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Is Cruz a MUST signing? And what if he doesn't fit?

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2020 Minnesota Twins Prospect Handbook Available NOW!

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Golden Opportunity: Using SDI to Evaluate the Twins Defense

On Tuesday night, MLB and Rawlings handed out the 2020 Gold Glove Awards. Minnesota entered the night with two finalists, Kenta Maeda and Byron Buxton. Buxton had a chance to walk away with his second Gold Glove, while Maeda might not even be the best defensive pitcher on his team. Minnesota has prided itself on defense as an organization, so how did the Twins fare during the 2020 campaign?
Image courtesy of © Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports
Defensive metrics have come a long way over the last decade. With StatCast tracking every batted ball, the amount of information available to fans is at an all-time high. One newer defensive metric was developed by the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) and it is called the SABR Defensive Index (SDI). According to SABR's website, the SDI "draws on and aggregates two types of existing defensive metrics: those derived from batted ball location-based data and those collected from play-by-play accounts."

First Base: Miguel Sano
SDI Total: -1.5 SDI (12th in the AL)
Sano’s first year as a full-time first baseman had its ups and downs. He’s athletic enough to adjust to a new position, but there were clearly moments where he was still getting acclimated to his new defensive role. Only two qualifying AL first basemen finished behind Sano (Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Luke Voit) in the SDI rankings. In the years ahead, it will be intriguing to see if his defense improves as he gets more experience at first base.

Shortstop: Jorge Polanco
SDI Total: -0.4 SDI (8th in the AL)
Polanco is never going to be an above average defensive shortstop and he’s played the last two seasons on an ankle that needed offseason surgery. Minnesota’s positioning of Polanco seemed to help him make more plays this season and having Josh Donaldson on the same side of the infield certainly helps. Last season, Polanco finished with a -1.9 SDI which was good for 8th among AL shortstops. Above Polanco on this year’s SDI rankings is Detroit’s Niko Goodrum, a former player in the Twins organization.

Center Field: Byron Buxton
SDI Total: 5.5 SDI (2nd in the AL)
Even though Buxton was limited to 39 games this season, he still finished in the top four among all AL defenders according to SDI. Unfortunately, he fell short of his second Gold Glove as Chicago’s Luis Robert finished ahead of him by just 0.1 SDI points. Buxton didn’t accumulate enough defensive innings in 2018 or 2019 to appear on the SDI Leaderboard. Back in 2017, he won the Platinum Glove as the AL’s best fielder. There’s no question that health has impacted his career, but Buxton only having one Gold Glove at this point is disappointing.

Right Field: Max Kepler
SDI Total: 1.4 SDI (7th in the AL)
Kepler finished the 2019 SDI rankings as the second-best AL right fielder (5.7 SDI) but he trailed Mookie Betts by 5 SDI points. With Betts out of the AL, this could have been an opportunity for Kepler to earn his first Gold Glove. Joey Gallo put up unbelievable numbers in a 60-game season as he more than doubled the SDI total of other right fielders. Kepler has been a borderline Gold Glove candidate in recent years, so it will be interesting to see if he can play a full season in right field and come away with the award.

Left Field: Eddie Rosario
SDI Total: 1.1 SDI (4th in the AL)
Rosario isn’t exactly known for his defensive prowess as he finished the 2019 campaign with the third worst SDI total among AL left fielders (-5.7 SDI). The 2020 season exemplifies how a small sample size can make a player look better or worse than their career numbers. Rosario nearly finished as the third best left fielder in the AL which is hard to believe that he should have been a Gold Glove finalist. Next season, the Twins might have a different player in left field so that could change their defensive outlook.

Pitcher: Kenta Maeda
SDI Total: 1.0 SDI (2nd in the AL)
Maeda’s first year in a Twins uniform was certainly memorable, but few people may remember it for his defense on the mound. He ended up finishing tied for second in AL SDI with Zach Plesac with Griffin Canning winning the Gold Glove with the highest SDI total. Last year in the NL, Maeda finished with a 1.4 SDI which put him in the top-20 among pitchers. Jose Berrios finished tied for eighth in the AL, which should make Mitch Garver happy.

How did you feel about the Twins defense this season? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.

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8 Comments

I am glad we are developing more metrics for defense, as they are hard to quantify normally.We all the know the old ways of errors is not good, as players with greater range would get more errors because of more chances at high risk plays.Players with less range would not get errors because they could not get to balls to be charged with one.

 

It is good to see Polonco improving overall, and the eye test kind of backed that up.Sano I think much of his issues were not knowing when to go after a ball.He will never be a plus defender, but he did better than I was expecting, which I expected dumpster fire so that is not saying much.  

 

For me, with all the shifts trying to look at range based on normal alignment is flawed.I would judge OF by reaction, route efficiency, speed, arm strength and accuracy.If you get good jumps, run good routes to ball even if you are slow you can get to balls someone that is just fast but cannot judge the fly well.Then arm is huge.Buxton seems to be high on all levels.  

 

For IF, similar I would judge reaction, quickness, along with arm strength and accuracy.Of course how many balls they boot are important.With all the shifting it would be hard to judge someone for not getting to a ball because out of position. That is where batted ball measures is important. 

This was interesting, but the thing that caught my eye was what I call Rosario bias - "The 2020 season exemplifies how a small sample size can make a player look better or worse than their career numbers."This could have been the lead to the entire essay, but you chose it for Eddie because he obviously looks better than you expected or wanted.We will miss Eddie when he is gone.

 

Overall the defense is below a championship level and that needs to change.You did not show the 3B or 2B rankings.I am guessing that our players did not get enough games at 2B to qualify for their list.I do find it fascinating to see Goodrum and Schoop ranking so high at SS and 2B,  

 

Gonzales was number 8 among 3B, the last one to have a positive score (0.2).I was surprised to see Devers (Boston) really bottom out as the worst 3B and Ramirez (Cleveland) also with a strong negative score. 

 

Then there is the big shocker - the worst CF on the list - Mike Trout!

 

 

    • dbminn and Nine of twelve like this
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puckstopper1
Nov 05 2020 11:50 AM

Thanks for the article Cody. 

 

I do feel you glossed over Kepler's decline a bit. True Gallo had a great year defensively but Kepler was down defensively and if his 2020 play continues he will have no chance at winning a gold glove.

 

Also, I'm curious to know how the catchers fared defensively. The home town broadcasters constantly fawn over their defensive prowess, but I'd be interested in what the stats say.

    • mikelink45 likes this

The Strategic Defense Initiative? I suppose Maeda could knock down an incoming missile but I'm not sure I'd trust even Buxton to catch one.

    • Nine of twelve likes this
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Aerodeliria
Nov 07 2020 01:33 AM

Not all errors or misplays have equal weight--just like hitting. This is the trouble with defensive metrics. Polanco's error in Game 1 of the playoffs lost the game for the Twins. The weight of the error is the equivalent of a closer giving up a two-run homer with two outs to lose the game. If this had been the first inning, sure it would have hurt, but the intensity of the error would seem somehow much lighter in retrospect.

    • Nine of twelve likes this
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Nine of twelve
Nov 07 2020 06:45 AM

 

Not all errors or misplays have equal weight--just like hitting. This is the trouble with defensive metrics. Polanco's error in Game 1 of the playoffs lost the game for the Twins. The weight of the error is the equivalent of a closer giving up a two-run homer with two outs to lose the game. If this had been the first inning, sure it would have hurt, but the intensity of the error would seem somehow much lighter in retrospect.

This is a good point. I don't know the details of the parameters used to calculate SDI but I would think it could be configured to account for changes in win probability, unearned runs, or even pitches thrown. There are probably other relevant parameters as well. And for all I know it may already do that.

    • Aerodeliria likes this

 

Thanks for the article Cody. 

 

I do feel you glossed over Kepler's decline a bit. True Gallo had a great year defensively but Kepler was down defensively and if his 2020 play continues he will have no chance at winning a gold glove.

 

Also, I'm curious to know how the catchers fared defensively. The home town broadcasters constantly fawn over their defensive prowess, but I'd be interested in what the stats say.

In Baseball reference both Garver and Avila had a 0.3 and Jeffers 0.0 dWAR.  

What has always interested me is a players range - we know Buxton can cover half the outfield now, but what about Kepler and Rosario?In the infield how far does Polanco cover?A SS has to have range.I know his arm is not the best, but how much does he cover?That is really the only position in the IF that has as much range factor - 2B would be second. At 3B I want reaction time - those bullets that come down the line make the 3B almost a hockey goalie. And at 1B I want to know the ability to pickup balls that have to be short hopped from the other IF throws.  


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