Golden Opportunity: Using SDI to Evaluate the Twins Defense
Image courtesy of © Brad Rempel-USA TODAY SportsDefensive metrics have come a long way over the last decade. With StatCast tracking every batted ball, the amount of information available to fans is at an all-time high. One newer defensive metric was developed by the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) and it is called the SABR Defensive Index (SDI). According to SABR's website, the SDI "draws on and aggregates two types of existing defensive metrics: those derived from batted ball location-based data and those collected from play-by-play accounts."
First Base: Miguel Sano
SDI Total: -1.5 SDI (12th in the AL)
Sano’s first year as a full-time first baseman had its ups and downs. He’s athletic enough to adjust to a new position, but there were clearly moments where he was still getting acclimated to his new defensive role. Only two qualifying AL first basemen finished behind Sano (Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Luke Voit) in the SDI rankings. In the years ahead, it will be intriguing to see if his defense improves as he gets more experience at first base.
Shortstop: Jorge Polanco
SDI Total: -0.4 SDI (8th in the AL)
Polanco is never going to be an above average defensive shortstop and he’s played the last two seasons on an ankle that needed offseason surgery. Minnesota’s positioning of Polanco seemed to help him make more plays this season and having Josh Donaldson on the same side of the infield certainly helps. Last season, Polanco finished with a -1.9 SDI which was good for 8th among AL shortstops. Above Polanco on this year’s SDI rankings is Detroit’s Niko Goodrum, a former player in the Twins organization.
Center Field: Byron Buxton
SDI Total: 5.5 SDI (2nd in the AL)
Even though Buxton was limited to 39 games this season, he still finished in the top four among all AL defenders according to SDI. Unfortunately, he fell short of his second Gold Glove as Chicago’s Luis Robert finished ahead of him by just 0.1 SDI points. Buxton didn’t accumulate enough defensive innings in 2018 or 2019 to appear on the SDI Leaderboard. Back in 2017, he won the Platinum Glove as the AL’s best fielder. There’s no question that health has impacted his career, but Buxton only having one Gold Glove at this point is disappointing.
Right Field: Max Kepler
SDI Total: 1.4 SDI (7th in the AL)
Kepler finished the 2019 SDI rankings as the second-best AL right fielder (5.7 SDI) but he trailed Mookie Betts by 5 SDI points. With Betts out of the AL, this could have been an opportunity for Kepler to earn his first Gold Glove. Joey Gallo put up unbelievable numbers in a 60-game season as he more than doubled the SDI total of other right fielders. Kepler has been a borderline Gold Glove candidate in recent years, so it will be interesting to see if he can play a full season in right field and come away with the award.
Left Field: Eddie Rosario
SDI Total: 1.1 SDI (4th in the AL)
Rosario isn’t exactly known for his defensive prowess as he finished the 2019 campaign with the third worst SDI total among AL left fielders (-5.7 SDI). The 2020 season exemplifies how a small sample size can make a player look better or worse than their career numbers. Rosario nearly finished as the third best left fielder in the AL which is hard to believe that he should have been a Gold Glove finalist. Next season, the Twins might have a different player in left field so that could change their defensive outlook.
Pitcher: Kenta Maeda
SDI Total: 1.0 SDI (2nd in the AL)
Maeda’s first year in a Twins uniform was certainly memorable, but few people may remember it for his defense on the mound. He ended up finishing tied for second in AL SDI with Zach Plesac with Griffin Canning winning the Gold Glove with the highest SDI total. Last year in the NL, Maeda finished with a 1.4 SDI which put him in the top-20 among pitchers. Jose Berrios finished tied for eighth in the AL, which should make Mitch Garver happy.
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