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How Will Derek Falvey Improve Twins Pitching

When the Minnesota Twins hired Derek Falvey to rebuild the organization, the most significant task to tackle was to improve the pitching.

Pitching is one of the most important facets of baseball and being able to reach into one’s own minor league system for more talent is crucial to long-term success. For the Twins, numerous high draft pick arms have stalled out. While there are several graduates like Kyle Gibson or contributors like Jose Berrios or Tyler Duffey, the development pipeline has been rather scarce when it comes to providing Major League-ready pitching. In response, the Twins have had to spend big on free agent pitchers like Ricky Nolasco, Phil Hughes and Ervin Santana.

How exactly does Derek Falvey intend on improving the broken system?
Image courtesy of Patrick Gorski // USA Today
Here is just one example of how the organization can and will change.

Across America weighted ball training has become an integral part in pitching development. Out east, Eric Cressey’s Cressey Performance Center has used those training methods since 2007. Down south, just outside of Houston, Ron Wolforth’s Texas Baseball Ranch has launched and re-established the careers of numerous arms, including the resurrection of Scott Kazmir. In Seattle, Driveline Baseball’s Kyle Boddy has made weighted ball training a household name. At baseball training centers everywhere in between young pitchers are picking up heavy spheres and throwing them in the name of velocity.

Major League Baseball’s evolutionary process moves at a glacial pace and pro teams are slow to embrace change. MLB.com’s Lindsay Berra pointed out in December, organizations such as the Dodgers and Indians have tapped into the benefits of the systems designed by Cressey, Wolforth, Boddy and company. Still, there are some teams who have flat out refused to allow their pitchers to participate in those kinds of workouts. Perhaps not surprising, as recently as last year the Twins have reportedly discouraged some of their prospects from throwing heavy baseballs, suggesting that the practice can lead to more arm injuries despite the science saying otherwise.

Thanks to new leadership, that mentality will change.

Falvey arrived in Minnesota touting “evidence-based practices” at his introductory press conference, signaling that the days of discouraging new methods for unfounded reasons are over. His time with Cleveland’s player development system -- a more forward-thinking front office by comparison -- enlightened him to the benefits of working with weighted baseballs and other programs not necessarily on the mainstream radar. That said, even with the successful track record Falvey was not so quick to say that the Twins would be distributing heavy baseballs across the organization tomorrow.

“Everything has to be individualized,” Falvey told Twins Daily. “I think what we need to do if find out what systems work for some of our players, what they are already doing. We need to learn what they are doing now and ask how do we build toward a vision and if that vision means a different type of arm care, or maybe a different type of velocity and growth, we’ll employ those tools for those players. I never like to shut the door on any of those systems. I like to evaluate them and see where they fit within the mix of what we are doing.”

To be clear, this is not about weighted balls. Throwing weighted baseballs is not a magic elixir that is going to help someone’s arm suddenly from throwing pooh to pumping one-oh-two. What Falvey is saying is about more than that. For the Twins front office, this is about a bold step in exploring new methodologies for improving performance -- not restricting ideas based on gut feelings about a practice.

In 2015 Cleveland’s minor league pitching coordinator Ruben Niebla provided a peek behind the Indians’ development curtain. One of their organization’s main objectives was to help their pitchers reach their maximum velocity in the minor leagues. In order to do so, Niebla told Fox Sports that they try to “enhance our pitchers’ flexibility, explosion, and athleticism” overall and feed the arm through various long-toss, symmetry bands and weighted ball programs. More importantly, Cleveland did not have a one-size-fits-all program in place in order to achieve their objective; they learned from Trevor Bauer’s experience with the Arizona Diamondbacks, who bristled at Bauer’s unorthodox conditioning and pre-game warm-up routine, that pushing a prospect into a team-mandated regimen can have backlash. Individualization is key.

Furthermore, Niebla said that Cleveland emphasized building strength in their pitchers, which means dabbling in some powerlifting. That’s why in the offseason, Bauer can be found at Driveline’s squat rack or Corey Kluber deadlifting at Cressey Performance. Other flamethrowing pitchers like Aroldis Chapman and White Sox prospect Micheal Kopech both owe part their eye-popping radar gun readings to their adherence of lifting heavy things. The Twins, on the other hand, historically haven’t pushed their pitchers in that direction. Locally, you will find stories about Trevor May’s yoga practice or Glen Perkins’ avoidance of weight lifting.

That doesn’t mean that one or the other is better.

”Ultimately we’re going to blend some of the things I think we do well here with maybe some of things that I felt was part of developing in Cleveland over time,” said Falvey. “I talked to [pitching coordinator] Eric Rasmussen about it and [Director of Minor League Operations] Brad Steil and what we are going to do in the minor leagues and I think we’re going to open the doors to new ideas that haven’t existed here in this organization before but I have every expectation that there is an embracing of that conversation.”

In addition to the physical contributions of the player, Falvey also believes that leveraging data -- even at the lowest levels (an area in which the Twins might actually already have a head start) -- will help improve pitching development. Understanding through the numbers what works best for them and what they may need to improve upon quickly.

Baseball is enamored by its new tool, StatCast, and the data it has produced at the Major League level. That left teams wanted to measure and analyze pitching prospects with the same lens so they have installed the Trackman systems in their minor league parks. One significant credit to Terry Ryan’s leadership was the Twins got ahead of the industry when they installed the same system in their top four minor league affiliates, providing the same velocity, spin rate and other metadata as their big league counterpart.

“I can’t speak to how it was utilized in the past [in Minnesota] but I do know how we used it in Cleveland,” Falvey said, “and I felt that it was really something that was a difference maker for us.”

How big of a difference maker can that be? So much so that the Los Angeles Dodgers, the second largest employer in the state of California, have created a “Pitching Department” which consists of six people including three former pitchers and an ex-Driveline Baseball medical expert dedicated to researching the hell out of it. Fangraphs’ David Laurila recently interviewed Brandon Gomes, a former pitcher added to that staff, who discussed how they will leverage that data.

“The biggest thing is to understand the characteristics,” Gomes said. “It might be, ‘Hey, this guy has elite carry, so we want to look at pitching in this part of the zone.’ Or maybe it’s, ‘This is a power-sinker guy, so we want this,’ or, ‘He has an above-average slider, so he should use it more than he’s currently using it.’ Those kind of avenues. Nothing overly new, but we’re implementing it in a slightly different way.”

Pitchers are not always certain about their identity. They may feel certain pitches are behaving one way when they are not. Providing them with the concrete data will give the a better direction or a quicker understand of what makes them successful.

Training systems and data analysis improvements aside, player development comes back to the individual and Falvey places great emphasis on the human side as well. In his vision, there will be more communication and dialogue between the front office and the players.

“It is a two-way conversation,” he said in regards to handling a player’s career. ”You go to a player and you talk about who do you want to be. How do you want to develop? All these guys have goals. All these guys want to be big league pitchers. What’s that look like?”

It is honesty.

“Let’s not be afraid to have a candid conversation about that. Let’s not be afraid to have some feedback on here’s where you are and here’s where you want to be. There’s a gap, how do we close the gap? And not focus on limitations but focus on opportunities to build and grow and develop. Build goals.”

You could take that entire last statement from Falvey and apply it to the redevelopment of the pitching pipeline overall. Build goals not only applies for the individual, but for the team as whole. As Falvey said himself, there is a gap, a gap for where the Twins are as an organization when it comes to developing talent and where they want to be. How do they close that gap?

It is not an easy nor quick fix but Falvey appears to have the right plan in the works.

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45 Comments

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The Wise One
Feb 03 2017 01:31 AM

One size does not fit all approach is what is most encouraging. It would be interesting to know the injury rates for the different levels of workout routines.

 

    • diehardtwinsfan, nytwinsfan and HitInAPinch like this

How much will Falvey help?To sum up the article with a two word answer...... "Not much."

I can't believe the article didn't bring up the fact that Falvey has already improved the pitching staff by signed a weak hitting, poor defensive catcher.......who can frame the S out of a pitch. : )

 

 

I can't believe the article didn't bring up the fact that Falvey has already improved the pitching staff by signed a weak hitting, poor defensive catcher.......who can frame the S out of a pitch. : )

He's not a poor defensive catcher at all, and for a catcher he is only a slightly below average hitter.

Look i appreciate the optimism and focus on strength training which is thinking outside the box for this organization, but there is no way around the mediocre talent this team currently has.  There isn't some trick that is going to magically make this staff better.  The Twins have to draft better talent and develop it more effectively end of story. 

    • Mike Sixel likes this

 

Look i appreciate the optimism and focus on strength training which is thinking outside the box for this organization, but there is no way around the mediocre talent this team currently has.  There isn't some trick that is going to magically make this staff better.  The Twins have to draft better talent and develop it more effectively end of story. 

I agree completely that this team needs to draft and develop better, but if they can do something with the talent that is already in the organization that can maybe make it better, why is that a bad thing?  Perhaps a diamond in the rough emerges.  Perhaps this helps the better pitching talent in the organization take another step up.  You have to start somewhere.  Even if they hit on the their draft picks, there is still that wait for them to get to the big leagues.  They may as well try to improve the talent that will emerge in the time between now and then as best they can.

    • Twins33 and HitInAPinch like this

 

I agree completely that this team needs to draft and develop better, but if they can do something with the talent that is already in the organization that can maybe make it better, why is that a bad thing?  Perhaps a diamond in the rough emerges.  Perhaps this helps the better pitching talent in the organization take another step up.  You have to start somewhere.  Even if they hit on the their draft picks, there is still that wait for them to get to the big leagues.  They may as well try to improve the talent that will emerge in the time between now and then as best they can.

 

I don't disagree but like i said mediocre talent is mediocre talent.  And if you don't trade for soon to be MLB talent you have to develop it from the draft so we are back to square one again.  There is no easy way around this.

The OP implied a long term approach to fixing pitching. Those who are citing only immediate personnel changes are only looking at the short term. Clearly both are important but need to be discussed separately. 

 

One part of a long term approach is defining pitching philosophy. The Twins employed P2C, banned the name, but did they change anything else?

    • USAFChief, DJSim22, nicksaviking and 3 others like this
Great article Parker! Thank you. I find this new approach very refreshing! I find the aversion to weight training and the such to be perplexing. Players, particularly pitchers, don't need to bulk up, but strength development...as well as flexability...help build performance and endurance and help prevent injury. If a pitcher's legs and drive are so important, for example, then why wouldn't you want to build up a pitcher's lower body?

I enjoyed the section regarding no two pitchers being exactly the same, and recognizing a pitcher's best pitch, how much he is using it, and pointing out how a pitch may be working differently in actuality vs said pitcher's perspective on it. I've said for some time the big changes the new FO will bring in 2017 are less on player change, and more on behind the scenes organizational changes and review and development of the players on hand.
    • brvama, HitInAPinch, sploorp and 2 others like this

Great article. Really well done here. Thank you.

    • HitInAPinch, sploorp and SF Twins Fan like this
I also disagree the Twins have no pitching talent coming up. Forgetting a couple interesting options way down in the minors, Berrios, May, Mejia, Gonsalves, Jay, Stewart, Jorge and Romero all have some real potential. Unlocking it and maximizing it is the key. Is there a sure fire #1 or #2 in there? Maybe. Maybe not. But it's difficult to look at any young pitcher and say THIS GUY is going to be that guy. You just don't know. Some guys turn out that way. Other top end guys were mid rotation types on their way up and developed better than anyone expected. Should the Twins continue to add talent? Absolutely. But just because someone's ranking system doesn't name a particular guy or two as a front line, top of the order pitcher right now doesn't mean one or two can't turn out that way. Right now, today, the key is to develop and maximize what IS in the system.
    • Twins33, brvama, beckmt and 7 others like this
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nicksaviking
Feb 03 2017 08:35 AM

I'm really surprised by some of the responses to this article, this is easily the most encouraging thing written about the team this year.

 

Yes, the team has done little to add pieces, but two of the biggest flags we hung on Terry Ryan and the previous regime was their resistance to innovation and the poor player development. This article makes it abundantly clear that the new guys have made these things top priorities.

 

Embracing new ideas and emphasizing optimal development programs for the pitchers is far more important to this club's long term health than signing some third rate veterans. I'm just fine evaluating how these new strategies impact the players we have, maybe they'll turn out how we always expected them to with proper handling.

    • Mike Sixel, diehardtwinsfan, brvama and 11 others like this

I am afraid that since they kept the same long time pitching coordinator and the same pitching coaches throughout the organization who are part of the problem, that they are not looking for a solution at least in 2017 and will spend the season evaluating what they have as minor league development personnel.

 

So likely we will have to wait at least until 2018 for implementation of the plans.

    • twinssouth likes this

 

I am afraid that since they kept the same long time pitching coordinator and the same pitching coaches throughout the organization who are part of the problem, that they are not looking for a solution at least in 2017 and will spend the season evaluating what they have as minor league development personnel.

 

So likely we will have to wait at least until 2018 for implementation of the plans.

 

I don't agree. They can try to implement changes, see how well the existing people do under the new system then make necessary moves.

 

You just don't fire everyone when you take over an organization.

 

This article is great news, imo. I think they've been behind on development for some time. I'd like to lead. Start with providing proper nutrition, for free, to every minor league player (paid for by the Twins, not the minor league teams). Add in better training (like above) and individualized plans for development (with a core philosophy behind it).

 

That's how successful orgs run, and I, for one, am glad to read this.

    • ChiTownTwinsFan, Blake, diehardtwinsfan and 10 others like this

I like it, going to take a couple of years to bear fruit of course. And I also agree with the thinking of keeping the people in place, seeing how they can contribute, and then making adjustments next September.

 

It will be really interesting to see the resources that are released to beef up some of these systems. Pohlads get crushed (mostly unfairly in my mind), but this strikes as something they will get behind and provide the needed resources.

    • sploorp and wsnydes like this
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Hosken Bombo Disco
Feb 03 2017 09:06 AM

Look i appreciate the optimism and focus on strength training which is thinking outside the box for this organization, but there is no way around the mediocre talent this team currently has.  There isn't some trick that is going to magically make this staff better.  The Twins have to draft better talent and develop it more effectively end of story.

I feel your pain but nothing about what was described above screams "trick" or "magic" to me.
    • Mike Sixel, DJSim22, HitInAPinch and 1 other like this
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nicksaviking
Feb 03 2017 09:22 AM

 

I am afraid that since they kept the same long time pitching coordinator and the same pitching coaches throughout the organization who are part of the problem, that they are not looking for a solution at least in 2017 and will spend the season evaluating what they have as minor league development personnel.

 

So likely we will have to wait at least until 2018 for implementation of the plans.

 

I'd guess many of our educators on this board would disagree with this take. Coming from a family of educators, I believe that typically new curriculum and techniques get the kibosh at the administrative level, not that instructional level.

 

In this case the administration appears to be very open to new curriculum and techniques.

    • birdwatcher, DJSim22, BigSkyTwinsFan and 4 others like this

"How will Falvey improve the pitching" is a great question. We didn't know how he would change the pitching six months ago and we still don't know today.

 

Am I worried Falvey/Levine won't be able to get much done to improve pitching? Not really. They had one realistic chance this year and didn't get it done, but the future will have other deals...

    • sploorp likes this
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Brock Beauchamp
Feb 03 2017 09:40 AM

 

"How will Falvey improve the pitching" is a great question. We didn't know how he would change the pitching six months ago and we still don't know today.

 

Am I worried Falvey/Levine won't be able to get much done to improve pitching? Not really. They had one realistic chance this year and didn't get it done, but the future will have other deals...

As much as I'd love to see a big trade bring in an arm, I think I'm as interested to see what happens to the current crop of arms as I am a new arm via trade or FA.

 

The guy I'm most interested in watching is Kohl Stewart over the next two years. He's a good fit for a Falvey system; he sits 92-94 and can touch 95-96 regularly.

 

Over the past two years, he has struggled to miss bats at a somewhat spectacular rate for a guy who throws that hard with as good a breaking ball as he's reported to have.

 

To me, Stewart is something of a litmus test for this front office.

    • ChiTownTwinsFan, Mike Sixel, Kevin and 7 others like this

 

As much as I'd love to see a big trade bring in an arm, I think I'm as interested to see what happens to the current crop of arms as I am a new arm via trade or FA.

 

The guy I'm most interested in watching is Kohl Stewart over the next two years. He's a good fit for a Falvey system; he sits 92-94 and can touch 95-96 regularly.

 

Over the past two years, he has struggled to miss bats at a somewhat spectacular rate for a guy who throws that hard with as good a breaking ball as he's reported to have.

 

To me, Stewart is something of a litmus test for this front office.

I think this is one good thing that comes out of not dealing Dozier.  That's one extra slot that can be used to evaluate the arms that are already here.  I'd have preferred a deal to be made, but it's not all bad that one wasn't.  

    • glunn and sploorp like this
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LA VIkes Fan
Feb 03 2017 10:10 AM

I was heartened by the fact that Falvey wants to have "honest conversations" with the pitchers. I think the Twins organization has been far too deferential to the players, witness Perkins' avoidance of the weight lifting and fitness training that might have helped him. The key is to make things individualized and demand accountability.  I run a law firm and have learned that there is no one approach that works to make everyone successful. You have to adapt methods and techniques to find what works for each individual while at the same time holding each individual accountable for their performance measured by metrics used consistently over the entire population.  In other word, "here's where you need to go, let's talk about some options on how to help you get there, and here's when you need to arrive."  The Twins FO had the bad combination of trying to make everyone fit the same mold (Buxton losing the leg kick is a good example) and then excusing  poor performance without trying to make changes that might improve that performance. Sounds like the new FO might be a little more proactive.  That's a good thing.   

    • glunn, Mike Sixel, nicksaviking and 4 others like this

 

I was heartened by the fact that Falvey wants to have "honest conversations" with the pitchers. I think the Twins organization has been far too deferential to the players, witness Perkins' avoidance of the weight lifting and fitness training that might have helped him. The key is to make things individualized and demand accountability.  I run a law firm and have learned that there is no one approach that works to make everyone successful. You have to adapt methods and techniques to find what works for each individual while at the same time holding each individual accountable for their performance measured by metrics used consistently over the entire population.  In other word, "here's where you need to go, let's talk about some options on how to help you get there, and here's when you need to arrive."  The Twins FO had the bad combination of trying to make everyone fit the same mold (Buxton losing the leg kick is a good example) and then excusing  poor performance without trying to make changes that might improve that performance. Sounds like the new FO might be a little more proactive.  That's a good thing.   

 

 

One has to wonder how much "pro active enforcement" might effect the performance of a lot of these players.  Hold these players feet to the fire.  You want a starting gig? Fine, but you better take the training seriously.

I'm really surprised by some of the responses to this article, this is easily the most encouraging thing written about the team this year.
 
Yes, the team has done little to add pieces, but two of the biggest flags we hung on Terry Ryan and the previous regime was their resistance to innovation and the poor player development. This article makes it abundantly clear that the new guys have made these things top priorities.
 
Embracing new ideas and emphasizing optimal development programs for the pitchers is far more important to this club's long term health than signing some third rate veterans. I'm just fine evaluating how these new strategies impact the players we have, maybe they'll turn out how we always expected them to with proper handling.


I agree with these comments. While our scouting department has not done a good job drafting pitchers some of it has to fall on development. We have a close relative that is a minor league pitcher in the Indians org and everything stated is true. They have a separate program for every pitcher and development goals for the off season. Velo camps, weight, flexibility and strength targets that they take seriously. The culture in Cleveland is outstanding and they really try to understand what works for each pitcher. The Trevor Bauer example is a good one. His style and personality is very unique and they've allowed him to do what works for him. If you look through the Indians org you will see lots of outstanding pitching prospects, including many who are outperforming their draft position by wide margins.
    • ChiTownTwinsFan, Parker Hageman, glunn and 8 others like this

 

Look i appreciate the optimism and focus on strength training which is thinking outside the box for this organization, but there is no way around the mediocre talent this team currently has.  There isn't some trick that is going to magically make this staff better.  The Twins have to draft better talent and develop it more effectively end of story. 

agreed 100% but this strategy will take 10-15 years to develop to maturity. This organization must get more out of the players already in their system and acquire/trade-for/rule 5 draft other players in the intermediate.  

 

 

agreed 100% but this strategy will take 10-15 years to develop to maturity. This organization must get more out of the players already in their system and acquire/trade-for/rule 5 draft other players in the intermediate.  

 

10-15 years? No way. It didn't take CLE that long, since we know the tools didn't even exist then. This can show immediate payback. 

    • HitInAPinch likes this

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