As part of his appearance on Monday's Daily Delivery podcast, Star Tribune columnist Patrick Reusse offered some observations based on what he's seeing down in Florida during the early part of Twins spring training.
When Patrick talks baseball, it's best to just sit back and listen.
If you don't see the podcast player, click here to listen.
He made the point that the season in part hinges on the health of the left side of the Twins' infield: new shortstop Andrelton Simmons and second-year third baseman Josh Donaldson. Reusse said he's not as worried about center fielder Byron Buxton — though maybe he should be — but it's clear that the backbone of the Twins' defense will be those three "plus" players.
Just how good those three are can be hard to quantify, but FanGraphs lets us try. Over the course of a full 162-game season — if they were to play every inning of every game — Simmons, Buxton and Donaldson could be worth as much as 70 runs saved.
Health is of course the big "if" with all three of these players. Donaldson was very durable for the A's from 2013-16, playing 150-plus games all of those years, but he has missed significant time in three of the last four years — including appearing in just 28 of 60 games for the Twins a season ago while being bothered by a calf problem.
Ankle sprains have been the culprit for Simmons in recent years, while Buxton has endured a variety of maladies that have kept him in and out of the lineup.
Suggesting these problems will magically disappear all at once is foolish, but let's say the Twins manage to get an average of 120 games out of those three players this year — a reasonable goal.
Even just having all three on the field 75% of the time could save the Twins 50 runs based on FanGraphs' metrics and the assumption that all three players will either play at their established career levels (Buxton and Simmons) or peak levels (Donaldson, 2019).
Simmons and Buxton would be worth close to 50 runs saved combined between just the two of them if both played 150-plus games in 2021 at their established career levels.
Saving one run every three games or so might not make a dramatic difference in the regular season, but those runs add up — and are magnified in the playoffs.
Defense like that potentially makes every pitcher look better, so it's no surprise to hear the excitement from Twins pitchers.
"Having (Simmons) behind me, especially for me as a ground-ball guy, it's pretty exciting," said Randy Dobnak. "Having him and [Jorge] Polanco and [Josh] Donaldson, it's going to be a real strong infield."
That's particularly true if Polanco (a "minus" player in defensive runs saved every year from 2016-20 at shorstop) can be more effective at second base.
But again, that's another "if." We'll have 162 games to figure out the reality soon enough.