Wednesday, February 15, 2012

What to Watch in 2012: Valencia's Defense

In his second season as a big-leaguer, Valencia was struck by the infamous sophomore slump, with his OPS sinking by 122 points after an outstanding rookie campaign. That drop-off, however, was largely attributable to a 70-point dive in BABIP, which suggests that with steady peripheral rates and neutral luck his numbers at the plate will creep back upward in 2012.

Yet, judging by Ron Gardenhire's comments during the course of last season, Valencia's offense was not deemed by the club to be his most worrisome deficiency. If the young third baseman's starting job becomes endangered at some point this year, it seems likely that his glove will be the cause rather than his bat.

Late in August, Gardenhire expressed his frustration with Valencia's passive approach at the hot corner. On occasion, the manager intimated through media outlets that the team's future at third base had fallen into question.

You could hardly blame Gardy. After looking surprisingly sharp in the field during his big-league debut, Valencia showed severe regression in Year No. 2. Not only was he far more sloppy, committing 18 errors, but his range was visibly deteriorated. I'm reluctant to apply the UZR metric in single-season samples, but the difference there was stark: after putting up a 10.2 UZR/150 in 2010, Valencia finished at -6.1 in 154 games last season. In other words, UZR showed a 16-run defensive swing from one season to the next.

Whether you buy into that statistic or not, it seems clear that Valencia took a sizable step backward in the field last year, and that if he's unable to reverse that trend, his grip on the starting job will continue to loosen. As we've seen time and time again in the past, Gardenhire and the Twins are far more tolerant of substandard production at the plate than a failure to consistently get the job done defensively.


Kelly said...

As long as he hits three run homers, his spot is safe.

The Twins put Harmon Killebrew at 3rd for a while. He was a defensive liability.Nobody cared. (Love ya Killer but thats true.)

Valencia hits and its his job.

Anonymous said...


If Valencia hit like Harmon, than yeah, he can stay. When he puts up an OPS lower than Alexi Casilla, than no, it's not right to say he hits.

Steve L. said...

Valencia probably showed more of his true defensive abilities last year. While I (or we?) was down in Spring Training last year, it was blatantly obvious Valencia had lost whatever fielding edge he had from 2010 in the offseason. He was sitting back on everything, trying to play the wrong hops, and not fielding anything in front of his body unless it was hit right at him. Hopefully he's been putting in the work and comes back playing D closer to the 2010 version this year. I don't really think his job is in that much jeopardy, but the constant bashing from Gardy when there were plenty of other guys deserving of it could be telling as well.

Jim H said...

Killebrew was (I think) less of a liability at 3rd than you suggest. The Killer spent most of the first half or so of his career between LF and 3B with some time at 1B as well. He had a strong arm and a pretty reliable glove. Nobody mistaked him for Brooks Robinson at 3B but that was mostly range.

I think the points about Valencia are valid. He needs to shore up his defense. He will get some slack on his offense if he can be good defensively. I believe he needs to figure out his approach at the plate. I liked him better when he used the whole field and hit line drives like he did his first year. At times last year he looked pull happy, I am not sure that will work for Valencia.

Mike said...

"Gardenhire and the Twins are far more tolerant of substandard production at the plate than a failure to consistently get the job done defensively."

After last season, I don't mind that approach nearly as much than I used to. Yeah, it'd be great to have a team that could hit with some power on a consistent basis. But it was extremely frustrating to watch the fielders commit way more errors than I'm used to seeing from the Twins, while not making all the routine plays, and while not having good enough range.

Lonestar said...

So - if Valencia plays like last year and Mauer can't be the regular catcher, what do you think of moving Mauer to 3B

Skooly said...

I will admit I was high on Valencia during his rookie campaign. But after watching him play third last year, I was disgusted. He looked awful and I'm not talking about offense. The whole team looked terrible on defense which pains me because the Twins normally are top ten. Everbody wanted to run out Punto and I was so mad when we released him. He was, by far and above the best infield defender on the Twins in the last decade. Worst decision since the Santana trade. I love the idea of Mauer at 1st/3rd or maybe Valencia at first because I'm not convinced Morneau will be healthy or Mauer for that matter.

TT said...

I don't think the problem was that Valencia changed his approach at the plate. I think opposing pitchers changed their approach and he didn't adapt all that well. His numbers last year weren't all that far off his numbers after his hot start in 2010.

I also think some of his struggles on defense may have been a carry over from his struggles at the plate. He was scuffling on both offense and defense. That makes it tough to pick a focus and stick with it.

I would not read much into what Gardy says in public. Some players are going to respond well to the public attention they get. Others just want to be left alone. Its Gardy's job to know which is which and manage them accordingly. He has said that Valencia seems to like the attention. So its not surprising Valencia gets called out in public.

Jim H said...

TT, You may be right, but I don't think that is all the problem for Valencia. There aren't that many major league hitters who sucessfully combine high average with big power. The superstars can, at least for awhile in their careers, but most guys have to pick one. Be a contact hitter, and if you are strong maybe you will get a home run once in a while. Or swing for the fences.

The trouble with Valencia is he probably can't maintain a real high average or really hit a lot of home runs either. I hope he can be a guy who can hit close to 300 most years with 10-20 home runs. I think last year for awhile he was swinging for the fences a lot.

If that wasn't his problem, and it was more what you said, he just hasn't adjusted to what major league pitchers are doing to him-it could be a short career.

Mike said...

Maybe I'm wrong, but it seemed to me that Valencia started off very poorly at the plate last season, but improved quite a bit by the end of the season. I know he certainly had a sophomore slump of sorts, but if I remember correctly, he was hitting quite a bit better over the last three months of the season than he was over the first three months.

But I think other posters are probably correct. I think that other pitchers adapted to him and he didn't adapt all that well in response.

Doug Duwenhoegger said...

I heard from a reliable source that Valencia is a cancer in the club house and was one of the main reasons Cuddyer didn't want to return. His avg dropped to sub .250 last year and his lackadaisical fielding and what seemed to be prep for the game was disconcerting. Hopefully he grows up a little and can get the average up and cut down on his 5th most errors in the bigs last year.