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The Minnesota Twins’ Team Defense

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I’ve touched on the Minnesota Twins before, how they are winning, and more than that, how they are winning the way they want to win and talk about hitting, clutch hitting and defense.

Hitting in the clutch is hardly a skill specific to Twins, but they are the best at it.  Why are they the best?  The answer is simple: they are the team most likely to deliver a hit in all situations, with a league-leading .282 team batting average.  The team that’s most talented at getting hits is the one that is going to get the most timely hits, all else equal.  The Twins also have a league-leading .350 team on base percentage, so all else equal, they will have more runners on in those situations and do a better job hitting them in.

But tonight, I want to talk about the Twins defense.  It’s not the best in baseball, as that would be the Padres, with the Giants, Rays, and Reds.  But the Twins do have a very good defense, and they show a very interesting dichotomy between their strengths and weaknesses, one that I thought worth discussing.

The Twins are the best team in terms of infield defense.  And it’s really not all that close.  We know about Orlando Hudson’s defensive prowess, and that the Twins were filling a big hole on their team when they signed him.  Justin Morneau was already a good defender, and he was having another excellent season when he got his concussion.  But the left side of the team’s infield was in doubt before this year.  It wasn’t shocking when Nick Punto had a good two and a half months as a top defensive third baseman, but just as obviously, his bat can’t handle that spot.  So the Twins brought up Danny Valencia from triple-A for his bat, and found his glove to be impressive as well.

But the real surprise in the infield has been the defense of JJ Hardy.  Hardy’s defense always rated well in Milwaukee.  But he was coming off injury, and has just turned 28.  There were questions about his ability to produce good defensive numbers again this year, and while his offense hasn’t rebounded to pre-2009 levels, his defense is at it’s highest level since his age 24 season.

And those five players have combined to save an amazing 44 runs this year, which to this moment, is precisely the difference in the AL Central between them and the White Sox.

Still, as well as their infield has played this year, their corner outfielders have been just as terrible, as Michael Cuddyer, Jason Kubel, and Delmon Young have combined to give back 23 of those runs between them.  The horribleness of the Twins in the outfield isn’t surprising.  If anything, Denard Span has been a bit of a surprise in Center field posting positive numbers there after doing a lot of work at the corners last year.  The Twins could have the worst outfield defense in the league again, but are better than last year because of Span.

It’s not a surprise that the Twins defense has worked out like this, as they had more or less the same split last year, but are better across the board, even with Jason Kubel playing more defense than last year in deference to Jim Thome.  Thome and Delmon Young are primarily responsible for the increase in on base percentage, and they’ve been able to do it without losing any outfield defense.

If we’re talking about relative increases in defense, the Twins still employ some poor defensive players — specifically the same poor defensive players — but across the board this team is better on defense.  They’ve improved in all outfield spots despite continued struggles, have improved at shortstop and third base and second base, and even Justin Morneau is having a better defensive year.

The five win upswing in defensive runs saved from 2009 to 2010 may or may not be partially due to the new stadium (Target Field), but along with improved offensive production, it’s one of the predominant reasons that the Twins are pulling away from the rest of the AL Central right now.

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