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How will Target Field and the Twins’ defense affect the new pitching acquisitions?

The Twins acquired some pretty good hurlers this offseason, and they will be pitching in a new ballpark with Byron Buxton.

The Twins outfield defense should lend a hand to their offseason pitching acquisitions
Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

This year’s offseason was a busy one for Twins, with a focus on upgrading both the rotation and bullpen. As the new talent is set to make an impact for the team in 2018, how may their numbers change pitching half of their games at Target Field with a new cast of players backing them up in the field?

To get a quick frame of reference for how the Twins’ defense performed in 2017, here is the Twins’ projected lineup (including a couple extra infielders that will play a decent amount of innings) and a few select defensive numbers from last season:

(Note: Eduardo Escobar’s shortstop stats are career marks since he only played 104 innings at short last season)

In case any of you are not familiar with these stats, here are some short explanations:

  • dWAR: Defensive Wins Above Replacement, replacement level player would zero (Buxton’s 2.8 mark ranked as the second-highest in the league)
  • UZR/150: Ultimate Zone Rating projected over 150 games. Defensive stat calculated with double plays, arm, and errors. An average defender would have a rating of 0
  • DRS: Defensive Runs Saved, projected number of defensive runs the player saved (or lost) for his team over the course of the season

Some of these stats are contradictory, but it gives a pretty good picture of what the Twins defense will look like this year.

Here’s a look at how joining the Twins will probably affect all of the major offseason pitching acquisitions, from the first acquired to last:

Fernando Rodney

Last season, when pitching for the Diamondbacks, batters had a .274 BABIP against Rodney (.297 league average). However, the lower BABIP wasn’t solely because his defense was making plays behind him, as the 41-year-old closer sported an impressive 3.03 FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching: ERA equivalent that eliminates balls in play), significantly below his 4.23 ERA.

In fact, according to the team defense statistic (DEF) on FanGraphs that uses UZR and defensive runs saved (among other stats) to calculate defensive value, the Diamondbacks ranked 23rd while the Twins finished the season 11th. Chase Field, where Rodney pitched in home games last season, was also more of a hitter-friendly park than Target Field. Arizona’s home stadium ranked as the 6th best park in the majors for batters while Target Field was 10th most hitter-friendly in FanGraphs Park Factors.

Zach Duke

Duke only pitched 18.1 innings for the Cardinals last season, so it would be tough to say that his defense or home park made a big difference on his 2017 campaign. However, one note to be aware of: although Target Field profiles as more of a hitter’s park by many metrics, it is tougher on left-handed batting, especially for smashing dingers. Duke figures to face a multitude of lefties this season at Target Field, which is ranked as the 11th hardest park for a left handed hitter to hit a home run in, according to FanGraphs Park Factors.

Addison Reed

Reed will start the season for the Twins in a setup role after pitching 76.2 innings last season for the Mets and Red Sox. Reed’s FIP (3.67) was a bit higher than his ERA (2.84) and he sported pretty low BABIP against (.266) in 2017. These numbers suggest that he may have gotten some help from his fielders, but the Mets (who he pitched the majority of the season with) were one of the worst defensive teams in the league. They ranked 20th in the league in FanGraphs DEF stat (compared to the aforementioned 11th for the Twins).

Reed’s stats over the years show that he is a flyball pitcher, with 42.3% of batted balls against him classifying as such (the league average FB% in 2017 was 35.5%). Though the 29-year-old righty did finish the season with the Red Sox stout outfield defense behind him, he went through most of the season with with the Mets, who finished 21st in FanGraphs range above average (RngR) statistic. The Twins “nothing falls but raindrops outfield” helped lead Minnesota to an 8th place finish in the range above average. Thus, there may be a few extra outs to be had with the Twins defense backing up Reed in 2018.

Jake Odorizzi

Last season, Odorizzi had the benefit of pitching with the Tampa Bay Rays’ defense behind him, which was one of the best in the game. Odorizzi’s 4.14 ERA was significantly lower than his 5.43 FIP and his BABIP against was an astonishingly low .227. The Rays finished 7th in the league last year in the DEF stat and held the best mark in the MLB for the range (RngR) statistic. Tampa Bay’s Tropicana Field also ranked as the 7th most pitcher-friendly park last year, according to FanGraphs’ park factors.

Does that mean Odorizzi will likely put up worse numbers while pitching for the Twins? Not necessarily. Odorizzi’s approach of throwing a lot of high fastballs has lead to high flyball rate (47.3%) and Twins have one of the better outfield defenses in the game. Also, it never hurts having a center fielder who catches everything as the captain of the outfield. Odorizzi moves from having to pitch a significant portion of his games against the offensively talented AL East to the AL Central, which features the likes of the rebuilding Royals, White Sox, and Tigers.

Lance Lynn

Lynn also pitched with a pretty solid defense behind him in his 175.1 innings for the Cardinals. Batters against Lynn had a .244 average on balls in play, and the Cardinals ranked 9th in DEF. Sporting a 3.03 ERA, Lynn’s biggest problem was home runs, of which he gave up 27. Lynn may be able to cut down the dinger total by a few bombs, as he gave up 17 his home runs to left-handed hitters last year, and Target Field is described as “wasteland” for left-handed power in this FanGraphs article that explains Park Factors.

With a career low strikeout percentage of 19.7% in 2017 and a repertoire that features over 80% fastballs, Lynn is looking to generate softer contact by hitting his spots. The Twins’ defense should be able help Lynn in this respect more than his Cardinals teammates did, as Minnesota’s FanGraphs range ranking of 8th in the majors topped St. Louis’ 17th.

Though only time will tell how these pitchers will perform in their first season in Minnesota, the new scenery and teammates could certainly play a part in their success or failure. These effects might only have minor implications throughout the season, but every game will count this year as the Twins fight for a second straight playoff berth in a top heavy American league. And once again, they should certainly feel better with this man backing them up:

(I’m of the belief that you can never watch too many Byron Buxton defensive highlights) [Editor’s Note: Welcome to Twinkie Town, Cole. And no, you absolutely cannot watch too many Byron Buxton defensive highlight videos.]