Monday, April 10, 2017

How Much Can Minnesota's Defense Improve?

Photo Credit: Brad Rempel, USA Today Sports
Minnesota's defense has shown some flaws in recent years. Putting Miguel Sano in the outfield was an unmitigated disaster. Other players like Danny Santana have been asked to play a different position than their natural position. Brian Dozier has also been below average at second base. With all of these issues, it's hard to know what to expect in 2017.

The new front office made minimal off-season roster moves. This leaves the Twins with a lot of familiar faces around the diamond. How much can Minnesota's defense improve?

Outfield
Byron Buxton, Max Kepler, and Eddie Rosario have all played center field at some point during their professional careers. Buxton's five-star ability was on full display during the season's first week. According to MLB.com, Buxton made the first five star catch of the 2017 season with his Opening Day dive.

"Us outfielders have this thing where nothing falls but raindrops," Buxton said. "We take that to heart and want to be the best outfield out there. We're trying to be aggressive to every line drive and foul ball we can be. We know we'll have backup, so it allows us to play freely."

This young trio is trying to reverse a recent Minnesota outfield trend. Over the last five seasons, the Twins outfield have accounted for a -30 defensive runs saved mark, the third worst mark in baseball. With a pitching staff that gives up a lot of balls in play, it's critical for the defense behind them to be strong.

Infield
Joe Mauer was one of the lone Twins fielders to rank well as a defender in 2016. The entire rest of the infield projects to be below average. As I mentioned before, Dozier struggles on defense. He makes some great diving stops but that's usually the result of him not being able to get to a ball. These would be routine plays for a better defender.

Miguel Sano and Jorge Polanco compose a left-side of the infield with plenty of questions. Sano's arm strength is very good but his large body size raises questions about his ability to get to balls. Questions about Polanco's defense at shortstop have followed him throughout his professional career. As the season progresses, it will be interesting to see how these two rank as the innings begin to pile up.

Even if the outfield sees improved defense, it's hard to imagine the infield helping out the pitching staff on a regular basis. They have the ability to make routine plays but there will be plenty of holes on plays with a higher difficulty.

Catcher
Jason Castro was brought to Minnesota because of his defensive reputation. As I wrote about this spring, it's going to take the better part of the season to fully see what Castro is able to do with the pitching staff. No matter how much he is able to coax strikes from umpires, the pitchers still need to make pitches.

In regards to SABR's Defensive Index (SDI), former catcher Kurt Suzuki ranked second from the bottom in the American League. Castro still posted a negative SDI total but he ranked in the seventh in the AL. This was a steep drop-off from the 2015 season where he ranked second in the AL and he was a finalist for a Gold Glove.

If the Twins end up with a catcher that is somewhere between the 2015 and 2016 version of Castro, things will be working out very well for the club.

So what do you think? How much can Minnesota's defense improve? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.

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