"Let us go forth a while, and get better air in our lungs. Let us leave our closed rooms...
The game of ball is glorious."

--Walt Whitman

Friday, April 01, 2005

Your 2005 Twins: the Starting Nine

"If you're a major league ball player, you ought to have pride. Learn to stroke outside pitches to the opposite field. That's part of your job. A major league hitter is supposed to be a professional."
--Stan Musial
Presumably, the Opening Day batting order will look like this:

2004 Stats

Shannon StewartOFR.304.380.827
Jason Bartlett*SSR.331.415.887
Joe Mauer**CL.308.369.939
Justin Morneau**1BL.271.340.876
Torii HunterOFR.271.330.805
Jacque JonesOFL.254.315.742
Lew FordOFR.299.381.827
Michael Cuddyer3BR.263.339.779
Luis Rivas2BR.256.283.715
league average .270.333.766

*AAA Rochester
** less than 300 AB

On paper, this is a pretty solid lineup. Let's take it batter-by-batter.

Leading off: Shannon Stewart
Stewart is the prototypical leadoff hitter. He wears pitchers out and exposes the full range of their repetoire for his teammates to see; he will stand up there taking bad pitches and fouling off mediocre ones until he sees a pitch he really likes, and then chances are good it'll fall for a hit. He doesn't run like he used to, but he's still the best leadoff guy on the team.

Batting second: Jason Bartlett
Fan opinion is sharply divided on whether or not Bartlett should be batting so early in the order. I like him here. He strikes me as a young Stewart-in-training: hits for high average and gets on base at an excellent clip, not afraid to take a walk or steal a base, runs well. He'll never be a 40-HR guy (or even a 30, most likely), but he should knock in a few more each season as he matures. There will probably come a time, in the middle months of the season, when the scouting reports really pin him down and he struggles. He's shown an ability to adapt himself to the demands of the game, and I hope fans and management will be patient with him during the nearly inevitable rookie slump.

Batting third: Joe Mauer
Ah, Joe--the perfect bridge between the OBP machines in the top of the order and the sluggers in the middle. An OBP machine and something of a power threat himself, the #3 spot should afford him many opportunities to both drive in runs and score them. And Mauer and that sweet, sweet swing are just made to make the most of opportunities.

Batting fourth: Justin Morneau
Remember all those years we bemoaned the lack of a "real cleanup hitter"? Well, here ya go, folks. Meet Justin Morneau, our unsmiling Canadian savior. When I think of Justin (and I'm not alone in this), I think of that mind-boggling bomb he hit into the centerfield second-deck scoreboard in Miller Park, shattering several lightbulbs. That damn ball went at least 500 feet and it was still rising when it hit. He's probably going to hit over .260 (I have hopes of .280+) , he's going to take his fair share of walks, and he's going to hit mind-boggling bombs. And that, my friends, is all you need to know about Justin Morneau hitting cleanup.

Batting fifth: Torii Hunter
Here's where Twins management and I start to diverge on the optimal batting order. The #5 hitter's job is, basically, to clean up anything the cleanup hitter left behind or, given empty bases, get on. Hunter? Not very good at either, I'm afraid. Too often, faced with any sort of RBI opportunity, he swings for the fences, usually swinging himself right back into the dugout--and I don't mean that in the "touch-'em-all" sense. That said, Hunter's not a bad #5 hitter, though he hits into way too many DPs, but I'd put Ford there if I had my druthers. Apropos of nothing, I'd also like to see Torii show more power up the middle.

Batting sixth: Jacque Jones
It's hard to know what to do with Jacque. Looking at his year-by-year stats, it's immediately obvious that 2004 was a drastic departure from the norm. He's a .284 career hitter, but in six seasons he hit below that only twice, and .300 or better twice. The question we go into 2005 is: what caused his 2004 slump, and are those reasons still a factor? The #6 spot is as good a place as any to stick him while we figure that out. If the slump continues, though, he should keep movin' on down. (Why yes, I am a proponent of the "stack the top and score early" method of batting-order building. How did you guess?)

Batting seventh: Lew Ford
Leeeeeeeeeew! Is he the genuine article, or did he just have a freakishly good first full season? Now we begin to find out. I think he's the real thing: he'd got a good eye, bat speed and pretty good mechanics. The scouting reports are out on him and he's made his adjustments, hitting .289/.389/.811 in the second half; he didn't just ride on a breakout first half, as some allege. He seems to be the leadoff hitter of choice when Stewart has a day off, but I'd love to see what he'd do with more RBI opportunities, hence my desire to plug him in at #5.

Batting eighth: Michael Cuddyer
Well. Hmm. We have ourselves an enigma. His startlingly average (by league standards) stats fit well enough in the 8-hole, where his job description translates to "We're still batting? Really? Cool." When he first came up to the bigs, he was expected to hit for higher average than he has. He wasn't expected to steal bases and he really ought to stop trying, because his failure rate is unacceptable. He was also expected to hit homers, which he does in fits and starts. Getting some dingers would be good, though, 'cause after him comes...

Batting ninth: Luis Rivas
...the #9 hitter. This is where you put the guy who makes you wish you could have two DHs. His job? Not to hit into double plays. He did pretty well at that last year, though I wonder how often the Twins aenemic 2004 offense even put someone on first for him. You'd like your #9 guy to get on base, though--take a few walks, maybe lean in on some inside pitches. Rivas doesn't strike out much, but conversely he's never met a ball-four he liked. Mostly he just grounds out weakly to the infielders or lofts lazy pop flies into right and center. I really have to wonder if Nick Punto could do better.

On deck: the Twins bench

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