We're Back: The Opening Day Lineup for the Twins
Image courtesy of © Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports1. 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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