This is part 3 of 5 of TheYankeeU’s preview of the 2010 American League Division Series. Part 1 covered Francisco Liriano and part 2 covered the rest of the Twins’ rotation.
Now that we’ve spent some quality time with the Twins’ putative top 4 starters, it’s time to take a look at their starting lineup and see how the offense stacks up.
Keep this to a minimum, pl0x.
Batting 1st, CF Denard Span
In 2009 Span put together a decent batting line of .311/.392/.415 and a wOBA of .359 that was probably fueled by some good luck on balls in play (.353). This year he’s seen sixty points knocked off his BABIP and his line has suffered accordingly: .264/.331/.348 and a .312 wOBA. It’s hard to know what his true talent level BABIP since he’s only put together about two and a half full seasons of plate appearances, but suffice it to say that Span doesn’t walk very much and he doesn’t hit for much power. Interestingly, he has a slight reverse platoon split, hitting lefties a bit better over the course of his career than righties. The one thing that Span is good at is stealing bases. He swiped 26 bags this year, 3 more than last year, and cut down on his caught stealing mark from 10 to 4 this year. This is a sign that he’s learning how to better pick his spots. All things considered, Span is the prototypical leadoff hitter for the types of managers that value speed at the top of the lineup. I value the ability to get on base, so I’d bat Span 8th or 9th in the lineup. Needless to say, Yankees pitchers had best not get beaten by Denard Span.
Batting 2nd, 2B Orlando Hudson
Hitting behind Span is Orlando Hudson, who is himself in the midst of a down year. A lifetime .337 wOBA hitter, Hudson is posting a .320 wOBA this year with a batting line of .268/.338/.372. Hudson’s BABIP is only 0.04 south of his career average, so it seems that Hudson is simply experiencing a power outage. The result is that he’s been almost exactly replacement level with the bat in 2010. His HR/FB ratio is slightly down, which may suggest that Target Field is cramping his style, but the fact that Hudson hits so many groundballs has always been a potential liability. Simply put, the first two batters in the lineup will find it hard to get on base ahead of the real offensive threats that follow.
Batting 3rd, C Joe Mauer
Shockingly (note: not shocking at all), Joe Mauer has been unable to replicate his 20.4% HR/FB ratio this year, but that hasn’t stopped him from putting together a very good year at the plate. His .373 wOBA represents the second-highest mark for all catchers in baseball with a minimum of 250 plate appearances, and he has continued to get on base (.402 OBP) and hit with power (.469 SLG, .141 ISO). Mauer has punished right-handed pitching his entire career with an OPS-against of .952 but is far worse against lefties, batting .303/.367/.401. This could be problematic for the Twins. Four out of the potential five ALDS games will be started by a left-handed pitcher, and beyond that Mauer will probably be facing either Boone Logan or Mariano Rivera. The Twins will need Mauer to produce anyway.
Batting 4th, RF Delmon Young
Perennially frustrating prospect Delmon Young finally turned a corner in 2010. Unfortunately for the Twins he’s finally getting good now that he’s no longer inexpensive, but they still have to be happy with his production. Delmon has never been one to take a walk and has a career OBP of .325. His best tool is his power, and he’s mashed his way to a .298/.333/.493 line and a .352 wOBA in 2010. Young hits lefties far better than righties (career OPS of .834 and .729, respectively), a welcome relief given that the 3 and 5 hitters are susceptible to left-handed pitching. More on this in a minute.
Batting 5th, DH Jim Thome
Easily the best free agent signing of the 2009 offseason, Jim Thome has come up huge for the Twins this season and is only pulling in $1.5M on the year with $750,000 in incentives. Pardon me for a moment while I silently fume thinking about what could have been had the Yankees signed him.
OK, I’m done. Thome slugged .627 this year, the highest mark he had since 2002 when he was with the Indians and the second-highest mark of his career. He’s batting .283 with an on-base percentage of .412 and has a team-high wOBA of .437. He’s easily been the most potent bat in the Twins lineup this year when he’s been healthy, clubbing 25 home runs in only 340 plate appearances. He isn’t intimidated in the slightest by the Twins’ pitcher-friendly park, and has been the offensive powerhouse the Twins needed when they lost Justin Morneau. The only knock on Thome is the one against Mauer: his weakness is left-handed pitching. Over the course of his career he has an OPS of 1.047 when facing righties. That number drops to .763 when facing lefties and in 2010 the split is virtually identical. In this sense, Gardenhire’s lineup construction is strong in the 3-4-5 holes. Delmon Young isn’t the Twins’ best hitter, but splitting up lefties Mauer and Thome means that Girardi would have to decide whether to use Logan for just Mauer and then bring in a righty to face Young. This means he’d have to leave the righty in to face Thome. It might make more sense to leave Logan in to face the 3-4-5 hitters and hope that Delmon Young can’t make them pay. In this sense Delmon Young – not Mauer or Thome – could become the most important offensive factor for the Twins.
Batting 6th, 1B Michael Cuddyer
Thrust into the starting 1B job when Morneau went down with a concussion, Cuddyer had a bit of a disappointing year. His batting average and on-base percentage were roughly similar to last year at .271 and .336, respectively, but his slugging percentage dropped a solid hundred points off his 2009 results and 30 points off his career average. A career .343 wOBA hitter, Cuddyer put up a .329 mark this year with only 14 home runs. Like Mauer, Cuddyer had posted an rather high HR/FB% of 17.1 in 2009, so the power outage isn’t entirely unexpected given that he’s moved to a home park more hospitable to pitchers. In fact, he hit three more doubles in 2010 than in 2009, suggesting that he may not have the juice to clear the fences in Target Field. Like Young, Cuddyer hits left-handed pitchers better than right-handed pitchers, OPSing nearly 100 points better against lefties.
Batting 7th, RF Jason Kubel
Behind Cuddyer is one of the more disappointing members of the 2010 Twins, Jason Kubel. After what many viewed as a breakout season in 2009 (.300/.369/.539 with 28 home runs and a .383 wOBA) Kubel took a giant step backwards in 2010 when he hit .249/.323/.426 with 21 home runs and a .326 wOBA. One of the biggest differences between the two years was the wild swing in BABIP year over year. Unlike Cuddyer, Kubel hit 12 fewer doubles in 2010 in addition to his 7 fewer home runs. In 2010 Kubel is still showing a normal platoon split and is hitting righties better than lefties, but he isn’t punishing righties like he did in 2009. In 2009 he slugged .617 against righties; this year that number has dropped to .427. For what it’s worth, and these types of metrics can be tricky, Kubel isn’t hitting fastballs the same way he has in the past. Fangraphs’ Pitch Type Values’ chart shows a giant dropoff in his performance against fastballs. Yet one has to imagine that some of the blame should go to Target Field, not just batted ball regression and struggles against fastballs. Target Field is death to balls hit to center and right-center, and Texas Leaguers shows that that’s where Kubel’s been sending them:
Poor Kubel. He must hate the new digs.
Batting 8th, 3B Danny Valencia
Batting eighth is the Twins’ rookie surprise, Danny Valencia. On Fangraphs a month ago Joe Pawlikowski covered Valencia’s case for the Rookie of the Year award, and argued persuasively for his inclusion into the conversation. Valencia’s great performance (.311/.351/.448) earned him the starting 3B job for the Twins, pushing Nick Punto to a utility role. As you’ve no doubt heard any time his name is brought up, Valencia is in a bit over his head from a BABIP perspective. His .345 mark is fairly high for someone with a normal-looking batted ball profile. Given a relatively low walk rate, it may not be smart money to wager on Valencia replicating his performance in 2011. Of course, there’s no reason to say that he won’t keep up his torrid pace in the next three to five games. Equally, there’s no reason to say that he won’t be subject to an instant and harsh regression. As Matt Klaassen wrote on Fangraphs yesterday, 2010 is not a constant:
Given roughly the same playing time in 2010 as in 2009, a player’s 2010 performance is obviously more relevant. But just as we shouldn’t expect a player to repeat his 2010 performance in 2011, we shouldn’t expect him to duplicate his 2010 performance in the 2010 playoffs. Regression to the mean isn’t a process a player goes through over the winter, but is an essential part of how a player’s “true talent” is estimated at any point in time. When Zack Greinke was not projected to repeat 2009′s 2.16 ERA in 2010, it wasn’t on the basis of him becoming less talented, but rather that he was quite unlikely to have been a true talent 2.16 ERA pitcher in the first place — he was an very talented player who nonetheless was likely pitching “over his head” during 2009. Ryan Hanigan has hit well this season, especially for a catcher, but he’s probably not going to hit for a .368 wOBA in 2011. For the same reasons (past performance, regression to the mean, etc.), he probably isn’t a .368 wOBA true-talent hitter right now, either.
Whether Valencia can keep the magic going into the 2010 playoffs is anyone’s guess. Regression may not wait til 2011.
Batting 9th, SS J.J. Hardy
Bringing up the rear is shortstop J.J. Hardy, the player the Twins received in exchange for Carlos Gomez in the offseason. Going into the 2010 season, Hardy was a candidate for a rebound given that his disastrous 2009 campaign was marked by a .260 BABIP that appeared to be the root cause of his struggles. In 2010 his BABIP rebounded back to normal levels, but Hardy wasn’t able to find the power that distinguished him in 2007 and 2008 in Milwaukee. On the year, he hit a meager .268/.320/.394 with a .313 wOBA and only 6 home runs. Hardy hits the ball pretty equally to all fields so he doesn’t appear to be a victim of Target Field like Kubel. The fact remains that this has been another disappointing year for Hardy, and given his low walk rate Hardy’s offensive value disappears pretty quickly if he can’t hit with power.
This concludes the analysis of the Twins lineup. Tomorrow we’ll take a look at the Twins’ bullpen, bench and defense before wrapping things up and making a prediction.