In 2020, as we impatiently waited for the shortened season to start, we knew one thing about the Twins: they would crush left-handed pitchers. Any southpaw that had to negotiate a lineup filled with right-handed power like Nelson Cruz, Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano, Mitch Garver, and new addition Josh Donaldson would need to pack a lunch. We had seen it the year before, when the Twins as a team had posted an 872 OPS versus left-handers, the best mark in MLB.
Then this happened:
Not only did they slide from first to 27th in 2020, but even when we got back to playing full seasons of baseball, they continued to languish in the lower third of the league.
There have been two problems, one weird and one common. The weird first problem is that Twins’ right-hander batters didn’t crush left-handers the way we expected. Here are all the right-handed hitting and switch-hitting Twins who had at least 100 plate appearances versus southpaws over the last three years.
Some of those names I mentioned earlier continued to mash, but Garver was suddenly human, and Sano batted like he went up their hitting left-handed. Even Gary Sanchez had problems with what should have been his bread and butter.
I’ve also highlighted the players that are still with the organization this year. The only regular that isn’t in the top half of that list is Jorge Polanco, who is a switch-hitter, but hitting left-handed is his strong side of the plate. That could make him a candidate to sit versus left-handers, though there is no indication that is coming soon. Which brings us to the second problem.
Most teams face the second problem: their left-handed batters just don’t hit left-handed pitchers very well. This is easily illustrated by taking a look at the two most potent left-handed bats in the lineup from 2020 through 2022, Luis Arraez and Max Kepler. Arraez, who was the AL Batting Champion last year, has hit just .256 versus left-handers over the last three years. Read that last sentence again.
That's a stark discrepancy, but Kepler has been quite a bit worse. 420 MLB players have had at least 100 plate appearances versus left-handed pitchers over the last three years. Kepler’s 552 OPS (not a typo) ranks him 385th on that list. Yet the Twins have invested 301 plate appearances in that futility.
It doesn’t look like they’ll be doing so this year, or at least not as often, because one of the themes of the offseason was gathering veteran right-handed bench bats. The offseason started with them trading for Kyle Farmer, and the offensive skill on which he has built his career is hitting left-handers hard. Over the last three years he has posted a 880 OPS against southpaws.
The last move they made was signing infielder Donovan Solano to one-year deal. Solano has hit .313 versus left-handers over the last three years, posting a 815 OPS.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like either of those guys will play much in a corner outfield spot, and that’s where Kepler and left-handed hitting Joey Gallo play. Gallo has posted just a 664 OPS versus left-handers the last three years. That’s better than Kepler, but still provides an opportunity for an upgrade.
Enter Michael A. Taylor , who the Twins acquired from the Royals late this offseason. Taylor is known more for his defense than his offense (career OPS of 677), but he has continued to do damage versus left-handers over the last three years, posting a 722 OPS.
With their revamped bench, the Twins can trot out guys who can swing from the right side of the plate in eight of their nine spots in the lineup – and still have one extra guy on the bench. Plus they will likely have right-handed outfield thumper Kyle Garlick stowed away in AAA-St Paul in case of an emergency.
The Twins haven’s said publicly that fortifying their lineup versus left-handed pitching was a priority this offseason, so maybe this wasn’t purposeful; maybe it was just fortunate. Whatever. Manager Rocco Baldelli appears to have the chess pieces to respond when a southpaw is on the mound, either as a reliever or a starter. Soon we’ll see if all that preparation fixes the three-year-old problem.
MORE FROM TWINS DAILY
— Latest Twins coverage from our writers
— Recent Twins discussion in our forums
— Follow Twins Daily via Twitter, Facebook or email
— Become a Twins Daily Caretaker
Join the conversation
You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.
Note: Your post will require moderator approval before it will be visible.