September 8, 2002

Those damn lefties

I have been putting off this entry for a while.

Mostly because I didn't want to jinx anything.

But now it seems pretty safe, so I will go ahead and chance it...

What should the Twins do in the playoffs?

This is normally an interesting question that faces every playoff team, but it is even more important for the Twins because of their "unique" situation.

During the Twins/A's game that was on ESPN2 tonight, the following stat flashed up:

Minnesota Twins' Batting Average:

Versus Righties = .285 (1st in the Majors)

Versus Lefties = .246 (23rd in the Majors)

Now normally I am the first one to point out that batting average does not mean everything.

But it does mean something, and that is what has me worried come playoff time.

The strength of the Twins offense is dominating right handed pitching and that has carried them throughout the season (they are 65-35 in games against a right handed starting pitcher).

But come playoff time, they are gonna be seeing a whole lot of (excellent) left handed pitching and they are 17-26 in games against a left handed starter.

If the Twins want to succeed in the playoffs against that left handed pitching they are going to have to change something, because continuing to play the same guys against lefties (the ones who have combined to hit .246 against them) is simply not going to get it done.

For an example of this check out the last two ball games, in which the Twins were shutout by two lefties that they are likely to see in the playoffs, Mark Mulder and Barry Zito.

Which brings me back to my original question, what SHOULD the Twins do in the playoffs?

Another question might be what WILL the Twins do in the playoffs, but I am not really sure if Ron Gardenhire will play the percentages or not, as he has shown a tendency to do both this year.

So, instead of trying to guess what he will do, here is what I would do:

My 25 man playoff roster:

A.J. Pierzynski - C

Tom Prince - C

Matthew LeCroy - C/1B/DH

Doug Mientkiewicz - 1B

David Ortiz - DH/1B

Luis Rivas - 2B

Cristian Guzman - SS

Corey Koskie - 3B

Denny Hocking - 2B/SS/3B

Jacque Jones - LF

Torii Hunter - CF

Bobby Kielty - RF/LF/CF

Dustan Mohr - RF/LF

Michael Cuddyer - RF/LF/3B/1B/DH

Eric Milton - SP

Rick Reed - SP

Brad Radke - SP

Joe Mays - SP

Kyle Lohse - SP

Johan Santana - SP/RP

Tony Fiore - RP

Mike Jackson - RP

Latroy Hawkins - RP

J.C. Romero - RP

Eddie Guardado - CL

Okay, so now that we know who I would have available to play in the playoffs, where and when should they play?

My lineup versus righties:

1) Jacque Jones, LF (.327/.366/.567 vs righties)

2) Bobby Kielty, RF (.304/.425/.503)

3) Corey Koskie, 3B (.280/.384/.459)

4) David Ortiz, DH (.306/.379/.547)

5) Torii Hunter, CF (.293/.332/.534)

6) Doug Mientkiewicz, 1B (.263/.370/.391)

7) A.J. Pierzynski, C (.312/.349/.451)

8) Cristian Guzman, SS (.290/.304/.378)

9) Luis Rivas, 2B (.268/.321/.385)

Basically, the Twins hit righties pretty well!

Gardenhire seems to be completely insistent upon putting Guzman in the #2 hole.

However, his on-base % is pretty horrible and replacing Guzy (.308 OBP) with Kielty (.425 OBP) or even Mientkiewicz (.370 OBP) in the #2 spot in the lineup would mean a lot more men on base for Koskie, Ortiz and Hunter to drive in, which could be key in a low scoring playoff game.

As for the rest of the lineup, it is pretty simple.

Guzman gets dropped to 8th, putting the best speed and the worst OBPs (Guzman and Rivas) at the bottom of the lineup.

Gardenhire may end up starting Dustan Mohr in RF over Kielty as he has done most of this season.

But he really shouldn't, just as Kielty should have been getting more ABs this entire year.

Mohr is hitting .309/.342/.486 against righties, about 80 points less of on-base % than Kielty, which should be enough to end all talk of Mohr starting.

He would be a nice asset to have available in case Gardy gets brave and wants to pinch hit for Guzman or Rivas in the late innings.

The other bench guys versus righties would be Prince, Hocking, Cuddyer and LeCroy.

None of them are hitting higher than .240 against righties, so they aren't even really options.

Okay, that was the simple part, now what about against lefties...

My lineup versus lefties:

1) Denny Hocking, 2B (.379/.443/.485 against lefties)

2) Bobby Kielty, LF (.268/.395/.366)

3) Doug Mientkiewicz, 1B (.267/.377/.422)

4) Torii Hunter, CF (.306/.358/.531)

5) Matthew LeCroy, DH (.275/.318/.500)

6) Corey Koskie, 3B (.248/.358/.380)

7) Michael Cuddyer, RF (only 30 ABs versus lefties)

8) Cristian Guzman, SS (.237/.259/.371)

9) Tom Prince, C (.222/.321/.319)

And there you see the problem.

There is just not very much to work with against southpaws.

The main adjustments I made that are different from what Gardenhire often does is a) putting Jacque Jones on the bench, b) putting Dustan Mohr on the bench and c) putting Denny Hocking in the lineup.

Jacque Jones has never been able to hit lefties and this season is no different.

Jacque is hitting .211/.255/.346 against them this year, which is actually an improvement over what he did against them last season (.182/.224/.200).

The outfield is actually a place where the Twins have decent options against left handed pitching, so there should be absolutely no reason for Jacque Jones to start.

While Kielty has not been great against lefties, he has managed to get on-base at a great clip against them (.395 OBP) despite his mediocre batting average.

Like Jones, another outfielder, Dustan Mohr, simply does not hit lefties.

He is hitting an anemic .203/.288/.339 against them this season.

Yet Gardenhire continues to give him tons of ABs.

I would put Mohr on the bench and let Cuddyer take his hacks.

Cuddyer has not hit lefties very well either (.200/.226/.333) but it is in a very limited numbers of at bats, 30, compared to Mohr's 118.

Cuddyer has shown the ability to hit for average and power in the minors and should be given the opportunity against left handers, over Dustan Mohr.

And finally I would make absolutely sure Denny Hocking was in the lineup.

Believe it or not (and I don't blame you if you choose not) Denny Hocking is hitting .379/.443/.485 against left handers this season!

It is only 66 at bats, but with the lack of hitting this team has against lefties, Hocking needs to be out there.

As for who he replaces, it doesn't much matter, as both Rivas and Guzman have been horrible against lefties this year.

I took out Rivas because I think having Hocking at 2B instead of Rivas is better defensively than having Hocking at SS in place of Guzman.

The bench guys would be Jones, Mohr, Rivas, Pierzynski and Ortiz.

Jones, Ortiz, Pierzynski and even Mohr would be great pinch hitters to have on the bench if/when a right handed reliever is brought into the game.

And Rivas would be a nifty pinch runner for someone like LeCroy or Prince late in the game.

Another possible option would be to replace Prince with Pierzynski.

A.J. has improved his hitting against lefties this season, to the point where he isn't completely worthless (.247/.260/.397).

However, he still struggles against lefties and Gardenhire will almost certainly start Prince at C.

Yet another possibility would be to start Ortiz at DH and move LeCroy behind the plate.

This is also not very likely to happen, because Gardenhire is likely unwilling to sacrifice defense behind the plate by having LeCroy there instead of Prince, and I can't say that I really blame him.

Also, it doesn't help that Ortiz has suddenly forgotten how to hit lefties.

From 1999-2001 Ortiz hit .313/.376/.542 against south paws, including .423/.483/.654 against them in 2000!

But this season Ortiz has struggled like everyone else, hitting only .200/.243/.379.

So there you have it, what the Twins SHOULD be doing in the playoffs, as far as lineups are concerned.

I'll be back later with my pitching decisions...

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