There has been lots of discussion of Jim Pohlad's diagnosis of "total system failure." The owners are business people who rely on baseball experts to run the team, In one interview, Mr. Pohlad said the following:
"I’m the type to stand back and let the manager do his job. That’s something I learned from my dad, he would find people he could relate to and had confidence in, and then he let them go and run a business....I believe in that....n this case, I don’t know more about baseball that Paul Molitor (manager), Terry Ryan (general manager) and Dave St. Peter (president). So I try to put that lesson from my dad in practice." https://thatisgreat.co/category/interviews/
From a business perspective, this hands-off approach makes sense to me, but only there is a system in place that promotes accountability, particularly when the end product is failure.
Based on the interview, it appears that Mr. Pohlad made an effort to figure out what's going wrong and identified three possible explanations:
1. "One theory: the team isn’t as good as we thought it was."
2. "Maybe we’re doing something wrong in developing players."
3. Maybe last year was just a fluke. Maybe they appeared to play better than they really did. When you look at it, they only had one winning month last year, May, they were something like 20-7, and that kind of carried the whole season. Maybe we had unrealistic expectations for this year."
In my mind, explanation #1 and explanation #3 are two sides of the same coin, and explanation #2 is a red flag from a business perspective.
As a businessperson, these statements suggest to me that the Twins organization needs greater accountability. Obviously it's difficult to measure something like player development, because every player is unique. On the other hand, it seems to me that the two most important factors for a successful organization are player evaluation (scouting for the draft, scouting international players and scouting potential trades) and player development (coaching and decisions regarding promotion). If a team can excel at player evaluation and player development, then that team will likely succeed over the long run.
Obviously, there is a luck factor. Sometimes a team drafts a diamond in the rough (Mike Trout) and often a great looking prospect flops. But I think that there should be accountability for scouts who tag prospects who fail and who pass on prospects like Trout. I would hope that the Twins have scouts file detailed reports as to the prospects who they are scouting and that such reports are in a format that promotes intelligent evaluation of each scout's ability to predict success.
For example if a scout notes that a prospect has below average bat speed, then the development people should focus on that. Such records promote accountability and improvement. If the scout failed to note poor bat speed than that can be identified as the scout's mistake. If the coaches failed to help the player compensate for poor bat speed, then they should be able to show what they tried after reading the scout's report and why they failed.
From a business perspective, I would think that once a player comes into the system there should be a detailed computer record as to the player's strengths and weaknesses in every relevant category and that detailed records should be maintained showing what is being done and what needs to be done to improve every aspect of that player's game. For example, in the case of Buxton, every coach, manager and player development executive should have had access to reports going back to the first day that Buxton was scouted that include evaluations as to his ability to deal with curveballs and reports as to every effort made to improve this aspect of his game. I don't know whether the Twins maintain such a database or whether it is sufficiently detailed to promote accountability. Mr. Pohlad's use of the word "maybe" in the context of player development suggests to me that the Twins are not effectively using computer databases to create accountability.
Not to pick on Buxton, but another example is his seeming inability to bunt. This is based on my subjective eye test, but I have seen little league players who seem to have better fundamentals. In particular, if the ball is high then a player should pull the bat back,, and jabbing at the ball is a bad technique. In my ideal world, the Twins would have been tracking Buxton's bunting skills from the beginning and there should be records as to who worked with him on bunting, what they did and what they reported to the next set of coaches every time that Buxton moved up the ladder. There are lots of bunting drills. Which ones were used with Buxton and what has been done to help him with bunting? It seems to me that considering the financial investment that the team has made in Buxton, as well as the opportunity cost, the people running the team should be able to track every aspect of his development and make sure that all future speedsters have an excellent grasp on bunting fundamentals.
When I coached little league there was one team whose infielders all had great hands. At the end of the season, I asked their coach about this. His secret was using tennis balls for infield practice so that the kids could get used to weird hops without fear of getting hit in the face. There are some drills that are better than others. A a good database could give the Twins an edge over other teams by identifying the drills that pay off the most.
Hopefully, there is a lot of accountability that we are not seeing and there will be meaningful changes in the organization's practices and personnel. Ideally, the team will bring in high level people from more consistently successful organizations like the Cardinals who can suggest proven strategies that work better than what the Twins are doing now. With Buxton's speed, bunting should have been a priority from day 1.
In my mind, maintaining accountability is very important to maintaining long term success in any organization. If something is working then it should be repeated and enhanced. If something is not working, then a change of approach and/or personnel should be made promptly. Without accountability, mistakes are repeated and ineffective personnel injure the business.
Computer databases can promote accountability, but only if they are carefully designed to track relevant information. I would hope that the Twins are investing enough in this. Mr. Pohlad portrays himself as a business person who delegates to baseball people and I have no problem with that. But it seems to me that as a business person, Mr. Pohlad would be wise to insist on a very high level of accountability within the business.
If I were a team owner and had a Buxton who could not bunt, I would like to know that someone in the organization can look at a detailed record of Buxton's development and identify what happened. Did coaches try like hell to help Buxton learn the fundamentals of bunting? Or did coaches drop the ball on this? There should be a record within the organization so that if a player is having a problem with a fundamental skill then every coach and the relevant people in the FO can track the efforts to remedy this.
Perhaps, the Twins' performance is ultimately attributable to not employing cutting edge business strategies.
Fans sometimes complain that the owners run the team too much like a business. Perhaps the opposite is true?
Perhaps the key is to start tracking players from the first day that they are scouted and maintaining a database that allows the relevant coaches and executives to evaluate which scouts are doing the best job and which coaches are getting the best results.
Maybe the Twins are doing a lot of this already, but I am not seeing it on the field or in the media.