April 24, 2001
The Daily Prospectus
Twins in the Outfield
While watching the Twins beat the White Sox--again--on Saturday, I was mightily impressed with their outfield defense, and not just because Torii Hunter made the play of the weekend. Jacque Jones is a center fielder playing left field and Matt Lawton is an underrated defender in right. All three players had above-average range factors in 2000, and Hunter and Jones had above-average range factors, Zone Ratings and Prospectus Fielding Runs. (Lawton's metrics were all off in 2000, following two excellent defensive seasons.)
How is this translating on the field? Well, one way of getting a handle on outfield defense is looking at how many doubles and triples a team allows, both overall and as compared to total hits allowed:
D+T per Team 9 Inn. Texas 2.71 Detroit 2.61 Toronto 2.40 Tampa Bay 2.32 Cleveland 2.24 Chicago 2.23 Anaheim 2.03 Kansas City 1.97 New York 1.89 Baltimore 1.88 Seattle 1.69 Oakland 1.68 Boston 1.62 Minnesota 1.54 D+T per Team hit Cleveland .281 Toronto .259 Detroit .249 Anaheim .239 Texas .236 Boston .231 Chicago .231 Tampa Bay .231 Baltimore .231 Seattle .215 Kansas City .205 New York .200 Minnesota .190 Oakland .166
The Twins are last in the league in allowing non-HR extra-base hits, next-to-last in doubles and triples as a percentage of hits. Those are huge reasons why they're fourth in the AL in ERA.
It's not just that their pitching staff isn't giving up flyballs, either: the Twins are eighth in the league in groundball/flyball ratio, and 13th in strikeout rate. Keep in mind as well that the Twins' home park, the Metrodome, increases doubles and triples more than any park in the game. This performance by the team's outfield is legitimate.
Eric Milton is one of the most extreme flyball pitchers in the AL, and he's thriving this season. Mark Redman was an extreme flyball pitcher as a rookie, but put up a decent season and has been effective this so far this year. These pitchers are able to succeed in part because there are three great defenders roaming the grass behind them.
I don't know if the Twins can keep up their current pace. I'm certain their offense isn't as good as it's looked, but there's a very real possibility that they can continue to keep runs off the board, and that's because they may have the best defensive outfield in the game.
Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. Contact him by clicking here.