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As The Defense Goes, So Goes The Twins

The first big addition of the Derek Falvey era was done in design to improve the team's defense, an area that had gone serially overlooked in recent years. Let's hope the defensive upgrades continue, as there has been a strong correlation between team defense and success for the Twins.

Take a look through the more than 220 comments on Parker's article and it becomes obvious there is not a consensus among Twins Daily readers on whether or not it was wise to sign Jason Castro to a three-year, $24.5 million deal. Only time will tell, but an upgrade at catcher, particularly in terms of defense, was a huge need. It's a good start, as Nick noted, but there are still plenty of areas of improvement. And it's worth noting that defense has been a huge factor in the team's successes and failures over the years.
Image courtesy of Brad Rempel, USA Today
Over the past 15 seasons, the Twins have ranked in the top half in team defense seven times, according to Fangraphs. They had a winning record in six of those seasons (every year but '07 when they were 79-83) and made the playoffs five times. In the eight years they've fielded a below-average defense (which includes each of the past six seasons), the Twins have been over .500 twice with just one postseason appearance ('09, Joe Mauer's MVP season).

With an above average defense, the Twins have averaged 89 wins and with a sub-par defense they've averaged just 72 wins. And that's pretty close to being in line with what you see across the league.

Taking a look at the past five seasons, teams who finished in the top 10 in defense averaged 85 wins and those in the bottom ten averaged just 75 wins. It's very difficult to be a good team that's bad at catching the baseball. As always, there are plenty of exceptions. The '14 Reds and Red Sox both ranked in the top five in defense but lost 86 and 91 games, respectively. On the other end, the '15 Pirates won 98 games despite being in the bottom five in defense.

Last season, the Twins were 29th in defense, ahead of only Oakland. The only position where the Twins had above average glove work was at first base, where they ranked 8th. Center field (16th) and second base (19th) were spots where the team was at least passable. But right field (23rd), third base (24th), catcher (25th), and shortstop (27th) were all pain points for the Twins' defense, and thanks to Robbie Grossman's horrendous performance the team had the worst-rated left field defense in baseball.

The hope is that Castro will boost the defense behind the dish, but what about the other positions? Max Kepler spent more time in right field with the Twins last season than he had played the position over his entire minor league career. Hopefully with more reps in right his defense will improve, he certainly appears to have the physical tools to be an above average fielder. In left, Eddie Rosario has been one of the best defenders in baseball the past two seasons. But he only accounted for about a third of the innings in left last season, as he spent some time in Rochester and played some center field.

That leaves the biggest unanswered questions are on the left side of the infield. The obvious in-house candidates to fill those spots are Miguel Sano, Jorge Polanco and Eduardo Escobar. If I'm going to give Kepler a break due to lack of minor league reps in right, I suppose I need to do the same for both Sano at third (thanks to his 2014 Tommy John surgery) and Polanco at shortstop (because he inexplicably played second base last season in Rochester). But it would be risky to hope they can both make the major improvements necessary to become even just average defensively. Considering they'd be playing next to each other in the field, a lack of improvement from both would be a defensive disaster.

In his offseason blueprint, Seth recently offered up punchless leatherwizard (copyright Eric Longenhagen) Engelb Vielma as a glove-first alternate at shortstop. Vielma hasn't played above Double A, but for what it's worth both Falvey and GM Thad Levine have had success aggressively promoting young shortstops (not that Vielma is anywhere near the prospect Francisco Lindor or Elvis Andrus were). The only other player with infield experience on the 40-man roster is Danny Santana, and the free agent market is thin. How everything shakes out in the infield also relies heavily on whether or not Brian Dozier is traded.

With the Winter Meetings coming up this week, many more questions may be answered. What would you like to see the Twins do to improve their defense?

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25 Comments

The issue I expressed with Castro is that while his framing numbers are impressive, part of framing is having quality pitchers near the plate a lot where they get the benefit of the doubt. Huge difference between Astros pitching staff and ours. A day or two later, Cameron expressed the same concern in his chat.  He wrote, 'If the team that employs Mike Fast isn’t interested in bringing you back, maybe your framing value isn’t as likely to continue as the Twins are hoping.'

 

So, he doesn't have a very good arm, isn't really good at blocking balls, and isn't good that good at the plate. If his framing drops, people may be disappointed.  Worth the shot, I'm glad they took a shot, but still.

 

A lot of people seem to have issues with Kepler's defense.  Not sure if it's because he's lanky or not but Kepler has impressed me with his defense.  He's above average out there.  I'd feel comfortable with him in CF too, to fill in for Bux on an occasional day off if needed or if Bux got hurt.  

 

Bux is awesome on D, of course.

 

Rosario was shaky on D last year.  Made fundamental and mental mistakes a bit too much and didn't seem to read the ball as well either.  Took a step back on D, IMO. 

 

As far as our IF defense goes, Dozier is average and Mauer is above average.  The rest is hard to watch (though I don't think Polanco is quite as bad as others do, but metrics disagrees with me).

    • TheLeviathan and Tom Froemming like this

Build up the middle - catcher and CF is a good start. SS is next. Vielma might be good in that he can help build the solid spine a good defensive team needs. I know a lot of people consider him a punch and judy hitter, but he can handle a bat okay, run some, and doesn't strike out way much more thn he walks. He's only 22 and has mastered AA. Not every shortstop needs to be A-Rod or Jeter.

    • Platoon and Tom Froemming like this

Somehow it feels like the Twins forgot what they used to emphasize - defense, pitching, and smart plays.  The old piranhas were fun to watch.  But now the team needs the new front office to set a direction and stay with it.  Reject 20 points in BA for a terrible fielder.  Put players where they should be.

 

I have low expectations from Castro.  I guess I am too old school and think that good pitchers make catchers look good. 

    • HitInAPinch and Tom Froemming like this
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theBOMisthebomb
Dec 01 2016 10:21 PM
Maybe if Sano worked on his defense during the off season it would boost team D stats. A full year of Buxton and Kepler in the OF. These two things should vastly improve team defense.
    • Mike Frasier Law likes this
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Tom Froemming
Dec 01 2016 10:58 PM

 

Build up the middle - catcher and CF is a good start. SS is next. Vielma might be good in that he can help build the solid spine a good defensive team needs. I know a lot of people consider him a punch and judy hitter, but he can handle a bat okay, run some, and doesn't strike out way much more thn he walks. He's only 22 and has mastered AA. Not every shortstop needs to be A-Rod or Jeter.

Plus if he's called up we would get the added bonus of hearing Bert try to pronounce Engelb Vielma. 

    • Monkeypaws, Hosken Bombo Disco, HitInAPinch and 1 other like this
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Hosken Bombo Disco
Dec 01 2016 10:58 PM

Not every shortstop needs to be A-Rod or Jeter.

I think even Jeter would disappoint a few here. Sometimes it seems like anyone lesser than Johnny Bench, Ryne Sandberg, or Brooks Robinson is a failure of leadership. :)

/trolling

The Twins are holding a better hand than people think. Mark my words.
    • ChiTownTwinsFan, Mike Frasier Law and Platoon like this
Personally, full seasons next year from Rosario, Buxton and Kepler have me believing our OF will be good to excellent. Now go find a quality, versatile 4th OF in the market somewhere.

Mauer, Park, Vargas is fine at 1B. I have every confidence in Polanco being solid and becoming good at 2B.

Sano may not be good at 3B in 2017, but he will be OK and continue to get better. Better cknditionjng, more work, and being allowed to play the spot daily and concentrate on it will all help him improve.

I do question SS. I like what we saw of Escobar in 2014 and 2015 with both glove and bat. Injuries and inconsistent playing time hurt him last season. Now, IF he is THE GUY there, and it's possible he could be, can he do it over a full season? We need another solid utility guy brought on board. I'm sorry, I find Vielma exciting and interesting, and I'm even more excited about Goodrum as a really nice and versatile utility guy. But I think it's just naive to expect either to jump to the ML level and perform at this time. We either need another nice option to spell people...I mentioned Drew in my blueprint...or we need to find a real, everyday defensive SS and let Escobar be that really nice utility guy. Either way, we need another infielder, even short term, with Dozier moving on.

Some combination of Castro, Murphy and Garver will give us better all around catching than we'very had in some time.

Needs: quality 4th OF and another infield option.
    • markos, HitInAPinch, South Dakota Tom and 1 other like this

Our outfield will be fine.  Mauer at 1st is above average.  Sano will be much better than he was last year.  He was a mess because they moved him to right field, so he didn't get the needed reps at 3rd in the offseason, spring training or early in the season.  Then..."oh this didn't work in RF, let's move him back to 3rd" midseason.  Of course he is going to be rusty.  The flashes that I have seen over there late last season were encouraging.  Will a full offseason and spring to hone his defense over there, Sano should be able to be an average defender at the hot corner.  If Dozier goes, Polanco's D at 2nd with be very similar.

 

As for shortstop, there was word that Danny Espinosa is a non-tender guy.  Not sure I would want to give him what $5.1 or so he would be getting in arb but his defense is top notch and he can play all over the diamond.  I would much rather have him as the SS/Util guy than Escobar.  His BA and OBP fall short similar to Castro, but he did crank 24 booms last year.  DFA Santana and try to get Espinosa either via trade($5.1 arb #) or wait for him to be non-tendered and see if you can get him on a one year + option contract for 3-4 mil per. as a stop gap until our young MI guys can make that leap.  

 

SS is the next position that needs to be address, IMO.  The SP is not as bad as some on here think it is.  We need to see if they can improve and develop in this new system first, then address what/who is working and who is not.  With Castro now behind the dish, the nibblers we have (Gibson, Hughes, etc) will get more strikes called.  Which in turn will give them more confidence allowing them to excel more frequently.

 

We need to start with great defense and good pitching.  Once that is address we can move forward with anything else. 

    • Mike Frasier Law, markos, Hosken Bombo Disco and 2 others like this
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HitInAPinch
Dec 02 2016 07:55 AM

 

Our outfield will be fine.  Mauer at 1st is above average.  Sano will be much better than he was last year.  He was a mess because they moved him to right field, so he didn't get the needed reps at 3rd in the offseason, spring training or early in the season.  Then..."oh this didn't work in RF, let's move him back to 3rd" midseason.  Of course he is going to be rusty.  The flashes that I have seen over there late last season were encouraging.  Will a full offseason and spring to hone his defense over there, Sano should be able to be an average defender at the hot corner.  If Dozier goes, Polanco's D at 2nd with be very similar.

 

As for shortstop, there was word that Danny Espinosa is a non-tender guy.  Not sure I would want to give him what $5.1 or so he would be getting in arb but his defense is top notch and he can play all over the diamond.  I would much rather have him as the SS/Util guy than Escobar.  His BA and OBP fall short similar to Castro, but he did crank 24 booms last year.  DFA Santana and try to get Espinosa either via trade($5.1 arb #) or wait for him to be non-tendered and see if you can get him on a one year + option contract for 3-4 mil per. as a stop gap until our young MI guys can make that leap.  

 

SS is the next position that needs to be address, IMO.  The SP is not as bad as some on here think it is.  We need to see if they can improve and develop in this new system first, then address what/who is working and who is not.  With Castro now behind the dish, the nibblers we have (Gibson, Hughes, etc) will get more strikes called.  Which in turn will give them more confidence allowing them to excel more frequently.

 

We need to start with great defense and good pitching.  Once that is address we can move forward with anything else. 

WELCOME!Oh ye of 7:06am today  :)

    • SotaFan14 likes this
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HitInAPinch
Dec 02 2016 08:08 AM

I'm with DocBauer:why isn't Eduardo Escobar in the starting SS conversation more?He had injuries this past year and he was called on to several different positions.I believe Polanco is better at 2nd than SS.

 

Does anyone really know what Sano is doing this off-season?Last article I saw said he was going to spend a couple months in New York, where he has a home, to work on his conditioning.Roc Nation is also located there.They had better get with Sano on his conditioning.That or get him an OF instructor.

 

Catching:With Murphy and Garver as the then current choices, I have no issue with signing Castro.

 

FIN:Good pitching helps poor fielders.Or avoids them.Whatever....

 

 

As for shortstop, there was word that Danny Espinosa is a non-tender guy.  Not sure I would want to give him what $5.1 or so he would be getting in arb but his defense is top notch and he can play all over the diamond.  I would much rather have him as the SS/Util guy than Escobar.  His BA and OBP fall short similar to Castro, but he did crank 24 booms last year.  DFA Santana and try to get Espinosa either via trade($5.1 arb #) or wait for him to be non-tendered and see if you can get him on a one year + option contract for 3-4 mil per. as a stop gap until our young MI guys can make that leap.  

 

I thought the same thing when I saw that Espinosa may be non-tendered. His bat leaves a lot to be desired, but he has been legitimately above-average defensively at shortstop. Plus, on a one year deal he would be pretty easy to move at the trade deadline, especially if he has another decent season.

 

The issue I expressed with Castro is that while his framing numbers are impressive, part of framing is having quality pitchers near the plate a lot where they get the benefit of the doubt. Huge difference between Astros pitching staff and ours. A day or two later, Cameron expressed the same concern in his chat.  He wrote, 'If the team that employs Mike Fast isn’t interested in bringing you back, maybe your framing value isn’t as likely to continue as the Twins are hoping.'

The more advanced models (like the one used by BP) do try to control for the ability of the pitcher. And, for the most part, framing ability (as they calculate it) remains fairly stable when catchers have switched teams. Rene Rivera, Russell Martin, Yasmani Grandal, Miguel Montero all remained very good with their new teams.

 

And as I mentioned in a different thread, I don't think Cameron's indictment holds much water considering the Astros replaced Castro with McCann, who is arguably just as good of a framer and unarguably a much better hitter. 

    • Steve Lein likes this
We are definitely going to find out. For the record, i never said i think his framing would tank whereby he would hit Suzuki framing territory. I just think we will see a decent dropoff from the framing numbers he has posted the last three years.
    • markos likes this

The Twins could stand to have defensive improvements at every position.  

 

They were at their worst after the strange pitching changes at the end of the year, so there is every possibility that they will be better in 2017.  When the manager benches veterans for guys like Albers and Dean, the message being sent is rather clear:  Why bother.  Sure the pitchers who were let go were not great either, but they weren't as bad as those two.  If the manager gives up, that attitude is going to trickle down.  

    • Vanimal46 likes this

 

The Twins could stand to have defensive improvements at every position.  

 

They were at their worst after the strange pitching changes at the end of the year, so there is every possibility that they will be better in 2017.  When the manager benches veterans for guys like Albers and Dean, the message being sent is rather clear:  Why bother.  Sure the pitchers who were let go were not great either, but they weren't as bad as those two.  If the manager gives up, that attitude is going to trickle down.  

Also, don't forget inexplicably starting Logan Schafer for 19 (!!) games during the month of September. It was a very clear message of why bother from August until the end of the season.... They were done trying to work in any young position players

    • Doomtints likes this

 

I think even Jeter would disappoint a few here. Sometimes it seems like anyone lesser than Johnny Bench, Ryne Sandberg, or Brooks Robinson is a failure of leadership. :)

/trolling

The Twins are holding a better hand than people think. Mark my words.

"Go fish."

We are definitely going to find out. For the record, i never said i think his framing would tank whereby he would hit Suzuki framing territory. I just think we will see a decent dropoff from the framing numbers he has posted the last three years.


If framing numbers depend on the pitching staff--and they might--they're not really measuring framing.
    • ChiTownTwinsFan and Platoon like this

 

If framing numbers depend on the pitching staff--and they might--they're not really measuring framing.

What I mean is, if you have a good pitching staff that is really close to the strike one a lot, Castro will likely get the strike on those borderline pitches.  He'll frame it well. But first the pitches need to be close enough on a consistent basis so he can utilize that skill.

 

A painter can't paint without paint :-)

    • specialiststeve and DocBauer like this

How about quit being stupid and start playing players at their positions...

Simple.

I thought that the days of Nunez at LF and Parmelee and Cuddyer at CF or Doumit and Colabello at OF, were done when Gardenhire was given the boot.But not.

 

Playing Sano at RF, Escobar at 3B (check his numbers there) or Danny Santana at CF is equally stupid. 

 

Hopefully the Twins did what they needed to do and getting rid of Ryan will fix that mess.

 

Not sure that even a Hall of Fame fielding wizard at SS with .666 career OPS (*) could help make the 2017 Twins contenders.Small steps and help the young players improve their abilities will help more.

 

(*) yes, that's Ozzie Smith's career OPS (deal with someone or not.)

    • Platoon likes this

Also, don't forget inexplicably starting Logan Schafer for 19 (!!) games during the month of September. It was a very clear message of why bother from August until the end of the season.... They were done trying to work in any young position players


Ugh! This one just killed me! On a 103 loss team you felt you had to audition an OK defensive journeyman who is a AAAA player with limited bat for what reason? So you could consider him as a viable 4th OF candidate on your young and rebuilding 2017 team? Again with a massive UGH!

You didn't even have to promote anyone else, just let other guys on the roster play and see if they could show something. Sheesh! And this team could easily afford to go out and sign one of a few potential solid 4th OF types. (Doc bangs head against wall)
    • Monkeypaws and Vanimal46 like this
I was surprised to find Keplers MiLB reps were that low in RF? I do think he isn't going to be a defensive problem in the future at all. I also think Sano will be an astounding 3rd basemen. He will astound you with a great play one inning, and astound you with a horrible play later. But you have to give him a shot, it's one of the cores to getting back on track. I have never saw Vielma play, but all accounts say he can pick it. There are various pieces that have to all be moved to make this happen. Dozier for a pitcher, getting Polanco to second, and a glove at SS. There will no doubt be a few struggles originally with offense, but teams who play what I call "clean" baseball are more successful and can improve. As someone else here said, this team is not as far away as some think. I agree. But it all hinges on putting this jigsaw puzzle together.
    • Tom Froemming likes this

Ugh! This one just killed me! On a 103 loss team you felt you had to audition an OK defensive journeyman who is a AAAA player with limited bat for what reason? So you could consider him as a viable 4th OF candidate on your young and rebuilding 2017 team? Again with a massive UGH!
You didn't even have to promote anyone else, just let other guys on the roster play and see if they could show something. Sheesh! And this team could easily afford to go out and sign one of a few potential solid 4th OF types. (Doc bangs head against wall)

I want to semi like this! :). But until Molitor proves he will handle a 4th OF as a 4th OF, any moves in that area are kinda scary. That said, if he uses a R. Grossman that much, maybe there is nothing to be done. I just hope if Molitor doesn't change his ways, the axe is swift and early. I can't watch another year of auditioning veteran AAAA players, while the future sits on the bench!
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diehardtwinsfan
Dec 04 2016 04:24 PM

 

I think even Jeter would disappoint a few here. Sometimes it seems like anyone lesser than Johnny Bench, Ryne Sandberg, or Brooks Robinson is a failure of leadership. :)

/trolling

The Twins are holding a better hand than people think. Mark my words.

 

I'll bite. :)

 

Jeter was not a good defender.Good offense at SS. Don't let the GGs fool you, his defense was not good.

    • Hosken Bombo Disco likes this
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specialiststeve
Dec 06 2016 01:02 PM

 

I'll bite. :)

 

Jeter was not a good defender.Good offense at SS. Don't let the GGs fool you, his defense was not good.

What you smokin' Willis? 7 Gold Gloves.....

What you smokin' Willis? 7 Gold Gloves.....



Gold gloves are a subjective, popularity vote.

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