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Has Minnesota’s Defense Improved or Declined in the Second Half?


Defensive improvement was a focus for the Twins this season, but that plan hasn’t gone perfectly. So, has the Twins’ defense improved or declined in the second half?

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, SABR has used SDI as part of the process for selecting Gold Glove winners.

Here is how the Twins rank through games played on August 22, 2021:

Pitcher (AL Ranking): Jose Berrios, 3.7 SDI (3rd)
Berrios was traded before the deadline, but he accumulated the bulk of his SDI total while still in a Twins uniform. Earlier this season, he ranked sixth overall in the AL, so he has made a significant jump in the second half. However, his defense isn’t helping the Twins anymore, and there are no other Twins players on the current leaderboard. Dallas Keuchel is the favorite among AL pitchers as he has nearly double the SDI total of the second-ranked pitcher.

Catcher (AL Ranking): No Twins’ Players Qualify
At the All-Star Break, both Twins catchers ranked in the top-12 when it came to SDI. Garver’s extended time on the IL pushed him out of the rankings, while Jeffers spent some time in St. Paul trying to find his swing. Over the last few weeks, Jeffers has been catching regularly, so it will be interesting to see if he winds up on the final leaderboard.

First Base (AL Ranking): Miguel Sano -2.5 SDI (10th)
Only two qualified first basemen, Nathaniel Lowe and Bobby Delbec, have a lower SDI total than Miguel Sano. His months of July and August continued to bring down his total as he was at -0.9 SDI. It also doesn’t help that Minnesota’s best defensive first baseman, Alex Kirilloff, is injured and won’t be back in 2021. At the All-Star break, he ranked third among all AL first basemen. For 2022, Minnesota should pencil Kirilloff in at first base every day.

Second Base (AL Ranking): Jorge Polanco, 3.3 SDI (3rd)
Polanco has been on an offensive tear in the second half, and his defense has also significantly improved. In less than two months, he moved from 8th to 3rd in SDI among AL second basemen. At that time, I mentioned that he was only 0.5 SDI out of the top-3, and he now ranks 1.2 SDI ahead of fourth place. Polanco looks to be in line to be a Gold Glove finalist, but Whit Merrified and Marcus Semiem have accumulated over twice as much SDI as Polanco.

Third Base (AL Ranking): Luis Arraez, 0.4 SDI (7th)
Arraez isn’t exactly known for his defensive prowess, so this ranking might come as a surprise to some Twins fans. Every third baseman ranked below Arraez has a -4.0 SDI or lower. Josh Donaldson was known for being a strong defender when the Twins signed him, but he has fallen off the leaderboard since the All-Star break. At that time, he looked to be in the middle of his worst defensive season. Does the future at this position belong to Arraez or Jose Miranda?

Shortstop (AL Ranking): Andrelton Simmons, 6.4 SDI (3rd)
Simmons is having another solid defensive season, but he has taken a step back in the second half. In July, he ranked as one of the AL’s best defenders, and he was the number one ranked shortstop. Isiah Kiner-Falefa and Carlos Correa have stormed past him over the last two months. Simmons looks like he will be a Gold Glove finalist, but he won’t be coming away with the hardware.

Left Field (AL Ranking): No Twins' Players Qualified
Trevor Larnach was on these rankings at the All-Star break, but he was near the bottom with a -2.2 SDI. He no longer qualifies as the team demoted him to Triple-A after some offensive struggles. Overall, this race looks to be one of the AL's tightest when it comes to the Gold Glove winner. There is no clear-cut favorite, with Austin Hays (2.1 SDI) and Michael Brantley (1.8 SDI) leading the rankings.

Center Field (AL Ranking): No Twins' Players Qualified
Byron Buxton is still one of baseball's best defenders, but a hip injury and a broken hand have kept him sidelined for a good chunk of the second half. Former Twins prospect Akil Baddoo has the third-lowest SDI total among qualified AL center fielders. Michael Taylor (9.5 SDI) and Myles Straw (7.1 SDI) are at the top of the leaderboard with a month to go in the season.

Right Field (AL Ranking): Max Kepler, 0.8 SDI
Kepler has a positive SDI, but only one qualified right fielder sits below him in the rankings. His second-half defense has improved because he had accumulated a -0.1 SDI in right field at the All-Star break. He dealt with a hamstring injury earlier in the season, which might have brought down his SDI total. 

Do any of these rankings surprise you? Do you think the team's defense has been worse in the second half? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion. 

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Was surprised by Arraez.   Twins will need a shortstop, and maybe depending on how they feel, move on from Donaldson and move Sano to DH.  Buxton is the other factor to extend or trade.  A lot to be determined here, but the Twins if Buxton stays and they have an average SS, rate to have at least an average defense next year. 

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I picture Kirilloff being the perfect 1st baseman. Wonder how Miranda will do at third, Arraez seems to have a weak arm for throwing across the diamond. Once again, what to do with Sano. (Or Donaldson). Right now, the Twins are a mess. Are you going with power strikeout pitchers, ground-ball pitchers, fly-ball pitchers? They know not what they have. The Twins seemed with the Simmons and especially Donaldson to want to shure up the ground ball defense for Dobnak and others like him. Only works if those guys pitch.

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My eye test tells me Polanco is definitely improved. Might be just settling in to 2B more, or his ankle being a little stiff early in the season or both. 

My eye also tells me Arraez has looked better. I think that's as simple as playing 3B more often and just getting comfortable. 

Sano frustrates me. He seems to field 1B cleanly and does a great job on scoops. He chases foul balls generally well. I've even seen him make some really good throws from 1B. He looks fine to even good at 1B and then just muffs a play or makes a ridiculous throw/play and I roll my eyes. Total Jekyl and Hyde. 

I think we're fine at catcher with some obvious growing pains from a couple young rookies that have played a lot.

I don't know what to think about Simmons. He's still solid, but it does look like he's slipped. Is he disinterested? Is he taking his offensive struggles to the field? With average offense I'd take him back for a smaller deal. But it might just not be a good fit and time to find a different short term option.

 

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Kiriloff is still a rookie unknown, he did not play enough games to prove anything so do not bet on the unknown.

Hoping he continues at least as good as he was for sure; spring training will tell a lot.

Arraez would be a fielding let down compared to what we have now, and his batting average is dropping like a rock.

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5 hours ago, RpR said:

Kiriloff is still a rookie unknown, he did not play enough games to prove anything so do not bet on the unknown.

Hoping he continues at least as good as he was for sure; spring training will tell a lot.

Arraez would be a fielding let down compared to what we have now, and his batting average is dropping like a rock.

In the .260s in June, .299 now. That is an interesting way for a rock to drop. 

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So we have invented another analytic to judge players and team performance.  The Twins have had one of the worst defensive team in all of MLB.  They have been at or near the bottom in most meaningful traditional stats all year.  All one needs to do is watch this poor excuse of a team to realize they are very bad defensively.  I do commend the article though for it's hard research and analytical development.  But I for one am overwhelmed by all the analytics.  It's destroying what used to be a good sport.

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5 hours ago, Whitey333 said:

So we have invented another analytic to judge players and team performance.  The Twins have had one of the worst defensive team in all of MLB.  They have been at or near the bottom in most meaningful traditional stats all year.  All one needs to do is watch this poor excuse of a team to realize they are very bad defensively.  I do commend the article though for it's hard research and analytical development.  But I for one am overwhelmed by all the analytics.  It's destroying what used to be a good sport.

Not that long ago some here were hyperventilating over whether Arraez could win the batting title.🥺

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As of a couple weeks ago (I'm not going to look these all up again) Simmons was the only SS who ranks in the top 3 in the AL in SDI, OOA, DRS, and UZR. 

If that holds true, he has as good of a chance as anyone to win the AL SS GG and probably the front runner.

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