Keith Law On Derek Falvey And The 2017 Twins
Image courtesy of Seth Stohs, Twins DailyThe 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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