The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Sports Columns

March 3, 2013

To improve pitching, improve the defense

— Twins pitchers struck out 943 batters last season. That sounds like a lot, but it was 143 fewer than anybody else.

It has been a deadly combination for Minnesota pitchers the past couple of seasons: They can’t strike hitters out, and the defense (particularly on the left side) can’t cover ground.

Terry Ryan has remade the starting rotation, but it’s new faces with the same style of pitching. Kevin Correia, Mike Pelfrey and holdover Scott Diamond all sport strikeout rates well below average, while Vance Worley is roughly league average.

Ryan has beefed up the power-arm supply in the farm system (Alex Meyer, Trevor May, J.O. Berrios and a flock of collegiate relievers drafted last summer), but that’s of little use to the 2013 squad.

So if the pitching is going to be markedly better than the disasters of the 2011-12 seasons, the defense has to do more than its share of the job.

And the outlook there is mixed.

The outfield defense is likely to be worse. Josh Willingham in left wasn’t adept at age 33 and isn’t going to be more nimble at 34. The defense in center, whoever wins the job, may be as good or even slightly better than Denard Span — all three candidates have better throwing arms — but there’s no way transplanted first baseman Chris Parmelee will match the range Ben Revere showed in right.

But the real key is going to be in the middle infield and third base. And one interesting aspect of the outlook there is how many shortstops — or washed-out shortstops — are involved.

  • Third base: Trevor Plouffe, who spent most of his minor league career at shortstop, ought to have better range at the hot corner than he displayed in 2012. Perhaps an offseason spent focusing on third base, rather than the outfield, will help.
  • Second base: Brian Dozier was the regular shortstop for half of 2012 and was overmatched by the physical demands of the position. This spring he’s being focused on second base, and the always-difficult-to-impress Tom Kelly has praised his improvement.
  • Shortstop: Pedro Florimon is the front-runner. He won’t hit, but his defense as the regular during the final six weeks or so in 2012 measured superbly in such defensive metrics as plus-minus.

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