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Multiple Twins Defenders On Pace to Be Gold Glove Finalists


Minnesota’s front office focused on defense this winter and the results have certainly been mixed throughout the first half. Here is how the Twins rank so far according to SABR’s Defensive Index.

Defensive metrics have come a long way over the last decade. With Statcast tracking every batted ball, the amount of information available to fans is at an all-time high. One newer defensive metric was developed by the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR), and it is called the SABR Defensive Index (SDI). 

According to SABR's website, the SDI "draws on and aggregates two types of existing defensive metrics: those derived from batted ball location-based data and those collected from play-by-play accounts." Since 2013, SDI has been used as part of the process for selecting Gold Glove winners.

Pitcher (AL Ranking): Jose Berrios, 2.2 SDI (6th); Michael Pineda, 0.6 SDI (19th); Kenta Maeda, 0.1 SDI (23rd)

Berrios has always been a strong defensive pitcher and his defensive metrics point to him being near the top of the AL. Last season, Berrios finished 10th in SDI after finishing 16th in 2019. For his career, his highest 162-game season finish was in 2018 when he ranked 13th in the AL. Maeda was a Gold Glove finalist last season, but he hasn’t accumulated enough SDI to be in the discussion so far this year.

Catcher (AL Ranking): Mitch Garver 1.3 SDI (10th); Ryan Jeffers 1.2 SDI (11th)

Jeffers has been touted as the better defensive catcher, but he is slightly behind Garver in the first half SDI rankings. Garver has been on the shelf since his gruesome injury, and this means Jeffers has accumulated more innings behind the plate. Ben Rortvedt doesn’t have enough big-league time to show up on the SDI rankings, but he might by season’s end if the team is careful with Garver’s catching innings as he returns from injury.

First Base (AL Ranking): Alex Kirilloff 1.7 SDI (3rd); Miguel Sano -0.9 SDI (11th)

Outside of Simmons (See Below), Kirilloff ranks as the highest defender on the team at his position. Jake Bauers (2.6 SDI) and Ty France (2.3 SDI) have logged more than double the defensive innings compared to Kirilloff’s total. Kirilloff is much better than Sano at first and he has a chance to be a finalist for a Gold Glove in his rookie season.  

Second Base (AL Ranking): Jorge Polanco 1.1 SDI (8th); Luis Arraez -0.8 SDI (15th)

Polanco had flaws as a defensive shortstop and his move to second base was seen as a way to increase his defensive value. Even with his current ranking, he is only 0.5 SDI out of ranking in the AL’s top three. Marcus Semien, another converted shortstop, leads the AL by one of the biggest margins at any position.

Third Base (AL Ranking): Josh Donaldson -1.1 SDI (11th)

Donaldson has long been considered a strong defender, but he might be in the middle of his worst defensive season. According to SDI, he ranked as high as second back in 2019 when he only finished behind Nolan Arenado in the NL. He’s been playing through hamstring issues that have significantly slowed him down and this might be one of the reasons for the decline in his defensive numbers.

Shortstop (AL Ranking): Andrelton Simmons 4.4 SDI (1st)

Simmons might be one of the all-time best defensive players, so it makes sense to see him at the top of the SDI rankings among shortstops. Only seven AL defenders have accumulated a higher SDI than Simmons including Semien, another player the Twins targeted for middle infield depth this winter. Simmons might have the inside track for another Gold Glove, but will he be with the Twins after the trade deadline?

Left Field (AL Ranking): Trevor Larnach -2.2 SDI (14th)

Larnach isn’t in the big leagues because of his defense, and this shows up in his SDI total. Only four qualified players rank lower than Larnach among AL left fielders. Former Twin Eddie Rosario currently ranks second with a 2.5 SDI and he is only 0.6 SDI behind first place. This might surprise Twins fans because he was never known for his defense when he was in Minnesota.

Center Field (AL Ranking)

Minnesota doesn’t currently have any players that qualify for the SDI rankings. <Insert sad trombone sound for Byron Buxton>

Right Field (AL Ranking): Max Kepler -0.1 SDI (10th)

Kepler’s total might be the most surprising on the midseason rankings. Throughout his career, he has been considered a strong defensive player with the Twins even using him in center field. Kepler is a year older, and he might have lost a step, or his hamstring injuries have slowed him down.

Which of these rankings surprises you the most? Leave a COMMENT and star the discussion.

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Personally, I have never been in the camp that thought Rosario was a poor defensive left fielder, but then I am in a minority much of the time on a lot of things.  I also cannot understand the push to dump Simmons, and not just because of this article; I have seen enough of him this season to want to re-sign him if he is dumb enough to come back to this squad, and leave Polanco at second.  Kiriloff at first long term seems the way to go, and I think Kepler will come back from injuries and improve again.  I think injuries have hurt the defensive side of the game, but it will improve as guys get healthy.  Of course, with this front office's love for the July sale, we may never get the chance to find out with some of them.  At this point, not even they know what this team will look like in August.

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Interesting list.  Surprised Kirilloff is so high and Kepler so low.  I kind of thought Simmons was going to be lower as he seemed to have his fair share of gaffs this year but I guess I am not appreciating what he does as much as I should.

Have to Say I was very surprised to see Eddie's name up there.  Happy to see him doing well.

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2 minutes ago, Mark G said:

Personally, I have never been in the camp that thought Rosario was a poor defensive left fielder, but then I am in a minority much of the time on a lot of things.  I also cannot understand the push to dump Simmons, and not just because of this article; I have seen enough of him this season to want to re-sign him if he is dumb enough to come back to this squad, and leave Polanco at second.  Kiriloff at first long term seems the way to go, and I think Kepler will come back from injuries and improve again.  I think injuries have hurt the defensive side of the game, but it will improve as guys get healthy.  Of course, with this front office's love for the July sale, we may never get the chance to find out with some of them.  At this point, not even they know what this team will look like in August.

Why not trade Simmons in the next couple weeks and then just sign him again during the offseason? I can't imagine they're extending him before the end of the season and I can't imagine the team that deals for him is locking him up either. Beyond Buxton and Berrios I can't imagine there's any player on this roster the Twins would look to extend before the end of the year. So why not trade anyone on an expiring deal and attempt to resign them if they really want them back here?

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1 hour ago, chpettit19 said:

Why not trade Simmons in the next couple weeks and then just sign him again during the offseason? I can't imagine they're extending him before the end of the season and I can't imagine the team that deals for him is locking him up either. Beyond Buxton and Berrios I can't imagine there's any player on this roster the Twins would look to extend before the end of the year. So why not trade anyone on an expiring deal and attempt to resign them if they really want them back here?

There will be a lot of FA shortstops to choose from for 2022. I'd hope the Twins would aim a little higher than Simmons if they're looking to compete.

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10 minutes ago, bean5302 said:

There will be a lot of FA shortstops to choose from for 2022. I'd hope the Twins would aim a little higher than Simmons if they're looking to compete.

Oh, I wasn't advocating for bringing Simmons back necessarily, I was just responding to the idea that they shouldn't trade Simmons. The other poster sees Simmons as an answer for next year so doesn't want him traded (prefers they extend him) and I was just saying they could both trade him and have him for next year.

As far as aiming higher in the FA class, that's the route I would like them to take, but with some caveats. I'd love Story, Seager, or Correa, but the financial resources likely needed to bring them in hamper the ability to upgrade areas I see as more of a need. I think a Baez signing could be a nice middle ground. Upgrade on Simmons, but not as expensive as the the tippy top of the SS class. The Twins need to devote more resources to pitching than position players this offseason I think. And obviously many other variables that go into this (extend Berrios, Buxton, Rogers? Trade one of more of them?). But my post wasn't me advocating for Simmons being the SS next year as much as it was saying him being here next year shouldn't stop them from trading him this year.

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1 hour ago, bean5302 said:

There will be a lot of FA shortstops to choose from for 2022. I'd hope the Twins would aim a little higher than Simmons if they're looking to compete.

Not sure what you mean by higher, if he is the highest rated SS in the league according to all the computers I love to hate so much.  Pretty tough to get higher than highest, unless defense is not what you were referring to.  Personally, I can live with a .220 or .230 hitting SS if they are gold glove caliber but, as I said, I am in the minority a lot.  For over 100 years the National League has done it that way and they still don't feel the need for a DH, so it must not be all bad.  If we are starting over, let him go; if we are revving up for another run, I want his glove.

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50 minutes ago, Mark G said:

Not sure what you mean by higher, if he is the highest rated SS in the league according to all the computers I love to hate so much.  Pretty tough to get higher than highest, unless defense is not what you were referring to.  Personally, I can live with a .220 or .230 hitting SS if they are gold glove caliber but, as I said, I am in the minority a lot.  For over 100 years the National League has done it that way and they still don't feel the need for a DH, so it must not be all bad.  If we are starting over, let him go; if we are revving up for another run, I want his glove.

Higher meaning more likely to contribute to the Twins winning a World Series on an annual basis. I believe players who are likely to generate higher fWAR and bWAR on an annual basis are more likely to contribute to a team's success.

I'd wager you'd be correct in your assertion the National (and American) Leagues have valued perceived defensive contributions when choosing a shortstop for more cumulative years than the player performance at the plate over the past 100 years. I would be very surprised to see evidence backing that up over the past decade, though. I give you Pedro Florimon as a good example. Despite being an excellent defensive shortstop, he hasn't had a starting shortstop job in MLB since the Twins moved on from him after 2014. Florimon wasn't even a black hole at the plate owning a .732 OPS in his last 3 seasons at the MLB level (which ended in 2018). Right now, Florimon sits at San Diego's AAA affiliate while a poor defensive shortstop by the name of Fernando Tatis, Jr. is enjoying his first year of a 13 year $330MM contract on San Diego's MLB roster as a starter.

Based on all accounts I've read, Simmons was not signed by Minnesota to be a defense only SS, btw. He has a career .267 average (since you used that statistic) and was expected to be a league average-ish bat for the Twins.

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Losing Simmons means more losses for the Twins, period.

His throw to first yesterday without being set and both feet in the air is some thing the Twins need BADLY to not be even worse than they are now.

They are fools if they lose him.

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While not a fan of the new wave of SABR statistics, especially WAR and FIP, I do think most of those SDIs ring true. They peg a defensive slide to Donaldson, which I think is correct.

Were I think the reality of one of the Twins' actual contribution and the SDI depart and the SDI is very misleading is in the case of Simmons.

I think he has been a huge disappointment both offensively and defensively. He’s made atrociously weak throws to 1st base at times on routine plays. Dropped a noticeable amount of balls and generally not made very many spectacular plays at all like the great Ozzie Smith did or even our own Greg Gagne did. 

On the spectacular play that stands out most on a double play, it was actually Polanco who made the stunningly spectacular diving stop. Simmons made a good relay but Polanco was the one doing something special.

I do think the shifts are making it a lot harder for a SS to stand out like Smith, Gagne or Vizquel. It just may be that because of the shift, the range of a SS is not as important as in the past. I know some people prefer these new defensive statistics over the eye test but I’d prefer to have an evaluation of a veteran baseball observer who has seen hundreds of SSs play. I think that has always been why scouting is so important.

Just my opinion but I think Simmons has turn out to be a poor acquisition and would trade him or release him. Then I would put Polanco back at SS (where he was when the Twins won 101 games) and use Arraez and/or Gordon at 2B. 

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I am wondering if Kiriloff can field better in OF and Larnach can get converted to 1b.  If not, we need a ton of help defending the OF in the future.  Alex cannot seem to catch a popup though, which is odd since he played OF, but they get fly balls not popups. 

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10 hours ago, Greglw3 said:

While not a fan of the new wave of SABR statistics, especially WAR and FIP, I do think most of those SDIs ring true. They peg a defensive slide to Donaldson, which I think is correct.

Were I think the reality of one of the Twins' actual contribution and the SDI depart and the SDI is very misleading is in the case of Simmons.

The SDI algorithm is on the sillier side of things.  Knowing that all common defensive metric systems are wonky, the SABR folks assigned to this project simply added the numbers together from several existing systems.   That's why this is called an "Index" -- like the Dow Jones Industrials Index, it's just a bunch of numbers added together.

The problem is, being an index of algorithms, some events are double, triple, or quadruple counted.  This would be like saying, "WAR is several algorithms, but none of them are perfect.  So let's create a new WAR system by adding bWAR, fWAR, and WARP together...."

In any case, if Simmons is very good at the types of events that get counted multiple times, he will look very good in the eyes of SDI.  If someone measures all of the features of your face, but the measurements for your nose are doubled or tripled, suddenly that computer rendering of your face is distorted/wrong.

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13 minutes ago, Whitey333 said:

Another "new" analytic to smooth over a bad team.  Last time I checked the Twins were very near the bottom in errors committed this year.  Any talk of any gold gloves is ridiculous.

I agree 100%. To be perfectly blunt, I don’t think the Twins have a single every day player worthy of even being discussed for a gold glove. That would be different if Buxton was healthy but he’s likely missed too much time. No one else comes close IMO.

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With the Twins near the bottom of the league in pitcher Ks, trading Simmons is going to hurt this team more than others. 

I'm not advocating we keep Simmons, just that the drop off is going to be substantial unless we plug in a mediocre D, no-bat SS in his place. Moving Polanco back to SS full time should be off the table IMHO. 

I'd still love for the Twins to find a way to trade with the Rays for Taylor Walls at the deadline...if the Rays are ready to permanently hitch their wagon to Wander Fronco. Maybe take back an aging Kiermaier to pair the prospect Walls with a salary dump and give the Twins a legit backup CF?

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13 hours ago, Greglw3 said:

While not a fan of the new wave of SABR statistics, especially WAR and FIP, I do think most of those SDIs ring true. They peg a defensive slide to Donaldson, which I think is correct.

Were I think the reality of one of the Twins' actual contribution and the SDI depart and the SDI is very misleading is in the case of Simmons.

I think he has been a huge disappointment both offensively and defensively. He’s made atrociously weak throws to 1st base at times on routine plays. Dropped a noticeable amount of balls and generally not made very many spectacular plays at all like the great Ozzie Smith did or even our own Greg Gagne did. 

On the spectacular play that stands out most on a double play, it was actually Polanco who made the stunningly spectacular diving stop. Simmons made a good relay but Polanco was the one doing something special.

I do think the shifts are making it a lot harder for a SS to stand out like Smith, Gagne or Vizquel. It just may be that because of the shift, the range of a SS is not as important as in the past. I know some people prefer these new defensive statistics over the eye test but I’d prefer to have an evaluation of a veteran baseball observer who has seen hundreds of SSs play. I think that has always been why scouting is so important.

Just my opinion but I think Simmons has turn out to be a poor acquisition and would trade him or release him. Then I would put Polanco back at SS (where he was when the Twins won 101 games) and use Arraez and/or Gordon at 2B. 

I couldn't agree more about the computers (I hate them), and how they over or under rate particular players.  I couldn't disagree with you more about Simmons defensive play.  Having watched for about 55 years and seeing some pretty good and pretty bad infielders, I consider myself at least somewhat capable of spotting a good one, and Simmons is a good one.  The mistakes he makes are actually a matter of him being so good he just assumes he will make every play and loses a little focus every once in a while with routine plays.  His bat has been quiet this year, but his glove speaks for itself in my extremely humble opinion.  Wish we could keep him around. (and we won 101 games on 307 homeruns, not on any defensive player we had other than possibly Buxton)  But I do respect your opinion as well, so thanks for the give and take.

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On 7/19/2021 at 1:36 PM, Mark G said:

Personally, I have never been in the camp that thought Rosario was a poor defensive left fielder, but then I am in a minority much of the time on a lot of things.  I also cannot understand the push to dump Simmons, and not just because of this article; I have seen enough of him this season to want to re-sign him if he is dumb enough to come back to this squad, and leave Polanco at second.  

Could it be there are still some hard feelings about his anti-vaccine status and the subsequent team outbreak in Anaheim?  I agree that his on-field performance has lived pretty much up to expectations, but there certainly could be more to this (and his expiring contract) on why Simmons is on the market. 

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15 hours ago, Greglw3 said:

I would put Polanco back at SS (where he was when the Twins won 101 games) and use Arraez and/or Gordon at 2B. 

I think good defense is extremely valuable, and I think this strategy would help us to another quick exit were we to make the playoffs, BUT I am afraid this is the best way for the Twins to maximize their assets and save all surplus cash and talent for the rotation.

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