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Twins Blogosphere


Defensive Progress Key to Solving Twins Run Prevention Problems

The focus across Twins Territory is squarely on adding pitching, and rightly so, but improving the defense would also help maximize the team’s ability to prevent runs. Matthew Trueblood’s recent article in which he pointed out some concerns regarding the Twins defense and athleticism really got my wheels turning. Here's some additional information on how the Twins defense stacks up to the rest of the league.
Image courtesy of © David Berding-USA TODAY Sports
Take a look at how the 2019 Twins ranked in comparison to the rest of the league:

Attached Image: Rankings19Sm.png

If you’re not familiar with those stats, here are the FanGraphs Library entries: FIP, xFIP, SIERA, DRS, UZR, DEF.

The Twins clearly need to add arms, especially considering their expected departures, but it’s not entirely fair to point to pitching as a weakness of the 2019 Twins. Metrics that attempt to isolate pitching independent of defense actually look highly upon the ‘19 staff.

The Twins had the worst ranking in Defensive Runs Above Average among all the postseason teams this season. Just one team that ranked lower in that metric had a record above .500. The Twins also had the eighth-largest gap between their team ERA and FIP. Again, none of the teams with a larger gap qualified for the postseason, and just one had a winning record.

That’s not keeping good company.

While the Twins ranked ninth in ERA (4.18), they were 14th in total runs allowed per game (4.65). They gave up the fifth-most unearned runs in the league, 74. League average was 59 unearned runs, but Oakland led the league with just 34 unearned runs.

Under normal circumstances, I’d happily sacrifice some defense to improve offensive firepower. Afterall, there’s a much stronger correlation between run scoring and overall team success than there is with fielding alone. But did the 2019 Twins take things too far?

If the Twins fail to take steps forward in the field next season, their return on any pitching investments will be somewhat diminished.

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21 Comments

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stringer bell
Oct 13 2019 08:26 PM

I agree that the defense must be improved. However, especially when Buxton was on the field, the outfield defense was very good. On the other hand, the infield featured less than average defense at each position. The infield defense needs to be improved.

    • glunn, Dantes929 and tarheeltwinsfan like this

Watching the Astros and the Yankees the defensive plays really standout in comparison to the Twins.And I hope people aren't thinking that Buxton can make up for our deficiency.The glove does matter.  

    • Dantes929 and dbminn like this

That is the one place we missed Joe Mauer. He was an excellent defensive first baseman. Sano and Polanco's throwing errors both increased this year.Did they both get worse or was our 1B defense worse. I think it was the latter. Don't think we can play Sano at third and Cron at first and think we will have an average infield defense.We are best defensively with Adrianza at shortstop. 

    • Dantes929, tarheeltwinsfan, PDX Twin and 1 other like this
I never hear anything about Zander Wiel. Looks like he's ready to take over at first. How's his defense? I think we should move on from Cron.

A few other things for 2020:

Keep Sano at third. Let's look him there another season, at least.

Arraez takes over for Schoop at 2B and becomes lead off hitter.

Infeild: Sano, Polanco, Arraez, Wiel.

Trade Rosario for a minor league pitcher with some upside. Be nice to get a major league arm for Eddie, but, lol, yea right, get real.

We need an ace in the #1 spot. Berrios isn't that guy but would benefit greatly I believe from a big splash free agent ace in front of him to take the pressure off. That's how you add to your rotation- at the top. Then you improve every spot in the rotation. I think Berrios thrives in the #2 spot. Try to woo Gerrit Cole, or Strasburg if he opts out.

QO Odorizzi, and possibly leverage a multi-year deal out of it.

Give Garver reps a first. See if he works out there to get his bat in the lineup when he's not catching.

I like we picked up the option year on Cruz, but I don't care if he's just as good next year, that's the last year I'd pay him to be my DH. He adds no positional value, he'll be 41 after, and we'll have more than enough bats to fill that spot in 2021, all with more positional value. I'm dreaming of a DH platoon with Sano and Garver especially, but also Polanco, Kepler and even Buxton and Arraez for a day off in the field. In the future, Kiriloff, Rooker. That helps get more at bats for all those guys as well as the guys who fill their positions like Wade, Gonzalez. Adrianza and Castro if we resign them. Gordon?

Wade better than Cave? In plate discipline, by way far.

What about Nick Gordon? Could he provide better defense than Arraez? Could either one make the other tradeable? Which one? Or do they together make Adrianza expendable? I like Adrianza backing up middle infield but not outfield or 1B. Twins like him and respect him, making him temporary manager for the last regular season game. But thats money that could go toward the rotation.
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diehardtwinsfan
Oct 14 2019 07:26 AM

Problem with improving defense is that there won't be much turnover in the lineup... I think Arraez is a step down from Schoop there, but he's young enough that he can improve. I'm hoping Sano can avoid regressing, but he's never going to be a world burner defensively anywhere... Polanco is probably going to be what you have now. Not expecting much for improvement there. 

 

I suppose Cron could be replaced with someone better with the bat/glove... not sure that's going to make a huge difference. This is an area that the front office may have to address in terms of internal development... 

    • DocBauer, mdawg888 and Vanimal46 like this
Infield defense focuses first and foremost on shortstop. When Polanco was signed originally, the concern was whether or not he would ever hit. Seemed his defense was his strength. Now I don’t think he will ever be even an average MLB shortstop defensively. I would like to see Polanco and Arraez filling 3rd and 2nd (not sure which would be better at 3rd) with Sano moving to first. SS remains an unknown. Lewis??? Adrianza??? Gordon (doubtful defensively)??? Some FA or trade??
Biggest question of the offseason.

 

That is the one place we missed Joe Mauer. He was an excellent defensive first baseman. Sano and Polanco's throwing errors both increased this year.Did they both get worse or was our 1B defense worse. I think it was the latter. Don't think we can play Sano at third and Cron at first and think we will have an average infield defense.We are best defensively with Adrianza at shortstop. 

 

I have spent a lot of time in the last month thinking about what this Twins team would have been if Joe Mauer had signed for one more season and played at the same level that he did in 2018. 

 

I think that Joe would have helped the team massively in two ways: (1) He would have been a steady on-base man ahead of the homerun hitters and (2) he would have saved a dozen or more throwing errors in the infield (plus saving a dozen hits at first).

 

Joe probably would have provided fewer HRs than Cron, though with the live ball he might well have hit 15-20). But this team had plenty of HRs elsewhere. What they lacked was better on-base skills and infield defense. Joe would have helped with both of those. 

    • Platoon and DannySD like this

Defense is not the key to solving run prevention problems. That would be pitching. The defense can help...it's secondary. The problem is primarily on the infield, and it starts at short-stop. It's likely to get worse before it gets better, as you will continue to play your best offensive players...and Arraez is a down-grade from Schoop. The guys that are there will simply need to play better. You're not going to put a glove that OPS's .700 at short, third, or second...when you have guys there that OPS .850-.900+

 

And Crom was not a problem defensively. Although, if the Twins see someone available that they think can hit more at first than Crom...or someone that would be a legitimate corner bat at third...I could see them either going a different direction at first, or moving Sano.

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Dan Engebretson
Oct 14 2019 12:26 PM

I think the Twins should add a quality defensive short stop via free agency.Jose Iglesias is available as a free agent and has consistently put up good defensive numbers.His offense is not god-awful (OBP is alright and not much power), but I believe the Twins can sacrifice some offense in exchange for what I believe will be significant overall improvement in defense.Putting a good defender next to Sano will make Sano appear better so he can stay put at 3B.I would also add a good glove at 1B (perhaps one of the Twins minor leaguers could fit in here, I don't know much about their defensive prowess); a good 1B receiver will also help Sano's defense.I would prefer to keep Polanco and slide him to 2B.Polanco would be flanked by good defenders at SS and 1B and also helped by a good glove at 1B.I really like Arraez, but with this plan, he will likely get traded or stashed in the minors.  

Keeping in mind I like, want and appreciate good defense, my opinion is not going to be well received, but I think it bears thought.

With the focus on power, launch angles, etc, plus shifts, infield defense has begun to take a back seat. It's still important and can indeed affect pitching, but the game has changed.

I don't have ages readily at my disposal and have to type quickly, but Sano and Polanco are both going to be about 26yo start of next season and Arraez 23 I believe. I really believe the improvement is going to have to come from within and development of these young players.

We watched Gaetti and Koskie, to name examples, stonewall 3B before turning in to good/great defensive 3B. Sano absolutely has the potential and ability to improve, even if not to those examples.

With his new throwing angle and just for experience and comfort as the daily SS, might Polanco not get better?

Arraez is very young.

Who would you take out of the lineup to be replaced? I think SAYING Polanco or Arraez could permanently moveto 3B is much easier to say than actually make happen.
    • brvama and Dantes929 like this

There is a potential defensive alignment that could be a plus. Marwin is much better at 3B than he is at any other position, which is the key to improving in the infield.

 

3B Marwin Gonzalez

SS Jorge Polanco (live with the avg defense for the plus bat until Royce is available)

2B Adrianza or Nick Gordon

1B Sano

LF Arraez - if he's having this much trouble at 2B at age 22 it could get ugly quickly

CF Buxton

RF Kepler

 

That would be a legitimate plus outfield and an average infield. Another defensive upgrade would come from replacing Castro as the backup catcher with a plus defender. Castro's glove slipped last season.

 

Watching the Astros and the Yankees the defensive plays really standout in comparison to the Twins.And I hope people aren't thinking that Buxton can make up for our deficiency.The glove does matter.  

Buston won't make up for the whole defensive deficiency but he can make up for the outfield deficiency. Much like getting one good pitcher aids in slotting every other pitcher getting one great center fielder has a trickle down effect as well. Now Kepler becomes a good right fielder instead of a mediocre center fielder and plugging in a mediocre right fielder.I truly believe the infield guys can get better with instruction, hard work and pride.If we really think Adrianza has become a good hitter do we believe he can be average or better defensively at shortstop?I think I would like to see Polanco upgrade 3rd base, Adrianza upgrade shortstop and Arraez get better at 2nd.Rocket arm helps at 3rd but I would rather have agility and a quick release..

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yarnivek1972
Oct 14 2019 01:48 PM
Chuck Knoblauch had 20 errors as a rookie. He got better and eventually won a gold glove. I wouldn’t pile on Arraez. Sano and Polanco are both bad defensively and have shown little to no improvement over their time at the MLB level. But they are both elite hitters for their positions. So, it’s a balance.
    • Dantes929, mikelink45, DocBauer and 1 other like this

2019 Twins:

 

ERA 4.18, FIP 4.03, xFIP 4.27, SIERA 4.22

 

These are all pretty much significantly the same number, which I take to mean that pitching and not defense is the major driver as far as runs allowed went...

    • Mike Sixel, Twins33, Dantes929 and 5 others like this

Problem with improving defense is that there won't be much turnover in the lineup... I think Arraez is a step down from Schoop there, but he's young enough that he can improve. I'm hoping Sano can avoid regressing, but he's never going to be a world burner defensively anywhere... Polanco is probably going to be what you have now. Not expecting much for improvement there. 
 
I suppose Cron could be replaced with someone better with the bat/glove... not sure that's going to make a huge difference. This is an area that the front office may have to address in terms of internal development...


This pretty much says it all. Buxtons return will help a lot, but who knows how long he’s healthy...A Rosario trade is the only way they would bring in another starting caliber outfielder, but I don’t know any outfielder you’d get back would be much of an upgrade defensively, as the return centerpiece is probably pitching.
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tarheeltwinsfan
Oct 14 2019 06:06 PM

 

I think the Twins should add a quality defensive short stop via free agency.Jose Iglesias is available as a free agent and has consistently put up good defensive numbers.His offense is not god-awful (OBP is alright and not much power), but I believe the Twins can sacrifice some offense in exchange for what I believe will be significant overall improvement in defense.Putting a good defender next to Sano will make Sano appear better so he can stay put at 3B.I would also add a good glove at 1B (perhaps one of the Twins minor leaguers could fit in here, I don't know much about their defensive prowess); a good 1B receiver will also help Sano's defense.I would prefer to keep Polanco and slide him to 2B.Polanco would be flanked by good defenders at SS and 1B and also helped by a good glove at 1B.I really like Arraez, but with this plan, he will likely get traded or stashed in the minors.  

The more the shift is used, the more important the fielding of the third baseman becomes. Actually the 3B has almost become another SS. 

    • mikelink45 likes this

The more the shift is used, the more important the fielding of the third baseman becomes. Actually the 3B has almost become another SS.


whatever happened to moving the 3rd basemen behind 2nd and leaving the shortstop on the left?
    • DocBauer and tarheeltwinsfan like this

Buston won't make up for the whole defensive deficiency but he can make up for the outfield deficiency. Much like getting one good pitcher aids in slotting every other pitcher getting one great center fielder has a trickle down effect as well. Now Kepler becomes a good right fielder instead of a mediocre center fielder and plugging in a mediocre right fielder.I truly believe the infield guys can get better with instruction, hard work and pride.If we really think Adrianza has become a good hitter do we believe he can be average or better defensively at shortstop?I think I would like to see Polanco upgrade 3rd base, Adrianza upgrade shortstop and Arraez get better at 2nd.Rocket arm helps at 3rd but I would rather have agility and a quick release..


Want to like your post and agree with it...but just can't quite go there.

Generally agree with your OF comment, especially RF, but I think Kepler is better than mediocre at CF.

JMO, but despite solid contributions and massive improvement with the bat in 2019, I feel Adrianza is best as a versatile player who plays regularly but not daily.

I am just not ready to give up on Sano at 3B, his cannon arm is valuable. Be charges the baĺl well. Pop ups are no longer an adventure. I have seen too many powerful 3B develop in to quality 3B defensively that I would take his OK defense for another year, at least, and see how he does.

The biggest upgrade will hopefully be, could be, should be, continued work, coaching, experience from all involved.
    • Thrylos and Dantes929 like this

 

2019 Twins:

 

ERA 4.18, FIP 4.03, xFIP 4.27, SIERA 4.22

 

These are all pretty much significantly the same number, which I take to mean that pitching and not defense is the major driver as far as runs allowed went...

Well, major driver of course but if the pitching is top 10 and the defense is bottom 10 I think we can make two assumptions. First is the bottom third defense is the reason the Twins moved to middle of the pack in run prevention and 2nd that If we had a top 10 defense we would also have a top 10 for run prevention.Run prevention being the major goal. The staffgives up 4.18 runs so of course that is the major driver but if the defense turns that 4.18 into 4.65 that if pretty significant.Somewhere in the neighborhood of 8 wins a year. Every team has unearned runs but the difference between the Twins and the good defense is about 4 games a year give or take a few. For example, bad defense vs good defense was probably worth about 6 runs against the Yankees.Good chance we would have lost those games anyway so you could make the case that there was no impact on the outcome.However,if the offense and pitching were better it would be conceivable that bad defense vs good could have cost us all three games.Thats without even considering what good defense vs bad means to the pitcher.

 

Well, major driver of course but if the pitching is top 10 and the defense is bottom 10 I think we can make two assumptions. First is the bottom third defense is the reason the Twins moved to middle of the pack in run prevention and 2nd that If we had a top 10 defense we would also have a top 10 for run prevention.Run prevention being the major goal. The staffgives up 4.18 runs so of course that is the major driver but if the defense turns that 4.18 into 4.65 that if pretty significant.Somewhere in the neighborhood of 8 wins a year. Every team has unearned runs but the difference between the Twins and the good defense is about 4 games a year give or take a few. For example, bad defense vs good defense was probably worth about 6 runs against the Yankees.Good chance we would have lost those games anyway so you could make the case that there was no impact on the outcome.However,if the offense and pitching were better it would be conceivable that bad defense vs good could have cost us all three games.Thats without even considering what good defense vs bad means to the pitcher.

 

They won 101 games.Second best ever for the franchise.Really. The regular season pitching and defense was not the problem.

 

What would had made the difference against the Yankees?Better defense or better pitching?

 

The Twins are contenders during the regular season.To make the next step forward and be contenders during the post season they need pitching.Not defense...

 

 

 

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diehardtwinsfan
Oct 15 2019 12:35 PM

 

They won 101 games.Second best ever for the franchise.Really. The regular season pitching and defense was not the problem.

 

What would had made the difference against the Yankees?Better defense or better pitching?

 

The Twins are contenders during the regular season.To make the next step forward and be contenders during the post season they need pitching.Not defense...

Defense certainly hurt them badly game 1... Berrios gets out of that inning with a lot less pitches and goes deeper into that game.. I'd agree on pitching for games 2 and 3, but it cost them game 1... Perhaps they still lose, who knows, but it's a lot closer game. 

 

I'm actually a bit surprised Schoop didn't get the nod against Paxon considering he's a better defender who does better against lefties...