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What are the Twins’ optimal primary batting orders in 2023?

Time to predict the most-frequently used lineup cards by Rocco Baldelli

MLB: Minnesota Twins at Los Angeles Angels
Byron Buxton is the Twins’ optimal leadoff hitter heading into the 2023 season.
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

One of the most enjoyable fan exercises during baseball’s seemingly endless offseason is to put pen to paper and tinker with proposed lineups for the Hometown Nine. It’s a pastime within our National Pastime, really.

But if we’re being honest, an everyday starting lineup does not exist in 2023. Rocco Baldelli’s most-used starting lineup last season was trotted out exactly three times, and he used 152 different lineups across in 162 games.

While injuries absolutely played a role, context shows us that divisional foes Chicago (158 different lineups and no combination used more than twice) and Cleveland (139 lineups with one used five times and one used three times) are right in line with that trend. A quick sampling of the league shows a similar story, although healthier teams will obviously use a few less lineups over the course of the season.

The primary reason for this overall trend, of course, is that giving players days off is a much more frequent occurrence now than it was even just a decade ago. Additionally, platoons have been a thing for a long time in baseball, but it goes beyond simply slotting an opposite-handed hitter into the lineup nowadays. For instance, managers are far more creative and willing to bat a slow power hitter in the leadoff spot because of a platoon split and/or a high on-base percentage. The examples of “banjo-hitting” leadoff men just because they’re scrappy and play an up-the-middle position are much fewer and far between.

Analytics has pushed managers to become more open-minded to a variety of possibilities, and sports science has continued to underscore the importance of rest.

(For even more context, consider this: Ron Gardenhire’s 2002 Twins that advanced to the ALCS used only 111 different batting orders and had five lineups that were used five times or more in the regular season, including one that was used 11 times and one that was used 15 times.)

In other words, no matter how much fun making up starting lineups is for fans, Baldelli gets to have even that much more fun doing it for real — tinkering is an everyday opportunity for Rocco.

Now that the stage is set, here is yours truly’s best stab at a pair of lineups that, perhaps, we could see at the start of the season.

Optimal Twins Starting Lineup vs. RHP

R Byron Buxton - CF
R Carlos Correa - SS
S Jorge Polanco - 2B
L Alex Kirilloff - 1B
R Jose Miranda - 3B
L Max Kepler - RF
L Joey Gallo - LF
R Christian Vasquez - C
L Trevor Larnach - DH

For the first part of the 2022 season, Baldelli avoided stacking right-handed hitters together at the top of the lineup against right-handed starting pitchers, often opting for some combination of Byron Buxton, Luis Arraez, Carlos Correa, and Jorge Polanco that gave him a succession of right-left-switch or left-right-switch. Due to injuries, Baldelli’s options became more limited as the season wore on and we saw Correa and Jose Miranda hitting back-to-back with frequency down the stretch, but that is unlikely to be the norm.

Ignoring the handedness of the starting pitcher, Correa batted second 108 times last season and third only 28, while Polanco was all over the place, batting third the most (39 times), followed by fourth (30), fifth (16), second (11), and first (6). While I would probably flip Polanco and Correa in the batting order, I’d expect Baldelli to keep it as listed above.

As for the rest of the lineup, Buxton batted leadoff 50 times last year and hit second and third just 36 times combined. Baldelli will want to alternate right-left-right-left as much as possible, which means that Miranda may not bat any higher than fifth to start the season.

The Opening Day cleanup hitter could very well be newcomer Joey Gallo, but the bet here is that Baldelli wants to give the presumably healthy Kirilloff a vote of confidence early and allow the veteran an opportunity to start the season with the illusion of lower expectations by, well, batting him lower in the order.

Optimal Twins Starting Lineup vs. LHP

R Byron Buxton - CF
R Carlos Correa - SS
S Jorge Polanco - 2B
R Jose Miranda - 1B
R Kyle Farmer - 3B
L Joey Gallo - RF
R Christian Vasquez - C
L Alex Kirilloff - DH
R Nick Gordon - LF

The two best offensive players at Baldelli’s disposal are both righthanded, so any optimal lineup against lefthanded starters will include Buxton and Correa at the top. The changes come further down the card, where the platoon splits become more obvious.

New utility option Kyle Farmer has a career slugging percentage of .492 and an on-base-plus-slugging of .837 against lefties. His tOPS+ measuring his OPS split relative to his overall mark, shows that he’s been 36 percent better when facing lefties than he is against righties.

Eventually, Kirilloff is expected to be a good enough hitter to be relatively platoon-proof, but his wrist issues have made it difficult to trust that he’ll be on the field against lefties, at least to start the season. The best option is to slide Miranda to first base and put Farmer at third base, which is also his optimal fielding position.

Obviously, Buxton will get plenty of days off or at designated hitter while Michael A. Taylor mans center field, and Ryan Jeffers will see the majority of his starts against lefthanded starters as well. In fact, expect most of Buxton’s days at DH to come against lefties, allowing the righthanded-hitting Taylor and Nick Gordon to slot into the outfield. But again, this is an optimal lineup, so we’re going with preferred starters everywhere.

So, in other words, if the modern trend continues at Target Field, we may only see each of these lineups a handful of times this season...