Numbers Game: Quality of Twins' defense has garnered mixed reports
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With a pitching staff that attracts more contact than any staff in baseball, it seems obvious the Minnesota Twins will need to play good, if not great defense to stay competitive all season.
When asked last week in an interview on 1500 ESPN what the biggest pleasant surprise has been for his team, manager Ron Gardenhire said, "I think the defense. ...
"We've missed a few plays (at times), and you can see exactly what happens when you do. Other teams get back into it. I think we've caught the ball better, we've done our relays better overall. ...
"On a team level, to me, that's why we've had our opportunities. And you can see it every time we miss plays. Something happens. But we've caught the ball better, and we've done our relays better, and I like that part of it. It really keeps you in games and gives you a chance."
Gardenhire is absolutely correct. The Twins have caught the ball well this season. Heading into Sunday's games, the Twins had committed the 10th fewest errors in the major leagues (19) and the sixth fewest fielding errors (8).
In addition, Twins outfielders lead the major leagues in assists with 15, so the team seems to be throwing the ball pretty well too.
Positive trends, yes.
But those numbers don't tell the whole story.
Advanced defensive metrics tell us what our eyes have likely suggested all season -- that the Twins' defense, for the most part, has very limited range.
It's true that Twins fielders, collectively, don't make many errors on balls hit to their range radius -- but that radius is not very large. And it's impossible for a fielder to make an error on a ball he can't get to.
Ultimate Zone Rating currently ranks the Twins' defense dead last due almost entirely to poor range -- not surprising with the likes of Josh Willingham, Oswaldo Arcia and Chris Parmelee logging most of the innings in the corner outfield spots, and Trevor Plouffe starting at third base.
Even the speedy Aaron Hicks has referred to a road map on numerous occasions in center field.
Plus/minus metrics haven't been as pessimistic toward the Twins as UZR, but according to BillJamesOnline.net, Twins fielders rank mid-pack in the American League at -1 run below average.
So, yes, the Twins are catching the ball as Gardenhire says.
They just aren't finding many baseballs to catch.