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Top of the Order: The Thin Twins Lineup Can’t Hit Righties

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Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome back to Top of the Order, where every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, I’ll be starting your baseball day with some news, notes, and thoughts about the game we love.

Three out of every four FanGraphs and RotoGraphs staff members picked the Twins to make the playoffs, with 18 of us predicting them to win the AL Central. (Yes, I was one of them.) And who could blame us? Sure, Minnesota lost Sonny Gray and Kenta Maeda from last year’s division-winning team, but the Twins would also get a full season of Chris Paddack, a revamped and improved bullpen, and — hopefully — a full year of Byron Buxton, Carlos Correa, and Royce Lewis anchoring what looked like a strong lineup.

So, naturally, those plans went awry almost right away. The bullpen has been ravaged by injuries, Lewis hurt himself on Opening Day and will be out for yet another extended stretch, and Correa, who was off to a strong start after recovering from his plantar fasciitis that bugged him all of last year, is now on the IL with a strained oblique. Not helping matters is that Buxton isn’t hitting, striking out 36.1% of the time with an anemic wRC+ of 51. The injuries to Lewis and Correa (not to mention Max Kepler, though his stay looks like it’ll be for the minimum 10 days) have eroded Minnesota’s depth, and Buxton’s poor performance is emblematic of the lack of production from the rest of the lineup.

Entering Thursday, the 6-11 Twins had the league’s third-worst wRC+, at 80, and that’s with Correa’s 165 wRC+ in 44 plate appearances. Young lefties Edouard Julien (99 wRC+) and Alex Kirilloff (151 wRC+) are doing their part, which may make you think (as I did when I started researching this column) that the Twins are awfully exposed against left-handed pitching. But they’re actually doing fine (95 wRC+) against southpaws, with both of those lefties beating up on same-handed pitching, albeit in small samples. Additionally, Buxton’s struggles have not carried over to his 13 plate appearances against lefties, and Ryan Jeffers and Manuel Margot are also hammering them.

You probably know where this is heading, then. The Twins are horrible against righties (76 wRC+). In fact, the bumbling White Sox (73 wRC+) are the only team that has been worse against righties than Minnesota. Buxton has a 31 wRC+ across 48 plate appearances vs. righties, and Willi Castro’s 50 wRC+ against righties would look good only in comparison to the marks of some of his teammates and because it is significantly better than his -24 wRC+ vs. lefties. Meanwhile, Margot, Christian Vázquez, and Kepler have all been essentially useless against righty pitching, with wRC+ numbers below zero.

So, what exactly can the Twins do? It’s an uninspiring answer, but not much. Correa and Lewis won’t be back anytime soon. Buxton is going to be given every chance to swing his way out of his slump, and as long as he stays healthy, the Twins should be cautiously optimistic that he’ll turn things around. Aside from that, their best hope is that Kepler will be much more productive when he returns from his knee contusion, which may well have affected his hitting. Matt Wallner was optioned to Triple-A after starting his season terribly (2-for-25 with 17 strikeouts), and surely there’s hope that he’ll come back looking more like the guy who had a 144 wRC+ in 254 plate appearances last year. Otherwise, there won’t really be any saviors rising up from within. Austin Martin is already up in the majors, and Brooks Lee hurt his back and has yet to play a minor league game this year. The Twins will have to make due with what they have until guys get healthy or they find a way to swing a trade or two sometime this summer. In the meantime, it’s not looking great.

Meet the Mets’ Breakout Reliever

Early season leaderboards are always fun, and in just about all cases they shouldn’t be viewed as indicative of what’s to come for the remaining 90% of the season. But that doesn’t mean we can’t take note of surprising players at or near the top of them. So, who leads all relievers in strikeout percentage? The resurgent Craig Kimbrel? The hellacious Mason Miller? Nope, atop the list is Reed Garrett, who didn’t even make the Mets’ Opening Day roster. He wasn’t even one of the last cuts; he was optioned on March 15, a full two weeks before the season started. But since getting the call on April 1 he’s been nearly unhittable, with a ridiculously low wOBA allowed of .177.

Garrett, 31, put up a 7.11 ERA in 44.1 MLB innings before this year, and there wasn’t really anything that we were publicly aware of that made anyone think a breakout was coming. But it’s not hard to see where Garrett’s success has come now that we’ve got the data. He’s deemphasizing his two fastballs, throwing his four-seamer and sinker a combined 26% of the time, with his sweeper, splitter, and slider giving hitters fits.

The splitter — which he’s nearly tripled in usage since 2022 — has been especially lethal, with two-thirds of swings against the pitch coming up empty. The radically different pitch mix makes for changes that look sticky and should allow Garrett to continue his rapid ascent up the bullpen hierarchy. Once viewed as an up-and-down pitcher by virtue of having an option remaining, he looks here to stay.

Leiter Gets Lit Up in Poor Debut

Well, not every MLB debut can go swimmingly. Jack Leiter’s first game as a Ranger started off well enough, with two strikeouts in a scoreless first. But the wheels came off soon after; he allowed four runs in the second and three more in the third and his day ended after just 11 outs.

To my eye, the stuff looked just fine, with his fastball up to 98 mph and averaging 96, but he just didn’t have feel for his offspeed pitches. Hitters really weren’t fooled overall. His 28% CSW rate was right at league average, but it was only 21% on his curveball, slider, and changeup, which made up 47 of his 85 pitches.

Whether Leiter sticks around in the rotation remains to be seen. The Rangers already have six healthy starters as it is, and Cody Bradford’s IL stay should be a short one. And let’s not forget that Tyler Mahle, Max Scherzer, and Jacob deGrom are all lurking for returns later in the season as well.

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