The Free Press, Mankato, MN

September 23, 2013

Thoma column: Twins: this is a simple game


The Mankato Free Press

---- — Contemplating the flaws of the 2013 Minnesota Twins brings to mind the “Bull Durham” managerial rant in the showers:

This is a simple game. You throw the ball, you hit the ball, you catch the ball.

The Twins this year haven’t done any of that well.

Their problems at the plate (second fewest runs scored in the American League) and on the mound (second most runs allowed and by far the fewest strikeouts) are obvious in the statistics.

Their weaknesses in the field are less visible in the basic numbers. They are, for example, well above average in fielding percentage; the Twins don’t commit a lot of errors.

But defense IS a problem.

Start on the team level. A stat called “defensive efficiency” sums it up well: It’s the percentage of balls in play the fielders turn into outs. A home run is not in play. A single is. A strikeout is not in play. A flyout is.

The Twins defensive efficiency is .680 — meaning they turned 68 percent of the balls in play into outs. Sound good? It’s not. That’s the second lowest DE in baseball (Colorado, which has the handicap of playing at altitude, has the lowest).

Couple a relative inability to turn batted balls into outs with a pitching staff that has very few strikeouts and ... you have a lot of baserunners.

Pinning the blame for that low DE on individuals is a bit trickier. The regular middle infielders, Pedro Florimon at shortstop and Brian Dozier, certainly look good with the glove, and some of the interpretive defensive metrics put them in the top ranks of defenders. Others see those two as more average glovemen.

But the outfielders — there’s general agreement there between the eyes and the stats. Josh Willingham is a 34-year-old who wasn’t fast in his youth and has spent the season playing on one leg. Chris Parmelee, who was the regular in right for the first half, is a natural first baseman. Ryan Doumit’s primary position is catcher.

And Oswaldo Arcia ... the kid can hit, without a doubt, but batted balls seem to overmatch him. One doesn’t often see an outfielder get hit in the noggin by a fly ball, but that happened this year to Arcia.

Baseball Info Systems has a metric it calls “plus-minus” in which every batted ball is rated and the fielder involved judged. By plus-minus, the Twins are

■ 29 plays below average in left field;

■ 19 plays below average in center field;

■ 36 plays below average in right field.

Arcia by himself accounts for 26 of those 84 plays unmade, 15 in left field and 11 in right.

The Twins need Arcia’s bat in the lineup. But he’s giving a lot back to the opposition in the field. And so are the rest of his outfield mates.

Edward Thoma (344-6377; ethoma@mankatofreepress.com) maintains his Baseball Outsider blog at fpbaseballoutsider.blogspot.com. Follow him on Twitter @bboutsider.