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Projecting the Twins lineup in 2020

With a bevy of talented hitters, how could the lineup shake out?
Nelson Cruz

Coming into the 2020 season, the Minnesota Twins have the benefit of having a loaded roster offensively. As a team coming off an MLB-record 307 home runs and nicknamed the Bomba Squad, it's great for fans watching at home, but it's a challenge for Rocco Baldelli to figure out who he should squeeze into a lineup.

As the Twins are less than a week away from their season opener in Chicago, we tried to take a look at what their starting lineup could look like against both right and left-handed pitching. While the order could probably be drawn out of a hat, there's plenty of strategies to be found.

Lineup vs. right-handed pitching

  1. Jorge Polanco - SS (S)
  2. Josh Donaldson - 3B (R)
  3. Nelson Cruz - DH (R)
  4. Miguel Sano - 3B (R)
  5. Max Kepler - RF (L)
  6. Mitch Garver - C (R)
  7. Eddie Rosario - LF (L)
  8. Luis Arraez - 2B (L)
  9. Byron Buxton - CF (R)

The first thing you'll notice about this lineup is that it's loaded with right-handed hitters at the top. In the first draft of the lineup, I actually had Garver swapped with Kepler because of his .902 OPS vs. right-handers compared to Kepler's .845. 

However, that would make life easier for opposing managers, who have to adapt to the three batter minimum rule for relievers.

While it should be a concern, Rocco Baldelli stated this week that he's not afraid to stack his right-handed hitters in a lineup. With the power the Twins have and Donaldson's .917 OPS vs. righties last season, that's understandable.

The rest of the lineup kind of fills itself in around Cruz (.970 OPS vs. RHP), Garver and Sano (.889 OPS). Polanco could hit lower in the lineup and be replaced by Arraez, who had a .399 on-base percentage against righties last year, but his .891 OPS brings contact and power to the top of the lineup for the middle of the lineup to drive him in.

Instead, Arraez forms a second lead-off tandem at the bottom of the lineup with Buxton. Both players are effective against right-handed pitching, but similarly to how they were used last year, the bottom of the lineup could set the table if the Twins need a late-inning comeback.

Lineup vs. left-handed pitching

  1. 2B Arraez (L)
  2. SS Polanco (S)
  3. DH Cruz (R)
  4. 1B Sano (R)
  5. C Garver (R)
  6. RF Kepler (L)
  7. 3B Donaldson (R)
  8. LF Rosario (L)
  9. CF Buxton (R)

While the right-handed lineup was simple, the left-handed lineup was a bit of an issue. The biggest question might be why Donaldson is hitting in the seventh spot, but it may be more of a case of recency bias.

For his career, Donaldson has mashed left-handed pitching to the tune of a .951 OPS. That number would have ranked fourth among returning Twins this season, but doesn't take into account he hit .215 and slugged .446 against southpaws in 2019.

There's a good chance that Baldelli would just say screw it and throw Donaldson in the two-hole anyway, but that would also create a string of four straight right-handed bats. With Kepler owning a .524 slugging percentage vs. lefties last season, it makes sense to have Donaldson further down the lineup.

The top of the lineup presented another issue as it's a choice if the Twins want power or speed. While Polanco was an easy choice in the right-handed lineup, Arraez owned a .398 OBP vs. lefties last season, but didn't offer much in the power department. 

With a knack of getting on base, Arraez could offer plenty not only to lead off the lineup, but in late game situations where Buxton can get on base.

Speaking of Buxton, there was a temptation to put him in the two-hole because of his speed and his success against lefties. Buxton is fourth among returning players in OBP (.368) and OPS (.923). While Polanco's OPS isn't spectacular, he adds enough and breaks up the lineup to have Buxton's speed at the bottom of the lineup.

From there, the Twins could be especially deadly against lefties with Cruz (1.207), Garver (1.170) and Sano (1.007) owning OPS over 1.000. While some of this can be rearranged, there's a good chance the Twins could feast off left-handed pitching in 2020.

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