March 2, 2005

Wives, Shortstops, and Lineups

My new job is going well, thanks for asking. I spent yesterday morning creating about a billion different log-in name/password combinations at newspaper websites across the country so I could search for newsworthy tidbits about the Devil Rays and Royals. It's a lot more interesting than it sounds, actually. Plus, I got in a pithy comment about Scott Spiezio's new diet and haven't been fired yet, so all in all it was a good first day.

Now, on to the stuff you actually care about ...

  • I know this comes as a complete shock to everyone, but a professional baseball player -- in this case, Michael Restovich -- has a very attractive and very blonde wife. Doug Mientkiewicz's wife was always a big topic of conversation among Twins fans whenever she was shown in public, but to be honest Mrs. Restovich is more up my alley. I'm sure hearing that will really make her day, too. Here's hoping both Michael and the Mrs. come north with the team out of spring training.
  • On a slightly less important note, it sounds as if there is a little more chance of not having to watch Juan Castro "hit" 500 times this year than I initially figured. Ron Gardenhire and the coaching staff are continuing to talk up the openness of the shortstop competition, so even if it isn't true you've got to admire their consistency. I've been campaigning for Jason Bartlett to get the job for a while and I still think that would be the best move to start the season. With that said, I still put the odds of someone other than Castro starting at shortstop on Opening Day at about 10-to-1.
  • There has been a lot of talk lately about what lineup the Twins will use on a regular basis this season. According to the Official Twins Beat Writer of, La Velle E. Neal, here is "the lineup Gardenhire has in mind":
    1) Shannon Stewart
    2) Joe Mauer
    3) Torii Hunter
    4) Justin Morneau
    5) Lew Ford
    6) Jacque Jones
    7) Michael Cuddyer
    8) Mystery Shortstop
    9) Luis Rivas

    That's not how I would draw things up, but it's a lot better than some combinations we've seen over the last few years. The Twins have a bit of a problem when it comes to creating a balanced lineup that is also built in an optimal way for scoring runs. The team's two best hitters, Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau, are both lefties playing their first full season, so they figure to struggle against southpaws. Normally you would bat them back-to-back in the lineup, in the #3 and #4 spots, but Gardenhire is apprehensive about doing that because of their vulnerability in the late innings.

    Beyond that, the two best on-base threats other than Mauer and Morneau are Shannon Stewart and Lew Ford. Normally it would be a no-brainer to bat the two of them in the first two spots in the lineup, but a) they are both righties and b) no one in a position of power seems to think Ford is any good. If it weren't for handedness and Ford getting a raw deal all the time, a Stewart-Ford-Mauer-Morneau front four would be nice and easy. Instead, Gardenhire might get cute.

    He leaves Stewart leading off, but moves Mauer up to the second spot in order to break up the back-to-back lefties. Then instead of putting Ford in the third spot (which would seem like the obvious move), he drops Ford and his .383 career on-base percentage down to a "power spot" like fifth and puts Torii Hunter and his .319 career OBP third. The only problem with that (beyond the obvious) is that Hunter is a horrible choice to bat third on this team.

    The #3 guy in a lineup with Stewart and Mauer batting 1-2 is going to have a ton of runners on base in front of him, and Hunter grounds into a whole bunch of double plays, ranking third in the league with 23 last year despite playing just 138 games. He also doesn't hit for a high batting average (.271 last year, .267 career) and, as I mentioned before, doesn't get on base, which means there will be fewer RBI chances for the #4 man and best power hitter, Morneau.

    And all of this is because no one seems to trust Ford enough to stick him in the #2 or #3 spot in the lineup and leave him alone. If they did, there would be two very solid lineup choices -- the one on the left, which doesn't care about handedness, and the one on the right, which breaks up the lefties:

    1) Stewart, R            1) Stewart, R
    2) Ford, R 2) Mauer, L
    3) Mauer, L 3) Ford, R
    4) Morneau, L 4) Morneau, L
    5) Hunter, R 5) Hunter, R
    6) Jones, L 6) Jones, L
    7) Cuddyer, R 7) Cuddyer, R
    8) Castro, R 8) Castro, R
    9) Rivas, R 9) Rivas, R

    In both cases, the lineup would put the three best sources of on-base percentage on the entire team in front of the best power-hitter on the entire team, which is more or less a perfect scenario. Dropping Hunter to fifth and batting him after Morneau lets him clean up any messes Morneau leaves for him, rather than allowing Hunter to ruin any RBI opportunities for Morneau.

    And yes, I'm choosing to ignore the fact that whatever lineup Gardenhire draws up will likely have an extreme out-making presence in the bottom two spots. Just for fun, here's the lineup the Twins could have trotted out on Opening Day in a dream scenario (or at least my dream scenario):

    1) Shannon Stewart, DH
    2) Lew Ford, LF
    3) Joe Mauer, C
    4) Justin Morneau, 1B
    5) Torii Hunter, CF
    6) Corey Koskie, 3B
    7) Michael Cuddyer, 2B
    8) Jason Kubel, RF
    9) Jason Bartlett, SS

    How sweet would that have been?

    Today at The Hardball Times:
    - The Home Field Advantage (by Tom Meagher)

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