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Updated: April 8th, 2012 8:24pm
Numbers game: Why infield defense remains biggest key to Twins' season

Numbers game: Why infield defense remains biggest key to Twins' season

by Phil Mackey
1500ESPN.com
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This may sound asinine after they scored only five runs in three games against the Baltimore Orioles this weekend, but offense will not be the Minnesota Twins' biggest problem in 2012.

In fact, if healthy, the Twins are likely to score plenty of runs.

Pitching and defense, however, are great unknowns.

Saturday night was a prime example, with left fielder Josh Willingham misplaying two balls that led to runs, and third baseman Danny Valencia unable to make plays on two fieldable groundballs.

On a positive note, Sean Burroughs made two fantastic defensive plays at third base on Sunday in place of Valencia, and Jamey Carroll has looked very sure-handed early on at shortstop (including spring training). Shortstop was the position that plagued the Twins the most defensively last season. Even if Carroll proves to be a league-average defensive shortstop, he would be a massive upgrade.

Here's why:

Numbers game

.237: The MLB league-average batting average on groundballs in 2011.

.268: The groundball batting average of opposing hitters against the Twins in 2011.

By contrast, groundballs rarely left the infield against the Blue Jays (.213), Angels (.214) and Rays (.222).

Combine this with the fact that Twins pitchers allowed more contact than any staff in baseball, and the result is too many batted balls skipping through for hits -- nearly 10 hits per game, to be exact, as opposed to the 7.8 hits per game allowed by the Rays.

Those two extra hits are a pretty big deal.

In 2010, the Twins allowed a .239 batting average on groundballs, which ranked mid-pack. Having an infield defense that ranks mid-pack in this category is perfectly adequate when paired with an offense that scored 781 runs, as was the case in 2010.

An argument could be made that some pitching staffs, as a whole, may allow harder-hit groundballs. It's also worth pointing out that in 2006 the Twins ranked mid-pack by allowing a .247 batting average on groundballs (league-average was .240). It's possible that mark would have been lower had the Twins played on grass instead of Metrodome field turf.

There's really no way to navigate around opponents hitting .268 on groundballs. That's the definition of "death by papercuts."

In three games this weekend, the Orioles tallied six hits out of the 34 groundballs they hit (.176), including 2-for-11 on Sunday. So maybe there is hope for Twins pitchers.

Now, about that offense... And those home runs allowed...

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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