In 2019 the Twins used a variety of hitters who each brought a slightly different approach to the plate. Today we will take a look at a group of five batters who have varying levels of experience as leadoff hitters, but all have a case to start things off in 2020.
When considering what makes a good leadoff hitter the most important factor should be the players ability to get on base. However, once the table is set, it’s also nice to have someone without lead feet on the basepaths, therefore baserunning ability should be considered as well. With that in mind here are the candidates and some of their relative stats from 2019:
Now let’s consider the players one-by-one.
Arraez is impressive across the board. He takes pitches, has great at bats, and got on base at a .399 clip. That’ll work. He doesn’t possess the thump of some of the other hitters on the list, but the job of the leadoff hitter is to set the table, not clear it. Also, despite not having great wheels, Arraez rates out as one of the Twins best baserunners, so he checks all the boxes. Unlike his peers on this list, Arraez also has the ability to get on base against both lefties and righties, he just does it in different ways. He’s patient and takes his walks against lefties and he crushes righties, but his OBP remained the same (.398/.399 respectively).
At this point it seems the only downside to Arraez may be his lack of experience and the smallness of his sample size, but this seems rather minimal.
Buxton would undoubtedly be the most exciting hitter to put in the leadoff spot. He’s one of the fastest runners in all of baseball and is an elite baserunner. Additionally, having him hit leadoff might encourage him to attempt more stolen bases, which seems like a good idea since he has such a high rate of success (60/68 career).
Holding Buxton back is his inability to get on base. He also makes sense in the nine-hole and the Twins may not want to immediately put extra pressure on Buxton, as he struggled in the past when he was asked to hit third.
Polanco took a big step forward in 2019 and also gained some experience leading off, as he was second only to Kepler in appearances. Like Arraez, he checks a lot of boxes by getting on base, being a good baserunner and having the second fastest sprint time next to Buxton.
One thing that Polanco did not do well last season was hit lefties. His walk rate went down to just 4.7% and he was a below average overall player from the right side with an 88 wRC+.
Kepler also chose 2019 as his breakout season and led the team in appearances leading off. Kepler had reverse splits, as he actually hit lefties better (.356 OBP, 130 wRC+) than righties (.328 OBP, 118 wRC+), but that wasn’t the case prior to 2019.
It’s unclear which way his splits will go in 2020 and having Kepler leadoff against lefties may feel counterintuitive. And while it’s always fun to lead the game off with a home run, Kepler’s power surge would probably fit better somewhere closer to the middle of the order.
Of all the breakouts in 2019, none were larger than Garver’s. Although a far cry from a traditional leadoff hitter, Garver also saw some action leading off. He absolutely destroyed left-handed pitching to a 198 wRC+ and managed to get on base at a .434 clip against southpaws.
Although Garver has the best walk rate of the group, like Kepler, it seems better to utilize his power with runners on base. He is also the slowest of the group, and also like Kepler, an overall negative on the base paths.
Overall, I believe that Arraez is currently the best option to lead things off in 2020. Although he has the least experience of the group and it’s fun to dream of Buxton’s speed or some platoon combination of the others, I love the idea of an Arraez at-bat to start the game. He’s a difficult out and starting the game facing Arraez would be headache-inducing for opposing pitchers.
We’ll likely continue to see some variation in the leadoff spot, but regardless of how the lineup is constructed, it will be a fun and exciting bunch of hitters to watch and lead us into 2020 and beyond.
Now it’s your turn. Who would you have leadoff if you were managing the Twins?
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