The 2019 Minnesota Twins had one of the best offenses of all time. After adding Josh Donaldson to the mix, the Twins are poised to be even better in 2020. With their four best batters being right-handed, though, it’s worth asking the question: Do the Twins have a right-handedness problem?
Where the Twins most excelled at the plate last season was against left-handed pitching. Against lefties in 2019, the Twins led baseball with an OPS of .872. Against righties, the Twins posted an OPS of .817. While still an excellent number, this was significantly worse than their numbers against lefties. In fact, the 55 point OPS difference between pitcher handedness was the second largest in the American League in 2019, trailing only the Chicago White Sox who were 67 points of OPS better against LHP than RHP.
While the Twins are pretty evenly split in handedness throughout their lineup (five righties, three lefties, and one switch), what really makes the difference for them in their worse performance against left-handed hitters is that their best hitters are right-handed.
According to their OPS numbers, the three best hitters on the 2019 Twins were Nelson Cruz, Mitch Garver, and Miguel Sanó. Now after adding in Josh Donaldson, the four best Twins’ hitters will be right-handed.
Let’s look a little bit further into the impact that their right-handedness could have on the Twins next season.
From their platoon splits shown above, it’s clear (according to OPS) that each of the Twins’ top four hitters have performed much better against left-handed pitching than they have against right-handed pitching. This is a common thing for a platoon split as batters will typically perform better against pitchers of the opposite handedness.
Moving to the right side of the chart with 2019 numbers, Cruz, Garver and Sanó followed their career trends by hitting worse against RHP than they did against LHP. While they did still hit really well against RHP, this trio didn’t quite hit the all-world numbers that they did against lefties.
Donaldson was the unique one of this bunch, who actually hit better against RHP than he did against LHP, only the second time in his career that he hit for a higher OPS against righties than he did against southpaws. Will he be a .917 OPS hitter against righties in 2020 like last year, or will 2019 prove to be an outlier?
The other factor that comes into play with the Twins’ right-handedness is the prowess of right-handed pitchers in the American League. In 2019, 11 out of the top 15 starting pitchers in the American League according to fWAR were right-handed, including each of the top seven starters.
This extends further to possible playoff matchups for the Twins. In the event that the Twins face the Yankees in the playoffs they would need to go up against Gerrit Cole, Luis Severino and Masahiro Tanaka, all right-handers, with James Paxton being their only lefty.
Against the Astros? Justin Verlander, Zack Grienke and Lance McCullers are all right-handers as well.
While the Twins offense is poised to be great, so is the rest of the upper echelon of the American League. Things like platoon splits could be what makes the difference for the Twins in a playoff matchup, and with all of the Twins’ right-handers, this could potentially pose a problem.
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