Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Planning A Mauer Platoon

Photo Credit: Brad Rempel, USA Today Sports
Joe Mauer has been a mainstay in the Twins line-up for most of the last 13 years. He's won an MVP and three Gold Gloves while being selected to six All-Star teams. However, the All-Star version of Mauer has been missing from Target Field in recent years.

Mauer will turn 34 next month and he is turning into the elder statesman of the Twins clubhouse. A younger core of players is surrounding him and this could mean a shift in playing time. Mauer has two years remaining on his monster contract so he's not going anywhere but the Twins might need to start adjusting to an aging Mauer.

Batting Order Options
Mauer made his spring debut on Wednesday while batting in the second spot. Manager Paul Molitor is still trying to decide how the line-up will shakeout before the season begins. Byron Buxton or Brian Dozier will likely start the year in the lead-off spot and other players like Mauer are dependant on who starts at the top.

"How Buxton comes along, how that's going to affect Dozier in some regard, there's just a trickle down there in where people could go," Molitor told the Pioneer Press. "I still like Joe up there somewhere, against right-handed pitching in particular."

Is Molitor hinting at something more with Mauer? Will he sit more against lefties? Could he drop in the order against same-sided pitching?

Numbers Dropped Against Lefties
During the 2016 campaign, Mauer hit .272/.383/.410 against right-handed pitching in almost 450 plate appearances. His numbers dropped against southpaws as he hit 48 points lower and got on base 29% of the time. In 2015, Mauer hit .267/.327/.393 against left-handed pitching including 14 extra-base hits in 191 at-bats.

There were plenty of holes in his swing against lefties. There were only two zones where he hit at least .200 when facing southpaws and one of those areas was out of the strike zone.
Image courtesy of FanGraphs
Other First Base Options
Besides Mauer's dropping numbers against lefties, there are other options in camp who could platoon with Mauer. Kennys Vargas and Byungho Park both have a chance at making the roster. Each of them might be a better option when it comes to facing southpaws.

Vargas, a switch hitter, has hit .302/.360/.474 against lefties in over 211 MLB plate appearances. His .834 OPS is 141 points higher than his total against righties. Park suffered through plenty of struggles during his MLB rookie campaign. However, he is off to a good start this spring as he has two home runs. If he is able to stay healthy this season, he could be a player to watch.

New Men At The Top
During his first two years as manager, Molitor has controlled the line-up construction on a daily basis. According to the the Pioneer Press, he was having "regular batting order discussions with Jack Going, the Twins' director of baseball research."

With newly created baseball operations department, Thad Levine and Derek Falvey might have more of a say in line-up creation. This will remain to be seen in the year ahead. Molitor wasn't hired under the current regime so it will be interesting to see how their relationship develops over the course of the 2017 season.

Put yourself in the manager's chair. Should Mauer be platooned this year? What is the Twins optimal line-up against right-handed and left-handed starters? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.

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