Outside of the Houston Astros, you could not find a story of ineptitude as complete as the Minnesota Twins this season. However, no one expected the Astros to be good. The Twins were coming off of an AL Central title. So, their collapse was more shocking. Their decline in fielding mirrored their decline in pitching this season.
I've already taken it on the chin when it comes to dogging some teams for their fielders and the Twins are no different. So, forgive me for busting out more numbers this time, but people need to understand that I'm not pulling these things out of another orifice. Simply put, the Twins were pretty bad across the board.
DER: .677 (30th)
RA: 804 (29th)
FLD%: .980 (28th)
Baseball Reference: -35 runs (27th)
Fangraphs: 0.0 runs (13th)
Fielding Bible: -27 runs (26th)
Baseball Prospectus: -18.2 runs (29th)
The chant in the Twins front office is "Thank god for the Mets." The Mets brought up the rear in every fielding metric. The tough spot for the Twins is determining whether this was just one of those seasons where everything went to hell in a hand basket or whether this is a trend that needs to be addressed. One thing is for sure—no one can claim it was a good year defensively.
In what is probably a hallmark of the 2011 season, Denard Span rated as the best fielder. Why is this a hallmark? Span missed nearly half the season due to injuries. In a season where they missed Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Span and Jason Kubel for extended time, it makes perfect sense that their best fielder would be in that group. His replacement (Ben Revere) did well, but Span is one of a kind with the glove.
For this season it was Trevor Plouffe, but in normal campaigns it is usually Michael Cuddyer. When I wrote an earlier piece about under the radar free agents, a legion of Twins fans came to Cuddyer's defense. So, let's look at the last several years of performance for Cuddyer under three of the four markers (The Fielding Bible III has yet to be released).
. . . . . . . . . . . .BP/FG/BR
2007. . . . . . . ..-7.8/1.9/-9
2008. . . . . . . ..-1.3/-2.8/-1
2009. . . . . . ..-16.8/-11.4/-19
2010. . . . . . . ..-9.5/-15.4/-8
2011. . . . . . . ..-3.1/-0.7/-3
You can take a plum and swear up and down that it's a banana until you are blue in the face. At the end of the day it's still a plum. Cuddyer is a nice hitter, but a fielder he isn't no matter how many ways you say he is. This year, Plouffe made Cuddyer look like Roberto Clemente. There is reason to believe that some of these guys will improve, but as you see above, Cuddyer is who he has always been.
When you finish in last there are always going to be changes. The fielding alignment next year will be pretty fluid. Joe Mauer is a solid catcher, but the club has so much money invested in him, they want to find a way to preserve his legs. First base might be the answer there since Justin Morneau hasn't been healthy in a year and a half.
Chris Parmalee had a spectacular September and will fit in somewhere. That might be left field or first base. Both Cuddyer and Jason Kubel are free agents. Cuddyer can play multiple positions (although not well as you can see above) and Kubel can play in the corners. However, it says here that the middle infield is the biggest mess and the one that Bill Smith will spend most of his time on.
The Twins have to be more healthy in 2012, so these numbers should improve through simple continuity. Yet, they have some problems they need to address. The fielding and hitting up the middle was atrocious. Tsuyoshi Nishioaka was pitiful and Plouffe was very shaky defensively. Alexi Casilla can man one of the spots, but they need more depth and better fielding overall.