My Kingdom for a Right-Handed Bat

The Yankees, for what seems like the millionth time in ten years, made quick work of the Twins in the postseason.  Pitching was certainly part of the problem, as the Yankees slugged .514 against the starting rotation and the bullpen, but a lackluster offense might have been an even bigger problem.  The Twins as a whole batted .216/.280/.330/.610 in the ALDS, and it isn’t really hard to see why (well, besides the obvious problem with making too much out of data accumulated over such a small sample size, of course).  The lineup, as we will explore in greater depth after the jump, is not very balanced.

Here is the starting lineup, ranked from best to worst according to OPS+ over the regular season, followed by their slash lines in the ALDS:

Justin Morneau 184 OPS+  Morneau obviously didn’t play in this series, but he was the best hitter on the team (well, at least through the first half of the season).  He’s also mashed lefties this year, batting .325/.391/.575/.966 against them, and it’s clear the Twins missed him against the likes of Sabathia and Pettitte (not to mention Hughes).  Morneau missed the 2009 postseason with a back fracture, too.  Hmm, perhaps that is why the Twins have gotten swept in three consecutive postseason series (he was healthy in ’06, but he also wasn’t nearly as elite a hitter back then).

Jim Thome 174 OPS+, .100/.308/.100/.408

Joe Mauer 137 OPS+, .250/.308/.250/.558

Delmon Young 121 OPs+, .333/.385/.500/.885

Danny Valencia 116 OPS+, .222/.273/.333/.606

Michael Cuddyer 104 OPS+, .182/.182/.545/.727

Jason Kubel 102 OPS+, .000/.273/.000/.273

Orlando Hudson 93 OPS+, .333/.333/.583/.917  Hudson suffered a bit of a slump in the last month of the season, but he made up for it by going 4-for-12 with two runs, two RsBI, and a home run in the ALDS.  He and Delmon Young did their best to carry the offense, but, sadly their efforts weren’t enough.

J. J. Hardy 93 OPS+, .100/.100/.200/.300

Denard Span 85 OPS+, .308/.308/.308/.615

Clearly, the best hitters on the team were, for the most part, left-handed.  As a result, the Twins as a whole batted a mediocre .268/.336/.400/.736  against left-handed pitchers this year.  Really, all the Yankees had to do was throw a bunch of lefties at them and then hope Phil Hughes could suck it up for one game.  Their dastardly plot worked better than they could have hoped; they held the Twins to just 7 runs on 21 hits, including just six extra-base hits.  The Yankees, with their incredibly deep lineup, found little trouble with the Twins’ pitching, hitting four home runs and pasting them for 17 runs on 33 hits.

It isn’t as though the Twins’ right-handed hitters were terrible this season; they did post an OPS+ of 109, which is right around league average.  Unfortunately, they didn’t have much power, with an ISO of .151, compared to the .204 put up by the lefties in the lineup, and didn’t pose much of a threat to the Yankees’ pitchers in the postseason.  Still, that is a vast improvement out of the production the Twins have gotten from their right-handed bats this decade.  Since 2000, Twins’ righties have posted a measly OPS+ of 97.  To his credit, Bill Smith attempted to address the lack of balance in the lineup during the offseason.  He brought in the switch-hitting Orlando Hudson to fill both the hole at second base and in the second spot in the lineup, and traded for shortstop J.J. Hardy to fill the long-standing hole at shortstop. Hudson was a great pickup, but, unfortunately, given the Twins’ payroll constraints for 2011, there is little chance he will be back next year.  Hardy was definitely worth taking a flier on, given his ability to hit for power; unfortunately, he couldn’t stay healthy and his wrist injury likely contributed to his power outage.  We have already discussed this subject, but Hardy is the best shortstop the Twins have had since, well, ever and will probably be back next season despite his hefty price tag.

There are a few free agents the front office could pursue, though with an estimated $94 million already tied up in the current roster (including the arbitration-eligibles), it’s unlikely they will make much of a splash in free agency. They need to decide whether to pick up Kubel’s option or to re-sign Jim Thome. Personally, I would prefer Kubel. I love Thome, and I loved watching him climb the list of all-time home run leaders this year*, but he will be 40 years old and it’s really hard to say how much he has left in the tank. While he seemed to have plenty in the tank this year, there is little doubt that his bat speed has slowed and it’s unlikely he’ll put up another .344 ISO season. Kubel could be a very effective DH if paired with the right platoon partner.  The front office would be wise to try to sign any of Marcus Thames, Jonny Gomes, or maybe even Pat Burrell to a one-year deal (I refuse to even entertain the notion of the likes of Paul Konerko or Jayson Werth or Adam Dunn donning a Twins uniform next year, especially as part-time platoon DHs).

However, the Twins probably won’t be sunk next year, even if they fail to bring in another right-handed bat.  Keeping the righties they already have healthy might provide the biggest boost to the lineup.  J.J. Hardy probably won’t have another 25+ home run season, but he should provide at least average power as well as tremendous range at short.  The same can be said for Michael Cuddyer, who battled soreness in his right knee all season long and recently had arthroscopic surgery to clean it out.  Cuddyer won’t be a superstar either at the plate or in the field, but he should provide some pop and makes a serviceable first baseman should there be any lingering problems with Morneau’s health.  Danny Valencia and Delmon Young will likely be above-average as well.  Four average-to-above-average righties to complement Mauer and Morneau should make for a pretty formidable lineup.

*Oh, who am I kidding?  The best part about the Thome signing is that it completely screwed over the White Sox.  They were stuck with Mark Kotsay at DH for most of the year; then when they decided to fix the problem by trading for Manny Ramirez, he put up a 102 OPS+!  For $4 million dollars!  Hahahahahahaha

Tags: Danny Valencia Delmon Young Denard Span J. J. Hardy Jason Kubel Jim Thome Joe Mauer Justin Morneau Michael Cuddyer Orlando Hudson

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