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Devil’s in the Defense for the Twins

Posted by Ted Schwerzler , 17 August 2020 · 2,232 views

minnesota twins luis arraez jorge polanco josh donaldson byron buxton
You’ve heard of the Devil being in the details, well finding what advantage the Twins have crafted in 2020 may come from a surprising place, their defense. After finishing 23rd overall in team defense last season, Minnesota currently finds themselves 2nd in 2020.

We knew many of the problems from a year ago. Jorge Polanco was not a good defensive shortstop, particularly coming in on the ball. Luis Arraez was stretched going to his right, and the outfield suffered every game Byron Buxton had to miss. Bringing in Josh Donaldson was expected to be a boost for the infield, and a healthy Buck would be a great remedy on the grass. Not all of that has played out though, and yet, here we are.

Minnesota has gotten just 7 games from Donaldson in his first year with the club. Despite that, their 14 DRS is 3rd in the big leagues and leads the American League. Byron Buxton has already been worth 6 DRS on his own, and while Polanco has been worth -3 DRS, his 0.7 UZR represents the only positive mark of his entire career. Luis Arraez was worth -8 DRS in just shy of 400 innings during 2019. This year, he’s been worth 2 DRS in 157 frames.

This isn’t just an individual player thing though, and it’s clear Minnesota is taking an analytical approach to cutting down base hits. With 322 shifts, or 42.4% this year, Rocco Baldelli’s club ranks 10th in the majors. Last season they shifted just 35.5% of the time. Against righties the Twins are shifting 33% of the time, or virtually the same frequency they did a year ago. Against lefties though, they’ve gone from 36.4% in 2019 to 53.2% in 2020.



Thinking about configuration, left-handed shifts also bring some interesting possibilities to consider. Miguel Sano is holding down first base for the first time in his career. He’s been caught a couple of time straying to far from the bag. In a shift however, he’s solely responsible for the line. Luis Arraez, who was challenged going up the middle last season, plays a roving right field with Polanco up the middle to his right. Whether it’s Donaldson or Ehire Adrianza at the hot corner, there’s a plus defender standing near the shortstop hole against a lefty.

In the outfield, Minnesota again has made tweaks with Byron Buxton. In a recent article for The Athletic Aaron Gleeman talked about how the centerfielder is starting deeper than he ever has. With the ability to come in on virtually anything, this gives him the opportunity to find the wall and remain more in control when playing balls near it. Eddie Rosario looks the part of a healthier left-fielder, and Max Kepler asserted himself as a stalwart while pulling double time last year.

Thus far we haven’t seen the Twins offense click on all cylinders, and there hasn’t been a certainty to the entirety of the rotation either. While the bullpen has flashed very well at points, there have been cracks on that front also. If there’s a tried and true narrative for 2020 it’s that this team shows up with the glove. Errors are a dated way to measure success, but from the most basic number the club has committed just two through their first 22 games.

Pitching and hitting can go in slumps, but defense is completely mental beyond the overall athleticism needed to compete. Give it to the Twins for being completely locked in there on a nightly basis.

For more from Off The Baggy, click here. Follow @tlschwerz

  • ToddlerHarmon and Channing1964 like this



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stringer bell
Aug 18 2020 12:26 PM

While Jorge Polanco and Luis Arraez are not rangy (and probably never will be) and Miguel Sanó is still sometimes finding his way at first, there has been considerable improvement in the infield defense. It is important to make the plays that should be made and the Twins have certainly done that. 

 

I think two things were left out of this Blog Post--first what about Marwin Gonzalez? He has played regularly and been a good defender everywhere he has been assigned, including second base. Secondly, catching defense. I think Avila has been fine, but Garver has allowed too many pitches to get by him. Throwing out base stealers is hardly considered these days, but it appears that the Twins need some work on that. 

 

Another factor in the Twins'improved defense is improved health. Kepler, Garver, Adrianza, Gonzalez, Polanco and Rosario all played through injuries, particularly at the end of the season and it showed in their ability to make plays. Add in a healthy Buxton and defense should be (and is) improved.

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Ted Schwerzler
Aug 18 2020 12:35 PM

 

I think two things were left out of this Blog Post--first what about Marwin Gonzalez? He has played regularly and been a good defender everywhere he has been assigned, including second base. Secondly, catching defense. I think Avila has been fine, but Garver has allowed too many pitches to get by him. Throwing out base stealers is hardly considered these days, but it appears that the Twins need some work on that. 

 

Another factor in the Twins'improved defense is improved health. Kepler, Garver, Adrianza, Gonzalez, Polanco and Rosario all played through injuries, particularly at the end of the season and it showed in their ability to make plays. Add in a healthy Buxton and defense should be (and is) improved.

I think Marwin is often credited for being a better defender than he is just being really good at playing multiple positions. He's stretched in the infield, and his career numbers show that. He hasn't played hardly at all in the OF this year, but that's where he's best historically.

 

From a catching perspective, Garver has taken a step backwards early in blocking. I'd imagine a good deal of that is mental combined with his offensive struggles. Throwing out baserunners has become something Minnesota (and many teams around the league) have placed on the backburner in favor of framing. Mitch is still better at that than he's ever been.

 

I think I touched on health, Buxton and Kepler specifically, but yes that has been huge.

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Channing1964
Aug 19 2020 01:35 AM
Im not so sure they were as bad as everybody thought last year, nor as good as it seems like this year. Polanco was never gonna be a gold glover at short but how do you make the all star team if you're a slug? I'm not informed well enough about Arraez but I do know this....Gonzalez is at least mlb average no matter where you put him. I bet that dude could put on a mask and pads and catch if we asked him to. He is just a damn good baseball player. You lose more on offense than you do on defense when you throw Adrianza out there. The flexibility this team has is incredible and I know it makes Baldelli's job way easier. To me I thought the defense was fine last year. Not many losses could you point a finger at the "D" and say that's why. The defense wouldn't have beat the Yankees but I don't think it lost to them either. Sano is perfectly suited for 1b. Imagine corking throws at an agile Andre the Giant over there. If/when Donaldson comes back he is a way better defender over there than he ever gets credit for because of his impact bat. I have followed that dudes career and let me tell you...he is a f--king stud when he's healthy. This team could easily be the next dynasty in the making if the young dudes listen and learn.
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Channing1964
Aug 19 2020 01:37 AM
And i didnt mention the outfield because everybody thats not a Rosario hater knows there is no reason to worry about that.