Skip to main content

Twins Daily: Is infield defense really that important for the Twins in 2020?

Twins Daily breaks down all of the defensive details.
Luis Arraez

There’s no denying the Infield Outs Above Average (OAA) stat by Baseball Savant painted an ugly picture for the Minnesota Twins. Sliding Miguel Sano to first base and inserting Josh Donaldson into third will certainly help. Regardless of the Donaldson effect, how concerned do we need to be about the defense?

All things being equal, it would be great to have an infield full of slick fielders who can also hit. But in reality, that is a very difficult thing to do and the Twins as they are currently constructed are definitely a bat-first infield. 

Donaldson, Sano, Jorge Polanco, and Luis Arraez all bring incredibly potent bats (132, 137, 119, and 125 wRC+ respectively – is there a better hitting infield in the MLB?) but Polanco and Arraez still leave a lot to be desired on the defensive side (-16 and -6 OAA respectively) and we don’t know how Sano will fare at first.

One thing to consider is the degree of importance infield defense plays in today’s game. In the past when hitters were routinely advised to hit the ball on the ground, having someone like Ozzie Smith in place to gobble it up was invaluable. 

And while it would still be nice to have someone with Smith’s wizardly defensive skills, although he’s probably lost a step or two, one could argue that it is of lower magnitude with hitters putting the ball on the ground less and less due to increasing strikeout rates and the launch-angle revolution.

Another consideration is the amount of shifting teams now do. With the dramatic increase in the shift in recent years, players are put in a better position to field the ball where it is hit, thus somewhat diminishing the value of range. And although the Twins did a lot of shifting in 2019, infield positioning may be an area where the defense could further improve.

Eno Sarris of The Athletic recently wrote about his thoughts on OAA and one of the interesting tidbits compares OAA with Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR). Sarris speculates that teams with a higher UZR (which is not position-dependent) than OAA (which is position based), theoretically should be better at positioning their players. 

Minnesota’s infield had a -15.0 OAA compared to a -20.1 UZR for a difference of -5.1. According to this logic, the infield has some room for improvement based on positioning.

Minnesota’s current pitching rotation also helps to mitigate some of the potential damage caused by the infield defense. Of the top-five projected starters, newcomer Homer Bailey leads the staff with just a 44.3% ground ball rate for his career and Jake Odorizzi sits at an extremely low 33.1%. 

Contrast that with Kyle Gibson and Martin Perez from 2019’s rotation, who have career rates of 51.5% and 50.6%. The only starter likely to see much MLB action who could be defined as a “ground ball” pitcher is Randy Dobnak, and it is not yet known what kind of role he will play.

An infield full of players the caliber of a Francisco Lindor or Javier Baez, can hit and field, would be great, but given the batting proficiency of the current infield, the offensive benefits certainly seem to outweigh the defensive cost. 

Combined with a Byron Buxton-led outfield defense, a flyball-oriented pitching staff, increased infield shifting, and a higher strikeout/launch angle environment, Minnesota’s below-average defense may be less of a problem than Outs Above Average is making it seem.

For more on Minnesota's infield defense check out these recent Twins Daily Articles:
A Bigger Twins Problem Than Pitching - Ted Schwerzler
Statcast Reveals Ugly Truth About Minnesota Twins' Infield Defense - Nate Palmer

MORE FROM TWINS DAILY
— Latest Twins coverage from our writers
— Recent Twins discussion in our forums
— Follow Twins Daily via Twitter, Facebook or email

This story first appeared at Twins Daily and was re-shared through a collaboration with Bring Me The News

Next Up

police tape

3 at trauma centers in critical condition after rural MN attack

Two victims and the alleged attacker are in critical condition.

grinch neighbor

Neighborhood 'grinch' sends letter to Burnsville family over holiday lights

A Burnsville family's holiday decorations were the subject of an anonymous complaint.

image

Anthropologie shutters Grand Avenue store, opening planned for Rosedale Center

The popular holiday shopping weekend marked the last for customers of the Grand Avenue store.

hospital, emergency room

Woman found on side of highway after hit-and-run

The 41-year-old was airlifted to a hospital with life-threatening injuries.

Jorden Nicole Borders

Charges: Minnesota woman tortured her kids, removed boy's blood

Warning: This story contains upsetting content.

first snow

Will narrow band of 6+ inches of snow hit Twin Cities Tuesday?

The NWS says a band of 6+ inches is looking likely. It's now a matter of where.

ambulance

Siblings, ages 19 and 14, killed in crash on icy MN highway

The crash happened around 1:15 a.m. Saturday in Carlton County.

Nicholas Kraus

Man sentenced for fatally striking woman during Uptown protest

Nicholas Kraus, 36, of St. Paul drove into a protest in Uptown last year, killing Deona Marie Knajdek.

Flickr - police lights squad siren - Edward Kimmel

Fleeing suspect crashes into vehicle in Woodbury, 2 injured

The crash occurred Friday afternoon after a pursuit with Woodbury police.

Screen Shot 2022-11-26 at 2.34.44 PM

Yes, that's MN native Jenny Taft in a State Farm commercial

Jenny Taft got her broadcasting career started in Minneapolis in 2011.

crime scene tape - police tape

23-year-old woman critical after shooting in Plymouth

A 23-year-old woman was shot Friday night in Plymouth.

white Christmas

2 MN towns among most 'magical' winter locations in the country

The list was compiled by Trips Discover and published earlier this month.

Related

C.J. Cron

Statcast suggests Twins should bring back CJ Cron

Twins Daily breaks down the future of C.J. Cron.

Jorge Polanco

What might be a bigger problem than pitching for the Twins

How much will Josh Donaldson help the rest of the infield defense?

Miguel Sano

Miguel Sano and his future in Minnesota

Twins Daily breaks down what the future holds for Sano.

Luis Arraez

5 candidates to hit leadoff for the Twins in 2020?

The Twins have a handful of really good options.

Randy Dobnak

Will Randy Dobnak or Lewis Thorpe give the Twins more in 2020?

Twins Daily hints at Dobnak being on track to have a better 2020.

Nick Gordon

Twins prospects who are best prepared to contribute in 2020

Twins Daily breaks down the talent in the minors that could help next season.

Byron Buxton

Stealing bases isn’t Minnesota Nice, will that change?

Twins Daily looks at why stealing bases could be a bigger deal next season.