I don't know if the importance of middle infield defense was ever more readily apparent than it was when watching the 2011 Twins. Having been able to enjoy the solid double-play tandem of J.J. Hardy and Orlando Hudson a year prior as the Twins marched to the playoffs in Target Field's inaugural season, we were suddenly slapped in the face with an overdose of Tsuyoshi Nishioka, Trevor Plouffe, Matt Tolbert and even Michael Cuddyer (who played 140 innings at second base). Alexi Casilla looked like Ozzie Smith compared to his surroundings.
Despite the complete defensive ineptitude of that 2011 group of shortstops and second basemen, I remember being pretty surprised to see the Twins claim Pedro Florimon off waivers from the Orioles. I wasn't surprised to see them targeting defensive-minded middle infielders, but burning a 40-man spot on a guy like Florimon that early in the offseason seemed questionable. Others in the Twins blogosphere shared my skepticism regarding Florimon, including our own fearless leader Jesse Lund just over a year ago at this time.
I was quick to throw Brian Dozier under the bus earlier this season after a rough year between the Majors and Rochester in 2012. Dozier was about to turn 26 and had totaled 78 games of competent offensive performance above the Double-A level when I wrote that article. Since that day, Dozier has batted .252/.319/.445 with 17 homers and 11 stolen bases and followed Florimon's lead by playing outstanding defense. I couldn't be happier to have been wrong about Dozier's development.
Jesse already looked at Florimon's defensive wizardry in July, but that's only half of the puzzle for the Twins' middle infield duo. Dozier and Florimon have both been outstanding, and it shows up if you look at The Fielding Bible's Total Defensive Runs Saved. No team in baseball has enjoyed a better combined contribution out of their shortstops and second basemen than the Minnesota Twins. Even the Braves, who have been floored by Andrelton Simmons' otherworldly +40 mark in that category (which is seriously mind-boggling), have also been subjected to the negative impact of Dan Uggla's glove at second. In fairness to Eduardo Escobar, Jamey Carroll and Doug Bernier, each has made a small contribution to the Twins' total, but it's Florimon and Dozier who are carrying the load here.
It's fair to question whether or not Florimon has enough bat to be considered anything more than a stopgap at shortstop, but his batted-ball profile suggests that he should at least be able to improve a bit from where he currently stands. Florimon's 23.6 percent line-drive rate is above the league average of 21.1 percent, and his seven percent walk rate is a below-average but not completely abysmal mark. He's hitting just .638 on line drives and .195 on grounders (per Fangraphs), both of which are below the respective league averages of .690 and .232. With 58 liners and 118 grounders on the season, it's reasonable to expect that Florimon could have an additional seven hits if he'd had league-average BABIP numbers on those splits. Even assuming each extra hit was a single, that would boost his batting line from .228/.285/.339 to .247/.303/.358. The average Major League shortstop this season, in comparison, has batted .255/.308/.368.
Florimon also has such a drastic platoon split that I question why he's switch-hitting. His OPS as a left-handed hitter is 200 points higher than as a right-handed batter, and all of his homers have come from the left side of the dish. Dozier has his own issues in that regard. Despite showing reasonable pop against right-handed pitching (.158 ISO), he's produced just a .219/.282/.377 batting line against same-handed opponents. On the plus side, he's clubbed lefties by slashing .333/.414/.604 against them. Ultimately, each will need to take another stride in that regard in 2014 and beyond if they want to cement themselves as long-term fixtures in the lineup.
If you're a WAR fan, Florimon has been worth 2.5 rWAR and 1.7 fWAR, while Dozier has been worth a whopping 3.8 rWAR and 2.6 fWAR. These two may not comprise the Twins' middle infield for the next five seasons as stabilizing forces, but they look infinitely better than any of us could have expected a year ago at this time. Credit Terry Ryan, the rest of the front office and the Twins coaching staff for identifying Florimon as a free upgrade and sticking with Dozier through a brutal 2012 season.
Steve Adams also writes for MLBTraderRumors.com and MLB.com Fantasy Baseball. You can follow him on Twitter: @Adams_Steve.