The Twins have spent recent seasons addressing their lack of quality starting pitching. While that approach is vital toward building a winning team, it is not all that ails this club.
This has been a bad defensive team. The pitchers’ ERA has been under assault in recent years in part because of an unreliable defense. The Twins did little to address their defensive shortcomings over the offseason, leaving observers to wonder if the defense will cost them more victories this season.
The infield defense isn’t that bad. Second baseman Brian Dozier has good range and is solid on the double play, though he made 15 errors a year ago. A major question mark is how Danny Santana will settle in at shortstop, his natural position, after playing more center field as a rookie last season. Third baseman Trevor Plouffe has made progress with his glove in recent years, as evidenced by his plus-3 rating by John Dewan, author of the Fielding Bible. The plus-minus system determines how often a defender made plays better or worse than the average player.
Catcher Kurt Suzuki is a plus defensively, although his caught-stealing percentage of 25 percent was below the league average of 27.
Twins pitchers combined for a minus-13 rating in defensive runs saved — second worst in baseball — according to Dewan’s rating system. But the outfield is where the Twins suffered at a major league worst.
Twins left fielders had a rating of minus-25, mostly because Josh Willingham, who had slowed down in recent years, was there for half the season. Twins right fielders — mostly Oswaldo Arcia — checked in at an MLB-worst minus-23. Dewan estimates that 10 runs equals one victory. That means the Twins’ corner outfielders cost them nearly five games last season.
The corner outfield situation remains a concern. Arcia is going to move to left to make room for Torii Hunter. Though he is a nine-time Gold Glove winner, Hunter, at age 39, is not the defensive star he used to be. Tigers right fielders were minus-22 in 2014, and that’s where Hunter started 128 times.
Center field is in flux after Aaron Hicks’ demotion to the minors. Twins center fielders were a minus-3 last season, and the position now belongs to Jordan Schafer and Shane Robinson, neither of whom has previously held down a big league starting job.
Some of the defensive shortcomings could perhaps be improved with some roster shuffling:
• With his arm and strong fundamentals, Joe Mauer would be at least average — if not above average — at third base or one of the corner outfield spots. But first base was available when it was time for him to leave catching behind.
• Arcia would be a designated hitter on many teams. But that spot is blocked by 290-pound Kennys Vargas, a first baseman by trade.
• Byron Buxton can’t get to the Twins fast enough. The uberprospect is expected to start the season at Class AA Chattanooga but should be in the majors by the end of the season. He projects as an elite defensive player, and the Twins will have a nice problem on their hands if they have to figure out how to play Buxton and Hicks in the same outfield.
Looking at other top prospects, Miguel Sano is considered a decent third baseman who will have to work on his body to not outgrow the position. Outfielder Eddie Rosario is a prospect because of his bat, not his glove. Infielder Jorge Polanco’s offense is ahead of his defense, which is interesting because his defense is not considered bad.