Thursday, July 21, 2016

Minnesota's Defensive Dilemma

Photo Credit: Rick Osentoski, USA Today Sports
Defense wins championships. While in baseball that adage might not completely apply, the defensive side of the ball is a big part of the game. Teams can make up for other holes in the roster by playing solid defense and doing some of the other little things right on the field. 

The Twins needed their defense to help this team to take the next step. Many of the regular players on the roster have been sub-par at their primary defensive position and this has only added to some of the first half frustrations.

During last week's All-Star Break, SABR released their updated rankings for the SABR Defensive Index (SDI). According to SABR, the Defensive Index 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.

The SDI rankings were updated through games as of July 10, 2016. It allows fans to compare the defense of their everyday players in relation to other players at the same position in the American League. Zero is the baseline score for SDI so a player with a positive score is doing well and a player with a negative score is not doing so well.

Here are the position players that have qualified so far this year and how they compare to other players at their position in the American League.

Joe Mauer, First Base
SDI Score: 2.8
While Mauer's bat might have cooled off a little in recent weeks, his defense continues to be strong at first base. Mauer trails only Mitch Moreland in the AL SDI rankings for first base. This is a vast improvement over Mauer's play even as recent as last season. In 2015, Mauer posted a -0.1 SDI score and finished ranked tied for the fourth worst defensive AL first baseman. It might be tough for Mauer to catcher Moreland for the top spot in the AL but he should be a Gold Glove finalist at first base.

Brian Dozier, Second Base
SDI Score: -4.5
I wrote about Dozier's defensive ineptitude during the off-season in hopes that he could make a turn-around similar to Jose Altuve. Unfortunately, Dozier's defense hasn't improve and he might actually be getting worse. Only Johnny Giavotella of the Angels ranks lower than Dozier according to the SDI. Last year, Dozier was only able to finish ahead of Robinson Cano and Giavotella. He finished with a -6.1 SDI score last season so it looks like Dozier will shatter that mark in 2016. Many Twins fans associate Dozier with playing good defense but that's not the case. He struggles to get to balls that are routinely made by other players at his position.

Eduardo Escobar, Shortstop
SDI Score: -1.1
Only four shortstops in the AL have posted positive SDI marks this season. Escobar ranks fifth on the list ahead of players like Carlos Correa, Xander Bogaerts, and Elvis Andrus. In the final 2015 SDI rankings, Escobar finished ninth in the AL (-1.4 SDI score). Overall, he has moved up in the rankings but his score is trending in the wrong direction. Escobar is also playing less frequently so he might not end up having the required number of innings at the position to qualify by season's end.

Kurt Suzuki, Catcher
SDI Score: -2.5
Suzuki has never been known for his defensive prowess. He has a hard time throwing out runners but Twins pitchers like throwing with him behind the plate. Suzuki currently sits in ninth place in the AL which ranks him ahead of five qualifying catchers. He was the worst ranking catcher according to SDI last season with a -8.4, a total that was more than four times worse than the next qualifying catcher.

At this juncture of the season, only one everyday player has a positive score which is scary considering the state of the Twins pitching staff. Young players like Max Kepler and Byron Buxton haven't played enough innings to qualify but they both should score well in future updates. With Miguel Sano's recent struggles at third base, Minnesota's infield is almost entirely composed of sub-par defensive players.

With young pitchers like Tyler Duffey and (eventually) Jose Berrios trying to establish themselves, it's imperative for the defense behind them to be strong. Right now, there are some holes in Minnesota's defense but the next month could see some changes as veteran players are dealt away.

Did any of the SDI scores surprise you? Who would you put in Minnesota's best defensive line-up? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.

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