Last season Minnesota’s starting rotation ranked seventh across baseball and fourth in the American League when it came to fWAR total. While not glowing in any one specific category, the sum of all parts was representative of a strong unit. There’s no denying that Randy Dobnak was in a tough spot for an ALDS game, and that Rocco Baldelli doesn’t have the horses other teams do. That needs to be addressed, but what happens when the ball is put in play?
The Twins ranked 21st defensively in 2019 and their 26th overall infield outs above average valuation was even worse. They posted a -14 number when it came to the newly unveiled Statcast metric, and that number is buoyed by performances by the since departed C.J. Cron and Jonathan Schoop. With only Miguel Sano, Jorge Polanco, and Luis Arraez locked into the infield configuration prior to signing Josh Donaldson, they'd have been one of the worst units in baseball.
From an individual standpoint, Sano and Arraez both fare poorly on their own. It’s shortstop Polanco though that ranks dead last, 138th, with -16 outs above average. He’s joined in that position by none other than Vladimir Guerrero Jr., who is seen as a surefire designated hitter, and maybe by the time he’s 22 years old.
Before there’s consideration regarding the deficiency having to do with shifts, it’s worth understanding that infield OAA (Outs Above Average) takes starting position into account.
Polanco posted his worst metrics while beginning at shortstop, as opposed to being adequate when shifted to the second base side of the diamond. Sano struggled the most when needing to guard the line, likely because of the additional ground placed between him and the shortstop. For Arraez’s efforts, he saw the largest slide when playing in the hole but staggered either to the left or right at second base. What the sum of all parts continues to point to is a glaring hole on the left side.
Enter Josh Donaldson!
Donaldson posted the 12th highest DRS (Defensive Runs Saved) in baseball a season ago. His 8 infield OAA ranked 18th in baseball, and the 15 DRS tally trailed only Matt Chapman (18) among all big-league third basemen. The mark posted at third base nearly doubled the efforts of Nolan Arenado and did double up the abilities of Alex Bregman. To put it simply, he’s more than a very good hitter.
Now to be fair, Donaldson doesn't solve all of the issues facing the Twins, but he’s certainly the type of player that can assist them. In an ideal world Minnesota would have a better defensive shortstop (more on that here). Moving Polanco off that position gets tricky with Arraez currently manning second base. Neither Jorge nor Luis have the arm to play third, and that leaves more bodies than opportunities.
Derek Falvey and Thad Levine landed a strong defensive third basemen to assist Polanco in range and positioning. If Jorge can play more up the middle and a bit further in, there’s ability for Arraez to benefit on his side as well. By driving up the baseline of the group the hope would be that everyone starts with a better chance to succeed.
Jorge Polanco wasn’t the worst shortstop in baseball by any means in 2019; heck he even posted a posted 1 DRS. The problem is that his -9.1 UZR was dead last (of 128 players to record an inning at the position), and his -8.4 ErrR is reflective of a guy who struggled to throw more often than he didn’t. Arm strength and positioning has been an area of development since Polanco assumed the role full time, but mediocrity seems to be the ceiling there.
We don't yet know what Miguel Sano looks like as a full time first baseman. We have no idea if Polanco and Arraez are capable of taking further steps forward. We do know that Minnesota just addressed their worst unit in a massive way, and Donaldson should be a key cog in any sort of a real turnaround.