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A Three-Step Plan to Drastically Improve the Twins' Infield Defense in 2020

In 2019 the Twins finished in the bottom third in Major League Baseball in errors, fielding percentage, DRS and UZR. Poor infield defense was a big reason for this, as evidenced by its -25 DRS, and should be addressed this offseason. In this article I will be laying out my three-step plan to dramatically improve the Twins’ infield defense.
Image courtesy of © Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports
Step 1: Acquire a Shortstop

In 2019, while he was masterful at the dish, Jorge Polanco had a woeful year in the field. Overall, Polanco committed 22 errors (second most in baseball at any position) and posted a UZR of -9.1 (second worst in baseball at any position). His poor year in the field was no outlier, as Polanco has posted a negative UZR and DRS in each of 2016, 2017 and 2018 as well. Acquiring a shortstop should certainly be something that Falvey and Levine look to accomplish this offseason.

Listed below are free agency and trade targets the Twins could look at this offseason. Any one of them would be a drastic defensive improvement over Polanco at shortstop and would greatly boost the overall infield defense for Minnesota:

*Statistics shown below are from 2019

Free Agency
  • José Iglesias - .288/.318/.407 | 5.9 UZR / 8 DRS
Trade
  • Nick Ahmed (Diamondbacks) - .254/.316/.436 | 1.9 UZR / 18 DRS
  • Trevor Story (Rockies) - .294/.363/.554 | 8.6 UZR / 17 DRS
  • Francisco Lindor (Indians) - .284/.335/.518 | 6.4 UZR / 9 DRS
From the players listed above, my preference would be to go after Nick Ahmed. As an impending free agent, the two-time reigning Gold Glove-winning shortstop would cost the least of the bunch, and Arizona has already shown its willingness to part with its stars. With a 2020 salary of just $7M, Ahmed is a low-cost option who would greatly improve the Twins’ infield defense without hindering their chances of signing pitching this offseason.

Step 2: Shift Jorge Polanco to Third Base

Acquiring a defensive minded shortstop would mean that the Twins could shift Jorge Polanco to third base. Moving from shortstop to third base is certainly not unheard of in baseball as it is widely accepted as an easier position to play. Third base requires less range, turning fewer double plays, and requiring less arm strength than throws from deep in the shortstop hole. Additionally, third basemen simply handle fewer plays than shortstops. Last season, Twins third basemen were faced with 426 fielding chances while Twins shortstops were faced with 616. Shifting the Dominican star to third base would allow him to play an easier position that faces fewer chances and allow him to continue focusing on mashing at the plate.

This move would also improve the Twins’ third base defense as Miguel Sanó has been a defensive liability at third base since entering the league. According to advanced fielding metrics, Sanó has been a below-average third baseman in every season since joining the Twins and is coming off of his worst defensive season in 2019. We have only a limited sample size of what Polanco looks like playing third base, but with his experience at a more challenging position and the low bar of Sanó’s third base defense, I would expect a big improvement.

Step 3: Shift Miguel Sanó to First Base

Now that we have improved the Twins’ shortstop and third base defense, we can wrap up our infield defensive revamp by shifting Miguel Sanó to first base. First, this move would allow the Twins to non-tender C.J. Cron, save that salary and put it toward acquiring a good-fielding shortstop. Per MLB Trade Rumors, Cron is expected to fetch $7.7M in arbitration salary for 2020. Second, the Twins would be able to move Sanó to an easier defensive position where he is less likely to cost the Twins.

Albeit in a limited sample of 223 major league innings, Miguel Sanó has proven to be an average defensive first baseman which is a stark improvement over his train wreck defense at third base. Finally, moving Sanó to first base would greatly improve his odds of staying healthy. First base is a much less taxing position to play, and keeping the 26-year-old more stationary in the field would go a long way toward keeping him, and his bat, healthy long-term.

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34 Comments

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John Bonnes
Nov 11 2019 07:20 AM

I'm open to something like this, but my question is: do we think Polanco's arm can handle third base? It's his biggest weakness (IMHO) at shortstop. 

 

I also just looked up his minor league career. He's only had two starts there above rookie league in his minor league career. He also played nine games there in the majors in 2016. 

 

If he can handle it, I Iike this plan quite a bit, and might be worth keeping in mind for 2021, if not 2020. Sano isn't getting any younger. I'd love to see Polanco get some time at 3B in spring training, or maybe if he plays in a winter league. 

    • LA VIkes Fan, wsnydes, Matthew Taylor and 1 other like this

I would actually move Polonco to 2B, Arraez to 3B and aquire a short term SS for the next year or 2.

    • jorgenswest, Halsey Hall, Major League Ready and 2 others like this

Overall, I like it but I have a nagging feeling that acquiring Mike Moustakis to play 3rd, leave Polanco at short (even though he makes some bad plays on his errors, he does often make sensational plays...in Strat-O-Matic, I might rate him a 1 e25.

 

With Moustakis at 3rd, Polanco at short and Sano at first makes the Twins formidable offense potentially even more formidable.  Moustakis might be the only position player we need to acquire - I think Brent Rooker might be ready to beat out Jake Cave.  Although I love Cave’s hustle, he’s not even major league average for a starting outfielder and with all the Twins’ injuries, we need major league offense at those positions.  For example when, Kepler and Buxton (never a guarantee for being available) were both hurt, our subs out there were decidedly subpar.  I think if Rooker had’t been injured, he might have been the guy to go to....his AAA numbers were pretty good and I sense he still has a big upside.

    • Wyotwinsfan likes this
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MileHighTwinsFan
Nov 11 2019 09:30 AM

This article got me thinking about the evolving skill set required of all infielders in an analytics driven world where an infielder might find himself at various positions on the field on any given pitch. Should we be developing infields with players that possess a different set of skills and deploy those skills in the manner that makes the most sense on any given pitch. 

 

Will we get to a point where the notion of a shortstop, third baseman and second baseman are irrelevant and we position infielders on pitches to play to their unique strengths.In the case of Polanco - having him on the left side of the infield against pull heavy left-handers makes sense because of the range he has over Arraez in terms of covering more territory while the other players overshift to the second base side.However, it may make more sense to put Arraez at third against pull heavy right handers so that he can use his arm from 3rd to make a play.  

 

Seems like the days of pigeon-holing players into a defined "position" makes no sense and instead we should focus on filling out infields with the requisite skill sets to defend against any given hitter.

 

 

    • Riverbrian, DocBauer, Wizard11 and 1 other like this
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stringer bell
Nov 11 2019 09:49 AM

 

I would actually move Polonco to 2B, Arraez to 3B and aquire a short term SS for the next year or 2.

Mmmm, that would mean changing every infielder from a team that won 101 games the previous year. That, on it's face, seems to be a bit over overreaction. 

 

Here's my take on all of the infielders--Sano is range-limited, has a superior arm, and does not have soft hands. First base or DH are his future. In a larger sample, I would guess Sano's defense at first will be below average, but less so than his work at third. Polanco has been stretched at shortstop, but that is where he has been for the bulk of his major league career. While he was the starting shortstop in the All-Star game, there are a half-dozen other shortstops that are at least as good, if not better overall. Despite a number of fine defensive plays, I would rate him in the bottom half of shortstops defensively.Moving him to a less-crucial position makes sense, but I'd like to see what he can do for part of another year with his new throwing motion, since arm strength and accuracy are his biggest defensive problems. Arraez is young, gives great effort, but isn't particularly adept as a defender. His arm would appear to be a problem if moved to the left side of the diamond. 

 

Each of the players I listed are better hitters than fielders. All three of those guys would be helped by an outstanding defender beside them. Last year I advocated picking up Iglesias and moving Polanco to second. I wouldn't be opposed to the same move, but now we have to deal with Arraez/Sanó. Another factor to consider is shifting. A third baseman spends probably 30% of his time as the only defender on the left side and playing in the traditional shortstop position most of that 30%. I would think an adequate arm would be a must for whoever plays third.

 

Finally, the Twins figure to return both Adrianza and Marwin Gonzalez who have and would enhance the infield defense. If Gonzalez is freed from spending the majority of his time in the outfield, he is the best internal answer at third base defensively. Adrianza is the existing team's best shortstop and probably second best third baseman. Neither of these guys hit like the starting trio, but they stayed around league average and both will be over 30 next year. 

 

To me there aren't any easy answers, but that there are a lot of possible ways to go forward. The Twins gave away far too many outs with their infield defense last year. Something needs to be done to improve that. If one move is made, I would say non-tender Cron and move Sanó across the diamond.

    • DocBauer and Strato Guy like this

Don't see how this (Ahmed) makes you better. Makes you better defensively, and worse offensively. The way the game is played now, offense is a must-have...infield defense is a nice-to-have. If you're trading prospect capital on anything other than pitching right now (and not sure why you would)...you'd be better off just getting a 1st or 3rd baseman who can rake.

 

And literally any SS in major league baseball is a more likely trade candidate than Lindor. Just say'in.

    • nicksaviking likes this
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RochesterDave
Nov 11 2019 10:12 AM
Great thought provoking article! My immediate thought is that I prefer Cron at 1B over Sano. Miguel’s footwork and ability to grab low throws in the dirt are far inferior to CJ’s. I also maintain that Cron’s bat before the thumb injury was very solid and he was on his way to a 30 HR season. Miguel’s greatest assets are his bat and arm, and I haven’t seen great aptitude at First. I also think that Polanco’s best position is 2B. Which brings us to Arraez , whose best position is also 2B. I believe our infield may be in a status quo until 2021, when perhaps Nelson Cruz ( eventually slows down ) doesn’t return and Royce Lewis is in the mix at SS. It should also be noted that Nick Gordon’s best position is also 2B , and neither Brent Rooker or Zander Wiel are equal to Cron defensively. So, I like the idea of improving the infield defense, just don’t see it happening til 2021, especially since we still have Marwin and Adrianza for 2020.
    • USNMCPO, Sconnie, DocBauer and 1 other like this

Overall I like the idea.However, of the SS listed for trade I am not sure any of them would be available for what Twins would be willing to give up.SS is most expensive position, and to get a hitter and top fielder at that spot you have to pay big for it.No way would Cleveland give up Lindor, to division rival, for less than Lewis, Kiroloff, and a top pitching prospect, whoever they want, that is minimum, in my mind.Then we will have to pay him big in couple years.  

 

Story, could be got for less, but I am always skeptical of any Coors field numbers without lookings at his home road splits.Just looking them up, they are not good, his average is .301 home, .250 road, his OBP is .368 home .313 road, and OPS is .998 to .756 road.He clearly gets a boost from Coors field. 

 

Ahmed is just not good offensively, so as long as you are okay with major drop off in offense, for the defense, and maybe we are, but he is aging as well, and may have drop off in range going into year 30 season.  

 

FA José Iglesias is also going into age 30 season and has poor offense.Not saying the Twins should not look into things, but the only guy on the list that I would be super sold on would cost so much in prospects that the Twins would need to be going all in and be ready for some bare cupboards down the road.  

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nicksaviking
Nov 11 2019 02:15 PM

I'm never big on sacrificing offense for defense. I know, that's not terribly popular. I really liked the regular offensive lineup last year as it didn't have any holes. I don't really want a glove only SS, even as a stop gap.

 

Another unpopular take coming: If I was actively going to improve the defense, I'd move Sano and Polanco to the right side, and use everyone's favorite rookie 2B as trade bait in a package for a starting pitcher or to fill the newly created holes on the left side of the infield.

I'd like to see the defense improve, but I don't think moving players to new positions means that they will suddenly be better (at positions they've rarely played).

 

I'd give the current core 1-2 more years to hopefully improve, then revisit position changes as the SS prospects hit The Show.

 

    • Hosken Bombo Disco and DocBauer like this
I like the idea overall. I don't think that throwing from third is any farther than from SS in many instances. And less in some. Also, it seems to me that the harder the ball is hit and the less time Polanco has to react to it the better he plays. The 3 hoppers eat him up, as do the tag plays at second base. Bottom line, he is a good hitter and a lousy SS. Whether this particular move is a good idea, or is made, I hope the day does not come when MLB becomes an all bat game, and defense is simply something to do before your next AB! :(

Step 4: ???

 

Step 5: Profit! 

I'd non-tender Cron, take the $7mm and buy Polanco a new, bionic arm....

 

 

I'd non-tender Cron, take the $7mm and buy Polanco a new, bionic arm....

 d88.jpg
 

    • wsnydes and Wizard11 like this

You want to make it 2 positions where you have a well below average hitter for the position. Better defense at the expense of offense. The difference in woba wouldsuggest you lose more runs on offense than you would save on defense.

By itself, Sano in place of Cron at 1B is a degradation and not an improvement in defense. The strengths Sano brings as a 3Bman are mainly negated over at first. Cron isn't fleet of foot but was pretty nimble.

 

I don't envision Sano being good at scoops, based on how he reacts to rockets hit toward him at third; someone will need to handle those scattershot throws now to be coming from third instead of short.

 

Two steps forward with the other moves proposed, one step back - which means not a very marked improvement, I'd be afraid.

    • Twins33, Major League Ready and DocBauer like this
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Major League Ready
Nov 11 2019 06:14 PM

 

By itself, Sano in place of Cron at 1B is a degradation and not an improvement in defense. The strengths Sano brings as a 3Bman are mainly negated over at first. Cron isn't fleet of foot but was pretty nimble.

 

I don't envision Sano being good at scoops, based on how he reacts to rockets hit toward him at third; someone will need to handle those scattershot throws now to be coming from third instead of short.

 

Two steps forward with the other moves proposed, one step back - which means not a very marked improvement, I'd be afraid.

 

Was thinking the exact same thing.

Step 1: Sign Josh Donaldson to play 3B. That's all of the steps.
    • Twins33 and Physics Guy like this

 

Overall, I like it but I have a nagging feeling that acquiring Mike Moustakis to play 3rd, leave Polanco at short (even though he makes some bad plays on his errors, he does often make sensational plays...in Strat-O-Matic, I might rate him a 1 e25.

 

With Moustakis at 3rd, Polanco at short and Sano at first makes the Twins formidable offense potentially even more formidable.  Moustakis might be the only position player we need to acquire - I think Brent Rooker might be ready to beat out Jake Cave.  Although I love Cave’s hustle, he’s not even major league average for a starting outfielder and with all the Twins’ injuries, we need major league offense at those positions.  For example when, Kepler and Buxton (never a guarantee for being available) were both hurt, our subs out there were decidedly subpar.  I think if Rooker had’t been injured, he might have been the guy to go to....his AAA numbers were pretty good and I sense he still has a big upside.

YES! Strat-o-Matic reference! I can’t tell you how many games we played in the 70s and 80s of Strat!

 

Mmmm, that would mean changing every infielder from a team that won 101 games the previous year. That, on it's face, seems to be a bit over overreaction. 

 

They didn't win 101 games by playing sound defense though. In a sense, shifting them around might be ideal since it also keeps the same bats in the lineup. The bats will play regardless of where they play in the field. I'm not sold on moving Polanco or Arraez to the hot corner, but there's definitely room for improvement.

    • DannySD and Matthew Taylor like this
Polanco's arm at third not going to cut it. Prior to hand injury Cron hitting and specifically fielding was upper echelon. He saved Polanco and Sano many more errors. He needs to be resigned for the 1 year. Focus on starting pitching this year.
    • Hosken Bombo Disco and DocBauer like this

Sign Didi. Polanco's arm can handle 3B just as well as it can handle SS. 

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Matthew Taylor
Nov 13 2019 11:07 AM

 

I'm open to something like this, but my question is: do we think Polanco's arm can handle third base? It's his biggest weakness (IMHO) at shortstop. 

 

I also just looked up his minor league career. He's only had two starts there above rookie league in his minor league career. He also played nine games there in the majors in 2016. 

 

If he can handle it, I Iike this plan quite a bit, and might be worth keeping in mind for 2021, if not 2020. Sano isn't getting any younger. I'd love to see Polanco get some time at 3B in spring training, or maybe if he plays in a winter league. 

 

Thanks for reading, John. These are all great points. I'm not sure there's a huge difference in arm strength needed between shortstop and third base, with the higher degree of difficulty throws coming from shortstop. Also, we often have our 3B alone on the left side of the infield, requiring a rangier 3B. I think Polanco fits that bill.

 

I agree we should give Polanco a shot at third in Spring Training. That's why the trade route works better than signing a free agent. We can swing the trade at any point if we see that Polanco can handle the hot corner well. The nice thing with Ahmed is that he's just on a one year deal which could fit in with Royce Lewis's timeline of being an everyday player with the Twins (provided he comes up as a SS which is no lock).

Polanco's problem at short is his absolute lack of fundamentals, especially throwing the ball.He plays shortstop but throws/flips it likes he's playing 2B.I'd move Polanco to 2B, bring up Gordon to play SS, move Sano to 1B and play Gonzalez at 3B.Arraez will be on the bench (I'm still not convinced he'll hit long term and his defense is pretty bad).The OF should be solid if Kepler stays in RF and Buxton can stay healthy.I think Rosario's fielding problems are related to him trying to make a super human effort on every play and not using his head.I hope Garver keeps improving defensively.

No, you did NOT say good-bye to Cruz.Signing Didi would be worth 3 more wins per year for the 3 games a year he personally kills the Twins all by himself.


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