Jump to content
Twins Daily
  • Create Account

Twins Must Fix Infield Defense in 2023


Ted Schwerzler
 Share

The Minnesota Twins are currently working towards filling out their Opening Day roster for 2023, and while there’s plenty of question as to who the players will be, a focus must be in addressing defensive woes. A few seasons ago this club had one of the better fielding teams in baseball. That identity was all but lost in 2022, and injuries or otherwise, it must be found again.

 

Image courtesy of © Thomas Shea-USA TODAY Sports

There’s no denying that Minnesota’s front office is currently navigating a way forward without Gio Urshela, and they’ve yet to bring back star shortstop Carlos Correa. That leaves plenty of questions on the dirt, and it’s there that Rocco Baldelli’s team struggled the most a season ago. As much as Jorge Polanco or Luis Arraez may contribute offensively, neither have been particularly valuable on defense.

A season ago the Twins ranked 13th in baseball in terms of defensive runs saved (23). That’s misleading however, as the outfield alone contributed 24 DRS (4th best), meaning the infield was responsible for a -1 tally. Minnesota was also worth 16 outs above average (4th best) in the outfield, but Statcast’s metric had them at -11 OAA overall, meaning the infield was worth a horrid -27 OAA.

It’s not a surprise that the Twins would have a strong outfield defense. Byron Buxton is arguably the best center fielder in baseball, and Max Kepler can lay a similar claim in right field defensively. Left field has been somewhat of a revolving door for Minnesota, especially with injuries to Trevor Larnach and Alex Kirilloff, but the group together is a very solid one. It is imperative that the Twins figure out a way to match that on the infield.

We’ll see somewhat of a different look for Baldelli’s team this season. With Urshela being dealt to the Los Angeles Angels, Jose Miranda is set to be the starter at the hot corner. He was worth -6 DRS and -4 OAA in just shy of 600 innings at first base, but was exactly average in roughly 250 innings at third base. The eye test suggested that Miranda has his deficiencies across the diamond, but it’s clear he has good instincts and the arm can play. Getting full trust their in his second season will give us a better indication of what is to come.

There’s not going to be a change at second base as Polanco is entrenched there. After a solid showing in his new position during 2021, Polanco regressed by advanced metrics standards in 2022. His -1 DRS was down from 3 the year prior, and his -9 OAA was a far cry from the near-neutral -1 OAA in 2021. There had been hope that Polanco could emerge as a strong defender moving away from shortstop, but we’ve yet to see that. With the shift banning infielders from playing deep in the grass, it may help that Polanco’s throw distance is dramatically reduced.

We haven’t seen enough of Kirilloff at first base to make a judgment as to what he’ll be there, and we know that Arraez has his own deficiencies. The latter racked up all of the offensive awards in 2022, but recently told me at the Twins uniform unveiling that his next goal is to win a Gold Glove. Minnesota will continue to make Arraez a utility contributor, but he could be the most consistent first basemen in 2023 without having clarity on the status of Kirilloff’s wrist.

The front office has yet to acquire a starting shortstop, and if it’s not going to be Correa, a strong defender could wind up being the linchpin for the infield. Andrelton Simmons was supposed to represent that two seasons ago, and did provide significant defensive value. Limiting range without a shift is going to require individual contributors to provide the utmost ability. Knowing Polanco’s limitations on the opposite side of second base, Minnesota can’t afford to miss on shortstop.

The goal for the Twins would certainly be to score more runs in 2023, but they also must do a substantially better job at limiting them. Everyone will be tested without the shift, but having a cleaner and more crisp set of fielders on the dirt is imperative. The Twins outfield may be one of envy defensively, but no one has desired what they’ve put out immediately behind the mound in recent seasons. It’s time to fix that.

 


View full article

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Recommended Posts

Limiting range without a shift is going to require individual contributors to provide the utmost ability.

Ted, you bring up a great point about range that I hadn't thought of previously.  Having CC4 as SS would IMO reduce the number of hits that get through the IF due to range limitations. Part of that is range but a lot of that is his arm.  All the more reason to re-think that signing.

Also, I believe players did not get enough defensive reps in ST and it showed.  The coaching staff should ramp those up considerably.  Rocco keeping some consistency in the IF would improve defense also.  Shuffling in and out players negatively impacts those instincts that come with playing with each other often.

Lastly, I recall Koskie working his tail off taking grounders to become a defensive asset instead of a liability.  If Miranda is not doing the same right now to personally improve, that would be a shame.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Correct me if I am wrong, but weren't advanced metrics kind to Arraez at 1B?
We know Polanco was playing injured most of the year, and is a bounce back candidate
Farmer (for the moment) appears to be solid at SS.
Miranda at 3B is a HUGE question mark.

Not seeing much of a change here this year unless Correa comes back.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

So we sort of upgraded by move Miranda off 1st 

Farmer is a good fielder according to metrics. I want him as the Super Ute not starting SS. 

I want C4 very badly.  😍😍

Polanco honestly seems to cycle every other year. So look for an uptick this year. 
 

if we can’t get C4, then I think we look to the next best SS and if they are close lean to the better defender. 
 

when healthy, I think we have hitters and more in the pipeline.

Arraez was good enough at first, again according to what I have heard. 
 

that leaves Catcher. I hope the coaches improve Jeffers defensive skills. 2nd catcher is a mystery. Murphy will cost too much I think. Toronto has 3 but at what cost?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

This is a really good essay to challenge our outlook as we tend to look at batting statistics first.  At catcher Jeffers is best regarded as a framer, not a defensive whiz, 1B is a real question mark, 2B will be below league standards no matter who is there and the new - no shift - rule will make more so.  SS is a question and Farmer does not give us elite defense (Correa did not last year either) and Miranda is not rated as well as Urshela at 3B. LF is Larnach or Kiriloff (neither elite), CF is elite or??? depending on how much Buxton is out there.  RF is good with Kepler, questionable with Wallner.   

The only positive defensive position seems to be DH!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

52 minutes ago, Fire Dan Gladden said:

Correct me if I am wrong, but weren't advanced metrics kind to Arraez at 1B?
 

The metrics may have been kind to Arraez, but, to me at least, the eye test was not. He went after balls to his right when he shouldn't have, he stayed on the bag too long on obviously errant throws and struggled at times with throws in the dirt. He did alright on pop flies to short right and foul territory down the line, his positioning on cut-offs was adequate and he has the arm to make the cut-off throw and the throw across the diamond.

The shortcomings can be worked on this off-season, but it will take time and game repetitions for "instincts" to take over, and if the team continues to use him as a utility player he won't get those. But the bat plays so the team needs him on the field... 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

2 hours ago, EGFTShaw said:

Polanco honestly seems to cycle every other year. So look for an uptick this year.

Except Polanco's issue defensively last year, as well just playing, was an injured back. That and age don't usually disappear every other year. Hope I'm wrong but I think Polanco is someone who will battle injuries throughout the rest of his career.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

With Polanco playing hurt the 2nd half, of course his denfensive #s are going to be way down, so this shouldn't be taken into consideration. I don't blame Polanco for his poor 2nd half defensive #s, I blame management for not dealing with the injury & not getting him back to 100% right away. The way things sit right now is our OF is great, our INF is average(ish), catching defensive terrible, especially throwing out runners and pitchers holding runners on. That should be a growing concern next season. We need an upgrade at catcher and pitchers need to be coached heavily to keep runners on base.

Concerning the shift ban that'll be a problem. Range of the SS & 2B are very important. Farmer & Polanco are slightly above average in a normal year. But beyond them their replacements are terrible. We want Arraez bat in the line up but he absolutely shouldn't play 2B because he has no range what so ever. If he needs more ABs he should get a lot more practice grounders at 3B.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Urshela, Correa, (healthy) Polanco and either Kirilloff or Arraez at first would be fine. The main reasons for the woeful scores this year were 1) Polanco playing at much less than 100% and 2) replacements (Miranda and Gordon) being poor defenders. 

We don't know who the principal 2023 SS will be, but if it is a strong defender (Correa), then Farmer could get plenty of reps at third, where he figures to be better than Miranda and be a strong backup for the shortstop. A healthy Polanco or healthy Arraez will be fine at second. I think the best defender at first would be a healthy Kirilloff, but he hasn't logged consistent innings there. Gordon, despite limited experience in the OF, looks to be a much better option in the outfield than the infield.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Early in your post you state that neither Polanco or Arraez have been particularly valuable on defense.  Seeing the number of innings Arraez had played first prior to last year was a handful, if any, it is understandable that he made some mental errors .  But the player I saw got better as the season went on, until his knee limited him to part-time DH the last several weeks of the season.

But wasn't Arraez the runner up for the AL gold glove at first base?  That sure as heck seems to me that he would have to add some value to earn that consideration.  Spring training was so short last year and I doubt they expected Luis to be their first baseman, so I suspect he had minimal reps at first, if any.  With the off-season and normal spring training I can see Arraez being an excellent first baseman, even though he isn't built like one.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

2 hours ago, FlyingFinn said:

Except Polanco's issue defensively last year, as well just playing, was an injured back. That and age don't usually disappear every other year. Hope I'm wrong but I think Polanco is someone who will battle injuries throughout the rest of his career.

Polanco is about the sturdiest player on the Twins roster. He had ankle problems until they solved the problem by removing him from SS. He injured his back this June was placed on the IL for the 1st time ever in his MLB career, after that he was fine. July he hurt his knee sliding, that wasn't dealt with and they played him until he couldn't stand the pain. Polanco doesn't have a reoccuring back problem or have problem with normal injuries unless they aren't dealt with. Most seasons he leads the Twins with games played & I expect the same for '23 if his injuries are managed right.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

3 hours ago, Doctor Gast said:

The way things sit right now is our OF is great, our INF is average(ish), catching defensive terrible, especially throwing out runners and pitchers holding runners on. That should be a growing concern next season. We need an upgrade at catcher and pitchers need to be coached heavily to keep runners on base

Our OF is great???  We have a huge question in left. Two guys with injury histories who have too small of a sample size to really evaluate if they’re any good. CF, when you combine Buxton and whomever’s numbers is average over the whole season. RF is missing a MLB hitter. That’s “great”?  Infield was not average last year. They were well below average, even with Correa. Catcher is missing a MLB player or two. Oddly, the only thing that looks ok is the starting rotation. 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

2 hours ago, Doctor Gast said:

He had ankle problems until they solved the problem by removing him from SS. He injured his back this June was placed on the IL for the 1st time ever in his MLB career, after that he was fine. July he hurt his knee

I hope you are right and the ankle/back/knee/etc are all fine next year. He has put a lot of miles on his body as he played all the time in previous years. 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Elephant in the room first: SS.

Long story short, the Twins have had at least preliminary discussions with Boras in regard to Correa that would seem to indicate high $200M at 8-9yrs. So they are being serious, at least in regard to initial talks. Over the course of 8-9yrs, an additional $10-15-20M is probably not a deal breaker. But 10yrs and well over $300M probably is.

Ironically,  Boras being the agent in question is not a huge roadblock as the Twins have had a good working relationship with him over the years. And if numbers get out of hand, I could see a shift to Bogaerts as a very nice second option, for less years and $. NOT saying Correa is out, or Turner or Swanson wouldn't be in play, but I think Correa and Bogaerts may be the pecking order currently. 

I think ownership and the FO are very serious about adding 1 of the big 4. Doing so changes the whole dichotomy of the infield. Without one, SOMEONE has to be added to help stabilize the infield and AT LEAST provide depth so Gordon isn't the ONLY option. SS could be a strength to average.  

I WANT and the Twins NEED better infield defense. Hard work, drills, and the coaching staff can and should make a difference. Figuring out SS will absolutely make a difference. 

Elephant covered, let's move on.

Miranda is a good athlete, not a great one. He's got the arm and ability to play 3B. It's about the work he puts in. He's actually going to be spending some time with Correa, who's taken him under his wing since day one, to work on his defense this offseason. Since when do we dismiss defensive potential for a ROOKIE from day one that he can't be better? Gaetti, Koskie, Plouffe, and others turned out to be good to great with a little time and work. My goodness, he was practically learning 1B on the fly this past season.

And speaking of learning things on the fly, had Arraez EVER played at 1B before 2022? Since he's been brought up, he's been tossed in to LF, 1B, and even asked to play a few innings at SS. Tell him he needs to go in as an emergency catcher and he's toss on the gear and give you a "no problem" wink and nod and do his best. He's an OK 2B. He might be better at 3B, but a couple bad plays has a lot of people believing he's some butcher there. He's not. He was generally solid at 1B this year, learning a new spot on the fly. Because that's what he does. He's still a limited athlete compared to others, so he's just never going to be a great 2B or 3B, but he's OK filling in at both spots. He's best as a 1B and DH. What's wrong with that? 

Kirilloff...who I am NOT betting on to begin the season but remain ever hopeful for...is a solid OF. I've watched him play. Not great, but solid. But he looks like a NATURAL at 1B. His bat and glove can potentially change a lot of things IF his surgery was successful. His wrist is not a problem any longer and he can FINALLY have the career laid put for him? He's a difference maker!

A healthy Polanco is a fine 2B. Period. He was an OK SS...ironic to this day as he was signed as a defense 1st SS...but is good to very good at 2B when healthy. And like half of the roster last year, he wasn't from about July on. And if you've watched enough games, you know this to be true.

Gordon is best as an OF, but he can cover 2B and SS adequately. Not daily, but can be a nice fill-in and do some nice things offensively. 

I'm not worried about 1B, especially if AK can come back strong. I'm not worried about 2B with Polanco healthy and some decent backup options. Gut tells me Miranda is going to be OK at 3B with work and experience.

The "hole", if there truly is one, is are we going to be OK at SS? Or might we be better than that with a future BIG addition?

Hard work by Miranda, a healthy Polanco. Improvement from Arraez at 1B, a healthy AK also at 1B, are all PARTS of a better infield defense.  ADEQUATE SS play, with the above is OK. The above with one of the TOP FA SS can move the needle up another important notch.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

6 hours ago, roger said:

Early in your post you state that neither Polanco or Arraez have been particularly valuable on defense.  Seeing the number of innings Arraez had played first prior to last year was a handful, if any, it is understandable that he made some mental errors .  But the player I saw got better as the season went on, until his knee limited him to part-time DH the last several weeks of the season.

But wasn't Arraez the runner up for the AL gold glove at first base?  That sure as heck seems to me that he would have to add some value to earn that consideration.  Spring training was so short last year and I doubt they expected Luis to be their first baseman, so I suspect he had minimal reps at first, if any.  With the off-season and normal spring training I can see Arraez being an excellent first baseman, even though he isn't built like one.

I thought the same about his runner up for a God Glove. 
 

Over!

Whats our vector Victor?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

21 hours ago, Bigfork Twins Guy said:

Limiting range without a shift is going to require individual contributors to provide the utmost ability.

Ted, you bring up a great point about range that I hadn't thought of previously.  Having CC4 as SS would IMO reduce the number of hits that get through the IF due to range limitations. Part of that is range but a lot of that is his arm.  All the more reason to re-think that signing.

Also, I believe players did not get enough defensive reps in ST and it showed.  The coaching staff should ramp those up considerably.  Rocco keeping some consistency in the IF would improve defense also.  Shuffling in and out players negatively impacts those instincts that come with playing with each other often.

Lastly, I recall Koskie working his tail off taking grounders to become a defensive asset instead of a liability.  If Miranda is not doing the same right now to personally improve, that would be a shame.

I agree 100%. I can also addon a bit;

Miranda said he will work with Correa on his fielding over the winter so should see some improvement.

Polanco played hurt most of the year according to reports. Get him healthy should be improvement

Management needs to do a much better job teaching and working on basic fundamentals of defense much more in ST, than they have in the past

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The Twins pitching had nearly to lowest rate of ground balls at 40%. How would that impact team defensive metrics?

The one team below them by ground ball/fly ball rate was the Mariners. The Mariners also had better DRS numbers in the outfield than the infield.

Are you certain there is something significant to fix?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.
Note: Your post will require moderator approval before it will be visible.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

Loading...
 Share

The Twins Daily Caretaker Fund
The Twins Daily Caretaker Fund

You all care about this site. The next step is caring for it. We’re asking you to caretake this site so it can remain the premiere Twins community on the internet.

×
×
  • Create New...