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Article: Is Minnesota's Refreshed Coaching Staff... Too Fresh?

rocco baldelli wes johnson jeremy hefner
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#1 Nick Nelson

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Posted 15 November 2018 - 10:30 PM

While toiling in obscurity for eight years since their most recent division title, the Minnesota Twins have had their share of issues, covering all sizes, shapes and forms. But the one persistent flaw plaguing these teams is poor pitching.

Minnesota's new hires at pitching coach and bullpen coach, which came to light on Thursday, illustrate just how creative – and daring – they are becoming in the quest to finally overcome their perennial run-prevention problemsIn 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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#2 old nurse

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Posted 15 November 2018 - 11:07 PM

Adaptability to technology not age is the key.Does grips, arm slots and mechanics even matter at the mlb level? The technical equipment analysis should be able to spot the deviation in mechanics. We shall see what they do in the minors.


It could work, it could blow up in their face. Time will tell. How instantaneous must the results be for the fans

#3 108Stitches


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Posted 15 November 2018 - 11:24 PM

I met a kid in little
League today. He was pretty bright. Where can I send his application?
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#4 ND-Fan



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Posted 16 November 2018 - 12:02 AM

What's happening with how this front office is running this team is like big experiment with a lot of theories and attitude of they are smarter than everyone else. the one thing baseball teaches is still a game with a lot of variables and more you try to out think it more it comes back and bites you in know what. They may still win but I am afraid we could see also epic failure by this organization setting it back years.I wonder what it has done with these young talents we have is it why were seeing regression in so many of these players.Are They are overloading them with information and making game so complicated that has effected their play.

I keep thinking were still going to start winning with this group of players because they have won all the way up in minors but I am getting to wonder if that's going to happen. Glenn Perkins when interviewed at press conference talked of the talent of this team and talent down in minors how Terry Ryan had drafted a lot of talent before he had been let go that should make this club a winner. So again I was getting to feel maybe were going to turn the corner and then I see this front office and moves they keep making and I get feeling were not going to make it.Like I say this front office talks a better game than they actually play as managers of this organization and they have luxury of saying all faults were on previous regime but I think that theme is running out now it on them to show some results. 

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#5 rdehring


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Posted 16 November 2018 - 06:52 AM

Let me think about this a moment.Is Kyle Gibson the most senior player on the roster?And is Rosario most senior of every day players?Or is it Grossman?


Best get those two signed up so they are around for awhile.


As for these two hires, will tell you in July what I think.

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#6 Han Joelo

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Posted 16 November 2018 - 07:05 AM

That whole Pressly thing maybe galvanized Falvey.  Lots of churn.  Every case is unique, but my preference would be for them to find a way to keep and value experience.


The Norstetter deal is troubling, for someone who is on the cusp of being halfway to 60 (from 30, that is).  Why not just let him do his thing?  


I just saw there is a Monopoly for Millenials.  I assume property is just impossible to buy, so you just go round and round in circles paying rent.  Instead of jail, it is probably Your Parents Basement.  

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#7 USAFChief


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Posted 16 November 2018 - 07:07 AM

To sort of repeat myself from the Johnson thread, Falvine certainly have the courage of their convictions, at the least.


They still need players, of course. Go get some.

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#8 drbob524


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Posted 16 November 2018 - 07:32 AM

My father-in-law, who was a minor league ump for years in the 60s and 70s, and a STH since '88. Who sounds like Bert, Jack Morris, and John Smoltz when it comes to the modern game will surely hate this hire. Just like he hated the Rocco hire, and every move Falvey-Levine have made. 


like Chief said in both threads: They certainly are certainly going all in with their philosophy for the team. I hope it works out. 


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#9 Blake


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Posted 16 November 2018 - 07:39 AM

Unfortunately, I see disaster looming on the horizon.


Baseball is still played by the people on the field. Putting people in a position to succeed or fail based on analytics is to completely ignore the real time "eyeball test" a manager needs in order to succeed.


Analytic trends are all well and good, in the course of a season, but it's very possible to lose a game using analytics rather than astute assessment of what's happening on the field in real time.

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#10 theBOMisthebomb


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Posted 16 November 2018 - 07:43 AM

At this point, it is still time for positivity and the outlook that a fresh beginning is awesome. The old Twins Way hadn't really worked for 25+ years. Gardy's clubs had some great players and division titles, yet only one ALCS and no WS appearances.
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#11 Thrylos


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Posted 16 November 2018 - 07:47 AM

At least they are braking the mold of 3 decades in which they were expecting different results if they were doing the same failed things over and over again.


Openness to data (aka analytics) is one thing.The hardest is to formulate hypotheses based on that data (eg. Pressly should be throwing his curve more), be willing to test them when it counts (eg: Pressly actually throwing his curve ball more, like he did with the Astros), and be willing to adjust is another whole bunch of things.


And the Twins' coaches need to do all of those things, and the Twins' players need to be receptive to all of those things.Open mindedness helps both ways.


That said, let's see who will be the first and third base coaches ;)

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#12 dbminn


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Posted 16 November 2018 - 07:55 AM

IMO, the FO picked this group for the long term. They aren't writing off 2019 but it's not their priority. This is the year to find out if:

  • Sano and Buxton can develop into everyday, above-average players; and
  • The new coaches can help the young starters reach their full potential(Romero, Stewart, Mejia, Gonsalves, Littell, DeJong).

By the end of next season, the FO will know if they're shooting for 2020 or 2022 to compete in (not just make) the playoffs.


OTOH, I don't expect the FO is going to sign a bunch of 30+ yr old FA this year to play for this young management team. Just the opposite - I'm curious how long they keep Gibson, Odo, Castro and Pineda. I hope they sign Gibson. If they don't, they need to trade him before the season. The others will probably go depending on health and how the team plays in the first half. 


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#13 HrbieFan


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Posted 16 November 2018 - 07:56 AM

Analytics is one thing, but as a coach it also comes down to working with egos, motivation and communication. All of these young guys come with great respect, so I will wait to pass judgement.
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#14 diehardtwinsfan



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Posted 16 November 2018 - 07:58 AM

I like the outside the box mentality. The team needed to take some more risks. The flip side is that they are taking more risks and some may backfire... who knows. 


But given the risk averse nature of the org, this is a welcome sight.

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#15 mike8791


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Posted 16 November 2018 - 08:41 AM

I, too, have been divided on the FO's acumen.With a glut of well-regarded pitching coaches on the market last year, the wonder boys reached way down and picked Alston, who seemed to be treading water in his coaching career with no sign of progressive advancement.It seemed like sheer hubris to me that they bypassed someone like Mike Maddox for an untested guy like Alston.The fact he lasted only one year somewhat seems like a FO concession to a mistake.


Now they go totally outside the box and select a college pitching coach without any prior MLB experience. Is this another sign of Falvey being too smart for his own good again?Strangely enough, I sort of like this pick.It shows a real willingness to roll the dice and go with someone brand new with perhaps a refreshing new outlook that might change the long term failures in the organization.Here's hoping they drew the brass ring on this one, because if not, you can pretty much kiss Falvey and his five year plan goodbye.But sometimes, a big risk can pay off.In this case, we'll just have to wait and see.


But there is one caveat here.The FO must give the new manager and coaches more to work with in 2019.The needs in the bullpen are glaringly obvious:at least two veteranlate inning relievers are a must.With plenty of payroll space and a strong FA class, there is simply no excuse available if they don't fill these holes.


And while the rotation seems to have stabilized with the emergence of Berrios and Gibson, there is no way theTwins can legitimately compete in 2019 without adding at least one "ace" to this staff.While FA starters(Corbin, Keuchel) are out of the Twins' payroll reach, there are some trade candidates who are available, including Greinke, Baumgartner(maybe) and perhaps either Wheeler or Matz from the Mets.Assuming the Twins agressively go after at least 2-3 offensive improvements in FA, they should have surplus to pull off such a trade with Sano or Kepler being likely trade bait, along with our strong minor league prospect list.


Yes, there is still the possibility the FO has already decided to sit back and wait for Sano and Buxton to establish themselves(or not) in 2019, but if so, they are greatly lessening the chance for success by the new manager and coaches.

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#16 ashbury


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Posted 16 November 2018 - 08:46 AM

Bases loaded, nobody out. Johnson comes out to the mound for a visit. "Whew, you should have seen the TrackMan numbers on that last rocket to left, LOL. OK, here's what the computer printout says for this next guy: throw strikes, but don't give him anything to hit. While you're at it, lower your spin tilt and increase your hand access. Well, good luck, we're all counting on you."

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#17 DocBauer


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Posted 16 November 2018 - 08:58 AM

Analytics, a fresh approach, not being bogged down by years doing things a certain way can pay off big and provide a new direction. Communication skills are important regardless if age. Like everyone else, we can only wait and see how this approach works. I do like the out of box thinking. But there absolutely is a place for experience and veteran leadership and previous knowledge. I agree with Thrylos that the to be named 1B and 3B coaches could be interesting. I do hope there is a little bit if experience there as Shelton shouldn't be the only veteran guy on staff, IMO.

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#18 ashbury


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Posted 16 November 2018 - 09:01 AM

You know how I can tell Wes Johnson's into analytics?




He has a USB port into his brain. Or maybe that's just a pencil in his hat.


OK, snark aside. I have concerns. I see no evidence he ever pitched in the pros. A hiring as a "roving instructor" for the minors would have seemed more prudent, to let him get his feet wet. But apparently it took big money (in coaching terms) to lure him from Arkansas, and maybe it wasn't practical to get the hiring past the bean-counters unless it was for the major league job straightaway.


Nothing but glowing reports on him, but if the major league pitchers come to the conclusion he doesn't know what they are going through in the pro game, they'll tune him out. "Pitching is pitching" goes only so far. The workload is very different. His first couple of suggestions to each of them have to pay off immediately.


I don't know what his personal style is, but coming from the college ranks suggests a couple of pitfalls: too rah-rah, or too gruff. Baxendale's quote about high-energy suggests the former. Johnson also may not have much experience with players from outside the USA. I hope he's astute enough to adapt, but some guys take the attitude "I didn't get where I am by changing all the time." Dealing with guys in their mid-20s is different than teens.


Despite my joking bases-loaded scenario above, I am not concerned too much that he will rub the pitchers the wrong way with an overly-analytic approach. These guys seem results-oriented, and are open to tinkering, and if he's got something to offer they will be receptive.


High risk, high reward. If it works, it could be transformative. I don't think I would have taken this risk though.

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#19 Doomtints


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Posted 16 November 2018 - 09:10 AM

Pulling a coach from the college ranks is unprecedented and risky. I'm glad they are thinking outside the box, but this is like making an intern a VP. Very risky.

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Posted 16 November 2018 - 09:19 AM

I'm excited about these hires and am anxious to see how Falvey, Levine and Rocco fill out the rest of the staff. It's refreshing to see the Twins making an effort to be innovative for a change after years of lagging behind most of the rest of the league. Johnson and Hefner sound like sharp minds, good communicators and both come with unique experience that could provide a real advantage to the Twins pitching staff. Maybe I'm wrong but to me it seems like there's a lot of potential upside in these hires and not a lot of downside. No matter who the coach is and what approach they take they aren't the ones who have to go out and execute. 

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