Thursday, May 30, 2013

Where to hit Joe Mauer

Chris Herrmann got his first
major-league action of the season
Wednesday and picked up an
RBI single.
Joe Mauer is the Twins' best No. 3 hitter. He's their best No. 2 hitter. And, really, he'd be their best leadoff man, best cleanup hitter, best No. 9 hitter. He's their best hitter, period.

If the Twins had nine Joe Mauers in the lineup, they'd score (using his career stats) a bit more than seven runs a game (eight runs with 2013 stats). They only have one Mauer, however, and so they're scoring 4.28 runs a game, 11th in the American League.

Until this week, Mauer had been hitting second all season. Ron Gardenhire moved him back to his accustomed third spot on Monday. On Wednesday night, the Twins led off with Eduardo Escobar (career OBP .275, 2013 OBP .271) and followed with Brian Dozier (career OBP .266, 2013 OBP .255).

It worked, more or less; the two outmakers opened the game with base hits and scored first inning runs, and the Twins won 4-1.

But over the long run, giving guys like that extra at-bats is suicidal.

There's a growing sabermetric consensus that one's best hitter should hit second. I suspect the improvement is only marginal. I would prefer that Mauer hit second, but I don't think there's a huge difference between hitting him second or third.

There is, however, a larger difference between hitting somebody like Dozier second or sixth (or preferably lower). Each lineup slot, over the course of the season, represents a difference of a couple dozen plate appearances. Hitting Dozier second all year as opposed to sixth means giving him about 100 more trips to the plate — and at a .255 OBP, that means he's making about 75 more outs.

The specific problem with the lineup Wednesday wasn't so much the batting order as the personnel. The Twins had three established major league hitters (Mauer, Josh Willingham and Ryan Doumit) in the lineup (and two of the three have not performed to their usual levels this year). The other six have career OPS (on-base plus slugging) of .570 (Escobar); .582 (Dozier); .722 (Chris Parmelee); .232 (Chris Herrmann); .563 (Aaron Hicks); and .619 (Pedro Florimon). Parmelee's figure is a touch below league average; the rest, albeit in limited at-bats, are far below average.

It doesn't really matter if Mauer-Willingham-Doumit hit 2-3-4 or 3-4-5 when they're surrounded with that level of hitters.

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