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A rant

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A rant - Schedule

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Ranking Minnesota’s Top 5 Defensive Teams

Andrelton Simmons’ addition to the Twins means the club now has Gold Glove caliber defenders at multiple defensive positions. Can the 2021 Twins provide the best team defense in franchise history?
Image courtesy of © Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports
Defensive metrics have come a long way over the last two decades and new technology continues to help front offices evaluate their defensive talent. Many key advanced fielding stats like Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) and Defensive Runs Above Average (Def) began being calculated in 2002. Over the last 20+ seasons, the Twins made defense an organizational hallmark and these teams rank as the best defenders during that stretch.

5. 2003 Twins (23.2 Def, 23.2 UZR)
Top Defenders: Torii Hunter (18.4 Def, 16.2 UZR, Gold Glove), Corey Koskie (10.1 Def, 8.2 UZR), AJ Pierzynski (9.0 Def)
The 2003 Twins were on their way to claiming a second straight AL Central title and there were some clear standout defenders. Hunter was the team’s top defender, and he was awarded his third Gold Glove on the way to winning seven straight honors for the Twins. His defensive numbers in 2003 were otherworldly as he posted career highs in Def and UZR. Koskie was underrated as a defensive third baseman and he should have won a Gold Glove at some point in his career (see below)

4. 2010 Twins (33.8 Def, 28.1 UZR)
Top Defenders: Joe Mauer (12.2 Def, Gold Glove), JJ Hardy (11.8 Def, 7.4 UZR), Orlando Hudson (10.5 Def, 8.7 UZR), Denard Span (9.3 Def, 7.0 UZR)
This one might hurt for some Twins fans as JJ Hardy’s lone season in Minnesota saw him put up some strong defensive numbers at shortstop. Since that season, the Twins have rotated through carousel of players that were stretched to play shortstop. Mauer would win his third straight Gold Glove behind the plate, but it would be his last as he was eventually forced to move to first base. Orlando Hudson and Hardy formed quite the double-play combo and Span only strengthened the team’s up the middle defense.

3. 2006 Twins (34.8 Def, 30.8 UZR)
Top Defenders: Jason Bartlett (16.1 Def, 11.6 UZR), Nick Punto (14.1 Def, 13.1 UZR), Joe Mauer (8.1 Def)
Jason Bartlett and Nick Punto might surprise some to be at the team’s top defenders over the course of a season. Bartlett was helped by the fact that he played fewer than 880 innings so a player can hide more of their defensive flaws in a smaller sample size. Punto’s numbers above were at third base, but he also posted a 5.3 Def and a 4.6 UZR at shortstop albeit in 146.2 innings. It was one of Mauer’s worst defensive seasons as a catcher and he was still one of the best defenders on the team.

2. 2005 Twins (41.9 Def, 31.9 UZR)
Top Defenders: Juan Castro (16.1 Def, 13.2 UZR), Jason Bartlett (15.6 Def, 12.6 UZR), Joe Mauer (8.6 Def), Torii Hunter (3.4 Def, 2.5 UZR, Gold Glove)

For the fifth consecutive season, Hunter was awarded the Gold Glove, but he was limited to just over 810 innings in center. Minnesota turned to Lew Ford for 548 innings in center field and he finished fifth on the team with a 4.9 Def. Castro and Bartlett have high totals, but neither player played more than 590 innings at shortstop. In fact, Mauer and Justin Morneau were the only players to play close to 1,000 defensive innings at one position. Morneau’s 13.5 UZR was the team’s highest total and it was the highest mark he’d have in his entire career.

1. 2002 Twins (60.4 Def, 60.4 UZR)
Top Defenders: Corey Koskie (21.9 Def, 19.9 UZR), Jacque Jones (11.5 Def, 17.6 UZR), AJ Pierzynski (8.9 Def), Torii Hunter (5.1 Def, 3.0 UZR, Gold Glove)
ESPN dubbed them, “The Team That Saved Baseball,” and a lot of the credit can be given to the defensive side of the ball. Koskie might have been the AL’s best defensive player as his Def and UZR ranked him at the top of the league ahead of players like Darin Erstad and Alex Rodriguez. Minnesota had three players rank in the AL’s top six when it came to UZR (Koskie, Jones, and Doug Mientkiewicz). Koskie lost the Gold Glove to Eric Chavez, but the Twins had the last laugh as they defeated Oakland in the ALDS.

Do you think the 2021 Twins can match the defensive numbers from 2002? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.

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12 Comments

Man did I love watching Doug Mientkiewicz play 1st base. His stretch was amazing! You talk about Koskie play at 3rd but a lot of the defense abilities of the infield was because of Doug digging balls out of the dirt and his stretch.
    • woolywoolhouse, mikelink45, SF Twins Fan and 2 others like this
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SoCalTwinsfan
Feb 02 2021 01:20 AM

I'm surprised the '05, '06, and '10 Twins all finished ahead of the '01 Twins since they were largely the same defensively as the '02 Twins.

    • woolywoolhouse likes this
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Doctor Gast
Feb 02 2021 05:09 AM
If everyone is healthy, I believe they'd come pretty close
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ToddlerHarmon
Feb 02 2021 05:43 AM
Let's break it down by position vs that 2002 team, per my completely arguable eye test:

SS Guzman < Simba
C AJ/Prince > garver/jeffers
CF Hunter < Buxton
2B Rivas < Polanco
3B Koskie > Donaldson
RF Mohr < Kepler
LF Jones > Kiriloff
1B Mientkeiwicz > Sano

So with all the caveats about age and injury (which Heavily favor the 2002 team), the 2021 team is probably worse in 5 positions, but probably better in 3 of the 4 most important. And the 2021 team plays in a more defense-friendly ballpark with more data-driven approach.

So, this team has the potential to be the Twins best since 2000, but I don't think I would bet on it.
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Dave The Dastardly
Feb 02 2021 08:32 AM

Too bad the "experts" who award Gold Glove titles haven't paid more attention to actual glove work and less to batting average and press popularity when handing out Gloves. I think there'd be a few more retired Twins with well-deserved Gold Gloves sitting on their mantels.

I went to the team fielding stats on BR and was fascinated to see somethings really jump out - in 1979 the team had 203 DPs.Those really counted when players were not striking out or hitting flyballs like now. In 2012 the team had 188 DPs - the only top ten for this century.  

 

By fielding percentage (traditional) the rank would be:

  • 2020
  • 2012
  • 2010 - only year on both lists
  • 2017
  • 2009

I do wish I had a comparison of team versus league for all the years to see how we ranked within the year and era. 

 

Fewest errors - 2020 would have the fewest, but I could not put that on the list

  • 2002 - ranked first in article
  • 1994 
  • 2009
  • 2017
  • 2010 - only season both in article and fielding Pct

I do find it fascinating that BR and MLB.com all have batting and pitching but not fielding in their sortable stats. 

 

Based on Gold gloves our all time Defensive team would be

 

Pitcher - Jim Kaat

Catcher - tie Mauer and Battey (3 each)

1B - Power (3) - Mientkiewicz (1) I saw both play and I would take Power

2B - Knaublauch - Dozier (1 each)

SS - Versalles (2)

3B - Gaetti (4)

OF - Puckett (6),Hunter (7), and Buxton - tied with Oliva with 1 each

 

I'm surprised the '05, '06, and '10 Twins all finished ahead of the '01 Twins since they were largely the same defensively as the '02 Twins.

 

Doesn't the article say that the metric starts in 2002?

 

Too bad the "experts" who award Gold Glove titles haven't paid more attention to actual glove work and less to batting average and press popularity when handing out Gloves. I think there'd be a few more retired Twins with well-deserved Gold Gloves sitting on their mantels.

Too often offense of the player got gold gloves, which made no sense.Unless the player was on highlights over and over, they needed to be a higher level offensive player for coaches to think about them when they were voting.Then, once a guy was known for defense, regardless of how well they did there they would win it.99 Palmero won the gold glove when he DH 128 games and started 28 at first.Shows how much managers pay attention and only think of names they know of.That is where the offense comes in.You think of good offensive players a lot, but unless they put up a ton of highlights, you never think of defense guys. 

The problem I have with the numbers you use to rank these teams are they are based on comparison to the rest of the league that year.You say it is best defensive teams all time, but you use numbers that compare them to other players in that year.If you truly wanted to compare all time you would need to use numbers that do not use other players as their measure.  

 

Under the numbers you used, a player that is average defender at SS over his career will some years have high numbers because his competition was weaker.However, if they were plugged into year with say Ozzie Smith or other all time great SS they would look worse under these numbers. 

 

There may not be a good number to use to make this determination, but it should be pointed out that the numbers sited compares them only to players of that year.Heck, they could have had worse year defensively, but if everyone else was even worse they look better.It is a good number to compare the team to others in the league, but the title suggests this is ranking how good the team was overall, not compared to other teams.  

I understand that these metrics are new and generally aren't available to compare to older teams, but it's disappointing to see a list about team history that only covers this millennia.

 

Let's break it down by position vs that 2002 team, per my completely arguable eye test:

SS Guzman < Simba
C AJ/Prince > garver/jeffers
CF Hunter < Buxton
2B Rivas < Polanco
3B Koskie > Donaldson
RF Mohr < Kepler
LF Jones > Kiriloff
1B Mientkeiwicz > Sano

So with all the caveats about age and injury (which Heavily favor the 2002 team), the 2021 team is probably worse in 5 positions, but probably better in 3 of the 4 most important. And the 2021 team plays in a more defense-friendly ballpark with more data-driven approach.

So, this team has the potential to be the Twins best since 2000, but I don't think I would bet on it.

 

I agree with your subjective eye test except Rivas was probably better that year than Polanco will be at second, and Donaldson has historically been better than Koskie at third. Next year, I'd expect Donaldson to slow down some though. 3B is close. 1B is not close. Dougie was really good there. 

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tony&rodney
Feb 02 2021 08:09 PM

Hopefully everyone understands this is for the 21st century only even though there is wording about franchise history. Right?


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