StaTuesday: Early defensive ratings for 2017 Minnesota Twins
You could point to a lot of things in regards to the Minnesota Twins' success thus far in 2017. And one of them certainly would be defense.
This past week, the Society of American Baseball Research (SABR) issued its first Defensive Index rankings (SDI) for the season, based on games played through July 9, and Minnesota's players made a strong showing, especially up the middle.
According to SABR, these rankings account for roughly 25 percent of the selection process used in determining each season’s Gold Glove winners and also contributes in determining Platinum Glove Award winners.
The Defensive Index is compiled from different fielding metrics and incorporates a myriad of categories. (If you are interested in a more detailed explanation, please click here.)
Just in case you weren't sure, Byron Buxton is a really good center fielder, and the SDI proves that.
Buxton comes in with an SDI of 12.7, which is the second-best of any player in the major leagues (Boston's Mookie Betts has a 15.3) and is more than double of any other qualifying American League center fielder (Kansas City's Lorenzo Cain is second in the AL at 6.3). In 2016, Tampa Bay's Kevin Kiermaier led the AL center fielder's with a 14.6 SDI. We’re not saying you should give Buxton a Gold Glove based on a half-a-year's work … but he might want to clear out some room on his shelf.
But, as mentioned, the Twins overall defense has improved, especially up the middle. No more so than at catcher.
Minnesota looked to upgrade behind the plate in the offseason after Kurt Suzuki had one of the worst SDIs among AL catchers (-7.2). Jason Castro, who had a good defensive reputation, was signed in the offseason as a free agent. Well, he's lived up to his billing.
Castro has the second-highest SDI among catchers, 4.6, and the 15th-best overall in the American League. He comes in fifth among all major-league catchers, which isn't so shabby.
Completing our "up the middle" comment, Jorge Polanco is fourth among AL shortstops and eighth among all MLB shortstops with a 2.9 SDI. Brian Dozier, who last year had a -1.3 SDI, is fourth among AL second basemen and eighth in MLB with a 2.0 SDI.
While Betts is running away with the SDI high among right fielders, Max Kepler is no slouch himself. Kepler's 3.9 SDI is second in the AL and third in MLB among all right fielders (his SDI in 2016 was 1.4). Kepler also ranks 22nd among all AL position players.
Over at first base, Joe Mauer, who was fourth in SDI in the AL last year (1.6), has the second-highest SDI among AL first baseman at 3.0.
Not all is perfect, of course.
The Miguel Sano experiment at third base is ongoing. While he has made several highlight-reel plays this season, Sano clocks in with a -7.2 SDI. That's actually not the worst among AL third basemen as Detroit's Nick Castellanos is at -8.7. (And also, you know, he's having a pretty good season at the plate.)
In left field, Eddie Rosario has a -0.8 SDI, which puts him right in the middle of the pack of qualifying AL left fielders, with exactly eight players ahead of him and eight behind (Oakland's Khris Davis has a -7.1, so it could be a whole lot worse).
Not many pitchers usually qualify for the SDI and they also don't put up high numbers -- in 2016, R.A. Dickey led the American League with a 4.1 SDI. Nevertheless, Kyle Gibson is tied for third among AL pitchers in 2017 with a 1.7 SDI. The only other Twins pitcher to qualify for the rankings is Ervin Santana (-0.3).
Overall, Minnesota has positive SDIs at seven different positions. Only Cleveland (8) has more in the American League (all but left field) while Los Angeles also has seven (all but third base and left field).
Dave Heller is the author of Ken Williams: A Slugger in Ruth's Shadow, Facing Ted Williams - Players From the Golden Age of Baseball Recall the Greatest Hitter Who Ever Lived and As Good As It Got: The 1944 St. Louis Browns