How Good Can the Twins Defense Become in 2020?
Image courtesy of © David Berding-USA TODAY SportsIs Garver’s improvement sustainable?
Jason Castro’s tenure with the Twins is over, but more important than his contributions on the field were his two years as Mitch Garver’s defensive mentor. While he is still not an elite defensive catcher, his improvement was as clear as crystal, more specifically at the catcher-framing front. Per Baseball Prospectus, he was worth -8.2 framing runs in 2018, ranking 110th among 117 qualified catchers. In 2019, he improved that number to 4.2 framing runs, good for 28th among 113 catchers. Another angle is to look at Savant’s Runs From Extra Strike. Here’s how he improved in that metric, as well as in total strike rate.
It seems as if he loves catching and he has put a lot of effort into becoming a better catcher. The big question for this year is whether he can permanently sustain that improvement he learned. If he does, put that together with new Twin Alex Avila’s good defense (+5 Runs From Extra Strike in 2019) and Minnesota will have a nice backstop combo.
How is Sanó going to handle first base?
Miguel Sanó has a very small sample playing at first base. Including his minor league career, he has a combined 223 innings playing there. But it’s safe to say that he’s had much more success at first then he’s had at third. While he was worth -5 DRS and -6.7 UZR in the hot corner in 2019, those numbers improve to -1 DRS and -0.1 UZR in nine games at first base. His fielding percentage at first (.956) was also much higher than at third (.926). It’s going to be very interesting to know how that works over a full season and also how he will develop through the years in his new role.
Can Donaldson have another good year defensively?
In 2019, Josh Donaldson was worth 15 DRS, the second most among all third basemen in the majors. Using Statcast’s new Outs Above Average (OAA) for infielders, we can also notice that he’s been the third best in the position at that metric, with 8, behind only Gold Glove Winners Nolan Arenado (17) and Matt Chapman (14). However, in the previous three seasons, probably because of a series of injuries, those numbers were considerably worse. Nonetheless, not once in that that span did his DRS go below 1, which is far better than anything Sanó has managed to do there defensively (his career DRS at third is -19). So, either way, he is much likely going to represent a considerable improvement.
Will Rosario bounce back?
Now here’s a tricky one. While Eddie Rosario had his worst season defensively in 2019, we can also see an unusual pattern for his career. His defensive performances over the years have been going up and down. Per Statcast’s OAA, he was MLB worst outfielder, with -17. But at the same time, before last year, his worst OAA result was -3 in 2017, which was still better than those of Mike Trout, George Springer and Bryce Harper, to name a few. In 2016, he was worth 4 OAA. He’s also been on a roller coaster when it comes to DRS in the outfield, as his career numbers stand thus:
So, which Rosario will be out on the field this year?
Can Buxton stay healthy all year?
Here we have the most important question. Byron Buxton became the Twins’ everyday center fielder in 2017 and he had an outstanding season, which earned him MVP votes. He led all outfielders in the majors with 26 OAA and was worth 24 DRS, ranking third-highest in the league. But since then, he simply couldn’t catch a break when it came to his health. After being on the field for 1,143 innings in 2017, he played for only 924 innings in the following two seasons combined. While it seems like he’s finally found his touch offensively (111 wRC+ and .827 OPS last year, both career best), he was missed even more in the field. In 2019, the Twins outfield was worth 12 DRS and Buxton was responsible for 10 of those, even though he was out on the field for only 692 innings. He can single-handedly raise the bar for Minnesota’s outfield.
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