A Three-Step Plan to Drastically Improve the Twins' Infield Defense in 2020
Image courtesy of © Andy Marlin-USA TODAY SportsStep 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
- José Iglesias - .288/.318/.407 | 5.9 UZR / 8 DRS
- 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
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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