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  • Is Twins' Arm Strength Enough for MLB's Post-Shift World? (FREE PREVIEW)

    Matthew Trueblood

    The Twins' infield's arm strength, even with Carlos Correa, isn't particularly impressive. But their pitching staff gives them a sneaky advantage.

    Image courtesy of Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

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    Like the other 29 MLB teams, the Minnesota Twins face a new defensive challenge in 2023: they’ll have to adapt to rules barring shifts on the infield. When we think about the ramifications of that change, we often focus on fielders’ ability to reach and field the ball. In reality, though, there’s an interaction between raw range and throwing arm–one that will become more important. To that end, bringing back Carlos Correa at shortstop was crucial, but even his strong arm faces a tougher test under the new guidelines. 

    Shifts aren’t just about reaching balls that would otherwise scoot cleanly through to the outfield. They are, in nearly equal measure, about making plays more comfortable for defenders. When a big-league team deploys a shift, a much higher share of ground balls hit by the opposition are within a step or two of a fielder’s starting position. They can usually make the play, plant their feet, and make a strong, balanced throw from a firm footing.

    In a post-shift world, we will see teams carefully calibrate their positioning to create as many of those easy chances as the new constraints permit. Inevitably, though, we’re going to see more plays made on the run. Since two defenders have to set up on each side of second base, the shortstop won’t be able to shade as far toward the hole against some right-handed batters as they previously had, because the second baseman will have to be a couple of steps further away from any ball hit to the left side of second base. That, in turn, will force the third baseman to play a step further off the foul line, in order to help defend the hole. 

    As a result, we’ll see more plays on which a third baseman’s momentum carries him into foul territory as he fields a ground ball up the line. We’ll see more shortstops making plays that require them to give ground and end up in shallow left field, with less time to get off a throw. We’ll see second basemen having to make a few more plays on which they must field the ball on the move away from first base, twist around, and throw off-balance from a position more familiar to the shortstop. 

    These are all tough plays to make, because of a neglected secret of infield play: the time during which the ball is with the fielder is the window in which a groundout can become an infield hit. The ball is usually hit at somewhere north of 70 miles per hour, even on a seemingly slow chopper. Once a fielder grabs it and flings it, it nearly always travels more quickly than that from wherever they are to first base. The length and strength of the throw in question matters, of course, and the speed of the runner matters. Too often, though, we overlook how pivotal the time between a fielder slapping the leather on a grounder and their release can be.

    To evaluate how well the Twins can handle that in the new era, one must rely on more than velocity, including more nebulous metrics like "arm utility." We dive into that here, along with where the Twins' infielders rank, and the one advantage the rotation might give them. But just using ad revenue, we can't pay writers enough to do that kind of deep dive. So we reserve it for our Caretakers that support it.  

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    Teams will still shift, just not as extreme as they did before.  You will see SS with like one inch to the left of 2nd.  The 3rd baseman will still stand where they always did.  The 2nd baseman will be the interesting one, but most likely it will depend on if someone is on base or not.  If no one is on 1st they will be closer up the middle with the 1st baseman playing deep off the line, against slower guys.  If someone is on, then the 2nd baseman will play deeper in the hole most likely.  

    Everyone is thinking teams will go back to the "traditional" placement but that just will not happen. 

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    I believe Correa will shine with this shift ban, he'll arise to the challenge, throw & all. Polanco will be fine, Farmer will be fine, Miranda we'll have to see but IMO he'll be fine. The biggest challenge IMO is a 1B that normally let's the ball that's hit to the right of him go so the 2B can field it to start going after that ball. Also the 2B that has no range will be humiliated.

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    I think one of the biggest keys to this, is that the infielders HAVE to play on the infield. No more 2nd or 3rd baseman playing in short RF. I'm sure that a SS will get as close to 2nd base as he can at times, but there still has to be two infielders on either side of 2nd base, on the infield. Can't wait to see these changes, and the others, in actual game situations. Should be very interesting. 

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    Looks like infielders will play like they did for a hundred years. But not really, positioning will require a bit more thought and there were always holes between fielders, but not many hitters seem to take advantage of them. The batters that always had wide open bunt hits available, will lose more of those opportunities that they didn't use.

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    Interesting article.  Biggest question may be what is the arm strength of Lewis and Lee as they will likely be playing somewhere in the infield by the end of 2023.

    Must take exception, however, to your comment about the 'new' defensive challenge.  Nothing is new.  Rather, baseball is returning to how it was played for its first 100++ years before computers got way more involved than some of us old timers prefer.

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    I'm very interested to see how all of this plays out. Some teams, but probably very few, will have figured out the exact  right formula to work with the new rules. A few teams will probably already have lucked into having the exact right formula on roster. Most of the rest, will have to adjust on the fly. The worst of the rest, will have to adjust after the season. I'm always way more interested in the offense than the defense, but even while I don't like some of the player choices (outfield, not infield) I like that this team is being proactive.

    But, they can always minimize any sub par infielder velocity if they make sure to focus on pitcher velocity. The most efficient and optimal out is a strikeout.

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    22 hours ago, tony&rodney said:

    All of the Twins scheduled to play on the infield have enough arm and range to play their positions well. Second baseman on the grass were able to display more range and arm than is needed on the dirt.

    Polanco played SS in the SHOW for years…..his arm should be sufficient, relative to the rest of the league, at 2B! Correa is solid with arm strength. Miranda is on a conditioning kick to be in better shape - we’ll see how it works out. Good news is Farmer will play 3B v. lefties (Miranda @ 1B) plus he will provide rest additionally for all 3 IF guys (25 games each)  & he’s a former everyday SS so his nearly 100 starts should meet arm criteria as well.

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    It's going to be interesting for sure. Shifting and positioning will still exist, as they did for over 100yrs, just not as extreme. I know some don't like the change as they feel baseball should be allowed to adapt, much like defenses in the NFL always adapt. I wonder, is going back...more or less...to how things USED TO BE bad for baseball?

    The part of the rule change I don't like is all infielders having to begin each pitch on the dirt. Even in the "old days" a 2B or SS might play a step or two on the grass. And I'm not sure why they felt they had to make the "dirt" clause part of the rule change.

    I dont think Correa is really affected due to his strong arm. 

    I don't see where a 3B is affected at all. Even when teams were making extreme shift moves, a 3B was still a 3B, sometimes moving more toward a SS positioning. They can still do that. Despite watching milb hilights of Miranda at 3B, and watching him play the position some in 2022, I'm still not really sure about his arm strength. Generally speaking, a 3B has to be in front of the ball, period. It's why an older player lacking range like Donaldson, for example, can still be effective with a strong arm. I just want to see Miranda "get to balls". His new found conditioning should only help him do so. 

    Polanco has probably lost a little range due to previous injuries. But when healthy, the former SS has decent range still, a decent enough arm, and has experience making quick and off balance throws. I'm just not sure he's really affected either.

    Ironically, if Kirilloff is ready to take over 1B...or WHEN he's ready to do so...he might have the 2nd best infield arm.

    Farmer is a good defensive player. Not great, but good. Gordon's arm, when he plays the infield, is pretty average. But he's got the speed and quickness to get to balls. In the near future, Lee and Lewis have pretty good arms. Not sure about Julien's arm.

    IMO, RANGE is still the biggest factor for an infielder. True Gold Glovers have range AND an arm. Limited range can be offset somewhat by a great arm. But if I had to actually choose range vs great arms, I think I'd pick range. I just don't know that the change in shifting is any more of a detriment to the Twins than any other team.


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