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That Minnesota Twins godlike defense

Nearly a third of the season is over and the Twins sit atop the AL Central. Here’s how they’ve done it.

Minnesota Twins v Cleveland Indians
Keep doing you, Byron Buxton. You’re awesome.
Photo by Ron Schwane/Getty Images

Going into this season, I’m sure many of us thought that the Twins would be a better team that last year. For one, there was a new duo leading the front office in Derek Falvey and Thad Levine. Secondly, it’s very, very difficult to be as bad as the Twins were last season and we could have expected some improvement just from simple regression.

However, the Twins have easily outperformed what any of us could have expected. Miguel Sano currently looks like an MVP candidate (no joke, he’s second in fWAR among position players prior to Tuesday night’s game, trailing only Mike Trout). Ervin Santana is pitching so well that we’ve essentially revived the old Carl Pavano/Francisco Liriano “who’s really an ace” argument from 2010. The defense has improved immensely, going from a glaring weakness to the primary strength of this team. With other factors mixed in, it’s caused the Twins to be one of the biggest surprises of 2017.

We have to wonder though if this is sustainable. With the exception of Eddie Rosario, every Twins position player is running a positive fWAR right now. Looking at the team rankings, the offense does come in at 7th with a .328 wOBA and 11th with a .753 OPS, mainly buoyed by a league-best 10.9% walk rate. The pitching side is sketchier as the team’s 4.30 ERA is 18th in the league, the 2nd-worst strikeout rate (17.8%) shows the pitching staff has returned to pitching to contact, and their 4.82 FIP is also 2nd-worst in the league.

This is leaving out the final facet of the game: defense. You may want to take a seat for this.

In order, the three pictures show the Twins are miles ahead of everyone else in Defensive Runs Saved (DRS), they are just barely in third place according to Ultimate Zone Rating per 150 games (UZR/150), and Defensive Runs Above Average (Def) says they are the second-best team in the league.

It’s not just the outfield defense, either. While having Eddie Rosario, Byron Buxton, and Max Kepler roaming the outfield certainly has helped, even the infield has shown great strides with their defense. Sano, Joe Mauer, and Jorge Polanco all rate as average or above average by DRS and UZR/150, but it even goes beyond positioning on the field. Last year, Polanco and Sano appeared to be wielding frying pans on the left side of the infield, and this year we no longer have to hold our collective breath when a ground ball is hit to them or pray that their wild throw hits the side wall in foul territory.

It will be interesting to see if the defense can keep this up for the full season. I have no concerns about the outfield, as we all know the athleticism of Buxton, Kepler, and Rosario. I think Sano and Polanco are the only cause for concern, but like I said before, their improvement appears to be more from making the routine play rather than from suddenly gaining more range. We saw from the Kansas City Royals a couple years ago and the Chicago Cubs last year what can happen with an elite defense. Hopefully the Twins can follow that same path.