MINNEAPOLIS -- The Twins' outfield defense has been as-advertised early this season, and it was on display yet again on Friday night. Right fielder Max Kepler made his first Statcast™ five-star catch of the season, robbing White Sox catcher Kevan Smith with a diving grab in the seventh inning of a 2-1 loss at Target Field.
The play had a catch probability of only 6 percent, per Statcast™, as Kepler had 2.7 seconds to cover 34 feet on the shallow liner hit by Smith off Twins reliever Ryan Pressly. Catch probability is on a scale of 0 to 100 and is essentially based on how far the fielder had to go to make the catch and how much time he had to get there. Five-star plays are ones with less than a 25-percent chance of being caught.
It was the third straight hard-hit ball allowed by Pressly, who surrendered the go-ahead run on a homer to Matt Davidson before Kepler raced back to the wall to snare a liner from Willy Garcia. The Twins' left fielder then making his diving catch to rob Smith, who had an exit velocity of 100.6 mph.
"Defense was good again," Twins manager Paul Molitor said. "The balls were up in the zone, and [Kepler] was able to get over [to make the plays]. Pressly is a tough guy to pull, so [the White Sox] did a nice job of using the whole field."
It was the second five-star catch of the year for the Twins -- center fielder Byron Buxton's diving grab to rob the Royals' Alex Gordon on Opening Day. Kepler made six five-star catches last year, ranking tied for eighth in the Majors despite playing in just 113 games as a rookie.
Kepler was 6-for-32 on five-star catch attempts last year for an 18.8 percent conversion rate, which was the 10th best among outfielders with at least 20 chances. Buxton also had six five-star catches last year, converting 24 percent of his chances, which ranked 6th. The Twins led the Majors with 18 such grabs last year.
The defense is a major reason why the Twins are off to a surprising start at 6-4 this season, and it was another crisp game with Jorge Polanco, Miguel Sano and especially Brian Dozier -- with a diving stop and throw to rob Todd Frazier on a hard-hit ball up the middle in the sixth -- making solid defensive plays as well.
"Polanco on a nice play on the ball he one-hopped, Miggy had a nice play he one-hopped and recovered and then Dozier's play," Molitor said. "We also made a nice relay. But just not enough offense today."