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Updated: May 12th, 2013 12:18am
Warne: Moving Joe Mauer to leadoff spot isn't crazy thinking for Twins

Warne: Moving Joe Mauer to leadoff spot isn't crazy thinking for Twins

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by Brandon Warne
1500ESPN.com

MINNEAPOLIS -- If it's surprising the Minnesota Twins are above .500 through 33 games on the strength of pitching, it's probably even more noteworthy the top of the batting order has been the weak link in a surprisingly sluggish offensive effort.

In fact, if you break down the lineup, the offense sputters at the top.

Baseball-Reference.com breaks down the batting order as hitters No. 1 and 2, 3 through 6, and 7 through 9 -- basically, table setters, run producers, and the bottom third.

Strangely, entering Saturday's game, hitters No. 7 through 9 in the Twins lineup had a higher OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) than hitters 1 and 2, by a .711 to .662 margin.

The perception here is the perceived culprit and the actual culprit are not one in the same. Many have pointed to Joe Mauer's RBI total -- 12, tied for fifth with Oswaldo Arcia and Trevor Plouffe, and behind Aaron Hicks -- as a big reason the Twins are 10th in the American League in runs scored.

To be blunt: don't worry about it.

A batter can't really drive in anyone who doesn't reach in front of him. And while home runs are obviously an exception -- though certainly not a part of Mauer's game -- he has had pretty much no help in this respect.

Mauer is tied with a host of other hitters for 124th in terms of how many base-runners have been on when he has come up to bat, according to Baseball Prospectus.

Want proof that context matters here? Mauer's leading the team with 19 runs scored, and by a pretty healthy margin.

So, while Mauer has the likes of Josh Willingham, Plouffe and Arcia hitting behind him, he's been stuck behind Brian Dozier, Jamey Carroll and Hicks.

Twins leadoff hitters have been far and away the worst group in all of baseball, and it isn't particularly close. Their leadoff spot is among the 10 or so worst spots in all of baseball -- forsaking, of course, National League No. 9 spots, where pitchers drag down the numbers.

Considering Twins leadoff hitters have actually managed to score the 23rd-most runs of all leadoff hitters, Mauer may even deserve some commendation given what he's working with.

Twins leadoff hitters have hit .191/.238/.234, good for a .472 OPS, which is just under 60 points worse than the next team -- a New York Mets club experimenting with the likes of Jordany Valdespin, Ruben Tejada, Mike Baxter and Collin Cowgill.

The Twins' No. 9 hitters -- two spots in front of where Mauer hits -- surely don't help much either, with a collective .298 OBP.

Does a move need to be made up top?

Twins general manager Terry Ryan seemed to, albeit briefly, suggest Saturday that he wouldn't be surprised to see Mauer bat leadoff. But he left it up to Gardenhire, because, after all he noted, it's the manager's job to write the lineup.

That might be the exact thing this offense needs to get out of its funk. Last year's big-league leader in OBP is again looking like he'll approach or exceed the .400 mark again this season. And what better way to score runs?

No, Mauer isn't the prototypical leadoff hitter in a traditional sense. He's fast for a catcher and a smart baserunner, but no burner.

Still, with the Twins embracing a few new ideologies this year -- including moving Mauer to the No. 2 slot -- maybe another bump up is the next on the list.

One thing is clear: Mauer is part of the solution, and not the problem that this offense is having.

Brandon Warne covers the Minnesota Twins for 1500ESPN.com. He has also contributed as a baseball analyst for Fangraphs.com and BaseballProspectus.com
Email Brandon | @Brandon_Warne
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