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Front Page: Who is the Twins Team MVP?

Minnesota Twins Talk Today, 02:04 AM
2019 has been a bit of a Hollywood season for the Minnesota Twins. After finishing 2018 with a record below .500, and losing a player who...
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VOTE NOW: Team captain nominations

Minnesota Twins Talk Today, 02:04 AM
Surprised to discover that the Twins have not had a team captain since Harmon Killebrew. Leadership counts when a team is playing for the...
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Front Page: Twins Game Recap (9/15): Bad Defense Costs Tw...

Minnesota Twins Talk Today, 02:04 AM
The Twins lost the series finale to the Indians 7-5 after taking both games of the doubleheader the day before. Leaving Cleveland with a...
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Front Page: Will Minnesota Get Raided This Off-Season?

Minnesota Twins Talk Today, 12:39 AM
It can’t be argued that Minnesota is having one of their best seasons in the Target Field era. Rocco Baldelli and his coaching staff have...
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Are we done with Gibson? Once and for all

Minnesota Twins Talk Yesterday, 11:55 PM
I'm hoping this is one of last times we see Gibson. He has had one good year and every other year has been above 4 ERA. He actually broke...
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Defensive Dive Highlights Twins Fall

In 2019 you can define the Minnesota Twins efforts as a tale of two seasons. While this club was coming off 84 losses a year ago the turnaround was expected to begin. Despite this writer pegging them for 92 wins and a division title, that seemed lofty prior to “Play Ball.” Fast forward through May and Rocco Baldelli’s club was the best in baseball. Fast forward again and things have slowed considerably. The full 162 game cycle will tell us what this team is, but the slide has been facilitated by shortcomings in part of the game you’d hope remains consistent: defense.
Image courtesy of © Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
Back in July I penned an article here at Twins Daily about the improvement no one was talking about. Bad defensive teams had become synonymous with the Minnesota Twins in recent history and seeing them take such a significant step forward was beyond noteworthy. Through July 11 Minnesota had the fourth best defensive fWAR in baseball and trailed only the Kansas City Royals in the American League. They were also fourth in DRS and second in UZR. At that point I defined it simply by saying the Twins were, as a whole, playing “Gold Glove Caliber defense.”

The biggest boost for the Twins could be felt up the middle. Mitch Garver had taken significant strides forward, while Jorge Polanco was now an above average shortstop, and the tandem of Byron Buxton and Max Kepler rounded out the best outfield the sport had to offer. Evaluating defensive metrics in a small sample is an extremely difficult ask, and it’s the full season that gives us the clearer picture. The shifting numbers tells us something has fallen out of whack however, and it starts with these up-the-middle pieces.

Garver is still performing admirably behind the plate. He’s made such considerable strides on defense that he’s now arguably the best all-around catcher in baseball, and the Twins have definitely felt that boost. On defense though, that’s where the good news ends for Minnesota.

Since July, Polanco has lost 3 DRS and dropped 1.2 UZR on the season. In just a month’s sample, that’s a considerable movement. He’s also part of an infield responsible for the most errors in baseball, and the arm accuracy has become a massive problem. At shortstop there was always concern whether the strength would be there to get the ball across the diamond. Having changed arm slots and working with different tweaks, things have gotten substantially worse as the season has worn on. Polanco has become more adept with his glove, but it’s the post-fielding process that creates a very negative effect on balls in play.



It isn’t just Polanco in the dirt either. Miguel Sano has the ninth most throwing errors in baseball with 8, and despite a career best -1 DRS, his -2.9 UZR is a career worst and further highlights the stretch he feels from a range perspective playing the hot corner. On the other side of the diamond C.J. Cron leads baseball with five drops, and although he’s fielding suboptimal offerings from his fielders, he hasn’t been otherworldly on his own merits. The -2.7 UZR is trending toward a career worst and the very good early season performance has long been missed.

Byron Buxton doesn’t create a significant cascade effect in the infield, but his defense is solely missed in the grass. Max Kepler once had a 10 DRS roughly a month ago and has slumped all the way back to just 5 DRS on the season. A good to great right fielder, Kepler is stretched in center. He gets better jumps than Buxton does, but there’s no number of strong routes that can make up for the speed deficiency. Add in that moving Kepler means more of Marwin Gonzalez (who is OK) or Jake Cave (who is not) in right field, and you’ve effectively taken the best outfield and turned it into a mediocre-at-best group.

Since that initial writing Buxton has played in just nine games for the Twins. He’s out with a shoulder dislocation and it doesn’t seem like his return is imminent. Defense is commonly referred to as something that shouldn’t slump, and it’s largely effort based. That’s not to suggest the Twins are tanking in their responsibilities, but there’s also not been evidence of guys picking up the slack. Both the infield and outfield need to find avenues to make the weaknesses more muted. While putting up runs will wipe away some miscues, you can’t give opponents too many additional opportunities.

In a matter of a month the Twins have dropped nine spots in the overall defensive rankings, five spots in terms of DRS, and 12 in UZR. If that isn’t cause for concern, I don’t know what is. There’s been plenty of things that have ailed this club since their amazing start, but if they aren’t going to add runs throughout games, they can’t be finding ways to give them back either. Baldelli and his field staff must find a way to position and work through these deficiencies, and changes must be implemented sooner rather than later.
A throwing error compounded with a seeing eye single was what led to their latest defeat, and more of that will be on the way if the issues aren’t rectified soon.

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20 Comments

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Brock Beauchamp
Aug 15 2019 08:18 PM

I don't care how it happens and what it takes but Buxton needs to stay on the field. I'm convinced the Twins have dropped at least 3-4 games solely because he wasn't roaming center field (never mind his bat versus Cave's bat).

 

Crashing into the wall is spectacular - and sometimes necessary - but it doesn't need to happen all the time in the sixth inning of a random game in July.

    • 071063, Taildragger8791 and wsnydes like this

I have been really concerned with the defense.The problem with communicating this in the second half is that it takes time for the stats to drop - a good first half can mask a bad second half for a significant period of time. 

    • Tomj14 likes this
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jorgenswest
Aug 15 2019 09:52 PM
They need Polanco at shortstop. Arraez really only fits as a regular at 2B. The pair will be below average at their positions but can make it up at the plate. The Twins also need to be elite at positioning their infielders to make up for the individual defensive weaknesses.
It’s reassuring in a way to see that Polanco had only 4 fielding errors, which is manageable. I feel like a throwing issue is more likely to be corrected than an issue fielding the ball. The coordination it takes, aka “hands,” seems like something closer to inherent than learned.
I don't remember a worse fielding Twins team. Magnified by a close pennant race.
    • Tomj14 and Aerodeliria like this
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Aerodeliria
Aug 15 2019 11:02 PM

It's not solely related to errors having a negative effect; it is when errors occur that is the critical issue. In a 10-1 game an error by either side will likely not be a big deal regardless of the inning. The Twins tend to make errors in the innings where it really matters--an errant throw here or there in one or two run games, which seems to ignite the other team. It also makes in that much harder on the pitchers to throw strikes, additional baserunners on board and knowing that a ground ball might be tossed into the stands or simply bounce off the first baseman's mitt. Errors and walks are the twin sisters of doom. When put together they spell disaster (or errorswalks if you're thinking literally).

Everyone's throwing errors are up. Maybe Mauer is missed at 1B. He was an excellent defensive 1st baseman. Cron is not.Hope I never see Adrianza there again

    • nokomismod and PDX Twin like this
Through the first part of the season, Gonzalez played most of his innings at 3B. Gonzalez has the highest UZR/150 among 3B with at least 100 innings played (data is from Fangraphs).

Additionally, Fangraphs ran a series of articles on playoff killers. At 1B, they identified replacing Cron as the easiest position to upgrade either via a trade or internal rearranging—such as Sano to first and Gonzalez at third.

The Twins started the season with an abundance of outfielders. Buxton and Wade are hurt. Rosario’s defense has fallen of a cliff (as discussed previously on TD). Cave was known to be defensively challenged and Granite was traded.

It's not a coincidence that the pitching has suffered accordingly as well. A staff that allows the ball to be put in play as often as this one does, solid defense helps immensely. 

 

Echoing Brock's comment, Buxton is so important to this team. He needs to stay on the field.

    • JW24 likes this

Would Adrianza spelling Polanco two games a week at short be alright for a little while. I have a feeling that some of the players (Kepler and Polanco especially) have hit the wall a little bit and could use a few days. Unfortunately there doesn't seem to be anyone that can give Kepler a break.

 

It's not a coincidence that the pitching has suffered accordingly as well. A staff that allows the ball to be put in play as often as this one does, solid defense helps immensely. 

 

Echoing Brock's comment, Buxton is so important to this team. He needs to stay on the field.

 

You nailed it with this comment. With the struggles of the Twins rotation and bullpen, the defense can't be giving the other team additional outs. Poor pitching combined with poor defense is a bad combo.

    • wsnydes likes this
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stringer bell
Aug 16 2019 07:22 AM

Polanco has mastered the charge and flip on slowly hit grounders. Other throws have been more of a challenge. I still think his future is elsewhere than shortstop, especially if Lewis is all that he's supposed to be. With subpar defenders at each and every spot in the infield (Sanó, Polanco, Arraez, Cron), it is hard to see a way that defense will improve dramatically. 

 

However, I think fatigue is an issue with Polanco. I don't think that using Adrianza at short frequently in the near future is a bad idea. Addressing defensive deficiencies in the off-season should be a must. 

No one should be a bit surprised about Buxton and his continued physical problems. Anyone who goes on the IL/DL with migraines and then stays on the IL/DL by fouling a ball off his foot during a rehab game has invented a whole new level for the term "injury prone". It is a shame but it will probably end his career since he is still very young and injuries don't lessen with age.

Sano never has been other than an average defensive player so no surprise there.

I do think Polanco needs a break. Don't the Twins have a number 1 draft pick for the entire draft who, I think, is a shortstop in their minor league system some place?

Last time I checked (just now) Twins are still in first place. Just play the hand they have and go out and beat Texas again tonight. I think its fair to say that there won't be many 2-1 games. In today's game the opponent has to be out scored period.

Twins don't miss Mauer at first base btw.

 

 

No one should be a bit surprised about Buxton and his continued physical problems. Anyone who goes on the IL/DL with migraines and then stays on the IL/DL by fouling a ball off his foot during a rehab game has invented a whole new level for the term "injury prone". It is a shame but it will probably end his career since he is still very young and injuries don't lessen with age.

Sano never has been other than an average defensive player so no surprise there.

I do think Polanco needs a break. Don't the Twins have a number 1 draft pick for the entire draft who, I think, is a shortstop in their minor league system some place?

Last time I checked (just now) Twins are still in first place. Just play the hand they have and go out and beat Texas again tonight. I think its fair to say that there won't be many 2-1 games. In today's game the opponent has to be out scored period.

Twins don't miss Mauer at first base btw.

Percy Harvin would disagree with you on the migraines. 

 

I would disagree with you on Mauer. The Twins have 33 infield throwing errors this season so far. They had 31 all of last year. Mauer had 3 total errors last year, Twins 1B this year have 13 already. There's still a quarter of the season left.

    • carewser likes this

"Max Kepler once had a 10 DRS roughly a month ago and has slumped all the way back to just 5 DRS on the season."

 

Beware of defensive statistics. In many cases, they're downright stupid. The Twins defense has been exactly what you could have expected it to be from the very beginning of the year, but recently with the offense only scoring 5 runs a game, the errors are way more memorable/impactful. Everyone knew they would be weak on the infield and good in the outfield. The dynamic that's changed is Kepler has played more center field than ideal, Rosario has been slowed...and Arraez in place of Schoop, drops the infield another half-notch maybe. You're left with a pretty poor defensive team. Buxton back helps, but it doesn't change the dynamic. This team is not build to win with defense or pitching. The pitching and defense can be marginally better, but they'll win by beating the opposition into submission with their offense. Or they won't win.

    • adorduan likes this

I totally agree that Mauer's absence has been a major component of the infield errors. Cron has scooped some errant throws (especially earlier in the season), but Joe was a catcher and was remarkably good at keeping the ball in front of himself (and usually catching it).

One of the best way to fix throwing errors by infielders is to get a better fielding first baseman.Sure having better throws will help, but if you can get a good fielding first baseman that scoops throws in dirt or can come off bag and still get out that reduces those.  

 

Many people think you can but anyone over at first and all they have to do is catch the ball, but a good defender can save so many errors.So many throws from Sano or Polonco that have been errors, at least ones I have seen, could have been scooped and were not. 

 

I feel also, that when you know you need to make the throw dead on target for your guy to catch it makes it more likely you screw it up.I have, and always will be, a fan of good fielding first basemen over offensive ones.Sure both are best, but that is at every position.  

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SpicyGarvSauce
Aug 16 2019 11:16 AM

Didn't Polanco have a shoulder injury/issue in the past? Not necessarily this year, but sometime recently? Could his recent throwing errors be injury related?

 

His throwing motion is just not fluid. It isn't good. I just wonder if maybe there is an underlying issue that is being kept under wraps right now.

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SpicyGarvSauce
Aug 16 2019 11:17 AM

Plus, usually throwing errors are related to poor footwork. I don't think Polanco has shown to have poor footwork as of late, so it makes you wonder.

Plus, usually throwing errors are related to poor footwork. I don't think Polanco has shown to have poor footwork as of late, so it makes you wonder.

I actually think his footwork is a primary problem. He is in love with throwing on the run. When you charge a softly hit ball at short, then fine, you have to throw on the run. Other times, set your feet, turn sideways, and make a throw.

He does the "run across the bag and throw off balance" at 2nd base on DPs way too often for example. Take a crow hop instead, planting your front foot on 2nd as you make a normal throw to first. I think his whole throwing motion contributes to his weakish arm, compounding the weakness with inaccuracy.

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