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  • Where Can the Twins Improve Defensively in 2022?


    Cody Christie

    Major League Baseball and Rawlings handed out Gold Gloves earlier this week, and the season's final SDI rankings were revealed. Looking at the numbers, where can the Twins improve defensively in 2022?

     

    Image courtesy of Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

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    The 2021 season was the ninth straight season where SABR's Defensive Index (SDI) was used as part of the voting process for awarding Gold Gloves. Votes from managers and coaches count for 75% of the final results, while SDI is worth approximately 25%. According to SABR, "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, including data from MLBAM's Statcast, Sports Information Solutions, and STATS, LLC."

    Here is where qualified Twins players finished in the SDI rankings along with some places where Minnesota can improve in 2022:

    Catcher: Ryan Jeffers (1.0 SDI)
    Among qualified AL catchers, Ryan Jeffers finished eighth according to SDI. Oakland's Sean Murphy won the Gold Glove and was the AL leader at 6.8 SDI. Jeffers has been touted for his catching ability throughout his professional career, and some of those results showed up on the field last season. However, his struggles at the plate forced the team to demote him to Triple-A, limiting him to 85 big-league games in 2021. Jeffers may see his playing time increase next season if the Twins decide to trade Mitch Garver this winter. 

    First Base: Miguel Sanó (-5.6 SDI)
    First base can be one of the team's most straightforward defensive fixes for 2022. Only one AL first baseman, Boston's Bobby Dalbec, ranked lower than Miguel Sanó when it comes to SDI. Alex Kirilloff is a better defender at first base, and he should start to get more reps at that position next season. Sanó can rotate through first base and designated hitter roles depending on the pitching match-up on any given day. First base defense can be overlooked, but Kirilloff presents an easy upgrade for the Twins. 

    Second Base: Jorge Polanco (2.8 SDI)
    Last winter, Minnesota made a significant defensive upgrade at second base by moving Jorge Polanco away from shortstop. He finished the season as the AL's fourth highest-ranked second baseman, according to SDI. Polanco stayed healthy for all of 2021, and the results speak for themselves on both sides of the ball. Minnesota gave Polanco 39 appearances at shortstop last year, and the team is in the market for a shortstop this winter. It's in the team's best interest to keep Polanco at second base for the long term. 

    Third Base: Luis Arraez (1.4 SDI)
    Josh Donaldson has been considered a solid defensive player throughout his career, but he didn't make enough defensive appearances to appear on the SDI Leaderboard. Luis Arraez finished fifth among AL third basemen according to SDI, which may come as a surprise. Minnesota moved Arraez to a utility role entering last season because his defense was below average at second base. Arraez, Donaldson, and Jose Miranda will all get time at third base in 2022. This is quite the defensive turnaround for Arraez, and it is certainly something to keep an eye on moving forward. 

    Shortstop: Andrelton Simmons (11.8 SDI) 
    Even in a poor offensive season, Andrelton Simmons ranked among baseball's best on the defensive side of the ball. Houston's Carlos Correa, the eventual Gold Glove winner, was the lone player ranked higher than Simmons among AL shortstops. In fact, only two players, Correa and Kansas City's Michael Taylor, finished with a higher SDI. The only way to keep this kind of defensive output at shortstop is to sign Correa to a giant contract or keep Simmons around on a cheap deal.

    Outfield: Max Kepler (5.4 SDI)
    Max Kepler was the only player to make enough appearances to qualify for the season-ending leaderboard among Minnesota's outfielders. He finished fifth among AL right-fielders when it came to SDI. There is an argument to be made that he should have been one of the Gold Glove finalists at his position. One of the easiest ways for Minnesota to improve its outfield defense is to have Byron Buxton on the field more regularly. An outfield with Buxton and Kepler can make up for whatever player roams in left field for the club.  

    Where do you think the Twins can make the most defensive improvement next season? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion. 

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    I appreciate the overview. I am constantly shocked by Simmons ratings. He just does not meet my eye test but I guess I've learning that I'm not a good judge.

    I saw some really good plays by Arraez at third base and maybe that's his best position in the field. The log jam with him Donaldson and Miranda will be an interesting challenge for the team to figure out.

    Sano consistently has a bad Fielding Mark whether third base or first base and it appears to me that he is more logical for DH than Rooker.  

    The outfield is a real question mark Kepler's bat might not be enough to keep him in right field, Buxton's contract might eliminate him from centerfield and we haven't seen anybody play enough left field. In an era or launch angles and fly balls are much more frequent than ground balls The outfield is an essential defensive area that we need to look at as well. 

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    My eye test has been seeing Arraez as a solid 3B despite some bad plays here and there. There is nothing great about him defensively anywhere, but I've always believed he's solid wherever he plays. This rating seems to support my eye test. So 3B and 2B are just fine with what we have on hand.

    Kirilloff should solidify 1B as the primary there while seeing some time in the OF.

    I've maintained I'd be fine with Simmons back at SS if I knew he'd be the OPS producer he was the previous 4-5 years. Otherwise, I think a change has to be made. But there are SS options out there that are solid gloves that have decent bats who could replace him.

    Really, other than 1B, the only spot to really improve defensively...can't believe I'm saying that after the first 2 months of 2021....is LF. And until someone steps up and really grabs that spot, it's going to be a mash-up if multiple players and the defense might be questionable at times. For now, I'm OK with whatever platoon makes sense there for improved offense and average-ish defense. 

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    5 hours ago, Doctor Gast said:

    I'm getting a little off subject but I was wondering why Kepler & Rosario while coming up through the minors weren't switched? Kepler while being a superior fielder wasn't put in LF and Rosario who had the superior arm not put in RF. It more sense to me, Rosario in RF might have stuck around a little longer.

    The first time I talked to Kepler, he was in Elizabethton or maybe the GCL... and he has told me in the past (when in the minors) that he felt like LF was his best position. So yeah, I always thought the same thing... The first time Rosario played for Puerto Rico in the WBC, there were highlights of him throwing someone out at home from right... I think both are fine where they are, but I do still wonder what it might have looked like if they had flipped around. Probably similar. 

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    1 hour ago, Seth Stohs said:

    The first time I talked to Kepler, he was in Elizabethton or maybe the GCL... and he has told me in the past (when in the minors) that he felt like LF was his best position. So yeah, I always thought the same thing... The first time Rosario played for Puerto Rico in the WBC, there were highlights of him throwing someone out at home from right...

    Not really your point, I'm sure, but it's not the throw home that separates LF from RF, but the throw to third.  Okay, now that I type this, seems not even worth saying, but I still wonder if there is some difference if you have two similar fielders in terms of range and arm, but one is more likely to miss the cutoff man or throw to the wrong base.  I'm thinking, put Brain Cramp Guy in left, but I could be wrong. And no, I'm not saying Eddie was remarkably prone to mental errors.

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    I was one of the ones who was thrilled when the Twins signed Simmons. His fielding was as advertised. I could live with his 2021 offensive lack of production, but I still do not want Simmons to be re-signed. A red flag was when he quit during the season in 2020,  I may be censored for bringing this up, he reportedly refused to be vaccinated against Covid, and put on social media some mess about an "alternate treatment", then he tested positive  for Covid.. I may be wrong about this, and  the censors  may delete this, and if so, so be it. I will still be a loyal TD reader and contributor.   

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    On 11/13/2021 at 4:53 PM, Seth Stohs said:

     The first time Rosario played for Puerto Rico in the WBC, there were highlights of him throwing someone out at home from right...

    Thank you Seth for those tidbits. I can envision Rosario gunning down runners as they try to advance to 3rd as well at home if he had played RF for the Twins. 

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    This was a very interesting read.  Some of my "assumptions" have been shattered.  I knew that Simmons was going to be an upgrade at SS.  And he was as advertised even though I thought he would be "better' I kept expecting Ozzie Smith type plays nightly.  Honestly, the Twins haven't had a GOOD SS day in and day out since Gagne (Guzman was good, but not nearing as consistent as Greg Gagne).  If I KNEW Simmons would hit closer to the previous 4-5 years I'd abandon my Mondesi pipe dream and sign him for $3 million (that's all Simmons is worth at this point).  

    I'm really surprised Arraez was that proficient at 3B.  It makes him more valuable to the Twins and I believe more of a trade chip than I realized.  Kepler and Buxton are Gold Glove caliber.  Sano is a DH, plain and simple and if kept should bat 8th and DH.  Polanco was "solid" at 2B.  LF still remains a weak defensive position, and yes, tony&rodney  you can keep on banging his drum.  He's a GOOD baseball player.  I just think we need so much on our pitching staff that lineup improvements will need to take a back seat.  

    Because Jeffers appears to be a "Catcher of the Future" (more than Garver) for a trade partner like Miami (and because I think Rortvedt will be a stud defensively) I make a blockbuster trade to Miami with Jeffers in a package for one or two young pitchers and give Rortvedt a half season or less at St. Paul before I call him up (if he's earned it).  Tomas Tellis can be the backup catcher until that time. Honestly, Kiriloff at 1B.  Buxton and Kepler healthy and playing.  An engaged and desperate to prove he can still play Simmons and Polanco at 2B is a pretty solid foundation.  Throw in a healthy Donaldson (or Arraez if he's not traded) at 3B and the twins are fairly solid defensively.  

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    Fangraph stats and Baseball reference stats would lead a fan to believe Simmons was bad at defense. SABR likes him.  Which statistical organization is correct? The correct answer is whichever one you need to back your opinion.

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    SDI rankings shouldn't be used with teams that shift a lot.

    13 hours ago, Prince William said:

    Fangraph stats and Baseball reference stats would lead a fan to believe Simmons was bad at defense. SABR likes him.  Which statistical organization is correct? The correct answer is whichever one you need to back your opinion.

    UZR/150 = -1.1 = Average Shortstop

    Range Factor / 9 = 4.03 vs. league average 3.81 = Excellent

    SDI = 11.8 = Excellent

    Range Factor and SDI aren't accurate for modern baseball because they don't account for the shift. Range Factor and SDI are based on how many outs the fielder is making directly or assisting with. The Twins shift a lot meaning Simmons gets more opportunities to field balls so the Range Factor and SDI values are inflated.

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    6 hours ago, bean5302 said:

    SDI rankings shouldn't be used with teams that shift a lot.

    UZR/150 = -1.1 = Average Shortstop

    Range Factor / 9 = 4.03 vs. league average 3.81 = Excellent

    SDI = 11.8 = Excellent

    Range Factor and SDI aren't accurate for modern baseball because they don't account for the shift. Range Factor and SDI are based on how many outs the fielder is making directly or assisting with. The Twins shift a lot meaning Simmons gets more opportunities to field balls so the Range Factor and SDI values are inflated.

    That is your opinion, or a matter of -- hmm analytics, I will use the ones that fit an opinion.em

    Beyond SS, which any one the Twins can afford will be a drop defensively from Simmons; they need a Left Fielder badly that has quick agile feet and a strong accurate arm.

    There is no one in the system that fits that bill,  they need a quality veteran.

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    Interesting. I know Sano is a lousy 1B, but we have no where else to play him if we keep Donaldson. Donaldson needs at least 50-60 games at DH if we want 140 games from him and Sano isn't worth keeping if he's only going to play 80-90 games a year at Dh at a few at 1B. This conundrum plus the need to find a place to give Miranda a chance has me thinking more and more that we should trade one of those two guys. I just think it's really hard to keep both on the team, unless you play Sano at 1B, Donaldson/Arraez/Miranda at 3B/DH and Kirilloff/Arraez in LF.  Perhaps not the best approach. 

     

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    The Twins have multiple players at the same positions yet no one at a SS or LF. Trade from your extras to fill those holes. It's not complicated. Who do you trade if you want to improve your defense? Your weakest players defensively. Just remember not to sacrifice offense to he point the defensive upgrades don't help. No point in holding another team to 1 or 2 runs less per game if you lose 2 or 3 runs per game of offense. Not that those are exact numbers but you get my point. Current logjams at 1B and 3B are the problem. If you are going to use the DH spot to give guys an occasional day off in the field then Sano is the guy that has to go. He's the worst defensively and his offense is spotty at best. I don't trade Donaldson because of his big contract that the Twins would have to eat most of in a trade and he still is a viable option at 3B in case Miranda doesn't hit in the bigs like he did in the minors. He's just not a known commodity yet that you can plan on for an entire season. Also, if he does hit it sounds like he can play in the OF so maybe he's your LF guy and you just don't know it yet. Arraez would have to be the 2nd guy to go if you can get a good return for his bat. There again, don't give up offense for defense unless it's a guy that can give you some of both. Don't want to see Simmons back even though I liked the signing at the time, as he turned into a  one dimesional player. 

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    On 11/15/2021 at 11:29 AM, bean5302 said:

    SDI rankings shouldn't be used with teams that shift a lot.

    UZR/150 = -1.1 = Average Shortstop

    Range Factor / 9 = 4.03 vs. league average 3.81 = Excellent

    SDI = 11.8 = Excellent

    Range Factor and SDI aren't accurate for modern baseball because they don't account for the shift. Range Factor and SDI are based on how many outs the fielder is making directly or assisting with. The Twins shift a lot meaning Simmons gets more opportunities to field balls so the Range Factor and SDI values are inflated.

    As near as I can tell when a player plays defense there job is to catch balls.  When you do not make the play regardless of where you start, the SDI will go down. When you make all the plays it goes up. Hmm, a metric that compares what you do on every play. 

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    10 hours ago, Prince William said:

    As near as I can tell when a player plays defense there job is to catch balls.  When you do not make the play regardless of where you start, the SDI will go down. When you make all the plays it goes up. Hmm, a metric that compares what you do on every play. 

    The player doesn't deserve the credit when the team is telling them where to stand so the ball travels directly to them. The shift artificially increases the number of opportunities fielders have to catch balls because it doesn't give you a clear indication on how good the player is.

    The shift can impact Range Factor dramatically. The top shifting team last year would have been expected to see a reduction in batting average on ground balls and soft liners by approximately 6% overall. That's a 6% increase in opportunity for an infielder to make a play. Between the top and bottom shifting teams, the difference would have been 4%. How much of a difference does that make? It could easily drop RF/9 by .15 points as a shortstop turning a very good SS into a pedestrian one.

    If the Twins were to think Simmons was good because of his Range Factor or SDI, but it was actually due to the Twins' shifting and positional strategy, it would cause the Twins to misjudge Simmons' value. In that case, the Twins could plug a supposedly inferior shortstop from a team which employed a less successful position or shift strategy into the Twins' system and the new player would also perform just as well as Simmons.

    It's about properly valuing players.

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    6 hours ago, bean5302 said:

    The player doesn't deserve the credit when the team is telling them where to stand so the ball travels directly to them. The shift artificially increases the number of opportunities fielders have to catch balls because it doesn't give you a clear indication on how good the player is.

    The shift can impact Range Factor dramatically. The top shifting team last year would have been expected to see a reduction in batting average on ground balls and soft liners by approximately 6% overall. That's a 6% increase in opportunity for an infielder to make a play. Between the top and bottom shifting teams, the difference would have been 4%. How much of a difference does that make? It could easily drop RF/9 by .15 points as a shortstop turning a very good SS into a pedestrian one.

    If the Twins were to think Simmons was good because of his Range Factor or SDI, but it was actually due to the Twins' shifting and positional strategy, it would cause the Twins to misjudge Simmons' value. In that case, the Twins could plug a supposedly inferior shortstop from a team which employed a less successful position or shift strategy into the Twins' system and the new player would also perform just as well as Simmons.

    It's about properly valuing players.

    They tell outfielder to play in or out a bit. They have infielders play in for a bunt. It is no different then asking them to shift. Find a the proof that shows a good infielder turns into a bad one by shifting, not speculation. 

    Shifting did not turn Polonco into a good statistical shortstop

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    3 hours ago, Prince William said:

    Every play that a player is in position to make is of equal value. There can be no argument  about that

    Right. Now is the player in a position to make a play because of the play or because of the strategy? Range Factor and SDI don't isolate the player performance so it's hard to judge how well a player performs.

     

    10 hours ago, Prince William said:

    They tell outfielder to play in or out a bit. They have infielders play in for a bunt. It is no different then asking them to shift. Find a the proof that shows a good infielder turns into a bad one by shifting, not speculation. 

    Shifting did not turn Polonco into a good statistical shortstop

    Polanco is arguably the worst shortstop to play more than a single full season there in the past 20 years. Making Polanco "good" would have required a miracle. Shifting's impact on grounders and soft fly balls is well documented. It's not speculation. RF and SDI don't attempt to count for the shift.

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    13 hours ago, bean5302 said:

    Right. Now is the player in a position to make a play because of the play or because of the strategy? Range Factor and SDI don't isolate the player performance so it's hard to judge how well a player performs.

     

    Polanco is arguably the worst shortstop to play more than a single full season there in the past 20 years. Making Polanco "good" would have required a miracle. Shifting's impact on grounders and soft fly balls is well documented. It's not speculation. RF and SDI don't attempt to count for the shift.

    There is strategy on every play. It doesn't matter. The players line up where management tells them to, shift or no shift

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