Twins third baseman Josh Donaldson, who missed the two-game playoff sweep last week with a calf injury and unfortunately like his Twins teammates now has a lot of time on his hands, spent some of it on Twitter Tuesday espousing some big opinions about MLB umpiring and teams that employ infield shifts.
On umpiring, Donaldson had an interesting back-and-forth with Trevor Plouffe — just a current Twins third baseman and former Twins third baseman, both No. 24 here, chopping it up — about what they were seeing during Tuesday’s games.
Plouffe tweeted: “I like most umpires. I really do. But they aren’t held accountable at all and have as much job protection as a Supreme Court justice.”
Donaldson replied to him with this: “It’s embarrassing. It’s tough to watch any game. I don’t know why this is so hard to understand. This isn’t high school where you can say that’s too close to take. As a MLB hitter our job is to take close pitches that are out of zone.”
The first point shouldn’t be a big surprise. Donaldson was ejected from a September game after disagreeing with a strike call, hitting a home run and subsequently spreading dirt on home plate. When he spoke about it a couple days later, Donaldson had this to say about umpiring:
“[If] the umpire consistently isn’t doing [his] job correctly, that’s affecting our careers, that’s affecting our success. At the end of the day, there’s no reprimand, no accountability for the guys that are making the decision. As a matter of fact, they don’t care. They don’t care at all, most of them. They just want to get the game over with, for the most part, and it’s pretty sad because guys are making six figures a year and there’s no accountability.”
On the subject of shifts, Donaldson’s take was perhaps more intriguing. He wrote, in two separate tweets:
Shifts in MLB playoffs are continuing to hurt teams!! To further clarify, pitchers are getting hurt because of these shifts. Hitters are taking advantage of it. Love to see it.
Of note: The Twins gave up a handful of big hits to the Astros during their series last week that likely would have been outs if not for a shift being employed — keying rallies and ultimately leading to hard-to-come-by runs in 4-1 and 2-1 wins.
Based on the Twins’ increasing implementation of analytics — which value infield shifts as a means of taming offenses — it’s no surprise that they are among the teams that use them most often. In 2020, per Baseball Savant, the Twins used an infield shift — defined as having three fielders on the same side of second base — 41.3% of the time, the seventh-most out of 30 teams.
Donaldson, a hitter with good bat control, probably sees shifts as an opportunity for easy hits. But not every player is as adept at beating them — and a short series with a few glaring examples of the Astros beating the Twins’ shift, whether purposely or accidentally, does not constitute a referendum on the idea overall.
Perhaps Donaldson was more frustrated by his teammates’ inability to make the Astros pay for their shifting? Houston shifted even more than the Twins this season — 44.1% of the time, fifth-most — but they managed just two runs (both on Nelson Cruz extra-base hits) in the series.
Whatever the case, both the umpire critique and the thoughts on shifts will be good to remember when the Twins resume play in 2021.