Is Minnesota's Refreshed Coaching Staff... Too Fresh?
Image courtesy of Brad Rempel, USA TodayIn 2010, Minnesota had the fifth-best ERA in the American League, and allowed the third-fewest runs. Twins pitchers bounced back after a down spell, putting forth their best post-Johan season and seemingly vindicating the staff-building approach of Terry Ryan, Ron Gardenhire and Rick Anderson.
Maybe that's why the trio received so much leeway as things went totally awry.
In 2011 the Twins allowed the league's second-most runs. Then, they did it again in 2012 and 2013. In 2014 they finally took the AL crown for runs allowed, as an obscenely poor pitching staff doomed what was actually a pretty solid offense.
That was it for Gardy and Anderson. Ryan hired Paul Molitor as manager, and sought to offset the new skipper's lack of arms expertise by pairing him with Neil Allen, a minor-league pitching coach snagged out of Tampa's organization.
All-out disaster ensued in 2016, leading to Terry Ryan's dismissal. Allen survived the regime change. And in 2017, his Ervin-led staff actually did show considerable improvement, but he was sent packing afterward anyway.
The Twins turned to Galvin Alston, another guy with lots of experience instructing pitchers in the minors, and a bit in the majors too. He lasted one year before being ousted in yet another shakeup, which also claimed four-year bullpen coach Eddie Guardado.
On Thursday, we found out who will be filling these new vacancies for an organization suddenly characterized by churn. And this time, the Twins are really coloring outside the lines.
Wes Johnson, who will be named Minnesota's new pitching coach, becomes the first collegiate coach to jump straight to the majors in nearly four decades. Johnson is a forward thinker who speaks frequently of concepts like spin access and hand tilt, and is a TrackMan evangelist.
So, the analytical creds are there, but Johnson's total lack of familiarity with the pro level makes him a wild card, especially when paired with the game's youngest and greenest manager in Rocco Baldelli.
With these two in place, you'd think Minnesota's front office might seek out some seasoning at bullpen coach, but... nope. It sounds like they'll be going with Jeremy Hefner for that gig. The 31-year-old, who played in the majors as recently as 2013, will join an on-field MLB coaching staff for the first time after serving in the analytics office for the last two years. His role with the team was described by La Velle E. Neal III as such:
"Jeremy Hefner was hired as an advance scout, but not the kind that goes to the opposing team’s games the week before they face the Twins. Hefner travels with the Twins and scouts opponents by video. The combination of what Hefner sees on his screen and statistical analysis provides players with quality intelligence."
You might've heard that the Twins are being sued by a former scout for age discrimination. And while that legal action may or may not have merit, it's plain to see that this front office is heavily favoring freshness and youth at almost every turn. Derek Falvey is acting in line with the very mindset that got him hired, which only makes sense I suppose.
While this shift has been refreshing, one does wonder if the Twins have veered too far in the other direction. The team's three newest coaching hires carry essentially zero practical experience between them.
The Twins organization as a whole is now shockingly short on experience. The ousting of Molitor, a franchise institution and Hall of Famer, symbolize a much larger overhaul. With Joe Mauer announcing his retirement and Brian Dozier unlikely to return, there's no real tenure anywhere in the clubhouse, no reverered figures with storied histories to draw from.
Does that matter? We're about to find out.
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