Now that the more pedestrian portion of spring training games is drawing to a close the Minnesota Twins are beginning to make decisions which will shape their opening day 25 man roster. Pitchers are beginning to get stretched out, prospects are being optioned to minor league camp and the Twins lineup is increasingly beginning to resemble its opening day iteration when the Twins will face the Tigers in Detroit on April 6th. One decision that lies ahead for new manager Paul Molitor is who will bat second for the Twins in 2015.
Molitor has been experimenting with a combination of Joe Mauer and Brian Dozier behind presumed leadoff hitter Danny Santana and while he has made his expectations for his leadoff hitter clear, he hasn’t yet tipped his hand as to who might hit second and who might hit third.
Dozier’s breakout 2014 season is well documented . The nuances of the Twins batting order actually seem like a clearer cut decision than one might think. In the last few seasons Twins poster boy Joe Mauer has seen the majority of his time batting third. With his career low .271/.361/.371 line in 2014 in the rear view mirror, it’s time to stop trying to fit Mauer into a role in which he does not belong. This is not the same hitter from his 2009 MVP season. Complications from concussions, too many innings at catcher and the emergence of the defensive shift have taken their toll on Mauer’s production. While he is not the elite run producer he used to be, Miguel Cabrera (.402 since joining the Tigers), Albert Pujols (.403) and Joey Votto (.417) are the only active players who own a higher OBP than Mauer (.401). Even with his down year, Mauer still posted an OBP of .361 in 2014. If he could split the difference for an OBP of around .380 in 2015, Dozier would have ample opportunity to drive in runs with men on base.
Dozier’s numbers, by contrast, are trending upwards. Between 2013 and 2014 he cut his SO% from 19.3% to 18.3% and increased his walk rate from 8.2% to 12.6% (a tick higher than Mauer’s career average of 12.1%). Dozier had an XBH% (extra base hit percentage) of 8.1 in 2014 (compared to Mauer’s 6.4%). While Dozier’s speed lends itself to the number 2 slot (21 steals in 28 attempts), consider this, Dozier hit 17 solo home runs in 2014. Imagine the potential damage if he were consistently batting behind Santana and Mauer?
While run scoring was not an issue for the Twins in 2014, their production could not be hurt by keeping an open mind to Dozier batting third. With a line of .462/.533/.846 in spring training through March 22nd, including 6 extra base hits, the Twins offense may well keep surprising in 2015.
Twins manager Paul Molitor has been tight lipped about the key position battles being worked out in spring training (center field, fifth starter, bullpen). It seems that Molitor will let his players make these decisions for him with their play on the field. However the Twins batting order is worked out, Molitor seems like he knows exactly what he wants, even if Twins fans will be the last to know.
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