Heading into the 2013 season, the big question mark was the pitching staff – specifically the starting rotation. Outside of a couple of rough outings, the rotation has held up very well through the first 13 games. Kevin Correia has been a pleasant surprise, with the others at least keeping the Twins in most games. What we thought would be the strength of this team – the lineup – has had a slow start out of the gates. They’ve been held under 4 runs in 5 of the 13 games so far, 4 of those ending in losses. A major reason for the slow start with the bats is the leadoff slot.
As a team, the leadoff batter of the game is 0 for 11 right now, with 2 walks, 6 strike outs, and just 1 run scored. The batter hitting in the leadoff slot so far is hitting just .107 (obviously mostly due to the struggles of Aaron Hicks), with 5 walks, 21 strike outs, 5 runs scored, and just 1 stolen base. Brian Dozier recently had the most success in that spot going 2-4 with a walk on Tuesday night versus the Angels. Hicks and Darin Mastroianni have mostly struggled. The team’s leadoff hitters are last in the AL in hitting, and only the White Sox have been worse leading off games (0-15, 0 walks, 5 strike outs). So, this begs the question: Who should be the Twins leadoff hitter moving forward?
There are a handful of choices here, maybe none of which seem like a great fit.
Aaron Hicks: He has led off 10 of the 13 games so far. Leading off the game he is 0-10 with 2 walks and 6 strike outs. He has clearly been over-matched these first two weeks of his big league career, but it sounds as though they want to stick with him and keep him in the lineup every day. Despite his struggles, he probably has the best “tools” you look for in a leadoff guy – the speed, ability to draw walks, and some pop in his bat.
Brian Dozier: He’s been slumping at the plate to start the year, mostly out of the #8 hole, where he is hitting just .152. It’s possible that moving him up to the top of the order could rejuvenate his bat and help him focus even more at the plate. In his short career as a Twin, he has hit .264 when hitting 1st or 2nd, and just .217 when hitting 7th through 9th. His ability to put the bat on the ball isn’t terrible, as he strikes out every 5.73 PA’s for his career. Dozier also doesn’t quite have the speed or base-stealing ability that Hicks has.
Pedro Florimon: His bat is the biggest surprise of April so far, as he carries a ..348 AVG and .484 OBP into the weekend series in Chicago. Possibly the most impressive thing about Florimon so far is that he’s drawn 6 walks, but struck out only 3 times so far. For his short career, he has struck out every 4.92 PA’s and walked every 11.29 PA’s. Florimon has hit above 6th just one time in his career (a substitute appearance in 2011) and struck out. He’s spent 182 of his 192 plate appearances hitting 9th in his career, but has some speed, shown the ability to handle the bat and take good at bats, and therefore could be a solid candidate to lead off for this team right now.
Joe Mauer: Fans clamored for Mauer to hit 2nd, and with the struggles of the young center fielder, it brings up the possibility of Joe leading off. He’s hit in that slot just once in his career, again in a substitute role back in 2008, and went 0-2 with a walk. Mauer has caught fire as of late, lifting his average to .386. For his career he strikes out every 9.49 PA’s, and walks even more frequently (8.26 PA’s/BB). Leading off an inning he is a career .332 hitter (.396 OBP), and strings at bats to a full count in 12.5% of his career at bats. He’s 16 for 39 (.410 AVG) this year so far with two strikes, and despite not having quite the speed of Hicks, Dozier, or Florimon, could actually be a pretty nice fit in the leadoff role.
Eduardo Escobar and Darin Mastroianni could also be considered, but with Mastroianni’s ankle injury and Escobar’s inability to convince Ron Gardenhire to jot his name on the lineup card basically rule them out of this discussion for the time being.
With Hicks battling his own confidence level at the plate, and Dozier and Flormion’s historical track record at the plate, I wonder if Joe Mauer might not be the best fit to lead off for this team – at least for now. I really think once Hicks snaps out of his slump and gets more comfortable, he should be the guy. However, what would it hurt to put your best hitter, who takes fantastic at bats almost every at bat, who doesn’t often drive the ball out of the park anyway, in the leadoff spot for a while? I would assume this is just wishful thinking on my part, but for a team whose leadoff hitter has gotten out 11 out of 13 times to start the game so far, why waste your opportunity to score some runs right off the bat? They’ve scored just 5 runs in the 1st inning this year, scoring fewer runs in only the 6th (3) and the 9th (4) innings. What a good way to kick-start the offense by making the opposing pitcher get through his toughest out to begin the game.
Meanwhile, Denard Span is hitting .313 with 9 walks (.421 OBP) and only 5 strike outs for the Washington Nationals. He’s 4-12 leading off the game, with 1 walk.
Follow Twins Rubes on Twitter @twinsrubes.