Luis Arraez was a human adrenaline shot for the 2019 Minnesota Twins, providing 2.1 fWAR in 92 games. That value was driven nearly entirely from his .334/.399/.439 slash line, which amounted to a 125 wRC+ and comparisons to Tony Gwynn. Arraez is clearly mature beyond his years with his ability to handle the bat, but his defense is among the team's worst.
Earlier versions of this Defense Evaluation series summarized the two position players that had the least defensive value in 2019 - Eddie Rosario in the outfield, and Jorge Polanco as an infielder. Luis Arraez was both in 2020, logging 130 innings in LF, and 555 innings across three infield positions (2B, SS, and 3B). Arraez has to be evaluated differently than Rosario and Polanco, as his versatility created four smaller sample sizes. Even with that caveat, there are still troubling signs to be taken from his 2019 defensive performance that could lead to greater negative impact with his new role as the 2020 starting second baseman.
Luis Arraez in 390 innings at 2B (-4.8 Def, -8 DRS, -22.6 UZR/150, -6 OAA)
I'll begin with evaluating Arraez's primary position of second base. FanGraphs is no fan of Arraez at this position, with a brutal -8 DRS and -22.6 UZR/150. Among all second basemen that had at least 350 innings, Arraez had the second worst UZR/150, trailing only Isan Diaz of Miami. His DRS was tied for the third-lowest, along with Dee Gordon and Rougned Odor. One deeper component of his defensive rating was his -3.1 RngR (range runs), where he also ranked for third lowest among second basemen with at least 350 innings played.
Statcast is in line with FanGraph's assessment of Arraez at second base. In the new infield outs above average (OAA) metric that debuted last week, Arraez was tied for the 7th lowest OAA among infielders with -6 in limited innings. Other second basemen with -6 OAA were Jason Kipnis and old friend Brian Dozier.
As I pointed out in the Jorge Polanco evaluation, the most concerning part about the new Statcast data is how the Twins infield is playing to each other's weaknesses rather than strengths. FanGraphs and Statcast both point out that Arraez has an issue with range at second base, and the chart below shows where Arraez struggles the most.
Nearly all of the negative outs above average Arraez collected in 2019 were to his left, in the direction of Jorge Polanco and his -16 OAA. Polanco also has a negative -3 OAA mark when he fields a ball towards Arraez. According to my Minnesota Math (first and last Blyleven reference, I promise), adding two negatives creates a larger negative. Balls heading up the middle may spell disaster for the 2020 Twins infield.
Statcast does deem Arraez do be above average when fielding balls behind him, and I can recall a few times last season when he scampered on pop-ups in shallow center field that impressed me. However, it's still a very negative light to have -6 OAA in 390 innings played. His weakness of range coincides with Polanco's lateral inabilities, making the up-the-middle infield defense a huge question mark for next season.
Luis Arraez across other positions
- 161 innings in LF (-0.5 Def, 0 DRS, 3.6 UZR/150, -3 OAA)
- 130 innings at 3B (0.8 Def, 1 DRS, 7.8 UZR/150, -1 OAA)
- 35 innings at SS (-0.3 Def, -1 DRS, -30.8 UZR/150, 0 0AA)
I'll summarize brief findings about the other positions Arraez appeared at last season, as there isn't a large amount of innings to declare most things definitive.
Arraez was forced into left field when Rosario spent some time on the IL, and learned on the fly. There were definitely some moments when he looked look a guy that was faking it until he was making it. FanGraphs wasn't extremely critical of Arraez the outfielder, as he had a positive UZR/150 in left field. Statcast rated him -3 OAA as a left fielder, with -2 OAA coming on balls hit back, which lines up with some plays I can recall Arraez retreating towards the wall. I'm fairly confident that if he played more innings in left field, more metrics would reflect Arraez as a below average outfielder.
Arraez as a shortstop should be merely glossed over. He had a whopping 35 innings that resulted in a very poor UZR even with the small sample size. If there are concerns about Arraez as a second baseman, it doesn't make a large amount of sense to make him a fit at shortstop, beyond a potential injury replacement.
Third base is probably the most intriguing position for Arraez. He doesn't have the strongest arm in the world, but FanGraphs rated his 130 innings as slightly positive with a cumulative 0.8 Defense Runs Above Average (Def), and a 7.8 UZR/150. Statcast had Arraez at -1 OAA at third, but that was significantly better than his OAA in left field and second base.
So where should Arraez play?
Going forward, Arraez will provide plenty of future value with his ability to make contact and get on base. His versatility came into play when injuries struck the 2019 team, but it isn't safe to bank on Arraez as a plus defender at any position he plays. It's always a benefit to have options, even if he isn't gold glove caliber anywhere across the diamond.
Unfortunately, it appears the Twins are reducing his versatility in 2020 by placing him as the full time second baseman. Arraez will be at the position where he had the worst grading from both FanGraphs and Statcast, and where his ability to range toward Polanco is greatly limited. However, with less than one year of experience under his belt, it makes sense to try Arraez out at the position he played throughout the minor leagues.
The benefits of keeping Arraez at second base are increased stability for the player, and the chance that he still improves at his young age. Looking at the roster, there are larger holes to plug than second base. However, in my post about Polanco, I proposed an infield game of musical chairs based on reducing the negative impact of Polanco's -16 OAA performance at shortstop.
3B - mix of Gonzalez/Arraez (with the other taking a place in multi-positional musical chairs)
SS - new defensively skilled acquisition to be named later
2B - Polanco
1B - Sano
I'll continue to plug this alignment if the Twins fail to sign Josh Donaldson. From the perspective of Arraez, this infield positioning would bring two benefits. Having shared duty with Gonzalez at third base would maintain his valuable versatility, while ensuring the bulk of his innings appear at the position where he was arguably graded most favorably.
Arraez is still young and still has to gain a large amount of innings at various positions before we can be 100% confident about his future defensive ability. It's highly unlikely that Arraez isn't starting at second base on opening day. His bat will provide enough value at the keystone position, but the Twins shouldn't rule out the prospect of keeping Arraez as a versatile multi-positional everyday player.