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Updated: August 30th, 2011 8:02pm
Aware of defensive shortcomings, Valencia vows to improve this winter

Aware of defensive shortcomings, Valencia vows to improve this winter

by Phil Mackey
1500ESPN.com
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Minnesota Twins manager Ron Gardenhire hasn't pulled many punches this season when it comes to pointing out mistakes made by third baseman Danny Valencia.

In Monday night's 3-0 loss to the Chicago White Sox, it appeared as if Valencia came up just short on two or three makeable plays to his left, prompting the manager point out that "Danny had a little bit of a struggle at third base," per the Star Tribune.

The play that stood out most took place in the eighth inning, when Valencia charged a grounder in the grass to his left, but failed to make the scoop. As he ran past the ball, baserunner Alexei Ramirez -- who started the play on second base -- alertly rounded third and scored when he saw Valencia and shortstop Tsuyoshi Nishioka both let up.

Given a chance to explain his side of things Tuesday in an interview with 1500 ESPN, Valencia took full accountability.

"I feel like my defense needs to get better," he said. "It's something I've worked hard at, something I do work hard at, and it's a frustrating thing.

"Going into this offseason I'm definitely going to be more conscious of my defense than ever before. Obviously I've taken it seriously, but this year I'm going to really, definitely try to make myself into a really, really good third baseman over there."

According to Ultimate Zone Rating, Valencia -- who owns a career .274/.319/.418 batting line with 21 homers in 837 plate appearances -- rates almost exactly league-average for his career defensively at third base. To go along with that, Valencia has made 17 errors in 1,098 innings this season after committing six in 709 1/3 innings last year.

According to defensive data collected by Baseball Info Solutions for this season only, Valencia rates -4 on plays to his right, -9 on plays to his left, and -11 on plays right in line with him. Those plus/minus ratings compare fielders to a league-average baseline -- meaning Valencia has made four fewer plays to his right than the average third baseman.

"I've always felt that's pretty accurate," Valencia said. "I'd say I can get to the line better than I can get to my left. But recently we've been playing lining up more toward pull, because a lot of guys have been pulling the ball."

Valencia was replaced in the starting lineup Tuesday at third base by Luke Hughes, marking just the seventh time this season Valencia has not started.

"We've been working on better jumps and not standing straight up," Gardenhire told the Star Tribune Monday. "As you see, he starts out and then he's straight up and the ball's on the ground. You can't run after a ball standing straight up and go all the way to the ground and get it. ... There's a reason you start down low and stay down low. We watch it. He stands up, the ball's hard hit and you've got no movement whatsoever. It's basically a fall toward the ball. Danny knows that. He's a little flustered himself."

Valencia agreed with that assessment, saying Tuesday, "For me, it's not so much catching groundballs as it is first step quickness and working on agility, being faster. ...

"It's more stuff that for me that I feel like I need to work on, first-step quickness. And like Gardy mentioned, I definitely have a tendency to come up on balls. ... Those are some things, some habits that I've had for years that just need to get better, and I just need to be more consistent. But if I can be better, a little faster a little more quickness out of my first step, I think I can be pretty good over there."

Acknowledgement is step one. Actions this offseason will be step two.

Phil Mackey is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Phil | @PhilMackey | Mackey & Judd
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