Thursday, September 18, 2014

How Can the Twins Prevent Runs?

"To win the game, you've gotta score more runs than the other team"--- Ricky Henderson, baseball's all-time running scoring leader

Baseball can be a very simple game but it always comes back to scoring more runs than the other team. This has always been the case and teams are challenged by how they should go about accomplishing this task. Should a team try and out slug the opposition to win in a high scoring fashion? Should a team use small ball to try and poke their way back into a game?

The 2014 Twins have actually done a very good job when it comes to scoring runs. Their 4.39 runs per game are seventh highest total in all of baseball. Where the Twins fall short is in the run prevention department. They allow 4.84 runs per game and that is the third worst total in baseball. 

To get back to the franchise's winning ways, the Twins are going to need to find a way to allow fewer runs to score. Again that might seem like a simple answer but the ways to improve this area might not be easy.

Improvements from the Starting Staff
The Twins starting pitchers have a combined 4.53 ERA, the fourth worst mark in baseball. Phil Hughes is the only starter with an ERA under 4.00. If you took Hughes out of the equation, the staff numbers wouldn't look too great. Every pitcher seems to have a clunker every now and then but it's important to limit damage. Some pitchers are obviously better at this than others.

While Hughes in the middle of his best professional season, there can be some expectations that there will be some regression next year. If the Twins can get small improvements from Ricky Nolasco, Kyle Gibson, and Trevor May, the team will be heading in the right direction. Alex Meyer's eventual debut could also help to improve the starting staff.

The pitching staff also needs to find a way to strikeout batters at a higher rate. Meyer should help in this area but he won't be the staff savior. Minnesota's staff gives up a lot of contact and the best way to lower runs is by not allowing the ball to be put in play.

Better Defense
The Twins have been rough at a few different defensive positions this season. For the purposes of this article, SABR's Defensive Index will be used. This is one of the pieces that is used to select the Gold Glove Winners.

Catcher: Out of qualifying catchers, Kurt Suzuki has been fifth worst in the American League. He has a negative rating through games of September 7, 2014. The Twins signed Suzuki to an extension around the trade deadline this year. That means the organization won't likely be improving defensively in this area.

First Base: Joe Mauer's transition to a new position has been fairly smooth. He already had a little experience at first base and he is an athletic person. Only Albert Pujols and Miguel Cabrera rank higher than him among AL first baseman. It wouldn't be surprising to see him at the top of the list as early as next year.

Second Base: Many fans might think Brian Dozier deserves a Gold Glove for his defense. He makes some spectacular plays but he also has plenty of misplays and errors. Dustin Pedroia and Ian Kinsler are way ahead in the AL second base rankings because they don't make mistakes. If Dozier could improve defensively, his value would increase even with some of his recent struggles at the plate.

Third Base: Trevor Plouffe's defense might be the most surprising of all this year. In previous seasons he's looked like a stiff wall at third base. He is becoming more comfortable at the position and he ranks fourth in the AL at the hot corner. It will be interesting to see where Plouffe's future lies. Is it at third base or will he have to move for Miguel Sano?

Shortstop: The plan wasn't for Eduardo Escobar to be at short when the Twins left spring training but that's how baseball works. He hasn't been spectacular at shortstop but it's still good enough to rank third in the AL. Former Twin JJ Hardy is well ahead of the rest of the shortstop world and he's a free agent this off-season. Could Danny Santana do as well as Escobar at shortstop? The Twins haven't wanted to find out.

Outfield: The Twins filtered through a variety of outfielders this season so none of their players figure into the SABR Defensive Index. Minnesota will keep Oswaldo Arcia in one of the corner spots even though he is below average in the field. Center field could be a question mark. Santana has been adequate and he could get better with more repetitions at his new position. Left field could be up for grabs. Byron Buxton and his strong defensive ability could debut next year but that would come later in the season.

Shortstop and left field seem to be the areas where the Twins could improve the most defensively. If Aaron Hicks could make a huge leap offensively, his defense would be a welcome addition in the outfield. It would be nice to have a defensive upgrade at shortstop but the Twins have struggled for years to fill that position.

Even the Twins can make some small improvements to allow fewer runs, that'd be great. Otherwise, they are going to have to hope they can out slug their opponents to get back on the right track.

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