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Keith Law On Derek Falvey And The 2017 Twins

ESPN’s Keith Law will be at Moon Palace Books in Minneapolis at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday night. He’ll be part of a reading, discussion and signing his new book, Smart Baseball. We discussed the book with Law previously, but he was kind enough to discuss some Twins topics as well. We’ll share some of those thoughts in the next day or so. In this installment, Law discussed his thoughts on the quality start of the 2017 Twins season, and what he believes Derek Falvey’s needs might be.
Image courtesy of Seth Stohs, Twins Daily
The Twins are off to a solid start this season. Entering play on Wednesday, the team is 19-16 and remains a ½ game ahead of Cleveland in the AL Central (admittedly with 127 more games to play).

So, I asked Keith Law what his thoughts are on the Twins start and the team’s new front office regime.

How would Derek Falvey and Thad Levine rank according to other front office leaders? Can we tell anything yet?

According to Law, “I would say it’s probably too early.”

The reality is that the Twins were a ways behind most of the competition when it comes to analytical staffing and such. They’ve come into the system that, despite all the great work from Jack Goin and his group, had some catching up to do.

“They're certainly behind in terms of time. They were one of the last two teams to fully commit to having an analytics presence in the front office in terms of an actual department. I think everybody had one or two guys who were there to do numbers, even the Diamondbacks did. Dave Stewart would apparently say hi to them every once in awhile, and that would be the extent of it.”

Yes, that one literally made me laugh out loud over the phone.

Law continued, “(The Diamondbacks) have an analytics department. The Twins have an analytic department.”

While the Twins did little in the offseason as far as on the field, Falvey talked a lot about building up the infrastructure of the organization. That can be done in all the departments, but especially in the analytics area. That comes with challenges that most fans probably never even thought of.

“When I spoke to Matt Klentak of the Phillies while researching the book, he talked about the first year of having an analytics department was just set up, building the architecture to handle things like Statcast data to be able to integrate analytics output with the scouting department’s output. Obviously scouting reports are in a system somewhere. Well, that system has to be able to talk to the stats system. Once he said it, I thought it was obvious, but I’d never taken the time to think that this is months of work, not to mention a lot of money, to set up all the software and hardware required to handle this job. If Derek Falvey walked in and they had nothing in place - the Twins had a couple of people doing stuff, they didn’t have a full-fledged department with a budget committed to this - there probably had to be a point where they had to say, ‘What do we have to buy? We need servers and architecture, physical and software to be able to do this.’ And it takes so much time. If I was in Falvey’s shoes right now, that would be one of the things keeping me up at night. We’re just behind because they started last.”

The Twins added a couple of veteran catchers who scored well in terms of defensive value and leadership in Jason Castro and Chris Gimenez. A few other small moves were made, but for the most part, there were not a lot of player personnel changes. So what are Keith Law’s thoughts on the Twins 2017 season?

“They’ve still been outscored on the season (fact check: Twins have scored 158 runs, allowed 165 runs). I’m expecting them to finish below .500 on the season. Improving the situation behind the plate was critical. It took a lot of people by surprise that they chose to make that investment. But once you look at the players involved, who they got and who they replaced, and what the actual impact could be of having a good framer, a better game-caller back there. They’re going to ask him (Castro) to work with some young pitchers now and in the future. There’s some pretty clear value there.”

But what else should the Twins do as the 2017 season plays out?

“I would be fine with them not playing great the rest of the year if that’s because they are playing the right players. Remember two weeks into the season people were writing post mortems for Byron Buxton? I think they gave him one day off at one point, and whatever they did, whatever they said to him, whatever he’s decided to do himself, he’s looked pretty darn good these last three weeks or so. I was going through his game logs, and if you cut off at the day off, and I think he’s had exactly 50 plate appearances since then, that player with plus, elite level defense in center, is a star.”

Law continued, “They could have just given up. I think a lot of organizations would have said, ‘Oh no, we rushed him. Let’s get him back to AAA. Maybe we need to bench him.’ They didn’t panic, and that’s a recognition too.”

Under Derek Falvey and Thad Levine, Law sees a plan. “This organization is now building, and it’s going to take some time, but there is a lot of young talent in this system. I’m glad now you’ve got a situation that’s probably from ownership on down that’s willing to be patient too. And if that means you’re going to wait on a Byron Buxton a little bit longer, that’s OK. That’s how you run a team that's trying to build for the long term as opposed to having it both ways. I do think they got a little too much in that mode the last maybe two years or so.”

The Twins do have a young team. Six of their regulars are 25 or under. Jose Berrios is now up, and Adalberto Mejia is likely to return this weekend to join Ervin Santana in the rotation.

Keith Law finds that very important for a building team and illustrated with an example of the opposite. “The fact that the major league team is young is extremely important. I was doing a bit on a Bay Area radio station yesterday. They pointed out that the A’s are supposed to be a young team, but I look at their roster and they’re really not very young. He was right. They have two regular position players out of nine that are under 30. And Khris Davis is 29 years old. That team is not young. They may be unknown, but they are not young. And, the Twins obviously are saying they’re young, and they are absolutely young ,and they are giving the playing time to young players.”

In past years, as the team waited for the Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano, Max Kepler, Jorge Polanco, Jose Berrios group to get to the big leagues and take their lumps, the Twins had a lot of stop gap veteran-type players. They were building toward becoming a young team by being a little bit older. At the same time, it was clear that the plan was to bring those guys up when they were ready.

As a reminder, ESPN’s Keith Law will be at Moon Palace Books in Minneapolis at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday night. If you can make it, you'll have a great time.


We’ll continue our conversation with Keith Law in one or two more installments. We’ll get his thoughts on the Twins farm system as well as his thoughts and philosophies on what the Twins should do as they think about the #1 pick in June’s draft.

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30 Comments

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bluechipper
May 17 2017 11:55 AM

Good article. It's a whole lot more fun watching the Twins play well, especially with a lot of the key contributors being younger guys. Hopefully the pitching staff will go this way too with Berrios and Mejia and when the bullpen prospects get their chance.

    • glunn, howieramone2 and d-mac like this

Very much looking forward to what Law thinks the Twins should do in the draft. 

    • glunn, James, nicksaviking and 3 others like this

I've always wondered if the Runs For/Against stat would be more meaningful if you took out, say, the 5 largest blowouts on both sides (good and bad). 

 

Twins are currently Minus-12 in blowout games

 

 

Or another way to do it would be runs for/against in the first 7 innings.

    • glunn, gunnarthor and howieramone2 like this
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Brock Beauchamp
May 17 2017 01:12 PM

“When I spoke to Matt Klentak of the Phillies while researching the book, he talked about the first year of having an analytics department was just set up, building the architecture to handle things like Statcast data to be able to integrate analytics output with the scouting department’s output. Obviously scouting reports are in a system somewhere. Well, that system has to be able to talk to the stats system. Once he said it, I thought it was obvious, but I’d never taken the time to think that this is months of work, not to mention a lot of money, to set up all the software and hardware required to handle this job. If Derek Falvey walked in and they had nothing in place - the Twins had a couple of people doing stuff, they didn’t have a full-fledged department with a budget committed to this - there probably had to be a point where they had to say, ‘What do we have to buy? We need servers and architecture, physical and software to be able to do this.’ And it takes so much time. If I was in Falvey’s shoes right now, that would be one of the things keeping me up at night. We’re just behind because they started last.”

Heh, I brought up this point last offseason several times. Infrastructure doesn't magically appear with a snap of the fingers. Analysis needs to be done on need, software needs to be purchased/created, hardware needs to be bought and integrated into the network, and then people need to be trained how to use it and/or get up to speed with the best ways to use it.

 

And then you need to go hire more people to actually generate and distribute the information you want.

 

All of this takes time. Quite a bit of time. Falvey might feel the Twins are 80% of the way there today. He might feel the Twins are 20% of the way there today. Neither answer would surprise me in the least.

    • Seth Stohs, glunn, Mike Sixel and 7 others like this
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John Bonnes
May 17 2017 01:15 PM

Thank you for taking the time to do this interview and write it up Seth. BTW, Moon Palace books is a great little indy book store in SE Mpls. You'll love that event if you visit this site. There are a few other interesting authors speaking as well. 

 

Sounds like Law isn't especially bullish on the Twins yet, and I don't blame him. But so far, so good. 

    • glunn, Mike Sixel, nicksaviking and 1 other like this
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diehardtwinsfan
May 17 2017 01:27 PM

 

I've always wondered if the Runs For/Against stat would be more meaningful if you took out, say, the 5 largest blowouts on both sides (good and bad). 

 

Twins are currently Minus-12 in blowout games

 

 

Or another way to do it would be runs for/against in the first 7 innings.

 

as bad as the starting rotation is, I'm not sure pythag is a good way to judge record here.Those 4th/5th guys are giving up a lot of runs and leading to blowouts... probably more I'd guess than what is statistically normal. 

    • glunn, Joe A. Preusser and dbminn like this

Yeah, the overall record this year might be anywhere between 75 and 85 wins depending on luck but the emergence of these young players is the more important thing.  I really wish May hadn't gotten hurt. I'd have liked him to get 30 starts this year.  

    • glunn, Mike Sixel, nicksaviking and 7 others like this
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yarnivek1972
May 17 2017 01:45 PM

 

I've always wondered if the Runs For/Against stat would be more meaningful if you took out, say, the 5 largest blowouts on both sides (good and bad). 

 

Twins are currently Minus-12 in blowout games

 

 

Or another way to do it would be runs for/against in the first 7 innings.

 

 

Not necessarily.  Sometimes you get blown out early.

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nicksaviking
May 17 2017 02:08 PM

 

Yeah, the overall record this year might be anywhere between 75 and 85 wins depending on luck but the emergence of these young players is the more important thing.  I really wish May hadn't gotten hurt. I'd have liked him to get 30 starts this year.  

 

Yeah, I'd say the record is still up in the air, mostly because they still have over 60 games left against mostly terrible AL Central teams. The Twins (or the Tigers or White Sox or Royals) could end up with a pretty nice record simply because the other teams are so very awful.

 

I too miss May. I was really looking forward to seeing him in the rotation again.

    • glunn, James, Riverbrian and 2 others like this

I do not think we can overestimate the impact of a lousy central division on our record. I will be interested in getting their record in division versus other divisions by the end of the year. Right now we are 5 - 5 with games against Texas which was struggling at the time, Oakland (a very poor team), Boston and Colorado.  So we are 9 - 5 in division.  Nothing wrong with beating up the weak teams. 

I don't think it is limited to the division, most of the AL (and most of baseball) is pretty mediocre. Twins can hang with most teams.

 

I expect Cleveland to get better and be the cream of the division, but it's not a sure thing. Their top two starters are currently injured, and much of the rest of the rotation hasn't been that good (bullpen is really good though).

    • glunn and howieramone2 like this

Not necessarily. Sometimes you get blown out early.


Agree. But there is far less "mailing it in" early
    • David HK likes this
It's got to be embarrassing for the people who didn't get turned over, or even those who did, to be regarded as so incompetently behind in terms of thought process and technology.

You have to think they get pats on the head and held back laughter in the weekly staff meetings.

If this were any other line of business but professional sports, the Twins would be out of business. It would be like a company competing with Samsung, LG, etc, who are producing cutting edge 4k+ technology and revolutionary ideas for streaming and virtual reality, refusing to accept the death of the VCR market for two decades.
    • d-mac likes this
This was a very interesting read. Thank you for sharing with us!

I can't disagree with Law's assertion that the Twins "losing" would be fine if they were playing the right guys for the future. Of course, I want to be greedy and I want to win AND play the right guys! Lol

For the most part, I think they are doing that however. Right now, the only questionable area of playing time is Mauer maybe playing too much, and I'd still like to see Garver up and Giminez moved. That's not a knock on Giminez who has been a solid signing. But sooner or later, the younger, talented, and better offensive player in Garver needs and deserves his shot.

Pitching is a different story, but injury has clouded that situation somewhat. Rotationally speaking, I thought the team had the numbers until May got hurt, Gibson imploded and Duffey went to the pen. (Though the Duffey move was probably smart). I really hope Mejia gets his shot and the team sticks with him.

Injuries last season, and this season, have hindered the presence and advancement of Chargois, Burdi, Melotakis and Jay. But it's only May 17th, and I believe both Burdi and Melotakis are about to be promoted. Then, it's getting Chargois and Jay healthy and on the hill. At least a couple of these guys should be slinging it for the Twins in the second half.

This was a very interesting read. Thank you for sharing with us!
I can't disagree with Law's assertion that the Twins "losing" would be fine if they were playing the right guys for the future. Of course, I want to be greedy and I want to win AND play the right guys! Lol
For the most part, I think they are doing that however. Right now, the only questionable area of playing time is Mauer maybe playing too much, and I'd still like to see Garver up and Giminez moved. That's not a knock on Giminez who has been a solid signing. But sooner or later, the younger, talented, and better offensive player in Garver needs and deserves his shot.
Pitching is a different story, but injury has clouded that situation somewhat. Rotationally speaking, I thought the team had the numbers until May got hurt, Gibson imploded and Duffey went to the pen. (Though the Duffey move was probably smart). I really hope Mejia gets his shot and the team sticks with him.
Injuries last season, and this season, have hindered the presence and advancement of Chargois, Burdi, Melotakis and Jay. But it's only May 17th, and I believe both Burdi and Melotakis are about to be promoted. Then, it's getting Chargois and Jay healthy and on the hill. At least a couple of these guys should be slinging it for the Twins in the second half.


I would like less platooning of Kepler.....
    • jimmer and d-mac like this

 

Heh, I brought up this point last offseason several times. Infrastructure doesn't magically appear with a snap of the fingers. Analysis needs to be done on need, software needs to be purchased/created, hardware needs to be bought and integrated into the network, and then people need to be trained how to use it and/or get up to speed with the best ways to use it.

 

And then you need to go hire more people to actually generate and distribute the information you want.

 

All of this takes time. Quite a bit of time. Falvey might feel the Twins are 80% of the way there today. He might feel the Twins are 20% of the way there today. Neither answer would surprise me in the least.

 

Yep... This is why I wish Pohlad would have made the move once he decided to make the move.

 

Waiting until the end of the year cost us a little bit of time. 

    • d-mac likes this

I would like less platooning of Kepler.....


100%!

Absolutely no reason Grossman can't see a few games here and there to give guys a day off against a LH starter. Other than that, there is absolutely no reason to sit Kepler or Rosario. They are both talented, dynamic, athletic young players with big upsides. Let them play! Daily! I LOVE Rosario and his potential. He will never be a disciplined hitter, but his defense is excellent. He offers hitting, power and speed. He seems to love the game and shows instincts. He just needs to calm himself down a bit. It's heady company, but I've read comparisons to Oliva and Puckett. And the comparisons are apt, if premature. But I like Kepler even more. The entire skill set is there to develop. Next to Sano, he may be the most complete hitter in the entire lineup...potentially. Buxton is even more athleticly gifted, and may prove to ultimately prove to be more dynamic, but Kepler may prove to be the better pure hitter and OB guy. I could easily see him as the future #3 hitter allowing Sano to hit cleanup.
    • HitInAPinch likes this
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HitInAPinch
May 18 2017 02:25 AM

Great article!  Twins are on the right path.  This year, I'd be happy with anything close to .500. Expect much more next year, if better pitching can be found.

    • howieramone2 likes this
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HitInAPinch
May 18 2017 02:26 AM

 

100%!

Absolutely no reason Grossman can't see a few games here and there to give guys a day off against a LH starter. Other than that, there is absolutely no reason to sit Kepler or Rosario. They are both talented, dynamic, athletic young players with big upsides. Let them play! Daily! I LOVE Rosario and his potential. He will never be a disciplined hitter, but his defense is excellent. He offers hitting, power and speed. He seems to love the game and shows instincts. He just needs to calm himself down a bit. It's heady company, but I've read comparisons to Oliva and Puckett. And the comparisons are apt, if premature. But I like Kepler even more. The entire skill set is there to develop. Next to Sano, he may be the most complete hitter in the entire lineup...potentially. Buxton is even more athleticly gifted, and may prove to ultimately prove to be more dynamic, but Kepler may prove to be the better pure hitter and OB guy. I could easily see him as the future #3 hitter allowing Sano to hit cleanup.

I think Rosario comps to Puckett are way off base.  Olivia seems like a good one.

I think Rosario comps to Puckett are way off base.  Olivia seems like a good one.

I always seemed to me that Oliva and Puckett were good "bad ball" hitters. Both seemed to swing at some pretty off the plate pitches, and hit them. But if you don't, you are an undisciplined hitter. Oliva was a god awful outfielder to start with, Arcia like. Great arm, but the rest was all learned over the years. Rosario is a much more polished OF right from the get go, with a more accurate arm. But there is no way he will ever compare with Oliva as a bat. Oliva was one of the best natural hitters who ever played. His knees robbed him of the recognition of that fact, but the man could hit!
    • HitInAPinch likes this

 

Yep... This is why I wish Pohlad would have made the move once he decided to make the move.

 

Waiting until the end of the year cost us a little bit of time. 

 

Not sure this is Pohlad's fault. Ryan left in June. The hire was basically in place in late August/late September, but Falvey didn't come over until the Cleveland season ended, which unfortunately was the last possible day of the baseball season. Not sure what else you wanted Pohlad to do (other than make a move like this in 2011)?

 

Not sure this is Pohlad's fault. Ryan left in June. The hire was basically in place in late August/late September, but Falvey didn't come over until the Cleveland season ended, which unfortunately was the last possible day of the baseball season. Not sure what else you wanted Pohlad to do (other than make a move like this in 2011)?

 

I have no personal idea of the exact timelines so any thoughts of mine will be lacking that important information. 

 

But... I wish the POBO would have been hired before Terry Ryan resigned as GM.

 

I have no idea when Pohlad finally decided to make a change but the speculation that I read (may or may not be true) made it seem like Terry Ryan stepped down when Pohlad informed him that he was making a change at the end of the year. It's possible that Pohlad knew that he was making a change before that. 

 

I have no idea when Pohlad decided. I wish it was decided in May... Search Firm Contacted... Candidates reviewed... Candidate hired and in place by June.

 

I'm suspicious that Pohlad decided that the end of the year was when the change would happen and they were going to play out the year.

 

I could be wrong. 

    • Mike Sixel likes this

Target Field was the first stadium set up with Statcast.  I don't buy it for a second that Falvey walked into a front office full of people who had never looked at it, who didn't have it integrated, etc.  Target Field was the statcast pilot, for chrissakes. The MLB would not foot the bill to set this up in an organization incapable of looking at the data!

Target Field was the first stadium set up with Statcast. I don't buy it for a second that Falvey walked into a front office full of people who had never looked at it, who didn't have it integrated, etc. Target Field was the statcast pilot, for chrissakes. The MLB would not foot the bill to set this up in an organization incapable of looking at the data!


I agree. I'm skeptical it was as bad as Law lays it out here. Goin has been in the position for around a decade, and they've had 2 or 3 people for multiple years prior to this. It was certainly lean and needed to be ugraded, but that seemed a little exaggerated.
    • Doomtints and howieramone2 like this
The only thing Rosario has in common with HOFer Puckett and perhaps deserving to be HOFer Oliva is they all played for the Twins. Punto is like Oliva and Puckett too.

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