Twins' Corner Infield Duo Chasing History
Image courtesy of © David Dermer-USA TODAY SportsOPS+ is an incredibly useful stat and especially in today’s game. With an emphasis on home runs and an alleged “juiced” ball, offensive numbers are through the roof. OPS+ is a measure of how a player’s OPS (on-base plus slugging) compares to the rest of the league.
An OPS+ of 100 is the league average, and anything above or below represents a percentage better or worse. For example, Mike Trout led MLB with a 185 OPS+ in 2019. His OPS was 85% above league average. OPS+ gives us the opportunity to try to compare players across eras.
The Twins had nine players with an OPS+ above 100 last year. ZiPS projections see 11 such players on the 2020 roster. The impeccable Nelson Cruz is projected to lead the team with an OPS+ of 135, with Sanó just behind him at 131 and Donaldson in third at 125. The 2019 Atlanta Braves were one of 66 teams since 1871 to field a corner infield duo who each posted an OPS+ of 125 or more in the same season. Freddie Freeman and Donaldson were a powerful duo, but Donaldson and Sanó could be better.
Since 2013, Donaldson ranks 10th with 209 home runs. Excluding 2018 where he appeared in only 52 games due to calf injuries, Donaldson has averaged 33.5 homers per year over the last seven seasons. In 2019, Donaldson and Freeman became just the fifth corner infield pair to each hit 37 or more home runs in a season. They combined for 75 total homers, the most ever by a non-Rockies corner infield duo.
ZiPS foresees some regression from Donaldson in 2020 and projects him to hit 27 home runs. I’d project him for closer to 34 to 40 as the switch from the stingy NL East to the hitter friendly AL Central will do wonders for the “Bringer of Rain.” Donaldson finished 2019 sixth in average exit velocity (92.9 mph) and eighth in hard-hit rate (50%). He recently said he feels like “MVP level production is attainable again,” and I wouldn’t bet against him.
Sanó slugged 34 home runs in just 105 games in 2019. ZiPS projects him to hit a hefty 35 homers in 482 plate appearances in 2020. A healthy Sanó is capable of insane offensive output, and now entering his age-27 season in reportedly incredible shape, the sky is truly the limit. Sanó finished last season by hitting .254/.362/.578 with 21 home runs in 65 games after the break. He led MLB in hard hit rate (57.2%) and placed second behind Aaron Judge in average exit velocity (94.4 mph). So what numbers must Donaldson and Sanó surpass to be considered the best hitting corner infield duo in baseball history?
There has been one pair of corner infielders since 1871 to each post an OPS+ of 130 or more AND hit at least 35 home runs in one season: Lee May and Tony Pérez for the 1969 Cincinnati Reds. May had an OPS+ of 133 with 38 homers, and Pérez went deep 37 times with an OPS+ of 140. Health, as usual, will be the key, but Donaldson and Sanó are capable of becoming the most powerful first base-third base tandem in baseball history. This will be one of many records to watch for the 2020 Twins. Is it Opening Day yet?
What do you think? Will Donaldson and Sanó become the most powerful corner infield pair ever? Comment below!
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