Monday, January 9, 2017

Minnesota's Defensive Woes Continue

Photo Credit: Brad Rempel, USA Today Sports
It's no secret that Minnesota's pitching was poor last season. Twins' starters ranked last in ERA and K/9 with a -13.95 win probability added. However, there may be an even deeper problem at the heart of the Twins issues

Even with pitchers performing poorly, the Twins also had trouble on the defensive side of the ball. Miguel Sano struggled during his time in the outfield while other players played below average at their natural positions.

So what's at the heart of Minnesota's defensive woes?

Defensive metrics have come a long way over the last decade. With organizations and other private companies tracking every batted ball, the amount of information available to fans is at an all-time high.

The Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) has developed the SABR Defensive Index (SDI). According to SABR's website, 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."

Here's a look at how Twins' players stacked up in the final 2016 SDI rankings.

Pitcher: Ervin Santana
Final SDI Ranking: -0.7 (32nd in the AL)
Santana was the lone pitcher to accumulate enough innings to appear on the SDI rankings. Defensively, pitchers have very little reaction time and sometimes it is best for them to just stay out of the way. Santana only scored better than 12 pitchers that qualified for the SDI and he's the first of many Twins on this list to score in the negative range.

Catcher: Kurt Suzuki
Final SDI Ranking: -7.2 (12th in the AL)
Suzuki wasn't exactly known for his defensive prowess. He struggled to throw out runners along with other defensive aspects (pitch framing, etc.). The only AL catcher he scored better than was Dioner Navarro of the White Sox. Newly signed catcher Jason Castro had an SDI score of -0.7 which ranked him seventh in the American League.

First Base: Joe Mauer
Final SDI Ranking: 1.6 (4th in the AL)
Around the All-Star Game, Mauer only trailed Mitch Moreland in the AL SDI rankings for first base. By August, he would drop to fourth place and that's where he would finish the season. This was a vast improvement over the 2015 season where he posted a -0.1 SDI. Only three third baseman scored lower than him during that campaign. If he can continue to make strides, he might be able to sneak into next year's top three.

Second Base: Brian Dozier
Final SDI Ranking: -1.3 (6th in the AL)
I've been critical of Dozier's defense since last off-season but he began to make some improvements during the second half of 2016. At the mid-season mark, only Johnny Giavotella of the Angels ranked lower than Dozier with a -4.5 SDI. That came on the heels of finishing with a -6.1 SDI in 2015. Dozier improved his SDI by 3.2 points in the second half to finish sixth in the AL but he was 8.1 points behind a power four (Cano, Kipnis, Kinsler, Pedroia) at the top of the rankings.

Shortstop: Eduardo Nunez
Final SDI Ranking: -1.2 (9th in the AL)
Nunez wouldn't finish the year in a Twins uniform but he still compiled enough innings at shortstop to appear in the rankings. It's no secret that he was below average at shortstop but the Twins were able to deal him at the deadline. Now the Giants can use Nunez at other positions since Brandon Crawford is scheduled to be the everyday shortstop.

Left field: Eddie Rosario
Final SDI Ranking: -0.6 (5th in the AL)
During his minor league years, Rosario played all over the field including all three outfield positions and a season playing second base. With Rosario's skill set, I expected him to score better on the SDI. His quickness helps him to track down balls and his arm is fairly good. This is a far cry from the Delmon Young and Josh Willingham days. I wouldn't be surprised to see his ranking improve in 2017 if he is given the opportunity to be a full-time player.

Right field: Max Kepler
Final SDI Ranking: 1.4 (7th in the AL)
Kepler compiled the Twins' second highest SDI score as he only trailed Mauer by 0.2 points. The AL right field rankings had quote the duo at the top with Adam Eaton (21.4 SDI) and Mookie Betts (19.3 SDI). Kepler was one of nine AL right fielders to score positive in the SDI. He did all of this while only starting 100 games in right field including 97 complete games. Much like Rosario, I would expect his SDI total to increase in 2017 with more playing time.

Luckily, multiple players on this list won't be on Minnesota's roster for this coming season. Suzuki and Nunez are already gone and Dozier could be on his way out the door. This would leave the Twins with an entirely new middle infield for 2017. With the switch, there will hopefully be some defensive improvements.

Who's ranking surprised you? Who will have improved defensive seasons in 2017? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.

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