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5th Starter

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Molitor's Management Style

Part of Paul Molitor's appeal as a managerial candidate for the Minnesota Twins has been his willingness to embrace data and information in ways that his predecessor did not. Not only would Molitor be able to draw from his years of experience in the game but he would also add to it an analytical side that would provide an advantage for his players.

As it turns out, not everyone on the team shares the same opinion on sabermetrics.
“I think whoever believes in that sabermetrics stuff never played the game and won’t understand it. There’s no way you can measure playing outfield. Only eyes can do that,” the 39-year-old Torii Hunter told a room full of media onlookers, whirling recorders and broadcasting cameras last Wednesday. That would be only the fourth-most troublesome thing he said during the introductory press conference.

Here’s the thing about Hunter’s opinion on sabermetrics: It doesn’t matter what he thinks.

The stats community releases plenty of deep sighs whenever a player makes a reference to sabermetrics being nothing but a bunch of nerdery for Harry Potter enthusiasts to post on the internet between live-action role playing sessions. It doesn’t matter if Hunter thinks UZR stands for Untamed Zebra Riders and measures space lint; Hunter and other players do not need to know or understand the data, they just need to execute.

Take Glen Perkins. Perkins might be the closest thing to a stathead in the major leagues. And though he will tell you he looks at fielding independent pitching numbers to help balance himself between outings, once he hits the field the numbers disappear.

‘‘The only thing I analyze when I’m out there is what stuff I have and what the hitter is doing,’’ he told the Star Tribune’s Jim Souhan in 2013. ‘‘All the numbers, all the stuff that I love, doesn’t play when you’re on the field. None of that stuff is a scouting tool for a player facing another player.’’

Like Hunter, Twins second baseman Brian Dozier wants little to do with the sabermetric fielding data and shares the same sentiment in regard to those who do use it.

"Obviously that's part of the game now more than ever. I really don't (pay attention to it) because as far as defensively, sabermetrically, anything like that, I think it's people behind a desk trying to dictate how you play the game," Dozier told FoxSportsNorth.com’s Tyler Mason this past April. "That's not the way the game's been played. Nobody can see what's inside of you.”

Haters gonna hate. Players gonna play.

In spite of the fact that Hunter may think sabermetrics is on par with unicorn droppings, his new manager Paul Molitor “believes” in the sabermetrics stuff and had played the game a little bit himself.

“My reaction to Torii’s sabermetrics declining considerably in the past few years, that doesn’t concern me,” Molitor told reporters in sunsoaked San Diego on Tuesday during the Winter Meetings. “Now you can measure range and all those things, but I’ll take his experience and knowledge and throw him out there with a couple of young outfielders and take my chances with no hesitancy whatsoever. Yeah, he’s 39. He’s not 29. We all get that, but I’m confident about what he’s going to bring to our team from many different areas including not being concerned about his defense.”

In not so many words Molitor acknowledged that Hunter’s range has diminished, which is what the sabermetric stats were saying about him all along. The response was a diplomatic managerial answer. Ultimately, Molitor views Hunter’s defense -- at least the portions that are not measured by ultimate zone rating or Inside Edge’s video scouts -- as a significant upgrade over Oswaldo Arcia.

“I watched how Scottie [Ulger] worked with [Arcia] last year in the outfield, and they’ll go out there in right field and Scottie will hit balls in corner and say this ball is a double. Your objective is not to play it into a triple,” Molitor explained. “During the game someone will hit it down the line and he’ll try to slide and stop the ball before it gets into the corner and it turns a double into a triple.”

Choosing to downplay Hunter’s defensive data does not mean Molitor is avoiding the statistical side of the game as a manager. Molitor credits his time around some of the game’s forward-thinkers at the helm, particularly former Brewers manager Tom Trebelhorn.

“I was fortunate being around guys like George [Bamberger], and Harvey [Kuenn], and a young Buck Rogers in his first time managing, and then a young guy like Tom Trebelhorn comes in and kind of innovative and a new thinker and you learn from that.”

Trebelhorn was one of the early adaptors of statistical analysis in the dugout. According to his book “Behind-the-Scenes Baseball”, Doug Decatur recalls his time as a statistical consultant for Trebelhorn and the Brewers, writing over 200 stat reports that he would fax the then-Brewers manager. In 1991, Decatur would provide Trebelhorn with information for best bullpen deployment or batting order optimization, ideas that are almost standard now and available online but were groundbreaking at the time.

“I’m learning more about sabermetrics all the time. Obviously, as a coach last year, I was exposed to them at a deeper level than I had been as a minor league player development person,” Molitor said.

At the major league level, the available data can be enough to “choke a cow” as hitting coach Tom Brunansky tells it. Or it is like “drinking out of a firehose” as former pitcher Cole Devries described it. For Molitor, as a coach he was able to take it in at a slower pace.

The exposure to data last year was something he sought out on his own, according to Twins’ manager of baseball research Jack Goin. When he was hired as a coach, Goin and his team briefed Molitor on what they could provide him and how he could obtain it. From there, Molitor was highly proficient at procuring information and implementing it into action, such as in the form of an increase in infield shifts.

Now the team’s manager, Molitor is seemingly headed towards expanding the use of the information but with caution.

“I’m going to try to learn what I think is valuable in assessing who plays, lineups, all those type of things. But I’m going to hopefully have enough confidence in myself to have a feel for players, and flow, and season, and momentum where I can trust some of that too. But I think with all the things that are out there, you can overwhelm yourself. But obviously some of it makes sense, and it’s proven to be successful in how managers integrate it into their system both defensively and offensively.”


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20 Comments

Molitor and Sabermetrics are an interesting question but I'll be more interested in seeing if they will play throough the 9th inning for Molitor?

I want to see if they come out fighting after a bad loss?

I want to see if they start bickering to the media when times are tough?

I want to see if they run the bases more aggressively, and field the ball with more situational awareness?

Will the outfileders hit the cuttoff man and prevent the extra base.?

Will the pitchers blow up when a fielder makes an errror?

How will Molitor handlethe bullpen ?

These are the things I am waiting to see in 2015

    • woolywoolhouse and realistic twins fan like this

I want to see if they can use the data to help Joe Mauer,

    • jokin likes this

Torii's comment is yet another reason why he shouldn't have been brought back to Minnesota. *sigh* this is going to be another dreadfully long season and it hasn't even started yet :(

I want to hear more about this space lint.
    • Riverbrian likes this
Torii's comments mean little to nothing. He is what he is defensively, and he will play the best that he can, catch what he gets to, and hopefully cut off the rest and throw to the right base. Lack of speed is a reality, as is experience and knowledge. And besides, it's the manager and his team that decide on shifts and positioning.
    • brvama, Linus and sandbun like this
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lightfoot789
Dec 10 2014 08:37 AM
There are so many variables with numbers to have a hard line approach to he sucks and he's useable. The opinion on Aaron Hicks is that he will never be an affective outfielder because he can't hit enough. What he did do well was get on base more than most of the Twins. His .341 OBP was outstanding. Do the numbers tell you that he is less affective than the guy with a .300 BA and a .310 OBP? Does his defensive numbers offset his flaws? I love the fact that Molitor plans on using the eye test along with the numbers. What is the flow of my team and who is helping us win?

Im ok with Torii's comment for one reason, to quote Yogi: 90% of the game is half-mental. I want players to believe they are still at their peak, but at the same have some realization that adjustments need to be made. 

At the same time, I don't understand the need to insult those that use advanced stats.  

Yeah, I agree with the whole sentiment of who cares if the players know or understand the stats. I want Hunter to play with confidence and not worry about the numbers. It's cool that Perkins looks into it, but that on the mound, he isn't thinking about it at all.

 

I want the manager to know the numbers and if he sees something that can give the team an edge (whether shifting or lineup construction, etc.), he try to use it. But I don't want it to be the be all end all. The manager has to go by his gut sometimes. They're there and see the human element that goes into it. And then just have the confidence to go with whatever decision he makes. 

 

I do want the front office to make decisions based largely on the numbers, but again, in a human game the other stuff does matter too. I definitely think that the advanced stats should matter most in the offseason when constructing a roster and making payroll decisions.

People who can play the game, play. People that can't, but perhaps once did or just love it and watch it, write about it. Nobody who ever writes about it - including those who collect and analyze stats, wins a ballgame. It sure is fun though.

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Parker Hageman
Dec 10 2014 09:57 AM
People who can play the game, play. People that can't, but perhaps once did or just love it and watch it, write about it. Nobody who ever writes about it - including those who collect and analyze stats, wins a ballgame. It sure is fun though.

 

 

I-dont-get-it2.gif

    • drbob524 and nytwinsfan like this
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nicksaviking
Dec 10 2014 10:03 AM

“I watched how Scottie [Ulger] worked with [Arcia] last year in the outfield, and decided not to bring Scottie back this year.

 

FTFY Molly.

 

I wanted the team to go outside it's comfort zone for a new manager mostly just to prove they had the stones to dip into the unknown, but I'll freely acknowledge that Molitor appears to have most of the qualities I'd most prefer in my team's manager.

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nicksaviking
Dec 10 2014 10:05 AM

People who can play the game, play. People that can't, but perhaps once did or just love it and watch it, write about it. Nobody who ever writes about it - including those who collect and analyze stats, wins a ballgame. It sure is fun though.

 

I'd guess the Red Sox and A's would argue that Bill James won them plenty of games.If you're implying that it is impossible for a man not on the diamond to help win a game, then we might as well get rid of the managers, coaches and GMs too.

    • ashburyjohn, Mike Sixel and h2oface like this
Molitor's stance on statistical analysis is encouraging. Like others I don't care if players believe in all the hocum. I do care if the analysis shows up on the field as improved methods, positioning, routes, for hitting, fielding, pitching and player development and retention. That's where player buy-in is important with Sabremetrics. Will the player, coaches, and player personnel execute on all of the information, or just the convenient information?
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Parker Hageman
Dec 10 2014 12:06 PM
I do care if the analysis shows up on the field as improved methods, positioning, routes, for hitting, fielding, pitching and player development and retention. That's where player buy-in is important with Sabremetrics. Will the player, coaches, and player personnel execute on all of the information, or just the convenient information?

 

 

When I spoke to Brunansky on the available data his take on it is that he needs to know all of it and be able to present it to the players in ways they can understand. 

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Brock Beauchamp
Dec 10 2014 12:42 PM

As it turns out, not everyone on the team shares the same opinion on sabermetrics.“I think whoever believes in that sabermetrics stuff never played the game and won’t understand it. There’s no way you can measure playing outfield. Only eyes can do that,” the 39-year-old Torii Hunter told a room full of media onlookers, whirling recorders and broadcasting cameras last Wednesday. That would be only the fourth-most troublesome thing he said during the introductory press conference.

Parker, you crack me up. That last line is pure gold.

    • Parker Hageman and nytwinsfan like this

I'd guess the Red Sox and A's would argue that Bill James won them plenty of games.If you're implying that it is impossible for a man not on the diamond to help win a game, then we might as well get rid of the managers, coaches and GMs too.

 

I embrace the analysis and the sabermatic approach to assembling a ball club.  I didn't imply anything. I know that I am not self important because I can understand and toss around stats. And I am not implying anything by saying that either. I am one that likes to talk and write about it, but can't play the game now. I enjoy the analysis, and don't win or lose any ballgames, but I will pretty much always have an opinion about it.

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The Wise One
Dec 10 2014 08:55 PM

When defensive metrics encompase all aspects of defense I would imagine ball players will embrace them. As of now they pretty much only count how much area they can cover and if they can catch the ball. I think there is a little more to defense than that.

Even in terms of catching the ball, Parker refers to inside edge statistics. They have a catagory called impossible catches that are made. Some have more than others. The numbers for some are significantly more than others and are significant to the number of plays a fielder makes. If the player makes the play, it is not impossible.

 

When the stats type people get a brillian idea and figure it out a better way to measure defense, the players will believe as much as they do in offensive measurements.

We won't really know until we see if Molitor calls for bunts before the 7th inning, or the team doesn't shift at all, or if they do or don't do other things. As for players, they remind me of some of the Ops people I work with, they just want to keep doing things the way they've always done them, even in the face of evidence they shouldn't/can't. It's up to Molitor to put them in position to change that, imo.

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Brock Beauchamp
Dec 11 2014 09:00 AM

We won't really know until we see if Molitor calls for bunts before the 7th inning, or the team doesn't shift at all, or if they do or don't do other things. As for players, they remind me of some of the Ops people I work with, they just want to keep doing things the way they've always done them, even in the face of evidence they shouldn't/can't. It's up to Molitor to put them in position to change that, imo.

Ugh. Don't even get me started on that kind of thinking. I get that response so often to new ideas... My counter is always "We've always done it that way is not a valid reason. Now give me a real reason with evidence."

 

I'm hoping Molitor has enough weight of opinion to convince some of the "less eager" members of the organization to start critiquing why certain things are done and not take it as a given because it has always been done that way.

 

Easily my biggest beef with Gardy. He seemed completely resistant to change.

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ashburyjohn
Dec 11 2014 01:50 PM

He seemed completely resistant to change.

Yeah, but in fairness, that's how he always did it.

    • Brock Beauchamp and Mike Sixel like this

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