"Let us go forth a while, and get better air in our lungs. Let us leave our closed rooms...
The game of ball is glorious."

--Walt Whitman

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Your 2005 Twins: the Field

"Championship baseball teams are not founded on bats. They're built on a backbone of catching, pitching, a second-base combination and a center fielder."
--Carl Mays

"I don't like them fellas who drive in two runs and let in three."
--Casey Stengel
Fielding stats are the least useful of baseball's statistical groupings, because they derive from the most subjective measurements--what a fielder should have gotten to, what he should have been able to make a play with, how great his range should be. The newer stats of range factor and zone rating attempt to address this problem by factoring in averages, by attempting to measure each player against what the average guy at his position does and doesn't do, but even then fielders can be awarded or penalized for playing behind ground ball pitchers vs fly ball pitchers, on a slow surface or a fast one. And it is nearly impossible to take a fielder's arm into consideration--sure, he gets to the ball, but can he throw it to first hard enough to get there ahead of the runner? Fielding stats are also skewed by time played much more so than any other--a position player playing nine innings will get at least three at-bats, but he may never get a fielding chance; a pitcher will throw pitches but likewise may not be required to otherwise handle the ball. A fielder needs to rack up a lot of innings to get enough chances to make his stats in any way meaningful.

So I take fielding stats with more than a grain of salt. I may glance at the stats of an everyday fielder to begin to evaluate him, but only as a beginning. I like to compare fielding percent against range factor; I think the strengths and weaknesses of the two balance each other to a certain extent, though I don't pay them any attention below 500 innings, and don't take them seriously at all until around 1000. If you're interested in learning more about fielding stats and the problems thereof, put "range factor" or "zone rating" into Google and you'll turn up a ton of articles.

The Twins have been a good-fielding team for lo these many years, and they promise to be pretty good again this year. This season the Twins have traded some defense for some offense, all of it in the infield, but how much of a defensive downgrade and whether it will be overcome by scoring more runs remains to be seen.

The infield is the big question mark in the defensive equation this year. Instead of the sure-handed Koskie on the hot corner, we have the still-adjusting Michael Cuddyer, who also has yet to prove that he's an offensive upgrade. Instead of Doug Mientkiewicz's golden glove across the diamond at first, we have Justin Morneau, whose arrival in the big leagues was greeted with wailings and lamentations from defense lovers both inside and outside the organization, and who has yet to even approach screwing up on the scale expected of him. All-Star shortstop Christian Guzman has been replaced by rookie Jason Bartlett, who did a really nice impression of a drunken moose in the field last July but surprised this spring with a nearly flawless showing. These are three young guys who appear able to be at least competent in their positions, but have yet to actually do it for a full season.

The other question mark, for me, is left field. Shannon Stewart is an able fielder, but he has a history of hamstring and shoulder troubles, and his throwing arm is not what it used to be. Designated hitter Lew Ford can easily out-field him these days, and I'd really love to see them switch places. I'm also uncomfortable with our primary designated hitter being our only legitimate backup for all three outfield positions, as I mentioned yesterday in the bench analysis.

The Twins defense shows a lot of promise going into 2005. A couple of guys will need to reach deep and find their inner Torii, but if they can do that, we're (pardon the pun) golden.

2004 Stats
PositionPlayerInnFPctLg Avg
RFLg Avg
CJoe Mauer257.991.992----0
Mike Redmond604.1.996"----4
Corky Miller104.989"----1
Matthew LeCroy144.967"----1
1BJustin Morneau538.995.9949.439.31--
Matthew LeCroy181.994"8.67"--
Juan Castro281.000"7.25"--
Michael Cuddyer351.000"9.26"--
2BLuis Rivas860.994.9825.164.95--
Nick Punto111.982"4.37"--
Juan Castro67.1.977"3.58"--
Michael Cuddyer327.982"4.59"--
3BMichael Cuddyer338.923.9512.242.64--
Juan Castro378.2.958"1.45"--
Nick Punto4no chances--
SSJason Bartlett22.889.9726.554.56--
Nick Punto881.000"5.01"--
Juan Castro190.1.981"3.35"--
LFShannon Stewart639.972.9831.482.04--
Lew Ford680.994"2.04"--
Michael Cuddyer351.000"0.77"--
CFTorii Hunter1100.987.9882.592.64--
Lew Ford341.971"2.69"--
Jacque Jones91.000"4.00"--
Nick Punto131.000"2.08"--
RFJacque Jones1237.994.9832.322.22--
Lew Ford851.000"2.01"--
Michael Cuddyer491.000"2.39"--
SPJohan Santana228.892.9481.301.66--
Brad Radke219.974"1.56"--
Carlos Silva203.947"1.60"--
Kyle Lohse1941.000"1.58"--
Terry Mulholland123.864"1.39"--
Joe Maysdid not play--

Players listed in bold are the probable starter at that position. Players in italics are either starters at another position or considered an emergency backup only.
RF = Range Factor
(not applicable to catchers)

On deck: the starting rotation

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