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.