily hit second during his three-plus seasons in Toronto.

3. Nelson Cruz, DH

This one is set in stone. Nelly was a monster in the three-hole last year, hitting .311/.392/.639 with 41 homers in 120 games.

Only Edgar Martinez, Victor Martinez, David Ortiz, Frank Thomas and Travis Hafner have posted a higher OPS+ at DH than Cruz (166) did in 2019. He had a historic season.

Hitting behind two OBP-gods in Arraez and Donaldson will give Cruz plenty of opportunities to drive in runs. King Nelly should be a terror again in 2020.

4. Max Kepler, RF

Kepler had a breakout season in 2019. He hit leadoff for the most powerful club in MLB history while slugging 36 homers of his own. Kepler tied Todd Frazier at 79th with a .336 OBP, casting doubt whether hitting first is the wisest avenue. He slugged .519, higher than Anthony Rizzo and Carlos Santana.

Cleanup feels right. Kepler has the pop and the patience to hit behind Donaldson and Cruz, and I’ve concluded that Arraez is just too good not to lead off.

5. Jorge Polanco, SS

Polanco was statistically the most valuable Twin in 2019. His 4.8 bWAR paced the club and he played in a team high 153 games.

At the dish, Polanco came out sizzling. He hit .335 with a 1.002 OPS and 28 extra-base hits in his first 50 games. He was the starting shortstop in the All-Star Game and slotted in the two hole for most of the season.

Polanco was cold in June and his OBP was an abysmal .291 in 23 games in July. He bounced back in August and hit .309/.397/.482. His OPS+ of 120 on the season ranked him fourth among all shortstops. This spot says more about the Twins’ historic lineup than it does Polanco.

6. Miguel Sanó, 1B

There is an incorrect assumption that because Sanó strikes out a lot, he is undisciplined. Sanó’s chase rate has been well below MLB average for his entire career. His whiff rate, or swing-and-miss, is very high. Those two categories are mutually exclusive.

Sanó also walks at a very favorable rate. He walked in 12.5% of his plate appearances in 2019, over 4% more than the league average. Sanó’s hard-hit rate is in the 100th percentile. His barrel rate is in the 100th percentile. He’s on the cusp of becoming a truly elite slugger.

7. Mitch Garver, C

Garver homered more often than any player in baseball last year. He slugged .630, the highest for a catcher since Javy López (.687) in 2003. He shouldn’t be expected to repeat his .995 OPS from a year ago, but I wouldn’t bet against him.

Garver has elite plate discipline. His chase rate was a whopping 11% below league average in 2019. He hit .341 against fastballs, continually forcing pitchers to come in with heaters. He will have adjustments to make against breakers and offspeed, but again, I’m not betting against him.

8. Eddie Rosario, LF

Aaron Gleeman said it best when the Twins signed Donaldson in January.

“Someone good is going to be hitting eighth,” he said.

Rosario’s .300 OBP in 2019 was the lowest for a qualified Twin since Torii Hunter in 2015 (.293). He probably doesn’t deserve to hit much higher than eighth in this lineup. Whether Baldelli actually slots him this low is a completely different question.

The lack of approach has surfaced more and more in recent seasons. Rosario’s chase rate jumped almost 7% from 2017 to 2019.

Rosario is a prime example of how zero discipline can hurt a really great hitter. His exit velocity is sopped and his hard hit rate is weakened. He may have to earn his way up the lineup.

9. Byron Buxton, CF

One of the silver linings for the 2020 Twins is that Buxton is said to be 100%. Buxton is a true X-factor, capable of turning a really good Twins team into a great team. He is elite in center and finally seemed to figure it out at the plate last year, hitting .262/.314/.513 in 87 games.

Buxton is an ideal fit for the nine hole in this lineup. He isn’t a consistent on-base threat, but hitting in front of Arraez is picture perfect. When Buxton reaches first, Arraez can single him to third, setting up a great situation for Donaldson and Cruz. It makes even more sense than it did in 2019. Buck will be slotted at ninth on July 24th.

What do you think? What should the Twins opening day lineup be?

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14 Comments

Last year Kepler had reverse splits L vs R. Re-upping his game vs RHP would make this awesome lineup even deadlier.

    • Danchat, dbminn, wabene and 1 other like this
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Channing1964
Jul 04 2020 03:03 AM
no matter how you do it, its a SICK lineup...this is a new twist. Maybe i will try it out on my my mlb 9 innings20 team
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Doctor Gast
Jul 04 2020 06:22 AM

Great line up! Buxton is comfortable at 9th but he hasn`t tapped into his full potential yet, w/ a healthy year & some good at bats he could open up some eyes w/ his bat not only his glove. If Rosario is true to his word he could be more consistant by being more discipline at the plate & could move up the line up. Garver will be great but due to his position I`d give him more rest by batting him 8th 

I would put Garver at #4, Kepler 5, Sano 6, Polanco 7

    • jimbo92107 likes this

I've been waiting for this article to come up again. Before Covid wrecked everything we all had a very spirited debate about what the lineup should be, with differing opinions, discussions and arguments. It was great.And so much more fun than debating whether Max Kepler is a closet racist. 

Nash,I came up with the same lineup you have for much the same reasons. Arraez is just too PERFECTas the leadoff guy. Donaldson and Cruz are right where they should be against LH-Pitching or RH-Pitching and Kepler makes the most sense at cleanup...if he's a guy that can hit 30-40 HR's and a LH bat, that's where he belongs. Most of my lineups have had Polancohitting 3rd, but then I started moving him around in the 5th-8th spots.He's a great fit a 5th because he switch hits and is one of the most consistent hitters the Twins have.Both he and Kepler have tremendous potential as RBI guys so I had also settled on Polanco hitting 5th.Then came the question of where to hit Sano.6th seemed like the best spot.He too could be an RBI monster and with Kepler and Polanco consistently getting on base ahead of him he will have plenty of opportunities.This is where it gets interesting and I was surprised we came out the same. Rosario fits at #7.He's a LH hitter to hit behind Sano.He has power, he's been a 100-RBI guy.But I ended up with Garver there because his power and on base ability is just to good for #8.Maybe Eddie hits 7th when Garver is out of the lineup or there's a RH pitcher he's hit really well well against on the mound.Finally, as much as I always wanted Buxton to hit leadoff having Arraez there and Buxton 9th is as good as your going to see with a #9 to #1 transition in a lineup.This is a lethal lineup and one that stacks up extremely well against the Dodgers, Yankees and Houston.  

    • USNMCPO, DocBauer, tarheeltwinsfan and 3 others like this
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terrydactyls1947
Jul 04 2020 07:58 AM
I'm afraid that every team's lineup will be the best nine hitters who are not in quarantine with COVID-19 that day.
    • h2oface and Joey P like this

Nice. 6 cleanup hitters and 3 guys who could lead off. 

    • DocBauer, dbminn and Joey P like this

Am I the only one who drooled when reading this lineup? What a team we have!

    • DocBauer, tarheeltwinsfan and wabene like this

 

I would put Garver at #4, Kepler 5, Sano 6, Polanco 7

Garver #4 against lefties, Kepler #4 against righties.

    • DannySD likes this
Let me begin by stating I love ALMOST everything about this lineup. I will also state that it's about impossible to put together a bad lineup with this team! As DannySD stated, 3 guys alone who could hit leadoff.

A couple comments about this proposed lineup:

A] Polanco sliding down to #5 is very interesting as he provides another table setting option while still producing RBI.

B] A little torn on swapping Garver and Rosario between the 7 and 8 spots. Garver is probably the better hitter with equal power, though he won't play daily, giving away to Avila here and there which supposes an obvious swap. But I wonder if the better pure hitter and better contact of Garver at 8 between Rosario and Buxton doesn't make better sense?

My proposed ideal lineup with notes:

1] Arraez
2] Polanco

*I want these two, very tough outs and high contact who wear out pitchers are amongst the toughest hitters in the league, to set the table while still being productive themselves.

3] Cruz
4] Donaldson

*Donaldson has been very productive in the 2 spot, he's also been very productive in the 3 and 4 spots as well. He and Cruz have TONS of RBI opportunity in these spots.

5] Kepler

*I LOVE Rosario and am a fan. His RBI conversion percentage in 2019 was excellent, despite fighting injury the 2nd half of the season. I believe a portion of his overly aggressive nature was being in the 4 spot and told to make hard contact and make things happen and not worry too much about BB and the such. My opinion. But Kepler has just as much power and production capability and is the more disciplined hitter.

6] Sano.

*Production wise, he may be as good or better than Cruz or Donaldson. But somebody has to slide down to balanice and stagger the lineup. The more experienced Cruz and Donaldson get the higher spots.

7] Rosario
8] Garver

*As stated above, I can easily swap these 2 as Garver has the more compact swing and better eye with just as much power. But I am sandwiching in his better approach between Rosario and Buxton.

9] Buxton

*Ultra talented and extremely dangerous if he ONLY duplicates what he did in 2019 and doesn't improve. He and Garver turn the lineup over and provide ample opportunity for Arraez and Polanco.

Just my opinion for the most balanced #1 lineup choice.
    • DannySD likes this
I’m not a huge fan of Polanco hitting 5th, but I certainly wouldn’t lose any sleep.

I’m not sure I’d hand Arraez the lead off spot from day 1 in a shortened season. If he starts off this season where he left off the last, he may be there after the first week or two.

Game 1 would look like this:

1) Polanco
2) Donaldson
3) Cruz
4) Kepler
5) Garver
6) Rosario
7) Sano
8) Arraez
9) Buxton

I’d like Sano to hit hit higher in the lineup, but I’d rather not line up Donaldson, Cruz, Garver, Sano for a “RH specialist” type reliever. I don’t think you deviate from that much, whether LHP be RHP.

You could swap pieces for the hot hand (Rosario and Kepler, Sano and Cruz or Garver, Arraez and Polanco) and still keep the basic structure.

What an unbelievable lineup. Absolutely terrifying as a lefty (welcome to the division, Mr. Keuchel).
    • wabene likes this
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LA VIkes Fan
Jul 05 2020 07:57 PM
The lineup is really tough, because you either have to move Rosario, Garver or Polanco way below where they should be.keeping their track records, I actually think garber's the one most likely to regress next year so I would leave the catching spot as number 8 in the lineup regardless of who catches. My lineup would go: Arraez Donaldson Cruz Kepler Polanco Sano Rosario Garver Buxton I also think Kepler might be ripe for regression, particularly against left-handed pitching, so you can just switch him and Rosario in the line of depending on who's hot..
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yarnivek1972
Jul 06 2020 10:53 AM
Stolen bases are such a small part of the game now that speed is really no longer even a consideration with lineup construction.

I think I would probably flip flop Sano and Polanco. Mainly to keep a lefty (switch hitter actually) between Sano and Garver. Rosario is probably the guy who is going to lose at bats to Marwin more often than not, pending on health of course. It will be interesting to see how many “planned days off” Baldelli gives players. In a two month schedule, most guys shouldn’t need more than 5. That would be about 12 games in a row. Keeping in mind there will probably be 6-8 off days for the entire team.

Sano probably delayed, so who is on first. Garver? Gonzalez? Maybe should be trying Kepler there!