What Can the Twins Expect This Year in the Field?

Nishioka's issues in the field played a major factor in last year's poor infield performance. Can he turn things around in 2012? How much playing time will Nishioka get in Minnesota this year?
Year RngR ErrR UZR
2011 +9.3 -5.6 0.0
2010 +22.6 +14.9 +30.7
2009 -20.2 +12.0 -23.2
2008 -2.6 -6.0 -11.6

In an utterly forgettable 2011 season, it may be hard to believe that, as a team, the Twins defense was right at league average, according to UZR. Excellent play across the outfield was offset by terrible play in the infield, and good range numbers were offset by many errors, an inability to turn double plays, and lack of strong arms. While the defense ended up around league average, there was a significant, over 30 run / 3 win, drop in the field compared to 2010. With all the personnel changes across the board (only 3 of 8 position players: Denard Span, Joe Mauer and Danny Valencia are expected to start opening day at the same position), what can we expect from the Twins in the field in 2012? After the jump, I'll attempt to answer this question by looking at each position's UZR from 2011, projected playing time, and projected 2012 UZR. I know there are many questions with UZR as a defensive metric, especially when looking at single player/year samples, but UZR is easily available and in most cases I'm regressing my own player projections toward their career mean. Of course, projecting playing time at this point can be a crapshoot, and I suspect many of you will disagree with both playing time and UZR projections. That's great, just let us all know what you think in the comments.

Catcher: Net -5.0 runs

I'm going to be a bit more subjective with the catcher position since there's no easily accessible UZR data available. Last year, with Drew Butera getting a near majority of innings behind the plate, one would have to expect that the Twins overall catching defense was at least above average. This year, Ryan Doumit, who is by all accounts a poor defensive backstop, is expected to get many of the innings Joe Mauer doesn't catch. Which would mean that even if Mauer is back to form defensively there's going to be a decent-sized drop-off at catcher. And if Mauer isn't at his best, the drop-off could be larger. So I'm going to project a roughly 5 run drop-off here.

First Base: Net -10.5 runs

Player Innings RngR ErrR UZR
2011 First Base - +11.6 +1.5 +12.5
Justin Morneau 700 +2.0 +1.5 +4.5
Joe Mauer 400 +2.0 0.0 +1.5
Doumit / Parmelee 350 -2.0 -1.0 -4.0
2012 First Base - +2.0 +0.5 +2.0

The biggest challenge projecting first base is determining who will get the playing time. Morneau is expected to start the season as the DH, but I have to project around half of the innings will be his. Assuming health of course. There isn't much of a history for Mauer at first, but he showed decent range in a small sample last year, and one could expect some improvement in his second year at first. But considering such a small sample size I'll put Mauer around the same as last year. And whatever time Doumit and Parmelee get at first is not likely to be pretty, especially for Doumit who hasn't played more than three games there since 2006.

Second Base: Net +4.7 runs

Player Innings RngR ErrR UZR
2011 Second Base - -4.8 -0.4 -5.7
Alexi Casilla 800 +2.0 -1.0 +1.0
Luke Hughes 450 0.0 -1.0 -1.0
Other (Carroll, Nishioka, Plouffe) 200 0.0 -1.0 -1.0
2012 Second Base - +1.0 -3.0 -1.0

Alexi Casilla is the opening day starter at second base, and he's shown improvement in the field over the past couple years, to the point of around average or slightly above. At this point, I'd expect Luke Hughes to be the primary backup. And while UZR had him a little above average I'd project a slight drop-off given most scouting reports.

Shortstop: Net +12.8 runs

Player Innings RngR ErrR UZR
2011 Shortstop - -8.5 -6.3 -15.8
Jamey Carroll 1200 -3.0 +2.0 -1.0
Alexi Casilla 150 +0.5 -0.5 0.0
Other (Plouffe, Nishioka, Dozier) 100 -0.5 -1.0 -2.0
2012 Shortstop - -3.0 -0.5 -3.0

No surprise here, but my largest projected improvement of any position is at short, where the Twins had the second worst overall UZR in the Majors last year. Just a run above the New York Yankees and five time Gold Glove winner Derek Jeter, but I digress. Jamey Carroll isn't anything special, I project him to be a shade below average, but he's a huge improvement over the Nishioka / Plouffe mess of last year.

Third Base: Net +8.2 runs

Player Innings RngR ErrR UZR
2011 Third Base - -8.2 +0.6 -7.7
Danny Valencia 1200 -2.0 +1.0 -0.5
Sean Burroughs 200 +0.5 +0.5 +1.0
Other 50 0.0 0.0 0.0
2012 Third Base - -1.5 +1.5 +0.5

At third base, the main question is whether Valencia will step it up in the field (not to mention at the plate) and snap out of his sophomore slump. I think he'll see an improvement this season, but I can't project him above the rough midpoint between 2010 and 2011. Burroughs has consistently shown around a +5 UZR/150 year after year, so if Valencia falters third base should be fine defensively.

Left Field: Net -3.9 runs

Player Innings RngR ErrR UZR
2011 Left Field - +2.4 -0.5 +2.9
Josh Willingham 1000 -5.0 +0.5 -4.0
Ben Revere 350 +5.0 -0.5 +3.5
Other 100 -0.5 0.0 -0.5
2012 Left Field - -0.5 0.0 -1.0

Josh Willingham opens the season in left field, where he earns a lineup spot due to his bat more than his glove. UZR puts his range well below average in left field, with a -4.8 UZR/150 over around four full seasons. But he has a decent arm and doesn't commit many errors. I'd expect Revere to get a bit of playing time in left, where his range will play well and his lack of arm wouldn't hurt as much.

Center Field: Net -4.8 runs

Player Innings RngR ErrR UZR
2011 Center Field - +21.0 -0.8 +15.8
Denard Span 750 +7.5 0.0 +6.0
Ben Revere 600 +8.0 -1.0 +5.0
Other 100 0.0 0.0 0.0
2012 Center Field - +15.5 -1.0 +11.0

Center field is one of the few positions where we expect the same players to log the most innings as last year. As long as Span or Revere get the vast majority of innings in center field, I expect very good numbers here. However, the range numbers from UZR were _so_ good last year, I expect there will be some drop-off, albeit to a very good rating.

Right Field: Net -6.0 runs

Player Innings RngR ErrR UZR
2011 Right Field - -4.1 +0.2 -2.0
Trevor Plouffe 600 -3.0 -1.5 -4.0
Denard Span 400 +3.0 0.0 +2.5
Other (Doumit, Willingham) 450 -5.0 -1.0 -6.5
2012 Right Field - -5.0 -2.5 -8.0

Right field could go any number of directions, as Plouffe is expected to start the year but I don't think he ends it there. He's shown during spring training that he can handle the transition from the middle infield, but asking Plouffe to hold down right field all season may be too much. And that's without considering uncertainty as to how his bat will hold up in a corner outfield spot. I think it's more likely that the outfield settles with Span in right along with Willingham and Revere in left and center. But I also suspect we may see plenty of Willingham (bad) and Doumit (ugly) in right before the season is done.

Summary

Position 2011 UZR 2012 UZR Delta
Catcher +2.5 (est) -2.5 -5.0
First Base +12.5 +2.0 -10.5
Second Base -5.7 -1.0 +4.7
Shortstop -15.8 -3.0 +12.8
Third Base -7.7 +0.5 +8.2
Left Field +2.9 -1.0 -3.9
Center Field +15.8 +11.0 -4.8
Right Field -2.0 -8.0 -6.0
Total +2.5 -2.0 -4.5

In summary, based on position by position projections of playing time and UZR, I project this year's defense will be around 5 runs worse than in 2011, or about a half win difference. And considering health concerns with three of the team's best defenders in Mauer, Morneau and Span, if any of them spend significant time on the DL we could easily see another 10 or more runs allowed due to poor defense.

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