Our Optimal Outfield


A couple, well quite frankly dumb, twitter posts have prompted me to dive a little deeper into what our best outfield is. I have a decent sense of it in my head, but I want to see if the numbers bear it out.

First, offensively: Last year Denard Span came out of nowhere to post a .294/.387/.432 line. He didn’t have a ton of power, but he walkled (12.6%) almost as often as he struck out (17.3%). He had abandoned his free swinging ways and turned into a plate discipline guy who wasn’t afraid to go deep into counts. This year the gap between his walks and his strikeouts are similar, although both have gone down. He’s swung at a few more pitches outside the zone, and predictably seen less of his batted balls go for linedrives. Although he hasn’t been quite as good as he was last year, he needs to be the Twins leadoff hitter.

The Twins got some flack for giving Jason Kubel an extension over the winter, rather than signing a player like Eric Hinske. All Kubel has done is hit .311/.371/.560 for an astounding .392 wOBA. His BABIP of .350 is higher than his career totals, and will probably regress, as will his HR/FB rate of 18.6%, but for now Kubel is having a tremendous season.

He’s been hot and cold for most of the year, but when you put his numbers together, Michael Cuddyer has posted a line of .281/.361/.521 for a wOBA of .381. His homers have traveled the second farthest average distance in the American League. Cuddyer is on pace to post the highest walk rate of his career, which would help offset him striking out once every five at-bats. His HR/FB rate is a bit up from his career stats, but given the length of his homeruns, I wouldn’t count on too much of a regression.

Defensively, it is much simpler: Last year, Carlos Gomez was the best centerfielder in the American League. His glove was worth 16.5 runs and is the main reason why he was worth over 2 wins last year, even with his empty shell of a bat.

Denard Span is a bit stretched in center field, but has a career 26.9 UZR/150 in left field, making him an excellent left fielder who can fill in in center in a pinch.

Of the remaining outfielders, it is Delmon Young who is the best, with a UZR/150 of 6.0. He also has a cannon of an arm, perhaps better than Cuddyer’s, to help cut down on the running game.

Given that Gomez’s glove is the Twins’ best asset out there (although he has been worse this year), he needs to start in center. Because he is great in left, Span should start there, filling in for Gomez occasionally when he gets a day off (preferably when Blackburn starts), and right field should be a mish mash of the remaining three. Cuddyer isn’t great out there, but he is the most comfortable, so he should probably be the primary starter. Against lefties, Delmon Young in right and Cuddyer DHing should also happen more often than not.