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Twins still seeking third base help?

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ID:	2929When Jack Hannahan signed with the Cincinnati Reds last week, this took yet another potential third base option off the board for the Minnesota Twins.

Hannahan, a local product with above-average defensive prowess and a mediocre platoon bat from the left-side, appeared to be a given to land in Minnesota. With Terry Ryan’s statements that the team was going to push their incumbent, Trevor Plouffe, Hannahan’s left-handedness and superior defense felt like the logical fit. Perhaps less realistically, free agent Eric Chavez was also snapped up by a more competitive Diamondbacks team. The Twins also flirted a bit with the Cardinals and utility man Skip Schumaker but the Los Angeles Dodgers ultimately obtained the 32-year-old.

Clearly the Twins have been putting forth effort in that market this offseason but will little progress. The focus shifted the past few weeks to acquiring starting pitching -- such as the recent signings of Kevin Correia and Mike Pelfrey -- and the third base position has moved to the back burner.

How important is it that either the Twins find a suitable challenger to Plouffe’s position? Very, if you follow the data.

Thanks to a collection of pitchers who allows for an exorbitant amount of contact, the Twins infielders were tested regularly this past season. In fact, their left side of the infield led the league in most balls hit into their respective zones in 2012. At third, Minnesota had 402 in-zone balls hit that direction -- the next closest was Boston at 385.

Highest In-Zone Balls - Third Base 2012
Team
In-Zone Balls
Twins
402
Red Sox
385
Royals
383
Giants
383
Rockies
370
(via Fangraphs.com’s BIS data)

Plouffe, who handled a shade over 800 innings in the field last year, was marginal at best according to defensive metrics. His own revised zone rated of .691 was 22nd overall among third basemen with a minimum of 500 innings in the field. This was a fairly average mark considering the top third baseman by this metric -- Jack Hannahan -- was at .791. But more that that, Plouffe’s ability to make plays outside a third baseman’s standard universe was also poor in comparison to others. In 804.2 defensive innings, Plouffe was able to convert just 14 balls out of the standard zone into outs. Over ten other third basemen with fewer innings were able to make more outs on balls out of that zone.

Another area of the game in which Plouffe needed work is turning double plays. In 2012, the Twins led all of baseball with 158 double plays turned. Part of that is a byproduct of having a high-contact pitching staff with ground ball tendencies combined with opponents who start a hit parade. Furthermore, when you lead baseball with the most batted balls into third and shortstop zones, you can expect a high number of double plays. Here’s the thing: With all the opportunities, with all the plays in zone, with all the base-runners, Plouffe started just 12 double plays all year (24th in baseball). With a high-contact staff, it is almost imperative that double plays are turned to help get the defensive off the field.

So, Plouffe was converting on just 69% of plays inside his zone whereas the game’s elite were making outs on nearly 80% of their opportunities. This may not seem like a significant difference however for every ball that is failed to be converted into an out, it allows the opposing team to extend their half of the inning. With a high percentage of contact-oriented pitchers, this spells trouble.

With the addition of similar high-contact arms in Vance Worley, Kevin Correia and Mike Pelfrey, these figures are not likely to drop either, making that a fairly vital position for the team. With two months remaining until pitchers and catchers report, the Twins may begin to increase their shopping activity once again - specifically in the third base department.

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