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  • How Improved Is the Twins Defense?

    Cody Christie

    One of Minnesota’s offseason focuses was on improving the club’s overall defense. As the season is nearly 25% complete, has the team’s defense improved and if so, by how much?

    Image courtesy of © Marilyn Indahl-USA TODAY Sports

    Defensive metrics have come a long way in recent years, so there are plenty of ways to judge a team's defensive value. Minnesota’s front office added pieces this winter to improve the team’s overall defense. Andrelton Simmons being signed allowed Jorge Polanco to move to a stronger position. Whichever position he plays, Alex Kirilloff has the potential to be an upgrade over Eddie Rosario in left field and Miguel Sano at first base. Also, a healthy Josh Donaldson adds plenty of defensive value that the club didn’t get to see in 2020.

    Outs Above Average

    There are three key players when it comes to Minnesota’s defense. Andrelton Simmons, Josh Donaldson, and Byron Buxton are among baseball’s best defenders at their individual positions. Outs above average helps fans to quantify how many runs a player has saved because of their range. All three of Minnesota’s top defenders rank among the league’s best when it comes to saving runs.

    Simmons currently ranks fourth overall in outs above average, which places him as the second-best shortstop and the best middle infielder in the American League. Buxton currently ranks 16th in OAA with two center fielders from Tampa Bay ranking ahead of him in the positional rankings. Donaldson comes in at 27th overall with only one AL third baseman, Matt Chapman, having accumulate more OAA. This isn’t the only defensive metric that can be used to look for improvements from the team.

    Defensive Runs Above Average

    FanGraphs uses Defensive Runs Above Average (DEF) to measure a team’s defensive value relative to league average. One benefit of this stat is that it adds in the positional adjustment so that you can compare defensive value across positions. During the 2020 campaign, the Twins ranked 10th in baseball with a 6.9 DEF. Only four AL teams ranked higher than Minnesota, but two of those teams (Cleveland and Chicago) were from the AL Central.

    So far in 2021, the Twins have posted baseball’s seventh best DEF total (6.7 DEF). There are three AL teams with a higher DEF ranking than the Twins including Chicago, Baltimore, and Houston. Minnesota has seen many of their top defensive players miss time this season and that has an obvious impact on their overall defensive output as a team. Simmons, Donaldson, and Buxton are critical for improved defensive and any time they miss has reverberating effects on the rest of the team.

    Ultimate Zone Rating

    Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) is another popular defensive statistic that can be used to examine how many runs a team or player saved or surrendered due to their fielding. It combines a variety of other defensive metrics based on runs including outfielders’ arms, double plays, range, and errors. Last year, Minnesota ranked 11th overall in UZR (4.9) with five AL teams finishing ahead of them. All the AL Central clubs ranked in the top 13 according to UZR during the shortened 2020 campaign.

    Minnesota is up to seventh overall in UZR (6.7 UZR) so far in 2021 and the club already has more UZR than all of 2020. From the Twins perspective, the most alarming change might be how much the White Sox have improved defensively. In 2020, Chicago finished behind Minnesota in UZR by 2.7 runs. This season the White Sox rank second overall with a 12.1 UZR. The Twins have certainly seen some improvements, but will their defense continue to show improvements throughout the rest of the season?

    How improved is the team’s defense? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.

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    The platoon performance of Astudillo/Kiriloff/Sano at first has also served the team well thus far.  All three position themselves well to receive throws and pick balls out of the dirt routinely.  Sano's coordination with the other infielders improved as he got used to the right corner, and he's showing some Herbie-esque ability to go horizontal and snag liners.  Now we need to teach him those wrasslin' moves for laying tags...

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    DEF & UZR don't have individual player metrics? It would be nice to see which players are contributing to those numbers & which have negative #s. Also, the introductory paragraph talked about Polanco but then the article included no stats for Polanco...

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    Two very different components to team defense. 1) Be fundamentally sound and make the plays you’re supposed to make. 2) Take hits, bases and runs away. Buxton made a couple of plays per week that belonged on highlight reels and other players have made very good plays on occasion. As far as turning outs into outs, the Twins are decent. 

    Like other parts of this (so far) snake bitten season, the Twins seem to have saved their most glaring mistakes for the worst possible time. Late inning errors and fundamental mistakes are directly attributable to at least four close losses. 

    Finally, one key defensive position was not broken down much in this discussion—catcher. Primary catcher Mitch Garver is at best adequate IMHO. He seems to have let an inordinate number of balls get by him and doesn’t throw very well. When healthy, Simmons, Buxton and Donaldson are pluses, Mitch Garver is not. 

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    Meh.  These metrics seem jacked.  This team is not playing good defense.  What does statcast say about the team's defense?  Statcast is the only defensive metric free of the data being fed through a funky algorithm to spit out a hypothetical.

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    I will agree that the defense is mostly improved and most plays are being made. However, what simple stats don't show is when the errors occur. And not just the errors that show in the stats, but the mental ones. You know, missed cut-off men, throwing to the wrong base, mishandled run-downs, passed balls. These have been occurring late in games quite regularly and have led to far too many extra pitches, extra outs and extra runs.

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    9 hours ago, Dodecahedron said:

    Meh.  These metrics seem jacked.  This team is not playing good defense.  What does statcast say about the team's defense?  Statcast is the only defensive metric free of the data being fed through a funky algorithm to spit out a hypothetical.

    Statcast has the Twins as tied for the #3 defense in MLB.

    It also shows the Twins as the #2 offense in MLB.

    The downfall, which will surprise no one here, is the pitching. Our favorite squad has the worst pitching in MLB and it is by a WIDE margin. 

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    You can brag all you want about the Twins defense but the reality as to when errors occur cannot be swept aside. Also, mental mistakes have been frequent as was mentioned above. I watched one game in full this season. The Twins committed one error in the game, but the Twins made at least four mental mistakes that won't show up on any analytical dissection of defensive play (and I was only paying half-hearted attention so I might have missed others). Polanco took his eye off a pop-up and missed it (ruled a hit). Polanco failed to cover second base twice on groundballs to short, which ironically led to Simmons' throwing error. Cave, playing too shallow (IMHO), took a very bad route on a flyball, which resulted in a double.

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