Although the 2019 roster produced a record setting number of homers, adding Josh Donaldson to the mix this winter seemed like a no-brainer. Sano could slide across the diamond and Minnesota could use some of their available cash flow to lock down a superstar for the immediate future. He brings even more pop to an already potent lineup, but the Gold Glove caliber defense at the hot corner should’ve been expected to make a difference.
Back in July I tweeted about the impact of Donaldson’s defensive prowess at third. Using 2019 numbers alone, it was surmisable that Rocco Baldelli’s infield corps would take a step forward. The Twins have utilized shifts over 40% of the time this season (up from 35.5% a year ago). Remaining in the top ten across baseball, positioning has helped Minnesota pitchers to take away hits from parts of the field otherwise left vacant.
It’s hard to discern what impact the inclusion of Donaldson has had in regards to the specific improvements for the rest of his teammates, but it’s worth noting that the longtime Blue Jays slugger has played just 19 games having battled calf issues. Even without him being a constant in the lineup, the Twins infield has gone from being worth -18 outs above average (OAA) to a +5 OAA and 5th best in baseball this year.
Most notably of all players in the Twins infield is the guy that’s been run out there on a nightly basis. Jorge Polanco looked like a miscast shortstop in the last few seasons, but you can hardly make that claim now. He went from ranking 35th out of 35 in OAA last year to posting a +1 OAA leaving him 14th in 2020.
There’s no doubt that numbers can bog us down sometimes, and the reality is the games aren’t played on paper. Our eyes don’t deceive us in watching Polanco, however. He’s vastly improved when charging the ball, and area he struggled mightily with a season ago. After posting a -11 OAA in those instances during 2019, the improvement is to the tune of a +3 mark and 14 out improvement.
Despite having to play so much of the shortened sprint without efforts from Byron Buxton or the aforementioned Donaldson, Minnesota owns the 5th best defensive runs saved mark in baseball. At 21 DRS, they are third in the American League and trail just divisional foes Cleveland and Chicago. A year ago, they were the final team to post a positive DRS and finished 18th overall in the majors.
What we’ve seen is intentional preparation for regression and an assessment for constant improvement by the front office and coaching staff. Expecting another 300+ home run outburst was unlikely (and even moreso having just 60 games to do it) but finding ways to improve on other weaknesses was a worthy venture.
Although we’re running out of action in the regular season this lineup hasn’t been consistently healthy and clicking yet. Making sure the defense doesn’t slump in the interim is a controllable pursuit. It’s one the front office set forth to ensure during the winter, and it’s one that Rocco needs to remain on top of into the Postseason.
This club is far too good to string multiple nights of missed opportunity together. When the floodgates open, the defensive improvements will be there to slam the door.
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