The Twins have a reputation as one of the best defensive teams in the majors, but last season, they sure didn’t live up to it.
They committed 108 errors, their highest total since 2001, and ranked third to last in the American League with a .982 fielding percentage.
Carlos Gomez showed tremendous range in center field, but he made eight errors, and Delmon Young made another eight errors in left field. Other trouble spots included second base, where Alexi Casilla made 12 errors in 833 innings, and third base, where Brian Buscher made 10 errors in 519 innings.
The Twins scored 829 runs, third most in team history, despite hitting just 111 home runs, fewest in the American League. An argument can be made that they need more power at third base or shortstop, and they probably need setup relief help the most.
But here’s another quiet truth: The defense needs to get better, not worse. This is one reason they drew a line and refused to offer three guaranteed years to Casey Blake, and this is a big reason they’re not making more of a push for Ty Wigginton.
In my time covering the Twins (since 2005), here’s what I’ve learned:
(*) Michael Cuddyer’s third base defense in 2005 was considered a disaster — by Manager Ron Gardenhire and by Cuddyer himself. Cuddyer said he felt a huge weight lifted off his shoulders when Gardenhire moved him to right field, and his offensive numbers supported the theory. But others in the organization wish they hadn’t given up on that experiment so quickly.
(*) After the Tony Batista experiment in 2006 — now that was a disaster — the Twins were thrilled with Nick Punto at third base, but he pressed when handed the everyday third base job out of spring training in 2007.
A look back at the numbers, with help from The Hardball Times:
2005 — Innings at third base (816), errors (8 throwing, 7 fielding), fielding percentage (.942), revised zone rating (.717), balls fielded outside of zone (49).
(Putting numbers to a player’s defense is an inexact science, but one of the best metrics is The Hardball Times’ revised zone rating. In Cuddyer’s case, this means he successfully fielded 71.7 percent of the balls hit into the third base zone — zones, defined as the areas on the field where 50 percent of balls hit are converted into outs –and fielded an additional 49 balls outside the zone. Studying those two numbers help tell you how fielders are on balls they should get to, and how many they’re getting to that they shouldn’t.)
As a 3B, Cuddyer batted .255 with 11 HR, 34 RBI and a 92 OPS+. (OPS+ adjusts for league and park averages, with 100 being an average performance.)
2006 — Innings at third base (434), errors (3 throwing, 3 fielding), fielding percentage (.954), revised zone rating (.652), balls fielded outside of zone (15).
As a 3B, Batista batted .236 with 5 HR, 21 RBI and a 72 OPS+.
2006 — Innings at third base (766), errors (5 throwing, 4 fielding), fielding percentage (.962), revised zone rating (.773), balls fielded outside of zone (24).
As a 3B, Punto batted .289 with 1 HR, 39 RBI and an 82 OPS+.
2007 — Innings at third base (828), errors (4 throwing, 2 fielding), fielding percentage (.973), revised zone rating (.708), balls fielded outside of zone (29).
As a 3B, Punto batted .226 with 1 HR, 22 RBI and a 56 OPS+.