Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Twins Defensive Player of the Year: Denard Span

On Monday, ESPN's Mark Simon wrote an article naming Mike Trout as the "Defensive Player of the Year" for MLB. Throughout the season, he and a team of twelve voters had picked out the best defensive player for every month and their overall choice for the year was Mr. Trout. This got me to thinking about who would come out on top for the Twins if the same award had to be given to a player on the roster for Minnesota. There are some good defensive players on the Twins and it's fun to try and pick out the player with the best year behind a lackluster pitching staff.

The first step should be to name some of the top candidates on the defensive side of the ball for the Twins in 2012. In the outfield, there are a couple options with Denard Span and Ben Revere having very good seasons patrolling the deep outfield at Target Field. Jamey Carroll has done well in his time at multiple infield positions and Alexi Casilla has looked good in his limited action for the club. Since September started, Pedro Florimon has been impressive but he hardly has enough chances to be named as the top defender or did he...

By digging into the statistics, it makes it easier to separate the leaders for the Twins. According to the Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) statistic, Ben Revere has the top marks on the team during his time in the outfield. UZR is based on zone rating and it measures a fielder's success at getting to balls determined to be in his "zone" of the playing field. The number attempts to quantify how many runs a player saved through their fielding skills or lack of fielding skills. Revere's UZR sits at 16.3 which is almost five and a half points higher than the next closest member on the team. He also gets some credit for going out of his zone in right field to track down balls. Here is the top five for the Twins:

Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) Leaders
1. Ben Revere 16.3 (LF, RF, CF)
2. Jamey Carroll 10.9 (2B, SS, 3B)
3. Darin Mastroianni 10.1 (RF, CF, LF)
4. Denard Span 9.4 (CF)
5. Alexi Casilla 7.8 (2B, 3B)

UZR isn't the only statistic of importance when it comes to grading defenders for the Twins. There are other categories to consider when trying to separate the boys from the men. Another metric that is easy for fans to understand is Defensive Runs Save (DRS).  DRS captures a player's total defensive value by indicating how many runs a player saved when compared to the average player at his position. Much like UZR, DRS is measured in runs above or below average. Span ranks at the top for the Twins and some of the other members on this list might be a surprise.

Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) Leaders
1. Denard Span 20 (CF)
2. Alexi Casilla 15 (2B, 3B)
3. Jamey Carroll 13 (SS, 2B, 3B)
4. Ben Revere 8 (RF, CF, LF)
5. Pedro Florimon 6 (SS)

Since there are two different websites visited by fans looking for statistics about baseball players, there can be some differences in the numbers put out by those sites. Baseball Reference and FanGraphs each have their own version of Wins Above Replacement (WAR) so there are some differences in how they look at the defensive side of the ball. FanGraphs uses the UZR numbers from above when calculating their WAR number. Baseball Reference has a specific value for the amount of wins a player was worth as a defender over a replacement level player.

Defensive Wins Above Replacement (dWAR) Leaders
1. Denard Span 2.4
2 (tie). Jamey Carroll 1.8
2 (tie). Alexi Casilla 1.8
4. Pedro Florimon 0.9
5. Ben Revere 0.6

One final category to consider in the balloting for top defensive player on the Twins in 2012 is Range Runs (RngR). In this metric, it rates players based on their ability to get to a ball also known as their range. As with most of the statistics looked at here today, it is measured in runs saved compared to the average for other players in the league at the same position. Much like UZR above, Revere gets quite a bump from being a center fielder shagging fly balls in the corner outfield spots for most of the year.

Range Runs (RngR) Leaders
1. Ben Revere 12.6
2. Denard Span 9.5
3. Darin Mastroanni 8.9
4. Jamey Carroll 7.0
5. Alexi Casilla 6.6

It's clear that there isn't a perfect way to measure a player's defensive ability but there are plenty of statistics to help clear up some of the foggy mess. With that being said, the Defensive Player of the Year for the Twins is Denard Span. He ranks at the top of two of the above categories and he finished runner-up in another category. After dealing with concussion issues for a chunk of last season, it was good to see Span manning center field for over 120 games this year. A nagging shoulder injury cost him some time late in the season and his numbers might have been even better had he not been on the DL. It was still a terrific defensive season for Mr. Span and he continues the line of great defensive center fielders for the Twins.

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