I attempted a nuanced approach to Paul Molitor’s decision to pinch hit for Byron Buxton with Chris Herrmann in the 9th inning of a loss to Tampa Bay, but at the heart of the matter was this: pinch-hitting for a struggling Buxton made some sense, but given the options Molitor had (including Herrmann, the one he used) it made far less sense.
And at the heart of THAT matter is this: the Twins have had a precariously thin bench all season, to the point that they rarely pinch hit — and when they do, they do it extraordinarily poorly.
Entering Tuesday, Twins pinch hitters have had 45 at bats all season – second-fewest in the majors behind the Royals. Those hitters are 5 for 45 (.111), the worst average in the majors for pinch hitters to go with the worst OPS (.300) in part because those five hits have amounted to four singles and a double.
In September, though, Molitor figures to have far more options — and reasonable ones at that — for a couple of reasons.
First, the initial wave of roster call-ups has arrived. It includes Kennys Vargas, who even when struggling is a threat to hit a home run and provides nice flexibility as a switch-hitter. Danny Santana is back, too, after a good stint in Rochester. Even if he’s not a great pinch-hitting candidate, he can run. Other options with power, including Oswaldo Arcia and Max Kepler, could be added in the coming days.
The second reason is that Aaron Hicks figures to be back from a rehab assignment soon, creating a logjam between Hicks, Buxton, Eddie Rosario and Torii Hunter (and, to a lesser extent, Shane Robinson). If Hicks resumes his starting role and the Twins want a speedy outfield of Hicks, Rosario and Buxton, a slumping Hunter might be the logical odd man out of the lineup. But even with his poor second half, he would be a pretty good threat off the bench in a close and late game — far better, at the very least, than Herrmann for Buxton.