Ranking Minnesota’s Top 5 Defensive Teams
Image courtesy of © Brad Rempel-USA TODAY SportsDefensive 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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