He has hit third in the batting order and is now being asked to hit in the number two spot. He has a career .323 batting average, a .405 on-base percentage and averages 84 walks and 73 strikeouts a year. If you haven’t figured out by the headline or the description, the player being described is Joe Mauer. For the Minnesota Twins, Mauer stands as their franchise player, their starting catcher, normally hits third and earns a hefty $23 million a year. When you look at his career statistics listed above and take into consideration that Mauer has only 96 career HR and 591 RBI with only one season of 20 or more HR and zero seasons of 100 plus RBI, you begin to wonder how an organization can allow him to hit as their number three hitter in their lineup. The time has come to move Mauer out of the third spot in the batting order and into the place he should have been all along, leadoff.
For most of Mauer’s career with the Twins, the team has had solid options to bat leadoff in front of him and thus, the need for Mauer to bat first was unnecessary. Players like Denard Span and Shannon Stewart were all better suited to hit leadoff in front of Mauer because they had the best blend of discipline, patience, speed and ability to make consistent contact; thus, Mauer predominantly hit second or third in those lineups.
Traditionally in baseball, managers put their best hitter in the third spot in the batting order, their power hitters in their fourth and fifth spots and their fastest and top player at getting on base batting leadoff. While Mauer fits the mold as the Twins’ best hitter, he does not hit enough for power to merit remaining in the number three spot for the Twins in part because there rarely is enough players on base in front of him to drive in. This problem has been magnified even further this season with the struggles of Aaron Hicks hitting in front of Mauer, who is now hitting in the number two spot. Even there, the Twins have struggled to put enough players in front of him to utilize his hitting talents.
With all of that in mind, if players aren’t getting on in front of Mauer, why not let Mauer get on base and let others drive him in? Why not use Mauer at the top of the lineup and let your best hitter accumulate more at-bats over the season while also driving in players who get on base at the bottom of the order? Quite frankly, I don’t know why not.
If Mauer becomes the Twins’ leadoff hitter, the team can slide Hicks down to the bottom of the order where he can hit with less pressure and remain the starter in centerfield where the team needs him most. If Hicks doesn’t produce at the bottom of the order, then his shortcomings are less magnified because Hicks isn’t hitting at the top of the order. The Twins then could slide a high contact player like Eduardo Escobar into the number two spot for opportunities to advance Mauer into scoring position. Another intriguing option would be to move Chris Parmelee or Trevor Plouffe into the number two spot as solid contact hitters with less pressure to produce in the middle of the order.
Whatever manager Ron Gardenhire decides to do in the number two spot is irrelevant if Mauer isn’t hitting at the top. Other hitters like Paul Molitor, Wade Boggs and Pete Rose were dominant leadoff hitters who weren’t the fleetest of foot and yet, they still succeeded and became some of the best leadoff hitters in history. Mauer could fit into a similar mold with the Twins and have the same career trajectory as some of baseball’s greats. His swing, plate discipline and consistency are ideal for a leadoff hitter, so what’s the big hold up?
Gardenhire mustn’t fret about putting his best hitter at the top of his lineup because wherever he hits, he will produce; but if Gardenhire wants to get the most production out of his lineup as a whole and fully maximize the talents of Mauer on the Twins as they are currently constructed, he must install Mauer as the Twins’ leadoff hitter. So enough messing around Gardenhire, let Mauer leadoff!