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Front Page: A Bigger Twins Problem Than Pitching

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#1 Ted Schwerzler

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Posted 14 January 2020 - 09:00 PM

If you’ve given any thought at all to the Twins deficiencies this offseason, the chief concern has likely been the starting rotation. Two guys returned and two new names were added, but there’re still glaring holes in that group. The reality however may be that even with another strong pitching addition, infield defense will be the downfall of this squad.Last season Minnesota’s starting rotation ranked seventh across baseball, and fourth in the American League, when it came to fWAR total. While not glowing in any one specific category, the sum of all parts was representative of a strong unit. There’s no denying that Randy Dobnak was in a tough spot for an ALDS game, and that Rocco Baldelli doesn’t have the horses other teams do. That needs to be addressed, but what happens when the ball is put in play?

The Twins ranked 21st defensively in 2019 and their 26th overall infield outs above average valuation was even worse. The posted a -14 number when it came to the newly unveiled Statcast metric, and that number is buoyed by performances by the since departed C.J. Cron and Jonathan Schoop. With only Miguel Sano, Jorge Polanco, and Luis Arraez locked into the infield configuration prior to signing Josh Donaldson, they'd have been one of the worst units in baseball.



From an individual standpoint, Sano and Arraez both fare poorly on their own. It’s shortstop Polanco though that ranks dead last, 138th, with -16 outs above average. He’s joined in that position by none other than Vladimir Guerrero Jr., who is seen as a surefire designated hitter, and maybe by the time he’s 22-years-old.

Download attachment: Polanco.PNG

Before there’s consideration regarding the deficiency having to do with shifts, it’s worth understanding that infield OAA takes starting position into account. Polanco posted his worst metrics while beginning in the SS hole, as opposed to being adequate when shifted to the second base side of the diamond. Sano struggled the most when needing to guard the line, likely because of the additional ground placed between him and the shortstop. For Arraez’s efforts, he saw the largest slide when playing in the hole but staggered either to the left or right at second base. What the sum of all parts continues to point to is a glaring hole on the left side.

Enter Josh Donaldson!

Donaldson posted the 12th highest DRS in baseball a season ago. His 8 infield OAA ranked 18th in baseball, and the 15 DRS tally trailed only Matt Chapman (18) among all big-league third basemen. The mark posted at third base nearly doubled the efforts of Nolan Arenado and did double up the abilities of Alex Bregman. To put it simply, he’s not only a very good hitter.

Now to be fair, Donaldson would doesn't solve all of the issues facing the Twins, but he’s certainly the type of player that can assist them. In an ideal world Minnesota would have a better defensive shortstop (more on that here). Moving Polanco off that position gets tricky with Arraez currently manning second base. Neither Jorge nor Luis have the arm to play third, and that leaves more bodies than opportunities.

Derek Falvey and Thad Levine landed a strong defensive third basemen to assist Polanco in range and positioning. If Jorge can play more up the middle and a bit further in, there’s ability for Arraez to benefit on his side as well. By driving up the baseline of the group the hope would be that everyone starts with a better chance to succeed.

Jorge Polanco wasn’t the worst shortstop in baseball by any means in 2019; heck he even posted a posted 1 DRS. The problem is that his -9.1 UZR was dead last (of 128 players to record an inning at the position), and his -8.4 ErrR is reflective of a guy who struggled to throw more often than he didn’t. Arm strength and positioning has been an area of development since Polanco assumed the role full time, but mediocrity seems to be the ceiling there.

We don't yet know what Miguel Sano looks like as a full time third basemen. We have no idea if Polanco and Arraez are capable of taking further steps forward. We do know that Minnesota just addressed their worst unit in a massive way, and Donaldson should be a key cog in any sort of a real turnaround.

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#2 specialiststeve

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Posted 14 January 2020 - 09:20 PM

May want to try to keep up Ted... we are signing Donaldson... our defense improved with a swipe of a pen. Still not going to be like the good old days of great defensive Twins teams of the past but this may be the best offensive lineup in the history of the Twins if we can stay healthy. 

 

We are good.... really we are good. 


#3 tony&rodney

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Posted 14 January 2020 - 09:36 PM

It just isn't possible to have the best defensive player who also is the top offensive player at every position. The Twins would like to line up Greg Gagne at shortstop but he is not available.

Ted is correct in saying that defense is not a particular strength of the Twins. However the way the lineup looks, there should be room for forgiveness. Last season the pitching wasn't too shabby either and a repeat of reasonable pitching with the current offense should make for exciting baseball. 

The Yankees turned in some stellar plays in the field at Target Field in October and good baseball fans appreciated the excellent glovework. 

Perhaps the Twins will improve on defense. For now the Twins have a dynamite lineup: Kepler, Donaldson, Polanco, Cruz, Rosario, Sano, Arraez, Garver, and Buxton.

This should be really fun.

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#4 Ted Schwerzler

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Posted 14 January 2020 - 09:40 PM

 

May want to try to keep up Ted... we are signing Donaldson... our defense improved with a swipe of a pen. Still not going to be like the good old days of great defensive Twins teams of the past but this may be the best offensive lineup in the history of the Twins if we can stay healthy. 

 

We are good.... really we are good. 

I think I might have mentioned that?

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#5 RaoulDuke

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Posted 14 January 2020 - 10:15 PM

If Arraez has a solid first half this year he could become a key piece to getting a top of the rotation pitcher at the trade deadline.That could open up 2nd for Polanco allowing them to trade for a good glove shortstop or sign one next off season.


#6 bobs

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Posted 14 January 2020 - 10:28 PM

The signing of Donaldson should certainly help here.  

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#7 jkcarew

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Posted 14 January 2020 - 10:57 PM

So, defense was the difference in the postseason last year?
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#8 tony&rodney

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Posted 14 January 2020 - 11:23 PM

The best teams I ever saw were the A's with their run of three series wins and the Orioles of 1969-1970.

These teams (and others) had great pitching, defense and solid hitting. Post season games are won with combinations of all three: pitching, defense, and offense. LAD (Koufax) wins 2-0 in Game 7 and MIN (Morris) wins 1-0 in Game 7 in tight pitching duels, but sometimes a team needs to find a way to win without a great defense or superior pitching. The Twins have decent pitching and their defense will be fine. The lineup is deep and their prospects can develop throughout the summer. The team should be able to add a pitcher in July, if one becomes available. I don't see any pitchers on the market at this time. We will need to be patient as Thorpe, Dobnak, and Graterol gain experience and are supported by an explosive lineup.

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#9 Brock Beauchamp

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Posted 14 January 2020 - 11:54 PM

If Arraez has a solid first half this year he could become a key piece to getting a top of the rotation pitcher at the trade deadline. That could open up 2nd for Polanco allowing them to trade for a good glove shortstop or sign one next off season.

Good MLB players traded for good MLB players approaches unicorn status because it just doesn’t happen.
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#10 Brock Beauchamp

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Posted 14 January 2020 - 11:57 PM

So, defense was the difference in the postseason last year?

Did you watch that first game? It kinda was. One easy scoop and the Twins keep the lead. From there, who knows what happens.

Never mind what happens if Buxton is out there for any number of plays.
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#11 DocBauer

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Posted 15 January 2020 - 12:50 AM

Ted, I also love and believe it makes a difference. And I absolutely believe the Twins could take a step forward with a better defense. However, I will state that I think catcher and OF are pretty damn good. The infield, however, needs to improve.

Donaldson improves 3B, of course. And as I stated in the Donaldson signing thread, Sano will not suddenly be some outstanding 1B. But he has all the experience and ability to develop there anywhere from solid to good.

The crux is the middle of the diamond. I do not expect Polanco to be the next Ozzie, Vizquel or even the next Gagne. But he is a fine athlete and only 26yo. Forgetting the greats, I could list pkayer after player who had high error totals in milb and their first few ML season's who turned out to be solid ML players defensively. Polanco is a fine athlete who is still learning and who just found a new throwing angle that seemed to work. Repeating myself from previous comments in different threads, his biggest issue is those plays where he is "right there" but the ball isn't in the glove. A little more consistency due to experience, and his overall defensive performance rises greatly.

I have no illusions that Arraez will be a great defensive 2B. But he was a 23yo rookie playing various positions. How much better can he be settling at one spot daily? And let's not kid ourselves, the kid has shown natural instincts in everything he has done. Hyperbole or not, sometimes the comment that someone is a "ballplayer" actually means something.

I get the trepidation and angst. Polanco and Arraez will never be outstanding. But there is easily room for improvement and growth as early as this season to be at least solid.
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#12 Platoon

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Posted 15 January 2020 - 06:22 AM

The Donaldson signing is a good get. It helps the Twins in several ways. A better glove at third and even more help defensively when shifting is taken into consideration. Plus some more veteran influence. That said, posts which call into view the Twins comparatively weak IF defense, and in my view, substandard catching defense have legitimate points. Bottom line: Offense will win regular season games in bunches.  Pitching and defense win championships. Watching the Yankees and the Twins  play defense should have been a yardstick to all on what defense does, or doesn’t bring to the table in close games. Including RP, SP, defense and offense in the mix, baseball has four segments to emphasize on the field. Donaldson has simply piled on to the teams already MLB sufficient offense. Adding a player of his stature to one of the other segments may have had a far greater impact on 2020!

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#13 Ted Schwerzler

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Posted 15 January 2020 - 09:07 AM

 

So, defense was the difference in the postseason last year?

By that logic, having one of the best lineups in baseball makes no difference.

 

You can extrapolate anything you want from a 3 game sample size.

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#14 tarheeltwinsfan

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Posted 15 January 2020 - 02:53 PM

DE-FENSE, Sme-Fense... Hit the ball over De-Fence !

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#15 TwinsFan268

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Posted 15 January 2020 - 05:13 PM

We're fine now!

i like rally squirrels and bombas, nothing more


#16 gman

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Posted 15 January 2020 - 06:08 PM

I think the Twins should sign the best free agent defensive shortstop available. Someone who could come in the 7th inning or later. Slide Polanco over to second and Arraez to the bench. With their lineup, opportunities should arise to really nail down wins with a stronger defense and good bullpen.


#17 Linus

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Posted 15 January 2020 - 06:09 PM

I’m glad our defense at third will be better. Its a small thing compared to the middle infield where our defense stinks

#18 tony&rodney

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Posted 15 January 2020 - 07:07 PM

No, our middle infield defense doesn't stink. Nobody who plays middle infield in the major leagues stinks. Polanco was the starting shortstop in last summer's All Star Game. Sit on that for a moment and beg forgiveness before the Twins go back to AAA shortstops. 

Yes, both Polanco and Arraez can improve their defense, but we are lucky to have them both. Sometimes it seems like people are unhappy that the Twins are actually good now. I get irritated too when a ball sneaks through the infield but I'm not trading Polanco or moving him off shortstop this year.

I don't want to have my wife ask me why I'm still watching the Twins when they lose 90-100 games any more.

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#19 Linus

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Posted 15 January 2020 - 08:17 PM

No, our middle infield defense doesn't stink. Nobody who plays middle infield in the major leagues stinks. Polanco was the starting shortstop in last summer's All Star Game. Sit on that for a moment and beg forgiveness before the Twins go back to AAA shortstops.
Yes, both Polanco and Arraez can improve their defense, but we are lucky to have them both. Sometimes it seems like people are unhappy that the Twins are actually good now. I get irritated too when a ball sneaks through the infield but I'm not trading Polanco or moving him off shortstop this year.
I don't want to have my wife ask me why I'm still watching the Twins when they lose 90-100 games any more.


Sorry. Whether it’s metrics or the eye test our middle infield defense stinks. Or if you prefer bottom of the league. There is no reason not to change this especially because Polanco would be an above average defensive second baseman

#20 Shaitan

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Posted 15 January 2020 - 09:08 PM

 

So, defense was the difference in the postseason last year?

 

I remember at least 2 sharp doubles down the 3B line that went for extra bases instead of killing Yankees rallies. I also remember NYY making 1-2 of those plays on their side of the ball.