Thursday, July 2, 2015

Can't The Twins Just Play Where They Belong?

Following the conclusion of the 2014 Major League Baseball season, longtime Minnesota Twins manager Ron Gardenhire was shown the door. Although the four seasons of losing weren't all his fault, he did little to help the matter either. In his place, Paul Molitor took over. So far in 2015, results as a whole have been promising, but one area continues to be baffling.

Why can't Molitor and the Twins just be happy playing their position? The main culprit, the outfield.

Heading into the season, the Twins decided (as most major league teams do) to roll with a four man outfield. Jordan Schafer would start in center, flanked by Oswaldo Arcia in left and Torii Hunter in right. Shane Robinson would operate as the club's fourth outfielder. As a whole, that might have been one of the worst constructed outfields in recent memory, but that remains a different discussion.

Molitor then decided to leave Aaron Hicks down in Rochester to start the season, and that turned out to be as much of an erroneous decision as should have been expected. As far as emergency or utility type player, the Twins brought Danny Santana, Eduardo Escobar, and Eduardo Nunez all north. Here is where the problem begins.

Escobar has played 31 games in the outfield for the Twins, while Nunez and Santana have both played two a piece. In those games, the defense has been every bit as bad as you'd expect a player out of position to provide.

Escobar has a -1 DRS (defensive runs saved) rating, as well as a -3.0 YZR (ultimate zone rating). Santana and Nunez haven't spent enough innings to factor in yet in 2015, but Santana was far from adequate a year ago. In 534 innings in centerfield during the 2014 season, Santana compiled an ugly -5.4 UZR. Of the group, only Nunez doesn't post negative numbers.

Now forcing a player to be out of position on defense would almost exclusively have to suggest the offensive production is there. For the Twins though, that doesn't seem to be the case either. The most often played Escobar owns a poor .247/.281/.389 line, with Santana's .209/.233/.276 looking even uglier. In fact, only Nunez has shown a glimpse of offensive production with a .303/.346/.505 line.

There's no doubt that everything can't fall on Molitor and odd decision making though. After all, Jordan Schafer redefined terrible, and Robinson is no doubt limited. Byron Buxton was called up and made it through just 11 games before being shelved for a month, and Aaron Hicks was also shelved for a brief period of time. At this point though, the complacency to make a move hurts the Twins.

Already having suffered through poor outfield defense for much of the year, the Twins have shown little urgency to rectify the problem when the opportunity presents itself. The latest example revolves around Santana and Hicks.

Now having played a handful of rehab games for Rochester, the Twins should have had Hicks on a plane back to join the big club at the first opportunity. With Santana overmatched at the plate, and a struggling outfielder, Hicks should be claiming his role. On top of that, Molitor had to lift Robinson after getting hit by a pitch, calling into question what his availability looks like.

It's really rather unfair to point to the problem as a whole through the eyes of one or two examples. However, the fact that Eduardo Escobar has played 31 games in the outfield this year is a big enough issue. Showing an affinity to giving innings in the grass to players like Nunez and Santana on top of it only complicates things.

Save Nunez for playing shortstop and giving guys around the infield a day off, and use your position players where they fit. When someone is hitting .319 with a .405 BABIP (batting average on balls in play), it makes sense to push a square peg into a round hole. When a guy has a paltry OPS and is doing nothing for you offensively, stop trying to over think it.

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