Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Pursuing pitching is the wrong priority

Here's the conventional wisdom about the Twins: The pitching's the problem.

And a cursory look at the stats supports that claim. The Twins had a team ERA in 2014 of 4.57, which was last in the American League and almost three-quarters of a run per game worse than the AL average. The Twins were, on the other hand, fifth in runs scored.

It's the pitching, stupid. And so there is speculation of signing free-agent starters (a la last winter's $73 million spree, which brought the Twins one very good season and two injury-plagued/awful seasons).

Here's a unconventional view: That's the wrong priority.

Fix the defense, and the pitchers already in place will look a whole lot better.

One of my foundation beliefs about the game: The easiest way to improve a pitching staff is to get better defensive outfielders.

And it really shouldn't be that difficult to improve the Twins outfield defense. They spent much of 2014 with Josh Willingham or Jason Kubel in left field, Oswaldo Arcia or Chris Colabello in right and a shortstop (Danny Santana) in center.

By Baseball Info System's DRS metric -- DRS meaning "defensive runs saved" -- the Twins were next to last in all of baseball. Only Cleveland's fielders gave more runs to the opposition.

The Twins team DRS was -67, meaning they were 67 runs worse than MLB average. Most of that is traced to the corner outfielders. Left field was -25, right field was -23. (The pitchers and catchers were also notable problems; the pitchers were -13, the catchers -10. Those four positions account for -71 runs, so the other five combined scored a bit better than average.)

TheTwins gave up 777 runs last season, Give them league average defense, at least by DRS, and that drops to 710 -- still worse than average, but fewer than they scored themselves.

It's only mid November, but the Twins outfield plan for 2015 is pretty vague.

We know Arcia will be the right fielder. That probably means subpar defense in that corner again.

Center field and left field are wide open. Aaron Hicks, Jordan Schafer and Chris Parmelee are on hand from last season, but I have to doubt the Twins intend to base their outfield on those guys. Santana ... new manager Paul Molitor sounds like he wants to focus Santana there. It doesn't make sense to me -- Santana has always been a dicey defensive shortstop in the minors, and with Eduardo Escobar coming off a strong season, the Twins would be "fixing" a problem that doesn't really exist.

Which is very much, again, like plunging back into the free agent market to sign a raft of veteran starters. Better to jettison one or two of the incumbent starters and give Alex Meyer or Trevor May rotation berths, not add more big salary guys to block their ascent.

And better to focus on getting outfielders who can run and throw, be they Santana, Eddie Rosario or somebody from the outside.

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