How Can The Twins Add To Their Defensive Strength?
Image courtesy of Brad Penner, USA TodayIn 2016, the Twins ranked 29th out of 30 MLB teams in Defensive Efficiency Rating. In 2017 they rocketed up to 12th. That's a remarkable jump.
Sure, the pitching staff played a role in shaving off 11% of the runs allowed from 2016, but not a very big role. As mentioned above, the K, BB, and HR rates didn't really change. Per FanGraphs, the batted ball profiles – grounder and fly ball rates, ratio of soft/medium/hard contact – also remained virtually identical.
The Twins hired a new pitching coach last week, and hopefully they'll target some impact arms this offseason. But what's truly essential is supporting those new and returning hurlers with the best defense possible.
Fortunately, this roster already has a top-tier starting alignment locked in. The Twins can bring back all the starters from what was a terrific unit this year – arguably above-average at all but one or two spots.
Byron Buxton is, of course, the central figure here. He was probably the most valuable defensive player in the game this year, and as long as he stays healthy at age 24 that should remain true. Those who preordered the Offseason Handbook received a special perk this weekend, when we sent out Parker Hageman's feature on Buxton's impact. You can get that, and another early preview coming later this week, by getting your preorder in now.
Flanked by Eddie Rosario and Max Kepler, Buxton can lead the game's best defensive outfield. Jason Castro is a quality backstop. The right side of the infield shapes up nicely with Brian Dozier and Joe Mauer. Really the only question marks are at shortstop and third base, but Paul Molitor can help himself by rotating Jorge Polanco and Miguel Sano through the DH spot frequently while plugging in Ehire Adrianza and Eduardo Escobar.
Unless the Twins shake things up with a big trade, we already know how the starting nine will align in the field, more or less. But Derek Falvey and Thad Levine will have opportunities this offseason to make upgrades on the periphery of the roster, and that's where I will be curious to see their approach.
In particular, the answers to these three questions will be telling:
1) Will they bring back Robbie Grossman?
The most patient hitter in baseball took a step backward after his exceptional first season with the Twins, but was still a relatively useful piece, splitting time between DH and the outfield corners while providing a steady – albeit unexplosive – offensive presence.
Grossman's on-base skills fit nicely in a power-packed lineup, but it wouldn't be hard to find another fourth outfielder who can match his .741 OPS, and upgrading his glove would be be easy. When he's in the outfield, Grossman is a rare defensive liability for the Twins, lacking the range to track down anything outside his immediate vicinity.
Rosario and Kepler are lined up to man the outfield corners, and both have proven vulnerable to left-handed pitching (especially Kepler), so it'd make sense to replace Grossman with a right-handed hitter who plays good defense. In the Offseason Handbook, you'll find a few names fitting that description.
Then again, the arbitration-eligible Grossman will only cost around $2 million to bring back, and his .361 OBP ranked second on the team behind Mauer.
2) Do they trust Mitch Garver behind the plate?
It would seem that Garver is ready to take over as Minnesota's backup catcher. He had a great year at Triple-A, earning Twins Minor League Player of the Year honors, and got his feet wet in the majors during the final weeks of the campaign.
But do they trust his defense enough go with him as Jason Castro's standalone backup? This much is not clear. Molitor didn't seem to have a ton of faith in Garver behind the plate, giving him only four starts there and none after September 4th.
Will the Twins bring back Chris Gimenez, or seek another glove-first option as Castro's caddy? If they do, what does that mean for Garver's future here? He turns 27 in January.
3) Did Ehire Adrianza show enough to get another shot?
The Twins claimed Adrianza off waivers ahead of spring camp mainly because of his defensive rep. He played shortstop and he played it well; it wasn't clear Minnesota had a player with that capability on the roster. He ended up playing all over the field and getting a career-high 186 PAs this season.
Like Grossman, Adrianza is eligible for his first turn at arbitration this offseason, and won't be expensive to retain (maybe around a million). The Twins need a strong defender they can use frequently on the left side of the infield. Did Adrianza do enough to convince them he's that guy?
His defensive metrics were good, though not as strong as they have been in the past. To my eye, he was a bit sloppy at times and not quite the specialist that his reputation suggested. But the tools are clearly there and to me, bringing him back is an easy call, especially since he's the only speed threat on the bench as things currently stand.
What are your concerns and questions around the Twins defense as we head into the offseason?
- Cory Engelhardt, Broker and ToddlerHarmon like this